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October 26th 2011
Published: October 26th 2011
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We were planning to head back to New Zealand one last time to see a few things we’d missed, to catch up with some friends and also to meet up with Colin and Roberta, Kat’s Dad and Stepmother. We flew into Christchurch and picked up the rental car and found a place to spend the night, as it was already rather late. Christchurch is still badly affected by the February earthquake with the CBD still closed and lots of derelict buildings and empty plots where houses once stood. That night the earth moved again when another earthquake, this time a 4.9 shook our hostel. There was no damage and it only lasted a few seconds but it was a rather eerie experience and we were rather relieved to be leaving the following morning. We next found ourselves in Lake Tekapo, a bright blue, milky coloured lake. With the sun shining it’s a really impressive sight and we walked up one of the surrounding hills and back along the lake to get a better view. The following day we drove onto Mt Cook, staying in Twizel. It’s rare to see the top of Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, as it is normally shrouded in cloud. You first see it from the highway across the blue water of Lake Pukaki and on a clear blue day as it was you could see the whole of the mountain still covered in snow, with glaciers running from the top. We drove out to its base, an impressive drive past the lake and the flat base of the glacial valley. We took a walk up to the base of one of the glaciers, less impressive than you’d imagine with dirty black moraines at its base but the sheer scale is awe inspiring. At the hotel at the base village a couple was getting married with the back drop of the mountain, a pretty amazing place for your wedding. We travelled down from Mount Cook back to Queenstown, where we had been earlier in the year and spent a brilliant few days catching up with friends who had spent the winter working there.

From Queenstown we were back on our own and on our way to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsular. The Rugby World Cup was just about to begin, and rather stupidly we hadn’t checked the match schedule. It turned out that we would be arriving in Dunedin at the same time as the opening ceremony (in Auckland fortunately), but more importantly England were playing Argentina the following night in Dunedin itself. We had no chance of getting a hostel but fortunately we had out little hiking tent with us so we went down to Warehouse and bought a thick duvet to supplement our sleeping bags as it was still really cold and wet in that part of New Zealand. We had booked into a campsite and when we turned up it was already a scene of chaos. The campsite itself was already fully occupied with campervans so we were told to set up on the adjoining pitches of the local rugby club. We found a little spot for our tent amid the bedlam and headed off to the local social club to watch the opening ceremony and the first game. When we got up the next morning we couldn’t believe the sight. The entire rugby pitch, including right underneath the uprights was covered in a sea of white campervans. It seemed that all the English supporters and a huge number of Argentines (there seemed to be as many as the English) had hired vans and descended on Dunedin. Apparently there were over 700 at the one campsite (there was also another three campsites in town), some of them with flags draped over them and other non permanent graffiti. And in the middle of all of them was our tiny hiking tent!
After the England game (which we didn’t have tickets for) we drove the short distance out to the Otago Peninsular where we spent a couple of very soggy days trying to spot penguins, albatrosses and sliding around in the mud. This was the first time we noticed the tent beginning to leak!
There is a walk called the Queen Charlotte track up near Picton at the northern tip of the south island. The walk follows the dramatic coast line for a period of three or four days and you may be lucky enough to see dolphins along the way too. We prayed for good weather and when the day came to get our boat to the start of the track the forecast was good and the skies were blue. For the hour that it takes the boat to get to the start of the track we had dolphins swimming around the boat, surfing in the wave between the two hulls of the catamaran. It was rather alarming however when we were standing at the back of the speeding boat with the only other couple aboard when we realised that the skipper was standing next to us as well. But that’s how relaxed the Kiwis can be!
The walk begins at Ship Cove, so called because Captain Cook moored there several times to repair his boat, get supplies and converse with the locals. Legend has it that they once served him human flesh in his honour at one occasion. Just off the coast is an island where Cook first planted the Union Jack to signify that the South Island belonged to Britain (despite the Dutch getting there quite a bit earlier). There is now a rather ugly monument at Ship Cove but also one of the guns from the Endeavor (which someone managed to fire a few years ago, although now it’s blocked with cement) but the setting is beautiful. The walk climbed very steeply up from the cove and we walked past lush green ferns and vegetation for the next couple of hours until we reached our first camp. The campsite was right next to the water and we had the entire place to ourselves which was amazing. We found some fresh mussels growing down on the water’s edge and cooked them over our gas fire for a snack. Next day was a full day of walking along the ridges and round past the water and the weather was perfect, blue skies but not too hot yet. We found our next camp and again had it to ourselves. The walk has no huts to stay in so the only options are to take your own tent or stay in one of the very exclusive B&Bs along the way. That night the weather deteriorated and it was pouring with rain when we awoke. The sodden ground had leaked through the floor of the tent and our sleeping bags, mats and some of our clothes were soaked despite all the precautions we had taken. With no sign of the rain stopping and by this point soaked and cold we decided we couldn’t spend another night in the tent with it being potentially wet again and no way of drying our clothes. The boat that had dropped us the first day was to come back to the campsite that morning to pick our backpack up and ferry it to the next campsite so when it finally arrived we jumped aboard and got a lift back to Picton, disappointed not to have finished the walk but glad to be back in the warm and dry of a hostel.
It was Tom’s 30th birthday just after we arrived back in Picton so Kat had booked a very posh boutique B&B for a couple of nights as a surprise. Margaret and Jim made us feel very at home and even put us in their nicest room at the top of the house with its own sitting room and library. We were the only people staying there and felt very welcome. As a birthday present too we were to take part in a cooking class with Margaret who used to run her own catering company and still spends most of her time in the kitchen. There was no particular plan to the lesson, more just we cooked what we were interested in doing. The cooking just evolved as we went on, with Margaret creating new things as they came to her, but also to show us the way to use the same base ingredients in completely different things. By the end of the five hours (and even some more time the following day) Margaret presented us with two huge trays of food, from pies, to curries, to ceviche, to cakes and bread for us to take with us.
The next day Kat’s dad arrived. very exciting as we hadn’t seen him or Roberta for over a year. We checked into a new motel and headed to Picton airport aka shed in a field surrounded by cows! Having not told Colin or Roberta about the tiny 10 seater plane they would be boarding to fly to Picton we were a bit apprehensive about how they would feel getting off the plane however, due to the nice weather and great views flying into Picton they seemed to quite enjoy the flight. Once they had collected their luggage ( taken in off the plane themselves!) we headed back to the motel to start catching up on a years worth of news. That night we went out for a lovely dinner to celebrate Tom’s birthday.
The following day Colin and Roberta slept late to recover from their jetlag so we had a fairly lazy day wandering round Picton town centre (all 2 streets of it) and then inevitably ended up in the pub. We had given Colin a book of ‘1001 beers to try before you die’ for his birthday so he came armed with a list of NZ beers he was determined to have on his trip!
Having recovered from the jet lag we started our road trip from Picton and headed south to Kaikoura. We had arranged a whale watching tour so as soon as we arrived we went to the wharf and boarded the boat. The weather was amazing but the water was very choppy. We had to travel 25 miles off shore to where the whales had been spotted earlier that day so it was a long bumpy ride out to the whale ‘hot spot.’ We were glad of the sea sickness tablets we had taken before the journey. On the tour you are not always guaranteed to see a whale however once the boat stopped at the ‘hot spot’ we were lucky enough to see a sperm whale surface. The whale spent about 10 minutes on the surface before arching its back and diving down. Unfortunately due to time restrictions we had to head back after that but it was good that we had seen a whale.
After one night in Kaikoura we slowly made our way back to Picton. On the way we stopped for a walk where we saw baby seals. they were very cute and showing off in the water whenever the tourists were nearby. In Blenhiem we stopped for some essential wine tasting. We have done a fair amount of wine tasting along the way but it was good to visit some with Colin and Roberta. Several tasting later and slightly sleepy we made our way back to Picton for one more night.
The next day we got ready to take the ferry across to Wellington on the north island for Scotland vs Argentina. Having managed to negotiate or way onto an early ferry we arrived in Wellington mid afternoon which gave us some time before the game to settle in and meet up with some friends before the game. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we got soaked- it made Colin and Roberta feel at home! We arrived at the stadium early to collect our tickets and enjoyed taking in the atmosphere. Unlike football the fans were not separated so we were sitting among Scots and Argentineans. The Argentineans are just as passionate as the Scots so it was pretty noisy in the stand. Tom felt a bit left out and unsure of who he should be supporting. The game was good and Scotland were leading most of the match. Unfortunately Argentina scored at the last minute and Scotland lost but we still enjoyed the experience and atmosphere.
In Wellington the next day we visited Te Papa museum and then the botanic garden before driving to Napier. We were only staying in Napier for the night on the way to Rotorua and arrived late so after some dinner we headed straight to bed.
We arrived in Rotorua later the next day and were welcomed by the well known smell of Rotorua- rotten eggs. the smell is due to the geo-thermal activity in the area and takes some getting used to. In Rotorua Colin and Roberta visited one of the thermal villages where you can see various coloured thermal pools, bubbling mud holes and geysers. One night we went to a traditional Maori concert and Hangi. We weren’t holding out much hope for this trip when we were collected by an insane bus driver who seemed to be driving in circles while picking people up. It took us over an hour to get to the village 15kms away where the concert was to take place. Despite our first fears the night turned out to be great. At the village we were introduced to the tribe and learnt about Maori life and their customs. One man on our bus had been elected our Maori ‘Chief’ so he had to do a challenge ritual before we were allowed to enter the village. Highly amusing although not for the poor ‘Chief’ who had been nominated by his loving children. After looking round the village we were given a concert of traditional Maori dance and song including the Haka. We were then shown the Hangi which is basically a huge barbecue under ground. They dig a hole and out the meat and veg inside then cover it all with hot rocks and sand. The result is perfectly cooked chicken, lamb and potatoes. This meat and veg was to be our dinner provided for us in the dining room. After dinner there was some more entertainment before we made our way back to the bus for our return journey. The journey back was hilarious courteous of our insane bus driver. Firstly his head lights weren’t working and his windows were fully steamed up so we weren’t even sure that we were going to make it back at all. He however was not at all bothered by this and had us all singing our various national anthems under instruction from our ‘Chief.’ Among the nationalities present were Scottish, English, Australian, French and Israeli. When back in town he insisted on driving round a roundabout several times while singing ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain.’ All in all it made for a very amusing return journey.
From Rotorua we continued our road trip up to Thames on the Coremandel Peninsula. In Thames we stayed at a lovely apartment run by an English couple who had provided us with home baking and fresh bread on our arrival. We had a relaxing first night here and the next day took a drive round the peninsula. The weather was perfect all day and we got some amazing views travelling up the coast. We stopped at several viewpoints along the way and took a walk down to waterfall. Before heading back to Thames we visited Hot Water beach. The water just below the surface of Hot Water beach is, as the name suggests, hot. At low tide you can dig down into the sand and make a hot water pool. Hundreds of people flock there at low tide so bathe in these holes. The sea water 10 metres away is freezing cold but the water in these man-made holes can reach up to 60 degrees. We spent some time splashing about in the water and at times burning the soles of our feet in the hot water.
We have some friends that have a house on the peninsula so before heading up to Auckland the next day we went to Whangamata to spend the day with them. The weather wasn’t too good but we had a nice walk through the bush and down at the beach. Later that day we arrived in a very busy Auckland. Scotland were playing England that night in Auckland so the streets were full of rowdy fans preparing for the match. Having decided that the city was too busy to try and attempt getting some dinner, we found a pub next to our hotel where we had some food and watched the greatly anticipated match. Tom felt a bit left out at the table with 3 Scots singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ but he was smiling by the end of the night when England narrowly beat Scotland.
The weather in Auckland was terrible so our last day together was mostly spent in the pub watching the rugby. Colin and Roberta were leaving early the next morning so after a quiet dinner at the casino we got an early night.
After Colin and Roberta left we had a few more days in NZ before joining them in Oz. From Auckland we took a ferry across to Waiheke Island to see some friends. Waiheke is a lovely island 35 minutes from Auckland and despite its small size it has 17 wineries on it. So no prizes for guessing what we spent our time doing. Apart from visiting some wineries we took a drive round the whole island and took in the spectacular views across the various bays.
We spent one night with our friends before getting a ferry back to Auckland and heading to the airport. Our flight was early the next morning so we opted for staying in the airport. Once at the airport we settled down on a less than comfy departure lounge bench and tried to get some sleep.
The next morning we flew back to Melbourne to see family and catch up with Colin and Roberta again. They were visiting the family there so most of our time with them was spent catching up with relatives and enjoying some warmer Aussie weather.
While they were in Oz we took them up to Sydney. They have never been to Oz so we felt that they couldn’t go to oz and not see Sydney. In Sydney we took in all the usual sights. We visited the harbor, the Rocks, had a paddle at Bondi, visited the market, walked through the botanic gardens and went to MacQuarrie’s Chair. Colin opted out of the bridge climb claiming that it was too expensive ( nothing to do with the 200m climb above the bridge and him being terrified of heights!) so we walked over it instead. Having thoroughly enjoying our trip to Sydney we headed back to Melbourne for our last few days in Oz.
When Colin and Roberta left we had the task of selling our car and packing up our stuff for the last leg of our journey. We’re now finally going in the direction of home. Heading to Bangkok tonight and we have our wetsuit and boat ready.

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