Monday, 31 October 2011

Post I, Arrival

Well, here it is, my first post from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

The sun sets over a darkening Indian Ocean
After an exhausting but smooth 36-hour journey halfway across the Earth via Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne, the white-watered shores of the North Island's battered western coast came into view - a sight I've been awaiting for years.

Bleary-eyed, we stumbled through the most friendly customs and excise department in the world (they seemed more interested in my Martin Backpackers' guitar than anything else), and were greeted by our hosts at the airport - Matt and his daughter Olivia - friends of Amy's father who had relocated to this part of the world 9 years ago.

We could soon see why they'd chosen to resettle here. As we drove north from the airport and out of Auckland on one of the country's few motorways, the landscape opened up to vast expanses of green rolling hills, streaked with a weave of vineyards and a lush mix of temperate and tropical trees. Matt tried to point out where we were as we made our way to his house, but with a combination of unfamiliar-sounding place names, awestruck gawping, and extreme tiredness, it was wasted on me. With the sun in the wrong part of the sky, I could barely register which direction we were headed.

Matt and Fiona's beautiful house
Eventually Matt turned off the main road, the car crunched up a roughly surfaced lane that wound its way into the hillside, and we finally reached his beautiful house overlooking the valley. The first thing that struck me was the space here. The garden was massive, edged by fields, woodland and a stunning view. Even the next door neighbour was a blissfully detached two hundred yards away.
After a warm welcome from the rest of Matt's family, we enjoyed a wonderful homemade meal made by his wife Fiona - a relief from the impersonal plane food of the past couple of days, and with the comfort of a real bed we crashed for the night.

The following morning we were woken by a combination of sunlight and birdsong to a clear sky, and wasted no time in venturing to the right-of-passage for most people looking to trundle around New Zealand in a campervan: Ellerslie car auction. Ellerslie was a name that had cropped up a lot whenever I discussed our plans for this trip. It seemed to be a Mecca if you were looking for a cheap van to kit out and customise as you wish, and perhaps a few years ago it was, but it was obvious that there was a proliferation of those looking to exploit the market of wide-eyed travellers excited to get a set of wheels and home - we were obvious and easy targets, and we found it hard to part with $3000 for a 20-odd year old people carrier with a checkered history and a smelly mattress in the back (At the time of writing, we still haven't settled on one).

Muriwai: an endless empty coastline with powerful surf.
The idyllic weather that afternoon gave Matt the opportunity to show off one of the North Auckland's most beautiful features: Muruwai Beach. Located on the edge of the forested hills of the Waitakere Ranges national park, the beach lies at the end of an unbroken 90km strip black volcanic sand - an exposed clue to the tumultuous creation of the undulating terrain found inland. As a surfer, my attention was immediately drawn to the heavy swell that buffeted the beach. For UK standards, the waves were pumping, and would have probably drawn waveriders from all over the country; but Matt's son, Miles, who lifeguards at this beach made it pretty clear that this was nothing - despite the fact that surfers out back were being barrelled easily - and that the waves were routinely twice or three times as big. The jet-lag making itself known, I avoided the surf and instead went for a cheeky swim.

After drying out, we were led to the Muriwai headland - a projection of igneous cliffs carved into soft layers by the mighty waves, forming caves, ledges and blowholes, each topped with the resident colony of Gannets - one of the largest in the country - giving the stone towers an icing-white topping of courting birds, mating birds, and guano. A walkway led over and above the Gannets, giving vantage points over the colony on the mainland, and those on a nearby stack, Sugar Loaf Rock.

Having only been here a matter of moments, it's already obvious that even this small corner has a lot to offer. From the tapestry of vineyards that quilt the countryside, to the tangle of footpaths of Waitekere and the thunderous white horses that strike the coastline, it is clear we have a lot more exploring to do.

View New Zealand Journey! in a larger map

No comments:

Post a Comment