On the road.
We have had enough already with the airlines. Business class is torture for John. He can neither stretch his back nor his arms and suffers uncomfortably for hours in a stress position Dickhead Cheney would be proud of. When he leaves New Zealand next week he is flying to Amsterdam via Dubai on Etihad, a very long way to go, just so he can finally get a bed to stretch out in.
So we have decided to finish with a two day road trip, a very pleasant drive through beautiful countryside all the way down the North Island to Wellington. At last a chance to see the beauties of New Zealand and it is indeed beautiful, lovely green hillsides with dairy cows everywhere as we leave Auckland. Sev, my driver, regales me with stories of other comedians on the road. How Russell Brand fled from Hamilton, offering large sums of money to anyone who could get him out of there in a hurry. She points out a large hillside hotel where Leo Sayer stayed instead of having to stay in Hamilton and she pointedly makes a large detour around Hamilton itself so I don’t even have to set eyes on this dread place. Eddie Izzard insisted on visiting Hobbiton, which is the place where Peter Jackson shot much of the Hobbit, and Bill Bailey had a personal tour of his Wellington studios and a preview screening.
We stop for lunch at Cambridge, a pleasant little town with bookshops and antique shops. The Corner Deli is very nice so we eat outside and watch the people. It’s a lovely warm Easter Saturday and folks are out enjoying themselves. I am amused by a sign which offers The Oxford Store at Cambridge, and there are pleasant signs saying things like Shakespeare Street. “Ah but he doesn’t live there” says Sev ironically in those flat dry New Zealand tones.
I am very excited to be driven into the mountains as the road mounts and the timberland starts. We have left behind the green rolling hills and are following the course of the river Waikato, a magnificent stretch of waterway. Magnificent sunlight lights the mountains as we climb into huge forests of pine, and we could be in Scotland. The river breaks up into cascades and then amazingly on both sides steam rises straight out of the ground. We’re close to a very hot spot in the earth with hot muds, and mineral springs and baths. There are still quirky New Zealand things like a large sign saying Prawn Farm, where people are busy fishing for Prawns, but soon we enter a fairly large town and there before us is a magnificent lake, Lake Taupo. On first glance it is a little like Lake Tahoe, and indeed ahead of us three huge volcanoes are shrouded in cloud. Luckily by sunset the cloud has cleared and we can see them far away across this huge lake, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, caused by an enormous explosion of what was once the largest volcano, eighteen hundred years ago. The plume of smoke it sent up was so huge it was seen in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re talking Romans here. Now only the lake remains of the caldera, no one knows how deep it is, but there are hot spots of warm water in it, so it’s clearly coming up from beneath. People go swimming in these warm patches as the rest is ice melt. They ski here in the winter too, so the Tahoe resemblance is not that far out.
Lake Taupo looks to be a pleasant little holiday town, and is packed for the Easter weekend. We make our way to The Hilton, which is low rise and wooden faced and has magnificent views of the Lake, and of the mountains behind and was once The Terrace Hotel when this place was still really remote.
We are having a crew farewell dinner, as after the show Monday they’ll be breaking everything down and packing everything up to fly away to who knows where. This dinner starts at 6 with cocktails and I’m happy to say goes on till about 11.30. The crew is enormous and numbers over two people. Three with Simon. Conveniently one of the other two is an Australian also called Simon, but the third is alas not called Simon, but is also Australian, so he is called Surfer. Actually he is originally from the UK but has lived in Sydney long enough to complain about how the City is being spoiled by the new drinking laws, which do not permit you to have a single malt whiskey in any bar after midnight. It has to be diluted with a Coke or large amounts of water. These laws are spreading up to Queensland and is an attempt to control the alcoholic violence which is rife amongst young people. There were puzzling posters everywhere in Oz against the Coward Punch, which is apparently not a Rum Drink favoured by Noel Coward, but an extremely violent habit of some yahoos to cold cock people in bars without quarrel or warning.
No such problems in New Zealand it seems, although we have found the wine here very good. We assemble in the bar and everyone is in a good mood. John is smiling, and happily looking forward to the crucket, which is how they say it here. New Zealand are playing tonight so he is reasonably certain it will be on telly. But first, what to drink?
Wonderfully, Fawlty is on the wine list. There are several quotes from great people about wine in the wine menu book: Churchill, Napoleon, Playwrights and Philosophers but surprisingly also Basil Fawlty.
“I can certainly see you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.”
John is clearly rather chuffed by this. So far his experience of New Zealand is that apart from losing his virginity here in 1964, he only has a rubbish tip named after him. True that. Mount Cleese has a large sign on the Palmerston North Town Dump because an assistant of his posted a comment that “it was the suicide capital of the world.” They took umbrage and tomorrow I am headed off to see just how big a dump it is. I intend to surprise him on the last night of the show in Wellington with a photograph of me climbing Mount Cleese.
Fawlty is very popular here and a staggering major comes across to John, his eyes somewhat glazed and asks if he is in Fawlty Towers?
“No sir, you are in New Zealand” I said, but irony was lost on him.
The Barman almost passes out when he finally recognises John who escapes to his room to check everything an extremely confident hotel employee has informed him about the World Cup T20 with times when games are played, and even that they have been played. When he returns to the table he reports rather puzzled that almost every single piece of information is incorrect.
Anyway we select lots of fine wines and have an extremely fine dinner before John heads off to watch the crucket and we end up in the bar discussing the tour. There are offers to continue the Cleese Idle Tour and I have some ideas on how to improve it. It changes all the time and gets better and better says Simon. So yes you may speculate, and no I shall not reveal anything at all as we have no deal as yet. Tomorrow I’m setting off early in search of Mount Cleese, to become the first Python ever to climb it.