overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Sweet as, Bro!

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 16 April 2007.

New Zealand, Country 28, Diary entry, 23rd - 29th March 2007, Total distance in New Zealand: 1450km

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the flight and after a quick queue were checking our bags in. After handing our passports over to the check in clerk, they asked for details of our return flight. Explaining that we didn't know how long we were going for, we only bought a one way ticket and would purchase the return flight once we had received our new visas. The frown of the clerk said it all....."well I'm afraid you won't be allowed into New Zealand if you don't have a return flight booked. Good job you came early, you can go over to the sales desk and buy a ticket then come back to book yourselves in for the flight." Slightly more business like than our norm... We wandered over to the Qantas sales desk and asked a lady for price and availability of a fully flexible return flight for a couple of weeks time. If you're a Little Britain fan, then you'll be able to picture the sketch when a visit is made to the travel agent. We asked the lady for any random flight that would meet the immigration requirement. She frantically clicked on the keys of the computer, looking deeply uninterested at the screen, then turned to us with a blank expression and said 'sorry no availability', or the Little Britain translation...."computer says naaa"! As this charade continued for a number of iterations, Alex got bored and wandered over to the free internet kiosk to quickly find an alternative... Air New Zealand. Alex pleased as punch with his new purchase So with time ticking, we then ventured over to Air New Zealand and managed to get a fully flexible ticket which would incur no costs if we so happened to cancel it at a later date. Perfect. We returned to have another go at checking in for our flight, and were soon in the queue for customs and immigration. Having not had a confirmation email from immigration about the change in passport number for me, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time just in case there were any more problems. Let's face it; it hadn't been the smoothest run so far. Thankfully it wasn't a problem, and after showing both my new and old passport which had the visa in we were stamped out of the country. The Sky Tower Still with over an hour to kill before boarding we entertained ourselves around duty free. Alex got a little carried away and decided that now he was a working boy (nearly) he deserved some aftershave and bought some of his favourite smelly stuff. I have to admit that is one thing that I have missed while being on the road - smelling nice! Time flew by and before we knew it we were on the plane having a glass of wine. We landed late in Auckland and didn't get to our hotel until midnight, literally just falling into a slumber as soon as we hit the bed.

After a bit of a lazy morning, we walked into the city. The first thing that struck me was how quiet it was. With the total population of New Zealand being less than that of just Sydney it's not really surprising. I also had to remind myself which country I was in, as the streets are filled with Japanese. We began with a walk down to the viaduct, where lots of sailing boats were moored. After a lovely brunch, lapping up the sun and bustling atmosphere about the quay, we walked round to the tourist information and picked up a million leaflets to try and plan for the next couple of uncertain weeks ahead of us. Completely unsure of how long we would be staying in New Zealand, we decided to rent a camper van to minimise costs, but as it was all last minute, there was nothing available until the following Wednesday. We booked it anyway and hired a car for the first few days as we had to get down to Hamilton for Alex to attend a two day meeting.

One of the crazy sky jumpers taking in the views The amazing views
Having spied a few nice restaurants earlier in the day, we tarted ourselves up for the evening and returned to the viaduct. The V Grill was our destination and the specials just sounded irresistible; tuna steaks and lamb shanks. We ordered one of each, washed down with a fab bottle of New Zealand's home made juice, when in Rome... Bursting at the seams, we somehow managed to also share a cheesecake, although afterwards we regretted it slightly as we waddled home and lay groaning on our bed clutching our stomachs!

Having slept poorly through the night, (probably too much good fud in my tummy) we had another slow morning. After packing up our stuff, we decided to go up the Sky Tower. At 328 metres Sky Tower is the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, offering breath-taking views for more than 80 kilometres in every direction. I hate heights and I know my phobia is getting worse. The lift had a glass bottom, and as we sped up the floors, metre by metre, the feeling of anxiety welled up like a coiled snake in the pit of my stomach. However, it was well worth it as the views of the city were fantastic. High rises of the city in the foreground with the rolling green hills and volcanoes in the distance.

Flying high The only way I could to walk over it....close my eyes!
As we got to the viewing area, lots of people were peering in one area and then suddenly a body appeared outside the glass, dangling like a puppet on string - the infamous Sky Tower jump. Some weird people think it's fun to leap off the top of the tower from 192m (630ft) high falling for approximately 16 seconds at around 75-80kph. They're attached by a wire and our lowered in a 'controlled' manner, rather than bouncing up and down once you've jumped like a bungy. There was also the compulsory section of glass floor so you could walk over it and get the heeby jeebies as you looked all the way down to the ground below.

It was soon time to pick up the car (not soon enough for me after walking over the glass) and make our way down to Hamilton. It's not far so it only took a couple of hours, but the drive itself was lovely. Green rolling hills from as soon as we left the city. Having not been back to England for a very long time, it was a great reminder of home and made me feel a tad home sick. Surprisingly there were more cows about than sheep! Alex taking in the views of the harbour bridge We had a recce to see where Alex was supposed to be for the meeting tomorrow then stayed local to eat. An early night ensued for the boy to get his beauty sleep ready for the next morning. I drove him to his meeting so I had the freedom of the car if I so needed it, but as it was I spent the whole day locked in the room writing another diary. A phone call in the afternoon delivered the news that Alex was in fact dining out on a river cruise, but chauffeur was needed to pick him up at 5pm so he could get himself ready. "I'll only have a couple of drinks" were his last words to me before he left and I ventured into town to get myself a Thai for dinner. Watching a bit of TV, a little drunken Alex stumbled back from his night out about 10pm, his excuse being that no one was drinking the white wine and therefore he had a duty to do!

Feeling a little groggy the next morning, I drove him to the meeting again and then finished pottering myself until meeting up for lunch in Hamilton gardens where Alex's meeting was being held. The day was sunny and warm and as we ate our Subway sarnies, we sat in a traditional English garden admiring the views. We then had a walk around the rest of the gardens, typical Italian, Indian, Japanese and Chinese, all sculptured to look how they used to dating back to the 19th century. We decided to stay in Hamilton one more night, so found ourselves another motel nearer town. It had free wireless, but only if you sat outside in a particular spot 10 metres from our room in the rain! tarted up for a nice meal out Having had continuous discussions about different possibilities of how long we'd stay in New Zealand before reconsidering going to back to the UK if our visas were going to take longer than 3-4 weeks, Alex shouted something at me, but as he was outside I couldn't hear him. He came rushing in, bleating something about visas. After telling him to slow down and repeat himself as I couldn't understand him when he was acting like an overexcited school child, he finally told me that our visas had been approved!! I actually had to ask him to repeat himself twice more as I didn't believe him, but sure enough, the email had come through to say we had been issued our 457 visa.....That must be a record, as it only took 1 and a half days! Incredible. Not really worth giving ourselves an ulcer over all the worry. It was now time to celebrate, so we ventured out for dinner. The Sky Tower by night With the visas being approved so promptly, IBM were obviously extremely keen to get Alex on board as quickly as possible changing his start date to the following Monday. However, as we'd already booked the camper van, we politely told them we would be in New Zealand for another week for a holiday otherwise we'd loose the money on it. It was beginning to work itself out rather nicely, as we now had visas, work would start for us both after the Easter holidays and then finally we would actually have an income again after 20 months!! It was definitely time for a holiday. :) Probably our last one for a while, so we might as well make the most of New Zealand.

We had to return to Auckland to pick up the campervan and return the hire car. It was strange picking up the camper, so different to our life with Tinfish. The weather was changing though and we realised that it was nice to have a roof over our heads while it was raining. We carried out the obligatory checks round the vehicle and then we were allowed to take our new home for the next 11 days. After realising that we didn't have any waterproofs with us (forgotten in the rush, along with all other useful items) we had an impromptu shopping spree at an outdoors shop closing down sale. It was late by the time we left the city and headed south again. Other items that we'd left behind, were all the 12volt chargers, making it very difficult for us to recharge any of our batteries as they quickly died from our constant use - the biggest pain being the laptop. Our battery only survives about an hour and a half, and this was probably the first time we had more of a chance to catch up with our stories, cramming an hour or so's writing in every so often, isn't conducive to turning out work quickly. Tinfish's substitute We ended driving in the dark towards Waitomo caves which was to be our first stop of the holiday. Scanning the route for possible stop offs to sleep, we had to re-evaluate our normal camps, as Tinfish could obviously go places our little camper only dreamed of! We ended up parking down a lane near a farm. It was all very novel as we cooked up tea on the gas stove, staying dry from the downpour outside. Quite handy having a roof over your head when it's raining The next day we arrived at Waitomo Caves ready for some black water thrills. We booked in with Caveworld for the midday action and went to have a wander round the museum to learn all about the area.

The common feature to this area is the glow worms. The New Zealand glow-worm is probably one of the most interesting insects of the New Zealand fauna. It occurs throughout the country in limestone caves, unused mining tunnels, along stream banks, in damp bush-clad ravines, in damp shady crevices, and under tree-fern fronds in rain forests. The caves in Waitomo have become world famous because of the tens of thousands of glow-worm larvae which live on the walls, ceilings, and stalactites of the grottos. Squeeze into it girl The New Zealand glow worm is a fly belonging to the gnat family in it's maggot stage, but 'glow maggot' didn't market very well, so New Zealand decided to call them worms to bring in more tourists! The larvae, pupae, and adults of both sexes are all luminous. In the larval stage the light attracts prey in the form of other organisms, while in the pupal and adult stages the light attracts the opposite sex.

The larva prepares a nest in the form of a tunnel of mucous and silk, and suspends from this an array of fishing lines composed of the same materials. Prey is snared in the long sticky fishing lines. The larva hauls up the fishing line on which the prey is entangled and consumes the trapped insect. Up to 70 lines are let down by one larva and, depending on the size of the larva, the lines vary in length from under 1 cm to 50 cm. Each fishing line consists of a long thread of silk which bears at regular intervals a series of mucous droplets giving the appearance of a string of beads. The life cycle appears to take 11-12 months, with the larval stage lasting eight or nine months. It's at only this time in it's life that it actually eats and the adult fly has no mouth, it's sole purpose to simply reproduce! Tweedle dim and dimmer To increase excitement to seeing these creatures, we decided to add water to the recipe and go black water rafting. Our afternoon adventure was to be held in 'Te Anaroa Cave'. We all met at the office and were taken to don damp wetsuits, booties and helmets ready for the cave. After a quick drive, we were walking up a hill with a big black rubber ring looking rather sexy in our outfits. We were soon at the mouth of the cave and our 2 guides were giving us the low down of the journey we were about to embark on.

We began to walk deeper in to the cave admiring the stalactite and stalagmites as we passed them. We then got to the water. Now black water rafting conjures up many a thought of rapids in the night blackness of a cave, but really it's anything but. Our tubes were for floating on, as we drifted down the cave river but before we could do that we had to get into the water. Rather than just walk down the ladder, it was decided that it would be much more fun if we squeezed our bums into the hole of the rubber ring and fall backwards into the water in a sitting position. Great idea until I saw how high the drop was! It was fun and once we'd all dropped from the top of the 5m wall (OK maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but only slight mind) we all linked up, by grabbing the person behinds feet and put them under our arms. We were then told to turn off our head torches.

On to the night abseil What pros we look
We were pulled by one of the guides through the corridors of darkness, fascinated by the glow worms on the roof of the cave like blue stars sparkling in the night. It was an incredible sight. The two guides sang a Maori song which echoed as we floated along. In the blackness, the corridors seemed to go on forever as we drifted and walked in the water. It was great fun and we were underground for about an hour and a half before seeing daylight again as we scrambled up the rocks.

Returning for hot showers and soup to warm us up again, we returned to talk to Kyle, the owner of Caveworld enthusing about how much fun we'd had. Lots of different tours are run, but as we were chatting, he suggested that we may enjoy the night abseil as you get to see the glow worms very clearly close up. We were easily persuaded and we signed up on the dot. We returned a couple of hours later plugging in our laptop to recharge it by the mains while we were out enjoying ourselves. We were met by our guide and were taken to where we begin the abseil. It was just beginning to get dark, obviously the perfect time to do a night abseil!

Are we really going to do this? It's a long way down!
The plan was to do the first at dusk and then the second once the sun had gone down. We ended up running a little behind schedule so we started the first as almost all light had gone. Now, hovering over a 150 foot drop attached by a bit of rope was much more pleasant for me in the dark as I couldn't see how far below it was and get the heeby jeebies again with my fear of heights. After a quick reminder of what we were supposed to do, we began to descend.

Our instructor had attached himself to us so we couldn't fall too far if we faltered, but as we were age old pros at this we were totally in control. As we lowered ourselves further we were literally abseiling amongst a galaxy of stars. We were surrounded by glow worms as we abseiled into the "Baby Grand". It was a totally unique experience and definitely the ultimate way to see the glow worms. As we reached the end of the rope, we walked along the bottom to the ladder we had to climb to get out of the miniature chasm we'd just descended down. Now this part of the trip that I was really pleased was in the dark - ladders as steep as a high rise, completely vertical with about a million steps to get us out. I would have completely freaked if I'd have to do it in daylight. It was definitely a pulse racing climb, but once at the top, we were eager to drop down the line again. This time we went slower to take in the spectacular display in front of us. It truly was amazing.

The only bad bit is having to climb back up again Nearly there!
On a real high from the night's experience, we drove to a car park down the road which had been recommended by Kyle. There was also a glow worm walk which we'd been told was good to do at night so you could see them on the walls of the cliffs. We set off for our walk and followed the path, but after the night we'd already had nothing was going to compare. We returned to the van to prepare tea and sample yet another delightful Kiwi wine, rejuvenating ourselves for tomorrow's adrenaline pumped day.

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Comment from Taimur Mirza
Poor tinfish abandoned on a tiny island ........... :(
19 Apr 2007 @ 06:18:37