New Zealand–the first few days

We arrived in Auckland tired after the long journey and a very early start in Tahiti. The girls both beat us up and were anxiously awake just before 0500, making sure that we wouldn’t have any difficulty in being on time for our plane.

As it was, they need not have worried. The queue was long and boring and whilst Dad got to stand in it, the girls and Lou went off to find out what the drumming was in the small international terminal. I got to see the local dancers walking out of the airport. Hannah got the end of their performance and of course, managed to get a photo of herself standing beside them.NZ

We got picked up by a German traveller, working for accommodation at the garage we had arranged to buy our car and home for the next three months from. Sid, the owner, met us at the garage, proved to be completely horizontal in attitude, handed us the keys and paperwork that needed to change ownership and then told us to come back once we had done so to get the money organised.  We were advised to take it to a separate garage for a $80 check out and I am glad we did. The garage picked up a couple of minor problems which I hadn’t which could have caused hassle later and Sid quickly fixed them.  The car, a 7 seat Toyota, has 250,000kkm on the clock but runs fine. Fingers crossed that lasts.

On one of our first wanders on foot to explore, we walked past the Henderson Middle School and had to get a photo!

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The Henderson name is a common one here. The Henderson area is named for a Thomas Henderson, a Scottish settler who came here in the early 1840s and bought the valley of 5000 acres then added another 5000acres of scrubland to expand into shortly after. Henderson Valley had a creek, mill and then township. In time the area became known simply as Henderson, a suburb of Auckland.

Lou had booked us in to the Fat Cat Travellers Hostel, an eco farm hostel, for our first two nights to allow us to settle in and organise ourselves. It proved to be a lucky and inspired choice. Fat Cats is, pretty much, a commune of likeminded travellers, a few permanent staff but with “house angels” allowed to work for their bed and board for periods of 3 weeks at a time. The rest of the guests pay and can either stay in tents, old broken down camper vans, caravans or in the main house, depending on how much you want to pay. Dinner and breakfast is thrown in and the atmosphere is relaxed, very friendly and very laid back. Tobacco seems to be allowed but alcohol, drugs and meat are all off the menu. The food is superb.

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This morning’s breakfast was pancakes,bread, porridge and a huge fruit salad. Dinner had more greenery in it than I have seen in months. A big plate load of veggie burger with humus topping on a green salad and bun with an avocado side salad and chips. Just glorious. Even though Lou and I had already been out to satisfy the craving for battered fish and chips, we stayed and had a second dinner, surprising ourselves both loving it and being able to finish it all. Vegan food can be, as I was warned, fantastic if there is someone with imagination doing the cooking.

It is amusing to have to introduce yourself after the communal dinner each night,  sitting where ever you could on a cushion on the floor, accepting a small task in cleaning up the house, drawn pot luck from a bag that went around.   Hannah got the task to “Kiss the Chef” which was enthusiastically completed with free hugs thrown in for pretty much everyone else. Both are loving mixing in with all the big people and made their name one morning by being caught moping the kitchen floor!

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Most of the guests are in their late teens and early twenties so Lou and I supply both the oldest faces here and with the girls, the youngest. But everyone wants to chat and I think we will end up coming back here at some point as we move around. It has been amusing as well seeing the looks of amazement when we tell them of our travels. I was even asked by one group for a look at the photos we have taken and a run down of what we had done. I don’t think many of the expect old farts to be doing what they see themselves doing!

The grounds of the house are large and have veg and fruit gardens and lots of space set aside for sitting around with several bonfire pits. There is an outside “fire bath”, the bath being an old cast iron one with a wood fire lit underneath. Not what I was expecting to do within a couple of days of arriving in cold NZ!

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There are lots of interesting workshops being done as well. Tonight’s activities was a brief on their Patagonia Earthship project, a Fat Cat eco built house devoted to communal living and helping the locals with renewable energy ideas and organic farming. Yoga and a variety of other spiritual stuff (more Gaia than Christian) figures daily.

Fat Cat was a great place to base ourselves from to explore Auckland. Auckland Museum had been recommended to us and on the basis that the girls really hadn’t done school for a while we decided a day of cultural education would stand all of us in good stead. The museum tells the story of Maori civilisation, has a large section on why living on the rim of fire (which Auckland does) is potentially not a good thing and covers the coming of the white settlers too. It has the NZ Cenotaph outside, a memorial wall inside for the Auckland fallen and an excellent run down of a “colonies” war effort in both WWI and II. We lucked out and were present for the presentation of awards from France to some old and bold for some joint activity a long time ago, listening to an excellent rendition of The Last Post.

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We were surprised at the number of Henderson names we saw on the Memorial wall. In the UK we would regularly expect to see the names of Davies, Jones and Macs being differentiated by the addition of their last two or three numbers. Here it was Hendersons.

We have decided that the van we have bought is just not going to work out as a sleep-in-van mode – it just isn’t big enough. Whilst we could copy the kids here and simply pack in, (there are four in a similar van but we think they are having “fun”) we have decided that sleeping in the van will be last resort and we will go back to what we know and live in a tent. The weather is mixed in New Zealand so I dare say we will have periods swearing at the rain and each other hiding in the van but hopefully, not too regularly.

We lucked out with the tent. Priced at $599, it was marked down as it was last years colours to $199 to clear. The lady at the till said the box looked a bit beat up (I’d already check the contents – mint) so gave us 50% off. We paid a grand total of $98 for it. Lou, ever the hunter of a bargain was beside herself! Warehouse, a big discount store was a goldmine. Cheap with with nearly everything we needed, we have visited several stores as well as a host of charity shops and outlet malls. The kids now look as if they fit in to the Fat Cat house lifestyle perfectly but we also have great boots for them to tramp around in whilst in country.

The one thing that has amazed us is the amount of Chinese and Asian people and businesses around the Henderson area. If there is a fish and chip shop, it is most likely to be part of a Chinese restaurant. A lot of businesses use both English and Chinese characters on their signs. Prices are very reasonable, not just against UK prices but European as well. Most items are shipped in from China and NZ is a lot closer than we are in the UK! The NZ Prime Minister is causing a little friction in the press as he has announced that NZ will be granting permanent visas for another 30000 Chinese this year.

The big news in New Zealand this first week has been the 7.8 earthquake in the S island and the damage it has done. Thankfully there have been only a couple of deaths but the damage to property has been extensive. There have been over a hundred aftershocks and what is most worrying is the scientists are predicting a 85% change of an even bigger ‘quake in the next 30days. We will be factoring this in to our travel plans as one of our options to be in South island for Xmas now looks a little suspect.

Auckland is a great town. Very much of the low rise and spread out variety, as a city it covers a huge area. Sized at about 1.5million, it also has about a third of the entire population of NZ living in it. It’s old docks are being developed with new housing and bijou bars and restaurants. I had a lovely time looking at a variety of racing yachts, from the extreme single handed Pogos through Open 50s to old America cup boats. There was a good selection of super yachts to dream about as well.

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We moved out of Fat Cats and moved up towards the N end of the city where there was a campsite called Remuera Lodge. It wasn’t that swish, had  lot of permanent campers but we got the chance to put the tent up for the first time and we met some good people. We didn’t get the chance to cook as Lou, eagle eyed as always, spotted an Indian restaurant, 300m from the front gate. One check of Trip Advisor later and I was informed that we would be eating out. Lou got her first decent curry since she left the UK!

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We took the chance to climb Mt Eden, the highest of 48 volcanoes that Auckland sits on! The views it gave over the city were wonderful. Note the number of other volcano heads present in the family snap with Auckland in the background! The big one in the bay appeared about 600 years ago. Bit scary knowing that many of these are classed as active. The museum has a great room and presentation showing what even a minor eruption would mean to Auckland. Wipe out……..

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We have now tested out the tent, staying in a campsite in the middle of Auckland and have come through unscathed although a little damp. We will be heading out to our first adventure, a stay with our workaway family, The Hobans.

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