Date Monday, March 31, 2003

New Zealand - Land of the Hobbits

We're now coming to the end of an amazing two months in New Zealand. The views are amazing, the activities thrilling and the marine wildlife fantastic. I'm sure I've seen Gandalf wandering in the woods and there's been a Hobbit encounter or two?!

A New Zealand traffic jam - Lake Hawea, near Wanaka - Local transport

It's been great fun living out of the back of a van - if someone had told me how comfortable it would be I would never have believed them.

The size of both islands is about the same as the UK, but with just 3.9 million inhabitants (joined by a gazillion tourists in campervans!) there is plenty of space to enjoy the natural beauty - the lakes, volcanoes, glaciers, mountains...

We've been very lucky with the weather - it's now late Autumn, but it's another glorious day today, although we've been glad of our thermals - as soon as the sun dips behind a mountain it's really chilly!

Anyway, enough of my blah, blahing - here's the interesting bit - the piccies!

We're off to Fiji on Friday for a week - then it's a quick detour to Las Vegas, San Fran and LA and then our last leg in South America.

The South Island

Christchurch and around
We had a very warm welcome to New Zealand - chatting to a British chap and his partner in the duty free at Christchurch airport as we arrived, they offered to put us up for our first night. Just the first indicator of the warm kiwi hospitality.

The church and a sculpture in central Christchurch

Not Gandalf, but a wizard who 'entertains' the tourists daily

Finding a van was our first priority and we discovered that there weren't that many on the market and lots of people looking. We found Misty, the Mitsubishi, at a dealers - she doesn't like reversing, needs two litres of oil every 300 km, belches out smoke for New Zealand, has a dodgy accelerator cable, but apart from that she goes like a dream!!!

Luxury accomodation in central Christchurch!

Breakfasting with fellow van seekers, Jo and Fleur

Once we got our accommodation and transport sorted, we were off! Our first stop was Akaroa, a small town near Christchurch. It was our first experience of the amazing scenery.

Views from a 'round the mountain' walk - I didn't think we did much 'round' more like straight up the mountain!

Our first view of the incredible marine wildlife was in Akaroa. We took a trip to see Hectors Dolphins - the smallest dolphin; the skipper told us we wouldn't see many that day - we were disappointed, but then delighted when he told us why... Orca were in the area and we were lucky to see a pod of about six to eight of them up close. They are magnificent.

Orca (killer whale) up close

Arthurs Pass and the West Coast
Leaving the Christchurch area, we headed over Arthurs Pass towards the west coast. We had the chance to do some lovely walks through the valleys.

Devils Punchbowl Falls, Arthurs Pass

Clambering along the Bealey Valley track

Along the west coast we stopped off at a small town, Hokitika, famous for jade carving and then heli-hiked on the Franz Josef glacier.

Mark at the beginning of five hours polishing my lovely new jade pendant!

A view of the Franz Josef glacier

Our helicopter and us on our way

Trying out for catologue modelling

Ice action!

Wanaka and Queenstown area
After the glaciers, we headed back inland via the Haast pass towards Wanaka, Queenstown etc.

The reason we loved the South Island was that everywhere we went we found amazing little walks.

The blue pools - a walk on the way across the Haast Pass - that's us reflected in the water!

When we got to Wanaka we discovered that Al and Sarah, friends from home, were there at the same time - we were lucky enough to bump into them. They'd booked to do river sledging that afternoon so we joined them - it was great fun!

The site of our river sledging action

Saying goodbye after a good night at the camp

We stayed at a campsite in Glendhu Bay, near Wanaka, and the lake view was lovely

We were lucky enough to have friends, Dave and Sharon, in Arrowtown. They made us very jealous with their beautiful home with a spectacular view of the Remarkables. They made us very welcome and we wanted to stay forever!

The quaint centre of Arrowtown

Mark, Sharon and Dave resting during the Saw Pit Gully walk near Arrowtown

Just near their house is the original bungy bridge - when in New Zealand it has to be done! Mark loved it. I didn't plan to do one, but he seemed to enjoy it so much I did a week later (but I didn't enjoy it really!)

Going.... gone


It was St Patrick's Day the day of Mark's jump - and with Sharon a good Irish lass, Dave and Sharon had a party! We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time!!

Barbie with a view

An advert for Guinness!

After one or two samples...

Reluctantly, we left Dave and Sharon for Queenstown and the small village of Glenorchy.

A view from the gondola in Queenstown

Glenorchy - many scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed in this area (not orcs it's us!)

Lynette trying out sepia!

Saddle sore us?! aaahhh

Milford Sound
We then headed south to Te Anau and Milford Sound.

A rock formation on the way to Milford

We took an overnight cruise to see the Sound. It was much smaller than I'd expected, but still beautiful. Apparently, it's more spectacular in the rain. In the morning, we were lucky enough to see several seals playing near our boat - they were behaving more like dolphins!

Milford Sound

Ar ar ar ar

Central Otago Rail Trail
Our next little adventure was the Central Otago Rail Trail. It's an 150km route which used to be a railway line. It runs through some spectacular gorges and the large plains of Central Otago. It was great fun and we only saw about half a dozen people on the trail over the whole 150kms. More information on the trail is at

On your bike! We saw plenty of sheep who were all terrified of us

A highlight was our accommodation on the first night - our very own country cottage

Queenstown again
After the trail my treat was to do a bungy! We also met up with Jo and Fleur who were in the area.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1..........


The lake in Queenstown at dusk

My vans better than yours! Jo and Fleur with the Beast

Kaikoura is renowned for its marine wildlife. There's a large underwater canyon just off the coastline which creates an ideal ecosystem for whales, dolphins and seals.

A fairy penguin and a fur seal

We went whale watching and it was a thrill to see three magnificent sperm whales as they breathed on the surface and then lifted their huge tales to go back into the depths. The adults are about 18m long.

Sperm Whales


I also fulfilled a long time dream in Kaikoura - we swam with the dolphins. It was an incredible experience. The dusky dolphins are really playful and swim in huge pods of up to 500. What was really funny is we were told it was our task to interest the dolphins by diving, making noises etc; I nearly drowned as I was so keen to be appealling! And I don't know what they must have thought of my singing!


Abel Tasman and Picton
We decided to do a three-day kayaking trip in the Abel Tasman region. So we packed almost the entire contents of our van into a little kayak and set up off the coast. The coastline is lovely and it's very peaceful kayaking away. We camped the first night, but when it poured down all day on our second day we wimped out and stayed in a nice lodge!

Kayaking the Abel Tasman

We spent a couple of days in the Picton area before catching the ferry to the North Island. You have to go through Queen Charlotte Sound to get our of Picton - it's another beautiful area.

Queen Charlotte Sound

The North Island
The North Island has some really interesting volcanic and geothermal areas, rich Maori culture and some beautiful lakes. It isn't nearly as spectacular as the South Island and is more densly populated (relatively speaking!).

We spent a couple of days with family in Wellington. Diane, Warren, Charlotte and Chris made us very welcome! We spent a good deal of time in the Te Papa museum - one of the best museums I've visited. It also has the best exhibition! Lord of the Rings! We were very excited to see the costumes and learn all the films secrets.

Lord of the Rings at Te Papa

Tongariro, Taupo and Rotorua - Geographers' paradise
We headed straight to the centre of the North Island. Here is where you see all the geysers, bubbling mud, steaming earth and volcanoes.

We completed the 17 km Tongariro Crossing - talked about as the best day walk in New Zealand. You see some stunning views of volcanic lakes and the surrounding countryside. It was a great walk, but with five bus loads of people it seemed a bit like a school trip at times!

Near Lake Taupo we vistited several geothermal sites - oodles of bubbling mud!

'Craters of the Moon' near Taupo

'The Hidden Valley' on the way to Rotorua

Glorious mud

One moring in Rotorua, we awoke to the perfect skydiving day! Without a cloud in the sky we decided that it was 'the' day. It was every bit as thrilling as I'd hoped. Both of us absolutely loved the experience. What a buzz!

Mmm suits you

In Rotorua, we also visited Whakewara Maori and Thermal village.

A traditional welcoming ceremony

The Prince of Wales geyser - which sprays water up to 20 metres in the air

Bay of Islands
The last part of our trip was spent in the far north in the Bay of Islands.

Waitangi, site of the famous 1840 Waitangi Land Treaty signed between the Maori Chiefs and Queen Victoria

We also went on a couple of fishing trips - after catching one tiddler in loads of trips in Australia, it was my turn for success - I caught a 9 pound snapper and seven other snappers on one trip! Both of us caught plenty on both trips and we nearly didn't move on from the area - we were hooked!!!

Fish for tea!

Fish barbie

Bye from New Zealand!

Monday, March 10, 2003

10 March 2003

Tales from 'down under'

We left you last in Byron Bay - since then we've had a bit more beach action, been stranded for five days due to flooding (yes in Australia), got in some sailing and diving in the Whitsundays, caught up with friends from home in Sydney, moved on to New Zealand and bought a new home - a purple and green van!

So here is the rest of Australia. We only managed the East Coast, so we'll have to return to 'do' the rest of it. We loved Australia - with the glorious beaches, some stunning national parks and fine beers we got to feel very at home in tony tent and Tilly Toyota!

Nambucca heads - just one of the lovely beaches

Tony tent - simple, but we called it home for two months

Tilly the trojan Toyota - she took us just under 5,000 kms

The journey continues...

From Byron Bay we headed via Kempsey to Dorrigo national park.

In Kempsey we visited an Aboriginal garden visitor centre, where we were shown the plants Aboriginals used for food and medicine. Our guide also showed Mark the didgeridoo basics!

We camped high up at Dorrigo and couldn't believe that we needed every item in our rucksacks to try to stay warm! It was worth it the next day when we walked around the nearby rainforests.

Coffs Harbour - a view from Mutton Bird Island.

Our next stop was Bundjalung national park. Here we camped just behind the dunes in a really rustic campground (toilets only). We fell in love with this place. We couldn't see anyone either way along the 38 km beach. It was a shame we needed a shower as we could have stayed forever!

The isolated Bundjalung beach

Lynette gets arty with a Eucalyptus tree showing off the brilliant blue sky

Meanwhile, Mark turns into bushtuckerman!

We loved the variety of the scenery in New South Wales and after climbing the highest mountain in the East Coast, Mt Warning (no piccies as it was completely clouded over, honest!) and passed through the hippy town of Nimbin - a flashback to the sixties, we headed across the border to Queensland. Every hour north got hotter and more humid.

From the border town of Coollangata you can see the high rises a la Benidorm of Surfers Paradise

Tired of waiting to see a Koala in the wild, just outside of Brisbane we found the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. You can't help but love the sleepy creatures.

They're too lazy to even try to be cute - they just are!

Mark gets to cuddle a koala - they're much heavier than they look. I've left off the picture where I get to cuddle one as it reminds me too much of it deciding it was time to visit the little boys' room on my hand!

The sanctuary had just started up displays of Aboriginal culture - the dancing and singing was really impressive, especially when they roped in a special volunteer!!

We even got to hand feed the Kangas - some of them were really sloppy eaters - especially that one in the blue vest!

The fierce Tasmanian Devil?!

After a few days in Brisbane, we headed for Noosa where we'd said we'd meet up with Peter, Sue, Ray and Jenny - who we'd met on our Halong Bay trip in Vietnam.

A view of the lovely town of Noosa - 'the' resort of the East Coast

Jenny, Peter, Sue and Ray let us join in with their daily champagne and beer ritual on the last day of the their holidays at Noosa

We took up fishing in Noosa and Mark caught his first ever fish

We headed up the coast from Noosa to Hervey Bay from where we'd arranged to go on a trip to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. It was a self-drive three-day trip with nine of us in a 4 wheel-drive Toyota Landcruiser. We were all introduced the night before we left and had to plan our food and beers for the next three days...

Views of the beautiful island - Lake Mackenzie a freshwater oasis from the heat of the day and Indian Heads at the top of the island.

The shipwreck Maheno - which was being towed back to Japan and Mark with our other Toyota

Wildlife on the island - the infamous dingo and a friendly looking spider...

Another freshwater lake - Lake Wabby, where the small fish nibble at your skin if you stay still long enough!

The nine of us still smiling after three days together on the island

After the Fraser Island trip, we headed back on ourselves to Gympie to visit Ray, Jenny, Peter and Sue for the weekend.

"Be very, very quiet, we're hunting bunya nuts! " On a drive out to the countryside beyond Gympie we stopped to look for bunya nuts - a huge fruit which is made up of little pods of a nut which can be eaten raw or boiled... either way Ray likes them!

Mark and I got a surprise when we saw pineapples growing out of the ground - we thought they grew on trees!

We're waved off after a great weekend..

We went on up to Bundaburg - home of the famous Bundy rum, which we've just had to sample.. and Mon Repos Turtle Rookery. This is a sanctuary for the endangered logger head turtles. Visitors can go and see the turtles at night on the beach as they lay their eggs and even as the hatchlings come through the sand to make their bid for the sea. We were lucky enough to see a group of 20 or so hatchlings scrabble out of the sand to get their first look at the world and a 55 year old mummy lay her 120 or so 'ping pong' shaped eggs. It was a fantastic and moving experience.

The ranger measures the adult female as she buries her nest of eggs

We moved on from the Bundaburg area to the small town of 'Town of 1770'... we thought for a day or so, but we got there at the end of cyclone Benny and had to hole up for five days as both roads out were flooded. With just a pie shop, off licence and small grocery store we just had to eat pies and drink wine! It was our very own groundhog day and we managed to break for freedom on day six of captain's log...

We fished a couple of times when it wasn't pouring with rain and were lucky enough to have two dolphins playing just 3 metres away from us while we fished.

Town of 1770 - A pretty town, but not that pretty!

We had to miss out a few places to catch up on our lost time in 1770 so headed straight for Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays. The weather was clearing up following the cyclone so we booked a fishing trip before the main event - a three day Whitsundays trip on a racing yacht.

Mark catches another fish... Lynette doesn't catch a thing again - Mark 5 - Lynette 0

We headed out on a very wet day on the Mandrake. It was a former racing yacht and provided compact living space. We were lucky enough to have a really good group including two ex B'ham Uni girls, Emma and Amy, Frida and Danielle, Jorn and Margot...

We went on a second trip straight afterwards - thanks to a 50% discount if booking within 6 months. The second was a much more grown up affair - with our own air-con, ensuite cabin and much more comfort with a larger catamaran, the Pacific Star, it was a completely different experience this time visiting the Great Barrier Reef as well as the islands - another really good trip.

The Mandrake

I dived for the first time and absolutely loved the experience - Mark couldn't because of bad ears from his waterpolo days, but the snorkelling was great as well

We had to wear fetching stinger suits as it was 'stinger season' when tiny deadly jelly fish are about around the islands!

The Birmingham Uni babes! Emma and Amy

I can still do a few moves - even in flippers!

Whitehaven beach on our second trip - the photo doesn't do it justice... on our first trip the tide was out and the sun shining and it looked like a piece of paradise

It was a great experience to dive and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef

Happy sailers on the Pacific Star

At the end of our first trip we had a big night out exploring the local nightlife including the popular sport of canetoad racing (I was assured the cane toads enjoy it!)... Mark's toad won! This isn't the race, but I'd never seen one before so I thought I'd add this critter

This sulphur crested cocatoo and his friends stayed at the same Airlie Beach campsite with us.

All done with our sea legs we headed up to Cairns and beyond to Port Douglas. Here we got our last bit of fishing in and soaked up the tropical weather - both the humid sunny days and the rain.

The North Queensland tropical coastline

We hired a small dinghy and fished along the estuary in Port Douglas and Mark caught another fish - when he wasn't cap'n of the vessel

Hoorah - on our final fishing trip of Australia, I actually caught a fish - a tiddler, but it's still a fish...

On our way back to Cairns from Port Douglas we realised that fishing in a tiny dinghy in an estuary and wiping bate swathed hands overboard was quite foolish.... We saw the crocs at a crocodile farm, where they showed us how you can't see them moving under the surface! But we live to tell the tale!

Salties - you wouldn't want to swim with these fellows!

After getting rid of Tilly (sob, sob) in Cairns, we flew back to Sydney to catch up with our family in St Clair; Jake and Matt, on holiday from the UK; Al and Sarah, about to leave Australia after 3 years; and of course our genial hosts Mike, Stevo and Craigo!

Catching up with Jake and Matt

Chris playing baseball - no Mark you can't join in

Watching the Mardi Gras parade from our $5 milk crates!

The Mardi Gras parade - a great spectacle and eyeopener!

The New South Wales police join the parade - can you imagine the Met joining in in London?

The Mardi Gras was a great way to end our time in Australia - I just couldn't get enough of Sydney Harbour and its brilliant blue skies... ahhh

The opera house from the bridge - final arty shot from Australia!

So now we're in New Zealand - the weather is glorious, the views as spectacular as everyone says and we're looking forward to a lot of walking and maybe some more adventurous pursuits....

We really do own a purple van and we really are in New Zealand - look at the view!

Bye for now