A land down under

So we have returned from New Zealand and both temperature and time zones are noticeably different. Last month I enjoyed an average of 25 degrees, falling once to sunburn through my own stupidity; since return to Scotland a digit has been lost with the computer telling me it’s a balmy 2 degrees outside. I was, until yesterday, waking at 4am and being useless after 9pm. No more the night owl, one reason why I haven’t committed thoughts to a blog yet since our return. A warning also that this is largely going to be a translation of my Instagram account with some words added to fill the gap at the start of the year. Another blog post to come to bring you up to speed on all things house later.

Anyway, flew to Auckland via Fraernkfurt and Los Angeles, leaving Glasgow on the 24th January. I recognised this as a ridiculous route when leaving Frankfurt we flew directly back over Glasgow. Two hours there, a two hour turnaround and two hours back that could have been avoided could the flight from Glasgow have been available. The second point I would caution anyone to note is the lengthy and (IMHO) disorganized security process to be endured when visiting the USA even for just 6 hours. A two hour wait in line for photography and fingerprinting, then collection of bags to load onto the connecting flight personally seemed somewhat overkill.

Our arrival on the 26th was met with a surprise airport meet and pick up from our daughter Heather. A lovely day unfolded in Auckland with a visit to the Weta workshop exhibition, but despite excitement, an early night beckoned. Not too difficult the next day for an early breakfast and a walk around the city. And then rain, Auckland experienced devastating consequences from the arrival of a month’s worth of rainfall in a single day. I could joke about it being a typical Wednesday in Glasgow but the next 24 hours saw devastation to homes, roads cut off, and worst of all loss of life. The clean up still continues I assume.

Heather and Devina (a friend in New Zealand) picked us up on the morning of the 28th for a transfer to the Island of Waiheke. The island is most famous for it’s wine production so it would have bee rude not to visit a number to sample their fare. Pick of the bunch for me was lunch at Casita Miro, excellent food and probably the pick of the wines too. This is definitely the place to go if you love wine, but also be aware that those tastings are going to hit you in the pocket! Some lovely memories over the three days there and whilst the weather wasn’t at its best there was no disaster to speak of (although I did receive a text care of NZ Government warning me of such).

Then to Cambridge (now the last day of January) and guests of Hayden’s parents. I should explain also that Hayden is Heather’s partner of 6 years, the two of them meeting as guides at Hobbiton all those years ago. Our lovely 3 day stay included lots of shared family time and traditional father / daughter feuds over board gaming. Both our children have developed a strong competitive streak and Heather (who appears to introduce rules to games as she goes along), like me wears her heart on her sleeve.

Quieter days were spent at Hamilton Gardens & Hobbiton respectively. The latter found a splendid morning at daybreak where H&H used their connections to gain access to Hobbiton as first tour of the day and the village to ourselves. I am not the LOTR (Lord of the Rings) fan that both daughter and wife are, but I still find tremendous pleasure in the joy it brings them both as hopefully comes out in the photos.

On the 3rd of February we travelled to Napier and found a charming B&B via Booking.com – the Bluff Hill Light House. The property stands on the site of an old prison that was home to a lighthouse. It is believed to be the only lighthouse to be run and maintained by the prisoner / guards, whilst it is one of three lighthouses connected to prisons (the most famous being Alcatraz). It served fantastic views and it’s quirky nature had a well stocked kitchen for home cooking that night.

Wellington next and a reunion I was very much looking forward to. Wayne-o, who played host to us on the Lions tour, has become my Southern Hemisphere brother. Our bromance that came about because of a mutual love of rugby continued over much beer, steak (large, rare), a car show, and an early morning alarm to see the Scottish win another Calcutta Cup. The weather was improving rapidly, perfect for BBQ, a stroll around Wellington, some live Jazz/Swing and beer.

The 6th of Feb saw us take a ferry over to the South Island and onward trip to Bleheim, the largest wine region of the South Island. We were introduce to Caro and Hugh, who were our host for the next 3 nights and what a stunning property they own! Our three night stay allowed visits to more vineyards and the Marlborough Sound where we fortunate to see a pod of Orca on our 4 hour mailboat tour (something I would recommend to anyone visiting Picton).

Food was very much on the menu with fabulous cooked breakfasts, a cracking Thai meal and some of the best lamb I’ve tasted at a venue called Frank’s. We had a brilliant night of fun with our host and two friends Aaron & Debbie. Aaron is an oyster farmer and was proud to tell us he supplied the restaurant. Two dozen oysters for the table later I can understand why he is proud of his fare – comparable with what we have here on Gigha – although I’m not giving the crown to NZ yet.

Our journey on to Christchurch was punctuated by a stop at Kaikoura for some sea kayaking. My wife was understandably nervous, after last time in a canoe in France we capsized causing loss of phone and scars on the memory. Whilst I quite enjoyed being out on the water I know now Karen only endured the experience for me, so a thank-you to her for indulging me.

Three nights in Christchurch included highlights of a tram tour of the City, the Botanical Gardens, a toy museum and another early morning victory for Scottish rugby. Perhaps more a town for the young at heart and those seeking high adrenalin thrills but enough to keep us happy for 3 days. Food highlight here was the Riverside Market – multiple stalls producing great food and some lovely local produce. I took away some fantastic prawn for a risotto on the second night that was hugely better than the bars we found for pizza and burger that bookended it.

The 12th saw a long drive to Queenstown and disappointingly a dinner date with Belinda and Pete wasn’t going to happen due to their early return to Cambridge because of (this time) cyclone warnings. However, the booking at Aosta in Arrowtown still stood for Karen and I and produced the most memorable meal of the holiday. A tasting menu of Italian food of very high quality in equally pleasant surroundings, with a paired wine menu for the passenger (reward and apology for sea kayaking) was pure indulgence and delight.

Milford Sound was our destination the next day and the wettest place on the South Island saw blue skies and 28 degrees the day we visited. A lovely destination, but couldn’t help comparing to the Fjords of Norway after our 4 hour drive to get there. I shouldn’t because it is a truly splendid natural and unspoiled region, tremendous narrated by our tour guide Eric. A trip to Queenstown for Valentines day and cruise on a Steamer ship on a beautiful evening; fish and chips did not quite match the earlier mentioned meal but it was with the woman I love so largely inconsequential. Queenstown provided us again with some great memories but again couldn’t help feel it was a town for the youngsters.

Back driving north the following day for 2 nights at Lake Tekapo, stopping at the beautiful Lake Pukaki for a photo stop and the bluest water I have seen. Lake Tekapo is in the middle of the South Island’s dark sky reserve and is a must for any amateur astronomer or stargazer. So to be greeted by cloudy skies on my arrival didnt bode well. I should not have worried though because on the second night, stargazing tour booked, we were rewarded with clear skies. Shooting stars graced the black canvas dutifully explained by our guide, Daniel, as we had access to three scopes pointed at various targets in the night sky. A night I won’t forget, but I must also mention the day excursion. That was to Mount Cook National park and our chosen route of the Hooker valley. A walking route chosen for it’s 3 hour return time and easy gradients. It afforded us beautiful views of Mount Cook and the stunning scenery around. What I didn’t realise were the three suspension bridges crossing the route and after the sixth crossing I felt I had almost conqured vertigo with aversion therapy.

A night back in Picton after a long drive was intended to position us for an early morning ferry. Fate had other ideas as our first ferry was cancelled and the second ferry we found as a substitute was delayed until midday. Logistics meant we didn’t arrive back on the North Island until 4pm and stamina ran out around 10pm on our intended drive back to Cambridge. A comical drive of trying to find a restaurant included a stop at a ‘fried chicken’ restaurant that only served beer by the time we got there and a MacDonald’s visited at 8.10pm that closed precisely at 8. A realisation that we wouldn’t make Cambridge caused us to book a B&B at Lake Taupo, once visited on a previous trip and an interesting stopover once again.

Our 2 nights in Cambridge became one, sadly, and we departed the next morning for our penultimate holiday destination of Papamoa. Very much looking forward to family time with Heather & Hayden we spent four nights at a batch where there was little planned other than relaxing. Hayden had found a cracking property with beach view and hot tub, which he drove us to via supermarket for provisions. Afternoon Martini’s and showering of sun tan lotion before spending extended time in a hot tub proved my first sun burn of the time here. A more painful 4 nights than I had hoped for.

It didn’t spoil the vacation and a mixture of home cooked food, board games and more martinis were a great time spent with the youngsters. Catan and Betrayal at the Haunted Mansion caused arguments as you would expect of us but all shook hands at the end. Some great Ribs at Papa Moas proved to be a good end to the trip.

Finally, back to Cambridge and with big thanks again to Hayden’s parents B & Pete who gave us a bed once again. The last night’s saw a Trivia quiz with kid’s Hobbiton family and a family party where Jack Daniel’s seemed to be the currency of choice! There was one more secret mission that I cannot mention in print yet but hopefully soon. A tearful goodbye at the airport had to be expected and it certainly was that. Almost 5 weeks, countles driving miles, friends and family both old and new met along the way. Bank balance reduced but the experience mattered more , as always.


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