September 17, 2004
Some basic facts:
Situated 90km from Auckland, Great Barrier Island is the largest of the 50 islands in the Haurauki Gulf. It is NZ’s fourth largest landmass and has a fixed population of about 1000.
60% of the island is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Regular ferries only run in the summer (December to March) so we had to come over in the Eco Islander, one of the local ferries – which runs at odd times (We took the 7am Tuesday ferry). You can fly over – 30 minutes in a toy plane with a 12 year old pilot (maximum 10 seats – including the pilot) = 3 times the cost – but we decided against it.
Actually the pilots aren’t 12, but they come from the flight training university and have to get in 1000 hrs flight experience before they are allowed on the big planes so they practice by doing the inter island runs. So we had 4½ hrs of deep blue sea which allowed us to see many of the surrounding islands. It’s quite comfortable; they had 2 screening rooms showing Shrek and Starsky & Hutch – which passed some of the time, and there is a bar on board.
Of course, being a McWog™, the trip to the ferry was an adventure in itself.
Arrived at the wharf to find we’d been directed to the wrong place and so with half an hour to go, thought it best to take a taxi. Then the taxi driver proceeds to get us lost but won’t admit it and we made the ferry with minutes to spare; where the taxi driver attempts to charge us $25 for the privilege of driving us round half of Auckland unnecessarily.
My tone of disbelief (and possibly the fire in my eyes) got him to reduce the fare to $20 (like he was doing us a favour) but we made it onto the ferry (Hurrah).
We’re staying at the ‘Stray Possum Lodge’ which consists of wooden dorms nestling in 25 acres of native bush. They have 2 horses, 2 donkeys and Gina the dog – a cross between a mangy, fluffy rug and a small pony.
Things are simple here: there is no mains electricity supply so people use their generators sparingly. This means that when sun sets at 6.30pm it gets real dark, real quick and ‘lights out’ is at 11pm. This makes going to the toilet during the night a whole ritual in itself as you have to don socks and fleece, locate the torch, and then when you step outside, it is so cold that your urine attempts to retract back into warmer body cavities.
And showers are best taken in the evening before it gets cold, because it is a brave man indeed (and very likely a dead one too) that attempts the cold showers in the morning.
And we are loving it much, much, much…..
It’s an astounding place. There is a bus system (whose tagline is “We go everywhere eventually”) that takes you round the island to the different tracks and you arrange a pick up time with the driver – so you can spend a whole day lost in the landscape without seeing another person.
The drivers are personalities in themselves and we’ve become friends with Wayne (late 30s, rugged looking, once lived in a Kiwi squat in Elephant & Castle of all places) with whom we’ve been learning about the history of the island; the marijuana problem (apparently it is being grown quite prolifically on the island) and getting shagged in the new police 4×4 (Will have to tell you that one when I return!)
Did the White Cliffs walk (Te Ahumata) yesterday = spending 4hrs walking uphill. By the time we got to the hot pools, all I could do was collapse gratefully onto the picnic table provided and hyperventilate until I was capable of holding a sandwich. Methinks we took on too much for our first tramp – I mean, when it gets to the stage where your bum is sweating, you know that you are over-exerting yourself, non?
It’s very quiet around here and you can stand for hours just listening to the sound of the wind in the trees, the (what seems like rather loud) buzzing of winged insects as they pass and the many bird song – one of which sounds like something you’d expect to hear from a monitoring machine at a hospital.
For the first few days it was just us and a German couple and their teenager (Female we think, but it’s hard to tell). Yesterday, we were joined by 10 fishermen who are out on their annual boys-week-in-the-bush trip.
They came well prepared – with their own fridge + freezer, more cans of beer than I have ever seen outside of an off license, and had the barbie going like pros.
They’re a great bunch and try to remember their manners in front of us girls, but after the beer has been flowing for a few hours – and it seems that the bar is never closed – they just slide back into burping and farting, innuendos and being the rough and ready lads that they are; I spend most of the time I’m with them in fits of laughter.
Interesting fact: They store their fish in frozen salt water. Apparently all commercial fishermen do this. The salt water remains frozen for up to 7 days and so the fish they catch (and they have caught some big buggers) remains as fresh as the day they were caught.
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AUTHOR: I am might war. I have a love of music, the written word, travel, Anime, polar bears, people and “sticking and colouring”.