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Wed 5th Apr. Pacific Ocean

The shortest day of my life. Literally. Today lasts about two hours before the plane crosses the dateline, and all of a sudden it's tomorrow.

Thur 6th Apr. Auckland, New Zealand.

Pass like ghosts through the airport, which is deserted and looks brand new, as though it's just been unwrapped. Check in to Auckland Central Backpackers, which, after the hostels of South America and Tahiti, is like some kind of alternative universe traveller heaven. Why would you ever want to leave the building? Eight floors of cheap clean beds, with a bar, cafe, shop, internet, laundry, travel centre, job centre, cinema and more information than you can shake a stick at all under one roof. Along with the average age of many of the guests, it's a lot like staying in a students union.

Sat 8th Apr. Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland tourism. The Sky Tower, World Cup Village, One Tree Hill, K road... Homesick? Nope, why? - It's just like home (but newer, cleaner, calmer, more shiny).

I've been out of Western European culture for so long, I seem to have lost all immunity to marketing messages. The shops are full of gleaming and desirable things... seductive voices of capitalism whisper in my ears.

Sun 9th Apr. Auckland, New Zealand.

Gita is planning to head down to South Island as well, so we decide to share a camper van. On the strength of low prices and a funky logo of a hitchhiking Kiwi (the bird, that is) with rucksack, we make a booking with 'Kiwi Campa'. Maybe they'll give us a cool mural covered old hippie van with tons of street cred!

Mon 10th Apr. Northland, New Zealand.

Pick up our campervan. Hopes of a battered old VW are shattered by the discovery that 'Kiwi Campa' is nothing more than a marketing ploy by faceless conglomerate Britz Rentals to bring in the backpacker trade. The van is a very uncool brand new gleaming white thing with huge orange Britz logos on the side. Head off north to the rainforest in company with just about every other tourist in NZ in their Britz vans.

Late at night, in pouring rain, pull off a secluded country road to read the map, and a back wheel slips into a ditch. Our little van doesn't have enough power to pull us back out - we are stuck fast. Nothing for it but to settle down for the night and sort it out in the morning.

After an hour or so, get a visit from three completely hammered young Kiwi rednecks in a pick up, no doubt driving home from their 'Deliverance' auditions. They don't seem to have enough teeth or ears between them.

Once they have established that we havn't actually crashed, they promise with a lot of drunken giggling to return later 'with a rope', and drive off. At speed. With their lights off. On the wrong side of the road. Harmless though they almost surely are, we still hope they don't come back.

Tues 11th Apr. Northland, New Zealand.

The dawn comes with a glorious sunrise painting the landscape, and strange birds calling softly in the trees. Before long, a friendly farmer (with all his teeth and ears) comes by, and in a jiffy we have been hauled out, are back on the road and all is right with the world.

New Zealand is just so orderly - the dense tropical Kauri forests in the northernmost tip are thick with dripping greenery, vines, lianas, ferns and moss. And neat paths you are not supposed to step from, and helpful little notices about the things around you. It's all like a giant botanical garden.

On to Travel Tales - North Island to South Island.

All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter.