New Zealand is a delightful place - better than the UK in many ways. However internet access is not one of them. Wi-Fi is available in many campsites but, where it works at all, it is tempermental and slow. So this is the first time I've been able to get propery online for several days.
Since my last blog we've picked up our camper van, travelled down the east coast through Dunedin to Invercargill at the southernmost tip and then back up to Te Anau at the edge of the Fiordland National Park. We have seen some fabulous scenery, had several close encounters with the wildlife, researched a bit of Kate's family history and seen the fastest Indian in the West.
The camper van is fab. I want one for Christmas please - or even better my birthday in May. Mind you driving on virtually empty roads to campsites ('motor parks') with excellent facilities (apart from the Wi-Fi!) helps. New Zealand was obviously designed with camper vans in mind.
The scenery is pretty good too. Virtually every turn in the road produces an 'ah-ooh' moment. Highlights so far have included the drive along the Otago Peninsula, the train ride through the Taieri Gorge, the Moeraki Boulders between Christchurch and Dunedin, the Caitlins and the drive towards Fiordland. At some point I'll post some photos - today's is just a taster.
As if the scenery wasn't enough there is some pretty amazing wildlife too. A visit to the only mainland colony of Royal Albatrosses produced close up views of an adult bird with a chick. I knew albatrosses were big - but, hey!, they're really big believe me. Not so big - but equally rare - are Yellow Eyed Penguins which nest nearby. Somehow typical of New Zealand, though, that they should be solitary nesters in the coastal forest. Penguins nest on windswept Antarctic islands in colonies of hundreds of thousands, surely? Rarer still - and the wildlife encounter of the trip so far - was swimming with Hector's Dolphins in Porpoise Bay.
In between all these natural wonders we've been visiting places associated with Kate's family. Her father was from Invercargill and we went and looked at the house where he lived. Nearby was her grandparent's grave - rather sad and neglected with no one local to care for it. And in Dunedin we found a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of a distant relative - relationship not clear, but possibly paternal grandfather's, maternal grandfather. (so if her brother John is reading this perhaps he can tell us). New Zealand may still seem like a long way away - but imagine what it must have been like before the telephone or internet. Leaving the UK to go to New Zealand or vice versa would have been a journey into the unknown with little if any expectation of seeing home and family again.
And the fastest Indian in the west? A reference to a motorcyclist called Burt Munro who was from Invercargill and set several records on his 'Indian' motorbike. The bike is on display in an Invercargill hardware store and his story was made into a delightful film starring Anthony Hopkins. Watch it.