Saturday 31st March
(Sorry, final update 6 weeks after arriving home, although it seems like 6 months ago!)
We had a lie in and a lazy morning as all we had to do was finalise the packing of the suitcases so that everything went in. We cheated slightly as we had sent a box of clothes home from Auckland before we went to the Cook Islands, knowing we only needed one jumper each for the rest of our time in Australia instead of the 2 or 3 we had brought. I also sent back jeans, a few long sleeved tops and a pair of trainers. Martin did the same. So that left plenty of room for the zip-up hooded jacket I bought in Cairns and Martin's 5 new t-shirts! (We didn't have much faith in this box arriving intact though as the Post Office staff have to seal the packages for you, and the young lad (I'm getting old) behind the counter was very economical with his packing tape to say the least! However it DID arrive intact - sent to my parent's house - and only a day or two after we got home.)
We said goodbye to Laurie in the morning as she was off to the beach with friends. Sam was playing his first football game of the season for Carlton Rovers that afternoon and dropped us at the airport a couple of hours earlier than we needed to be there so he was able make it to his match on time. Luckily we were able to check in our hold luggage immediately and didn't have to cart it around with us. We wandered around the shops and had lunch and the time went quite quickly. Going through security I was once again 'randomly' selected for an 'explosives check', where they brush over your clothes and hand luggage with a sensory wand to test for explosives residue. I passed. (I must be a consistently 'random' looking person as this was the fourth time out of 11 flights I had been selected!).
We boarded the lower deck of a new double decker airbus, but from the inside it looked like any other plane and we couldn't see any stairs or access to the other deck from where we were sitting. I watched 2 films but I can't remember what they were (sorry Mums), and a documentary about different people around Australia. I particularly liked the group in the Coober Pedy opal mining area who played golf with luminous balls at dusk as during the day it was too hot! I think Martin watched a film too before he went to sleep. I also played the General Knowledge Quiz on the entertainment system and after about 10 games I was top of the leader board against anyone else who was playing on the plane (that was at least one other person, sat in front of me. I saw it on her screen; otherwise I wouldn't have known anything about it!).
We refuelled in Singapore Airport around 1am local time. Martin went to the smoking area whilst we were there. It was outside, which he was looking forward to as many of the smoking areas in the airports had been enclosed rooms with poor extraction fans, but he didn't expect the wall of heat and humidity that hit him at that time of night as he went outside! Martin also stocked up on cigarettes here as they were the equivalent of £1 per pack (compared to Australia's almost £14 per pack!) sadly he could only buy 10 packs to take him (us) up to his (our) limit because he still had some left from Australia.
Back on the double decker plane and on to the next film - 2 actually, as I watched the last two Harry Potter films (Deathly Hallows Pt 1 & 2) back to back. Martin managed to sleep for most of the time, in between the food - which again was perfectly acceptable, edible and a good amount. This time I had wine with all the meals (except breakfast) as I was hoping it would help me go to sleep, but no such luck.
Sunday 1st April
We arrived at Heathrow on time at 6.30am. It was sad to be home (back to reality, and the British weather etc.) made all the worse by Heathrow Airport which was dull, grey, utilitarian, a bit grotty and very tired looking compared to all the other airports we had been to over the past couple of months. We collected our cases and went through into the arrivals area - this actually made me smile as there were lots of people waiting there to greet the arrivals with name boards and shrieks of delight when they saw their loved ones. We hadn't seen this anywhere else except in the Cook Islands and that was really to make sure you got in the right taxi or minibus to your accommodation.
We still had an hour or so until our coach departed so we had coffee (Martin) and Hot Chocolate (me) and probably cake or biscuits too (still on holiday, not home yet!) and then found our way to the coach departure point. It was bright and sunny but a little on the cool side if I remember correctly. The coach was practically empty and we had 2 black leather recliner seats each across the aisle from each other. The coach zoomed down the motorways in the sunshine, straight to Chepstow without stopping.
Luckily the Bus/Coach station is right outside the Co-op and we were able to get some basic supplies to take home. Martin walked the 5 minutes back to the house to get the car. A wheel had come off his suitcase when we arrived in Sydney the last time, and although I said we got a taxi to Sam & Laurie's it didn't exactly take us to the doorstep, and we were tired and couldn't remember exactly which turning was the right one to advise the taxi driver. So we ended up walking for a while and Martin's suitcase protested by shedding a wheel. So it wasn't conducive to being dragged home, even if it was only a few hundred yards!
After messages to everyone to say we were home safely, we went to sleep and woke up in the early evening, going back to bed again after a few hours and something to eat.
Monday 2nd April
Woken by the postman with our post from the last two months. Delivered in two small substantial plastic crates which we were told we could keep. Not as much as I had though there would be, though it did include a spare camera battery I had ordered to go on holiday with that didn't arrive in time. Good job though as I wouldn't have been able to take it on the plane according to the notices in the airports.
Now looking forward to a busy three weeks, visiting and being visited now we were back. Making my brother's wedding invitations. Oh, and arranging accommodation for our 3 week holiday in the Outer Hebrides … in three weeks' time!
There are lots of things I have probably not mentioned or have forgotten about and that may come back to me one day. This was the reason for a blog; I forget things. When Martin says "Do you remember when…" I have to say "No, remind me again…" or "Was that when…" only to get the reply "No that was the year before" or "You are in the wrong town/county/tent" etc.
I am reminded by the photos and since the digital revolution I take lots of them. Around 3000 this trip. Well it was actually more, but 3000 images have survived the cut.
The people - were enthusiastic, happy, pleased to serve you in shops and restaurants, polite, and genuinely meant 'Enjoy the rest of your day/journey/time here', whether it was New Zealand, Australia or the Cook Islands.
The driving experience (as a passenger) - empty roads, the pace, the scenery, the other drivers; considerate and polite (you could always tell which were the tourists - especially the Koreans!). Parking in the direction of the traffic flow (illegal to do otherwise), the huge parking spaces.
The small rural towns in NZ and Australia - seemingly 30-50 years in the past and happy about it.
The weather - I know we were only there for 2 months in the southern hemisphere's early autumn, but it was mostly warm or hot, even if it was raining. And I don't like hot weather, especially if I feel like I've wet myself because the sweat is running down my back and front and continuing down my legs into my shoes. But there's something about being on holiday that makes you put up with it for some reason!
The attitude to the environment - everything is so clean and well kept. The parks in Australia with their BBQ areas - no litter, broken glass, graffiti etc. NZ and Australians really DO care. There is no point owning a dog (other than a working dog) in NZ as you can't take them anywhere. They are a menace to the ground nesting birds.
The number of 'free' attractions - especially the 'natural' ones in NZ and Australia. In Britain they would be fenced off and an entrance fee charged.
The Cook Islands were fantastic to me because I had never been anywhere like it before. I actually don't like 'beach' holidays (or should that be 'didn't like'). Our studio bungalow was perfect for us and right on the beach. I don't know if it would have been as good an experience if we had been elsewhere on the island. It was the first time I had been snorkelling, and what a place to snorkel! We did the self catering thing because we didn't want to be in a 5 star resort with lots of other people, and the only drawback with that was there weren't many eateries within walking distance. But the one we had was good enough to go back to three times. I don't know if I would go back to the Cook Islands again (unless I could snap my fingers and be there instantly), but I would be happy to go to similar places in the future…Fiji, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles…
New Zealand was just as good as I had hoped it would be. We stretched ourselves by trying to get round most of it in the 5 weeks we had, and still didn't see everything we wanted to, but we got a very good look at the country. I could quite happily go back and travel around it some more, but there are other places nearer the top of my list.
I hadn't expected to like Australia as much as I did. The bits we saw were amazing and made all the better for the Likes listed above. I would definitely go back anytime and explore some more, and whilst Sam and Laurie are there we probably will! (Funds permitting.)
The tissue paper thin, one ply toilet paper in the public toilets, cafes and restaurants etc. (Actually it's thinner than tissue paper.) I know it's probably better for the environment and biodegrades quickly, but you end up using five times as much of it!