Whoever said 'there's no place like home' was wrong. New Zealand is very much like home (but with more wide open spaces, more beautifully picturesque scenery and more Germans). We have only been here for for a week but we both love it already.
We arrived in Auckland quite late and headed straight to our hostel. We had a four bed dorm but only shared it with a flatulent Indian OAP - which was nice. After a restless sleep due to things that go trump in the night, we headed into the city to check out the sights and get some fresh air. We saw the sky tower (tallest building in the southern hemisphere) and took a walk around the swanky harbour side. It is a nice city but we are both getting a bit weary of concrete jungles. We have a mild case of city fatigue, so it's getting harder to be impressed by big buildings and posh restaurants - especially as we can't afford to eat in them.
We booked our travel for the next two months in the form of Stray buses. We can hop on and off throughout the north and south island, and have unlimited stops. They are guided tour buses so we can learn as we burn rubber, and we get discounts on hundreds of activities across New Zealand.
Our first benefit of Stray travel was a free guided tour around Auckland. It would have been great but we ruined it by seeing most of the sights the day before.
The next day we headed north to the Bay of Islands on the big orange Stray bus with our driver 'Gollum'. Our accommodation was at Paihia but we stopped off on the way to hug a tree and see some famous urinals - a toilet tourist attraction.
We met two girls on the bus who went to Marjons in Plymouth - Lyndsey is born and bred and Vicky lives in Kent. We spent the day with them when we arrived in Paihia, hiring a motor boat even though none of us had skippered one before. It was a good laugh and we got to see a lot of the islands that are scattered around the bay. However, things got a little scary when we anchored for a quick dip. I jumped in to test the waters while the girls were preparing themselves. It dawned on me that the boat was bobbing quite high on the water and that I might struggle to get back in (especially if the girls jumped in too). I swam back over and tried to pull myself in but only succeeded in forcing the girls to hold on for dear life. After several attempts I managed to lift my mass up on to the boat - with little or no dignity at all - and flapped around like a beached whale while trying to get to my feet. The girls would have tried to help but they were too busy using their hands to point and laugh. Luckily Lyndsey and Vicky jumped in and had similar problems so I had an opportunity to laugh back. Steph knew better though. Later that evening we met the girls again to have dinner by the beach. Biggest burgers ever.
The next day we went on a tour to the northernmost territory of New Zealand in another 4wd coach. We set off at 7am and the thick mist meant the scenery looked even more like middle earth. The land in this area is covered with rolling green mounds just like The Shire in The Lord Of The Rings films. We went bodyboarding down mountainous sand dunes, visited a gumdiggers site, and drove on 90 Mile Beach (again this is inaccurately named, as it's nearer 60 miles). We also stopped at Cape Reinga (where you can literally see the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet) and a beach which was off the beaten track and down a dirt road. Both were brilliant, and the surf was the best we've seen in NZ or OZ. I went body surfing with the driver and a Canadian guy that Steph and I met, but I decided to call it a day when I emerged from a wave with no shorts. Luckily for the other swimmers I was over waist deep so they were spared the site of my behind, and I soon found the shorts floating on the swell. I considered fashioning some attire out of seaweed at one point.
For valentines day my wonderful fiancé insisted that I get chucked out of a plane and do a skydive. It is one thing that I have always wanted to do, and Steph reasoned that this would be the place to do it. We went to the first company and enquired, but they turned me away due to my size. Wimps. The second company said it's not a problem despite the fact that I exceeded the usual limit. This worried Steph as she thought it meant that the parachute wouldn't cope, but the restriction is there for people who aren't as tall as me and, shall we say, 'less mobile'. We managed to get discount on the usual price and the deal was done. The hard part was over.
Steph said to me that she doesn't remember her freefall and that I probably wouldn't either. I thought she was just being forgetful, but it's true. I know it was amazing, and I know that I loved it, but I don't remember a great deal. I had an American called Dean strapped to my back and he did all the work - he's jumped over 8000 times. It's probably best that you all watch the video when we get back because it was too good to express in words. As the kiwis say: 'Sweet as'.
I mentioned to Steph that the skydive instructors have a great job and that I would love to do that everyday. Her response was: "You couldn't do that. You struggle to fold a towel, let alone a parachute". Touché.
After having a massive adrenaline come-down we caught the ferry to Russell, a beautiful little island with expensive houses and a great beach. It would be a great place to have a two week holiday but we only have a day until we are back on the road.
What a week!!!