Location: Pirongia to Auckland, New Zealand
Our final day, to be spent in Auckland. We were supposed to be meeting Netty & Barry at a café, but on arrival we realised the café was still closed for Christmas. Netty knew of another, so we ate well at that one. After lunch we enjoyed a walk on a part of the Birkenhead waterfront that we had never known existed.
We then did a bit of shopping for presents and NZ groceries, before driving to North Head near Devonport. We stayed at North Head for about two hours, just enjoying the view over the harbour and some final sunshine before the UK winter. We can't live without this much longer, so returning permanently is definitely on the cards. Just a matter of timing.
Our final catch up was with Ali's friend Debbie at the Garden Shed in Mt Eden. Debs remains as chatty and positive as always, it was great to see her.
And finally, off to the airport. It's a late flight (1am), so maybe we'll be able to sleep a little on the plane.
The plane had lots of children on it. They screamed a lot. The Bose headphones did double duty, but couldn't block it all out. I do not like children on planes. Like any other offensive items, they should be banned or placed in the cargo hold. Maybe there should be adult-only flights, no kids, wouldn't that be great? I mean, a whole flight with no crying, whining devil spawn. I can see a new opportunity here.
Location: Whanganui to Pirongia, New Zealand
Got a good nights sleep, then following a bacon and egg breakfast, I went off to have a play on a nearby range with Craig/Hippie while Ali and Tanya walked the dogs and threw sticks into the water for an hour or so. Apparently, much gossip occurred between the two, however they are playing by Vegas rules, so I've no idea what was said.
We finally bid farewell and headed up to see Gayle in Pirongia. A few high speed stops later (Ali saw some photo ops) we arrived, after a break in Raetihi for lunch.
We then threw tennis balls around for an hour in order to exhaust Gayle's insane border collies. It didn't work, by the end, we were exhausted and the mutts wanted more. Typical. Cats are much easier to deal with.
Location: Otaki to Whanganui, New Zealand
After leaving Jase's dad, we invested in a few purchases at the outlet underclothes shop in Otaki (i.e Ali bought knickers while Jase stood around with the other husbands trying not to look like they are perving at the posters of models wearing little frilly things, while perving at the posters of models wearing little frilly things) before driving up to Whangarei for a play date with Hippie, Crispie, and their families.
Hippie and Tanya have the most amazing home! They designed and built it, and it is a beauty. View over a lake, room for a few sheep, indoor and outdoor entertaining areas, and even a scullery! Hippie is very house-proud, to the extent that he dived across the room, in slo-mo screaming "noooo" as we were about to wheel a suitcase across his polished wooden floor.
We arrive a little early and had a bit of a natter before Family Crisp arrived (who are all - Sheree plus all four kids - delightful).
Sadly the weather was rather windy, but we ate well, drank too much, played pool, and Crispie and Ali entertained their adoring audience with multiple renditions of Chopsticks on the piano.
The house has a large blank wall in the sitting area and we and Crispie generously offered to paint a mural on it. Hippie turned down our offer, despite the fact that we were already halfway through ordering paints and we had the design all agreed (the terrified final moments of a pilot, two metres away from crash landing into the sitting room. We were going to incorporate the two ceiling fans as propellers, and everything). The words "over my dead body" were mentioned. He just doesn't understand art.
Location: Wellington - Otaki (via M'bro), New Zealand
Today was a fairly driving intensive day. First up, a trip to Martinborough to view a house on 14 acres of land that we liked the look of. We liked it even more on sight. However, with the current exchange rate, and our house in the UK being nowhere near market ready, it doesn't look like something we can do immediately. However we both liked the location, so now we just need to work out a plan to enable us to head back home.
Proximity to Palliser Estate winery, the presence of a hobby vineyard at the house we looked at, and the 16 kg of cherries the owner just harvested nearly had Ali making an offer on the spot.
Had a very nice lunch at a cafe there, before driving back the way we came to get to Dad's for the night. Sights to note on the way included Ali finding a shop that would supply good English cheddar, passing Tosca's breeders house and seeing a rail replacement bus marked up with "Choo Choo, I'm a train", showing a bit more humour than we would see in the UK.
Dinner was with Dad, Christine and dogs and jolly nice it was too.
Location: Palmerston North to Wellington, New Zealand
The weather was bad, so we were casting around for what to do when Dave came up with the inspired idea of playing pool. Turns out Liz asked for a pool table some time back and it was taking up the entire garage. Ali and Dave set out to demonstrate their pool-playing prowess. What followed was a demonstration in terrible pool-playing by both of them (neither of whom can claim to have any pool-playing credentials whatsoever). Dave beat Ali 4:2, but all games were a masterclass of mediocrity and they both need to go away and do more practice!
We then set off for Wellington. After stopping at a pub to see some NZ morris dancers (they managed to hash up their dance in the best Armaleggan tradition), we arrived at Wickett's house.
Nattered for a bit before going to Lone Star for dinner. From the pile of food on their plates, Jase and Wickett appeared to be responsible for the joint demolition of an entire pig!
Location: Napier to Palmerston North, New Zealand
Today we kicked off with mini golf on the Napier waterfront. It was a close first hole, but after that victory was always going to be with me. Described by some as being of a modest and humble nature, and as the world's greatest minigolf player by others, my true exceptionality shone through. Thalia, Nathan and Ali were all in agreement that the right result had occurred and that they were all honoured not only to play with, but to be comprehensively beaten by, such a gracious winner.
We then drove to Palmerston North to meet up with Dave, Liz, Zack and Maddie. My God, those kids have grown. It was great to see that Dave has recovered well from surgery and was more of his old self. Unfortunately, my favourite kebab shop was closed for Christmas, but we found another Turkish restaurant that was nearly as good, so all worked out in the end.
We were also "treated" to a viewing of Dave's etchings. A.k.a. his operation photos. Gulp!
We'd picked up some presents for the two kids before we left. Unfortunately, one was buggered (one star review on Amazon should have been a hint), so a replacement is on the way.
Movie for the night was an old Eddie Murphy one (Norbit) before crashing out.
Location: Gisborne to Napier, New Zealand
We crossed the hills from Gisborne to Napier first thing, arriving with Thalia and Nathan in Napier by lunchtime. We took Bella the spaniel for a tramp on a hill trail (there was some debate which track to do, but in the end the shady one was a good call). Then we went to the top of the hill for a view out over the Te Mata area.
Returning home, we ate watermelon and spat pips all over the yard while Nathan cooked a lovely chicken dish with tequila. None of us saw the new year in, we were all in bed by 10.30pm. Such lightweights.
Location: Te Kaha to Gisborne, New Zealand
We set off around 10 for our continuing trip around the East Cape, which neither of us have seen before. We were bombarded with bay after bay of beautiful empty beaches. We saw White Island (smoking gently) and a church on a headland with the most beautiful view. After ambling on the beach we drove through the hills to reach the eastern beaches where we walked on a rickety wharf before stopping for lunch next to a children's playground sporting the instruction "No Horses".
We decided to walk off lunch by climbing up 800 steps to the East Cape lighthouse. This had a wonderful view but the 1 in 2 incline was a bit more than strictly necessary immediately after lunch. Jase got some off-road driving practice on the track to and from the lighthouse. It's safe to say that the car has now done more off roading than most of the 4WD in the UK.
Continuing on we visited St Mary's church in Tikitiki which is interesting because it has a European style exterior, but a Maori interior. It had some unusual stained glass showing Maori warriors attending the crucifixion.
Further beautiful bays later we reached another wharf (pronounced "fourf") at Tolaga Bay (the longest wharf in New Zealand) and walked along it, pausing to watch some kids throwing themselves into the water in the sunshine.
In the final few kilometres before Gisborne we passed three surf beaches then on reaching Gisborne we checked into our motel (we had low expectations but were pleasantly surprised). Dinner at Peppers, overlooking the beach. One of the best meals we've had so far, while watching an awesome sunset that we didn't take a picture of because we're not tourists. Plus the camera battery was flat...
A note on NZ wildlife
The birds here (feathery kind) are suicidal. They seem to play a game where they try to touch the car as it passes. Sometimes they touch too hard and turn themselves into an expanding ball of feathers. Very pretty to see, but kinda pointless as we pass before we see the whole show.
Location: Matamata / Rotorua / Te Kaha, New Zealand
So, today Ali's cunning plan to get into Hobbiton disguised as a hobbit failed. We didn't get tickets and there were no slots until January. So off to Rotorua.
Our first stop was at a maze complex. Now, Ali is a sucker for mazes. Show her one and she is entertained for hours. Primarily because she can't solve them. So I got to the centre well before her and then had to wait, while she called out to ask where I was. Well, it kept her quiet and occupied, so no bad thing that.
Following completion of the maze, we played a few table games, where I taught Ali the basics of draughts (by comprehensively beating her, also disproving the theory of beginner's luck). Ali revisited her childhood skills on the stilts before I once again handed her a jolly sound thrashing at swing ball. All in all, a great morning for sport in general and me in particular.
Next a quick stop at my favourite ice cream shop (Lady Jane's Ice Cream Parlour) for orange chocolate chip, chocolate dipped, yum. Ali had something involving bananas and ice cream, but that's not so important.
Ali spotted the Hobbiton gift shop and stopped for a quick picture, which recreated what it would have been like if she'd managed to smuggle her way in.
We finally managed to get Ali listed as a driver on the car agreement. Bonus, now I can drink!
We stopped off at a waterfall walk, on the way to Te Kaha. Saw some lunatics kayaking down waterfalls.
On to Te Kaha, stopping for some of the best fish and chips we've had for ages (Aunty's Cafe in Matata). Lovely snapper and perfectly cooked chips.
Stopped again at Ohope beach (allegedly NZ's most loved beach), before Ali took the wheel to get us to our night stop in Te Kaha.
Location: Kerikeri to Matamata, New Zealand
We were mostly packed, so we started the day by loading up the cars and saying our final good-byes. Elaine and Chris are heading home to Pauanui, Jo and family back to Sydney, and we will continue our trip around NZ.
It's quite a trek from Kerikeri to Matamata, about five hours, so music-wise, Jase took the opportunity to immerse Ali in JaseFM (all German industrial metal, all the time). Oh joy!
In Matamata we are staying at a B&B called the Art House, which has the owner's art collection throughout the house. They used to be fine art dealers so it's really lovely stuff. They asked whether we'd booked our tickets to Hobbiton. (No?) Turns out tickets are quite popular and just turning up at the gate isn't the way it's done. Looks like we going to have to satisfy ourselves with the Tourist Information (which is in the shape of a hobbit hole).
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in comfy parts of the garden with our books.
Location: Kerikeri, New Zealand
Today we decided to get out and be tourists for a day. We trekked over to Waitangi where we cunningly admitted to being Kiwis, therefore getting the NZ admission price, not the tourist charge. After a wander through James Busby's house, it was off for a Maori cultural tour. The brief show was well rehearsed and efficient.
Short drive to Paihia, then we jumped on a passenger ferry to Russell (New Zealand's first capital). Had a lunch at a beachfront cafe, then a wander through the streets before grabbing an ice cream. Back on the ferry to Paihia where we wandered again. The most interesting/amusing sight was probably the Chinese tourist who was sifting through their suitcase, such appeared to be packed with noodles. It looked like he had no intention of eating local food whatsoever.
Back to the bach for dinner, this time roast lamb, plus freshly caught snapper that the rest had managed to catch that day. Courtney had made a Pavlova, which had issues relating to height. It was cruelly described as a pizza by someone...nevertheless it was eaten.
After six days, we finished the jigsaw. Yay! The sky and leaves were particularly nasty.
Then, packing bags, etc in anticipation of departures the next morning. Tomorrow, we start our trek, with a good five hour drive. Kiwi one-lane roads, kiwi drivers and a lot of cops looking for speeders. Just need to remember that doing 80mph on the motorway here is virtually a capital offence.
Location: Kerikeri, New Zealand
Boxing Day, and we remain in Kerikeri. We had previously done a price check at Briscoes on a couple of things, and now that the sales are on, today was the day to purchase them. So we are now the proud owners of some new tablespoons, and Ali has a snazzy new hair straightener. Also bought a Buzzy Bee (kiwi pull-along toy) for Ella.
Chilled out for most of the day. Courtney got sunburn on half her face because she missed it with sunscreen. She looks like a batman supervillain.
Then at the end of the afternoon we went to play minigolf. It was a compact little course, though there were 18 holes. Jase thrashed Ali soundly. At the end we were chatting to the owner while the Markhams finished, then the owner asked whether we'd like a beer! He had already closed up, and we all just sat in the middle of the mini golf course under a canvas shade, drinking beer in the sunshine. They were a nice couple.
Location: Kerikeri, New Zealand
Well, Christmas day arrived. We got a decent sleep in before we ended up being driven out of bed by the sun. Breakfast time then into the present opening.
We managed to get Craig to open the giant elf shoes early and breathed a sigh of relief that they were no longer in our suitcase. Ali immediately began planning what could be used to fill the space...
Our resident house builder, Courtney, attempted to build a gingerbread house. All was ok until a major structural failure caused the walls to collapse when the roof was fitted. Comments from onlookers about building codes, structural inspections and planning permissions were not well received by the builder.
Courtney had decreed that we were all to wear stupid hats, so on with those and then prepare for Christmas lunch. We began the orgy of eating with a positive outlook, then, as the sheer magnitude of the task emerged (Sisyphus had it easy in comparison), we slowly succumbed into a post-lunch coma, emerging long enough for the inevitability of the steam pudding of doom. Post pudding, the lounge was littered with groaning bodies, all swearing that they would never eat again.
The night ended with everyone who had survived playing 5 Second Rule, and watching Love Actually.
Location: Kerikeri, New Zealand
We had a pretty quiet day today. We started out with everyone except Jase and James going to the Kerikeri market, which was full of crafts and gifts and foodstuffs. Ali brought Jase back later to look at a piece of wall art in the shape of a fantail (NZ bird), though we didn't buy it in the end.
Other than that, not a lot. Did jigsaw, read books, cooked mince pies, watched half of the Polar Express before jetlag caught up with us.