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Published: February 1st 2018
Our last full day in New Zealand was spent on Waiheke Island, a forty minute ferry ride from Auckland. Waiheke is home to various wineries and craft breweries. We had been recommended Mudbrick for lunch by James Forrester and Harvey Harrison. We were not disappointed. Even I managed the half hour upward stroll to the venue, which afforded great views back to Auckland, The wine and food were excellent.
We flew out of Auckland the following day and headed to Chile. Ian & Serena Hodgson were on the same flight having come from Sydney.
Of course when you cross the date line you are confronted by strange time things. Firstly we arrived in Santiago five hrs before we left Auckland (10.5 hr flight). Secondly we went from 13 hrs in front of UK to 3 hrs behind. Our bodies now seem to be back in sync.
On landing we were met and driven two hours North West to a vineyard called La Cason Matetic. This place has a small boutique hotel attached and we stayed three nights.
We had a highly technical guided tour about the vineyard’s wine making process (and obviously the odd bit of tasting).
We very adventurously took a public bus to Valparaiso, Chile’s main port. The city is made up of various quarters on hills, mostly served by funicular railways. The city has been down in the dumps for many years but does seem to be making a slow return to its former glory.
The next morning we flew 2.5 hr south into southern Patagonia. we landed at Puerto Natales. I image the airport at Port Stanley is very similar. Shorts here are certainly not sensible attire. Red roofed, corrugated iron clad buildings are the artitectural style of choice.
After another 2 hr drive north to Torres del Paine, you begin to appreciate the vastness of the country. There are huge 30 mile wide plains and if you peer closely you may make out the odd alpaca, rhea, horse or cow. It is a huge spectacular area of not much!
But over a few hills you come to an oasis at the foot of the snow peaked Torres del Paine, Hotel Las Torres. If you want remoteness, hiking, horse riding, bird watching etc, this is the place for you. You also have to love wind. The wind blows constantly in
On day one, almost exactly one year since Ian’s first knee operation, he and Serena set off on a tough half day trek with guide. They returned in time for a light lunch before joining myself and Frin on a 3 hr gentle horse ride. So Ian was able to put his knees through all kinds of actions which would not have been possible a year ago. The ride was wonderful and our very sure footed mounts ensured that no disasters occurred on the steep climbs and descents we made.
Day two saw Serena leave early for an 8 hr trek to the foot of what are known as the Towers. Ian had a massage! In the afternoon Frin, myself and Ian spent our time in the stables with the Grouchos, getting in the way, supping a strange herbal brew called Mate. we also saw the farrier at work. Serena on her return certainly deserved her massage.
We had an early start the next day and a six hour mini-bus ride in front of us. We crossed the Chilean border in rain and then entered a sort of No Mans Land for 7km before we
reached the Argentine border. We changed buses and settled into some of the bleakest, barest countryside on the planet. Miles and miles of seriously nothing! And at the end of our six hours were arrived at our destination El Calafate but strangely we were only 100 km from Torres del Paine.
Our home for the next three days was the very charming working farm of El Galpon, where we watched sheep shearing and the wonderful Kelpies at work (Australian sheep dogs).
However the main purpose of our stay here was to visit the awesome Perito Moreno glacier. Your first sighting of this huge block of ice is from about 6 km away, but you do not get the scale. A boat trip puts it all into perspective. It is 70 m high, 30 km long and about 5 km wide. You hear noises like rifle shots. You look to the noise and see bits have broken off. We had an excellent guide and he took us along the full length of the walkways, which are no more than 400 m from the face to the glacier. The Colours are amazing. So compact is the ice that the colour
blue cannot penetrate and so the ice reflects the blue back in various amazing different shades. It is a place that you need to visit to fully appreciate. And like most glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere it is neither growing nor melting.
We have now arrived at what in the winter is a skiing resort called Villa La Angostura on the shores of lake Nahuel Huapi. You could be forgiven for thinking you are on the Italian lakes. Our very fine hotel Luma Casa Montana is only 10 years old but it has been constructed inside and out like a slightly run down castle you might find in Tuscany!
In a couple of days we travel up to the Iguazu Falls, then to Buenos Aires and finally to Cuba. So you may have to put up with a couple of more blogs yet. But how it will all work in Cuba I don’t know. In most of Patagonia there has been no mobile phone signal, so we have had a taste of what might be to come.
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