I know, I know. Why the radio silence my blog hungry readers? Well a combination of living out of a camper van and expensive internet curtailed the re-telling of our adventures through the land of the Long White Cloud. So yet again, another bumper edition. My suggestion is to call in sick so you can complete this episode in the one sitting. No doubt it is cold and frosty outside, so why bother?
You find us in sunny and sweltering Manly, Sydney (38 degrees) in sight of the beach on the trail of employment. Well, one of us has been on the trail of work, the other is quite satisfied in unemployment and its perk of more time on the beach and hitting the waves. I'll leave you to decide who is who. But let's leave Australia for one moment and head back to the two islands over the Tasman.
When we last spoke I was considering a long a bounteous affair with NZ. Well that relationship has fully blossomed and we are very happy together. Fear not, the marriage is still as strong as ever and the wife is more than understanding about my head being turned. She needn't worry, although NZ is undoubtedly stunning, I do worry that there is not a tremendous amount going on inside sometimes and that we might get bored after exhausting the rafting, glacier climbing and such.
So we were on the verge of leaving farm life with George, Laura and kids, but persuaded by their ability to pile close to an entire pig on my plate for breakfast we were more than happy to stay and extra couple of nights. This allowed me to consolidate my farm education and you will be pleased to find out I am now up to date on all manner of farm things. Indeed I now can't wait to work up my own paddock, count my bailage, crop my peas and see how much velvet I can get from Kirsty's Mum and my Mum, a couple of old deers. Being on the farm has taken Kirsty back to yesteryear and it is all I can do to remind her that she now lives in sophisticated Teddington. Getting too much fresh air led her announce to our hosts that she wanted to 'wrestle an eel'. George, a sort of more rugged version of Patrick Swayzee, burst into life and quicker than you can say 'one man and his dog', we were down a creek in the middle of the night hunting the w***s. Needless to say, Old McDonald, proved barely equal to the task and the eels proved as slippery as their proverbial cousins. The creek is also the resting place for literally thousands of glow worms, whose shining bottoms dot the surface of the rocks like stars in a clear night sky. Quite a sight.
The next day Patrick Swayzee donned his tightest suit, think Dirty Dancing, I jest naturally, but strictly speaking it was pretty tight, being of the 'wet' suit variety, and he kindly took us off to a river that was 'down the road', so a good 100km away, for our first effort at water skiing. Needless to say I proved a natural and it wasn't long before pirouettes, star jumps and no hands were de rigueur. And if you'll believe that you'll believe anything and, although my water skiing effort wasn't bad for a novice, I cannot claim to be the best in 5 Regina Court, Teddington. No that honour goes to my good lady wife, who was so accomplished a skier she had time to smile for me with the camera on the river bank. Nobody likes a show off.
One of the perks of staying that extra day was to be able to gate crash George and Laura's party for their neighbours….well the selection of people that live under 50km away. This was my first evening spending some quality time with my fellow farmers (I feel I can say that on the strength of being able to identify 3 different crops now). Now I've always had the impression that these fellows were not only incredibly hard working, but were also a pretty serious bunch bearing in mind their profession entails caring for thousands of livestock. Well it appears that this is quite clearly only half of the story, and as the grape and grain flowed so did the improbable tales, and this bunch could easily have been mistaken for a bunch of University students. I don't wish to divulge any secrets or indeed name any names, but needless to say I can say with some confidence that crop circles are not the work of alien invaders and that if the NZ government ever goes bankrupt, it may well be down to covering the damages caused by a group of drunk NZ farmers.
The next morning, with slightly heavy heads and full stomachs courtesy of pig number 2 and extra black pudding, we bade George, Laura, Tess, Max, Harry the dog and the cloud-like bed we had been sleeping in good bye. We hit the road for the capital, Wellington. Picking up some zingy lime and chilli chocolate on the way, we set out explore this thoroughly nice place. Compact, pretty and all set on the water. Though due to its location at the base of the North Island, it can be freakishly windy at times. Having explored the city, and in particular one sushi bar, we made our way to home stay number 2; this time with Kiwi friend and fellow central American traveller Craig. Like most Kiwis, Craig is improbably kind hearted and immensely outdoorsy. His parents, Tony and Myrle, likewise are absurdly nice and rolled out the welcome mat for us at their home. They then proceeded to feed and water us, whilst imparting all their useful knowledge and expertise about travelling around NZ that our little heads can take. We were absolutely in awe of how much travel these two New Zealanders have completed and to so many far off places (well everything is far from NZ technically). They have really sought to open themselves and their sons up to the world, and instilled in them this indomitable Kiwi spirit that has no fear and believes that everything will work out in the end. You have to love it.
The next day, as if they hadn't been kind enough, Craig and Tony took us out for sail around the harbour and a 4WD around the coast. As if trying to confirm our suspicions about the Kiwi stereotype, on seeing another car stuck in the sand on the beach, they sprang into action and pulled them free, whilst I speculatively looked at the scene and made noises and sounds that suggested I might be formulating a plan.
The next morning we left Craig and his family and headed down to the harbour to catch the ferry over to the South Island through the picturesque Marlborough Sounds. On being dumped over the other side of the Cook Strait we set off straight to the heart of the Marlborough wine country For Xmas. Now you could be confused in thinking it was Xmas because, like our previous experience of Xmas South Hemisphere style, 'it ain't that big a deal'. It's just another day, albeit a holiday, and although families get together, there isn't half the hoopla there is back home. It seems to me that the only reason Xmas is such a big deal back home is because if we didn't have something to break up the winter then we'd all commit suicide. No the weather is good here, so there's no need to spend the entire day indoors, eating and watching Dad's Army. Xmas Eve was spent indulging our new found love of NZ wine, travelling around on a bike. In one of those great travelling surprises/coincidences we were joined for the day by old School friend and fellow Richmond rugby player Simon Lodder and his fiancée Kate…of all the places. 8 wineries later and I don't think any of us had any pretensions of replicating Lance Armstrong, but a fun day to spend Xmas Eve none the less.
Xmas Day and appeared Santa couldn't find us in our mobile location, blind old git, how could he miss a camper van adorned with 6ft high cartoon characters? We made our way north to Nelson and, as is the norm, to the beach. Checking into our campsite I felt I have come some way in overcoming my initial reservations and prejudices to these carnie sites and being invited over to our campsite neighbours I feel the transformation is complete. I won't hear a word against Brendan, Dale, baby Britney, their grand parents and the rest of the wife beater wearing fraternity, particularly after the two bottles of sparkling wine and bottle of Malibu we sunk during the evening. By the end of Xmas Day we were well and truly part of the family and were free to use their cavernous tent, which was better equipped than most homes, and to stay with them back in Christchurch.
Persuaded to stay another day by our new family we thought it best to make ourselves scarce the following day lest they find out I went to private school and that my lack of enunciation was a ruse to gain their trust and access to a second bottle of Malibu. Heading up the coast on Boxing day we spied more gorgeous coast line, that is par for the course in NZ, before returning to the dulcet tones of Britney singing 'Hit me baby one more time' (just give me the chance) on her karaoke machine.
We set sail the following day and bade farewell to the clan, who were actually incredibly sweet and generous people….well this is NZ remember. We headed off to the West Coast. This is where the South Island comes into its own; the rugged coastal scenery and the overwhelming amount of undeveloped forest lend the place a magical, mystical island quality. Nowhere have I ever been where you actually feel so much like pre-historic man wandering round an island from the Jurassic period. A brief stop via the Pancake Rocks (rocks that look like stacks of pancakes…the clue's in the title), a veritable Geographer's fantasy, and we reached glacier country. A couple of tramps (Kiwi word for walking…not two vagrants) up to the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier and walk about on top of the Fox Glacier, complete with crampons and we were well in awe. To my surprise and no doubt yours, there is no polar bear balancing on top of the Fox Glacier. That said, he would struggle to balance without spikes on his feet.
If you, like us, have wandered around NZ and wondered where all the people are, well we can tell you that they are more than likely in Wanaka or Queenstown. We must have seen more people in our days there than we did in the rest of the 5 weeks. QT is party central for New Year…although the majority of locals head to Wanaka to avoid the tourist…so to avoid us. New Year's Eve and the NZ weather did it's finest impression of an English summer, complete with cancelling the cricket match we were at. But fear not, along with yet more Richmond rugby players. Smiler, Os, Pos, Monkey, Drewey and Twiglet…okay the last one is made up but could be me, we crammed into said boys' camper van and proceeded to drink bags of Rose. The boys, who are also backpacking, are, in their words, 'prone to flash packing', and the lakeside apartment they had rented for the week bore testament to that. So it was no surprise to hear that our transport to the evening festivities around the wharf was by water taxi, and we duly pulled up in our motor boat to the awaiting…well not exactly masses. The night was fantastic and I have to say much of it seems hazy, but in a rare moment of clarity I do remember searching for the wife and at one point seeing her leading the dancing on the bar, before disappearing behind the bar to help/hinder the bar staff.
While my TV career may have stalled at home, you'll be pleased to hear that after only a few weeks in NZ, the public have taken notice. So I am pleased to announce my NZ debut took place on NYE and can be relived gloriously on the following web link: http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/full-house-in-queenstown-2432189/video
I can tell you the phone has barely rung with subsequent offers of work. Another sad indictment of my acting career!
The remainder of our time in Queenstown was a lot of fun with our fellow travellers including a bit of touch rugby and a trip to Ferg Burger, the original NZ burger company whose Big Al burger is without doubt still lining my intestines and will do for the next 40 years.
Milford Sound is rated as the number one attraction in NZ with its mountains that emerge from black waters over 300 metres deep in places. I am still yet to work out what the hell a Sound is, but I can tell you that this one is pretty spectacular and well worth the trip. Despite the rain, which actually created hundreds of small water falls in the Sound, our 16km kayak on the water was a real experience, and when a couple of dolphins swam round us and under our boat, it capped quite a special day. Yes I know those of you blog regulars will be aghast to hear that we were stepped back into a two person kayak after our last experience nearly ended in divorce, well I feel in facing our fear we have come back that little but stronger. The area is also is famous for its voracious sand flies, whose bites pepper the legs of travellers like a pair of red polka-dot tights and sought to take revenge on us for the millions of their brethren that have met their maker on our windscreen. Fortunately, our uber precautions, including wearing every item of clothing we owned, meant we escaped with a mere smattering of bites to entertain us on our beautiful twilight drive back from the Sounds.
Since meeting our fellow travellers in QT and hearing of their preference for free camping….and the money they have saved by free camping, we have to confess to being slightly inspired by them. Not least for their ability to sleep 4 gigantic rugby players in a camper van designed for 2. So it was with relish that we slept in lay by on our way back to QT, but with slight trepidation that I checked the hand break every 5 minutes lest we roll backwards in the middle of the night into the lake. Being all of three days since we last stopped off at a winery, it was important we fed our new found addiction and stopped off at least one Central Otago winery, an area famed for its Pinot Noir. And what a winery to stop at; Wooing Tree just happen to produce the best Pinot Noir in NZ…what a result. The drive back across to the other side of the country takes you past Mount Cook. Now on this year abroad, we have seen some sights, but the view of this snow capped mountain, with the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki in the foreground really can't help but make you think of the Almighty, even not being particularly religious….and of course so does the smell emanating from your bodies after three days of free camping.
A small detour via the Banks Peninsula, to buy some fresh fish from the dock to chuck in our curry and we were off up to Kaikoura…the home of the Cray Fish. Where, like us, you can buy a fresh caught cray, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from a local winery and go and sit on the beach as you eat them. It doesn't get much better than that. The other reason people come to Kai is to swim with dolphins…so when in Rome. It is quite a moment when you swim with a school of dolphins, although swimming is a slight misnomer, the things move so quickly it's pretty difficult to meet up, despite my attempt at communicating in clicks and whistles, and swimming in circles. None the less, the experience is worth every penny and when a dolphin actually stops and swims round you, after realising it's not going to eat you and just wants to play it is pretty amazing. And so we made our way down to Christchurch for the last few days of our NZ trip, to wander along the banks of the Avon and stroll around this thoroughly English city. It was with a heavy heart we dropped off the Wild Things campervan that had been home for so long and an even heavier heart with which we left NZ. I believe we will return as it truly is our favourite country we have visited. It's lucky we weren't going home. No we are back in the land of the fitness fanatic, full of beautiful toned people. Much of our work thus far has been done on the beach, and thank goodness it's a long weekend this week. We really need the extra day off!
Well done my cold, shivering readers back in Europe. Please look down now and check your toes. I hope you haven't suffered from frost bite just getting through this.
Till Next time.