Days 24 & 25 Homeward Bound

We are collected for our final journey across Christchurch to the airport. Bag drop next and it turns out that we could hardly have packed better. We have exactly 53kg of belongings and although one bag was 23.2kg, we made up for it with the others being 15kg and 14.8kg respectively. Common sense prevailed and we were not asked to redistribute anything.

The flights home are largely uneventful, although three flights, each longer than the last, is less favourable than the opposite, which we experienced on the outgoing journey. Unfortunately, the thirteen hour flight from Singapore is full and we were unable to secure aisle seats, so the occasions when we can leave our seats are governed by the habits of the young lady (with the bladder capacity of an elephant) on the aisle. Aeroplane food is never exactly haute cuisine but that supplied by Qantas is better than most. I do wonder when the recent wave of anti-plastic feeling is going to impact on airline catering, which involves a ridiculous amount of single use plastic. Our belongings are swabbed for explosives. Fortunately, this is restricted to our hand luggage. We speculate what will happen if they test our cabin luggage, which contains the clothes Chris wears to fire the musket. Fortunately, they don’t seem to have done this.

It seems really odd to be away from our New Zealand conference routine and the friends we made there. I keep wondering where Maurice is and wondering why I can no longer hear an Irish accent in the background. Many of us will be reconvening for the Unlock the Past Alaskan Cruise in September and we are certainly looking forward to that even more now. I give up trying to work out what time my body thinks it is and intersperse dozing with Suduko solving.

We now have six and a half hours to wait for our coach. Time is spent waiting while the luggage carousel is fixed, it having jammed when only two-thirds of our belongings had been retrieved. We were expecting to be too hot in our New Zealand appropriate winter clothes but the coach station is chillily air conditioned and not the most comfortable place to wait for such a long time.

DSCF0500I manage to pass the time on the coach by falling asleep. One minute we were in Heathrow, next I knew we were at Tiverton. Despite having a wonderful time, it was good to be home, even though I have come straight back to full-on job we must not mention. The tropical weather while we’ve been away has had a drastic effect on the garden and the grass is now two foot high. It will have to wait until other catching up is done.

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Days 17 & 18 Akaroa and Beyond

I am still trying to convince myself that my nose and eyes have not turned themselves into taps – just keep taking the medication. Today there is a slight mishap whilst emptying the chemical toilet. One of our party inadvertently drops the lid down the pit into which the contents of said toilet are destined to go. Someone therefore has to retrieve the lid from the hole into whence it has gone. I played no part in this procedure. We have distinct jobs whilst on the road, mine are things like trying not to get us lost and making sure all the cupboards are locked before we set off. Emptying toilets is not on my list.

119 30 May 2018 Leaving AkaroaWe drive into Akaroa and learn that there will be no boat trips today. We are cynical enough to wonder if the predicted winds have been exaggerated in order to justify cancelling a loss making trip, on which we may well have been the only passengers. The tour booking lady says it just means we will have to come back. Sadly, that is unlikely but we are glad we visited Akaroa anyway. It is a distinctive, slightly hippified community (plenty of crystals and crafts on sale) with a French flavour. We suspect it is the holiday home location of choice for the wealthy of Christchurch. It is marketed as an ‘historic’ town, with many of its original, mid-nineteenth century buildings. We visit the very interesting museum and learn about the town’s history, its Maori heritage and development from a whaling station to an agricultural area and now a tourist centre. A would-be French colonist arrived with French and German settlers in August 1840, just as New Zealand was being assigned to the British, giving Akaoa a mixed national heritage.

The area became well known for producing seeds for cocksfoot grass, which was the pasture grass of choice in Australasia. The museum, which had the advantage of being free (donations are welcome), is partially housed in the old court house. There is an impressive collection of old photographs, these include a couple with a surname that we recognise. There are/were properties called Clovelly and Ilfracombe in the town, so we suspect a local connection.

Whilst I attempt to recouperate whilst doing yet more Suduko, Chris is trying to work out why, when our water tank is full, no water is coming out of the tap. Fortunately, as this is our last day dependant on the van, it is not the problem it might have been. If the van is going to malfunction, let it be when we no longer need it, that’s what I say.

The next day, we manage to pack up all our belongings without too much trouble and set off to Woolstone in Rangiora, just north of Christchurch. Thanks to excellent directions, our only mishap was to turn slightly too soon and end up detouring round a Christchurch shopping centre. Our hosts make us very welcome and drive us round the locality, so we can learn about the area. We are staying on this farm for the next two days. I am slightly less germ ridden today, although my voice is still somewhat deep and interesting.

 

Days 15 & 16 to Akaroa

107 27 May 2018 Moeraki BouldersToday we leave Dunedin for Timaru. Martha has recommended a stop off at Moeraki Boulders and who are we to disagree? I am not sure of the precise geological term for these enormous ball-shaped rocks and with limited data allowance, I can’t look it up. They appear to be huge geodes and one has cracked open. Definitely worth a stop.

We call in at a couple of Four Square supermarkets on the hunt for Hokey Pokey ice-cream, which has become a bit of an addiction. Locating the site at Timaru prove to be the most problematic so far. I have taken the precaution of drawing a sketch map. We are looking for Grassmere Street. Would you believe this was the ONE street without a visible name and we have to seek assistance from the information bureau in town. Once on site we do yet more laundry and I do some Suduko, of which I am a new convert. I am trying to pretend I don’t seem to be developing a cold. Five days of presentations when I can’t breath should be fun. Don’t panic conference organisers (if you are reading this) I will be fine!

The next day we continued our journey north along the 1, criss-crossing the railway, with the Southern Alps on our left. In an attempt to appear like I am not suffering from a streaming cold, we invested heavily in medication. The latest bulletin is that the worst is hopefully over and I should be fit for the weekend, even if I will be doing great Rudolph impressions.

Today is the day that we really did need the sat-nav. In an attempt to take the scenic route alongside Lake Ellesmere, we get hopelessly lost. We drive round Southbridge a few times, that would be a few more times that we wanted to and finally ask for help. Eventually, we escape the vortex that contains the very similar looking roads that aren’t the ones we need and find our way on to the Banks Peninsula. This is a lovely drive along twisting pathways over the hills and in to Akaroa. We take a quick look round the town before finding our site, which overlooks the bay. Yet more rainbows are in evidence.

We can tell that we are near our journey’s end. The gas has run out and it isn’t worth purchasing a refill, so we use the site kitchen for our cooking. We are also finishing up the oddments of food that we have in the cupboard. It is like one of those cookery competitions – and what can you create from an onion, chilli powder, chocolate chip cookies and marmalade? An email arrives to say our wildlife cruise tomorrow has been cancelled but that they hope the predicted strong winds will abate in time for us to go in the afternoon instead. This trip has allegedly been voted ‘the best wildlife experience in New Zealand’. It will need to be pretty special to beat the Monarch one but hopefully we shall find out. It is also another of the 101 ‘must do’ activities, so that will be another crossed off the list. Hang on, I don’t actually have the list, who knows how many we may have inadvertently accomplished? The list does seem to be somewhat arbitrary. For example, Akaroa itself is one and the nature cruise is another, two for the price of one.

Day 14 Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour

The bus to collect us for our wildlife tour is five minutes late. I am only a little bit panic stricken. There are just three of us on today’s trip, with Paul in charge. We learn something of Dunedin, which contains many Victorian and Edwardian buildings. It developed due to the 1860s gold rush and used to be the industrial hub of New Zealand, until the opening of the Panama Canal, forced trade further north. The first Europeans on Otago were whalers, who arrived in the 1830s. By 1846, a permanent Scottish settlement had been created, producing cheese and lamb. Now cattle are more popular as there is a huge Chinese export market for dried milk products for baby formula. We see a memorial to Annie Dickenson, who was instrumental in extending the franchise to women. New Zealand was the first country to grant women this right, in 1893. There is also a lime kiln, reminding us of home. The ‘six molars’ is a controversial piece of public art, created at the ‘mouth’ of the river.

The first part of our four activity day, is a drive round Hooper’s Inlet, which is tidal, in search of birds. Paul, our driver and guide is a wildlife photographer and our usual ‘kiss of death’ effect on wildlife seems to be in abeyance today. We get a brilliant view of a kingfisher and also see fantails displaying, pied stilts, oyster catchers, white-faced heron, pukeko and many paradise ducks. The spur-winged plovers, which we also see, came over from Australia in the 1950s.

Next it is off to the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses. Taiaroa Head, where the Albatross Colony is situated, was once a barracks and a stone jail still survives. Joel takes us out to see four albatross chicks on their nests. The birds only come to land in order to breed and the incubation period is eighty days. The chicks grow to weigh 9kg, heavier than the adults, before they are forced to lose weight prior to fledging. Their first flight will take them all the way to Chile and it will be about five years before they return to the Otago Peninsula to breed. The adult wing-span is approximately three metres but no adults return to the chicks while we are watching. We also see what is allegedly about 25% of the world’s Otago Shags. We have lunch in the Albatross Centre before moving on to the harbour.

We are loaned super warm jackets for our Monarch Cruise round Otago Harbour. Our guide is enthusing about what a brilliant day this is for seeing albatross in flight and we are informed that we have seen four different varieties. Just don’t ask me to tell one from another. I take a large number of photographs of the sea where there was a flying albatross a split second earlier.

Finally, it is off to the yellow-eyed penguin centre, hoping to see some come ashore. There are thought to be only about 700 yellow-eyed penguins left and numbers have plummeted recently. We walk through tunnels, which took the landowner six years to dig. These keep us out of the penguin’s view. We are told that we will be lucky to see two or three penguins come ashore at this time of year but today is a ‘buy a lottery ticket day’, as we see seven. I guess that means we have seen 1% of the population! There are also some blue penguins and fur seals to spot. We have been allowed to keep the jackets for penguin colony viewing but sadly, have to return them when we are delivered back to our camp site. Just as we are leaving the colony, the rain that has held off all day, begins. It has been a long day but probably the best of the holiday.

For those interested in bird watching, our bird roll call is as follows:- Kingfisher, Pied Stilt, Pukeko, Fantail, Paradise Duck, Mallard, Oyster Catcher, Little Black Shag, Pied Shag, Black-backed Gull, Red-billed Gull, Otago Shag, Black Swan, Spur-winged Plover, White-faced Heron, Australian Harrier Hawk, Dunnock, Blackbird, Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Buller’s Albatross, White-capped Albatross, Australasian Gannet, Cape Petrel, Giant Petrel, Blue Penguin, Yellow-eyed Penguin.

Day 9 Te Anau Glow Worm Caves

The night’s snowfall is visible on the mountains but hey, the good news is that we can actually see the mountains. Chris has managed to work out how to use the umbrella, there’s a magic hidden button that results in it springing into action. Fortunately, this vital information isn’t needed at the moment as there is no sign of rain. Despite 1 degree temperatures, it is quite pleasant in the sun as we set off to explore Te Anau. The tour company who were to take us to Milford Sound today have offered to take us tomorrow instead. The snag is that we have a trip to Te Anau Glow Worm Caves booked then. Our cunning plan is to see if we can go to the caves today, freeing us for the rearranged Milford Sound trip. Hurrah there is space for us on the 10.30am glow worm trip today. Unfortunately, the trip may not run as they are currently inspecting the caves for flooding. We wait for the verdict to be phoned in. This morning’s trip is off but we can go this afternoon, providing the flood water has subsided. On the strength of this and with the assistance of the very helpful receptionist at Te Anau Top 10, we call the Milford tour company and agree that we will be on their trip tomorrow. They even offer to throw in a free lunch for our inconvenience – result! Well done Mitre Tours.

We stroll along the lakeside and manage to look round the visitors’ centre that closed hastily yesterday. The Maori legend is that the demi-god Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved the fiords with his ko (digging stick). He practiced on the southern fiords and perfected the technique by the time he got to Piopiotahi, or Milford Sound. We learn about the parrot like Kakapo, of which there are believed to be only 160 remaining. I don’t think we are likely to spot one of those. In fact, so far, the birdlife has been disappointingly European, although we do see a tui today. In 1888, Quintin Mackinnon and Ernest Mitchell became the first Europeans to travel overland from Te Anau to Milford Sound, establishing the Milford Track. Mackinnon disappeared on the lake in 1892.

In the afternoon, we set off across the lake in the Luminosa, heading for the glow worm caves. The fiords, of which there are 14 in the Fiordland National Park and the lake are glacial formations. Lake Te Anau is the largest in Australasia and is 410 metres deep. 210 metres of this is below sea level, making it a crypto-depression. The surrounding vegetation is a cool, temperate rainforest, consisting largely of beeches, mosses and lichens. The caves were rediscovered in 1948. Te Ana-au means ‘caves with a current of swirling water’, which prompted the search. We are to explore only the first 250 metres of the 7km Aurora caves system, which spreads under the Murchison Mountains, this will take us 40 metres underground. The caves are comparatively young, at 12,000 years of age, thus no stalagmites or stalactites have formed yet.

034 21 May 2018 Fantail by Glow Worm Caves, Te AnauWe have been warned that there is to be no photography or noise in the caves, in order not to disturb the glow worms. Experiences whilst penguin watching on our previous visit, suggests that this may not go well. As we disembark, a fantail gives a great display but they don’t stay still for long making photography a challenge. Last night’s rain means that the underground torrents are particularly fast and we have to enter the cave by crouching under a one metre high overhang. After a short walk, we sit on a punt in order to view the worms. The people on our trip were a bit more law abiding than the penguin watchers and it turns out that the worms don’t really mind lights from cameras or noise but this instruction is just a crowd control mechanism.

A brief presentation tells us about the life cycle of the glow worm. They lay 120-150 eggs then, when hatched, the larvae, which are 2mm-3cm long cling to the cave roof. They catch their insect prey on strings of mucus droplets and the flies are attracted by the glowing lights. Once they are caught, the ‘worm’ sucks up the droplets and the food. There is a short nature trail to enjoy and the fantail is in evidence again. Credit to ‘Real Journeys’ for a great trip and for allowing us to change our booking. Now to hope that the weather is in our favour for the next two days’ trips.

Days 7 & 8 Queenstown and Te Anau

025 19 May 2018 Shotover River, near QueenslandA shorter journey today, down the 6 to Queenstown. This does involve travelling alongside some rather scary sheer drops. There are plenty more vineyards along this route. Queenstown is by far the largest settlement we have encountered since Christchurch. Although we have a map of the town centre, this does not include the road in which the campsite is situated. Reasoning that Arthur’s Pass Road, Queenstown, should be somewhere between Queenstown and Arthur’s Pass, we head out beyond the town, in search of the site. Our suppositions are vindicated and we locate the site without much trouble.

There is a shuttle bus back in to town but it is just that, a town, so instead we stroll along the banks of the Shotover River in the Morningstar Reserve. There is some adrenaline inducing powerboat racing going on but we decide to leave that for another day. That would be another day in the very distant future. In the 1860s, the Shotover River was known a ‘the richest river in the world’ because of the gold workings, discovered by the Redfern brothers. Today’s gold dredges are based on the bucket dredge design that was pioneered here by Chinese Sew Hoy. By 1906, the easily accessible gold had been worked, so the Oxenbridge brothers and others spent three years and £10,000 creating a 170 metre tunnel to divert the river, thus giving them access to a new area of former river bed. They must have been a bit jolly annoyed to discover that they had miscalculated and when they broke through the tunnel, it was four metres too high. Their attempts to build a dam to raise the water were largely unsuccessful and their huge investment yielded just £600 worth of gold. We spent the late afternoon relaxing in the van, also known as ‘pacing ourselves’.

Our luck with the weather has finally run out and the rain begins during the night. There is a slight detour finding our way out of Queenstown but soon we are heading south on the 6 beside what we can see of Lake Wakatipu through the mist and rain. At appropriate points, we politely pull over to allow faster traffic to pass us, occasionally we even get an acknowledgement. Chris is keeping up a campaign of trying to get other camper drivers to wave to him as they pass. Although this is common practice in Britain, he isn’t having much success here.

We arrive at our destination, Te Anau. It seems very pleasant from the van but it really is too wet to explore properly. We pay a short visit to the visitors’ centre; somewhat shorter than we’d have liked! On realising the displays look interesting and we may want to stay a while, we repair to the adjoining toilets for a very brief ‘comfort stop’. In the half minute that this takes us, the centre has closed! We have purchased an umbrella before our departure, designed to protect us from inclement weather. We got this cheap in a discount store near us. We have got what we paid for. It is a bit of a shame that we didn’t realise that said umbrella does not have any visible means of being fixed in the open position. Nonetheless, a slight cessation in the downpour sees us venture out for a quick trip round the block on the hunt for souvenirs. Whilst sheltering in the information centre we hear the news that the Milford Road is to be closed tomorrow due to forecast bad weather. This is very disappointing as it was to be one of our special trips. Sure enough, a knock on the camper van door in the evening sends Chris, who was in a state of undress, hurriedly making himself in a fit state to greet the reception team, who confirm that tomorrow’s trip has indeed been cancelled. We don’t really have the wriggle room to rearrange this, which is a shame. There is some good news, we have rediscovered the missing shampoo down the back of a cupboard!

Day 2 Endless Night

Qantas_A380-800_VH-OQL_SIN_2012-4-1It is deemed to be night for the majority of the flight from Heathrow to Singapore, which does at least agree with our body clocks for the first part of the journey. We really do not want to still be asleep at what for us is 9am though. No Bejewelled on this in-flight games system, so I settle for Mastermind. Judging by some of the questions, it was compiled about twenty years ago. Nonetheless, I win a virtual million pounds twice. Not a great deal to recount from this twelve hour flight, apart from the person in the row behind me reaching round and stealing my pillow when I bent forward to get my bag from the floor. Fortunately, the plane is half empty, so we have a row of four seats to ourselves, giving us a spare. The thief though has five pillows to himself!

We have three hours to wait at Singapore airport. Time to access the internet thinks I. Or not. After much more jiggery pokery I finally persuade my lap top to reveal the login screen. I need a code. I don’t have a code. I walk a considerable way and find a machine that allegedly provides codes. Before it will part with its secret, it requires me to scan my passport, which is back where I’ve just come from. I retrace my steps along the concourse to fetch said passport. ‘Scan your passport here’. This I do. Nothing happens. No permutation of passport positions, including the one suggested by the machine, yields a code. Never fear, there are always the free wifi machines. I attempt to log in to emails. ‘Outlook has detected an unusual log in’ and will send me a code to access my emails. The only snag is, they are sending it to a different email address, one that I can’t access because they detect an unusual log in on that address too – arghhhh!!!! To add insult to injury, Windows 10 will only let me play cards on my computer when I am logged on. Good job I have brought actual cards too.

It is night again on the seven hour flight from Singapore to Brisbane. We’ve only been awake about five hours so it is back to the in-flight entertainment. This time Suduko, which is not really something I’ve tried much before. I decide I’ll just play a few games until I am tired. I graduate from needing hints on the easy version to cracking medium difficulty boards unaided. I wonder why I am being offered my second breakfast of the day already. It seems I have Sudukoed the ‘night’ away.