Friday, 30 October 2009

Parties and other fun stuff!

The social lives have certainly stepped up a notch. It's been party central over these last few weeks. It seems that the Kiwis have come out of hibernation and are living it large, just as I've become accustomed to going to bed at 9.30 every night too! We had a 'P Party' which saw us scooting about town dressed as pirates, a huge 'do' at Julie's farm where Ben spent most of the evening in the hot tub (and most of the next day being sick) and a 50th birthday bash. When did I get old enough to have 50 year old friends?!! The hospital ball was a big success but was pretty embarrassing for me as my face appeared far more frequently than most in the official photographs (it's who you know!).

Talking of photography, Ben and Phil have launched their postcards, so have a look at their website and click on 'products' for a preview, they're amazing...

Next come the posters. It's fab to see them finally on sale after all their hard work. They tell me that for each card sold they make 5 cents though, so I won't give up my job quite yet!! Ben has been charging about the place taking photos for a competition he's entering too. He came up with the theme "Dream Land New Zealand" and has as a result been taking photos of Phil pretending to be asleep in a bed, in various iconic Kiwi settings. I think he owes Phil a fair few pints after he lay shivering semi-naked in the rain surrounded by sheep in a field and caused more than a few weird looks doing the same by the main road!!

More big news is that I've been granted residency. I'm allowed to stay - whoop, whoop! But it'll be a few more months until we know if Ben can too. There's a very good chance he'll get it, so we're pretty optimistic that we'll be able to stay for good. When we first planned to visit New Zealand we said we'd give it a couple of years before we made a decision about living here permanently, but we already know we love it and want to stay if we can :0)

So... If Ben gets his residency too and we've decided we're going to stay, do you know what that means? It means we can get a dog! I am very excited. I've become totally preoccupied with the idea and started "torturing myself" (as Ben calls it!) by looking at the dogs on the local animal rescue web sites. We can't get one until after the Summer as we're going away and have a full house with all our visitors, but come March then maybe we can. But, and it's a pretty big BUT, we need to get our landlady to agree first and that may be a major spanner in the works. I made the mistake of sharing my dog excitement with my Dad who is now even more obsessed with the idea than me and didn't take the wait-and-see-what-the-landlady-says news well at all. Sorry Dad, I'll work on it I promise!

The other thing that has been playing on my mind (in a way that it has been suggested may be less than healthy) is planning for a natural disaster. OK I know that sounds ridiculous, and Ben and Erin have both been a little concerned for my sanity, but let me explain before you imagine me digging a bunker in the garden or something! So what happened was, I went to the New Zealand Occupational Therapy Conference (which was very dull but that's another story) and one of the workshops was about natural disaster response and talked about the role of health professionals following some sort of disaster, like a tsunami, earthquake, storm or whatever. Everyone was discussing their "Emergency Response Plans" and I was like "Erm... Sorry... What?!" and that's when I found out! In this part of the world, you're supposed to have everything that you need to survive for three days if services are cut off in the event of a disaster. And the really scary thing is that Kiwis all know this and my very unscientific research suggests that most of them have planned for it! In schools they even have earthquake drills where they all hide under their desks whilst the teachers shake them!! The Civil Defence have this whole promotion called "Be Prepared - Get Through"

and there are adverts on the TV and everything! So you see I'm not totally mental. I'm not like those crazy Americans who have safe-houses filled with supplies and guns ready for the end of the world, it's actually normal here. They do have disasters in New Zealand, there are earthquakes all the time and we are over-due for a volcanic eruption. Only a couple of weeks ago they evacuated the coastal areas for fear of a tsunami! So you see, despite Ben's ridicule of me putting together our "DOOM BOX" (as he calls it) it's not that weird to have some drinking water, tinned food, candles and batteries in a safe place just in case now is it? Is it?!

OK, so apart from obsessing about disasters and dogs, what else have we been up to?! Well Marge is still with us and we've been away on a couple more adventures. We went around the beautifully desolate East Cape. We even travelled 20km each way along unsealed roads to the most easterly point of New Zealand and climbed the 750+ steps to reach the lighthouse there. There was a worrying moment when we got back in Marge and she didn't want to start. I don't think the AA would have been too impressed! But, as always, she came good in the end :0) It's real Maori country round those parts and you can drive for hours without even being able to buy petrol. It's truly like stepping back in time and you see people (when you see them at all) getting around on horseback. It's amazing.

There's been loads of other fun stuff too; the sailing season started this week and we got to sail around the harbour at sunset with dolphins jumping around the boat - amazing! We also had our first unexpectently energetic hula dancing class and played with animals at a little wildlife park. I've been to the theatre, done lots more baking, signed up for a silver jewellery making workshop and walked with 5000 women dressed in pink for breast cancer awareness. Molly's coming to stay again before heading off to Canada with her sexy fireman boyfriend (who can blame her?!). Ben's been photographing the local salsa festival, there's been much hanging out on the beach in the sun, and at our first BBQ we made use of the free gas BBQs by the sea and fortunately had a Kiwi man with us to show us how they work! Next weekend we might learn how to do dragon boat racing - whatever the hell that is! Never a dull moment these days and it's not even Summer yet! It won't be long 'til our visitors arrive too. Can't wait :0)

View the photos on facebook here.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A year on...

In a couple of weeks time it'll be a year since we left the UK, which feels kind of weird. It's been such an action packed year. I've just had a little read over some of the old blog entries and we've done so much. It's a great way to reminisce and I hope one day we'll be able to show it to our kids. In some ways the time seems to have flown by but then in other ways thinking back to living in Cardiff seems like another life, which of course it was.

It seems a bit different keeping the blog updated now that we've been settled in Tauranga for a while. I don't suppose it's all that interesting to hear that it's Monday night, which is squash night for Ben, that my bum aches after my circuits class or that I've only got a week left of my veggie cookery course. Knowing that we've spent a few evenings at the recent film festival, bought my first piece of art and hung out in the local hot-pools (a favourite Kiwi past time) a few times doesn't make for the most exciting read. You may be amused to know however that I went to "Heather Fest" an event attended by fifty-one Heathers. Freaky! But it is still a good way to let you all know what's going on with us and I like to think that you can picture us pottering on in our new lives so you don't forget about us :0)

Spring has officially sprung here now and for the first week it was absolutely gorgeous. I was wearing flip-flops to work and it seemed like Summer was well on it's way. However not liking to be taken for granted the New Zealand weather had other plans and then chucked a load of rain at us. Having said that, on the whole, it's pretty sunny now and the clocks change soon so it'll be lighter in the evenings which will make a big difference. The sunshine has inspired us to get some more weekends away in Marge, whilst we still can, because we think we're going to sell her :0( It just doesn't make much sense to have a camper-van as our only means of transport and we just don't use her enough to make it worth while. I think she needs some new owners who will take her off adventuring again. It's like Puff the Magic Dragon (that was a toy in a song who was really sad because he didn't get played with any more - for those of you that have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about) I think sitting on our driveway instead of being out there doing what she was made for may be making her sad. So it looks as if we'll be back to good old fashioned camping again soon.

In a huge step towards becoming a fully fledged Kiwi woman - no I haven't been given residency - apparently they need nine months to make that decision. Nine months! What the hell do they do for nine months?! Sorry I digress... so my significant step towards becoming a Kiwi woman is... I baked! They're all at it here. Not just the posh middle-aged ones like at home (?!) ALL of them. I've been fighting it for a while but then I just thought "why not?". So I tried to do something relatively healthy and made some flapjack cereal bar type things and some cranberry scones. Now there was a point in the middle where disaster seemed inevitable. The cereal bars didn't look like they were going to stick so I thought I was just going to end up with cereal! And the scone mix was just a gigantic pile of glue, which was all over me!! But some how I sort of pulled it all together at the end. Well I did need to cut the burnt bits off the bottom of the scones, but they still tasted good. Ben was particularly delighted even though he got left with all the burnt bits to eat whilst the best ones went to work with me! It's only a matter of time until I'm making jams and chutneys :0)

The other significant change to have occurred recently is the entry of Erin into our lives. She's an American social worker that I work with and she too likes to get drunk and go to music gigs. Hallelujah!! We're so happy that we've found someone to play with :0) We do love the Kiwis but every now and again you don't want to go to bed at 9pm (have I told you they all go to be ridiculously early?!). The three of us have had a couple of good old fashioned nights out, with all the usual terrible dancing and late night revelry, followed by hideous hangovers. She's great, we love her lots even having her turn up on our doorstep unexpectantly one evening and demand a load of cash as she'd just filled up her car with petrol only to realise she'd lost her wallet wasn't enough to put us off. Fortunately having me mercilessly rip the piss out of her and her nation of origin hasn't totally scared her away either. So it's all good.

We had a weekend away to Taupo recently. We weren't in Marge, the hospital (that I work for) owns batches (holiday homes) around New Zealand which we can rent really cheaply. So we headed off with Phil and Michelle (previously featured Brummies) to one of the houses. Phil, another photographer, is now officially Ben's business partner (I'll get to that in a minute) so Michelle and I were pretty happy they had each other to play with as they got up stupidly early to take sunrise photos and stuff whilst we got to stay in bed :0) Taupo is on a huge lake with the mountains, where the skiing antics of a few weeks ago occurred, as a dramatic backdrop. Lovely.

So yeah... Ben has a business partner. I was hoping that he would write something about what he's been up to but he hasn't, so here goes!... He and Phil are in the process of setting up a business selling posters and postcards to tourists. We've got some of his posters framed on our walls and they look fantastic. You can take a look at them if you like at - Benjamin Albert Smith Photography

Both Ben and Phil have also been doing some tutoring at the local photography school. Ben is hopefully going to have an exhibition in the centre of town during the peak holiday season, which also coincides with when his folks are visiting, so that's amazing news. He's doing some web design work for other photographers too. So it's all starting to come together and hopefully all his hard work will pay off. He's not making much money yet, which he finds a bit frustrating, but we can manage for a while so it's OK.

My work is still going well. I'm moving teams again, I won't bore you with the details but the important thing to know is that the Mount (aka the beach) will be my patch again, just in time for Summer :0) I really like the people that I work with and am still enjoying what I'm doing. I'm hoping that my residency will be sorted out by the end of the year because there is a years postgraduate course (in CBT for those in the know) that I'd love to do next year. If my residency is finalised my employers will fund the whole thing and give me the study leave etc I need, so fingers crossed. By the time that's over hopefully Ben will have residency too and be making a decent living so maybe, I said MAYBE, then we can think about having babies!!!!! (I just hope our old bodies will be up to the job!)

We're very, very excited about the Summer now. It looks as if it's going to be one in on out at our place as we've got a continuous stream of friends and family visiting from November through to May! Can't wait. We're officially licensed scuba divers now too, so we'll be doing some more of that and I'm definitely up for some sailing. Other weird and wonderful things we have planned include an eight week course in Polynesian Hula dancing that I've somehow managed to persuade six of the girls in work to do with me! The hospital ball which I will be attending clad in the biggest pants in the world so that I can fit into my dress, whilst Ben will be one of the official photographers. A jewellery making workshop, New Zealand theatre, loads of walking and camping, tonnes of gigs, numerous BBQs and much wine drinking :0) Bring it on!!!

Facebook photos here.
Bens photos here.
Also check out the following websites that Ben has been involved in
Capture-it NZ - Tauranga School of Photography
GATE Photography

Monday, 10 August 2009

Ski Torture

Skiing, as it turns out, is not for me. Now given the fact that the nearest thing I have to phobia is a somewhat irrational fear of slipping, it was never going to be easy. I've never been able to ice skate, even as a kid I couldn't roller skate and seeing one of those wet-floor warning signs causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. But we live three hours away from the snow field where our friend Molly (a regularly featured blog character) is living, so we thought we'd head on down for a weekend and give it a go.

The setting was stunning. I've never been right into snow covered mountains before, so that part of the experience was great. However, the actual skiing part was another matter... I don't actually have the words to describe how much I hated it. Ben thinks I got some kind of karmic payback for when I used to laugh at Karen who was scared of heights and jump up and down on the bridge we had to cross every day on our way home from school, whilst she cried and took baby steps across it. I was genuinely terrified. Even standing still on the flat made me want to cry! It wasn't the falling over that scared me - in fact the only time I felt safe was once I had fallen over! No it was the actual skiing part that scared the living daylights out of me! I lasted about half an hour before I gave up and swore that I will never be doing it again! Don't even think about giving me any of that "if you just give it a bit longer I'll learn to love it" bollocks because I will seriously never EVER be doing it again!

Ben is very keen at this point for me to mention that fact that, in his words, he was a "pro". His shield of optimism again served him well. He faced the challenge with completely unfounded confidence in his abilities to ski brilliantly, never having done it before and, I'm reluctant to admit, was brilliant! He will of course have to find himself another ski partner, because I will never (just to make it completely clear) be doing it again. As I had plenty of time to hang out watching everyone else ski I managed to get some video footage of him in action, check it out.

Despite my instant hatred of the whole skiing fiasco it was still a fab weekend. It was brilliantly sunny, so I had the brand new experience of sitting in a pile of snow in a t shirt repeatedly applying sun block. I loved watching everyone else skiing and snowboarding and the chair-lift concept is one I can get in to :0) We did a bit of hiking too and it was amazing to see the same mountains that we walked among in the Summer now totally covered with snow. Also, of course, it waslovely to see Molly and to get drunk after the whole ordeal was over!

My photos from the journey back to Tauranga can be found here.
Heather's photos on facebook can be seen here.

Monday, 13 July 2009


What a fantastic place! It really is a little paradise. It's a small island, thirty-two kilometres in circumference, surrounded by golden, palm-fringed beaches and a crystal clear lagoon, with a mountainous interior covered in rainforest. It's hardly built up at all, everyone just scoots about on little motorbikes and the locals are really friendly and welcoming. We stayed in a little hut with a bedroom, on-suite bathroom, little kitchen, with patio doors straight on to the beach. Could you ask for more? How about glorious sunshine, a hammock and cheap cocktails?! Perfect :0)

There was an awful lot of lying around in the sun drinking pina-coladas but we weren't horizontal the whole time! We hiked from one side of the island to the other. It was bloody steep but definitely worth the effort as when we reached the top we could see the sea in both directions. It only took four hours but was definitely the most active thing we did in the whole ten days!

We didn't get to do any diving as we were still a bit bunged up (you can't dive with blocked sinuses) but we did do plenty of snorkeling. It was a considerably more enjoyable experience chasing the fish about in the warm, calm waters of the lagoon wearing only our swimmers, than it was flailing about in all that gear in the freezing waters of New Zealand! We saw all kinds of brightly coloured tropical fish and sea cucumbers and lots of other underwater life that I should probably know the names of.

We even went to church on Sunday, as the Cook Islanders are known for their gospel singing. It was quite an experience, made even more enjoyable by the arrival of a bus load of gorgeous Australian rugby league players! After the service we all got invited into a hall where we got fed loads of fantastic local food and cakes made by the ladies from the church. We (in this instance "we" being me and some of the other girls from the backpackers) got to do some more drooling later in the week when we went to watch the Ozzies play the local rugby league team!

Of course we experienced a bit of the traditional local culture too. We went to the weekly market and a show which involved lots of drumming and energetic dancing (to Ben's delight) by girls in coconut bras! We ate at some gorgeous little beach-front restaurants and saw lots of picture-perfect sunsets. There was even loads of friendly dogs and cats (of the non-mangy variety) to play with - vital to make it my perfect holiday. Plus, did I mention the cocktails?!

Whilst we were in Rarotonga some of our friends were at the Glastonbury festival back in the UK and to be honest we were pretty gutted about not being there too. But I have to say the fabulous setting, combined with all those cocktails, was a fairly effective method of numbing the pain! Maybe we should go back every year :0)

There are more photos here and some photos on facebook here

Friday, 12 June 2009

Practically Locals

I reckon Ben and I are well on our way to being Kiwis. Last weekend we went scuba diving, stacked our first fire wood delivery, went to a bbq and frolicked on the beach at the Mount with Maree - a genuine Kiwi (there hard to come by 'round these parts!). Surely that combination of activities makes us more or less locals!!

The scuba diving was predictably FREEZING! We spent ages bobbing about on the surface trying to get all our gear sorted out and swallowing what felt like litres of salt water, but did eventually gain enough control to explore the underwater world. Swimming through the kelp jungle on the sea-bed and was quite an experience and there were loads ofcolourful fish. But even the hefty wetsuits we were wearing weren't much match for the ten degrees centigrade water! You'll all be pleased to hear that I mastered the whole mask-clearing thing in the end - phew and Ben's got some contacts so he can actually see too :0) We were supposed to be going diving again this weekend but I have to say I'm pretty relieved that it's been cancelled because of bad weather as we've both been sneezing and snivelling ever since. I'm sat next to a mountain of snotty tissues with a rug over my lap like an old lady!

The fire wood delivery caused us quite a lot of amusement as we had absolutely no idea how much we had ordered. Apparently $160 buys a giant pile's worth as a truck pulled up outside and emptied it's entire contents on our drive! It was quite a mission to get it all stacked up in the garage. But we're pretty happy now that we're toasty warm :0)

We've got fairly hectic social lives now, which seem to involve a lot of wine and food - so that's all good :0) There's also a seemingly never ending supply of reasons in work of why we have to have cake. There's all theusual, you know birthdays and special occasions and stuff, but who the hell ever heard of a "it's a week until I go on holidays cake"? Oh well, Ben's pretty happy with the situation as I always sneak him home a piece too :0)

Ben's photography stuff is still going well and he's started to do a bit of computing stuff for the photography folk and has been asked totutor a course too, but really he should be the one telling you about that, so I'll write it on his list of jobs and maybe he'll get round to it sometime!!

It's only a couple of weeks until we go on holiday, which seems kind of ridiculous, but I'm not complaining because I don't think we'll be going anywhere else for a long time. When we arrived in NZ I needed an onward flight as I didn't have a work visa when we first got here. So months and months ago we booked flights to the Cook Islands and when I started work they agreed to let me have the time off because the tickets were already booked. So very soon we'll be heading off for ten days on a tropical island in the sun (hopefully). I'm really excited because I went there when I was travelling ten years ago and I've always wanted to go back. We're hopeful we'll be able to do some scuba diving when we're there and I'm really looking forward to seeing the sun again :0)

I've been mucking about with the camera so don't blame Ben for the poor quality of the photos, but at least you might actually see some pics of the local area! Here are some more.

Monday, 1 June 2009

God Save the Queen!

I've never been a royalist but over here we get a day off for the Queen's birthday - so from now on I'm her number one fan! We've made the most of the long weekend and been exploring up the coast. It's cold but beautifully clear and sunny so it's been lovely messing about on the beach and stuff. We had our first night in Marge since we moved into the house and we realised that we've missed her a little bit. It felt like we were home :0) She's pretty cosy too with our little heater. We've discovered that living in a wooden house isn't quite so toasty! Fortunately we have a wood burning fire to cuddle up in front of but first thing in a morning we can see our breath! The weather forcast has come on the TV as I write this and it's all about the snow. TROPICAL they told us. The big fat liars! OK it hasn't actually snowed here but there has been a few hail storms!

We're on the scrounge for furniture because the stuff in the house at the moment (in the video) is due to go in the next week or two. We've had a few offers of freebies so who knows what kind of tatty second-hand stuff we'll end up with. Ben thinks we're going to spend the money we have got on a huge flat-screen LCD television - I don't think so!!!

The scuba diving torture sessions, I'm sorry, I meant lessons (?!) are well under way. I've done a bit before and I really don't remember it being so bloody difficult. Even just in a pool wrapped up in all the clobber I just cannot make my body do what I want it to! We have to do this horrible thing where you take your mask off under water and then put it back on and blow all the water out by blowing hard out through your nose. I just cannot get it right. They actually sent me home with a mask to practise with IN THE BATH! And... the worst thing is, when I had a go I still just ended up coughing and spluttering everywhere. How the hell am I going to do it in the sea? We're due to go on our first proper out at sea dive on the weekend and I'm actually really scared. It's bloody freezing. It wasn't like this when I did it on a Florida beach!

I am feeling a little bit smug too though as I did that a 10km run around the Mount yesterday and I didn't even find it hard :0) I may be eating like a horse and not losing anymore weight but at least I'm fit. Which reminds me I had a health check at work. I had to have blood tests and stuff and to jog up and down a step for a few minutes, have my blood pressure taken, answer lots of questions blah blah. With all the results they calculated my body's physical age as apposed to my actual age and.... I'm 29 apparently which is a bit of a bonus seeing as I am 33 :0)

Our social lives are definitely improving. We were even invited to an eighteenth birthday party and I have to say I wasn't entirely happy being on the "adults" table. They were the best behaved teenagers I have ever encountered and they "don't drink alcohol". The teenage years without alcohol? Can you imagine it? No thank you!! We were wondering if all Kiwi teenagers are the same and then discovered that they most definitely are not when we went to a gig (Katchafire, they're a Kiwi Reggie band and are surprisingly good so look out for them) and everyone was completely bolloxed!

We had Michelle and Phil, a couple of Brummies who moved here a few months ago, over for curry and lots of wine. We've got plenty in common as Phil's into photography too so Michelle and I can compare stories as to the lengths our other halves are prepared to go to to get the perfect shot. Ben has recently had me hanging about in the cold and dark dressed in hoodie impersonating a graffiti artist whilst Michelle has been forced to pursue old folk in mobility buggies. I keep nagging Ben for photos of the local area so you can actually see what it's like here but apparently it's more important that he takes photos of his guitar or a hammer on my dressing gown (?!) Ben and Phil are both doing photography courses and it's "homework" apparently!

The whole hoodie thing was another experience that highlights the differences in the way people treat each other over here as compared to the UK. Instead of calling the police, as you might expect the law-abiding owners of the shop Ben and I were suspiciously hanging about behind pretending to be vandals, they came out to see what we were up to and offered to hold the flash! Kiwis, you gotta love 'em :0)

There are more photos here. Most are homework from my course. The photos named "one spot" were some of ten totally different photos that were all taken from one spot. The guitar photos are from a series of ten different photos of my new guitar.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

House in Tauranga

Here's the long awaited video of the house. :)

Sunday, 10 May 2009

New Zealand - Autumnal Trees

Heathers been nagging me to take some photos of the local area. So I took my camera to a local park to capture some of the amazing autumnal colours. You can see some of the results here.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

New Zealand - Settling in

I've had nearly two weeks in work now. I'm working as an Occupational Therapist - Case Manager in a Community Mental Health Team. The office base is in the grounds of Tauranga Hsopital but we mostly visit clients out in the community. We cover a massive area, about an hour north and an hour south of Tauranaga city. My patch is no longer the Mount (a long and not particularly interesting story) but instead is the city and up the north coast. It's early days but I think I'm going to like it, the people are really friendly, which is the main thing and it seems like a pretty supportive work environment. The client group is more varied than I'm used to and the role seems pretty flexible so hopefully I'm going to enjoy the post.

There was more than a little action on Monday though when a client turned up at the office with a gun! We were evacuated from the building and the Armed Offender Unit came out. They had all the gear, full-on black outfits with balaclavas, bullet-proof vests and the biggest guns I've ever seen! They shut down all the roads and we were made to wait for hours out in the cold behind one of the nearby shops. No one seemed very traumatised by the incident, we were mostly just pissed off with being kept late and not being able to go home! Fortunately no one was hurt and of course it made front page news as it's the most interesting thing to happen here for years!!

During my first week of work we were still living in Marge but last weekend we finally moved into our house. There's so much SPACE! We were literally dancing around the day we moved in :0) After living in a small van we're not quite sure what to do with ourselves, we don't have anything to put on the shelves or in the cupboards. In fact one room has absolutely nothing in it!! It doesn't quite feel like home yet but I'm sure it won't be long until we're settled in. We've been eating lots of food that needs to be cooked in the oven, as we haven't had one for so long, and are going to do a big shop on Saturday to fill up the enormous fridge! I'm pretty happy that it's just around the corner from work too. I can wander over in five minutes. It's bliss after my last OT job where I had nearly an hour commute each way every day.

Ben's been a bit of a house slave seeing as I've been going out to work and he hasn't. Each day I've left him with a list of jobs to be completed that day! He's been doing all the cooking and washing too - bless. It's kept him busy for most of the week but he's getting a bit bored now. I dare say it won't be long until he's driven into employment :0) He's started organising things so that he can make a go of his photography but is pretty frustrated about the fact that out phone line and Internet connection haven't been sorted yet. He must check the phone about fifty times a day! I'm sure once he has full access to his geek technology he'll be able to entertain himself a bit better!

Obviously we don't know anyone here, so our social lives aren't the most happening that they have ever been, but we're starting to make friends. We've latched on to a few people to go for dinner and drinks with. I've even joined a book club! It seems to involve lots of women sitting around chatting and drinking wine, so I think I'll fit in OK :0) Ben's gone off to photography club this evening and next week we start our scuba diving classes. I've also joined the gym and have been doing lots of running in anticipation of a 10km run around the Mount at the end of the month. Whilst Ben's finally bought himself a guitar and is meeting some potential music buddies next week (we have a suspicion that they may turn out to be fifteen though!) So we're definitely keeping busy.

It's pretty strange that it's May and we're heading into Winter. I think that's going to take lot of getting used to. After all that torrential rain we had when we went for our little jaunt up the Coromandel the weather has been pretty good. It's cold in the evenings and early morning but during the day it's sunny and clear, although not particularly warm. It's certainly a lot nicer than October in the UK, which is the equivalent time of year. It starting to get dark earlier and earlier though, which is a bit sad when I know that Summer is on the way at home. Still you can't have it all and I'm sure next Summer will more than make up for it :0)

So that's kind of it for now. We're back to the 'real world' as it were. It's a bit different from our old lives and we're excited to see how it all works out. But it's a bit sad too now that the holiday is finally over and of course we miss everyone more than ever now that we're developing something of a routine. It's been a really long time since I had a proper girls night out or we all went to a music gig or everyone came over for wine and a take away :0( But we are very excited that some of you are coming over to see us next Summer (Yey for Bethan and Ceri!!!!!) and are really happy to be here. I keep nagging Ben to take some photos of the place and we're going to do a little video of the house so look out for those. In the mean time... remember we love you x.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

New Zealand - The Coromandel

The Coromandel Peninsular juts out of New Zealand's eastern coastline only about an hour north of Tauranaga. It's a relatively undeveloped place, with a few small beach towns, but mostly consists of mountainous rainforest and deserted beaches. The more remote roads are unsealed, which makes for pretty nerve-wracking driving in a campervan. We're slightly worried that Marge might just have a tantrum and refuse to go on if we push her too much! The scenery, as you have come to expect by now, is beautiful and the beaches gorgeous.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the weather! It is pouring down :0( We've done our best during the periods of slightly less torrential rain and done a bit of 'bush tramping', which involved a fair bit of wading through streams and clambering up river banks. We've also been on a cute little narrow-gauge railway journey through the wilderness. But on the whole we've been taking note of how lovely a lot of places will be when we come back again in the sunshine!

Digging a hole in the sand and wallowing in hot springs at Hot Water Beach, having a go at the Department of Conservation's snorkeling course in Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve and seeing a 1200 year old, 41m tall and 9m wide kauri tree will, I'm afraid, have to wait. Still never mind, it's not far away and we've got plenty time to come again :0)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

New Zealand - A New Home

We've seen quite a mixture of houses. The first was down the longest, bumpiest, steepest driveway I've ever seen. There was no way we would have got Marge down it, or more to the point, back up it again, so that was a no go. Another looked like sheltered accommodation for old folk from the outside and a student house from the inside - no thanks. We were very tempted by a gorgeous little flat we saw though, it only had one bedroom and we nearly went with our sod-all-the-visitors instinct when we heard it had water views and a hot tub! But you were saved by the fact it wasn't completely self-contained and the idea of the owners', who live upstairs, grand-kids coming tearing through whenever they felt like it, was enough to put me off.

The winning house does not, unfortunately, boast sea views or a hot tub, but is; absolutely lovely, has lots of character, is really sunny, less than five minutes walk from my work, has three bedrooms (so loads of space for visitors) and has a garden for Ben to grow us some veggies, a yard for BBQs, and a big lawn for my Dad to pitch his tent on (don't ask!) :0) We're very excited, but can't move in for a couple of weeks yet. The girl who owns the house is even going to leave her furniture with us for a month or two, until she's ready for it in her new place, which works out well for all of us. (I'm going to make sure we do a video to show you the place whilst her nice furniture is still there rather than wait for it to be filled with whatever second-hand stuff we can scrounge!)

So with that all sorted and still a week before I start work we're heading off for one last trip before it's all over.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

New Zealand - On our way home

Unfortunately our travelling time is pretty much over. We headed back to Picton to get the ferry back to the North Island but called into Blenheim again on route to buy some of our favourite wines from it's wineries (I won't be drinking any of it of course, as I'm sworn off the booze!) We also called in on Ben's second cousin Naomi and husband Mark who live there. They fed lots of delicious home made veggie food, then made us earn our keep by playing a torturous board game with their kids!

Back on the North Island we stopped off to say hi to Molly and check out her set up in the ski fields. Then it was back to Hamilton (yet again) for sorting final paperwork and grovelling at the Immigration Service. We even managed to call in on Monia in Cambridge (Molly's boyfriend - Jaco's sister. Following? One of the people in our losing pub quiz team. Ringing any bells?) before finally heading back to Tauranga.

So now we're 'home' and all we need to do is find somewhere to live, so wish us luck! It's only just over a week until I start work and we're sort of looking forward to settling a bit. Don't get me wrong I absolutely love travelling in Marge (now we've got to know her a bit better she's called 'Marge' rather than 'Margery'), but it will be nice to get to know people and have some of the comforts that being in an actual house provides, like cupboards that don't empty their contents at you when you open them and a toilet that can be accessed without a run through the rain!

In the mean time, the big news is... we finally bought a heater after we found ourselves cuddled up, pajama clad, in bed at 7.30 the other evening. We just couldn't take it any more, and as it turns out it only cost us NZ$10 (about £3.30) so we should have got one ages ago! Ben has excitedly put it on even though it's not that cold yet, so Marge feels a bit like a sauna!

And finally.... I'm being forced to allow Ben to re-instate his junk food eating habits as all this exercise is causing him to completely lose his bum. He has taken up the mantra "A pie a day stops me wasting away"! So while I struggle on with my dieting efforts he gets to scoff lots of goodies (don't you hate boys and their metabolisms?!)

Friday, 10 April 2009

New Zealand - West Coast

The West Coast is pretty remote.There are even less people here than in the other parts of New Zealand, and that's saying something because a lot of it's pretty deserted! Most of the land is designated Scenic Reserve seperated by areas of farmland. It's too wet to grow much but there's cows, sheep, deer and apparently a roaring trade in cannabis! The coastline is gorgeous - completely untouched. Mile upon mile of beach with nothing but driftwood on it, and strange rock formations.

With the coast on one side, the mountains on the other are again those that we have already visited. We can see Mount Cook again, but this time from the other side, complete with a new covering of snow. Having failed to get the usual photo of Mount Cook reflected in Lake Mathison as we got hailed on in the attempt, Ben resorted to clambering over fences and through mud into a cow field to photograph it reflected in a puddle!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

New Zealand - Fox Glacier

We hiked on a glacier!! It was fab :0) It's called Fox Glacier, but apparently has nothing to do with the mints! The hardest bit was getting on to the glacier in the first place. We walked up the valley floor until we reached the foot of the glacier, then had to climb through the bush next to it so we could get on it from the side. There were over seven hundred dug-out steps to climb and we were wearing huge hob-nail boots, so it was like having feet of lead! There's recently been some rockfalls brought on by all the rain, so our safety briefing included being told "If I say run... Then RUN". Hmmm, not very reassuring.

It was worth it though. The weather was glorious, finally some sun :0) Once we got to the glacier we were given crampons to strap to our boots and our guide led the way. She was only little but seeing her swing that axe around you wouldn't want to mess with her!! We had to stomp our feet like teenagers having a strop to make sure we didn't slip and at times there were chains fixed to the ice to haul ourselves up with.

The ice looks clear, white and even blue in parts and it's really not possible to comprehend the scale of it. It looked massive but we could only see a tiny proportion of it. It's shape changes all the time and there were all kinds of formations and tunnels to explore. I nearly disappeared down a hole when I was hiding behind a rock having a wee and nearly slipped in the stream I created! It was a pretty fantastic feeling to be on top of a huge lump of ice, with rainforest to each side and a view out to sea. Nature is an incredible thing.

Heathers photos are here and mine are here

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

New Zealand - Wanaka

It really is Autumn here. The trees are beautiful. They're all starting to change colour. Everywhere I look the leaves are yellow, red, brown and purple. The weather's still pretty ropey but it almost seemed worthwhile when we emerged from the van this morning to find ourselves in the clouds. As it began to clear we saw that we'd had the first of the year's snowfall. It was bloody cold but looked fantastic!

Whilst here Ben insisted that we visit 'Puzzling World'. He excitedly dragged me around a maze, then we had to walk through these "illusion rooms", which were kind of all wonky and made me feel a bit sick (the hangover still hasn't completely gone), then we got to look at holograms from the 1980s. I tried to fake enthusiasm but there really is no getting away from the fact that it was a bit crap! The only good thing about it all is that they had this strange display of a roman style toilet and Ben found someone weeing in it thinking it was the real toilet :0)

Heathers photos can be found here and the few I took can be found here.

Monday, 6 April 2009

New Zealand - Queenstown

Having taken the tramping knock-back rather badly the obvious thing to do was to drink wine! Unfortunately because my tolerance is so low I accidentally got really drunk. I'm not entirely sure what happened, one minute I was fine and the next minute Ben was forced to take me home as I got us chucked out of the pub. He was in the loo at the time, and I can't remember, so we have no idea what I did! As if that wasn't bad enough I shouted and cried for no apparent reason and then woke Ben up in the middle of the night being sick on him!! The next day he had to wash all the bedding, including our duvet, whilst I couldn't keep my head out of a bucket. He was even sympathetic and made me cheese on toast when I finally could eat something. I know, I know, I'm a cow and he's lovely and I don't deserve him :0( Needless to say, I will never be drinking again!

Our time in Queenstown hasn't got much better either because that forecast horrible weather has hit us. We're pretty glad we didn't go ahead with the tramp after all, as it really is awful. We stood in the rain and watched a few brave / foolish people throw themselves off a bridge with elastic around their ankles, but haven't been able to do any of the exploring or walking we'd planned, you just can't see anything - boo!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

New Zealand - 'Tramping'

'Tramping' (a.k.a hiking) is a popular pursuit in New Zealand and the country is crisscrossed by thousands of kilometres of walking tracks. Eight of the best tramps have been classified as 'Great Walks'. They're all between three and five days long and follow well-worn paths through unspoiled wilderness. You either camp or stay in simple huts with bunk beds and gas burners (but no bedding, pots and pans, food etc) so you need to carry a pack and quite a lot of kit.

The whole system is organised by the Department of Conservation (DOC), who maintain the facilities and keep records of who is using the tracks etc. You need to sign an Intention Form and nominate a "panic day" on which they will alert the emergency services that you are missing, if you haven't returned. Oh yeah, they take it all very seriously. It's proper wilderness out here - unpredictable weather, tracks which are days and days walk from the nearest settlement, no mobile phone coverage etc.

One of the reasons we have been doing so much hiking (apart, of course, from the fact we love it) is because we've been building ourselves up to undertaking the Kepler Track. It's one of the 'Great Walks', it's three days long and follows a loop through the Kepler Mountains, along an exposed sub-alpine ridge, and through virgin beech forest. We've mentally and physically prepared for it, bought a supply of disgusting dehydrated food, tested out our new waterproof coats and got ourselves quite excited!

But when we arrived at the DOC centre at it's start, we found that the MET office had issued a Severe Weather Warning. Bollocks!! They forecast torrential rain, strong winds, hail and the track is likely to be up to half a metre deep in water. That doesn't sound like much fun! The weather isn't likely to clear for a few days and we just don't have the time to sit and wait it out. So we're not going to do it but are really disappointed :0( Well actually, I'm really disappointed but I think Ben's a bit relieved as he's just come down with a serious case of man-flu (yes, yes he's fine - don't encourage him!!).

We're hoping to come back and do it another time, so if any of you fancy doing it with us when you visit, then let us know (I am aware that most of you would rather boil your head in fat, but that goes without saying!)

Friday, 3 April 2009

New Zealand - Milford Sound

Milford Sound is not, in fact, a sound at all. 'Sounds' are valleys that lead to the sea cut by rivers whereas the Milford valley was cut by a glacier making it a true fjord (does that mean anything to anyone or did I just say "blah, blah, blah"?!). The result is massive vertical valley sides dropping into a really deep narrow channel, which weaves between cliff faces before reaching the open (Tasman) sea. I don't think I'm explaining myself very well and hopefully the pictures will save me again. Anyway, we went on a cruise (oh yes we are very posh - didn't you know?!) as the only way to see the fjord is from the water (and we woosed out of kayaking as it's SO cold).

Fiordland (that's the name of the region as there are lots of fjords, Milford is just the most well known as it's the most accessible i.e. there are no roads to the others) has about eight metres of rainfall a year (that's a lot) and it hasn't rained for the last six days which officially makes it a drought (mad!). So because it's so wet there are hundreds of waterfalls which flow down the faces of the valley sides making it look absolutely magical. Stirling Falls is 155m tall, which is actually three times as high as Niagra Falls, but you'd never know it from looking at it as it is dwarfed by the mountains either side of it which are 1700m (or a mile) high!

Even though the valley sides are almost vertical they're covered with trees in what seems to be the most impossible way. It's called 'catastrophe forest' (apparently) and only about a quarter of the trees actually touch the rock-face. They're held in place by a complex system of roots which all cling to one and other. So when one tree falls it has a "catastrophic" domino effect and whole swathes of them fall into the sea (see how much I've learned? I even took notes - what a swot!!).

The person to discover the place was a Welsh fella (Cook sailed right passed it as you can't see that there's an opening from out at sea. The Welsh guy - yeah sorry I didn't write his name down, had some sort of problems with his ship so came ashore only to discover the place by accident. Of course the Maoris had known about it for generations and had been visiting regularly, despite it being so inhospitable, in search of jade, which has huge spiritual significance in their culture, and can be found on the near-by beaches). So the Welsh fella named the place Milford, after his home town, and all the mountains and rivers surrounding it have Welsh names too.

There are more pictures here!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

New Zealand - On Route to Milford Sound

The road to Milford Sound winds up though the mountains, with a huge drop next to it and inclines that had Ben wishing for a two-and-a-half gear as we chugged along. Freezing fog added to the drama of the place and there was a lot of stopping to admire views and venturing along tracks to find lakes, waterfalls and a forest which felt like it was enchanted. It seemed as if fairies were bound to come out to play if we just sat quietly for long enough!

It's really cold now. We're wearing practically all of our clothes all at the same time! Marge (the campervan) found it all a bit much this morning and we had to push her into the sun and let her warm up for half an hour before she'd start! I know how she feels, at night when we're all tucked up in our duvet it's fine, but in the morning it's really hard to get out of bed and midnight wees are a nightmare!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

New Zealand - Catlins Coast - Curio Bay

I just went to have a shower but the door was locked because "a sealion was trying to get in there"! It really does feel like it's us on their territory and not the other way around, which is the way it should be. So this sealion is just wandering around the campsite - cool :0)

There's a 'petrified forest' in one of the bays where a forest has quite literally (in the correct sense of the word) been turned to stone. Ben however confused all the other tourists looking at plant fossils (which are really rare apparently) by standing holding his jumper over his head and taking photos of seaweed! It does look kind of spacey though, so at least I didn't think he was mental :0)

It's an incredible place. There are often little hector dolphins in the bay but we haven't seen any because it's a bit rough for them today, which makes me a little bit sad. But the sight of the waves crashing onto the rocks kind of makes up for it. I've somehow managed to resist the compulsion to run into the spray (proving that it is no longer the case that whenever I'm near the sea I can't resist getting soaked right though to my knickers, which my Dad tells me was always the case when I was little - mind you the water's bloody cold!)

One side of the campsite is all jagged cliffs with crashing waves and the other side is swathes of golden beaches. There's no chance of a grumpy guy with a scary-looking dog telling you to be quiet, so I thought it would be the perfect place to hold - Geekfest Goes Down Under - what do you think?!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

New Zealand - Catlins Coast - Top Track

We're now travelling along the south coast of the South Island, so we're really far south! It's pretty remote; a couple of hours drive to a supermarket, no mobile phone reception, very few places to buy petrol. Farming and tourism seem to be the only industries. We've hardly seen another soul.

Most of the hiking that we've been doing has been on tracks managed by the Department of Conservation, so they're really well looked after, sign-posted and kind of difficult to lose. So we decided to do something a little bit different. We did a two day walk called the Top Track, it was over private land on much rougher terrain and was a bit of an adventure :0) We had a booklet with instructions to follow and the way was marked with all sorts of brightly coloured way-markers, including old wellies on sticks, I felt like we were on a treasure hunt! The walk took us along deserted beaches, through forest, along cliff tops and over farm-land (I got a bit scared by the cows), then to our treasure... the Top Bus! An old bus that had been dragged to the top of a hill, that we spent the night in, before walking back a different route the next day.

There are more photos of the Catlins coast here

Sunday, 29 March 2009

New Zealand - Dunedin

The European New Zealand settlers demonstrate their lack of imagination, yet again, in the development of a city which is, this time, supposed to be Scottish. Well, there are lots of old buildings (which is pretty rare for New Zealand) and the weather's crap, so I guess it is a bit similar to Scotland! There's really very little I can say about the place, it seemed nice enough but it was Sunday so it was completely deserted.

We ended up spending most of the afternoon in an Internet place, because it was cheap! But the experience has slightly damaged me. It was like being in a teenage boy's bedroom! It was full of boys with poor personal hygiene, lacking social skills, who clearly don't get out much, playing computer games. I felt like I'd been transported to 'Teenager World' and was completely invisible because as Ben put it "geeks don't notice girls"! Using the toilet was quite a traumatic experience too but I think that's enough about that.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

New Zealand - Otago Peninsula

Yellow-eyed penguins are one of the rarest types of penguin in the world and... we saw them! We went into these hides which looked like something from World War I and got really close to these penguins who were just standing under trees looking scruffy! They moult at this time of year and so can't go in the water for a few weeks until all their old feathers have fallen out and the new ones have been coated in some sort of oil that they produce to make them properly waterproof. Hence the standing around under trees looking scruffy! Bless them :0)

We saw little blue penguins too, but to be honest the sight wasn't quite as impressive as they don't come ashore until dusk, by which time all we actually saw were little dark shapes waddling up the beach! We did see a huge sea lion though, which is different to a seal because they're bigger, the males dark and the females light in colour. They have flatter noses and walk differently plus they have external ears (see I do learn some things, just not about boring old rocks!) Unfortunately by the time Ben got his camera out the sea-lion had decided he'd had enough and hauled his ass back into the water and swam off. He did get some shots of the huge endangered albatrosses that flew overhead though :0)

Obviously there's been more hiking too and it all seems to finally be paying off as both Ben and I have had to make new holes in our belts to keep our tatty old trousers up - whoop whoop!!

There are more photos here.

Friday, 27 March 2009

New Zealand - Moeraki Boulders

Back to the coast again and on to Moeraki Village. We passed through the strange town of Oamaru on route, which had one street which seemed to be a bit of a time-warp with old buildings, traditional crafts and people in Victorian clothing whilst the rest of the town was tatty and smelt of sheep poo!

Moeraki Village, for some reason, has loads of Welsh street names. It's a bit weird walking down Cardiff Road and seeing signs for Tenby and Glamorgan Street. But that's not why we're here. It's all about the boulders! There are these big round boulders on the beach here. I think this is going to be another one of those occasions where Ben's photos are going to do a better job at painting the picture than me. Basically there are these big spherical rocks caused by some boring geological process that I can't remember (I just asked Ben and his description of "some sort of stuff crystallizes and forms them in certain conditions" probably isn't much more help!). Anyway they were fun to play on and make for some pretty interesting photos :0)

For the last few days we've been "freedom camping", which basically means that we've parked up over night in spots without any facilities (it's allowed believe it or not). It saves money but means we haven't had a shower for days! It's a bit like when we were working at the festivals, except then everyone else smelt too! I've started to fantasize about being clean. We bought some cheap DVDs from the supermarket and are planning to watch them on the laptop. I love how all this makes me appreciate the things I usually take for granted :0) It's funny how in the course of a few days my perspective on what constitutes luxury can change from spa pools to running water and electricity!

Last night I woke up in the night and I could hear the weirdest noise. It was a sort of whirring and sounded like it was coming from all around the van. I started to worry it might be a spaceship! I had visions of a flying saucer hovering over us. Rather surprisingly though my reaction was to refuse to look out of the window because I didn't want to be like one of those nutty Americans who claims to have been abducted by aliens! As it turns out it was a train, but I think I learned something about myself :0)

There are more photos here!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New Zealand - The Southern Alps - Mount Cook

Mount Cook is New Zealand's tallest mountain (3754 m) and no we haven't climbed it! It's actually not as big as some of the mountains that we trekked through in South America but these mountains are really rugged. They're capped with snow, which doesn't seem much higher up than we are (but that's probably some sort of illusion of perspective) and don't forget that it's Autumn here now, so this snow has stayed put all though the hottest Summer in decades.

We headed off for a days hiking in Mount Cook National Park in our boots, hats, sunscreen etc and had our waterproofs, lunch and water in our packs . But I must admit that my conviction that we were well prepared was slightly shaken when the fist thing we saw was a memorial. It was covered in little plaques describing the tragic deaths of ALOT of people in the park we were jaunting off into! All over New Zealand there are these big road-signs with a kind of swing-o-meter indicating the level of risk of fire in the bush on that particular day, so we're pretty used to seeing those, but this is the fist time I've seen one to indicate the risk of avalanche!! Hmmmm bit of a worry, but the risk is low at this time of year, so completely by chance we're here at the right time - phew!

Our hike took us among glacier topped mountains, over swing bridges, through bush and over scrubland before leading us to the glacier at the base of Mount Cook, where a lake was filled with mini icebergs. Now that, you've got to admit, is cool :0) Now we're parked next to a lake with the reflection of Mount Cook in it and Ben swears he's going to get up early tomorrow and take some photos. He's also promised that afterwards he'll drive the van to the nearest loos a few kms away with me still in bed (naughty!).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

New Zealand - The Southern Alps - Lake Takepo

We've taken a detour from the east coast road and come inland to do some hiking in the Southern Alps. Our first stop, Lake Takepo, is so nice we've stayed an extra day! It's a glacial lake and is really turquoise so it looks a much darker colour than the sky, which is kind of cool (something to do with dust particles in the water). We're camped over-looking the lake and surrounded by mountains and once again are blown away by our setting. (I apologise if it's getting a bit boring hearing "it was really beautiful" over and over again, but it IS all really beautiful! I feel like I'm running out of ways to say that though. I hope Ben's pictures will be a bit better at showing you what I mean).

There's a tiny, pretty church on the lakeside and instead of having stain glass it has a huge clear window overlooking the lake. But Ben had something of a strop when he was trying to get a photo of it because bus-loads of Japanese tourists kept pulling up in front of him! The final picture was worth the wait though :0)

I'm pretty taken with the sheepdog stature nearby, which is a thank you to all the generations of working dogs who have aided the local famers in managing their land. Ooh and all the rabbits (a.k.a. "fluffy bunnies") we've seen playing everywhere (no doubt hated by the locals for eating all the vegetation and disturbing their precious flightless birds. I'm thinking of starting up a we-love-introduced-mammals-as-well-as-kiwis-It's-not-their-fault-you-brought-them-over-here club, but I'm not convinced there'll be many members!)

We hiked up the nearest mountain today and found little observatories scattered all around. The skies are so clear and free from light pollution here that the nearby university does lots of astronomy studies. Looking up when running to the loo, in the cold, during the night showed me why. The sky looks massive! And there's tonnes of stars, way more than you ever see from home. Obviously I don't know what any of them are, and can't maintain my concentration for long enough to learn any, but none-the-less I am capable of being impressed!

We had a big treat after our walk this afternoon and went to a brand new hot spring spa pool complex. It had three pools all at different temperatures and loungers to lie in the sun. It was proper luxury and Ben loved it too, mostly because for some reason it only cost us about three quid each :0) I could definitely get used to this sort of lifestyle.

I have a confession to make... the significant drop in temperature, especially in the evenings and mornings, coupled with my distinct lack of appropriate clothing (and the fact that we're in New Zealand and fashion is not a big thing over here!) has lead me, on several occasions, to be seen in public, sporting my favourite pink flip flops (or "jandals" as they call them here) teamed with big, brown, woolly, knee-high socks covered in llama patterns, from South America, which were a typically rubbish Christmas present from my brother (cheers Clump!).

There are more photos here

Sunday, 22 March 2009

New Zealand - Christchurch

I really liked Christchurch last time I was here, but maybe the fact it was summertime and Christmas might have had something to do with it, because this time it's wet and cold and just a bit average. The city is sort of English, there's punting on the River Avon, old fashioned trams, parks, and the cathedral of course. But mostly a place (like most) which is more enjoyable in the sunshine. It's definitely Autumn now, we've had to buy jumpers and big coats and are headed into our first Winter in quite some time. We've still got a way further south to go too so it's only going to get colder - bbbrrrrrrrr! I wonder at which temperature it stops being fun in a campervan?!

Anyway my Christchurch highlight was shopping (for the nano-second that Ben can tolerate) and watching a rat playing on the riverbank - not something most people would enjoy, but then I'm not most people and I miss having pet rats :0(

Ben's highlight, however, was being proven right after I was annoyed at his suggestion that I'm "not very good with art galleries" when after only twenty-five minutes of art gallery action I text him to say I was bored and went to wait in the foyer. Yeah, yeah, whatever!!

There's another photo here.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

New Zealand - Kaikoura

Ben finally got some photos of seals :0) They're all along the coast and you can just walk right up to them. If you get too close they soon give you a bit of a warning growl though, as Ben discovered. He reckons they're not too fast on the rocks but I don't think he's as fast as he thinks he is!

We saw dolphins too. Hundreds of them. They were really close to the shore and leaping out of the water putting on quite a show! They were jumping in formation, doing somersaults and back-flips and everything. They were totally showing off! It was fab :0)

They have the some of the best seafood in the world here and even I - the vegetarian fish-hater felt I should give it a go. It was beautiful, but the massive plate full of assorted battered seafood I was presented with seems to have caused the blood flowing through my veins to be replaced by liquid lard!

There are more photos here

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

New Zealand - Blenheim

We're in wine country again, nothing but vineyards for miles, so what's a girl to do?! Wine tasting of course :0) Seven wineries later Ben declared "I find as you go around they all start to taste good". I have now officially confirmed my suspicions that my favourite wines are Sauvignon Blancs from the Malborough region or "sav" as they rather classlessly refer to it here. Ben religiously made notes on every wine he tasted, which later didn't prove to be that useful as he had described one of his favourites as reminding him of ham!!

I found a lovely little gift shop, selling jewellery, Maori arts and so on. The reason I mention it is I just wanted to give you another example of the Kiwis' intense hatred of the possum... In this shop you can buy chocolates shaped like run-over possums! Now come on, is that really necessary?! (I feel now is the time I should make a little correction about my previous statement that the reason for their unpopularity is because they kill kiwis. Apparently they don't often kill kiwis after all but they do devastate their habitat. I'm sure most of you don't care but you know I like to get these things right.)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

New Zealand - Nelson Lakes National Park

Another national park and equally spectacular but totally different. This setting is a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains. It's picture-postcard perfect and even inspired Ben for the first time on this whole trip (despite several declarations of intent) to haul his arse out of bed and photograph the sunrise :0)

So more hiking and healthy outdoor action had by all, but it hasn't all been fun and sunshine... Ben dropped his camera and damaged his filter (but not thelens fortunately which would have been much more of a disaster - do you see the dull, geeky things I'm forced to know about these days?!).

My mini disaster was to ruin the dinner, which in itself is not that much of a drama but it has resulted in Margery and her contents (a.k.a. everything we own!) smelling like the last burger that has been forgotten about and left on theBBQ! Fortunately we've discovered that fabreeze exists over here too, so now all our stuff smells like fabreeze with just an gentle undertone of charred burger!

The big news though is... Remember my new hobby - "puzzling for prizes"? Well it worked because WE WON A PRIZE! I told you we were bound to :0) Now admittedly the prize (which we have yet to see) is some kind of shitty magnetic thing you stick on the fridge and a key ring, so not the car or LCD TV we were hoping for. But it is a start. However, despite our success I'm afraid I need to let you know that Ben continues to "puzzle for pleasure", what is that about?! In fact I recently discovered that his new habit of buying daily newspapers is not so he can read about the latest non-event that has occurred on these fair isles, but to do the bloody crossword! So in a bid to save trees I got him to buy a crossword book, however it appears he was a little ambitious in his choice of "Times Cryptic Crosswords" as he can't answer any of them, so probably should have gone for the big print old lady one after all!

There are more photos here

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

New Zealand - Abel Tasman National Park

The spectular-ness (I don't think that there is such a word, but there should be) of the South Island scenery was apparent before we even arrived! The ferry took us through the Marlborough Sounds; rugged, unspoiled coastline, with the occasional house, accessible only by boat, being the only development for miles and miles. We then drove north up the coastline to Abel Tasman National Park, on possibly the windiest (as in zig zaggy not as in blowy) roads I have ever been on in my life (and bare in mind the South American adventures so I do not make that statement lightly) and Margery took it all in her stride. Against all the odds and despite the few extra thousand KMs we're put on her (so far) she is doing brilliantly (so far). Ben has now fully mastered the way that you have to sneak her into third gear by almost going into fifth, and she's even been treated to a bit of interior design make-over in the form of photos of you ugly lot on her walls :0) I can't believe how at home I feel in a space which is about five metres by one metre and more to the point that I have to share with someone else (yep, he is still alive)!

The national park runs along the north coast of the South Island and we've done a bit of kayaking, which has got to be the best way to explore the park's pretty little coves and see it's dramatic cliff faces. The rocks have been worn into strange, smooth shapes where they enter the sea, which changes colour from blue to green and back to blue again (something to do with the colour of the sand apparently). Our guide (who insisted on talking like a pirate?!) pointed out some of the local bird life and I'm not really a big fan of birds. Animals of the fluffy, cuddly variety I can get excited about - and do, all the time, but birds generally just don't do anything for me. Now there are a few exceptions to this rule, the kiwi for instance (possibly because it is a bird of the fluffy, cuddly variety) and in Abel Tasman I found another one - the pied shag. Now admittedly it's comedy name does help, but that is not the whole reason. They look kind of like flying penguins and apparently they have really dense, heavy bones and webbed feet. These physical characteristics make them ideally suited to diving in water, but not so ideally suited, to our delight, to landing in trees!! Oh how we laughed as they had to make several attempts before crash-landing in the tree tops :0)

We've been doing a lot of hiking along the coastal track too, which I love but doesn't make for very interesting reading. But we were involved in a bit of drama when a woman who was walking near us fell and (I suspect) broke her hip. I hadn't really thought about how remote it is until that point.There are plenty of people around and lots of facilities, but no mobile coverage and an hour and a half walk to the nearest phone. I used one of my best practised skills - shouting loudly and got the message to a kayak guide who radio-ed for help. Not much later a doctor happened to be walking past and stopped to help, giving Ben and I the excuse to slope off and leave them to wait to be rescued.

The highlight of our time in Abel Tasman though has to be our seal swim :0) I actually tried to do this when I was here ten years ago and it was freezing and the seals all sat on their rocks looking at us like we must be mental for being in the cold water! They were having none of it! But not this time... it was still freezing, even in wetsuits and the like, but we were taken out by this old sea-dog character, who looked like Uncle Albert and kept bursting into song! Well he might be a bit odd but I think he's great after he took us to a seal "nursery" and this time the seal pups were more than happy to come and play (one, two, three... aaaawwwwww!). It was amazing, swimming in the sea with these gorgeous, wild animals, with huge eyes, who were swimming round and round us and coming right up to our faces then darting away at the last minute. Even the mums were joining in the fun.

The absolutely best bit was when one of the pups was resting on his flippers with his head out of the water, on a little rock which was sticking up. I went over and really slowly joined him there. The next thing... another one popped up and then another and another! They obviously all wanted to see what they were missing. In the end I was surrounded by six baby seals. It took all of my will power not to shout "BEN... LOOK AT ME!!!!!" at the top of my voice (no, no there's no photos, Ben was splashing about in the water too and the camera was safely tucked away in the dry -boo!)

Heather's little rant...

Ben's photos are beautiful, I love seeing them on the blog and I know that they are the real reason that most of you (not you Dad - thanks) bother to look at it at all (of course I'm not bitter!), but it's not always all that much fun hanging around waiting for the right light (blah, blah!) for him to get the perfect shot - AND we're hardly ever in any of them! You should know that every photo of me has been battled for and the ones with Ben in as well are usually following a row about the fact that he won't be in any photos! So anyway the point of this little rant is that I had a bit of a rebellion and took some of my own "snaps" of us muppetting around, so have a look here.

Or you can look at my photos here

New Zealand - Going Down!

Finally we are on our way down south. In fact I'm writing this whilst on the ferry from Wellington to Picton in the South Island. It all worked out according to plan and I've accepted the job in Tauranga. I probably could have taken my pick of jobs in the end. It's the first time I've been really pleased that I did my OT training - it's so nice to be in demand! The paperwork for my work permit is working it's way through the bureaucracy mill ready for me to start on April 27th, and hopefully I'll have residency within a few months too :0)

We've been to see Molly again -yey! Who lives only about three quarters of an hours drive from Tauranga - yey! But is just about to move to a place three hours away - boo! But is going to be working in the ski fields - yey! So we'll have somewhere to stay when we want to go skiing for the weekend in the Winter - yey! Surfing, sailing and scuba diving in the Summer then skiing in the Winter - can't be bad :0) (Maybe I should point out at this point that neither Ben nor I has ever been skiing in our lives, but hey, it's be rude not to right?!)

Molly got us all dragged into the quiz at the pub she works at, and we all won booby prizes at half time for coming last! Given the distinct lack of Kiwis in our team though it's not too surprising that we only scored one out of ten on the New Zealand history round! We did make something of a comeback though and managed not to come last over all :0) It all turned into something of a session and we blame the Africans! (Molly's South African boyfriend and his sister are a terrible influence!)

It was with the news that I'd got the job, and hangovers, that we finally got on our way towards the South Island. We had a couple more days with Rich and Vicky in Wellington on route. Another carnival and more fun in the sun made us wonder if we'd made the right choice with Tauranga over Wellington. But then came the rain, the traffic and that bloody awful wind and we realised that "you'd never get that in Tauranga" and that we've made the right decision :0)

Ben continues to attempt to counter-act my healthy living regime with his slobby lorry-driver impression and non-stop fish and chip eating! But once again has upped his opinion of New Zealand, this time from "good" to "choice" (a Kiwi word which means just about anything positive!)

More photos here!