Archives: 30th September 2001

Sunday 30th September 2001, Takapuna Beach NZ

We arrived at Goat Island Dive bright and early. John played it safe and was not diving today so that his gut might recover from its constriction in yesterday’s tight wetsuit. (Brigid is not complaining, as John has now done 2 more dives that her, and it gives her the chance to catch up.)

The little yellow cat is quite crowded as there are four other divers: Glen and his son, Scott; Peter and Jeff; also dive shop owner, Brian, and trainee Divemaster, Dion; 16 tanks of air; and all the rest of the gear … The intention is for three dives. Peter and Jeff can only stay for two.

While Brian, Jeff, Scott, Glenn, and Peter go off hunting crayfish, Dion takes Brigid ‘sightseeing’. After the weight problems of yesterday, she is given extra lead for her belt. Unfortunately, being a deeper dive, she now sinks like the proverbial stone, and wastes 70 bar of air, trying to achieve neutral buoyancy! John, is rather pleased to be left on the surface in charge of the boat (“I want one!”) and diver roster. Dion got rather a shock on contact with the water. He had forgotten to do up the zip on the back of his drysuit. (A drysuit should be just that. Dry. Most people wear shorts and a t-shirt under them.) John says he shot out of the water … almost quicker than he got in!

No crayfish were found on the first dive, and Brigid decided to keep John company on the boat, while the others poked about under rocks in a second attempt. Peter and Jeff were anxious to get away so, once they were out of the water, Brian started the boat. Dion, cold and wet, with water still swilling around his ankles, eventually surfaced to see us disappearing towards the shore. He was not having a good day.

We dropped the two guys off to hunt for ‘sea-eggs’ with the remains of their air, and returned to the open sea to collect poor Dion. In the end we put him ashore with the others, while we went back to look for scallops.

By now we were feeling hungry, having finished the supplies of custard creams and coffee. But what’s this? Dion has left his lunch behind – a whole chicken, complete with salad! There wasn’t much left of it by the time we had finished.

Soon we were back in the water and Brigid was introduced to the skills of scallop hunting. (If you are lucky, you see them closing their shells slightly as you approach.) Brian did his party trick of eating a raw scallop underwater. (Thanks, but I’d rather keep the reg in my mouth!) Back on the boat, the catch was carefully measured, and undersized scallops were thrown back. We ate a few raw … John wrinkling his nose in mock disgust!

Not wishing to bump into Luke again, we decided to head straight back to Auckland that night. We camped on Takapuna beach, and enjoyed a huge pizza and excellent bottle of New Zealand wine at the Red Dog café.

Saturday 29th September 2001, Goat Island Holiday Park NZ

We arrived at Goat Island Dive at 9am for our shore dive. It took a while to sort out the hire equipment, but at least it was all new and therefore in good condition. John was given a size 5 suit and Brigid was slightly alarmed to find she needed a size 16 (with a man’s top)! We were both given a seemingly excessive amount of weights, but this was explained as necessary because it was going to be a shallow dive. Brigid was even more alarmed to find that she could not do up the BCD over the weight-belt … (Fatso!).

When we arrived on the beach, the tide was out and there was quite a strong current running. After swimming for what seemed like an eternity, the water was no deeper, and John’s hernia had started to play up. After half an hour in the water, we gave up and swam back to shore. Dion, our guide, went back to the shop for the inflatable dinghy.

The second attempt off the dinghy was much more successful – though, despite the extra weight, Brigid faffed about at the surface, apparently unable to sink. Eventually, she swam down head first.

Amongst other things, we saw a yellow moray, a huge crayfish, lots of snapper, and a few blue cod. (You have to watch out for blue cod when you are diving. Apparently, they are in the habit of attacking their own reflection … in divers’ masks!)

Back in the boat, John is still in some discomfort from his hernia. He needs a size 6 suit. (Ah. The perils of vanity …)

We decided to cancel Luke for Sunday’s dive. It transpired that he used to work for Goat Island Dive, but used them purely in order to build up his own business. As soon as he had made the contacts he needed, he broke his contract and left – leaving Goat Island Dive with no qualified Divemaster or Instructor! (The staff there have since qualified.) With their boat now back in the water, Brian offered to take us out on a crayfish hunting expedition. How could we refuse? (In fact, Brian was being practical, rather than generous. He also planned to collect scallops. There is a strict quota for the number of legal-sized scallops that can be taken – the more people on the boat, the more scallops …)

We ate at the Leigh Saw Mill Café, and stayed in the Goat Island Holiday Park.

Friday 28th September 2001, Dargaville NZ

We had intended moving on early, but it was another lovely day, so we put the washing on, and walked up to the “Rainbow Warrior Memorial” overlooking the bay. By the time everything was dry and folded, it was 11am.

Today’s itinerary took us through the giant Kauri forests of the west coast. We took a slightly ‘scenic’ route around many unsealed roads, before eventually emerging onto the highway at Oponomi. The detour had cost us at least an hour. We stopped at the visitor centre to buy postcards and pick up some information on the Kauri trees.

The largest of the trees are estimated to be around 2,000 years old. The great Tane Mahuta tree is 17.7m tall and has a girth of 13.8m. Taking a picture of it involved Brigid hanging upside down over a fence in order to get some idea of the scale…which is why John might appear to be laughing in this photo!

We reached Dargaville by 6pm, and rang Cameron Smith. Brigid offered to share the cost of the petrol but when she came to pay, found that she had left her credit card in the dive shop at Matauri Bay. (Women! What did I tell you?!) We hastily rang the campsite shop. They found the card and agreed to post it to Cameron’s address in Rotorua.

We ate at the “Leigh by the Sea” bar/grill, where the duty manager, Anya Palmer, kindly said we could park in her driveway overnight. Over dinner, we bumped into Luke, a qualified PADI instructor in the process of setting up his own dive shop, and tentatively booked to dive with him on Sunday.

Thursday 27th September 2001, Matauri Bay NZ

We slept in until 9am. It was a beautiful day, so we just lazed around and read for most of the morning. (We also rang Goat Island Dive, as we realised we would not be back in time to dive with them tomorrow.) We used the campsite manager’s telephone line to set up iHug, our new ISP. (It took ages, and she got quite annoyed …)

We were booked to dive at 2.30pm, but Gary Gillbanks eventually turned up at 4pm due to ‘other commitments’. We then had to wait for another couple to arrive – by which time it was 4.30pm. Gary sorted out the hired gear, including 7mm wetsuits for us. (The water temperature was is about 16 degrees at this time of year. Too cold for our own 3mm suits.) We all climbed into his trailered boat, and were towed down to the water’s edge.

John and Gary pushed the boat into deeper water, and Gary fired up the twin outboard motors. Well, he would have done, but one of the batteries was flat … Back to the shore then, for a pair of jump leads. Soon we were on our way.

10 minutes out from shore, the other couple began to look nervously around for their weight-belts. Ah! Back to the shore again …

At last, with sunset fast approaching, we arrived at the dive site. This was to be Brigid’s first dive since the four compulsory Open Water ‘check-out’ dives in Hawaii, and the wreck lies at a depth of 25m.

Gary helped us into our gear, and, one-by-one, we inflated our BCDs, and rolled off the back of the boat into the cold water. Brigid’s inflator valve stuck open, which was not the best of starts and when, at last, she did make it into the water, she was less than impressed to be handed a pair of naff yellow and green gardening gloves to protect her hands. Her nerves were then tested to the limit by Gary’s helpful attempt to speed her descent. As she emptied the air from her BCD, she could feel something or somebody tugging her under. Attempting to free herself, she gave whatever it was an almighty kick. She re-surfaced, spluttering, followed by a rather embarrassed and apologetic Gary.

After the false start, the dive itself was fascinating. The wreck has quickly become home to a multitude of marine life. Giant crayfish lurk in one of the holds, and the original colours of the hull are now all but vanished under coral and weed. We swam through shoals of small fish into the bowels of the ship, where an air pocket allowed us to ‘surface’ and talk to each other, 25m underwater!

It was quite dark by the time we got back, so we ate the remains of last night’s spaghetti, and got an early night.

Wednesday 26th September 2001, Matauri Bay NZ

On our way back from dinner in Leigh, we had noticed a dive shop advertising Goat Island Marine Reserve. This came highly recommended in the Rough Guide, so we went back to book a dive for Friday. Goat Island Dive’s boat was out of the water for its annual service and survey, but they agreed to take us out on a shore dive.

Meanwhile we continued our trip north. We had heard that it was possible to dive the Rainbow Warrior wreck. (In 1985 the “Rainbow Warrior” belonged to Greenpeace, who were leading a crusade against the nuclear testing being carried out by the French on the Moruroa Atole, less than 5,000 kms from New Zealand’s northern coast, and nearly 19,000 kms from Paris. Greenpeace organised a flotilla of protest vessels, but on the eve of their departure from Auckland, the Rainbow Warrior was sabotaged and sunk by the French Secret Service. The ship was re-floated and towed up to Matauri Bay, where it was re-sunk to form an artificial reef.)

We stopped for lunch on the way in a car park in Whangarai. Brigid made sandwiches … but failed to lock the fridge door afterwards. About 100 yards down the road, the door burst open, giving John the fright of his life, and scattering the entire contents all over the floor of the van. Oops!

We organised our dive for the following day, through the Matauri Bay campsite shop. Luckily we had bought enough food for dinner, as we discovered that the nearest restaurant was also closed except at weekends at this time of year.

Tuesday 25th September 2001, Pakiri Beach NZ

We spent the morning shopping in Auckland, arranged for a new ISP, and visited an Internet café to let the folk back home know that we had arrived safely. Brigid was insistent on buying a small ‘cafetiere’ coffee-maker, rather than drink ‘instant’ (women – don’t you love ‘em!).

As it was getting on for lunchtime, and we now had a larder full of food, we decided to try and find a pleasant spot outside the City to make some sandwiches. Takapuna, a sheltered beach resort just north of Auckland, seemed to fit the bill. As we ate our ham and cheese subs, we thumbed through the Rough Guide. Rather than go back to Piha, we decided to drive on to Leigh where there was a recommended restaurant and campsite.

Leigh turned out to be a little bit further away than we anticipated, and the Saw Mill Café was closed during the week, out of season. Driving to the campsite at Pakiri Beach with dusk creeping up on us, we got our first taste of New Zealand’s many unsealed roads. At first we thought it was just a patch of unfinished roadworks. But after about 10 kms, it became clear that this road was never going to be finished. The most alarming things about these gravel roads, are that they are bumpy and uneven, and dip away sharply at the edges, the surface is corrugated on the bends, and they are sometimes extremely narrow, which, I might add, doesn’t seem to bother the locals a bit. They hurtle past in a cloud of dust, forcing unwitting tourists into the ditch. However, we soon got used to the symphony of pans and cutlery clattering in the back of the van.

We meant to ring the campsite at Piha, and tell them we wouldn’t be back for a few days … but, somehow, we never got round to it.

Monday 24th September 2001, Titirangi NZ

We arrived in Auckland around 7am. From the plane window New Zealand looked impossibly green and hilly. In fact, North Island looked as though someone had thrown off a great green blanket one morning, and just left it lying in a crumpled heap on the floor!

With no particular itinerary in mind, we studied the hotel brochures at the Information Desk. We enquired about campervan rental at the Maui desk, but found that they would not allow us to return it to Christchurch (on the South Island) when we flew out. For a while it looked as though we were going to have to hire a car. Then Brigid spotted a leaflet from (appropriately named) Britz, advertising camper hire at NZ$42 per day.

Bearing in mind that we were getting an exchange rate of NZ$3.40 to £1.00, this looked like a bargain. We gave them a ring. Yes, they did have a ‘Hi-Top’ (a 2-person camper), and yes, we could return it to Christchurch. Sorted. Their office? The Maui desk …

Within an hour we were driving into the city centre in a small, but immaculate, campervan, equipped with all the cooking utensils and linen we would need for 3 weeks. After stocking up with essential groceries (and some Immodium for John’s stomach), we headed out to Piha, a surfers’ beach on the west coast, which seemed the ideal spot to chill out for a couple of days before beginning our tour.

Piha might not have been the best choice for newcomers to New Zealand. The bay was undoubtedly scenic, but the only road in and out was extremely steep and twisty. In part we chose Piha because our guidebook suggested that it had Internet access. It didn’t, though the owner’s daughter did very kindly allow us to plug our modem into a spare telephone line. It was no good. AOL does not operate within New Zealand, so we would have to subscribe to another ISP.

Piha bearly qualified as a resort at all. It did have a general store and a Post Office, but both were closed. The main settlement was the campsite and, apart from a couple of public telephone boxes, that was it. It was about half an hour’s drive to the nearest restaurant in Titirangi. We ate at Toby’s Restaurant.

Sunday 23rd September 2001, Nadi Fiji

Neither of us slept much. John was up all night with a jippy tummy, presumably the result of a dodgy stir-fry dinner. The washing was still damp in the morning, so Brigid took it over to the hotel’s laundry and begged the use of their dryer.

We had intended to hire a car for the day, so that we could see some more of the island, and with this in mind we packed our bags. However, it soon became evident that John was in no fit state to go anywhere. So we arranged a late check out and hung around the bungalow for the day.

We eventually called a taxi for 7.30pm. Unfortunately, check-in didn’t start until 11.20pm, which meant that we were confined to an empty area of the terminal building for hours (due to increased security).

Our troubles didn’t stop there. Only when we presented ourselves at the check-in desk, did we discover that our ‘electronic’ visas for Australia – ordered and paid for back in April – had not been granted. It is a condition of entry to New Zealand, that foreign nationals have valid travel documents for onward travel. Without visas, our tickets were effectively invalid! We were livid with the Visa staff at the London office of Trailfinders. When nothing arrived in the post, we had deliberately checked with them on the status of the Australian visas, only to be told that, as they were issued electronically, we would not see any paperwork.

All was not lost, however. By some technological miracle, the check-in clerk was able to produce the required visas in ten minutes … despite it being 1.30am on Monday morning! Nadi is quite possibly the most boring airport terminal in the world, but we will say one thing, the Fijian people are some of the nicest.

Saturday 22nd September 2001, Tubakula Fiji

Brigid used the bungalow sink to do the laundry, after John found that the hut labelled “Guest Laundry” was only moderately better equipped – it contained two sinks! Needless to say, the moment the washing was hung out on the line, it started to rain.

There was nothing we could do about the washing, so we walked up to the Outrigger’s Sundowner Bar for a pizza.

There was one thing we felt we had to do before leaving Fiji with its coconut palms and white beaches. At his ‘leaving do’ back in March, one of John’s colleagues, Peter Crisp, presented him with a custom-made farewell card on which his head had been superimposed on a camera-toting body wearing a tropical shirt and straw hat, against a beach background. John was determined to outdo the card, by sending back a digital picture of himself, similarly dressed, on a real beach. He already had the shirt (chosen on the way back from dinner in Lahaina … and approved by Brigid and Mark Atilano …), but he needed a straw hat and (Brigid’s suggestion) a grass skirt! Since John also needed to cash some money, we caught the bus into Sigatoka for the third and last time.

It was Saturday, and most shops were just closing for the afternoon. In search of an Internet café, we crossed the bridge out of town. Suddenly, from behind us, we heard a heavy “clump”, followed by a metallic grating sound. We spun around just in time to see the wheel fall off (!) a small minibus (similar to the one we caught to Korulevu earlier in the week) carrying about 12 hefty Fijians.

As the wheel bounced away down the road we couldn’t help humming “The Dam Busters” theme to ourselves! Meanwhile the passengers climbed out of the van and left the driver scratching his head.

When we arrived back at Tubakula, it was still raining. As we were due to leave in the morning, we brought the washing in and hung it from every available protruding object in the bungalow.

Friday 21st September 2001, Tubakula Fiji

We were up with the larks (noisy Indian Minahs actually) for the diving today. In the event, Brigid was not feeling well enough to dive, but accompanied John on the boat. The boat turns out to be basic: a semi-rigid inflatable. But the outfit is competent.

Our resort is on the ‘Coral Coast’ of Viti Levu. The coastline is characterised by a permanent line of surf about 200 metres out to sea.

Between the surf and the beach is turquoise blue, warm, shallow water – ideal for snorkling. Beyond the surf, the coastline shelves away dramatically at a sheer wall of coral. It was this wall of coral that was to be the basis of both dives.

At a depth of 17m, the water was crystal clear, and the variety and colour of the coral was fabulous. As John ascended to shallower depths, the swell of the surf was more noticeable, but it was surprising how little it affected the multitude of fish living on the reef. As there were no facilities or shelter on the boat, John and the others spent their surface interval on the beach. By way of a snack, a crew member cut open a fresh fallen coconut and shared out the flesh: a pleasant change from custard creams!

The second dive was not quite as deep, and was a drift dive. The highlight of this dive was the sight of a vast turtle dozing as it clung to the coral wall.

Meanwhile, on the surface, Brigid chatted to the crew about the fortunes of the Fijian rugby team, while keeping an eye on the plumes of turquoise bubbles rising from the divers below … half hoping to catch a glimpse of John’s yellow-sleeved wetsuit in the clear water.

We ate a gourmet lunch of baked beans and eggs back at the bungalow, before paying another visit to Sigatoka market. That evening we followed the advice of our taxi driver, and ate prawn curry at a tiny Indian-run pizzeria on the beach. Over the speaker system, an Indian singer spoofed Eminem’s hit, “Stan”. We were laughing too much to get all the words, but the jist of the song went something like, “Woke up this morning, brushed my teeth … I felt quite numb … last night’s curry was burning my bum …” Priceless!