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 in January 2010. As the ship I’d be taking from New Zealand to Australia (in order to then reach country 195, Nauru) would not be leaving until the end of the month, why not eh?

We glided into Auckland harbour at around 10am. Perfect.

I took my leave from the good ship Southern Lily 2 and, after hopping on the courtesy bus to the port entrance, walked to the nearest backpackers. Happily, this was a journey of about 200 metres. Had a come from the airport, the same journey would have taken half an hour and cost $26 one way… on the bus! Considering all of the cargo ships I’ve been on so far have let me on for free, this is how to travel, kids!!

I spent the day re-familiarising myself with the city of Auckland, a place I have not been to for almost a decade. Very like Melbourne, I have to say, but I think I might just like it a leeeettle bit more. Don’t tell anyone 😉

After a blissfully sunny day, I met up with Captain Andriy. We would have one last night out on the tiles. Today was the day that the Costa Concordia sank, and so HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?!! dominated the conversation somewhat. With the amount of modern technology available to these large cruise ships, this was already looking like human error par excellence. Sonar, Radar, GPS, Collision Detection Systems… hitting ROCKS off the coast of ITALY?? Nah. What? Nah.

That captain is going down for some time for this, you bet your bottom dollar.

After experiencing the delights of The Occidental, an eye-wateringly expensive (but breathtakingly beautiful) Belgium beer bar, we opted for the Irish Pub: Father Ted’s. Oh yes. There is a Father Ted’s. Although, somewhat disappointingly, you can’t get tea and rollerblading is not allowed.

Somewhat less disappointing was the live band that played. After a few rather decent Beatles covers, I asked the barmaid where these guys were from. ‘Liverpool’ was her reply. ‘My Liverpool?’ I asked. ‘Yeah – Your Liverpool.’

Awesome!! Even better: the lead singer used to go to Bluecoat. My school. Here we are on the other side of the planet and I’m running into people who remember Mr. Hayes, Tittershill, Holt and all those nefarious reprobates who taught me nothing but the Dark Side of the Force.

Small, small world eh? Unlike Melbourne, Auckland stays open past midnight, so Captain Andriy and I made the most of it, there may have been a kebab involved at some point, but I’m pretty sure that those Burger King micro-burgers are the work of the devil. Goodbye, Captain Andriy. It’s been an absolute blast.

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 – when Mand came to meet me in Egypt in January 2010, we went to see the first Sherlock Holmes movie. Maybe we should make this some sort of tradition.

The next day we jumped on a ferry to explore Devonport on the other side of the bay, mounted Mount Victoria, a rather nice extinct volcano with a lovely view out over Auckland city, and then, for no other reason than it was being shown the oldest purpose-built cinema in the Southern Hemisphere, we went to see Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia at the Victoria Theatre. Urk. I hate Lars Von Trier at the best of times: a misogynistic goon whose idea of a film is to have horrible people do horrible things to each other for two hours and then for everyone to die at the end. Why you would want to waste your time watching this garbage is not for me to judge, but I’m nothing if not a well-informed critic: I don’t dis films I haven’t bothered to watch. With the exception of anything to do with Glee.

That night Mand and I stormed the pub quiz at Father Ted’s, coming one question away from beating quite literally everybody else in the pub. No prize for second place, unfortunately, but we managed to make the most of it before launching ourselves HEADFIRST into the sing-where-you’re-seated karaoke. Our rather unique version of Proud Mary (was that originally Credence or am I dreaming?) actually had people dancing. I even got asked to sing another song by a punter. A bit of a coup for Monsieur Tone Deaf here, maybe I should have been a rockstar after all.

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 doing their job. ‘We’ll come back in six months’ thought the bulldozers. But they were wrong. In those six months a fan campaign to save Hobbiton had built up such momentum that New Line Cinema thought ‘sod it’ and told the bulldozers to bugger off (much to the delight of the landowners, I’m sure). Soon enough, the Hobbiton set became a major tourist attraction.

Now when they started pre-production on The Hobbit, fingers were crossed that Peter Jackson and his posse would use the same location again, but, you know, beef it up a little, add some more Hobbit holes. And, sure enough, beef it up they did, raising the number of Hobbity dwellings from just over a dozen to over forty, as well as putting back the original door finishings (before all that remained of many of the homes were just white plyboard) AND replacing the fake old oak tree on top of Bag End with a new one that looks 60 years younger – complete with over 100,000 fake oak leaves stapled to the damn thing.

It’s that kind of attention to detail that sets Peter Jackson out from the hoi polloi. Could you imagine Brett Ratner going to such lengths for the sake of authenticity? Chris Columbus? Michael Bay? Joel Schumacher? Nah, you’re right: don’t be silly Graham. Ridley Scott would. And James Cameron. And Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton… bring it on fellas – death to the also-rans!

I would love to show you photos from Hobbiton, but we all had to sign a thing before we entered saying that we wouldn’t put any photos or footage up on the internet. As I know damn well that New Line would be happy to employ some poor schmuck whose job it is to spend his or her days trawling through Facebook accounts firing out CEASE AND DESIST notices every verse end, I have (wisely, I think) elected to keep my AWESOME content off the internet. The last thing I need is Freddie, Jason and the many killers from Scream coming after me.

But Hobbiton was nothing short of amazing. A must for anybody who is visiting New Zealand and/or alive. The bridge, pub and the mill on the Brandywine (actually a lake) look amazing (the waterwheel turns!), sadly, we weren’t allowed to stomp over there in our big size tens, something to do with the bridge not meeting some kind of government regulation for movie props. Mand and I got to pose outside Bag End as well as outside Sam’s big yellow door from the very end of the trilogy.

The only thing that made me sad was that the holes don’t actually have little Hobbit houses in them. That would have been great. And if you could go to the pub and buy some pipeweed (keep puffing that magic dragon Uncle Tolk!), that would be good too. But as it is, a living, breathing move set the size of a village, you ain’t going to find a finer example.

What is double awesome is that after your tour of the set, you inexplicably get to watch a guy shear a sheep. STRANGE BUT TRUE!! I guess it’s a New Zealand thing, like saying ‘sex’ instead of ‘six’, ‘tin’ instead of ‘ten’ and ‘swum’ instead of ‘swim’.

That night Mandy and I reached the city of Rotorua, famous for its hot mineral springs and powerful erupting geysers. The whole place smells of bad eggs from the sulphur, but you soon get used to it. We hired a little cabin in the local campsite and grabbed some yummy Chinese food for din-dins. I like this.

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 dispose of irritating enemies such as Justin Bieber. The naturally high mineral content of the springs meant the place was of great interest to the Victorians, who loved all this natural hippy remedy alternative medicine stuff. A few months ago I was approached by a girl selling Dead Sea Salt stuff in a shopping mall. She was quick in inform me that the stuff contained ‘only natural ingredients’ and ‘no chemicals whatsoever’.

I pointed out to her that Arsenic, Polonium, Mercury, Lead and Uranium were all 100% natural and things I would in no way like to rub on my skin and that one could probably find at least two chemicals in the NaCl that made the frikkin salt in the salts that little bit, um, salty in the first place. She acted as though nobody had ever thought to mention these most elementary properties of chemistry to her before. Or maybe they had, but so long as the pharmaceutical companies and snake oil salesmen keep banging on the natural = good, chemical = bad line, there’s going to be at least a few people that fall for the con. Well sod that, accost this ranga in a shopping mall and start spouting utter gibberish at him in order to sell an overpriced tub of mud and you should expect a good old fashioned verbal lashing. Same goes for you, vicar.


Sorry, I digress…

Mand and I tottered over to the Whakarewarewa, the ‘Living Thermal Village’. If you think Whakarewarewa is a bit of a mouthful, try the full name: Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, meaning ‘The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao’. Thankfully, the village name is often abbreviated to just ‘Whaka’ by locals (pronounced ‘Faka’). Whaka is a Maori settlement that’s been around for centuries, the people here living off the free energy provided by the hot springs dotted around the town. We were shown around the town by a lovely Maori lady called Sue.

One thing that I should point out here: there are next to no indigenous cultural experiences open to tourists visiting Australia. In fact, the massive difference in attitudes between the way the Maori and the white New Zealanders treat each other and the way the Aboriginals and white Australians treat each other could not be more pronounced if it climbed up to the top of a flag pole and danced the Charleston. I will return to this topic a little later on.

The tour around the village was great and ended with a free cultural dance show in which we got to experience the ancient and modern songs and rhythms of this particular neck of the woods, together with the Villager’s take on the modern Haka. All good stuff. I then wasted a good half an hour of my life standing there like a lemon with my cameras waiting for the big Geyser, Pohutu, to erupt. A German guy had been waiting for over an hour. A British girl called Loretta was going to miss her bus to Lake Taupo if she hung on any longer.

Ah, miss it. We’ll give you a lift, I say, being all cavalier: we’re heading to Lake Taupo this afternoon anyhoo.

New Zealand is actually an excellent place to hitch-hike around, by the way. It doesn’t seem to suffer from that creeping sense of paranoia that so afflicts the rest of the westernised world and, well, it’s a lot smaller than Australia or the US. If your hiker is boring, stupid or uninteresting, you can happily kick them out after an hour: they’ll invariably be at their destination by then.

Eventually Pohutu went pop, just in time for everybody who was waiting with baited breath to have just run out of battery power for their cameras. Grr!!

Oh well. Mand and I tottered off for some lunch having arranged to meet Loretta a little later on. After gallivanting around the beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL museum (around, mind you, we didn’t go in – it was too expensive) for a couple of hours, we checked out of Rotorua, dragging Loretta with us.

Along the way down to Lake Taupo we stopped off so the girls could have a dip in the confluence of a scorching hot thermal pool and a freezing cold mountain stream, the Goldilocks Zone, if you will. I didn’t partake in the activities since, like a Mogwai, it is unwise to get me wet, subject me to bright light or feed me after midnight. After a quick dip we piled back into the car and thundered down to Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in the bottom half of the planet.

We dropped Loretta off at the backpackers, but no ’orrible bunkbed nonsense for us: Mand had arranged to stay in a fancy spa resort, complete with luxury self catering cabins with a view out over the rather splendid lake. Ahh… I told you we were on holiday.

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 a TV show or a really good home movie. Mand explained what I was doing and the lady, Natalie, asked if we were hitting Wellington any time soon. Yeah – we’ll be there next Monday. Would you like us to show you around Miramar (the peninsular that Peter Jackson has his home, film studios and special effects company in). Hell yeah! We swapped details and told her we’d be in touch.

After our walk, we headed back to the resort for a private spa. The water is naturally so hot that you’re not allowed by law to stay in the spa for more than 15 minutes since there’s a good chance you’ll overheat or even die. Which is not a good look.

All this luxury…! I totally don’t deserve this, but I better start getting used to it: next week I leave New Zealand on the Sea Princess, a five star luxury liner, lightyears away from the floating nightmare that was the Shissiwani II.

The next day Mand and I visited the awesomely-named Craters of the Moon, just north of Lake Taupo. What started as a geothermic cock-up (the power station down the road caused the craters to appear in the 1960s) is now one of the top unnatural wonders of the world.

In the afternoon we jumped in our little car (which in hindsight we should have called ‘Bertie’) and headed towards MOOOOOOOORDOOOOOOR!! Well, the volcano south of Lake Taupo that doubles as Mount Doom in the movie. It was a spectacular day weatherwise, I wish we had realised how rare a spectacular day like this could be, I would have taken more photos of Mount Doom.

That night we stayed in a place called ‘National Park’ which is quite a clever name for a national park, I have to admit. The place we stayed in was not as luxurious as the Lake Taupo Resort, it was more of a base camp for backpackers, ramblers and ‘trampers’ (as they say in New Zealand) looking to scale the mighty volcanoes nearby.

Far too much like hard work for us lazy badgers, Mand and I elected to just do a one-hour waterfall walk the next day. We might have done more, but the weather turned and we found ourselves struggling to see through thick fog and valiantly attempting to fend off the drizzle with a little umbrella. We dried off the best we could and then and then headed over to what looked like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining… for a spot of high tea. No, seriously, high tea with cakes and scones and stuff. It was all incredibly posh, looking out of the wonderful 1920s glass windows at Mount Doom, growling at us through the fog. I could quite imagine Gandalf sitting there in this exquisite dining room, puffing away on his pipe and commanding The Eagles to go rescue Frodo and Sam from the erupting volcano out yonder. And The Eagles yes I mean the band wot sung ‘Hotel California’.

After our marvellous tea, it was back in the car and Welly Town here we come!!

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.

No relation to Nick.

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, eclipsing George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. Its CV is second to none: Lord of the Rings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, District 9, King Kong, Tin-Tin and the special effects bonanza that was Avatar. They even did some effects for the latest Indiana Jones movie: in your eye, Georgie Boy – that’s what you get for making those damn awful Star Wars prequels.

Fookin' Prawns!

Weta Cave is a film nerd’s paradise, the only problem is that it’s just too damn small! After playing with some of the props and watching a geek-tastic behind-the-scenes video, we give Natalie, the lady we met at the Huka Falls, a call. We met Natalie and her two daughters, Valentina and Sophia at the café the cast of the Lord of the Rings films where known to frequent. We looked around for Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellen, but they were sadly nowhere to be seen.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Natalie asked if we were up for an unofficial tour of Wellywood, to which the answer was a slightly more polite version of ‘f–k yeah!!’. First up: Sir Peter Jackson’s house, on the promenade drive just around the corner from the café. I was outside, as usual waving my camera around like a loon and talking into it as though I’m channelling the spirit of Steve Irwin when a rather tall chap called Sebastian from Wingnut Films appeared and asked me what the hell I was doing. Suddenly feeling rather sheepish, we explained that we were trying to find Mandy’s housemate’s mum’s house, which we were told was a couple of doors down from Peter Jackson’s house. This rather improbable explanation was (strangely enough) the truth: only what we didn’t know was that Matt Hounsell’s mum, Rachel, lived next door to the house where Peter Jackson grew up, half a mile down the road.

You’re not putting that on the internet are you? Asked Sebastian, somehow growing even taller. Nope – not allowed, as it happens. Copyright and all that jazz. Incidentally, I’m going to every country in the world without flying ISN’T THAT JUST RAD? Nah, I didn’t really use the word ‘rad’, but I did want to change the subject. I was worried he’d confiscate my tape – or ask to watch the footage, impossible as my camera’s touch screen controls haven’t worked since Papua New Guinea. Luckily, I don’t think he had the power to do confiscate tapes from annoying fanboys, and so Sebastian and I ended up having a good old natter about all things Hobbit. I found out that “PJ” is currently in the US for the Sundance Film Festival and that principle photography is scheduled to go on until about next August.

A house, yesterday. Nobody's in particular.

Eventually Sebastian let me go, perhaps sensing that I’m not Kathy Bates in Misery, that naughty little bird, and our impromptu tour continued with a trip to the Roxy Cinema, an Art Deco Movie Theatre built in the 1930s that until very recently housed some tatty old shops and a veterinarian’s. Luckily for the Roxy, Weta boss Richard Taylor and a couple of his buddies bought the place a few years ago and restored it to something way beyond its former glory… they turned it into what I can only describe as one of the most incredible, most beautiful and most ingenious cinemas in the world. Check out the ceiling…!

Eat your heart out, Sistine Chapel!
C'est Ne Pas De Photoshop

After falling in love with the Roxy (and doubling my determination to save and restore the old Futurist cinema in Liverpool), we headed round to Wingnut Studios, built from the abandoned factories and warehouses of Miramar’s industrial past. And there in the car park, poking out from behind the biggest greenscreen I’ve ever seen was quite possibly the Laketown set for the climax of the movie when that bloke what shoots the dragon shoots the dragon.

Something I would like to say about the adaptation of The Hobbit, I hope to hell that when Smaug The Dragon speaks (he’s going to be voiced by Martin Freeman’s auld mucka Benedict Cumberbatch) it’s done telepathically without his bloody mouth flapping about. There’s something resoundingly cartoonish about animals talking in films, and unless you’re making Kung-Fu Panda, it’s not something that needs to happen. How crap where the daemons in The Golden Compass? In fact, how crap was The Golden Compass? Just sayin’…

We climbed a hill covered in signs telling us not to take pictures and looked down over Peter Jackson’s little empire. Impressive. Most Impressive.

I own a little black book which has the words “Development Hell” daubed on the cover on in Tipp-Ex. Inside are over a hundred concepts and ideas for films, TV shows, expeditions, plays, musicals, advertising campaigns, monuments, pubs, cinemas, public transport, the United Nations and rocket ships to the moon. If only a fraction of that book ever becomes a reality, I’d have the money and the power to do something similar – but even better – to what Peter Jackson’s done here, but in Liverpool. Then us Brits can start making our own damn movies based on our own damn stories instead of waiting for Hollywood to do it for us. Watch this space…!

So then, we said our grateful goodbyes to Natalie, Valentina and Sofia and decided that it would be an idea to actually track down Hounsell’s mum, something that we actually did! And yes, she really did live next door to the house where Peter Jackson grew up. We enjoyed a cup of tea and sat on the balcony watching the people walk by. Almost every one of them worked for Peter Jackson in some way. Why don’t you ask if you could work for him? asked Natalie earlier in the day.

Because I want HIM to work for ME!!! was my hilarious reply. I was only half-joking.

Derek, Not Running, outside the house where Peter Jackson grew up.

After tea and a natter, Mand and I returned to Wellyton proper and enjoyed a tasty curry on Cuba Street. I like New Zealand. It can stay.

Day M119: Architecture’s Last Hurrah

Tue 24.01.12:

Up early and it was ta-ta Wellington (I’d be returning next week sans Mandy) and yey off to Napier! Napier is a seaside town on the east coast and was rather fortunate to be destroyed by an Earthquake in 1931. When I say fortunate, I don’t mean that earthquakes are a good thing, I just mean that if it had been destroyed in 1971 they would have re-built the city using disgusting blocks of concrete that wouldn’t look out of place on a WWII battlefield. Happily, the thirties were the decade of the last great hurrah of architecture (before they decided to embarrass and frustrate the hell out of future generations by not building anything beautiful ever again), Art Deco.

And so Napier is adorned with some of the finest examples of the movement this side of Miami. Yeah, I know it’s just dolled up concrete, but so’s the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool: it still looks totally kick-ass. IT IS POSSIBLE! For a architecture nazi like myself, I was in seventh heaven. WHY DON’T WE STILL BUILD STUFF LIKE THIS??!!! I cried to myself noisily in the street.

Why, Why, WHY???!!

So Mand and I spent a pleasant day skipping around Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the Southern Hemisphere.

In the evening we stuffed our faces with steaks from the Hogsbreath restaurant and then grabbed a couple of drinks in the local Irish pub. There’s ALWAYS an Irish pub.

Days M120-122: All Good Things

Wed 25.01.12 – Fri 27.01.12:

Mand was supposed to be joining me on my FREE cruise back to Australia, but she couldn’t get the time off work (I would have resigned, but hey) and so she had to fly back to Oz and leave me on my own to enjoy the luxury five-star treatment that the good folk at Carnival and Princess Cruises had lined up for me.

And so, with a heavy heart, I drove Mand back to Auckland airport. We hugged. We kissed. We said goodbye, a word that we use far too often. I’m as amazed as you are that Mandy puts up with me gallivanting around the world, but the farewell was made moderately sweeter by the fact I would be seeing her again in just two weeks time.

I dropped the car off and headed back to the Queen Street Backpackers (warmly recommended). In the evening I met up with Craig and Linda who write the Lonely Planet award winning travel blog Yes I will meet you if you send me a tweet! And then I surrendered my sanity and ended up in the World Backpackers nightclub watching a wet T-shirt competition. Really.

The next morning, hungover and smelling of last night’s kebab, I rucked up for an interview with ‘Up Close’, a current affairs show here in NZ. Here’s what we came up with:

Best interview so far by a mile. They spent an entire day with me. I just wish I didn’t look so chubbtastic. I’m planning to lose a couple of stone before I return to Liverpool. Anaemic Dysentery here I come!!

In the evening I decided to do a spot of CouchSurfing and so I met with Anna, the local CouchSurf ambassador. We had a great evening, a quiet one, hanging out with her mates and talking shop about the world and all the joy and wonder to be found within. Anna is one of those people, perhaps like you, that travels vicariously through other people’s adventures. But, probably like you, she intends on doing it herself once those awkward badgers life throws at you are sorted out and/or grown up.

The next day I had a couple more interviews to conduct (shoehorning the words ‘Princess Cruises are the best!’ in any which way) and thought it best to stay in the city for my last night in Auckland. The English Pub of Auckland (yes there is one!) is called ‘Spitting Feathers’ and is warmly, warmly recommended. I ended up dancing the night away in some place that I barely remember, abandoning myself to the whim of Bacchus.

Day M123: The Sea Princess

Sat 28.01.12:

So let’s go. The ship leaves today for Australia in a roundabout kinda way. Why the hell am I going back to Australia? I hear you cry. Simple really, the only ship that goes to Nauru leaves from Brisbane next month. After the P&O cruise last November, I made a few friends in Carnival, the guys who look after Princess, P&O, Costa, Cunard and all that lot in this neck of the wood, and asked them (nicely!) if they’d let me stowaway on one of their ships to Oz from NZ. To my delight (and surprise) they said yes, so long as I did some publicity for them along the way. I HEARTILY ENDORSE THIS PRODUCT AND/OR SERVICE.

As the Scarlett Lucy only goes to Nauru once a month and I had already missed the January sailing, why the hell not eh? For that matter, why not take a cruise that stops in at Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin along the way? I’m in no hurry. So long as I get to Brisbane by Feb 20 I’m quids in.

And so, in a nutshell, that’s how I managed to blag myself a free cruise. One that should have cost me thousands. Hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know…!

But before I was due onboard I had some old friends to catch up with. I don’t know if you remember Kerri and Andrew, but I certainly do. They were the wonderful yachtie couple that rescued me from Antigua all those years ago. Man, that was THREE YEARS AGO. THREE YEARS!! When I started this adventure I was 29. When I finish I’ll be 33. So. Frikkin. OLD!!!

Kerri and Andrew were in town for the Seafood Festival, and being a lover of all things seafood, I elected to join them for a few hours. It was great to catch up with some bona fide Odyssey Heroes (there’s a part of my website that’s WAY overdue for an update!). They left on the 3pm ferry back home, I ran to the Queen Street Backpackers, picked up my backpack and checked onto the incredibly large cruise ship just waiting for me in the port.

If you ever come to Auckland, come on a boat. Seriously, it’s walking distance to the city centre. The airport is MILES away!

And so I was allowed on board, dressed like a travelling clown, not only that but I was SPOILED. Like, seriously SPOILED. My room had champagne on ice, a free mini-bar and a bunch of flowers waiting for me. Damnit, why isn’t Mandy on board with me? The nameplate on the door said “Mr. Graham Hughes and TBC TBC Guest”. That could have been Mandy. Thinking about it, it could have been YOU.

I familiarised myself with the booze and, given my computer, old Dell Boy, had finally had the gonk, asked if I could perhaps borrow a laptop for a few hours. No problem, here you go, give it back when you leave. Seriously? Yes, seriously. And the internet? Normally charged at $2.75 a minute? Oh yeah, that’ll be free for you.

I almost burst into tears. Free cruise, free booze, free food, free internet, free laundry? Are you kidding? Life is sweet man, life is SWEET. I don’t care that I don’t own a house, a car, a telly or a coffee table. I don’t care that I’m never going to play for England or be a rock n’ roll star. I don’t care that I’ve earned less than £50,000 so far in my entire life put together. I don’t care that people have lined up to screw me over, use my unique abilities to line their greasy pockets. I don’t care that I’m never going to achieve all that I want to in life (there’s not enough time) RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW… I F—ING RULE!!


That night the ship pulled out of Auckland and I waved a fond farewell. But this would not be the last I’d see of New Zealand: the ship was due to visit Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin before I could kiss goodbye to this great southern island, country number 194 of The Odyssey Expedition. Do you know what country 36 was? Iceland. Country 131? Djibouti. Country 180? Brunei. We’re getting there, my fellow Odysseans, only SEVEN nations left now: Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan.


Days M124-126: Taumata-whakatangihangakoauauo-tamateaturipukakapikimaunga-horonukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

Sun 29.01.12 – Tue 31.01.12:

Sunday morning and The Sea Princess arrived in the rather lovely port of Tauranga (pronounced Toe-ronga). I had a bit of a mooch, watched some watersports that were going on down on the beach and thought about climbing up the volcano, then thought better of it.

The next day we ship pulled into Napier, allowing me to waste even more photons taking piccys of the rather awesome architecture. I also got to meet Bertie, Napier’s unofficial art deco ambassador and his awesome 1930s motor.

Bertie, The Art Deco Ambassador

That night we would be sailing past Mount Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, one of the longest place names in the world. I managed to get the Maori barmaid of the local Irish boozer to read it out for me, but I wouldn’t stand a chance. It means…

“The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

There’s actually a longer version of the name which is “Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-Tamatea-haumai-tawhiti-ure-haea-turi-pukaka-piki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-ki-tana-tahu”, which translates as “The hill of the flute playing by Tamatea — who was blown hither from afar, had a slit penis, grazed his knees climbing mountains, fell on the earth, and encircled the land — to his beloved.”

Don’t say I never teach ya nothin’.

Tuesday saw us return to Wellington, and I used the opportunity to meet up with Ian Barnes, an old friend of mine from back in my uni days in Manchester. It was great to catch up and find out what all our good chums and mortal enemies were up to there days. After talking politics for a few hours, I thought it might be a wheeze to visit the old Parliament Building here in Wellington, and I’m jolly glad I did, for the awful modern beehive thing is not the Parliament, it’s just for the Prime Minister and his crew. The actual Parliament building (behind the beehive) is as sexy as hell, bring it on baby.

As parliament was having a break I got to go into the actual debating chamber. It took a lot of mental will to not jump onto the speakers chair and scream ORDER ORDER!

That night we played a version of Jeopardy in the Vista Lounge. I teamed up with fellow cruiser Jane and her daughter Caitlin to storm the quiz by force. We amassed a stunning $18,500 worth of monopoly money and then, since we had got every question right so far, we gambled it all on the last question. We could have gambled nothing and still won, but for the sake of hilarity, we went all in. My fault, sorry. We lost the lot. The last question? What book holds the record for being the most stolen from public libraries?

The clue is in the question. The Guinness Book of Records. We put Lady Chatterly’s Lover.