As you may have inferred, this tale takes place in New Zealand, a land whose first European visitor was not Captain James Cook, as many of my compatriots smugly claim, but a Dutchman called Abel Tasman, whence the name New Zealand, which is based on the Zeeland region of the Netherlands.
Forgive me: I have slipped into the pedagogical and patronising. I shan’t do it again.
So here I am, bag in hand, at Auckland airport. No hotel or AirBnB for me this time, however. No, indeed! This time I would be ready residing in luxury chez Belcher.
Here I must introduce my cast: when I was in (yes, Corin Storkey, I am becoming one of the people who starts all sentences this way) Namibia, I had the good fortune to share a safari trip with a very friendly kiwi couple: Marc and Helen Belcher. As we said farewell, I told them of my plans to visit NZ and promised to contact them prior to my arrival. They had promised me a spare room if I did so.
I kept my promise and they kept theirs.
Their address was in Farm Cove, a quiet, leafy suburb to the east of the city. I was there with my finger on the doorbell quicker than you could say Uber Robinson.
I was greeted warmly by Marc and ushered into what, were it not for the delicious smells presaging the first of many wonderful meals, could well have been a show home. The smartness of the interior was matched only by the exquisite garden that Capability Belcher (Helen, in this case) had created.
Helen appeared, followed by the scent of rack of lamb, from the kitchen, and I was shown my room.
“Now I’ve got a few brochures to help you make the most of your time here”, said Helen, after I’d settled in and helped to remove all traces of the rack of lamb by hiding it in my grateful stomach.
She motioned to a sideboard almost hidden from view by pamphlets and tourist guides.
“Bloomin’ ‘eck, Helen! Are you planning on starting a tourist agency from home??”, I teased.
So we planned, and soon enough I had a list of visits to make in Auckland. Completely unbeknownst to me, whilst I was checking off this list, Marc was at home with brochures, telephone and an excel spreadsheet, drafting the itinerary to end all itineraries for my trip around the rest of the country.
The spreadsheet even had tabs!! (It has been amazing so I will publish it in a subsequent post, with Marc’s blessing, so that other travellers can benefit also.)
You may be getting the gist but, before I launch into my Auckland shenanigans, let me say here how immensely grateful I am to the Belchers for their help, hospitality and friendship: I wouldn’t have had half the fun I’ve had here in New Zealand were it not for them.
So, Auckland, yes, here’s what I got up to:
After some necessary camping equipment shopping on Queen Street, I made for the Toi o Tomaki Auckland Art Gallery. This little gem has plenty to keep the fan of contemporary interested, however, it was the exhibition of Gottfried Lindauer‘s portraits of Maori warriors and chiefs that fascinated me. That an “outsider” had been allowed such intimate access to the culture and had rendered his subjects so beautifully was really special.
When I had drunk my fill of culture and sophistication there was only one course of action open to me. Get on a shark minibus and go and chuckle at penguins. Obviously:
After a stroll along the viaduct in the afternoon sunshine, I took the ferry back to Farm Cove. Not a bad commute!
Marc being a member of a local golf course, he had promised to do his best to smuggle yours truly onto the course for a round. The plan was then that Helen would meet us at the course afterwards and we would head to the west coast for a bit of a ramble (not far from the setting for “The Piano” for those who remember it).
The golf course was idyllic. I have yet to ask Marc if he has been allowed to return after I sent a wayward drive over the trees on the right of the fairway, over the next fairway, over the road and onto the neatly mowed lawn of a terraced house. I thought taking a divot out of the lawn might be viewed dimly so I decided to pick up the ball and tiptoe away.
Helen joined us and, after a quick bite to eat, we headed West. As we arrived at the coast the wildness of the place struck me. No pristine bay with white sands and parasols; here the black sands – a reminder of New Zealand’s volcanic history – gave way to a maelstrom of wave and spray as ragged breakers pummeled the shoreline.
Tearing ourselves away from the mesmerising effects of the ocean, we headed inland for a walk or “tramp” in NZ parlance.
Nikau palms, silver ferns, pahuta kawas and cabbage trees leant in over the path, following our progress with leafy curiosity. Our route was a loop with the falls at the median point. Shampoo adverts must have insidiously infiltrated my subconscious because, on arrival, I thought it a good idea to cool off under the cascade of icy melt-water. My body vehemently disagreed with this assessment and I left the water as my pride dictated acceptable.
Some steep steps later and we found ourselves at the top of the waterfall with a very different view.
After a thank-you dinner, gripping a printout of the itinerary extraordinaire tightly in one hand, I waved the Belchers farewell with the other hand and headed to the car rental depot to begin my tour of the north island.