Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Circle is complete by Gilly

Yes, we have completed our lap of the South Island in New Zealand: Christchurch (Sumner), Lake Tekapo, Dunedin, Invercargill (via the Catlins), Queenstown, Franz Josef (via the Haast Pass), Punakaiki, Pohara (Golden Bay), Marlborough Sounds, Kaikoura and finally back to Christchurch after three fantastic weeks. Having organised this leg of the trip myself, I am feeling very relieved and rather pleased that everything went as planned and all the accommodation was pretty brilliant, even if I do say so myself! ( Thanks for all the help and advice Helen J and Helen M).

New Zealand itself was stunning. Spectacular views, empty roads, amazing wildlife and friendly people. It seems that the folk of NZ know a thing or two about service. Everywhere we went, locals bent over backwards to help us out and give us great local advice. They seem a happy, healthy lot who make the most of their fantastic country with an active, outdoor lifestyle (the TV stations are pretty awful which helps to discourage them from choosing a more sedentary life!) I can understand why us Brits decide to up sticks and move out here, if it wasn’t so darned far from the UK we’d think about moving ourselves! However, our eyes were slightly rose-tinted as we had glorious sunshine for the entire three weeks….. very lucky!

We also treated ourselves to some fantastic trips and activities like rafting in Queenstown, stargazing at Lake Tekapo, swimming with dolphins at Kaikoura (the girls) and a helicopter ride onto the glacier at Franz Josef (the boys). NZ is definitely the country to visit if you enjoy the great outdoors!

What I also love about NZ is their lack of health and safety rules and regulations. Playgrounds are fantastic! I took the kids to a school playground in Kaikoura and it was just what a school playground should be like…. a huge wooden castle with ladders to climb, poles to slide down and nets to jump into. Schools in the UK should take note as kids need to take risks and test themselves. Far too often we wrap them up in cotton wool for fear that they may hurt themselves. Not here (or in OZ) where you see tiny toddlers climbing up massive rope pyramids with not a peep of concern from their parents. And no, they don’t fall, they learn how to climb and hold on! Puts our little playground in Ogbourne to shame!

What a school playground should look like!

The kids were lucky enough to spend a morning at the primary school in Sumner (thanks for organising this Helen). There was no signing them in or CRB checks, they just walked into the classrooms to be welcomed by the teacher and class and both of them had a fantastic morning.

A visit to Sumner School.

Having now arrived in America I am seriously missing the wonderful New Zealand coffee (see my next blog) along with some honest, friendly service (I thought that originated in America??)

It still amazes me that Americans drive EVERYWHERE. People stare at you if you are walking! Letter boxes are located with their own ‘drive through’ so that the driver need not leave their car to deliver their post! It’s also the opposite to NZ in that it is health and safety crazy with warning signs EVERYWHERE. I guess this is to stop everyone suing each other. Sadly, I fear this is the way we are going in the UK…..

So on reflection, please can all our family and friends emigrate with us to New Zealand? Come on, you know you want to………

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Route 66

USA = Road Trip

In my head, America is one big road trip. Especially the desert states. I’ve seen too many movies, read too many books, poured over too many custom-car magazines in a wasted youth to think otherwise. Try explaining that to the kids.

So leaving Palm Springs on a typically pristine April morning we point our rental car – an entirely suitable Mustang convertible – north-north-east around the fringes of the wonderful Joshua Tree national park to the Mojave Desert. I am moist with excitement. And in the minority. Everyone else in the car hunkers down to read or play Nintendo. This makes me want to cry: Philistines! Look outside!

It turns into quite a drive.

By sheer coincidence, our road trip chimes in with Laughlin River Run, which is a massive Harley Davidson bash – 70,000 bikers apparently – in Nevada. From our point of the compass, they are all using the same Route 62 corridor before heading up to Route 66. We have lots and lots of shiny, iconic, home-grown, two-wheeled company. (See below.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Route 66. The road itself fell off the map in 1984, being superseded by bigger, better Interstates. Then nostalgia set in… now it’s a legend. We eventually leave Mojave’s desert back roads for a few miles on Interstate 40 before peeling off at the Arizona state border onto the auld road. Magically, we are transported to yesteryear with decrepit roadside shacks and stalls straight out of a movie set. You begin to wonder if it is a movie set…

As we wind our way up into the mountains, a convoy of Dutch registered Morgans – the Malvern made, wood framed sports car – bowl past. Surreal.

The surreal’ometer clicks up a notch at a Korean War memorial – made in 2009 – replete with mandatory fluttering stars and stripes.

Then the ‘meter goes off the clock and breaks – cue cracked glass effect – when we happen upon the small town of Oatman, Arizona. A gold mining town from 1904 its road became Route 66 and enjoyed much traffic through the first half of the 20th century. In 1953 it was unceremoniously bypassed as it was a bit too mountainous and fiddly for trucks etcetera. So it really is a relic. It’s had many years to gain the patina of decay that gives it a certain look today, beloved by tourists. The main – only – street is quite bizarre. Shabby old west buildings, thronging with leather clad Harely riders, a gaggle of Dutch & Swiss Austin Healeys on a 25 day coast to coast run and – of course – wild burros. Burros? Donkeys to you chief. When they stopped mining here they turned the beasts of burden loose and they’ve thrived. They now spend their time biting unwary tourists. (J&M gave them Shrek inspired voices.)

We enter a dilapidated – 1902 but still trading – western hotel. Inside, a sign tells us Clark Gable honeymooned upstairs. (Wow.) Nowadays, there is no western bar with shots lined up, but we do get some nice ice creams. (Yee-har.) Bemused, we wander the streets. My head hurts. Partly because I’m eating my ice-cream much too fast, partly because it’s such a scene to behold. Mountains, burros, that maa-housive western sky, tumbledown shacks, bikers. Only in America.

Back on the twisty, poorly surfaced road, it’s roof town, traction control off Top Gear road trip. After a couple of clumsy drifts out of hairpins we have a domestic. Result? I drive more sensibly. (But what a minute or two! The drive, not the domestic.) The road opens out and the views are stupefying. Eagles soar on the thermals, huge mesas tower above us and that sky…

Our other Americana ingredient? The Santa Fe freight train. We stop at a level crossing to be treated to the classic horn blast and barrier chimes as thousands of tonnes thunder by. I hope the video does it some justice.  (I counted this morning as I jogged alongside the railway: 99 carriages, many double decked with full size shipping containers.

Journey’s end – pause would be more accurate – is six hours up the road at a motel on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona. Tomorrow? Another few hours of the Mother Road, before we head toward the Grand Canyon.


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As a longtime biker you might expect me to be orgasmic at the prospect of a Harley Davidson. No, dear reader, no. You see, your Hog is really not much to write home about as a motorcycle: it’s slow, heavy, thirsty, ponderous, will shake your teeth out and is utterly outmoded. They look great, they sound dramatic, but are in fact rubbish. Have you ridden one? Performance wise, even the most humdrum Japanese machine can run rings around a Harley.

What we are  really talking about here is a lifestyle. (I suppose that’s what any hobby is when you strip away the substance?) Some of the hundreds of bikes we see are amazing custom creations. Choppers abound. (Oooer missus. A chopper is a particular kind of customer ‘bike with longer fork stanchions. These in particular are modified to enormous lengths to render them even more uncomfortable than your regular Hog, not to mention more difficult to ride. We chuckle at the bikes with sky-high handlebars that must cause loss of feeling in the pilots arms within minutes.) They ride in big groups accompanied by minders and/or supply wagons. More Rotary Club day out than Hells Angels.

Sadly as we meander across the immense, humbling Mojave desert we encounter the more grisly side of biking. On the straightest of straight – perhaps 5 miles since a curve of any kind – piece of road a fully saddlebagged cherry red Harley has got it catastrophically wrong. How? Perhaps a crosswind? A blown tyre? Wide-swiped by a dozing car driver? Rider error? All we witness is the aftermath.We arrive on the scene after the emergency services – who must’ve travelled some considerable way from the nearest settlement – who are shrouding the victim with a blanket. There are bits of the bike everywhere leading to where it lies on the sandy shoulder of the road in a sorry heap.

Since (many) Harley riders wear fashion statement gear rather than modern “leathers” – this doesn’t just mean cowhide nowadays, it means fully functional armoured clothing – I fear injures would have been severe. Extreme road-rash at the very least. Riding without helmets is common. If they are worn, many are fashion first items offering little protection. Trainers, tee-shirts, jeans, even shorts are seen during the day. Tattoos don’t protect you when you are sliding down the tarmac.

We wish the rider and their family well.

Who are the riders? Tough, switchblade carrying, law dodging outcasts? Unlikely in the main. The baby boomers have taken over.  Legions of grey bearded, portly Americans on lardy motorbikes. Livin’ the dream. Yet I can’t help being reminded of the outfits Village People wore back in the day…

Agreed, it makes a fine spectacle. For many, the very essence of Americana on a (long desert) highway: the lone cowboy riding the range on his trusty steed. It surely gave us great entertainment today. But then you take a look at the River Run website and you can see the demographic they’re aiming for.

Rockers with Zimmer frames entertaining late middle-aged accountants and sales managers with stylised beards on expensive shiny motorcycles. The whole thing was kicked off by a Harley dealer in 1983. How corporate.

It’d be way cooler if they didn’t take themselves so darn seriously.

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Fun at Universal Studios by Josie

WOOHOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE’RE GOING TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!!!!!!!!!!! That’s exactly what I said the moment I woke up. Universal Studios Hollywood!? Are you kidding?! I’m bursting with excitement! It’s been my dream to go there for EVER! Anyway it was a lovely hot day, so we went in our white Ford Mustang with the roof down to go to Hollywood. It took an hour to get there but there were lots of sights to see. We saw places where some movies had been filmed. After our drive we queued (in the car, welcome to America) for five or ten minutes. Then we parked the car and went to queue again to get our tickets… for ages, but it was worth it!

We went inside the gates of Universal and entered… IT WAS HUGE!!! I wanted to go on a roller coaster but boring old Mum said we had to go on the studio tour which me and Mog thought would be boring… but maybe not!? It was also the King Kong ride! We got in a tram and set off. It was so cool! We entered the cave of King Kong and watched a dinosaur appear and begin to jump on the tram! Morgan was a real wimp and sat on Mum’s lap closing his eyes. Whilst I got covered in spit (water) as two of the dinos began to fight until… KING KONG CAME!!! He attacked the dinos throwing them at the tram, then climbing over us. Then things got worse… we were knocked off the cliff and fell into some vines, being swayed back and forth and back and forth… until we went flying out of the cave. Then we carried on in the tram, seeing flash floods, flying cars with explosions , an earthquake, Jaws and even some scenes from films.

Once the tram was done, we went to The Simpsons ride with Sideshow Bob and giant toxic Maggie! Then it was the Jurassic park ride with the big soaking splash at the end! Next, the Curse of the Mummy ride, then me and Dad went on the brilliant Transformers ride. After that it was the Shrek show and then the Waterworld show. Then we split up, Morgan went in the Curious George water park (in his boxers and socks) with Mum, whilst me and Dad went on the scariest thing I’ve ever been on called The House of Horrors! With freaky Chuckey dolls, werewolves, murderers and more! I was very pale after that maze so I went into the cartoon shop were I bought Mash, my best friend, a present! Then we decided we were all very hungry and worn out and it was getting late so we went to have tea. I had a hot dog and everyone else had a burger with fries. After our meal we went back to our house boat.

What a brilliant day!!! 🙂

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Volcanoes National Park on Hawai’i, by Morgan

When we were in Hawai’i – the Big Island – we went to see the biggest volcano in the world called Mauna Loa which covers an area of about 2,035 square miles (5,271 square km). A ranger called Travis took us on a small private tour and he played a nose flute! He also told us about the goddess called Pele who is the goddess of volcanoes.

The most active is Kilauea which has been erupting since 1983! After we saw the volcanoes we went through a lava tube (a hole made by molten lava). Then me and dad walked through a black lava field. It was fun =) When we were there I thought it went on forever and it was like walking on the moon.

By Morgan

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Hawaiian rock

“The future”, William Gibson once wrote, “is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed”.

Indeed he may have. This quote could easily be applied to our recent trip from New Zealand to Hawaii. We left Auckland on Saturday morning, 14th April. We arrived in Honolulu at bedtime on Friday 13th. We experienced Friday 13th twice in April 2012. Fortunately, nothing bad happened on either of the same day. (As a rationalist, I have to say “of course it didn’t: it’s merely a date in a calendar.”)

Uneven distribution is a concept that may also be applied to the island of Oahu. In the local lingo it’s ‘the gathering place’. And gathered we humans have. With over a million permanent residents on the island with many, many more military – US marines, navy, air force and army all have bases – plus of course so very many tourists.

Honolulu: you get a flower garland to be draped around your neck as you emerge from the plane with steel guitar/ukelele accompaniment, yes? Er, no. 40 minutes “standing in line” waiting for a humourless immigration official to take your fingerprints and validate your visa at 11.30PM. Could be done in seconds by a machine or quicker by hand if they had more than two (slow motion) staff on duty.

Honolulu: palm trees and wide open vistas? No again. The six lane Nimitz highway running through high-rise urbanisation without barely a nod to town planning. Not good. This might well be a bitter blog folks.

The sun and sea are here as advertised. We do climb the summit of famed – I’d never heard of it – Diamond Head. The caldera of this dead volcano offers spectacular viewing of the south west parts including Waikiki, the reefs and the highrise. It’s thanks to 1908 army engineers that we’re atop this rock: Hawaiian lands have been of great interest to the US military. We survey the view of Honolulu from redundant gun emplacements (which are fascinating in themselves).

Thankfully, the North Shore of the island is mercifully less developed. But there are still too many people here for it to be the stuff of legend nowadays. Traffic jammed for miles. All to get a peek of the shore. There’s not even any big surf to wow us. We make a random stop at a beach –ooh look, a parking space! – and stumble across, almost literally, basking green turtles. This stirs us out of our negative mood. These big fellas munch on the shoreline seaweed then haul out onto the hot sand as it aids digestion. The volunteer rangers on hand prevent helpful tourists from “rescuing” them. There are several swimming (slightly disconcertingly) around our ankles in the shallows awaiting their moment to come ashore.

It’s a lovely wildlife moment. Then you turn toward the land and there are a gazillion people staring back at you. The buses stop for seven minutes – a ranger tells me – before moving on to bag their next destination scalp. The marketing people have been ever so sucessful in pitching Hawaii. Now they’ve all but killed the very thing they were promoting.

Elvis crooning Blue Hawaii no longer.

Best escape to the Big Island.

Ahhh, now that’s more like it. Lush, green, rural and uncomplicated. And so very volcanic. Young Morgan asks questions to the tune of “where’s the volcano Dad?” How to answer? The whole thing is volcano. The Hawaiian archipelago is a volcano: sitting on 3,600 miles of sea-mount it’s the only bits that stick above the ocean surface. The scale is mind scrambling.

We take in some of the volcanic sights at the wonderous Volcanoes National Park. A guided walk becomes a private tour at the capable hands of Ranger Travis. What a nice guy, brimming with knowledge in legend and volcanicity. However, when he toots his Hawaiian nose flute for us, it’s too much and I get the giggles.

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Our digs are on the Mauna Loa volcano. Literally built on a 1950s lava flow a few miles from the sea perched at 1,500′. A 30′ yurt – with wifi naturally – in the improbable community of Ocean View. People come here to drop off the grid and do the hippy thing.

The hippy thing? It’s America, only closer to the south Pacific. Bureaucracy meets manyana with several ladles of who cares. This laissez fair attitude is amplified in the warm island sun.

Sounds lovely? Sorry: it’s more like sheer bloody laziness.

Exhibit A: We leave our laundry at a “Wash n Go” whose attendant – despite looking less than busy – can’t possibly do it this afternoon. We agree to collect the washed items in the morning, say 10ish? Great. Super. Thanks awfully.

Rocking up at the appointed time the following morning. They’re closed all day Wednesdays. We flying in a few hours, are travelling light and a great deal of our clothing is sealed inside a locked remote Hawaiian washeteria. Could this morning get any better?!

All efforts fail to gain entry. No answer from the phones, no spare keys, no caretaker, no help from anyone except a retired Mancunian who is running a thrift shop opening nearby. (Thanks for your help Mike, even if the task was impossible.) A particularly grimy customer at the next door takeaway comments: “Welcome to Hawai’i.” I quietly invite him to stick it.

We try not to let it spoil our day, but it does curtail our plans and necessitate clothes shopping that was not budgeted. Ugh and ugh.

And so it goes when we buy clothing. Service isn’t with a smile, it’s when they feel like it. You feel like an irritant despite the “valued customer” rhetoric and sole source of income for many businesses. “You want sauce with that?” Why not, eh? You get an individually wrapped, factory produced sachet for your convenience. The use it and throw it away culture. Admittedly it’s a bit rich from a family on a round-the-globe odyssey to talk of conspicuous consumption, but on Islands apparently so concerned with preservation, conservation and localisation you’d think they’d make more of an effort.

And another thing… [look, I’ve got all hot under the collar now] they make a big deal of growing coffee here in Kona. So, we stop high on the mountain road – above the bay where Captain Cook met his maker. Its a boutique coffee shack surrounded by the plants the cherries came from. The menu has lots of syrups and so forth to “customize” your coffee in an effort of perfection. We’ll take it with a little milk please: a cappuccino and a café au lait. Verdict? Perfectly ordinary American dishwater coffee. A match for the dross they trot out from any old place in the ‘States. Not a patch on the Aussie & Kiwi roasts we’ve been enjoying. This sums up Hawaii: all hype, self belief and actually quite disappointing in the end.

Okay, okay. The landscape doesn’t disappoint. It’s tremendous. It changes between altitude, age and flavour of lava flow, windward or not, with endemic flora that has had many thousands of years of splendid isolation to adapt. It’s perplexing and impressive. If you do not have an appreciation of biology, geography nor geology you could just dismiss it as a “load of rocks”. (A nice lady cabin crew described the west of the Big Island thus. It was my favourite bit.)

We weren’t a bit sad to leave the Islands. And that is a sad fact in itself I’d say.

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In praise of the Kiwi road builders: a petrol blog

This post is aimed at those of you with a drop of petrol in your veins. Personally I am a committed petrolhead beyond the reaches of medical science, so bear that in mind as you read. Or best go do something else for 10 minutes.

New Zealand’s highways and byways are just outstanding if you enjoy motoring. I do not wish to alienate here, but by “enjoy motoring” I mean you drive a car like you mean it. Camper vans, SUVs and the like need not apply. Motorbikes? Ohhh yesss. (As long as we’re not astride a shiny, chromed mid-life-crisis-Harley.) Then again, let’s not encourage overt hooliganism: speeding through 50 limits (kph, so it’s approx 30mph) is for chumps.

Let’s look at this in terms of ingredients:

1 X naturally wonderful, free range vast and sparsely populated New Zealand South Island

1 X drivers car

1 X network of delightful roads (Let your road builders have free reign.)

A simple, classic dish then.

When the NZ folk mettled their roads, many of the tracks were there from early settler times. So they follow contours, cut through natural passes, hug valley sides and oft take the long way round. In the absence of vast civil engineering resource, the early road builders accidentally made some pretty scenic routes.

Of course, this means that if you are merely travelling from point a to b then it’s tedious. Twisty turny, travel sick tedious. Were you a crow, your destination would be near and obvious. But you’re not – you’re not are you? – and so you are going to have to drive the lonnnng way round. Outside of the towns, a commuting mindset would quickly, er, drive you round the twist.

In the mid 20th century, NZ became a hydro-electric mecca. To construct mighty dams, divert raging torrents and install turbines as big as houses you need infrastructure. Access roads. These wide highways straighten out some of the kinks and make shortcuts affording better progress to the motorist on the move. Though this trades off some of the fun, it does allow you to gawp at the splendour of the land.

Later on in the 20th NZ paved the way to some of it’s more remote communities. Various bits of the west coast were given proper roads to serve isolated locals.

Today of course, this engineering toil means the tourists get to easily access some of the most amazing vistas on the face of the earth. Whilst visitors get the landscape, its unlikely they get the toil and earthworks brilliance that afforded them their tour.

[We’re about to geek out, so hold on.]

Cambers on many a road are perfectly judged so that when you tip in to a corner it pulls you round. If a deliberate radius is present – not just hugging a cliff line – it’s constant and predictable. Compressions are avoided so that bottoming out is (mostly) avoided and the bumpstops are not troubled. Sightlines are difficult due to terrain mostly, but the road shoulders are well judged so that you can take lines that allow you to see ahead. The engineers who designed these roads really, really knew what they were doing.

The surfacing crews had a more patchy time of it. (Sorry.) This makes the roads more challenging for bikers. Gravel is the motorcyclist’ nemesis, causing – at the very least – a saddle chewing moment. As an incurable ‘biker, even driving the rural roads (in a car) has my heart palpitating as we round a corner on ‘the loose’. Again, massively rewarding if you are committed to the act of motoring, stressful if you are just getting somewhere.

Beyond patchy are the gravel highways. Where in the UK & Europe you’d give up and park or U-turn, the Kiwis plough on. We’ve covered many a kilometre on gravelled roads to reach a beach, rafting centre, viewpoint. Perfectly normal behaviour here.

Case Study: Highway 6

As you tour the south island, you come across Highway Six (the 6) a lot. Typically, when you’re having a wonderful driving moment, the 6 is the road you’re on. Being enveloped in the moment is a rare thing on many – say – British roads. Unless it’s road rage or sheer frustration taking years off your life. One difference here is that there isn’t any traffic. Okay, okay that’s not true. What I mean to say is that on a three-hour road trip across some of the most magical scenery on earth, you don’t get stuck behind anyone, nor snarled up in congestion. In 3 weeks we’ve seen one traffic jam in 3,000k of driving. And this was for access to an event on Easter Sunday near Richmond. (Maddeningly, never found out what the event was… looked awful popular.)

So the 6 has all the right ingredients. We are also hugely lucky to have bee-you-tee-full weather at every turn. Up hill, down dale the views are unblemished by cloud nor rain. We are also going to all the right places. (Though not necessarily in the right order.)

It’s a common line of conversation amongst tourists: how this island has a consistent ability to reveal yet another arresting vista around each corner. At first, you think people are making this line of conversation up, but having seen it myself… Oohs and Ahhs let forth as if we’re at a fireworks night. 

Another element to the plus column is that road users in other modes often allow you to hustle past by pulling over. Big rigs, camper vans, you name it. A toot and a wave all round sees you whizzing off into the distance. British HGVs take note!

So come on Ian, what’s the downside? Well, the maximum speed is a ton. 100kph sounds fast but isn’t on the open road. Local plod are keen so it can be a tad frustrating when conditions/road are right but you are pegged to 62mph. I’ll repeat that the 50 (30mph) limits are right and proper.

Tools for the job.

There’s a real car culture in the land. Not just boy racers in shiny ricers (look it up) but all sorts of modified, restored, customised wheels. Some are content with a Sunday cruise around the waterfront in their classic British metal, some park up their 30s US hotrod for a chat with their mates. Less pleasingly, some illicitly drag race their turbo’d Nissans and Scoobys around fringes of town of an evening like they were Vin Diesel’s mate in a Fast’n’Furious homage.

So what’s the ideal NZ car? Horses for courses. For pure blacktop work, any drivers car would do. The locals have a thing for V8 Holdens and their latest incarnations are ideal for the sealed roads. But if you lived here, you wouldn’t just be tackling the smooth. Even the slightly rough would reduce your thundering beast to a weedy crawl which would be tiresome. So you’ll be wanting an all rounder. A splash of robustness, a soupson of practicality. Lots of grip, good traction and bags of grunt to pass those slow moving trucks.

In fantasy land, a 911 Carerra 4 would work nicely. But in reality, a late 90s Subaru Legacy GTB estate would be ideal. One that’s had a trip to the (subtle) car-gym. And that’s what the locals drive.

[Geek moment] The most poetic motoring moment on our travels was when a white 1973 911 RS – surely a replica! – howled past in the other direction at full chat on the 6 traversing the jaw dropping Haast pass. I can imagine that driver is grinning inanely about it now a full 10days later. [It wasn’t me. Geek moment over.] Or he could be dead. The sheer drops and no armco…

All this Top Gear guff makes me only slightly bitter as I have explored the land piloting a Nissan Bluebird. It’s a Japanese market car, privately imported by the rental company as a “budget” offering. And budget it has been at £21 per day. 150,000km, 1800cc, auto, soft-suspension family transport. Sounds hideous? (Certainly looks hideous.) Well, it’s been spacious, comfy, frugal, reliable and – surprisingly – quite fun. And rented from surely the most helpful car hire shop on the planet! Teddy at Highly recommended.

Memorable stretches?

Almost all of Highway 6

Greymouth to Westport (6)

Moteuka to Takaka

The Haast Pass: Queenstown to Franz Josef (6)

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#2 in the occasional series of food blogs

On the sunniest of Easter Sundays our New Zealand travels take us through the town of Nelson. (Where the first game of rugby in NZ was played they say.) Through excellent trip planning, it’s lunchtime. With slightly less planning, we drive around with the aim of zeroing in on a suitable place.

We strike gold.

The Boat Shed Cafe sits on oyster encrusted stilts over the blue, blue waters on Wakefield Quay. (Their website – by the way – is perfectly representative of the place.) Lonely Planet say it’s a local institution (I later discover). For us it’s a lucky find. The warmest of warm welcomes, free easter eggs for the kids and a table out on a covered deck in the sun.

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The lunch menu is fishy. The whitebait are swimming beneath our feet: you can see the sea through the cracks between the boards. Decision made for us! The kids and I choose them to share along with the special: seafood soup. Having enjoyed patties, these whitebait arrive to our table ever-so-lightly fried having been dusted in flour and seasoning. Served with a little rocket – leaves, not a miniature spaceship – a wedge of lemon and some home-made sourdough bread. Perfect. The soup is a chowder with snapper, mussels, cockles vying for attention with chunks of spud in a creamy broth. It’s all delicious. Even the non seafood member of the party is catered for with a scrummy goats cheese salad.

We share Eton Mess and Creme Catalan for pud whilst little’uns munch on Easter eggs and sip hot chocolate. There’s plenty to watch as it’s busy on the water today.

Throughout our travels in NZ we’ve mostly eaten in for reasons of cost. This little splash out is to a) relieve the taste buds of Dad cooking and to b) break a long journey. So it’s doubly, trebly delightful to get served and fed well in a beautiful setting. The bill comes to just over £13 per head.

Do drop in if you’re passing.

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Marlborough Sounds

Not a CD shop in a posh Wiltshire town. (That’d be the excellent Sound Knowledge, round the corner from WH Smith.) The Marlborough Sounds in question are to the top right bit of the south island, New Zealand.

So now we know where we are. But just what is a “Sound”?

soundn = channel, arm of the sea, fjord, inlet, passage, strait.

Well there’s that cleared up then.

Why Marlborough? Less clear, but during his three global expeditions, Captain Cook dropped by five times. (Guess who the nearby Cook Strait, Endeavour Inlet & Ship Cove are named after?) Of course, this makes no reference to the Maoris, who were clearly here first. (That’s a whole other blog.)

In terms of scale of the place takes a little getting used to. It’s a fifth of the NZ coast all in itself: more than 3,128km of shoreline. With terrain being mostly steep hills and mountains arising straight from a maze of waterways, the striking thing – beyond the geography – is that much of the area is pristine. The low density of humans and extents of our travails is not yet overpowering this landscape. Everywhere else Cook landed is now a major city or port.

I’ve found another desk with a view to write this. With a deck lofted 30m or so above the water’s edge I’ve a big wedge of sunny Kenepuru Sound in view. As usual at this time of the morning, it’s just me awake here. Scanning the waters and shores… nope, still just me. Across the sound from our batch – Kiwi for holiday home – is the only other sign of life: a boat tending its crops at the mussel farm. Clearly, there are other signs of man: cropped tracts of woodland, a property or three but no noise, no actual people… Pretty darn peaceful then.

Batch? More than a beach hut on this occasion. A fully functioning place is Jelley Mold – great house name,eh? – with all the bells and whistles. No wifi though which is a blessing/curse*. Separate bedrooms for the kids Josie discovers with glee: poor kid has had enough of sharing with her bro. The whole place fills grown ups with delight too: massive fern trees, a fruit laden lemon tree, the aforementioned spectacular views, privacy and – with effort – direct access to the shore down some adventurous steps. The shore is worth accessing as it gives view to the colony of nesting Spotted Shags – Cormorants dear, Cormorants – who come and go gracefully from their twiggy cliff pads.

High tide = leaping off Meditation Rock into the ccccold vivid blue waters. And then swimming with some effort back as the outgoing tides would merrily take you away forever. Gilly supervises from the sun drenched shore.

Low tide = wild mussel beds. (Wild? They’re livid!) So we help ourselves to the medium sized green lip mussels. Medium? Not a scale that travels well. This middling size is as tall as a slice of bread. The big ones could double as junior rugby balls. Seafood growing at the bottom of the garden, with a squeeze of lemon from your own tree, served with tomato and herbs from the veg plot. A rich landscape indeed. We aren’t fishermen, but its good catching here too: shark, snapper, allsorts. The visitors book is full of piscine boasts and tales. (I’m tempted to write that “…the Orca we netted took quite a bit of clubbing before coughing its last. Still, it was better eating than the dolphins.” I decide against it.)

A long short drive – more über twisty roads – brings us to Portage Bay and the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co. With delightful lack of fuss and the merest nod to formality we rent a 3.5m runabout boat. We are given a generous hour. Within minutes we are skimming the waters on a little impromptu expedition up the northern reaches of Kenepuru Sound. Who cares if Cook already discover this place, it’s our first time!

Boat hire had an ulterior motive. IE: to go, er, scrumping mussels. The ropes and buoys of mussel farms gently dot the Sounds and the farmers have no issue with locals/visitors helping themselves to the crops near the surface. How come? Their winches crush the first 30cm or so of shellfish on the ropes, so you’re picking otherwise wasted growth. We cruise up to a buoy and the small Beers get to enthusiastic work. We are accompanied by a well-trained shag – it’s cormorant dagnabbit – that clearly gets free meals from this location. It dives and darts beneath us as we pick our supper.

Everyone has a go at driving the boat. Everyone turns out to be a natural. A 14hp motor can get you up and running at a tidy clip, so we see lots in our hour. On the return trip – outboard flat-out, iccle craft planing sweetly – we are joined by another cormorant in flight – airborne shag anyone? [Too much Ian. Too much.] – for a magical few moments. It swoops just alongside skimming our bow wave inches above the sea for an extended fly past before flapping off.

Dinner? 2 varieties of hand picked steamed mussel with Marlborough Sav’ Blanc, lemon and parsley garnish. Plus bread and butter (natch).

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EPILOGUE: No one dies of food poisoning.

REF: The Marlborough Sounds Guidebook, by Bob Radley.

*delete as appropriate

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Small world.

In Golden Bay, Tasman, New Zealand, there’s a flippin’ big hill. It’s a lump of earth that separates Takaka from Moteuka. So far, so what. Well, it’s such a big pile of rock that it puts people off crossing over it. Such is the twistiness of the highway people don’t bother.

Shame on them, because Golden Bay is blummin’ lovely.

The locals wear Tee Shirts with the legend “It’s a hill: get over it.”

As clueless foreigners we booked a trio of nights by the sea in the little village of Pohara. We chose, from 12,000 miles away a lovely eco-Inn by the name of Sans Souci: the place without worries.

A little bit eco, with the option of dinner. We are here on the strength of a website. As it goes, on arrival, we decide someone elses cooking would be good and bag a table for supper.

What I’m trying to say is that we are here pretty much randomly.

So, I start to think that I am losing it when I recognise a face on the table next to us at dinner. With (rare) discretion I shrink from interrupting our neighbours meal, avoiding embarrassment to one and all. The moment passes, we retire to our room.

(Dinner was delicious by the way. It’s really laid back place who know what they are doing. “Sweet as” they say around here.)

I was reading the excellent Blink – the book by Malcolm Gladwell – at the time, which is all about our subconscious rapid cognition abilities to thin slice our thinking. It goes into facial recognition in some depth and our innate abilities therein. Maybe it had messed with my mind? Stranger things have happened.

Next day, we take ourselves to the wee town of Takaka and peruse their artsy Saturday market. In the line for the ATM, there she is again, the lady from the restaurant. I smile, but there is no recognition from her. I let the moment pass a second time.

Then, an hour or so later whilst sat on the grass near a cake stand which the kids have made a beeline for, there she is again. Three times breaches my limit. I cave in and say “hello”. Not a flicker. I press on with a friendly, 100% genuine – yes, corny – we’ve met before line.

I’m originally from Wales she says…

Say I “We used to sit next to each other in economics in Olchfa school.”

We did too.

Michelle from Upper Killay, Swansea now lives in Golden Bay, New Zealand.

How random is that? To sit on neighbouring tables in a restaurant we’ve never been to before, in a place we picked more or less by chance. 12,000miles from home, seeing someone I’ve not seen for 25 years or so. From the other party, Michelle doesn’t frequent the restaurant either: it was a one-off thankyou meal her and her partner were buying an acquaintance.

I must write to Mr Gladwell: it demonstrates the power of rapid cognition and the incredible capability of our minds to recognise faces. Even ones that have, er, matured. The years have been kinder to Michelle than I of course. Living in Golden Bay must help!

What are the chances?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

PS: Michelle suggested you skiers and/or surfers try out and/or

Categories: Our posts | 5 Comments

A dream come true with dolphins! by Josie

This morning we got up at 5:00am… RECORD (for me!) It was still dark when I got up – Mum alarm – and I shovelled my breakfast down so we could get there quicker. When we arrived at the Encounter office, we went inside, warmed up,( it was cold outside) and geared up! I got my flippers, (story about them later) my snorkel, my hood and my two wetsuits (one over the other).

Once we were ready, we watched a short film. I cheered the morning up, (literally, I cheered when Tracy our guide said there would be free hot chocolate on the boat) and we clambered in to the bus and dove off to get our boat. Once we arrived and were on the boat we told it might take an hour or more…

5 mins later…

DOLPHINS!!! Hundreds and hundreds of them! Straight away by the sound of a horn we dived in, to face a shock… IT WAS FREEZING!!! You had to wait a few minutes to adjust to the temperature. It was hard to breath, now either it was because the wetsuits were VERY tight or it was because it was so cold!? Once I was ready I swam to the crowd but the dolphins beat me to it! A pod of them swam right beneath me, so I tried to remember what happened in a dolphin documentary by David Attenborough. I did some clicks and squeaks. The dolphins were interested and came really close. Either they were thinking “Look! It’s talking like us, let’s go see!” Or they were thinking, “look at that nutter, let’s go see what all the rumble is.” So what? At least I was with them!

[Dad says: please watch the videos by clicking on the highlighted text below to view them on YouTube.]

One pod seemed particularly interested. I called one dolphin Dizzy Dot. Do you know why? I recognised it from the others because of a dot on its side. That explains dot but dizzy? Well it kept circling me, getting faster and faster. I looked it in the eye and spun round and round and round until it went straight into another dolphin and I went straight into another snorkeler! So I called it Dizzy Dot!

Then the horn blew. I swam back to the boat, climbed in, (I was last) and we followed the pod. We got back in and I saw a rare sight of a Mother with her calf. The calf was the size of my friend Georgia (sorry, it came straight to mind!) But the other dolphins are taller than my headteacher Mrs. Normington!
The sea was getting choppy now but it was more fun! Loads of the ladies climbed out, threw up and stayed out! It was brilliant going up and down and up and down and I began to bob away… But the horn blew and I climbed back into the boat.

Here’s the story about my flipper… We were just following the pod, I was excited and very happy. It was raining now and the waves were big! So there I was, minding my own business, when a massive wave suddenly swept up and stole my flipper! I shouted MY FLIPPER!!! I sounded like the horn that had blown to signal us! I thought I was doomed but the boat turned around. Tracy grabbed the net and gave me back my flipper! That’s the story of the flipper and the big wave!

We got in once more and then had free hot chocolate and biscuits then I stuck a hose down my wetsuit. It was warm and lovely! We dried off and went on the bow where dolphins leaped and somersaulted and did things acrobats couldn’t do! But it was more of a race between the boat and the dolphins. They were going under the boat swimming as fast as their flippers could take them! The faster we went the more excited the dolphins were! We got back, said a big thank you and went home for a proper shower!

Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura: thank you for making my dream come true.

Dusky dolphins.

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