Tuesday, 20 September 2011

5 Days in Dublin

A trip to Dublin should consist a bit of sleep, a bit of sight-seeing, a bit of eating and a really small amount of drinking. In truth, it'd not gone strictly according to plan....
So what's brought us to Dubs? Well, it's somewhere we've both wanted to come to for a while. But with a new reason mixed in too, a former work acquaintance, now turned friend who lives in Dublin, Blon! More on her later!
The flight over from Bristol was pretty good, but noisy. It's not often I have flown across South Wales going anywhere really, but when you do, you realise how small it is!
The air link bus brought us into Dublin via a really long tunnel, but out we came and were now heading to the Liffey.
We're staying in the Maldron Hotel on Cardiff Lane. Pretty good as hotels go, and the free wifi in the room is a bonus. But, we didn't come to Dublin to talk about the hotel, good though it is. So, what have we encountered in this trip?
Well, for the benefit of the uninformed, the Rugby World Cup is on..... in New Zealand. So that isn't it, but that's not to say it hasn't played its part. We've seen loads!
Bridges (Dublin has lots), a mad one way system (probably worse than the one in Ross Vegas), a man made island in the Liffey complete with artificial palm trees and an Orange tent with a bloke living on it to name but a few things.
Our first full day in Dubs, and we walked bloody miles! But we also drank beer as well. 11.30 Thursday morning and the first pint was on the bar in the Porterhouse pub. It's a must visit for anyone who wants to try beer. And incidentally, one of the few pubs in Dublin that DOESN'T server the black stuff! The Porterhouse brews a good selection of its own beers, so it was a pint of TSB to start swiftly followed by the Porterhouse Red.

After a shed load of walking around Dublin city, you realise how big it is, and how much there is to Dublin other than the Liffey! You definitely need a tourist map to get around. My sense of direction in a city is crap, but 'Sat Nav' Ali has once again programmed the city street atlas into her brain and off we go. Expect no high-rise buildings, but the big Spike. There are shops where you can buy everything from tourist tack to old family run hardware shops which look like they've been around for generations. You must understand though, that this will only lead you to one thing - more drink. This time we found ourselves in here. Another brew pub well worth a visit. And it is here where we met up with the second reason behind our visit. Now, I know Blon through work. I used to be one of her 'clients' as it were. But, such a character as she is, when the time came that she had to hand our account over to another, we agreed to stay in touch and a trip over to meet her was soon arranged. And, it was in the front window of a brew pub in Dublin that this meeting of our new friend and tourist guide/hostess took place.
So, what else has Dublin given us during our short stay? Well, courtesy of Blon, Saturday started with a trip to the O2/The Point in Dublin. Here. we joined 5000 mad Irish supporters. After breakfast we watched the Ireland v Australia RWC game on a massive screen. Must of been at least 60 feet! It beats watching it in a pub. The atmosphere was amazing and with Ireland pulling off the biggest upset of the RWC so far, Dublin was bouncing!

Coming out from the O2 centre, we headed into town and found a little desert island! Call it art, a prank, floating rubbish or a point of interest, how a tent, next to palm trees on a floating desert island on the Liffey comes to being is mad! Complete with a bloke in a suite playing records on a wind up gramophone!

I'm not one for taking much notice of buildings really, but even I couldn't be ignorant of the buildings which litter the streets of Dublin. As said already, not much in the way of high rise tower blocks, but plenty of big buildings to say the least. And bridges too. You can't forget the bridges. Perhaps the best building in Dublin is the convention centre below, but if anyone is 'in to' buildings and architecture of all sorts, Dublin has a lot to offer.

Saturday day soon gave to Saturday evening and Saturday night. We'd arranged with Blon to go out for beer and food. A power nap was in order after lunch before Ali and I once again found ourselves stomping across town heading for the Aviva stadium to Slatterys pub, Blons local where we would meet up with her, Ronan (the sailing legend he is) and Una - mad as a box of frogs and lovely with it! This was also the venue for a double first. I've managed to get through the blog this far with touching a drop, but we could hold off no further. The chosen drink of the first round, and every round after - the black stuff! Need I say more. Much toilet humour can be extracted from events from the next morning, but not to dwell, I shall leave it at but this - black as treacle.
Beer drunk, more new friends made and off in search of food. If you want to go to a really nice place and are willing to travel out of town, you won't go wrong with a visit to this place. The Chop House, not far from the Aviva is really popular and booking it is a must. The food was fantastic, the black stuff kept flowing with Hereford beef, Bass and Lobster on the table we ate until, well, stuffed really. Blon had managed to pull yet another blinder in turning up this gem for us!
And, on into town we went, minus one Una! With Ronan doing his best to poach us one of Dublins thousands of taxis and everyone wondering where the next people carrier taxi would come from, Una legged it into some unsuspecting taxi who had stopped at a red light before winding down the window and shouting her good byes before leaving us. Very funny, and solving half the issue of finding a cab big enough for five in one swoop. Una, we enjoyed your company, your friendliness and your hospitality. Thank you.
Now, the advantage of having some locals to show us around this great city means that you get to find out plenty of little hidden places in which more drinking can take place without stumbling into the more undesirable places. How many people, strangers to a city, would walk the back streets of Dublin, find an Asian restaurant, walk straight through the restaurant and follow the signs for the toilets, only to find yourself in a concealed basement with bar and dance floor? Sounds dodgy? Well, it wasn't in the slightest. Ronan had blazed the trail to find and introduce us to his cousin (? drink had been drunk by that point) Aoife who was house DJ. We sat in awe has records were located from a vast collection, mounted on the turntable, spun and then arranged neatly in a different pile before the next selection was made. The back wall was covered in very random Asian/Chinese animation that seemed to tell the tale of a young samurai running around a planet and cutting up alien robots. Any other day, it would have seemed random, but not then. So, that brought us to the end of Saturday night and we made our way home.
2 hours after getting to sleep, the alarm went for 4.30am. The immediate reaction of a sane person would be to throw it out the window, but not in this instance. The first grab was made for the TV remote and the telly was switched on in time for the end of the national anthems and the start of the Wales v Samoa world cup match. A matched littered with a few 'treacle' incidents and plenty of tutting with one 'get in there' shout (goodness knows what the people in the next room were thinking) as Shane Williams deftly took the ball in one hand and scored the try which gave Wales the 7 point lead to keep us within hope of making the knock out stages.
I'm not ashamed to say that the England match wasn't nearly as entertaining. Well, at least the first half wasn't. And I fell asleep for the second half. And the third game in its entirety. Bleary eyed, we stumbled down for our brekkie in the hotel and got ourselves sorted to meet up with Blon once again.
The newly MOT'd motor pulled up with Blon in the driver seat. In we jumped and off we went to see a bit more of what Dublin had to offer, we headed South-ish and to the coast. A very overcast and blustery day it was, but a good walk to blow away the cobwebs.

The highlight of the walk for me was tracking two dolphins from our high vantage point along the coast. Sometimes breaching the water fully, sometimes just coming up for air. Blon had brought us to a place where we could see another offering from the Emerald Isle.
With a brief stop and intro to Blons family home along with Mam, Dad and resident cat and a quick discussion on the basic rules of Gaelic football, the all-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry, it was time for one of Blons wackiest ideas. Now, I'm up for anything. Have done some dull things. Have done some stupid things. Have done some things which I really think I shouldn't have done. Have done lots of things which I would do again. Quite which one this falls into, I don't know. Time to go swimming. Outside. In the crap weather. In the Irish Sea. I don't know why it was so much of a surprise really. I've spent vast amounts of time in the Irish sea on the Welsh side, especially during my Uni days. But why did I allow myself to be persuaded that it would be a good idea to do it for fun? If anything, it woke me up. And that's about all that could be said for it. It's a tick in the box to say I've done it, but I found myself saying to Blon that I would do it again, albeit in a wetsuit next time. In truth, I got in the water up to just below my chest. And then got back out. Blon decided to 'commit' herself a bit more and she was off insisting it was a good idea!

We headed back to the hotel, and this had brought us to the end of our time with Blon. For this visit anyway. We saw the closing quarter of the all-Ireland final which Dublin won in front of about 85000 people in Croke Park. It's definitely a sport I could see myself being drawn to. A weird hybrid of sports such as football, basketball and rugby. One thing is for sure. You need to be incredibly fit to play!
And this brings me onto this present day. Our last full day in Dublin, for tomorrow we fly back home, but not before one last chance to eke out more of what Dublin has to offer. Our thanks must go to Una for Alis visit to Revive Express. Ali now has newly painted nails on her fingers and apparently some other stuff was done to them too. Whatever it was, she's chuffed to bits with them! I now own two books by Brian Moore, ex-England international rugby player. We've also found out that fresher’s week is perhaps not the best week to go exploring the university grounds, amazing though they are. We found today that eating in 'Kitchen' found on one of Dublins back streets is a good choice, and that a workman starting digging up the road opposite with a jack hammer is a good way to clear the outside tables of customers.
So, tomorrow we fly back home and pick up our doggy from his holiday. Our thanks must go to our ever suffering dog sitters on the 'Funny Farm' (their own admission) without whom we'd be a bit scuppered when it comes to traveling. We pack our bags with new books, a Guinness pint pot (bought not stolen), a scarf made from Irish wool and all the rest of the bumph which we brought with us.
We think about our trip and all the things we have happened since we have been away both here and at home. New friends, rugby, tragic news about 4 miners at home, aching legs from discovering the city and the feeling of warm blood pumping back into the 'vital' areas after an encounter with the Irish Sea.
Finally, we must say a huge thanks to Blon for organising everything, for introducing us to Ronan and Una and for generally being a complete legend spending her weekend off work keeping us entertained, fed, watered and looking after us. We can't thank you enough.

Next trip might be, just might be the States...... We have to wait and see.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bon Bastille Day!

Good evening for the final time from Auckland, North Island and indeed for
the time being at least anyway, New Zealand.
The last couple of days we've spent doing the tourist thing around Auckland
and lots of shopping! Making sure we use every bit of the luggage allowance
possible! Weather had been typically wintery here, but worse in the South
Island. From having the problems in the ski resorts of having no snow, they
now have so much, they are closing resorts because access has been off!
Now, just to let you know, if you enjoy your steak rare, the kiwis have no
concept of 'rare' maybe medium rare at a push. Nevertheless, nice.
The Sky Tower has been decked out in the colours of the tricolor for the day
to help celebrate Bastille day here in NZ. Look really cool from the hotel
window. We've also been watching penguins (albeit in captivity) along with
feeding of stingrays, and shed loads of sharks and stuff at Kelly Tarltons
aquarium. Also, a mock-up of Scotts Antarctic base. All very interesting.
So, we've checked in online for our flight, an another 27 hours or so in a
plane awaits us, excluding stops. A bit more retail in the morning before
we have to catch the bus back to the airport, where I dare say more retail
therapy will take place!
For now...
And by the way, the numbers in the photo? Countdown clock to the start of
Rugby World Cup in Auckland 2011!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Only a small bleedin' delay!

Evening one and all! How are ya?
So here we are in our little room in the Sebel Suites, Auckland. An early
start to the day speaking to a northerner who complained about being talked
into staying in a campervan for a week at the end of his 6 week holiday. No
pleasing some people!
We haven't really got much to say about today. Traveling most of it. We
dropped off the van and with a fond farewell caught our complimentary
shuttle to the airport, which is where it went a little bit wrong. Just
after finishing our chicken noodles, and with about 15 minutes to go before
boarding, my nose chose this moment to start chucking out claret. Really
badly too. 10 minutes with my head down the toilet and many handfuls of bog
roll later, it was time to make a break for it and get through security
complete with bleeding nose and tissue up my nose. Got to the gate and made
straight for the toilet again to continue the saga, but fortunately the
bleeding stopped literally a minute or two before being called for boarding.
Phew! And the delay? Well, we were just waiting for a few people from a
connecting flight. But, we did notice the only delays showing on the
departures boards were our friends from Quantas flying to Auckland.
As you can see from the picture, we've arrive at our hotel and have got a
suite with a 'City View'. Harbour views were at least twice as much, and
the view at night isn't as good I don't think. Tends to be a bit dark over
open water at night! The tower is the Sky City tower which we intend to go
up at some point. The room is lush! Complete with en-suite, fully fitted
kitchenette including cooker, over, microwave, fridge freezer and
dishwasher. We have our own washing machine and tumble dryer in out room.
Nice big bed with loads of space and a small balcony to look out over the
city from!
First impressions of Auckland? Well, not being a fan of big cities at all,
this is a pleasant surprise. Just a brief walk around this evening from the
hotel has given a glimpse of an amazing place. The credit card is
definitely under threat of getting a hammering here.
We've had dinner at a place down in the viaduct harbour just on the
waterside of our hotel. Fox's Ale house, speights beer with a T-Bone steak
and two fried eggs! Even just from the short time we've been here, we can
tell you will need to be here for weeks just to cover the eateries around
the place!
Keeping it short for now. Tomorrow, we explore Auckland more!

Monday, 11 July 2011

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

A little bit of hitch hikers to get us started there!
First thing, to get us started - it's official, drivers of Juicy campervans
are all miserable buggers! A few hours of driving and doing the 'vanner
wave' to all appropriate vehicles, and not one Juicy waved back. I guess
they must feel a bit inferior because of their bijou little vans!
So the order of the day today. Get up. Struggled with that one, but that
only meant that I had a good night sleep through what was apparently very
windy and rainy weather. All I can say is when I got up this morning, the
ground was wet, but the sky was blue. Next, go whale watching.
Hah, there you were thinking that it was a random subject to the blog - but
you see what I did there?? However, we did not see any dolphins flying up
into space, and didn't see a giant blue whale and a bowl of petunias come
crashing down to the ground afterwards. If you're unsure, the first few
chapters of Douglas Adams 'Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy' will make it
all a bit more clear. We were booked in for a 10am sailing with Whale Watch
Kaikoura - perhaps the most popular whale watching company on the South
Island. The trip included 2.5 hours at sea in a forecasted 50 knot NW wind.
Could be a bit lumpy! However, Verne (who was our bus driver to the marina)
told us they trusted their weather forecasts in exactly the same way as they
trust politicians! Expecting sightings of one, maybe even two whales during
that time, we boarded and off we shot across the bay. 15 minutes from the
marina, the first sighting happened and everyone clambered out on deck to
take a look. They resident whales are mostly male Sperm whales. The winter
temperatures means that the females move off leaving the males in the
feeding grounds around Kaikoura. We bagged our first whale sighting, and
then a second before the skipper heard about a super-pod of Dusky dolphins
closer into the shore in shallower waters. So off we went. Cut a long
story short, there were thousands of them! We had sightings of another 3
whales before it was then time to head back in. Apparently, 5 whales and a
massive pod of dolphins is regarded as a excellent session in whale watching
terms, so we are well pleased!
Back on dry land for lunch and a steak sandwich and BLT at Hislops organic
eatery in Kaikoura which marked the end of our time in Kaikoura. So, we bid
a fond farewell to the small village which left a big impression on us from
everything which has happened there in the last few days.
The next stint has brought us back up to Christchurch ready for our internal
flight back to Auckland. Over the last few days, we have got to meet some
fantastic people, many of whom live in and around the Christchurch area.
Obviously, the recent earthquakes have been spoken about, and many people
are still feeling the effects. Even as we sit on this site, we have people
around us who now live on this Top 10 campsite in their caravans due to
their homes being unsafe to live in. The people we have spoken to are just
getting on with it though. No one is dwelling on the recent quakes, but
striving to get on and rebuild their properties for their homes and
businesses. Speaking to Shanes Dad over the last few days, we discussed the
implications of the forthcoming Rugby World Cup games being moved out of
Christchurch because of the stadium being unsafe and possibly in need of
demolition. Christchurch doesn't deserve to miss out. A lot of
Christchurch is still open for business, and still need money from visitors
to keep the local economy on the go. We both agreed that come the time of
the world cup, if visitors avoided Christchurch because they were under the
wrong impression of it being closed, or in total ruins, then it would be
devastating. So, if you know people coming to New Zealand for the world
cup, or just for a holiday over the coming months and years, tell them DON'T
FORGET CHRISTCHURCH! It's open for business, there's plenty to do and
you'll have a wicked time!
Tomorrow we return our campervan which had been our little home for the last
18 days to its depot and board the plane ready for the third and final leg
of the trip. We wish we had more time to spend in this city, but time is
against us. Sebel Suites Auckland here we come!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to give our seal of approval...

Hello one and all and one!
Got a couple of days to catch up on here. So much so, I can't really
remember what we told you of last... But, I think we had a night in Timaru,
so we pick up from there.
Timaru to Kaikoura. A few hours of travel give or take a couple and we
arrive at a headland overlooking the town and the coast. Crystal clear
skies, turquoise water, mountains rising up from the sea with plenty of snow
on them. Breath-taking. That's about the easiest way of summing the place
up really. There's everything here that you want there to be. From surf
beaches and excellent fishing to the mountains for climbing and skiing.
Now, the thing which has brought us on this mad trip to start off with was
the wedding of Shane and Vicky. I won't go into how we know these people,
or indeed why we've ended up getting invited to their wedding, but we're
here. It's been the first time we've seen Shane for 7 years, and the first
time we've ever met Vicky (other than a virtual handshake via Skye a few
weeks before we left the UK.) Shane hasn't changed other than getting more
grey, and a bit of a belly! So, no sooner had we pulled into our
accommodation of choice (yep, Top10!) than we had a car turning up behind us
driven (badly) by Shane. Good to meet up again at last! He had all the
wonderful things of rehearsals and such like to go through so, the meet up
was brief at this point, and we let him on his way. Meanwhile, we headed
for the nearest seal colony - Point Kean. The part of NZ is full of Fur
Seals. They're funny creatures! Spending what seems to be most of their
time laying around in car parks and boardwalks generally getting in the way!
And this time of year, pupping has only just finished, so there are loads
and loads of baby seals swimming around the rock pools. It kept us
entertained for ages, watching them swim within a few feet of the end of the
van bonnet.
Now almost a public service announcement coming here.... Some other
recommended places to visit whilst in Kaikoura. Top10 (goes without
saying), Green Dolphin (pasta/fish/steak eatery - used for the pre-wedding
evening meal), White Morph Restaurant (excellent munch upons, used for the
wedding), White Morph Hotel (excellent sleep upons, stayed at the night of
the wedding), The Food Company (excellent breakfasting with a huge choice of
freshly homemade fudge). Google any of them and take a look. If you're in
the area, a great place to stop.
Back to the wedding. Knowing that there would be loads of people we didn't
know around the wedding, Shane and Vicky kindly asked us along to the
pre-wedding family meal at the Green Dolphin. Here we met friends and
family from both sides and generally ate and drank. Food was excellent,
company was even better and the whole evening was brilliant. I would go
into naming all the people we met, but a, it wouldn't mean anything to most
people back home, and b, I can't remember names for toffee!
Next morning, the day of the damned! First problem of the day, the Groom
and Groomsmen have no transport to the wedding. Slight problem, one car was
covered in dog hair, one car had gone AWOL and it's a long way to walk to
the church to get there on time. So, to the rescue comes the gold old
campervan! So, in we all bundle (slightly overladen with people and with
strict instructions to hide behind a curtain should we see any police), off
we go across town to the church. With half the important couple to the
church, we took our places and we were off. Post wedding in the adjoining
hall and a bar manned bay volunteer firemen from town we had finger
munchies, and then all back across town to the White Morph. We had a room
at the hotel for the night which was really welcome. The first time in a
couple of weeks with a room and a telly (except for when Mark and Shelly put
us up in Palmy). Then, evening meal in the White Morph restaurant. I'll
keep it short - food was brilliant and plentiful, Shane got embarrassed with
stories of his poor driving given by his best man and the small fact of a
free bar. The night was spent drinking as much Speights beer as possible.
However, this time, we did not manage to drink the bar dry.
We shared a table fantastic people. People who had travelled from up and
down NZ, from Oz and even some reasonably local people. The night was spent
getting to know them all. Too many to recall names and details, but all
extremely wonderful people. And still the event goes on. Not content with
having everyone fed and watered for the day and night of the wedding, a
booking was made for the whole wedding party to have breakfast at the Food
Company. Very busy, and at time chaos, but very nice all the same is about
the best way to describe it.
More seal watching was in order... So, off North of Kaikoura this time, we
headed for Ohau Point colony. More seals, more fantastic scenery, more
photos and video taken. And finally, to bring the weekend of wedding
festivities to a close, a get together at Vickys parents farm where they
keep deer for their antlers. So, with people met, stories shared of travel,
times working with Shane, adventures in Europe and a little bit about work
and what we do now, it was time to bring this part to a close. Offloading a
load of beer to Dan and Tracy which we can't take on the internal flight
back up North, we said our fond farewells to the newlyweds. Which now
brings us to hear and now. Another night in our trusty campervan with
another adventure for tomorrow.
In the morning, we have booked onto a whale watching trip on a boat out of
Kaikoura for a couple of hours. Signs are promising that we will see whales
with reports of good siting. Then, on we go to Christchurch.
Not much room for humour in this update I'm afraid. Too much else to tell
everyone about and get down on email before we forget it all!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Don’t forget the chains. That was close! Nice Cow.

Good evening one and all. How’s it all going on the topside? In an attempt to try and fill in some gaps, it might be an idea to let you all know of some other things which I have neglected to fill you in on recently.
Firstly, the Avocado for $1. This still hasn’t been eaten and is still rolling around in the top cupboard of our van, just above where the sink is. The likelihood of us actually eating this before we drop the campervan off is decreasing by the hour. We’ll see how it goes.
Next, when in Queenstown, if you want a good meal, visit The Cow. Superb pizza in there. They also do all sorts of pasta but pizza is the main thing on offer. For people who have worked in Embrun in the southern French Alpes about 10 years ago, just think Christians. Tidy!
This morning we were rudely awaken (on time) by the sound of rain drumming away on the roof of our van. In truth, it had been doing so most of the night. This meant one thing really, if it was raining on us, it must be snowing up in the mountains. Surely enough, there, in between the clouds was a scene almost resembling a ski resort. At least, there was a bit more snow anyway. This should make for some interesting scenery to carry back up North we thought. So, we said our goodbyes and waved off from Ali and Alan who were continuing South to Dunedin, and we headed back out of Queenstown. Now, we had a choice. Which way to go? Initially, we thought, lets head via Lake Tekapo for views across the lake and up to Mt Cook. So we did. However, when we met the sign saying ‘Lindis Pass – Snow Chains Essential’, we thought, that’s OK, we’ve got snow chains. Linidis pass is a road which peaks at over 900 meters in between two peaks approximately 2000 meters in size. The highway goes up over the pass and onwards allowing easy access North. Without this highway, you face a very long detour of over 100km towards the coast. So, onwards we go, passing another sign warning us that snow chains were essential. Then, the rain turned to sleet, the sleet turned to snow and the snow started sticking to the road. Around the next corner and a site awaited us. ‘Oh dear’ I believe was the expression used. One stuck lorry which had lost its traction, and a second jack knifed right behind it. Fortunately we got passed those and could see the reason for the snow chain demands on the signs.

After that, we ditched the idea of the Lake as it meant that we would need to go over another pass of similar height. Instead, we got down to the next town and headed for the coast from there.
Have you seen this road sign before?

We have. Although not wanting to hang around long, we stopped in Oamaru for a bit of dinner. Fish and chips – what else? There a penguin colony here, but as with anything remotely interesting, you need to pay to see it. Nice as penguins are, we didn’t want to hang around until dusk to wait for them, so we had our feed and headed off. Tonight, we’re holed up in the Top10 in Timaru. Highlight of tonight – we did the dump station first so we don’t have to do it in the morning.
Tomorrow, we head North again, getting close to the main event and the main reason for us being on these islands. After nearly 2 weeks here, we should get to meet up with Shane, maybe meet Vicky, the wife to be. Then, the party gets started! Look out.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Photographic proof of not drinking beer whilst not in the brewery pub.

Good evening one and all. Tonight's entry will be a fairly brief affair due
to the nature of the days events.
Fact number 1. When relying on your phone alarm to wake you up in the
morning, do not assume that it already showing new Zealand time, and not
Adelaide time. By doing this, you ensure that you can meet at 9.30 for
brekkie in town, as opposed to believing it is currently 7.30 and therefor
time to get up from bed.
That aside, brekkie was lovely. Complete with spicy currywurst sausage. We
ate in Joes Garage. Look it up, there's only one of them in town.
At around 11.00 we waved goodbye to the ladies who left for their wine tour,
and we were under strict instructions to behave ourselves and complete a
list of challenging chores before we even thought about going to Starbucks
for the rest of the day.
The list of challenges were as follows.
1 Get top up for mobile phone after credit was diminished due to phoning an
Australian mobile approx. 8 times when it was switched off and going
straight to voicemail.
2 Buy a postcard.
3 Write a postcard.
4 Find a stamp, put it on the postcard and post it.
5 Buy another something which we can't mention here due to events in the
Challenges 1, 2 and 3 were completed successfully. Challenge 4 only gained
half marks. The stamp bought we think was for air mail, but it got posted
in the snail mail box by mistake.
Challenge 5 complete and extra brownie points earned.
That list complete, Alan and I went off in search of Starbucks. But we got
slightly side tracked at around midday ish by a lady writing a sign which
started 'Free Beer'. It just happened to be out the front of the very same
brewery I was writing about yesterday, the DDL. So in we went, and a mini
beer festival ensued. The first order of the day was two tasting paddles,
each consisting of 5 different beers brewed at the brewery. (See facebook
page for tasting notes.) We also were encourage to take advantage of the
free beer offer by buying burger and chips too.
By the time beer number ten was consumed, we were joined by Ali and Ali who
came back suitably satisfied at the wine which had been tasted throughout
the day, It was now time for dinner. Dinner in HALO posh burger joint
where another burger and chips were consumed along with beer 11.
Now, some of you might be wondering (if this has worked properly) what are
the photos all about. Well, there is lager logic to this. These photos as
you see are taken in negative. As such the photos are of Alan and I
drinking no beer whilst not sitting in a pub. This proves that indeed we
did spend all our time in Starbucks drinking coffee and not touching a drop
of beer. Reverse psychology - got to love it!
Tomorrow we head off up the north towards what some might consider to be the
main event! Until then,

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Planes, Boats and a Gondola.

First things first.  Bloody tourism radio!  Quirky and funny at first, then becomes the norm.  And now a pain in the bum.  For the first time since we’ve been in our little van, we’ve turned the bloomin’ thing off!  Now, rant over, let’s start at the beginning of this two day epic.

Following on from the seven hour drive to Franz Josef, we woke up refreshed after an excellent nights sleep at the FJ Top10.  Now, the night before, whilst in McDonalds car park (parked illegally someone tried to tell us) I booked the four of us onto another flight the next morning departing from FJ aerodrome at around 10.00am.  the purpose of this flight, well, a private flight over the Fox and FJ glacier.  Guided by our pilot, Tom, we went off in what can only be described as perfick weather for our trip around.  We’ve taken loads of photos, none of which have been put on here.  Mainly because tonight, the blog update is via email.  Anyway, we digress.

So, what followed was another half an epic of a drive from FJ to Queenstown.  Yet another Top10 site.  It is at this point where the whole tourism radio started to get a bit annoying.  We are now world experts on Lake Wannaka, Arrowtown and Queenstown.  Travelling South West on SH 6, we drove along the coastal road taking in some amazing scenery along the way.  At one point, we stopped at a beach where people had left all sort of stone monuments, cairns, murals and general beachy type sculptures, and many artfy farty type photos were taken.  Taking in other lookouts, some waterfalls and more zigzag roads, we skipped through Haast and on into Queenstown.  By then it was dark!

The site we’re on is pretty central, a four minute walk into the centre of town which we undertook last night to find ourselves in the bustling town centre.  On recommendation, we went for a Thai meal which was excellent.

Now, a pause in proceedings.  Some interesting facts about Queenstown. 

1.        It’s supposed to be a hub for skiing in the South Island.  The truth is there’s naff all snow apart from some limited manmade snow right at the top of one of the mountains.

2.       You can play a round of extreme golf based from Queenstown which comes in at the less than attractive price of $300.  For this, you get to hit 3 balls off a cliff top out into the wide open air, without a hope in hell of retrieving your balls.  Look out if you fluff your tee shot!  But, I do expect the helicopter ride to the first tea might have something to do with the silly price, it’s still a bit over the top.

3.       The best/only brewery actually base in Queenstown as far as we can tell is the Dux de Lux brewery.  This is the home of the ‘dark lager’ named ‘Hereford Ale’ complete with a picture of a Hereford Bull on the front of it.  Now, quite what the connection is with this beer and Hereford is beyond us at the time of typing.  However, the brewery is on the corner of Hereford Street.  Now, quite how this street has become known as Hereford Street is beyond us at the time of typing, but it is home to a brewery which brews a beer called ‘Hereford Ale’.

4.       It has been established that the best place for Alan and I to be left to look after ourselves whilst Ali and Ali are keeping themselves entertained on a wine tasting tour tomorrow is the afore mentioned Dux de Lux brewery.  www.thedux.zo.nz  In there, they have a tasting paddle which contains somewhere around 6 or 8 different beers to taste.  After tasting all 8, you can then move on to eating your first meal.  In the publication Jasons ‘Queenstown What’s On’ (available in all touristy type areas), there are two vouchers for free beer when you buy a meal at the DDL brewery and restaurant.  This means, for eating two meals, we can get two free beers.  Also, on a Wednesday, it’s free beer with burger night.  This means that with the aid of purchasing another meal, we can get more free beer.  And so the offers go on.  Whichever way you look at it, Alan and I should be suitable well fed and watered by the time Ali and Ali come back from their wine tour.

5.       After consulting some literature with the intention of booking a sky diving trip, Tony is too fat to do a tandem jump.  Very gutted!  Must lose weight by the time we come back so I can fulfil that ambition!

This morning, another sensible start time brought us to the conclusion that we wouldn’t need to do much today.  The ideas of mainly, eating, drinking and drinking with about more easting this evening seemed to appeal to all members of the group.  To break this up at least a little, a trip up the Gondola was in order up to the Skyline restaurant and viewpoint.  The weather has stayed kind to us so the views from the top were brilliant, looking down over the rest of the town and over the lakes, one could see where people were supposed to be enjoying their skiing holidays – but not quite.  Hot chocolate and cakes and muffins later, we all piled back into the gondola back into town and headed for the Dux de Lux brewery and restaurant.  Not sure if we have mentioned this yet, but it is a good place and worthy of more time and research.  Burgers, soup, beer and wine later it was time to walk bleary eyed back out into the bright sunshine and head for our cruise on the lake.  The Million Dollar Two was the name of our boat, (or was it Millon Dollar One?).  On board, we were joined by 30 odd other people for a 90 minute guided tour.  Guide, skipper and general boss was Wayne.  He and his wife Betty own a tidy little pad on the posh end of the lake which he took great pleasure in telling us all about.  Now, the best thing about this boat wasn’t so much the information being thrown out at us every few minutes, but was in fact the honesty bar run at the bow of the boat, behind the skippers wheel.  A fully fledged bar where you went up, helped yourself to beer, wine, softies, munchies or whatever, and then left the money in the cash tin by the sink.  Excellent work!  If only all bars could be run like that!

Off the boat, straight to the nearest ice-cream parlour with an incredibly bad busker sitting on the wall trying to entertain crowds and failing miserably.  Plans were made for a rendezvous tonight and more food and beer.

And that brings us to hear and now.  Time to send this is, and maybe a couple of pics if I can find a way.

Till next time,


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Use the coastal road! You can see a Cloudy Bay.

Good evening one and all. The first day on the road with our friends Ali
and Alan. And naturally, it had to start with a trip to a winery. On a
glorious morning with not a cloud in a cobalt blue sky, we headed for the
Cloudy Bay winery in the Marlborough wine region of this little country.
Now, not much to offer the non-wine drinking people amongst us, apart from a
toasty warm open wood fire and pleasant conversation from the person manning
the cellar door. All good. I would tell you more about the wine, but I
wasn't paying attention this time.
But, other than wineries, the main reason for today was to get us back onto
track and heading further south as far as possible. So today, we have
driven hundreds of km from Blenheim, south via Greymouth to little old Franz
Josef. I will write more about Franz tomorrow.
However, on our way down, there were two more notable stop offs. The first
was lunch at Lake Roititi (?) I think, followed by a healthy stretch down
the west coastal road. Apparently, this is one of the best coastal drives
in the world. I would agree, if only I got to see more of it. The only
bugger about driving is that it's quite hard to do while you're not watching
where you're going!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

All aboard the Pride of Cherbourg!

Good evening one and all. We do hope you’re all and that you’re not too upset that Murray has been knocked out again. I guess he can go back to being Scottish again now, at least until next time he stands a chance of winning something when he will magically become British once again!
It was a late one last night, thanks to the sailing over to the south Island as mentioned. To expand on the heading for this blog update… Yesterday we mentioned then little signs that life on this ferry is not all it is made out to be. Well, today we have hard proof! Today, we haven’t travelled particularly far, but in truth made it just a little South along the coast to Bleinhem. On the way, we took the chance to get to a viewpoint overlooking Picton where we had spent the night. And what do you know, it was just in time to see the ferry coming back into port! Sitting there armed with binoculars, video camera and digi cam, we sat quite happy snapping away. On closer inspection, we could see that our trusty transport from the night before was in fact more familiar to us as suspected. For there, under the painted name of the Kaitaki, was the raised lettering on the bow and stern of the ship showing ‘Pride of Cherbourg’. I know they like their recycling out this way, but that takes it a bit too far!

For the rest of today, we’ve spent time just touring around. We went to Havelock south and on down the Bleinhem taking it loads of lovely scenery along the way.

We’ve had a council of war and established a battle plan for the next few days. But you’ll have to wait to find out where we’re going from here. However, more on tonight… We have had the arrival of the woodmartin clan from over the ditch. Turning up in their almost brand new spangley camper and fully armed with some aussie dollars and few new Zealand ones, it wasn’t long before the first beer was poured, and the first bottle of bubbly was drank. It was then we decided we should pay a bit more attention to the immediate future of finding something to eat. Alcohol had been consumes by all four corners, so immediately the options were fairly restricted. To mull it over, we did what all sensible people should do, we went to the pub. Fortunately, this pub was only across the road from our campsite. It also emerges that it is the local drinking hole for the rugby team based around the corner who had been playing in their league cup final. At this point, I must explain that wearing a welsh rugby jersey in pub full of kiwi rugby players can be both good and bad. Within 5 minutes of taking my jacket off, I was asked if I wanted to play in a match, carry on with the rest of the tour with the seniors team and have a lift back to Kaikora in enough time for the wedding of the year. Absolutely brilliant people and I would like to think that any rugby club would extend the same friendship to any other visitors in the UK. However, this was bad purely to the timing! Any other time, it would of seamed a good idea, but somehow not tonight! After a bit of banter and chit chat, we finished the first ales and off we went in search of food. This wasn’t to last too long as the options were a take away Chinese, which was quite a walk away, a visit to KFC – enough said, or back to the pub. So, we went back to the pub where we should of stayed. All in all, more beer, lovely food, more beer, more beer and then an Ice Cream from the dairy on the way back to the site. Happy days.
Tomorrow, we’ve got a long drive to the next spot. I’ve booked us into our next Top10 site already. Now all you need to do is wait to find out where that is!
For now, T&A

Friday, 1 July 2011

On a Mission for Roosters

Got a couple of days to catch up on here. Quite busy and things to do in the evening haven’t left us much time to blog away. But, here we go. Wednesday morning, we found ourselves waking in eggy farty Rotorua for the last time and headed for Napier and the Top10 site. All well and good so far. Because of the down season, there wasn’t much on the site so we opted for the take out option, and a curry only to be warned whilst waiting for it by Mark ‘Taff’ Baker ‘ They don’t do curries in this country mate!’ A reasonably priced and interesting concept in Chicken Tikka Massala and Chicken Saag later, it was time to bed down for the night.
Three things were on the hit list for Thursday. Fish, Mission, Roosters. Although Fish and Roosters weren’t really planned, more just happened! Firstly Fish. Napier is the home to the National Aquarium of New Zealand which as the name suggests had fish in it. However, it also had Geckos, other Lizzardy type things and Kiwis. No photos of these I’m afraid because of the flash, but we did manage to get some video instead. It’s also got the typical tunnel under the sea where we saw sharks, sting rays and other wet animal life. Out of the aquarium and onto a Mission of different sorts.
Mission is a winery on the outskirts of Napier. In Mission, we met a bloke called Trevor. Very friendly bloke and typical barman. Chats to everyone, but his job also involved doing wine tasting, I forewent the tasting on the grounds of me driving – as well as not being able to stand the stuff anyway! But Ali got stuck straight in. I believe the order of the day was two whites, two reds and some dessert wine. Trevor even managed to make it sound almost interesting to a non-drinking, non-wine loving person like me! In between drinking/tasting he also muttered something about a brewery. Now, this is more up my street. Ali came away from her Mission with a couple of bottles of white. I get the impression cases could have been bought from the winery, but with only limited luggage space available for the flight home it might have been a struggle. So, whatever she bought has to be drunk by the time we go home!
Back to breweries. Trevor kindly informed us of the Rooster Brew House about 10 minutes away from the Mission winery. Claiming the food was awesome and cheap, and the beer even better, it was intel. we couldn’t not act upon. ‘Look for a rusty old red shack on the side of the road, go in and tell them Trevor from Mission sent you’ was the phrase he used. We could do no other than carry out his orders. Now, a few things all visitors need to know about Roosters. Number 1, you need to get your timing right. 12.00 midday is about a perfect time to get there. Any earlier and you run the risk of being a bit of a billy and not having any food. Any later than say 1.00 and you run the risk of the food running out. Number 2. All food, including the bread is all baked from scratch in their little kitchen out the back of the bar. Number 3. Legend has it that if there is any food left by 2.30, then it is left on the bar for anyone to have a free feed. But, judging by the amount of people that seemed to constantly streaming in, there was no fear of anyone having a free feed at all! Two bacon and egg rolls, a piece of quiche and a massive savoury muffin later, we turn to beer. Now, being a small brew house, tastings were offered, but at the risk of tasting all day and not being able to push on afterwards, it was decided that a purchase was required. Now, any bar which has no apparent glasses, but only a minimum of 2 litre bottles to contain your beer is alright by me. Roosters offer their beer in 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 litre take outs. Shame! 5 beers in place with a seasonal 6th left me with some work to do. Some of it was easily discounted from selection with just the faintest mention of coffee and chocolate in their tasting notes, but the draft and the light wheat ale caught my eye. So, helped myself to two 2 litre bottles and off we went.
Our hosts for Thursday night were going to be a recently expanded family. Mark, Shelly, Ollie and Mylow. (Ollie being the new addition.) Without wanting to bore everyone, Mark and I have known each other since we were born, living as we did next door but one from each other in the earliest of early years. 32+ years later, he is now married to a locally yocally called Shelly and settled just outside Palmerston North, both now very proud and happy parents of Ollie and owners of Mylow the doggy. Other than one brief visit for a couple of hours when Mark was back in the UK a couple of years ago, we hadn’t seen each other for around 10 years. So, when the chance came to crash there and meet the family, it just had to be done. Shelly’s lovely and I think has tamed Mark. Mark hasn’t changed other than a bit of Kiwi infringement on his accent, but hey, if you’re going to adopt a country as your own, you might as well go the whole hog! Nevertheless, Shelly has Mark firmly under control, demonstrating this in fantastic form as she did when collapsing the pram and getting it into the back of the car in way under one minute. Mark and my attempt took approximately 7 minutes between us. We caught up and drank beer. Roosters beer to be precise.

So, Friday morning after some excellent hospitality we left the Bakers at home and headed for Wellington.

Now, there is a sub-plot to all this which concerns a flight from Oz being cancelled, re-arranged, one less night in a campervan, a hotel at an airport, a different flight to a different city, another flight to another city, a hire of a campervan, a cancelation for one pitch at the Picton Top10 and an ash cloud. Put all that together and what you have is the saga and misery which our friends Ali and Alan have had to endure just to catch up with us on our little adventure. Long had been the plan, so perfectly put together, that they would meet us in Wellington Friday evening before catching the Interislander Ferry over to Picton and be here with us right now. Best laid plans and all the rest of it! Mother nature and more specifically Quantas airways didn’t like that idea and obviously flexed their muscles a little. So, Ali and Alan are now meeting us tomorrow somewhere around the North of this Southerly of islands for our adventure to continue.
The Interislander Ferry appears to be something kiwis are really proud of. Linking up their two main islands in a crossing which lasts 3 hours. Apparently, it’s stunning and an excellent way to spend a bit of time, checking out the views and scenery. That is until it gets dark. In the pitch black, you can see naff all, and with a grand total of 30 passengers on board and most of the amenities closed on board, there was nothing to do but catch up on a couple of hours sleep on the floor of the reclining chair lounge. The lights were left off, so the only thing preventing me from getting continual sleep was a kick in the ribs from Ali. Apparently I was snoring, but I don’t think I was. Now, before we got on board, we’d heard rumour that these vessels might be a little more familiar to us that first though. We heard mentions of continental crossings, of time on the English Channel and such like. Suddenly confirmed when on the car deck, Ali spotted an old P & O ferries sign which hadn’t quite been covered up properly. We were in fact on an old P&O freight ferry, probably one than operated Dover – Calais in its former life!
So that brings this unfeasibly long Blog entry to a close with me here typing, and Ali now sleeping in bed, pitched up in the Picton Top10. Tomorrow the next leg of the travels begin. South Island, we’ve arrived! Show us what you’ve got!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Lady Knox has been gushing.

Just a quick update tonight, well, until I start going off on a tangent somewhere. Todays counts : Vanner waves 3, Lorry Wave (after being mistaken for a vanner) 1, plus one wave from a recovery vehicle driver who was carrying a dead campervan on the back of his lorry.
This morning, we took ourselves off to Wai-O-Tapu thermal springs. Lots of bubbly stuff going on there with the now familiar eggy farty smell! First part of the attraction was to see Lady Knox gushing. Now, before you all go off to google Lady Knox Gushing, I must warn you that I am not responsible for what may or may not turn up in the search results. To save any embarrassment, I will explain. Lady Knox is the name of a Geyser that erupts at 10.15 every morning. So, we pitched up and found not a lot of gushing to start off with, but sure enough come 10.15, this little beauty started.

It was one feature in a large park of lots of geothermal activity. A few km of walking took us around lots of different features from bubbling acidic pools, to sulphur vents and crystals to pools of blue water, lime green water and watery water. I took loads of pictures, but won’t put all up here. You’ll just have to badger us on our return if you want to see them, but here’s one more for a taster.

We left the thermal springs and paid a brief visit to some mud pools before then striking off across the wilderness heading for Napier. A quick stop off for lunch in Taupo before pushing on to Napier. The journey over to Taupo was a bit wild to say the least. Really windy, rainy and down to 2.5 at times, but winter is coming so what did we expect?
We now find ourselves in Napier and having sampled the local delicacy of Chicken Tikka Massala and Chicken Saag it’s now time to start planning for tomorrow. I hear tales of Winery tours, sheepskin product shops and a catch up with an old friend…
Until then, T

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Anyone for Hoki? No? How about somewhere to sell my Trout?

Hello people! First, random fact of the day. In a part of the world which prides itself on the fact it has extremely healthy stocks of both Brown and Rainbow Trout, did you know that it is actually illegal to buy or sell Trout in New Zealand? The things you learn from Tourism Radio! So, another night sitting down updating the blog after a BBQ rump steak cooked to perfection on the free to use outdoor communal BBQ on the site. Right then readers, have you got full bellies? Have you got beer in hand? If not, tough, I have, so here we go!
This is the first time we’ve stayed in one place for two nights giving us some time to explore the local area further. The problem is though, ‘local’ can still mean at least an hour’s drive in any direction, or a whole day driving round in quite an elaborate circle, or triangle as the case was for us today. Today we have explored from our little site here in Rotorua out to Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi. Lakes which have been formed and shaped by volcanic activities for ‘quite a bit of time’. In the same area, the Buried Village is an attraction which as the name suggests, is an excavation of a site buried by an eruption in the late 1800’s. Today however, it was a bit cloudy so views of the volcano summits themselves were a bit restricted. Still, the views were pretty good.

A quick ‘U’ turn and back on the road, past our campsite and off to Whakatane. In the Maori language, ‘wh’ is pronounce as an ‘f’ in English, or ‘Ff’ in Welsh, depending on your preference. This does cause us some amusement when trying to pronounce names, often coming out slightly wrong such as ‘F@$kafoofoo’, ‘F@$kareweware’ and ‘F@$kitstame’. Mostly centred around the original pronunciation of the place names, but with a bit of artistic license thrown in for good measure. So, leaving the eggy farty smells of Rotorua behind for the day, we go the Whakatane, noted in the Lonely Planet for its fish and chips, as well as many other things. Nice place, clean and quiet with the chance to go big game fishing for $1000 a day. I didn’t. So, we went for the fish and chips instead. Introducing Hoki. For the benefit of the uninformed, not a game played with wooden golf clubs on Astroturf by blokes insisting it’s not only a ladies game, but a type of fish. White and flaky, quite similar to cod, but a bit cheaper and available in the frozen section of all good UK supermarkets. Nice with Chips and lemon juice! Unfortunately, portions were small, and by the time we thought of taking a photo of it, it had gone. Next time we see it, it might not be quite so photogenic.
Next, WNW along the coast following the road along the pacific coastal road to a point where we could skip over the railway (no mean feat in a camper van) and park up next to the beach. Apparently, 26000 dolphins make this stretch of coastline their home. All I could say is that they either all on holidays, or taking part in a mass ‘hold your breath’ competition. We didn’t see sod all! If you don’t believe me, this is a photo of us seeing sod all! However, in the background, you will be able to make out the outline of Moutohora Island with the smaller Moutoki Island to the left of it. Both of which are volcanic, but not doing much at the moment!

Onwards through Te Puke (or Tea Pukey) and Tauranga (figure that bit out yourselves). Now, we must pause at this point to initiate the uninformed of the decorum and rules of the road when driving a campervan in New Zealand. The main rule is, drive it like you stole it. But, there is another ancient custom when wanting to communicate with other campervan drivers. We have two ways of doing this, and a third way for the serious vanner. The first way is the one arm salute. Usually performed by the driver of each van, each driver in a very laboured fashion will raise one hand off the steering wheel, and with a straight arm, show the palm of their hand to the other driver before slowly returning the hand to the steering wheel. The knack to this is timing. You don’t want to raise your hand too quickly, show the palm and have your hand back on the wheel before you’re even with eyeshot of the other driver. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too slow as to confuse the drivers behind the camper you are waving at, making them think you are waving at them instead of the van in front. My suggested timings and distances are at follows. When traveling at 100KPH, begin the wave approximately 98 meters from the oncoming van. This should give you enough time to finish the way and continue on your way. Second to this is the very excitable ‘we’re in a van too and so pleased to see you’ wave. This can be performed by both driver and passenger and involves spotting an oncoming van and waving vigorously as if your hand was on fire and you wanted to show the world about it. Now, this wave does make you feel like a kid waving out the back window of the car at the driver behind you when you were little. However, there are many fellow vanners which will copy and repeat this back to you as if part of some ritual. By doing this, you are indeed saying to the other van ‘Oh, we’re in a van too, the same as you and we’re really loving life on the open road!’ Thirdly, the serious vanner. A bit of a waste of time and tends to be performed by older people, people who have their own vans, or people who have their own old vans. Nevertheless, it’s not so much a wave, more of a sneer whilst both hands remain firmly on the wheel and an air of ignorance exudes from the approaching van as if to say, ‘Humph, bloody armatures!’
And, back with the programme…. Tauranga made its name and is apparently famous (so famous that not many people have heard of it) for the good old staple food of every New Zealander, the Kiwi Fruit. For factual accuracy, google it, because I’m bound to get it wrong. However, what I can say is that on one Kiwi Fruit farm, you could get accommodation for $20 per night, but I expect there was some fruit picking involved in there somewhere. Kiwi fruits over hear are around 29 cents a kilo at the moment. So, southwards leaving the coast and heading back to eggy farty Rotorua again. A fuel stop in a station womanned (as opposed to manned) by a very cheerful and ‘I’m so happy to work in this petrol station’ lady before driving by to the city in the rain. A stop off in the supermarket to buy some rump steak along with some other detritus and back to site. Which brings us full circle to me, sitting here with a fully belly and beer in hand!
Tomorrow, play skool will be brought to you by the places Waitapu to see some geyser about some mud and Napier to find our next Top10 site.
Till next time…. T

PS, thanks to you lovely people who have sent messages about this blog. I appreciate you taking time to read it and hope you enjoy more. Feel free to forward the address onto anyone else. www.mountainmadness.co.uk

Monday, 27 June 2011

Yesterdays Breaking News – Avacado bought for $1

An apology starts this bit of news off for an omission to the entry from yesterday. Well, actually yesterday morning before we made our way to Waitomo. Before we left Kerikeri, we went to the local farmers market. Completely different to what we have at home – other than the fact people were selling stuff. Very laid back. 5 purchases made. Bag of Satsuma’s, two coffees, a freshly cooked blueberry flatbread, a jar of tomato chutney and an Avocado. But, how many farmers markets have a 3 piece electric jazz session in full swing smack bang in the middle of the market? I could have sat there all day drinking coffee and watching the world go by.
Anyway, to today. In daylight the Top10 site in Waitomo looks awesome. By far the best we have visited so far. And it was really quite too. We added to our Dump Station experience (I feel a whole new blog coming on devoted to dump stations what we ‘ave used in New Zealand), I took some pictures (not of the dump station) and then off for some glow worm spotting. We waited for the start of the tour in what appears to be a big car-port, but is actually a fantastic…. something or other. Look, see below…

Then, off we went on a guided tour of the show caves and a boat trip in the pitch black looking for glow worms. I could go on for hours talking about it. It was amazing, but if you want to check it out, look at www.waitomocaves.co.nz Our tour guide was the grand daughter of the first Moari to conduct tours of the caves. She also said that the most inspiring and memorable tour she did around the caves was for a Welsh Male Voice Choir who performed in the 'Cathedral Chamber' during their visit to the caves. An impropmtu performance which has stayed with her and makes the hairs on the back of her neck stick out when she remembers it. Makes me proud to be Welsh!

Back in the van and Max and Paddy were on their way once again, this time for Rotorua (as mentioned a couple of days ago, but not actually reached until today!) A few hours drive and a lunch stop along the way has brought us to this Geothermal oasis of a city towards the East cost. Loads of lakes all created by extinct volcano craters and location of various geothermal pools, eggy farty smells and some bloke or geyser who is always spouting off about something or other. We’ve decided that we’re going to meet up with this bloke in a couple of days, but to find out with this eggy farty smell has been coming from, we walked to the hospital….. and then past it to the local park.

So now we find ourselves fully paid up members of Top10 and resident at the Blue Lake holiday park. www.bluelaketop10.co.nz We’re here for two nights which gives us a whole day to find out more about the eggy farty smells tomorrow.
Until the next time… T
PS BBQ Steak for tea.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Today, we went to the toilet.

Alright, so I got it wrong. The announced plan yesterday was we were going off to Rotorua today, but looking at the days left on the North Island, we found we were missing a day. Hence the reason why we are not in Rotorua, but are in fact in Waitomo. Long drive today down from the Bay of Islands and Kerikeri, but went through some fantastic scenery. We stopped off briefly in Pahia and had a stroll on the beach. The weather was kind to us and we had some nice views out across the bay.

All the time, we’re listening to Tourist Tack Radio in our van. Did you know, the Kiwis have even turned an Oil Refinery into a tourist attraction? However, today we did visit a fantastic free visitor attraction. Today readers, we visited the Public Toilets! The Hundertwasser toilets are amazing, not only for the cleanliness, but also the empty bottles on Gordons Gin embedded in the toilet walls!

Didn’t feel particularly right walking around public toilets with a digital camera and a video camera, but then again, I suppose some people do it as a hobby!
This time, going over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, we had some good views of the city and what awaits us at the end of our tour around these islands. So, onwards and downwards we drove through Auckland city and out the other side again. Lunch at a pull over stop in Waiwera next to a creek and mangrove swamps. We met Howard the Mallard Duck who came to see us by our van.

So, now we’re pitched up in Waitomo at the Top10 site. We arrived in the dark, but building on her vast knowledge and experience gained of public toilets in the last 24 hours, Ali reckons this one is the best yet. Tomorrow we going to some show caves to look for glow worms. I expect they’ll be easy to spot, what with them living in a pitch black cave, but glowing all the time.
We’ve made contact with Mark and Shelly today, our stop off in Palmerstone North, and also spoke to Shane about him getting married, and how he intends to go about having lots of babies with Vicky, but that’s another story!

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Hello one and all out there in the ether!

So, 3 take offs and landings, some seriously tasty airplane grub, an annoying American accent and 12 hours sleep later – we’re on terra firma and started the proper holiday.  The flights over were brilliant.  If anyone goes long-haul, you won’t go far wrong with Emirates.  Loads of things to watch on your own private screen on demand – so naturally, I watched a box set of the IT crowd, a bit of Family Guy and listened to lots of Monty Python.  All stuff I’d heard before, but nevertheless was making me chuckle along the way.  The A380 is an awesome beast of a machine.  But at the same time, really quite.  Probably the quietest plane I’ve been on.  We were sitting in cattle class (‘ground floor’ if you like) level with the wing.  In truth, we couldn’t see much out the window because the wing was so huge!  But, when the pilot kindly did a left turn, we could see a bit more.  We flushed the loo as we flew over Adelaide before having brekkie and touching down in Sydney for a splash and dash to get us to Auckland.  Front and down facing cameras on the planes are a good touch too.  Got to Oz and discovered that our flight was one of the few that was actually running to Auckland.  Most other carriers had cancelled their flights because of the ash cloud.  But apparently, we flew under it.

Got to Auckland, and for once managed to get through customs into a country without being apprehended!  That was until we got the a rather stroppy woman on the biohazard scanning desk.  Naturally it was at this point we did get stopped by the authorities wanting to check our footwear packed in the deepest darkest parts of our luggage.  After producing said footwear and throwing some rolled up pants at her in the process, she stropped off into another room, returning a few minutes later with a face akin to a freshly slapped bum and produced two plastic bags, sealed with our boots in.  Not content with that, even though we had landed, we were then carted off to the x-ray machine too.

Anyway, we picked our van up that was to be our home and made for the nearest supermarket and finally our first stop for the night in Manukau city.  www.manukautop10.co.nz  Quick bit of scran followed by 12 hours of kip, occasionally broken by periods of, ‘what time is it?’ followed by ‘what time is it now?’ and occasionally ‘ what time will it be at home?’

The van took a bit of getting used to initially, buts it’s quickly become a home from home.  Hopefully, picture attached!

We got up this morning and have made our way up North to the bay of Islands guided by Ali ‘SatNav’ Hill and also the delights of Tourist Radio!  A fantastic tacky gadget with is mounted on the windscreen.  It transmits on a frequency which you tune your van stereo in to.  Most of the day, it plays random oldies, but thanks the GPS gadget contained in it, it knows exactly where you are and when there’s something worth saying about the local area or a place worth visiting, some really cheesy woman comes on and tells you about it.  Hours of entertainment!

We’ve had the best part of half a day on the road and have now found ourselves in Bay of Islands where Ali stood on a small sapling for a very long time and it turned into a tree (hopefully picture attached) and we saw loads of sea birds feeding on fish just a stones throw off shore.  (At least I think it was stones throw – the beach had lots of sand and no stones so I couldn’t test that out for purposes of accuracy or factual importance.)  We’re now pitched up for a night at another Top10 site in Kerikeri and had a walk into town.  Amazing place – even better if we were here early enough to witness the shops actually being open.  Tomorrow, we’ll have a bit more of a look around and check out some of the sites around here before filling up one tank, emptying another and filling yet another and making our way down past through Auckland and to Rotorua.  Quite a long drive, but we plan on two nights there which should mean we get to see more stuff.

Anyway people, time to put the kettle and dinner on, wake Ali up from her snoring on the sofa bed/dining room table thing and to leave you all in pieces.

Blond moment/quote of the day:  Ali – ‘It’s bloody South African!!!’  After realising the ‘local’ bottle of wine she spent 10 minutes choosing in the supermarket last night wasn’t as local as she first thought!  Right hemisphere though! 

When Ali wakes up, she might post as well, but until then,



Thursday, 23 June 2011

Arived in Dubai

Am absolutly knackered. Just waiting to get on the next plane to auckland via Sydney. The airbus A380. Looking from here, don't think its going to get off the ground. I reckon they'll just drive it into the see and then sail the rest of the way. Anyway, 18 hours to go. Wonder if ill get lumbered withe seat next to 'fat bloke' and his wife with 5 screaming kids? In flight entertainment is top notch. Got bored with harry potter so chose pirates of the carribean instead. Lamb curry and beer for dinner last night followed by a relativly odourless flight! Didnt sleep a wink though!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

We're In Departures!!

So, the adventure starts with a visit to Costalot for coffee in Birmingham Airport for a drink. Managed to get through passport control cleanly. The news about the ash cloud hovering around Oz and NZ seems to of gone a bit quite. But before we even get anywhere near there, we’ve got 7 hours on a plane to Dubai first.
Thanks to The Funny Farm for dog sitting for a few weeks, to our downstairs neighbours who are keeping a listen out for rogue elephants running around our flat, to Len and Muriel for popping around and keeping an eye on the fish to make sure that there are no illegal raves going on in the tank, and finaly to Dad and Linda for coming to visit while we’re not there, but at least agreeing to change some water in the fish tank in the mean time!
Now, time to see if I can get the webcam thing working…..

Monday, 20 June 2011

The latest 30.....

quakes felt in New Zealand.  Just having a look around because I know there have been continual aftershocks following the big quake earlier in the year.  Makes for interesting reading. http://www.geonet.org.nz/earthquake/quakes/recent_quakes.html  And this is for the latest quake - http://www.geonet.org.nz/earthquake/quakes/latest.html

Nothing showing on the North Island though, kind of as expected.  Now, back to trying to find out about NZ PAYG SIM cards….

Sunday, 19 June 2011

URL Update

Just a quickie,

The eagle eyed amongst you will now notice the URL change for our blog.  You can now reach this page by connecting to http://www.mountainmadness.co.uk  But, the old URL will still work too.  Hopefully there won’t be any more issues….

Now, back to the telly!