Mar 2010

What I did on my holidays (pt 2)

First up, lets all just say “Woo! Isn’t that impressive!”.

View larger map

If, of course, you don’t think it’s impressive, don’t bother. I’ve already said “Woo!” enough times to make up for you unimpressed types.

Right, moving on…

For reasons most (all) would associate with masochism, we decided to go play in the traffic again. Specifically, since every country claims that its roads grind to a halt, we decided to go play in rush hour traffic.

There was a small but significant hole in this theory – neither of us know what time rush hour is in Auckland. Working on the principle that evening commute seemed to be at about 5.30, we scoffed our scrambled egg breakfast and hit the main motorway at 8.15.

Most of you will know what a traffic jam is like… London, LA, Paris, Baldock… they’re all famous for their traffic jams. So too is Auckland. And it’s possible that Auckland traffic gets really horrific, but for us it was the most relaxed city gridlock we’d ever seen, with the main motorway flowing smoothly enough that we were on the harbour bridge before we realised we’d driven through the traffic…

The roads are something I’ve spent a lot of time talking about since we got back – the scenery, the length, the altitude, the terrifying corners – but first I want to talk about the motorway and how fecking sensible people are.

Under normal road conditions (as best I can fathom) Kiwi roads work like British ones: you get on; you travel in the right lane for your speed relative to other vehicles; you try and stay left. And that’s how it works when it’s quiet. When it gets busy, someone changes the wiring inside Kiwi drivers’ heads, and they seamlessly change driving styles. Suddenly the three lane motorway has turned into a marvellous contraption where lane 1 is for people leaving the motorway at the next junction (or joining it); lane 2 is for people who are planning on leaving in the next few junctions, but not this one; and lane 3 for people who are going some distance. I’m not even sure people were aware that they were doing it.

Traffic over the harbour bridge is also rather impressive. The bridge, when it was built, was just four lanes wide – four lanes of tarmac with no central divide. Ten years later, it was already handling many times the anticipated traffic load, so two more lanes were bolted on to either side of the bridge (if you trust Wiki, these Japanese made units are known as the “Nippon clip-ons”). The central four lanes have always had a ‘tidal’ lane system, where more lanes were given over to the heavier flow of traffic. Originally this was done with overhead lighting rigs telling you which lanes were open – nowadays it’s done with concrete barriers that are shuffled back and forth across the traffic by specialist rigs that pick the barriers up, redirect them down an s-shaped channel and dump them back down on the other side of the carriageway.

Does it show I’m a bit of an engineering nerd?

So, first stop on our second day was Army Bay. I’d like to suggest that there was some special reason for us going to Army Bay but, in reality, we were heading up the motorway and discovered the next bit was a toll road where you had to phone in your details within 24 hours to avoid punishment – rather like the congestion charge in London – and we turned off. Much of the holiday was like that actually – drive in a previously agreed direction, then turn off as and when we felt like it. It’s a strangely relaxing way to tour a country. You know that you aren’t going to see all the tourist sights you might have wanted to, but you get to see a lot of random stuff you would have otherwise missed. Like Army Bay.

Now, I have no idea how Army Bay got its name. What I do know is that the Kiwi Army apparently learnt a lot from the British Army, and decided that the incredibly scenic bit of land right next to it would be a perfect place to run around shouting bang and throwing bloody great lumps of metal at each other…

Army Bay rock pool, by GB

Army Bay beach

It’s another of those beaches that seem impossible to my British brain – crystal clear water, thick grained sand, rocks to wander across, trees for shade, and no other buggers around.

The trees fall into two categories – dead and sun bleached or gravity defying…

Dead tree on Army Bay

Knot of exposed tree roots

On the other side on the peninsula (which is, at this point, about quarter of a mile wide) are incredible views across clear water to a scale model of Auckland (1:1 as it happens) with, again, no obvious massive over development of land.

The sun gets hotter very quickly, and we’re suddenly aware that our pasty white legs aren’t covered in sun cream in the way that our arms and faces are. The sun is disarmingly evil and even I, who shuns sun cream whenever possible, am covering myself in the stuff. It’s the second day and already my yearly sun allergy is kicking off, leaving an itchy trail of red pinpricks down my arm.

So we decide to head off and investigate the old road back round the bay – the route that would have been taken before the bridge was built. Except, in a masterpiece of misunderstanding, we end up heading 15 miles to far north west towards Helensville.

This is beautiful country… agricultural land with mountains in sight; the sea just over the horizon; and a pace of life that’s slow to a fen-dweller. It’s my idea of heaven. As if anticipating my thoughts GB contradicts me – “I could never live here”. Why not? “I couldn’t live in Helen’s Ville. Jean’s Ville maybe…” Ah, sibling rivalry… there’s nothing like it.

Our aim, right now, is to find food. It’s gone lunchtime and my stomach is rumbling. The problem is that everywhere is smaller than our SatNav (and the road signs) imply. The town in 10K turns out to be a handful of houses and a closed pub. The beachside village turns out to be couple of holiday homes and a dozen hippies somehow surviving on sand that’s too hot to touch. The sprawling metropolis suddenly vanishes as the quiet suburb turns out to be the entire town. That’s how we drove through Helensville – while wondering if there’s somewhere to park up we run out of town and find ourselves back in open countryside.

Finally we stop. On the roadside. In a layby.

There’s no food here. There’s just another car, a small pile of broken glass, and a sign pointing down a footpath to Fairy Falls. At this point we’d not yet wised up to the wonderfully misleading nature of Kiwi tourist signs, so we decided that a wander down a shady path to a waterfall would be rather pleasant.

We learnt our lesson.

The rainforest we walked through was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it was clinging to the side of a hill. The signs said 40 minutes, so we decided to tackle the route. After 30 minutes walking down a slope that no-one from the plains of Cambridgeshire should be made to experience, we found a sign. 20 minutes to the falls. This was not a landscape where maths had any hold. The problem was that my knees were already aching – and so far we’d only walked down the slope.

Your intrepid explorer, by GB

Banishing all hopes of a nice little National Trust tea shop (and yes, I know how old that makes me sound) we turned our back on the falls and headed back towards the car. There are different estimates on how long it took to walk back. The signs claim it took 20 minutes. Some claim it took nearer to 45. Some claim it took a week and a half and a pack of pit ponies. I lean towards the latter. By the time we reached the top we were knackered, in pain, and wondering where our lunch and water had gone.

Onwards to Arataki.

The road we drove is a beautiful road called “Scenic Drive” despite the fact all you can see are trees, tarmac and black rubber snakes from where teenagers go to show off their mad driving skills. I mean “skillz”.

Arataki, however, is incredible…

View from Arataki, by GB

Here we met two large milkshakes, and a man called “Mike from London” – who came from Nottingham. We decided it was probably best not to ask.

Mike gave us a wonderful overview of what he, as a Brit, saw New Zealand to be. And that could, as he put it, be summed up by the word “easy”. We agreed. We’d have agreed even if he wasn’t feeding us free wafers as they came out of his ice cream cone making machine.

Mike was working the stand because someone else (a member of his staff possibly) had called in sick and he’d been lumbered with the job himself. But, if we were around tomorrow, he’d love to show us around. Sadly, we were planning on being on the road, so instead he told us to head off to Peha Piha, where there was a lion in the surf and the surfers all grew (and smoked) a huge amount of dope.

The Piha Lion

With a little imagination (or maybe a lot of that dope) you can see how the Peha Piha Lion got its name.

Sadly, hunger and annoying sunlight got to us, and we headed off towards our food, so I shall leave you with this – why is it that we are so insistent on serving battered cod as our national dish? It’s a boring fish that is being fished to dangerously low levels. It’s expensive too. Why don’t we eat haddock (a far superior fish, to my mind) or something just as dull but more populous, like Hake or Hoki?

Failing that, we could do as the Kiwis, and deep fry anything that comes out of the ocean. Our dinner that night was deep fried red snapper and chips. With the wreckage of the previous night’s salad we were stuffed on under £5 of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had…

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  • 1

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    14:50 UTC

    I repeat, I just love your writing style!!

  • 2

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    14:51 UTC

    I’m following the road trip with bated breath!!

  • 3

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    16:34 UTC

    This is totally unrelated to the current post, but a comment on the website – I have only just noticed the “slide this to increase the font size” button, slider, what-have-you on the front page of the blog – that is really cool :)

    Why don’t more websites have this instead of leaving one to flounder with the browser controls…..

  • 4

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    16:37 UTC

    Why thank you… :)

  • 5

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    16:40 UTC

    How many comments are you planning on leaving? :)

    If you use Firefox (and if you don’t, why not) then you can use CTRL plus (well, equals technically) and CTRL- minus to zoom the page up and down. CTRL zero resets it where it was. It zooms everything (including images) but if you go to view>zoom>zoom text only, then you can set it to do the text only.

    See? Minefield of information…

  • 6

    Fri 19th Mar '10
    19:34 UTC

    How many comments would you like?

    Just put it down to a butterfly sense of concentration ths afternoon following a gloomy discussion with J K-C! May have to go to court to get things moving again :(

  • 7

    Sun 8th May '11
    09:48 UTC

    You spelt Piha wrong

  • 8

    Fri 13th May '11
    21:17 UTC

    Oh crap, so I did… Ta!

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