Wednesday, June 10, 2009

TiriTiri Matangi, New Zealand

20th - 21st Feb 2009

Tiri Tiri Matangi is an island off the coast of North New Zealand which, like Ulva island near Stewart Island has had all its mammalian predators removed. A regular ferry service takes day trippers there every morning and brings them back every afternoon. The ferry goes from Auckland and does a stop off near Orewa before heading to the island. I decided to stay in a small hostel in Orewa so I did not have to go all the way down to Auckland.

The place was called Marco Polo backpackers and I booked it ahead of my arrival for 2 nights so I could go to the island and return the following evening. I don't think I have been in a more boring hostel in all the time I have been travelling! Not only was the place too far out of town to walk to any bars (I should have read the small print!) but it also had no TV and no Internet for guests. Also, the only other people staying there all spoke German.

I had the foresight to buy some beers from a supermarket in town, so after I made my usual 'can of meat with microwave rice gourmet meal' in the kitchen, I sat around reading and drinking to while away the night. It turned out that most of the 'Germans' were in fact Swiss except one German woman who joined me in the Kitchen so she could practise her English. She was very annoyed with the Swiss and said that she did not come half way round the world to speak German! Having had the 'pleasure' of working with Swiss people in the past I was not too perturbed about them not including me in their conversation - they were probably discussing how to put together a cuckoo clock anyway.

I got up early the next day and drove to the ferry port which took about 20 minutes. There was already a large group of people waiting for the boat to arrive from Auckland - including a large group of youngsters (bugger!).

Once on the ferry I bought a map/guide pamphlet from one of the several volunteers who were accompanying us on the trip. Before we were allowed off the boat onto the island we were given instructions on what to do once we landed - obviously no mammals were allowed on the trip - including dogs.

Once we landed everyone was allowed to go their own way to look at the birds or simply to go bathing in the bay on the far side of the island. It would be over 5 hours before the ferry returned to take us back so I brought plenty of water and a packed lunch to ward off any hunger pains while I walked round the island (there was no where to get food).

For the first 20 minutes everyone was bunched up together as they walked the marked paths that crisscrossed the island. I hung back so I could get to walk around by myself.

For the next 5 hours I did a leisurely walk around the island admiring the scenery and getting really good views of some of the protected birds. Most of the birds such as the Saddleback I had already seen on Ulva island but there was one bird in particular I had come to see on this island - the Takahe.

Featured Animal - The Takahe

If I had to pick one animal I really wanted to see for each country I had been to on my travels I would say the Great White Shark for South Africa; the Tasmanian Devil for Australia and the Takahe for New Zealand. This flightless bird was thought to be extinct until some where found up in the Murchison Mountains on the South island in 1948. Some of those birds have been trans located to some off shore islands including Tiri Titi Matangi where there is now 13 birds.

I thought that finding one would be hard to do but how wrong was I. About 30 minutes in to my walk I was trying (unsuccessfully) to photograph a bellbird when I heard some rustling behind me. I turned to see a takahe walking out onto the path behind me. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was able to follow it as it walked comically within several feet of me. It was a wonderful experience.

As I continued my walk round the island I got an even better view of a pair of them feeding:

Red Crested Parakeet

Bellbird I managed to get a photo off

A branch or rather a Stitchbird which buggered off before I got a photo!

A shag on the shore (oh! err!)

I finished my walk round the island at the coffee shop near the lighthouse with just enough time to take a quick walk round the gift shop. I almost bought a cuddly Takahe to keep DM and Taz company but decided that 3 was a crowd and they would only start fighting amongst themselves (I think a bit of therapy might have been in order at this stage!)

On my way back down to the ferry pier I managed to see one other very rare bird - the North Island KokaKo (sounds like baby talk!) bringing an end to a very satisfactory outing.

A sort of photo of a Kokako!

After the ferry dropped me off I was in no hurray to get back to the hostel so decided to do a bit of a tour round Orewa looking for an Internet point and some food. In the end I did not find any Internet and ended up getting more supermarket food for cooking in the hostel.

That night most of the Swiss and the German girl had gone. In their place were two middle aged American couples who, judging from their complaining, should have been at hotels rather than hostels. I think I would rather have had the Swiss back!

I had an early night and in the morning quickly packed and left to go to Auckland.

Here's a link to the Tiri Tiri Matangi Site.

Animals I have seen

I spent about 20 minutes at a pond trying to get a glimpse of another endangered bird - the Brown Teal after meeting a guy who had just seen one but had to give up - bloody duck!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Waitangi, New Zealand

20th Feb 2009

Just up the coast from Paihai is probably the most important historical place in New Zealand - Waitangi. It was here that the treaty between European Settlers and Maori Tribal leaders was signed in 1840. This document is as important to the New Zealand people as the Declaration of Independence is to the Americans, the Magna Carta is to the English and the Lease on the St James Street Guinness Brewery is to the Irish.

Naturally I could not leave the bay of islands without going to see this historic document so after I checked out off my hostel I drove the 1/2 mile or so up the coast in the pouring rain to the treaty grounds.

I was a bit shocked to see that it was $20 for non Kiwis to get into the place. I was thinking that if I tattooed my face I might be able to get in for free but decided against it and coughed up the cash. Once inside I had a quick look around the visitor centre. There were portraits of some of the main signaturies of the treaty - both English and Maori as well as a reproduction of the actual treaty. It also had a a theatre room where they performed daily tribal dances and Hakas for anyone willing to pay extra money.

Treaty of Waitangi - if you feel the need to read it. One slight problem - I photographed the maori language version! (you eejit Raymond!)

I think the gist of the treaty goes something like this:

"We, the English, now own New Zealand. You, the Maori, can now call yourselves British subjects. This means you can keep your lands until we want them. You can keep your religion until we convert you and you can be called upon to act as cannon fodder for any war we deem fit to send you to. God save Queen Vic"

Outside the visitor centre I walked through an elevated forest walkway which lead down to a large open building near the foreshore. Inside it there was a full sized reconstruction of a war canoe or waka. It was very impressive - it took 3 full sized kauri trees to make it. The canoe is called Ngatokimatawhaorua - try saying that 3 times fast!

War Canoe.

The path then lead up to the actual treaty house which used to be the residence of the governor and is now a museum of how the residents used to live. Judging by the number of photos I took inside the place (none!) I think I found it all a bit stuffy and boring.

The last major building I visited was another reconstruction, this time of a traditional Maori meeting house:

Meeting house

A notice outside asked everyone to take off any footwear before entering.

This is what the inside looked like:

Polished wooden floor, me in my sock soles, nobody else about. I just had to! Sock slide extravaganza!

I don't think the wooden people inside were too pleased:

'Disgraceful behaviour'

'Me want gum gum'

It was time to leave the bay of islands and begin my journey back to Auckland. On the way to my next stop in Orewa I made one last detour to Whangaria falls - the next day I was going to do my last bird watch in New Zealand.

Whangarai Falls

Glossary Update:
Irish Slang: Idiot, Moron, Numpty, Muppet, Spanner. Gobshite etc (the irish seem to have a lot of words to describe stupid people)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

17th Feb - 19th Feb

Before I headed from Whangarai I made sure that I booked a place ahead for the bay of islands. The place to go appeared to be Paihai (I wrongly pronounced it as pee-high) which seemed to have the most accommodation available. I booked myself into the Saltwater lodge for 2 days before heading off.

At around 3pm I arrived and signed myself into the hostel. The hostel looked like a good enough place to hang out and it had the bonus of free parking underneath it so I extended my stay to 3 nights. Once I settled in I checked out the excursions on offer and after consulting with the receptionist in the hostel decided on a combination dolphin watch / yachting trip with a company called explore NZ. The trip would be leaving pretty early the next morning - that left me the rest of the day to look around the town and get my bearings so I went for a walk along the water front.

The place had a really good vibe to it (it helped that it wasn't raining!) with a good combination of touristy shops and restaurants. What it seemed to lack was a good bar!

Boats and islands


After searching in vain for a good place to have a pint I settled for the bar attached to the saltwater lodge itself. The reason was quite simply - HAPPY HOUR 5-7pm and they had a cheap pizza and pint deal. The pizza was rather small but did the job for the moment. I then had another happy hour pint. I was given a raffle ticket with my pint and in the middle of enjoying it the quiet barman that had been serving me came from behind the bar and went to the DJ's area. He then proceeded to transform himself from mild manned barman to super loud bingo host as he started to call out raffle numbers for the people in the bar - which consisted of me, several (other?) lushes and a large crowd of 19-20 somethings who were sitting in the far corner and lapping it all up.

As each number was called the lucky winner had to go up and do a 'take your pick' from a list of boxes. These gave them chances of proper prizes, booby prizes and karaoke! The major prize was a free skydive but I decided to sneak off before my number came up and I would be forced up to do a rendition of 'baby, one more time' or some other song.

I did another walk around the town looking to get some more food to supplement my meager pizza. Eventually I settled on a large bag of chips (more healthy food!). Afterwards I went back to the hostel - past the raffle bar which had managed to entice more punters inside and was now a 'take your pick'/Karaoke frenzy. It was still early so I went to the bar in the base hostel near my own hostel. At least in the base bars you were guaranteed to have a decent crowd - especially as their own happy hour had only just kicked off :)

While there I got chatting to a Scottish girl Mhairi, her English friend Sarah and Donald, another friend of Mhairi's. Donald was a character to say the least - a middle aged guy in his late 50's (or is that 60's?) from Mhairi's village on the isle of Skye who was travelling around New Zealand by himself. Before I could say "Three, Tui, One" I was in a round with them and was also ordering shots - a great way to prepare for the sailing trip the next day! I eventually managed to force myself to go back to hostel for some much needed shut-eye.

My days on the shark dive boat prepared me well for being able to get up with a hangover and still manage to go on a boat. As I said the trip I booked onto was a combination trip of a dolphin watch followed by a sailing trip on a very large 'America cup' type catamaran.

First the boat headed across the bay to pick up more passengers from Russell then we made our way past lots of small picturesque islands searching for dolphins. It wasn't too long until we found them - a large pod of bottlenose dolphins merrily swimming round our boat and another smaller boat owned by the same company. The smaller boat seemed to be getting all the best views - including having some of the dolphins ride the bow wave of their boat.

I did get to see some great sights including several with babies:

Dolphin riding bow wave of nearby boat

Mother and calf

Dolphin right beside our boat

Mother and calf

We stayed around the dolphins for a good while watching them jump out of the water in the distance (never did get a good shot of that!).

My best attempt of a photo of jumping dolphin

It was soon time to go and rendezvous with the yacht for the second part of the trip. Myself and about 20 other passengers were taken across from one boat to the other on small inflatables. Once on board the catamaran I found myself a nice sunny perch on one side of the yacht as it started its journey.

Our yacht

The sail.

It was an almost mesmerising experience. We were gently sailing along (slightly too slow for my liking) on a calm blue sea past beautiful islands. There were scantly clad women sunbathing at the front of the boat and best of all you could get nice cool beers. Each person could get a drink from cooler boxes and put a mark on a tally sheet so they could pay up at the end of the trip.

Sea and islands

At lunchtime we anchored beside one of the islands and had a hot buffet of beef, chicken and various salads - at last proper food! The drink tally sheet was looking interesting at this point with myself and some other guy neck and neck in the lead - a challenge if ever i saw one!

After lunch we were allowed to go to the island for walking, swimming, sunbathing and even kayaking. I am sorry to say all I did was sit and try to rid myself of the beer buzz that was filling my head. After we got back on board I decided not to indulge in any more alcohol and just sat wishing I had stuck to cokes.

Kayaking at island

View from island beach

On the way back they were able to put up the spinnaker (that's the big sail they put at the front of yachts when they are going downwind) so we were able to go a lot faster on the return journey. At around 4pm after dropping passengers back off at Russell we arrived back at Paihai. Once I settled my drinks bill (which thankfully was not as bad as it could have been) I returned to the hostel for a kip before going out for the night.

The night was basically a rerun of the previous night as I met up Donald, Mhairi and Sarah plus some other people which included Annette - one of the Kiwi experience people I had met on the south island and who I had already bumped into in Taupo. Not only did she know Mhairi and Donald but she was in fact from their same village! It's a small world - but I don't think you could cover it in a kilt!

As I got more and more drunk the conversation turned to scuba diving and before I knew it I was booked onto a diving trip the following day. Unfortunately (see glossary update) I awoke the next morning to find the sky was overcast and any chance of going diving would be a out of the question. The heavens soon opened up and for most of the rest of the day it poured down. I knew the bad weather would catch up with me eventually - all I could do was sit around the hostel and hope the rain would subside.

I tried to extend my stay in my hostel to the Friday night but it was booked up. The people at the hostel did try to get me booked into other places but they too were fully booked. It was a real pity - even with the rainy weather Paihai was a great place to stay.

I had one last night's boozing with Donald and co (vowing to make sure I go to Skye over the summer) then the next morning I checked out ready to head back down towards Auckland.

Lions red Beer: The happy hour beer I had in the raffle bar. Nice enough for the price!

Bottlenose dolphin - obviously
Black Petrel - while watching the dolphins

According to online dictionary its meanings are:
1. suffering from bad luck: an unfortunate person. (see for examples)
2. unfavorable or inauspicious: an unfortunate beginning.
3. regrettable or deplorable: an unfortunate remark.
4. marked by or inviting misfortune: an unfortunate development.
5. lamentable; sad: the unfortunate death of her parents.