New Zealand Holiday 2008/9

FRIDAY, 23 JANUARY 2009

Day 26 Christchurch to Home

Glad you liked the Banks Peninsula photos yesterday. As far as we know it doesn’t flood as it is tidal, so you will be safe in your lovely properties.

We managed to have a pretty lazy last day in and around Christchurch. We went to the jeweller 1st thing, but unfortunately our rings weren’t in as the courier hadn’t arrived on time in Auckland, so they couldn’t turn the castings around to get them to the jeweller today. They will be sent on to us; hopefully we will have them in the next 2 weeks.

We decided to go to visit Christchurch’s gondola. We were hoping that it might be cooler higher up as the forecast was for 30dC. The views were nice from the top. We went on a time tunnel experience whilst at the gondola, which was included in the ticket price. Just as well as it was very poor. It was advertised as the making of Banks Peninsula, but that particular element consisted of about 10 seconds of the fact that volcanic activity had formed the peninsula. The Maoris got equally short shrift; 1 tiny mention that they had arrived 1000 years ago. Then the next slide was the 1850s and the European settlers arriving!

After that, we hit central Christchurch and were tourists for the afternoon. We were glad we did as we both ended up liking Christchurch a lot more as a result. We tried to minimise the amount of walking we did as it was very hot, so we took the tourist tram and hopped on and off at a few stops. We visited the cathedral, the Botanic Gardens and Victoria Square. The latter is home to a busking event this weekend, so we briefly watched a young girl doing acrobatics and a guy doing tricks. (Busking is street performance in NZ.)

Our final stop was Hagley Park where we wandered around in the shade of many lovely trees. It was very beautifully planted and a very relaxing way to end our holiday.

We are now at Christchurch airport, very unimpressed with the check in system. We were told to go to the domestic terminal, which we double checked as it sounded odd. At domestic departures, we were told to go to international departures! Anyway, we are now in the right place and waiting to board the plane to Auckland. This is, officially and very sadly, the end of the most wonderful holiday, so we are signing off now. Before we go, we just wanted to say a huge thank you to you all for your contributions over the weeks; they really have added to our enjoyment of NZ. We hope you have enjoyed commenting too.

See you in the UK!

Day 25, Kaikoura to Christchurch

It was feeling hot by the time we left Kaikoura at 9.20, so we weren’t surprised to reach 30dC this afternoon. Thankfully, Christchurch itself is 25dC which feels almost pleasant after 30dC.

We enjoyed another gorgeous breakfast, this time with some Americans. They told us the inauguration ceremony had been very moving and other than that we just chatted. Trevor and Polly will no doubt be delighted to have you live in their house. They have a vague plan to sell in 5 years if that suits you.
Oh, and before we go any further, Paua is pronounced Pow-a, with the final a being very soft. House prices around here (i.e. Merivale in Christchurch) seem to range from about 400,000 to 850,000 dollars. We couldn’t find one in Beverley St to give a price on.
We have visited Banks Peninsula today, which is out to the south east of Christchurch. It is apparently where the city folk go at weekends. It is very lovely – another pretty place in NZ! We stopped at a place called Little River for lunch. It has a fab cafe with loads of choices of savoury and sweet goodies, and a gallery next door selling jewellery, sculpture and paintings. We managed to resist any purchases today. Our next stop was at Barry’s Bay cheeses where we saw cheese being made and CJ thinks he offended the lady behind the counter because he asked what was in their cheddar to call it cheddar. It was a perfectly innocent question about what characteristics cheddar might have wherever it hails from, but she just said ‘I don’t think anyone’s going to come halfway round the world to tell us we can’t call our cheese cheddar’!
On again and our final destination on the peninsula was Akaroa, a very scenic town on a lake which eventually links into the Pacific. It was where the French came to settle, believing they had bought the peninsula for themselves, and has kept many French street names and signs. Unfortunately for the French, the Brits arrived in the area 6 days before the 1st French boat arrived with settlers on board and the Brits laid claim to the whole of NZ! That didn’t put the French off and they decided to stay anyway, which meant that they were amongst the 1st to come under british sovereignty in NZ.
There’s a little beach and it was packed with children and families. We settled for a stroll and an ice cream, plus taking photos. There were loads of properties for sale on the peninsula, roughly in the half million range if you’re thinking about buying there.
We drove what was called the tourist route on the way back to Christchurch.  It’s basically the summit route over the peninsula’s mountains and very beautiful, as you’ll see from the photos. It’s also very windy and full of precipices, so you need to keep your wits about you when driving.
We managed to negotiate our way to the B&B and had pre-dinner drinks with our hosts and a pair of newly landed, bleary-eyed Brits. We then went for a small, quick Thai meal across the road from the B&B and we’re now back for depressing things like packing and checking we have everything we need to get us home. We are having some of your lovely whisky, Sue & Jobes, to deaden the depression.
Still, we have 1 day of holiday left and we plan to make the most of it. Off to a good start by collecting our rings in the morning!

WEDNESDAY, 21 JANUARY 2009

Day 24, Kaikoura

We awoke to glorious blue skies this morning, so took a few photos to show you the view from our B&B window. The mountains were shrouded in cloud last night, but you can see them well today. Trevor, our B&B host, says they look even better in winter when they are covered in snow.

Breakfast was gorgeous – again – lots of lovely fresh fruit, fruit juice, homemade muffins packed full of berries, waffles with fruit, maple syrup and cream (for CJ) and fruit and cinnamon bread plus tea and coffee. Wonderful.
In case you missed the comment yesterday, Miharotia means to wonder at or be admired in Maori. Trevor chose the name and we think it is very apt.
Although the B&B makes good money, Trevor’s main occupation is as an Aberlone fisherman. All his catch goes to the Far East. Polly works part-time as a nurse aide at the local hospital.
The sea looked as flat as it was possible to look so we were hopeful for the whale watch trip and we weren’t disappointed. We seemed to get off lightly with the speech about rough seas and sea sickness, so it must have been very calm. We were welcomed onto the boat by Fraser, from Hendon, who was our whale spotter for the trip.
We had to be seated as the captain heads out to the deep sea and a young man with appalling grammar gave us the lowdown on where we were heading for – the Kaikoura Canyon where the sea becomes over 1000 metres, having been up to 600 metres prior to the canyon’s starting point. The short info films he showed were excellent and we temporarily learned a lot about the seas here and the different marine life they see. No doubt we will have forgotten just about everything tomorrow.
We were lucky enough to see 6 sperm whales and were told that the surface area we could see is only 10% of the whale’s body mass. Most of the whales were on their own, but we saw 2 swimming together. They were all males – the females stick to warmer waters in places like New Guinea and Samoa. We got pretty close; far enough away to give the whales space but close enough for us to get good views of the immense creatures. CJ did sterling work trying to capture the whales on camera and to get the all important tail shot as they dived.
We also saw lots of albatrosses. It’s only when you see them sitting on the water that you can really see how huge they are. A very enjoyable journey.
After lunch, we went for a short drive to see yet more seals. They were mostly being pretty lazy, but the pups were swimming and playing in rock pools. We then decided it was time for a walk and did some of the cliff top walk around Kaikoura’s coast. Very pretty. We decided to come back via the low path at sea level which meant going close to the edge of a bird colony. There were some young birds still around, but they seemed quite happy to have us walk past them. We were a bit surprised to see 1 goose by itself.
 All was going well until we disturbed a sleepy seal. He was a bit put out that we had come upon him (he was about 5 feet away) and gave a bit of  a bark. We moved back to give him space and he moved to the sea, allowing us to carry on. We felt a bit bad making him feel he had to move as he was there 1st. It was a lovely walk and just the right weather as the wind has got up a bit this afternoon. It would have been too hot to do without a sea breeze to help.
We ate at a Thai restaurant in town tonight. The meal was not bad, but couldn’t compare to Laicram.
Back to Christchurch tomorrow. End of the holiday is looming now. We have a tradition of choosing best bits of our holidays and thought you might like to join in with choosing your best view/place from our holiday snaps. It would be very interesting to see if your opinions match ours. Save doing it until we get back, just in case we visit somewhere outstanding in the next couple of days.

TUESDAY, 20 JANUARY 2009

Day 23, Christchurch to Kaikoura

We met more Brits from Gloucester at breakfast today. They had just come from the B&B in Kaikoura that we were heading for and were very complimentary about it, so that boded well. Our hosts presented us with a bottle of bubbly as a wedding congratulations gift – how nice. CJ is telling just about everyone we meet that we have got married, including complete strangers! Our Christchurch hosts offered us their honeymoon suite, but we stuck with the room we’d booked.

We found a couple of nice jewellers on our way back to the B&B yesterday, but they were closed, so we returned this a.m. We got into conversation with a very nice Brit who used to live and work in Totnes in Devon and now runs a shop called Juniper. We have ordered 2 palladium and gold, simple bands from him. All being well, they will be ready to pick up on Friday. CJ was going to buy Bev a pair of pretty greeny blue Paua shell earrings, but he let us have them for free – there’s obviously money in the hand-made jewellery business.
Our journey to Kaikoura was dominated by really arid countryside and our current host tells us that they have really hot weather for about 3 months and are desperate for rain. It’s cooler today (16dC) and we have had a few spots of rain, but they need lots more than that to sort things out.
The last few km of the journey became very windy and we ended up by the sea, with seals just sitting on rocks on the seaward side of the road. You can literally get out of your car and spot seals – lovely.
Miharotia House is absolutely gorgeous and is quite Art Deco in appearance, created from the walls and floors of an existing house that stood on the site, but you wouldn’t recognise it from what has been created. The male owner was actively involved in the building work and the lady owner has done the interior design. Between them, they have created a stunning place. It sits high above the town and looks over the sea and distant mountains – lucky people.
As you’ll see from the photos, we went to see the seals that loll about on a rocky beach just down the road. They were close enough to touch, should you wish to risk getting your hand bitten.  For some reason, they weren’t very whiffy – probably because there were only a few of them on the beach. They were resting and doing a very good job of it!
From there, we went into Kaikoura town and managed a little more retail therapy. CJ bought a T shirt and Bev bought a necklace to go with her earrings. We visited the Whale Watch place to see what they reckon the weather will be doing tomorrow, but they were very non-committal. We’ve met a few people on our travels who have been on the whale watching trip and they have all told us that there is a talk about how rough the sea can be and ask if are you really up to it. They are a very successful business, so obviously don’t manage to put many people off.
We had an excellent meal in a restaurant our landlady booked for us and then returned to our lovely B&B.

MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2009

Day 22, Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

We opened the curtains this morning to find a crystal clear view of Mt Cook! It soon changed to looking more cloudy however; that’s the way with mountains.

The 1st part of our journey to Christchurch was very pretty and became quite alpine looking in places. The closer we got to Christchurch, the flatter the countryside became and farming was quite clearly the focus of the areas we travelled through. If you’re free in April, there’s a large herds conference in Ashburton, which is also the place to be should you wish to purchase tractors or other farm machinery. Let us know if you want us to book you into the conference.

We had a cup of tea with our new Christchurch hosts, who lived in Kidlington near Oxford for about 6 years before returning to NZ and buying their lovely, large colonial house in Christchurch. They have done a lot of work on the house and it is very characterful. It’s in a district called Merivale which appears to be 90% hotels and motels. As you’ll see from the photos, Christchurch would probably have been better off without some of them. The B&B is on quite a big road, so we hope it won’t be noisy tonight.
Chris had agreed to go to see Justin (whom we met in Wanaka), so we headed into the city and visited him in his office. He works for the biggest architectural practice in NZ. Justin introduced Chris to the lead partner of the practice – just in case we emigrate! The office was very hot and very quiet – we’re not convinced they are ready for CJ’s noise.
On again for a walk around the main drag. We saw the river Avon where people punt and visited the Arts centre in search of jewellry. We think we might have rings after all, but haven’t found anything we like yet. 1 jeweller told us the stones in Bev’s engagement ring were on the point of falling out and that the ring needs to be repaired, so Bev is now without any ring as she has put her engagement ring in a bag for safe keeping.
We haven’t been impressed with Christchurch so far and that accounts for the lack of photos today. It’s very low rise and we haven’t found any buildings of real architectural merit yet. We will have more time here later in the week, so maybe it will grow on us, but of the cities we’ve seen,  only Wellington has sparked any interest in us. Maybe the fabulous scenery has made us immune to the charms of city life. We have had around 19 to 20dC with sunshine today.
We have just returned from dinner in a very good Italian restaurant just down the road from our B&B. We are looking forward to seeing Kaikoura tomorrow.

SUNDAY, 18 JANUARY 2009

Day 21, Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook

We treated ourselves to a bit of a lie in this morning and headed out at about 10.30 to Mt Cook village. There were clouds sitting over the mountains yesterday and as we travelled towards Mt Cook today. We stopped off at the airport on our way to the village to see if our flight could go ahead or not. No ski planes were taking off because the low cloud meant they couldn’t land, but we were offered a slightly shorter helicopter flight with a landing. It wouldn’t go over Mt Cook because of the cloud cover, but the rest of the flight was the same as the one we’d been hoping to do, so of course we signed up.

The helicopter took 6 passengers and a pilot and it was full. 2 of the other passengers came from Gloucester! We couldn’t see a great deal of the mountains, but it was worth going just for the landing on the Tasman Glacier. It’s the longest glacier in NZ (27 km) and had fresh snow on it when we were there. It was actually snowing a tiny bit when we were up there which was great. The pilot reckoned there was about a foot of snow and a km of ice beneath us. We wandered about on virgin snow, had a mini snowball fight and took lots of photos. Then it was back in the helicopter for the return flight, banking steeply to get close ups of lots of crevasses and rock edges. Lovely.
Our next stop was the village where we did a little retail therapy and Bev bought a lovely body warmer and then we watched 2 short films – one about the Southern skies and the other a 3D film about Mount Cook. The 1st one was a bit confusing, though we learned that star signs are upside down in the southern hemisphere. Quite a few days ago, CJ announced oh, the sun is in the north at midday. What the sky film did show is how likely it is that we aren’t alone in the galaxy – it’s so huge that we could have loads of other ‘people’ out there that we just haven’t found yet. 
The Mt Cook film was great – lots of detail of huge snowfalls and terrifyingly large crevasses. 
We looked around the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and then headed back to the B&B. The weather had improved at lower levels and we saw some fantastic colours and scenery. Mt Cook cleared for about 5 minutes and then covered itself in cloud once more.
The weather has been a sight for sore eyes today. We have had low, grey cloud, blue skies and sunshine and heavy rain, all of which have made for different kinds of light and colours. We have tried to show a bit of that in the photos. It’s been a lot colder today – between 13 and 16dC. 
Back at the B&B we had pre-dinner drinks with our hosts and Irish guests before heading out for pizza. Lake Tekapo village is really busy tonight. The resident population is 370 and it seemed they were all out this evening. We even had to give way to 4 cars, which is unheard of in the time we’ve been in NZ.
Onto Christchurch tomorrow – see you there.

SATURDAY, 17 JANUARY 2009

Day 20 Lake Tekapo

A windy and rainy night meant that we were greeted with grey cloud and showers this morning. Breakfast with some American golf bores, one of whom is dropping his wife off at Christchurch airport to return to work whilst he continues the holiday to play golf! Even more annoyingly, he is retired and must be our age. We both slept poorly last night so are planning to stay around Lake Tekapo today. It’s nice to stop for a while. Our hosts have gone to a funeral, so we have their house to ourselves. It’s not looking good for our Mount Cook flight tomorrow, unless the weather improves. The weather does change very quickly here, so we haven’t given up hope, but we can’t see Mount Cook this morning.

One more little pronunciation issue encountered yesterday for you; when asking if we could do a clothes wash and hang our stuff out to dry, our hosts offered us pigs. After an embarrassingly long pause, we both twigged that pigs were in fact, pegs! Unless, of course, they have specially trained clothes clamping animals that we haven’t encountered yet.
 
The weather cleared this afternoon, just in time for us to get married. Yes, you did read that right. We know that we are impetuous fools and we have only known each other for 31 plus years, but we decided to go ahead anyway.
 
We opted for a really simple, private wedding and wanted to hold it somewhere beautiful that represents what we have loved best about NZ. Lake Tekapo is a wonderful place and fits the bill perfectly for us. Jenny, our marriage celebrant, and 2 witnesses that Jenny knows, helped us tie the knot. The whole ceremony lasted about 5 minutes – perfect! We will shortly be going to play crazy golf as part of our honeymoon celebrations.
 
We met Jenny for the 1st time last night, as we had been emailing her up until then, and came away seriously worried that we wouldn’t end up being legally married if she had anything to do with it. She is totally disorganised and as mad as a hatter. However, today was really lovely and she was very with it in the end.
 
We gave up on the idea of mini golf – too adventurous – and went for a drive to Mt John Observatory instead. It was incredibly windy up there and there was a fair amount of cloud around, but the sky and mountains still looked very alluring. The sun kept trying to creep through and made wonderful shapes and gave an almost mystical light. The camera couldn’t do it justice, so we haven’t posted any photos of that, but it was very beautiful in a spooky way.
 
We have just come back from an early dinner as were really late to bed last night and didn’t sleep particularly well; worrying about whether Jenny would manage to be OK for the 5 minutes we needed her to hold it together! So it’s an early night tonight and off to Mt Cook tomorrow.
 
Happy birthday to Sue for today!
 

Day 19 Oamaru to Lake Tekapo

Breakfast and chores, like cashing in traveller’s cheques and a bit of shopping, we were soon on our way east toward Tekapo. We left our horizontal, hippy hosts waving goodbye, but no hugs or kisses this time. Whilst in the bank we bumped into penguin lady who narrated the blue penguin visit last night. She spoke about how difficult it is to stop the colony being thought of as a zoo by the public.

Yet again we have been surprised by the ever changing landscape and today we encountered miles and miles of baking hot, dry, savanna, brown scorched grassland and bare rock. A little dull for the first part of the journey but it improved as we came across the odd lake of green-blue water and distant views of snowy Mount Cook.
Lake Tekapo is famous for the blue of its water. It has much glacial flour which gives it a lovely turquoise hue much of the time, but it also changes with the sun/shade. It’s been turquoise most of today. It has a tiny, much photographed church on its Southern shore – very pretty. We also found the statue of the collie dog (see photos).
We have been pretty lazy since we got here, making a small foray into the village, having drinks with our hosts and other guests at the B&B and going for a very good Japanese meal in the village. They even did veggie food! Loads of Japanese were eating there; they apparently come from miles around as the restaurant is meant to be very well regarded.
 
There is an observatory nearby which we will try to visit if the skies are clear. Lake Tekapo is one of 3 places in the world aiming for heritage sky status as the skies are so clear here and star gazing is a very popular past-time. So far, we have been happy gazing at Mt Cook.
 
The wind is pretty strong tonight so who knows what weather we will wake up to tomorrow. It’s been 28dC again today and it was still 18dC when we came back from the restaurant. We stopped for lunch at a place in the arid part of the journey today and the lady in the cafe said it had been 38dC there yesterday. It can go down to -10dC in winter. That’s an impressive range of temperature.
 
The B&B is lovely, run by an ex-sheep farmer and his wife. They are trying to sell and have been for the last 3 years. They want to sell it as a business. We are considering our options!

THURSDAY, 15 JANUARY 2009

Day 18 – Balclutha to Oamaru

We had a very mediocre breakfast at our b&b, (that likes to call itself a hotel) and headed out on a relatively long drive toward Dunedin and up the coast to Oamaru. We weren’t that struck on Dunedin which might be due to the fact the we haven’t had to experience a big city for ages, but Dunedin didn’t do it for us. There are many references to Scots settling in the area and many of the place and road names refer to its Scottish past. We couldn’t fathom why the Scots would have sailed all the way to the furthest part of NZ to make it their home, rather than stop off on the north island. Perhaps someone can fill us in?

En route to our b&b we stopped off in Moreaki, a pretty seaside spot, for lunch at a world renowned restaurant called Fleur’s which had been suggested to us by our hosts. Unfortunately for us, it was a fish restaurant, but the food was very good. It has been patronised by Rick Stein and the food is absolutely amazing –  freshly caught and prepared right on the harbourside. Jan, you would have loved it. We have taken a rather cheesey picture of Bev’s dish so that you can see how lovely the food was.
 
Moreaki is also home to boulders as you’ll see from the photos. They are really big – about 2m in diameter. They have a honeycomb innard and the patterns of their structure are rather beautiful.
 
We had a wander around Oamaru’s historic centre on our arrival and looked at the whitestone used in many of the older buildings. We have been struck today by the change in architecture and materials, from almost 100% corrugated iron or wood that we have found everywhere else in NZ to brick, stone and more 2 storey buildings. Maybe the earthquake risk is lower here. 
 
Our new hosts are practically horizontal and very pleasant. They have converted their attractive Edwardian home from flats back to a house and done it very tastefully. They have chooks, a dog and several cats and seem to be bohemian in outlook and very content with their lot.
 
After chatting with them, we headed out to try to spot Yellow eyed penguins. Success! They  were quite a long way away so we needed binoculars to see them, but we saw 4 before we had to head off to see little blue penguins. That was fantastic! We had booked on to a behind the scenes tour and saw chicks in nesting boxes at very close range. Then it was on to the grandstand for the viewing of the birds coming home. About 230 came in tonight and we could see them really well. The chicks were coming out of the nest boxes and calling out to mum and dad. The adult birds waddled up a ready made concrete ramp and often decided to stop for ages before going into the colony. They get very hot at sea so like to cool off before they go to their nest. It was so wonderful to see the little darlings up close. We had to be turfed out in the end as the staff wanted to go to bed. On the drive back, we had to stop for penguins by the roadside. We were really tempted to take photos, or pick up a few penguins, but didn’t as we’d been told they get very confused by flash photography and we worked out they probably wouldn’t relish having us as companions – our loss, not theirs.
 
Another great day!

WEDNESDAY, 14 JANUARY 2009

Day 17 – Te Anau to Balclutha

Yet more hugs and kisses as we bid goodbye to our hosts this morning. We are starting to feel put out if people don’t hug and kiss us now.

We had a pleasant journey south today, with temps of about 17 to 20dC and varying cloud cover and blue skies.

The scenery changed dramatically during the course of our travels, from Fiordland’s high mountains to flat agricultural land to rolling hillside that reminded us of the UK, especially Yorkshire and the Sussex Downs.

We drove through the Catlins, an area of forest gradually giving way to coastal scenery. We had our first views of the South Pacific and sang ‘Bali Hi’ and ‘I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair’ for Jen – hope you heard our beautiful renditions Jen.

We decided we’d visit Nugget Point – known for views of seals as well as being a lovely spot. The navigator (not naming names, but it wasn’t Bev) took  us on an unsealed road (i.e. gravel) and we bumped our way for about 16km before reaching the parking area. It was definitely worth the bumpy drive as we saw loads of seals and their pups, sleeping, playing in rock pools and swimming in the sea. We were also on the search for Fiordland penguins, but there were none to be seen.

We journeyed on to our current resting place. It’s a past its best hotel, which we suspect is struggling to make any money apart from unsuspecting fools like us and on weddings and other functions. Having said that, we have just had a very nice dinner and the hostess is perfectly pleasant. It is a large Edwardian house that was built on Scottish farming money by a family that emigrated from Argyll in the early 1900’s. It’s one of those places that  we have all come across that would have been a fabulous, majestic home when servants roamed the house and its 4000 acre estate, but it’s now a shadow of its former glory. It’s suffered from a host of eager owners, some of whom sold up after six months. It just looks tired and is out of kilter with virtually every other place we’ve stayed in. We have been really impressed with the standard of accommodation here, and the loveliness of the hosts.

Tomorrow it’s almost guaranteed penguin sighting, so we are getting excited about that. We will do our best to describe their cuteness to you as we can’t take photos.

TUESDAY, 13 JANUARY 2009

Day 16 – Doubtful Sound

A…May…Zing. That sums up our day today at Doubtful Sound. There aren’t enough superlatives that could describe the complete, isolated beauty of the Sound. We have been pinching ourselves all day at our luck at seeing it in near-clear, blue skies and flat calm waters. No penguins or dolphins this time, but maybe next time!

Our day started early, getting ready for the Real Journeys coach to pick us up from our B&B with a very jolly driver who greeted everyone as if he’d known them all as children – even the Germans. Our journey was going to be by coach, small boat, coach, big boat. This is because the Sound is entirely isolated and can only be reached by either sailing down the choppy waters of the Tasman Sea or by crossing a mountain pass that takes three days on foot, which is how it was reached until the 1960s when a land-locked road was built to serve the Manapouri Power Station. The road goes between West Arm, where the hydro electric station is sited, to Deep Cove, where the Sound starts and is called Wilmot Pass. The distances involved meant that our trip was going to take the entire day and it was certainly worth every minute.
The first boat journey across Lake Manapouri and the drive over the land-locked road are amazing enough, but when you finally get a glimpse of the Doubtful Sound, your overriding thought is that there just can’t be anywhere more beautiful on the planet. I think that the photos will speak better of the dramatic, unspoilt landscape that we saw today. You may be glad to hear that we have only put a selection of the 90 pictures taken in the Picasa album. We have both decided that this has been our best day so far. However, we do have penguins, a plane trip over Mt Cook and whales coming up later.
 
The boat trip was narrated by a Brit who was very knowledgeable and pointed out a host of interesting things about the geology, flora and fauna of the place. For example, we saw evidence of several treelanches, when the trees, whose roots are in a thin layer of moss and lichen and interwoven with each other, lose their ‘footing’ and career down the steep mountain sides. We also learned that the Sound is 446 metres at its deepest. NZ fur seals made themselves known by their size and by their overpowering fishy whiff which could be detected some distance off. Getting out far enough to see the seals was fun as we had to negotiate some stomach churning swell for a while which was in stark contrast to the flat calm of the Sound.
 
At one point, the boat crew stopped the boat, turned everything off including the engines and generators so that everyone could enjoy the remote wilderness in compete silence. This had such a deep and profound effect on Bev that she got quite upset as it is so rare to experience the origins of a place that has been left alone and unspoilt by us humans. She had to work hard not to interrupt the complete silence with her sobbing!
 
On our return to Deep Cove, we got back on the bus and went to the hydro electric station. The station is underground and we descended, by bus, several hundred metres down a tunnel to reach a viewing platform. 7 enormous turbines could be seen in the machine hall. The numbers involved in terms of output of the station were beyond our comprehension, but we can recall that 85% of the electricity produced is used by 1 aluminum smelting company in the south of the island. The photos of the construction were incredible as the tunnels were made by hand drilling and blasting. The station is the largest hole in the southern hemisphere.
 
Another fascinating day. We move on again tomorrow, to a place that sounds as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. If there’s no blog tomorrow, that’s why. We’ll be back in touch as soon as we can.
 

Day 15, Queenstown to Te Anau

It is so exciting to wake up and find your comments each morning. It’s the 1st thing we do every day. We are so pleased you are enjoying the blog. It’s great to do and we feel that you are seeing NZ with us.

To answer your latest comments, yes we do have trouble with pronunciation. We consistently get place names wrong. We just go for it and wait to be corrected. Te is pronounced Tie, but we think they differ in their pronunciation of the same place, particularly in terms of where the emphasis lies.  

 
Millie is very pleased to have been near her ancestors and we are delighted that you have finally had some positive temperatures. It’s been such a prolonged spell of bitterly cold weather for you.
 
We haven’t found what the locals are on or we would be taking it as well as bringing it home! We have seen very few fat people here; they are mega health conscious. The closest we get to that is regular fruit eating and the occasional short walk.
 
Thank you for the info on the Salvias. We have also come across other blue and pink upright flowers which we think are lupin-like.
 
Danny did really well, Fred. It sounds like a tough life for golfers – having to play in places like Joburg and Abu Dhabi!
 
The local Wanaka paper’s headline yesterday was house prices in freefall. If you saw the photo of the house we posted, they will have to fall a very long way before they become affordable to mere mortals. We think Wanaka would suit you better, Jan. It is more refined and a lot flatter than Q’town. We think that the average price in Wanaka is about $500,000 (about £220,000 if you want a glimpse of the lake).
 
The sky and water colour is astonishing and we haven’t got used to it either. The blue of the water is largely the result of glacial flour. The other amazing thing is how clear the water is.
 
We were away from Q’town by 9.30 today as we wanted to try to get to Te Anau in time to drive to Milford Sound. By NZ standards, the drive to Te Anau was pleasant but not spectacular. The drive to Milford Sound however, was incredibly beautiful and truly awe inspiring.  The photos speak for themselves really, but still can’t do justice to the stunning scenery.  Sheer rock faces, waterfalls tumbling over ledges hundreds of feet high, hanging glaciers and snowy peaks abounded. The most incredible aspect is that the mountains are so close to the road, so you really get the sense that you are at one with nature.
 
Milford Sound itself is as beautiful as we were hoping. Even with cruise boats, helicopters and small planes busily going on and over the water, nothing detracts from the grandeur and purity of the place. We did a short walk along the foreshore and you could still feel the underlying silence. It must be wonderful when everyone goes home for the night as it managed to be fabulous even with lots of human activity.
 
We are now resting at our new B&B before heading out for dinner. We have managed to find another lovely place to stay and Te Anau is a very nice, bustling town. We are keeping our fingers crossed for a good day tomorrow as we are booked onto a cruise to Doubtful Sound. Allegedly, Doubtful Sound is more spectacular than Milford – it will have to go some to achieve that, but we have learned that NZ consistently manages to produce unending beauty so anything is possible.
 
We have just come back from a local eatery, The Fat Duck – no snail porridge and prices that we can afford! Up VERY early tomorrow as we are being picked up by a bus to take us to Doubtful Sound. Early night.
 
 

Day 14, Wanaka to Queenstown

More hugs and kisses from our hosts when we said goodbye this morning. Maybe it was from relief that we were actually leaving, as we had again spent quite a while chatting to them about house prices and planning permission in Wanaka, as we enjoyed another large breakfast. Wanaka and Queenstown are the most expensive places in the country for property apparently – just our luck.

The sun shone again today and the temperature reached 24dC, having started at 11dC. We started the day energetically, doing a lovely and quite steep walk up Mt Iron, just outside Wanaka and opposite Puzzling World (Rachie – see pic  – taken just for you). Although it was steep in places, the view at the top was worth panting our way up for. We were slightly taken aback by the number of people running up the hill, especially the older ones.

We returned to Wanaka for lunch and Chris was accosted by a guy who used to work at Stride’s (Justin for Rachel’s benefit). He and his wife Kate and daughter are on holiday in Wanaka for a week so they all caught up with work-news over lunch. Kate is from NZ and they now live and work in Christchurch – they have another baby on the way, Rach.

After lunch we headed to Queenstown. Another wonderful drive through the Crown Range with what’s becoming our daily dose of hairpins and magnificent views. On our way we stopped off at Arrowtown – a tiny little place that was home to a large Chinese population that came to NZ during the gold rush. Many were persecuted and lived dreadful lives but managed to send money back home during 1860’s. Some of their tiny hovels are being reconstructed in their original locations – see pics. Arrowtown, famed for gold mining has been ‘poshed’ up and the grit and spit of its former existence has been concealed by posh frock shops and gourmet ice cream parlours. We checked in at our B&B which is very pleasant and then rested before heading out to  see a bit of Q’town.

The thing that surprised us most is how steep Q’town’s streets are. The hill up to our B&B is almost vertical! Going down wasn’t too bad but coming back up with full tummies was hard work.

Anyway, we wandered to the lake edge and saw the steamer TSS Earnshaw about to go out on a cruise. We jumped on board and headed out to Walter Peak where there’s a sheep station with about 15,000 Merino sheep. Loads of passengers disembarked to have dinner at a rather nice looking place and the rest of us headed back to Q’town. More lovely views on a beautifully clear and warm evening.

Next stop was for dinner – really good pizza at a place called Winnies – and now we’re back at the B&B. We are probably among the oldest people in Q’town we reckon. The average age in the pizza place must have been under 30. Wanaka is definitely more suitable for us more mature folk.

In case you’ve been wondering, it’s getting lighter later as we go south. Our current host said it will probably be light until 10pm tonight. It’s currently 9.30 and we’re watching a very pretty sunset over the lake, so she’s probably right.

 

SATURDAY, 10 JANUARY 2009

Day 13 – Franz Josef to Wanaka

For Heaven’s sake, how much more beauty has this country got to throw at us!

It was going to be a long drive today, so we were up quite early, (for us). The morning greeted us with near clear, blue skies; the views from our room were straight onto snowy peaks and the Franz Josef Glacier. After another hearty, cooked breakfast we ventured off toward the Fox Glacier which had been the scene of a two person fatal accident a couple of days ago. It remained the site of a body search, but people were able to access the viewing area at the base of the huge glacier – see pics. Two people had ignored the danger signs and ventured to the face of the glacier, which had collapsed onto them, killing both men.

There was a guy from the Dept of Conservation at the head of the path telling everyone to stay on the marked track and he told us that a couple of weeks ago they had 450mm of rain in a day. The resulting pressure of water that built up in the glacier forced 2,500 tonnes of ice and the same amount of water from the glacier along the river and surrounding area. It washed away the road that we had travelled along to get to the glacier today. Nature can be very scary.

Off again and several stops along the way – one at Lake Matheson which is a site used by all tourist photographers as the lake reflects Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in a chocolate box scene. Unfortunately for us the skies were a little cloudy and the water of Lake Matheson was not as smooth as you’d like. It was still a beautiful scene though.

Our windy, hilly road toward Wanaka took in several large waterfalls, beach and cliff scenery and the most amazing colours of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea until we finally reached Wanaka and our stop for the night at Wanaka Springs Lodge.

We have, once more, fallen for somewhere in NZ and Wanaka is just the most idyllic place, surrounded by majestic, snow-capped hills and sitting on a deep, turquoise lake which is home to sail boats, parasailing – and skiing in the winter months. We sat outside at 7pm drinking wine in temperatures of about 20dC gazing onto the lake – this is the stuff dreams are made of but these people have it for real. Rachie – what does Gwennan do for work in Wanaka?

We have sampled food in a local Italian and are now back, fat, full and happy. CJ, who rarely drinks white wine in the UK, has not drunk anything else here, as it is quite lovely and Bev, who never drinks the stuff in England has taken to ‘Flat White’ coffee – a bit like a cappucino, but less fluffy. She loves ’em.

We have a short drive to Queenstown tomorrow so will try and do something adventurous here tomorrow, like staring at the lake or gazing at the mountains – nothing is too much trouble for us at the moment.

Hope the get together was good and that you had a great time at the theatre Jude.

FRIDAY, 9 JANUARY 2009

Day 12, Awatuna to Franz Josef Glacier

We didn’t leave Awatuna until 11am today as we were busy chatting to Pauline and Hemi, our very lovely hosts. We were invited to go for a ride in 1 of Hemi’s 3 classic cars. He has an absolute passion for them and wants to buy a 4th, but Pauline won’t let him! The cars are Austin 8s from the UK.

We all seemed to get on very well together and they gave us both huge hugs and kisses when we left, which was unexpected and lovely. 

Last night, Hemi told us a little about his role as a mediator between the Maoris and the government, to settle the land claims arising from the govt’s breaches of the Waitangi Treaty. He is a very eloquent speaker and it was moving to hear him speak about the trials the Maoris have endured to receive reparation. He has a deep understanding of and passion for Maori beliefs and culture. We would need to spend at least another week with him to begin to appreciate the wealth of knowledge that he possesses.

We are now in WET Franz Josef Glacier. The rain is teeming down, and, thanks to very low cloud, we have not caught a single glimpse of the glacier which is, apparently, just outside our window. The rain looks as though it will be in for the day. The lodge owner is very fed up about the weather. Apparently it rained almost all of December and she’s had enough of it. This part of NZ gets the highest rainfall of the entire country – 5 metres per year. The temperature is about 17dC and very cold according to the lodge keeper. We still find it very pleasant.

We have done a bit of retail therapy instead of sightseeing and looked at postcards of the glacier in case it doesn’t materialise before we depart tomorrow.

Westwood Lodge is very nicely decorated and well appointed for rainy days, so we have returned to blog and relax before we venture out for an Indian meal later. We have another long drive tomorrow, so need to be up early to try to take in a few sights on the way.

We’re back from our Indian meal which was disappointing. We ordered some naan bread and it came with crunched up Indian sweets in it – bizarre! On the up side, the weather improved dramatically by the time we finished our meal and we finally got to see the glacier. It was quite spooky with low mist meandering in and out of the crevices around it. The river fed by the glacier was running very quickly and looked pretty scary to us. 

We saw our 1st Keas up at the glacier and a NZ pigeon on the pylons at the lodge. All life is here!

Thank you again for all your contributions.

Fred – hope Danny is doing well and enjoying better weather than here.

Sue – swimming and us? Are you mad?! Incidentally, we think you and Joseph would absolutely love it here. Forget buying in Devon!

Rachie – sorry to hear about Gwennan’s Dad. I remember you said he was very poorly.

Jen and Jan – great idea to bring elasticated waist trousers. No, we didn’t , unfortunately. We haven’t got too fat yet, but we still have 2 weeks to go.

It was officially too hot today. Nelson had reached about 28dC by the time we left at 10.30 and when we stopped at Buller Swing bridge to walk across the bridge and do a little walk, we had to keep finding shade as the sun was beating down and there was no cooling breeze. Other than very atmospheric sea mist as we came down the latter part of the coast road, we have had bright blue skies all day.

Now, let’s deal with house prices. if you don’t want to have a sea view in Nelson, you can have a perfectly decent property for about NZ$300,000 (roughly £100,000). If you want a sea view, you need to think nearer to NZ$800,000 and upwards; preferably over a million.

This has to be a contender for best day yet. We had another great breakfast, with homemade and freshly cooked frittata with asparagus, spinach, mushrooms and pepper, preceded by gorgeous berries (yes, even for CJ) and followed by home made plum jam and bread.

Chris interrogated our British hosts about how they came to live in NZ and whether they like it. Guess what? They love it. They still have a home in Ilkley and spend 6 months of the year there, for family reasons, but would rather have 9 months in NZ and 3 months in the UK.

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away and set off southwards. Our 1st stop was the Buller Swing bridge, as mentioned above. Bev went on the bridge, in what was, frankly, a moment of lunacy. She also walked back over – there’s no hope for her now.

We meandered our way through mountains covered with pine trees. We still can’t quite get to grips with the size of the place. It just goes on and on and almost every inch appears to be perfect. Our next stop was Tauranga Bay and the Bay House Cafe where we devoured gorgeous pancakes and cakes. A short ride took us to the Tauranga seal colony, home to Kekona (?) seals. What a beautiful spot they have to live in.

On again, along absolutely stupendous coastal highways.  The photos don’t do justice to the scenery, but we hope they give a flavour of what we saw. Our next stop was at Pancake Rocks, so called because of their squashed, flat appearance. Apparently no-one really knows why they look the way they do. 

We had to ring our new host at 5.30pm to say we were still coming as we were miles away from our destination. The west coast is just superb, with jaw dropping views at every turn. We hope you will agree when you see the photos. 

Favourite sign of the holiday so far is Caution penguins (see photos). The sign was the closest we got to seeing a penguin, but the anticipation of seeing a real penguin was almost too much to bear.

We are now at Awatuna Homestead, which is nestled in the edge of the bush and is quite lovely. We have found a hand crafted Rimu (wooden) bowl for sale and are just considering how to get it in our cases. We are about to have dinner cooked for us. Life is tough, but we are trying to cope.

Back very late from a lovely tea and a very long chat with our hosts. The man is an active Maori and has been telling us a little about Maori beliefs. Fascinating.

 

Day 10, Wellington to Nelson

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but it’s SO hot again today – we currently have 27dC in Nelson and have had to buy more sun screen. We didn’t think the South island got as hot as this. We are typing the blog on the verandah of the B&B, watching the world go by as we think of things to say.

 

We are (almost) feeling sorry for you in Blighty with all that cold, and your posts will make it even more difficult for us to return home. Take heart though you poor, frozen UK dwellers; the forecast is for rain and much lower temps as we head south – at least to the west of the Southern Alps.

 
OK here we go – Wellington was REALLY windy last night and we both slept poorly so we have been a bit drowsy today. Before we went to bed, Bev cheered us up with news from the NZ Met Office that we were in for gales in the Cook Strait for the crossing, so it was out with the Kwells for Bev in the morning. We needn’t have worried about getting up so early as our host was ready at 6:30 with breakfast for us. Being a sailor, (the one who emigrated from the UK at the age of 8), he convinced us that the crossing would be flat and calm for all sorts of nautical reasons and his predictions were right. We spent most of the time on deck in the cool breeze looking out for dolphins. Leaving Wellington was pretty unexciting, but coming into Picton harbour, on the south island, was breathtaking. The entry into the harbour is between two huge mountain ranges and it is almost impossible to see how the ship could navigate the narrow stretch of water. See pics.
 
During the ferry trip, we bumped into Kate and Joel, friends that we made at the Bay of Islands B&B. We have passed the link to the blog onto them, so please do not mention anything unpleasant about Americans!! They are listening and are VERY NICE. They have invited us to Chicago and if you are unpleasant, they may withdraw the invite! You are quite at will to make some pointed comments about George W if you feel the need. 
 
We, (well CJ actually) have been amused by the NZ pronunciation of the word ‘deck’. Phrases such as “Access to the dick from the starboard side is prohibited”, “Please do not run on the dick” and “Would you please return to the car dick” amused us (CJ).
 
We decided to head off to Nelson on arrival in Picton, where we are tonight, but had to stop numerous times to take in the fantastically dramatic scenery and snap some pics. The problem with this holiday is that you need to allow twice as much time to get anywhere, as there is a huge temptation to just sit and stare at the landscape.
 
Our accommodation is lovely and run by two Brits who emigrated seven years ago after buying up a local Back Packers hotel, selling up and later opening California House as a B&B. Are you seeing a trend here?
 
We have explored Nelson which is neat, tidy and bustling and packed full of restaurants, bars, clubs (no we won’t), posh frock shops and everything you could want from a small city. We have already been looking in estate agent windows (Realty, for Kate and Joel), and have been pleasantly surprised by some of the house prices. Bev is in need of yet more Thai, so we are off to a local Thai restaurant again tonight. 
 
We have bought about 6 properties to date; we hadn’t even set foot on the South island before we’d bought the 1st one on this island. We need to pace ourselves a bit better really or we may run out of money and miss a real winner.
 
Rachie – I’ve been meaning to tell you that we didn’t find anyone who knew your friend in Ohakune. What’s the name of your friend in Wanaka and we’ll ask our B&B hosts and anyone else we meet if they know her? You’ve got to come back if you get the chance. We’d love to see your photos by the way.

TUESDAY, 6 JANUARY 2009

Day 9, Ohakune to Wellington


Another incredibly scenic drive. The 1st part was through grass covered, steep and high hills and more bends than you could shake a stick at, followed by flatter plains with huge numbers of sheep, and lastly glorious coastline and huge, gravity defying houses all the way to Wellington. Wellington is known as NZ’s windy city and is living up to its name today, though it is sunny and warm. The wind has nearly taken us off our feet.
 

We caught sight of the dark silhouette of the South island as we drove into the city and are very excited at the prospect of visiting a new island tomorrow. Apparently the approach to Picton through the Queen Charlotte Sound is amazing. We are worrying about running out of days Fred  – funny how our perspectives differ on that score! CJ woke up in the middle of the night thinking we had almost run out of holiday and had to return to the UK the next day.

 
Glad to hear that the sun has made an appearance chez vous; it’s always best to have sun with snow.
 
Our new hosts have a lovely property near the Wellington cable car and our room is very comfortable. The male host was born in Kent but moved here when he was 8 and hasn’t shown any inclination to go back to the UK. We know that feeling. I have a nasty suspicion that immigration officials are going to have to frog march us on to the plane home. We are already planning a longer visit to Wellington as there are loads of things to do here.
 
We have just returned from a tour of Wellington which included a visit to the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa). It was really interesting and worth more time to study the exhibits. Our knowledge of NZ and Maori culture has improved a bit, and it’s quite clear that we have been pretty rotten to the Maoris, their land and culture over the years. Although we both feel that we could move to NZ tomorrow, Bev is slightly worried by the geology of the place and in particular, Wellington as it sits on two volcanic fault lines that run through the city. It is supposed to have a minor ‘movement’ at least once a week! What with that and volcanoes, you have to be brave to live here.
 
Bev has been craving Thai food and there are more restaurants here than is good for anyone – we are now overly fat from a very nice Thai meal. Disgracefully early start tomorrow in order to get the ferry to the south island, so off to bed at 9:15.
 
See you on the south island.

SUNDAY, 4 JANUARY 2009

 Day 7, Rotorua to Ohakune


NZ is definitely a HIT! We have travelled through a fantastic variety of scenery today – from geothermal steaming landscapes to semi-desert to rolling hills to snow capped mountains. Sorry to hear you’re not well Sue – get better soon.
We started a beautiful sunny day with a lovely and huge breakfast at Duxton and then it was off to another smelly, steamy geothermal area that’s inhabited by members of a Maori tribe. We don’t know how they can stand living with that smell! It’s worse than Bognor!! We saw a couple of kiwis  (as in the birds) in a specially built nocturnal house. They were bigger than we expected and quite cute.
 
Then it was on our way southwards, towards Ohakune. We stopped off en route to get an adrenalin rush courtesy of a jet boat through the most incredibly beautiful scenery and rapids. Great fun, but a bit hairy in places. See photos for proof!
 
On again to Lake Taupo – another magnificent scene. It’s the largest natural lake in NZ and is enormous – like a sea. We have been really impressed with their tourist towns; they manage to retain a nice air, not like UK seaside resorts which are grubby and tacky in equal measure.
The final leg to Ohakune consisted of desert-type landscape followed by lush pastures and snow-topped mountains. We literally turned off 1 desert road and found ourselves in lush, fertile and rolling hillside.
 
Our B&B is homely and the owners have deer in a field next door which currently have tiny fawns. Very sweet. The owners are insistent that we should walk in the National Park tomorrow – we clearly look unfit.
 
It was 23dC in Rotorua this a.m. and we have had glorious sunshine and blue skies all day. It is colder in Ohakune – about 19dC, but still sunny.
 
For Jen’s info, a luge is a plastic sledge type thing that you sit on as you hurtle down a man-made concrete track. It’s not as high tech as the Olympic luges and you sit rather than lie down.
 

SATURDAY, 3 JANUARY 2009

Day 6, Pauanui to Rotorua


Glad to hear that England has managed to get above nought degrees, albeit briefly. We had 28dC this morning, but it lowered to a mere 19dC by the time we were visiting the geothermal area this pm. We also had rain, as you’ll see from the photos of the gondola that we went on.

Anyway, we weren’t that impressed with our stay in Puka Park Resort – it won’t be on our return itinerary. However, there were no midgies which was surprising and good news. There was a Tui bird outside that seemed happy to sing all night.
 
Our drive to Rotoura was very pretty and we made it here in about 3 hours. We checked in at Duxton Hotel and then went to explore Rotorua. 1st stop was Skyline Skyrides which consists of a gondola ride and luge. It rained quite a bit when we arrived but we decided to persevere and managed to time our luge ride in the dry. The luge was long and fast, although Bev had the brakes on most of the way. It was really good fun.
 
Next stop was Hell’s Gate – a  very whiffy geothermal walk! The photos show better the heat of  the place than we can describe here. The water temperatures in some of the pools exceeds 100dC and a lot of the mud and water is used in the nearby spa to treat arthritis and skin complaints. We will be sending a load of smelly mud home to you all to try.
 
We are now lounging about in the lounge of our hotel – a definite contender for a return visit – lovely place and top food. We are planning on trying another local attraction tomorrow before heading further south and hopefully leaping on a speedboat and hurtling along a river.

FRIDAY, 2 JANUARY 2009

Day 5, Bay of Islands to Coromandel Peninsula


Even after a huge 4 course meal, CJ managed to eat a massive cooked breakfast with fruit and toast this a.m. (Jan and Jen please see evidence of fruit eating in Picasa pics). It was time to pack and leave Cliff Edge and say a sad good bye to our amazing hosts and fellow guests. This is likely to be a slightly dull entry as we knew that today was going to be a driving day with little opportunity for sightseeing trips. We had a 7 hour drive in front of us across rolling countryside and palm covered mountainside via steep and windy roads. The scenery has been spectacular and has changed en route from farmland grazed by sheep and cows to steep, craggy cloud covered mountains dropping down to the sea. We had 28 degrees C and sunny today –  it’s now cooler and overcast.

We had to stop en route to help a minute Asian chap pull his scratched and broken motorbike out of a road barrier on 1 of the many hairpin corners, which had obviously been taken too fast – motorcyclists, I ask you. A large plank of wood and his minute size had saved him from disappearing over the edge of the road into the sea some 20 feet below.
 
Puka Park Resort is made up of a number of semi-detached chalets, set in the bush. We are expecting to spend a lot of the night squashing midgies. We will eat at the resort tonight as it’s an easier option than driving into Pauanui, which by all accounts is a bit light on places to eat. I think we might miss most of the peninsula on this trip as we need to head inland as soon as poss – we will have to save it up for next time.
 
I am going to try to send you a recording of a very amusing NZ bird. We are not sure what they are called but we have heard them all over the place and they have the most distinctive parrot like song. We have been told on many occasions how much the possum is hated in NZ as they are a major pest that destroys thousands of tonnes of bush vegetation. NZers say that the only possum is a dead one. The roads here are littered with squashed ones and are also home to a Kamikaze bird that insists on strolling out in front of the car at the worst moments. We haven’t run one over yet as they seem very skilled in hopping out of the way, just at the last moment.

THURSDAY, 1 JANUARY 2009

Day 4, Cape Reinga fly drive

We decided this morning to boost the NZ economy and upgrade our return flight home to Premium Economy as our outbound flight had been so uncomfortable. We are glad that we have as we had been dreading the flight home.
 

This was possibly the best day yet weather-wise, certainly the day to have a flight booked as it was still and clear and temperatures around 25dC. We did a short return visit to Waitangi as CJ was very keen to do the mangrove swamp walk. We started out with good intention, but after about 3/4 hour, we had to turn back as we would have missed our scenic flight to Cape Reinga. Unfortunately, the mangrove swamp was just out of reach so will have to wait for another time. Back in Paihia we where we picked up a minibus and taken to Kerikeri airport.  The little plane was full, which meant about 10 of us plus the pilot.

 
We flew up the west coast of Northland, over places like the very famous 90 mile beach (actually 64 miles long, but the Aussies have a 90 mile one and, as the pilot eloquently put it, ‘we were buggered if we weren’t going to have the same’.) The scenery was wonderful and became more rugged as we went further north. We touched down in a farmer’s paddock on what seemed like a very short runway. Great landing though.
 
From there, we picked up another minibus and went on a road tour to Cape Reinga (northernmost accessible point of NZ) and then on to a lovely beach where we both dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean. The water was about 16 degrees C and felt lovely. We ate home baked muffins and had a cup of tea and then it was on again, to the great sand dunes where we had a go at sand tobogganing. That was great fun and not as scary as it looked from the top of the dune. Please see the photos for greater enlightenment on these activities.
 
Back to the airstrip and a rather hairy take off as the end of the field appeared and we were still on the ground. Of course, it all happened as it was meant to and we returned via the east coast and frankly spectacular views. The pilot spotted a couple of sharks, but I think he was the only person who did. He gave an informative and amusing commentary throughout the journey which was nice.
 
The company we went with was Salt Air and if you are ever over here, we thoroughly recommend this trip. They take very good care of you and we got a CD at the end of the day.
 
Back to Cliff Edge to find they’d had a power cut for 2 hours. We were very lucky as it came back on about 5 mins after we got in. Just time to wash hands before the meal – another Peter Meier creation and delicious again. Tonight we have discussed what we did today, which we managed to contribute to very well, whether the US and Canada should form their own economic union, which we kept pretty quiet about, and the state of education in the US and England, which we had a bit to say about. There were lots of Americans in tonight and they seem pretty worried about the US economy. Not really holiday chit chat, but interesting anyway.
 
Time to pack as we have to force ourselves to leave and go south tomorrow.
POSTED AT 22:51

New Year’s Eve 2008

We congratulated ourselves on being very sociable last night, having to share a table with 8 highly intelligent people from all walks of life and all corners of the world. We were slightly out of our depth at certain points trying to keep up with the Americans who decided to gauge how people felt about Obama, the chap from Belgium who was circumspect about who he actually worked for but had something to do with the World Bank and the chap from Switzerland who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres who decided to launch into the problems of Aids in the third world. We were happy to talk about cute dolphins – we are on holiday after all. What a fantastic meal, tho. Different NZ wine with every course and all fresh and perfectly cooked by our host. We wimped out at about 10:30 and decided not to see the New Year in and instead spend it in bed. We got a lift back to our accommodation from the owner’s other B&B, (where we had our meal with 18 other guests), by a chap who lives in Bath! Small world.

 
We haven’t stumbled across any noticeable NZ food yet. We ate Italian in Auckland, ‘classic’ food in Russell and had an Asian fusion meal from our host. There are more Asian/Oriental restaurants here than in the UK, but we haven’t tried any out yet.
 
Your posts are really keeping us entertained – thank you very much. The war canoe is too big for our suitcases Mim – that’s the only thing stopping us from bringing one back. We have already contemplated and discounted bringing back dolphins and lambs (following the  spotting of a lambs for sale sign). I suspect we will have the same conversation several more times as we still have penguin watching and whale watching trips to do.
 
I will try to catch CJ in the act of fruit eating, but breakfasts tend to be public affairs so it may not be possible. 
 
Thank you for your NZ New Year wishes. You have about 45 minutes to go to the UK New Year. I wonder how many of you are staying up for it. We will be awake for the UK one, which is more than we can say for the NZ affair. Apparently there were fireworks, but we didn’t hear a thing.
 
We are off out soon. It is glorious again today and should be perfect for our flight to Cape Reinga. That will be our next post so see you later.
POSTED AT 22:45

WEDNESDAY, 31 DECEMBER 2008

Day 3, Opua and dolphin watching


Another good night’s sleep – courtesy of Nytol (for Mary’s benefit). We were rather more leisurely in our breakfast routine today and sat gazing out on the perfect view. Sorry to tell you that it is another beautiful day and the cicadas are busily clicking for all they’re worth. I have to tell everyone that Chris is willingly eating fruit and has expressed a liking for it! It is a case of what’s not to like as everything is really ripe and practically melts in your mouth, but this is a major breakthrough for CJ. Bev is typing this on the balcony, looking out onto blue waters and virtual silence, cicadas excepted. There are a few boats out today and the ferry to Russell seems to be doing good business. There is a gentle breeze blowing and I think it’s going to be a very hot day. The hosts have told both of us to make sure we have sunscreen and hats with us. They clearly think we might actually go somewhere! 

 
We eventually did head out, 1st of all to Waitangi where the Treaty between the Maori and the British was signed in 1840. Another beautiful seaside spot and lots of interesting things to see. We are a bit rubbish on our NZ history, so it was good to learn a bit about the relationship between the Maoris and the Brits.
 
We started our dolphin watching cruise from Paihia jetty and we were both slightly shocked at the temperatures out at sea – hot! It wasn’t long before we spotted a pod of lovely dolphins, playing in the bow waves of the boats for no good reason other than just to have a good time. Bev and I have never seen so many (see Picasa pictures – they are almost impossible to photograph). The cruise around the Bay of Islands was quite spectacular and the impressive Hole in the Rock marked our point of return via Russell.
 
After some not very exciting shopping in Paihia, we came back to Cliff Edge to blog and upload photos whilst sipping G&T on our balcony. The sacrifices we make to keep you all informed! Tonight is New Year’s Eve here and we are being fed by our hosts. Peter is an award winning chef and we have had a sneak preview of the menu – looks scrummy. More of that tomorrow.
 
If you read this when New Year has reached the UK, Happy New Year to all of you. We hope that 2009 will be kind to you.
POSTED AT 07:39
TUESDAY, 30 DECEMBER 2008

Day 2, Auckland to Opua – Bay of Islands


We both slept really well, thanks to drugs and a wonderful bed. Oh, what joy lying down is. We had a fantastic breakfast at Aachen House and, after a lot of chat with guests and our host, we were off toward the north and the Bay of Islands, stopping off at a roadside cafe for toasted sandwiches and ice cream. It became really hot and sunny as we travelled north – 26 degrees was our max. today. We went up on route 16 for some of the way, past lots of vineries and lush green and rolling countryside. We then swung right and travelled up the coast which was lovely as well. We went to Paihia before going to our next B&B and had a look round and Bev bought a sunhat (please see Picasa photos). I had packed a hat for trips up mountains but none for heat. We saw a great sign as we travelled today – ‘last cheese for miles’ it said. Clearly an essential thing to know.

 
Cliff Edge B&B is beautiful, with views to make you give up thoughts of ever going anywhere else. A view from our balcony is shown above. We look out over water across to an outcrop of land with no-one to look back at you. We reluctantly decided we should go to find something to eat and took a short ferry ride to Russell, across the water from Opua. Russell was the 1st capital of NZ and has its oldest church. It is a very pretty place and apparently where the millionaires live. We have already started playing let’s look at house prices and they certainly are a great deal higher on Russell than anywhere else so far (see photos). We sat outside to eat and had a very nice meal at a place called Sally’s which had been recommended by a taxi driver Chris got talking to whilst we were waiting for the ferry.
 
Back to Cliff Edge and bed. More tomorrow!
MONDAY,  29 DECEMBER 2008

Day 1 – Aachen House, Auckland

Well here we are in New Zealand! For anyone in any doubt, it’s a very long way from the UK. We arrived on time at just before 11am local time on CJ’s 50th birthday. We picked up the hire car (an automatic Ford Focus if you’re interested) and headed for Aachen House. We didn’t get lost at all. We were greeted in a very friendly way (by the staff) and were immediately offered tea in very delicate, flowery cups. When we were shown to our room, we discovered we’d been upgraded to an even posher one and found a lovely bottle of whisky from Sue and Joseph waiting for the birthday middle aged man. Please see the photo of Millie on the bed to appreciate the lap of luxury we are currently residing in. 

It has been raining on and off today but it is warm and humid which is a pleasant change for us after the near zero temps that we left behind. Sorry if it’s still freezing there.

Once we had made ourselves decent, we headed into downtown Auckland, by bus no less, and had a look around. We weren’t very impressed with the centre of Auckland so decided to have an early tea so that we can get to bed early tonight. For those of you who have been to Vancouver, we think Auckland is quite similar in look to that, although where we are staying is full of colonial houses. Altogether a strange mix. 

We are looking forward to lying down to go to sleep!

 

SUNDAY, 28 DECEMBER 2008

Hong Kong is very cloudy


Here we are in fuggy Hong Kong waiting for our connecting flight to Auckland in the new and very huge, anonymous grey airport. We are both very confused about the time difference and have already given up trying to work it out. Unfortunately, CJ had a very uncomfortable flight with no sleep with legs that just weren’t designed for aeroplanes. It’s definately Upper Class next time for us – damn the cost! BL got a bit of sleep, but we are now both feeling slightly pukey. I’m not sure we hardy enough for adventure although we are both looking forward to trekking out to see penguins!

THURSDAY, 25 DECEMBER 2008


 A Friendly Face For You (mint sauce, mint sauce)

Well here we are with a new venture, our first blog. It’s all a bit scary but I am sure that we will get the hang of it. We hope to post pictures and tales of our trip around the fantastic north and south islands and excite you all with local information that we manage to tease out of the Kiwis. Those who know us will not be surprised by the number of animal or bird references and pictures that we delight you with. We thought a nice lamb picture would be the best one to start with and if nothing goes to plan and it rains every day, this might be the only picture you get!

Keep a weather eye out for new posts and please post us comments that are appropriate and not too rude. We expect you to have your itinerary at hand and map pinpointing our route at all times, or if you have a life, a glass of wine and a Christmas cracker. We will be asking questions on our return (that’s if we actually come back of course). You can hopefully see the link on the right hand side of the blog – this will take you to our NZ Picassa album where, if we are fortunate enough to find a wireless connection, we will put some of our photos that do not contain nudity or photographs of us looking ridiculously happy. 
 

THURSDAY, 25 DECEMBER 2008

Map of Our Route

This is a map of our route and the places that we are staying numbered from 1 to 19. We are sometimes staying more than one night in each place. We will be travelling via Hong Kong and arriving in Auckland on 29th December at 10:45 where we will hopefully be in a fit state to pick up our hire car and celebrate Chris’ 50th birthday.

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