This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Say ‘Eh-Oh’ to Dipsy pt 3 – New Zealand Pt 1

New Zealand and the third country on our trip back in 1999. Now this is going to be a tough one – not the trip itself – New Zealand will forever be one of my favourite countries to visit. But recalling all that we did has been difficult. Despite going back over the old photo’s and bouncing thoughts off one another as well as thumbing through an eighteen year old ‘Lonely Planet’ guide book we still couldn't recall all of our time here accurately.

You may recall if you read my recollections of our first trip to Australia; ‘Down Under Revisited’ that I mentioned that I used to keep diaries of our travels. This trip was no exception and my jottings then would have been invaluable in piecing this trip together. Mind you, I would have probably had to employ a hieroglyphics expert to decipher them, such was (and still is)the quality of my handwriting. If you want a laugh though you should see me try and type – I can hit sixty words a minute but the letters don’t appear in any obvious order. Tests with a voice recognition program have proved disappointing – it doesn’t understand a word I’m saying! Can’t imagine why…

Anyway, back to the trip. As you navigate your way through my inane mumblings you may notice that several locations – those most often seen in tourist brochures and guide books – are missing from our recollections. That’s because we’ve already done ‘em, well some anyway. We were here two years prior in 1997 as part of a trip to New Zealand's bigger neighbours across the Tasman and to follow the exploits of the England Cricket team. Another great trip and just for the record, the Kiwi’s batted their way to a draw in Auckland, got thoroughly trounced by a rampant England in Wellington and were turned over again less spectacularly in Christchurch. It was after that last game that we headed south to Dunedin, across to Queenstown and Milford Sound, and up to the Fox Glacier. There could well be a blog about that trip at some point – you have been warned!

Right, back to 1999. Our first stop was in Auckland for a couple of nights at the ‘Aspen Lodge’ just a few minutes walk from the harbour front. Basic, with shared facilities but clean and tidy we had stayed here before on our previous trip and were happy to do so again. A brother and sister were running it the first time around. This time around the sister had been replaced by the brother’s Mexican boyfriend – and he recognised us too which was nice.

We had five weeks or so before we needed to be back at Auckland to board the QE2. New Zealand is an easy country to navigate – roughly twice the size of England but with only a tenth of the population – unless you count the sheep – and makes a car the ideal choice. The fact that they drive on the left makes it easier for us Brits too.

I’d pre-booked a car for the duration of our trip – by fax no less – the car hire company wasn’t on the ‘net in them days and they’d reserved a car for us for the princely sum of NZ$35 a day, with the promise of a ‘super saver’ car if one came available. It did and we took possession of a red Toyota Corolla of indeterminate age, with the rear seats removed and replaced by a flat bay all the way through. The car’s previous employers had been the New Zealand postal service and it proved ideal to us with all that space. All for NZ$25 a day – at the time about eight quid - and breakdown covered too.

We headed north first, across Auckland's harbour bridge. Hardly as iconic as the one in Sydney but with an interesting story – it was soon discovered the the four lane bridge couldn’t handle all the traffic that an exploding population on the north side –ironically because of the access the bridge gave – and the powers that be turned to the Japanese for help. A system was devised and two further sections were constructed and ‘clipped’ on to each side of the bridge expanding it’s width to eight lanes. The construction became know locally as the ‘Nippon Clippon’…..

We stopped somewhere overnight – I forget where --and resumed our journey north the following morning. The Whangarei Falls  provided some good photo opportunities and the road to Cape Reinga at the northern tip provided a stern test of the elderly Toyotas suspension. The last section of road was ‘unmade’ and a warning sign indicated that drivers of rental cars should check their T’s & C’s as they probably wouldn’t be permitted, or at least insured to traverse the crushed red rock surface. Judging by the number of cars sporting stickers from most of the big rental companies, this advice was roundly ignored.

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Photo’s having been taken we headed south again, cutting through a large logging wood to have a drive on the vast expanse of sand that is Ninety Mile Beach. It certainly isn’t ninety miles long but is damn impressive none the less.

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Our stop for that night was to be at Dargaville  but not before nearly missing the last ferry of the day across Hokianga Harbour and adding another 50 or so miles to our journey. We got there with minutes to spare.

After our exploits north it was time to journey south (anybody remember them – X-Factor a few years ago? No, didn’t think so!) and here our recollections are a little clouded – and not through the ingestion of any illicit substances either – merely passage of time. We did stop in Hamilton for a couple of days at another of New Zealand's lovely Motels. If you’re thinking Travelodge style then forget it. One, maybe two storeys at the most and at the time largely privately run, most offered a pool, fridge and maybe even basic cooking facilities all for between around fifty to ninety Kiwi dollars a night. With the exchange rate then of around 3 dollars to the pound, you can see it was pretty cheap.The fridge would be stocked with a small bottle of fresh milk rather than one of those impenetrable tetra paks which at least meant that the milk went in the desired vessel and not all over the carpet when you opened it.

Many of the older motels also had a large hatch by the door. A breakfast menu was provided, you ticked what you wanted and handed it in at reception. Your order would be delivered to the hatch the following morning at whatever time you desired, all piping hot. Anyway, at this particular motel in Hamilton, we filled in the list and I trotted over to reception with it. The guy there suggested that two sausages each might be overdoing it as there were rather large. Clearly he hadn’t seen either of us eat, but I changed the order somewhat reluctantly.

Well, his advice turned out to be sound. The sausages were humungous, seemingly taking up half of the surface area of the plates and overshadowing everything around them. Had we had a set of scales I’m sure they would have weighed in at well over half a pound. Each.  More importantly though, they were delicious.

There was another reason for stopping in Hamilton though, apart from big sausages. We had met some guys whilst staying at a pub in Melbourne two years back. They had a garden centre just outside Hamilton and we went to theirs for dinner, having a lovely evening and  meeting some of their friends too. Sadly despite the wonders of email, Farce-sorry-Facebook and that thing called a telephone, we have lost touch.

A little south of Hamilton was Cambridge – much smaller than it’s namesake – and our old hometown but also the centre of New Zealand's’ horse racing industry, much like Newmarket here. We paused for a snack – a KFC I think but having been before on the previous trip, didn’t stop for the night.

We stopped too at Waitomo and the glow worm caves, then further south overnighted  at Palmerston North.They squeezed  us in despite having a wedding party to contend with, such is the Kiwi’s hospitality. There was a large trampoline out the front and I remember having fun half an hour or so bouncing around under the guise of exercise. It  seemed a good idea at the time but the following morning the aches in my ankles, knees and hips suggested otherwise and confirmed something I always suspected: exercise is bad for me!

Further south still, we had a night in Wellington - the capital - before crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island. Some locals that we spoke too suggested that we prepare ourselves for a shock when we buy the ferry ticket as it was extremely expensive and that we’d be better off flying – although how we were going to get the car across they didn’t explain. When it did come to buying the ticket when we boarded however, there was no shock to be had. The prophets of financial doom in the bar the previous evening had obviously never bought a ferry ticket to the Isle of Wight. To be fair, we’ve found this a lot when travelling, particularly in this part of the world. Prices, which the locals regard as outrageous appear to us to be quite reasonable.

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The crossing was pretty unremarkable save for a nice view of the Marlborough Sounds as the boat weaved it’s way through towards Picton. Three hours or so after leaving Wellington we arrived at Picton and were soon on our way. We would have a look at Picton on our return so instead headed south to Blenheim. ‘Bings Motel’ featured on nearly every advertising hoarding we passed which made us awkwardly determined to avoid it but with nowhere else on the horizon and time marching on, we pulled up at the reception as it was starting to get dark. Trev went in to enquire about a double room and the woman behind the counter peered out, spotted me in the car and declared to Trev “No, that’s a twin you’ll be wanting, not a double”. Clearly, she didn’t get many of ‘our sort’ in these parts!

Stand by for more from New Zealand in part 4 as we continue south, then return to the North and the arrival of the QE2.

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