December 1999 - New Zealand through Claire's eyes...

Thursday 23rd December

From Bali to Brisbane and Brisbane to Auckland the journey was pretty easy and nicely uneventful.  I managed to sleep a fair bit on the first leg while Rob sat and endured what he described as one of the worst films he had ever seen.  (Michael Keaton, being brought back to life as a snowman - spewwwwy)

Once in Auckland we were pleased to pass through all the relevant areas without any problems, though Rob was pretty annoyed that the ticket we had been railroaded into buying wasn't mentioned by any of the Kiwi officials.

Once we were reunited with our luggage we made our way to the domestic terminal ready for our flight on one of the smaller planes.  We were there a little early and so we grabbed some lunch and chilled out before our flight was called.  We took off on time.

Fifty minutes later, after turkey rolls, truffles and a drink we touched down safely and saw Loz & Rich waiting for us outside in the blinding sunshine (something that we were all very pleased about).  So, with sunnies firmly attached we made our fist steps on New Plymouth soil.

Getting the bags back was a little different to what we had become accustomed to.  Instead of trekking around the airport and waiting for the bags to run along the usual conveyor belts, we turned around and they were ready waiting for us on massive trolleys.  Bargain!!! I think that Loz & Rich were pretty surprised at the small amount of luggage that we had . ...but there was already one bag waiting for us in NP and we'd left another at left luggage at the international airport, so the initial impression was fairly misleading.

But anyway we left with everything we were supposed to have and made our way to Loz's parent's house.  On the way we were lucky enough to see the top, and most of Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont).  The locals say that if you can see the top of the mountain it is going to rain, and if you can't see it, it is already raining.  Well......it didn't rain that day OR that night so it looks like we did pretty well.

On the way to our new home for the next few days we stopped off at the supermarket to pick up a few beers.  Apparently they had only recently reduced the drinking age to 18 and introduced the sale of beers and alcohol in supermarkets - which we found very unusual.

Once stocked up we continued our journey to our end destination, where we sat and chatted and caught up for a while eating mince pies and Christmas cake until Ross & Anne (Loz's parents) came home and cooked us a well appreciated dinner.  Both Loz's parents are Kiwi (as through and through as you can get) and made us feel very welcome.

As the jet lag and other ailments hadn't caught up with us too much, we went to Pukekura park to see the Christmas light display.  It was pretty cool as it completely changed the look of the park.  Trees and water were lit up in reds and greens and blues and yellows and purples and gave the place a mystical feeling.  The best bit though was the magic stone collection.  Thanks to someone who had the job of painting loads of stones in fluorescent colours and an ultraviolet light there was a path of bright tones glowing in the dark.  Apparently adults as well as children have been known to pick up the stones only to be disappointed the next morning and night when they didn't glow anymore.  Personally......I'm coming to terms with the disappointment.

HWhen we got back to the house we had a little chat, made our plans for the next day and went to bed. 

Friday 24th December

Rob had decided the night before that he liked the suggestion of going swimming and so at about 9.30am we made our way to Kawaroa to check out the swimming pool with the wave machine.  I don't know if it was just the place or maybe the time of year but it was very quiet in the pool.  The children weren't allowed in until gone 10am but even then it was pretty empty.  But that was a good thing I think.  We got to have a bit of a swim, and a go on the big foam squares that you'd never get in an English pool, and then the waves came on.  They lasted for about ten minutes or so and then the pool went back to normal.  Once they were over we all sat in the spa pool for a little while but we couldn't stay long because Rob had a dentist appointment at 10.45am.

We all got out at the same time and while Rob made his trip Loz popped into a shop while Rich and I did a lap of the roads to kill some time.  When Rob had finished (and confirmed that everything was OK) we popped to the shops until it was time for me to go and get my hair cut.  This is where we experienced the onslaught of the very helpful staff at the pharmacist.  There must have been about six or so of them working and they all came up to us independently to ask us if they could help.  No thank you, no thanks, no...NO!! While I was loosing my hair thanks to the friendly hair dresser who offered me wine and truffles, we left Loz to do some more shopping and Rob & Rich went off for a beer and a quick couple of games of pool.

With my new hair cut, and Loz's shopping almost done, we decided it was high time we went back for some lunch.  This was followed by a trip to Rich's parents to say hello and to thank them for sorting out our flights and Rob's dental appointments.  Rich's mum was originally from Scotland and his dad was from Sherringham.  They'd come to live in NZ when Rich was a wee nipper which explains why he has more of an accent than they have.  It was a pleasant trip with us informing his parents about the current state of the land they had left behind.

 After a while Rich broke up the little party and took us to the beach, which was just down the road. This was our first real taste of NZ beaches and unfortunately it was a little blowy.  None the less we went down for quite a pleasant walk seeing the little islands just out to sea.  The sea itself was a lovely blue colour and the sand was volcanic so it was a blacky grey colour.  It was very quiet except for a few other brave people who had dared to go into the water (equipped with wet suits, of course).

Before we knew it, it was coming up for 4pm and we headed back to Loz who had been having a nap to replenish her energy for the evening's activities.  When we got there Loz went off in the car to complete her shopping while we wrapped up the last of our presents and sorted ourselves out before heading out to see Roger and Fionna (Loz & Rich's friends) to have dinner.

Roger and Fionna have two friendly little ones, Samantha and Travis.  Samantha is only four and Travis is 16 months old, but they weren't shy.  As we walked in Samantha started jabbering to us while Travis put his arms out to Rich to be picked up.  This wasn't surprising as he knew Rich....but then he turned to Rob and did the same.  They remained friends until Rob put his glasses on.  Then the spell was broken.  A little while later, Rich's friends Rob and Bronwyn came in with their little girl, Brie.  They only stayed for a drink as they were on their way to Bronwyn's parents, but Rob came back later on.  At this point we were still waiting for Loz to catch us up so Roger and Rich went out to grab the pre-ordered kebabs.  They picked Loz up on the way and we tucked in.

It has to be said..... NZ kebabs are much, much better than English ones (although Rob disagrees...) For starters you actually get some real meat in it, and secondly the rest of the ingredients taste like they should do!!!! We enjoyed a few drinks along with this as well as Samantha's entertaining and chatted and stuff until about 10pm when we headed back to Loz's parents.  Once back, Loz got changed for church while we met Jonathan, her younger brother who had come home for Christmas.  When Loz was ready she, Rich and Jonathon headed down to meet Ross and Anne for the midnight service.

Rob and I stayed at the house and ended up watching an MTV music video awards ceremony until everyone got back.  By then it was Christmas morning, so we both called home to wish our parents a happy Christmas - even though for them, it was mid-morning Christmas eve.  When everyone was back we chatted and drank port and before we knew it, it was 2am and so we went to bed.

Saturday 25th December

Unlike the morning before it was 11am am before we got up on Christmas morning.  It was light and dry and so it took a while to sink in what day it actually was.  But the promise of Rich's pancakes got us out of bed and after a quick shower each we were ready to start the day. Christmas Brunch... Christmas greetings were exchanged again than the pan was put on and the pancakes were cooking.  We also had sausages, bacon, eggs and muffins too to go with our sparklies.  The pancakes were "beautiful" and easily kept us going until dinner later on in the day.

Post brunch we exchanged all our gifts, Rob and I pleasantly surprised by the gifts that we got.  Loz and Rich did us a NZ pack full of typically NZ things.  We got a kiwi fruit, a couple of NZ choc bars, a couple of cans of L&P (a drink like lemonade but not that much like lemonade!!!), a singlet for Rob ( a vest top typically worn by the farmers) a Maori necklace/charm for me and some other bits too.  Ross and Anne got us a book called "Beautiful NZ" which has pictures and text about the sights of NZ.  We're recognising places already so by the time we get home we'll be looking through that book and having all sorts of memories flooding back!!!

Time was getting on by this stage and if we were going to make our promised trip to the beach we had to get moving.  Unfortunately it wasn't quite the "shrimps on the barby" day we had been imagining - it was sunny but very breezy.  We visited Oakura, Weld Rd Beach and Fitzroy beach in search of shelter from the wind.  Rob made the step into the sea on Fitzroy beach but only got as far in as his knees because it was so cold.  The rest of us watched merrily from the warmer sands.  But..... "it had to be done"!!!!

Then it was back to the house ready for the evening Christmas dinner.  Rich's parents and his sister came over as well and more Christmas greeting were exchanged along with more presents.  Again we were spoilt with another goody bag.  We got some crackers and party poppers but also some cool Kiwi coasters and a NZ magnet again to remind us of our time here.  Bargain!!!!

With all this done it was time to eat, and a wonderful meal it was!!  Turkey, ham, kumara (like sweet potato), potato, carrots, peas...mmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmm.  If there was any doubt about it really being Christmas day, the dinner soon took that away.  There was the Christmas pud and trifle to follow too!! Excellent.  Then the usual "I'm full up" sitting around after dinner (while Rob munched away on cheese and biscuits) helped the rest of the day just whiz by.  Wallace and Gromit and all the usual TV bumph.  Missed the queen though, but nothing new there!!!!

The day finally ended with a Christmas call home to my mum who was busy making sure the house was tidy and that everything was ready for everyone coming over to start their day!!!! Weird feeling!!

Sunday 26th December

The world of lie-ins suddenly came crashing to an end on Boxing day with a blinding 5am wake up call from Ross.  We were leaving for our North Island tour and were on strict orders from Rich to have the bags ready at 5:45 and Mt Taranaki from Awakino... ourselves ready at 6am.  The reason we had to be ready so early was because we were booked in to do "black water rafting" at 9am and it was a good few hours drive away.  Strangely, not everyone was in the best of moods to start with, but our adventuring soon changed all of that!!!

We actually arrived at Waitomo at around 8:30am, half an hour before we were due to start, but by the time we had arranged ourselves and Rob had put in his contact lenses we were ready to go.  We met our guides and went outside to get fitted up for our wet suits.  Not the most pleasant experience in the world.  We put on our damp wet suits slowly, and got given some boots on top.  When we were all dressed up we took a group photo in the bath - ooer and then hopped into a mini bus to take a five minute drive up to the caves.  There were eight of us altogether, one from America who was working in Malaysia, three Canadians, our two kiwis and us two.

We arrived at the car park and made our way over to where they kept their big rubber rings.  We found one to sit comfortably in and then the guides had a bit of fun at our expense by sitting us on the floor and having us roll around in the dirt.  This was partly for our benefit.  Black Water Rafting...In one of the areas of the cave we were going to have to join up in a line by putting our feet on the ring in front.  This exercise prepared us for this. 

Then followed the worst part of the tour....and this was before we even got in to the caves!!!!!!!!!!!!! We wandered down to the river with our rings, and had to jump backwards into the water, landing on the rings.  Excellent.  I'd had to psych myself up enough as it was without this kind of set back!! Rob was near the front of the line and jumped in quite happily.  I only lost sight of him under the splash of the water for a moment.  Rich was next out of the four of us and I lost sight of him completely for a moment.  Then came Loz who like me was pretty nervous.  She did OK which made me feel a bit better.  Then it was my turn.  Most of the group had now gone and it was only pride that stopped me from turning and running in the opposite direction.

Once we'd all taken a soaking, we walked for a few minutes to the opening of the cave.  The entrance was a lot nicer than I had been expecting after our introduction to the stream.  We climbed down gently and sat inside for a moment waiting for our eyes to adjust.  This is where we all introduced ourselves to each other and learnt the nationalities of our co-rafters.

Once adjusted we carried on ......under a low beam which meant lying back and using our hands above us to push us along.  That bit was a lot less worrying than Loz and I had been expecting.  LV Dave had been here before, but the water must have been higher at that point because he told us about ducking under a ledge to carry on with the rafting.  So we continued.  Once we were all under the infamous ledge we regrouped in a pool where the guide scared the life out of me by joking in a VERY serious voice that we had to hold our breath and squeeze through a small hole under the water.  At that point I was more than ready to get out and wait for everyone else to finish!!!

Thankfully he was only joking and I stayed in for a great experience.  We walked through the shallower water and climbed over rocks and made our way along the winding route.  After a while the guides told us to turn off the lights on our hats.  In the dark we could see little blue lights in the ceiling and parts of the wall of the cave.  It was the glow worms and when there were a lot together they let out quite a strong light - considering! You could see the white boots we were wearing in some areas.  Before long we had all become accustomed to sitting in the dark and so they got us to turn the lights off quite often as we continued.  The difference though was that the rest of the time we were floating along in the dark.  This was when the linking up in a line plan came into action.

It was mad.  There you were floating along in the dark with these bright blue lights trying to lead the way.  Unfortunately they weren't strong enough to stop us bumping into the cave walls every now and then but never mind.

The scariest part of the tour was a waterfall in the cave.  Just to the right of it was a big hole, hidden by the rush of water.  The male guide showed us just how deep it was by jumping in and disappearing for what seemed like forever.  We were then told to be careful in case we fell in too! The unnerving part here was that rush of water I mentioned.  We had to negotiate passing that without falling in. ..then if we made that part in one piece, we had to jump over the fall backwards into the next part of the stream of water - a drop of about 3 meters.  Oh yeah.....we had to make sure that we jumped far enough though.....otherwise we'd land on the rocks!!!!

The guide went, some other guy went, and then Rob went, all three disappearing out of sight for a moment.  Then it was my turn.  The female guide must have seen the fear in my face because she told me that I didn't have to jump in backwards if I didn't want to.  For a moment I was relieved, but just as I was about to lunge forward she mentioned that if I got it wrong I'd end up going in face first.  Thanks mate!!!! I did jump in forwards in the end, and my pride was restored when I later found out that Loz, Rich and most of the others had done the same.  Rob described the look on my face afterwards as "a combined look of sheer terror combined with sheer relief".  From there on in it was easy.  We floated along in the dark watching the glow worms and occasionally the guides had just their lights on to show us the eerie cave walls and structure.  At the end I was leading the group in the dark - which felt a bit strange as earlier I was ready to run!

 Before we knew it we could see daylight streaming down into the exit area of the cave and once out of that we floated back down the river that we had first made the jump into.  Then back in the mini bus to the company building, a quick shower and a reward of soup and bagels.  Very well deserved for some of us!!!!

From Waitomo we made our way to Hamilton for some lunch - Maccy D's style.  We drove past Loz & Rich's student abodes and ended up eating by the river before continuing north to Auckland.  We stayed at a place called the Alexandra Motor Inn, a place chosen by Loz as she and Rich had been there a few times before - AND....we got a complimentary breakfast too!!! We got there late afternoon, unpacked and then Rob and I fell asleep for an hour while Loz and Rich busied themselves next door.

An hour after we had arrived (and we'd slept) we took a cab into the America's Cup Village in the city.  We had a wander around the site and tried to see some of the boats, but most were out of sight - which was a shame.  Still we had a good look around before having a drink on the quay front.  It was pretty nippy by this time and so after a couple we went nearby to the fish restaurant that Loz had found in the Lonely Planet guide.  As we walked in, all the well dressed other diners watched us take our seats, but soon we forgot about them and chatted and ate away.  It was a really nice meal.  Once we'd finished we caught another cab back to the motel and sat and had a drink with Rich and Loz before going next door and crashing out until the next morning.

Monday 27th December

We had arranged to meet Rich at 9:15 the next morning for breakfast but with the jet lag and the 5am start catching up on us, we were really struggling to get up.  The result being that we were still in bed when Rich knocked.  But true to my word, ten minutes later we were out and munching away in the breakfast room.  We checked out at 10am and made our way back into the city via a stop on one tree hill.  In the city we went up the famous and relatively new Sky Tower.  Glass Floor - 900 feet up !Higher than the Eiffel Tower we could see for miles.  We've been up a few monumental towers now, but this was a good one because not only could you see the city, you also got to see a lot of the coast and the close islands as well.  It was quite a cloudy day, but luckily the clouds were high enough not to spoil our view at all.  The other good thing was that you didn't have to spend forever queuing to get in (unlike the Sears tower, Chicago)!!!!

Back down on normal level again we headed off for some lunch before making the long drive to the hot pools where we were going to camp.  We were quite short on time because we had to get to the beach within two hours of the tide so that we could get the hot water.  This meant that didn't have long to look around.  Loz therefore chose to take us to Parnell where we ate in a nice little café. 

So, on to Hot Water Beach.  It was amazing view along the way, but unfortunately I missed some when my eyes got too heavy to stop me having a nap in the back of the car.  We were running a little behind schedule but we got there in time to put the tents up before heading down to the beach as had been planned.

What we experienced next was not exactly what I had been expecting.  Why I don't know.  The title "Hot water" would give the impression that the water would be more than luke warm, but when we got to the beach and steam was rising up from the sand I was still very surprised.  On our way out of Parnell we'd got a couple of buckets and spades.  The spades were for digging a bath/hole for the hot water, and the buckets were for getting cold water from the sea to cool down the boiling water that had filled up the dug out holes.  Some areas were just too hot to stand on!!!!

It was strange because some areas were a lot hotter than others.  When Rob first started digging the water felt warm and we thought that that was as good as it got, but Rich and Loz were merrily digging and getting much warmer water.  Further back up the beach behind us the water was hotter still and so we all moved back and started digging again.  Before long we had to give up on our hole.  I'd been to the sea and brought back a few big buckets full of water and still the water burnt our feet.  Next to us, Loz & Rich had got it right again and theirs was just right for a bit.....but then that one got too hot as well.

This meant that it was time to start taking over some of the abandoned pre-dug holes.  By now most people had given up, and so there were plenty to choose from.  We managed to find a good spot where the water from the previous hot one could be moderated by a flow of water from a cold hole.  Rob set up a tap effect by digging channels from each down to a third hole and filling it up to a good temperature before blocking the flow when it got to the right kind of heat.  Clever boy. 

Loz and I were first to get out when the tide had come in far enough to start flooding the pool that we were all in.  We went up to where the bags were and watch Rob & Rich as they kept opening the "hot tap" between the flow of the waves.  Finally they gave up and we all headed back for a quick shower before going out for some dinner.

It was 8:30pm by the time we were all ready to go and the gates to the site shut at 10:30pm so we were on a bit of a mission to find something and to get back before then.  We had to drive out to the next town, and by the time got there (15 minutes or so) the take-away was shut.  We carried on and found a restaurant open, which also had a take-away.  We opted to eat there though on the promise by the staff that we'd be done in enough time to get back to the site.  It was a tight one but we got there.  By then we were all pretty wiped out and so we disappeared into our own tents and fell fast asleep.

Tuesday 28th December

First thing, Rob and I decided to go and look for the spa that Rich had told us about the night before, but unfortunately it didn't open until 1pm and we had to be off site before 10:30am.  So, we settled for a milkshake and a coffee and then packed up to leave.  This meant that it was about 10am when we left which meant that we were actually ahead of time for once!!!

We drove off and had a big brunch in Pauanui (the rich part of town where they all own holiday homes and belong to the golf club).  We stopped off in a nice little caf, where we ordered a big "snack" which kept us going until dinner.  When we'd finished there we took a quick look at the beach before carrying on to Opoutere which LV Matt had recommended.  Thanks for that Matt, we had a cool time.

When we arrived the sun was not on full duty, but we put on our swim gear anyway in the hope that it would come out.  It did and so much so that Loz had lots of little burnt bits, I had a little burnt triangle on my leg and Rob's side of his forehead (not mentioning any hair lines) went a bit red too.  Too much talking and not enough sun lotion applying I think.

The waves/surf was the biggest I had seen so far and it was BIG!!!! I ventured in, but when they were breaking as high as my head about 20 metres into the sea I didn't stay too long.  Rob went in much further and fought with the waves crashing over his head!!! Some came in such rapid succession that he didn't have time to recover from the first.  Pretty funny to watch knowing that he could cope with it, but Loz and I were too chicken to try.  Rich on the other hand had wandered off to take some photos and to have a nap.  Not surprising considering he was doing all the driving - thanks again for that one Rich!!!!

I'm not too sure how long we had been there, but we left at about 3:30pm so that we had enough time to get to the next camp site and pitch up before going for a walk to see a waterfall.  As we drove down the track to the site we saw the down side to NZ......teenage guys.  There was a group of them driving like maniacs behind us and then when we got on the actual site there was a big group of them swearing and acting like idiots.  Needless to say we camped as far away from them as possible.  We didn't quite manage to avoid the noise though.

Stream Crossing...But never mind.  The walk up to the waterfall made up for all that though, reminding us that there are much finer points to New Zealand!!! The books said that the walk to the waterfall would last an hour, the sign at the bottom said one hour and fifteen minutes.  So, we needed to do it in less time.  We made it in 50 minutes!! It was quite a nice walk up with a couple of stream crosses.  On one of them Loz got a little stuck, but I think that had more to do with the fact that she was wearing trainers.  Rob on the other hand didn't mind just walking through the water to her rescue.

 When we got up to the top, we found that we had reached the tip of the fall and managed to sit on the rocks around the top, watching it fall down.  Wentworth Falls...From this height we could see for miles.  We saw the sea and all the surrounding "bush".  We also found the look out point a little further down.  So, after a few arty photos we headed back down to the point and saw it from the bottom up.

On the way up we saw the fern in its 'unleafy' stage which is where the symbol of the necklace that Loz & Rich had bought me came from.  We also saw a fan tail bird that came unusually close to us all!!!

When we'd all finished we headed back down and put the tents up.  We weren't sure exactly where to put them until the friendly guy pitched next to us told us that our decision was a bad one as it got very boggy if it rained.  So, with his guidance we got set up under the trees and headed out for the take-away safe in the knowledge that the friendly guy would be about in case the rowdy boys came over.

We went back to the town that we had come through to get to the site for our dinner.  We looked for the busiest take away before choosing where to go - serious stuff picking fish and chips you know!!! We ended up going for the one nearest the car park space in the end though! Once we had it all we went and sat on the beach to eat it, watching the freaky alien surfers surfing in the semi-dark, cold water.

We finished all that and then went back for some ice cream before heading back to the site where most of the rowdy boys had apparently passed out judging by the noise levels.  Another group had taken over the music sounds!!! We finished the night with drinks in our tent - Baileys and Contreau to be exact!!!!

Wednesday 29th December

Thankfully we woke up to no rain which meant no flooding around the tents.  The shower option here was a lot more limited than the last place - as in cold shower or no shower.  So, we all opted for hanging on until we got to Rotorua instead.  On the way we stopped off in Haihi for some breakfast which was very much enjoyed even if it did take a while to arrive.

By the time we got to Rotorua it was about 2:30pm and we stopped off in the town to let Loz see an optician as her eyes had been giving her some grief.  We had to wait a while so we split up for almost an hour, and guess what......we ended up in a pub!!

We were due to be picked up for a Hangi at 4:30pm.  This gave us one valuable hour to hop into the shower and get cleaned up before the coach got there.  We managed that all on time and then waited for twenty minutes for our lift.  Never mind because the evening was really cool.

We had a friendly coach driver called Darren who taught us some Maori words and got us all powering an imaginary Waka (canoe) as we made our way to the village.  On the same journey we also found a leader amongst the passengers who was to be our chief for the night.  It was him that had to go forward to meet the Maori chief when we got there.

The village was set up to show people how the Maori tribes used to live, and around us the Maori's treated us like guests to their tribe.  When we arrived our "chief" and "chiefs" from the other coaches stepped forward to face the Maori chief who came out to challenge.  Although this just a show, we were asked to stay silent and not to react to the display as the whole ritual is very sacred to them.  It was very strange but we all agreed that if they came up and did that to us when we were alone on a deserted beach then we'd probably pooh our pants!!!!!

Once his ritual was finished one of the "Chiefs" was chosen to accept the peace offering the Maori chief had left.  Once this had been accepted we were all invited to go into their environment.  On the way in there were huts and Maori males and females acting as if they were carrying on in a normal day.  Women were singing and carrying on their daily tasks, men were challenging each other and playing native instruments.  We all wandered around and saw how things were done before being moved on to a concert hall where we were given roughly 40 minutes of songs and speech from the group on stage.  Every speech was spoken firstly in Maori and then followed in English.  Instruments and customs were explained and we were given a few songs.

[Aside: Before the English came along and started causing the usual trouble the Maori's had no written language and so all their legends and tales of the past got sent down the generations through songs and chants.  Nowadays they have adopted the guitar and so their songs are a lot more animated and school children can be heard to sing these in the playgrounds.]

Once the concert had finished we were led into a huge hall to experience the hangi.  This was a meal cooked the way they used to cook it.....basically smoked.  They place huge stones over a fire until they are red hot.  Then these stones are put in a hole in the ground with food wrapped in flacks placed over the top.  Wet sacks are placed on top of this and then finally soil.  The food takes about two and a half hours to cook and tasted not surprisingly very smoky.

We were sat in tables of ten, and went up a table at a time.  There was a mixture of meat and vegetable and then ginger pud with custard.  Outside was a little market, which was just an excuse for selling goods.  It worked though .....I bought a Tiki, which is supposed to be a good luck symbol.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was only about 8:30pm and so we chose to go out for a few beers in town. We went to the "Pig & Whistle" where Rob and I had stopped off earlier. We didn't stay too late, but it was good to sit there and compare to England over a few bevies before going back to the motel. Once we got back, Loz and Rich went to bed and Rob went down for a smelly natural hot spa. I declined the smells and waited for Rob to get back before crashing out too!!!!

Thursday 30th December

We were spending two nights in Rotorua so when we had to be up and ready for 8:15 the next morning at least we didn't have to pack too. The reason we had to be ready at that time was because we were going up Mount Tarawera (a dormant volcano). It was a 4WD ride and they picked us up from town. The whole thing lasted about 4 hours door to door, and it was really cool. Neville was our driver and there were four others on the drive with us. It took about 30 minutes to get to the bottom of the mountain and then the real drive began.

At the top we had an hour and a half walk to look forward to. Outside the truck the view of the crater was amazing even though the cloud obscured some of the wider range of views away from the mountain. Mt Tarawera - Walking to the top... It was red and cream and brown and black in the crater and it was enormous. Neville told us what route the walk would take but no one believed him. Why???? Because opposite, the side of the crater looked decidedly vertical and we were told that we were going to be coming back down it!!!!

We walked around the edge of the crater top to start with and made our way to the highest point. From here the views would have been amazing if the clouds parted long enough. We did get some glimpses though and got an idea of what we should have seen. However on the rare moments that we did see anything the views were a fantastic sight.

Once round the top of the crater we saw the way that Neville had pointed out earlier. Admittedly it didn't look AS steep as it had done earlier, but it still had a pretty raw element to it. The German lady that had been petrified earlier can't have felt any better for seeing this. Mt Tarawera - Walking out of the crater... It was scorier and the more you went down the more you slid. For the braver ones of us we started to run down. Neville went one better and jumped instead. He must have cleared 5 or 6 metres with the help of gravity on each jump!!!!

The down side to all this fun was.......climbing back up. It didn't take too long, and when we reached the top there was a tea or coffee waiting for us. Personally I opted for some water and one of the biscuits instead!!!! Then it was back down again and back to the motel.

Back there Rich and Loz opted for a rest for an hour or so and Rob and I went for a wander, looking for some camping equipment for our upcoming south island trip until we all met up again and went for a Mexican lunch.

Next it was off to see the geysers.....something Rob had been long looking forward to. When we got in we first walked around a Maori display area with a few buildings with Maori art work and skills being shown. We also got to try out some stilts on the grass outside. After this we got the chance to see sleeping kiwis (the bird, before I get any smart-arse comments). Unfortunately out of their 4-6 hours of being awake we had been up the mountain so they were worn out by the time that we got there!!

Then it was down to serious business....in amongst the sulphurous gases of the thermal area. First stop was the mud pool, called the "jumping frog pond' because of all the mud flying up in the air and down on to the mud again. Next we saw a real geyser in action through all the steam it was billowing out. It stank!!!!!

The walk took us round various areas of thermal activity with rocks steaming and craters in the ground where there had been a lot of activity in the past. It was amazing to see this other side of the world in action.

A couple of hours later we finished there and popped back to the motel before heading out to the "Pig and Whistle: again this time to have some dinner. It was good pub food, and about 20 minutes after we had finished eating a live band came on. We all stayed to watch it, but as Rich had a lot of driving the next day, he headed back to the motel. The rest of us stayed until they finished (1am) and then headed back ourselves for the last night of our Chapman Tour!!!!!! 

Friday 31st December 1999

Our last day of 1999 started quite casually. After our previous night out we still managed to be ready for the planned meeting time of 9:30 (give or take 10 minutes) and we headed out to Wai-O-Tapo to see some more geysers and thermal activity, namely the champagne pool. This site was a lot bigger than the one we had seen the day before and more spectacular as well.

The Champagne Pool was a pool with a lot of different colours in it. On a good day it is deep blue and turquoise green, but the weather was not working so well with us again. It was still amazing to see all the same. The edges were a deep orange and then it changed as it moved to the middle. Again there was also a lot of steam smelling the place out!!!

There were lakes of the deepest green, and caves and holes in the ground, yellow from the sulphur. It really put you in your place in terms of how important we are in the world!!!!! I'll have to show people the pictures because I just don't know how to explain what we saw!!!!

When we'd finished we stayed to have some breakfast before moving on to Huka Falls to go on the jet boat there. The ride was amazing. The jets had been designed to move about in really shallow water and so we went REALLY close to the edges. The driver - Dave - took us speeding up really close to the edges of the water, namely VERY CLOSE to the rocky cliff edges and branches sticking out of the water. It took a while to trust that you wouldn't crash into them as it was happening so fast that you felt that you wouldn't move round in time. Then there was the spinning round in the water. The boat just seemed to stop and turn with the front of the boat holding on to the same position. Needless to say we got wet!!!! It was such a cool ride though, and any fear of water I'm still experiencing is getting washed away by all these crazy things we keep doing!!!!

From the jet ride we had to head straight off in order to get back to New Plymouth before the new millennium set in. We made a good start.....until we stopped off for some petrol then something went wrong in communications and we went about half an hour's worth in the wrong direction. Doh.....

Never mind, we got back on track and continued until we stopped off in Te Kuiti for some dinner so that we'd be all fed when we got back. That happened at about 9pm and we all dashed in a got cleaned up and changed before heading out to Roger & Fiona's again to celebrate the new year etc......

This time round we met Harley and Justine as well but missed anther couple who unfortunately both had to work. We drank and chatted and listened to music and then before we knew it the time had come!!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY !!!!!!!!!!

We stayed until about 4:30 am, watching the new year come in around the world. Then we headed back to Loz's parents where Loz, Rob and myself all waited up to see the first dawn of 2000. The house is on a hill, and at the top is a park, which is where we made our way to. So did quite a few other people. Sunrise was due at 6:02am, but it was very cloudy so we just waited for it to get light before staggering back and falling into bed!!!!

Saturday 1st January 2000 !!

Well, it was 1pm before Rob and I finally managed to get out of bed. Everyone else - except for Loz - was up and so we shared "Happy New Year" greetings all over again. Just as I got up Big Ben was striking new year in England (the 'real' start to the millennium, eh Dave!) The fireworks along the Thames looked absolutely amazing. We hope you all had a brilliant time wherever you were!!!!!

So....Happy New Year to each and every one of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The rest of the day was pretty laid back, generally just chilling out a lot and watching all the news from around the rest of the world.

At about 5pm-ish we headed down to Pukekura park (where we had seen the Christmas lights) to see the millennium concert they had put on in "The Bowl" This is an area of the park shaped like a bowl. It dips down making the perfect venue for audiences and acts. On this occasion we saw "Stellar", Dave Dobbins, "The Exponents" and "The Feelers". We went with Loz and met Harley and Justine (Who we had previously met the night before). They had arrived there before us because they particularly wanted to see "Stellar", so they had a bit of ground already adopted. It was up quite high and gave us a good view of all the crowds as well as the bands.

Considering that we knew "none" of the music being played, we had a good time anyway and chatted away between songs and rain. Yep......part of the fun of going to "the bowl" is to be decked up for bad weather. Seriously. These people all had rain protection accessories down to a tee. There was a massive array of multi-coloured umbrellas, blue awnings set up on sticks or just around peoples heads. Even those without all this had mastered the best way to wear a beer box in order to keep the rain off!!!!

But, I moan not, for it was quite funny hiding one minute and braving the skies the next. "Stellar" were pretty cool. They managed to get two or three people kicked out before half of the bands had even arrived....The stage is behind a little lake/pond type thing and as you can imagine, allowing the crowds to swim across and on to the stage is a big no no. Not as far as "Stellar" were concerned though. They had a prize for the lairy guy to come and get - if he wasn't too chicken to swim across and get it. He was too chicken, but a couple of others weren't. The first one across grabbed the prize only to be picked up by security and hauled out. The follower ups just got kicked out!!!!

Next on was Dave Dobbin, a clear favorite with the Kiwi crowd. He played some of his new stuff which everyone seemed to appreciate, but it was when he went back to the oldies that everyone really got fired up. Unfortunately for him, this was also the point where his voice had decided that all the recent touring had been a little too much. The high notes were beginning to get a little too high, but....when you're popular and famous it doesn't really matter as the crowds will always fill in the gaps for you!!!!

By the time "The Exponents" came on it was about 9 or 10 at night and instead of staying up at the back we thought we'd take a wander closer, if only to put some life back into our squashed bottoms!!!!! This is where we saw the less sober side of the concert come in to life. "The Exponents" are a very popular party band in NZ and their lead singer, Justin Luck, has a bit of a reputation for not exactly being Mr Sober. We now know to what extent. This guy was all over the place, not knowing which song was next, or what they had already sung and what they hadn't. It must only be years of singing that allowed him to remember all of the words!!!! Once again, the crowds were probably a big help in keeping some of the songs going. This part of the concert was actually pretty funny and with the easy lyrics we got to learn some of the words too!!!! (Tell me whaaaat ... eveerrr haaaappened to Traaaaceeee!)

Lastly were the "Feelers". As a general opinion it appears that these guys were not everybody's favourite of the show. They played a lot of their new stuff that no-one knew and only played the old stuff when half the crowds had got bored and everyone had gone home. Rob thought they had potential, but even he wasn't that struck with them!!!!

Towards the end of their set we made our move home. They were the last ones so it was pretty much over anyway. Outside Rich was waiting for us after a phone call from Loz and so we were spared the walk home which was pretty cool. And there ended New Years Day 2000!!!!

Sunday 2nd January

Most of this morning was spent with Rob working with Loz and Ross to work out our trip in the south island while I worked on getting our journal up to date. We stopped for some lunch and then after that the four of us were joined by Jonathon and Meagan and we all went for a few games of ten-pin bowling. Competition was first set up by Meagan whipping Rich at the air hockey and then the real competition began.

We went in couples on to three separate lanes. Loz and Rich started on a dud lane (something the rest of us sympathised with after we had our turn on that lane too) and so their game was slow to start. But it didn't stay that way for too long. Loz eventually ended up beating us all....considerably!!!! Rob and I started well but I got worse, Rich was on an upward struggle, Jonathon got one or two points better each time and Meagan waited for her last go on the dodgy lane before almost doubling her previous scores.

No trips bowling would be complete without the post match pool and slot machines, so they got played too, before we headed back for a BBQ involving Rich's parents too!!!!

When we got back, orders were to finish the puzzle that Jonathon had started earlier in the day. It was on the dinner table so it was finish the puzzle or go hungry. Well we almost did it before the BBQ was set alight - almost as in not really though!!! It was a pretty relaxing evening for me, with puzzle finishing, chatting and TV watching too!!!! Rob continued to scratch his head over the arrangements for our tour in the South Islands.

Monday 3rd January

This was our last full day in the north island with the hospitality of the Chapman's and the Smith's. What did we spend our last morning doing???? Tent shopping. Our newly worked agenda had at least four days of camping and so the need for a tent had grown considerably. Rich dropped us in to town and the pair of us walked the length of New Plymouth searching for the tent that we found in the fist shop that Rich had pointed out. Oh well.

I think we made the shop assistant's day though. We came out with a new tent, two rain coats, a stove and countless other bits and pieces. All this, in Rob's mind, deserved a beer and so on our way to getting our hosts a thank you pressie we stopped off at the Celtic pub on the high street for a swift pint. Little did we know that the others were waiting for us to have their lunch. Thankfully they had decided to start by the time we got back!!!! Sorry!!!!

At lunch we got to meet Loz's cousin from Cambridge (NZ). She had popped in to see her family and so we got to meet her too which was pretty cool.

After lunch the weather had improved (and here I must side track a little: NP must be one of the wettest places on earth - that saying about the mountains and the rain is true. New years day had felt like new years day would in England...wet and cold) Sorry. Yep, they took us up to see Mount Taranaki from a little closer. It is the type of mountain that you can drive part way up, and so Rich did the honours again and took us half way up. Here Rob, Loz and myself got out and went in to the visitors centre and then huddled back into the car before the rain started again.

For our last night, Loz had arranged a night at "Marbles" a theme restaurant. We met up with Roger and Fionna, with little Samantha, Harley and Justine, Ross and Mary ( I hope) and Dave and Helen. The latter two couples we hadn't met before as they had been roped into working New Years Eve.

Marbles was a buffet and so we went up and down all night trying out all of the different food on offer. Every now and then a burst of music came through the speakers and the staff came out and did a little dance for us all and then disappeared again. Naturally one or two of us couldn't resist the opportunity to join in, and on the last one, the majority of our table were up and dancing with the staff for the rest of the customers.

We also had a pretend birthday to try and embarrass Rob and a sing song for Loz & Rich's 5th wedding anniversary. All in all (private joke for JP and Hells that one) we had a great night even if it did take forever to get back tome again!!!!!

Tuesday 4th January

We spent most of the morning packing before Loz prepared us some lunch and Both she and Rich took us to the airport to make sure that we went.  Thank you very much to Loz and Rich and both of their parents for making us feel so welcome and looked after over Christmas and New Year, especially L & R who organised / drove us all over the north island for our "Chapman Tour". It has been greatly appreciated and something we will never forget. Thank you !!!!