Lost in Space

February 7, 2007

So, after a few nights in Auckland we hit the road in our hired vehicle. It wasn’t exactly a car, and wasn’t exactly a campervan – it was an orange Spaceship, named Nasa, a Toyota Estima converted with such nifty Kiwi ingenuity, its interior contained storage space for over over-stuffed, massive packs and for grocieries; it had a mini fridge thing (though that only worked when the car was running); it had a DVD player; and even without opening up the back and adding the optional awning, its bed was long enough for me (just about).


It made a great home for six nights, two of which were spent parked up on the land owned my Jude and Roger. Jude is an old friend and ex-gf of mine, who I met in Nelson in 1995, and have stayed friends with. It was a potentially awkward situation, something Rachel, Jude’s  sister, milked when I saw her (I’ve not seen either of the sisters since 1997) by paraphrasing something Hugh Grant had said recently about attending the weddings of exes.

Even more potentially awkward was the fact that I’d never met Roger. And didn’t see Jude until they were about to take their vows, and she spotted me and I gave her a wave.

Despite all that, it was a great day, a really wonderful, special day for them, a rewarding reunion for me, and a top party for everyone. Jude and Roger had set up the land on their batch, at Mokau (south of Russell in Northland), beautifully. Roger is a greensman for film and TV, and several of his friends from the same area of set-dressing were also involved, so the place looked really special. They took their vows, in a ceremony held by Jude’s Anglican vicar mum Jill, in a bend in a creek, surrounded by trees (some fake) and flowers (mostly fake). Such a lovely set-up.

Jude and Roger

Made me and Franny start talking about trying to do something similar in Devon…. except we don’t have the specialist expertiese in our peer group, nor can we sign the register anywhere in the UK, like they can in NZ (which meant it all happened in the same place for Jude and Roger, rather than the British bore of dividing things up between registry office/church and reception venue).

Anyway, a very memorable few days, which were the climax of our week on the road in the Spaceship. Despite my usual trepidation about driving (something I only do every few years; and a factor in the choice of a small-ish vehicle), the Spaceship was straightforward, and, thankfully, NZ’s roads are never that daunting (nothing compares to hiring a car in Toronto and driving out straight onto a 16 lane highway; on the ‘wrong’ side of the road).

We spent our first night at Kai Iwi Lakes, crystal clear bodies of freshwater only marginally marred by the adjacent area of harvested pine forest (which always looks ugly). We even got involved with a drinking and singing session with our neighbours – an old Yorkshire chap wih a guitar and some young Irish folks. The next night, after travelling by way of the awesome Tane Mahuta (NZ’s biggest tree, a huge, ancient kauri – one of the few that survived the logging, and one that only just survived a bush fire the following day) we camped at the bottom end of 90 Mile Beach. It was a great spot, but it’s quite hard to get your head around the culture of everyone roaring around on the beach in their four wheel drive pollution-mobiles. In part, it’s the irony of so many of these activities that involve an enjoyment of the great outdoors and natural world. Surfing, boating, even camping and tramping mostly seem to involve driving around in bloody great vehicles, which intrinsically damage the very environment we’re all so keen on enjoying.

It’s especially ironic in “Clean Green New Zealad”, a country that really doesn’t live any more cleanly or greenly that others in the west, it just has fewer people, and its major industries (agriculture, forestry, tourism) aren’t quite as dirty to the naked eye as grubbier old stuff we have in say the NE of England – refineries, chemical plants or whatever. Indeed, when it comes to viable public transport and widespread recycling, NZ is a long way behind places like Germany and Scandinavia, and even behind us in the UK.

Still love the place though. How could I not? It’s beautiful, friendly, and not over-populated. Except by blood-sucking insects that is. Our third day and night were spent up at the far north of the country. We made good time driving up and made a base at the DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite at Tapotupotu, about 5km east of Cape Reinga. Like many DOC sites, it was beautifully located, with a beach and estuary and a backdrop of hills and regenerating bush.

Cape Reinga

After hiking over to the Cape (a bit of an up-and-downer over headlands – good for the legs), we got back to the beach and rushed to cool off in the sea – to find ourselves nearly treading on a pair of half-metre stingrays cruising around in the shallows (literally a few metres from the edge of the surf). Before you could say “Steve Irwin”, we leapt back and gave them a bit of space. Amazing sight though.

Not quite so pleasurable was heading ‘indoors’ that night. After another delectable camp dinner cooked on the Spaceship’s fold-out gas stove, we heading in to watch a DVD – and found about 300 mozzies had taken joined us. I don’t think they wanted to watch St Elmo’s Fire though. The DOC warden had mentioned mozzies, but I had no idea they could be so numerous. Never seen anything like it. The toilet cubicles on the camp site were similarly infested – it was like Winston Smith’s tortue in 1984, but with a confined space full of mozzies, not a head-cage full of rats. Suffice to say, we got busy swatting, but the buzz was still incessant when we gave up and tried to sleep (with Fran’s shawl over our faces). We didn’t sleep well that night. Shame, as the previous two nights were some of the best sleeps we’ve had in weeks. Heh.

NZ may not have any fatally venomous snakes or spiders, or large terrestrial predators, but in terms of blood-letting, the mozzies and sandflies do their best to make up.

The next night, camping at Haruru Falls, near Paihia, was considerably less gruesome. We did a walk through some bush to Waitangi, the birth-place of modern New Zealand, or alternatively the place whether the Maori tragedy was established, as it was here in 1840 that a treaty was signed between the Brits and several Maori chiefs. The actual Treaty House museum give very little information about the treaty, or its repercussions; it’s just too benign, towing a barely-credible party line. Though its location overlooking the Bay of Islands is rather striking.

As were were there a few days before Waitangi Day (6 Feb), we were keen to learn a bit more about the history of Maori/Pakeha (white/foreign) relations, but didn’t come away edified. The bottom line is that it’s no wonder many modern Maoris feel aggrieved – their lot might have been better than that of many other native peoples from the US to Australia, but it’s still farcical to think this treaty could be a basis of a country for the simple fact that is was defined by the colonisers using a bureaucratic/political language almost certainly very alien to the people they were dealing with. After all, many of the chiefs couldn’t even sign their name in English – how could their thinking and way of doing things be compatable if there wasn’t even a genuine mutual language or alphabet? I’m very keen to learn more about all this, so plan to go and buy the new Penguin History of NZ today, if I can face lugging round another book.

Still, that’s enough blathering for now. We’re now in Wellington, after coming down on the hilarious TranzScenic Overlander, the train from Auckland. It’s a journey through diverse and striking landscapes, including the west of Tongariro National Park (which includes Mt Ruapehu – Mt Doom itself). What makes it so funny is the incessant, semi-articulate announcements from the staff, bellowing about everything from local history to using the tap in the loo. It’s all good, but really, they treat you like you’ve never been on a train before. Er, TranzScenic, really, you’re not the only people to have trains that use a rubber floor button to operate the taps in the loo. We don’t need a half hour set of instructions thanks!

Nice to be in Wellington after Auckland, as it’s a city that does have a sense of history and does have a heart in its downtown area. Probably off to the renowned Te Papa museum today. Kia ora.


2 Responses to “Lost in Space”

  1. Sam Says:

    “(nothing compares to hiring a car in Toronto and driving out straight onto a 16 lane highway; on the ‘wrong’ side of the road)”

    Did that happen to you? Ouch.

  2. Yep. It was reet scary. Still, I’d like to think I kept my calm adimarably – something that may come as a surprise to many….

    Going to buy a car here – never owned one before, but for NZ$500 (about 180 quid), it seems worthwhile – we’d spend that on hire cars, coaches and trains so easily.

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