North Island, New Zealand - Amazing beaches, stunning scenery and incredible Crunchie bars...
We left Chile late in the evening of 1st December and, although the flight to New Zealand was only 12 hours long, we didn't arrive in Auckland until 28 hours later where it was already 3rd December! Paddy took a somewhat novel approach to the time difference and decided that, having lost 2nd December altogether, he could have 2 breakfast, lunches and dinners on 3rd. This wasn't difficult as the first day in Auckland was a rediscovery of lots of things we hadn't had since we left England back in June - Cappucinos, Fish and Chips and most importantly, Crunchie Bars and we happily munched our way through the jetlag!
We stayed with our friend, Ivan, in Auckland and spent a few days here seeing the sights and visiting some of the beautiful beaches nearby before taking Ivan's car and heading off to explore the North Island for a week or so. From what we'd heard and read about NZ we'd expected great scenery but we were totally unprepared for just how beautiful a country it is.
Our first stop was the seaside town of Raglan which has a stunning beach and is renowned for its world class surfing. Feeling slightly out of place because everyone else was wearing a wetsuit and carrying a surf board, and with Paddy's hair now long enough to be given credibility by the surfer crowd, we decided it was time to learn ourselves. It was clear we hadn't fooled our instructor though who took one look at us and, rather than teach us on regular surfboards, gave us the soft ones designed for the completely incompetent! Our indignance soon turned to gratitude though as we spent the next 3 hours being battered by both waves and our surfboard which seemed to land on top of us more often then we stood on top of it! Between us we spent about 10 seconds on the surf board itself - the rest of the 3 hours was in the water but we loved it and it's given Paddy an excuse to grow his hair even longer although thankfully he hasn't talked about getting blonde highlights (yet).
From Raglan we headed to Waitomo, a town known for its hundreds of limestone caves and we spent a morning blackwater rafting through caves filled with hundreds of thousands of glowworms which looked amazing although once we heard the story of the glowworms it took some of the romance away! Glowworms are the larval stage in the life of the fungus gnat which spends 6-9 months as a glowing larva until it becomes an adult. However, on emerging from it's cocoon, it discovers it doesn't have a mouth and has only 3 days to mate and lay eggs and then it dies! Not the greatest of lives but they do look very cool on the roof of a cave!!
Our next stop was Rotorua, which has the most energetic thermal activity in the country. It's a rather strange town with pools of bubbling mud everywhere and eggy smells all around and we spent an afternoon wandering around geysers and hot springs before heading on our journey north.
We thought we'd timed our stay in NZ perfectly as we'd be arriving in the summer time and envisaged 6 weeks of sunshine to top up our tans. However, we'd overlooked the fact that the summer in NZ is very similar to that in the UK which means rain - and lots of it! Our next stop was the stunning Bay of Islands and the plan had been to take a boat trip around these but torrential rain and high winds stopped all boats from running so we instead spent a couple of days in the nearby town of Russell overlooking the islands but unable to reach them! A couple of days later though we headed south to the town of Tutukaka, the base for diving at the Poor Knights Islands, where thankfully the weather improved enough for the dive boats to go out and we spent a day diving with fishes, sharks and stingrays in a fantastic marine reserve.
We then headed back to Auckland where we stayed with Angelo and Katrina, other friends we hadn't seen for 6 months, and their little son, Henry before flying to the capital, Wellington where we crossed the Cook Strait to begin our journey through the South Island...