Day M118: Fly, You Fools!

Mon 23.01.12: Got up nice and early in order to move the car off the street before the Monday morning Wellington parking regs kicked in only to find out that it was a public holiday and so all parking was free! How awesome is THAT?! After an unhurried breakfast, Mand and I drove over to the Miramar Peninsular to start our day of Peter Jackson stalking. The official Lord of the Rings tour was full, so we’d be making it up as we went along. After a scenic drive along the seaside, we invaded the The Weta Cave, the small shop-cum-museum that shows off the stuff Jackson’s FX company has been working on for the last twenty years. From humble beginnings making the puppets for Meet The Feebles, the zombies for Braindead and the ghosts for The Frighteners, Weta is now the world’s leading FX company,…

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Days M115-117: High Tea in Mordor

Fri 20.01.12 – Sun 22.01.12: Lake Taupo is one of those must-see sights in New Zealand, and it’s not hard to see why. Situated slap bang in the middle of North Island, you’d be a fool not to stop off here on your way between Auckland and Welly Town. Today the weather was as fine as fine could be. After a lazy morning, Mand and I went for a walk around Haka Falls, a stupendous piece of natural engineering: gigalitres of water THUNDERING through a narrow chasm, one that looks at once exciting to try to go down sitting on a big rubber donut, but one that your common sense circuits are screaming DON’T BE AN FOOL, HUGHES!! At the falls I was jabbering away into my camera (as I have a tendency to do) and a lady standing nearby asked Mandy if I was making…

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Day M114: Gushing Meadows

Thu 19.01.12: So then, Rotorua, I’ve missed you for a decade, but you’re still not smelling no sweeter. You see, New Zealand is SLAP BANG on top of one of the most shifty-slidey tectonic fault-lines in the world, which goes some way to explaining why over 80% of NZ’s power comes from renewable resources. In fact, when it comes to green credentials, New Zealand is painfully ahead of the competition and a rather sound bolt-hole for you to run to when the oil runs out or your entire nation gets flooded to death. But you’ll be dead by then, right? Right. In Rotorua, the Earth’s crust is as thin as a poppadom and so hot sulphuric water bubbles up to the surface with great alacrity. This was good for the local Maori people who used these hot thermal springs to cook, to bathe and to possibly…

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Day M113: In A Hole In The Ground There Lived A Hobbit

Wed 18.01.12: And so it came to pass that Graham and Mandy picked up a hire car (it’s a legal move so long as I return to Auckland!) and headed south down through the Barrowdowns of New Zealand, past Tom Bombadil’s house and the Inn of the Prancing Pony. I rather like going south, it feels like going downhill. We thundered along the road as fast as Mr. Bliss, and after a hour or so, we came upon The Shire. Mandy reckons we were late, but I maintained that a wizard is never late, he arrives precisely when he means to. When the outdoor set for Hobbiton was built for the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was scheduled to be destroyed once filming had wrapped. Fortunately, the mischievous weather gods had other ideas and a period of prolonged heavy rain prevented the bulldozers from…

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Days M111-112: The Mandster Cometh

Mon 16.01.12 – Tue 17.01.12: Mandy, my long suffering girlfriend, had arranged to fly over and meet me in Auckland around 4pm today. By that time I had just about shrugged off my hangover from the night before and was almost looking human. I went to the airport to meet her (the airport being located a thousand miles away from the city, as always, but then who wants to live under a flight path?) and after two months of trundling around the Pacific on my own, it was wonderful to back in the arms of my beloved, even if it was only going to be for the next 10 days. We had NEW ZEALAND to explore and PETER JACKSON to stalk!! But being Graham and Mandy, we decided to spend our first evening going to the cinema to watch the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Funny that…

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Days M107-110: Towards The Long White Cloud

Thu 12.01.12 – Sun 15.01.12: The ship was due to leave Tonga at midday, so I made good use of the morning looking for some internets that would allow me to update my much-neglected blog. Looking being the operative word, for I did not find any. Never mind, I enjoyed the walk. So farewell, then, Tonga, you beautiful place. I’m sure I’ll return one day. Out of the port and out towards the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearao. Or ‘New Zealand’ as you heathens insist on calling it. It would take a couple of days to get there, time to kick back, relax, back-up my tapes and work on my inane scribblings. We arrived on Sunday morning, in good time. Mandy would be arriving in New Zealand tomorrow to begin our North Island Odyssey. This would be our first holiday together since Egypt back…

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Days M105-106: The Friendly Islands

Mon 09.01.12 - Wed 11.01.12: After quite literally skipping Tuesday, we arrived in the port of Nuku’alofa in the Island Nation of Tonga two days after Sunday... on Wednesday. In what is becoming a bit of a tradition for us us Lilynauts, the port agent came out to greet us off the ship and then took me, the captain and Joe (the ship’s cook) on a tour of the main island of Tongatapu I should point out that ‘Nuku’alofa’ means ‘Abode of Love’ in English. How much better is that a name than ‘Hull’, ‘Grimsby’ or (urgh) ‘Skegness’? I should also point out that Tonga is the Scandinavia of the Pacific. By that I mean they substantially added to the gene pool by totally stealing the best looking women from Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Niue etc. in days of yore. Much in the manner of the…

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Day M104: This is Yesterday

Sun 08.01.12: Yesterday was Sunday 8 January 2012. Last night I went to bed and got I good night’s sleep. This morning I awoke to find it Sunday 8 January 2012 again. While I was sleeping the Southern Lily 2 left Apia, crossed the (newly redrawn) International Date Line and now it’s Sunday again. That’s not a typo. Welcome, friends, to American Samoa. Divided countries, especially ones divided by Western Powers, always strike me as deeply unfair. Samoa and American Samoa share the same language, culture and religion. The only thing separating the two is the conceit of politicians thousands of miles away and more than a century ago. Britain, France, Germany and the US all wanted a slice of Samoa. After some kind of contest (presumably a pissing one), it was agreed that the Samoan islands of Savai’i and ’Upolu would be given to the…

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Day M103: A Tale of Two Sundays

Sun 08.01.12: As the good ship Southern Lily 2 was scheduled to be leaving Apia in the wee small hours I left my passport in the ship’s office with a note saying “this is my passport, please do not wake me unless strictly necessary”. As I was three sheets to the wind when I wrote this note, I had no recollection of the event the next day when for a terrifying few moments I thought I had lost my passport somewhere in the midst of last night’s ridiculousness. I need not have worried, for not only had my passport not gone anywhere, neither had the ship. Since Samoa is still quite a god-fearing country, the loading operation stopped last night at midnight for the Sabbath Day. My hopes of having a Saturday night in Samoa, crossing the International Dateline and having another Saturday night in American…

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Day M102: Treasured Island

Sat 07.01.12: Samoa! What an awesome place! Captain Andriy had me up at 10am to head over to Valima, the home of the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the chap wot wrote Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Taking Filipe the ship’s steward with us, we met with Richard the local port agent and hit the road into the interior. Back in the 1890s, Robert Louis Stevenson’s health was waning and he believed that a more tropical clime would be conducive to his general well-being, or at least more conducive than the frigid night air of the Scottish highlands or the smog-laden streets of London at the height of the industrial revolution. When Stevenson visited Samoa in the 1880s, it was love at first sight. He built a home for himself and his family in the middle of…

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