Friday, April 19, 2013

2.10 Quickie at the airport

Brooke was actually from Ohio, but lives in Colorado with her husband. He left her, though not in the Estonian sense, and went back to Colorado for work. We had a great chat all one hundred kilometres back down the road, and all too soon we parted ways at Kaitaia Pac’n’save.
I headed North West towards the Bay of Islands, wondering if I’d be able to see any islands in the morning. The campsite was miles from anywhere, but huge, so I got to run a few laps before retiring to write.
Wednesday began more brightly, but as I caught the vehicle ferry across to Russel things turned grey. I’m not sure what I’d have done if the sun was shining, but with the wind blowing and the rain falling I decided to get out of Dodge.
…and back to Whangarei.
Nothing in the guidebook grabbed my attention, and with fatigue setting in I was glad to be back somewhere familiar. I checked back into the Top 10 and said:
“I see the Estonian’s still here. Has his girlfriend come back?”
“Oh, you know about that?!” squealed the excitable lady on reception. “She came back!”
I parked back on site 42, and was looking forward to another attempt to run up to the lookout, when the Estonian guy appeared.
“How’re you doing?” I ask, with more purpose than usual.
“Meh. She’s still deciding”.
He then asks me about the South Island and if I could help him persuade her to go with him. He’s got his laptop out under the tree so I point him at google images of “Queenstown Gondola”, “Milford Sound” and “Mount Cook”. His jaw drops, he’s blown away.
“…and the photos are nothing like as awesome as being there!” I add.
His girlfriend returns from a shower and sticks her head into their car. He shouts something in Estonian like:
“Hey honey, come and look at these pictures”
“Grumble, grumble”
“…but they’re amazing, you should come look at them”
“grumble, Grumble”
Seriously. I didn’t know why he was waiting for her before, now I’m very confused.
“Good Luck!”
I had bigger fish to fry. Man against mountain once again. This time I’m ready. Well rested, two days sober, I know what’s in front of me, and I know what I have to do. To the top, run every step!
But the hill is relentless. It doesn’t feel pain, or pity, or remorse. It just keeps on battering me, until my Achilles feel like they’re going to snap.
But I’m a machine. I can take it. All the way. Just….keep….lifting….those …..feet.
And then ….what’s that ahead? Can it be?
It’s the lady from reception.
“You’re doing well, keep going!” She says, pausing from her stroll to stand around drinking her water.
“phnnnk yrr” I grunt.
Must….get ….to….the…
And then, a sign! No, not an omen, an actual sign where the paths join. This means I’m almost there. I’ve made it! Just a few easy yards to the top and:
Getting back down’s a lot easier, and I bolt into the campsite with a smile on my face and a puddle on my head.
“How are ya?” asks one of the campers.
“Great……..just……..ran….up…..that!” I gasp proudly, pointing at the hill looming above us.
“and you do that for fun?”

It’s a long walk into town the quick way, and the reception lady sends me the scenic way. So I’m starving when I get to the pubs after 30 minutes. Legends is open but looks rubbish, so I hit the Irish bar. Oh, for a large bowl of pasta, a chatty barmaid, and maybe some live music.
“It’s Jam night, tonight” says Hannah, taking my order for chicken linguine. I confirm that doesn’t refer to a fruit preserve competition, and so I’ve hit the jackpot!
My bowl of pasta arrives, but it’s not massive.
“I’m off” says Hannah, to be replaced by some stoic barman.
“When’s Jam night start?”
…it’s 7 o’clock.

The place is empty so I don’t fancy hanging around. And I don’t fancy doing the walk twice more. So I give up. But I’m still hungry. I stop off for a Mcdonalds on the way back. I’m not talking about a McFlurry, a full cheeseburger meal. When I reach my van I’m still hungry and have a bowl of cereal. Don’t diet, run!!

Thursday. Last full day in New Zealand. Nothing much to do but head South, rejoin Highway 1, and head to Auckland. I wonder if I might see Brooke again on Highway 1, because most people will have to go that way down to Auckland. But she didn’t need to get back until Sunday, and was planning to stay up North a lot longer than me. I’m being silly. I guess after travelling for so long I’m missing company. Luckily, Ben is free to join me tonight back in Takapuna.
The scenic road south from Whangarei is fairly scenic, but extremely wriggly. In fact I’m in danger of running out of diesel because the hills and bends are using so much more than they should have. I pop out onto highway 1 and am glad to see a familiar petrol station. Though not glad to remember it’s the one with the pump attendant.
What’s the point of a pump attendant? It’s not a complex task. I don’t mind standing around with a petrol pump in my hand. But if he’s filling the tank I’m just standing around with…well, nothing to do!
Back on highway 1 and heading south I spot a hitch-hiker. Despite my tongue-in-cheek comments last blog, it’s hard to tell what someone looks like as you head towards them at a hundred kilometres-an-hour. I can tell that it’s a woman, and she’s not huge, but that’s about it. So I brake and hope she’s as interesting as Brooke was.
She’s certainly similar looking to Brooke.
Very similar.
In fact….
“Hey, Brooke!!! What the hell?”
She’d made better progress than expected, ending up ahead of me. But still, for me to come along at the same time as she was waiting alongside a very busy road, the main road of New Zealand no less, was pretty amazing.
So we caught up on adventures and swapped stories, before I dropped her off at a Honey store by the road.
“Is it a special place?” I ask.
“No, I just like honey”

Well, that cheered me up. It’s nice to return to Takapuna, and be in a place where I know the layout. Ben makes the long trek across the bay to meet me, and we have a few last beers.

Friday is a fairly boring day in a lot of ways. There’s nothing to do but admin. Returning the bike, the van, catching a flight. But it’s also very exciting. Not least because I get to see whether I’ve won my two thousand dollar bet!

You see, the van rental people have an excess of 7500 dollars. So if I have a prang I might have to pay that! In fact they charged the full amount to my credit card as a bond. Maxing out my card. You can pay to have this excess reduced to nothing. But on a 33 day rental that would cost two thousand dollars. So I gambled.
But for some reason this makes the last day’s drive particularly nervous. Of course, I’m in the only campsite that has a very tight entrance. It’s today that a lady chooses to park her caravan across the entrance, making it tighter, but I squeeze through.
Somehow I survive to the bike rental place, and say goodbye to my bike. I park up and indulge in the epic task of repacking my stuff down to 2 bags for flying. Not helped by stuffing in my XL helmet.
Finally I make it back to the rental place and the van’s in one piece. I get all my money back, wahoo!
“You have to pay diesel tax, 5 bucks per hundred kilometres”
To the airport, and into the business class lounge.
Oh , sweet luxury. After 33 days in a campervan this feels really good.
Now just a 14 hour flight to get through and I’ll be in Vancouver.
…and it’ll still be Friday night!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2.9 The End of The Road?

Papamoa Beach is very pleasant, and I’d love to stick around, but I’ve only got a week left, and there’s so much of this wonderful country to see. Plus, I’ve got a night out with two gorgeous young Kiwis tomorrow in Auckland.
The question is whether I have time to drive round the Coromandel peninsula on the way. It’s supposed to be very scenic, but it’s going to mean two days with quite a lot of driving and not much chance to enjoy the beaches. Maybe I could skip it and just hang out at the beach?
But Friday morning is somewhat overcast, not ideal beach weather so I head up the coast. The road travels inland, meaning I can’t just enjoy the shore as I go, I have to guess which spots to visit. I stop for lunch at Waihi Beach, which is also very pretty. Then drive north to Hot Water Beach.

The descriptive name is due to the natural heating of the water from under the sand. If you dig a deep enough hole, and get sea water in it, you can sit in your own natural hot-tub on the beach. However! You can only do this on a very small stretch of quite a large beach. So I arrive to find a half-mile stretch of completely deserted beach, except for a twenty yard stretch were fifty people are gathered in and around holes. I didn’t fancy all that digging lark, so I enjoyed a run down the empty beach, then when a couple got bored and abandoned their hole I had a quick go. It’s a larf I suppose, but no Kerosene Creek.

I rang up and booked a spot at the Top 10 in Coromandel Town, hoping beyond hope that there’d be some life on a Friday night, though it’s unlikely in a town of 1700 people. But the drive across is something else.

The morning’s clouds have dissipated throughout the day and as we reach Golden Hour the sun is free to shine. (I don’t know if everybody knows about Golden Hour, it’s the term film-makers use to describe the last hour before sunset when the light is particularly beautiful). Well, I’m heading East across the Coromandel, towards the setting sun, I have my “Awesome Lenses” on, and the scenery is just beautiful. Not spectacular like much of the South Island. Beautiful.
The road twists and winds endlessly up a climb. I’ve about 20km to go and I’m tired of the turns, they’re hard work in a campervan, but I’m not bothered. I’ve got Bob Seger on the stereo, and he’s singing about “The Fire Inside” as well as when he felt “Like a Rock”:
“I stood arrow straight, unencumbered by the weight, of all the hustlers and their schemes.
I stood proud, I stood tall…”

It’s an incredible Road Trip moment. The drive, the music, the light, the scenery. For at this point I reach the top, the viewpoint, and the eye-melting vista. Down to the glittering Coromandel town, out across the shining sea, and up into the golden sky.

“…high above it all. I still believed in my dreams.”

And if the guitar solo doesn’t make you shed a tear, well, you’re probably not standing on top of a mountain, on your own, twelve thousand miles from your friends and family, and watching the sunset into a beautiful bay.

Down to earth, with the descent down the other side into Coromandel town. Indeed it is very small, but I’m pleased to find a lively-looking pub at the top by the campsite. No bloomin’ barstools though! I walk down the main street and find another bar which has stools, but nobody in it, and then a fairly large pub, but with not many people and no barstools.

Time to play Friday-night-Roulette.

Go for the barstools, says my inner voice. So I enter the “saloon bar” which has maybe 5 people in it and sit at the bar. There’s one girl sitting on the end of the bar, but she looks barely 18, so I sit close enough to be within conversation distance but far enough to not look like I’m hitting on her.
Luckily, the barman is quite chatty. Eric has a Maori dad and is barely 18 himself. He’s leaving in two weeks, to go and work in the big city. I get Fish and Chips. A couple more guys and a girl enter the bar and sit on the end with the first girl. But the body language isn’t helping me say hello, it’s all elbows and backs. I’m out of food and out of beer, but decide to hang in there for another pint and watch the rugby.
“Can you turn the rugby off please?” the second girl asks Eric.
I pull a startled face.
“Oh, were you watching that?” she asks me in a Scouse accent.
“Yeah, but I don’t need the sound. Are you a Scouser?” I reply, demonstrating my knowledge of accents and keen ear.
“Nah, I’m from Middlesbrough”
“!” and “?”
“But I lived in Liverpooool”
A-ha! I know everything about Liverpool, having lived somewhere near there, once, when I was about five, so I’m able to engage her in conversation. Emily is late twenties and works out here. She wants to get a job down in Queenstown. I ask what’s good to do in Coromandel on a Friday night.
“Well, we’re heading down to the Bottom Pub”
“Excuse me?”
“Oh, there’s the Top Pub and the Bottom Pub. They’ll have Live music, you should come with us”
And so begins another night of intellectual debate about politics, history, relig…
Something called a “barmaid”. Which holds several pints and has a tap and I last saw in Hooters near San Diego.
Some wannabe bodybuilder friends show up, eager to display their manliness by downing pints. Thankfully I’m too mature for that kind of..
We drag in the rest of the bar, which turns out to be a couple from Adelaide. I play some guy at pool, and finally we head for…
…we head for the Bottom pub.
The band are really rather good, though after a few Jagers it’d be a surprise if they weren’t. They play covers from all sorts of bands. The usual stuff, plus some cool choices, like my favourite Pink Floyd song, and don’t flinch when Emily yells at them to “Play Kimbra!!”
We have a good dance and a great night and all too soon it’s closing time, but outside the others are piling into a car with barely enough room for the locals so I don’t get an invite, or the chance to wish Emily goodnight.
Ah well, just another brick in the wall.

Sunday was predictably slow to start, and oh, wait, it’s Saturday. I’ve got a night out in Auckland to get to.
But the roads. Uurgh, the roads. Give me a Lotus Elise and this would be fantastic. But a long wheelbase transit with cupboard-loads of pots and pans rattling around?
The road snakes along the shore, seemingly forever, before finally reaching the mainland from the peninsula, and open land. I deviate through a place called Miranda, for reasons which should become clear later, hoping to collect a souvenir, but it’s less than a hamlet, without even a town sign to photograph.
I battle on towards Auckland. After a good night out it’s a tiring drive, but eventually I reach the motorway and head into the City.

It’s been four weeks! Four weeks of driving almost constantly. Mountain roads. Small towns. Lake sides. Deserted highways. For four weeks a traffic jam has meant coming across two cars together. Now I find myself surrounded by five lanes of nose-to-tail cars, with five lanes heading the other way!
And buildings: Huge, vast, tall buildings, everywhere!

Last time I arrived in Auckland after London and Tokyo. It felt small and quiet. This time it’s big and frightening. Luckily Sat Nav and the Motorway take me straight through the city and dump me on the North Shore.
With thanks to Catherine I’ve found an incredible campsite, right on the ocean but yards from the North Shore bars. I run on the beach and look forward to a crazy night out with a couple of youngsters and who-knows what crazy friends. Friday night in a small town was good, Saturday night in Auckland is going to be…
“It’s not a pub”
“It’s a Japanese food place”
“No, it’s not a pub”
Cat’s been doing something called “Work” all day and is tired. Elena’s also tired. What’s wrong with kids these days?
So we have a nice meal, and go for a drive to a Kiwi-yo for some nice Ice Cream. I’m introduced to a plethora of sweet and crunchy toppings, but none of them are beer, and dropped back by my campsite in a bit of a daze.
It’s fantastic to see the girls again, but disappointing that we’re not sharing a crazy night out.
There’s still time for me to spin that roulette wheel on my own, and I think I’m in luck when the Irish bar are showing the Warriors (Rugby) league game. But nobody’s watching it and there’s nobody to talk to.

My stomach’s a bit off since my lunchtime meatball subway, so my sensible side is glad it didn’t turn into a big night. In fact I’m still feeling rough in the morning. So I decide to stay put.

But the campsite’s a bit noisy and unpleasant for staying put, and there’s a Top 10 just outside of town. Maybe just a few miles.
Off I pootle, and am reminded of one upside of motorways when I get a half-decent brekkie at the service station.
I reach Orewa Top 10, but it doesn’t look great. My breakfast is helping. Maybe just a few more miles?
Magical Mangawhai is next. That’s what the road signs say, but they’re wrong. So I head on to the next Top 10 at Whangarei. It’s not a great place, but the campsite’s nice and by some woods, so hopefully I can get a decent run. The guy in the next van is sitting with his headphones on and his laptop. He turns out to be from Estonia.
“Are you travelling alone?” I ask.
“No!” he seems startled. “My girlfriend was with me, then she cheated on me with a guy, now I wait for her to decide if she wants to be with me”
“Oh. How long have you been in New Zealand?”
“A Month”
“Wow” I say, “Have you been to the South Island?”
“No. Just round here”
“Well, I’m not going to go by myself am I?”
“Why not? I just did. Had a great time!”
“I must learn to do that” he says, and returns to moping.
I go for a run, and it’s a great run. The woods lead to the Parahaki Scenic Reserve, and a path up to the Lookout. The sign says “40m”, presumably 40 minutes, but is that return or one way?
Only one way to find out!

Well, you know the story by now. Lots of struggling, sweating, climbing, running, battling, and generally complaining about how hard it is but how good it feels at the end.
I did manage to overtake the local fire brigade who were on a training jaunt up the hill. But then those boys were wearing their heavy jackets, trousers and boots!

I fancy a walk into town to watch the Chinese Grand Prix, and I invite the Estonian.
“No. My girlfriend might come back”
It’s a bit of a hike to town, but there’s a Legends Sports Bar so I’m looking forward to massive HD screens, flowing beers, chicken wings and attractive young waitresses.
Closed on Sundays.
I utter a word, which is technically a body part close to a leg end, and look for somewhere else. There only appears to be one pub open, in a town of fifty thousand people!
I walk in the door and there’s half a dozen locals playing a pool tournament with some Jonny Cash blasting from the speakers. On the screens, grown men are being pulled round a dirt track in little buggies behind horses.
The woman behind the bar looks like an Eastenders Bar owner.
“Er, can I watch the Grand Prix?”
“The what?”
“The Formula One? ….motor racing?….from China?”
“What’s it on?”
“Sky Sports 2” (Rule 1 of watching sports abroad - Do your research!)
Suddenly, the old dear becomes very helpful. Puts the telly on, and offers to put me out back where I can have the sound.
“Ooh, I think I can get the sound on in here. Yep, there”
So she cranks the volume to ear-bleeding levels. The guys playing pool now can’t here Jonny, and are being deafened by some Scotsman banging on about tyre-degradation and heat-cycles.
Bar lady: “This fellow here wanted it”
Oh great, now I’m hated by the locals, and I don’t suppose they realize it’s a two hour race. At least I’ll get some food…
“Nope, no food.”
Uh-oh. This could be a problem.
“But I can do you a toastie for two bucks”
So instead of a shiney sports bar I find myself watching the race at my newest Nan’s. The picture’s fuzzy, in the wrong aspect ratio, chopped off, and the sounds distorting. Meanwhile I’m expecting to get a pool cue wrapped round the back of my head any second. Still, the toastie’s nice.

I survive to rise another day, and as I leave the campsite the Estonian is still sitting alone.
Who knows, maybe she’ll come back to him, they’ll enjoy the rest of their holiday and rekindle their relationship into a wonderful life together. But I can’t help thinking: “So long Sucker!” as I leave the campsite in search of more adventures.

But my spirit is soon dampened. It’s chucking it down. Proper chucking it down. Once again I’m tempted to stay put. But do what? Sit in my van waiting for Estonian romance?
If I head North East I’ll pass the fabulous Bay of Islands. But visibility is so bad it will be the Bay of Murky Grey today. So I head North West. From what I can tell there’s not much there, even on a good day, until you reach Ninety Mile Beach. So I plod on, making myself a new paylist with Luke Bryan singing “Rain is a Good Thing”
Eventually I get to Ninety Mile Beach, but with visibility more like ninety yards it could be any old beach.
There’s a campsite, but it’s being battered by the wind and rain. That’s going to be a problem anywhere round here. But the Top 10 promises to be in a sheltered cove, so I head there. It’s on a smaller peninsular, called Kari Kari, which turns around on itself offering beaches facing North, West, South and East within a few miles. But today they’re grey, wet, windy, and miserable. The campsite’s OK. So I huddle up with some baked beans whilst my van gets blown around, and I’m very glad of the internet, facebook and online friends.

The thought of quitting enters my head. I can’t be bothered with this for 4 more days. Maybe I can get an earlier flight and have time to recover in Vancouver before the weekend. I’ll decide in the morning.

But in the morning it’s a little brighter, and it’s almost stopped raining. OK, let’s finish the job.

The final 100km of State Highway 1 runs parallel to Ninety Mile Beach and ends at Cape Reinga, where there’s a lighthouse and a signpost, and hopefully a burger bar. But the land’s only a few miles wide the whole way. So I’ll have to drive back down again. Worse, there’s only a few turn-offs to the beach. I take one, drive 6km to find that, yes, there’s still beach.
Visibility has plummeted again, and the rain is back, so there’s nothing in the slightest bit remarkable about the beach.
There’s nothing remarkable about the road either, no real twists or turns, climbs or drops, just a long boring plod northwards. My only moment of excitement is coming across a herd of sheep in the road, and watching them be herded around my van.
I stick Creedence Clearwater in the CD player. “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” and count down the kilometres.
Hey, there’s some prat hitch-hiking! I wonder how he got this far and no further. The poor sod is getting soaked. And looks like a woman. A cute woman at that. Well, until she scowls at me for failing to
Now before you go thinking (to quote the bumper sticker) “I only brake for Hot Chicks”. A small woman is less intimidating than a lone guy, and I’d feel worse about leaving her standing alone at the side of the road. Besides, it’s my stuff, my neck, my risk. So yeah, I only brake for hot chicks!
There’s no point asking where she’s heading, as there’s only one place left on the road.
She asks: “Are you heading for Cape Reinga?”
“Er, yeah, there’s nowhere else down this road!” I answer, smooth as ever.
She rather considerately puts a towel on the passenger seat before hopping in, and she’s wielding a huge, expensive camera, so probably not a thief. (Unless she’s nicked the camera)
I introduce myself.
“Brooke!” she answers, in a cheery Canadian accent.
“Where ya from Brooke?”
Brooke’s around thirty, witty, smiley, and a masseuse.
The miles fly by. It’s great to have a travel companion for a while. People ask me:
“Do you like to travel by yourself?”
“Hell yeah!”
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy company. I’ve never said, “No, it’s OK, don’t come, I’ll go on my own”.
It’s different though. With someone to focus on inside the van, what’s happening outside the van is less intense. Whereas on my own I live every curve, every climb, every car, every view, with company it’s just a road and scenery. I’d never be bored with an interesting companion, but would I be brought to tears by a hillclimb if I was nattering all the way up?
We reach the end of the road, or at least the sat nav says so. The fog has descended and enveloped us, and we can barely make out the car park ahead. No signpost, no lighthouse.
I offer Brooke a lift back and she accepts gladly. It also saves her lugging her bag around while we search for the lighthouse.
We park up, get out and find a path.
I spot a bloke heading towards us out of the mist and ask:
“How far’s the lighthouse?”
“Eeee, it’s aboooouuuuut teeeen miiiiinuuutes from heeere” comes a familiar-sounding reply.
“Where’re you from?” I ask.
“The North of England” he replies, redundantly.
“I got that, but Lancashire?”
“No. Morecambe, well, Heysham”
Within a five mile radius for accent spotting! Back in the game!
Brooke and I head on through the murk, several people pass us in the other direction, but nobody’s going our way. Finally a lighthouse looms out of the mist in front of us.

We’re here.

I’ve made it to the end of the road. And I’m here at a lighthouse, surrounded by fog, with only the sounds of the waves, and my new friend for company. I’d have loved to come here on a clear day and admire the views. But in it’s own way, this is pretty special.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two Eight - North

Spending the night in a car park with my head six feet from a main road was unsurprisingly not conducive to a quality night’s sleep. So in the morning I leapt at the chance to acquire one of the glamorous spots on the other side of the car park. This gave me the chance to do another entire day’s drive in reverse (a feat you’ll remember clearly from chapter three) and the extra ten yards made a surprising difference to the noise.
I set off in search of food and (now don’t fall off your chair) I walked past the sports bar offering “All you can eat pancakes”. Well, they didn’t have seats at the bar, and besides I’d been given a tip-off: Fidel’s is the place to go for brunch. I knew it was appropriately on Cuba Street, but it’s a long street so I looked around for help. A pregnant lady stopped by me to light a cigarette. As she was clearly a person of great intelligence I asked her for directions.
“Fidel’s? Yes, you see that grey building right down there?”
“What the one miles away?”
“Yep, that’s it”
But it was OK, this was going to be an awesome experience. So I trudged on down the street, pausing at umpteen sets of lights before finally reaching Fidel’s which was… without power, and therefore not serving food.
I found another place nearby and had a decent breakfast, served on a ciabatta. La dee daa.
Next up, a trip to the museum. (That should have knocked you off your chair!) Te Papa is trumpeted as a Must See in Wellington and contains “an amazing collection of Maori artefacts”. It’s also hosting an exhibition dedicated to video games.
….and STILL, I didn’t enjoy it. Guess I’m a lost cause. But I did enjoy the chance to experience Magical Sound Shower.
I went up the cable car, and down through the botanic gardens, which were pleasant enough. But this isn’t why I came to Wellington. I came here to par-tee.
And that’s where Helen comes in.

A friend in Amsterdam put me in touch with her good friend Helen who lives in Wellington. Helen had sent me loads of suggestions on what to do, and we arranged to meet for dinner. But I was concerned, her messages had a serious tone and I thought maybe she’d be dull and boring. I was wrong.
We met up in a bar called “The Library” which is very cool, has the appropriate d├ęcor, but is also very dark which can’t make reading easy. I was eyeing up the Knight Rider annual on a shelf behind the bar and wondering if I could read it whilst projecting an attitude of ironic detachment.
Helen showed up with a friend and a boyfriend and we went to Chow for dinner and ate Asian fusion food with chopsticks, which was very nice.

By this point you’re probably thinking you’re reading the wrong blog, but fear not, we were soon on a tour of the local drinking establishments. Wellington may be a cultural town, but on a Saturday night there’s more than a whiff of Newcastle or Cardiff about it. Lots of young people in very short skirts tottering around and shouting. The bars and clubs were packed, and we had a very good time.

So good, in fact, that the next day’s drive was a real slog. After two great evenings, and two nights in a car park I was struggling. I’d decided to head for Napier, but boy was it a long drive.
Finally I arrived at Napier, the World Capital of Art Deco. Now I do actually like a bit of “Art Deco” so I was looking forward to Napier, but I don’t know about you, I hate all this self-aggrandizing. Calling yourself the World Capital is only going to set me up for disappointment. Why not just say “Napier. We’ve got a bit of Art Deco knocking around, come have a look”
Then I would have been much more impressed by the town centre, the Daily Telegraph building and the seafront. As it was I said:
“Meh, I prefer Miami Beach”
Maybe it’s the rain. I’ve done really well for weather the last fortnight, but it’s wet and windy at the seaside. I even abandon my idea for a run along the seafront, and resort to lapping the campsite, which turns out to be gigantic.

After the weekend’s antics it’s a quiet night, then up early for some Mountain Biking.
Which sucks.
I can’t believe it. After some amazing rides I thought I was falling in love with this sport, but today I’m hating it. Their tracks run through a forest and they’ve created dozens of them. Yet they’re all the same. The forest floor is slippy with dew, and the only thing that makes the intermediate tracks tougher is trying to get up slippy slopes. There’s nothing technical here to occupy my attention, no jumps, berms or ledges. There’s not much in the way of signs either, demanding frequent stops to look at the map. The past rides I’ve felt scared to death, here I’m bored to death.
The only thing that is scary is the sound of gunfire. The map says:
“All tracks through the gun club firing range are off limits to bikers”
but fails to mention which tracks they are, or where the firing range is.
So I’m frustrated, lost, bored, and being shot at. Time to go.

The drive to Lake Taupo is a lot more enjoyable. After weeks of stunning scenery it’s a surprise to meet something new. The road climbs for several miles before bursting out from the woods onto a plateau. Wow. One second there’s trees and hills all around, the next the view stretches forever. It’s like someone pulling away your toilet walls and finding yourself in the centre of Wembley Stadium!

Into Taupo and it’s time to jump out of a plane. For Taupo is, of course, the World Capital of Skydiving. Yeah, right, bollocks to that. Do you really think “The Road Worrier” is going to sign up to jump out of a plane? I get scared just walking into a shop. If I somehow found myself in a small plane, and someone pulled out a parachute, smiled and said:
Then, yeah sure, Geronimo.
But book a slot, wait around, turn up, get on the flight, go up, and then jump? The jump isn’t the danger, it’s the heart attack I’d give myself worrying about it.
With that decision made I enjoy Taupo. There’s a racetrack where you can drive a V8 racecar, but not today, so I take in the lake and the town and pretend I’m on holiday to have a relaxing time.
I get talking to a girl ….called …….Deb….bie…?.... about travelling and seeing the world. She lives in Taupo but has some big ideas. She wants to experience culture and history. Her boyfriend is in Cancun for Spring Break, and is coming back via Vegas. I know who I’d want to holiday with!

Another day, another bike ride. But this is much more like it. I’m at the Craters of the Moon track. Although I think it’s much better pronounced:
Craters…..Of The Moooooooooooooooooon!
…and it’s awesome. Lots of variety, clear signs, crazy slopes. I head onto the Outback Loop, which snakes through woods, bushes, streams and clearings. I haven’t seen anyone for ages when I ride over a large rock and the front wheel drops directly onto a tree root with a smack. Woah! That could have burst the tire. Imagine that, a puncture in the outback! If I couldn’t fix it I could die of exposure before anybody… well, no, but it would be a long boring walk back. I ride on, thinking: At least there’s no crazy animals out here, not like the Australian Outback. When suddenly I hear:
“What the hell is that?”
That, is the sound of a rapid loss of tyre pressure. Oh, bugger. Well, I’ve got a spare tube so here goes. Now, what do I remember from teenage puncture repairs? Don’t pinch the tube, don’t pop the new tube on the same sharp thing. And there we are, fixed. Phew. Nobody passed by while I was stopped. Best get some more tubes!

Having survived the Outback it’s Rotorua next. But it’s only just down the road, so I loop the long way round Lake Taupo. It’s a beautiful view most of the way round, but the rain shows up to spoil my fun. I whip out Blue Amazon again, and this time there’s no coincidental respite.
There is, however, a whiff of burning rubber. Uh-oh. I can fix a puncture but not a motorhome, what the hell is…?
Welcome to Rotorua.
World Capital of Sulphur. (Probably).
I check into the Top 10 campsite, hit the town, and finally get someone to share my campervan. His name is Ben, he lives in Auckland, and I mentioned him earlier.
Ben’s come down for a couple of days break from the Big Smoke, and it’s great to have another drinking buddy. But Roto is no Welly. We walk back and forth, round and about the town, trying to find anyone who’s out on a Tuesday night.
We ask in the Irish pub if there’s anywhere lively.
“Try the backpackers place: the Lover bar”
“Lover bar?”
“er, OK”
We eventually find the Lava Bar, the dancefloor’s lit up ready for action, but the place is dead. Oh well, we head back to the brew pub we’ve passed, expecting old men and boredom, but find an open mic night has started. We get some half-decent songs, and some odd company, with a few Japanese characters, and a couple of German lads who we hang out with and sample the fine ales.

Somehow we make it through the night in the van without anyone getting kicked in the head – I’m glad it’s a massive van! - and head off in different directions in the morning. Ben thinks a holiday is for relaxing and enjoying yourself, so is off to find a mineral pool. I’m off to kill myself.

Yup, we’re talking biking again. Third day in a row, but Rotorua is The World Capital of… actually, I haven’t seen that, but it has been referred to as Mountain Bike Mecca. So I have to ride the tracks. Or at least some of them, their network is huge. There’s dozens of tracks in the forest. At first I’m apprehensive, the initial track is very reminiscent of Napier, a dull meander through the trees, but then I find some better tracks. Sadly, you can’t loop round just on the tracks, you have to use the forest gravel roads to link them together. There’s even an option of a shuttle bus up “Hill Road”.
But I didn’t come here to sit on a bus, where’s the sense of achievement in that? So I ride, and I climb. And I climb. And …flippinheck. This is one hell of a climb. On and on it goes. The sun is beating down and my helmet is an inverted bucket of sweat. Only my head reduces the flood pouring into my eyes. My legs are arguing with my back over who hurts the most. My hands want to join in. Onwards I climb. I can’t see. I can barely breathe. There’s no sign of the next track. I’m exhausted, half lost, alone.
This is how to holiday!
Finally I spy the board marking the start of the next track. I’ve made it. Eureka. Keep your bus.
It doesn’t take quite so long to get down. This track is marked as more difficult, and they’re not kidding. Jumps, berms, rocks, roots. This has it all. It’s too much for me. Especially my hands, they’re so sore from hanging on and braking like crazy. But I make it down in one piece. Right. I’ve been going nearly two hours, and I’m knackered. I’m done. Time to head to the car.
Except I’m miles away. There’s no quitting here. On I ride, thankful I have water and a cereal bar. On, down and up, up and down, over crests, through valleys, on.
Finally I reach “Dipper” and know I’m almost there. It’s a great track. Swooping along, with lots of small jumps even a wuss like me can enjoy. After Dipper there’s one more choice. The easy way back to the car park, or an expert track. I want to attack the Expert track, but I’m so tired I’d be at serious risk of getting hurt so I decide to go Easy. But there’s a problem. The signpost’s gone. It’s hard to explain, but there’s nothing to indicate which point I’ve reached, so it’s not even certain which path is right or left. I haven’t seen anyone in ages. Bollocks.
I look at the map. I could be at either of 2 points. If I go left I might be going the wrong way, if I go right I’ll be heading the right way, but might be choosing the difficult track. I go right.
It’s OK at first, then gets tricky. This is just what I need. I’m exhausted, and just want to get back in one piece, but they’ve put every kind of obstacle in here and no easy options.
Focus Paul, take it slow, don’t fall off.
I round a corner and stop. I’ve come to a dead end. What I thought was the track, ends at a river. What now?

I get off my bike for a closer look. It’s not very deep, and not that big. In fact it’s more of a stream, and the drop is a jump. Good fun if you’re an experienced biker and awake. Not so much when you’re a half dead Rookie.
But I can wade across.
A couple more turns and, is it? Could it be? Yes. It’s the CAR PARK!!!!
I stagger out into the light and clmb off my bike. I’ve only been gone three hours but I feel like I’ve survived the wilderness.
And it feels great.
Ben’s been sitting in a pool. Pah!

I get back to the campsite, jump in the Natural Thermal Pool, get bored in five minutes, then jump out again. Beer time!
Back to the brew pub, but no sign of Hansel and Gretel. I have, however, collected another Ben. Or rather Ben has collected another Ben, as his mate has joined us. I munch my way through a bucket of potato wedges, then a steak. The Bens decide to go back to Ben’s house, but I’m too tired. I’ll just finish my beer and stagger back to the van. I move over to the bar to chat to the bar staff. We’re talking about travelling when a small guy appears next to me and says he’s the chef and has just knocked off.
“Have you done much traveling?” I ask him.
“Not really, I might have trouble getting in some countries”
“Because I have convictions”
The barmaid asks: “anything major?”
“Yeah, Assault and Battery” he replies.
“My steak was fantastic!”

Another guy at the bar is interested in my trip and buys me a drink to stick around and talk. He’s going on his first solo holiday next year, despite being in his forties. So of course I have to buy him a beer. And then there’s another, and these are strong Real Ales, so things are getting blurry and Dean is getting repetitious. Several times he asks:“Where’s good to go tonight?”
And the barmaid replies: “Nowhere, maybe the Lava bar”
Dean fails to persuade her to join us, but is up for more fun. So we head for the Lava Bar. Except Dean disappears. I retrace ten paces and find him flat on his back in a car park.
“Get up!”
“Wheeeeeeerrrree weeee goingghh?”
“The Lava Bar”
“Where is it?”
“Just down there!”
No movement.
“GET UP!!!!”
“Wheeeeeeerrrree weeee goingghh?”
“The…. Lava…. Bar”
“Where is it?”
“Just down there!!!!”
No movement.

By this point I’m poking Dean with my foot, then prodding him, then practically kicking him. I’m booting a drunk man who’s on the floor in a dark car park. Maybe this is how the chef got in trouble…

I ditch Dean. I don’t think he’s in any danger, just being an idiot. And I hit the Lava Bar, expecting emptiness and time to go home.

But it’s throbbing! There’s a busload of backpackers in town, and they wanna have fun. I bump into the chef at the bar, and he buys me a drink. I talk to a couple of backpackers and dance like a fool, and we all come to a general consensus that if it hadn’t have been for cotton eyed Joe, we’d have been married a long time ago. Though we’re unsure about his background or current whereabouts.

In the morning I rejoin the Bens and we head to Kerosine Creek. Forget your campsite thermal pool. This is a proper, middle of nowhere naturally heated mineral pool. I’m expecting a three foot puddle, and I’m amazed to find a thirty foot natural plunge pool in an incredible setting. No entry fees here, and we have it to ourselves.

Too soon the holiday’s over. Original Ben has to return to Auckland and work. I bid goodbye to New Ben and head north. But I’m knackered. Three days of biking and partying has wiped me out. It’s only an hour to my next destination, but it’s a long hour. Finally I reach Papamoa Beach, and another Top 10.
“Do you want to pay the extra for a sea view?”
“How much?”
“2 dollars”
“Oh, go on then”
and I’ve made it. I can finally sit back and take it easy for a few hours. Well, right after I’ve run a few miles on the beach…