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Wed 12th Apr. Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.
This is truly the land of roadkill. I don't know how they can say they have a possum control problem - the little pests can't possibly be breeding faster than they are throwing themselves under cars. To settle an argument, today, during just one hour of driving, we count 31 possum (including a family of three), 7 assorted birds and 14 'unidentifiable' or 'other'.
Possum No.31 is all our own work - a flash of glowing eyes in the headlamps, a brief crunch, and it's all over. Sorry possum...
Thur 13th Apr. Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.
Cathedral (remember that name) cove - under a huge sea arch to a golden sandy bay, rock pinnacles sprouting twisted saplings towering out of the surf.
Wiser men than me have commented on the similarities between the Brit and Kiwi landscapes, and it's broadly true - with a twist to the exotic of the plants and wildlife, and a big dash of wildness. The forests are thicker, the mountains more rugged, the beaches more golden - even the green rolling bits are greener and rollinger. It's like the Brit landscape on steroids. And they have tree ferns all over the place. Call me shallow, but I just can't see a tree fern without feeling a pleasant frisson of the primal and exotic.
Fri 14th Apr. Rotorua, New Zealand.
A day at the Wai-o-tapu and Waimangu thermal sites. Vivid ochres, lime greens and oranges, antimony, arsenic and sulphur, and a stench like an entire nest full of roc's eggs gone very bad. They seem to have left the naming of the individual vents to a heavy metal fanatic, leading to 'Hell Hole', 'Inferno Crater', 'Devil's Ink Pots' etc. ad infinitum. Kerrrang! or what?
Go to a Maori Hangi (feast) with an elaborate opening ceremony, which we are told we have to take seriously or the Maori actors, sorry warriors, will be obliged to massacre us. Though I can't belive this would be good for business. (To be honest, it would have been good to have found a a less commercial, and more authentic Hangi.) On the coach back to town after, a representative from each country has to get up and sing a song. Well, this trip needs an injection of danger, so I sing the Maori rugby fanatics 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' and narrowly escape lynching...
Sat 15th Apr. Taupo, New Zealand.
Driving south through constantly scrolling scenes of pines, ferns and purple heather, autumn is accelerating. We try to hike up the perfect volcanic cone of Mount Taupo but inadequate footwear (volcanic shale and sandals do not mix) lets us down.
Mon 17th Apr. Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand.
Arrived on South Island yesterday, through a web of fijords to Picton. Drove west til falling eyelids forced us to stop in a layby. Glorious, deserted golden beaches bordered on one side by turquoise lapping sea, the other by dense native forest. You half expect a T-rex to part the tree ferns and stroll onto the sand at any moment. I'm as happy as a sandfly, snapping away. And the sandflies are as happy as sandflies, feasting on my blood.
At rocky Separation Point, at the northerneastern corner of the park, a tiny lighthouse is buffeted by the wind and lashed by tough grasses. A colony of seals lounge and call in the inaccessible sheltered coves.
At dusk, spot the ultimate traveller van chugging slowly up a hill. It's purple, with a cute stovepipe and wooden eaves, wizardy moons and mind expanding slogans painted on the sides. Sweep past in our uncool (but much faster) sleek white mean machine. Eat dust, hippies!
Tues 18th Apr. Kaikoura, New Zealand.
Swimming with dolphins. The dusky dolphins here are totally wild, and will only come and check you out if they think you are interesting, leading to the surreal sight of a boatload of grown adults in wetsuits splashing around face down in the gaspingly cold ocean, warbling, trilling and squealing into their snorkels.
The first three times off the boat are a little disappointing - the dolphins do a couple of lightning fast passes and disappear back into the murky green water. By the fourth, word seems to have got round the dolphin community that it's my birthday, and for a couple of blissful minutes I'm swimming in dolphin soup. You hear the dolphins before you see them - clicking and whistling, then they appear, fast as a vision, do a quick ballet of turns, circles and flips, raise a dolphinny eyebrow at your graceless-by-comparison attempts to be interesting and vanish as fast as they came.
Pass a couple of cruising Orca's on the ride back to port, on the way to a birthday dinner of oysters and crayfish. All in all a pretty painless way to turn thirty.
Wed 19th Apr. Kaikoura to Christchurch, New Zealand.
Torrential rain. Drive past a soggy roadside billboard saying 'forest fire danger today: High'. Frankly nonsense! You couldn't start a forest fire in this with a can of petrol and a flamethrower!
On to Dunedin and Southland
All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter.