Writing this in my hotel room in Santiago. Free wifi and one free pc in the lobby, but it's a bit short of software (eg no Word) so blogs may be a bit restricted. Also it's not so easy to transfer photos from my new camera ( see previous blog) so may have to wait a while for those.
New Zealand was great. I spent most of my time with Neil & Barbara, either at their house in the centre of Wellington, or at their nut farm near Masterton in the Wairarapa about 100km north of Wellington. Getting from one to the other involves crossing a mountain range. The train goes through a tunnel but the road climbs over by an exceedingly twisty route, with somewhat inadequate post and rail fencing to restrain errant cars from falling over the edge.
In my 3 visits to the nut farm I had a go at: picking & shelling broad beans; 3 reasonably long bike rides; visited a winery; watered about 100 trees (which means filling tubs with water from a pond then taking it by tractor to the trees); forded the local river 12 times (consequences of this already reported!); mowing grass round the trees with a tractor-motor mower combination (good fun but on my last attempt the long grass was often too much for the mower, and unfortunately I managed to break the drive belt.).
In Wellington itself I: visited the national museum (te papa) a couple of times; visited an entertaining exhibition of the work ( mainly installations) of a Japanese artist, in the city art gallery; spent a lot of time in Internet cafes; met up with Leeds alumni Fergus Tate, Dave Wanty & David Turner; walked Neil's 2 dogs a couple of times; saw the new film 'Sherlock Holmes' ( going out to the cinema is a lot more popular than in uk); walked from the city centre along the prom to Evans bay, (where there are lots of houses built precariously on very steep slopes, and access to many of them is by private cable car. There are about 400 of these in Wellington) then up to the lookout on Mt Victoria; took advantage of excellent January sales discounts to buy the remaining gear for Antarctica.
I spent a few days in the South Island just before Christmas. On the ferry from Wellington to Picton, as reported earlier, the wind was so strong that when I ventured out on deck my new lightweight rimless glasses were blown right off in to the Cook Strait! Luckily I had a pair of prescription sunglasses with me, so could still see to drive (I had hired a car from Pictor for a few days), though it got a bit hairy after dark, and I must have looked a right poser for a few days. I stayed in YHA hostels in the South Island: 2 nights in Kaikoura, 2 in Christchurch, one in Greymouth and 1 in Picton. They were all quite similar in style and ambience to English YHAs. I was glad I had brought my earplus with me, as I needed them on two nights (a cougher and a snorer). In Picton I was sharing with just one other hosteller. In the morning he forgot to take his room key when he went to shave, and rather than knock on the door to ask me to let him back in, he went outside the building and climbed in through the window (thereby disturbing me rather more than if he had knocked!)
On the summit of Conical Hill in Hanmer Springs (a mountain resort N of Christchurch) I met a Geordie who had worked in Ardencraig Road, Glasgow).
In Christchurch I managed eventually to get a replacement pair of specs made (at an independent opticians - Specsavers couldn´t do anything in less than 10 days, which was useless). I also met former colleague Aan Nicholson (just retired as head of dept of Civil Engineering at Univ of Canterbury) who very kindly treated me to a meal of the local delicacy, Canterbury Lamb. There is a lot more to report about the Soouth Island, but I will wait until I can get the photos up before going into details. Just a brief mention of two: ´Rutherford´s Den´ in Christchurch, and crossing the longest (wobbly) pedestrian suspension bridge in New Zealand (over the Buller River near Murchison).
The other big thing I did in New Zealand of course, was my flying lesson. In 1984 I had been allowed to have a go for a few mins in a 4 seater Cessna N of Brisbane, but this time it was a 2 seater Cessna, and for about 20 mins airborne. Very thrilling (do I mean terrifying?) but I don´t think I´m quite ready to fly solo.
I made contact with Colin and Paula, who were close friends of my sister in their days in Aberdeen. They very kindly invited me to their hogmanay party, where the New Year was ´piped in´ in traditional Scots style - thoughe the piper wasn´t a Scotsman. Strangely, I heard the bagpipes more in New Zealand than I would normally expect to hear them in Scotland! Perhaps not too surprising as the proportion of people of Scots descent in NZ is much greater than the proportion of Scots in the UK population.
Anyway, I am now in Buenos Aires (for one night only - off to Tierra del Fuego tomorrow), and time is getting on, so I will finish this blog for now and hopefully continue tomorrow from Ushuaia.