Monday, 22 February 2010

New beginnings

I was going to call this post "All good things must come to an end" as I'm feeling pretty bereft this evening, but having gone out for a walk to Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula, I got a bit of a positive groove back and I'm choosing to think of the remainder of my Flying Kiwi tour as an opportunity... You see, nearly all of that fabulous group of people I've been hanging out with got off this morning, and we had a very emotional farewell on the pavements of Auckland. Even John (60 years old, and seemingly a very no-nonsense fellow) had a bit of a sob, so you can imagine what I was like! There's something about a tour that throws people together far more quickly than real life, and it feels like you've made great, great friends in a very short time - but in this case I think it really can translate to the UK too.

Our last week has been jam-packed - too packed to write about it all. However, there have been stand-out highlights. Most of these came in the Bay of Islands, where on the first day Werner, Gillean and I made up for having missed a heli-hike to the top of Franz Josef Glacier (the weather was too dodgy) by taking a helicopter ride over the bay, all on the spur of the moment. It was awesome - there were just us three and the pilot, and we flew over the wonderful clear blue waters right the way to the outskirts of the bay and back, feeling very adventurous as we did so. The next highlight was actually all the next day, when we stayed a full day in the same place and 14 of us (mostly the old crew with a few additions) chartered a yacht for the day and pottered about the bay, waiting to catch the wind and soaking up the rays when it died down. It was amazing not to be subject to the tyranny of an organised tour - a few minutes extra for a swim at lunchtime met with no drama! - and it was super-cool to be sailing rather than following a fixed course with the motor on. I even took the helm for a while, with June and John giving me encouragement (well, June was; John was mostly taking the piss!), so now I can also say I've sailed a yacht.

That evening we headed out to the Treaty House at Waitangi, the site of the place where the Maori chiefs signed a document that effectively gave Queen Victoria sovereignty (not that they thought they were doing that - there's still controversy to this day about whether or not they were cheated out of their land). The show was very touristy, but actually pretty cool - particularly when we all headed for the whare, and three people had to represent our chiefs, facing down the warriors challenging them. It raised hairs on the back of my neck as it was - the real experience must have been terrifying. The Maori history we gleaned from the show was also very interesting - though I'd love to have looked at the museum during the day; sadly we ran out of time. History aside, the absolute highlight of the show were three of the actors - mostly running about in loincloths and not a lot else, and slapping themselves on their perfectly formed pecs and generally showing themselves to advantage. The ladies in our party were beside themselves! We were going to kidnap them for the bus, but reluctantly decided against...

I also managed to catch up with Catriona, who's doing a bone-carving course in this tiny town called Opononi on the west coast of the north island. Sadly (the tyranny of the schedule again) it wasn't for long, but I was able to pop in to the place where she's staying, and meet her teacher, Jim, and see some of his and her work. His wife Charlotte - a wonderful, welcoming woman - weaves flax, and his aunties make feather cloaks for dolls, and ceramics. Basically, their whole family seems to be obscenely talented! As, of course, does Treenie. There's something very special about meeting a friend from home all the way over here - I was terribly sad I couldn't stay for a few days; as well as the luxury of spending some time with Catriona, it seems like a wonderful place to relax and contemplate life over the gorgeous views of the bay. But a little visit is better than nothing!

My other highlights of the last week also revolve around friends, new ones this time. Painting Auckland red to say goodbye to half the crew, and last night having a party on the beach under the stars to wave off the rest, are evenings I'll always remember. This whole post has been very sentimental, I realise, but that's how I'm feeling today! I still have some great activities lined up, however, from the Tongariro Crossing (an alpine walk through volcanic scenery) to the mud pools of Rotorua. Onward and upward - with only a little glance back...

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