New Zealand 2014

24 January

Went to bed at 10pm Korean time and refused to get out of bed until 7am Korean time. Of course body clock is on New Zealand time, which will only be worse back in England. 

Korean Air had also provided a voucher for breakfast, and I stuck to Western choices at the buffet. At 10am I boarded the bus for the airport. I had a moment of panic when we went to a different airport, but we only dropped off one person there and then went on to the international airport. I went through security, watched a few minutes of a ‘cultural experience’ show (what would be the British equivalent, I wonder?) and then went to my ‘plane. 

So, home again. At least the blast of winter in South Korea has prepared me for the return to England.

A few photos are here.

23 January

Got up several times in the night to use the loo. Just because, well, you know, it was there. I guess the bladder was celebrtating.

The hotel provided a free shuttle to the airport. I weighed my check-in bag at a free scale and gulped at being over. So I yanked out a book and the tripod. When the bag was weighed at the check-in desk I was 0.4 kg under. 

I’m staying overnight in South Korea at the airline’s expense. I asked that the main bag be checked through to London—I’d been aware of this option and I had what I needed for one night in my carry on(s). 

The flight passed as pleasantly as any flight can. I worked on the photobook of the trip, watched a movie (‘The Butler’), and politely fought my corner when the man sitting next to me kept trying to shove his stuff into my foot space. At the airport I passed through immigration and customs and, as promised, the friendly staff at the Korean Air desk gave me the voucher for the Seoul hotel, along with dinner and breakfast vouchers.

A large number of us boarded the bus for the hour long trip into Seoul. It’s very cold, and there are remnants of snow along gutters. I’m in the Seoul Royal Hotel, and feel distinctly underdressed. A posh room with a minibar, kettle, and a complicated loo which could possibly do all sorts of strange things for my bum. It took me several minutes to work out just how to flush the thing.

I wandered down for dinner, and selected the ‘beef rib soup’ from the options available. I do love Korean food. The restaurant staff were rushed off their feet by the arrival of the ‘plane passengers. I ate quickly and freed my table for another guest. Up in the bedroom I amused myself by using the tripod to take a photo of the view from my window. 

A few hotel photos are here.

22 January

I slept well, which was just as well because the alarm went off at 5.30am. We left the campsite at 7am. By some strange chance most of the skydivers had decided to wear their skydive t-shirts today.

The weather was undecided. We had mixed sunshine and clouds, which made me a rather frustrated photographer. It was perfect weather for landscape photography, mixture of light and shadow which I love. We drove northwards, passing large pine tree plantations. The timber industry is very important to the economy of New Zealand. However, pine trees are not native to New Zealand and these forests are not good for the native flora and fauna. 

A cycle option was offered, taken up by a number of people. The rest of us stayed in the bus to get to Waitomo. The area is famous for its glow worm caves, Ten of us went blackwater rafting, including two of the cyclists who only just make it in time. We put on wet wet suits (which was quite a challenge) and helmets. A short minibus drive took us to a field, where we collected inner tubes and walked through summer meadows wearing wet suits. I have to say that this was one of the more bizarre moments of my life.

Then into the cave. Over mud and stone to start with. Then we starting splashing in water. The guides took photos of us from time to time (yes, I did buy the $25.00 CD at the end—we were not permitted to take in our own cameras). We were told stories about the cave and the glow worms. For the first time I heard that the glow is actually in the glow worm poo. So when the guides made a sound like a gun shot they joked, ‘See how bright the glow worms are? They’ve been scared s***less.’ 

By the way, in Te Anau cave we had been warned that glow worms were very sensitive to sound and noise, so no photography had been permitted and we were to never speak above a whisper. In this trip we made lots of noise and the worms continued to glow. Perhaps the glow worms on North Island are made of sterner stuff.

The water became deeper. We put the inner tubes around our middles and were linked up by our feet. I was in the front as we were dragged backwards to a rather major sounding waterfall. The glow worm displays above us were incredible, but we were distracted from the view by our guides. The guides preteneded that we’d go down the waterfall still linked, facing backwards, so we wondered when to hold our breaths. ‘When Chrys screams,’ one person said. ‘She’s our sacrificial penguin.’

Actually, we were unlinked. There was a platform at the top of the waterfall, and we got down the six foot drop by putting the inner tube on our bum and jamping backwards. Yes, our heads did go under the water and water got up our noses. 

Then we were linked up again, this time facing forwards. Again we were pulled through the caves. The only light was from the glow woms, but there were so many of them that you could see quite easily. When the water was around 8 foot deep (according to the guides) we were unlinked and we had to make our way through the passageways. There were ropes attached to the walls, so I used these to pull myself along.

At the end of us there was a water slide. Inner tubes were sent down first, then we each slid down in turn. Again head under water, nose cleaned by cold water. We found our inner tubes and made our way through the water to the exit. I was very pleased to see an eel, about a foot long, aliding through the water just ahead of me. 

At the other end, and up over 100 steps. The minibus was there to take us back to base. Water oozed from boots and wet suits across the bus floor. We took group showers and changed into dry clothes. Back at the booking centre I paid for my photo CD, and then joined the others for a picnic lunch in the sun.

Then we settled into the long drive to Auckland. Once there I had the painful experience of saying goodbye to my bus buddies. Many of them were continuing north for several days before they too get ready to go home. I felt like a deserter. 

The bus took me down to the ferry terminal, where I immediately caught an airport shuttle. At the airport I boarded a local bus for the trip to my airport hotel. The hotel is called Auckland International Kiwi Hotel, and the large Kiwi statue on the roof gives it away. Yes, a hotel room. With a queen sized bed, a ‘fridge, coffee/tea making facilities, and a shower and toilet a short walk from the bed and all just for me! Just when I thought I might be getting used to trudging across fields in the middle of the night to visit the loo.

I concentrated on packing for the trip home and to drink one last New Zealand beer. Another stout. I have to say that New Zealand brewers make the most wonderful dark beers. I’ll miss their porters and stouts.

Photos from today are here.

21 January

We had a 10.30am departure, which gave me plenty of time to catch up on photos and website. Yet again Wellington proved to be wet and windy. As before we dashed across the road with our luggage, and yet again had a wait at the train station. The bus we’d had previously in North Island turned up, so we have digital clock and temperature gauge again. Hurrah! (These little things matter so much.)

The weather remained grey and wet. So we did the traditional New Zealand summer holiday thing of looking at small towns in the rain. This time it was a place called Bulls which gave us an hour’s diversion. The town likes to play with the name, so the police station is called ‘Con-sta-bull,’ the trash bins ask you to be ‘Responis-bull’, and the church tells us that all is ‘Forgive-a-bull.’ We had coffee/food in a rather nice cafe before walking back in the rain.

Some clearing of clouds started to occur in the afternoon. We were offered the opportunity for a walk or cycle ride at one point. Absolutely no one was interested. So we had 45 minutes to spend in a small supermarket. Great excitement was had by all. 

Then on to Taupo. I celebrated my last tent night some time ago, and quite happily folowed the guide into the campsite office. Only to find that Flying Kiwi had booked me a cabin for tomorrow night. And the all the cabins were fully booked for that night. There was a Hilton Hotel walking distance away, but the price for a room made me swallow hard.

Two people who have recently joined the tour did have their pree-booked upgrade ready. Two women. Two very very nice women from Hong Kong who had a spare bed in the cabin. I threw myself upon their mercy and out of the goodness of their hearts they agreed I could have the third bed, the top bunk. What a relief.

The campsite had free wifi, and this meant that social interaction ground to a halt. I was able to finally upload this blog. Then to bed by 10pm, as we were to have an early start the next morning.

Photos from today are here.

20 January

I slept very well and didn’t dream of falling out the sky even once. The resident chickens, no doubt now well used to us, made themselves at home whilst we ate our breakfast. We managed to keep them off the tables though.

We left the campsite at 8am and settled into our drive to Piction. As we drove various people left the group to continue their adventures on their own—or to fly home. We also lost both of our guides, and gained a new one at Nelson and will have a new driver in North Island.

We had three hours in Nelson, which felt like two too many. We wandered the shops, I used my card in an ATM (we’ve all spent much more in New Zealand than we’d planned—partially because everything is more expensive here), and bought a small Kea. No, not a real one, tempting as that might have been. Also enjoyed a nice coffee and a beer (although not at the same time).

Then off to Marlborough. The skies became steadily greyer, and the weather forecast is for more rain. (*Sigh*) We stopped for some wine tasting. It was rather obvious who was interested in wine for the taste and who was really more interested in wine for drinking’s sake. I found the information provided by the vineyard very fulsome as regards soils and technique, and their information sheets even provided details of each harvest. A friend and I bought a bottle of Riesling together and I bought a half bottle of dessert wine which I hope to get home safely in my check in luggage.

Then up to Picton. We checked our big bags in at the ferry terminal, and had a couple of hours to visit the town and get some dinner. A friend and I had some decent fish and chips at a ‘Scottish pub’. The ferry set off at 7pm. I worked on photos during the three hour voyage and tried to ignore the episode of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ which was playing on the large screen TV in the lounge area. The islands which had been so lovely in the sunshine on our way in were simply grey in the rain.

We arrived in Wellington at 10pm, and collected our luggage. Two minibuses took us to our hostel. I shared a room with three strangers, which comes as a bit of a shock after three weeks with people I know. At least the toilet/shower is en-suite instead of a walk across a field. Unfortunately only top bunks were left, so I had to negotiate steps to get to said loo.

Photos from today are here.

19 January

New Zealand woke up this morning and decided to give us summer. A blue sky, cloudless day, which became quite hot by the afternoon.

A lot of activities were on offer today. I’d decided I wanted to do something gentle after yesterday’s excitement. So a friend and I booked to take a water taxi to Anchorage, and then to sail back down the coast. We didn’t have to leave until 10am, so when I wandered over to get some coffee at 7.30am I thought I had a lot of time. 

Whilst I was waiting for the coffee to settle in the plunger I saw a family of quail nearby. I went out to look at them. Then I saw what I thought was a dead bird nearby. This turned out, on closer inspection, to be a young owl, barely fledged, lying awkwardly on her left side. The campsite dog was not far away, so I scooped up the owl. She was just over one handful, very fluffy, wing feathers grown but still with down on her head and sides. At first I wasn’t sure whether the curled feet were due to breaks or to shock. My own parrot has crashed into windows a couple of times in her life, and when she goes into shock her feet curl up. But as I sat and held the owl she got over the shock and began to stretch her wings. The left was okay, but the right I was certain was broken. 

The campsite office opened at 8am. I went in with the owl and the manager put her into a cardboard box and called the local Department of Conservation ranger. I then went to have my breakfast. 

We were collected at 10.20am by the water taxi firm, so I was still at the campsite when the ranger came to collect the owl. The ranger told me that there is a vet which the DOC use for these instances. I’m not certain that the owl can be saved, but at least she willl have a humane death rather than being ravaged by the campsite dog.

The water taxi trip started out quite strangely. The boat was attached to a tractor in a car park. We climbed on board, and the tractor hauled boat and us down the road to the beach. Then off we went. We had about an hour on the boat, stopping a couple of times to admire the sceney. I mostly used my waterproof camera for photos. although we never had even a drop of seawater come into the boat.

Some people exited at the first cove. They were not warned that this was a wet landing, and walking boots were soaked in seawater. So when we exited at Anchorage I took my boots and socks off first. 

For some reason we had thought that Anchorage would be a small town. We’d talked about having a coffee, or maybe an ice cream. However, Anchorage turned out to be a bay, with a ranger station, bunkbed accommodation, a toilet, and water facilities. Nothing more. We had a good laugh at ourselves, and settled down to eat our sandwiches and to admire the view.

A lot of people either hike into Anchorage and boat out, or vice versa. A young man got off the boat at Anchorage, went just a few hundred feet down the track, and then limped back with a very swollen ankle. People urged him to go down to soak it in the sea, and the ranger was summoned. The ranger called a water taxi to collect him and bandaged the ankle. Then the ranger brought out that well known British solution to any crisis—a nice hot cup of tea.

At 1.30pm we boarded the sail boat. And for three hours we alternatively motored or sailed into lagoons, past islands, and out across the sea. It was very peaceful. We saw a flock of Pied oystercatchers along a beach, shags, four Little blue penguins, Sooty shearwaters, and some Southern fur seals. A lot of people took the opportunity to sunbathe. 

The return was another wet landing. If I’d known I would have packed a small towel. We paid for our trip, and then a minibus took us back to our campsite. I took some bird photos then downloaded files from four cameras.

Our evening meal was at a local burger jointed called The Fat Tui. The burgers are cooked in a former caravan, and we sat outside (swatting sandflies) to eat them. I had ‘The Bull’s-Eye’—steak with egg, bacon, salad, and dressing. No, I wasn’t able to eat the whole thing! Afterwards we wandered back to camp and some people rewatched skydive videos.

Photos from today are here. A video from the sailing is here.

18 January

Woke up to a bright, cloudless day. A nice change!

I stalked a few more birds after breakfast before we got into the bus at 8am. We had over five hours in the bus to get to Abel Tasman, so I worked on photos and then admired yet another change of scenery. The countryside became dryer, and once again we were passing farms. However, these are fruit and hop farms on the whole, along with a few vineyards. Hills of farmed pine trees grew above the rolling countryside and the old barns reminded me of those I’ve seen in the USA—large, simple, wooden, often a fading red.

We had a couple of stops, then reached the airfield for those doing aerial sports around 2pm. As our current bus has leaked during the rains, we had to remove all of our items and then place them onto a replacement bus. I thought we looked a bit like a refugee camp. I was also amazed how many people don’t keep all their stuff in one bag but had bits spread out everywhere. The new bus is an older one, the original from the Flying Kiwi fleet. Bigger windows, but less storage space underneath. All of our suitcases had to be piled onto the back seat.

Those of us who were skydiving were then taken to the airstrip. Although we were meant to skydive early afternoon, the winds had become too strong and from the wrong direction. So we filled out the necessary waiver forms and had our briefing. Because I was going to jump from the highest option (16,500 feet versus 13,000 feet) I had to sign an additional form warning me about the lack of oxygen and that I shouldn’t jump if I had a cold, hangover, or headache. I sniffled a bit and decided that my cold is on the way out and I would continue with my plans. We also each had to be weighed, which many of us found to be an unwelcome experience.

We were told that 6.30pm looked like a good time to make the dive. Since tonight’s campsite is a 30 minute drive away from the airfield those of us who were skydiving were taken to a little cafe/store called Toad Hall. And we sat there for nearly two hours, trying to work out how not to be nervous.

At 6pm we were collected. The ‘plane can only take up nine people at a time. So my trip up there were only three skydiving for the first time, as each of us were strapped to an instructor and each of us had booked the photo/video package—which means a separate cameraman for each of us also in the ‘plane.

When my group was called, we went to put on jumpsuits and to be put into our harness. My instructor introduced himself, checked over my harness, and then I had a quick interview with my cameraman. Then out to the ‘plane. It was a bit of a squeeze inside. At 8,000 feet the two of us jumping from 16,500 were put on to oxyxen. This freaked out the person diving from 13,000 feet. 

We had about 20 minutes in the plane to see the area around us. The mountains, becoming blue with sunset, the sparkling waters of the ocean, the scattered islands. I saw a full circle of a rainbow in the clouds. At 13,000 feet the first person and her instructor left the ‘plane. I thought to myself, ‘Gosh, look how quickly they fall away.’ I was strapped so tightly to my instructor that I could feel him breathe, so I concentrated on matching my breathing pattern to his.

We went up to 16,500 and levelled out. The next person went. Just me and my two guys left. The instructor had earlier told me what to do. The cameraman went out first. Then we inched out, and I sat on the instructor’s lap, my legs tucked up under the step, my hands in the harness. The instructor pulled my head back then rocked, once, twice. And then we were out.

I’d like to say that I made a rather awesome yell, but I fear it might have been more like a scream. Maybe it was a mixture. Then I settled down to take in the experience. I kept forgetting to look at the cameraman as I was too busy looking around. It did feel like falling, and my ears seized up, almost but not entirely painful. I could feel the wind pulling up my cheeks and could hear only wind, actually. The mountains and sea were beautiful below, and it didn’t feel like I was rushing towards them at an alarming rate.

After over a minute of free fall the instructor pulled the parachute cord. The sudden jerk upwards was a bit uncomfortable, but a nice reminder of how secure the harness was. Then it was very quiet. The instructor pointed out some sights, and I concentrated on trying to get my hearing back. My ears really squeaked as I opened and shut my jaw. The instructor took me on one spin, which I enjoyed and then suddenly my stomach didn’t, so we didn’t do another. We landed with a very elegant bum slide. 

It was a 30 minute drive to the campsite. so the skydiving company took the first group before all the others had dived. The second group brought the DVDs/USB sticks of the videos and photos, and of course the rest of the evening was filled with watching skydive videos. Mine has the song I requested, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singing ‘Free Falling.’ Okay, I know it’s obvious….

I must admit it took awhile for me to fall asleep. I’m glad I’ve done the skydive, and I’m also glad it’s over.

Photos from today are here. A portion of the skydive video is here.

17 January

We were hoping for better weather today. Well, it didn’t rain the whole day. The morning started well as our guides made pancakes for breakfast. Yum!

I went for a round trip walk which started from the campsite. The first part was alongside the river, and it felt truly Jurassic. The moss covered trees and rocks and the tall tree ferns, along with the large boulders, made me think that a dinosaur could emerge any moment. I kept my camera handy just in case. Actually, I was more hopeful of getting some bird photos. The campsite seemed to have a number of native birds feeding on the nectar bearing plants.

After about an hour the track turned back to the coast and skirted around the edge of a mountain. This was a bit of a slog. The path was very muddy, and therefore slippery, in a number of places. At one point I spotted a small bird. I didn’t have my large telephoto lens on the camera, so I inched forward to try to get a better shot. Suddenly my left foot ran out of path and went into a ditch. Instead of being frightened away the bird merely cocked his head for a closer look. I swear he was laughing at me. Maybe this is something he does with all unsuspecting tourists, lure them off the path into a ditch so he can share the story with his friends.

After the mountain we came to a rough track which led back to the coast. A Weka was in the car park, happily taking bread off children, and I put my big lens on my camera. Then it began to rain, and I can’t fit camera and large lens into the backpack. I searched desperately for some cover, and found a small bit of shelter at the front of a van. I simply removed lens from camera and put both into the backpack, hoping all would be well until the rain stopped and I could sort things out properly. Well, all the equipment worked later, so I don’t think I’ve lost yet another camera.

After the rough track it was on to the road to the Pancake Rocks. Although the rain had stopped the wind was fierce. The path around the Pancake Rocks takes you past a rather magnificent blowhole (it was just after high tide). Lots of sea spray. Afterwards I had a warming cup of coffee and walked back to the entrance to the campground, where there was a break for a beer. I paid $5.00 to access the tavern’s wifi and I uploaded the blog.

I then hunted for birds (photographically) around the campsite. Later in the evening we met up for a walk to the local glow worm cave. I took tripod but in the little time I had I couldn’t get the settings right. Only when we were about to leave, when I was handholding the camera, did I seem to be working out how to photograph small glowing lights in a dark cave. I’ll do better next time...

Photos from today are here.

16 January

A day of full on rain. It started in the early morning and we had to taken down wet tents in the rain. I am yet again reminded why I don’t like camping. 

We drove along the west coast, and from glimpses between raindrops I think the scenery is probably most beautiful. So, a day for indoor things. Fortunately we were able to do some.

Our first stop was at the Bushman's Museum. The curator, Pete, came on board to talk to us. He mocked the condensation on our windows, stating we must be able to see ‘f*** all’ through them and ‘you are visiting New Zealand in a cloud.’ The exhibits at the museum continued this sort of humour. We watched a film about the killing, and later live capture, of deer from the New Zealand hills. Deer of various species were introduced into New Zealand and, as happens with most introduced species anywhere, deer became very destructive to the native life. So at first they were hunted down by helicopter and the bodies airlifted. Later on live deer were captured to be put into deer farms. The footage of men jumping out of moving helicopters onto moving deer made my upcoming skydive seem tame in comparison.

We explored the exhibits and had a coffee in the cafe. Then a dash back to the bus.

Our next stop was in the town of Hokitika. The town has a number of jade carving factories. I finally had a New Zealand meat pie, steak and oyster. Tasty. After dashing between shop to shop in the rain our bus returned and we climbed back on board.

We stopped at one side of a peninsula with the option of an hour long coastal walk to the other side. To my amazement a number of people decided to do this walk. They had waterproof jackets but none of them had waterproof trousers. It was only grey when they set out, but half an hour later the rain hammered down. The rest of us were driven to the end of the walk, where there was a nice tavern and a log fire. We were drenched just from the run across the car park, and it was rather pleasant to drink beer by the fire and to dry out. When the walkers came in they were drenched and many changed into dry clothes.

We reached our campsite at 4pm. I had my pre-booked cabin to look forward to. A number of people wanted to upgrade from tents to beds, and I offered to share the cabin (there are four beds inside, and I only really need one). I was a bit surprised that although I’d paid for the entire cabin (and could have refused to share it) the campsite charged the other three for their beds. And I received no refund, so in effect I’ve paid four times as much as the others. The campsite operators told me that this was nothing to do with them but with Flying Kiwi, but I can’t see how. 

After a lovely fish dinner I retired to the cabin with a friend and we chatted away over a glass of red wine.

Photos from today are here.

15 January

6.15am rise. I packed up and put all my stuff on the bus (minus main camera with 24-105mm lens) before getting some breakfast. AT 7.30am, in a morning of bright blue skies, I walked up the road to town and to the Fox Glacier Guiding centre. I was booked on the half day tour of the Fox Glacier, and we had to report in by 8am. At the centre we were provided with suitable boots if we didn’t have our own (mine passed muster), rather simple crampons, plus waterproof jackets and a backpack if desired. I borrowed a backpack but kept to my own jacket.

A bus took us to the car park at the foot of the walk to the glacier. The guide explained that the ice underneath the gravel is melting all the time, so the car park develops a slope over the summer and is remade in the spring. We then walked around 45 minutes to get to the glacier’s face. A couple of times we walked through areas of rockfall risk, and were under strict instructions to make our way through as quickly as possible—no stopping for photos. Even I obeyed.

What I found fascinating is that we went through rainforest to get to the glacier. The glaciers I’ve seen in other countries were usually in more desert like conditions (Patagonia and Iceland) or already surrounded by ice (Antarctic). The guide pointed out that you can mark the retreat of the glacier by the age of the plants. Younger ones are closer to the glacier’s face.

We stopped once at a stream to fill our water bottles with fresh glacial water. Very tasty. Then on to the front of the glacier. There I was thrilled that we crawled through into an ice cavern. I’ve long desired to step into one. The guide stopped us under the first section as he was concerned that the roof further on could eventually collapse. Of course I would have liked to spend a quiet hour there with tripod. Instead I took handheld shots at high ISO for five minutes. The cave could have easily held 20 people, and the different blues were fantastic. Water did drip, but not as much as I’d expected. I emerged pretty dry, and more importantly the camera survived the experience.

Then we put on the basic crampons (just on the bottom of boots) and went on to the ice. There were well prepared steps and paths through crevasses. Plenty of time for photography. Bright sunshine to challenge camera exposures. After about 30 minutes on the ice we headed back down, took off crampons, and headed out. 

Clouds were beginning to roll in. As we took the bus back into town things turned decidedly grey. I had a coffeee and a very nice chocolate chip cookie at a cafe before walking back to the campsite. Due to the grey day I simply set up my laptop and worked on photos for the afternoon. A number of others simply sat inside the lounge area as well, including a female sparrow who kept flying in and out, clearing crumbs from tables. I startled one of the travellers who has recently joined us by suddenly breaking into German—her native language, but not once she’d expected to hear from me.

At 4.45pm we climbed into the bus and headed into town. However the all day glacier walkers nor the ice climber were back yet. We waited around an hour for their return. A number of people went to the pub. I continued to work on photos, disrupted briefly when some native pigeons were spotted.

At Franz Josef we stopped for food and alcohol supplies. Then we went on to our campsite. Tenting only, no upgrades to indoor sleeping. My last night in a tent, so I was determined to grin and bear it. Despite the head cold which is still plaguing me (and a number of others). In golden evening sunshine we put up our tents, poured glasses of wine or beer, and wandered down to the beach. A Tui leap about in a bush nearby, but since I didn’t have my big camera on me I simply admired him. Down on the beach people were gathering driftwood for a bonfire.

After dinner we all headed down to the beach. Bonfire was expertly built and made, and larger branches had been pulled around as seats. Marshmellows were toasted, although the Americans said they didn’t taste right. So I had more than my share. A young boy, around four years old, kept walked over to our fire from one which was at least 300 yards away. He chatted away in Geman. He was still there when I headed off to bed at 10.45pm, and I was amazed that his parents seemed to content to let him wander off on his own. Particularly as there were marshes around.

Photos from today are here. 

14 January

Last night reminded me of all the reasons I don’t like camping. The night was very cold. I wore several layers, but in the thin sleeping bag with which I have been provided I was still cold. The wind played deep tunes in the trees and snapped any tents which hadn’t fastened flaps down correctly. My pillow meant that I didn’t get a stiff neck, but due to the cold (and the traditional 1am trip across to the loo) I didn’t get much sleep. Didn’t help that my cold is still giving me quite a drippy nose.

I got up at 7am and had the tent down in record time. (My tent is now called ‘Ringo Star’ and I’m certain I should be able to think of some good puns in due course). At 8.30am some of us were collected for a jet boat trip down the local river. We had about an hour in the boat, and it was great fun, albeit very windy and cold! I was amazed how shallow the water was yet the boat still managed. The driver took us on a few 360 degree spins and also liked to aim at submerged trees, avoiding them last minute. The sun came and went over the nearby mountain range. When my eyes weren’t streaming from the wind I admired the scenery. I took my waterproof camera to get some photos and video.

The bus collected us, and we continued on to the West Coast. We drove through the stunning Haast Pass. Our picnic lunch was notable for the sheer amount of sandflies who had picked the same lunch spot. Uncovered skin was quickly discovered. We had a game of ‘count the bites’ later. I’m up to six, and I stay quite covered up. Sadly, no more Kea. Or perhaps I’m just being parrot greedy. Can never have enough parrots. Just like you can never have enough penguins.

Our journey was broken up by a number of short walks. One was to the Blue Pools, where some hardy souls waded into the river. One bridge was a wobbly suspension bridge. I always enjoy jumping up and down to make such bridges sway even more, which usually means that people give me disapproving glares. We admired a waterfall, and later we had time to view the shoreline. The wind from the sea was so fierce that we had to beat a retreat. The nearby walk along the marsh, by comparision, was quite sheltered. I enjoyed the sound of the various (non stinging) insects in the bush, and took some handheld macro photography photos of the mosses and ferns growing on tree branches.

Our campsite tonight is at Fox Glacier (the name of the town). The upgrade booked for me back in September turned out to be a four bed cabin! So I offered beds to two of the other women on the trip. Most people didn’t have a good night’s sleep last night, so an indoor bed is very welcome.

Photos from today are here. A video of the jet boat trip is here.

13 January

Again I rose at 7am, and before the others in my room. I breakfasted, packed, and then settled down to major work on photos and blog. I managed to get all the Kea photos done and the blog updated for that day before leaving the room at 11am. Then I joined others in the reception area until we left at noon.

In Queenstown we had 40 minutes to wander around, and get lunch if we wanted, before we set off on our journey north. We lost nine people from the group, and gained ten, so the bus feels rather full. We’ve lost some of the older members, and the new ones are all younger, so that’s been an interesting change.

In the afternoon we stopped at Puzzling World. This was great fun. First we tried to work out the labyrinth. The maze was built of wooden fences, steps, and bridges—very imaginative.  As usual I got bored before I found the solution, so I used one of the exits to leave. The Illusion Rooms were very interesting, with all sorts of optical tricks. There was time for a coffee afterwards before getting back on to the bus.

We continued our journey towards the West Coast, stopping to photograph one of the beautiful lakes. We’re camping (no chance for an upgrade, so I’m in a tent as well!) at the shore of one lake. I carried out tripod and equipment and took a number of photos both before and after dinner. After dinner I drank a stout (these New Zealand brewers do fantastic porters and stouts) and a number of our group played some form of touch rugby. The wind is rather cold, but doesn’t seem to have deterred the sandflies. Nasty little bitey things, urgh. 

Photos from today are here.

12 January

I got up at 7am, long before the others in my room. There was a bit of a confusion about breakfast. The itinerary had stated that we got breakfast provided, but the lodge staff said we weren’t booked in for theirs nor could we gain access to the bus trailer. Anyway, around 9.30am breakfast did emerge but by then I’d eaten from my own supplies.

I had hoped to go on a four by four tour of the area (‘The Lord of the Rings Safari’) but not enough people had booked for this to run. However, since heavy rain had set in I wasn’t that disappointed. So two of us headed off to Arrowtown instead. We stood in the rain for awhile before the bus finally emerged to carry us to our destination.

Arrowtown was a gold rush town and looks, to me, a bit like the old western towns in the USA. The old buildings are now home to shops and cafes. We browsed, had a coffee, and later on did some wine tasting. A local vineyard has a small cafe and wine sale area in the town. As we sipped our wine the weather cleared to bright sunshine. So we explored the Chinese settlement (seems a number of Chinese men came over to try to find their fortunes in the gold fields, but due to prejudice lived in a separate settlement) and walked along the river. Then we caught the bus back to the lodge.

In the evening we had a group meal at a pizza restaurant. A number of the group leave us tomorrow (and we gain some new ones instead). It’s been a good, fun group so it was a bit emotional to say goodbye. However, in the spirit of true group togetherness we’ve shared around a cold so that will be a reminder of our time together. 

Photos from today are here.

11 January

Cold again in the morning, and rather grey. We drove to Queenstown, making a stop at a nice cafe for a coffee. As we approached Queenstown both the scenery and the weather improved. We stopped to take some photos of the lakes before driving up to our accommodation for the next two nights, Shotover Lodge. I’m sharing a room with a German family, so my German is getting a lot of use.

As the lodge is some distance up into the hills from Queenstown a shuttle service is offered. We went into town just after lunch. We had been given a voucher for a free trip on the gondola, so we walked up to the entrance. However, we first visited the Kiwi Birdlife Park. Just in time to see two of the Kiwi in their specially lit enclosure. As Kiwi are nocturnal the enclosure has dull red lighting so they will be active for visitors to see. We watched as the smaller male Kiwi tried to be romantic with his larger mate, but she was definitely not in the mood and told him so.

The park has a number of birds from around New Zealand, and we took our time to admire them. Afterwards we attended their live flight show, watching several of the birds fly around us. We also met the Australian possum, which is doing such great damage to the native bush of New Zealand.

Then up the gondula, The clear blue skies allowed for great views over the lake and mountains. It was hot enough for an ice cream, chased down by a cider. Then back into Queenstown, which offered little more than booking office after booking office for the various adventurous activities available in the area. So we caught the late afternoon shuttle back up to the lodge, where I made some food and worked on photos.

In the evening three Germans and I discussed various matters in mostly German (sometimes I had to ask for a word I either didn’t know or had forgotten). Perhaps unsurprisingly I was even thinking to myself in German by the end of the evening.

Photos from today are here.

10 January

Slept well in the cabin, almost but not quite cold. When I walked across camp during the night to use the toilet I paused to admire the half moon and the Milky Way. Fortunately the sandflies seem to call a truce at night.

We left camp at 8.30am. We dropped the trailer from the bus, and then headed for Milford Sound. I had made it very obvious that I really really really wanted to see some Kea. I’m a parrot lover at any rate, and the desire to see the world’s only alpine parrot was a strong one. Even better yet if I could get some photographs.

We stopped by a stream which had a sign asking people not to feed the Kea. But no birds to be seen. We drove through the long and dark Homer tunnel. At a pull out on the other side the driver called out, ‘Chrys, what do I see in front of me?’ There were four juvenile Kea on the ground, looking for scraps. We pulled over and I took multiple photos. The parrots came towards us, probably hoping for some food. One with yellow nares was very talkative and we had a bit of a chat. I was so thrilled that a few tears did form in my eyes.

Our next stop was to view a chasm. Well, the others walked off to view it. There was an adult Kea in the car park, attempting to remove rubber from vehicles (they’re well known for that destructive habit). When new cars pulled in he would fly over and land on the roof, startling people who found a parrot looking down at them when they opened their doors. And then they were appalled when the Kea would try to rip off some plastic. ‘What do we to stop him?’ one family asked me. ‘Shoo him away!’ I suggested.

Then on to Milford Sound. We took a two hour cruise through the Sound to the opening to the sea. The skies were clear, and as it was mid day of course the light wasn’t very good for photography. But I admired the views of mountains, waterfalls, and young fur seals pulled out on some rocks. I also had a couple of cups of the free coffee, as I’d only had one serving at breakfast.

We returned through the tunnel, collected the trailer, and dropped off the people who are doing the Routebourn Track. They’ll have two nights in huts, and most of them have packed some alcohol along with their food and sleeping bags. Those of us who find the idea of trekking and huts a little less attractive stayed on the bus as we returned to Te Anau. There we had a chance to get supplies from the supermarket before heading over to our campsite. I’m staying in a single bedroom, and it certainly is what it says on the tin. A narrow room with a bed, a chair, and a cabinet. 

We had to get our own dinners tonight, so I quickly made some pasta before walking back into town. I went on the visit to the glow worm cavern. The only others from the group who had booked this excursion were Germans, so that was our language of choice for the trip. A boat took us across Te Anau Lake to the island on which the caves are located. We walked through dark caverns, our hearing dulled by the roar of underground waterfalls. At the end we boarded a small boat, powered by the guide’s muscle power (he pulled on chains attached to the cave walls) to see the glow worms. These small creatures, maggots really, exude strings of liquid from the cave ceiling. The worms themselves have a glow within their bodies, and other insects fly towards this glow and get stuck in the strings. They are then eaten by the worms. The strings and worms are very small, and the glows look like stars in the night sky. We had to be quiet, and no photography, as that can cause the worms to stop their lights.

The sky was doing lovely watercolours as we returned to town. We walked back to the town, and after grabbing a beer from the bus I hurried to my room to admire photos of Keas. 

Photos from today are here.

9 January

It had been a wet and windy night, so I was very glad for the warm cabin. As ever, it was a bit of a trek to the toilets. 

The theme of cold and rain continued as we headed towards Te Anau. We stopped in one town for an hour to stretch our legs and get some lunch. Warm jackets and hats were worn against the 10 C temperatures and most of us hurried into cafes for something warming. At another stop people enjoyed a small playground.

Long bus ride. Six hours in all. The sun emerged as we reached Fjordland. At Te Anau we had time to wander, buy food supplies (and, as ever, browse the alchohol section in the supermarket—New Zealand brewers do some wonderful porters), and some brave souls even had ice cream. 

We reached out campsite in Hollyford Valley around 6pm. The sun was out, the cabins were quaint (built for the men who had constructed the Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound), and the sandflies numerous. Nasty little bitey things. I covered up well but tried to do without my DEET. A pair of Paradise ducks proved to be a bit camera shy.

I was on cook duty, so I duly chopped onions, mushrooms, and red peppers. A number of people came to look at the cabin I was sharing with a fellow traveller. We even had a wood burning stove, slthough we didn’t use it. 

After dinner we tried to sit outside, but were driven into the lounge to escape the chilly wind and the sandflies. Several people went to look at the glow worm cave nearby. I tried to get some charge into my laptop (no electricity in the cabins, just a cabinet which you could use for your devices) and went to bed. 

Photos from today are here.

8 January

An 8am start. We drove the short distance to the Moeraki boulders. The best way to see these, if you look at the stunning photography taken by others, is at low tide at sunset or sunrise. We were there at high tide in the midmorning. The surf was crashing over these round, rather distinctive rocks, and we had bursts of sunshine. What none of us had expected was the amount of sticky, slippery black mud which led to the boulders. There were several slips and falls, and two cameras were dropped. I kept my in the camera backpack until I was in place for photography, but I assisted in camera recovery for the two unfortunates (whose cameras survived the plunge into the mud).

Of course shoes/feet were now caked in mud when we climbed back up to the entrance. There were boot scrubbers outside, but these were already caked in mud. No outside tap, although we all searched. So, not knowing what else to do, we headed into the public toilets to wash off the mud. I was just putting my shoes back on when the cafe manager came in and swore at us as the floor was now wet (but not particularly muddy). I refused to feel guilty. Surely the mud situation is well known. The managers need to keep boot scrubbers clean and install an outside tap.

We drove on to Dunedin. We stopped at the bottom of Baldwin Street, officially the ‘steepest street in the world.’ The guide the night before had told us that every year there was a ‘jaffa race’ from the top of the street. Jaffas are round chocolates covered by a red candy shell, and the guide had given us a number of bags so we could hold our own race. So after climbing to the top of the street, those with such a candy (initials marked on with a pen) commenced a race. A number of sweets ended up in gutters instead of the bottom of the street, but we did have a winner. What the chocolates thought of all this is unknown.

Then we drove into Dunedin itself. ;Here we had several hours to explore the town. The train station is stunning, and there are other old buildings to admire such as the Anglican cathedral. The mixture of sunshine and showers encouraged interior explorations. Some of us went on the tour of Speight’s Brewery. A somewhat bored guide talked us through various displays about the history of brewing in general and at Speight’s in particular. Sadly the brewing itself was recently moved to a new site. Afterwards it was all you can drink in the bar—pour your own. I merely sampled a bit of each beer, as we had to hurry back to our bus.

The bus dropped off a number of people at the campsite, then took those of us booked on a wildlife cruise to the small boat. Once onboard we were delighted to discover that the boat provided long, warm, waterproof overcoats. We headed out to sea. Our main stop was at an albatross colony. A number of albatross were floating over the colony. The guide said that these were youngsters showing off to potential mates. Below them a number of more mature albatross, well past such antics, were sitting on nests. We also saw a colony of shags, seals (including pups), and a Blue penguin was spotted by one person (I didn’t see it). At one point a fishing vessel came past us, with a large number of birds following. 

After an hour we returned to the dock, and the bus took us to the campsite. A number of people had upgraded to cabins. I had booked upgrades wherever possible back in September, and as my room had two beds I offered one to a fellow traveller. She gratefully accepted! Not only was more rain forecast for overnight, it’s also a bit chilly. Feels like a typical English summer, actually. 

Photos from today are here.

7 January

A 7.30am start. We headed towards Mount Cook and stopped off at Peter’s Point to admire the view of mountains over blue lake. As we headed towards the mountains we also headed towards clouds. It was grey when we set off for the 90 minute walk to the base of Mount Cook. 

Well, perhaps 90 minutes each way for fully operational ankles. Although my left ankle no longer hurts when I stand on it, the foot is quite stiff. I coped with the gravel path, but when it changed to stones (just after the suspension bridge) my ankle called quits. I thought I might instead do some photography (I’d brought my tripod out with me) but then the rain started. So I slogged back to the bus, where I sat inside and downloaded photos. The rain became heavier, and as people returned they took off drenched clothes and hung them throughout the bus. A lot of people discovered that their jackets weren’t as waterproof as they’d hoped.

The rain stuck with us on the drive back to the coast. We stopped for a coffee in one town before going on to Oamaru. The rain finally stopped as we admired this Victorian town. The buildings are built out of local sandstone and are quite imposing. Oamaru has also become known for steam punk (science fiction imagined as steam and engine rather than technology driven). I enjoyed the steam punk engine. I also bought a pillow for $9.99 to make my tent nights easier!

However, due to the weather a number of us upgraded. I shared a cabin with four others, two each to a room. We had dinner, and then were collected for our tour of Oamaru and penguins. Just our group was in the minibus. The guide took us to an old part of town, then to a viewpoint and to the rather intriguing play ground. Afterwards we went to the beach cliffs to lookout areas to watch for Yellow-eyed penguins returning from the sea to their burrows. The beach was far below, and we did see several (plus fur seals) waddle from water to greenery. Then, suddenly, a noise let us know that one penguin was nearby. He (or she?) spent a long time posing, preening, and occasionally calling out.

At 9pm we went on to the Little blue penguin colony. I’d paid the $10.00 extra for the ‘premium seating’, which meant that I was nearer the beach. The Little blue penguins gather together out at sea in ‘rafts’ and then come in as a group. We saw three groups come in, around twenty birds per time. They would hover on the rocks, eyeing the flat area between the sea rocks and the tunnel through the fence which led to the burrows. Then all at one they would make a dash, sometimes sliding back onto their bellies in the grass on the other side. As we walked across the boardwalk back to the entrance we passed close by a number of penguins, including chicks. No photography is permitted, and as tempted as I was I didn’t pull out my camera.

The guide showed us some of the buildings, now lit up for the night. We were back at the campground at 10.30pm. I downloaded the day’s photos before climbing into bed at 11.30pm.

Photos from today are here.

6 January

A number of our group went off for white water rafting. The rest of us stayed behind and had an easy morning. I caught up on photos and did some repacking. At 11.15am we went over to the rafting centre to meet our colleagues, and we had a sandwich lunch there. Then we went into the town of Geraldine (via a short walk to a ‘tall tree’) to meet up with those who had cycled. A lovely ice-cream was enjoyed by many in what was a rather warm day.

The weather forecast is for heavy rain from 10pm tonight. So our guides offered us the option of upgrading from a tent site to staying in youth hostel dorms for the night. We went for this option. 

We drove through the farming lands of Canterbury. Lots of sheep, cattle, and deer in paddocks. Then into Mackenzie country. The mountain range came into view, snow visible even into the summer. At Lake Tekapo we were left at the Church of the Good Shepherd to have a look and then to walk into town to rejoin the bus. A wedding about about to start, but I had time to pop inside and to introduce myself to my fellow Anglican priest. 

We booked into our hostel. The modern building has lovely views over to the lake. I’m in a room with Germans, and they’re learning that it’s perfectly okay to converse in German in front of me. I can understand everything they say, even if I can’t always find the words (or the correct grammar) in response. Several of them decided to take a quick dip in the very cold lake!

I paid $7.00 for 24 unlimited interet access so I could update this blog! Photos from today are here

5 January

I slept well, and woke up when my alarm went off at 3.50am. The kettle in the cabin allowed me to make myself a couple of cups of black coffee (I brought coffee bags with me from England) and I had some fruit and a couple of oatcakes for breakfast. Then I trudged over to the bus, where I sorted out bits of luggage. The sky was clear to begin with, and in the predawn darkness the Milky Way was visible. 

The bus from Dolphin Experience collected the seven of us at 4.50am. We were taken to the seafront business, which has a cafe and a shop as well as all the equipment for the swims. We were given our wet suits, into which we changed, as well as flippers, goggles, and snorkle. We then went into the auditorium where a 15 minute film insttructed us both on swimming safety and how best to interest the dolphins. Seems the trick is to make interesting noises under water, as that will bring them over to investigate.

Then into another bus to go down to the pier. We got on to our boat and motored off to look for dolphins. Within 30 minutes a pod had been spotted, so we put on snorkling gear and placed ourselves on the launching area at the back of the boat. The boat came to a halt, gave a blast on the horn, and that was our signal to go into the water.

The first three attempts to interact did not work well. The dolphins swam away. I also found myself trying to work out how to use flippers and snorkling gear—I haven’t used either for at least 35 years and I was fighting with the flippers in particular. Although no doubt the water was cold, I didn’t feel it. I felt quite comfortable in the wet suit. 

A blast on the ship’s horn was the signal to return to the boat. So we did the go and out return three times, seeing dolphins only fleetingly each time.

The fourth time was successful. Into the water again. Next thing I knew a dolphin swam just past my arm, surfacing briefly before gong back under again. I will admit to making a small ‘eek!’ Then there were two more ahead of me, then another at my side. Strangely enough I suddenly forgot that I don’t really know how to snorkle. My head was in the water and I was watching the dolphins swirl around me and the other people. I must have worked out how to breathe somehow because I was able to take photos and even some video. 

We had at least 20 minutes of wonderful interaction with the dolphins. They circled around us, and we saw calves as well as adults. All too soon the horn sounded again. Only as I got out of the water did I realise that my feet were cold and that my ankle was aching from using the flippers. What a fantastic experience! 

We stripped off the wet suits and changed into dry clothes. Yes, all together in the main area of the boat, using various methods to ensure some privacy. Then we had another 30 minutes or so to watch and to photograph the dolphins from the ship. I’d packed my Canon 7D with 70-300mm zoom lens for this part of the voyage (all carefully tucked away in a dry bag until needed!). We saw quite a few dolphins, and they kept swimming underneath and alongside the ship as well.

Back on shore we were transported back to base, where I had a coffee and a blueberry muffin. The bus collected us, and we headed off to Christchurch. We drove through and continued south, stopping for lunch and then for a shopping expedition to a supermarket. Again those who wished to cycle to our site were let off at a short distance away. 

We’re staying in what used to be a sheep shearers’ station. Many have upgraded to stay in the accommodation block, which has a number of single and double rooms. There is a lounge and kitchen at one end, and then outside are the toilets and showers. The building faces mountains on one side and the river on the other. We had bright sunshine, which led me to dump my clothes into the washing machine. Drying was on a line, and I hadn’t quite reckoned on how stiff the wind became! I pegged it all out quite firmly, and I’m pleased to report that none of it disappeared.

Dinner was BBQ with salad. Lovely. We sat outside, and the wind was a bit chilly. After dinner we experienced the wonder which is ‘Beer Pong’ (albeit played with cider in this instance). Seems each team takes it in turn to bounce a ping pong ball towards a number of mugs filled with cider. If the ball goes in, the other team has to drink the mug. I hasten to add that the ball is cleaned in a mug of water between each throw!

As the evening wore on we retired to the ktichen and lounge, latter which had a wood fire. Popcorn was made and passed around. I worked on photos and listened as people tried to guess what I do for a living. No doubt the truth will simply bore them.

Photos from today are here. A video from the swim is here.

4 January

A number of people went into Picton for a meal and drinks. I stayed in, and emjoyed the free home made chocolate pudding with ice cream which the hostel offers every evening. Some of those who went into town for a few drinks had more than a few, and returned around 2am. I’m a good sleeper and I didn’t hear them come in. I did notice, in time, that someone was sleeping on the floor. Seems when she returned someone else had taken her bed!

We remained at the hostel until 11am. We gained a few more people into our merry company. The bus we have now is a bit smaller than the previous one, with less storage space inside. Strangely enough, it’s the digital clock at the front, which the previous bus had, which most of seem to miss the most.

We headed out to the east coast, going through the hills of Marlborough. The hills were dry, the vineyards were very green, and I thought longingly of wine tasting. We stopped for lunch at a seaside cafe. Then back into the bus to continue our drive to Kaikoura.

Once we reached the coast it didn’t take long to spot the abundant seal life. They were spread out on the rocks, sleeping away a rather grey and overcast day. We stopped at a waterfall which, during some times of the year, is used as a nursery by seals. However it’s not the season for baby seals at the moment so there was only the water to admire. We also stopped at a seal colony, and watched the young seals elongate over the rocks. There were a steep set of steps down to the colony, and after consulation with my ankle I merely looked down in longing as others went down for close up shots. I consoled myself by taking some photos of shags on the nearby hill.

We had about 90 minutes to look around the town of Kaikoura. After a quick glance at the options on offer, I suggested to several fellow travellers that we sample the products of the local brew pub. Four of us shared two of the ‘beer trees’, which offered samples of all seven beers. My favourite was the dark beer. 

Then back on to the bus. For those wished to do a short walk, they were dropped off at one cove to walk around the peninsula. I wanted to save the ankle so I stayed on the bus as we drove to the other side. There I put telephoto lens on camera and went bird stalking. I captured an oystercatcher and a bird I have  yet to identify. I was also amazed to see shags landing in a large tree to perch. I’ve only ever seen then perch on rocks or cliffs.

The walkers took about an hour. Then we went on to our campsite. I had an upgrade to a cabin. The usual small space with a bed and a ‘fridge, although this one also came with a sink and a kettle! Unfortunately both the toilets and the rest of the group were not near by. I had removed my luggage before the bus went on to the far side of the campsite.

As I’m certain I’ve mentioned, I won this holiday at a travel show. The prize includes various activiites, and one was on the next morning: A swim with wild dolphins. Six other people had booked to go on this experience. We were told that we’d have to get up at 4am, to be collected at 4.45am for the 5.30am start. Urgh. I removed from my bag what I needed for the night, and the next morning, and dragged the bag to the bus when I went over for dinner. By the way, another delicious dinner. I was on vegetable chopping duty, and did my best with the asparagus. We had some mixture of vegetables, salami, and fish in a tomato sauce, all on rice. 

I went to bed around 10.20pm. I was planning to go earlier, but the sky was lighting up with the most amazingly coloured sunset I have seen in years. I took some shots with my compact camera.

Photos from today are here

3 January

Not an easy night in a tent. I just couldn’t get my bag to resemble anything like a pillow. We also had gusts of wind in the night which snapped tent flaps. I got up 6am and packed up.

Because we were going across to South Island today we were changing buses. All of our possessions had to be removed. This caused some consternation to those who had stockpiles of alcohol. The bags of several people noticably clinked once we had driven into Wellington and disembarked from the bus.

A local youth hostel took in our bags, which were locked into one room. Some of us walked to the Te Papa museum. The weather was very wild and windy, and it was good to take refuge in this fantastic museum. Displays show New Zealand wildlife and history. During our visit rain started to blow down sidewise. So four of us shared a taxi back to the hostel rather than get soaked.

We collected our bags and went to the train station to catch the shuttle bus to the ferry. Due to some confusing information we ended up waiting 90 minutes. We amused ourselves by throwing scraps of food the pigeons and sparrows.

At the ferry terminal we checked in our large bags and carried on our smaller bags. The crossing was smooth, despite the wind, and as we approached South Island the weather cleared. The wind could still blast hair from face, but we were able to admire the views of the islands we passed as we came into Picton.

We collected our bags, and we were collected in turn by minibuses which took us to our hostel for the night. The sight of beds, and showers, and toilets which are NOT across a field were very welcome. Some people have gone into town for dinner. I made something in the hostel and proceeded to use the free, unlimited wifi to upload this blog! I’m told that such further generosity will be hard to come by.

Photos from today are here.

2 January

The focus for today was the Tongariro day trek. I had planned to decide, once in New Zealand, whether to tackle what is described as a beautiful yet challenging trek. In the end, of course, my twisted ankle made the decision for me.

Those taking the trek left the campsite at 6am. The rest of us had an easy morning. I got up at 6am and caught up on photos. I made an unsuccessful attempt to upload updates to this website—the campsite wifi wasn’t working properly. And it would have possibly expensive as well, at one NZ dollar per 10MB. I’ve really struggled to find wifi access the last few days, and I’m told to expect this struggle to continue. 

Just before noon we got on to the bus and headed to the trail end. And then we waited until 3.30pm until all the walkers were back to us. Not the most exciting three hours of my life, I must admit. There wasn’t much to see at the car park, the toilet was another of the infamous ‘long drop’ type, and there was a lot of bush to walk through before getting to any view point. 

When all were back we headed off. It was a four hour drive to our campsite for the night. The landscape photographer in me was yet again chewing lip with frustration as we passed facsinating landscapes. I had to satisfy myself with taking photos through the bus window with my compact camera. Some volcanic mountains, interesting hills, then flatter countryside with cows and sheep. And the occasional deer farm.

We reached the campsite at 8.30pm, and quickly erected our tents before enjoying dinner (chicken wraps). Bed by 10.30pm.

Photos from today are here.

1 January 2014!

I slipped into my sleeping bag around 10.30pm. What I hadn’t realised is that the travel company would not provide pillows. I used one of my bags and then a fleece to cushion it. The temperatures dropped and I wore both long johns and track suit bottoms, but my nose and my feet still got cold.

That’s what kept me awake, not the sounds of the New Year’s celebrations. Our group started some drinking game which caused gales of laughter. Another group nearby seemed to take this as some sort of challenge, so loud music started up. But when I finally found a way to get my make shift pillow comfortable I quickly fell asleep. I woke briefly to the sounds of cheering when 2014 started, then I went back to sleep again.

The light woke me at 6am. I got up, trudged up the hill to the facility, and then took my Canon down to the lakeside. Mist was rising from the still waters, and it was a beautiful sight. I met up with a woman out with her own Canon, and we talked lenses and how to work with RAW whilst taking photos. I headed back for my other camera and telephoto lens when I saw the lovely birdlife. I am a bit disappointed that so many European birds have made it over here. I can see Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Starlings, and English sparrows at home, after all!

I went back to pack up inside the tent, have some breakfast, then take down the tent. Taking down was easy, rolling up small enough to fit it back into the bag was a bit more tricky. I’m glad I only have five more nights under canvas.

We headed off to the geothermal areas nearby. Our first stop was to view boiling mud, always a crowd favourite. Then a geyser, although I felt the park officials cheated. Soap solution is dumped down into the cone to make it erupt! Then on to Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland (their title, not mine). We had ninety minutes to take in the marvellous sights of boiling water and sulphur clouds. Much to my amazement Pied stilts could be seen eating insects from the acidic water. The colours in the soil and water were stunning. What I found amazing above all was the fact that all this is set in bush and forest. When I visited a similar area in Iceland there was just barren rock all around. It was good to give proper camera a good outing!

We were taken to Huka Falls, the largest in New Zealand. Well, in terms of water pouring down. I would term it a cascade rather than a waterfall. From there a number of us walked to the nearby town of Taupo. I thought it would be a good test of my ankle. And it was. I discovered that I’m okay on the flat, but going up and down hills is rather more painful. So I shan’t go on the one day Tongariro Alpine Crossing tomorrow. 

The evening meal was BBQ. We’re staying at campsite which offers dorm rooms, and I think everyone has upgraded from tents. I’d already booked my upgrade in England, and I have a three bed room to myself. The shared toilets and showers are just a short walk away. Much more civilised than last night!

A man on the campsite has a Sulpher crested cockatoo. We talked parrots and said cockatoo was transferred briefly to my arm. Much heavier than my little parrot at home!

Photos from today are here.

31 December

A lovely summer’s day. Yes, it does feel very odd to type that, but it has been warm and sunny all day.

More dozed then slept. I got up at 6am and sorted out my stuff for the night in a tent ahead of me. My left foot was the same level of swollen as the day before, which I saw as a good sign. I put on my hiking boots to provide a bit more stablilty and limped my way with luggage to the bus.

Breakfast consisted of fruit and toast. And real coffee, made in a kind of a caffetiere! There’s a rather clever gadget which sits over a gas hob and can toast four pieces of bread at once, slotted around the four sides. I helped a woman take down her tent and tried to memorise how the different bits fit together. 

At 7.30am we pulled out of the campsite. Our first stop, about an hour later, was at a town called Paeroa which, it seems, is famous for a lemon flavoured drink which it bequeathed to New Zealand. No, I haven’t heard it either. We made a loo stop at some scary toilets. A male voice told you that ‘you have ten minutes before the door is unlocked’ after you step in and the loo flushes before you can ever get near it. Then music played, strangely enough the song ‘Love, Sweet Love.’ Which I believe is a song probably older than I am.

Nearby was a large Paeroa bottle. Of course we all took our photos standing next to it. 

Then through more green countryside. I love the sudden hillocks which point up out of the ground, sometimes with a tree or a tall stone poking out of the top. These hills remind me of the ones I saw in Iceland, which I suppose is unsurprising as both countries have volcanic activity.

Our lunch stop was at a two strange metal buildings, one shaped as a dog, the other as a sheep. A short time afterwards I was dropped off at Agroventures. Part of my prize included a ‘Pick 2’ at this adventure area. I went first on the Agrojet, a highly powered jet boat. A driver took me and a young lad through a number of spins. I told the lad, before we set off, that he could hold my hand if I got scared. He looked distinctly unimpressed at this idea, which I’m going to put down to his age, not mine. 

I also went on the Swoop. I was enclosed in a full body suit which, unfortunately, reminded me of a body bag. So they can simply zip the top over your head if there is an unfortunate accident? You are then pulled up high off the ground and, when the chap far below counts you down, you pull the rip cord to go into free fall. Then you swing back up the other side. I bought the photos and video from both experiences. 

Agroventures is linked to a nearby farm which has shops and does demonstrations. I limped up  the road to have a look. Then I limped back, and the staff at Agroventures called a minibus to collect me and take me into the town of Rotorau. There I wandered for a time. The town smells of rotten eggs, due to the thermal activity nearby. Lots of souvenir shops, and also lots of units to rent. It felt like a place trying to capture the tourist trade but with mixed results. During the afternoon the limping lessened.

At 4.30pm our bus collected us from outside the tourist information centre. We stopped at an alcohol store to pick up supplies for our evening celebrations. Part way to our campsite a number of people got out to ride bikes to our site rather than take the bus. Our guide hopped out of the bus to mark the turns they were to take by placing a bright jersey on road signs.

The lake area is absolutely crowded. We could feel each family willing us NOT to stop near them. We chose a site not far away from the single toilet, which here in New Zealand is termed a ‘drop toilet.’ Yup, you guessed why, and if you haven’t guessed why ask a seven year old boy. The cubicle smells as you would expect. 

I only bought a single beer for tonight. After being shown how to set up my tent, and after I’d put my luggage inside, I was about to go get my beer from the bus when it suddenly drove away! One of the cyclists had had a puncture. Very inconvenient for me, I must say. By the way, you use the same tent throughout the holiday, and each tent has a name. Mine is ‘Charles Dickens’, which pleases me. Much better than having the ‘Lady Gaga’.

Dinner was a Mexican thing, corn chips topped with chilli, cheese, salad and, if like me you can’t eat hot stuff, lots of sour cream. It was very good. And I finally had my beer, a dark beer brewed locally. Very tasty. Fortified by alcohol I took some photos of the wonderful bruises on my foot so I can treasure the sight forever. Actually I think the markings look like a radical tattoo. 

The landscape photographer in me is currently feeling a bit frustated. I’ve hardly used my big camera. Finally tonight there was some lovely evening light on the lake and the Canon had an outing. I hope for some more opportunities soon!

I’m being a party wash out. A lot of my fellow travellers are laughing and enjoying drinking games. I’m in my tent writing this. I think my foot has taken it out of me a bit, and I can see me having an early night. I must be getting old.

Photos from today are here. A bit of the video from my Swoop is here.

30 December

Got up at 7am, had breakfast, and then packed. I headed off into Auckland to get to the pick up point for my trip with Flying Kiwi. Just a short way down the hill I slipped on a bit of puddle. The padding I carry on my backside for just these occasions protected me from any real harm. A couple of young women glanced around at the sound of my bag clattering to the ground, saw me on my backside—and then carried on walking down the road. Cheers!

I cheated and took the bus to the bottom of the hill. The Flying Kiwi bus was already there, which was very comforting. There were also some fellow travellers waiting with their luggage. To my relief they looked older than I am. I wondered if I’d be surrounded by young travellers, given the nature of the holiday. 

Our bags were stowed underneath, and we climbed inside. The bus was clean, although it has obviously seen some use. We settled down for the three hour trip down to the Coromandel Peninsula. At first we passed through outlying neighbourhoods, then some farms. Then onto the peninsula, where the flora amazed me. Yes, I’ve seen green and lush before. But not these tall tree ferns. And the pointed hills rising above the verdant bush. 

We had a short stop to buy sandwich lunches. Then we went on to the beach, where those of us going on the sea kayak trip left the bus. I made sure I had my waterproof camera with me, which I bought especially for this trip. And, in what seems to be the theme for the day, I had my second slip whilst going down some steps to the beach. This time I trapped my left foot beneath me. I have been able to walk on it the rest of the day, but there is a nice bit of swelling on the outside and a blue bruise. I have made the amateur diagnosis of a pulled muscle, and I hope it doesn’t give me any problems tomorrow morning.

We were paired off, and the kayak instructor gave us some directions before we lowered ourselves into the boats. Now, I have never kayaked in my life, and I have a very unhappy canoeing experience behind me, so if this activity had not been part of my prize I would probably not have done it. However, it was great fun! I took the front, and a nice young man from Australia was at the back. We turned out to be a good team, regularly charging ahead of the rest of the boats (and he said that wasn’t down to his muscle power alone). It was a very different way to be on the ocean. Rain threatened but on the whole we had overcast and sometimes even sunny conditions.

We made our way around the cliffs, stopping in one cove to look for sting rays (saw some moving around in the water). At Cathedral Cove we came to shore, and had a little while to wander around the beach whilst our guide made hot drinks (real coffee!). I watched a gannet dive into the sea just off the shore. Plenty of seagulls wandered around, looking for scraps from picnics. 

We headed back out to sea, and around a couple of small islands. We also went through a sea cave. Unfortunately I was too busy paddling to get a photo. Then back to the beach. We were taken over to the campsite, which is heaving with people on holiday. I’m staying in a cabin, rather than a tent. The cabin has a bunk bed and a huge ‘fridge, but nothing else! So of course I bought a beer at the site shop to put into said ‘fridge. I believe in encouraging electrical appliances in their chosen profession. (Sadly, within the hour the ‘fridge was empty of beer.)

Some of the group prepared dinner, which was salad and a rather nice pasta sauce. We will all take our turn preparing dinners. We washed our own plates and utensils. Then I had a shower and settled into the cabin. The tide will be out around 10.30pm, so that’s when people plan to go down to the beach. You can dig a hole in the sand and hot water seeps in from below, but this only works at low tide. Although I’m tempted to see this (as best as possible in the dark) I think I’d better rest up the twisted ankle. It’ll be interesting to see what colour the bruise develops by morning.

Photos from today are here. A video which I took whilst on the kayak is here.

29 December

Fell asleep quite well, but then woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. 

There was heavy rain overnight, and the forecast was for thunderstorms. I took my time over breakfast, talked a bit to my room mates, and left the hostel just before 10am. By 10.30am I was in the queue for the ferry to Waiheke, one of the inhabited islands near Auckland. 

The skies were grey and the sea rather choppy on the 30 minute trip to the island. Once there we were escorted by our guide/driver on to the coach. I had booked a tour called ‘Taste of Waiheke’, and it was certainly that. The guide took us all over the island, pointing out the beautiful bays and the small but very expensive houses. We stopped at three vineyards and a place which grows olives. We had lunch at the first vineyard, Stonyridge. The sandwiches were late in coming for our table, so we were given a couple of bottles of wine to share between us. That’s what I call service!

The clouds rolled away and bright sun heated things up. At Wild at Waiheke we branched out from wines to enjoy some beers as well. Our final stop at Mudbrick Vineyard. We walked up the hill to enjoy the views over the island. By this time I was missing my hat. 

During the ferry trip back one could see the dark clouds over Auckland. The rain held off as I trudged up Queen’s Street back to the hostel. After downloading photos and taking a shower I headed back to town. Two friends from Bridgend, Rhianwyn and John, are currently spending 14 months travelling around the world. They are in Auckland until tomorrow, so we arranged to meet up for a meal and a chat. It was good to catch up with them over a pizza before I headed back up the hill again.

Oh, found an example of correct use of the possesive apostrophe! This was in the women’s toilets, but sadly I cannot reproduce the statement as it would turn this blog into a ‘R’ rating...

Photos from today are here. And a short video of the ferry journey over to the island is here.

27 & 28 December

Although this flight was nearly full, for some reason I found it far more comfortable. I actually dozed, not always easy on ‘plane seats. We landed in Auckland at 8am in the morning, New Zealand time. 

I then discovered that I would have to declare, on a customs form, the food I’d brought with me to New Zealand. Several freeze-dried meals, some breakfast bars, coffee bags (can’t stand powdered coffee!), oatcakes, nuts. Actually, the only bit of food taken off me was the biltong. I suppose I should have known better than to pack dried meat.

I caught the Air Bus from the airport to a stop in the city. The bus driver helpfully told me how to get to the youth hostel from the stop. What he didn’t tell me is the very steep hill I had to navigate. My check in bag dug its handle into my bum like an impatient cow, if cows actually really do move people along with their horns. It’s how I imagine it would feel, at any rate.  I reflected that if I lost my footing on that hill it might end up being a very short holiday. But I made it down okay and have enough padding on the bum to have emerged without bruises.

I checked into my room, unpacked, and enjoyed a hot shower. Then I headed out into Auckland. The day was grey and looked like little chance of improving, so I only took my compact camera.

It may be the jet lag speaking (I am rather tired), but I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by Auckland. I feel like the city has neither history or future to celebrate. A lot of rather non-descript buildngs tower into the air. Rows of small shops huddle underneath. I am amazed by the number of Korean establishments. I spent time in shops playing the game of ‘It’s lovely but you don’t need it’—rather successfully. 

I caught the ferry across to the neighbourhood of Devonport. The houses remind me of neighbourhoods in the USA. The buildings are made of some form of cladding rather than brick (which makes sense, of course, in a country prone to earthquakes). I bought hake and chips and pleased some seagulls and sparrows to no end by sharing bits of my lunch with them. I favoured the sparrows for the simple reason that I feel an affinity with small creatures. The sparrows were willing to come right up to my hand to take a piece of chip, whereas the seagulls kept a sniffy distance.

There were some lovely art galleries in Devonport, and again I succeeded in the ‘you don’t need it game’. Partially because anything I buy now has to survive 26 days of being carted around in a bus and being dragged across campsites. Unsurprisingly variation on a kiwi theme is very popular. What will annoy me, if this continues throughout New Zealand, are the continual misuses of the apostrophe. I thought it was bad enough in the UK. Here I saw multiple examples, often in the same paragraph, in which the possessive is not given an apostrophe but a plural is. Why did anyone ever first think that you use an apostrophe to make a plural? And then there’s the wrong use with its/it’s. Aargh!

The other thing that jars is that some stores are running ‘Christmas Sales’ and some are running ‘Summer Sales.’ I do double take whenever I see these signs adjacent to one another. Simply feels like a contradiction in terms. It is nice, however, to be back in the warm. Well, warmish. Long trousers and full sleeves, for me, although I’ve seen plenty of people shivering slightly in shorts.

I’ve really struggled to stay awake this afternoon. But my attitude with jet lag is that you fight against it and adopt the new time zone immediately. Never take a nap, that simply postpones the acclamatisation process. But I feel like a kiwi who has been pulled through a hedge backwards. And then had a lovely tea towel made of me afterwards. I do feel rather wiped out.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is for thunderstorms. So I’ve decided to book a wine tasting tour. That should make the day go by nicely regardless of the weather.

Photos from today are here.

26 December

I had a busy morning at home, particularly as I decided to take down the Christmas decorations, I couldn’t bear the idea of coming back home around the end of January to find them still up.

At 2pm a kind friend of mine pulled up outside my house. We loaded my large case into her small car and off we went to Heathrow. As ever I had given myself plenty of time. By 3.45pm I was in the terminal fretting whether my check-in bag would be over the 23 kg limit. However, the weighing scale of the desk I went to wasn’t working, so bag was simply whisked away. A couple of young women the next desk over were trying to repack to bring one of their bags down from 29kg.

Security was also quick. So by 4.15am I was through and wondering what to do until the boarding time of 6.30pm. It’s always amusing to see how many fashion brands I’ve never heard of. It was harder to walk past the World of Whisky, but then I couldn’t buy duty free as I’d have to go through security again when I changed ‘planes.

The flight from London to Seoul was only half full. I had three seats to myself, so I thought I might be able to stretch out to sleep. I managed to do so when I was in my early twenties on a flight from Los Angeles to London. However, this time around I simply could not get comfortable. Perhaps because my body is somewhat more rounded these days. On the other hand, the food was rather edible. I flew with Korean Air, and I requested the seafood meal. Asking for a special meal on a flight means that you get served first and often the food seems to be slightly better quality. 

I had nearly three hours between flights, but I wasn’t complaining. Air travel always dries out my nasal passages (sometimes I even get nose bleeds) so it was good to have time in full oxygen. Yes, I do drink a lot of non-alcoholic liquid on flights, that’s why I always ask for an aisle seat…

I had a moment of concern when an announcement was made that ‘for future planning purposes’ our carry on items would be weighed. I live in fear of someone weighing my camera backpack. So I stuffed a couple of lenses into my travel waistcoat to lighten the backpack. But all that happened is that they weighed each person whilst that person held on to their carry on. So now I had my vanity to contend with. ‘Listen, all that weight is camera equipment, okay? It’s not me.’ I managed to keep my mouth shut.

We passed midnight in at least one time zone during the flight.

Two photos here!

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On Boxing Day 2013 I’ll be flying off to New Zealand. This will include a tandem skydive at 16,500 feet! I’ll be travelling with a company called  Flying Kiwi.