The next morning we found that Bob’s car had a puncture. We had trouble getting the wheel off so had to call someone out. This took a while to sort out, so while Bob waited by the car, I went and bought a New Zealand pocket atlas so that I could track my route when on my later travels.
Once the car was fixed, we went up to the Gondola (a cable car to the top of a local hill) and took the Luge down. The Luge is essentially a steerable tray in a semi circular pipe – a poor man’s bobsled. It was good fun and we had a couple of goes.We were planning to watch the Australia vs New Zealand All Blacks Rugby World Cup semi-final that evening, but decided to go and relax in the Polynesian Spa pools first – there were 4 outdoor spa pools of varying temperatures on the side of the lake. It was very mellow relaxing there with the sun setting over the lake (shame I only had Bob to share it with!). We later went to a great pizza restaurant called Relish and then watched Australia beat the All Blacks in the hotel bar. I have never seen grown men crying in a bar before! Strangely enough, the bar soon emptied after the defeat and Bob and I left the remaining few to grieve alone.After a brunch with Bob in town and a wander around the city, I said my goodbyes to Bob at the coach terminal.It was Sunday, so Bob was back at work the following morning, while I was moving on to Napier further south on the east coast. The coach was late setting off due to a replacement vehicle having to be found. Finally though, we were able to board and we had a pleasant journey south to Taupo. After Taupo, the bus struggled up a few mountain passes through a mixture of open country and logging areas. We did make it to Napier in the end and I checked in to the local YHA, close to the sea front. Napier is a quite attractive seaside town with a lot of Art Deco buildings (more of which later). I was feeling a bit flat by this point, having said goodbye to Bob and because Napier was fairly dead on a Sunday evening.
Next morning I felt tired but less feverish and we drove on to Rotorua. Rotorua is the centre of Maori tourist culture in New Zealand and is also the centre of geothermal activity – it was a major tourist atraction even in Victorian times (with Mr Thomas Cook himself organising tours there). As we entered the city, there was a strong smell of sulphur, and here and there wisps of steam were coming out of the ground. Our hotel (Novotel) was located on the edge of Lake Rotorua and, like most accommodation in the city, had its own mineral hot spa pools. That afternoon we went out to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a few kms south of the city. It was like nothing I’d ever seen – an absolutely incredible place. As well as bubbling and plopping mud, there were steaming pools of many, many colours. A memorable large lake was bottle green, while the Champagne Pool had a multi-coloured crust surrounding it. There used to be an even more incredible sight nearby, the Pink and White Terraces. These terraces of silica were the result of geothermal activity, but were destroyed by a disastrous volcano in 1886 which killed at least 120 people and buried nearby villages.We returned to Rotorua for a bar snack and a few beers and I then demonstrated quite effectively why I don’t play pool very often.
Bob had taken 2 days off from work to make a long weekend and we drove across to the Coromandel peninsula. As we drove east, the weather changed and it began to rain. We first stopped off at Hot Water Beach on the east coast of the peninsula but the tide was in so the hot springs were under the water. At low tide its apparently possible to dig a hole in the sand and sit in the hot mineral water. We drove on north to Whitianga but as it was raining we decided to have a quick lunch and drive south to Tauranga, on the east coast, as Bob had some friends down that way. Lunch was a strange affair, being in a rather tatty bar with pool table and a distinct sense that hygiene in the kitchen wasn’t a particularly strong concern. Driving south we passed through a torrential downpour – Bob had to slow right down as the windscreen wipers were unable to cope. Once the rain had cleared, the scenery and vegetation was superb – huge tree ferns on rolling hills. We found a great new motel on the waterfront in Tauranga city centre with incredible views across the harbour and then drove to meet Glen (a Pom) and Lou, who Bob knew from Auckland. By now however, I was beginning to feel rather unwell and so had to confine myself to soft drinks. Glen and Lou were great company and told us about the explosion which had been set off on the side of Mt Maunganui (which is an old volcano) to dislodge a dangerous rocky outcrop. That night whatever it was I’d caught (on the plane or from the lunch earlier maybe) kept me awake at night physically shivering, even wearing 3 layers of clothing.
The next morning, Bob drove me into the city on the way to work and we arranged to meet for lunch. I caught the Link bus which does a complicated circuit of Auckland and a few of the suburbs. I got off by the wooden Anglican cathedral in the suburb of Parnell and walked down through the village, which was full of restored wooden villas and shops. I managed to find Bob’s office and after a quick lunch, he took me into his office to meet colleagues etc. Afterwards I made a quick visit to Devonport on the ferry to catch some great views of the harbour and the city. On my return to Auckland, I went up to the Sky Tower – which gives great views across the whole city and wider area. In the evening Bob drove us out to the west coast beach of Piha. This is a beautiful beach with the huge Lion Rock half way across the bay. Its a great surfer’s beach and a great place to watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea. The sand there is very dark, being volcanic, and a few kms south there is Karekare beach where the oscar-winning film The Piano was filmed. We returned to Auckland and went to the casino at SkyCity (the leisure complex next to the Sky Tower). I wasn’t particularly interested in gambling and there didn’t seem to be any “penny falls” so we sat and watched an Elvis impersonator and a Country & Western band line dancing until the early hours.
After an unsettled sleep on the flight from Singapore, I awoke to find us flying across northern Australia – which was incredible. It went on for hours and there was very little sign of life down below except for stations/ranches scattered across the desert. We also flew high above Brisbane. The map on the seat-back video made the view far more relevant. As we crossed the Tasman Sea my sense of anticipation grew and grew. Finally the map showed us reaching the coastline and sure enough down below I could see land. We looped around the south west of Auckland, flying low over the low density housing that characterises New Zealand suburbia. After landing, it took an age to get through immigration because 3 other 747s had all landed at the same time and so there were about 1000 people to process. After immigration it was time for customs, and I dutifully declared the Wotsits, Nik Naks and Carling Black Label that I was carrying for Bob and his colleague Phil. New Zealand must be about the only place where your baggage is x-rayed on arrival as well as departure -looking for food or any bio-security risk. There are heavy fines for not declaring foodstuffs. After boarding the airport bus to Auckland, I sent a text to Bob and we arranged to meet at the Sky Tower in the city centre – it was lunchtime so he could meet me quite easily. Finally, after passing through suburbia (and a diversion to a petrol station to fill up – slightly bizarre) we arrived in downtown Auckland. Bob arrived soon after me in his rather flash car and took me down to the Viaduct Harbour area. This is the marina right in the city and was developed for the America’s Cup race which had occurred a year or two previously. It had been 6 months since Bob had left the UK and it was great to chat to him again. He was obviously loving being in NZ. We had lunch in a bar looking out over the marina in bright sunshine. Superb. Bob dropped me off in town and we arranged to meet up after work – I then found an internet cafe and caught up with emails etc. By now I was pretty much dead on my feet so was glad when Bob arrived to pick me up. He took me back to his apartment close to the city and I had a nap while he went to the gym. When I woke up, Bob’s flatmate Cam was around and so we chatted for a while. Bob then drove me round parts of Auckland and we went for food by one of the beaches at Mission Bay. Despite my earlier nap, I was still tired and Bob had work the next morning, so we returned to the flat. Cam had kindly made the sofabed up while we were out, so I was soon fast asleep!
In July/August 2003, while still working for Atkins in Birmingham, I had amassed about 4 weeks in annual leave and needed a long holiday. As I wasn’t going to be able to take off 4 weeks without at least a couple of month’s notice, I fixed on a departure date at the beginning of November. This timing suggested the Southern Hemisphere, since most places I wanted to visit in the Northern Hemisphere would be heading into winter. As I had a friend/ex-colleague living in Auckland, a visit to New Zealand seemed the best idea. Getting ready for the holiday was quite fun – I had to buy a digital camera and decided I would need an MP3 player, since I was planning to travel on public transport most of the time. As there was lots I wanted to see and I was limited by timetables, I planned most of the trip before I left. I’m sure many peop le would prefer to leave things open, but I’m a person who doesn’t like to miss things and a fixed itinerary was the best way of achieving that.