Thursday April 2nd did indeed dawn bright & beautiful - just as Jackie had predicted. Up early before sunrise we set off for a suitable take-off point about 16km from Methven - in the direction of the hills. The pilot - Graham Church - is indeed from Preston with a grand Lancashire accent to match! Terrific! Graham has been in NZ since November flying for Aoraki - he goes back to the UK at the end of April to fly balloons in Lancashire for the season (season? - is he sure there will be a "season"??) In addition to Graham there were 11 passengers: 2 Israeli girls; an English couple on honeymoon (hello Libby & Dilman if you're reading this!) and 6 assorted Kiwis & me....
On arriving at the take-off field we had to help get the balloon ready - unpacked; unfurled and inflated (takes lots of puff). Eventually we were ready & climbed aboard. It was a stunning morning - very clear & still; bright blue sky & bright sunshine creeping over the horizon. Rural New Zealand is a very beautiful and tranquil place. The field was at about 1300 feet above sea-level and we rose initially to about 5500 feet to draw roughly level with Mount Somers. We could see Mount Hutt and Mount Cook very clearly, too. We then drifted down to gawp at the fields & rivers; cattle & crops - the ocean in the distance - before coming down to a perfect landing...
My dear friends & colleagues at Brown Brothers had bought the balloon flight as a leaving present for me. Fabulous!
Methven is not the kind of place you'd normally spend 3 nights - but it does have a few things to recommend it. Aoraki Balloons - www.nzballooning.com - and the lovely Jackie (obviously) - it being the main ballooning centre for the South Island; its proximity to Mount Hutt makes it a popular skiing base in winter and i can thoroughly recommend Brinkley Resort - www.brinkleyresort.co.nz. The Blue Pub - er - it is painted blue www.thebluepub.co.nz - is a great place for beer (obviously) and food and Cafe 131 does the best breakfasts in New Zealand - plus great service from the lovely ladies there.
Now you might think that a wild and outlandish claim and one that could not reasonably be substantiated. But i tell you - Cafe 131 does bacon you can eat. OK? Need i say more?
There are two things that New Zealand cannot do to save its life: baked beans - uniformly disgusting things obviously created by someone with a hatred for them & supported by a conspiracy that prevents Heinz from selling their beans here and, secondly, bacon. They have for some bizarre reason invented a cut called "the loin" - which is between 70% to 80% fat depending on where you go. What is wrong with back bacon, you Kiwis? Give tourists back bacon - it isn't much to ask......
Whilst driving through the country you'll see lots of majestic Australasian Harriers - a swooping and a hovering - beautiful to watch & help you forget the generally poor bacon available here :-)
I used www.aatravel.co.nz throughout to book motels - all good value although some were further from town than i'd have liked - that was my fault, clearly - but all i stayed at were very good.
I spent my last weekend in Wellington - have to say i like this city. It has a nice buzz to it - it also has a fresh-old wind that blows in off the harbour and keeps things lively. It has the great Te Papa museum; the Mac's Brewery bar - with good beer & good food & a great outside area overlooking the harbour and it has several good book shops. I should just mention Unity Books in Wellington; Scorpio Books in Christchurch and Muir Books in Gisborne - as they stand out like beacons in an otherwise impoverished land. I've just finished Tana French's The Likeness & am just starting The Woods by the same lady (the wrong order by the way - if you like a good detective novel - but still).....
So - after a night in Blenheim; two nights in Wellington & a night in Hamilton - i am now at Auckland airport ready to fly to Melbourne. I handed back the Toyota Sprinter (it'll be glad of the rest) and while i would recommend Apex Cars to anyone as they have a useful deal that includes a return trip on the Interislander ferry - a) select a decent model and b) the map they give you to find the return place at the airport is hopelessly misleading. It is actually quite easy to find - just don't try & follow their map!