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?!