There’s three things I believe one needs to understand about New Zealand: (1) you’ll probably spend a day or more trying to learn how to say the name of the town you’re staying in, by which time you’ll probably be moving on, (2) any sense of scale goes straight out the window, and what looks to be a couple of kilometers around a lake ends up falling only slightly short of trekking from Rivendell to Mordor, and (3) the tourist industry has an extreme tendency towards the hyperbole, although this is countered by some genuine, stunning beauty.

We arrived in the North Island of New Zealand many weeks earlier than originally planned, having decided to exit South America and escape the stomach upsets. We didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts, arriving in Auckland in Winter, and finding that our hostel, supposedly one of the best rated, didn’t have heating because, “we don’t have heating in New Zealand.” We later found in the the next, exceedingly warm hostel, that this was of course utter rubbish, and the were just being cheap-skates. We took a boat ride out to Rangitoto, one of the islands just off the coast from Auckland, and were treated to some fantastic views looking back towards the city and further out to sea.

Rather than continue taking buses here, there, and everywhere, we opted for greater freedom and hired a car for touring around the North Island. Our first stop was Rotorua (which for some reason we kept saying in an Aussie accent; go on, try it for yourself), a town twinned with the Bog of Eternal Stench. OK, it wasn’t actually that bad, but when you’re next to extensive geothermal springs, one can’t help but be overcome by the smell of sulphur.

For our first adventure, we headed to the Waitomo glowworm caves for some black-water rafting. Despite the name, it’s nothing like white-water rafting. Instead, we were suited up with a fleece, wet-suit, booties and helmet, driven to the river, and given a rubber ring. Our first task was to practice jumping backwards into the river, with bum placed firmly in the ring, which made for a joyous introduction to the chilly Winter water. Next, we were taken to the cave system where we started our journey underground. It’s a shame we couldn’t get any photographs, but despite the cold water, it was a lot of fun, particularly floating in the darkness looking upwards at the glowworms in the cave ceiling.

On leaving Rotorua, we headed for Taupo via the Thermal Wonderland at Wai-O-Tapu. This also made for our first encounter with the moderate to excessive exaggeration employed by the local tourism board, best evidenced by Inferno Crater (pictured). I was hoping there would be all the multi-coloured pools as shown in the brochure, but I think there might have been a bit too much PhotoShop used in its making. Nevertheless, the pool with the orange rim was quite striking, and the mud pool put on quite an impressive display.

Having left the sulphurous smell behind, we arrived in Taupo where we took it a little easier for a day. We walked to the locally famous Haka Falls, certainly a force of nature which looked like it would be fun to go down in a white-water raft. Next, we headed to what is now a disused hydro-power station where the dams are opened once a day for entertainment. Yes, I know, this seems like odd entertainment, but it was something to do.

Continung south, we made for Mount Doom, for those of you familiar with the Lord of the Rings. It’s proper name is Mount Ngauruhoe, and it’s rather beautiful, so much so that I have a whole four photographs to show you of the mountain! We also saw a waterfall on the way back round which was being hit by the afternoon sun, producing a rainbow; very pretty indeed.

After Mount Doom came Napier, and I’m afraid I don’t have anything much to report about there. Ostensibly, we went so that Andy could visit a vinyard or two as it’s a key wine producing area, but with it being Winter, and apparently also because it was Monday, most of the vinyards were closed for the day. So, after getting some rest in Napier, we made our way back to Auckland, making a stop back at Rotarua for some Zorbing which neither of us had tried before. It’s a lot of fun, even if there’s the constant worry about getting hit in the face with an elbow. As it was, Andy came off worse as I was trying to get out of his way as he jumped in to the Zorb, and instead he jumped straight into my now very much in the way knee. Andy won the Zorb race though, so I guess all’s well and fair.

One of the biggest bonuses to bringing our flights to New Zealand forwards was that we were able to attend Gay Ski Week in Queenstown. Most of you probably know that I’m and experienced skier, even if I did go face-first into the slope in Switzerland four years ago. Andy was pretty much a newbie to the snow, and after much debate about whether to ski or board, opted for the former. I was impressed with the skiing in Queenstown, and certainly the first resort we went to, Cardrona, offered a great range of slopes. After a bit of a shaky afternoon out with a ski host who took us down various black runs, I decided to have a half-day lesson to sharpen my technique up, after which I felt well prepared to start throwing myself down anything and everything. Well, not quite, but I was able to make the most of the slopes we did go down.

Of course, it being Gay Ski Week, we got to spend time with lots and lots of gays, doing all the things gays do, like gay-themed pub quizzes, comedy, and cabaret. I skipped the kareoke and foam party, definitely not for me. Even better, we made some new friends who we’ll be seeing as we continue our adventures in New Zealand and Australia. It has to be said, folks are really friendly on this side of the world, which is refreshing when you’ve spent your entire adult life in London. I think I’ll quite miss the little things like smiles and “how are you’s?” when we leave.

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