Monday, 29 March 2004

Old News - Newsletter March 2004

First of all, in case this letter is too long and you don’t finish it, I have some bad news: my Mom’s fiancĂ©, B, died suddenly of a heart attack just over a week ago. Anyone who met him will know what a great bloke he was, and how happy he and my Mom made each other. I’m very sad that he is gone, and my Mom is completely devastated. My aunt is with her at the moment, and she has friends on the Isle of Man who are being supportive and I will be going to her over Easter. She chose not to tell me while I was on holiday as I would have been upset and worried, so I found out yesterday. He was a super step dad, and I will miss him very much.

Now for the long letter:

I am home from New Zealand, after a fabulous three weeks away. T and I travelled all over New Zealand and did pretty much everything we wanted to do. We were lucky with the weather and only got rained on for a couple of days, and on the whole it was milder than I expected. We were also lucky in that we got along together for the whole time, with just a couple of snarly days in the first week as we got used to each other’s ways.

I am very broke, as we lived extremely well on our travels. We stayed in very nice hotels and ate in good restaurants, and it was one of the most luxurious holidays I have ever had! The credit card is smoking and I will be paying it off for a while, but it was worth every penny!

We landed in Auckland on Sunday the 7th March, and were picked up by H and L, who took us on a whirlwind tour of Auckland. It’s all a bit fuzzy due to jetlag, but it was lovely and sunny and hot. They live in an area of Auckland called Kohimarama, which is on the coast and we went for a long walk along the promenade and had a lunch of mussels overlooking the bay. In the afternoon we went up Auckland’s Skytower, and then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening picnicking in L’s garden with lots of wine to combat the jetlag, which worked remarkably well for us but the girls were not too well the next day!

Monday 8th we all went to Waiheke island just off Auckland for the day. It’s very pretty, with wine estates and white beaches. We had lunch at a wine estate, and then lay on the beach and swam in the sea for the afternoon.

Tuesday 9th H took us up the coast North of Auckland, calling in at many pretty beaches. We went to a cheese farm called Puhoi for lunch, and then took a two hour walk along the very long and empty Omaha beach.

Wednesday 10th (my birthday) T and I picked up our hire car and headed North for the Bay of Islands. We got there just after midday and found a lovely b&b apartment right on the shore with a balcony overlooking the bay. We went parasailing that afternoon (great fun), and spent the evening watching a glorious sunset from the balcony with wine and nibbles.

Thursday 11th we headed off first thing to look for dolphins. We cruised all around the islands and out to sea, and finally came across a large pod of Common dolphins. They were riding our bow wave, and groups of 6 of us at a time could lie down on the bow within arms reach of the water and see the dolphins right there! It was amazing! In the afternoon we took a fast jet-boat boat ride out to the Hole in the Rock – a huge rock archway that boats go through. Really spectacular.

Friday 12th we headed back to Auckland via the West coast, which is famous for its Kauri forests. The Kauri is a tree that grows amazingly wide and tall, and we took a walk through jungley forest to see one with a trunk 5m wide. There is also an excellent museum of Kauri industry.

Saturday 13th L came with us to the Waitomo caves, where we went black-water rafting. This involves scrambling into a cave system with a river running through it, and stumbling along knee deep, or bobbing on an inner tube, in the dark. We were given wetsuits and helmets etc, but it was still very cold! Throughout the caves there are glow-worms and when the helmet lamps are turned off it is like a constellation of tiny green stars above you. It was brilliant! In the afternoon we went to Rotorua and spent the evening in the hot springs – a whole day spent in water!

Sunday 14th we toured the Rotorua geo-thermal area. This is a vast area of hot pools, geysers and weird mineral deposits and smells. After this we went zorbing. A zorb is a huge bouncy plastic ball that you get strapped into and then roll down a hill. Think hamster-ball and you have the idea! Kind of nuts but a laugh. In the afternoon L really wanted to go to a sheep show, which was very well done and I know more about sheep than I should ever need! Then L headed home and T and I continued to Lake Taupo.

Monday 15th we slept late and then headed to Palmerston North and stayed with A and L. L treated us to a fab 3 course home-cooked meal, and A stayed up drinking with us until the early hours.

Tuesday 16th we caught the ferry from Wellington to Picton on the South Island, and met up with S and L in Blenheim. This is the heart of the wine region, and is very picturesque with vineyards and mountains.

Wednesday 17th S and L joined us on a gourmet wine tour. This involved in-depth wine estate visits, with explanations of wine and champagne making, and a fascinating wine-tasting introduction. We also had a superb meal at a wine estate included. It was a lovely day!

Thursday 18th we joined S and L for a boat trip through the Marlborough Sounds and lunch in Havelock – the mussel capital, and then parted from them and headed to the Abel Tasman national park. This is famous for hiking and kayaking.

Friday 19th we spent the day kayaking in the Abel Tasman, past cliffs and pristine beaches on clear calm sea. It was glorious, and I would love to go back and spend a week doing it!

Sat 20th we headed down the West coast to the glaciers, hoping to do a heli-hike. This would have involved taking a helicopter ride onto the glacier, and then a hike into ice caves. Unfortunately it was raining buckets, and didn’t stop, so we had to give up on that idea.

Sun 21st we drove on in the rain down the west coast. We caught a couple of glimpses of the coast, which is spectacular with rugged cliffs and wild black-sand beaches. We stopped at a salmon farm for lunch – yum! Then inland over the mountain range, and miraculously left all the rain behind. It was a stunning drive through mountains and along lakes to Lake Wanaka where we spent the night.

Mon 22nd we headed to Queenstown, with a stop at the Puzzle House, which has lots of optical illusions and a 3-d maze. In one of the rooms everything is tilted, and you stagger around like a drunkard! We got to Queenstown at midday, and met up with J, S and their daughter L who is one year old. We stayed with them for the next few days, and it was really good to stay in one place for a while and have some home cooking!

Tue 23rd we slept late for the first time in ages, and then did a tour of the local wine estates with J and L. It was a lovely relaxing laid-back day after all the travelling we had been doing.

Wed 24th I took a daytrip to Doubtful Sound. This is a fjord in the South West of the South Island, and is awe-inspiring. Most people go to Milford Sound, but Doubtful Sound is being kept as a non-commercial wilderness, and is completely untouched. We were the only boat in the fjord, and there were no shops or anything like that. It is extremely dramatic with cliffs plunging into the sea, and tall islands looming up from the dark water. The weather was a bit wet, but it only added to the atmosphere with mist and thundering waterfalls. T didn’t fancy the trip, and instead slept late, spent time in a flotation tank, had a massage, and browsed around town. I got back just in time to join them all for dinner, and then us girls went on a pub-crawl. At 2am I was shattered, having caught the bus at 7am that morning, so I turned in. T and J got home after 4am - much the worse for wear!

Thursday 25th T and I went jet boating on the Shotover River. This is very exciting, as the boats have a draught of about 30cm and can spin 360 deg in amazingly shallow water. They have very good manoeuvrability, and can speed at a canyon wall turning away at the last moment! It was pretty thrilling. Then T went back to bed, and I went out for a walk. I ended up climbing the mountain behind Queenstown, up to the gondola station. At the top is quite a large complex, with restaurants, shops, luge, paragliding and bungee. I sent the girls a text to say where I was and had lunch. Then since I hadn’t heard from them I went tandem paragliding, which was quite a rush! I caught the gondola back up the mountain and watched a short film on New Zealand, bought some souvenirs, and did a bungee jump. Yes, me! I still can’t believe I did it, and I have never been so scared, and it took me 5 minutes to jump off, and I will never do it again! I was still shaking several hours later when I got back to J’s to find the girls only just recovered from their hangovers. They listened to me babble on about it while I glugged back a couple of bottles of wine and then I suddenly went to bed at 10! Wow. Nothing compares!

Friday 26th we flew back to Auckland where L picked us up and we wandered about central Auckland for a bit shopping and snacking, then we bought some seafood from the most amazing fresh fish market and had a quiet night in.

And on Sat 27th we flew home, and I finally stumbled through my front door at 8:30am on Sunday after 25+ hours travelling. I somehow managed to stay awake until 7pm, and had the most delightful nights sleep for weeks. It is so good to be back in my own bed! I’m still a bit jetlagged, but nearly back to normal.

New Zealand is beautiful, and the people are lovely. I would love to go back and do some of the amazing hiking and kayaking, as I have barely skimmed the surface of what is there. It’s definitely an option as a place to live – watch this space!

I’ve tried to keep the letter from being too long, but there was just too much to tell! If you’ve read this far, well done ;-).

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