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Round the World 2005 - 3
New Zealand - March 25, 2005 - Auckland
My my my, what a difference! In three hours of fly I tumbled down from the land of eternal summer, where I lived in the last two months, in full, blustery autumn. Yesterday evening long strolling in Auckland, with shorts, t-shirt and sandals and it was, well, crisp! I changed a night with air conditioning almost always on, with one with a blanket, and happy to have it. And the sound of the waves out of my window (well, note really the LAST night, but so near to be able to remember it well) with the hum of traffic.
I think I’ll almost learn to hate these Kiwis. Out of pure and unadulterated envy. They live their normal lives, working, driving, with the problems almost all the people have in the world, and then they decide to take a vacation and in three hours of fly, and very cheaply being so near, they make the opposite journey and they jump in the land of eternal summer etc.
Anyway, anyway, grumbling apart. By now it’s in the open so I’ll plainly announce it.
I’ve booked the last remaining place for a live-aboard trip, from 2 to 7 April, to Three Kings Island, at the northernmost North of the North Island of New Zealand. A fabulous, wild place, the fame of it reaching even me, in Italy, on the opposite side of the World.
The targets should be mainly Marlin, and of course Tuna, and Yellowtails and Snappers throw in for the fun of it.
We’ll see. For now I plan to buy a backpack and to roam New Zealand before jumping aboard.
New Zealand - March 26, 2005 - Auckland
So, now I’m a tourist. Consequently, first thing, a stroll in Auckland centre city and the inevitable Sky Tower.
Then, the exciting (for me) National Maritime Museum.
With Maori canoes of all sizes, from the little ones for everyday use to the giant ones, used to reach New Zealand with all aboard to start a colonization.
And with a fascinating recollecting of all, and it’s much, connecting New Zealand to the Ocean.
Faces of whalers
New Zealand - March 27, 2005 - Auckland
Today, after a long session on the Internet to decide what to do and to appease my itching wandering feet, more tourism.
First, Kelly Tarlton’s Antartic Encounter and Underwater World. It was Easter, a lot of people around, and so I refused, after half an hour waiting for the entry, to wait more minutes to see the Antarctic and the penguins. Pity, because I’ve seen on the little map a room labelled Orcas. Even if I don’t believe there were really live orcas under there.
It was anyway interesting to visit a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut.
The big hit, anyway, was the Aquarium. With a transparent tunnel with fish swimming all over and around you.
And a somewhat lazy and curious BIG snapper, just on the other side of the glass, watching me with curiosity.
And then the Auckland Museum, beautiful and big, on a large grassy knob. Inside a lot of very interesting things. More than I can write and show here. Among other, a reconstruction of a classroom of more than a century ago (it’s really changed so much?), a fantastic science exhibition for every age of interested learners, the incredible reconstruction of a little town of the ‘800. And a lot of sadly cherished reminders of the wars in Europe.
New Zealand - March 28, 2005 - on the train
I resolve to go south. And with the train, almost 11 hours of journey to go to Palmerston North.
Why Palmerston? Because near there’re hills, where it’s possible to do some of the Walks New Zealand is rightly so proud of.
With more time I could have stopped at National Park, where there are incredible walks of two, three and more days but…
And why the train? Because I love the train. It gives you the time to see the land, slowly. With that perhaps absurd belief that going slowly permits you to earn the trip. Without that too easy flying-carpet-magic of the airplane. Looking at the people changing around you. Appreciating the trip.
And the trip is really wonderful. A lot of rainbows (rain? Always!). The trees in the highland impressive. And, sorry kiwis, billions of what a tourist it’s expecting form New Zealand: sheep. And cattle. And sometimes deer.
New Zealand - March 28, 2005 - Palmeston North
At Palmerston North I sleep in the Ann Keith’s B&B. It’s higly recommended. In a wonderful old villa. And look at the breakfast table! Home made jams...
New Zealand - March 29, 2005 - Palmeston North
This morning I rented a mountain bike, made with it almost 16 km of road between beautiful sleepy pastures and climbed the Manawatu Gorge Track, 3/4 hours walk.
I felt fit so, even with rain falling down, I stripped in shorts and t-short and run up the track with the backpack for almost one hour. Then the rain was too heavy, the foothold on the wet roots too treacherous, I did NOT want to sprain an ankle at two days from the Three Kings trip, and I stopped. I really have no idea where, in the course, I arrived. The track was way too heavy forested to permit to my GPS other than some scant peeks at the satellites, so I really have no idea. From the map they gave me at the information point probably almost to the end.
Then, under a heavy rain, I changed in warm dry layers of cloths and, leisurely, with the camera ready, now, I slowly went down.
Around the track a luscious, dark, heavy wonderful forest. With gigantic trees, palms, ferns everywhere. Magnificent!
New Zealand - March 30, 2005 - Wellington
I arrived yesterday night at Wellington, with a bus, for a change, in Wellington.
I discovered that the nickname "Windy Welly" is REALLY well earned!
It's more than twelwe hourws that's raining VERY hard, and the wind is relentless.
New Zealand - March 31, 2005 - Wellington
A day visiting Wellington. I know, it's way too little but this is the time I have...
Beautiful city, it's the capital city and it's easy to notice it. It has nice, old houses, nesteld between huge new palaces in a strange but compelling mixture.
But it was COLD! It was RAINING! It was WINDY!
In the day I remained there jumped inside two museums, just for being out of the weather. The first was the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. Interesting enough, with a lot of data on the old Wellington.
And then I plunged inside the colossal Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. Inside this gigantic building a very interesting exposition: Qui tutto bene – The Italians in New Zealand.
With stories, happy and not, sometime frankly moving, of Italians emigrated here.
And the necessary science exposition. As usual huge, splendidly presented and rich of any desirable information on the subject.
New Zealand - April 1, 2005 - Auckland
I'm back to Auckland after my short visit in Wellington.
Finally I'm again in the SUN! It's, if not really hot, not cold! Beautiful!
In the afternoon, after the fly from Wellington, a visit to Devonport, a soft, sleepy little town on the opposite side of the water. It has wonderful views of Auckland and a lot of ancient, Victorian, houses. If not for the sun, you'd expect Mary Poppins out of any door. Charming.
if seems I'm babbling (and probably it's true) it's because I'm not with my head on those things. It's because I'm waiting. Waiting for tomorrow to dawn.
Tomorrow I'll leave fo the trip to the Three Kings Islands, far north.
I do not want to say a thing.
I should be back April 7. See you after the trip,
New Zealand - April 2, 2005 - on the road to Three Kings
Today is the first day of the trip. The starting point for the group is at the Wildblue Shop, in Albany, 20 km from the downtown Auckland. From there we move to Mangonui, four hours drive to north.
Sleepy, really beautiful little hamlet. we arrive almost to the sunset.
Here we find our new home for the next five days.
The Cascade, a 54 ft twin 435 hp with solid Caterpillar engines.
BUT, just before boarding the vessel, arrives chugging to the wharf a smaller boat and, just there, under our noses in the low tide, a Marlin!
Once weighted it was a perfect (for us) 90 kg fish.
I’m absolutely sure that all of us, looking there with hungry eyes, were depicting that magnificence before us (and before our guns…).
Now, I'm, as I think a lot of fisherman in general and spearfishers also, a little prone to cabala and signs, hidden or not, of luck or un-luck.
And it jumps to my mind that EVERY TIME I arrived in a place, full of hope of finding a marlin there, I DID find a marlin waiting for me just arriving there.
As if some unknown marlin god would tantalize me, filling me with wild hopes – see, they are HERE, look at them, look how wonderful they are -, just to smash them to little pieces as I would later try to take one.
It happened EVERY TIME.
It happened in Venezuela and no marlin for me.
It happened also in Vava’u, in Tonga, and again no marlin for me.
And it happens again now, for the third time, here in New Zealand.
I start harbouring dire predictions on this trip…
Anyway we leave almost at night and we motor away for some hours before stopping in a little bay and sleeping there.
New Zealand - April 3, 2005 - Three Kings
Day number two. The weather is good and for tomorrow the forecast is even better.
We're all interested mostly in Marlin and so we start MARLIN fishing.
Long hours waiting for the Marlin to appear, cruising along the outer edges of the Pandora Bank, 28 nautical miles west of Cape Reinga and 42 nm from the place we slept.
With marvellous encounters along the way: a seal, lazing on the surface, just under a single hopeful seagull; a big sunfish, overtaken after a long chase swimming with the camera after him.
But no marlin sighting at all in the open Ocean
We arrive at the Three Kings group in the afternoon. There’s a lull after long hours of concentration: the arriving at a set and hoped for destination, the thought of changing targeted fish, here there are HUGE Yellowtail Kingfish, or, how they say here “kingie”.
And it’s NOW that the Marlin strikes!
Just under the hanging cliffs a lighting fast shape just under the surface, a brilliant flash of blue, no one there ready to jump under the water and in just seconds, in a midst of shouts, all is finished. Gone!
Anyway the sunset is phenomenal, with the sun just behind the outmost little island. And, in that great and full of surprise boat, this night we’ll have BBQ steaks!
New Zealand - April 4, 2005 - Three Kings
Day number three. Today the weather is perfect. The ocean surface absolutely flat, the sun shining. Magnificent. (As a personal remark: finally!)
Again Marlin chasing, back south for 16 nm to Pandora Bank.
From the top of the boat I’m idling about when I see some birds circling, then a dark patch under them. It’s a floating mass of kelp, a seaweed,. And, around, fast, colourful fish jumping: mahimahi or dolphin fish (Coriyhaena hippurus).
From what I see they’re not big so I remain from the top looking down to madly scrambling spearfishers jump into the water in an absolute mess and tangle of floats and floatlines.
It will be only some time later that they’ll tell me that the mahimahi, undoubtedly due to the cold water, are so rare that the biggest one taken today, of 7 and something kilos, could well be a new New Zealand record! From here the eagerness…
With no sighting at all in the entire day we return to sleep to Three Kings in a glorious afternoon.
New Zealand - April 5, 2005 - Three Kings
Day number four.
Very early in the morning we start diving from the boat, using the small inflatable dinghy as a ferry. Here there’re the famous kingfish, big yellowtails (Seriola lalandi – a Carangidae, strict cousin of amberjack) of Three Kings!
The water is green, and cold, it’s almost down to 18 degrees. The icy southern current that bathes New Zealand takes cold waters from around the Pole and pushes them up till here.
I select a little island on a pointv and, in the low dawn light, and I dive repeatedly inside a big school of bait fish, knotting itself in waves and lumps of blue little shapes. Sometimes, mixed between them, a larger shape, on another, straighter, route, the kingfish! Not really big ones but interesting.
I took one of 17.3 kilos (so said the scale on the boat).
Not really something to be proud of but it was my very first ever Yellowtail Kingfish.The others take nothing of exciting or bigger.
After a huge breakfast, even with fresh taken and cooked abalones, again Marlin fishing. We set off for the Kings Bank, 20 nm north from the islands. No marlin at all.
In the evening we start deep bottom (180 m) fishing with the lines and we take some interesting fish. The biggest a massive Hapuka (Polyprion oxygeneios) of 35 kg taken by Frank, my mate in the Marlin fishing.
Birds around were very interest about all this activity, even a proud big Albatross, just some metres from us.
New Zealand - April 6, 2005 - Three Kings
Day number five.
Again spearfishing at dawn. This time on a more serious basis. On the north side. All wanting giant kingfish.
I found it, a magnificent huge fish of probably more than forty kilos in a small school of 4-5, with a white scar on his back, just behind the dorsal fin. A shark perhaps? But I wandered away too far from the boat and they recall me back earlier.
The others have no luck either. Only one kingie, smaller than mine, out of rage and unhappiness I think, more than out of want of that fish.
Then we leave Three Kings islands and start south for the long way to home. We cruise again along the western edge of Pandora Bank, hoping always to see a marlin, but to no avail.
We sleep on the same place where we slept coming north, halfway from Mangonui.
Again bottom fishing at night and this time, snapper!
A little bird confused by the light stumble aboard but it’s saved, put in a dark place so he can become again accustomed to the night and away it fly!
New Zealand - April 7, 2005 - - Three Kings - Mangonui
Day number six. Last day.
Slowly going south, taking a long turn out in the ocean, 15, 20 miles from the coast, as an ultimate hope to find a marlin.
And we DID found a marlin this time. On the almost last shift.
A fin in the water, a fast grey shape, wild shouts, two divers jumping in the water, the adrenaline, I’m sure, high in them.
From the boat we do not see very well but Kerry dives and resurfaces with the gun uncharged. He DID fire!
But the floats we’re looking all at remain maddening placidly on the surface. No catch, the marlin went away.
End of the story. We arrived back in Mangonui in the afternoon, just in time for the last picture of the group. No marlin.
And when everyone is leaving, the almost more used words are “next time”… For them who live here!
You’re permitted three educated tries at my exact feelings at those words.
New Zealand - April 9, 2005 - Auckland
I'm back to Auckland, planning my next moves.
NOT something connected with spearfishing.
For some reason I do not want to look at the Ocean for some time...
New Zealand - April 10, 2005 - Auckland - Kaikoura
Today, after a couple of days of rest after the trip to north and studying, early in the morning, I leave for the South Island.
Ok, I lied. It was not true I didn’t want to see for some time the Ocean again.
My target is Kaikoura, where there’s the biggest trench on the floor of the Ocean in the south hemisphere.
It’s not only a somewhat abstract interest in Oceanography. There, attracted by the nutrients brought up by the deep cold waters, there’re Whales!
In the flight to Christchurch we have the sun almost directly behind us and we fly along a ghost shadow of our plane cloaked in a swirl of rainbow.
At the airport in few minutes I'm able to take a bus for Kaikoura and I arrive there in the first afternoon.
A short tour in the little town and I'm ready for tomorrow adventures. I sleep at the Albatross Backpacker Inn.
Owned by an ironic unruffled Australian that loves dogs. His little one, a white Chihuahua with long hair, under a hugely grinning blue whale, stares at you from books and postcards all around the city
New Zealand - April 11, 2005 - Kaikoura
I wake up very early, at dawn, and I roam unhurriedly for the empty streets.
It’s clear that the big business here are the marine mammals. Dolphins and seals are forever leaping from the roofs. Whales, sperm whales and orcas are grinning at you from every corner.
And, on the background but only geographically, magnificent mountains, with snow on their peaks in sharp contrast with the ocean under them and looming over it.
I take the very first trip with a boat for whale watching, at 7.15 am and, in the flat surface I’m lucky enough to see, at a short distance, a magnificent, huge, sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus).
At first it was only breathing, with his characteristic forward blow. Then, after a last huge inspiration that made him emerge a lot more, he dived, his gigantic tail curving in slow motion over the surface in a graceful, despite all his bulk, relaxed arc.
The sounder told us that under him there was more than 1200 m of water.
I don’t even want to START to tell you here all the thoughts that crossed my diver’s mind at that sight.
After that I’m so elated that I decide to stitch together several activities, a run-walk up and around the high cliffs at the end of Kaikoura peninsula, a stop at the lookout point on the very top of it and, above all, a long, serious visit to the fur seal colony over there.
You can see well the seals when there’s low tide and you can walk beside them lazing about and sleeping on the warm rocks and I was lucky enough to have at 12.45 the low tide.
So, shorts, backpack and I go running.
The seal colony it just on the road. You walk around the flats rocks trying to find the seals that, when they’ve dried their fur, are almost of the same colour of the ground.
But, learned the trick, and with a bit of wind it’s very easy to find them. The seals, ladies and gentlemen, stink! Three quarter of wet dog and a quarter of fish. Or the other way around.
Free not to believe it but I did really found three of them by nose , hidden in a rocky crevice out of the way.
The real problem is not to take pictures of them. It’s to take meaningful pictures of them. I mean, a seal while sleeps is more or less a heap of fur. You cannot obviously, out of respect for the animals, resting after long hours or days in the water, and, I’m sure, also warming themselves in the sun after the cold waters (and again my background as a diver helps me to understand well these things). You cannot, I was saying, shout to them till they rouse. You have to find them and wait till they twitch their nose, swirl they whiskers and awaken. Often to scratch. Sometimes then looking at you with sleepy mild curiosity, blinking.
Often, tilting their head back, as if they were still underwater and you were on the surface looking down.
New Zealand - April 14, 2005 - Christchurch
I'm now enjoying Christchurch, beautiful town of an aspect soo English. It’s not by chance. It was founded and built like that. In 1850 four ships full of Englishmen landed here and so Christchurch was born.
This morning I took the GONDOLA up to Mount Cavendish (500 m). And, surprise, a well know name welcomed me inside. Doppelmayr, from Austria built it. How many times around the European Alps I’ve seen this name in similar circumstances!
Be aware, they promise you spectacular pictures but you can't take them like they show you because there're a lot of poles in your way when you’re inside the balcony.
So I lost my patience and decided to climb a near mount to take REALLY beautiful pictures.
I took THAT route (red dots) and I climbed as far as those antennas you can see there, running whenever I was able to.
The pictures, you have to admit, are really stunning.
Then, back in the city, a long restful walk in the huge Botanic Gardens, already with yellow leaves storming all around at the least breath of wind and autumn flowers growing everywhere.
The Avon knots himself all around it and punting in this season is so romantic. Above all when it's another person sweating instead of you...
Tomorrow I have the fly back to Auckland. And the day after tomorrow I have the fly to Noumea, New Caledonia.
So, back to tropical Pacific and goodbye to New Zealand, magnificent country.