Michele here on March 26th….we are in New Zealand…16 hours behind East Coast time and 19 hours behind West Coast time in the states.
We left Aukland with the intention of driving north in our rental car to Tutukaka on March 11th. We rented our car from a cheap-o rental place, called ACE. One reason ACE rental is cheap is because the cars have high mileage on them. (You can probably see the writing on the wall here….oh yea, read below…)
The driving in New Zealand takes place on the left side of the road so we really have to concentrate to drive. Everything in the car in backwards (to us) and when we approach an intersection, we need to think carefully about which car is going where and who has the right away. Mike started out driving through downtown Aukland. We then got onto the motorway with no problems. However, about 15 minutes outside of Aukland, our car went from the posted speed limit of 100 km/hour to 80 km/hour to 50 km/hour to 30 km/hour with the gas peddle floored. There were no shoulders to pull over onto so as we slowed down, we had people piling up behind us and honking their horns. Before the car completely died we drove it up over a curb and onto some grass. @*#&$@#(^! We knew we shouldn’t have rented this cheap-o thing! We managed to get the car started again and get it to the nearest exit, which thankfully had a gas station at the end of it. As we pulled into the gas station, the car died for good. We called the car rental company and (eventually) they sent out a replacement car.
We arrived in Tutukaka, on the east coast of the north island, about 2 hours later than planned due to the car trouble. We were immediately struck at how small this “town” was. It actually didn’t seem like a town but really, more like a marina with a couple of restaurants and bars. We stopped into the scuba dive shop there and talked with the owner about our (previously arranged) plans for doing two dives out at the Poor Knights Islands.
We wanted our dives to be part of our advanced open water certificate requirement. We knew we wouldn’t be getting our advanced open water certificate from this dive shop but we wanted to take a few “courses” towards the advanced certificate. The advanced certificate consist of reading the appropriate chapters in our advanced open water book, taking the tests, and completing CORE and ELECTIVE dives then being tested on our underwater skills. Getting an advanced open water certificate is sort of like getting a college degree (but it’s much easier and more fun of course!) You have your required, or core, courses and you have your elective courses.
At the Tutukaka dive shop we had arranged to do two elective courses with a dive instructor. The two elective dive course were called Peak Performance Buoyancy (basically floating underwater at the right depth) and Underwater Photography. I’ll explain more about these later.
After getting everything set up with the Tutukaka dive shop, we asked them to help us find a place to stay. They had a list of places in this small town but after calling about 20 hostels, B&Bs and hotels - everything within our budget, and even places out of our budget – were booked due to a fishing tournament. Oh, how we hate being in this situation! It was getting late, pouring rain, and we had no place to stay. So, we turned around and headed south down the motorway (about 30 minutes) to the next big town, called Whangarei (pronounced “Fun-gar-ray”). We went to the International Youth Hostel in the town and it was full. I asked if I could use the phone and our calling card (that we bought at a convenience store) to call other places to stay. The woman said this would be fine. Mike sat in the car as I went though the guide book calling and calling and calling. Finally, I found a motor lodge that had one vacancy. Sweet! I told the lady we would be there in 10 minutes.
We arrived and took one look at the place and told ourselves, “Well, it’s only for a few nights.” From the outside, the place looked rundown but when we walked into the last room available, we were overjoyed. This is still one our favorite places we have stayed in New Zealand. It was similar to a small apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen – all spotless - and the kitchen window looked out to nice green plants. This was one of the most stressful days we have had on our trip, especially for Mike because he was driving for many hours on the left side of the road on a two-lane highway in the pouring rain. So finding this great, affordable place to stay was like a little reward for all the stress we had endured.
We spent the next day diving at the Poor Knights Islands. We completed our two advanced open water dives which would go towards our advanced open water certification. A funny thing about our underwater photography class…when we brought our film in to a camera shop to be developed we discovered that our instructor didn’t load the film correctly in my camera so all of the photos I took couldn’t be developed. The guy at the photo shop showed me that the negatives were a total blank. Oh well! At least Mike’s film was loaded correctly and most importantly, the photos that our instructor took of us underwater using Mike’s camera turned out fine. Here is proof – check us out!
The surge at the dive site was pretty severe so we were being thrown around a lot underwater which made us a bit disoriented. For example, when we were in the kelp forest, we saw the kelp swooshing back and forth and it was difficult to tell what was moving – us? the kelp? or both? We dove next to a giant rock wall and saw some huge fish that were several feet long. We also saw a lot of eels, giant sting rays, and squids. Diving is so cool!
After our day of diving, we went back to our lovely little motor lodge, then left the following morning (March 13th), and headed north to the Bay of Islands area. See Blog #98 for Mike’s blog our time there. See ya!
Tags: Category #26: New Zealand