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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for January, 2008

We’re ‘In Transit’

We’re in Sydney Airport. It’s very like many other airports, but has some free internet facilities if you look in obscure corners. It’s not very sunny here, but we had a nice fly over town on the way in.

Must go. Fe needs a new bikini…

Bye bye NZ

After two months and 7000 odd kilometres, our travels round New Zealand are almost at an end. Today we said a sad goodbye to our lovely Campervan (after spending yesterday evening cleaning it). Awww - it served us well, even if it wasn’t mossie proof. Here it is about to fall off a cliff:

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We now have a day or so to spend kicking around Auckland (not entirely sure there’s too much to entertain us, but I’m sure we’ll survive). Next we are going to Thailand for three weeks for more beach bumming, diving and perhaps some temple viewing… ahh how difficult our lives are.

When we return we’ll have to get jobs though, so any offers, of a legal variety only, might be appreciated. Thanks!

Poorly behaved endangered species

The island of Tiritiri Matangi is described as somewhere that anyone with even a mild interest in wildlife must visit. Eagerly we booked ourselves on a boat, with only slight disappointment at the huge number of our journey mates.

One of the highlights of the island is the Takahe, which resembles a rather overgrown moorhen. Now, the Takahe is one of the rarest birds in the world; it’s terribly endangered, and was once thought extinct. Rare birds should, of course, be difficult to see, and behave with a certain dignity befitting their status.

Takehe

This Takahe is stealing a chocolate bar from an old lady’s lunch. How rude is that? This beast is known - it is called Greg and will regularly strut around the beach begging and stealing food. All well and good you might say, more energy means Greg is better able to service the ladies and save the species from extinction! Not so, Greg has been eating too much junk food and can’t keep a lady. He hasn’t bred for years. Utterly useless. He should be confined to the sperm bank then poor old ladies lunches will be safe and any genetic uselfulness will be preserved.

At last…

After nearly two months of intermittent night-time wanderings we finally saw a wild kiwi. Several in fact, probably five. We’d heard one or two wild birds before, and seen captive birds at an excellent breeding facility in Rotorua and one lone beast in a less pleasing exhibit somewhere else (the names all disappear in a blur).

Our visit to Trounson forest was to be our last chance. Armed with red filters over our torches we entered the forest an hour after dark. Within 20 minutes we were listening to a beast snuffling and scratching just five metres from our path. After a suitably short pause to heighten excitement, a North Island Brown Kiwi popped out to say hello (well, it sniffed a little - a hello in kiwi-speak, I’m sure).

Over the next three hours we continued to explore the forest, enjoying brief glimpses of kiwi as they foraged. My particular favourite bird ran right past us as we were watching a scary looking short-finned eel and some crayfish in a stream. Quite brazen it was. Fast too, and with a comical looking rear end.

We decided to retire about 0100, and just as we were about to walk back through the gate to our conveniently located campsite two splendid kiwi decided to put on a proper performance - they strutted their stuff for a good twenty minutes in open view. Excellent stuff indeed.

It’s grim up North

We made it to the top of New Zealand (well, nearly), had a fine walk and a swim on a rather beautiful, long and sweeping, deserted beach, not half an hour’s walk from the procession of grockles heading to Cape Reinga lighthouse.

We camped by a beach on the other side of the Cape - a very  beautiful spot too. Only when the sun set did we discover the dark side of this delightful spot: more mosquitoes than I have ever seen before. The lee side of our van was black with them. All night we could hear the whine of these infernal beasts.

For the past eight months we have been cursing the mosquito net that we have been carrying around and have only used once. This night we used it - it fitted badly in the camper van, however it saved us from the hoards of mossies that we knew would find their way into the van.

In the morning we awoke to discover the power of Permethrin. Approximately 200 dead mosquitoes lined each side of our net (on the outside!). A few we still flying around, looking slightly intoxicated. We soon dispensed with them.

We are now in Rawene and heading south. Just one more week in New Zealand, then we are off to Thailand.

Poor Knights

We recently went diving in one of the world’s “top-ten” diving spots - the Poor Knights Islands off the east coast of Northland - we had been warned that the swells may make the trip out there a bit grim, but with two bits of crystallised ginger for breakfast, my stomach behaved very well.

We had a lovely day and had our first experience of ‘cold’ (21 degrees C) water diving, complete with 2-piece 7mm wetsuits (so 14mm total around our torso) they were a hassle to get in and out of, but they kept us nice and toasty, and we were probably warmer than in Honduras. They also affected our buoyancy somewhat, and I ended up with 10kg of weights, and still couldn’t sink that well!!

The marine life was amazing - there were literally hundreds of fish around us, and even as the boat arrived we saw shoals of trevally and blue maomao at the surface. Underwater we saw lots of pretty damoiselles and snappers, three types of eel and a few black angelfish to name a few. After finally getting to grips with my buoyancy I was able to relax a bit and do some impressive spots - two stingrays, a packhorse crayfish, and the only poisonous fish in these waters - the well camouflaged scorpion fish. We also saw lots of funky nudibranchs - some stripy blue and yellow, others bright orange with white spots. Oh and a cool firebrick starfish. Ah, if only I had an underwater camera….

As the skipper told us, this was different from diving on coral as we could handle things and not worry about kicking the bottom etc. We were therefore a bit peturbed on our first descent by the number of spiny urchins along the seafloor and walls - definitely a good reason for avoiding any surfaces!

A marvellous occurence

After a pleasant evening in Auckland and mildly frantic search for somewhere to live we spent a relaxing morning strolling the shores and headlands of Mahauangi, a touch north of the big smoke. We found lots of curious and new beach fauna and admired a tall ship that was anchored in the bay.

Offshore I could see hundreds of seabirds, but they were too far away for satisfaction. Most vexing. Some time later we clambered up onto a headland and much to my surprise, a few thousand feeding shearwaters had surrounded the aforementioned tall ship.  This was most unusual behaviour; shearwaters are normally offshore feeders.  As the raft of birds was slowly making its way towards the shore I pegged it off down the hill as fast as my little legs would carry me (I confess to abandoning my flip-flop clad beloved atop the hill).

By the time I reached the beach the birds were just metres from the shore. These were Fluttering shearwaters (a poor choice of name I’m afraid). I waded into the water to obtain closer views and was sorely tempted to strip off and go for a swim with them, however just as the urge became strongest, the fishy-things they were feeding on drifted away and so did the shearwaters.

They had caused quite a commotion. Even the local rangers stopped and admired the show, having never seen such a display before (then they asked me what they were!).

My favourite geothermal feature

We’ve crossed through the geothermally active part of New Zealand. Now, you can have all your high profile, big money geysers, fumaroles, lava flows, hot springs, nicely coloured pools, and terribly healthy spa baths and what have you, for me though, you can’t beat bubbling mud. It wins every time, the best noises, the most amusing movements. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be thick, gloopy and to look like molten chocolate. Marvellous.

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Bah, humbug. No dynamism at all with these fellows.

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Now, that’s what I call entertaining. Who could ever tire of watching bubbling mud?

The high life

After our failure with Mt Taranaki, we headed for some more volcanoes in the centre of the North Island - luckily there was not a cloud in the sky and we took the opportunity for a spontaneous climb to the crater of Mt Ruapehu - an active volcano which most recently erupted on the 25th Sept last year… Oh, and also known as Mordor by LOTR buffs.

We took a ski lift up to knock off a few hundred metres of the ascent and then climbed up scree, snow and rocks to get to the crater itself at an elevation of ~2673m (forget exactly) - probably the highest we’ve been on our travels so far. The crater lake was impressive and steaming, although our view was quickly obscured by incoming cloud, so we had to head back down, doing some glissading (skiing in walking boots!) along the way and stopping at the toilet perched near the top- almost obligatory to pay it a visit I thought.

Chris on Mt Ruapehu

This was a good warm up for the next day’s activities which involved walking the Tongariro Crossing -  the most popular day walk in NZ apparently, and judging by the number of people on the track (literally thousands) this claim seems quite true. The track took us up some more steep slopes (so I’m feeling fairly fit just now, although whether my knees will ever forgive me…), past Mt Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt Doom) and some beautiful lakes - the appropriately named Emerald and Blue Lakes which were rather smelly (think sulphur, think rotten eggs). I learnt another mountaineering skill for getting down mountains fast (unless you’re a wimp like me) - scree sliding - we both ended up on our bums at some point on the way down.

To add to our list of ascents we also took the side track up to the top of Mount Tongariro (only 1978m!) where we had a lunch with a spectacular view. Lovely.

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Milk, mountains and rain

During our two months in Honduras, every morning we thoughtfully eyed the Anchor powdered milk tin and its fine illustration of a conical, snow capped mountain with grazing cows in the foreground. Our resident ambassador for New Zealand, Bex, would, at appropriate intervals, bring to our attention that this idyllic scene was Mount Taranaki on the North Island.

From Wellington we made our way North and expectantly drove towards this volcanic masterpiece, which our guidebook assured us was a fit rival for Mount Fuji. Eventually some heavy dark clouds loomed out of the overcast sky. Now, these clouds indicated the precense of an imposing hill, but were rather tiresomely obsuring it from our view.

We spent the night on the coast and had a fine paddle along a black sand beach. The next day it rained. Then rained a bit more. Then a lot more. No scenic views were to be had today. We drove to a nearby lighthouse, and took the opportunity to drink tea and read our books (I read Ian Rankin’s most recent book - but will there be a post retirement outing for Rebus?).

We spent some of the afternoon in New Plymouth, then camped part way up the mountain, hoping for fine views in the morning. No such luck. We drove to the top of the road and enjoyed a fine walk through the goblin woods in thick fog.

Enough. We ran away inland from where we finally saw the confounded mountain, albeit from a distance.

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