A long drive to the house with the hot tub – Picton

At 7.30am sharp we were packed up and ready for the off … leaving Twizel and heading to Picton. We had lots of sandwiches, drinks and snacks ready for what we predicted to be an 8-9 hour journey, Steve and Greg taking it in turns at the wheel. Kaye and I naturally giving great moral support from the back seat.

And today the sun was SO strong it was literally blinding (why not yesterday!!). Albeit from a distance, we did manage to see Mount Cook in its full glory as we passed.

Part of the journey was a return of the drive down …. again we stopped at Fairlie so Steve could stock up on pies … and again we passed through ‘Geraldine’ and saw the many signs of shops and cafes belonging to Geraldine!! But, as there had been so many roadworks on the way down, Steve and Greg had decided to take a different route through the mountains to avoid the numerous stop/go signs. Was that a wise decision!? My assessment of that would probably have been a NO! It was scariest mountain range we had driven through in terms of height, drops, no barriers at the side of the roads … because hardly anyone else used that road! Our men did a great job, naturally, and it might have been a bit quicker, but it was an eyes shut job from the back!! I couldn’t even open my eyes to snack!!!

The weary drivers swapped over every 2-3 hours and we all stopped for drinks, lunch etc occasionally …. we finally arrived in Picton about 4.30pm. So relieved to find we had a gorgeous house for the night, in fact so sad it was one night only. We met the owners, John and Gaylene, who vacate their beautiful home for their airbnb guests and live in a caravan down the road – one asks why!!? And we had WI-FI- the first time in 4 days, how exciting is that!!?

Loved this billboard that we saw in town, hanging outside a Backpackers’ hostel.

After a rest and a huge Wi-fi catch up, we wandered into town, only a 10 minute stroll. We’d been to Picton when we first arrived on the South Island so we knew our way around. Walked around the harbour area, admiring all the boats once again, saw the cruise liner docked up, then it was time to hit the bars. Had a beautiful dinner of local salmon whilst overlooking the harbour and beach.

Another stroll after dinner, back to the house. There was some building works going on and huge yellow diggers were just parked up for the night – a young boy’s dream – I know two little boys in Weymouth who would have loved to climb up onto one of those!!

And we had a hot tub … so it would have been rude not to use it … and of course you have to drink wine in a hot tub.

Cheers 🍷🍷

Arrowtown, Twizel and Mount Cook … every one a winner 👍

Friday 16th February 2018

We were up and out by 10.00am, saying a fond farewell to our cosy Queenstown cottage (we had been reminded on several occasions that check out time was strictly 10.00am – so we hit it on the spot!) and climbed back into our trusty vehicle for today’s drive to Twizel.

We took an early stop at nearby Arrowtown as this had been suggested by our friends Fran and Andy – a fabulous place, we had wished that we’d found time over the previous days to visit … would highly recommend if you’re ever in this area. A quaint, time stood still place with a great community feel – loved the shops, cafes and particularly the cinema (called Dorothy Browns, which was my Nana’s name) … it’s a tiny cinema and serves cheese and wine as you view.

Had a cup of coffee before we left and were served (eventually) by a young girl with an incredibly deep voice and a plethora of tattoos. A little further on we passed a renowned bungee jumping spot so stopped to view … some 10 years ago we watched as Tom did this very thing off Storm Bridge in South Africa – a heart stopping moment!!

Again, a mixture of weathers today … it didn’t know ‘whether’ to rain or to shine!! Spotted some cows lying down and laughed about how Mum always said this indicated rain …. this led on to other Mum sayings like when it rains with sunshine it’s a Monkey’s Birthday … and of course Mum insisting we wear clean underwear when we go out in case we have an accident!!!

Another rollercoaster day of hills and valleys – real ‘Lord of the Rings’ landscape. Amazing rock formations, cloud formations, waterfalls … made me think of Mrs. Sawyer, my old geography teacher … wished I’d listened more now – though I did get a ‘B’ in my ‘O’ level !

Mid-afternoon we arrived at our very large house in Twizel. Not many people have heard of Twizel – it’s not a renowned stopover town … but we fancied a two night stopover and this enabled us to visit Mount Cook the following day. I kept thinking of that old childhood favourite – Twizzle – the boy puppet with the ability to extend or twizzle his legs and arms (please tell me some of you remember it)!! After a cuppa we headed out to explore the area, a quiet country town, not too much going on – beautiful walks by the river though. Shopped and barbecued and even managed a bit of telly – relaxed in our new home. During the evening we had a ‘German invasion’ – we were sat in the upstairs lounge when a family of four walked in … they too were staying in an airbnb and considered this to be theirs … a phone call later sorted this out … they had chosen the wrong number house … lucky they hadn’t arrived earlier and settled themselves in!!

Saturday 17th February 2018

Woke up to rain … lots of it. Steve and Greg still got up and did their exercising thing – I’m much more of a fairweather exerciser myself. Bacon and eggs for breakfast again and then we set off on our drive to Mount Cook. The clouds were beginning to shift by now and we held out hope of a good view after our 50 minute trip. A beautiful scenic trip as always – stark rugged mountains contrasting with dark greenery and again the lakes turquoise with mineral salts.

Unfortunately it was still bucketing it down when we reached Mount Cook so we started with the Visitor Centre – a fabulous exhibition of climbs and climbers past and present. We even coffee’d to kill more time … but still the Mount was shrouded in cloud. We were able to take a walk up (UP being the operative word!) to a glacier point – a climb + 343 BIG steps worth – but OHHH the view … it was more than worth it.

You could sense the freezing temperatures off the water below and there were still chunks of ice floating – magnificent.

As only could happen to us, on our drive home the sun began to shine … full blue skies, not a cloud … it was tempting to turn back. But we headed back to our big house for a lovely lunch on the balcony instead … with clear mountain views!

And the day wouldn’t have been complete without a wander down to the river too … this time we all jumped in for a swim – fabulous clear water, not warm exactly but refreshing and exhilarating.

After all that exertion, a chilled evening was required. Tomorrow’s journey was to be a long one … we had miscalculated the route when booking – thinking it would be 5-6 hours but in reality it was to be more like 8-9 hours … so an early 7.30am start had been decided. Oh my, life on the open road …. 😉

Mountain views and turquoise lakes … heading to Queenstown

I can’t stop myself from constantly waxing lyrical about our road trip views – the scale of what surrounds you is beyond imagination. Today’s trip again brought mountains, hills, rivers, lakes, vineyards – fabulous. We left Christchurch in thick cloud but the sun grew stronger and stronger and the sky turned blue as the day progressed. I loved capturing the shadow of the clouds as they rolled over the hills by mid-afternoon.

We passed through many towns and villages of varying styles and sizes – still quite an Art Deco influence in places. Was excited to find the town of ‘Geraldine’ (my beautiful sister’s name) … of course had to stop for a photo! It was so funny to drive through the town and see ‘Geraldine Information Centre,’ ‘Geraldine High School,’ ‘Geraldine Pharmacy’ and ‘Discover Geraldine!’ I’d love a town named after me!

Another of Peter’s recommendations was to stop off in the town of Fairley to sample their famous pies – and what a top class recommendation that was. For lunch we tucked into Mince and Cheese, Creamy Chicken and Pork Belly and Apple pies – they were delicious …. the ‘boys’ also had cake!! (And Steve bought me a Valentine’s Cup Cake … romance and yumminess all rolled into one)! ❤️

Onwards we drove … a fair old drive … but we hit a stretch that was truly magnificent – Lake Tekapo and then Lake Pulaki – such huge bodies of turquoise water, completely empty of swimmers, boats, bridges …. just pure water for miles.

By the time we arrived at our airbnb destination in Queenstown – the sun was fully shining … we settled into our lovely little cottage, far enough out of town to avoid the crowds and with the most spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu. It was however on a particularly busy road and next door to a campsite – so a little noisy during the night (chatty backpackers)! And … horror upon horror …… NO WI-FI!!

Kaye made Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner which we all heartily tucked into … then we took an evening stroll along the shores of Lake Wakatipu – admiring ‘The Remarkables’ (popular mountain range for skiers) …. and enjoyed the starry night skies.

We were all up and active early in the morning – Steve headed out running, Greg found a nearby park to do his workout and Kaye and I took a speed walk around the lake (not quite all the way round …. we made it as far as The Hilton)! We ladies walked back in to the aroma of bacon and egg cooking – our wonderful masterchefs were in full flight … we were soon tucking into streaky, scrambled and lashings of buttered toast, setting us up for the day – well, at least till lunchtime!! As we enjoyed breakfast, aeroplanes were flying low just outside our window, coming into land at the nearby airport …. despite sitting patiently during our stay, I never managed to catch one on camera.

Our first plan for the day was to walk into Queenstown, along the lake. One of the reviews for our airbnb had suggested it would take about 40 minutes …. and of course we believed that!! The walk was fabulous, even though the rain had started, but 40 minutes came and went … it was much more like one hour and 40 minutes – still, great exercise, not complaining!! Had a little look around Queenstown – quite busy and touristy but interesting.

Sampled a coffee bar then decided on a lake cruise – only problem was the wind had got up, big time … but Tom (from Luton – so much football talk exchanged!!) assured us they wouldn’t go out if it wasn’t safe – so we faithfully boarded the vessel. The Captain was hilarious, started off with a little chat before we boarded including showing us the huge lake trout by feeding them. Once on board, it turned out that as well as Captaining the boat he also did all the crewing, entertaining and was barman too … this involved leaving the boat to steer itself at times while he nipped upstairs or to the back of the boat, whatever was required. He announced that it would be a bumpy start until we got round the corner …. and he wasn’t wrong … we were riding some pretty high waves! It did chill out though and we were then able to go and sit on the upper deck and enjoy the ride and commentary – beautiful views, beautiful millionaire houses, majestic mountains.

My favourite part of the trip was ‘being Captain’ …. thought this role suited me!!

My least favourite bit was when we hit the harbour again …. the waves had got even higher and we were bouncing around like good’uns with torrential spray at the windows (we had vacated the upper deck by this time)! I might have let out the odd squeal … but tried to contain myself when the Captain asked “Who IS that screaming!?” … as I had only been at the helm 10 minutes earlier!

After this exertion, we settled on a glass of wine and some antipasti – met another young English person working in Queenstown – Lisa from Ipswich … it seems to be the town for young English travellers.

Popped back to the cottage to refresh and then finished off the day with a few jars at an Irish Pub (as you may have gathered – Irish pubs are big in NZ) with a bit of diddly diddly live music, followed by a yummy Italian meal. We had intended further drinking and dancing … but bed called!! Our late night days are over … but we can still rock with the best of them on occasion!! 😎🎶🎉

And so to Christchurch – earthquake city

Another long day in the car today … but we are seasoned travellers on a road trip so that’s how our life rolls!! Just spending one night in Christchurch – best not to stick around too long in case there are any rumbles! Christchurch’s nickname is the Garden City but it also known for suffering a series of earthquakes between 2010 and 2012 – the most destructive of them occurring in February 2011, killing 185 people and leaving severe damage to buildings. There is still now an ongoing recovery project.

Some particularly winding mountain roads again today, lots of vineyards with their vines paraded in neat rows, hills in all shapes and sizes – some green some more yellow and dry. We kept seeing signs saying ‘Expect Trains’ – we weren’t quite sure what to expect but we actually didn’t see a train the whole time we were in the South Island. Driving along we also passed a sign saying ‘Christchurch open‘ – thought that was quite lucky as that’s where we were heading … presuming it’s sometimes closed due to earthquake or maybe snow!? Another sign we passed said that Fire Danger was ‘very high’ – all in all, wondered what we were getting ourselves into!

Our journey took us onto the East coastal road … and it was beautiful …. miles and miles of unused beach, as far as the eye could see. Again, black sand which is not always the most attractive, but the sea looked gorgeous. It was a fair old stretch of road to get through but we were entertained by seal spotting – there were loads of them, including a whole pod of them swimming. Unfortunately, with the car moving and the seals jumping off and on the rocks too, I didn’t manage to capture any on camera – but it was exciting to see them in such great quantity.

Further along this stretch of road we hit substantial roadworks – rerouting of roads due to cliff fall (recent earthquake damage) + repair to the cliff sides. We passed through a succession of stop/go signs (very small signs – we nearly went straight past the first one!) being held up mostly by attractive young girls or young men … and we received lots of smiles and waves – it was like they’d been on a customer service course. And as for cones, I have never ever seen so many – they must be big business in New Zealand. We couldn’t believe some of the workers and equipment working at the heights they were, made your stomach churn!!

Finally we arrived in Christchurch and located our airbnb for the night. We were met by the house owner, Peter, who showed us around his beautiful home (fabulous garden too) and to the annexe that we had booked. You could tell immediately that there was some interior design influence and later when we met Cheryl we found out that it was her line of work. They were exceptionally friendly hosts, we sat and chatted with them in the garden for some time before we went out for the evening.

On Peter and Cheryl’s recommendation, our first port of call was the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ which is a recent construction as part of the City’s recovery project. All around you can witness remains of the earthquake devastation – damaged buildings and empty lots waiting for development. Many of the new builds are square box modern design and are limited to six floors in height – they seem to be struggling to regain their city character. In the cathedral there was a service taking place with a boys choir singing – it was perfect.

It was the most amazing sky that night – I’ve noticed that the cloud formation in New Zealand often looks so different to back home.

Again, on Peter and Cheryl’s recommendation we had a couple of drinks at ‘Bloody Mary’s’ and then moved on to OGB (Old Government Building) for something to eat. This was a great bar/restaurant – brilliant food, perfect service, fabulous atmosphere, live music. We sat outside … as it turned colder we had to resort to the provided blankets to keep us warm.

Another long day completed, we sunk into our oh so sumptuous bed – each stop along the way seems to bring even more cushions on the bed!! Beautifully styled though 😊

From North Island to South Island, New Zealand

Sunday 11th February 2018

We were all a little weary (and achey) when we woke in the morning, and set about getting packed and set for the long journey to Wellington. Gary (last night’s taxi driver) didn’t choose to join us!!! Drove through some most amazing mountain ranges – the scenery of this country never ceases to amaze you. As always, Steve and Greg shared the ‘road trip’ driving while Kaye and I soaked in the scenery (and today nodded off from time to time).

We checked into our Aparthotel, centrally based in this high rise city. It was still raining! Very comfortable apartment with excellent views, (+ washing machine and a tumble dryer – always a bonus for travellers)! We hadn’t arrived until 4.30pm so we had a quick turn around to get to the Museum which was closing at 6.00pm. We were having an early start in the morning for the ferry so we wanted to experience something in the city and with the weather this seemed a good choice. And it certainly was … we only had time to visit the travelling exhibition which was ‘Gallipoli – The scale of our war,’ – it was excellent. A really personally based tribute and explanation of the Australian and New Zealand troops’ experiences at Gallipoli in the Great War. Personal stories, giant size exhibits of real characters, excellent effects used to depict attacks from both sides and amazing models of the front line encampments. We all enjoyed it. Wandered back ‘home’ in the rain … wishing we had ‘wellington’ boots!!

There were so many options for eating out that night and different parts of the city to see … but instead we opted for the Irish bar across the road … and were rewarded with the most delicious steak and ale pie and the boys got their Guinness.

Monday 12th February 2018

It’s hard to believe but we were up at 6.00am (those early rise days seem to be something from the dim and distant past now)!! Our ferry to the South Island was leaving at 8.00am and we had to be there an hour before. It was lots of queueing but eventually we boarded and made straight for the cafe. Steve managed to head up the breakfast queue – hungry boy! They were a little disorganised and short staffed to say the least – by the time I got to the hot drinks/cashier person (1) my bacon and tomatoes were cold and (2) they had run out of coffee!!

It was a 3 hour trip but it passed quite quickly, especially once we entered the Marlborough Sounds, where there is the most magnificent scenery all around – the wonder of it brings tears to your eyes. So the last hour of the trip was spent outside at the front of the ferry sightseeing, taking photos etc., just soaking it all up. No sign of Leonardo and Kate though!!

And we arrived in Sunny Picton – finally the weather was glorious, as was Picton – a very pretty little town. There was also a Cruise Liner docked up – always a spectacular sight. Picton has a beach, beautiful hill walks, a market, lots of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants – this day it was overflowing with ‘cruisers.’ Mooched around the market for a while then spent some lounging time at the beach as it was so good to feel the sun on your back again – picnic time. Fitted in a little walk around the town before we left – beautiful marina with some pretty stunning boats … Steve and I considered selling the house and buying a boat – watch out kids!! A few of the bars had live music going – on a Monday afternoon! – it was hopping!

We had to drag ourselves away from Picton as we were actually staying just up the road that night, in Blenheim. Another great accommodation – it was a Pod build – bit like a prefab but so beautifully designed inside. Caught up on some washing (the chores never go away)!, had a great barbecue and rounded off the night with a good old Irish and Australian folk sing-a-long!!

Art Deco town – Napier, Hawkes Bay

Unfortunately the bad weather had descended upon us … it rained all 3 days that we were in Napier, so we didn’t really see it in its best light. But it was a fabulous town all the same … we made the best of it.

Friday 9th February 2018

Steve was up early for a run (in the pouring rain) along Napier’s charming seaside promenade. I eagerly arose and made my way down to the fitness room, only to find out that there’d been a change of ownership and this room was now closed – oh well, I tried!!

After breakfast we headed out on a drive to Te Mata Peak, known locally as the sleeping giant and a place that had been highly recommended to visit – passing lots of wineries on the way. It was a really steep and really high drive up to the top (400m) … so naturally lots of anxiety kicked in!! The views from the top were just amazing though … so I had to admit that the scare was worth it. Mountain peaks and rolling hills for miles, as well as overlooking the Havelock North wineries. We were considering a walk around some of the mountain paths – there were several options of varying severity …. first we took a walk up to the highest viewing point. Now, when I had got out of the car, I had put on my jumper and my waterproof – there was a fair old breeze blowing … as I was chatting to Kaye and Steve I felt a tickle around my arm and realised something was crawling around inside my jumper. Apparently, in quite a comical fashion, I whipped off both waterproof and jumper at high speed … but too late, the bee had stung!! Steve gallantly removed the sting …. Kaye and I slipped into ‘child practitioner’ mode immediately – applying cold water and watching for signs of anaphylactic shock!! … all the while the sting persisted … but no after affects!!!

Mention of popping into a winery on the way back to the hotel somehow helped ease the pain. We stopped by at the Black Barn Winery in Havelock North, as we had tickets for a Ben Waters concert there the following evening. (Ben is a musician we know from home, a most brilliant piano player). As the weather forecast was looking a bit bleak we wanted to get an idea of the outdoor seating arrangements. It’s a fabulous vineyard with super posh restaurant attached – we just stopped for a coffee as our walking attire did not match those of the other dining clientele!

Sadly the rain persisted during the day … but we set off on a walk around this interesting city of Napier. Greg had picked up a route from Tourist Information – walking along the promenade and then up …. and up …. and up again, looking at the different areas of town. Such a range of housing from colonial style to modern architecturally designed … and of course Art Deco – it has the largest concentration of Art Deco in the Southern Hemisphere. The city had been rebuilt in this style after an earthquake in 1931 had flattened buildings. We eventually made our way down the hill and into the town centre … and yes, it was still raining!! We found an amazing shop selling all things vintage, very much with an Art Deco emphasis – there is a festival here in at the end of February where it would seem all locals and visitors adorn the gear and party like it’s the 30s!!

We decided on an early dinner and chose Breakers – a surfers’ restaurant – as our food place for today, followed by a quick drink at the Irish Bar where we were so excited to be asked to join in their game of ‘Spin the Wheel.’ (Irish bars are hugely popular in New Zealand). We didn’t win any of the garlic bread, pizza or Guinness hat prizes – gutted!!

So, all this and it was still only 7.00pm. There was only one thing for it, a night in … tucked up in our hotel room, listening to the pouring rain outside, a few snacks and the telly – marvellous!!

Saturday 10th February 2018

Woke up to rain!! Steve went off to do the Park Run … I went for the other option of a lie in and some reading – much more civilised … oh, and I caught up on some blogging too!!

After some brekkie we did a few laps in the hotel swimming pool, nothing too strenuous!! Then we just sort of hung out really, waiting for the rain to pass – but it didn’t. Eventually we took a short walk out to get some fresh air … back along the promenade, onto the beach (black volcanic sand), the Centennial Gardens which were pretty (but the waterfall was dry!!) up to the port which was vast – endless crates for the logging and wine industry, then back to base – like drenched rats.

But today was all about the evening – we were off to see Ben Waters perform at the Black Barn winery. And due to extreme conditions we had to have a change of plan in terms of what we would wear. Our ‘fineries’ were replaced by long trousers, layers of tops and boots!! We had brought plastic sheeting to sit on, cushions in bin liners, waterproof ponchos – oh yeh – we were ready for the outdoor concert and dancing – bring it on!! We had a lovely taxi driver – Gary – who said he would return later to pick us up. When we arrived, we discovered that Ben was set up to play in a different part of the vineyard from where we had done our ‘reccie’ – in fact we were undercover and we wouldn’t be sitting on the ground after all – other people had brought chairs to sit on!! Greg’s smooth talking to one of the staff resulted in 4 fold up chairs – he’s the man!! And we had to strip off a few layers – we were boiling.

It was an AMAZING evening – Ben was fab … and so were we!!! We danced and danced the night away to Ben’s delicious boogey-woogey sounds, not a track went by when we weren’t up. Kaye and Greg with their polished rockabilly moves and Steve and I dancing and jumping like there’s no tomorrow!! Ben had an amazing saxophone player, drummer and double bass player to accompany him – also a warm up band – Cousin Leonard from Melbourne. The dance floor was packed all night – Ben was a great success – and he loved it too. Had a great catch up with him before and after the show and we’re hoping to catch up with him again when we’re back in Melbourne, where he has some gigs in March. Our brilliant taxi driver Gary picked us up as planned and took 4 weary dancers home to their bed – we had such an hilarious chat on the way home – Gary said he would join us on our further travels through New Zealand – agreed to meet us at 10.00am in the morning!!!!

So into bed we flopped – unfortunately an early rise required in the morning. ☹️😠

Leaving Taupo and finding Napier

We loved Lake Taupo and it felt so hard to leave … no-one else was checking in that day so Marki had said to take our time …. and so we did!! And still long chats before we actually got in the car … and fond farewells.

We still had a couple of local places to visit before leaving this area – our first stop was Huka Falls. We started off with the lookout point – wow, just incredible. The colour and the speed of the water was outstanding, the width of the river coming into the falls gave it such an incredible pace like you’ve never seen.

We then decided to take a walk that indicated 2 hours there and back. Just as we were setting off we caught a view of the jet boat rides that come up to the falls. Maybe another time!!

It was a beautiful walk though woodland, riverside and then some more dusty type terrain – a real variety. Also a lot of climbing involved … and it was a fairly hot day … but we persevered!!! After somewhat more than an hour of ‘out’ walking we had still not reached the turnaround destination, so we made the ‘magnanimous’ decision to turn back before it turned into a 4 hour walk!! We talked to a few other walkers along the way who seemed equally lost!

Greg had dutifully made up a delicious picnic lunch before we left, so we hunted for a picnic table at the end of the walk – for the ‘most visited’ scenic attraction in New Zealand – they only had 4 picnic tables – and they happened to all be taken! So we took a short drive onto our next destination which was the ‘Crater of Moons’ – another geothermal area with active craters… and yes, it did look just like the moon. There was one solitary picnic table just by the car park so we ‘literally’ ran to stake our claim to it as soon as we arrived. Then we entered the ‘moon.’

Then we left Taupo to head for Napier … and what a spectacular drive. We’re putting in some miles on this trip (and so grateful to our two long-suffering drivers – Steve and Greg) but the views along the way are indescribably fabulous. Huge majestic mountains, thickly covered in dense forest – makes them look all soft and fluffy. Then at times the hills are grass covered and quite yellow from their recent drought. The hills are so plentiful too, like constant bumps – presumably it’s do with being volcanic. And gorgeous waterfalls – you can never get enough of these.

Everywhere you look too you will see sheep, cows or goats scattered along the hillsides, completing these pretty pictures. One unexpected sight along this route was a fully decorated Christmas tree at the roadside – fir trees are in abundance and clearly this one had been kitted out for the festive season … but it now being February, nobody had thought to remove the baubles!! I have actually noticed this a lot, both in Australia and New Zealand, that they don’t go for the 6th January thing – there are many Santas, trees, bows and tinsel still remaining!!

And so we continued to make our way up and down the spiralling mountain roads, frequently passing huge logging trucks who would whizz past at great speed. It is so interesting to witness the logging industry in this part of the world. Marki and Chris told us that we would pass one tea house along the way … and we found it, in fact we arrived just in time before closing … again it was a quick dash in before they could draw the blind on the door!! So cream teas all round – yum!

We arrived at our hotel in Napier by late afternoon – so nice to unpack knowing we had 3 nights here – it was actually worth unpacking!! Looking forward to exploring this exquisite Art Deco town over the next few days. Sadly bad weather has set in … but we must carry on regardless, after all we’re British!

Took a stroll down the main seafront – some great bars and restaurants – loads of backpackers’ haunts. Had a huge pub meal and then a couple of drinks in a really interesting bar called the Masonic Hotel – beautifully interior designed Art Deco style and cabinets full of collections.

Hoping the sunshine returns tomorrow ☀️

And on to Lake Taupo, North Island, New Zealand

Tuesday 6th February 2018

Before we left for Taupo, had a lovely FaceTime with Alice, Emma, Tom and Jess – they were all a little bleary after a weekend of celebrating … but it felt so good to catch up with them. ❤️

Another magnificent drive through miles and miles of glorious New Zealand countryside – the beauty of it is just so hard to explain – it literally takes your breath away …. it stretches before your eyes for miles on end. And today we saw sheep – loads of them – I think they must have been hiding yesterday!

To break up the journey we stopped off at Waikite Valley thermal pools – home of the Te Manarao Spring, the largest single source of 100% pure boiling water in New Zealand. There are 10 pools to choose from that are filled daily from the fresh geothermal water (obviously they go through a cooling process) – water temperatures range between 35 and 40 degrees. It was fascinating to walk to see the spring and hear it boiling and then to see how the waters cascade into the pools … but mostly to relax in the invigorating mineral waters of the thermal pools. It’s unbelievably relaxing!

After a spot of lunch we hit the road again. The GPS (Jock as we affectionately call him) took us on a slight detour but we found our way back on the road to Lake Taupo. The thermal experience had made those of us who were backseat passengers a little drowsy – thank goodness for our more focused driver and sidekick. Nothing could have prepared us however for the beauty of the area where we were next to stay …. and also the fabulous accommodation we were lucky enough to be booked into. Chris and Marki met us as we parked the car and showed us into their magnificent home – they lived upstairs and our two bedroom accommodation was downstairs – it was palatial. We had the most stunning views over Lake Taupo from our patio … and even better from the upstairs patio -Marki insisted we use their patio as they were going out – she even provided us with a Thai salad and booze to save us having to go shopping!!

Having saved time on the shopping trip, we were able to fit in a swim before dinner – Marki had told us about a little tucked away place just across the road, where we were able to jump off the rocks into clear blue deep water. It was magical … we swam with ducks and black swans gliding around us and yachts sailing by.

After ‘pre-drinks’ on the upper patio, we tucked into Thai Salad, with tomatoes, rocket, peppers and courgettes picked from the garden. Sampled some fine New Zealand wines too. Before retiring to bed we enjoyed the night sky – packed with stars, including shooting stars.

Wednesday 7th February 2018

Today was definitely all about chilling. Lay in – leisurely breakfast on the patio wearing the luxury white dressing gowns provided – short walk to the beach (grass covered beach) – lazing on the beach – a bit of reading – a bit of swimming – nothing too energetic. We were joined on the beach by a family of ducks – clearly didn’t understand that we had no food with us.

We had a pair of local black swans too … I was fascinated by what turned out to be their mating dance … so videoed it. Shortly after they progressed into the ‘main activity!’ – I continued to be fascinated, never having seen this before – felt so sorry for the female whose head was under the water most of the time, came up from time to time to get air!!

Later in the afternoon we decided to be a bit more energetic and so hired some kayaks – Steve and I on one and Greg on another. Had an hour out on the lake – it was stunning – the sun had come out by this time. We were hoping Chris (our airbnb host) was watching us – he used to row for New Zealand, as well as coach them + coached the Cambridge team and Princeton!!

So a beautiful day at Lake Taupo – it has to be one of the most spectacular places we have ever visited.

Lake Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand

Monday 5th February  2018

Today is Tom’s 25th Birthday … and I so missed being with him.  Feeling very homesick.  Happy Birthday my gorgeous boy. ❤️

IMG_1672It is also the 15th anniversary of when my niece Marsha was tragically taken from us  – never a day goes by when we don’t think of her and miss her … today is always a difficult day. 💕💕💕


We headed off mid morning to Rotorua, beginning to discover New Zealand’s incredible landscapes on the way.  Having not slept much the night before, I nodded in and out on the journey but saw enough to appreciate the extreme beauty and the hills scattered with cattle, deer and alpaca – oddly enough no sheep!!


We reached Rotorua at lunchtime and opted for lunch at a lakeside cafe.  Weather not so great today but the lake was pretty and the food good.  When we got back into the car after lunch, I realised that I had left my handbag hanging on the chair, managed to retrieve it.  What with Steve’s hat and sunglasses from yesterday +now my bag, I think Steve and I need some serious looking after when we get back (are you ready for us Tom and Alice)!!?



Before heading out to find our accommodation, we stopped off to visit the hot thermal spring areas close by.  Rotorua is nicknamed ‘Sulphur City’ because of the hydrogen sulphide emissions – a bit of a rotten egg smell!!  So fascinating to see the geothermal activity of this volcanic area – had never seen this before.



With great relief we found our accommodation – it was spacious, comfortable, generoulsy kitted out (+ friendly signs) … and had an amazing garden + swimming pool.  Just what we needed at the end of this long day.  Soon made ourselves at home – by this time the sun had come out so we made a bee-line for the pool (they had even supplied a flamingo for us to play with)!!




We took a short walk out only to find the town was closed up – it was Monday and it appears to be everyone’s day off!!  We managed to find an Indian takeaway and a supermarket to stock up on wine so all was not lost.  Saw this rather appropriate sign while we were out!!


Returned ‘home’ for a chilled evening … and an early night – fell into the sumptuous bed and caught up on some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow is yet another day … and each day is there to be treasured ❤️

Sightseeing in Auckland – islands, wineries and dancing

We flew out from Melbourne to Auckland, New Zealand, just after midnight on Thursday … so early hours of Friday 2nd February.  Having had little sleep on the flight and not being able to check in to our airbnb till 2.00pm, we tried to make something of the day in between cat naps in the rental car.  Drove to Mount Eden and climbed to the top – a spectacular view over the city and interesting to look down into the crater of this dormant volcano – the highest natural point in Auckland.


From there we made our way to Albert Park for a walk around the beautiful gardens – even spent an hour in Auckland Art Gallery …. so not too bad for a group of extremely weary travellers.

We were more than happy to get into our apartment though which was on the 18th floor of a modern city tower block – great views, great location near to the main waterfront, ferry points, shops, bars, restaurants etc.  We all napped the rest of the afternoon, had a short interlude to eat, and then it was back to bed for an early night … and so we caught up on ourselves.  Night flights are a nightmare … but extremely cheap!!

Saturday 3rd February

Feeling human again, we decided on a ferry trip out to Waiheke island … the weather was not too great, raining off and on … but we were prepared for all eventualities – sunhat, sun lotion, jumpers, raincoat etc… The island is home to 30 vineyards, some beautiful white sandy beaches and countryside walks. We took the hop on hop off bus option – our first stop being a winery – surprise surprise!! After a bite to eat and some local sampling we embarked on a countryside walk – up hill and down dale, passing a number of vineyards on the way (yes, I said passing)!!! – all the way to Onetangi beach.

Kaye managed to lose the sole of her walking boot along the way so some girl guide/boy scout maintenance was required!!

New Zealand, like Australia, seems to love a good sign …. often stating the obvious. This sign however was a bit of a mystery – we were passing an Olive grove – weren’t quite sure of the significance of being quiet. Maybe someone could enlighten us? This winery trail seems to be popular with stag and hen parties – maybe that’s who it was aimed at. We kept silent as mice all the same!!

After a couple of hours of walking we were glad to get back onto the bus …. and it was an interesting way to see the island. Our last stop was Cable Winery where we indulged in some further sampling!! Absolutely stunning views. From here it was a short walk down through a forest area to get to the ferry point – a walk full of view and VERY LOUD cicadas!!!

It was a bit of a choppy ferry trip on the way back to the mainland – the Captain announced the need to not walk around until he told us it was safe to do do. I was checking out those life-jackets I can tell you!!!

Back on dry land, we dolled up in preparation for our night out on the town. Ate at the Crab Shack – wow – absolutely recommend the steak! Views over the waterfront and fancy cruise liner.

And then we danced the night away in Danny O’Doolans. Another great drinking hole …. but predominantly young people. There was a live band playing covers … all very danceable – and we love to dance!! For some reason it appeared to be a novelty that us ‘old people’ were dancing – girls were literally latching on to Kaye and I and helping us to dance, like we were invalids!! But I got chatted up by two young men – well I say chatted up … I think I reminded them of their grandmothers!!

Late night for us ‘oldies’ but a good one!!

Sunday 4th February 2018

Steve and I planned to do the hop on hop off bus trip around Auckland today, so we could get a feel of this magnificent city before we headed off south into the country. Started off with a stop at the Sky Tower – bravely rode the lift to the 60th floor – spectacular views over the city once again.

Managed a huge burger for lunch (hangover fodder) and then hopped back onto the bus for a few more sightseeing opportunities. Got off at Bastion Point where we had more spectacular views …. and also took a walk down a steep hill to Mission Bay (one of Jess’ recommendations) – treated ourselves to a delicious Movenpick ice cream before embarking on the climb up that very steep hill again!

Also hopped off in Parnell which is a very swish residential area of Auckland – some stunning colonial style houses. Visited the rose gardens.

By the time we stopped off at the Museum we only had half an hour left before the last bus …. and as ‘Internationals’ we had to pay to go in …. so instead we opted for a free photographic exhibition – the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year – the entries were mind blowing.

We caught the last bus to the final stop, disembarked and were walking along the waterfront when Steve realised he had left his sunglasses on the bus – hotfooted it back and managed to retrieve them, just as the driver was about to pull out. He had left his hat in the cafe at lunchtime and had retrieved it in the same manner. I think I’ll be sewing elastic onto his gloves when we get back and threading it through his jacket – like we had in our primary school gabardines!!

Our ticket also included a return ferry trip ticket to Devonport so the pier was our next stop. Once in Devonport we had a lovely walk all along the promenade and along the beach. Some stunning houses again. Got to see a cruise liner leaving Auckland too.

Before heading back into the city, we stopped for ‘fush and chups’ (a little play on the New Zealand accent) in a beachside cafe. Enjoyed a stunning sunset on our ferry ride home.

Tomorrow we head south … next stop Rotorua 😎