A Day Trip to Cape Reinga

A round trip of 500 km from Paihia to the most northern land point of New Zealand on a superb sunny day. Wendy my charming host from Decks of Paihai, provided a healthy picnic lunch, which saved me from the crush of the “all you can eat smorgy” with 150 odd tourists from 4 coaches.

Barry was our archetypal bus driver and tour leader. He had a deep raspy infectious laugh, which was continuously on show as he spent more than a two thirds of the 10 hour journey cracking jokes, at which he himself laughed. He was a fascinating character. Some of you may remember on ABC Radio National, “A Prairie Home Companion”? It was syndicated from American public radio and the host was Garrison Keillor. It was the sort of radio programme that the family would gather around the “wireless” on a Saturday night to listen. It was best known for its musical guests, especially folk and traditional musicians, tongue-in-cheek radio drama, and Keillor’s storytelling segment, “News from Lake Wobegon”. Garrison had a fatherly homespun folksy philosophical style and Barry was New Zealand’s equivalent. Whilst his intentions were honourable, his comments were slightly sexist. Often he would admonish the blokes on board for “not telling that wonderful woman in your life, how much you love her”. When was the last chance that you hugged or kissed her? This was all commendable and understandable, but I suspect that in the bus there were several older men and women who may have been widowed or worse still, homosexual and single.

As we approached the tip of the Northland he told a rather touching and sad story of a woman who was on a tour with him a few weeks back, and was nursing long held pain, frustration and anger towards her mother. The reason? The mother a vivacious and strong woman in her early 80 had been diagnosed with a progressive degenerating neurological illness which would ultimately cause her demise. One suspects it may have been some form of dementia. Anyway the mother whilst still in charge of her faculties, died suddenly and the family suspected suicide. In other words a form of euthanasia. The daughter and indeed the rest of her siblings, were torn by so many emotions about this and had difficulty in comprehending why their mother would even consider it- so out of character. But the point of the story was that at the sacred Maori site we were to visit that day, the woman’s daughter after a good “talking too” by Barry, had an epiphany and forgave her mother and came to an understanding. Now the point if me telling this, is that Barry, who I assumed had Maori blood, told this story with such empathy and feeling that a not insignificant number of the group began to pass around a large box of Kleenex.

As we approached the Sacred Site, he asked permission to sing a Maori song a sort of traditional hymn I guess. He had a not unpleasant baritone voice. Now all things considered- the parable of the prodigal daughter, the terminally ill mother and the finale of the Maori hymn, presented with sermon like overtones, the atmosphere in the bus was by now bordering on the funereal.

Barry, genuine and simple soul, did not consider the real possibility that given the overall age of the group, at least several of whom were decidedly frail and may well have some insidious terminal illness, that were he to offer at the end of his song to pass around syringes of Pentothal, he may well have done a brisk business.

The buses, of which there were at least 5 that day, drove at breakneck speed along the 90 mile beach at times passing through the surf! Suffice it to say it was genuinely exciting even though it’s only 64 miles long not 90! For those of you from Adelaide, imagine driving along Middleton Beach for a distance of 60 miles! Then we stopped for sand tobogganing. It’s akin to surfing with a board but on a sand dune! Great fun. Then to the most northerly point of New Zealand and the original lighthouse, where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, the same longitude as Coffs Harbour in NSW. then we turned around and headed back home stopping along the way to visit a Kauri forest.

Barry had an almost unbelievable story about the forest. Queen Elizabeth II Visited NZ to attend the Commonwealth Games, the year was around 1990. The civic fathers decided to build an elevated walkway and platform for about 750m through the tops of this subtropical forest, for the sole purpose of the Queen to perambulate through the pines. The cost of this royal roundabout was a little more than a million dollars- a not inconsiderable sum in those days. Not surprisingly, it was not universally supported by the locals! Anyway, the Queen drove up with royal retinue, took 11 steps on to the platform, whereupon her secret service police whispered in her ear that she was NOT to descend any further as they could not guarantee her safety. She peered over the rails, waved a gloved hand to any Kiwi birds in the undergrowth, said “what a lovely forest”, turned 180 degrees, got back into the Rolls and drove off! But the platform and elevated walkway was great investment as it is a stop off point for the tourist buses. I wondered whether I should disclose to Barry that after 15 years, an Australian Queen passed by and walked the whole 750 metres?

So the tour was well worth it. There are the inevitable irritations with any bus tour all over the world. They are related to the fact that the driver has a captive audience and crowd. So any comfort or sustenance stop is always at a place that requires one to walk through the “souvenir shop” or the ancient woodworking factories of the Maori Kauri Kingdom. On this trip, just in case one did not have the time to purchase all that one needed to take home on the way there, the tour bus pulled in again on the way home! Barry in his evangelical style, worked the group up into a lather as we approached the Ancient Kingdom stop, suggesting that the ice creams here were the BEST in the whole of New Zealand. To deny ones self a ‘hokey-pokey’, would be a mortal sin.

As a final note, the Northlands of NZ are absolutely stunning and I could return, but it is not suitable for riding a bike. The roads are shoulder-less and very busy with logging trucks and tourist buses fighting for the tarmac. So one must sadly use a car.

20140310-114832.jpg

Map of the bus trip

20140310-114922.jpg

90 mile beach

20140310-114953.jpg

As you can see it was desolate but by no means deserted!

20140310-115048.jpg

The northern tip of NZ

20140310-115131.jpg

20140310-115201.jpg

Banter at the Bar – Pass the Lipitor.

A universal and mandatory topic amongst self funded travelling retirees is one’s health or rather lack of it, together with an almost pharmacopeia like forensic analysis of side effects of one’s medication. This is pure theatre, or rather more accurately a complex TV soap opera combining elements of “What”s my Line” with “Big Brother”.

On the Bay of Islands cruise, we are all seated around a large table on the upper deck before dinner. It begins with an innocent female, remarking that she experienced angina last year and had an angiogram. She is now taking Aspirin and Lipitor. There is a polite silence. A slightly more overweight and breathless woman then chips in that she had a “massive heart attack” 2 years ago and had 2 stents. She was on something Continue reading

Overnight on the Bay of Islands

A wonderful expanse of water. The Bay is teeming with the Common Dolphin- the “C” being capitalised. My bucolic, Recorder playing retired French, English teacher surely would acknowledge that this is a genuine example of the term “literally and figuratively”. But then again, she does tend to nit-pick.

The cruise boat is a beautifully crafted catamaran – from the boat yards in Tasmania. The passengers are, in the main, self funded Australian retirees, so I have a taste of life to come in a few years time. We are, and I put myself in the same boat, literally and figuratively, (no nit-picking) Silver Herons rather than Grey Nomads.

Of course any sober teacher worth her salt, would counsel on the overuse of simile, alliteration or repetitive words or phrases, not to mention hyperbole. So I am at least safe.

We left Opua – which means “Place of Shelter” and headed north. As we neared Motuarohia island, several pods of dolphins seemed to detect our presence and provided a spectacular show of diving and breaching. By about 3 pm we moored at a sandy bay on the Island of Waewaetorea. Had a few hours of kayaking, swimming and snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and warm.

Around 5 pm we “pulled anchor” and headed for our overnight shelter and dinner. From about 6 till 7 pm was “Happy Hour” – I fear I will need to rapidly learn the obligatory banter of the bar. Besides “The American Tourist”, the principle topic was health or rather lack of it! More of that in the next blog. There was universal agreement that the American tourist is both loud and obese, which as we gently swayed on the swell, was I thought to myself, “the pot calling the kettle black.”

Geoff and Marge from Bateman’s Bay described their trip on the Junks of Halong Bay and that during the evening smorgasbord, the Americans – all of them, not just one, would pile up their plates with an entree and several desserts. Should the pangs of hunger persist, the Americans returned for a modest helping of mains and for good measure, pudding seconds! Politely and orderly masticating their way through entree, then mains, by the time our Aussies returned to the sweet trolley it was, to their horror, “dessert-ed”. It was enough to drive a man to drink- which it did.

20140306-065508.jpg

My cabin on the catamaran

20140306-065608.jpg

Sorry you may need to rotate or stand sideways!

20140306-065721.jpg

20140306-065737.jpg

20140306-065747.jpg

The Trek from Russell back to Paihai

Monday dawned cool and cloudy so I set off on a trek that the brochure suggested one should allow 6 hours. The first stage follows the beach from Paihai to Opua. The map kindly provided by the tourist office describes the 6 sections, the approximate time for each and a reasonably easy to follow map.

So with a relaxed and confident stride I set out for the start, clearly marked at the intersection of Seaview Drive and the headland. I rounded the headland to be met by water! Not just surf gently lapping sand, but 2 metres of Pacific Ocean crashing against rocky cliffs. Dumbfounded, I retraced my steps and spent the next 45 minutes trying to fathom out where I had got it wrong! Having climbed a mountain lookout then followed the main road for a kilometre, I resorted to plan B when light rain began to fall. I would do it in reverse! There was no way that I could stuff this up as Stage 1 in reverse involved catching the ferry from Paihai to Russell. Going by past travelling stories, I understand that you may jump to the conclusion that even this would lead to my undoing. Reassuringly it was impossible as all ferries lead to Russell.

Russell was the original capital of New Zealand- a cesspool of bawdy bars and brothels, that drove the local clergy to despair. It was the centre of the whaling industry in the 1860’s. Whalers being whalers, Russell’s most famous brothel was “The Hump Back Whaler”, whilst sailors being sailors, frequented “The Pinkie Minkie Whaler”.

Nevertheless it is a delightful village with grand mansions and homesteads built of weatherboard and all freshly painted in gloss white. It’s quite subtropical. It has the oldest established church in New Zealand.

The trail follows the coastline and the numerous small bays and coves with an extensive series of board walks through the coastal mangove swamps, to finally ascend then descend into Okiato Bay . One catches a quaint vehicular ferry the few hundred metres to Opua. From here the final leg follows the shoreline mostly with a few steep climbs and descents over headlands. Having set out around 9.30 am, I rounded the last cove around 4 pm to a long rocky beach – the tide was out! Gone was the crashing 2 metre surf and I could gaily crunch my way back over rocks around the bay into Paihai without drowning or the need to walk on water.

Surely a small boxed explanation on the walking map near the start would save the average disorientated Australian tourist much angst. “When the tide is in, the walk is out”.

20140305-141819.jpg

The Map

20140305-142006.jpg

Christchurch at Russell

20140305-142102.jpg

Part of the boardwalk

20140305-142149.jpg

Sign at start of boardwalk.

20140305-142239.jpg

The village of Opua

Air New Zealand – Adding Fuel to the Fire

If you have not done so, please read the Qantas blog first – then this blog will make sense! ….

The plane to Bay of Islands is a twin engine Beechcraft turboprop. It’s small. As the advertisements proclaim “every seat is a window seat” and the cockpit is visible from the cabin. No security doors in New Zealand.

My attempts to check in at the self service kiosk failed repeatedly. I was told that my flight could not be verified – “please approach an Air New Zealand staff member”. Still recovering and probably permanently scarred from approaching the Qantas staff member 24 hours previously, I faltered. With a stammer and Tourette like twitch of the right eye, I gingerly accosted a nearby “customer service agent”. She was genuinely surprised at the fact that I could not check in and led me to another terminal. Her first step was to reboot the computer – – I saw the immediate logic of this as the system was running Microsoft Windows. Whilst we waited for the system to come up, we chatted and watched 5 international flights depart for Sydney, Santiago, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Eventually, somewhat breathlessly she explained that whilst I was booked on the flight and had a seat, 9A to be precise, I was nevertheless “on standby”. Now the logic or rather lack of it with respect to this statement was within a cat’s whisker of the previous day’s weight conundrum with a Qantas customer service agent.

Perhaps picking up on my incredulity and I suspect with a degree of empathy, she adopted a professional manner and opined that sometimes, thankfully rarely, there are issues with “load” and this involves a complex relationship between fuel and weight. God I thought , she has ESP and knows that I was stumped by a simple Qantas 2Kg load shift. So she assumes that she has me well and truely by the mathematical balls! And she had! All sorts of visions flashed before me. Would it help if, rather than taking out 2kg, I left the whole bag behind? Should I amputate a leg?

Then, recovering my composure somewhat, I took stock of the situation. My Tourette like tic had settled into mild vocalizations – a cross between a sniff and a sob. It was then that the penny dropped as I surveyed the rest of the passengers. There were 14 and 6 were either second cousins of the King of Tonga OR a contingent from the local TV production of “Tonga’s Biggest Loser” – of course I did entertain the thought they could have been both! Distinctly possible and indeed plausible as I am led to believe that the King of Tonga owns the local TV company.

Anyway, the flight was called, all 14 including the Tongan contingent, boarded. I sat patiently trying at once to appear obvious yet elfin like. Without being forced to divest myself of anything, I was given a boarding pass. The 6 South Sea Islanders were seated in the centre of the plane, 3 on each side, essentially spread out equally over the aircraft’s centre of gravity. I sat towards the aft surrounded by 3 empty seats!

The flight took 45 minutes, flying at about 15000 feet over breathtaking scenery. I confess that I did not enjoy the moment, as my mind constantly threw up images of the aeronautical consequences of a Tongan call of nature. Should the passenger in seat 4A suddenly arise and head for the toilet situated in the very back of the plane, firstly there is the distinct possibility that he could not squeeze into the cubicle and secondly, should he do so with any alacrity, the aircraft would go into a sudden pitch – nose up attitude. The consequences of this on an unprepared pilot, would be a “stall situation”. The nose would drop and the plane would nose dive down, drop a wing and our Tongan King’s cousin would be unceremoniously thrown off the throne, rolling with increasing momentum towards the cockpit and it’s open door….! It would be a unique aviation catastrophe, not helped by the “black box”, which has not yet developed the capacity to record that both pilots were unable to respond to the crisis due to suffocation.

Qantas gets it’s knickers in a knot about 2 Kg, whilst Air New Zealand, justifiably gets concerned about 200kg.

To this day I have no clue as to why I was asked to wait and board last.

20140304-091609.jpg

20140304-091644.jpg

Qantas – weighty issues.

For the last few years I have prided myself on traveling light. It culminated in a month cycling along the Elbe and Danube rivers with 12 kg of luggage in 2 panniers during September 2013.

Yesterday I presented myself to the Qantas check in desk at Adelaide airport – Qantas Club Business Class – naturally. It is not possible to electronically check in for an international flight, trust me. One cannot avoid personal contact or as it turned out, impersonal contact, when leaving the country.

“Luggage?” was the curt welcome. This should have set alarm bells ringing, but it did not and as the saying goes: “Pride comes before the fall”. With barely repressed smugness I indicated that I was travelling only with carry-on luggage. She peered over the counter, and with a touch of distain in her voice, indicated that it required weighing. So help me God, I did not see this coming. “It’s 2 kg over the limit… ” after a pregnant pause from this menopausal matriarch, she ventured that there may be something I could take out?

The logical response to this, was “take it out and put it where?”

Remember I have NO booked luggage. But I was so dumbfounded by the initial interaction that I stood mute.

As Sir Les Patterson would say “Are you with me?”….

At the risk of insulting the reader, let me take you through this scenerio,

I am flying Business Class, my baggage allowance is 32kg. I approach the check in. I weigh 74kg, I have a TOTAL baggage of 9kg. The man across from me is checking in the Economy queue – he is a card carrying member of McDonalds “Eat 5 get 1 free”. He tips the scales at 112.5 Kg and has hand luggage that will require a block and tackle to lift it into the overhead bins. He sails through.

Perhaps mistaking my stunned silence as indicating intellectual impairment, the Qantas employee attempted to be helpful, possibly mindful of the $ 250 million loss the day before. “Would it be possible to unpack a few item and carry them on my person – that is with me?”

Now I resort to mental mathematics:

Weight analysis before check in:

My weight: 74kg
Hand luggage: 9kg
Total: 83kg

Weight analysis after check in:

My weight: 76kg
Hand luggage: 7kg
Total: 83kg.

Surely this must be the aeronautical equivalent of transubstantiation?

Anyway my brain was scrambled by confusing thoughts such as ” this would not even happen at the Aer Lingus counter” and “this is a concept that NAPLAN sets as a simple test for kindergarten.”

So I simply resigned and the beast booked my hand luggage through as baggage! Little did I know that a similar challenge awaited me in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

20140303-211415.jpg

It seemed that the only appropriate picture for this blog, was this one!

Faucets

Who gives a faucet?

There were TWO Emirates A380 parked at Auckland airport. Forget about boat people. I calculate that is equivalent to 1280 NZ Illegals, leaving daily for Australia.

Two years ago I blogged about European hotel shower recesses or rather cabinets and how frustratingly cramped they were. Last night I set about making a cup of tea in the hotel room. This is one of the few unique and appreciated facilities in Australasian hotel/motel chains. It dawned on me that when travelling, I spend much of my time in accommodation fighting with faucets. This epiphany appeared as I wrestled with filling the kettle with water in the bathroom handbasin. I have yet to find a hotel handbasin that allows one to easily fill the kettle under the tap. In short, it never fits. One is forced to place the kettle at an angle that can only be described as obtuse and obeys the law of physics, ensuring that once past a volume of 50 mls, any excess dribbles out. I invariably have two cups of tea so 50ml is a mere thimble full.

I considered placing the kettle in the toilet bowl and flushing, but as it panned out, (apology for the pun) I resorted to turning on the shower.

20140302-210729.jpg

20140302-211011.jpg