Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Goodbye, sandfly...

... and hello geysers. Today I start the North Island part of my tour, and will shortly be disappearing into the bowels of New Zealand (perhaps a little too literally, given what tour veterans have said about the smell of the hot pools!). We had an awesome few days at Abel Tasman - I took a water taxi out for one of them deep into the park, and hiked along the coastal trail for about four hours, past glorious emerald green water (something to do with the tannin, I believe), and through rimu forest, with the frantic sounds of nature getting it on all around me (the cicadas making their mating calls were deafening).

The other full day we had there I went horse-riding again, on a nice chap called Lightning Jack. I say nice, but stubborn might be a better word - he was really a little too overqualified for an amateur like me, and fought me every step of the way because he could sense that I wasn't in charge. After a few hours of tugging at his bridle I was a little tired - he was definitely the winner in our battle of wills. However, we did get to ride along the beach, and I even cantered a couple of times - definitely more than I thought I could manage! The man who owns the horses was a treat all on his own - he's called Harmony, and is an American hippie who's somehow ended up on a horse farm in the middle of nowhere in NZ; most excitingly, a couple of his horses appeared in Lord of the Rings, and he himself was a Rider of Rohan. I know you can't throw a bale of hay around here without hitting someone who was an extra, but it thrilled me all the same...

Which just leaves the Valentine's Day party. We'd all been given "secret Santa" Valentine's, and a $5 limit to get them a present, and there were some fantastic gifts - from possum fur nipple-warmers to beautifully penned poems. I'd drawn the guide, Mike, out of the hat, and found him a lovely pink wand and hairband, which turned out to be extremely apt, as he'd come to the fancy dress party wearing fairy wings! We'd all been given strict instructions to turn up in pink or red, and though Frans (an older gentleman from Holland) was a strong contender for first prize with his op shop pink dressing gown, accessorised with pink flags, the winner was Werner (from the Austrian part of Italy, and seemingly very straight-laced... until he'd had a few beers): "Dancing Queen" came on the stereo, and suddenly he was dancing on the table in a lovely pair of women's pink pants, with his chest hair shaved into a heart. Outright winner.

Sadly we're losing a lot of the crew in two days when we hit Auckland, but I think there are six of us staying, and I'm sure the next lot will be just as good. We'll soon get them in shape if not. But before we get back on the bus and all the tour madness starts again, I'm heading out to look at Wellington's architecture and be a grown-up for a few hours! I'll be signing in again when I can, and in the meantime love to you all! [NB I don't think I mentioned that the worst thing about the South Island is the sandflies, hence the title of this post; most of us look like plague victims right now, and we're overjoyed to be leaving them behind!]

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