Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Two Fat Blokes and Friends - NZ revisited

We have reached the stage now where Greg and myself are fairly well known in the celebrity world. Our travel writing career is booming though our royalties from our books and CD's have not started rolling in yet so we are still short of funds and unable to pay off our credit cards from our last excursion.

People jealous of our fame keep suggesting we should put something back into the industry in view of the large amount of money we will make out of our travels. To this end we decided to help some less talented individuals and run a course teaching others about eating, travel, eating, photography, eating and journalism. And eating.

As we have not received our financial windfall that we so richly deserve, we decided to again visit the land of our recent success. New Zealand. Because it is cheap.

Besides Greg and myself, the class consisted of six others. Three gentleman and three ladies. It was quite obvious the three gentlemen had done some early training for the trip as they too were of ample girth. But the ladies were like rake handles, to use a phrase from my dear old Dad. Talk about skinny. Boy did they have lots to learn about the gourmet culture.

On the flight home from our last trip, I was reading articles to Greg out of the New Zealand paper to entertain him. One was about Great Barrier Island and I thought, beauty, Great Barrier Reef, which can be our next trip. But it turns out Great Barrier Island is a part of New Zealand. First it was Russell Crowe, then Kiwi Fruit and now one of our islands in the Great Barrier Reef. Next thing you know they will be sending apples to Australia.

It seems Great Barrier Island or "The Barrier" to the locals is eighty kilometres north east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf and is like New Zealand used to be before we snuck our soft, furry, cuddly little possums over there. Teach them for pinching our Kiwi Fruit.

We did our homework on the Island and then planned our adventures. Our chosen place to stay was a small house on a rural property in the vast metropolis of Okiwi which is in the northern part of the island and central to the tramping area and the pub. The house was called "Island Stay". Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining come lounge area and a lovely verandah to sit and chat. And eat. It even had a toilet and the best shower. Plenty of steaming hot water, gravity fed from a tank way up in the hills. It had so much pressure you could not even think while in the shower. Wasn’t fancy, but quiet and relaxing. Could even hear the booming surf at night. Nine out of ten for the house, eleven out of ten for the shower.


For our first lesson, Greg was going to teach the class about Tramping. This is imperative for travel writers with no money.

Our first trip was the Harataonga Coastal Track 21. The locals said we made a great first up choice as it was flat. Number one rule to our class was never believe a local. The Barkly Highway is flat, the Nullarbor Plain is flat. The Harataonga Coastal Track is not flat. Although after doing numerous other walks on Great Barrier Is (GBI), in retrospect, the Harataonga Coastal Track might just be a little bit flat.

Because the walk was over twelve kilometres long and following the coast we had to do a car shuffle and started walking early at 9am. Lovely walk on a formed but not necessarily cleared track, similar to some of the Lamington tracks only the trees have these real funny names which most educated Australian people could not pronounce. It did help having three plant people in the party. What is wrong with plain old fashioned “Gum Tree."

Beautiful ocean views and not many ups and downs as the track was an old bridle trail. Bet the women made a mess of their wedding dresses on that trail. Bugger if I know what they would be doing there in the first place. The end of the trail which was the southern end took us over a flat topped hill called a "Pa" which is a old Maori defensive fort. The trail ends at a camping area called Harataonga which is set on a large grassy area near some Mahoe trees, like big Moreton Bay Figs. To get back to the house we then had to do a reverse car shuffle. With twist, for extra points.

Every tramp in the wilderness centres around making correct decisions. You have to know the skills of the mountains and make decisions. You have to work with the rest of your party, experienced and new comers, and then make decisions. And so it was when we had to decide where we were going for dinner that evening. We had sent out an advance party to Cafe Motu, just a short walk up the road. The cafe does not open at night, serving breakfast, brunch or lunch but as soon as our members mentioned Greg and Lance, they willingly agreed to open up for dinner for us that evening. It was obvious our reputation as food connoisseurs had preceded us. Halema and David said they were low on supplies as the barge, with their order from Auckland, had not yet arrived but they would whip something up. Man, is she good with the whip and get your minds out of the gutter. We started with Mussel chowder as entree. Mains were Roast Lamb with potatoes, pumpkin, peas, and beans and as Greg and I were special, to soothe the welts on our backs we were given as desert, Raspberry Shortcake with ice cream and cream using her Grandmothers recipe. Cafe Motu Thurs to Sunday 9am to 4pm. Okiwi. Phone 4290002. If you want a group booking at night. Just inquire and mention Greg and Lance. Five Star.


Was to be our most challenging day, walking wise. The summit of Mt Hobson via the Kaiaraara Track. The party split into two leaving a car at either end of the track with Mt Hobson in the middle. The first party consisted of Ted, a friend of mine from the old bushwalking days and a member of the Redlands Bushies and Anne K from the BBW and QLD Bushies adding the beauty to the party. I joined in with this party to make sure they did not break into a run. We approached Mt Hobson from the Port Fitzroy end. I hope you are taking notes or all this information is available from the DOC Website, Great Barrier Island. NZ.

Absolutely beautiful walk following the creek up under a Manuka canopy in temperate rainforest and then a million formed steps to the summit. Dept. of Conservation ( DOC ) has done a tremendous job and must be congratulated.

The riff raff (other party) approached the peak from Aotea Rd via Windy Canyon, a much easier route but in the early morning light, very spectacular. Taking 2.5 hrs to do the 3.3 km. Both parties met on the summit for lunch and swapped keys and route for the return. A great days walk.

That evening we frequented the Port Fitzroy Boat Club with the classier people having champers and the standard slowly dropping to beer and then Coke. I had to drive otherwise I would have had double Sars. Deary, deary me.

By now the group was getting in the swing of things and you could see they were learning the things that they were being taught. The married couple, Ray and Jill were especially attentive to the extent they often practiced the sleeping in segment of the course that the master Greg had taught. Jill was our quiet one she would just sit and study our notes on eating and do her crosswords.

Ray. Well Ray you could hardly say was a quiet one. He was our walking encyclopaedia . Did you know that Norway gained independence from Sweden in 1905 or that the Spangled Mugwump only had two offspring, because the male would kick any others out of the nest because it practised zero population growth? Fascinating.


After a very strenuous two nights of eating, the team opted for a quiet day. It was not necessary to get up early at 8am like previous days as we were off to Glen Fern Sanctuary.

One of the class was Ann T. For somebody who wanted to learn about the culinary delights she just did not seem to fit in. She was into plants and birds and wet bath mats. If you want a vigorous discussion, ask her what she has against wet bath mats. Then step back, cower on the ground and protect you head. No suits or evening dresses for our Ann, she wore cheesecloth and kaftans and she had this constant rainbow glowing over her head. But she did try, while everybody was eating exotic cereals and mueslis for breakfast, she was cooking omelettes. Poor kid, she will eventually learn.

The trip to Glen Fern Sanctuary was special. It is on a peninsula of GBI that one resident and his neighbours have spent a fortune fencing off from the rest of the island and proceeded to eradicate all the pests. No rats, cats, pigs, stoats, possums and any thing else that the mainlanders so successfully breed.

This has the native wildlife to multiply and a large number of birds to return to the revegetated property. The tour costs $40 each for a 2hr tour, starting with a short explanation in a lecture room and then a drive in a Unimog to the top of the property near a lookout and then a guided walk back through the forest with a walking discussion on all the plant and bird life on the property. Our 2hr tour wandered into 3hrs and Helena our guide was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the property. Recommended.

The afternoon was my choice of the activities and was spent strolling down Whangapoua Beach. Sand hills on one side, surf on the other. No navigation problems, no worries, camera in hand. Needless to say, some of the cretins in the party were at the far end of the beach while Greg and myself were still only half way. At the end of the beach is a creek flowing out of a vast lagoon area full of bird life. Next trip to the island I intend to hire a canoe and have a leisurely paddle. To get back to the house it is necessary to wade across the shallow section and walk back along the road.

Somebody, in a Ray of hope, decided to wade across the deepest section at the mouth of the creek on a run out tide. Upon hearing this I rang information from my mobile for the phone number of the life savers. Did you know the life savers in Chile, South America do not have a phone connection.

Needless to say Ray and Jill survived.

That night some of the galloping gourmets were back at the Boat Club while Greg instructed the others in cooking spaghetti. Then much to his disgust was expected to eat it.

Another of our party was Kerry. While a very good walker and real easy to get along with, Kerry has a problem with heights. He even gets worried reading Playboy because of the exposure. Unfortunately, just prior to the trip he had a pushbike accident, shattered collarbone, bruised ribs and the biggest haematoma on his hip that you would ever want to see. It kind of looks like some of the desserts that Greg creates. As Kerry was walking along the track you would see him wince as he had to take a big step up or down. Just stretching the body past the comfortable. A real trouper. His cooking skills were nonexistent, although he excelled at eating. A very valuable member.


To compensate for yesterdays quiet day we decided to have a even quieter day. Our walk started from the Whangapara Road ( kindly refer to your maps that I know you all have in front of you as this gets complicated ) up the Forest Road, hooked a right into the Tramline Track and then another right down the Hot Springs Track. Or, if you’re technically minded North, East and then South. This took about 3hrs and was Ray and Jill’s choice as they wanted to visit the Hot Springs. Now I know most people think I tell a few fibs but something very strange happened. Greg went into the water. Remember Greg, he is the bloke who did not want to go to Kakadu in the Top End of the Northern Territory in July as the water is too cold. He is the bloke who did not want to walk along the Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs in case it rained and he got wet. And, if he was there, he would not have sunk with the Titanic because he does not like water. He even makes his cup of tea with dehydrated water.

Here he was wading into the hot springs and sitting in the water. I could not get to my camera fast enough. Now I don’t think anyone has ever seen Greg in water. It has just never happened.

So a group of stunned mullet silently walked the hour back to the other car on Whangapara Road. Admittedly the springs were hot water but still. Greg in water?.

That afternoon we visited one of the small settlements called Claris. Claris has two claims to fame. The Airport and the Claris Texas Cafe. There were hamburgers, pies, coffee and all sorts of things that the group gormandised on. While at the cafe, things were even better. (That was a joke. You know, airport, cafe.) Never mind. While the more discerning in the party, namely Greg and myself, satisfied ourselves with Lemon Syrup Coconut Cake and ice cream. Pure class.

Dinner again was at the Boat Club while others practiced their cooking skills under Greg's tuition.


From our house at Okiwi we could see a rocky outcrop high on the range behind us and Ted had a bee in his bonnet that it had to be visited. So just to stop his complaining that was our next trip. Coopers Castle.

And a good thing we listened as it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable walks of our trip. The track to Coopers Castle starts from the road over the saddle between Okiwi (pronounced O - Kiwi ) and Port Fitzroy. Leaving at 8.45am you walk up a ridge on what seems like a Lamington Track (often used but poorly maintained) through the rainforest out to this rocky outcrop called Coopers Castle. A beautiful view with a big drop below us. That was morning tea at eleven. From there we followed a track south to the Mt Hobson - Port Fitzroy track. Lunch was in a lovely rocky creek with flowing, crystal clear water and then back to Port Fitzroy car park at 2.15pm.

Once again we had a beautiful dinner at the Boat Club.

Something very profound was said on that trip. Now consider that after this trip we were off to do the Tongariro Circuit, which is a walk around a supposedly extinct volcano where all there is to look at is barren scree slopes of lava and rock, crater lakes, barren mountain peaks and not a tree, bush or blade of grass in sight.

Also consider that we had a group of greenie, tree hugging birdos who were always wandering along behind comparing leaves and bark "This leaf has rolled stipules and is alternate, is the domatia convex and the stipules opposite?"

You can imagine the conversation.

Well after walking along for days and putting up with this inane chatter. One of our fitter and more walking oriented made a comment.

"One good thing about the Tongariro Circuit". That was all that was said and I understood perfectly.

I promised I would not reveal who said that in case that person got busTED.


This was our final walking day. We decided to do the Kiwiriki Track. Once again we start from Port Fitzroy and walk past the turnoff to Kaiaraara Hut and on to Bush’s Beach and then following the west coast only slightly inland, up and over several ridges and crossing a couple of rocky creeks with crystal clear water. After 4hrs the track comes out at Maungapiko on the Forestry access road we were on during the Hot Springs walk. A short trip up to the Maungapiko Lookout and a late lunch at the turnoff. From here it is a vehicle track walk of 2km back to Port Fitzroy. Very similar to some of the forestry roads on Mt Glorious, crossing streams in beautiful rainforest.


As per usual, we were up bright and early. Well this day we were. One out of seven isn’t bad. Greg wanted to get more photos of Windy Canyon in the early morning light and we wanted to show Kerry the area as he was ailing on the day of that trip.

Having done that, some of us retired to the Cafe Motu for breakfast. As you do.

We had coffee and pancakes and berries and cream and - - - - - - - . Sorry, I got carried away.

On a trip like this it is the characters on the Island that makes it so interesting. Like the lady who sells the fuel at Claris carrying out a running discussion with her customers as they flit in and out. Like Kerstin and David of Island Stay . David goes for a surf when he feels like it but like in other small towns holds down four different jobs to keep busy. There is the lovely couple running Cafe Motu, Halema was helping DOC on various projects as well as being the a'la carte chef at the Cafe while Alan runs a small nursery supplying and planting trees for other rehabilitation projects and is the chief waiter and bottle was here at the cafe. One of my never to be forgotten memories is being served my pancakes by this gentleman dressed in his T-shirt, tartan board shorts and full length gum boots and the wild and woolliest hair do you will ever see. Looked like Einstein on valium. But nevertheless, highly entertaining and very knowledgeable about the Island and its flora and fauna. A real bushie.

You just have to slow down and talk to whoever takes your fancy. They all have a story.

The rest of the morning was pack and catch the ferry back to Auckland. Leaving the Island amongst a few light showers. The first rain of the trip.

The interesting thing about travelling in a group is their various outlooks on life. Jill and Ann for instance were always doing their crosswords when back at the house. Personally I find crosswords boring, but all the others joined in so it says something about the intelligence of the people in the party. I felt like a leprechaun in amongst a group of intellectual giants. Greg likes to read the paper. Ted was always looking at maps. Ray was discussing things with anyone who would discuss things back. Kerry just sat there and groaned from pain from his bike accident. Anne was the quiet one, she would toss in her two bobs worth and then blend in with the group and keep a low profile.

Me, I would just sit there and pretend I was asleep (except for when he was really asleep ed note) and take mental notes about everybody else.

The thing is everybody got along fine and I think they all had a great time.

Greg and I would like to thank everybody for your company and input to a most successful visit to Great Barrier Island.

There is something else. As a few of you know I have not been well, I visited a Surgeon before I left to go on this trip and I have to go into hospital to have a double operation. The Surgeon said he must first operate to remove my foot from my mouth so that he can get access to see why my tongue is stuck in my cheek.

Love Lance.