friday 6th may
Started this week meaning to go to Gisbourne, a lovely surfing town on the most eastern cape of the north island. Packed up and left Auckland, with the 4x4 drivetrain starting to make funny noises.....
4 hours and a shitload of grinding later, we made an emergency diversion to Whakatane (Fa-ka-ta-ne), as it was clear something was severely wrong with the car. Came back later to find a small lake of oil underneath - shattered gearbox.
Told by the garage it would take 3 days - so we got down to the business of checking out Whakatane skatepark - a seriously lavish affair considering the size of the town. Unbelievably (for a town servicing only about 5000 people), this skatepark had lights, so the fun continued all through the day and into the night.
A figure-8 bowl with integrated driveway was complemented by a raised grindbox and a 4ft "nipple"(!) - all formed out of beautiful smooth concrete. The drop-in level formed a C-shape around one end of the park, and the sides being capped all round with solid metal coping. A bit of thought and care by the council has provided Whakatane with a great park - come on England, whats the problem?
A new gearbox and clutch fitted, time was pressing - so we returned to Auckland via Mt.Maunganui, a town of some repute en route.
We chilled on this surfing beach, but it soon became clear that there was a severe undertow, and the wind was whipping the surf into mist and spray. No suntan today then.
On a sadder note, we saw our trusty tour photographer Jen off from Auckland airport today! Jen is moving on, spending a week in Fiji (lucky bugger) where she will be working very hard on her tan and catching up on some serious chill-time.
Miss you already mate - but how the hell are we supposed to get decent tour photos now...?! ;o)
tuesday 10th may
Spent the last few days in Auckland, preparing to finally leave permanently and start our trip down the north island. The weather is now on the turn, and sunny Auckland is getting bloody cold at night - roll on the winter!
We have checked out 5 of the parks here: Mangere, Manakau, Browns Bay, Glenfield (AKA Marlborough) and Henderson. Parks differ in their quality - some have obviously been designed in consultation with the riders, whereas some appeared to have been dreamed up by someone who has only heard about skateparks.
The thing that stands out in all cases though, is the lengths to which the government has gone in order to provide recreational facilities to the public - very impressive.
The plan is to go east again, to a 14-odd foot vert ramp we saw in Mt.Maunganui - then to head south to Rotorua (geysers & sulphur atmosphere), then Taupo (geothermal area & natural hot-tubs), then see where the trail leads - eventually to wind up in Wellington, where we shall make our way to the south island...
sunday 15th may
Got up early in the morning to take photos of the "Wall of Letters" around the corner from the "Fat Camel" hostel, where we had been staying.
An entire side of the building had been plastered with letters from children and lovers - quite a haunting find.
Left Auckland after saying goodbye to our friends in the Fat Camel hostel, and drove straight to Mt.Maunganui, arriving just before sundown.
Checked out the wooden vert ramp, and stayed for a few hours during which time Andy made good use of the vert gap someone had seen fit to install...
We moved on to Rotorua, but found the skatepark to be a disappointment - the first poor park we have found in a large town, badly designed and basically wrong. Both Andy and I hurt myself here, so headed for some serious R&R in the thermal pools in the basement of our accommodation - the "Hot Rock" hostel.
Hot Rock was the hostel I stayed in last time I was in Rotorua, and seeing the hostel brought back good memories of my last travel here... The "Lava Bar" next door has always been party central, and this night was no exception, with the action continuing until 4.30am with our German roommates "Kevin" and "Jan".
Luging is one of the attractions available in Rotorua, at one end of town at the "Skyline" gondala station. A ride up the gondola brings you to the top of the mountain, from which a choice of 3 different luge tracks are offered - Slow, Intermediate, and Big Dipper.
Luging is a LOT of fun - close to the ground, the driver only has handlebars and a brake - leaning into a corner is essential, as crashing into a barrier at full tilt is NOT to be recommended (as Jan found out!).
Our crazy German friends turned out to be absolute nutters, obviously being raised on the Autobahn...!
Andy, Kevin, Jan & I moved onto Taupo, a little over an hour down the road. Taupo is also part of the thermally active part of the north island, so has its fair share of parks and attractions. We visited the "Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland" - a naturally-created area of coloured mineral springs, and geological formations caused by the deposits they leave behind.
From the silica-based Primrose Terraces, to the deep reds of the Champagne Pool, and the jade green waters of the Devils Bathtub, Wai-O-Tapu is one of the places visitors to this region are highly recommended to go to. See the images below...
Taupo skatepark is another concrete affair, a U-shaped creation building on 2 back-to-back bowls, with some hips, spines and launchboxes thrown in for good measure. This looked on paper to be one of the best-looking parks we had seen for a while, but when we turned up to actually skate it - it proved to be a very average affair containing nothing ground-breaking.
The biggest bonus about Taupo skatepark was its proximity to Taupo Spa Park, a (free!) hot water spring feeding a series of pools and waterfalls with steaming hot water.
Without doubt, it was the best way to rest and relax at the end of a hard days riding!
The last day in Taupo was the biggest adrenaline kick we have had in a while. One word - Skydiving!
Both Andy and I were virgins at this, so we decided to employ our German friends for extra-crazy antics! Turned out that Jan couldn't jump, so me, Kevin, and Andy went up...
Skydiving has to be one of the biggest rushed out there! Aside from torturing yourself before the flight, actually leaning out of a cramped fuselage at 12,000ft and feeling the gut-wrenching sensation of falling out into nothing is soon replaced by the most exhilarating feeling as you hit terminal velocity and fall 8000ft in 45 seconds! No words can describe this - just Do It!
Napier is the next stop on the tour - foam pit madness...
tuesday 24th may
Disaster! The day we set off for Napier, the weather turned and started pissing it down...Constant downpour meant that the skatepark in Napier was completely unuseable for the duration of our stay, sealing our chances of using the foampit.
After waiting 3 days to see if it would break, we headed on from Napier dismayed. The story was the same all along our route between Napier and Wellington - all outside parks. We bypassed Palmerston North, Masterton and Levin, all planned stops, and headed straight down to Wellington in the hope of finding some useable street - or indeed anything under cover.
Wellington proved to be short on street spots, but on our 3rd day the weather broke, and we headed over to first Porirua (north of Wellington) then Island Bay skatepark.
Porirua skatepark turned out to be a beautifully smooth concrete park, with a figure-8 shaped bowl (one half water-logged), perculiar half-nipple (nipple with top cut off), and driveway with rails. Clearing the nipple was the main session here, and a crappy landing could send you arse-over-tit....... as it did to Andy about an hour in!
Island Bay turned out to have a sodden wood halfpipe (absolutely useless), and a limited number of flatbank corners. The item of interest here was a split-level quarterpipe at the end of a long run-up, giving some good air. The ramps were not very step, so you had to kick back into the transition to safely land. Managed to get some good shots here...
The next day was back to rain, so after much deliberation, we decided to call it a day on the north island, and take the "Inter-Islander" ferry to the south - although not before Andy discovered that his camera was missing, taking our Wellington images with it.
Catching the 3-hour ferry dropped us off in Picton, from where we moved down to Christchurch (the largest city on the south island) via Kaikoura, a whale-watching town. I had been to Kaikoura before on my previous trip, and returning there brought back memories from the last trip, especially seeing the backpackers and memorial walk (with whalebone -archway walk) unchanged.
The rain let up again on our 2nd day in Christchurch, so we set about checking the local parks. Washington Park is the largest park here, just outside of the city centre. With a full complement of rails and flatbanks, it provided skating right up till late at night, thanks to the parks overhead lighting.
We also skated St.Albans - 2 small back-to-back halfpipes - and Jelly Park, a more conventional layout, where there was a big air quarterpipe setup. All the riders took the same line around the park - very unusual between disciplines.
Due to continuing shite weather, we are going to leave Christchurch for Wanaka - stopping halfway at a friends in Twizel, the nearest large town to Mt.Cook (one of the south islands premier skiing areas).
Figure it's better to arrive early in Wanaka than waste time elsewhere waiting to skate.....