And so the big day arrived with much less fanfare and general Christmas excitement than usual. This was the first time either of us had spent it away from close family but we were lucky enough to be spending it with some lovely people. Our hosts, and my relatives, Jan and Ken took us on a quick tour of the local area in the morning, along and up to Mt Victoria for some impressive panoramic views of Auckland from the North Shore, then down into quaint Devonport. More family members arrived in the afternoon for dinner and we ate (christmas ham, turkey, bbq lamb and fresh salmon) and drank magnificently late into the night.
On boxing day we headed over to Auckland centre on the ferry from Devonport (just a short 10min ride). I have to say that we were slightly disappointed with what we saw. Queen's Street, the "main shopping street" was sort of tacky, lacking grandeur and not what I expected at all. This may have partly been a projection of our fractious emotional state at the time caused by a combination of uncertainty about the period over New Years and money concerns. We did however find the lovely Albert Park and enjoyed a sandwich in the sunshine. It only took about 3 minutes and my shoulders were sunburnt....on boxing day! Next to this park was the Auckland Art Gallery and we enjoyed sauntering around the exhibitions and the delicious cakes in the café. The intellectual diversion of the exhibits had a magical calming effect on us and we both once again began to feel excited and ever so slightly giddy.
The next day Jan and Ken took us on another tiki tour over to One Tree Hill... there was definitely a hill but no tree (a Maori activist cut it down in protest a few years back). The views were stunning (well what I could see through the wind blowing my hair everywhere) you could see for miles. We spent the next couple of nights camping at Muriwai Beach. The only camping spots they had left were powered sites so we rocked up our humble little van next to some monster caravans with several awnings, fridge/freezers/LCD TV screens etc. I swear I heard someone hoovering one morning! Some caravans had even been decked out with masses of christmas lights that would certainly give Blackpool a run for their money. Later on another Toyota Lucida (who we guess had done a late booking like us) went to park next to us and we began to feel more comfortable but later we discovered that they indeed had a sink in their van, tut. We didn't have a cool box at the time so when camping for more than one night the first evening we're carnivores and on the second night we turn into vegetarians. On the second night at Muriwai, due to Dominic's mix up with beans and chopped tomatoes, we enjoyed (?) a concoction of baked beans/spaghetti/tinned creamy mushrooms. Erm. Yeahh.
Muriwai Beach was nice, great for surfing but it was black sand. I guess we're not used to black sand and found it a bit, dirty. This is silly really because it's just sand but with it being black it just didn't feel right. A lot of the West coast is black sand so we will probably be used to it soon. It was an incredibly windy day but we slapped on the lotion and ventured to the beach. Sticky suntan lotion, high winds and black sand are not a good combination. Muriwai's claim to fame is the Takapu refuge gannet colony. We managed to spot (and smell) masses of these birds on the outlying rock stacks all trying to strengthen their wings before their 2000km flight to Australia, pretty impressive really.
We spent the 29th at Dominic's second cousin, Angus' house having a Lord of the Rings marathon. The boys felt that if travelling around New Zealand I should really watch the films...not just the films but the extended directors cut editions! We got through Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers but shall have to return for The Return of the King. At one point I got confused and thought we were watching Game of Thrones as Sean Bean looks EXACTLY the same in both. I can genuinely say that I found them ok, entertaining, maybe even good. Not as good at the steak Angus cooked us on the barbie, but still good. And I will most certainly be watching the Hobbit when it is released and could maybe even be persuaded to visit Hobbiton.
We once again fell on our feet and were kindly invited by a friend living in Takapuna in Auckland, Marie, to house-sit for the few days over New Years. Having a house to ourselves was a real treat and allowed us to do some serious planning but also relax and see some more of Auckland. It also allowed Mellissa to rekindle her love of Come Dine With Me and Three in a Bed (unfortunately no Coach Trip though).
And so another big day arrived and I turned 30 on the 31st. I was spoilt rotten in the morning by Mellissa who, unbeknownst to me, had decorated the van with balloons, presents and a birthday banner and cheesecake. We left for the festival around midday almost certain that we were in for a wet and muddy time. The weather throughout New Zealand had been pretty terrible for a few days by that point. Arrived at our camp ground and within half an hour, after consuming an entire box of burgers between us (I ate 7!), the sun had begun to shine through rendering Mellissa's festival ensemble of black skinny jeans completely inappropriate. Luckily we met another group with tickets one of whom lent her some shorts. After several hours drinking we made our way down the road and entered the festival, and to be honest it was one almighty let down. Still, it's made us even more determined to go to a proper decent one when we return to the Shire.
Anyway, must go, Mellissa is keen to avenge her horrific Uno loss from earlier today.