Greetings folks - Stuart here, back in Tauranga after an adventurous week in the South. I've just awoken after a good night's sleep in a proper bed - and thought I'd better let you know I was safely back.
One thing from the last blog - I forgot to say that the train journey across the Alps proved not too be monster-expensive after all. Not only did they secure me the last ticket on the train, but they gave me the internet price of NZ$74 as well (about 30 quid). And my fellow bus travellers might have made it back after all, the Lewis Pass was opened again later on with snow chains essential - but it would have been after midnight before they got in so I think I chose the best option, in that I only just got accommodation as it was!
Yesterday dawned bright and breezy after my last night at Chalie B's backpackers. I had watched a DVD in the "lounge" (room with tatty sofas and a big scren TV) and went up to bed at 11pm, to find that everyone else in the dorm was just deciding where they should go out to. I put my earplugs in and hoped they woyuld be quiet when they got back. The only one who wke me up was the fat Irish guy in the bunk under me but he didn't come back till 7am when I was just waking up anyway.
I set off at a leisurely pace to the Antarctic Centre next to the airport, and was the first one in at 9am. It was fascinating for a Pole-aholic like me to visit there - the Centre is the major stopping-off point for the Antarctic for all the people who go down there except tourists, who usually start from the bottom of South America because it's nearer to the Antarctic Peninsula which juts out northwards so isn't as cold. The real stuff starts from NZ because it is the nearest to Ross Ice Shelf, which is where the main US/NZ/UK base at McMurdo Sound is situated - and Ross Island is the nearest sea-base to the Pole too.
It was good, but a bit too child-friendly and/or geek-friendly for me - too many cuddly penguins and scientific data. But there were some good bits - a storm room where they have set a constant temperature of minus 8 C, so you get dressed up in overshoes and massive parkas and stamp around a bit in the snow, but then on the hour they recreate a storm, where the wind chill is increased to the equivalent of minus 20. Great fun, but the Korean women in with me got a bit perplexed. Then we went off to see the penguins and I got a few photos to prove it. I bought myself a fleece with Antarctica written on the front - not quite as non-authentic as getting an Antarctic teeshirt proclaiming a place I hadn't been to (well, that's what I thought, anyway!).
Then back to the airport to eventually get on the flight to Rotorua 3 1/2 hours late, the plane we were supposed to be getting on was a through flight from Queenstown which (yes, you guessed it) was stuck in a snowdrift there, so they had to redirect a flight to get us. Anyway, safely back, reunited with Naomi, who seems to have been having a great time without me. The girls all went out to a Ladies Night at the church so Jim and I went to the cinema to see X Files 2. Think I preferred the TV series...
Don't know that there will be much to report for a few days - but keep checking in case there are more adventures ready to spring at us.