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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 café 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

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