Walking on the wild side

We’re beginning to get our heads around the itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. And what a big, impressive beast it is!

We’ll drive down to Heathrow, where our first novel experience awaits us: the priority check-in and all-round pampering that is – I sincerely hope – the lot of the business class traveller.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

We’ve never flown business before, and probably never will again, so we plan to make the most of it. I hope they load plenty of champagne to keep us suitably mellow during the flight to Singapore, where we’ll spend a couple of nights before flying on to Auckland.

Sultan Mosque, Singapore (2016)

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest metropolitan centre, being home to around a third of the country’s entire population of a little under five million. After spending four nights in and around the city, acclimatizing and recovering from the inevitable jet lag, we’ll pick up a rental car and spend a further ten nights visiting some of the highlights of North Island.

Then it’s a short internal flight from Palmerston North, across the Cook Strait to Christchurch where a second rental car awaits us. We’ll spend the next 32 nights touring the length and breadth of South Island, before returning to Christchurch for the flight back to the UK.

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That’s if we make it to South Island, of course. Before we get there, we’re due to visit White Island on the east coast of the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. It’s New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. Active it surely is, as our itinerary advises us that we’ll be issued with hard hats and gas masks before we arrive.

White Island, New Zealand - 2 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 2 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

GAS MASKS! For heaven’s sake, what sort of trip is this going to be? I’m feeling my age a bit these days and was rather hoping New Zealand would be a walk in the park. But instead it looks like we’ll be walking on the wild side.

White Island, New Zealand - 4 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 4 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On the other hand, why not? After all, you only live once. It could even be fun, and if the volcano blows its top while we’re there at least I’ll leave this life with an impressive bang.

Hard hats, gas masks, random unpredictable volcanic eruptions and accompanying earth tremors? Bring ’em on I say, bring ’em on!

Bringing tears to the eyes

We really can’t put it off any longer, we’ll simply have to pay off the balance we owe on our forthcoming seven-weeks long road-trip around New Zealand.  To be fair, Paul Carberry, head honcho at New Zealand in Depth, is relaxed about it.  He knows we’re committed to the adventure, and obviously reckons we’re good for the money.  But we need to get it sorted.

Queenstown NZ. Photo credit: Ketan Kumawat via Pexels

This holiday has been so long in the planning that it sometimes seems like a fantasy. Stumping up the cash will make the whole thing seem more real, although it may bring a few tears to our bank manager’s eyes.

The drive to New Zealand in Depth’s offices, on the outskirts of Buxton, takes us through the area of Derbyshire known as the White Peak.  The roads are almost deserted, and the hillsides are dotted with sheep. We pass through the occasional village, but for the most part it’s a sparsely populated rural landscape of green fields and rough pasture, all apparently untouched by the trials and tribulations of the 21st century.  A foretaste of New Zealand, maybe?

New Zealand: a sheep-filled landscape. PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Gabriel via Pexels

Paul greets us like old friends, ushers us to an office and sorts out some tea.  Wearing black-rimmed specs, and dressed casually in jeans and a checked shirt he’s friendly, informal and chatty, but totally passionate about what he does, which is enabling his clients to see New Zealand at its best. 

While Paul’s making tea Flinker the office dog pops in to say “hi,” his tail thrashing furiously.  I fondle the hairy hound’s ears and scratch his back. He laps it up, and thanks me by slobbering enthusiastically over my balding head. Flinker’s a lovely lad, and if I thought I’d get away with it I’d smuggle him out with me when we leave. 

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Huntaway. PHOTO CREDIT: “File:Huntaway.JPG by Cgoodwin is licensed under CC BY 3.0

I ask Paul if there are any breeds of dog that we should look out for on our travels, and he tells us about the Huntaway.  The Huntaway was bred to support the country’s sheep farmers. It fills a New Zealand-specific niche thanks to its ability to herd sheep by barking, rather than by sight alone.

The Huntaway is a cross between the Border Collie and breeds that are known for their stamina, such as Rottweilers and Dobermans. They sound like real characters, and I hope we get to meet one on our travels.

Mrs P, on the other hand, very much hopes that we don’t meet another New Zealand character, the Katipo spider.  She has a thing about spiders but not in a good way, and was expecting Paul to confirm that New Zealand – unlike neighbouring Australia – has no poisonous spiders. 

File:Latrodectus katipo close.jpg

Katipo spider. PHOTO CREDIT: “File:Latrodectus katipo close.jpg” by Ole is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Paul’s response, that the native Katipo, a relative of the Black Widow of the Americas and the Redback of Australia, packs a significantly poisonous punch is therefore greeted with surprise and dismay.

Mr Google quickly reveals some grisly details:

A Canadian tourist in New Zealand suffered a swollen penis and chest pain after he went for a nude swim and nap and was apparently bitten by a katipo spider.

The 22-year-old “woke to find his penis swollen and painful with a red mark on the shaft suggestive of a bite. He rapidly developed generalized muscle pains, fever, headache, photophobia [light sensitivity] and vomiting,” Dr. Nigel Harrison of Whangarei Hospital in Northland, New Zealand, and his colleagues reported in Friday’s online issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Source: CBC News, accessed 13/09/2019

Paul points out that the Katipo is now very rare, so I could make a bit of a name for myself if I get bitten by one.  In fact, he chuckles, I should make a close encounter of the Katipo kind one of my must-do goals for the trip. 

female katipo and finger

PHOTO CREDIT: “female katipo and finger” by Mollivan Jon is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Well, thanks mate, but I’ll give it a miss if it’s all the same with you. I won’t be rushing to scour the bush for this particular New Zealand ne’er-do-well . Nor does any accidental seaside meeting seem at all likely for the very good reason that, out of concern for the sensibilities of innocent passers-by, I’ve put my skinny-dipping days behind me.

All things considered, therefore, the chances of any toxic arthropod getting up close and personal with my old todger are, thankfully, very remote. This is a relief because although there are probably worse things that could happen to me in New Zealand than an intimate bite from a cantankerous Katipo, right now I’m struggling to name one.

Eventually we get down to business.  Paul hands over a large ring-binder containing a detailed day-by-day itinerary of the magnificent trip he has arranged for us.  In return, I pass to Paul a large cheque containing the proceeds of my hard labour in the months before my retirement.  Job done, I think.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rawpixel.com via Pexels

Honour duly satisfied, we swiftly return to more important stuff, including a discussion of the cricket.  The Barmy Army will be in New Zealand at the same time as us to support the touring England cricket team, but no doubt the Kiwis will be looking to avenge their defeat in the World Cup Final earlier this summer.  Almost certainly, therefore, the Barmies will be sadly disappointed, and there may well be tears before bedtime. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Gerd Altmann via Pexels

Could be worse though, the brazen battalions of the Barmy Army could nip down to the beach for some naked freestyle and get a special welcome from a Katipo.  Now that really would bring tears to their eyes. 

Honing the itinerary

Paul’s draft itinerary drops into Julie’s inbox, and we open it eagerly.  We’ve set aside 45 days in New Zealand, and adding on travel time and a couple of days in Singapore we’ll be away for around seven weeks in total.  It will be our longest ever holiday, and well deserved I might add.  Three cheers for retirement.

There’s loads to see and do in New Zealand, and this itinerary will allow us to make the most of our time there.  We will explore magnificent mountain and coastal scenery.  We will marvel at the geothermal wonders, which should be reminiscent of those in Yellowstone.  We will learn about Maori culture and the impact on it of the arrival of the pakeha (Europeans).  We will explore the charms of small town New Zealand.  We will enjoy brilliant views of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.  We will watch fascinating birds, many of them – like the kiwi – unique to New Zealand.  We will see lots of sheep and drink lots of wine.  We will fly business class for the only time in our lives.  We definitely won’t go bungee jumping.

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However, we want to suggest a very small number of changes.  One day Paul’s itinerary has got us exploring a lake by powerboat, but this is really not our thing – we don’t do thrills and spills, even if the scenery’s spectacular.  In addition, Mrs P hasn’t been idle since we met with Paul, and has some further ideas about places we’d like to visit.  We’d like to jiggle things around a bit, so we give Paul a ring to talk it through.  He listens carefully, takes notes and says he’ll get back to us shortly with an updated proposal.  Watch this space!

The first step

To be honest, I never really saw the point of New Zealand.

Poor bloody New Zealand: so far from civilisation, so close to Australia. Why bother? I always thought, who cares?

School didn’t help much. As far as my education was concerned New Zealand didn’t exist. My A-level geography teacher, Laurie Elliott, got some sort of bursary to spend a few months in Australia. As a result, upon his return I learned more about merino sheep and outback iron ore deposits than any English teenager could reasonably wish to know. But on the subject of New Zealand Mr E remained totally silent, and, if it were not for the exploits of the All Blacks knocking seven shades out of the home nations at every available opportunity, it would never have registered on my consciousness at all.

Julie, however, has always wanted to go to New Zealand, and who am I to argue? We’ve got the time and the money so what the hell we thought, we’ll give it a go.  We’ve done plenty of road trips in the USA and Canada, and even spent a month touring Tasmania, so how hard can it be to drive through New Zealand?  If we’re very lucky, we might even run into a kiwi!

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We are agreed that it will be a once in a lifetime trip so we have to get the itinerary right. Tailor made by an expert. With that in mind we contact New Zealand in Depth. We meet with founder and top guy Paul Carberry at his offices in Buxton, where he tries to understand what we want from our trip.

Paul is vastly knowledgeable and passionate about New Zealand. He offers advice on the best time to see penguins, waxes lyrical on landscapes we shouldn’t miss, and cautions against “cheesy” Maori experiences, proposing instead some more authentic alternatives.

And most importantly, Paul never once mentions bungee jumps, zip wires or Lord of the Rings, so our trip should be safe in his hands. We await his draft itinerary with eager anticipation.