Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pool Sharks and Pipi Patches

As usual I was one of the last getting on the Magic Bus, so most of the seats were taken. I sat down beside an Asian girl who, it turned out, was actually from London. As things went myself and Mary, for that was her name, were partners in crime for the next three days.

Our first stop was walk five minutes and hug a tree, specifically a kauri, a huge protected species. Having done this we headed on to look at the outside of the Kauri Museum. I say the outside because no one really had any interest in going inside. Our guide and driver, Greg, had had a heavy night (driving) the night before and was the most talkative or helpful. Nevertheless I figured out the way Magic Bus works in fits and starts. Onwards we drove, arriving in the Bay of Islands in the late afternoon. By this stage, a small group of us had already bonded together and we all met for a barbeque and drinks. There was Rosie, a very tall, very attractive wine merchant from Edinburgh; Paola, an Italian midwife with a Limerick mother, who had an intially offputting, but ultimately endearing habit of saying "My love"; Heiko, a German guy who wore a baseball cap perpetually; John and his french partner, Mareille, two teachers from Oxford; and Satomi, a beer guzzling crazy Japanese girl. We did go on to Baby Guinesses at one point, but it was an early night.

Early night it may have been, but a huge, oddly formed creature in my dorm ensured I got no sleep. This bald creature had a snore like a juggernaut stuck in sand. I learnt the next day from the three blonde German girls that I was not alone, no one had slept through his snoring.

Next day we boarded a different bus operator, King's, for a day trip to Cape Reigna. Delayed by a bunch of breakfast guzzling American schoolkids, we eventually made our first stop hugging another kauri tree. Then we arrived at the lighthouse in Cape Reigna, the departing point for all the spirits of all dead Mauri heading to sea. A Maori troope made a little dance at the lighthouse, but I had made the wrong choice and walked a nearby hill instead, so I only arrived in time to pay a tip. The next stop was lunch by a beautiful beach. The downside, a toilet full of mosquitoes. Also I'd forgotten my towel, so no swimming for me. Instead Mary and I hopped the roasting sand and ate some salami sandwiches.

The afternoon held the highlights. Arriving at giant sand dunes by the 90 Mile Beach, we boogie boarded down their amazingly steep slopes. I was petrified, but after the hard slog up the slope, the only way was sliding down on a mini surfboard at 100 mph. In the end I did it three times. It was exhilarating, though on the last attempt my hands began to lose their grip and I had to stop earlier than I wanted. As usual I was the last back on the bus.

We sped down the 90 Mile Beach, a wonderful sandy expanse that is actually only 64 miles long. many an unwary car gets stuck and subsequently destroyed by the rising tide, though this has also happened to the coaches of some other tour operators, as we were told with some glee by our driver, Murray. Murray had won an award or two for his guiding/driving and in truth he was great fun. The theme tune to 'Bonanza' was played as we raced the sands as a future aide memoire.

The kauris featured yet again on our way back. The Old Kauri Kingdom was a furniture shop/cafe. Because kauris can no longer be cut down, only logs recovered from swamps are used in woodwork. This means kauri woodwork is expensive. We saved our money for the fish and chips Murray promised us as our last stop before home, that is Paihia. They were the best fish and chips I have had in many a year. Eating them meant none of us had to eat that night allowing us to concentrate on more important things like drinking.

When I arrived back at my hostel, the creature had hung up a bedspread and towel to shelter his bed while he snored once more. This boded well as if he snored now, he may have been planning to be out all night. I showered and left for drink. It was an excellent night and my Aran Island Basking Shark tale got yet another airing to tremendous applause from some nearby tables. Mary herself proved to be a pool shark, but kindly held fire to make a game of it now and again.

Another early morning for Sunday meant we were all home close to 1 am. Next day Paola and I went on a 'Swim with Dolphins' boat trip. If the dolphins are feeding or there are young present swimming is not allowed. The reality is that this will apply 95% of the time. This was very sad for Paola as this was a dream of hers. I had been told when booking the tour that being a poor swimmer I would be given a lifejacket. Not so. Onboard I was told if I needed a lifejacket I would not be let in the water. One way or the other then all I would be able to do would be to view the dolphins. Thankfully we had many dolphins to view, hundreds of Common dolphins and a pod of 6 Bottlenose dolphins making very generous appearances. Despite bringing extra batteries, my camera continually ran out of juice.

We got back at 12 and it was then I remembered I hadn't checked out of my hostel. It was some challenge trying to pack one or two last items while a gaggle of Hispanic cleaners hoovered around me. Eventually I was out and on the bus back to Auckland.

Our new driver was to be plagued with bad luck. Snuffling monstrously (at least we think it was him), he had just gotten out of Paihia when a pickup truck smashed into his side mirror. That delayed us. Then the gear stick looked like sticking. Sleepy getting onboard, we very quickly woke up on that journey.

Seeing a Maori fern at a roadside souvenir shop, I was reminded of Hundertwasser, the Austrian artist who designed a flag for the Maori using the symbol. An hour later we passed the "Hundertwasser Toilets".

Stopping at a roadside cafe for ice cream, we spent some time with the local llamas before Paola noticed a pregnant male seahorse in the local aquarium. Unthinking she took a picture using flash, then noticed the sign saying "No Flash - Flash blinds the Seahorses". Embarrassed, she struggled to turn off the flash. Satomi, however, always impetuous, went ahead and blinded the seahorses some more prompting the staff to come over. To think that poor seahorse would never see his children.

Mary and I were in the same hostel, so we ended up going for sushi in a local restaurant, then on to kill some terrorists and zombies in the local arcade, then to pool where Mary killed me. We chilled a little in the hostel lounge. A musician, dancer and artist, I was treated to Mary's scrapbook. Of Chinese/Trinidad descent, she has just spent six weeks in China teaching schoolkids English (she is a primary school teacher), so she had many a tale to tell. Sadly our partnership in crime had to come to an end as she was staying on a day in Auckland before heading to Rotorua, while I had a 7 o'clock start today to get to Whitianga.

The hostel, by the way, the YHA International, was a great deal better than the Pipi Patch in Paihia or the Fat Camel in Auckland (the one I stayed in before). Lots of room, clean and no snoring, the only drawback was the heat, but I nevertheless got some sleep.

It was a very much smaller bus that collected me this morning. So far our group is comprised of an English software developer, Martin (slightly out of his skull on joints); an Aussie, Michael; Brat, an American from Lake Tahoe; a Swiss joiner, Simon; and a French manager, Anthony. We had a lovely swim at Cathedral Cove and are now in Whitianga, a small seaside town. The weather is overcast, but warm and Martin has us going for pints (we had a lager at 11 this morning). Tomorrow I head to Waitomo and on to Rotorua.


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