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    Monday, 11 January 2010

    Back Home in New Zealand

    Welcome Meal[Enlarge & More]

    For me, one of the things I’d been looking forward to most in our trip was returning to New Zealand for the first time in nearly five years. This was a good opportunity for me to catch up with some much needed family time, and for both Mahmoud and I to take a little rest from travelling. We were knackered! You’ll have seen Mahmoud’s previous blog post about time on the farm, which has been good fun and definitely a part of life when staying with my family. That’s not all we’ve done though – weaved in with our “rest”, we’ve done a fair bit of sightseeing already in our first three weeks in New Zealand!

    Waihi Beach [Enlarge & More]

    We’re staying near the town of Waihi – which is where I grew up and went to school. It’s on the east coast of the North Island, about two hours south-east of Auckland. Although it’s very familiar to me it’s also changed a lot in the last few years, so there has been plenty for me to catch up on and for Mahmoud to see for the first time. The most pleasant feature in Waihi is the 10km long surf beach – great for walking along and for swimming on. At this time of the year it’s pretty busy, although now that Christmas is over it’s died down a bit.

    Jo & Giles [Enlarge & More]

    We did a tough 7km one-way walk from Waihi Beach to Homunga Bay, near where my Mum lives. We did it with my sister, Jo, and her boyfriend, Giles. We were knackered after going one way (and it was lucky we’d left the car at the other end so could drive back) – they, with loads of energy, walked back the way they’d come!

    Pump House [Enlarge & More]

    Waihi also has a very large open pit gold mine, which the two of us walked around (a 4km walk around the rim). This was, surprisingly, very good with excellent views of the shockingly deep pit. The old pumphouse (by old, we’re talking 19th century which is not particularly old when you’re used to “old” buildings in England!) has been restored well, and when we did our “pit walk” we saw a wedding party having their photographs taken next to it. Sweet!

    Mount Maunganui [Enlarge & More]

    We recently did a day trip to nearby Tauranga, where we did another walk up Mount Maunganui (with Jo and Giles again!). Tauranga is a nice town, and the 5th largest city in New Zealand – it’s not particularly big which says a lot about town sizes in NZ! The climb up Mount Maunganui (just over 200m) is not particularly high, but given that everything else in the immediate vicinity is at sea level it made for some great views! Plus it felt pretty good to get to the top of something and not be totally knackered.

    Mount Te Aroha [Enlarge & More]

    While we’re on the subject of walks, we did do another one (yes, another!) up nearby Mt. Te Aroha. This was tiring. 953 meters above sea level, we had to climb just over 900 of that to get to the top. Funnily enough, we had Jo and Giles along (they like walks) and by the time we got to the top we were absolutely shattered. It was hard going the whole way, and very steep. Getting to the top felt like a real achievement, and we were rewarded with some fantastic views as the clouds skimmed over and around us. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t even better – there are some amazingly clear days in New Zealand, and I’m sure we could have seen further on a better day. Maybe we’ll have to do that walk again.

    Xmas Day Swim [Enlarge & More]

    In the last few weeks we have, of course, celebrated Christmas and the New Year. Mahmoud was adamant that he wanted to spend at least some of Christmas Day on the beach. Unfortunately, everyone else in New Zealand had the same idea and Waihi Beach and nearby Bowentown were both jam packed full of holiday makers. A short walk over the hill from Bowentown brought us to the tiny Shelly Bay – nearly all ours, apart from one other family. Jo, Giles and Mahmoud had a dip in the sea. I poked my toes in and wimped out, opting to stay further up the beach with Mum and David (Mum’s partner). Afterwards, we enjoyed a non-traditional Christmas meal – barbeque! New Years Day was a New Years in, not that that meant it wasn’t good! We spent some time at the beach, and in the evening Mahmoud and I cooked. We cooked some dhal and chicken curry, and also tried out a Thai green curry which Mahmoud had learned to cook on his cooking course in Thailand. After we’d blown everyone’s heads off with that, we blew up some fireworks in the garden which Bruce (Grandma’s partner) had brought along, and scared the wits out of the poor animals at Mum’s place. At midnight we played with sparklers, and some of us choked on the nasty smoke coming off of them – raspy throats all round!

    David on Opoutere [Enlarge & More]

    There are some lovely beaches near Waihi – we’re at the base of the Coromandel Peninsular here, and this means that there are beaches dotted all over the place. We spent Boxing Day at Opoutere Beach with Mum and David, where we went for a walk. The beach is not very developed, and requires a 15 minute walk from the carpark – as a result, it was pretty quiet. Apparently there’s a nudist beach right down the far end of it, but we didn’t walk that far! Nearby Whangamata was a great spot for a coffee afterwards – at only 30 minutes from my Mum’s place we’ll be going back at some point for sure.

    Raglan Coastline [Enlarge & More]

    We didn’t just stick to beaches on the east coast of New Zealand – we’ve gotten over to the other side of the North Island too! We visited the town of Raglan for a day, a really sweet sea-side holiday-makers place. This is set on a blue-green ocean, but the best part for me was the two hour drive we took down a gravel road south of the town. The views were amazing! I’d never been down that way before, and the views surpassed those of the Great Ocean Road in Australia in my opinion. It was stunning and rugged – the good weather helped too!

    Hamilton Gardens [Enlarge & More]

    Halfway between Raglan and Waihi is Hamilton, the place I went to university. In between checking the place out and watching Avatar at the cinema, we visited the Hamilton Gardens. I’d been once before but hadn’t been around the whole thing. They were brilliant – they contained different themed gardens based on styles from around the globe. The one I liked best was the Indian garden – it was just like stepping into India, only the garden was cleaner and had better flowers!

    Chloe [Enlarge & More]

    Aside from all the sightseeing, we have of course been spending time with my family. From making hay with Mum and David , to trying to keep up with Jo and Giles on walks, tea (and coffee) with Grandma and Bruce, and being showed around his farm by my Dad we’ve been pretty busy. The one who deserves the biggest mention though, is Chloe, my mother’s mad Labrador. She’s even managed to win over Mahmoud (the cats haven’t even got a look in). Straddling the line between intelligent and stupid, but edging dangerously close to clever, her penchant for tearing things to shreds and treating everything as a game has us constantly entertained. My recent attempt to wash her resulted in her running away halfway through the bath and standing just out of reach of the hose and barking at me. I did win the battle eventually, but I haven’t won the war!

    Maori Carving [Enlarge & More]

    We’re just at the start of our New Zealand adventure, and there’s plenty more to do. We’re about to head off for a few days around the Coromandel, followed by some time with my sister in Auckland, and then we’ll be off around the South Island for a few weeks. Not to mention the other things we’ll be up to – casino and Sky Tower with Grandma, shooting possums with Dad, watching bubbling mud in Rotorua and exploring the Bay of Islands. Keep on reading!

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