The flight from LA to Auckland took about 13 hours and was smooth and uneventful. The in flight service was an improvement on the BA flight from London and the meals much nicer so well done Quaintarse! We all slept most of the way and as there was only a 4 hour time difference the jet lag was not so bad.
Arriving at 9am the airport was full of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and most cars were flying the flag of one of the participating nations including our hire car company where much banter ensued between the Kiwi staff and ourselves concerning England and the All Blacks (AB's) reaching the finals. "Don't forget to take a hankie" was the final comment as we departed for Torbay on the North Shore.
Brother-in-law Fred was home to greet us with a few cold beers and Rugby was the main discussion, the last time we saw him was on Harmonie in Paris for the RWC 2007. When his wife Maryanne returned from work we all sat down to lamb shanks then to bed for an early night. We all had a good nights sleep then found our way to Turners Car Auction to look at some 60 cars which were due for auction at 6pm that evening.
Our choice was a Honda Avancier with a 3 litre V6 engine which was 12 years old but had only done 90,000km and was immaculate. At the auction that car was the 57th lot so it was two hours before it came up and most people had gone home. Ours was the only bid which was for NZ$5,000 (£2,500) and below the reserve price so they negotiated. We were told the reserve price was NZ$6,500 and were asked what was the best offer we were prepared to make. We offered NZ$5,500 and it was accepted. The car was a Japanese import which had not been registered in NZ so they did this in minutes (for NZ$400), we paid another NZ$315 for their commission and NZ$215 for third party insurance (Car insurance is not compulsory in NZ) and were impressed with Turners slick operation. We later bought a new battery which cost another $150 but reckon we have a great car for the money. It has new tyres and goes like sh1t off a shovel with a sound system that lifts your ears off complete with a CD stacker in the boot so we have bought loads of CD's for the journey.
We are all using NZ sim cards now so if you want to text or phone us please note the phone numbers on our contact page. We also invested in "Gertie Garmin", a cheap satnav which also has Australian maps on for when we get there.
We spent some time wandering around Devonport and bought an English flag to fly on the car. The Kiwi kids are involved in the RWC, adopting different teams and each shop in Devonport had window displays made by the different school groups. The Scottish one had made ceramic figures of the whole Scottish squad. We collected our tickets for the games from a Lotto shop in Birkenhead and did some food shopping.
Dinner was a superlative Indian in Albany where Sue & I had eaten on our last visit here which was still run by the same family and still serving superb food. Here we were joined by our two nephews, Mike and Will who's prodigious appetites were needed to eat all the food we had ordered!
Browns bay nearby is full of Jarpies (South Africans) but still has the remnants of a Pommie population and an English pub where we supped London Pride for NZ$8 (£4) a pint with Sausage egg and chips then walked it off along Long Bay Beach!
After dropping off the hire car at the airport, Fred showed us around downtown Auckland. There is not a shop or a business that is not displaying something about the RWC in this Rugby mad nation. We wandered along the quays admiring the huge yachts and visited the RWC "fan zone" which seemed bereft of fans in the huge almost empty bar. Probably still sleeping off last nights effort!
While we were wandering around Auckland we came across some old Scottish persons dressed in a strange garb whom we accosted and enquired of their health since their Rugby team had just been cruelly beaten by an inferior side of Argentine Pumas. They did not appear at all unhappy (I suspect they had been drinking Scottish Wine) and when informed that the weather forecast for Saturday, when they meet the heathen English, was fairly dire, they expressed the hope that it would snow. So much for the wonderful team spirit and camaraderie of these Scottish persons who relish the opportunity to "send us homeward tae think again".
We all ate out at The Long Bay Beach Restaurant where we were treated to really great food. A starter of squid in a tempura batter on a bed of Thai salad with a sweet dressing was to die for and the lamb rump that followed was tender and cooked to perfection. By ordering the lamb, Sue and I qualified to enter a draw to win a years supply of NZ lamb and beef sent to anywhere in the world.
Chris and I had tickets for the England v Scotland pool game at Eden Park which also gave us free transport to the game by bus or train (England RFU please note for the next RWC). We met up with John Williams and his mates in a little Tapas bar near the ground before the game then watched a dull game of Rugby, only enlivened by the possibility of us loosing to the Sweaties! What appeared to be a strange Scottish person sitting next to us with a painted Saltire on his face and dressed in a tartan skirt length, had photocopied the words of Flower of Scotland. When queried he told me he wasn't a Scot, just a Kiwi supporter so I told him it was a Corries folk song and sang it for him! The tickets cost us over £100 and the programmes were £7 and it was like a bad day at the Rec but four times as expensive. That's if you don't count the air fare! Scotland led 12-3 at half time with Wilco missing most of his kicks and Tindall even slower than usual after the good kicking Zara must have given him for the blonde wrestling in Queenstown.
I expect Johnno put them all through a bit of dwarf throwing during the interval as they came out slightly better, especially after Tindall had limped off and Toby Flood had come on to set up a last minute winning try by Chris Ashton in the corner with Flood converting. Scotland were "sent homeward tae think again" and had every reason to feel robbed in a game they should have won. A Scottish supporter behind us shook my hand and said well done but England are lucky not to be playing the AB's in the quarter finals instead of France.
The next day we waved farewell to our perfect hosts, Fred & Maryanne, for the time being and travelled down to Hamilton to watch the Wales v Fiji game with Chris resplendent in his Welsh Rugby shirt from eBay! This was an equally boring game for different reasons in that Fiji were outclassed and Wales ran in a succession of tries with little opposition. It also rained rather heavily and we left the game early back to our hotel. Then it was off up north to a beach house at Coopers Beach near Mangonui in Northland.
New Zealanders call their beach houses "Baches" and we hired Bently's Retro Bach for a week which is right on the beach and looks out over Doubtless Bay. Captain Cook so named it from Endeavour in January 1770 but did not enter due to prevailing onshore winds. Had he done so he would have encountered a Maori settlement on the hill from where the photograph above was taken. These steep, often volcanic hills, were heightened with defensive earthworks, wooden stockades and are called Pa's of which you see many as you travel around.
Mangonui itself is a pretty little fishing port with a Fish & Chip shop on the quay. The old hotel dates from the early 1900's and is reckoned to be a classic of it's type. We sampled the Fish & Chips one night. It had only one type of fish available called Blue Nose for which they said they were famous for the 63 years they had been there and it was very good indeed, a meaty white fish cooked in a light crisp batter if a touch expensive and they even charged extra for the vinegar!
90 mile beach is not really 90 miles long but more like 90km. You can drive up it to the northernmost tip of New Zealand but it is not recommended unless you are familiar with it as many vehicles have been lost in soft sand when the tide has come in. You can go by coach but they charge an arm and a leg for the trip so we elected to just view the beach from the southern end then drive up by road.
About 15km south of Cape Reinga there is a turning off that leads down to the northern end of 90 mile beach but you can stop short of the beach to visit the enormous sand dunes. They rent surf boards for you to slide down the dunes but you first have to climb them and they are very steep indeed. Chris, Sue and Carol decided they would race each other up. Chris led for most of the climb then Sue put on a spurt and passed him. Chris's response was to cheat by catching her ankle as she passed but she still beat him to the top.
From the top we looked out to the ocean, still about 2km distant, and down to a river bed where a tourist bus had stopped to let the passengers surf down the dune we were standing on, after which they finish up in the middle of the river.
Arriving at Cape Reinga it is singularly unspectacular, however, the view across to Cape Maria Van Dieman (which Tasman named for his wife in 1743) was.
In fact the North Cape further along the coast is 3km further north than Cape Reinga but all the grockles walk out to the lighthouse and think they are on the northernmost tip of New Zealand. This northern section is quite mountainous and was once a volcanic island until sand from eruptions in central North Island about two million years ago was washed into the sea where ocean currents took it north and formed an ismuth joining the North Cape island to the main island. This process is still continuing hence the giant sand dunes.
We watched the demise of England's RWC fortunes on TV when France completely outplayed us in the quarter finals in another boring game of Rugby, in fact every RWC game they played was mouth wateringly dull and they did not deserve to be in the quarter finals. What made it even more depressing was the biased commentary on Maori TV by Gavin Hastings who wanted the frogs to win! Had Scotland been playing them instead of England we would have been supporting Scotland, the home team, and would have liked him to be neutral; we really miss Bill Mclaren. The NZ Herald proclaimed "English mustard turned to French custard by rampant French". If I were a member of the England team I would be ashamed of the unprofessional way we played and behaved off field. I trust that Johnno and Rob Andrew will soon be getting their cards. England have been badly managed with several off field incidents, poor team selections, drinking binges between matches of which Johnno has approved and badly coached with even the coaches having cheated for which they were disciplined by the RFU. They have made us the laughing stock of world Rugby and Johnno's Blairite attitude of "it's happened so let's move on" is unacceptable.
This rant would be incomplete if I did not criticise the IRB who make huge profits from the RWC. We entered a ballot for tickets to games and were successful for some games but not for others. We were offered expensive tickets in the ballot, take them or leave them, yet when we arrive in NZ we find that there were plenty of cheaper tickets available so was the ballot a con to sell the dearer tickets?? We were told the quarter finals were sold out but they sold only 47,000 tickets for the England France game with 13,000 unsold? At the Welsh game we tried to upgrade our seats 20 minutes before kick off but they wanted the full price of $NZ200 each so the seats remained empty and the prices for RWC clothing are laughable let alone $NZ30 for four small cans of Heinekin, the officially approved IRB RWC ditchwater they call beer and what about the $NZ10,000 fine for the Samoan for wearing an unofficially IRB approved gumshield!!
End of rant.
Fortunately the Ireland v Wales game was a cracker. Either team could have won but Wales edged it so Chris has used his England flag to polish the car and will be barracking for them to beat France wearing his £7 Welsh rugby shirt. Bath Rugby cheered us up with wins against Leicester and Wasps but will probably lose a few games now that they have their England players back!
After a relaxing week at Coopers Beach we headed south again to the Bay of Islands where we stayed with Mike and Rhoda Grundy, (nothing to do with the Archers!) who are friends of Chris's brother Robin. The house is situated overlooking Russell Bay, wooden built above the bush in a series of octagonal shapes with superlative views over the bay of islands towards Pahia.
Our visit was soon enlivened by the arrival of Brian and Liam, Irish rugby nuts and we expressed our condolences for their sad loss to Wales! Brian was an old business colleague of Mike and sneakily paid for dinner out one night which was supposed to be our treat. Liam kept us all entertained with his huge fund of jokes and his chat up lines to the restaurant waitress; "are you married, would you like to come to Ireland", finished by sneaking a kiss!
The Weka, a small flightless bird related to the Kiwi, roams around their garden, the iconic New Zealand bird, the Tui (named after the beer!), sings and feeds on the blossom while in the reserve next door there are Kiwi although we did not see any.
Mike took us all off to the Swordfish club which is a game fishing club and exhibited some of it's record catches on the walls. This 1017lb Blue Marlin was caught in the Bay of Islands in 1968.
We sat on the balcony overlooking the bay, looking down on a group of players re-enacting the days when Russell was known as the hell hole of the Pacific. With up to 500 whalers in port at any time the local girls were kept busy, as were the preachers, temperance societies and missionaries!
Much food, beer, wine and whiskey was provided by our excellent hosts and we much enjoyed our three day stay. Chris invited everyone to stay Somerset for the next RWC as he seems to be doing to everyone he meets here so if they all turn up in 2015 he will need a bigger house!
From Flagstaff hill, just above the Grundy's house, you get a glorious panorama over the Bay of Islands. The flagstaff on this hill was famously cut down by the local Maori chief several times until war broke out, settled eventually by the treaty of Waitangi which was signed on the distant shore behind the cruise liner in the above photograph.
Russell itself is a delightful village of some 800 souls, full of whitewashed old timber houses. The picture on the right is of the huge Moreton Bay Fig which stands on the Esplanade in front of the old police station whilst the one on the left is of the village of Russell taken from the top of flagstaff hill. At the far end of the bay is the old Pompallier Mission. The only remaining house was built in 1840 by a group of French missionaries from Lyon, led by Bishop Pompallier who had moved away from the area within 10 years.
The upper floor was used for printing prayer books in the Maori language whilst the ground floor was a tannery, the leather being used to bind the books. It was subsequently used as a private residence until it was restored to its original form by the Heritage Trust.
We collected green tipped mussels from the rocks on the sea shore (you are allowed to collect up to 50 each per person) and the local oysters from the farm were voted the most delicious we had ever tasted, apart from Chris who said it was like swallowing..... well you can guess!!
Mike suggested we take the west coast route back to Auckland which, although longer, he thought was more interesting so we headed across country.
We reached the sea again at Opononi and tucked into the local fish and chips sitting outside in the sunshine. This was where a dolphin nicknamed "Opo the crazy dolphin" swam into the harbour in the 1950's and decided to stay, becoming a tourist attraction and allowing kids to ride on her back. When she died there was a funeral and all the kids had a day off school! The scenery here is like a Norwegian fjord with sand dunes!
From here the road heads south through the Waipiua Forest, home to the largest Kauri trees in New Zealand. On the left is Tana Mahuta, the largest of the lot. It is around 2,000 years old, over 50 metres high and has a trunk diameter of nearly 16 metres. Not as big or attractive as the General Sherman Sequoia we visited in the States but pretty impressive never the less.
At Dargaville we stopped for coffee and admired the tee shirts emblazoned: London, Paris, New York, Dargaville. Back at Fred and Maryannes place we settled in for the weekends big RWC semi finals, Chris having discovered Welsh ancestry supported Wales who lost after their captain Warburton was red carded for a dangerous tackle. This rather spoilt the game and IMHO a yellow card would have been enough, however, Wales fought back with 14 men, scored a try and could have still won it but kicked for goal badly and failed by one point. The Frogs, undeservedly, go into the final against the AB's who beat Oz well in their semi.
We ended up watching both games at Fred's place having abandoned the local pub in Browns Bay for lack of atmosphere. We heard from our local pub in Somerset that our landlord has taken French citizenship to niggle Welshman Alex!
We had a great BBQ on the Sunday of the AB's/Oz game. Sue's brother and sister-in-law, Phil (who was wearing a white armband on his AB shirt in memory of England!) and Gail came together with John and Barbara Trollope and their daughter up from Palmerston for the game. We last saw John and Barbara in Paris for the 2007 RWC when they stayed on Harmonie with us and they have offered us the use of their Bach in Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo.
We left Torbay and travelled 40km south to The Gardens, a southern Auckland suburb, and the home of our friends Terri and Byron Bently who we last saw on Harmonie in 2008 when they cruised with us for a few days on the Canal de la Marne à la Saône in France. They have also been very generous to us in loaning us their bach at Pauanui on the Coromandel where we will go next.
We arranged to meet up with Sue's cousin David Holford and his partner Heather in the Cock and Bull pub where we met on our last visit. I must now sadly record that they have stopped selling Scottish Mutton Pies as they say that they now cater for the "corporates" who prefer healthy food? The pub was half empty! It tipped down for two days but Sue and Carol consoled themselves in the Auckland shops, determined to make the most of the shops as they might be deprived when we hit the beach!
We looked forward to the RWC final expecting the AB's to slaughter the Frogs, however, the Frogs turned up big time. First they formed an arrow head then approached the half way line to defy the AB's doing their silly Haka war dance for which the PC IRB subsequently fined them NZ$16,000! I am told that there are no pure bred Maoris left in New Zealand so here were a bunch of mixed race Anglo-Saxon/Maoris threatening to slit the Frogs throat. Any self respecting Latin rugby player is bound to react to such provocation, especially as we had all but written them off as a viable opposition. But for some doubtful refereeing decisions and desperate defence by the AB's, the Frogs would have won. They played the best rugby but it finished 8-7 in the AB's favour. The Blacks probably deserve to be the world champions as they remained unbeaten throughout the tournament but it was a close run thing.
There is much discussion here in NZ about the Frogs being fined and the Herald had a cartoon depicting the IRB chiefs looking at video replays of a handshake which they thought might be suspect and subject to a fine! Also the Haka itself is the subject of much debate with some Kiwi's saying it has no place on the Rugby field. Rugby has always been above politics, Ireland play as one nation, the AB's continued to play the Boks during apartheid etc. and IMHO the IRB should not take sides.
The players are there primarily to play Rugby and not to perform stone age tribal rituals but if one side wants to do it and the other side defy or ignore it then so be it. As for fining a side, that is just ridiculous and makes the IRB look completely stupid. The NZRFU and most New Zealanders seem also to disagree with the way the IRB has imposed fines for the slightest infringements and pocketed all the revenue. The way the tournament is managed for the benefit of TV and to the detriment of the lesser Rugby Nations is abysmal. Profits must be shared equally and must not be made at the expense of the fans or players who are the only guarantee of success. Heads must roll!!End of Rugby Ranting
At home our wonderful Bath Rugby boys put seven tries past Newport Dragons and Worcester in the LV cup. The local hero of the AB's RWC final, stand-off Steven Donald who kicked their winning points, has signed with Bath so we look forward to even greater triumphs in the UK premiership.
The time spent with Terri and Byron was punctuated with various trips around South Auckland. They both drove us round the peninsula where Byron is principal of Macleans School, stopping for drinks where Byron seemed to know most people in the pubs! Then we visited the Cosmopolitan Club where Chris was beaten at Pool by each of us! We took a long walk through the bush to the Botanic gardens. We visited Piha with it's spectacular beach and Lion Rock and found an interesting exhibition of ceramics at Titirangi. Our final day was spent down at the Viaduct wharf
Our Irish friends we met in Russell, Brian and Liam, called from Queens Wharf later to say the Kiwi's were going crazy down there and queried what would happen if the AB's lost the final. Mass suicide I reckon!!
We left Auckland and what must have been a million hangovers the next day and drove down to the Bently Bach at Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula.