The Winterless Northlands – where we leave our footprints

Here we are in our final week and the last chapter in our Most Excellent Adventure epic. Before I sound a tad sombre, let me recount our last week’s happenings in what they describe as the winterless, sub-tropical Northland.

I closed last week’s blog with the prospect of the eagerly anticipated Coromandel Peninsular; home to the iconic Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. Our first destination was the beach, which we have to say, does exactly what it says on the tin. First off, Hot Water beach is stupendously beautiful, with magnificent surf that any Cornish dude would be willing to negotiate. The golden sands are like velvet beneath your feet and with the blue seas, trimmed with white, the thunderous crashing of the waves to the shore and the balmy temperatures, you can just imagine how happy we were. Whilst Mrs here was a little nervous about getting in the waves, it didn’t take too long for my inner child to scream out – let me out to play. So with a little coaxing, she was in and giggling all the way. There was no serious swimming going on, just playing in the surf, feeling its strength and allowing it to carry you to the shore, like some ungraceful beached whale. A Hale Berry moment it was not! Still we had amazing fun.

The surf aside, the reason you go to Hot Water Beach is to dig your own hot water jacuzzi in the sand, at predetermined low-tide co-ordinates, allowing the underground thermal spring waters to wash over you. It’s somewhere between a mud bath and a hot water spa. So armed with our spade, we headed off. The beach was strewn with early morning revellers of all shapes, sizes and nationalities. Whilst English may not have been spoken by everyone, there was only one language required – dig, shape, sit, smile and enjoy.

We struggled to find a space for our little tushes, as the spa was pretty full, although we found a tepid feeling spot and the digging began. The temperature was a little disappointing – a bit more like Warm Water Beach, so our engineering skills were required. With ample dexterity and ingenuity, we built a channel from the boiling sand in the middle, to fill our DIY jacuzzi. Within 20 minutes we were languishing in gorgeousness; within 30 we were stewed nicely and within 40 we looked like overcooked prunes. Thankfully the surf cooled us off nicely. What a great experience, just shame there were so many others. Ah well can’t have paradise without sharing it.

How do you follow that? Well we did our best – as you can only imagine. We took ourselves off to Hahei Beach and had a boat trip around the coast and out to the Islands. What a great introduction to the seascape that offered the most perfect setting for Pirates of the Caribbean. With secret coves, blowholes, caves, seals and sting rays, what a way to see this volcanic influenced coastline. Now I skirted subtly over the sting ray bit – had I known about their shallow sea feeding habits, I would perhaps have been a little more cautious about my swimming exploits. That said we were told that ‘around about now the Orcas pass by and feed off these little guys.’ So with hope and anticipation of seeing their Antarctic migration, I forgave the sting rays presence. Alas no sightings yet!

We found a sensational freebie campsite at Cook’s Beach, where we parked up right in front of a golden beach that we pretty much had all to ourselves. The sound of crashing waves would be our evening’s lullaby and our morning’s alarm once more. Beach-combing was one of my past-times, so I have a ton of shells to bring home, if they allow me out of the country with them. If not, then you’ll find me in a New Zealand jail for shell smuggling – I’m sure they will have more lenient punishments than for drugs.

Our Peninsular experience was soon behind us as we travelled up and over t’other side and with another night’s freebie camping, Northlands called us. To get there though, we had to pass through Auckland – now this was a serious shock to the system. Three lanes of traffic, jams, pollution, noise – arghhh! It was horrible and we couldn’t wait to get out of there. Where were our beaches, our thermal springs, our mountains and lakes? Where was our serenity and our peace?

Soon enough though we found solace in a brand new landscape – white sand dunes. How lovely to see this beautiful spectacle. The green vegetation set off against the brilliant white dunes was too much for the photographer in me to bare, so of course I obliged, more than once. Miles and miles of white beach and surf stretching as far as the eye could see. If you ignored New Zealand’s only Oil Refinery it was perfection. We found a stunning site that was wild, hidden amidst the dunes, yet not so concealed that the thunderous sound of the crashing waves could not reach our ears.

Now at this point, I was ‘umming’ and ‘arring’ about how far north we went. Bay of Islands was enticing me and at a push we could have done it, although having had a whistle stop tour of the south, we were keen to do more being than doing, in the north. So we decided not to push ourselves and just allow some time to breathe. In fact we met a guy today that summed up our north island adventures – sometimes you’ve just got to leave footprints rather than tire marks and we’ve certainly done that this week.

Today has seen our finale – one last adventure to the west coast, where we will do our packing and cleaning before we drop Baz back to his rightful owners. It felt like it was going to be a bit of a transactional couple of days, although just like Cilla Black’s – Surprise, Surprise (for those of you old enough to remember the original programme!) we weren’t expecting this.

We heard it before we saw it – surf waves as tall as buildings – or so it seemed to my eye. I used thunderous for our east coast surf, although I wish I had saved it for the west, as I can not find another adjective to aptly describe the texture of the sound. It’s a deafening roar, as if a thousand lions are calling their loved ones. Our final campsite is right along this coast and our spot for the next two nights is nestled up high, overlooking the surf-

kiters skimming the waves and miles of black sand beneath us. This is such a contrast to our beach carpet, up until now. It is WILD here and you feel alive when you feel the wind against your face, the salt upon your lips and the primeval elements of nature colluding. In fact this area in Maori legend is known for the war against the Father of the Elements, the Father of the Forests and Father of the Oceans. And you certainly get full force of all three as you stand precariously on the cliff edge, watching, listening and feeling the effects of the battle.

Add to this the Gannet colony that is perched on the cliff edge, close enough for you to get right up close – if you have a strong enough stomach for it, that is. Truly amazing. Just a dream for the photographer in me and I think I might be tootling up there on my own for a few last shots or two. Currently running at 2,500 saved pictures (which will come as no surprise to some of you) and probably another 500 or so that I’ve deleted. So not done too badly in six weeks. I suspect there will be some serious editing when we get home though!

So our last week has been a lovely way to invest in ourselves. We have had time for chill, have coffee, lunches out, go swimming, read and watch the world go by. We have though, also turned a travelling corner and finally find ourselves looking forward to our impending return. We have truly loved our adventures and we will return, as we feel like we have embarked on a little love affair with this beautiful Island and a little piece of our hearts will remain here. We are though ready to come home and reflect upon the amazing experiences we’ve had and the privilege that has been our visit to the Land of the Long White Cloud. And as Perry Como sings we’ve had many, many Magic Moments.

Aotearoa, with gratitude we thank you, with respect we honour you and with pleasure we will remember you for all our remaining days. It has been memorable for so many reasons and 25 year partnership has been cemented even further, if that’s possible. It has been a journey that will undoubtedly give us many stories to tell. We hope you’ve enjoyed travelling with us and thank you for your company. It’s been a blast.

And so with a touch of sadness and reluctance, although with much joy and heart-felt appreciation for what we’ve savoured, we sign off – for now!!!!

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North Island – Where you hear Earth’s soul speak.

Our entry into North Island was greeted with anticipation for a great game of Cricket – that quintessential game that was born on English soil. I suspect you’ll all know the outcome of that game, so the less said about that the better. The landslide NZ victory aside, we had a great experience, sat in the Barmy Army camp where we suspect a few sherbets or two had been sunk earlier in the day. England’s cricketing performance didn’t help their drunken behaviour or their singing, although the whole thing wa

s just a blast. The sterling NZ batting, bowling and fielding meant that our day/night game was pretty much all wrapped up by 5.30pm, so with four hours to spare, we took ourselves off for a little saunter into New Zealand’s capital. It’s a fine city that despite its earthquake potential, has built a strong community and robust infrastructure. Now given that we’re not really city dwellers, a couple of hours going up the cable car and walking around the gardens, was more than enough for these two country-lovers. Myles summarised the day up nicely, saying that it was a great palette cleanser between the two isles and cleared the decks for an equally magically ride ’on t’other side’.

Before I continue our North Island exploits, I must preface the next chapter with an interesting starter for ten. We met so many people who were surprised at our travelling south to north strategy, each of them saying that they hoped we wouldn’t be disappointed after the south’s stunning scenery. From what we’ve encountered in our first week here, disappointment is nowhere to be seen. We are loving the landscape and the diversity that continues to pique our curiosity, fire up our imagination and fuel our love affair with this NZ wonderland.

That said, we had a somewhat boring drive north from Wellington. During the five hours of motoring, I tantalised Myles with visions of, “A River Cruise up the historical and Maori influenced Whanganui River.” “Fantastic.” he replied. Our drive up this little known valley was incredible and our spirits were kept high by landscape that looked like it had jumped straight out of the pages of The Hobbit’s Middle Earth. At least there were no Chinese Tourist buses here. Our arrival at Pipiriki was just sublime – even though we’d been driving for so long. We shared a beautiful campsite with one other van and a good night’s sleep prepared us, unwittingly, for an adventure of a lifetime – yes another one!

So you know that ‘river cruise’ I mentioned to Myles? Well it was in fact a Jet Boat that skimmed the river’s surface and hovered over the white water rapids, easefully….. Hang on a minute, white water rapids – no one told us about white water rapids!! Now canoeing sounds quite tranquil down a river in a stunning gorge doesn’t it? What we didn’t realise was that there were five rapids to negotiate on this sedate meander downstream. We could worry about that soon enough. In the meantime we had the most spectacular high sided gorge to immerse ourselves in and its history, that had literally been carved into the walls from days of old and a Maori culture that is still very much alive.

Our trip back down the river was, in part the Jet Boat and then the final 10km by canoe. We were told that it would be a Canadian Double Canoe, as if somehow that would make all the difference. Alas it still meant we had rapids to navigate. I must say that the resilience of our 25 years of marriage was never more tested than that afternoon. The person in the back is the driver, they must communicate clearly and enable you to work as a team – they said. No problem – I thought, given my background and our successful partnership. Well, within 10 minutes, I have to say that I did contemplate divorce, as, at one point, we managed to go backwards! It wasn’t looking good for these rapids that were increasingly worrying me. After a complete lack of strategic conveyance on my driver’s part, we got through the first one unscathed and with a few choice words from the mrs at the front, he got that I was a bit scared – especially when we knew that the next rapid was called the 50:50 – i.e. only half the people manage to navigate it with dry clothes. The film ‘Wild River’ with Meryl Streep came to mind.

The unfolding of the next few minutes has to be watched on video, captured by Myles’ Gopro, to fully experience the hilarity of the situation. Although to give you a flavour of my now communicating driver, the mantra, “Knees to the side, keep paddling, no matter what”, were constantly ringing in my ears. And paddle I did, with water gushing up to meet us, slowly filling our canoe. “Keep paddling!” he said, as we were tossed around by playful torrents of white waves. “Keep paddling, don’t stop”, “Myles, the canoe is flooded, do you still want me to paddle?” After a graceful entry into the water with our submerged canoe, I have to say that although the 50:50 got us, well and truly, it was one of the funniest things we’ve ever done and I would do it all again in a flash. Oh my, how we laughed, as we bailed out our Canadian Double Canoe!

The rest of the trip was just insanely beautiful, especially as the sun started to change the visions in front of us. Like a stage, spotlights of sun rays started to bounce off the gorge walls and light up the crystal waters, with echoes of the historical ghosts dancing beneath the surface. We loved our ‘river cruise’ and it will be one of my Top 10 experiences of this road trip. Every sense was tantalised and it will remain firmly in my heart forever.

As you can imagine, leaving Pipiriki the next morning was a sad event, although the Thermal Wonders of North Island’s very own Middle Earth beckoned us. No sooner had we left the hidden valley, than the strangely masterful trio of volcanoes filled the sky line. I’ve never had a close encounter with a volcano before and there was something very humbling about treading its molten larva pathways. What history has been strewn around this land. Seeing these still active volcanoes up close, was amazing as there was a tantalising uncertainty about when it might blow next. Especially given the billowing pillar of white smoke we saw being emitted from one of the smaller volcanoes (around the corner!) They are still very much alive and kicking and they commanded our respect.

The volcanoes were just an introduction to the seismic, geothermal adventure for our next two days and we were enthralled by the earth, quite literally steaming – they call it a living landscape and they weren’t wrong. It was such a surreal vision to see bursts of steam coming out of the vegetation like hidden dragons waiting to pounce. Camping on the shores of our own private crater lake was a bit of a wow and the smell that wafted occasionally, yet another signal that we were entering the sulphur enshrouded Thermal Valley. Now, if last week’s blog initiated the 50 Shades of a Rainbow, I think the title now needs to be rewritten to at least 100 Shades of a Rainbow. I thought I had seen all the colours in the spectrum, although this volcanic wonderland had a real treat in store for us. Iridescent greens, lime, burgundies, bright reds, intense crystal blues and opal, primrose yellows and snow-like whites. My eyes were in seventh heaven.

The thing that struck me most, as we visited a thermal park outside of Rotorua, was that New Zealand is a powerhouse of seismic activity and each Island has its own unique way of expressing it. South is disturbingly unpredictable, secretive and threateningly powerful – whereas the North is very transparent in its seismic expression. You feel it, see it, smell it and hear it. Every sense knows that, just below the surface, is a cauldron of fire from Earth’s soul, being thrown into our world. I found this expression quite awe inspiring and it captivated me right in my heart. To be privy to these one-way conversations that Earth’s core is having with the outside world, was just incredibly primal and puts so many things into perspective. The futility of our materialist living put in its place with the volatility of the planet’s existence. I bow to your magnificence.

So with geysers, bubbling mud pools that would make a Spa’s Facial jealous, craters, sulphur mounds, crater lakes and rumbling volcanoes, our thermal experience was complete and with a cultural encounter with a living Maori village for a morning, we felt like we had really sampled this earthly place, in all its beautiful rawness and we loved it. We loved it not intellectually, we loved it spiritually, in words hard to find.

So now, with rotten eggs and steam vents behind us, we head for the coast and Coromandel Peninsular – home to the most stunning scenery and, with anticipation and excitement, we await our final weeks unfolding.

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Sensational Sea-land

Well who would have thought it – tempus really does fugit. Here we are in week four already and our three week, whirlwind tour of South Island has officially come to an end. As I write this, we are sailing up the Queen Charlotte Sound on our way to North Island and I must admit to a little sadness as we leave this jewel in the Tasman Sea. With her majestic and diverse mountains, her luscious lakes, her deeply embracing fiords and her kaleidoscope of colours sprinkled over the South Island canvas, she leaves us with amazing memories of this treasure house of natural beauty.

We were talking last night about the impression that new world countries leave on the world’s map and how, in comparison to other continents, they have a historical infancy that influences their culture. And yet what sets New Zealand apart from so many other countries is the depth of the natural beauty that she has to offer. Whilst human historical depth may be less than other parental nations, she completely surpasses with her natural historical offerings. And so as we say good-bye to the earthquake fragility of the south, we head for the volcanic region of the north, each island sharing a profound creation of natural intensity not experienced by many other countries.

Before we engage with our northern adventures, we have the coastal beauty to share with you. After so many mountain giants, it really was quite refreshing to see coastal ruggedness welcome us. And yet we were stunned by the relentless grip that our mountainous friends still had on the landscape, with their hold sustained right up to the coastal edge; the waves licking their feet with the soothing and rhythmic motion of the tides. We hadn’t expected this at all and it continued to seduce us with every corner we turned. Salty sea air now fills our lungs and the cry of seagulls is our early morning melody.

Abel Tasman National Park is the most incredible coastal vision I have set my eyes on and being a sea baby, I feasted on its lusciousness and allowed it to feed my soul. Golden sands that sparkled liked gold bullion, dense forest canopies keeping the seaside sunshine at bay and the exotic blue seas that come right out of the Caribbean movies. We just needed Hale Berry to emerge out of the sea to recreate that famous James Bond scene. There is a real rawness about these shores that just brings out artists and nature lovers. Limestone and granite mountains plunge straight into the crystal coves and beautiful bays create a safe haven for a host of flora and fauna so unique to this area. The peaceful inlets provide shelter to the abundance of crayfish, green lipped mussels, clams and blue cod, most of which journeys to the Asian market. What a treasure chest of delights that is Abel Tasman.

For the more energetic and physically driven, the AT heralds the famous tramping track that can take from between three to five days. Pathways that hug the coast, take inward turns into the heart of the land and then offer teasing peaks of the tumbling cliffs below, revealing brilliant blue seas that invite you to dive right in. Water taxis buzz like bees up and down the coast dropping off trampers as they negotiate sections of the park that suit their abilities. Campsites and watering holes are sporadically located along the way for the more serious walkers to overnight and rest their weary bones. We did a couple of sections and can proudly declare that we completed around 18kms of the 60kms and given that neither of us has walked more than five miles in the last five years, we feel pretty good about our achievement.

The two walks we did were stunning. The crickets, (that we later found out are actually cicadas, and 50 times the size of a common cricket), sang like an electric fence without a break in their circuit. Conducting their harmony was the odd Tui and Bellbird, that Myles commented sounded a little bit like R2D2. The musical orchestra was heaven for the ears. For the eyes, a feast of coastal rainforest, granite outcrops holding precariously poised pine trees and romantic beaches that just invited a naked swim – or is that just my fantasy said out loud! For the heart, well just being in this special place was enough to fill any heart full of joy, beholding the vistas that just melted you. I’m sure the pictures don’t do the views justice, although the memories we will hold will be priceless. Interestingly, so popular is this National Park, I’m sure we saw more people in two days than cars throughout our three week road-trip, which made finding different ways of saying hello somewhat tricky.

Our second walk was kicked started by a water taxi ride to the mid point of the Park. Now you might be forgiven for imagining that this WATER taxi would have begun its journey in the water, and under normal circumstances you would be right. Although given that the Abel Tasman coast has the longest tidal range in NZ; when the tide is out, boy is it out. So our WATER taxi ride actually started on land, being pulled by a tractor. Oh my did we laugh, especially as they made us wear life jackets! Really? What did they think was going to happen to us on the flipping road? Anyway it was a tad choppy, once we had dipped our toes in the water, although it was such fun and took me right back to my days on our Shetland boat down in Southampton water.

After two days of walking, we reluctantly left the coastal gorgeousness and headed for the final South Island destination before our northern leg. Marlborough region is famous for its wineries although we were heading for its Sounds and yet more beautiful surprises. I had thought this sea flooded wilderness would be simply just littered with little inlets and islands, well how wrong was I – yet more mountains, coves and fiords. It reminded me so much of Doubtful Sound as it was strewn with voluptuous mountains and curvaceous coves, sheltering the often dotted habitat of the homo sapien variety, reachable only by boat. As we have become accustomed, we took the non-tourist route and found ourselves an amazing free campsite that we shared with only four other vans that gifted us with our own private beach. OMG how privileged did we feel to share this amazing place with Mother Nature. We had a little Baz challenge, having found a little idyll for coffee one morning, as getting the tyres to grip the newly laid gravel on a right hand sloping bend was a tad tricky, so after a bit of rubber burning and engine beeping, we had to resort to plan b, which Myles navigated beautifully. Thankfully no other incidents have befallen us so far and long may that continue.

Our last day treated us to a cruise up Queen Charlotte Sound and this was no ordinary tourist cruise. It was a working delivery boat that co-incided a scenic tour. We had about eight drop offs that allowed the disembarkation of both human cargo, walking the equally famous Queen Charlotte Track and, more surprisingly, freight. There were suitcases for remote lodges in secluded coves and boxes of beer and wine supplies and the odd 58” Widescreen TV – as you do! It was great to be part of this working cruise and see how life in the Sound is sustained and nourished. It was a beautiful three hours and we have added to the suntan base with a school-girl error of wind-burn!!!

And so our coastal week has been full of surprises, delights and even more wiggly roads that would make any Slinky jealous. We have loved this area and all its salty delights and feel drawn back to this area to submerge ourselves in its magic once more. (I’m working on that one!)

And so now our captain guides us from one shore to another, and a whole different set of adventures await us with an isle that is so different, unique and diverse to our southern belle sites and we await them with intrigue.DSC02731 SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC DSC02750 SONY DSC DSC02793 SONY DSC DSC02822

Wicked Westland Wonders.com

So picking up from my last blog; we’d navigated the womanly wonders of Doubtful Sound and mastered the masculinity of Milford (named by a welshman you know!) and finally it was time to wend our way back north, via the Westlands. We have a deadline of getting to Wellington by Friday 20th as we’re heading over to this ICC cricket thing that’s taking place in Australia and NZ – apparently Myles reliably informs me is the Cricket World Cup!! So with that in mind and given the weather disruption of the previous week, we knew we had some motoring to do, building in some breathing space in between, of course. Little did I know what would be waiting for us around the corner.

Sunday night saw the last of the rain for the week, we’re pleased to report. Although I’m pretty sure there can be no more rain left after the 12 hours of non-stop torrent of water that fell from the skies. We did wonder whether we would actually get off our pitch, although with Myles’ masterful manoeuvring, of course it was fine.

Our destination, on our route north, was WanAka – now please I purposely put a middle capital A, as a number of our ’speed reading’ Facebook friends missed out this crucial letter and gave this beautiful town a rather sorry nickname – the less said about that the better. The non-tourist road to WanAka was simply stunning (I wonder how many times I can use that adjective today?) There were more twists and turns in it than in a Jive. Good old Baz managed admirably and our prize was the oasis town of WanAka, which, no surprise was held in the clutch of yet more magnificent mountains and with its own beautiful, azure lake.

With the sun well and truly in control, you can just imagine how gorgeous the view was. We had two nights here, as after a four hour drive, we were ready to rest. We did manage a fantastic cycle around the peninsular though which took us to deserted beaches, up through forest paths and riverside hugging mountain biking tracks. The abundant smell of the authentic Tea Tree bush made it all the more cleansing for me and I would so like to have bottled the scent, given its cost back home. The ride was quite a challenge, although a lovely lunch of fish and chips, Kiwi style and a cider certainly made up for it. I think Myles’ bottom may have had something different to say about the Tour de WanAka, although we’ll soon get him fit as a fiddle. This was our favourite town yet and we could have stayed a lot longer here, alas our northern shores beckoned.

We’ve got ourselves into a habit when we’re having a driving day of, setting out early, stopping somewhere for breakfast, then lunch and finally arriving at a campsite before the rest of the grockles around 4.00pm. (After 4.00, there’s a definite fight for spaces and may the best van win.) We find this strategy makes us stop to take in the views whilst eating up the miles at the same time, which is the best of both worlds. This week’s adventures took us to the Westlands, which was all about the Glaciers and mountain passes and I must say that we navigated more hairpins than an Elizabethan monarch’s hairdo and most of them I seemed to be the nominated driver for – blimey it certainly tested my driving skills. Every bend was a wow, an OMG or some similar expletive. There were gorges with topaz blue waters thundering through them, carving out their reputation on the granite rocks along their path. There were snow-capped mountains that towered above us, coming in all shapes and sizes. Rainforest, still ruling the roost with 20ft ferns, dominated the skyline and roads lined with brilliant orange Star Gazing Lilies and Crocosmia (see pictures below for those non Alan Titchmarsh fans amongst you). In fact I don’t know about 50 Shades of Grey, I think I’ve seen 50 shades of the Rainbow over the last week. A painter’s palette would seriously envy these colours.

Now I mention our next overnight camp, Lake Paringa, partly because it was beautiful, right beside the water’s edge, although more for the pest warfare that began that day. People have consistently mentioned the Battle of the Sandfly, particularly on the West Coast and we took heed of their warnings and duly purchased a spray to ward off the little blighters. Well the sandfly makes the mosquito look like a cuddly teddy bear, and those Scottish friends amongst you who know the pleasures of the Blue Cross Mossie from the wee Glens, I’m sorry to say that they are child’s play compared to these buggars. They look so innocuous as they land on your spray coated skin and believe me they will find access to any piece of flesh they can, especially if it is unprotected. At the time their bites seem somewhat innocent, it is a day or two later when the chickenpox itching starts and they swell up your ankles and you look like a teenager with acne within 24 hours. It’s bad man! So finally today after a torturous couple of days, we have resorted to anti-histamine tablets and you know what a big a deal that is for me. Needs must.

The final highlight of our week has been the Glaciers. Now I’ve spent some time talking to people about the Glaciers; Fox and Franz Joseph and I’ll be honest that they weren’t on our top hit list. And so we had thought to sort of by-pass them and do a short walking visit to Fox, just to say we’d seen it. Given that we had seen the Tasman Glacier whilst we were in Mount Cook, both of us felt like we’d ‘done’ Glaciers. Well that was what we thought until I saw the sign for heliflights that landed on the Glaciers. Don’t get me wrong I knew there were flights up there, although until I was in situ and in the moment, I really hadn’t given it a thought and to be totally honest, my ‘money’ issues came up and I was sure it would be ‘too expensive’. Although I had a sudden wave of Carpe Diem and before we knew it, we have reserved a place on Trip C. Perfect. It was the landing that I really wanted to experience, simply flying up and down the Glacier wasn’t the experience I was looking for. To quote the Carpenter’s song I really wanted to be: ‘…On top of the world, looking, down on creation…’ I wanted the rawness of the height, the space, the silence; Mother Nature in her most natural and organic state and to be at one with it. Romanticism perhaps; reality – may be.

Well timing and synchronicity were on our side and we were lucky enough to get upgraded onto Flight D, which was the best option; Franz Joseph, Mount Cook, Snow Landing and Fox Glacier for 40 minutes for the same price as Flight C, because they needed two people to make up the party. The deal was not to tell the other passengers – so with ‘mum’s the word’, off we went. Now given that Myles suffers from vertigo, we weren’t quite sure how the whole experience was going to be for him – although to be truthful that didn’t really occur to me until we were 100ft in the air and his face told me he wasn’t happy. Although living life on the edge was what it was all about and he soon got comfortable. It was the first time for both of us being in a helicopter, so you can imagine how exciting it was, especially being at the front looking down. OMG it was simply stunning. To cut a long story short, the trip was sensational with such a perfect weather day for it. So many people don’t get to do this because the weather conditions are not right, so we feel incredibly privileged, in so many ways. Did it meet my expectations? Oh yes and more – it was a stunning experience. If last week’s Doubtful Sound is symbolised by a woman, Milford Sound, the man, this was the child – virginal, innocent, pure and evolutionary. To ME, it took me right back to my inner child, for Myles it was just a lovely experience!!

So now we find ourselves, after an incredibly long driving day, past the divine mountains and into the coastal area of Abel Tasman, first colonised by Dutchman Abel back in the 1600s, who has been credited for being the first European to land on New Zealnad shores, 100 years before James Cook. We’ve yet to explore it properly although it is lovely to see a bit of sea. We’re on a freebie camping spot right on the harbour and it is here that you meet the real characters and the long-term travellers who all have a story to tell. We’ve just met a couple who have sold up their house in Christchurch after an episode with the Government over their land, post Earthquake and are travelling around looking for land in South Island to call home. He is British and has played football against Long Itchington. The other guy we met is a Kiwi who has been travelling NZ and Australia for 9 years, working as he goes for the odd couple of months and for his 60th Birthday is going to Isle of Man to watch the TT Races. Small world eh? Priceless moments and we’re loving it.

And so friends, it is here that I leave you with more sealand adventures to come. See you next week.

Building our own stone bridge.

Building our own stone bridge.

Beautiful WanAka

Beautiful WanAka

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Breakfast

Breakfast

The Gates of Haast

The Gates of Haast

Crocosmia

Crocosmia

Star Gazing Lillies

Star Gazing Lillies

Snowlanding

Snowlanding

On top of the world

On top of the world

Battle of the Sandfly Lake where the mountains sang

Battle of the Sandfly Lake where the mountains sang

Edge of Fox Glacier

Edge of Fox Glacier

Hokitika, the city of driftwood art.

Hokitika, the city of driftwood art.

A Week of Two Halves

For those of you familiar with, or I hasten to add, old enough to know the 1980’s sitcom – Open all Hours, “It’s been a fu-fu-funnnny sorta week”. Lots has been learnt on our first 10 day journey, both in terms of managing the space in our little Baz and with handling the forever changing agenda shaped by the weather.

We’re doing so well in our 7 metre home, only 1.5m of which is the kitchen. We’ve both produced some really lovely, ‘home from home’ meals. Surprisingly, we’re not getting underneath each other’s feet and working well as a team. Daily chores include the toilet emptying (Myles), the water filling (Myles, mostly) the waste emptying (definitely Myles) and of course, if we can, showering, although that’s not always possible!!! We love having our little home to come back to after trekking in the mountains or being out on a cruise. We love cooking our own meals and eating in our pjs if we want to – we love this lifestyle.

As we reflect on our first full week, it’s been fab, as we’ve been able to tick off our list, two ‘biggies’; Fiordland and a round of Golf in Queenstown for Myles – the weather being kind for both. The rest of the week has been battening down the hatches; more on that in a mo.

The views continue to inspire us each day and every spot we move to, the scenery changes. Mountains go from curvaceous and voluptuous undulations, tropical rainforest covered valleys, towering, craggy giants to then flat plains covered in fields of sheep, cows and red deer. Each view we behold is spectacular in its own right and well deserving of the respect they command – we feel blessed.

Our overnight stops have been as varied as the weather. From glorified car parks for campers in Queenstown to free camping beside rivers and lakes – on the whole we have been very well served. Getting off our little site this morning was a bit tricky after 12 hours of torrential rain and a bit of slip sliding started our journey. I must say we were very grateful to see some gravel. Oh my, how things have shifted as we have changed our travelling chariots – on the motorbike we used to hate gravel and yet now it is our friend.

So given that we Brits love talking about the weather – a little about that before I go on. Having left Mount Cook, which I think was last Sunday – and I must admit to loosing track of the dates – we entered into a rubbish weather front, which was unheard of by locals given that it is summer. The depression affected most of the Island with winds raging up to 140km pr hour and torrential rain. Add to that snow down to 700m, which made for a rather chilly experience with a couple of nights with double duvets and the heating on full blast. One recording on the temperature gauge was 5 degrees. Flippin heck, it was as cold as ‘back home’. The weather really did throw us and our plans, as clear conditions were a prerequisite for our trip to Fiordland. So we had to do some thinking outside of the box and consider our options, giving that the forecast was predicted to remain hugely unsettled for most of the week. Fiordland was on our major hit list, so we considered whether to sit it out, chase the sun or move on and fly down later. After many chops and changes to the plans, we decided to sit it out with the promise of better weather at the weekend. And actually we look back with fondness at the rain and snow as it gave such a different perspective to the mountains which we would not have experienced had summer followed its traditional path.

So back to the interesting stuff – our latest adventures. Our route took us to Clay Cliffs at Omarama, which just had to be seen, as its geology is so unique to the rest of the Island. Although we had to navigate a very pot-hole ridden, bone crunching, plate

braking 12km road to get there, it was worth it to get into the heart and soul of the cliffs and feel their history. With binoculars you could have seen them from the road, although just not the same experience.

From here we arrived in Queenstown and sadly this was when the weather really closed in and I suspect our first impressions were therefore affected as we didn’t enjoy the town at all. That said our presence in this vibrant, thrill-seeking capital of the world, most definitely raised the average age to about 23, and if we’re truthful, wasn’t really our cup of tea.

Before our story bores you, we must tell you about the centrepiece of our week, which was the cause of so much mid-week consternation. The Fiordland; Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. After the promise of wonderful weather, we finally booked on to the Doubtful Sound trip. There are only two days in my life where I have been so excited; Disneyland when I was 13 and my Wedding Day. I really don’t think I can adequately describe our experiences, which involved a ferry, a coach and then our three hour exclusive cruise on the most stunning fiord. How do I describe it and give you a sense of our experiences?

Imagine a stream and enlarge and lengthen it by a million. Imagine the colour blue and intensify it by 100. Imagine a hill and stretch it by 5000 and colour it with a few cotton wool buds tickling the tops of the mountains for good measure. Oh and add dolphins, penguins and seals. The final thing needed to your imagery is the sound…. Imagine only the sound of lapping waves on the catamaran’s hull, the eery vibration of a mountain’s towering presence, the cry of a seagull and the crashing of the waterfalls full of the recent snowfall melt. If you add a shake of magic and dash of rainbow colours and a sense of Christmas Eve excitement, you can share just some of our experience. At one point the captain turned off the engines so we could listen to Mother Nature’s orchestra and I have to say that the serenity made me cry with joy. On top of that I had dolphins swimming right alongside the boat, which just topped it all off.

There’s no doubt for me that Doubtful (pardoning the pun) will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my days and yet travelling the Milford Road to Milford Sound, just north added even more colour to our travel log. The road itself was interesting with lakes that look like mirrors reflecting the mountain backdrop and tunnels that carry you through the most stalwart, granite mountain monsters and hairpin bends that rival the Swiss Alps. And then there was the Sound itself – we decided on a small boat cruise that had only eight passengers, making it quite an intimate affair. It was just like the brochure pictures show; iconic, dramatic and so totally different to its southern sister. Sheer mountain faces, characterful shapes that enticed your imagination, caves, seductive clouds skimming the giants’ heads and waterfalls that gushed out of what seemed like thin air.

As I reflect on the two sensational experiences, I realise that each held a completely different energy within them. Doubtful was more like a woman – gentle, embracing, alluring, curvaceous, nurturing, satisfying and unforgettable. Milford was more like a man – tall, strong, powerful, dominant, a little jagged and over too quickly, leaving you wanting more. I’m so glad we did both Fiords as they were both special in their own ways and both taking just a little bit of space in our hearts. Wow is all I can say.

And so friends, I leave you with the sensations and memories from our week and until next time – au revoir.

Doubtful Sound

A freebie campsite

A freebie campsite

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Lake Te Anua

Lake Manapouri, Fiordland

Lake Manapouri, Fiordland

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Lake Manapouri

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

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It’s a giveaway – Mirror Lakes

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford

Milford

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Iconic Mitre Peak

The Eagles have Landed!

So we’re a week into our adventures and four days of that have been travelling – although please don’t feel sad, as the travel was simply a stunning experience in its own right. We’ve never done business class before and so we thought ’25th Anniversary, 29 hours travel, it has to be done – right?’

It did take some convincing on my part, although I would not change one minute of it. I actually felt incredibly humbled by the whole experience; from the first lounge in Gatwick, through to Dubai, Melbourne and Auckland. We were well fed, watered (well champagned if truth be known) and amidst all that, comfortable sleeping arrangements so we got to lie down. So get this – we had a conversation on the final leg to Auckland suggesting that because we felt so fresh, perhaps we could go into the city for a mooch! Well little did we realise that travelling this far was going to take its toll on us and so by 7.30 that night we were falling asleep in our dinners. Auckland would have to wait.

With one more flight to Christchurch the following day we picked up our van. Now given that Myles secretly had a fear that we would turn up at some empty, padlocked site that revealed no sight of a rat, let alone a camper van, you can imagine his delight when we drew up at an official and professional looking office. Within the hour we had taken over Baz, our new home for the next forty days.

Our virgin journey was nerve wracking as we familiarised ourselves with the speed, size, width and general noise that a van makes when you’re hurtling down the highways – it’s good to see that Myles’ Naught Boys’ Speed Awareness course has had a positive impact on his driving!!!!!

Our first stop was in a volcano crater, created thousands of years ago, leaving Akaroa’s amazing harbour. A few thousand decades later, the French turned up to claim Banks Peninsular, only to find that the bloody English had already beaten them to it. Still, the village is under a French influence with road names, shops and architecture all in a frenchie stylie. It is a beautiful place and such a great introduction to the holiday.

I had hoped that one of my ultimate bucket list activities might well be achieved on day 2 of our trip; alas the weather prevented us taking a boat out into the harbour for me to swim with the Hector Dolphins – the rarest and smallest dolphins in the world. It was a big lesson for me in trusting and accepting – it just wasn’t flowing and didn’t feel right – so I am trusting that something better will come along that will be just what we need at the time.

Now for those of you who know me, you know I like to plan! Well I’m getting better and plans are dwindling in their importance for me. So it was only on day 2 that we started to consider the trip’s big picture and what we could do, wanted to do and had time to do. We realised that some compromises have to be made. I’m sure that those plans will change as we chat to people along the way. We are still debating the whole Doubtful v Milford Sound and whether we have the time to do both. Watch this space as it changes every day.

So to bring you up to date for this week’s adventures – we have moved into the central part of South Island and where the mountains are Kings and the visitor simply minions, reverent to their magnificence. The scenery is stunning and I can’t find enough superlatives to describe what we are seeing. The topography is undulating, curvaceous and mesmerising. Lake Tepako was our first stop with the Church of the Good Shepherd, an iconic symbol of the lake and surrounding mountains. Had it not been for all the tourists it would have been a magical place – oh we were one of those tourists. It has to be said that 98% of tourists are Japanese and Chinese, so you can imagine the camera equipment they carry around with them! Makes me look like an amateur.

Our overnight stop was in an amazing site over-looking the azure blue waters of the lake, with clouds kissing the mountain tops. Pines lined the shores completing a canvas of rainbow colours that brought tears to my eyes when I saw it. I think there may be more being shed as the days go on – big old softie that I am.

Our evening for me epitomised the whole camping experience; sat outside chatting to our neighbours, sharing stories and laughing until the sun set, with a Jack Daniels to wash down the whole experience. Now I’m not a great fan of camping – the tent version that is – clearly motor homing is in a different league altogether. Although the camping that we do do, once a year with our TT family is simply luxurious compared to the examples we have seen on this trip. People camp in their cars!! Now that is hard core and not for me. These guys have my undying respect. Now back to my carpet lined floors, my bed and my kitchen.

Today has been another wonderful day with a journey into the spiritual land of Mount Cook/Aoraki, which is the highest mountain in NZ. Another azure lake welcomed us into this National Park and, to get geographically technical – a great example of a U-shaped glacial valley. We are today camped on what they call a DOC site, which has very few facilitates and is much wilder, although fabulous in its rawness. This is nature at its best. I’m sat here enveloped by the majesty of the snow-peaked mountains with the only noise the sounds of song thrushes and blackbirds and the odd camping related grunt or two as the tent pegs of those braver than us try to overcome the rocky interior of the ground. We are chilling out before our next walk once the rain shower has passed and Mr D has woken from his afternoon siesta – sleeping because we can and this driving is hard work you know!

The walk was a delight for our eyes, ears and heart as we ventured into the heart of the mountain wilderness. The wind called us, or so we thought and yet as we turned the corner, there in front of us was the raging torrent of snow-melt run off, coursing over boulders and through gorges. Our path took us over this treat by way of a suspension bridge and on deeper into the valley almost nose to nose with the Mount Cook Glaciers – living, breathing, moving feats of Mother Nature’s subtle power. We were awestruck and despite the inclement weather, we completed a five mile treck into the wilderness. I must add though to temper your admiration of our hiking talents, that we must have passed at least 100 Chinese tourists dressed in trainers, ponchos and umbrellas that made our professional walking kit look OTT. Still, we loved our walk and we were rewarded by the most amazing rainbow that coloured our path home, for now at least.

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Our adventures will soon continue as we will be sharing our story for those who may wish to share in our sensory experiences.

Two more sleeps to go….

So here we are on Saturday, two days before we head off on our epic 25th Wedding Anniversary adventure.  To explore the shores of one of the furthest destinations from UK that you can get.  29 hours of travelling will see us arrive on the soil of the Maori’s and where we endeavour to leave just a little bit of our hearts on this cherished Lord of the Rings land.

As yet excitement has not visited us – we have sniffed and coughed our way through January and we’re surprisingly tired and run down.  So the timing is perfect and we’re sure that once we step on our 11.25 train at Taunton, the wave of butterflies will consume us and our journey will truly begin.  Until then, we have housework to do, last minute admin and a diner party to bring together.  Soon, soon…..

So until we arrive at some suitable destination where we can update our adventures, I will say au revoir and we aim to entertain you with our experiences, videos and pictures very, very soon.  Laters x