The road to Sunshine… 7/3/19

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After a good nights sleep, a beautifully hazy morning run along the Somme and a bit of exercise we packed up, replenished our water and set off with a couple of extra bits – no prizes for guessing that additional wine and cheese were required!!-  that we picked up from the Intermarche the previous night.  For the first time ever we are trying out the boxes of wine to see whether they are half decent instead of buying bottles and we have been working way through a 3ltr box of Cotes de Rhone Village which it is fair to say is pretty good.  It was one of the more expensive boxes but still works out as pretty good value – as well as quality – but it makes a huge amount of sense from a storage and weight perspective ….. one box vs 4 bottles…. happy days!

The sun quickly burnt off the haze and warmed everything up from the 2 degrees or so that it was when I went out for a run and day two took us through Rouen and on to Vendome for the night.  Rouen is probably one of our least favourite cities to travel through as it has either had the main bridge shut due to a fire or major roadworks for the last 10 years.  We were however pleasantly surprised and had a good journey although we were grateful that we were travelling on a weekday as the presence of the ‘Yellow Jersey’ was high at most major junctions.  The camps and fires at the side of the road were very prominent and the roads at many of the main junctions were severely burnt, obviously where fires had been lit over the past months whilst the Yellow Jerseys set up blockades.  Rouen was by far and away the worst city that we travelled through for the presence of problems, the further south we got the less we saw of any manifestations or issues but that may have been just sheer chance of our route and which cities we touched.

We arrived into Vendome late afternoon and parked up by the sports center in the center of town having negotiated our way through a few narrow streets and roadworks to get there.  The area they allow you to park up motorhomes in was just outside a campsite on the edge of a park and despite being very central, as well as being  close to a busy road, was pretty quiet.  We set off for a quick walk around town and found a lovely mix between old and new architecture as well as shops and green spaces, we couldn’t spend too long wandering though as there was bread to be made, so headed back to Hattie but we would definately stop here again if we were passing close by.

Another good nights sleep and once exercised, showered  and breakfasted we were on the road again to head further South to Saint Romain la Vervee, roughly 20km North of Bordeaux.  It was a long days’ driving but all pretty simple apart from the rather long detour through some tiny villages that Keith took in on his watch again… guess I have just been lucky!  The Aire was next to a village school which was shut for the holidays so pretty quite although they were doing some construction out the back which meant a few trucks passing by from 8am.  Teh construction traffic was nothing however in comparison to the local kids who decided to play with their scooters at mid-night …. grrrr!  The Aire had eight places and oddly we had already said that as it wasn’t the easiest to get to, we would probably try a different one next time but we were surprised how busy it was, 11 motorhomes stayed overnight and a few came and left … must be the proximity to Bordeaux.

Next Stop was Spain and a little town called Berriozar just outside Pamplona.  The journey took us along the coast around Biaritz which was nice but generally a lot of the driving was in or around towns, so pretty busy.  We climbed over the mountains and although Hattie marched on up like a trouper, we obviously needed some lessons on how to manage her gear changing on hills as a semi-automatic, as when we got to the top a red light came on and we needed to pull over.  It was the semi-automatic clutch which apparently gets a bit confused if you switch into manual and it just needed five minutes of downtime to sort itself out before we carried on.

The Aire in Berriozar was on the edge of the town by a school but as we were arriving at going home time on a Friday afternoon we knew it would be pretty quiet on Saturday.  We headed out to stretch our legs before coming back to make some more bread and settle in for a quiet evening.

Waking to blue skies and lots of sunshine (if not a little fresh), I headed out for a run whilst Keith did his exercises by the motorhome and I was surprised to see that the cycle path/greenway appeared to go all the way from Berriozar to the next town and then on into Pamplona…. joining everything together.  Despite being quite a built up area there weren’t many people out as it was a Saturday morning…. perfect for a nice peaceful run!

The next stage of the journey was to Teruel, pretty much all on good roads so a fairly simple days driving. We have been to Teruel a few times before and it is a lovely town.  As I still needed to get a photo for my ‘Challenge’ we headed into town for a wander around …. this weeks task was to simply take an excellent Black and White photo – easier said than done!  Walking around Teruel with its bright blue skies and sunshine, the beautiful towers which weren’t covered up for restoration fought with the locals out for an afternoon stroll…. finally I found a couple having a lazy post dinner nap on a bench and think it captures it all…

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Zak had his cousins staying over half term which means lots of distraction and late nights but he has taken a really good photo of one of his cousins, Amira and I think he has not only got the light right but also the depth to the photo.

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Black and white photography doesn’t really leave a huge margin for error so you have to make the most of the subject to make it stand out.

Teruel was tranquil as always and we woke to blue skies and 0 degrees on our last day of travel down to San Juan Playa.  The roads and traffic were good and we arrived just after 3pm, breaking up the game of pétanque as everyone welcomed us back…. always a nice feeling.

Once emptied and refilled we assessed our spot which had overhanging trees that were going to cause an issue for Hattie’s height.  We soon found someone willing to lend us a little saw though and with the help of our extension ladder cut the branches back and managed to get settled fairly quickly.

The last week seems to have flown by, with us going out with friends for Tapas a few times as well as cooking up lots of different food that we haven’t done for a while on the BBQ…. Pizza, Smokey Beetroot Burgers, Bacon butties, Sausages, Normal Burgers, Calamare, Spatchcock chicken, Chargrilled Veg as well as roasting aubergine to go into our first ever Babaganoush…. all rather nice.

We also made some drop pancakes for breakfast and tried out a new recipe for Goan Fish Curry which was pretty good…. we are certainly eating well, and I think my jeans are showing it!!

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Hattie has now been washed and her face has been polished and is looking pretty good. Apart from a little issue with the gas deciding to stop working on the fridge this morning, life is definately starting to get back to normal with a fair amount of walking and some lovely runs along the promenade.  We have also caught up on the chores so all we need to do now is wait to see what Theresa May delivers over the coming weeks in regards to Brexit but it will be what it will be and we will find a way to work around it.

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On the road again…. 19/2/19

The last couple of weeks have seen the UK at its best in the winter.  Cold and crisp and generally dry with blue skies, however we have had a couple of mornings with freezing fog… which inevitably led to freezing Gail and Keith whilst outside doing exercise but at least we have managed to get back into our routine!

Slightly less manic than the first week or so back in the country we are pleased to report that since the last blog I have only managed to break the tap in the kitchen sink…. which was easily replaced courtesy of Amazon.  Hopefully therefore we have got all breakages out of the system and are ready for the road again….. even the snow chains arrived earlier than expected so things must be going our way!

I have now completed two weeks of photography challenges with my nephew.  Week one was ‘Take a self portrait to reflect your personality’….. for everyone who knows my 13 year old nephew, I think that it is fair to say that he put a lot of thought into his and it represents him to a ‘T’ ….

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As with most teenagers, getting him out of bed is hard work!

Mine was a little more difficult but eventually decided on using my travelling companion, who as most of you also know has been most of the way round the world with me over the last 32 years….

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He doesn’t appear to have anywhere near the same amount of grey hair or wrinkles as I do… but he could definately do with a bath!

Week two is all about Composition and Movement, so a little more creativity required….

Zak’s photos are clever, definately showing good usage of shutter speed and movements

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And mine was a bit of a blur…. but its good to be forced to do something that I haven’t done for 20+ years as you can get some fantastic effects. We may need to revisit this one in six months time and see what we both do then!

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It’s a good little challenge for both of us and hopefully I can use each weeks challenge to bring you some slightly different photos that I may never have thought of adding previously!

We have also had some time to get back into a bit of cooking in Hattie – baking bread,  making soups, cassoulets, fish pie and even some brownies, it is lovely to have an oven!

We also needed to check the Bar B Q to ensure that it wasn’t mouldy, obviously the best way to give it a good clean is to burn it off…. whilst cooking some bacon…. yum! Definately a couple of packs coming with us for the journey!

Keith has wanted to learn how to fillet fish for a while – possibly something to do with my hatred of bones – so we had a quick lesson over at Paul and Carly’s (Keith’s brother and wife’s) house last week before eating the produce the following night when there were only a couple of bones found… still plenty of time for practice!

As we were getting closer to leaving and we couldn’t avoid it any longer, we finally decided to actually look at the detail around what may or may not be required should there be a ‘no deal’ at the end of March.

The complications are greater for us as we are going before the 29th and don’t plan on coming back until afterwards.  Therefore we have to assume the worst which as we found out this week actually means the following for us: –

  • Green Card for the motorhome – not an issue, although needed to pay £20 for the privilege as it isn’t a legal requirement yet.
  • International Driving Permits (IDP) – we needed two each @ £5.50 each
    • 1949 – covers Spain, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Iceland
    • 1968 – covers pretty much everywhere else
  • Maximum of 90 days out of 180 days travel in Europe without a visa

Well, that makes our life interesting….. Green card is fine although we would need a new one sent out to us when our Insurance runs out in May.  The maximum of 90 days travel in every 180 days will be interesting if it happens but we can deal with it if necessary, just means we will be back in the UK a bit more or possibly get a visa. However the Driving Licence for Spain is a bit of a nightmare.  If there is a ‘No Deal’ and everything stays as it is currently, we will not be able to drive our motorhome on our standard licence after the end of March in Spain as the IDP 1949 doesn’t allow us to drive anything over 3.5 tonne as it is so old, not breaking the categories down on the driving license in the same way.  Therefore if we want to drive anything over 3.5 tonne in Spain we would need to do our Class C license which enables you to drive anything static (not arctic) up to 32 tonne….. this would have been the same for Mika our old motorhome as she was 3.85 tonne.

So….. the current plan is to head down to Spain and take a call on the 27th March as to whether we need to get into France before the end of the month.  Then, depending on how long we can be out of the UK for, probably spend a bit more time enjoying France but we will see what evolves over the next few weeks.

We set off this morning and had a good journey arriving in Saint Valery sur Somme this evening, even getting on and off the train with Hattie was a doddle…. although just as we were arriving Keith realised that he forgot to pick up the levelling blocks for our jacks which we left in the field.  Thankfully we don’t always use them but it helps if the ground is soft …. heh ho, life goes on, we’ll get them back at some point!

As always, if you want to keep track of our route and progress you can see where we are on a map by clicking here.

Things can only get better…. 6/2/19

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Well, when you land into Heathrow at 5:30am the temperature is -2 and whilst leaving the airport you look at the incoming traffic which is already stacked up almost all the way to the M4 you realise that this is the reality check of the UK in January …. cold, Dark and way too many cars!

The flights from New Zealand were fine, the first which took us to Singapore was during the day and took just under 10 hours but was pretty painless.  The stopover in Singapore was just under six hours which was hard work as we were just waiting around and it was way passed what should have been our bedtime… although access to the airport lounge definitely helped.  The second flight was fourteen hours and we were pleasantly surprised when the doors shut and there were still a lot of empty seats – so much so that pretty much everyone in the area where we were (right at the back of the plane) had a set of seats to themselves … Keith and I had four seats each.  You never really ‘sleep’ but it certainly helped get some rest.

Thursday was a long day but we made it through to dinner, when Keith’s mum very kindly cooked us Stew and Crust (Keith’s favourite) with Jacket Potatoes (my favourite…. I am pretty simple!) and Veg …. it may not be everone’s cup of tea but on a cold day when you are tired, it was very welcome and enabled us to crash out on full bellies by about 9pm!

Bright eyed and bushy tailed – well it is all relative – I set out for a run into Eton whilst Keith worked out the jet lag with some HIIT training…. enough to get us ready for a quick breakfast before we packed up the car and headed to collect Hattie.

Hattie has been in storage for three months so although we cleaned her up and turned everything off, naturally we were a little concerned as to whether any pipes were frozen or whether there would be any mould like we had with Mika a couple of years ago…. on the positive note there wasn’t any mould and everything looked fine, however when we tried to start the engine all we got was a bit of tick, tick, tick, ticking ….. flat battery.  It shouldn’t have been as the solar panels were set to trickle charge both the engine battery as well as the leisure batteries but for some reason something had gone wrong.  After a bit of faffing around we eventually called the AA as the battery is really difficult to get to to attach jump leads … the guy from the breakdown company had to remove a couple of the pipes and virtually climb inside the engine compartment to get to it, I am not actually sure how we could jump start it ourselves, so it was well worthwhile.

Once started we left it a good ten minutes to run, turned it off and it wouldn’t start again …. totally dead.  So, the advice was to drive straight to the IVECO dealer without stopping the motor and leave it there until they could look at it, so that is what we did.  Thankfully for a Friday afternoon the M25 was actually kind to us for once.

Unfortunately as we didn’t get to the garage until 5pm there wasn’t any way that they would even think about looking at it until after the weekend and as we had Hattie booked in for her MOT on the Tuesday we just succumbed to the fact that we wouldn’t be back in Hattie for a few more days.

We had pretty much planned every day within an inch before we got back so we had a busy weekend catching up with friends and family before finally picking Hattie back up on Tuesday late afternoon and getting her back to the farm just as the sun was going down…. not great for getting her set up.

En route to the farm we found issue No.2, obviously whilst changing the battery something triggered a fuse to blow for the VB Air suspension and it had completely stopped working.  To be fair, IVECO were great.  As soon as I called them they said they would send someone out to have a look at it in the morning and see whether they could fix it on location or if we had to go back to the garage.  The guy who came out (Richard) was great and managed to find and fix the issue without us having to go back to the garage, bending over backwards to help us and full of useful information.

Issue No.3 was a little more complicated unfortunately, bearing in mind that we appear to have moved back into the motorhome on the coldest day this winter, we couldn’t get the heating to start.  As a last ditch attempt we called Southdown motorhomes who have done some of the work on Hattie and are the UK Concorde dealers/service center.  It was just gone 5:30 and amazingly they picked up the phone and the Service Center manager called us back twenty minutes later and spent nearly an hour trouble shooting the problem with us until we resolved it, finally getting the heating started. We left it running to warm up Hattie whilst we popped out to get some food and collect the rest of our things from Keith’s mums house and it was lovely and toasty by the time we got back.

The reason the heating wouldn’t start initially was due to the liquid in the heat exchange being too low.  So once topped up to the correct levels it started to work.  As always there is a reason why the liquid levels are low and in this case, our fears were proven to be correct and we had a leak.  We kept topping up the water during the night but it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that Keith worked out roughly where the leak was and there was a lot of liquid to mop up.  It was later in the evening that he managed to localise exactly where the issue was and we were able to pin someone down to come and look at it and hopefully fix it…. unfortunately he wasn’t available until Tuesday though so we would just have to ‘manage’ it until then.

A couple of rolls of Kitchen towel, a few cloths and a t-shirt later we found some plumber absorption pads online which are amazing. They are basically flat incontinence pads/nappies which are rectangular and soak up 2 litres of water each … great little things, you never know when they may come in use again!

If nothing else we are getting to see what it would be like should we decide to stay in the motorhome in the UK over the winter.  With temperatures dropping to -5 or a bit more over the last week or so, we have definately had a feel for how ‘winterised’ she is and we can happily say that despite the few issues, she is lovely and cosy.  Everything else appears to be working ok and during the snow over the last week we have been comfortable doing our exercise inside… although it was nice to get out for a run yesterday!  We have now also found Issue No 4,  water leaking in from the windscreen….. I had wondered why there was such a big pool of condensation last week when the temperatures were so low, I know it has dropped to -4 or so but a small swimming pool…. I think we will wait until a warmer climate to get that fixed as they will have to take it out and reseal it.  We have however invested in another little gadget …. A Karcher Window Vac – its great, works a treat on the windscreen and doesn’t leave any ‘wipe’ marks!

As the temperature warmed up it snowed, just to give us a good mix! On Friday morning we woke to about 4cm of snow on the field although as the day went on most of it disappeared to slush only to freeze overnight as the temperatures dropped to sub zero again…. definately no running for me!

The weather was obviously a natural way to tell us we shouldn’t have organised something everyday as we ended up having to cancel a few trips.  A shame, although it meant that we got to spend a bit more time in Hattie sorting things out and getting back into a routine which was nice….. I even managed to bake some bread!

Unfortunately as we have been staying locally there aren’t many interesting photos, although I went up to London on Sunday to be ‘guardian’ on a photography course with my Nephew who is just starting to get interested in photography so you can have a few of the photos I took in Soho square whilst playing around with my camera….

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I have decided to set him a photography challenge so we can both take certain photos throughout the course of the year and compare them…. so over the next week he has been challenged to take a self portrait, ensuring that the photo demonstrates something about his personality ….. watch this space!

Tuesday came around fairly quickly and Kevin Lewis from Car Care Services came down and sorted out the leaking pipe and also serviced our gas whilst here….. happy campers!

We had planned to head South next Monday but because of the issues we have had and also the weather we have decided to give it an extra week or so, so will be around in the UK until around the 20th February.  Enough time to get the snow chains delivered too!

 

Pppppppick up a Penguin….23/1/19

 

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If you aren’t over 35 and from the UK the above probably means nothing to you…. but there are two types of Penguin in my world, one is about two and a half inches long and comprises of two rectangle chocolate biscuits stuck together with chocolate cream and then covered in chocolate and the other are short and feathered and waddle a lot.  I was going to say that they are also black and white but that is not the case as the four that we have seen over here have all been Little Blue Penguins, one loner just as we were leaving Wellington contemplating what the ferry was doing in his waters, one chilling out in Doubtful Sounds mid afternoon and now two more coming back to their nests in the rocks at Timaru – well, to be fair one went to his nest and the other decided to hang around on the beach for a while having a little clean and waddle but I am sure he found his nest after we left!

We left Lake Tekapo and headed to Timaru with the hope that we would get to see Penguins but it is getting towards the end of their nesting season as the chicks are getting bigger and the parents are now getting into the period where they shed feathers and therefore don’t go out to sea.  We set out just before 9pm and sunset was at 9:22pm and the first penguin came in riding the waves just after 10pm.  We were really lucky as they were only a few feet away from us – very, very cute. The little blue penguins grow to a maximum height of 40cm and weigh less than 1kg but they can swim up to 25km at a time and go at up to 6kph underwater …. pretty cool little things!

We stayed one night in Timaru at the RSA club so we could catch up on washing, get our last shop in and of course ppppick up a penguin…. not really, although it was good to see them!

Leaving Timaru in the morning we did a slight detour via a small town called Geraldine as it is known for being a bit of a foodie area.  Very pretty, considering that pretty much everything from Timaru feels like an extension of Christchurch, built up all the way along the main highway.  We managed to buy some more cheese but held back on the Barkers jams and preserves – although they were delicious – as we just wouldn’t get through them in the next few days.

After rejoining the main highway again we continued to trawl through industrial areas until we were about 15km South of Christchurch when we arrived at the NZMCA.  We decided to use it as a quick stopover to check out the facilities (as we had heard there was a washing machine) as we were planning on spending the last night or two here before we hand Ava back.

Needless to say that the washing machine has disappeared…. although there is a dryer.  I am guessing that it broke and they have decided not to replace it – ah well.  It is a lovely site with all the other facilities and we had a lovely BBQ with homemade Burgers … so not going to complain.

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As it rained overnight it was very grey and overcast in the morning but we were still able to get on and do our normal routine before heading off to The Banks Peninsula and Akaroa.  As we drive towards the peninsula we did question our sanity as you could barely see it, thankfully however we continued and as the journey went on the sun came out and the cloud started to lift.  Akaroa was settled in by the French starting in 1840 and the French still have an influence on the shops and restaurants.  We had planned to have a walk round the town and bay before heading back to Little River for the night but as it is such a pretty little place and we found a lovely route to walk on Saturday, we decided to stay as they have a Freedom Camping area which amazingly had space.

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After a very warm night I had a run along past the lighthouse tussling with a few of the Cruise ship passengers who had arrived on the early boat whilst Keith did some exercise back at the van before heading in to Akaroa to have a look at the Saturday morning market.  It was small but very French and probably the best pastries we have seen in the last few weeks …. not including the Carrot cake at the top of Mount John!

Not in the market for additional food – really hard with only two nights left in the motorhome – we put on our walking shoes and headed up the big hill in the middle of the peninsula.  The route was called the ‘Around the Mountain Curry Route’ and I am sad to say that there wasn’t any curry in sight but it was a steep climb for a couple of hours to get to the summit where the views were fantastic.  A lovely 11km circular route taking in both sides of the peninsula although the legs were definitely feeling the 750m climb on the way back down… especially after this mornings run!

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Back at the motorhome we packed everything up and headed back to the NZMCA in Christchurch via the scenic route which was absolutely stunning.  The road was narrow and it worked its way along the ridge (where we had walked in the morning) and then back around the bottom of the inlet before winding back towards the mainland.  We arrived back at the site just after 5 and although it was pretty full we managed to find a space and settle in for the evening where we had a spectacular sunset disappearing behind the rest of the motorhomes.

Waking up to a lovely morning we set to our tasks after breakfast, it was always going to be a day of ‘chores’ so we headed out to give Ava a good scrub at the car wash before coming back to empty the cupboards and do the same inside.  It is fair to say that she was sparkly … or maybe that was just relative as she has been a bit dirty recently!  However as we settled down to a glass of wine and a beer just after 6pm we were pretty satisfied that 95% of things were packed and about 80% of Ava cleaned… the rest to be finished in the morning.

Our last supper in Ava was a butterfly shoulder of lamb with a mixed bean salad as well as a corgette salad…. not a bad way to end the trip!

Where did the last twelve weeks go?  It is difficult to believe that the time to give Ava back has come round so quickly but waking on Monday morning I set off for a run whilst Keith did his exercises, showered, breakfasted and finished off the last bit of packing and cleaning.  I haven’t ever worked out how things take so long, thinking that we had done most of the work yesterday it surprisingly took us another two hours to sort out the last bits before we were ready to go to the airport and pick up Tracey and Geoff and say our goodbyes to Ava.

With everything handed over we headed into our Airbnb and Geoff an Tracey to a campsite with a rendezvous at 18:30 at the Little High Eatery.

Our Airbnb is in a new apartment block which is fairly central and was probably built as a two bed apartment and split.  So we have a room and en-suite bathroom, all perfectly formed and clean and tidy … it possibly just would have been nicer to have a bigger window that let more air in as the temperature has just decided to take a hike and it was sweltering in the room.

We headed out for a quick look around so we could work out where we were and buy some bits before wondering over to our rendezvous.

The Little High Eatery is a group of 8 or so restaurants who share an old warehouse, all of which looked like they were decent quality and the clientele certainly thought it was worth a go as it was buzzing.  After a quick drink, Keith and I ended up with two enormous burgers with a variety of fillings (it is fair to say that there was a lot of bacon), accompanied by Deep Fried Cauliflower in maple syrup – yep, sounds very odd but it was actually very good – and chips. Geoff and Tracey opted for some Dumplings and deep fried squid – so a real variety, all of which was delicious.

It was lovely to catch up with Geoff and Tracey over dinner and it is good to see that they are ready to take on the South Island where we left off.  It’s going to be really interesting now watching from the other side and seeing where they go and what they do.  All we can hope is that they have as a fantastic time as we have had and find Ava as comfortable as we have …. as ironically we have actually spent more time in her than they have!

I’d like to say we woke, but I am not sure there was a lot of preceding sleep so, we got up and I went for a tired run along the river and round Hagley Park whilst Keith did some ‘hotel room’ exercise.  It is weird how you get used to things as whilst having a shower and running the taps in the bathroom I was waiting for the water pump to kick in ….. obviously been living in a motorhome too long now!

Dull as it is, as the room had a washing machine and dryer we decided to put a load on before heading out and exploring Christchurch a bit further than our quick walk yesterday afternoon.  I hadn’t really thought about what we were expecting although I had heard from my mum that it was still ‘work in progress’ following the horrific earthquake that they had in 2011, although we were pleasantly surprised by the feel of the place.  There are still a lot of buildings in ruins and even more under construction but those that are complete look fantastic and the city itself is doing its best to be modern and provide lots of green space for living.

Like Dunedin, there is a lot of street art which brightens up some of the derelict buildings, some of it is disappearing as they rebuild though.

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The main Cathedral below has been going through a court case which was only resolved in 2017.  The Anglican Church had decided that it wanted to destroy the building and start again rather than reconstruct on top of the bits that were still stable – something the government is highly opposed to and the insurers wouldn’t pay for ….. reconstruction has now started but looking at the site below, if this is where they have got to in 16 months,  it isn’t going to happen any time soon!

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The building below however is the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ which was the ‘pop up’ replacement…. and yes, it really is made of cardboard underneath!  There are 86 Cardboard tubes, each weighing 500kg sitting on top of containers …. a common theme in Christchurch!

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Behind the Cardboard Cathedral you can find the memorial to the people who died in the earthquake – a chair for each person – nothing fancy but it delivers quite an impact when all the other buildings around have been raised to the ground.

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Whilst walking through the city and soaking up the history we felt it necessary to indulge in the up and coming businesses of Christchurch and go find the Gelato Cafe that we fell upon the day before – Rollickin’ Gelato Cafe, probably the best Gelato that we have had outside Italy – delicious!

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It is fair to say that we haven’t been disappointed by the food in New Zealand, despite it being more expensive over here, everything we have tried has been of high quality and full of flavour.

Now at the end of our 12.5 weeks it is great to see our little map of where we have been …. including a few loop the loops!  We have had a fantastic time and we have even left a few bits to come back and do next time!

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Now, with 24 hours of flight ahead of us and temperatures falling below zero in the UK we are ready to get back to Hattie and start thinking about our next trip…..

Feeling humbled…. 15/1/19

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With blues skies and sunshine we set off towards Mount Cook, although it seemed to want to hide behind the clouds – it felt like the closer we got, the cloudier and greyer it became.

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On arriving at Mount Cook Village, we parked up at the White Horse Hill DOC Campground ($13 pppn) and looked up towards the glaciers and mountains around us! After lunch and loaded up with energy we set off on the walk to Hooker Valley Lake.  It is a fairly easy walk of 5km each way on a good path which unfortunately meant that it was fairly busy.

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Despite the greyness and Gale force winds, the views were beautiful leading us to an unexpected sight….

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Mount Cook Glacier comes all the way down to the end of the lake.  It is difficult to see in the photos as the ice is black but the large lumps in the lake are bits of glacier that have broken away – an absolutely incredible sight.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, not sure which would have been best – we didn’t see any movement whilst we were there, although they do say that there are avalanches pretty much all the time you just have to listen out for them.

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A sight I could have looked at all day but without all the other people, so we didn’t stay too long, heading back down to Ava.  We timed it perfectly as no sooner had we arrived back to the campsite, the skies opened, leaving us to settle into the evening with Gale Force winds and spurts of rain…. but you still couldn’t deny that the views out the back of the motorhome were pretty impressive.

We woke to strong winds and rain again but bit the bullet and I went out for a run whilst Keith did his exercises inside!  Probably one of the hardest runs I have had in a while possibly due to the altitude or maybe just the Gale Force winds against me on the last 2km stretch…. I felt like I wasn’t moving!!

The rain and wind were pretty localised around the campsite so after a short walk to the Kea lookout point – the views yesterday were far better – we headed a little way down the road to find the sunshine and ‘The Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier walk’.

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Once again, we were blown away by the views.  A mixture of the Mount Cook lower peak (on the left) and the Tasman Glacier, which again came all the way down to join the lake and the parts that had broken off.  This time we were also able to walk out to where the river joined the lake and we had it pretty much to ourselves.

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Feeling a little humble, we ate our lunch and then headed back towards the bottom of Lake Tasman where we parked up for the night in another spot with spectacular views looking back up at Mount Cook.

We chose this spot to be the base for some more walking so after a quick cup of tea, we headed up the hill to the Pukaki Kettle Hole Track, a short walk (5km circuit) but very beautiful.

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As the evening set in the area we were parked up in got busier and busier with campervans, cars (which pretend to be self contained) and tents squeezing into every available space.  I guess it is of no surprise really as the views were incredible and it was free, thankfully no-one blocked our views and the night was peaceful even though the van that parked immediately behind us had a very young baby in it.

We woke to a cloudy morning and a nice temperature (around 11 degrees) for a run and exercise.  Both were enjoyable despite being watched by surrounding neighbours who obviously thought we were very strange and possibly slightly mad… we are used to it now.

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By the time we were showered and breakfasted the clouds had started to lift and the sun had come out as we set off Northwards on the Te Araroa path, another lovely 12.5km each way with yet another beautiful spot for our lunch.

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Conscious that you are probably bored of beautiful photos of Mt Cook we hit the road again, moving all of 40km further North East to Lake Tekapo to empty and refill the tanks before finding a little spot at the NZMCA which is in the forest right on the lake ….. not too bad if we don’t say so ourselves….

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Lake Tekapo – or more specifically, the 430,000 Hectares of the skies above Lake Tekapo  – are defined as the Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only four of its kind in the world and on Saturday night we were lucky enough to have beautiful clear skies which were alight with a mass of stars – absolutely amazing.

After a good nights sleep we set off into Lake Tekapo village for a look around and an interim stock up of the food cupboards.  The village is tiny with only around 400 inhabitants, although there are a lot of new houses being built mostly populated by tourists as the village offers access to ski-ing in the winter and water sports and hiking in the summer.  It does however have the compulsary five cafe’s, a Chinese restaurant and a reasonable four square supermarket…. we passed on the Chinese restaurant but along with the supermarket, found a cafe to suit our needs!

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Passing briefly by the ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’ (above), which probably is one of the most picturesque churches I have ever seen, we headed back to the motorhome before the skies opened, enabling us to have a few quiet hours of catch up.  By 4:30pm it was all clear though, so we set off around the Cowan’s Hill Walkway which is a lovely 4km circuit along the lake shore and up above the village, providing beautiful views…. you would never have guessed that it was tipping it down half an hour beforehand.

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The cloud came back in later in the evening and it absolutely chucked it down overnight with the temperature also dropping to 8 degrees leaving us with a grey, cloudy, cooler start to the day.  Instead of going up high, we opted to do a lower level walk along the eastern shoreline which was also part of the Te Araroa track, a lovely peaceful 25km walk there and back…. with a few Merino sheep for company along the way.

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The sun eventually pushed its way through the cloud and by about 5pm we were properly warmed, enough to leave the door open for a bit…. we shouldn’t complain, we are at 710m altitude.

Last night was another clear night with an amazing sky, when you are blessed with something as beautiful as that you don’t mind the temperature dropping dramatically overnight and to be fair, this morning it was sunny and about 10 degrees by 8am, so not too bad really!

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After a nice run (Me) and a bit of exercise (Keith), we headed round the shoreline to walk up Mt John.  Mt John is a hill which sits at just over 1000m on the edge of Lake Tekapo.  It hosts the Observatory and also has a lovely cafe at the top with beautiful views.

We walked up the short steep route, around the summit and then came back down along the shoreline – a lovely walk, taking in some fantastic views over the whole area.

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With less than a week until we give the motorhome back, tomorrow we leave the mountains and head back to the coast.  For me, this last week has probably been the most diverse and stunning so far, although each and every week has brought different scenary and experiences – all of which have been fantastic….. hopefully the next – and last – week in New Zealand will have its own surprises!

 

Clocking up the miles – by foot… 9/1/19

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As expected, it was a quiet New Year’s Eve.  If there were fireworks at mid-night in Dunedin we didn’t hear them from where we were …. all we heard was the most amazing birdsong when we woke in the morning – very peaceful.

We set off into Dunedin staying on the coastal road this time and the skies were blue and mostly clear so we could actually see where we were going which helped!

We headed to the NZMCA site which was on the North side of the city, stopping briefly to do some washing and empty/refill the tanks as the facilities at the site were unfortunately out of order.  As the sun was shining we thought we would head into town to stretch our and find the tourist office to get some more information on the next part we are about to travel. Whilst looking through the information on Dunedin we came across a walking tour for the ‘Town Belt’ which contained three routes mostly in the parks that ran along the edge of the city ontop of the hill.  With nothing else planned we headed off to join two of them together as between them, they took us up and around and then quite conveniently back to the motorhome…. a lovely ‘skyline’ walk taking in a lot of sites and parks that we wouldn’t have normally seen.

After a hot and humid night and with most things still closed we headed back into Dunedin to do a bit of shopping and follow the ‘Street Art Trail’.

The ‘Street Art’ was incredible with pieces distributed all over the city both large and small. Our favourite was hard to select but I think we both agreed on the eagle above which unfortunately was being slightly hidden by a lorry.  It looks like it is made of metal and when you are up close, it appears to be coming out of the wall at you.

The Street Art was very varied with talented artists from around the world contributing, something that I think most cities should think about doing as not only is it interesting, it also stops the nasty graffiti on the side of buildings.  I think it is fair to say that we liked Dunedin, although I can’t see the relationship with Edinburgh personally ….

After our normal morning routine we hit the road again and headed North up the coast aiming to get to Moeraki to see the Boulders before the tide was fully in and covered them up completely.  They are natural concretions formed over millions of years underneath the sea, slowly being revealed by uplift and then subsequent erosion of the sandstone – strange that they are only visible in one small spot here though….

Unfortunately, as the Moeraki Boulders were only just off Highway 1 the place was really busy so after some quick photos, we jumped back into Ava working our way just a little further up the coast to Oamaru.

Oamaru is an odd town but we were pleasantly surprised.  I had added it to the list of places to stop because of the Penguins – no surprise there then – although I have given up on trying to see any more as the only way it looks like I would get to see them would be at dusk (currently around 21:45 here) in an artificial environment set up for tourists which isn’t really the same…. may as well go to the Zoo!

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However, having parked up at the A&P Showground (another NZMCA site), we wondered into town via the Whitestone Cheese Co…. lots of lovely cheese (both Goat’s and Cow’s milk) including Blue, Cheddar, Brie, Camembert and Haloumi. We bought some Windsor Blue, which was melt in the mouth and some Brie, coming away from there deciding that other Cheese manufacturers should have a similar set up where you can do tastings, buy cheese boards with wine or just have a Cheese Roll or two with a coffee.  Unfortunately it was the wrong time of day or we would have given the Cheese Rolls – which are apparently a delicacy over here – a go.  For those of you like us who think of a Cheese Roll as a Bread Roll with a slab of Cheddar in the middle – think again.  Each recipe is I am sure different, however the concept is a mixture of cream and strong cheddar melted together to make a warm paste which is then spread on a slice of bread and then in this case, covered in fried onions.  The bread is then rolled and toasted to make it slightly crispy.  We haven’t seen anyone eating one either but will let you know if we come accross one or actually get to try one!  Cheese rolls aside, we had a nice walk round town and out past the steam train and the Steam Punk museum to the Penguin sanctuary.

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We both headed out for a run in the morning before setting off inland once again towards the mountains.  The route we had decided to take was up through the Waitaki valley with our first stop being the Elephant Rocks just outside Duntroon.

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The Elephant Rocks were formed in the same way as the Moeraki Boulders but in addition to the rock formations, the area is also known for its preservation of fossils. It is just unfortunate that there isn’t anything else left in the village of Duntroon to attract people though as the hotel and cafe are long gone and the Vanished World Heritage Center looks like it may be at the point of no return.

Back in Ava and we continued on our route for another 20km or so until we got to Kurow, where we stopped for lunch and headed up the hill to get some great views over the valley.

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It was a steep walk up but well worth it and someone had even carried arm chairs up the path to provide a breather along the way should we have needed one!

On the road again and another 25km up the road we pulled off at Lake Benmore to do the circular peninsular walk – well worth the little detour!

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The route was only 4km and it started by the dam, heading up into the Pine and Eucalyptus forest without any views, however roughly half way round and the trees parted to give way to beautiful views out towards Mount Cook.

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Feeling satisfied with a good couple of walks we headed on to find a place to stop for the night, settling on a DOC nestled between Lake Middleton and Lake Ohau.  The DOC site ($8 pppn) was really busy with lots of families who looked like they were staying the whole summer and a handful of walkers who were doing a one night stop before they continued on the Te Araroa (The long pathway walk that goes from the Northern most tip to the Southern most tip of New Zealand) as well as lots of people water ski-ing and Kayaaking.

We had come here to walk part of the Te Araroa track, so after a shorter run with stunning views of a snow capped Mt Cook at the end of the Turquoise Ohau lake, we headed South East on the trail completing a good 25km walk.  Unfortunately the clouds came in late morning and consumed the mountains so views were limited, hence no photos.

With the forecast showing a day of rain on Sunday we decided to move into Twizel on Saturday afternoon, heading to the Combined Serviceman’s club where we could settle for a few days walking and get some blue cod and chips for dinner…. note to selves that even ‘we’ don’t need 2 scoops of chips between us …..that’s a lot of potato!

We managed to get out before the weather broke on Sunday morning and walked out to the Salmon farm on the edge of town where we bought both some fresh salmon for dinner and smoked salmon for a few lunches – they even prepare Sashimi which was really impressive – my nephew would have had a field day, well worth a visit if passing by.

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Sunday’s rain cleared some of the mugginess and we woke to low cloud and fresh air, both of which disappeared pretty quickly leaving us with 25+ degrees and sunshine for a lovely walk down Twizel River  ….. just over 24km there and back, once again not particularly good for photos but the views of Mount Cook on the return leg were pretty impressive.

After fighting off the morning sandflies we hit the Te Araroa trail again heading towards Lake Pukaki and we were pleasantly surprised by the views from our half way picnic point… another lovely 24km round trip – we could have stayed sitting looking at that view for ages!

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With one last day in Twizel, today we set off on the Te Araroa Trail in the other direction – back towards Lake Ohau where we were last Friday/Saturday.   Another lovely days walking mostly by a lake …. It is difficult to believe that we will be on the plane home in two weeks time – time is flying by!

Goodbye 2018, hello 2019…. 31/12/18

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We got up on Boxing Day expecting it to be overcast but instead were honoured by the sun still hanging around.  After a run and breakfast – and a quick stock up of Jalepenos as we ran out last night and planned fajitas for dinner tonight – we headed on our way, leaving Te Anau behind us onto the Southern ‘Scenic’ route.

We didn’t get very far though having decided to walk another little section of the Kepler Track which was only about 10km out of town. This little stretch was from Rainbow Reech to Shallow Bay and it was another fairly easy walk through the forest along side the river and then down onto Lake Manapouri, a lovely spot to have lunch before heading back and on our way.

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The road worked its way through the farming land with hills and mountains around us until we got to the ‘Clifden Suspension Bridge’ built in the late 1800’s in the same style as the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol – apparently a claim to fame – not bad, but ours is better and it still has traffic going over it!

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Back on the road we had planned on stopping for the night at Tautapere, apparently is the Sausage Capital of New Zealand, however whilst driving through it it was evident that the little piggies may have unfortunately left town so we continued on, trying to stop at a freedom camping spot at Monkey Island which was over-run with campervans, before finally stopping at Riverton/Aparima where we parked up at the RSA club.  The club was closed, as was everything else – I guess that is Boxing Day for you – but we stayed anyway and it was incredibly tranquil apart from the rain that fell in spurts, literally!

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The spurts of rain carried on until about 10:15am and then subsided enabling us to stay pretty dry whilst out walking round the headland.  We had hoped to a bit of a loop back through the reserve but after just over an hour and a half we had got half way along the beach and couldn’t see a path inland (….. I had also made the stupid decision not to bring the sandwiches with us and we were getting a bit close to pushing ‘lunch’ one step too far) – so we turned back, retracing our steps. It was still a lovely walk though, beautiful, rugged coastline.

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After being reunited with our lunch back at the motorhome we set off into Invercargill which although we hadn’t originally planned to stop in, worked out best on timings so we didn’t have to rush. We picked up a few bits at the supermarket and had a look around – finding a Kathmandu shop with a sale – eventually parking up at the Workingmans Club for the night which was huge by comparison to any we have stayed at previously.

Invercargill surprised us, possibly because it was between Christmas and New Year but it looked like it had lost its soul. A large number of shops were closed – many looked like they were gone for good – several had closing down signs in the window and a high number were second hand shops – very sad as it is a fairly big town for New Zealand.

Our night at the Workingmans club was quiet though and I had a lovely run round Queens Park in the morning with an unexpected sight….. Emu’s!  They obviously keep them in their Avery but as they are very similar to the extinct Moa which I have taken an interest in, I did do a double take when I passed them!

Leaving Invercargill we continued on our last Southern stretch down to Bluff to hit the Southern most point of the South Island.

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Parked up (and with sandwiches in hand this time) we had a lovely circular walk up to Bluff Hill which provided great views in all directions before coming back down to Stirling Point again, just a shame that it was slightly hazy as the views out over Stewart Island weren’t as clear as they could have been.

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Happily walked, we continued on the ‘Southern Scenic Route’ into the Catlins, which I want to say is a Nature Reserve but I don’t think it is as a whole, it is just an area of the South of the South Island.  The Catlins has an outstanding amount of unspoilt beauty, possibly something to do with the huge amount of unspoilt forest which provides everything from Waterfalls to Beaches as well as Sealions to Penguins… that is if you believe them as we still haven’t seen the Yellow Eyed Penguins yet, although to be fair they are rare with apparently only roughly 300 surviving couples.

We stayed the night at Niagara Falls NZMCA …. and yes, there was a little waterfall alongside it.  Apparently the surveyor who named them was having a little joke as the waterfalls are probably better described as a few boulders with water flowing over them … to be fair they were pretty and a fair few people stopped to have a look but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit them!

It was a good stopover though (apart from the sandflies which again appear to have bitten me to death) which meant that we could be up and get to Curio Bay at a decent time which was what I was most looking forwards to ….

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Yellow Eyed Penguins, Sea lions, Hector Dolphins and 170 million year old petrified forest …. well the Penguins, Sea Lions and Dolphins didn’t turn up but I can confirm that the petrified forest was still there ….

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The long line that you can see going from the bottom right of the above photo up through the center is a tree trunk … the only known fossilised wood.  It is the nesting season for the Yellow Eyed Penguins so they are around (apparently) but generally they are seen at dusk, so unfortunately it is unlikely that we will get a chance to see them as we have only just past the longest day over here – dusk would be around 21:30.

Leaving Curio Bay we did a few pit stops along the route as there are so many places to go and see.  We tried to get to Cathedral Caves but it wasn’t low tide so had to pass them by, we did however do a quick stop at Lake Wilkie which was slightly more reflective than our last attempt at Lake Mathieson but still nothing to write home about, however the Florence Hill Lookout did provide pretty spectactular views.

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Slightly further round and we stopped for a walk through the woodlands and along the beach at Papatowai before having lunch … they do put picnic benches in some wonderful places!

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It always helps when it is low tide as the textures and colours are that much more distinctive but the beach was beautiful and practically empty,  you could walk for miles.

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Leaving the beaches behind us, we got back into the motorhome and headed to see the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand…  the Purakaunui Falls.  It was a short detour on a dirt track but to be fair, they probably are the best ones we have seen yet in New Zealand – if you discount the ones in Doubtful Sound that is!

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With enough stops and a little ‘Sightseeing’d Out’, we headed North on another slightly longer dirt track to get to the Catlins River DOC campsite which really is in the middle of nowhere, up a valley with a fair few sand flies!

We haven’t had any phone coverage for a couple of days so we had no way of booking the site to ensure that it wasn’t a wasted journey – thankfully however there was ample space.  We paid our fees into the little box ($8 pppn) and headed out up one of the tracks which climbed up into the hills within the forest.  We had only wanted to stretch our legs as we planned the bigger walk in the morning but it would have been nice to get some decent views after 45 minutes climbing … apparently we weren’t worthy and needed to do more as we only got a glimpse on the way back down which wasn’t really photo-worthy.

Although it was windy and with a little rain, it was very warm and close which didn’t help the sleep or the bites from itching but it was a very quiet location. We got up at a reasonable time and headed out to tackle the Catlins River Walk.  We had planned to do the return loop which was 24km but one of our neighbouring campers told us that part of the track was closed and also that the track took a lot longer than we had expected as the footing was complicated … loads of tree roots coupled with a lot of uneven climbing up and down.  We were happy though and just walked out until we got to what seemed to be a good point and turned around and came back, doing a total of just over 5 hours.

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It was probably one of the nicest – albeit complicated – river walks we have done.  It just would have been nice to have been able to take our eyes off of the floor for more than 5 seconds at a time without fearing a broken ankle…. or falling over the edge!

Back at the campsite at a reasonable time, we packed everything up and headed for Owaka to empty/refill before a quick detour via Nugget Point.  Nugget Point was another possible viewing point for Penguins and Seals …. we got the seals at least but we are definately hitting the wrong time of the day for the Penguins… either that or they are a figure of their imagination!

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The views out beyond the lighthouse were fantastic despite the fog coming in and taking over the coastline which was a shame as the drive north along the coastal road was stunning.

Last stop of the day was the A&P Showground at Balclutha which was $10 a night. We were the only people there which was surprising as it was a great little quiet spot on the edge of town. It rained a fair bit over night, briefly stopping at about 7:15am, enough to lure us out – me to go for a run and Keith to do his exercise – only to let the heavens open again for about ten minutes to give me a good soaking …. keith managed to find a sheltered spot – oh well, the clothes needed a wash anyway!

After a quick trip to the Supermarket to get a few essentials – wine, beer, etc – we headed North stopping at Tunnel Beach for lunch and a walk.

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Tunnel Beach used to be part of the Cargill family land – a local politician in the 1870’s – and he commissioned a tunnel to be built for his children to go down through the rock to the beach.  The white Sandstone rock is beautiful just like the Jurassic coast in the UK and the tunnel is still there, leading you to the following beach and views…

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Heading north again we passed through the outskirts of Dunedin before wiggling our way round the coastal road of the Otago Peninsula until I stupidly decided to take a right turn and head up into the clouds to have a look at Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle.  Unfortunately we couldn’t see much further than about 50ft in front of us so although I am sure that the castle itself is lovely, the views would have been spectacular on a clear day so we decided to give it a miss today.  We continued on the ‘high’ road, wiggling our way North until we re-joined the coastal road, passing through a little village called Portabello before finding our little field out the back of a hall to stop in for the night. Apart from the seagulls, birds, one other bus and the possible Sealions, Albatrosses and Penguins I have a feeling it is going to be a very quiet night!!

We did jump on the bikes and cycled up towards the Royal Albatross Center but my back is playing up on the bikes so we needed to turn back.

I know a little early but Happy New Year everyone. 2018 seems to have flown by and not only did we have an amazing summer in the UK, we also said goodbye to Mika and gained a new member of our family – Hattie, with whom we are looking forward to lots of new adventures in 2019… once we are done with NZ that is!!