BootsnAll Travel Network

New Things and Old Friends

I’m back in Auckland at the moment, staying with an old friend of mine from Oak Park, Walt N. It’s his 30th birthday today, and he and his wife Jules are having a big BBQ for him tomorrow, so I’m staying in Auckland until Sunday. I am a few days behind on my “schedule” but being able to see a familiar face is always nice, and being able to meet some more Kiwis at the party should be fun and offer more a local flavor then staying in hostels and meeting other travelers all the time.

I’ve just spent the last 4 days in the Bay of Islands. The bay has about 140 islands, most with little beaches you can anchor close by and go snorkeling and stuff like that. Paihia is the main town and everyone stays there and then books activities and trips from there. My main reason for going to the bay was two different travelers had told me about this overnight cruise they had done called The Rock, which they raved about. So I tried to book that for Monday, but they were full up, so I ended up booking for Tuesday night and having to stay an extra day because the Magic Bus didn’t do the trip back to Auckland on Wednesday. I didn’t mind though as there is plenty to do in the Bay and I had met a couple of cool girls on the bus. I convinced Lora (Canada) and Susanna (England) to book on The Rock too, so we all shared a hostel room waiting for Tuesday night.

On Monday, we did a day tour to Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand. The lighthouse there is the main attraction and everyone gets out to take pictures of that and the coast. The lighthouse was the last man-operated lighthouse in NZ, but they have now switched it to a solar powered generator. Cape Reinga sits on government land, and there are a few Dept of Conservation workers that live on the reserve and take care of it. On our drive to the Cape, our bus driver showed us an area of trees and foliage that was burned after a car skidded off the gravel road and burst into flames. It took three days and cost NZ$750,000. to put out this fire, which the government is now trying to get back from the couple’s insurance company.

The other big attraction on the cape in Ninety Mile Beach and sand boarding. Ninety Mile Beach is a long stretch of beach, actually only 64 miles, which seems to go on forever. You are actually allowed to drive on the beach, which our tour bus did, and stopped at another photo spot where another stupid couple decided to drive their 3 week old Mercedes onto the beach, got stuck in high tide and couldn’t get out. So all the tourist buses now stop and let everyone take pictures of this car stuck in the sand on a deserted stretch of beach. Deserted is an understatement really. We only saw two dune buggys and one hiker on almost 50 miles of beach, plus two other tour buses. Imagine that much beach in the US and how crowded it would be on a beautiful summer day.

Our tour included an opportunity to go sandboarding, which I was kind of scared of, seeing as how high these dunes were, but refused to be the only one on the bus not doing it. So up we climbed, and as with most adventure activities, the anticipation and looking down proved much more scary than the actual activity, which was over in about 4 seconds. Fun while it lasted, but not worth another grueling climb up the soft sand. A few people wiped out pretty hard and Susanna broke her sunglasses after they flew off, but no one got injured which was good. They have had a few breaks and sprains in the past.

The following day, Lora, Susanna and I went to Russell, which is the oldest town in NZ, just a short ferry ride across the bay from Paihia. It has small English cottages and a great beach, where I proceded once again to get completely sunburned. Still haven’t learned that lesson. We came back to Paihia, checked out of our hostel for the night, and then boarded The Rock around 5pm. The Rock is the idea of this Kiwi guy named Peter. It’s a 24 hour cruise on a boat that he designed for this idea of his. We had about 35 people on board, not including the workers. We went cruising out into the bay towards some smaller islands, and along the way some dolphins joined us in the water and frolicked as they tend to do in front of the boat for a while. After the dolphin sighting, we did some “shooting” off the back of the boat, at a plastic bottle target. After the shooting, they brought out the fishing poles and we did some fishing. I actually caught two fish, but both were thrown back because they were too small. One person caught a John Dory, which is a really cool looking fish, but they threw that back as well just because it was so awesome looking. In the meantime they had set up this big BBQ dinner, and we sat down for a meal and some drinks. We were careful not to drink too much, because after dinner was a nighttime kayaking trip.

What was so great about this cruise, was it gave tourists the opportunity to be out on the water at night, which many never get to do. We took the kayaks out, and were lucky enough to have a full moon that night. It was really weird because of the phosphoresence in the water, everytime you dipped your paddle in, millions of little lights seemed to cling to the paddle, matching the stars in the sky. We also did a midnight swim, which was a little freaky because everyone kept thinking of sharks out in the middle of ocean. The phosphorous clung to your legs and if you looked down into the water, you could see your legs, even though it was pitch black outside. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. We got back on the boat and warmed up by the fire, and then went to bed. We had tiny rooms of 6 people and I don’t think anyone slept very well, but sunrise woke us up about 6:30. The breakfast bell rang at 8 and everyone slowly woke up ready for the rest of the day. After breakfast, the boat dropped off people to go snorkeling for mussels around this big rocky outcrop, and even though the swells were kind of high and the water freezing, I managed to stay out there a while and dive down for a few mussels.

The rest of the trip was spent on a little remote island on a small beach, eating lunch and looking for shells and kayaking around. The island we stopped on was the last piece of land out on the Pacific side of New Zealand, with the next land out in the Pacific would be Tonga and the Cook Islands. After leaving the island, we ate the mussels and sea urchins we caught for a quick lunch, and there was a Japanese tourist on board who chopped up a fish for some sushi, the freshest sushi you could ever have. The Rock dropped us back in Paihia around 3:30, and we checked back into our hostel for a little nap. This entire experience, with the meals and fishing and dolphins, snorkeling, kayaking etc, cost us NZ $148, a relative bargain compared to some other boat tours that are only for a few hours. It was totally worth the money to me. The Magic Bus brought me back to Auckland on Thursday, where Walt and his Kiwi wife Jules and I had dinner and went out for a few beers in his neighborhood. We are off today to buy groceries for the birthday party tomorrow and do a little driving around. Sunday I head south, trying to get back on my itinerary. I only wanted to spend two weeks in the north island, but I’ll definitely go over that. I’ll have to start prioritizing things I wanted to do on the South Island to squeeze everything in.

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