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Nomads Infusion

Auckland’s Finest!

“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more”

Ok… We had achieved a maximum level of relaxation in the Cook Islands. We were even able to hold onto a good part of it throughout our trip to Auckland. Then we found ourselves standing outside Nomads Infusion. We had originally thought it was a different hostel when we booked it, damn travel guides. Nomads Infusion? We rolled into a seven story hostel a block off Auckland’s Main drag Queen Street. Loud techno was blaring at the front desk when we checked in at 11:00 pm and there were a bunch of drunk 20 something’s running around like a scene out of animal house. I felt like we took off from a super laid back south pacific paradise and landed in a rave party at a cheesy disco. If you are familiar put yourself in a scene from SNL’s a night at the Roxy. If we were both still in college, mostly drunk, and trying to get laid it would have been great but tired and ready for bed it was no exactly what we were looking for. Oh well… Check out the advertisement for there chain of hostels.
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Posted by pmunson 14:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lodging Comments (1)

Auckland and the North Island

(not so) Warm weather and (the general lack of)Sunshine.

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We spent our first day in New Zealand Checking out Auckland, the City of Sails. We spent some time exploring some of the cities large parks and the museum that focuses on Maori Culture and South Pacific History. We also checked out the super trendy “K” road or Karangahape Rd. This was at one point the "red light district" but has since become a hip place of cafes and shopping, home to many uber cool thrift shops and 2nd hand stores. We were both able to find the jeans we had been craving for NZ’s cooler climate at the first thrifty we stopped at. After a trip to the harbor to admire the luxury sailboats and yachts we ended the day at a Brew Pub cheering on the All Whites, NZ football (soccer) team, to a victory that qualified them for the 2009 world cup in South Africa. Who knows, maybe we will see them again in Johannesburg!

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From Here on out we were in the campervan for our month in NZ. After a brief tutorial in the Cook Islands I was now thrown headfirst into downtown Auckland for my first few miles of driving on the left. It was a little herky jerky at first but I did a good job getting back downtown to pick up Meghan who was waiting with the bags. Getting put of Downtown proved to be more difficult than getting in as we had difficulty figuring out how to actually get on the highway. After a few wrong turns and a u-turn we were out and on our way. The biggest things for me about driving on the left is the stick (manual shift) being on the left but the indicator is still on the right. I can not tell you how may times I put the windshield wipers on when trying to signal and signaled when trying to turn on the wipers. Also the paint on the road is different. Sometimes the centerline is marked by a yellow line as it is in the states but most times it is just a white line so it is hard to determine if you are on a two way street or a one way road. Another thing about driving on the left that we caught onto in the city was looking the wrong way to check for oncoming traffic. Look left, then right!

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Once outside of Auckland the weather quickly deteriorated and spoiled our plans to tackle the Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National park. With the cold weather we decided to seek out a thermal hot spring to warm us up. . Most hot springs I have been to have been a hot spring mixing with river water in a hot pool area. Were we were the entire river was hot and was apparently fed by many springs. We arrived just as the a tour buss was leaving and had the entire place to ourselves.
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Our revised plan was to drive some remote back roads in search of the New Zealand Heartland. We are in the King Country. Land of green rolling hills and the setting for the Hobbits Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As we descended from the mountains of Tongoriro the sky’s open up to let the sunshine through and the temperature crept up to be tolerable. Our drive took us on seldom driven roads to the west coast and the Tasman Sea. Here we are treated to black sand beaches. Real black sand. Blacker than black and fine as powder. We stop at two beaches, the first down a sketchy steep dirt road that turns to sand at the bottom and the second at the end of a dirt road were a 300 meter tunnel cuts threw the steep hillside to a deserted black bay. Both places we had the beaches to ourselves or the few moments we stopped. After we had driven North up the coast we cut back to the east towards Waitomo along the Waikato river. This fertile valley was home to many farms and we were held up by a farmer driving sheep down the road. For a few moments we were surrounded by noisy sheep and barking sheep dogs as they surrounded the van and moved on. We see this all the time in CO but somehow in NZ, were the sheep outnumber the people 10 to 1, it seamed special.
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Anyyone for Spelunking? We went big and decided to do a day of caving in the famous Waitomo Glow worm caves. The trip we had booked was a tubing trip through one of the may caves in the area inhabited by the “glow worm” Turns out the glow worm is actually a maggot (larva) and the maggot creates a glow by burning off waste internally because it dose not have a butt (or Bum in Kiwi English!) to crap it out! We descended into the narrow cave by ducking are way down and into the earth. At first there was just a trickle of water at our feet but we could here the sound of a river raging in the distance. At first it was really a narrow opening into the earth and shortly there after it opened up to a large room were we all gathered ourselves together and went over some safety procedures. From here I was volunteered to lead the group through the cave at the guides request and the amount of water increased as we mad our way in further. Eventually we got to the point were we were waist deep and it was time to stick our butts into our tubes back up to the ledge of a small waterfall, and plunger into the pool below! From here on out we would be rafting. We moved in short segments to keep the group together. Sometimes the water was moving slowly and we had to make our way under shallow underpasses and tight corridors, Other times it was full on rapids and we were bouncing off the walls and cascading down the subterranean stream. We came to another waterfall after a little while that was much larger than the first. Probably 7-10 feet high and we needed to jump off of it to continue on down the river. As before we were instructed to back up to the waterfall, insert our butts into the tube, and take a leap of faith backwards into the darkness! What a rush!. Once were all back together in the pool below the waterfall it was time to link up, douse the lights, and slowly float a section were the glow worms were especially prevalent. This was like stargazing on a clear night far from any city lights. The ceiling of the cave twinkled with thousands of glow worms as we slowly floated from one cave to the next. Despite the adrenaline rush of the waterfall this was the real highlight for me. Or trip ended with a lights out game of find your way out of the cave on your own! Not to hard with the river guiding your way but still a lot of fun. We were all bumping into each other, getting wedged together in narrow sections of the cave, and splashing about not knowing where we were or who was around us. Finally the Light from the outside world started to glow at the end of the tunnel and we made out way out of the cave threw the jaws of stalactites descending from the ceiling into the river. What an amazing experience! (Photos borrowed from internet due to cameras and water not mixing, and well they didn't allow them)
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Next it was of to the sleepy surf town of Raglan. This town was featured in the 1960’s surf flick endless summer, a tale of adventurous surf bums chasing summer around the globe in their woody camper. As we descended onto the beach it seamed like the only thing that had changed was the woody being replaced by the Toyota campervans! Surfers lined the parking lot playing guitar and hanging out as others caught what has been said to be the longest left hand break in the world. Unfortunately no surfing for me as we did not have a lot of time before heading out to Auckland to catch our flight to Christchurch.
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Posted by pmunson 14:43 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

NZ - Top of the south Island

Christchurch to Able Tasman


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It was not that long after we landed in Christchurch that Meghan and I found ourselves in Jail. A penitentiary that was originally built in 1874 and decommissioned in 1999 had been remodeled into a backpackers hostel. The rooms were the original cells kited out with new floors and comfy beds. Somehow it did not feel creepy at all and was actually one of the cleanest and most well equipped hostels we have been in.

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Jailhouse accommodation

From here we picked up our “home on wheels “ We were surprised to find a slightly larger and generally nicer van waiting for us. Our plan for the South Island, which we figured out as we were pulling out of town, was to do a counterclockwise loop of the island.

Our first stop was the ocean side town of Kaikoura. The big attraction here is a picture perfect peninsula jutting out into the south pacific and backed by the snow covered peaks of the seaward Kaikoura range. This was our first glimpse of the NZ mountains we craved after the disappointing weather in the north island. Our road atlas quotes a 1936 National Geographic article saying “Here in an area approximately the size of Colorado are grouped the snow-mantled peaks of Switzerland, geysers of Yellowstone, Volcanic cones of Java and Japan, and the Lakes of Italy: the mineral springs of Czechoslovakia, the fjords of Norway, sea coasts of Maine and California, and waterfalls higher than Yosemite” So far NG is right on! The coast here certainly reminds me of Big Sur and the mountains are phenomenal rising over 7,500 feet almost right out of the ocean. Kaikoura is known as one of the few places were such tall mountains are so close to the ocean and here the ocean is prolific with whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, and albatross.
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Next, on to New Zealand’s Wine country and the small town of Renwick. We found a really nice hostel that allowed for campervans to park in their lot and use the facilities. It was owned and operated by an older couple who where 4th generation in the “village”. We felt well taken care of like staying with Grandma and Grandpa. We slowed things down and just lay around all afternoon and put off the wine tour by bicycle for the next day. We met a really nice couple from Holland and an Irishman and we stayed up late together drinking wine and enjoying good conversation.

Vino Anyone? We picked up our rental bikes around noon, a vast improvement from the bikes in Aitutaki, and headed out to sample the local wines. Marlborough Country is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and the vineyards produce mostly white wines. Really, the only red we found was a Pinot Noir. The wine was good and most of the wineries had free tastings. Each taste was small but after 8 or 10 it adds up and before long we were feeling buzzed, after lunch and some tastings of schnapps for desert we were back to the hostel for a mid afternoon nap.

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Moving on we visited the harbor town of Picton, were the ferries from the north island come. Then to a really winding road up one of the many peninsulas of the Marlboro Sounds to a sweet campsite on a cove. This was a good deal out of our way but we wanted to get ourselves in a good position to hike the Queen Charlotte Track the next day. The Queen Charlotte Track is immensely popular but most visitors only do the first few kilometers.
The Queen Charlotte Track, a 73 km track that runs along on of the many finger like peninsulas that makes up the Marlborough Sounds. A maze of Islands and land masses were the water seeps its way inland. This track can be done on foot or by bike with three to four nights. There are plenty of B&Bs and backpacker type places so it can be done without a tent or camping gear. This would make for a different type of multi day hiking experience but I think that I would probably prefer the seclusion of more remote hikes.

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On to Nelson and from what we read and saw we have this the Boulder of NZ! Next stop, old McDonalds Farm! This was a neat little campground/campervan park in an open field alongside a river with showers and a little outdoor kitchen area. It was the last stop at the end of the road that brought you to Able Tasman National Park. This was a nice enough place however a large school group was also camping and they were very loud. When I went to take a shower I stopped by the toilet, while reliving myself I heard one of the chaperones telling the kids they had exactly 10 minutes to get showered. Hearing this I did what I could to finish up quickly and made a run into an oncoming gang of little kids running madly to get one of the few showers. I immediately jumped into a full sprint to outrun the little buggers and got to the showers first. Only one little girl had enough head start and steam to beat me! As I showered little kids kept knocking and tugging at the shower stall door telling me I had only two minutes to shower thinking that I was part of their group!.

The next morning we set out on a independent two day Kayaking adventure along the coast. Sorry to be longwinded but I am just going to give you what I have in my journal:

11/25/09 - Abel Tasman Kayak, Day 1 We woke early to get to the Abel Tasman Base. The mornings routine would be to get outfitted for gear, go over the basics, and head to the water to demonstrate we were capable of paddling the kayak. They loaded all the boats as well as all of us into a two car train pulled by a farm tractor and pulled us out onto the long beach to the waters edge. It was a traffic jam of tractors pulling trailers coming in an out on the low tide sandbar.

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Once in the water I did have a few issues operating the ruder for some reason, but after we got out on our own I quickly had it all figured out. We returned to shore to wait for a water taxi to the drop off point from which we would paddle back. The boat ride was enjoyable and defiantly more than just a taxi ride. The driver was very personable and pointed out a blue penguin, brought us by the Island that was home to a protected seal colony, pointed out all the bays, and even brought us up alongside a sunfish? I had never herd of this fish before and in his 20 years there he had never seen one and was quite exited about it. From the drop off point we quickly set out in our fiberglass ocean kayak to the north, in the opposite direction of were we were heading, to Shag bay. After passing another blue penguin we arrived at two narrow channels leading into an inland lagoon only accessible at high tide. We carefully navigated the boat in and discovered a peaceful cove with crystal clear and perfectly still water. There is a good amount of exploring to do here and we paddle around for a little while before finding a female seal all alone in the protected waters. The seal swam about and continued to take up peculiar poses in the water and swimming quite awkwardly all around the boat and the lagoon. This was a special moment and we took time to stay and enjoy this magical place. From here we paddled out and across a channel to the Island were the protected seal colony was and found another little inlet that was packed with seals. There were a few big males swimming about and laying on the rocks, a female with a newborn pup, and a few more roughhousing (or having Sex) in and about the surf. From here more paddling took us back across the open sea to Mosquito bay were we would camp for the night. A small island centered in the middle of the bay was our backdrop to the open ocean and our camp was only a few feet of the shore. At first it appeared that we would only share this campsite with a few other campers but before to long a guided group of Speedo clad Germans came paddling in. The one upside of this was that the Guide was actually really cool and we spent a good portion of the evening chatting with her about NZ.
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Blue Penguin
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Shag Bay
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Fur Seal and Pup
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Anyone for some Escargot?
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Sunset from the cove we camped at.

11/26/09 Kayak Day 2 - We set out early in calm weather for the long paddle home. Today would be about three times longer than our previous day and we were exited to have the calm water. The winds slowly picked up till we got into a situation were I felt like we were getting blown out to see and for a moment I was a bit worried about the day to come. After a long hard paddle we pulled over to a crescent cove with a trail to an excellent overlook. We then tackled the “Mad Mile“. This section is apparently always windy and the longest stretch without a place to land. For us it was a lot nicer than the section leading up to it. The winds picked up again and it was back to big sea swells as we paddled around another bend trying to get to another empty beach to stop for lunch. We paddle out to another island that was “pest free” (no pesky possums or rabbits!) so lent it self to be a bird sanctuary. From here on, it was hard paddling for almost two hours before we got to the take out. We were both exhausted and covered in salt from the splashing waves when we got back. We learned that that many people had bailed out and either walked or took a water taxi back! All in all it was a great adventure and great to camp in NZ.
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Posted by pmunson 18:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The West Coast

Soggy Dreams of Postcard Peaks


View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

Ahh the Beautiful West Coast!
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The drive south from Westport to Hast pass has been said to be one of the top ten scenic drives in the world. We allowed 5 days to slowly make our way down the coast to fully soak it all in in all it’s glory. The northern west coast resembles Big Sur and the California coastline with powerful surf torturing the rocky coastline. The high snow caped peaks, including NZ’s highest, Mount Cook, hang out right over the ocean. Nowhere else on earth can glaciers of such size be found so close to the ocean as in Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier. Many excellent tracks make their way steeply inland including the Copland Track up to Welcome Flats were you can soak in thermal hot pools right outside a backcountry hut. You may think the pictures above are good enough to be postcards and, well, they are. The west coast lived up to its reputation of being cold and wet and the icy grip of rain clouds never let us admire these lofty peaks. Many hours spent in the damp van lead to an irresistible urgent to flee the west for better weather.
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Get Me Out of this Van!!!!
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Penguin Crossing! Penguins brave the rocky coast and the pounding surf to nest in the trees along this road. I guess they also take up residence under peoples homes.
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Rain - Fill in the lyrics to your favorite song about the rain.

We enjoyed ourselves despite the rain and followed the tourist train of coach busses and campervans into Punakaiki. At high tide with a swell just so the Pancake rocks come alive with numerous blow holes. The rocks are called pancakes due to there layered look. Apparently geologists don’t have a great explanation to the cause of the this rare formation. We timed our arrival at the park with high tide and were not disappointed.

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Pancake Rocks

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Pancake Rocks

Unable to shake the beaten path, not many roads to choose from. We followed the coast to Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. These glaciers are unique to their proximity to the coast and it was a bit surreal to walk through super lush temperate rain forest to huge masses of ice. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones with that idea and as we walked slowly in and out a people the view of Franz Joseph we had a first big taste of the number of tourists that visit this place each year. We must have arrived with the tour buses because the place was hopping. Glaciers I am sure are truly magnificent if one had the time, expertise and money to explore the ice, (their certainly were pricey tours) but viewing from afar they appear as a piles of dirty snow.
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Trail to overlook of Fox Glacier

Posted by pmunson 14:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Willy Wanaka and the Queenstown

Mmmmm…. Puzzling.


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Let the sun shine, let the sun shine, the sun shine.

Leaving the wet coast behind us we made it over Hast Pass after a night with our new friends the sand flies. Really, the sand flies in NZ are horrible. We descended into a whole new world of sunshine, dry clothes, and lots of big grins.

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NZ by sidecar? Sign us up!

Wanaka is the smaller more laid back version of the adrenaline packed Queenstown and was right up our alley. Wanaka was to Steamboat Springs as Queenstown was to Aspen or Vail. As soon as we pulled into town I knew I was going to like it here and wanted to set out on a big outside adventure. There was a hike right outside of town that I thought would stretch my legs that were suffering from campervan fever. Without much thought, food, or water I set out on what would turn out to be a climb of just under 4,000 feet straight up. Rays Peak treated me to some much needed exercise, great views of Lake Wanaka and Aspiring National park, and some extremely sore legs!

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I passed this guy on the climb and he admitted to carrying his bike for more than ½ of the climb.

Some of the people we met back on the Cook Islands had recommended a trip to puzzling world which is home to a giant maze, optical illusion rooms, and all things puzzling! Laugh all you want... we are dweebs on parade. This place was a ton of fun for kids of all ages. It just so happened that we had reunited with Matt and George that morning and they, being our first and only passengers, piled in the van and joined us for a day of fun. We got queasy in the optical illusion rooms that challenged your perseption, raced each other through the giant maze, and hung out in the game room trying to solve logic puzzles for a good part of the day.
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Giant Meghan and Mini me
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It looks empty but I think Matt may still be lost in the Maze!
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We spent three days in Wanaka before heading to Queenstown. Another steep and winding scenic road brought us up and over a pass before descending what I labeled as New Zealand’s mini Alp Duez (were is my road bike when I need it?) into Queenstown. Like Wanaka on speed Queenstown is an in your face outdoor adventure enthusiasts Valhalla. The downtown area is bustling with bars and restaurants (a local from Wanaka whom I played ultimate frisbee with told us something like 60 bars for a town of 10,000) and tour operators aplenty to take you bungee jumping, sky diving, jet boating, paragliding, abseiling, canyoning... you name it. This is were the almighty dollar goes to die. A loose credit card in this town would find itself striped of its magnetic stripe and laying naked in a loose ATM by dawn, totally spent. It was hard for us to refuse all the discounted marino wool products and adventure tours, but we persevered.
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The Remarkables as viewed from Queenstown
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Queenstown Sunset

We got tipped off that the weather forecast in the legendary Milford Sound, a place that gets 250 days of rain a year, was to be good for a few days so we decided skip out of Queenstown earlier than planned and drove to Milford Sound for an overnight (See our next posting). Disappointed about leaving QT early (although totally, completely worth it) we stayed another night after returning from Milford. This time we found a Department of Conservation Campsite by the lake and decided to head straight through town directly to our spot for the night.
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View of the Remarkables from the back of the van

We breezed out of Queenstown without much activity the next day. I had been telling myself that I wanted to do a bungee jump in NZ and Queenstown was the sight of the first commercial bungee jump and the only place in NZ (maybe the world?) that you could bungee jump over a river bridge with a water. It was Expensive, really expensive, and I decided to let it go. BUT! As fate would have it, our drive back to the west coast just so happened to pass right by the bridge. We could see it from the road and it was at that point I knew it was my destiny. Their was a queue of people on the bridge waiting to take the plunge. Some young, some old. One couple did a tandem bungee and two guys backed out after stepping up to the ledge. The pressure built while waiting on the bridge and then got more intense while being strapped in. I expected to get rigged up in some fancy harness that had been approved by 5 different safety experts but this was not the case. I did have a backup harness on but the primary device to keep all 180 pounds of me tethered to the rubber band was a towel, a small piece of nylon cord, and a Velcro strap. The guy who set me up simply wrapped the towel around my ankles, wound the nylon cord around the towel and then through my legs a few times, wrapped the Velcro strap around it all, and then clipped me into the bungee cord. Up on my feet and walking like a penguin to the edge I looked down 43 meters or 141 feet (not a huge drop but still intimidating). 3,2,1 and I jumped. At first it was all slow motion. I saw all of the river, turquoise and blue, cutting through the steep canyon walls below. Then suddenly I felt the speed of my decent and felt like I would hit the water way to fast and I immediately braced for impact. Before I knew it I gently touched the water, just like easing yourself into a pool, and as soon as I felt the cool embrace of the river I was back up in the air again this time swinging wildly up and down back and fourth. At one moment all I saw was the blue sky, then the rock walls, then the blue river. Over and over for what felt a lot longer than it really was. As my perception focused back in on the river and I got a feeling for were I was I recognized that I was being lowered to the recovery boat were hanging upside down I reached out to be pulled in and brought back to shore. Was it worth it? Hell Yeah it was worth it! Not sure if I would sell out a 2 day budget for a 60 second ride again but I am glad that I did it.
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Posted by pmunson 03:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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