Saturday, 30 January 2010

Saturday 30th January

Wake to the wind howling round the prefab hotel structure. Not a good sign.

We pack up and head out. However after a couple of hours it starts to drizzle and the cloud drops, the rain turns to horizontal sleet (the story of many an aborted trek :-( ) we decide to turn back. Aggravatingly by early afternoon the weather has cleared and the views are back...Grrrhhh! We do not have the motivation to retrace our steps.

We use the day to have a leisurely drive over to Clyde. Our car seems to veer to the left automatically on passing an art gallery sign.....weird??? Also does the same with icecream suppliers...?! Incidentally one shop had really "rattling rock" - basically a small rock stuck inside a bigger one - volcanic phenome. Was cool but decided it was not worth spending the rest of our stay shaking potential stones, to find one.

Clyde was a tiny place, but had some pleasant old railway buildings.

Friday 29th January

Feeling much recovered after a night in a lovely B&B, not only did the lady feed us a huge cooked breakfast but also packed us off with muffins and plums "just in case...." apparently.

Drove down towards Aoraki / Mt Cook. En-route we stopped at a woolens shop with the biggest jumper in the world (!) and for some reason, not explained to us, a full sized copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, complete with an ending to replace the bit that's been lost, painted on a backing of millions of steel teeth from weaving machines. Weird... The cloud lifted and it was a brilliant sunny day. We never saw the Southern Alps in sun on our previous visit to NZ, and they are stunningly beautiful. Every 10 minutes Caroline shouts "photo stop" and Olly slams on the brakes. Luckily there is not much traffic in NZ! Amusingly tyre tracks attest to other motorists having done the same.

We decided to treat ourselves to a night at the Hermitage alpine hotel, however this proved very disappointing. Instead of turn of the century elegance (a la Chateau Tongariro) it was more motel meets Little Chef with a hefty price tag. I think I have slated it sufficiently now...don't stay there...

Visited the DOC centre and got sorted for a long walk tomorrow. Fingers crossed for the weather holding. DOC centre has not one but four in memorandum books for those who have died on these mountains. Alarmingly the last entry in 2009 was a guy on the track we are planning tomorrow. Hmmm...?!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Thursday 28th January

Breakfast-less due to aforementioned kea! Never a good start to a 8 hr hike.

Tackled Avalanche Peak and Lylle Peak. A near vertical 1100m climb - yes it really was scrambling straight out of the car park. Person who made the trail clearly did not believe in unnecessary deviation. However the stunning 360 degree views were worth it. We really were on top of the world, as we sat at the summit 3 kea swooped round (doubtless some strange parrot mating ritual??) - it was magic!

Less magic and a little scarier was the traverse across to Lylle Peak - rock was really rotten and the scree slopes were sheer (parents - don't read further....) did however get some lovely photos of a blue ice glacier. The way down (sheer again) was knackering on the knees - we must be getting older. Even considered whether it might have been more pleasant to slide the scree. Caroline did find an abandoned 10 dollar note tho - so free ice creams all round.

We will definitely sleep well tonight.

Wednesday 27th January

Had a major present success and (not telling you what we bought!) managed to sort almost all our Easter-mas obligations for the folks back home.

Drove on towards Arthur's Pass and found some strange limestone rock formations on the included for The Geographers.

Arrived in Arthur's Pass early enough to check out the weather (yey - fine!! Given they have 300 days of rain here that is very lucky) and pick up a map for tomorrows hike. The village is plagued by kea - a large alpine parrot (apparently they are very rare - just not here). One of the little b*&^%!s managed to get into our tent and eat our breakfast - pretty unimpressed with that!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tuesday 26th January

Visited Nelson this morning, took us half an hour of wandering to recall that we had been here (and got very lost) on our last trip to New Zealand. No losings this time however. We are on a mission to find possum merino jumpers at a sensible price. Hmmm?

Art galleries were not particularly inspiring, but we did have a postal success.

Drove over to Hanmer Springs and luxuriated in the spa pools, to the point of prunedom, which seems to have cured the last of Abel Tasman aches. Olly has declared he is a super-prune. Caroline is not sure what to make of this!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Monday 25th January

Tackled Abel Tasman today, to get another Great Walk under our belt! Day started with a very choppy ride up to the north of the park by water taxi from where we would walk 30km back to Maratau. Day was fine again and the sea views were lovely, golden beaches and turquoise waters. We had a couple of bays to cross within a low tide window, so the morning was pretty hard and fast...slightly more relaxing in the afternoon.

A rather memorable part of the walk was the noise. One of the native insects (probably a cicada) has just come into season and the noise they make is incredible - to the point of not being able to hear the person next to you talking.

On balance however we preferred yesterday's exploration of Marlborough Sound; Abel Tasman is just too busy! As the most popular national park in NZ it was absolutely heaving.

Sunday 24th January

Swapping islands seems to have triggered a significant improvement in the weather, and we wake to a gloriously calm and misty morning. The sun quickly burns off the mist and Marlborough Sound is absolutely stunning. The water is turquoise and clear enough to see fish & shells on the bottom. The wildlife does not seem afraid of the silent but bright yellow kayak, we pull up close to terns, nesting cormorants, sooty shearwaters. The rocks are covered in mussels at low tide and we paddle through a raft of beautiful jellyfish. A few more days like this and we will be emigrating!

We circumnavigate the Sound, pulling into the little bays to get you all the best photos! It was a little nerve-wracking getting the camera out of the hold whilst in the middle of the Sound.

Lunch (mainly consisting of cake) was taken in Mistletoe Bay, with some very insistent ducks. We were seriously considering having one for dinner, but I'm not sure feathers in the kayak would have gone down well.

We returned the kayak tired and slightly sun-burned at about 4pm and then set out for the next stop on the trip; the Abel Tasman. As we're passing through Nelson, we see some enormous kites flying alongside the road - there's a festival of some sort going on and some of the flying objects are quite amazing.

Slightly later, Caroline spots a Fish & Chips shop - our dinner fate is now sealed.

Saturday 23rd January

Having managed to get the ferry across to south island, and in the process get a car change (It's quite amazing the rate at which we get through hire cars....we're now in a Nissan Sunny !??!!) we started organising the next few days. First stop was a sea kayak rental place near the ferry terminal. Tomorrow's excitement arranged, we headed out of Picton towards Nelson along the costal road. There were some fantastic views.

Having found a place to stay for the night, not far from where we're picking up the kayak at Ngakuta Bay tomorrow morning, we headed further around the coast to Havelock. Rather than do the whole of the Abel Tasman (about a quarter of which is time limited by low tide) we're planning to do the southern three quarters of the 52km tramp on Monday. We managed to get a water taxi booked to get up to Tonga Bay, so should pretty much be ready to go!

We took a short walk around the coast - a nice stretch for the legs after being in the car and on the ferry for much of the day.

In the evening we went to a small restaurant called the Mussel Pot, so we could feast on NZ's fantastic green mussels. We're sufficiently close to the Sound here that the mussels pretty much come from the boat onto your plate. As remembered, they were huge and very very tasty!

B&B has a hot tub...and we thought it would be rude not to indulge. A good glass of white wine, a great view and a hot tub is (we decided) a required life-experience.

Friday 22nd January

Another good NZ breakfast and we set out by bike around the Hawke Bay vineyards and chocolate factory (hmm, we wonder who put that one on the list). First stop was a fascinating boutique winery - Brookfields - whose star product was a 2005 cabernet merlot; also a nice peppery Syrah. Talking to the owner about the NZ wine scene, she was rather depressed about supermarkets demanding ever cheaper, mass-produced wine, tho' apparently US and EU sales are supporting the smaller, quality vinyards. By contrast we next stopped at Park Estate winery; where product was geared to short cash to cash cycles and mimimum capital investment; light weight reds, and even lighter serve-as-cold-as-you-can whites...eughh.

Contrary to Olly's comments above I did not indulge in the chocolate factory...although Olly later confessed to having visited Cadbury's World!

Afterwards we headed to Wellington in preparation for tomorrow's ferry crossing to south island. We're staying in a B&B whose owner came up with the quote of the day, talking to Caroline: "So, what does a little thing like you do for Caterpillar?" Needless to say he withered under the resulting glare... :-)

Fish and chips for supper after a wander around the waterfront at Wellington.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Thursday 21st January

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate this morning - the buses to the trail were all cancelled and there was scarcely any visibility even at the campsite. So we headed out early for Napier, the next stop on our itinerary. We spent some time looking around the town, including the Opossum Shop - which essentially advertised killing off as many of the little sods as you can. You could practise shooting them in a firing range and there were helpful tips on effective bludgeoning techniques.

We also went to see Avatar in the evening. We both thought it was a great film!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Wednesday 20th January

Today we start reaping the rewards of yesterday's organisation ....!

Turned up first thing for our "Black Abyss" tour of Waitomo caves, billed as the best caving can offer we could not wait. When our guide arrived (tiny girl called Vashti) we discovered (even better) that we were the only people on the tour. We were kitted out in 8mm wetsuits, harnesses & helmets, and given a 2min NZ-style safety briefing, which included how to use the Voice Activated Stopping system on our abseiling kit - scream - and the words "I wouldn't fall if I were you, tried that once and it really hurt."

Abseiled down into the cave through a 40m deep water hole. That's a long way down when it's pitch black, the walls are 2 meters across and you have no idea when the bottom is going to arrive! Once there it is amazing! Limestone folded and eroded into strange shapes, the sound of water everywhere, drips, trickles, cascades and the thundering of distant waterfalls. We zip line across a cravasse, jump off a waterfall and then wade up a river which has carved a tunnel out of the limestone - we are about 65m below the surface at this stage.

Since there are only the two of us and Vash has deemed us competent we go exploring; Vash has seen a narrow passage on previous trips which she has never explored. We haul ourselves up out of the river and into the tube. Soon we are crawling on our bellies though 12 inch wide gaps, jamming our knees & back against the wall to edge up vertical sections. Exciting ....and a little scary. I keep telling myself it's fine, it's just a little tight, wish I had not had those pancakes for breakfast. Caving is a sport for the small! By now all three of us are covered in a sticky viscous mud. After more than 1/2 hr of slithering Vash declares it too tight and we turn round (easier said than done). Continuing in the wider tunnel, we find large black eels, and fresh water crayfish in the pools. We even catch sight of the granddaddy eel which is as wide as your thigh. There are also glow worms throughout, high on the tunnel ceiling. If you turn off your head torch out they are like constellations.

We've been making rather good time, so Vash takes a bit of a detour onto a different route (illicit touring apparently) and into a spectacular cavern covered in glistening stalactites and stalagmites. It's really amazing. The final bit of the tour is a gentle float through the deepest water on rubber tubes, staring up at more glow worms, before finally emerging back into the sunlight after about 5 hours. Most of the mud from our previous exploits has washed off by this point, but even so a couple of the other tour guides are moved to ask "What the hell have you three been up to?". I think possibly Vash got a little carried away...

After we have dried off and warmed up we drive to Tongariro, planning to walk the Alpine Crossing. We did this last time in NZ; it is the most spectacular day walk we have ever done. Here the planning starts to unravel a little as there is a severe weather warning out for tomorrow; heavy rain and 70mph wind @ 3000m. We set up the tent and fall asleep with fingers crossed for a fairer outcome.

(Piccies to follow)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tuesday 19th January

Very early morning courtesy of jet lag followed by a nice hearty breakfast. Then journeyed further south through Hamilton to Waitomo where we've booked ourselves into a caving, underground river tubing and canyoning outing tomorrow morning. Caroline is quite excited already. Found a nice campsite for the night and spent some of the afternoon drowsing.

We're in the process of planning the next few days which should involve doing the Tongariro Crossing (again) and a wine tour of the Hawke Bay area.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Monday 18th January

Started the day with a trip to a small cafe in Thames (south end of the Coromandel Peninsula) for breakfast. Superb banana and chocolate muffins - and yes they can make a decent cup of tea! We also found a second hand book shop that would do exchanges... finally some more reading matter.

It was drizzling on and off all day so we pottered around the little coastal towns - somewhat reminiscent of Norfolk. Best overheard comment goes to the following:
Customer: How are your parents these days, haven't seen them in a while?
Shopkeeper: Not so good...
Customer: Oh dear, I am sorry to hear that, what's wrong?
Shopkeeper: They're both dead...!

The Coromandel P is popular with arty-types, so loads of interesting galleries to look round. Work ranging from pieces similar to Caroline's primary school output, to rather good stuff. Price seems to bear little relation to quality (luckily for us). We only made a small purchase, two sculptures made out of cutlery(!).

In the afternoon we did a small walk down to Cathedral Cove, a sandy beach on the east side of the peninsula that you can only get to through a natural archway through the cliffs from an ajoining beach when the tide is out. It really is a very pretty part of the world.

You may have noticed there have been no diatribes on the hire car. That's cos it's actually great (despite the fact that one of its wheel bearings is going and the windscreen squirters don't work). Goes round corners like you would not believe. Olly and I have been fighting over the car keys all day, we have finally compromised (like the mature adults we are) and agreed an am/pm allocation.

Sunday 17th January

Left Auckland , having fallen in love with Possum & Merino jumpers (soo soft and fluffy... :-) - we're now on the lookout for some that cost rather less than a fortune) and stopped off at a small shop to get some lunch. There was a rather ambiguous newspaper headline advertised on one of the boards outside. Sure it would go down well in the US...

Continued the drive to the Coromandel Peninsular (Oh...the joy of signs!), in search of Kauri trees, good hiking and fish & chips (hence forth referred to as F&C's - and it may be referred to frequently. We discovered last time we visited, NZ has the best F&C's in the world..!). Were successful on all counts. There was a 20K hike to some protruding volcanic plugs - the Pinnacles. On the way were some interesting remains of the kauri logging industry including a re-supply road (hand hewn from the rock), a dam (built so that the streams could be used to float logs down to the sea - see piccie) and even the odd kauri; both logged and alive.

We followed this up with the requisite F&C (which were very good), then retired to a campsite. We were somewhat surprised to be awakened in the middle of the night by the gentle patter of rain. We could almost be back on the UK!

It sounds strange but travelling in S America was quite hard work (not looking for a sympathy vote here!), combination of poor infrastructure, food, language, security concerns (thefts are a pretty common occurrence). Of course it was also fascinating: Ecuador was culturally and socially interesting, especially the power struggle between the Andean people & the Hispanics which permeates every aspect of life - education/politics/labour relations/geographic location etc.
Chile was memorable for the environmental extremes - driest desert, largest coal mines, highest geothermal field, huge glaciers...the list goes on.

New Zealand however is far more like the UK (it was settled by UK emigrants in the 1840's), which makes it a much more relaxing place to travel. It should be a nice break before we tackle Cambodia - sure that one will be interesting!