Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don’t Mess With My 2.2

OK, where was I?
Ah yes, stuck.

Well, they finally got the train moving and I was back at my hotel by 10.30pm for some desperately needed sleep… but not yet!!
I was still hoping to go out with my friend Catherine who I met in Amsterdam. As the clock ticked toward midnight my resolve ebbed away. But having so little time to see someone who lives on the other side of the globe spurred me on. Well, that and 2 cups of coffee and a late night steak and cheese subway!!
I was glad I hung in there when Cat showed up around midnight. She’d also picked up two Kelseys on the way …or maybe two Kelsies? ...actually, I think it was one of each. Anyhoo, we went to the Casino complex in the base of Auckland’s Sky Tower. Not to gamble, oh no, we’re not morally corrupt, we went to laugh at drunken people dancing.
As a frequent performer of inebriated jigs this seemed harsh to me, until I witnessed it for myself. I don’t know if it was that club, that night, or a genuine Auckland thing, but you’d be forgiven for thinking the International Crazy-Legs Rodeo was in town!
I’m looking forward to being back!

The great thing about staying up late was that I got a good 8 hours exhausted sleep and woke up on Sunday morning feeling like I might have actually beaten the jetlag!
I went for a run around the world famous Albert Park, which was nice, though small, and I couldn’t quite remember what it’s famous for.
Then back in my hotel room I felt the earth, move, under my feet!
Was that…?
Best text a local: “Here Cat, was that an earthquake?”
“Wahoo, that was my first!!”
It was a noticeable, but not particularly exciting wobble, about a 4.0 I decided, based on my vast experience.
The next day’s paper was full of Auckland people getting excited about the ‘quake, (a 4.0 would you believe?) and I wonder what the people of Christchurch thought!
Then I met up with Elena – Cat’s long time travel buddy, and it’s weird to see them individually – who asks what my plan is.
“I dunno really, all I know is I’m heading South”
“Oh, OK. But wouldn’t you be better heading North and enjoying the end of the Summer on the beaches?”
Oh, bollocks.
Elena has to dash off and I return to my mountain of guides to think of a plan, whilst keeping half an eye on the TV coverage of the Melbourne Grand Prix from Albert Park (d’oh!). But it’s St Paddy’s day and there’s a ticking in my ear.
“Screw it. Let’s go South.”
With all that planning done I’m ready for a drink. Donny Doolan’s was a great place to have one. They had two live bands, (no, not at the same time!) and a raucous crowd of drunken revelers dressed in the usual green “Irish” nonsense.
I’ve met plenty of Kiwi nutters in Shepherd’s Bush, and always assumed they were acting up because they were abroad. Based on Sunday, I guess not!
Some random girl swooped the drink out of my hand and proceeded to help herself. It soon became clear she didn’t need it. Several blokes gave me a cheery slap on the back or a too-familiar hug, everybody seemed in a great mood. Finally I met a relatively sane girl, who turned out to be from London.
“I have to be at work at 8 in the morning to teach kids!”
“Oh, that’s tough, ….want another drink?” (I did say “relatively”)
Oh yeah, and I saw a Leprechaun, naturally.

Monday. Time to hit the road. I got another lift from my former colleague, now chauffeur, Ben and arrived at the Airport Campervan rental place fresh as a daisy. Albeit a daisy with a hangover, but I don’t know how anybody makes it through the rigmarole if they’ve just got off a plane!
First up, I have to watch a 15 minute video about my van. This obviously saves staff time, but is a bit confusing if this is your first time camping and you don’t know your grey water from your waste water from your gas canister.
Then I get to “self check-in”, except the amounts were wrong and there was no way to correct them so I had to wait for a harassed looking member of staff. She looked at my list of options, corrected the price, then tried to send me on my way.
“But what about my GPS”
“Did you pay for one?”
“Yes, it was in that list of options you just checked”
“Oh, yes, sorry, I’ll get it for you”
“Thanks, but what about my Road Atlas”
“Did you pay for one?”
“Yes, it was in that list of options you just checked”
“Oh, yes, sorry, I’ll get it for you”
“But what about my table and chairs?”
“Did you pay for one?”
“Yes, it was in that list of options you just checked”
“Oh, yes, sorry, I’ll get it for you”
“But what about my bike and bike rack”
“Did you pay for one?”
“Yes, it was in that list of options you just checked”
“Oh, yes, sorry, I’ll… no, you have to drive to the bike place to get it”

So I go outside, check over the van, get my stuff in it, hand another lady the random screwdriver which has been left on the floor, and I’m finally on my way!!

Except I’m not. First stop is the supermarket next door. I was never very good at shopping for food, then I spent 9 months eating out. And foreign supermarkets take forever, since you have to actually read the packages to know what they are, your brain doesn’t just know all the colour combinations. I also kept throwing in random items I might need in my van, and somehow ended up with 350 dollars worth. That doesn’t happen at the Albert Heijn!!

At least I’m finally on my way! Oh no, best get a Kiwi sim from the shop next door.

Right. Finally… Oh, bother, still got to get the bike.

I find the bike place and he’s got a nice looking mountain bike ready for me. Not sure how I’m going to cope with all them gears and brakes, but good to have a bike again and I’m looking forward to the freedom…
“And we’ll need to get you a helmet”
“Er, OK, just fetch the largest one you have”
You see, in order to contain my inordinately large brain I have, of course, an inordinately large head. Which is bad enough, however it is also streamlined, which means helmets are never long enough. But if that wasn’t bad enough, I also have a lump on the front of my head from a bike accident as a kid. Now you’d think a lifetime disfiguring scar might make me a fan of helmets, but actually it taught me to stay on a bike, and also how to come off one.
So, no, I’m not a fan of helmets, because it means putting my head in a vice. Go ahead, try it, it’s not like wearing a tight belt, it pretty much stops you enjoying anything.
Well, bike dude brings me several helmets, and none fit. I’m fed up, and want to get on the road, so when he claims that one “looks OK” I pretend not to feel like I’m having dinner with Mr Lecter and take it. I’ll figure something out.
Finally, finally on the road…
But where to? Well, I have to come back to Auckland, and I really want to take my time down South, so I might as well just get down there. Somebody mentioned Waitomo Caves, no idea what’s there, but it’s about the right distance.
So off I crash, bash and sway, and then stop to nail everything down again. I went for a campervan with a loo, figuring if I’m going to have a van, I might as well have all the amenities, but it’s a bit big!!
The views are rolling hills rather than anything spectacular, the traffic’s light, but there’s no motorway, barely any dual carriageways, and 100kph limit is your lot, so it takes a while to get anywhere!
I make it to Waitomo and the caves, and the Top 10 Holiday Park, one of 52 in New Zealand! How does that work?
Nice place though, and I get a freshly BBQ’d steak and some local beers at the store across the road.
Tuesday dawns over Waitomo. Pretty good night’s sleep, despite being woken by the rain showers rattling my tin roof.
Now the woman at reception gave me some pamphlets, including “Campervan hire - Driver goes free” to the Glowworm caves. But there’s no way they’ll let me in for free without any paying passengers. Oh yes they do!

It’s a moderately interesting poke about in caves for half an hour, including a large one called the Cathedral Cave with fabulous acoustics in which Dame Kiri te Kanawa has performed a concert. We then sail to daylight in a boat. About 20 of us sit in the darkness and silence, as the guide quietly pulls our boat through the final cave, and we gaze at the hundreds of “Glow worms” on the ceiling of the cave, resembling stars in the night sky.

We then emerge into daylight and it’s time to head south. I’m saving the big touristy stuff for the return journey north, so I head out to the West coast. It’s pretty uneventful, the weather’s fairly grim, and there’s only a couple of snatches of shoreline to lift my spirits before I finally wend my weary way into Wanganui. Fortunately the campsite’s right on the riverbank which makes for a nice view, and there’s some good running tracks on the riverbank a few kilometres down towards town – the perfect opportunity to try my bike out.
So I hop on my bike, spurning my crappy lid for the short ride down a vastly wide suburban street and have a great run. It’s been a good end to a reasonable day, when I get busted by the law:

“HELMET, MATE!!” yells the copper as he stops his car.
“SCREW YOU, FASCIST SCUMBAG!” yells the voice in my head. But oddly it comes out more like “yeah, ok”
So I get off and walk for a bit and don’t get a ticket, but back at the campsite I’ve had enough. I reach for a sharp knife…

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