October - November 2016
  • Day28

    Of Buddas and Boats

    November 18, 2016 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    Thursday 17th November

    Our aim this morning was to go and see the King’s palace and a temple then I wanted to go to the fabric area which Google told me was centred on Phahurat Road and conveniently was close to the palace and temple. It was a fair distance away and involved us catching two trains and a water-bus. The water-bus was great fun, if a little chaotic. Half the time we weren’t sure if we were on the right bus or where we needed to get off but we managed to get there. There were various other vessels sharing the waterways with us. There were the long, narrow and slick boats that had a thin red, yellow and green striped awning running the length of the boat. They were usually driven at speed creating a lot of noise and waves, skippered by young men standing at the rear of the boat, one hand resting on the tiller steering the vessel using a long prop shaft that extended several feet behind the boat, the propeller spinning madly almost on water level creating a big spray of water behind the boat. I saw these as the taxis of the river, fast, nippy taking people here and there very quickly. A sort of boy racer vessel. The water bus on the other hand was a ponderous beast, a work horse that chugged through the water taking locals and tourists to ferry points along the river. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some just going back and forth across the river rather than up and down it. After alighting from the ferry we looked around for the palace. Outside one of the government buildings a local got talking to Peter and we ended up being recommended to see 3 Buddhas and temples then returning to see the palace later. He sorted out a tuk-tuk and we felt a bit awkward saying no thank you – mistake number 1, stay focussed and don’t lose sight of what you want to do. I tried to say I wanted to see the fabric street but he said that it opened at night. That I knew was untrue as I had researched it on Google, I felt he was pushing us to do what he was recommending. With hindsight, I should have said, ‘thank you but we have other plans today’ but didn’t and ended up compromising what we set out to do. Once in the tuk-tuk we were driven to see a smiling Buddha, then the tuk-tuk driver slipped in he wanted to take us to see a gem factory and a tailor so he could get his fuel card stamped. Again, we should have said ‘no thank you’ but didn’t. By the time we had been driven to and trailed round these set up selling places at which I had no problem resisting all sales pitches and then onto see a standing Buddha we were all very tired and hot and none of us much felt like looking at fabric markets so instead, we got him to drop us back to the ferry station so we could get the water bus and train back to our hotel. I was very disappointed not to go to look at the fabric market as it was something I had been really keen to do right from when we planned the holiday. I felt our plans got railroaded by the guide and the taxi driver leaving us with no option but to abandon our plans whilst fulfilling his.

    As this was the last day of our holiday we wanted to relax at the end of it so once we arrived back at our hotel we had a lovely swim in the pool to cool off and had a delicious meal at the hotel. Tomorrow we fly to Dubai and then onto Heathrow with Emirates. It will be an early start; we have to leave the hotel at 5.30am so will have breakfast at the airport lounge.

    We have been amazed how quickly the time has gone, when we left the UK we had a month’s holiday in front of us and now it is over! We travelled to the other side of the world, the furthest you can go from the UK, just to see what New Zealand was like, we had heard and read so much about it and wanted to see for ourselves. The scenery reminded me of the UK; the mountains of Scotland and the rolling hills of the South West. I was surprised to find that it was mainly cattle not sheep that are farmed. In general, with a few exceptions I wasn’t very keen on the style of houses, to me they resembled mobile homes from the outside. I think a lot are timber framed, maybe this is to do with the fact they are in an earthquake zone and there is a certain type of home that is safer in design in case they collapse. Unlike a lot of people, I am not coming home thinking I could live there, I do prefer the UK. If I was going to live in another country Canada appeals more to me. New Zealand is a country that is well worth a visit if you have the chance, there is so much to see, we barely managed to scratch the surface really and the people are really hospitable.

    The best place we stayed has to be Wendy and Peter’s in Napier.
    Best town we visited was Napier
    Best Meal – the Hangi at Rotorua
    Most memorable moment – for Peter it was looking a dolphin in the eye from no more than a metre away when swimming with them and for me it was the beautiful architecture at Napier and two very special kiwi birds at Mount Bruce. Janet found it hard to pinpoint one thing but really liked the albatross nesting place and the seals at Kaikora.

    So, until our next adventure – bon voyage!
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  • Day26

    Planes, Trains and a Crazy Tuk-Tuk

    November 16, 2016 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Tuesday 15th November &
    Wednesday 16th November

    Left early at 7am on 15th Nov to get to Dunedin airport. Despite the chaos of the last few days the airports are all operational with no problems reported. Our New Zealand airways flight was in a more spacious aircraft than the one we had on the outward journey so was much more comfortable. It was on time and we duly arrived at Auckland to catch our Emirates flight to Bangkok. It was a full flight but was doing a stop in Sydney where a lot of passengers got off. We rejoined it for the next leg of its flight to Bangkok – 14hrs 40mins, a long flight by any standard and we were not looking forward to it. However there were hardly any passengers on it so when it came to sleep time lots of people stretched out over 4 seats and spread around the plane. I didn’t but Peter did and said it was very comfy. Actually as it was so empty it would have been good if the crew had said ‘hey guys there’s not many in first class and we have loads of empty seats, how about you come up to see how you like it’ No chance! I have to say we all managed a fair bit of decent sleep and the journey sped by so before we knew it we were landing in Bangkok. It was 1.30am and we had a bit of kerfuffle finding our taxi we had booked, but finally we sorted it out with a bit of help from another hotel rep who rang our rep to find out where he was. We finally arrived in our hotel rooms at 04.00am 16th Nov. I wasn’t particularly tired, but I was weary. We crawled into bed and promptly fell asleep only to be woken a half hour later by a message coming in from Lois telling us the family meal had been sorted for 26th Nov! Surprisingly sleep returned and we grabbed a few more hours before deciding to get up and shower, breakfast and hit the road.

    The hotel is centrally positioned in Bangkok, we are on the 6th floor, the same level as the swimming pool. Unfortunately although we have balconies our view is of the next door building which does make the room a bit darker. Apart from that the room is spacious, Janet feels it is a bit tired and said she saw a cockroach scuttle across her bathroom. We suggested she ask to move rooms but she said she won’t as we are only here for 3 nights. Perhaps we are more tolerant as we have frequently shared our rooms with various creatures and bugs, I recall Colin the cockroach who lived in my spongebag when we stayed in a cabin in the Amazon rainforest – he gave me a shock when I reached in for something in the night, and not switching on the light I just put my hand in and felt Colin – made me jump. We have also shared our bedrooms with various ghekkos, lizards, beetles and centipedes in lodges in Africa. Once a centipede curled up in my trousers overnight when we were camping in the Ruaha Game Park, then when I pulled them on in the morning bit me on the bum – it really hurt and I did a frantic dance around the tent trying to see what had bit me. Bats flying round in the evening on their way off to feed are also interesting – it happens when your lodge has no glass in the windows as is frequently the case in the tropics.

    The heat in Bangkok is overwhelming, much hotter than Hong Kong. The trains are fantastic to ride in, not only do they have great graphics and drawings on the outside, they give the impression of having no windows, yet when you get in they are one way windows, so you can see out perfectly well but no-one can see in. They are also deliciously cool, with very efficient air conditioning – London Transport could learn a trick or two here! We wandered round some shops and a couple of markets before deciding we were too hot to carry on so we hailed a tuk-tuk, negotiated what we thought was a fair price and jumped in. Our chosen tuk-tuk was a smart affair driven by a smiley young chap who was keen to get us to stop at a tailor shop on the way back. We refused this offer recognising it as a sales pitch which we were in no mood to engage with. It was only when I went to get in the tuk-tuk I realised the floor at the back was higher than expected, only about 6 inches lower than the seat and polished chrome. There was not a lot of headroom either and being the first to get in I found myself kneeling on the floor and sliding over to my seat on my knees – not a very dignified entrance! We wedged Janet in-between Peter and I as we figured it would be less hair-raising for her in the middle. Our driver sped out into the traffic, obviously, a frustrated pro-racing driver. He dived in and out, between cars and spaces you would not have thought he could squeeze into. Then he was up onto a flyover, toe to the floor, roaring along, head and shoulders low over the handlebars, gripping them tightly. Now for those of you who don’t know perhaps I should enlighten you that a tuk-tuk is basically a three-wheeler souped up scooter with what sounds like a lawnmower engine. The front windscreen is optional and if present is usually adorned with rosaries, garlands, effigies of various gods, good luck poems stitched on pieces of fabric and photos. This leaves very little screen for the driver to see through. There are no glass windows around the sides or rear of the vehicle, passengers are completely open to the elements and the fumes from other vehicles. So, taking you back to the flyover, we were hitting speeds we had not thought possible from a tuk-tuk, the wind felt at g-force level around our faces, our hair flying out behind us (well perhaps not Peter’s, but he had a fixed smile/grimace on his face as we hared along). Janet was also laughing; I think it was laughter not hysteria! Thankfully we weren’t long on the flyover but as soon as we came off it we joined a heavy traffic jam on the city roads and ground to a halt. Our driver was very frustrated at this lack of progress but he had a simple solution – do a u turn in the face of oncoming cars and motor bikes bearing down on us and seek an alternative route. Janet shut her eyes, I gasped and Peter laughed. It’s obviously an accepted way of driving for no-one hooted us, no swearing or shaking of fists, other road users simply swerved around us.

    It is a source of constant fascination to me the way people, in other Asian countries mainly, travel on mopeds. I watched as a guy rode past with his girlfriend/sister/wife perched on the back riding side saddle, one dainty leg neatly crossed over the other. She was not holding onto him or the moped, instead she was staring intently at her phone texting someone!! Incredible, it had to be seen to be believed, unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to catch a photo this time, but I will try later because they are always doing it.

    Back to our tuk-tuk, we had joined another traffic jam despite his best efforts at finding an alternative route. Undeterred he had another trick up his sleeve, positioning himself in the outside lane, as soon as there was a gap in the oncoming traffic he swung out and raced along up the wrong side of the road effectively queue jumping all those in front patiently waiting their turn. Traffic came towards us, threatening a head-on collision, but our guy had nerves of steel and drove relentlessly on. Again, this must be a common occurrence for I noticed other tuk-tuk’s following in our wake, but nonetheless it was a bit disconcerting for us at the front of the line driving into oncoming traffic. With a whoop of joy, he dodged them all, and they him and we swung round the corner into the approach road of our hotel. As we arrived outside our hotel he rode up onto the pavement outside the hotel and screeched to a halt. The doorman strode out towards our tuk-tuk, grim faced, no doubt to reprimand him and ask what on earth he was doing driving his tuk-tuk onto the pavement outside their hotel. Then he spotted us climbing out of the tuk-tuk, (climbing out was no less elegant than climbing in for me dear readers) and quickly smiled and enquired if we had had a good shopping trip. We paid the driver – tipping him generously for such an eventful and enjoyable journey and took photographs of him and his tuk-tuk. Walking into the cool, elegant lobby of the hotel with its lift music tinkling gently in the background; we were conscious of the staff looking at us, the receptionists, concierge, security and doorman. We were windswept to the extreme, very hot and sweaty and had rocked up in a tuk-tuk driven by a crazy driver! They must have wondered what things were coming to and how standards had slipped!
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  • Day24

    Earthquake! Albatross & Penguins

    November 14, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Monday 14th November
    As I felt so rough last night I put my phone on silent before going to bed. It has woken us in the night a few times with messages and alarms from home. Tonight we were determined to sleep well. But we overlooked earthquakes! At two minutes past midnight NZ time a massive earthquake 7.5 on Richter scale hit. Epicentre was around Hamner Springs, a few miles from Kaikoura. So when I awoke at around 6am and checked my phone I wondered what on earth was going on. I had missed calls from Bruce and Lois plus messages from friends and relatives. Once I looked at the messages I realised what had happened, I quickly woke Peter and we tuned into local radio and TV which is running updates on the damage and situation. Tsunami warnings in place along the east coast, Dunedin stood down from state of emergency (I hadn’t realised we were in a state of emergency!) Being in a castle we are on high ground so should be safe from tsunamis but we are due to go to see the albatross nesting sites and yellow eyed penguins down the road this morning.

    10.50am –
    • The interislander ferry has had to drop anchor at sea and is stranded outside Picton harbour as the landing port has been damaged.
    • Kaikora cut off, no power, water or sewerage. Landslips blocked roads in and out of the town. Several houses demolished.
    • Wellington had landslips
    6.3 aftershock
    18.00
    • Military aircraft to airlift people from Kaikora
    • Estimated repair at billions, taking days or weeks
    • Dam breached on Canterbury’s Clarence river, lot of water to flow down to the sea, people advised to stay away

    Severe storms forecast for tonight. We’re in for a wild one! Not helped by the super moon which will deliver high tides as well.

    The albatross nesting site was very interesting. Because of high winds we were able to see fantastic flying displays from lots of seabirds. They have the Royal Albatross here. Saw an albatross sitting on an egg. Amazingly huge birds with a 3 metre wingspan that have to fold in 3 places to be put away. Watching them glide effortlessly on the storm winds is quite breathtaking. I’ve always loved the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Albatross’ and today it seemed very fitting. We walked up a steep hill to a hide which gave views over the top of the cliff where the albatross were nesting. One couple were very funny, they were nest building, a sort of gathering of stones, grasses and sticks on the ground. He had done his best and arranged the various bits in what he thought was an acceptable way. She however took one look at it and promptly took it apart stone by stone, grass blade by grass blade, stick by stick. She picked up bits and threw them away or replaced them in a different place. He looked at her disconsolately as she destroyed his hard work. Then he turned his back and started to waddle off down the grass path. We joked he said ‘right well I’m off down the pub’. Then he turned round and came back to help her, probably saying ‘I forgot my wallet’. Beautiful birds that seem to have a permanent smile.

    The yellow eyed penguins were also special in their own way. Sadly, their numbers are declining on the mainland, breeding colonies also exist on some islands off the coast of New Zealand. They are private birds that do not gather in groups, preferring to pair off and just remain like that. No artic walk for hundreds of miles in a big gang like the emperor penguins. We saw one in a nesting hut with a chick which was pretty special and another sheltering alone in another hut. He was a lone male but as there are many more males than females he may have a long wait for a partner.

    Stopping for lunch in a local pub on the way back we caught up with the earthquake news on the TV then with wild storms forecast we are back in our castle hunkered down to weather the storm before our early start tomorrow to fly to Bangkok from Dunedin via Auckland.
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  • Day23

    Around Larnach Castle and Dunedin

    November 13, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    There was a light in the corridor outside our room that burned bright all night and was really irritating, Pete fixed that this morning, took off the cover and unscrewed the bulb. That should sort it. He will screw it back when we leave.

    Since Janet and I are full of cold, coughing, sniffing and sneezing all over the place we did not fancy doing anything too strenuous, so we decided to explore the castle this morning and go to Dunedin this afternoon. As we are staying at the castle we could have a free audio tour. This was very interesting and gave a lot of the detail about the history of the house and its owners. It was like going round a stately home in the UK, all the rooms are furnished in period décor and furniture. It was built by William Larnach for his family. He was a very inventive and progressive person, even to the extent that he recycled horse and human sewage, harnessing the methane gas and using it to light the chandeliers in the house. However for all his work on the house and money his was not an entirely happy life and he ended up committing suicide when he was in his 50’s. His son also committed suicide when he was young as well. The current owners, the Barker family bought the castle in 1967 when it was in a poor state of repair and have spent years renovating it and furnishing it with period pieces. The gardens have been similarly renovated worked on mainly by Mrs Barker. They are a blaze of glorious colour and we can see that in a couple of weeks the laburnum arches will be a blaze of colour where at the moment they are hanging their pendulous buds in anticipation of spring sunshine and warmth. Similarly the delphiniums are budding up and promising a grand show of colour in a few short days. Shame we will not be here to see it. Scattered around the grounds in strategic places are various sculptures that enhance the gardens.

    We drove into Dunedin and after finding a pharmacy to purchase more tissues and some decongestant – we can’t bear the thought of flying whilst this bunged up, we decided to go and see the Chinese Garden. It was small but very tranquil with all the elements expected. A lily filled pond, a zig-zag bridge over it, rocks with a waterfall and trellis with the Chinese fretwork everywhere. We found a relaxation garden with several circular tables and seats. On each table was laid out a different game for visitors to try. Janet and I sat down to enjoy a game of Chinese chequers. Peter tried moving marbles from one bowl to another using just chopsticks. It was so peaceful we loved it.

    Next we went for a stroll in Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Although the huge glass houses were shut we did find an aviary with lots of large cages. There were many types of parrots and macaws housed there, some for breeding purposes to return fledglings to the wild. However having seen macaws and parrots flying wild in the Amazon it didn’t seem right for them to be caged for although the cages were large they could not compare to flying wild. It made me sad to see them so. Some did seem to be showing signs of boredom and frustration. The gardens though were beautiful, especially the rock garden. Tumbling cascades of colour covered the rocks, looking from afar like a multi-coloured tapestry.

    Since Janet and I were fading fast we decided to grab a bite to eat and head back to the castle and our nice warm beds. An early night would be very welcome.
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  • Day23

    Queenstown to Dunedin and a Castle

    November 13, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Saturday 12th November
    Before leaving Queenstown we wanted to ride on the cable car which goes to the top of the hill where there is a café and of more interest to us - a luge track. Janet wasn’t at all sure about going on the luge, but her reputation was at stake as her family at home did not believe she would do it and she wanted to prove them wrong! Arriving at the ticket office at 9.30am there was no queue and we were able to board the cable car immediately. Being on the edge of the city the cable car gives a fabulous view of the whole of Queenstown. We were surprised at how small Queenstown actually is. For some reason we thought it much larger. We strolled around at the top, taking photos of the view before wandering around to catch the 2 person chair lift up to the luge which was higher up the mountain and ran down to the cable car station. Rummaging in my pockets I realise I have lost my ticket, when I took out my phone to take photos it must have fallen out. Luckily the ticket office believe me and honour my ticket. Before we get to the ticket office we walk past the track – it’s a boys own dream! Windy track with hills, tunnels and steep banked bends with the riders in a 4-wheeled cart steered by a central handle that you pull back to stop, otherwise it just gains speed and momentum as it bombs down the track. There are two tracks, the blue starter track and the fast red track. All first timers have to go on the blue track to begin with. Getting into the cart was the first challenge, they are so low to the ground and unless you are either 18 or possess super supple joints it was not an easy or dignified sight. Once in you are given rudimentary instructions then, having passed the ‘test’, off you go! Well what super fun! Despite there being notices in BIG letters saying ‘no racing’, ‘no bumping’, ‘no overtaking’ and basically no fun, we went for it! Pete took an early lead but I was hot on his tail, Janet gallantly trundled along behind. Pete then made the fatal mistake of doing an emergency stop by pulling back on his handle and nearly jettisioning himself out. Taking full advantage, I tore past whooping loudly (no racing! Not likely), he was cursing and getting his luge going again. Just before Janet also overtook him he got going again and was soon right behind me but I wasn’t giving up that easily and didn’t allow him room to manoeuvre (no overtaking rule!). All too soon the finish was in sight and it was over. I was jubilant with my first place. We had one more go left. Peter and I opt for the faster red track, Janet preferred to stay with the blue. Peter was far more confident than I and raced away, leaning into and whizzing round the corners and actually taking off as we went over the steep hills, I was far more cautious and braked quite a lot to slow me down. We all agreed that the luge was huge fun and as we were leaving stopped to watch a group of twenty something guys tearing down the track, bumping, racing and overtaking but all having great fun – that’s what it’s all about.

    We stopped again at Arrowtown as previously we had not visited the Chinese settlement where there are the ruins of huts – they could hardly be called houses, and stories about the migration of Chinese settlers to the area in the time of the gold rush and their subsequent mistreatment and isolation by the locals. Their living conditions and existence made harrowing reading at times.

    Just outside Queenstown we came to a big bridge over a river with a bungee jump platform on the middle of the bridge. Never having seen anyone actually bungee before we were interested to stop and have a go, no not really, just to watch!  It was quite fascinating really, we saw one guy back out, he was strapped in the harness and standing on the platform but just couldn’t go through with it, and another older guy around 60 who did it for the first time. A young girl swallow dived off whilst others just jumped or fell forwards. There was an optional hair wash as well which involved your head dipping in the water which some of them took up. Once they had done their jump a dingy, tethered to the bank hauled them on board and took them to the bank. All seemed jubilant at their achievement. Not for us though, far too scary and risky! Next to the bungee was a zip wire, this looked much tamer with seated harnesses and a short run alongside the river, not like the 2km zip lines we did in Costa Rica where you held onto a bar and were hooked on with just a mountaineer’s carabiner and a leather strap round your waist. That didn’t look challenging enough for us!

    The drive to Dunedin was a long one so Peter and I shared the driving. It was through fairly deserted areas with an occasional shop, looking very sleepy and not very inviting. The roads were more or less deserted so we had no hold ups. We drove through rain showers and back out into sunshine, eventually arriving at Dunedin at 5pm. The final place we are staying on New Zealand is Lanarch Castle which says it is the only castle in New Zealand. Tired out we decide to have dinner at the castle which was an interesting and enjoyable affair. All the guests sit around a long table together whilst their chosen food is served. We were opposite a pleasant couple from Essex. Talking about our journey out we discovered they too had flown Emirates and enquired how they had found them. They looked a bit blank then the guy said they thought Emirates were ok; his wife had found a shower thing for her feet that she enjoyed and kept her amused. She laughed in agreement. At this point we realised they must have been upstairs, clearly not travelling cattle class like us!!
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  • Day22

    Doubtful Sound to Queenstown

    November 12, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 8 °C

    Friday 11th November
    The schooner unfurled her sails this morning, it was a beautiful spectacle. I tried to photograph it but it’s very difficult to do from on the boat to get all the sails in, it needed really to be photographed from a distance. It was chilly first thing but we didn’t want to waste a moment of our time on the boat, so after a speedy breakfast we took a hot cuppa onto the top deck to watch our progress along the Sound. The water was like a millpond and the boat gently cut through the water. The mountains were mirrored perfectly in the water. We were very fortunate and saw penguins and dolphins. The penguins were preening themselves and hopping from rock to rock by the water’s edge under the trees on an island. We spotted the dolphins approaching from a way off. The boat was stopped and all the engines were turned off. Everyone stood on the decks, listening to the Sound of Silence. All we could hear was the birdsong from the trees on the surrounding mountains, the dolphins calling to each other and the gentle splashing as they swam past, flipping and jumping in joyous delight at just being alive. It was a magical moment, just us there with nature in the silence. Wonderful, certainly one of my highlights of our holiday.

    The only drawback to this area is the sand flies. They look very much like the thunder flies we have at home, but they bite and boy do the bites itch!! Despite anti-bug spray I have 7 bites on my right foot and 9 on my left foot! The itching is driving me crazy and every now and then I give into the urge to scratch the relief is wonderful, but then immediately I regret giving in as the itching returns ten times worse. I have now slavered my feet in sting relief and pray it kicks in soon.

    Arriving back at the quayside we had our outward journey in reverse so we boarded a coach to take us to the ferry and then another coach to bring us back to Queenstown and to Peppers Beacon Hotel. We didn’t arrive back until 4pm and were very tired by then. This time we were in a room right at the top and had amazing views over the lake and mountains. Our luggage was supposed to have been taken to our room but when we got in we had someone else’s luggage, a call to reception sorted it out, the receptionist had taken our luggage to the wrong room and we had their luggage. Sorted out in no time. Time to do all our washing and eat. We all wanted just to get something and cook it in our rooms again and not bother going out, so that’s what we did.
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  • Day22

    To Doubtful Sound

    November 12, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    Thursday 10th November
    We checked out of Peppers Beacon for one night as we are going on an overnight cruise along Doubtful Sound in a schooner. We are only allowed one small bag, as usual I took far too much and consequently my bag was very heavy - I do need to work on my travelling light method. The coach picked us up from outside the hotel, and from there it was a 3½ hour drive to the ferry which was to take us across Lake Manapouri. Another coach was waiting for us as we docked and drove us a further hour to the head of Doubtful Sound where we boarded our schooner. We had our own cabins on the upper deck which were surprisingly spacious with en-suite facilities. A lot of others were sharing quad cabins which sounded rather basic bunk bed facilities separated by curtains in the lower deck of the boat. The boat dropped anchor about 45minutes after we had set sail; there were various water based activities on offer. Peter decided to join the kayaking activity, about 24 in total went out. It looked very tiring as they kayaked around the Fiord. Janet and I preferred to join one of the smaller boats that went out to explore the surrounding flora and fauna. Once everyone was back on board there was the opportunity to go swimming in the Sound. The water is both fresh water and salt, the salt water being heavier sinks below the fresh which sits on top. It is also coloured a rich brown by all the tannins washed into the water from the surrounding mountains and trees. Quite a lot of people went in, some slipped in from the landing stage for the kayaks whilst some climbed a ladder and jumped from the first floor! Even the crew joined in, jumping and diving in. Everyone said it was very cold, but seemed to enjoy it as many went in for more.

    Soup and a roll was served afterwards at about 5pm, but I didn’t fancy any, it was too soon after lunch for me. The boat then sailed on the length of the Sound to a fur seal colony at the mouth. We moved to the front of the top deck to try to get a good view. It was really windy and cold, luckily we had zipped back to our cabins to put on an extra layer before venturing up there. A large rock rose from the sea and all over it basked seals, some pups were playing, chasing each other around on the rock watched by their mothers whilst the large bulls kept an eye on their cows to make sure they didn’t stray. Moving away from the seals the boat sailed towards the edge of the shore where some yellow eyed penguins were spotted. Onwards the boat continued into the open ocean, the Tasmin Sea where there are some of the roughest waters in the world. The crew said the waters were quite calm but to us as we pitched up and down, tossed in the waves, it seemed anything but. I should have taken Janet’s offer of one of her accustraps which she swears prevents seasickness. Everyone was alert, looking for whales, but alas once more they evaded us, no sign of them at all. Eventually our little boat turned its prow back towards calmer waters and we sailed from the turbulent sea into the relative calm of the Sound. Our fingers and noses were quite numb by now so we decided to go back inside. Dinner was a delicious buffet affair. After dinner there was an optional talk on New Zealand flora. The boat was at anchor and it was very peaceful outside. Janet and I walked around on the deck in the dark, it was amazing how many noises we could hear coming from the forests on shore. Many birds we could not identify as well as many other noises from unknown creatures. The stars twinkled in the sky above and I saw a shooting star and what I think was a satellite, either that or it was an alien, but I think the satellite is more likely. It was very peaceful and serene.
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  • Day22

    Aftermath of the Great Storm

    November 12, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Wednesday 9th November
    After finishing the blog on Tuesday 8th November, posting it and turning in for the night, it all started to kick off! First we heard a very loud, deep rumbling and wondered if it was thunder, but it seemed too intense. Then the pyrotechnic show started, the sky lit up with sheet lightning and the thunder crashed in unison. Peeping out of our door we watched as our white car, parked directly outside our room seemed to light up, the white colour becoming even more luminous and bright. The heavens opened and the rain fell. It came down in absolute torrents, it was a deluge. We lay in bed and listened to the rain pounding on the tin roof of our single storey chalet. I couldn’t remember if Janet was afraid of thunderstorms or not and wondered if she was ok, on the other hand she could be absolutely fine and enjoying the spectacle. The storm continued unabated throughout the night for many hours. It was trapped between the mountains in the valley where we were and swirled round and around. One minute it seemed to settle, the rain stopped, the lightning ceased and the thunder died away, then all of a sudden with an almighty crash the skies lit up and the rain hammered down again, echoing on the tin roof. We wondered how close we were to the river, what if it burst its banks? Perhaps the management would come round pounding on doors telling everyone to leave and get to higher ground! Around 5am there was a huge bang, much louder than anything else which woke Peter up – amazingly he managed to slumber through the storm having earlier pulled on my coat and going outside to watch it. When he came in he fell asleep fairly easily, until the big bang! Later on, when we got up and gingerly peered outside to inspect the damage, we learnt that there was a direct lightning hit on the property next door, melting the phone to the wall. It was the worst storm in living memory! People were stranded at our motel as all roads north to Fox and Franz Joseph were blocked by landslides. We had planned to go on a wildlife boat trip in the morning but there was a call to say the river was too high and they couldn’t take the boats out. We are blaming Janet’s unlucky jumper. She ruefully admitted that she had been wearing it when we were due to go whale watching and again when we turned up to go heli-hiking. I think she was probably wearing it in bed last night too. Janet is keeping suspiciously quiet about the whole thing. I rest my case.

    Our route was taking us south to Queenstown which TomTom predicted would take 3hrs. In fact it took us nearer 7 hours because we did lots of stops on the way. The upside of the great storm was that all the rivers and waterfalls were swollen beyond belief and took on a newfound beauty. As we drove along it was apparent that everyone was doing the same as cars, campervans and motorhomes were pulled off the road every few kms to look at a magnificent waterfall or rapids. Seeing a group of vehicles at one layby we too pulled over and walked through a mossy wood, hopping through deep puddles to get to the edge of the river where, on the opposite bank we could see Roaring Billy – a huge waterfall, its waters swelled by the overnight rain, ejected from the top of a clifftop as if fired from a water cannon then falling down the side of the cliff into the tumultuous churning waters of the river below. It was an awe-inspiring sight. Further along the road we stopped to see Thunder Creek falls, higher, not as wide but similarly swollen. Again, we walked to the edge of the river on the opposite bank. The mist from the falls filled the air all around us, soaking our hair and clothes, we shielded our cameras as best we could from the mist. Alongside all the roads newly created waterfalls sprung from crevices and fissures in the rock-face adjacent to the road, tumbling into gullies along the edge of the roads and from there seeping into the rivers all around causing them to roar through the valleys and gorges gouging out new channels and threatening to flood surrounding land.
    We stopped for lunch at Boundary Creek picnic and camping ground. It was on the shores of Lake Wanaka. By now the skies were cornflower blue with wisps of white cloud whilst the waters of Lake Wanaka were a deep sapphire blue surrounded by green mountains dotted with trees. We walked along the water’s edge, picking up interesting looking stones, admiring the vast quantities of driftwood scattered along the shoreline. Some had been fashioned into makeshift shelters and camps, presumably by children or campers. It was the sort of moment you want to bottle and remember for ever.

    Carrying on our journey we were held up by a large landslide which covered half the road. Three men on ropes were precariously suspended up the cliff-face carrying out routine maintenance, clearing debris that would otherwise fall and cause more problems. Talking to the supervisor on the ground she explained that tomorrow a couple of helicopters were coming to sluice the cliff tomorrow scooping water up from the lake in giant buckets then dropping the water onto the cliff to wash away any debris left. That sounded an interesting sight and I wished I could be around to see it.

    Our final stop was Arrowtown which is a mock-up of a western town. The fronts of the shops had been built to carefully represent shops and buildings from a wild west town. It looked lovely and we spent an hour or so wandering around in the sunshine enjoying an ice cream.

    Arriving in Queenstown we found our bed for the night, Peppers Beacon. It was a very pleasant surprise, a 2-bedroom apartment overlooking the lake. Both bedrooms were en-suite, the kitchen had 2 dishwashers and full cooking facilities; opening a cupboard door we found a washing machine and tumble dryer. Very nice. The only downside is that they do not have free WiFi so I will have to wait to post this blog until I can get hooked up as I am not paying their prices. We have a little family of sparrows who have made a nest by the warm air vent next to our balcony. The parents seem to be gathering grubs and moths for their young and welcomed some crumbs and snips of chicken skin from our meal. A greedy blackbird was also nesting in a bush in front of our balcony – we are on the ground floor and he hoovered up any titbits left by the sparrows.
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  • Day18

    Hokitika to Haast

    November 8, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Tuesday 8th November
    We woke to see low cloud over the mountains, not a good sign as we were booked to go on a Heli-hike up Franz Joseph Glacier and in such conditions, it was highly likely the helicopters would not fly for health & safety reasons. Still we had an 85km drive there so we hoped the weather would be better in Haast. When we arrived at the guide centre for the Heli-hike we were advised that the pilots were still deciding whether or not to fly to the glacier. Helicopters were buzzing around and we were hopeful. However, we found out that the Heli-hike went much higher than they were flying and the concern was that if they got us up there they could not guarantee being able to land again after our 2hr hike to bring us back down. After hearing this I was mightily relieved when the decision was made to cancel all the helicopter trips apart from the scenic rides which flew lower. We could have transferred to a scenic ride but thought that as we had flown over a glacier in a small plane in Canada we didn’t think it would be worth it as one glacier is much the same as another from the air and it would have invalidated our refund.

    So as not to completely waste the day we took ourselves off on a walk to look at the glacier from a nearby viewpoint. It looked like a beautiful ice blue torrent of water with white tipped waves frozen as it flowed from the top of the mountain only just visible through the low cloud. We then drove onto Haaat, to find our bed for the night. It was another motel. Not too bad. Free laundry facilities which is a bonus and an opportunity to catch up on washing. It has beautiful lawned grounds with a big pond opposite our room, but the driving rain and leaden skies didn’t enhance the view at all. Dinner at the on-site bar/café the Hard Antler – bit of a bizarre name, it was a large rectangular building like a Nissan hut with the girders on view inside over which were hung loads of antlers from various deer.
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  • Day17

    Kaikoura to Hokitika

    November 7, 2016 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    Monday 7th November
    Daily Mileage 380
    Cumulative Mileage 1,771
    Today was the longest drive of the holiday from Kaikoura to Hokitika via the Lewis Pass. The Lewis Pass was beautiful but unfortunately there were very few places to stop and many of the ones there were had the view obscured by big trees. It was unlike Canada where every scenic route had lots of parking bays both side of the road and we were able to get great photos. We did several tea and loo stops on the way to break the journey, arriving at Hokitika at 3.30pm. We are staying at Bella Vista Motel tonight. We had trouble finding somewhere to stay in the area that we all liked and this motel seemed about the best we could find. However when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised, the rooms are spacious with a kitchenette and perfectly adequate and clean bathroom. We just had time to walk into town to look around. Paua shell jewellery is everywhere but I found some that I thought was particularly nice and purchased some matching earrings, necklace and ring. It was starting to rain so we ducked into a café for a meal. Unfortunately, by the time we finished it was raining hard and just-in-case Janet had failed to pack her umbrella in her backpack so we ribbed her about that for a bit.

    Sorry no photos today bit of a boring day, just driving.
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