Monday, 31 December 2012

To the north from Auckland. And then back south through Auckland

Life after Auckland

By the time we left Auckland, I think it’s fair to say that we had seen pretty much all it had to offer as a tourist destination. While it is a great place, it’s actually a fairly small city, and while I’m sure there are many more things we could have done (in fact there definitely are) we were both glad to be moving forwards.

New Zealand

It was only after we had arrived in New Zealand that I really started looking at maps of just where everything was. For some reason, in my head I had always thought it was just a tiny island off the coast of Australia, a na├»ve view that I attribute to never fully appreciating the vast size of Australia from only ever looking briefly at maps and not giving the subject any real thought. For this reason, I’ll provide you with some of the basic facts that I had picked up during my stay in Auckland and the rough plan we had created as a result.

Map of New Zealand

The first thing I realised after closer study of map was that the north island wasn't actually that much shorter than the south island. In the six weeks we planned to spend in the country, our aim was to see as much of it as possible, while not missing out on any of the major tourist attractions. When we rented the car, the deal came with one way passage on the South Island ferry, so we had to choose a date before renting the car. While we didn't want to miss anything we’d regret, all the guide books and most of the people who had been suggested that the south island was a lot more scenic than the north, and so we decided to allocate just over two weeks in the north with the rest of our time to the south.

After talking to several people at the hostel in Auckland, we had decided to head north to start with, towards the peninsular which leads to the very top of the island. The main reason being ninety mile beach down the western side which we were told is exactly as the name suggested; a ninety mile long continuous beach which you could, at low tide, drive along (although we decided not to try in the Sunny due to insurance concerns.)  
The first thing I noticed was the difference in driving compared to the UK. 

After getting accustomed to the automatic gears, it became apparent that that wasn't all that was different about the experience. It was the lack of people, not only on the road but the rolling hills and fields in between towns. It was almost like the American small town feeling, as every now and then you’d pass a welcome sign, a gas station, a couple of shops and then a thank you for driving carefully as you exited once again into grassy valleys before you even realised you were in a town. 

Driving north from Auckland

It was a pleasure to drive, and I felt the enjoyment that I hadn't felt since the previous year down the west coast of America. It’s what I imagine driving in England used to be like before over developed villages and towns massed gradually outwards into one big urban mess. Like driving in the lake district or the Yorkshire dales would be if you didn't have so many city drivers rushing all over the roads, with enough room for camper vans to happily go both ways without any danger. Although I do highly recommend it, that’s probably enough about driving for now.

After leaving Auckland, we began the journey to the beach. After staying in a hostel which was more like my parents’ house in the UK, and watching the ‘new’ Robin Hood with Russell Crow (the ending of which topped it off as one of the flimsiest plot lines since Space Cowboys), we made it the next day.

Ninety Mile Beach

It was really a good view, and we had a great day for it but we were faced with the dilemma of just how far to go up the peninsula. We could have gone further up, as there were sand dunes which our friend Jan had highly recommended, or further still to the northern most point. But the question was would it really change that much? We had already seen some of the ninety miles, and because of the thought of going back on ourselves as we would be coming back down the same road, and the thought of spending the money on petrol we decided to call it, and instead decided to push on to the bay of islands.

Me, looking concerned, on Ninety Mile Beach

The Bay of Islands

While still north of Auckland, these were down the east coast and marked the beginning of our journey south. Because of the timing of our journey, the summer tourist season had still not fully begun, and while it was clear that the towns visitor capacity was nowhere near filled, it was still a great experience. The hostel we stayed in, much like many we were to see during our journey, was packed mainly with German tourists who were there for the soon to begin farming season. In the kitchen, following the days long drive, we cracked open a bottle of wine. I made the mistake of having a little too much before cooking dinner, leading to an awkward moment in the open plan kitchen involving several German girls, the language barrier and some jacket potatoes. After dinner we did manage to make friends, and after a quite quiet but fun night we spent the next day in the town. We would have stayed longer but we decided that due to the time frame we should push on with the drive. Unfortunately, it would appear that neither of us remembered to take any photos here, but I assure you that it was due to the sheer beauty that we forgot to take our cameras out the car.

After leaving the Bay of Islands, we headed south, returning through Auckland on our way to see the rest of the North Island.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Road to Auckland

A Change of Plans

Research for our trip had barely begun after buying tickets to Melbourne, when Jon, who I would be travelling with, achieved a qualifying time in a race in the UK to represent Great Britain in his age group category at the World International Triathlon Championship.  These were scheduled to be held in Auckland, New Zealand, the week after our flights to Australia, so rather than change the flights we bought tickets from Melbourne to Auckland leaving 24 hours after our arrival.

The flight to Melbourne was better than I expected, as the relatively cheap tickets with Royal Brunei Airways proved to hold great in-flight movies on demand, as well as a constant supply of soft drinks and food. After a long flight with two changes, and not very much sleep on my part, we finally arrived in Melbourne, where we were greeted by the friendly face of Rhys Neild, who had thankfully been able to decipher several scrappy emails detailing our arrival time. Rhys drove us back to his flat in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne, where we would be staying the night and following day as his guests, for which we were most grateful after the past day of sitting on a plane.

After a painfully early morning, due to jetlag, Jon and I decided to see some of the city, so we headed into the centre and wandered around China Town and Federation Square. I instantly liked the atmosphere, and was reassured at my decision to commit to living in the city for a considerable time upon our return from New Zealand.

Later that evening, taking only hand luggage after leaving my main bag at the flat, Rhys dropped us again at the airport where we would see him again six weeks later. We had decided that rather than just go for the triathlon, we would make the most of our tickets and do a quick tour of the country, especially with the twelve month clock on our Australian visas already ticking.

Arriving in Auckland in the early morning, it became clear that it was going to be colder than expected. Though we had left the beginning of winter in the UK, it was still spring in New Zealand, despite my visions of a tropical paradise, and while the days were to be warm in the sun, the nights still gave a surprising chill. The Airport is a way out from the city, and it took a shuttle about an hour to drive us over to the other side.
We would be staying in a twin room at a hostel called The Brown Kiwi about a twenty minute walk from the city centre.

Although we would usually save money and stay in a dorm room, Jon needed to get sleep well in preparation for the race. The hostel had a really friendly environment, and was a great place to ask questions about where to go on our trip, as well as meeting lots of great people. With various triathlon events spread throughout the week, the city was a hive of activity, and while the jetlag lasted for a couple of days, it didn't stop us having a great time. We explored in and around the city during the next few days, and after going up a dormant volcano on the outskirts got a real sense of the landscape that we would be experiencing over our time in the country.

The view from Mount Eden - Auckland's highest natural viewpoint and a dormant volcano

Jon’s race was about a week after we arrived and, despite bad weather conditions and an extremely early start he did very well in his event, for which I have huge respect having traveled the same distance myself and still not fully acclimatised. It was an inspiration to watch, even though I only saw the final running leg, and would like to congratulate him for doing his country proud.

While Jon had been training, I had organised the car rental, so after a couple of days where Jon enjoyed some well deserved beers we said our goodbyes to our friends in the hostel and headed to the outskirts of the city where we picked up a white Nissan Sunny. This would be the car which would be our partner in crime across the two islands over the next six weeks, and which we soon became accustomed to driving, both being on the insurance. 

Our Car - The Sunny

We headed north, with a rough plan mapped out on a route from Tourist information.

Travelling: My move to Australia

The Basic Plan: Where, Why and When

Since graduating from University, I have really struggled thinking about exactly what it is I want to do. Writing is still at the top of the list, but with a book still underway that was started five years ago, I constantly seem to get stuck for new ideas, or realise that it’s become so abstract that I have to delete it all and start again. Trying to write around admin based jobs in the UK became frustrating as I couldn't bring myself to look at a computer after work so I decided that a change was required, and realised I’d have to do something about it.

Luckily, I found that my friend Jon Davies was still keen to follow through on a very vague plan we’d talked about several years ago. We both wanted to see, live and travel some of the world before we were too old, and had been talking about Asia, Australia and the Trans – Siberian railway for some time.

Unfortunately, neither of us had really done the research, so we began to look into where we should go first, how to get there and how to make enough money to make it happen. The plan is still not that clear, but we have obtained working holiday visas for Australia, got a 6 month lease on a flat in Prahran, Melbourne, and are going to then see the rest of the country. We then plan to head back to England over land as much as possible, through South East Asia, India and the Himalayas before hopefully getting the Trans – Siberian railway back to Moscow and then heading home through Europe. We’re unsure of the time scale, but will plan more for it during our time in Australia.