What do you call a town with a paper bag on its head?
For that was our last port of call in 2001. Right up in the Bay of Islands near the top of North Island, gorgeous sandy beaches and the warmest sea we've yet encountered down under.
The last night of a holiday is always a bit sad and this place was particularly hard to leave. As I sat and sipped my Stella with the hazy sun sinking in the sea I checked my watch and thought that on the other side of the world I would have been sitting in the Southbound queue for the Blackwall Tunnel like I do practically every morning of the year. To go to work in a job I really don't like any more.
Three years on and that's still what I'm doing.
Things will change.
The first time we saw the icy blue water of Lake Tekapo was from 20,000 feet. The blue colour is just as powerful close up. And headachingly cold even on the hottest day you can imagine. It's a thick translucent liquid due to the large quantities of minerals held in suspension. Glacier melt water. Freezing cold glacier melt water. We've camped practically at the water's edge before but last time with the girls we were in a nice little motel unit a little higher up. The motel boasted "two children's playgrounds" much to Kay's initial delight. Minutes after we arrived she returned saying that the first one was surrounded by a fence and locked gate that looked rather hard to climb.
Well, that's because it was an electricity sub-station. But an easy mistake I think you'll agree.
Christmas in the warm summer sun is different. Maybe that sounds obvious, but I think we need to ge that clear. It's made all the stranger in New Zealand by snow scenes and Father christmas decorations. Very incongruous. But this neat little decoration of parcels on a front porch set against the blue sky seemed just about right. Either crime is an awful lot rarer in EnZee or they're made of concrete.... they wouldn't have lasted long back home.
We always have Christmas lunch on the beach.... I insist. And we've had it before you lot back in blighty are even awake. And by the time you're opening your prezzies we're out on the deck with a glass of port gazing at the stars and putting the world to rights.
Anyway I'll raise a glass to all in this little corner of Blogland this time, have a great time wherever you are and whatever you're doing!
Peace, love and little bits of anarchy to y'all.
Just one more picture before we leave Kaikoura behind. We wondered why the hot chocolate was taking so long to come.... indeed we thought they must have forgotten that part of the order.
Then this arrived. Even young Kay hesitate before dunking her spoon and slurping it down. She told us it tasted as good as it looked.
I'm sure you'll agree by now that Kaikoura is indeed a beautiful place. But that's not why we first visited. Indeed I don't think that is the reason most people have it on their list of "must-visit" places in New Zealand. It's still most famous for it's dolphin swimming, whale-watching, seal swimming and (if you're mad) possibly even shark diving. My first dolphin swimming was here 9 years ago. It was not a sunny day and four or five miles off the coast the pacific ocean was feckin' freezing. But it was worth it. Within a few minutes the dusky dolphins (much larger than the hector's variety) were hurtling past us both in and out of the water. If that had been all we experienced on the trip it would have been worthwhile. But after returning to the boat and warming up with the nicest mug of tea I've ever tasted, the skipper got a call from the spotter plane. There was a pod of Orca just half a mile away. He immediately changed course and within a few minutes we were coasting along with nearly twenty killer whales, young and old. The Hector's Dolphins were cute, the Duskies were cool but these were simply majestic. For half an hour we cruised with them until a call from base pointed out we were late back. Words once again fail me, it was just amazing to be so close to these enormous creatures in their natural environment. They swam at either side the bow like an escort; they swam underneath as though they were playing dodge..... excellent.
Then there's whale-watching. Three years ago we thought we'd try the helicopter option. It's more expensive than the boat trip and you're only out there for half an hour but seeing the sperm whales from the air definitely let's you absorb their size better than from a boat. We circled for a minute or two watching it rest on the surface but then a final spurt and it dived with the characteristic flick of its tail.
After even a day or two in the wetness of Westland somehow the sun of the East coast seems even brighter and the sun warmer than ever. This is one of my favourite self taken photos ever. It's a bench on a hill near Kaikoura and somehow seems to sum up EnZee to me. There's the emptiness, the green grass, the blue sky and even a wisp of the Long White Cloud that gives it it's Maori name of Aotearoa.
Tee bench isn't actually on the edge of a cliff as it appears, but the ground does slope away sharply beyond it. Enough to nearly give me a heart attack when I sat on the bench and find it tip forward about 15 degrees.
More of my Kaikoura pictures here.
Crossing over the Southern Alps from Akaroa, Christchurch and the East coast in general we find ourselves in Westland AKA Wetland.
For it rains a lot here. No, more even than Manchester.
I've only seen it once in sunshine and apparently I'm lucky as on our last visit we got talking to a couple who'd been coming here for twenty years and never seen the sun.
So why go at all?
Well, the forest is wonderfully green and lush (wonder why?) and for this alone it's probably worth seeing. There are also the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and the sight of two massive rivers of ice thrusting through the forest is most impressive. Sadly the precipitation means I've never managed to get a good picture. So you'll have to go for yourself. The bar and restaurant staff were still relentlessly cheerful and the overall feel was a little like that of one of the smaller (and nicer) European skiing resorts.
Akaroa was very nearly the start of a very different history for South Island New Zealand. For this was to have been the gateway to the French Antipodean colony. A few drunken sailors and some typical British gunboat diplomacy soon took care of that particular Gallic dream but the place still has a pleasant Mediterranean feel to it. This is helped by some French road names (Rue de Buoy et al) and some very pleasant street cafes.
But our initial reason for a visit to Akaroa was for a sheltered introduction to dolphin swimming to eleven year old Dee three years ago. The dolphin swimming here is still out in deep blue sea but within the relatively sheltered environs of the lagoon that is the previously mentioned flooded volcano that makes up the banks peninsula. The dolphins that come into the lagoon to breed are the leetle Hector's Dolphins, the world's smallest cetacean at around about a metre long. The sensation of swimming in the open sea with these creatures speeding inches past your nose is indescribable but I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in wildlife. Dee was a little nervous at first (not used to swimming so obviously out of here depth) but when the first dolphin swam inches from her nose she swallowed half of the pacific after the gasp of excitement and her fear disappeared. She was the last one back onto the boat so enthralled was she by these graceful creatures. The Dolphin boaters do not feed the dolphins, indeed they are closely watched by the Department of Conservation and the number of trips they are allowed to make are limited. Thus we have to assume that the dolphins come to swim with us for a laugh. Excellent!
Hectors Dolphins were originally created, as you can probably guess, to head the cast of the follow up series to that wonderful 70’s Gallic kids prog, Hector’s House. A princely sum was spent on the pilot, Hector’s Dauphin, but the Beeb weren’t interested in Dolphins (or even princes) anymore, not since Flipper had hit the bottle and started menacing blue fin tuna. So, after several translation errors (genetic and linguistic) somehow the plucky little Hector’s Dolphins found their way to Akaroa.
This is where we go every three years for Christmas. Well, not Little River specifically (though we usually do call in) but Noo Zealandia as a whole. Or as a half this time as it's just South Island this Christmas. Landing in Christchurch takes in a wonderful sweep across the beautiful flooded volcano that is Akaroa (more of which later). From there to pick up the hire car and then onto the road. By the time we get to Little River, a wonderfully Springsteenesque townlet the lag is beginning to be well and truly jetted and so it is time for a caffeine injection. But you can't just change countries willy nilly and wander in to the local and request "A cup of your finest coffee please, mine host.." Oh, no that will not do at all. You need to know the lingo. You need to understand the culture. Thus, you stumble into the darkness and with no little relief find that it all comes back. What you need is a "Long Black". Mrs. Planarchy went for a "Flat White". You can just taste the Kiwi can't you? The girls, having being promised a milkshake of "just about any flavour you can think of" by the charming coffee bloke go for Strawberry and Chocolate. You can see the disappointment in his his eyes as he accedes to their requests.
So, Little River, on the road to Akaroa, thoroughly recommended for a coffee stop. Tell them I sent you.
PS: My new volume:“Coffee Culture, A Cornucopia of Café Couture, or how not to look a complete prat when ordering coffee away from home” should be available shortly at all good booksellers.
Our first port of call this time is (you'll be surprised to hear), if all goes according to plan, Singapore. A strangely named place from the French Singe (a monkey) and the Old German Porenfruitenkukken (preserve fruit by cooking with sugar). Even knowing the root of the name I'm still at a loss to explain why this placed is called MoneyJam. Anyway, it's warm in Singapore. Very warm as I remember. Even when the clouds are grey it is still very warm. And sticky. Although not from chewing gum which, as everyone knows, is illegal there. I also remember a pretty impressive little aquarium. Or possibly a very good fish restaurant as the two seem to be pretty similar en MonkeyJam. The picture above is of a Sea Pony from they establishment in question. Pretty isn't it?
There were also some Jelly Fish, pudding perhaps?
So, yes, we've gone away. Did I mention that already?
On a plane.
Possibly even this one, which, I think, brought us home last time.
We like Singapore Airlines. Firstly, they have not only little TV screens on the back of each seat but also a games console built in to keep the girls amused. Sadly within minutes of our take-off last time the games computer crashed leaving us hoping that the one flying the plane was somewhat more robust (assuming it was a different one).
Oh, and no prizes for guessing where our stop over is going to be.
We've gone away.
There may be some live posts... but in the meantime a few pre-prepared pieces covering some vaguely travel related things. Can you have a pre-prepared piece? Isn't preparation all about pre-ing anyway?
Whatever, today's piece was inspired by our trip to Praha earlier in the year which I never wrote up at the time (much like our trips to Paris, Bath, France, Corfu and Pluto). Ayway, as we passed through the security check at Stanstead I noticed a nice display cabinet containing items that had been confiscated by security. I assume the banana skin was someone's idea of a joke....... they're not really dangerous are they? As the great Eddie Izzard has explained, we've never actually seen anyone slip over on one have we?
So, it's been a while since we've seen any amphibians here at Planarchy isn't it? And I don't think we've actually had a toad before anyway. I came across this small chap (less than an inch long) whilst digging up t'allotment. Easily distinguished from their froggy relatives by the apparently warty skin and the large lumpy glands behind the eyes. Also they tend to crawl rather than hop. Though Sunday morning who doesn't?