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Journal Entry 5
Kia Ora
Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The first thing that struck me about New Zealand as we flew into Auckland was how similar it was to the UK. The view of green rolling hills and farmland was reminiscent of the great English countryside. Coupled with this was my Mum, Dad and Grandma's arrival, who had flown out to join us for a 3 week holiday. Had it not been for the minature size of Auckland's international airport we could have mistaken it for Heathrow! It was great for me to see my family again after so long (if only for the 5* luxury that they very kindly treated us to - and boy did we appreciate it!) It was a shame that James (my bro) could not come out too - but then his emails suggest that he is having far too good a time at Uni anyway!

We soon learned that this February (normally the hottest summer month in NZ) had been the wettest February ever on record. Again...similarities with good old Blighty. In fact a few days prior to our arrival, parts of the north island had suffered severe floods. Having said this, we were fortunate enough to have missed most of the rain, however it was still a shock to the system after hot and humid Cairns.

We managed to fit in a great deal in our short 2 1/2 day stay in Auckland. Took a short ferry ride across to Devonport and tasted some kiwi wines at the Food and Wine Festival. Went up the Sky Tower for some spectacular views of the city. Bruno and I were tempted to jump from the top - a new form of adrenalin sport where after being suspended in mid air and dangled in front of the observation deck, you are dropped 200m to a target platform where you are slowed down just milliseconds before you think you're going to hit it. Unfortunately it was way too expensive but we enjoyed watching the look of terror on the faces of the richer folk!

Following Craig Doyle's recommendation on the Holiday Programme we had a delicious buffet style breakfast at the Hilton overlooking the harbour and docks (again - luxuries that we couldnt afford as humble backpackers).We had some delicious evening meals out and shared a memorable vodka cocktail (with family friends James and Sarah Woodrow) at a bar named Minus 5?. As the name suggests it is a vodka bar that is completely made out of ice....even the bar itself, the seats and the glasses you drink out of! Everyone is kitted out in eskimo style jackets, boots and mittens...a real 'ice-breaker' as it were!

In our rented people carrier, we then drove north to Paihia in the Bay of Islands, a pretty coastal area which boasts beautiful beaches and a scattering of islands. Made a short stop along the way at the town of Whangarei to see some magnificent waterfalls and taste some homemade fudge.

The best way to see the Bay of Islands is of course by boat, so we decided to book ourselves onto a dolphin watching tour so we could enjoy not just the coastal sites but also the sealife too. For me, this was an unforgettable experience. As the dolphins are wild, the company offers no guarantees that sightings will occur, however it must have been our lucky day as within 10 minutes of getting on the boat we were surrounded by approx a dozen pods of dolphins. They are awesome creatures to watch. So playful and energetic, jumping out of the water with elegant style, yet also very intelligent animals too. The boat was cleverly designed to allow people to lie on their fronts at the bow so that you are just centimetres away from the dolphins who love catching a ride with the boat. We were able to have eye contact with the dolphins for a good few seconds which was a humbling experience. Unfortunately we weren't able to swim with them as they had babies with them - but for me that is as good excuse as any to go again at some point in the future.

The following day we visited the Treaty House in Waitangi which is the site where the Maori chiefs signed the most important legal document in New Zealand's history in 1840 with the British. This was our first taster of the Maori culture, a truly fantastic people with a wealth of tradition. We were fascinated by their highly decorative war canoes named Waka which held 50 people. It is evident that racial difficulties still exist as the Maori population try to retain their traditions within a western world.