Friday, 26 November 2010

16 - 23rd November, Taupo - Taupo

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With so much of the North Island still left to visit, we made the decision to hire a car in Rotorua, just for one week, so that we could travel over to the west coast and see Mount Taranaki and the New Plymouth coastline. It was a decision we were pleased we made, due to the vast distances we needed to cover and the ever shortening time frame that we have placed upon ourselves, so that we might be able to reach South island by Christmas. We were able to get a car for $249 for the week, that’s £125, it was a Nissan 4WD thing and it did the job well. A couple of days ago we drove from Rotorua to Taupo to Couch Surf with a really nice guy called Terence. He comes from an enormous family, hundreds of cousins, aunts, uncles and children. He has had such an interesting life, spending 10 years of it working on the oil rigs in the north sea which gave us both something to talk about, given my recent background, working with Juice DBT up in Aberdeen, helping to encourage better communication between the rig workers. During his time it was very much ‘every man for himself’, people didn’t really take the time to talk over the job in hand, or the jobs of other rig workers. My role within Juice was to help highlight the different attitudes and behaviours that abound on oil rigs and help the rig workers to identify some useful tips to enable them to continue to communicate the right way while out at sea. I learnt a great deal about the life of the oil rig workers during that period. Terence lives by himself in the town of Taupo, within spitting distance of Lake Taupo and he welcomes all travellers to his place, from all over the world. He is one of the most accommodating, generous and selfless men I have ever met. The evening we arrived there he insisted on cooking dinner for Mel and I and three others, 2 German girls and a girl from Singapore. He said to us that we should help ourselves to anything in the kitchen, if we could find it, we could have it, if we couldn’t find it, then he didn’t have it. That way, he said, we wouldn’t have to keep asking questions. We were truly humbled by the man’s generosity and the next morning when we left, we made a pact that we should return some day.

It was an early start, the morning we left Terence’s place - it was our intension to drive to a campsite known as the base camp for a hike which has been referred to as the best in the world; the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We were hoping for a good nights rest before joining the many other travellers who had the same plan. That didn’t come to pass though, as our tent continues to make sleeping rather difficult. I woke up at 4am, soaked in condensation. We had chosen not to open the fly screen that night because of the biting insects and that, coupled with the altitude, meant that the inside of our very expensive, but third rate tent became unbearably wet. The tent is called ‘Vango Spirit 300+’ and it cost us a lot of money (over £300). We haven’t been satisfied with it from the off, it is constantly getting wet inside; we even had to re-waterproof the outside after it started to leak in Brisbane. We contacted Vango in Scotland and they basically told us to stop bothering them, so they could go and hide their heads in the sand a bit longer and maybe count their money for a while. My advice – don’t buy their products!

Not to be deterred, we made our way by mini bus to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a little bit groggy, but ever keen to see what all the fuss was about. The hike began in the early half-light of a fresh morning. We could see some small patches of snow on the higher ground as we began our walk. There was a lot of heather on the lower hills and some really pretty daisy-like flowers contrasting the rusty colours of the plants around them and the rock beneath. As we moved onto higher ground, the plant life began to lessen and different volcanic rock formations with streams fed by springs took over. Some of the rocks were very similar to those we encountered on Rangitoto Island; large rivers of porous, rough and jagged stones, massive rocks which must have been lava bombs, were all around us on the ascent. We were hiking up the western side of the volcano and from there we could see Mount Taranaki, all the more impressive when you consider that Taranaki is on the other side of the island, hundreds of kms away. In the crater of the first volcano and making our way towards a higher summit it felt like another world, so many different rocks and sand lying, lake-like all around us. In the next crater, there was a collection of emerald lakes, heated by the volcano and fed by springs and snow. The pathway took a turn for the worse at this point though and I fell over a couple of times. I wasn’t the only one falling over. As most of the hikers were slowly, gingerly slipping and sliding perilously close to oblivion; enter an American couple who were arrogantly running down the slope, such a shame that he fell over and cut his leg to ribbons just near one of those lakes!

Mel and I found a quiet spot to eat our packed lunch, looking out over a lake, enjoying boiled egg sandwiches, breakfast bars and bananas, then we made our way down towards the car park on the northern side of the volcano formations. Some of the signs on the pathway warn you about the possibility of an eruption and what to do in that event – effectively run, as fast as you can! Once at a lower altitude; the pathway began to take us through a really thick area of native bush, Manuka, Tree Ferns, Mosses, Palms and lovely bird life. We were stuck behind a group of German hikers for a while and Mel was translating what they were saying to each other. Apparently they were discussing ‘Tim-Tams’, an Australasian chocolate biscuit bar which is famous for the ‘Tim-Tam Slam’. They were drooling over how amazing it is to bite off the opposing corners of them and then suck tea or milk through the biscuit before slamming the rest in your mouth. The feeling was mutual. We spent the rest of the 6 hour hike dreaming of chocolate and drinking in the surroundings.

Our next port of call after doing the Tongariro Crossing was to drive to New Plymouth via the very scenic ‘Forgotten World Highway’. To be perfectly honest, there are very few highways in the UK that I would consider scenic – too many cars, filth everywhere on the sides of the roads, expensive petrol stations with nothing but processed food and disgusting toilets for respite – we all know what to expect. However, much to my surprise, the ‘Forgotten World Highway’ proved to be the best drive I have ever made in my life. In well over 3 hours, we saw maybe 10 cars and a couple of motorbikes, a good start. The landscape we drove through was very much like driving through little pieces of heaven. Picture rolling green hills, lambs, cows, horses and picturesque farmsteads, trees of every size and colour, thick rainforest vegetation, filled with beautiful bird song, wild mountain goats, sunshine in a cloudless sky. We drove through an amazing deep gorge where we looked up at vast, sheer cliffs which sprouted tree-ferns and lush green plants. Towards the end of it all; we saw Mount Taranaki, looming large on the horizon, appearing to be hovering above the low lying cloud, the snow covered volcanic summit rising majestically up into the deep, blue sky as the sun began to lower, changing the colours and textures of everything around. We were, once again, blown away by an awesome sight.

In New Plymouth we were hosted by another couch surfing couple called Barbara and Craig. They generously let us sleep in one of their spare bedrooms, make use of the facilities in their beautifully finished house and they were extremely nice people into the bargain. We really enjoyed our time in New Plymouth. It is a contemporary city with Art Galleries, Theatres, shops and a volcanic, black beach with brilliant surfing, not to mention piles and piles of brilliant driftwood. If we owned a car with a trailer I would have collected lots for ornamental purposes. Towering over the entire region is Mount Taranaki. You really should take a look at our photos (when we eventually have good enough internet to upload them!) to get some idea of scale of Taranaki.

Because of the mineral rich soils in the region, gardeners and public gardens in particular thrive. We visited two gardens; ‘Tupare Gardens’ and the ‘Hollard Gardens’. The high acid levels of the soil make for great growing conditions for Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Hydrangeas and there are great collections all over the city. In the first of the public gardens we visited, there are some trees which have grown unnaturally quickly over the years, including a copper beech and a Tulip tree, both of which grew to more then 50 feet tall in just 12 years. You don’t have to be an expert to see the attraction of landscaping in this environment. We love gardens, after all, we were married in the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane, and they are always a refuge and a contrast to everything else around them. Having the time to enjoy them without anybody else around allowed us to fully appreciate them. Fragrant roses, song thrushes in full voice, pristine lawns, Victorian style glass houses and blue sky’s. A real treat.

The following day we left New Plymouth and made our way up and back across the country towards Taupo again. It was raining a lot so it was a good day to be in a car, rather than on a bike. Terrance offered to put us up for another night and we took him up on that and we were really pleased that we did because there was a real eclectic bunch of travellers to share conversation with over dinner. Just before we arrived at Terrance’s I had a bit of an accident at a petrol station, spilling fuel all over my trainers and shorts. Somewhat frustrating as it meant that I had to spend the first hour of my evening hand washing them in an effort to get the smell out. Not to worry though, when I eventually emerged from the laundry room I was treated to a lovely Thai curry and coconut pudding coupled with great conversation. French, Estonian, Scottish, English, Maori and Finnish nationals were represented, and between us we really did put the world to rights.

The following day we had to make our way back to Rotorua in order to pick up our bikes and to return the car. That is where we are today. I am currently sitting in the games room of the ‘Cosy Cottage’ campsite. The news is on at the moment. It is coming live from Greymouth on the south island. 29 coal miners have been trapped after an explosion 6 days ago and the C.E.O of the company is giving a press conference, updating the media on their progress in trying to rescue the men. It doesn’t look good for those poor men; if ever we needed a bit of perspective in the world then this is it.

Our next destination is the east cape, we have couple of couch surfing places lined up, including the opportunity to learn about bee keeping from a lovely couple who have offered us a bed for a couple of days, and we will also be meting up with Auntie Margret, a relative of ours in Napier City. We have booked our ferry from Wellington to Picton which departs on the 21st of December and it is our intention to be in Nelson for Christmas. From there we intend to get some fruit picking work which will take us into the New Year.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Tania's to Taupo 31st October to 16 November 2010

I’ve sat down to write blogs in all sorts of different places – hotels in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, Qantas flights at 48,000 feet, Motels, B & B’s, WWOOFing homes – the list goes on. Today, I am sitting at a wooden table in a public rest area next to Lake Taupo, shading from the glorious mid spring sunshine. The air here is fresh and clear, like the sky and the water. Taupo is the largest fresh water lake in New Zealand, formed by a long extinct volcano and now home to many thousands of trout, as well as thrill seekers from across the globe, all desperate to throw themselves out of plane or Bungy jump off a cliff. I can hear the sounds of familiar spring bird songs of the thrush, blackbird, starling and sparrow interspaced with the tui, black swan, duck, goose and moorhen which glide in and around Acacia Bay as the water gently laps onto the dark volcanic sands of the beach away to my left. Mel is sitting in the full sun, knitting an attractive hat for the distant cold months that we are told will eventually return after the much anticipated long, hot summer we hope to experience over the coming months. The signs are good; there have been many days of sunshine recently.

There is a great deal that I would like to bring you up to date about including; our second visit to Tania and Peggy’s place, our new friends made during our stay there and the subsequent cycle trip around the Coromandel Peninsula which has taken our distance on the bikes well over the 1,000 km mark and brought us here, to one of the great wonders of this brilliant country. But we must begin with a brief visit to our second coming at Tania’s place.

As we arrived it was clear that there was much activity on the home front; buoyed by her first experience of taking on WWOOFers (namely us), Tania had taken on a small clutch of German travellers by the names of Manuel, Anette and Susie. They had spent most of their days weeding, cleaning and helping Tania and Peggy to prepare for spring in both the house and garden. Mel and I could see the difference between the veggie patch before and after we had returned and we were extremely pleased to see the progress of the chooks in their mansion. Peggy and Tania are getting 6 eggs everyday, like clockwork. During our stay we enjoyed great hospitality again and even had the chance to enjoy a proper Northland style party to celebrate Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night in one big celebration.

The Lean-to we had built the foundations for during our first visit was completed by Mel and Tania whilst I attacked one of the many flower beds which needed attention having been engulfed with weeds; ‘Wandering Jew’ and an African Grass, both of which have roots which can grow many feet long. It was both back breaking work and slow in terms of progress, such are the challenges of growing organically.

Susie, Anette and Manuel proved very willing workers and between the 6 of us we were able to fully stock Tania’s wood shed with Black Wood, Ti tree, Gum and other logs, all of which will of course provide her with the free fuel she needs to heat her water and cook her food. Peggy hosted us for a roast dinner one evening; this included a lovely cut of beef and a brilliant trifle. The party was also a really good night. Laksar, an alternative guy from Arizona brought over his drums and his son, 14 year old Tom. He also had a WWOOFer staying with him named Cecile, from Paris. Another guest, a sheep shearer called Hamish completed the clutch of guests. We had a BBQ, supped wine and beer and generally did what people do at parties! We also had some Chinese lanterns and fireworks which we set off in the perfect night sky, a reminder of our wedding reception in Norfolk where we were able to do the same thing.

Eventually our time at Tania’s came to an end and we went back to Auckland to get our bikes serviced by Bruce at Adventure Cycles, but not before a visit to the Kauri Museum, a must see for all travellers to Northland. It is an extensive look at all the history of the logging and gum digging industry in the area.

We spent a few nights in Auckland, got the bikes sorted, eventually, and bought our tickets to travel by ferry to the Coromandel Peninsula. You’ll remember my mentioning Phillip, the guy cycling across the country from Germany? Well, he was waiting to get onto the same ferry as us at the dock in Auckland and we enjoyed passing the time on our 2 hour journey across the harbour. The three of us cycled into Coromandel together, a short 12 km trip which was spoiled by the poor work carried out on my brakes by one of Bruce’s staff at Adventure cycles. It appears that they think that tightening brakes is achieved by welding them to the rim of the wheel and that fixing a quick release wheel back on is completed without tightening the screws – great to have to deal with in the fading light!
Charlie and Phillip om the boat to Coromandel

Leaving Auckland

The Coromandel Peninsula is very beautiful. The beaches are as good as any in the world. You can find quiet spots to have lunch by the water, as we found out on our first day there, munching on kiwi fruit and sweet corn whilst sitting astride a rock pool in the sun on an otherwise empty beach, watching hermit crabs scurry out to grab the skin of the fruit for a quick snack, before darting back to shelter under pebbles to wait for the next high tide. There are many coves and islands within sight almost all the way round the coast there and we often pulled over to scrape our jaws off the road and pinch ourselves to check that we were not dreaming. As the photographs will show – it’s all real.

View from the top of Coromandel hill

Coromandel has some killer hills to climb on the bikes. We endured seriously steep roads on our first day in particular and we had to put up with the sarcastic tooting of car horns as we sweated and huffed our way up to the summit of some of those climbs. You can always tell the difference between a supportive toot and a sarcastic toot by the facial expression of the driver. Mel and I were both guilty of cursing on more than one occasion at the latter type, as we all would I assume?

Having made it across the steepest of hills we arrived into a small, seaside township of Hahei. We stocked up on a few much needed groceries, a couple of beers, and headed for the campsite. As it turned out; the campsite was to be the venue for a mini festival that night, with famous Kiwi comics and musicians performing. Around 300 or so had gathered for the event. The entire campsite was full of hired campervans, there must have been 50 different 4-birth vans there, an RV enthusiasts dream. We sat and had some dinner before having a walk down on the beautiful sand of the beach there. As we wandered back to our tent we snuck through the performance field and spotted a stand-up comic on stage, recognisable from the Kiwi version of ‘Mock the Week’ – ‘7 Days’. I have no idea what the guys name is mind you. We slept well that night, despite the music, I love festivals anyway. The next morning we popped down onto the beach and shot another video, so you can see how nice the beach is by looking through the Flickr album as usual.
Charlie on Hahei beach

Mel at Hahei

All those hills and toots proved to be worth the hassle though; as we eventually made it to one of nature’s true phenomena, known as ‘Hot Water Beach’. There is a section of sand on the beach, approximately 25 metres in width and it spews boiling water from thermally heated springs out onto the sand as the tide lowers. This has drawn the attention of all passing tourists, keen to experience their very own hot, salt-water spa bath which they can dig themselves. You have to dig your spa in the right place though as the water varies from place to place. Sometimes it is far too hot, and sometimes not quite hot enough. The cafĂ© next to the beach make a killing by hiring out spades for $5 a pop and given how many tourists go there everyday, they must be making a killing! Well worth the visit though and not something that you can do anywhere else in the world.

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Passing through Coromandel to our current location of Taupo has allowed to sample our first ever ‘Warm Showers’ and ‘Couch Surfing’ hosts in New Zealand. Both these organisations have been set up in order to allow honest, decent travellers a free accommodation. ‘’ is specifically for cyclists, so that they can finish their day with a nice warm shower and a roof over their heads for a night or so. ‘’ is the same sort of deal, but you don’t have to be a crazy cyclist in order to do it. So far we have been hosted by Phillip and Helen, along with their three lovely children in Tauranga through the ‘warmshowers’ deal. They were very generous folk, they cooked dinner for us and let us stay for a couple of days so that we could sample the delights of their town, including thermally heated salt water swimming pools – think of the best bath you ever had – and Mount Maunganui, another extinct volcano which you can climb and get extensive vies of the area. Then, through the ‘couchsurfing’ website we found Dave and another host family; the Taylors, both of whom are based in the Rotorua and Taupo areas. Dave’s place is a characterful ‘Batch’ just off a main road near Rotorua and we were able to crash there for a night on the 14th of November. He is a seriously chilled out guy with an impressive travelling CV. We didn’t get that much time to chat to him, this was due to the fact that we had booked to go and experience a ‘traditional Maori evening called Te Po. It was an expensive affair, over $100 each, but it included dinner, with some seriously good food, the chance to learn the Haka, a comical and humbling affair and also the chance to watch one of the great freaks of nature, a geyser in full flow. The chance to see the boiling hot plumes of water blowing up out of the earth in the late evening sunset was one of the true highlights of our trip so far. The ticket we purchased for the Maori evening also included entry to ‘Hells Gate’ a thermal park – I urge you to check it out online and watch our videos from there, because it is literally like walking on the surface of another planet, with sulphur pools and mud volcano’s and of course an all pervasive eggy smell all around us! George Bernard Shaw named one of the pools at the geo-thermal hotspot ‘Hells Gate’ as he believed that this must be the place that atheists such as him would end up after they died. The earth is a myriad of different colours and shapes all over the area; greens, yellows, greys, orange. There are black bubbling pools of water and mineral rich mud everywhere augmented with eruptions of gases pulsing through the earths in released into the atmosphere. What a spectacle it is!

On our journey to stay at the Taylors house last evening we stopped at a thermally heated stream so that Mel could go for a quick dip and that again was a bizarre and wholly unusual experience. I mean imagine being able to go into a stream in the middle of nowhere which is hotter than your average bath!

We arrived at the Taylors stunning hilltop home in the early evening, stopping once more to take in the immense power of Huka Falls (again, see the photo’s). We were greeted by the lovely Ollie, possibly the worst guard dog in history, all she wanted to do was to cuddle and lick us to death. We were made to feel extremely welcome by Raewyn and Kevin. We enjoyed great food, great conversation and one of the best night’s sleep we have enjoyed for some time!

Tonight we will be staying with Terence, another ‘couchsurfing’ host. We have had a pretty chilled day in Taupo. We did a spot of Christmas shopping, went for a swim in the lake and generally made sure that we got our strength up for the big one – a massive 18.5 km hike over some of the nearby mountains tomorrow. This will involve us getting up at the crack of dawn and driving to a campsite first thing. There we can leave our stuff and get a lift to the drop-off point for the hike. So, that’s us up to date I reckon. I’m looking forward to the next instalment already.

Charlie swimming in Lake Taupo

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Road back to Tania’s 24th-27th October

Having surfed the sand dunes by the 90 mile beach and made some much needed running repairs to the bike trailer, Mel and I set off from the backpackers in Kaitaia and headed south down the west coast of New Zealand. Our objective was to make our way through the Waipoua Forest and to visit the national icon that is ‘Tane Mahuta’, the world’s largest, living Kauri Tree. We stopped at a couple of places along the way.

We chose to stop at a homestay which was in a small, forgotten village called Broadwood. I say forgotten village because it has about as much life in it as a suburb of Chernobyl. However, it was exactly half way between Kaitaia and Rawene on the Hokiana harbour and therefore a perfect stopping point for weary muscles. We chose to spend the night at a homestay and found the entire experience somewhat contrasting. The house itself was at the top of an incredibly steep climb and is owned by a nice enough couple. The common room is nice, they have a pool table, DVD’s and a great selection of 1960s and 70’s music on vinyl, but the room we slept in left a lot to be desired. For a start; the ceiling was sloping and left basically no head room for the guest. The floor was also sloping in a dangerous way, away from the centre of the building. The bed was the most uncomfortable we have slept on in New Zealand and the walls, floor and ceiling were not complete, in that they have electrical wires protruding from them. Mel was particularly uncomfortable and did not sleep a wink all night. It has to be said though that we were pleased to get away from there the next day and on to our next destination which turned out to be much more savory.

Rawene is a lovely seaside town with good fish & chips and superb sunsets. We stayed at a campsite which boasts its own swimming pool. As the sun beat down on us whilst we rode in on our bikes, we were really looking forward to a dip in the pool. Alas, this was not to be as somebody had decided to pour beer into the water and it was currently closed. Mel and I went into the town to get those fish & chips before sitting and reading in the late afternoon sun on a bench by our tent. As we idled away the hours; we noticed another cyclist making there way onto the tent site. His name is Phillip, a German guy, 29 and super fit, having already cycled round the USA before finding his way over to New Zealand. He is a great bloke and he comes from the Westphalia region of Germany, where they make VW campervans! As it turned out, we were about to see a lot of Phillip. He has travelled many of the same routes as ourselves. We have bumped into him several times since we met that evening, including in Waipoua Forest, Dargaville and even on the ferry from Auckland to Coromandel – but that’s for another blog entry.

We saw some amazing scenery on the West coast - here are a couple of snaps...

Those who know me will understand how important trees are to me, having been a hugger of trees for many years. The Department of Conservation has protected all the remaining Kauri trees in New Zealand from the huge logging firms who used to cut them down for the money! Tane Mahuta is by no means the largest ever Kauri tree, just the largest left standing. Judging by the 7km uphill climb we had to do on the bikes just to get to it, one is left assuming that the only reason it is still standing is due to it’s distance above sea level. This would have made it quite difficult to get to for the early logging teams back in the day.
Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) is New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree. It is thought this tree was discovered and identified in the 1920’s when contracted surveyors surveyed the present State Highway 12 through the forest. In 1928 Nicholas Yakas and other Bushmen, which were building the road, also identified the big tree Tane Mahuta.
According to Maori mythology Tane is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tane was the child that tore his parent’s parental embrace and once done set about clothing his mother in the forest we have here today. All living creatures of the forest are regarded as Tane’s children.
Trunk Girth 13.77 m
Trunk Height 17.68 m
Total Height 51.2 m
Trunk Volume 244.5 m3
When I was a younger man, my friends and used to have parties in the forests around Norfolk. They were enormous events; people set up marquees, bespoke sound systems and you could get everything you needed to get through several days of living amongst the trees. Travelers would bring their trucks and sell drinks, food and other provisions and generators would provide power to keep the music going 24 hours a day. The only respite you could get from the music was to go and string up a hammock or sleep in a car some distance away from the massive speakers in the amongst the pine trees. We used to have these parties in the forest because we were always surrounded by trees and wildlife and it felt special. Walking through the Kauri Forest of Waipoua felt as exiting as all those trips into rural Norfolk.

Feeling revitalized by our trip up to see Tane Mahuta; Mel and I decided to camp at the Waipoua campgrounds which are well situated in a valley surrounded by all the sounds and smells of the native forest. We pitched our tent under a Norfolk Island pine tree and after a little supper, settled in to read by torchlight in our tent. Just before going to sleep I decided that I would pay one last visit to the bathroom. This turned out to be a massive error as the moment I open the tent inner to leave I was literally covered in mozzies – hundreds of them. I spent the next 20 seconds dancing more frantically than Michael Flatley after a few too may beers, slapping at my face and hands before sprinting to the men’s room and checking behind me to see whether the swam of mozzies had followed me there. Fortunately they hadn’t. Once back inside our tent, I had to spend the next few minutes killing the dozen or so blood-suckers that had followed me into bed. For the rest of the night we could hear many hundreds of mozzies just waiting to attack us should we decide to make our way back out into the darkness! When we came to pack the tent away in the morning, they remained on the attack and I’m ashamed to admit that Mel had to rescue me at one point, helping me to take out the inner tent as I had been rendered incapable with fear!
That day we made our way to Dargaville where we spent the night in a caravan which we rented for $30. It was not such a nice night’s sleep as the entire van shook with every passing vehicle. Mel cooked pancakes for supper before bed though, which more than made up for the discomfort of the sleeping arrangements. We were also reassured by the knowledge that the next night we would be back at Tania’s!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Back in Auckland on the 2nd of November 2010

We’re really starting to enjoy this now, we have clocked up 730 kms on our bicycles and the core fitness is now there, ready and waiting to help us through the next section of our trip – the Coromandel Peninsula. On our trip so far we have achieved so much it has taken us both by surprise and perhaps we are now really beginning to feel addicted to New Zealand, its people and the places we have seen. Some of the highlights so far include:
  • Completing our first day of cycling more than 70kms
  • Visiting the oldest colonial building in the entire country; The wooden Kemp House and The Stone House at Keriker,
  • Visiting Tane Mahuta; the oldest living Kauri tree in the country
  • Night kayaking through the phosphorescence
  • Getting up close to the dolphins while on ‘The Rock’ boat
  • Meeting so many great people from all over the world
  • Watching the blog hits top 1,000
  • Sledging down a sand-dune
  • Watching two oceans collide at Cape Reinga
  • Seeing a real life Kiwi bird
  • Building a chook mansion
  • Eating all the amazing New Zealand food
  • Eating picnic lunches in some amazing places while out cycling
  • Playing in an international 5 a-side match and finishing on the winning team
  • Running in the 9 km fun run and Mel finishing second in the women’s section

But I haven’t forgotten about home and while we’ve been away I have been kept informed of the goings on both as far as the family go and special praise must go to:
  • Elliott Hindley – my nephew who is currently appearing at the Theatre Royal in Norwich in the Nut Cracker and has cemented his place in the Wymondham football team as a goal-keeper
  • Ellamae Hindley, my niece who recently performed at St Andrews Hall in Norwich to much acclaim.
  • My Mum – for mastering Skype
  • The rest of my family and friends for staying in touch with me so well

The blog has received more then 1,250 hits to date. So to everyone at home – I have not forgotten you and it is clear that you have not forgotten me – keep the spirit alive, I know that you will!!! 

Special place between Kahoe and Kaitaia, October 2010

Those of you who have been following this blog will remember the 2 weeks we spent at Tania’s place. Well, while we were there, Tania suggested that we visit a good friend of hers named Maureen, when we were in the area. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tania for some extremely good advice. Maureen has a charming bespoke home, set into the hills around the northern tip of Northland. Kohumaru Road is between Kahoe and Manganui, exactly 11.58kms from Highway number 10. The road itself is unsealed and put paid to another inner tube on Mel’s bike, but to be fair, it was well worth the hassle of fixing a puncture as our time there was nothing short of exquisite. We spent too short a time there and we were both sorry to leave after a few days WWOOOFing and enjoying fine wine and great company.

Kohumaru Road gently winds its way up into the hills, flanked by a combination of native trees and shrubs, as well as those which have migrated from other countries and which seem to do very well in this winterless environment. An example of this is the great swathes of Scottish Gorse bushes which are a real pest to local land owners. On our way up to the Maureen's, Mel spotted a Kingfisher, of which there are many and there were glimpses of another import, the pheasant, whose familiar call can be heard all over the countryside. As we neared the homestead, we were greeted by a couple of rather angry Jack Russells, keen to ward us off their land, they chased out from behind a live bamboo hedge, another common sight we have come to appreciate along the way. Finally, as the road disappeared around a sharp corner, we arrived at Maureen’s, welcomed by the lady herself and two dogs, Corkie and Smudge. We were shown to our mezzanine bedroom, strategically built to get a full quota of heat from the wood burning stove below. The views from the windows are of endless mountains, evergreen, stretching away and looking for all the world like crushed velvet.

The usual WWOOFing jobs such as weeding, landscaping and washing-up were no hardship, given the rewards were so much greater. We enjoyed endless tea, coffee; home baked biscuits, ginger bread with butter, fine cheeses, gourmet food and as previously stated, the odd glass or two of red wine.

Also, special mention should go to Jake the cat. Mel shares an incredible bond with all felines, just like her mother, Johanna. Mel says that even the most grumpy cat is enchanting and on most occasions, she has them purring in her arms before too long. Jake is a black and white coated moggy, with a cute little white moustache. His relationship with the dogs is contrasting; he is very vocal with Corkie and wary of Smudge as he always seems to be after her food. Mel spent a lot of time cuddling Jake. We are both agreed that when we have a house again one day, cats will coexist again with us.

During our time there, we were able to meet Tina and Gail, both of whom live close enough to be reassuring in there presence, though far enough away not to be invasive. Gail was very hospitable, and in exchange for a day’s labour, we were treated to a lovely dinner at her place, which is surrounded by 62 acres of native bush. Gail and Maurine were both great company and the day we left, Gail insisted that we go and stay with her daughter in Rawene, where we should be in a few days.

Paihia - Kerikeri - Kahoe

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Kahoe Farms – the best backpackers in the world!!

How many times have you sat with your friends or family and reminisced about those summer holidays you spent growing up? We all seem to have what we all seem to term as ‘rose tinted memories’ of those holidays. I re-call days spent at the beach in Sheringham and Cromer with my parents, brother and sister. We would swim, dig holes, catch ‘Cromer Crabs’ in the rock pools, eat fish & chips before finally stumbling home to our little cottage by the stream where I would kick a football around with my siblings. The evenings would be long and the light in the sky would be a deep, deep blue and when we all collapsed on the grass, flat on our backs, looking up to the sky, we would see stars and the milky way gazing down on us. Later, when we were all tucked up in our starched sheets in our shared bedroom, saying our goodnights to mum and dad, we all felt so loved, cherished and complete that we never wanted it to end. That feeling of not wanting it to end has crept into my everyday thought process in recently.
Kahoe Farms makes you feel welcome, the family who own it are brilliant, and it feels like a holiday spent with family just to be there. From the football obsession that Stefani and I share, to the picture perfect valley that you can see from every window in the classic colonial style property which is set just off state highway number 10 in New Zealand’s North Land. In the four nights we spent at Kahoe Farms, we both started to cherish every moment, in the moment. It almost does the entire experience a total disservice to list all those things which occurred during our stay there, as their triviality will to the reader, appear common place and unimpressive.
The video blogs, available on this website will give you some indication of the great landscape around the farms, but they only give you a small indication of the inner processes that were taking place which made us both feel so calm and centred. From walking up into the surrounding mountains, eating Stefano’s amazing home-made pizza and pasta, watching DVD’s in the football museum – it was all superb! I even got to play in an international 3 a-side football match, played on the pitch which hosts the very first match on New Year’s Day anywhere in the world. Incidentally, my team, made up of an Italian, American and an Englishman, beat a German team 5-4 (for a change).
I would give Kahoe Farms 11/10 – you should go and see it for yourselves if ever you get the chance!