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I’d been looking forward to the reunion with my school friends, coming from England to spend three weeks here. The trip had been months in the planning and finally, I was about to meet them at Auckland airport the next day.

The weather for the journey up was beautiful with lots of little clouds and quite a bit of sunshine. Even though the snow had nearly all disappeared, the mountains were still looking magnificent.

Jude and I had played mid-week Interclub for our tennis team at Plimmerton throughout the 1980s.

She (and Tony) and Ken and I have been friends almost since the moment we arrived in New Zealand in 1979.

I’d arranged to spend the night with them on my way through to Auckland.

Imagine my surprise to find that the night was at the tail end of a reunion of three of her friends from her school in Havelock North and so we had a fabulous evening with heaps of reminiscences which set me up really well for the start of my own reunion the following day.

I left Turangi at 9.30, sad to leave my lovely friends but very excited about the reunion with my English ones. I had a great drive to Auckland airport. The day was cloudy with the odd spit of rain and I only made one stop to pick up a few things for dinner with Bob, a very old friend from England hockey days and our host or the first night. The plane from Sydney was on time and it was great to see Gill and Pip coming through customs and a huge relief to hear that they’d slept on the journey and were feeling fairly normal if a little blurred!

Mike, on the other hand, hadn’t fared quite so well on the sleep front but was still in good form and glad to have reached the end of the journey.

We negotiated the Auckland traffic back onto the Southern Motorway. I’d just mentioned to everyone that Auckland was called the City of Sails when we turned a corner and saw the harbour laid out below us with masts in every direction. We had a clear run over the harbour bridge and arrived at Bob’s in excellent time at 4.00 for a lovely cup of tea and a chance to relax and catch up.

Bob regaled us last night with tales of his exploits on the hockey field, as a compère for military bands in New Zealand and everything else in between. He and Gill found that they had a large number of friends in England in common, which caused much excitement and exchange of news.

We all went to bed early and enjoyed a fabulous Bob-type breakfast the next morning.

And then it was time to set off, first to the Icebreaker outlet in Albany where we all bought warm winter garments (hoping we wouldn’t need them on the trip – but we did).

Then we set off to Muriwai to see the Gannet Colony.

It was a windy day so many of the gannets were out at sea, but we saw plenty of adult birds still feeding their young and plenty of young flapping their wings, ready to brave the air above them.

The journey to Omapere turned out to be far longer than I’d anticipated because the road was so windy, and it wasn’t until late afternoon that we finally arrived at Dargaville and stopped for a well-earned cup of coffee.

With only a couple of hours left, we set off again for the beautiful Waipoua Kauri Forest where we all marvelled at the magnificent Tana Mahuta, the largest living Kauri Tree in New Zealand.

In Maori Cosmology, Tane is the son of Ranginui, the sky father and Papatuanuku, the earth mother. Tane tore his parents apart, breaking their primal embrace, to bring light, space and air and allowing life to flourish.

Tane is the life-giver. All living creatures are his children. It’s difficult to estimate his age accurately, but it may be that Tane Mahuta sprang from seed around 2,000 years ago during the lifetime of Christ.

Tane’s dimensions are:

  • Trunk height 17.7 metres
  • Total height 51.5 metres
  • A 12Trunk girth 13.8 metres
  • Trunk volume 244.5 metres

Time was marching on, so we completed the last few kilometers, arriving at our accommodation at Omapere, Harbourside B&B just after 6.00pm.

The gardens were lovely and we strolled along the beach to enjoy a delicious dinner at the nearby Copthorne Hotel.

The others very kindly ganged up and insisted on treating me to the first dinner of our holiday in recognition of all the preparation and organisation for the trip. Quite uncalled for, but it was very special – and very delicious.

Outside again, the sun was setting on our first full day together.

Joy and Garth Coulter run their truly beautiful Harbourside Bed and Breakfast at 1 Pioneer Walk, State Highway 12, Omapere 09 405 8246 harboursidebnb@xtra.co.nz  We’d recommend it to anyone. The view from our bedrooms was sensational.

Mike got up early and went for a lovely morning walk to the end of the pier. Then we sat down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with Joy.

We looked out at the hill at the head of the harbour and saw that they appeared to be hills of solid sand. Bob had told us that people ski down these hills which must be an amazing sight.

We set off at 11.00 for Paihia and made excellent time, arriving before 12.30pm.

We made our way straight to our motel, only to find that they’d double-booked and had to find us somewhere else to stay. There was a wedding on and we were rather glad that we wouldn’t find ourselves in the middle of a stag party, even though the motel did look rather lovely, with a swimming pool!

Jason, at Aloha Seaview Resort Motel, found us another motel about 500m away, called The Retreat. We drove there and settled into a one-bedroom unit overlooking the beautiful Bay. It was cheaper too!

Unpacked and raring to go, we set off for the Maritime Building to pick up our tickets for the tall ship cruise tomorrow morning.

We picked up some sandwiches and made our way to the Treaty Grounds and spent a fabulous afternoon exploring at leisure, listening in on information being imparted by the tour guides and watching a short video on the history of the Treaty.

We gasped at the size of the war canoe that seats 162 warriors.

Maori tradition celebrates Maui Tikitiki a Taranga, who sailed from Hawaiki, far across Te Moana nui a Kiwa – The Great Ocean of Kiwa – and hauled up the huge fish that was to become the north island – Te Ika a Maui. His canoe, Te Waka a Maui, formed Te Wai Pounamu – the South Island.

The migration canoes of Maori tradition are said to have sailed from Polynesia to Aotearoa. These waka, Aotea, Kurahoupa, Mataatua, Tainui, Takitimu, Te Arawa, and Tokomaru have been referred to as the Great Fleet and their voyage is often called Te Hekenga Nui – the Great Migration.

Each iwi within Aotearoa today traces its whakapapa (genealogy) to an ancestral migratory waka.

We watched and listened to the Tui in the tree above our heads surrounded on all sides, as we were, by pohutakawa trees. The pohutakawa has an important place in Maori mythology. Maori believe the spirits of the dead descend down the roots of a pohutakawa tree at Cape Reinga on their way to the homeland on Hawaiki.

We sat quietly in the Wharenui and enjoyed its peace and history, looked across the Bay at Russell beyond the flagpole and wandered through the Treaty House, drinking in all the history.

We picked up provisions and went back to the motel to self-cater our evening meal of whole hot roasted chicken with three veggies, which turned out to be delicious. Then we spent the evening playing a new game that Gill taught us, called Farfenugan. At least, that’s what Gill thinks it’s called.

We woke fairly early, had a lovely breakfast of porridge and toast, and drove down to the town to catch the ferry to Russell. Pip was first to board the Fast Ferry and it was fast. It only took 7 minutes to cover the distance between Paihia and Russell.

The R Tucker Thompson tall ship wasn’t there when we arrived, but we soon saw it coming under motor as there was hardly any wind.

We were encouraged to help with the rigging if we wanted to, and Mike soon volunteered to help hoist the sails as the wind became stronger, until they were lovely and taut.

Before long, the crew of Sam, Mark, and Manton bought round delicious A 31scones with jam and cream for morning tea.

Gill took the helm and steered us past various islands, including Captain Cook’s Bay where he first landed all those years ago.

The crew can choose different bays to anchor, depending on the direction A 32of the winds, and they finally dropped anchor in a beautifully sheltered bay and left us marooned so that they could prepare lunch while we climbed to the top of a very steep hill where we could see the views for miles around, including the hole in the rock in the distance and lots of islands in another direction and see our tall ship waiting patiently for us below.

Some people we met on the ship, John and Jinny, took a photo of the team at the top just to prove that we’d all made it.

When we finally made it down again (and going down was harder than going up for poor knees), the most beautiful smells assailed our senses and lunch was waiting.

The weather was lovely and we spent a lazy afternoon, helping out with the rigging from time to time. I even managed to coil my rope correctly after I’d let down a sail.

On the leisurely trip home, there was even time for Mike to check out his photos.

The trip had been enormously good fun and the crew had been superb. We all thought this trip was very well worthwhile. Check out http://www.tucker.co.nz

When we finally got back to Russell, we went for a short walk to explore and found that Russell’s church is the oldest in New Zealand.

After exploring inside and out, we returned to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry back to Paihia, passing the most beautiful specimens of both bougainvillea and lovely specimens of hibiscus in yellow, deep pink, peach and double pink, like this one.

We’d had a long day so we stopped off at the supermarket in Paihia and bought some eggs, so that we could hurry home, shower, change and scramble them.

It had been a fabulous day and we were all so full of sea air, gentle breezes, good company and good food that we slept like logs.

We’d had such a big day on Friday and gone to bed really early so we were up and away before schedule. We took the drive south in a leisurely way, enjoying the faster roads after the windy, hilly roads on the west coast the previous Wednesday. Being a Saturday, it was much busier with heaps more people around and that was good to see.

We couldn’t resist the signs directing us to Whangarei Falls, 5k north of the town centre, at Tikipunga.

The 26m high waterfall drops over basalt cliffs and is really lovely.

We loitered here before moving on to explore the Town Basin on the waterfront at Whangarei where we relaxed among all the yachts and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee.

Our final stop was at Puhoi, about 5k off Highway 1 just north of Orewa. Puhoi is New Zealand’s earliest Bohemian settlement and boasts a lovely cheese factory and a restaurant just beside the water. We’d have loved to have gone around the beautiful church, but there was a wedding going on. We had our lunch here before completing our driving for the day and arriving back with Bob in Greenhithe.

Here Mike and Pip left us for the night. Mike had served with John in HMS Birmingham during the Korean War over 50 years previously and John and Ann came to collect them to take them away to their home in Remuera for the night. It was clearly going to be a happy reunion for them all.

Meanwhile, Gill and I caught up with our washing, our emails and enjoyed the beautiful meal that Bob cooked for us.

We enjoyed a chatty breakfast with Bob before setting off to collect Mike and Pip from John and Anne at Remuera. They’d had a wonderful reunion, reminiscing about old times.

We had a great drive south, stopping briefly for morning tea at Patetonga on Highway 27 and arriving in good time at Rainbow Springs. Here they advised us to take a quick trip around everything and to come back in the evening to see the kiwi at night. And that’s what we did. There was so much to see and the organisation and layout was great.

We looked a fairly motley crowd as we saw trout, Moa, the wood pigeon and tui, and tuatara just to mention a few. The tuatara is New Zealand’s living prehistoric fossil. It has changed little from its ancient predecessors, which lived 120 million years ago. Tuatara are ‘stand and wait’ carnivores that snatch almost any animals straying within reach, including weta, spiders, geckos, and even birds, their eggs and chicks.

Today, the population of tuatara is confined to about 30 small islands off the north-east coast, in Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sounds. It has the longest incubation period of any reptile with eggs taking 15 months to hatch. They have no ears, but three eyes!

Anxious to visit the Buried Village, southeast of the lake, we drove there and spent a couple of hours absorbed with the history of the area. Violent and unexpected, the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera during the early hours of 10 June 1886, was New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster.

For more than four terrifying hours, rocks, ash, and mud bombarded the peaceful village of Te Wairoa. As well as ending more than 150 lives and many livelihoods, the eruption destroyed the eighth wonder of the world, the magnificent Pink and White Terraces, and buried the staging post for travelers to the Terraces – Te Wairoa village – under two metres of thick volcanic material.

In the gloom of the day, the wreckage of the hotels and houses, and the burial of 8,000 square kilometres of scenic countryside brought awe and dismay to survivors and rescuers.

Lake Tarawera is the second largest lake in the Rotorua district at 41km². It is fed by the Wairoa stream and drained by the Tarawera River, which flows into the Bay of Plenty. After being devastated over a century ago, the surrounding landscape shows few signs that it was covered by a thick layer of volcanic material. Apart from some large trees, what you can see here has sprouted from desolate land to become beautiful native bush.

We tore ourselves away from this beautiful place to check in to our accommodation for the night at the Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park http://www.bluelaketop10.co.nz at 723 Tarawera Road. On the site of the Holiday Park we’d found a recently refurbished lake view motel which suited our purposes very well. Surrounded by bush it gave us a small view of the lake and, inside, everything we could need.

Having emptied the car of our cases, we drove back past the Buried Village to the Lake Tarawera Landing Café located at the end of Lake Tarawera with views across the lake to the mountain.

It wasn’t far from the Blue Lake to Whakarewarewa where we’d decided to stop so that the travellers could enjoy a thermal experience. As I’d had the experience many times before I decided to make the most of the opportunity to venture into Rotorua itself and do a little shopping for clothes that I’d need for my impending visit to Europe in May.

Mike, Pip and Gill had enjoyed views of the mud pools, a cultural show and a wonderful guided tour with Hone. They’d had a wonderful time and were full of stories of their adventures.

Then we all set off on Highway 5 en route for Taupo.

South of Rotorua and just before the turning to Orakei Korako on the right, there’s a small turning to the left which leads to a little known ‘hot spot’ (literally) called Kerosene Creek. My good friends in Titahi Bay, Gary and Ngahiwi had alerted me to this treasure, and a treasure it was.

We travelled over 2km of unsealed road until we reached a barrier across the road. Leaving our car, we walked about 200 metres through the busy alongside a stream which clearly emitted sulphur.

The place was not deserted, as we’d initially hoped, but this proved to be a huge advantage because we picked up some local stories which were special.

A lovely young woman was sitting at the head of a waterfall, enjoying the hot water, and looked to all intents and purposes like a mermaid.

She was disappointed that we hadn’t brought out togs because she told us the hot water was very inviting. But we managed to roll up our trousers and waded into the very hot water somewhat hesitantly. We didn’t, unfortunately, look quite as good as she did.

Asking her a little about the local history she told me that her boyfriend would be bound to know because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Looking a little closer through the steam, I was thrilled to see that her boyfriend was none other than Temuera Morrison who seemed quite happy for me to snap his photo.

Of course my friends were convinced that I’d organised this especially for them – even though they’d never heard of 'Once were Warriors' – or anything else he’d acted in for that matter. They were just impressed that they’d been in the creek with a New Zealand celebrity.

From here we drove on to Huka Falls which are so impressive. The water flowing through this narrow gap is flowing from Lake Taupo. This is the mighty Waikato, New Zealand’s longest river at the start of its 425 km journey to the sea just south of Auckland.

At Huka Falls, the river is confined by hard geothermally-altered rock. Over time it has carved a passage about 15m wide and 10m deep through the underlying softer sedimentary layers. The water churns along this channel at 220,000 litres per second, a rate must faster than its average rate of flow of 40m³ per second. You do the maths!

We left the Falls and visited the Honey Hive where there’s free tasting of 100% pure honey, mead and fruit wines. You can find them at 65 Karetoto Road, Taupo. http://www.finda.co.nz/business/listing/615p/the-honey-hive-and-meadery/ If bees make it, they’ve got it. Manuka honey (renowned for its moisturising and healing attributes) royal jelly, bee pollen, beeswax and more. In fact, New Zealand native honey at its best. There was a fabulous video show about a day in the life of a worker bee which was absolutely riveting and we’ll never look at a worker bee in the same way again. We test sampled their wide range of honey-based natural skin and health care. We also enjoyed their delicious honey gourmet ice cream.

After another very full and absorbing day, we made our way to our accommodation for the night. For the first time, this was less than perfect so I won’t mention it here.

Today, for the first time, we awoke to clouds and the promise of rain. We’d planned a fairly easy day and were just about to embark when the phone rang and Jude, who we were expecting to visit tomorrow on our way south, rang to say that they were expecting us as soon as we were ready!

Somehow we’d got our dates mixed up but visiting them was not something to miss so we abandoned any thought of breakfast at the B&B and set off immediately for Turangi, 45 minutes south.

Just outside Turangi it started to pour with rain and we were so glad that the welcome mat was out and brunch was cooking.

Jude is a consummate hostess and wasted no time at all in serving up the most fabulous brunch for us all.

We soon found that, as is so often the case, there were friends in common and we spent a couple of very happy hours with them.

Despite the rain, Jude went outside onto the balcony so that she could take a photo of the team peeping out of her kitchen door!

We reluctantly tore ourselves away and returned north to Taupo to continue our programme for the day leaving Tone and Jude to prepare for their trip down to Wellington to stay the night there before leaving the next day on the Ferry and an adventure on Stewart Island over the next fortnight.

Ridiculously we discovered that we’ll all be in Wanaka on the same night but won’t, unfortunately, be in a position to connect because of our different plans. It’s a small world.

Our programme included a visit to the Taupo museum where we caught up on some of the history of the area and watched a very interesting film on how the lake was formed hundreds of years ago.

We drove to watch the bungy jumping, just northeast of the city. Despite the rain, young people were queuing up to jump into this beautiful blue water apparently miles below.

We watched one intrepid soul leap out into the chasm and that was enough. Had it been fine we might have stayed longer, but in the pouring rain, it wasn’t all that compelling.

Then it was back to the Honey Hive as we’d had insufficient time the night before to see enough of the first-class video, or to sample enough of the products. We came away loaded with gifts as well as with products we wanted to sample ourselves and felt very satisfied.

That night we decided to self-cater as we were finding the prices in the tourist areas very inflated. We bought some lovely wine and some groceries to make an easy and very excellent dinner and enjoyed it far more than we might have done if we’d had to pay an exorbitant price to eat out.

The sun came out for the first time in the day and we rushed up to the lookout just north of the city to see if we could see the lake with the mountains behind, but we were unlucky. However, with the number of clouds and the setting sun, we did see some spectacular colours in the sky.

It was the end of another very happy day.

As the weather had been indifferent the day before, we’d left the hole in one experience. We were delighted to find that Wednesday started a little finer and we packed up everything and diverted to the lakeside. We bought 18 balls between us and had great fun swinging.

But only Mike managed to hit the raft with one of his shots. With honour satisfied, we started our drive south.

Unfortunately, the clouds had rolled in and the desert road disappeared into a very heavy mist and light rain.

It was particularly disappointing since I’d had experienced such lovely views on my way up the island to meet them in Auckland just a few days earlier.

Hungry, we stopped briefly at Mangakino to enjoy a quick sandwich lunch underneath the aeroplane by the side of the road. It wasn’t far south of this that we cut across country to the east towards the Manawatu Gorge.

I’d been hoping to take the team through the Gorge but a poor truck driver had unfortunately driven his truck over the edge just after midnight and traffic was still being diverted when we were ready to pass through at about 4.00 pm. We were directed to the Saddle Road, but before we took it, we went on a short diversion of our own to the Ashford wetlands and a welcome coffee. The café was lovely and the views from the domain were splendid.

Above the wetlands the new windmills towered over us along the ridge of hills and we wondered what sort of opposition had been received from the locals, majestic though they looked.

We got back on track in Woodville but soon afterwards, the heavens opened and driving became unpleasant. However, as soon as we hit the outskirts of Masterton, the sun came out again and we arrived at Dermot and Megan’s farmhouse in fine weather.

We had a lovely evening with a beautifully cooked dinner of roast pork and yet more unbelievable coincidences of shared acquaintances. It transpired that Megan’s great aunt had been headmistress of Wycombe Abbey School (in England) whilst Mike’s mother had been a pupil there. The chances of making that connection were extraordinary.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny again and Megan and Dermot treated us to a beautiful breakfast of bacon and eggs, steaming hot coffee and orange juice. The team tucked in while they kept watch from the kitchen bench!

As usual the visit was all too short but more adventures were calling.
It had been decided that we’d divert to Martinborough to sample the wines of the region. We went through Greytown first and called in on Sue at her lovely shop, Mondo, in the main street before exploring the town generally, the oldest in the Wairarapa.

Michael was thrilled to find a building in Greytown with his name, Michael Nalder, depicted on the side in large letters which prompted him to go inside and question the owners. This interested him sufficiently to follow up the contact and then, when we got to Wellington, to search the phone book to see if he could find more relations, which he did.

Eventually, we turned off to Martinborough but were disappointed with our welcome at Te Kairanga and, after sampling several of their wines, decided that we wouldn’t visit any more wineries that day, but would head for home. Not before the team had treated me to a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurtztrauminer, however!

It was so good to be home and the team settled in quickly to a Camborne welcome before deciding that a walk was essential after all that driving. So I took them to the ocean to walk wherever the mood took them and headed off to the supermarket myself to search for food to cook for dinner! They came back refreshed and invigorated and, with three loads of washing on the line and a roast New Zealand lamb and all the trimmings on the menu, we settled down to pre-dinner drinks. My good friend from the croquet club, Eric, soon joined us and we had a lovely, and very relaxing, evening.

I left the team in bed while I went for a second massage from Rochelle who’s trying to unfreeze my right hip. She was pleased that all the muscle loosening that she’d done two weeks earlier hadn’t been ruined by the long car journey – 2500 km to date – and she continued to work her magic and cause more pain while she wrestled with all the knots. I’m sure it’s helping. Meanwhile, the team were up and about when I got back, but we didn’t leave for Wellington until almost mid-day so were somewhat curtailed time-wise in what we could accomplish.

We went straight to Old St Pauls, one of New Zealand’s most important historic places and a magnificent example of timber Gothic revival architecture. It’s constructed from a selection of the best New Zealand timbers, and the church’s special qualities have been retained and enhanced by a series of seamlessly incorporated additions. As the principal Anglican cathedral church of Wellington from 1866-1962, it’s a place of national historic significance.

Replacing the church with a larger cathedral was first suggested in the late 19th century but didn’t become a reality until 1964 when St Paul’s Cathedral opened in Molesworth Street. I’d hoped to be able to take everyone there at the end of the day but we ran out of time to see the contrast.

When the new cathedral was opened, the future of Old St Paul’s was thrown into doubt, but after the strong public protest, the Church was bought by the Government in 1966 and later vested in the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Restoration of the Church began in 1967 and continued for 13 years.

Old St Paul’s was reopened to the public in 1970 and is used today for a variety of purposes from recitals, concert and theatres to more traditional occasions like weddings, funerals, and baptisms.

On a hot, sunny day, the tranquility of the interior of Old St Paul’s was hard to leave, but we made our way to a place of complete contrast, the lookout at Mount Victoria.

It was a fairly clear day and we could see most things in every direction. It was good to see all the landmarks – including the very tiny airport runway which they’ll all be using in two weeks when they have to leave the country.

From here we went down to Te Papa and spent just a little time – far too short – in Awesome Forces and enjoying the experience of the Napier earthquake in the little hut. We just had time to look at the colossal squid and the various animals and birds and then had to rush again in order to get to the Beehive (New Zealand’s Parliament) for the last tour of the day.

We had an excellent guide and the hour spent with him flew past. Unfortunately, the new foundations were off-limits but everything else was explained extremely well, and we left impressed.

From here I took the team to Lambton Quay and deposited them at the bottom of the Cable Car for the ride to the top. Here they checked out the view from the opposite side of the city, the Observatory, and took a lovely walk down through the bush to meet up with me in the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. A party was taking place in the Begonia House and a string quartet was playing, so that was an added treat.

Exhausted by now, Pip and Gill cooked a lovely meal of fresh salmon with many of the herbs and veggies coming out of the garden – a real treat for me.

There was so much for all of us to do to get ready for the second half of the tour that the visitors spent much of the day washing, ironing and packing while I did business as usual. I spent the morning playing croquet. Then it was time to mow the very long grass and give the garden a bit of a birthday. Mike and Pip were wonderful and helped, which was a real treat. Pip weeded the planter boxes and Mike dug out some broadleaf weeds from the lawn.

Anne Johnson (my wonderful book designer) called in and we had a fabulous meeting to talk about her latest designs for my book and we both went away happy with a clear picture of what we’re both aiming for on the road to getting my book finished and published.

Gill went off to see the New Zealand ballet at St James with friends of a friend of hers from London. Pip, Mike and I made a lovely meal of ‘finish ups’ and then started to pack in earnest. We actually got to bed far too late, but the morning promises all sorts of exciting things with the start of the South Island trip.

Six o’clock seemed far too early to wake but it was only just early enough for us all to get ready to leave at 7.00. We made the check-in at the Ferry with moments to spare and bemoaned the fact that there were too many clouds and even a bit of drizzle. In fact, the crossing passed very quickly but the weather prevented us from seeing the beautiful views on each side and the wind was strong and cold.

We went through Blenheim and stopped at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre which turned out to be a real gem. There was so much to see and so much to absorb. It was all beautifully presented and very interesting. The exhibits are too many and too good for me to do justice to them but here are a couple of examples of the treat we enjoyed, just to whet your appetite.

We drove south on Highway 1. The road was straight and open and the sun tried hard to come out through the clouds – reasonably unsuccessfully.

Eventually we came upon Wharenui and saw the beautiful church of St Oswald, erected by Mr and Mrs Charles Murray and dedicated by the Rev Bishop Sadlier of Nelson on 20 February 1927 in memory of their son, Charles Hector Heaton Murray, who had died in Geneva, Switzerland on 28 June 1924.

The stone with which the church was built was very beautiful and the walls around were built of the same stone.

We drove on south to Kaikoura but just before we got there we saw a sign about a seal colony and stopped to admire the lovely animals posing for the camera playing with each other – or scratching their backs on the rocks.

We were all really tired after our early start so we grabbed fish and chips in the town and settled into our B&B which was fairly full of visitors, very noisy, very friendly, warm and busy with a wonderful hostess called Judy.

The hospitality at Judy’s was second to none. We’d played cards the evening before and had slept really well. Judy had left very early to work at the Whale Watch centre but an enormous breakfast had been laid out for us and her partner, Brian, and helper, Nellie from France, were available to help with whatever we couldn’t find. There was a huge bowl of fresh fruit, every cereal imaginable, about six choices of bread to toast and plungers of freshly ground coffee and orange juice. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to sit and enjoy it.

Judy’s establishment is called Brook House and can be found at 201 Beach Road, Kaikoura. stay@brookhouse.co.nz – http://www.brookhouse.co.nz – Freephone 0800 115 201 or 03 319 6473. The cost was supposed to include full use of the facilities – laundry, email, etc., but we’d only just left home so we were clean and the wireless connection wouldn’t connect on this occasion.

The motel is in a peaceful rural setting, with eels to feed in the stream in the back garden and the mountain views gave us a taste of things to come.

The bedrooms have a private bathroom each, but they’re not en suite, which is a bit of a disadvantage when there are other people staying in the B&B at the same time.

All this is just 2k from the town centre and Whale Watch and we arrived there at the duly appointed time of 10.00 a.m., only to find that the first sailing had been cancelled and ours was too.

Judy was on duty and told us that the winds were very strong and the whales were apparently 9 miles offshore. This was disappointing, but there was a fabulous video to watch about whales the world over and lovely posters on the walls which showed what it all looked like in good weather.

We were all tempted by some of the offerings in the Centre shop. I succumbed to a beanie and matching scarf in deep teal possum and merino to ward off the cold that might lie ahead.

Keen to have a walk after our disappointment, we headed south on Highway 1 and diverted a few kilometers to Gore and the team had a brisk walk along the cliffs while I went in search of take away coffee to revive them when they’d finished. Before I left them, however, we saw the magnificent rocks at Cathedral Road, high above the ocean.

Off again, we began to head inland towards Springfield and arrived there at about 5.00 p.m. Our B&B was completely deserted but it appeared that two rooms were made up and ready for us. We found a key and let ourselves in – feeling a bit like thieves in the night.

When no-one had arrived by the time we’d unpacked the car, we took ourselves off to the local café and had a scrumptious meal cooked by Joy – who refused to share any of her recipes – and crept back to the Great Alpine Highway B&B, only 5 minutes from Christchurch at the base of the Southern Alps.

By the time we returned, our hosts, Colin and Raewyn had arrived. They’d only taken over the B&B the Friday before and the previous owner had left them without any instructions and certainly no information about forward bookings. Far from our rooms being ready for us, they had absolutely no idea we were coming. They’d been quite surprised, they told us, to get back from work to find two units fully occupied and were wondering when we were going to return.

It was all sorted out quite quickly but it prompted us to ring our accommodation for the following night in case we had a similar experience.

The B&B was perfectly comfortable and, after enjoying a bit of fruit in the garden we settled in for the night to write postcards, blogs and have an early night before our enormous day tomorrow.

We woke to a glorious morning. But perhaps we should have taken a little more notice of 'red sky in the morning being the shepherd’s warning'. Who knew what the weather for the day would bring?

We set about to pack up our belongings, ready to leave. We had breakfast on the outside table in the lovely sunrise.

The start of the journey across Arthur’s Pass was a little overcast but we were able to take a few photos, both of the mountains and the lake and also close up of the beautiful rock formations in all directions.

The team walked ahead to stretch their legs and then we got down to the serious business of crossing the Pass in really horrid weather – low mist, heavy cloud and a bit of rain. We weren’t able to see any of the views at all so just had to imagine how spectacular they would have been.

We arrived in Hokitika where we had a snack lunch, some well-earned coffee and a quick look at the postcards so that we could see what we should have been able to see from the car.

Then it was off to Ross to check out the gold panning.

Unfortunately, the rain prevented us from panning in the river itself but Pip and Gill had a go at it undercover and came away with a little phial each containing some gold and a little greenstone.

Meanwhile, Mike and I explored a greenstone outlet opposite and learned some of the history of the area from the local carver.

The roads to Fox Glacier were punctuated with small waterfalls which were an indication of the amount of rain that was falling.

It was a long and tiring journey with lots of sharp bends and was quite enough to send some of the passengers to sleep.

We were very glad to arrive at our destination, Lake Matheson Motels on the corner of Cook Flat Road and Pekanga Drive, 0800 4522437 or 03 7510830 – lake.matheson.motel@xtra.co.nz  Our unit was delightful. One double and one twin room, a lovely large lounge with an electric fire to warm us up, a well-equipped kitchen and a decent bathroom.

Mike went off to use an internet café and Pip and Gill shopped and prepared a creative and very delicious dinner. Just before we sat down, however, we braved the rain and went on a bushwalk to look for glow worms.

We didn’t actually see any glow worms – perhaps we were too early – but we had a bracing walk and got very, very wet.

We had a very slow start the next morning even though the weather looked fine enough to enjoy our excursions. We went back to the Minihaha Walk of the night before because it had been so lovely but we hadn’t really been able to appreciate it in the pouring rain. And the flora and fauna were absolutely fascinating.

Then we set off for the Fox Glacier Access Road which was an easy drive that took us almost to the foot of the glacier past enormous, towering cliffs.

During its advancing journeys, the Fox Glacier has cut into valley sides leaving near-vertical rock faces. Without lateral support, the schist peels away from time to time along intersecting natural joints and breaks. New shapes are created in the landscape.

One of the great landscapes in this valley is the ever-changing Fox river that gushes from the glacier, sometimes as a moderate flow and at other times as a raging torrent. The river shifts piles of gravel in a matter of hours moving car-sized boulders with ease and sometimes destroys part of the access road to the car park where we’re standing.

The ice that has shaped the landscape for thousands of years is still at work. At times during the Ice Age of the last two million years, ice extended beyond where it is today to the Tasman Sea.

Lake Matheson now occupies the head of a small valley once filled with a tongue of ice. The lake fills a depression scoured out by an ancient glacier.

Waterfalls cascade down the steep rock faces on all sides and the very size of the place filled us all with awe and deep respect for nature.

We left the Access Road and drove to the Look Out road which gave us a view from a different angle and allowed us to see higher up the glacier although not, unfortunately, to the top of Mount Cook which was lost in clouds.

We made several stops during the day on our way south to Wanaka. First of all at Bruce Bay which was a very unusual area where either the locals or visitors (we had no way of knowing) had used the flotsam and jetsam to build little offerings all the way along the beach. We’d have lingered longer to eat our lunch if the sandflies hadn’t rather ruined it for us and we retreated to the car for safety.

Views from the car were too many to capture on camera but almost everywhere we looked there were wonderful sights to see.

From beautiful lakes and bush reaching up to the sky to what appeared to be petrified trees and enormous rocks that had obviously fallen from above.

We stopped at Knights Point where this memorial stands to commemorate the opening by the Rt Hon Keith Holyoake on 6 November 1965 of the highway linking Westland with Otago via the Haast Pass.

At Thunder Creek we took a short walk to the impressive Thunder Creek Falls.

Thunder Creek ends as a 28-metre high waterfall that tumbles into the Haast River. And if this wasn’t impressive enough, a few kilometers further on we came across the Gates of Haast where torrents of water tumble and rush through a narrow channel with the most beautiful native bush on both sides.

The landscape continued to be very dramatic as we neared Lane Wanaka and our road took us between the beautiful lake on one side and lovely pasture and towering hills on the other.

Leaving Lake Wanaka on our right for what seemed like only a moment, we suddenly came upon Lake Hawea on our left.

Every lake was, of course, as beautiful as every other and we were soon back alongside Lake Wanaka again as we followed the GPS to our accommodation for the night at Hunter Cottage, 32 Hunter Crescent. Although the poor owner, John, had been let down by his cleaners and the bach wasn’t quite ready for us, he rushed around with his delightful 4-year old daughter, Emily, to put everything to rights as quickly as he could.

We were very well served with a fully self-contained quintessential New Zealand bach with 3 bedrooms including 1 queen, 2 single and 1 set of bunk beds. All the linen and towels were supplied, the large kitchen was fully equipped, and if it hadn’t been a bit on the chilly side, the outside balcony with a BBQ might have been very inviting.

As it was, we went into Wanaka for provisions and we enjoyed another lovely home-cooked meal by a roaring fire. The bach owners can be found at Wanaka 03 443 1732 – stay@lakewanakaholiday.co.nz and we can recommend them.

We were delighted to find that Wanaka and the surrounding area were undergoing autumnal transformation and the colours of the trees were changing before our very eyes. After the green of Wellington’s foliage which undergoes very little change throughout the seasons, this was a special treat for me.

We decided to take a brisk walk on the edge of Lake Wanaka before setting off for Te Anau. It was very beautiful, even though the skies were cloudy.

We had a marvellous visit to Puzzling World (reminiscent for me of a glorious visit there with my godfather, Gordon, many years earlier) on the outskirts of Wanaka and we all bought funny puzzles and brain teasers for our little relations.

The journey south was so beautiful that it was as much as we could do to keep driving. We reached the top of the Crown Range.

And dropped down into beautiful Arrowtown where still more colours awaited us not to mention finding a fabulous French restaurant where we succumbed to delicious coffee and crêpes.

We managed to drag Mike away from one of his favourite shops but couldn’t stop the girls exploring a beautiful shop full of cashmere and other woollen garments. The sign in front of these little rabbits grabbed my attention. It said, ‘You can look, but please don’t touch or I may shoot you’!

Everything about Arrowtown was cute and we could easily have spent far longer there had it not been for more stunning scenery that awaited us.

We passed Lake Hayes.

The magnificent Lake Wakatipu, which is nearly 80km long, and dropped in to see the Kingston Flyer at the end of the lake – sadly not currently in working order.

It was a most beautiful drive and we were so glad to find out B&B at Te Anau and to find that we had, again, struck gold with our accommodation and our host, Ray and his little son, James. However, we didn’t linger there for very long but visited the local picture theatre and saw the Shadowlands movie of the area, most of which had been shot from a helicopter. We returned to our B&B and cooked ourselves dinner, sharing the facilities with a lovely Israeli family, currently living in Los Angeles.

Exhausted, we went to bed as quickly as we could because we have a big day tomorrow.

Ray was up early and cooked us a beautiful breakfast.

Before long, we set off with Trips and Tramps to visit Milford Sound with our driver, Adrian, and five other travellers. Adrian gave us a marvellous day. He had heaps of great stories and information about the history, the flora and fauna, avalanches, pest irradication and everything in between.

It was a very cloudy day and our first stop was by the first of several hundred waterfalls where it was very cold. Adrian, however, didn’t seem to feel the cold at all!

But the glacier beside the road at the beginning of the Homer Tunnel showed how very cold it really was.

It felt a bit spooky going through the Homer Tunnel with the thought of the weight of all that ice and snow that could come shooting down the mountain if an avalanche did strike.

The men who built the Milford Road and the Homer Tunnel in the 1930s were, for the most part, victims of the depression and ‘directed’ to do so by the Government. The tunnel is 1207 metres long. The construction period, which spanned nearly twenty years was halted for two periods of six months due to adverse weather conditions and for nine years between 1942-1951 due to World War II. In 1996, two sections of tunnel, 100 metres from each end, were widened to provide passing bays.

For the men of the road and the women who followed them into this wilderness, life was harsh beyond belief. Small town civilization was many hours’ travel away, the rates of pay were pitifully meagre and there were no amenities. The Homer Camp was so hemmed in by the high Alps that it saw no sun from May to September. Avalanches were a daily hazard.

Once the work was completed, maintenance was undertaken by the Government, with the road closing during the winter months until the 1970s when local tourism and fishing groups lobbied successfully for the tunnel to remain open year round.

We were relieved to read that today a sophisticated avalanche programme enables the road to remain open with A 19optimum safety for workers and road users alike.

On the other side of the Tunnel the road was very winding and it took us about two and a half hours in all to do the road journey from Te Anau. But we did eventually arrive at our boat and prepared to set off into the mist and rain of the Sound.

Although we all took heaps of photos, the weather was pretty awful and it was difficult to see the dolphins and the kayakers clearly through the mist and rain.

Water crashed down into the Fiord on all sides of us and made the other boats look like dinky toys.

The vegetation clinging to the rocks was amazing and the huge beech trees we had seen on the road looked like bonsais as they struggled to take root and hang on to the sheer cliff face.

We saw beautiful glimpses of minerals in the rocks.

Because of the huge amount of rain that had fallen recently, there were waterfalls everywhere and, by the end of the boat trip we were all ‘waterfalled out’. However, Adrian thought we might enjoy The Chasm and we stopped there on the drive home.

A sign near this amazing sight reads,

‘The form of the Cleddau river changes dramatically as it passes from hard to soft rock. Cutting through the softer bedrock, the river has created a series of spectacular waterfalls. The force of water and rocks swirling and grinding in its currents has, over thousands of years, created the sculpted rocks and rounded basins of The Chasm. The power of water continues to shape our heritage.’

For me, it wasn’t the water crashing over the enormous rocks that affected me as much as the vegetation, almost always wet and displaying forms I’d never seen before.

Moss clings to the bark of the beech trees to provide it with water when there’s a dry period of several weeks (fairly rare we thought).

Trees and shrubs take on a completely alien form and were wondrous to behold.

And on all sides, the water is crashing through the tiny opening between the rocks, said in Maori legend to have been formed when two lovers were turned to stone before they could embrace. Despite the wet, Pip and Mike enjoyed it all too.

Just so that we could take a quick look at the native fauna too, Adrian stopped by the road so that we could get acquainted with a kea who was on the lookout for an opportunity to be mischievous.

By now it was time for a coffee break and Adrian stopped at Knobs Flat so that he could make a small fire and a brew which was very welcome. While he was cooking up a storm, we inspected the visitor centre and picked up lots more information.

This whole area that we’d been enjoying is a World Heritage site. World Heritage sites aren’t awarded lightly. This site in New Zealand contains the highest mountains, largest glaciers, tallest forests, wildest rivers, most rugged coastline and deepest fiords and lakes. Te Waihipounamu – the place of the greenstone – covers an area of 2.6 million hectares. It’s wild A 31landscape includes Fiordland, Westland, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook National Parks.

This World Heritage site ranks alongside such other natural World Heritage wonders as the Grand Canyon in the USA and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s New Zealand’s responsibility to ensure that the area remains unspoiled so that future generations get a chance to appreciate one of the wild places left on earth. Knobs Flat is home to New Zealand’s only native land mammal – the bat. Long-tailed bats are often seen here catching insects around the beech forest margins during the early evening.

Bats make high frequency sounds to guide themselves through the bush at night. By listening to the echoes bouncing off the surrounding objects, they can avoid collision with trees and even detect their insect prey. Up to 100 bats have been captured, using a special harp net over the roost entrances. They’re weighed, measured, tagged and released in order to measure bat numbers.

The bat trackers use a tiny transmitter, glued to the bats’ fur. Researchers have shown that the bats feed over a 40sq km area of scrub and forest fringe. They've been tracked back to roosts in the hollows of old trees. Each morning a new roost tree is used by the bat colonies. This is probably a technique of ensuring that predators can’t trace their roost sites.

Both the mohua (yellowheads) and the kakariki (parakeets) are struggling for survival in the beech forest of the Eglington valley. As hole nesting birds, they’re easily caught by the introduced mammals, such as the stoat.

We made one more stop, and a beautiful one, at Mirror Lakes.

This is the only photo I took here because I’d been so carried away on the day’s trip that I’d completely exhausted my freshly charged battery.

However, there was just time to stop off at the B&B for an hour so that we could all gobble up some fish and chips before setting off for another boat trip, this time to the glow worm caves at Te Anau. Unfortunately, the lack of a battery meant that I didn't get photos of this. In fact, this visit was the least enjoyable of our trips, probably because we felt that the standard of guiding wasn’t as good as it might have been and there wasn’t sufficient information provided for what we considered to be a fairly scary experience walking through dark caves.

But the boat trip to the other side of the lake was very pretty although we were getting a bit blasé about lakes and stunning scenery by this time.

Another beautiful breakfast this morning, and we were on our way again. The journey from Te Anau to Dunedin is easy country and flat with excellent roads, so we didn’t delay but drove fairly straight through with only one stop for coffee in Gore which was humming.

It was beautiful farming country with sheep, cattle and deer in abundance. It wasn’t long before we reached the outskirts of Dunedin and the first break in the wet weather for several days.

Once again we found that our accommodation was extra good and so we settled in quickly and ate the picnic lunch we’d prepared in Te Anau. Then we headed around the coast road of the peninsular to the royal Albatross Colony. Amazingly, the rain that had been falling for most of the day chose the moment of our arrival to stop and this made a bit difference to our enjoyment of the experience.

Inside, we were greeted by a fabulous guide – Mary who treated us to wonderful information about the mighty albatross, some of her own history, history about how the birds were rescued from the brink of extinction and how they’ve settled at Tairoa Head. And she showed us a great DVD.

Then it was up onto the cliff top and we were very, very lucky with the numbers of birds we saw. There were three chicks on the hillside and, A 38thanks to quite high winds, both adults and adolescent birds kept flying past us, giving us ample opportunity for photographs, albeit from a long way away!

Sometimes the adolescent birds did their networking, making plans for a possible future together.

We spent a little more time at the Colony, looking out for other rare birds that can be seen in the area. Mike, with his binoculars, managed to spot some but it was quite hard to see them with the naked eye.

Driving back into Dunedin we took the central road through the peninsula which enabled us to pass Larnark Castle, the only castle in New Zealand. It was very attractive but not, unfortunately, looking its best in the rain that had begun to fall again.

Because it was Easter Saturday, we did enough shopping to last us until Monday evening, cooked ourselves a lovely meal and all settled down in our various ways to catch up on some of our long overdue emails, postcards and downloading of photos.

Our accommodation in a suite at Forrester Lodge, 353 King Edward Street, Dunedin – 0800 353 800 – office@forresterlodge.co.nz – had proved very convenient and comfortable. Wayne and Sue were great hosts and attended to all our needs. It took longer to cook porridge for the team using only a microwave but that was the only problem. Packing ahieved, we made our way to St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral for the morning service at 10.00. At this stage of the day, the sun was shining out of a brilliantly blue sky. But the wind chill factor meant that the temperature was probably only about 10º.

It was a very long service because three of the congregation were being baptized, ready for their confirmation in July. But the choir sang beautifully and the Choir Master finished the service by treating us to a beautiful and accomplished organ rendition of Symphonie 1 by Louis Vierne.

We joined the clergy and members of the congregation for a cup of coffee and chats before venturing out into the now cold day.

We wandered around the very distinctive Railway Station and enjoyed the architecture apparent on all sides – in this photo, the Law Courts.

Then it was time to head north but not before we paid a visit to the steepest street in the world on the northern outskirts of the City. I only ventured up a little way but far enough to appreciate the way in which the houses had to be built in order to deal with the elevations.

Mike, Pip and Gill went right to the top and arrived down again feeling very fit, very warm and only a little exhausted.

This street’s steepest gradient is 1 in 2.86. Over its 161.2 metre length of the top section, it climbs a vertical height of 47.22 A 45metres, which is an average gradient of 1 in 3.41.

Every year, during Dunedin’s festival, large numbers of athletes, including family groups, take part in social and competitive foot races to the top of the street and back. These races are known as the Baldwin Street Gutbuster.

The street is named after Stephen Baldwin who carried out the original subdivision. Baldwin was a member of the Otago Provincial Council and founder of the Otago Guardian newspaper in 1873.

Leaving the city behind us, we appreciated more lovely views as we headed north.

Just before we arrived at our A 50destination of Moeraki, we stopped to admire the views of the bay ahead of us and then diverted to Shag Point to see the fur seals, the black-backed gulls, and the Shags.

Coal was mined at Shag Point for over 100 years, starting around 1863, with most of it mined below sea level. By 1880, extraction had peaked at 36,000 tons annually and there were more than 170 employees.

In 1875 the little coastal steamer, ss Shag, joined the trade, slipping into the narrow harbour to load. It was said that miners, working beneath the shoreline, could hear the throb of the engine and propeller.

A branch railway was built in 1879 and eventually, the bulk of the coal was shipped out. The old line is now an access road for the homes and holiday cottages. Many of the 30 dwellings along the road from the highway date from the mining days. About half of them are permanently occupied, the rest are holiday cottages.

We headed to our accommodation at Noah’s Boutique Accommodation, where Ron and Pauline made us feel very much at home. Their B&B is at 2 Coronation Street, Moeraki 03 439 4998, 027 408 0067 – noahs.boutique@xtra.co.nz – and once again we were very lucky with our choice.

One of the reasons for choosing Moeraki to stay the night was because we wanted to see the yellow-eyed penguins who are reputed to come up the beach at night to return to their burrows. We really hoped we’d be lucky enough to time our visit right and it was made more difficult because summertime had come to an end the night before and we weren’t sure that the penguins would have changed their clocks. But Pauline helped us to time it just right and we were very lucky.

Some were alone and some were in pairs but all of them seemed quite relaxed about being photographed and didn’t seem to mind if we got quite close and were very quiet and respectful of their space.

Meanwhile, seals were sunning themselves on the rocks below where the sand was almost orange.

We stayed there for so long that the sun was beginning to set as we walked back to the car park.

A second highlight to be found in Moeraki is Fleur’s. Fleur is a restaurateur par excellence and her renovated ‘shed’ has to be seen to be believed. Booking at Fleur’s is essential and we hadn’t, but Pauline managed to pull a few strings and we arrived to find the place packed out and just four chairs at a table for six at which a couple were already sitting.

We got talking and, as we’ve discovered so many times on this A 56trip, soon found a close connection. Their children had gone to primary school with Megan’s children (with whom we’d stayed in Masterton two weeks earlier). It was great to swap stories and to hear about their life with their nine children!

After a truly delicious meal, we returned to Noah’s to sleep, vowing to come back in daylight the next morning.

True to our word, we packed and drove straight back to Fleur’s where breakfast was being served from a caravan in front of the restaurant. As we’d already eaten, we spent the time hearing about Fleur’s wonderful life and the team gave me the wonderful gift of her book, Fleur’s Place, full of not only her amazing recipes but also brimming with wonderful photographs and testimonials from such luminaries as Rick Stein and Peta Mathias. I’ll A 58treasure it.

Before we left, we took a few photos of the location and of the shed itself. In daylight, there was nothing obvious from the outside how much it came alive when filled with appreciative diners.

But we could all remember the excellent meal we’d shared the night before and I was now armed with the recipes. Clearly Jim and Barbara had come up with the same idea as ours and it was good to see them again before we headed off, bound this time for the Boulders.

The famous Moeraki Boulders lie scattered along the shore between Moeraki and Hampden on the east coast. They’re remarkable for their size and roundness and there’s nothing quite like them anywhere else in New Zealand.

Maori legend tells us that the Ngati Tahu people of the area relate the Moeraki Boulders to the wreck of the great canoe, Arai Te Uru. As it was travelling south, the canoe foundered in a storm near Matakaea (Shag Point). It’s cargo was washed up on the nearby beaches. The round food baskets and water gourds are Te Kai Hinaki (the Moeraki Boulders) while the seed kumara (sweet potatoes) are the irregularly shaped boulders further south.

The hull of Arae Te Uru forms the reef which extends into the sea at Shag Point and the large rock nearby is Hipo, the navigator. Several of the hills between Moeraki and Palmerston carry the names of crew members. The hills can also be taken to represent the giant waves that overwhelmed the canoe.

The scientific explanation is that the Moeraki Boulders were once buried in the mudstone cliffs at the back of the beach. For millions of years the sea has been eroding these cliffs, washing away the soft mudstone which surrounds these boulders. In the process, the cliffs have constantly slumped seaward and the boulders have been left lying on the shoreline. There are countless more still embedded in the mudstone, waiting to be uncovered.

They’re very big, looked magnificent framed by the wonderful cloud formation of the day seemed to be appearing out of the face of the cliff and provided plenty of photo opportunities for passing mermaids.

Tearing ourselves away, Pip and I passed a couple of deer who were clearly being fed by the visitors as they were very tame.

We drove on to Oamaru where we wished we’d had more time to enjoy the beautiful Victorian architecture but unfortunately it was Easter Monday and most things were shut.

We didn’t see the Blue Penguins because it was the wrong time of day, but we visited the Penguin Centre and enjoyed the signs we passed nearby.

By this time, the sky was a picture all of its own and made me remember that New Zealand is called the land of the long white cloud. We were hoping that Aoraki Mount Cook would still be in sunshine by the time we got there. We enjoyed driving along beside Lakes Aviemore and Benmore but didn’t dare linger for too long to take photos because we could see the foothills of Mount Cook in the distance.

We checked quickly into our accommodation at Omahau Downs High Country Farm accommodation, SH8 Twizel – 03 435 0199 – omahaudowns@xtra.co.nz where Sean (and Nicola) immediately made us feel at home and showed us to our original 3-bedroomed farm cottage and shearer’s quarters. We had the whole house to ourselves and it was a real treat to have a lounge and dining room again, as well as a big kitchen and three bedrooms big enough to roll around in.

But we didn’t linger because we wanted to reach this very special mountain.

Maori whakapapa (genealogy) tells that in the beginning, all was darkness Te Po). Out of the first glimmer of light (Te Ao), long-standing light (Te Aoturoa) emerged until it stood in all quarters. Encompassing everything was a womb of emptiness, an intangible void (Te Kore). This void was intense in its search for procreation. Finally, it reached its ultimate boundaries and became a parentless void (Te Korematua) but with the potential for life. And so moisture (Te Maku) emerged and coupled A 71with a cloud that grew from the dawn (Mahoranuiatea). From this union came the heavens (Raki) who coupled with the breath of life found in the womb of darkness (Poharua Te Po). The first child in this chain of creation was Mount Cook (Aoraki) who stands as the supreme mountain of Ngāi Tahu.

As luck would have it, the mountain had been clear of the clouds around lunchtime but we weren’t early enough to see it. Nevertheless, we did manage to take heaps of photos of the foothills of the mountains and glaciers we could see and hoped for better photographic conditions tomorrow as we drive to Lake Tekapo.

The team decided to take the car to the Tasman walk and venture further up the mountain while I elected to stay in the Visitor Centre and write postcards in the Café. However, my plans changed when Janet, the daughter of my Pukekohe friends, Alex and Jenny, returned my call and popped down to meet me in the café for a cup of coffee.

We had a lovely long chat and she gave me heaps of advice for our drive to Christchurch tomorrow. She also let slip that she’d written a paper a few years earlier about the Moeraki Boulders and promised to look it out for me. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours and also to see the team safely returned from their walk which they described as threatening.

We retraced our 45 minute long steps to our accommodation, cooked a lovely meal, played Gin Rummy and went to bed knowing that we’d all sleep really well – again.

Another grey day with rain falling heavily enough to make things unpleasant, we set off to try and find the rare black Stilt in the wild but we weren’t sure how long we’d have to go along the unmade road, so we turned back and set off along the banks of the canal towards Tekapo. Passing along the side of Lake Pukaki, we saw part of the amazing Waitaki River canal system between lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, Benmore and Ohau.

Lake Tekapo is the first of a series of hydro-storage lakes that store and release water for power generation along the Waitaki River system. This Waitaki River power development generates about 30 percent of the total electric power used in New Zealand, and Lake Tekapo contains the second-largest amount of water storage legally available for power generation within the country.

It was one thing to see the pipes leading from one lake to another and another to see the canal stretching out into the distance.

Then it was on to the Salmon Farm where we tried to feed the salmon and photograph them simultaneously but it was really very difficult because they took the food so quickly and disappeared just as fast.

Leaving the canal system behind us, we drove on to one of the most beautiful lakes and all it has to offer – Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd.

As if the Church itself and the view around it aren’t beautiful enough there’s a great monument to the value of the high country sheepdogs of New Zealand – something of obvious interest to me, even though Jessie wasn’t a high country sheepdog in the true sense.

While I’d been talking to Janet at Mount Cook Village, she’d recommended a wonderful café in Geraldine and we were very glad she did. Tucked away it would have been hard to spot but it was really excellent and we enjoyed a big lunch so that we could snack when we arrived at our accommodation in Christchurch.

But before we got there, we stopped off very quickly to visit the Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport where we finally saw the enchanting Blue Penguin, many of which at this facility, have been found sick or injured.

And finally we arrived at our lovely accommodation on the outskirts of Christchurch. Lorna and Steve live at Miners Arms Alpaca Farmstay Bed and Breakfast – 441 Old West Coast Road, RD6 Christchurch 03 342 5827 – lorna@minersarms.co.nz Lorna made us very welcome and nothing was too much trouble. We can recommend this accommodation highly.

Their home was originally the site of the “Miners Arms Hotel” – the first stagecoach posting house from Christchurch to the West Coast in the 1860s and 1870s – hence the name the property has been known by ever since. They are now a comfortable, modern and relaxing B+B where we could enjoy the best of the countryside, close to Christchurch city attractions. Their home is set beside the old road to the West Coast, just 10 kilometres from Christchurch, and a 10 minute drive to the Airport and Antarctic Centre.

We explored parts of their 10 acres of woodland, paddocks, tasty plum orchards and gardens. We met the alpacas, sheep, and Maremma sheepdogs, and George, their black Labrador.

We caught up with our washing and our emails in our dining room. We also enjoyed beautiful continental and cooked breakfasts both mornings we were there, delighting in their own eggs, local bacon and delicious Burbank plum jam which Lorna makes, among other preserves. It was so good, I had to take a jar home with me.

We tore ourselves away from breakfast on our first morning to explore Akaroa, a charming little town on Banks Peninsular. It’s one and a half hours from Christchurch, but was well worth the journey.

Our first stop was at Kaitorete Spit, which is about 6,000 years old. Gravel carried downstream from the Rakaia River is swept north by ocean currents and deposited on the spit. The ocean is constantly eroding it in the west and building it in the east. The spit tapers in width from 100metres at its western end to 3.2 km in the east.

The spit has considerable cultural value to the Ngai Tahu because of the ancestral associations with the area. Its ancestral name, Ka Poupou Rakihouia denotes the function of the spit which is similar to that of an eel weir, guiding eels into the mouth of the eel trap. This lovely man was smoking the eels he’d caught and very kindly gave us some to try. The spit was an important main trail between Canterbury and the south as well as a place for seasonal food gathering, tool making and fishing camps. Precious stones can be found all along the beach.

Kaitorete is very hot, dry and windy. Annual rainfall is low and in summer the temperature can be over 40ºC. It’s a tough environment for the plants and animals that live here.

We drove on along the road with beautiful views in all directions, sharing our coffee stop with a couple of goats.

The town itself, when we got there, is still peaceful and mostly unspoiled, with leafy roads and lovely buildings and more stunning views all the way home again.

We were just in time to help Lorna to feed the animals, change and make our way to a lovely dinner at the home of yet another Sherborne Old Girl, Hilary, who’d come out to New Zealand in 1961, met her future husband at Canterbury University and settled with him in Christchurch.

A 92It was great to catch up and the conversation over a beautiful dinner and magnificent hospitality was a non-stop catch up of very many years.

It was sad to leave our lovely hosts but Pip needed to get a tooth checked at a dentist so we left fairly early to keep an appointment. Fortunately, with some anti-biotics prescribed, it appeared that all would be well until she got home again. So we parked near the Botanical Gardens and split up so that we could all choose our own ways to spend a day with the many attractions on offer.

The Cathedral was, of course, a good place to start with its beautiful gothic interior and the statue of John Robert Godley, who founded the City in 1850.

In the Cathedral Square, a market was taking up much of the space and there was a bouncy area where children were having a great time.

In the fascinating Museum there were so many wonderful displays, including the iron try pots used by whalers who arrived in 1798. Whaling off Canterbury began around Banks Peninsula in 1835 and the first shore whaling station was established in 1837 at Peraki. This signaled the start of continuous European settlement in Canterbury.

In a shore whale station, the try-works and blubber stripping equipment were set up in a bay and boats were sent out each day or whales were spotted from lookout points. The owners arranged for provisions to be dropped off and for the oil to be picked up at intervals.

Just behind the Museum, the Botanical Gardens were magnificent with the trees just beginning to show their autumn colours.

The Begonia House was a riot of colour too.

Hopping on and off the faithful tram was a help as there was so much ground to cover in a limited amount of time.

A visit to the Art Gallery and the wonderful Arts Centre with people practising their art, the Avon river with  people happily punting, Christ’s College Boy’s School, the statue honouring Scott of the Antarctic, and the amazing work site claiming to be New Zealand’s most sustainable building, awarded 6 green stars which will, one day, be occupied by Christchurch City Council.

It was getting late, so we set off for Blenheim at 3.20, knowing that we had quite a long journey ahead of us after quite a tiring day. And it proved to be just about as much as we could handle. The road was fairly clear but it seemed to go on forever and we’d made the mistake of not checking the fuel gauge so we knew we were getting low.

However, we limped into Blenheim, quickly filled up with fuel and bought some provisions to make dinner with and checked into our motel. Unfortunately, this was not one of the better choices, so I won’t mention it here.

And so we’d reached our final day of travelling before the last two days to be spent in Camborne, washing, ironing and packing for the troops. The weather was divine. No wind and a temperature of about 18 degrees. So we decided to set off early for the Ferry and spend a bit of time exploring Picton. Mike and Pip wanted to see if they could meet up with the relative of a friend and sure enough, they found him running Hammer Hardware in the High Street.

We saw Picton at its very best. The sun was shining on a shimmering sea and the vegetation looked wonderful.

Lots of little boats were moored in the harbour and it was a pleasure to stroll around and enjoy the sunshine after so many cold and sometimes wet days.

Soon it was time to board the Ferry and Mike and Pip set to work to catch up on writing their postcards in between quick sorties out onto the deck to see the views of passing speedboats and peaceful hillsides, not to mention a smack of jellyfish.

It was a different scene when we drew closer to Wellington because here, the hills were burnt and brown but the windmills looked majestic at the top of the Karori hill.

Finally, the Wellington skyline appeared before us and it was great to disembark, enjoy a good run home, fill the fridge and larder with provisions, cook a great meal and settle back, knowing that we had completed our journey.

But before we went to bed, it was a perfect night to visit a friend who lives far away from any ambient lights and for the team from England to glory in the night sky with the aid of an explanatory map provided by Pamela. Hard as it was to contemplate everything back to front and upside down, it was enough to marvel at the extent of the sky and the myriad of stars.

What a way to end a beautiful adventure. And to cap it all, my visitors were generous enough to take their ‘New Zealand tour guide’ out to dinner the following evening (their last) for a very special meal at Café Vella in Plimmerton, a place that never disappoints. What a wonderful way to finish an excellent holiday with special friends.

Travelling around New Zealand with English friends - 16 March to 9 April 2010

 
 
 
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