An Indulgent Weekend.

It was our weekend away to spoil ourselves, to celebrate the end of Silvio’s assignment in Melbourne with a bit of luxury. It wasn’t quite as relaxing as we’d hoped, with the apartment almost-but-not-quite settled and our to-do list for the move growing with each day, but you know … first world problems!

View from above Wentworth falls

View from above Wentworth falls

The drive up was pretty easy, despite taking the wrong road at the junction just after Neutral Bay, will I ever learn that road layout? We arrived just after eight, found a parking spot in town to go to a restaurant, stepped out of our warm car, and BRRRRR OH MY GOD THE LAST TIME I WAS THAT COLD WAS IN THE UK LAST SUMMER. What a pair of wusses Sydney has turned us in to! We found a warm restaurant and ordered soup and far too much food before venturing back out into the cold.

Upon arriving at Melba House, we met Sue and the adorable Izzy, a fluffy bundle of a dog who immediately demanded cuddles before sniffing our bag in search of snacks :)

We were staying in the Dame Edna suite, a gorgeous room decorated with plenty of pink (I loved it), a huge, comfy bed piled with blankets and a bathtub with pink candles! Unlike most houses in the UK, Australian apartments rarely have baths, so this is definitely a treat.

Yummy breakfast

Yummy breakfast

Sue brought us a breakfast menu to place our order for the next morning, it all sounded yummy, but I can’t resist pancakes with maple syrup – done! It arrived around 9am, with a steaming pot of tea, fruit juice and piles of strawberries … all finished off with home baked cookies.

Just checking emails ...

Just checking emails …

Water blowing back up

Water blowing back up

On a cliff edge

On a cliff edge


On Saturday, we flicked through the book of bush walks, and feeling brave, picked the National Pass – classified as “hard”. Hey, we’re fit enough, it was a beautiful sunny day (albeit rather windy), we have hats, scarfs, gloves, plenty of layers :)

It's cold up here

It’s cold up here

The walk started off easily enough at Wentworth Falls picnic area, with views across the valley and look out points down to the falls, where the wind was blowing the flowing water back up, creating a rainbow. Further down, we crossed the waterfall on stepping stones, then embarked on a downward path, around stony cliff edges and down a lot of stairs.

Stepping stones

Stepping stones

Heights are not really my favourite thing, but luckily there were plenty of rails to hold on to, and some breathtaking views across the valley and back up to the waterfalls. Going down the steep steps was harder than I’d anticipated, well, there was half a pancake worked off maybe. I couldn’t help thinking that to get back to the car, at some point, we’d have to come back up again …

We were lucky though, throughout most of the walk the path was virtually empty and the weather stayed sunny the whole time.

We've made it halfway!

We’ve made it halfway!

We passed the halfway mark, carried on across another waterfall, then found ourselves on the way back up. It wasn’t too bad at first, a few stairs, a flat bit, a few more stairs, until we got closer to the end and I found myself on what seemed like a never-ending staircase up. Hundreds of the bloody things … I stormed breathlessly up, past groups of tourists taking a break, wishing now that I hadn’t worn quite so many layers. On the bright side, I think I worked off the pancakes.

Under the waterfall

Under the waterfall

Looking out from under

Looking out from under

Under the overhang

Under the overhang

The entire walk took us around two hours (the book said three, the signs said four, we win!) and was really beautiful. By the end, my scarf was tied around my waist, the gloves were in my pockets, and Silvio was down to a t-shirt. After our energetic walk, we clearly deserved a good meal. We drove into Leura and meandered along looking for a parking spot on a busy road … the driver behind us did not have much patience though, and soon sped past blaring the horn, how rude!

We walked past a few places advertising scones with jam and cream (I looked longingly back …) and ended up in a pub, with mulled wine and a yummy charcuterie plate with thin salty fries … it hit the spot! Service was pretty slow though, so we headed back to Melba House for dessert, Silvio had had his eye on the homemade banana bread since we had arrived. We weren’t disappointed either, it was so good.

Watching the water

Watching the water

Later in the afternoon, we tried to build a fire in the bedroom fireplace but without much success – the kindling sticks caught OK, but we couldn’t get the larger logs to catch. It was disappointing, after our long walk I was looking forward to cosying up by the fire with a glass of wine, but it wasn’t to be.

There was a book of menus from local restaurants, so we browsed through and decided to go to the Rooster, called and booked a table. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we bundled up and made our way along the dark road … only to realise as we’d arrived that we’d left our bottle of wine at home! So it was all the way back to get it, and then back to the restaurant, by which time we were nice and warm and HUNGRY! (I was kind of glad that we went back, it was a nice New Zealand Pinot, but I have to admit I’d have happily ordered a bottle in the restaurant and not done the extra walk :) my legs were still sore from all the steps).

Walking across the falls

Walking across the falls

I had duck with orange sauce, Silvio had lamb and a good portion of my duck. He observed that he eats 70% of the food, while I drink 70% of the wine, sounds like a perfect balance to me.

We woke up on Sunday morning to more delicious breakfast smells! A delicious plate of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms arrived in our room, with tea, juice and toast, mmmm, I love being spoilt with food.

After another lazy breakfast, we packed up and headed out to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters and wander along the paths through the wood – it was another gorgeous day, but I wasn’t really in the mood for more steps.

OM NOM NOM

OM NOM NOM

Scones and JAM

Scones and JAM

Selfie

Selfie

We stopped off at Solitary in Leura, a favourite place of mine that I’ve visited with Andrea and my parents on previous trips. Our final indulgant feast was scones with cream and jam, my mouth still waters just thinking about it …

We headed back to Sydney, full of carbs and sugar, warm and slightly sleepy and definitely more relaxed than on the way in!

Back to Christchurch … and Home

It was time to start making our way back to Christchurch after the luge, the camper van was due to be returned the following day. We had picked out a place to stop along the way in Timaru and booked a site (lucky we did too, got the last one!), but we still had a few wineries to drive past along the way!

Lunch at the Gibbston Tavern

Lunch at the Gibbston Tavern

We stopped in at Gibbston Tavern for a late lunch – they did make wine but sadly didn’t offer tastings, although the glass of white I drank with my fish and chips was really good. We sat under an umbrella outside in the garden, enjoying the view, and just about staying dry as the rain started to kick in again …

Weather closing in

Weather closing in

There was a small winery called Remarkable Wines in a shed right next door to the tavern, obviously I couldn’t possibly miss this last opportunity! The owner was serving the wine for tasting and was very knowledgeable and passionate about his wine, which made the whole experience really great. We ended up buying three more bottles to take back with us – I wanted to take six bottles home, but Silvio was insisting that we would never fit that many in our cases. I hoped we would, because otherwise we’d have a lot to drink between then and the flight …

Remarkable Wines

Remarkable Wines

In Timaru, we had a nice site under a willow tree – it was fairly cramped but not too bad, we were glad to know we had our hotel room in Christchurch lined up for New Years’ Eve, it was such a busy time.

Camper van

Camper van

The weather had turned colder and it looked like it was going to throw down the rain but it never really did. Despite the cold, there were people swimming in the outdoor pool on the campsite – I wasn’t that brave though! We had a fairly quiet evening and a chilly night, I was glad to be in the van and not a tent that day.

On Monday, after a lazy breakfast cooked in the campsite kitchen, we headed back to Christchurch. The first stop when we arrived was our new home-for-the-night – A PROPER ROOM!!!! I didn’t think I’d be quite so happy to be back in a building, but it was so nice to be able to get out of bed and stand up instead of scrambling out of the van, and not to have to walk across damp grass to the bathrooms!

We unpacked the van and within minutes the room was a disaster zone, after six trips up the stairs with various bags I was getting slightly worried about how we would get it all home …

Before even thinking about that though, we had to find the Ezywash to clean the camper up and return it. My navigation was typically not great: “OK, go right here. Oops, no, I mean your other right … the map was upside down …” but we made it there. It was a big, empty self service car wash – we started out with the vaccuum cleaner, and that thing was so strong, not a speck of dust could have survived, I’m surprised the seats were still in place when we’d finished. Then the fun started: Silvio parked the van in the washing bay, we fed in the tokens, took down giant hoses and pressed the button to spray soapy water on the van. The hose had a mind of its own: the pressure of the water sent it wiggling in all directions and spraying its soap across the van, I’ve never had so much fun in a car wash. Finally it was done: sparkling and clean and ready to go back to its home.

After the barrage of information when we collected the van, the drop off was almost a disappointment: we drove it in and they just took the keys and waved us off. It was strange to be on foot again! We walked back across Christchurch to the motel, it was another gorgeous hot day and quite pretty meandering along by the park. We had decided to stock up on fancy snacks and ice cream and spend New Year’s Eve at the motel before heading out to the park for the fireworks (must be getting old and boring!)

Back at the motel, I performed a miracle and repacked my suitcase, with three bottles of wine safely stowed in the bottom with a thick blanket wrapped around them. Somehow, everything fitted!

By 11pm, all the fancy snacks and cheese from the Gibbston Valley cheesery was gone and so was the last bottle of wine that we weren’t taking with us, we’d gorged on ice cream but even Silvio couldn’t finish the whole tub. We headed out in the direction of the park, but had no real idea where the music and fireworks would be – we were hoping to see something as we got closer!

We followed the small stream of people, occasionally passing randomly drunken ones going the opposite way, until we could hear the music and find the party. It was busy but not crazy, I guess Christchurch isn’t really a huge party town. Just before midnight the band on stage played Living on a Prayer (well, the crowd sang most of it!) before they brought out a bagpipe player in a kilt (why?) to bring in the New Year. There was the usual countdown followed by fireworks – we were almost directly under them, it was pretty magical watching them flower over our heads. The fireworks were short and sweet, the bagpipes were already wailing out Auld Lang Syne, and 2012 was consigned to the past. We went back to our motel to finish the wine :)

January 1, 2013: it was a fairly chilled start, no need to rush for our afternoon flight, a glass of wine in the lounge before boarding, then back home via train and ferry, a sweaty walk up the hill with our heavy cases, and we were HOME!

I was a little sad it was all over, it was such an amazing trip … but now it was time to sort through the ridiculous amount of photos, write the blog, and plan the next one!!

Adventures in Queenstown

From Wanaka to Queenstown was not very far, the Milford Sound flight was booked for early afternoon so we had time to stop in at a winery along the way. The one I picked was, typically, closed! Luckily there was another one close by, Amisfield, where we picked a yummy pinot noir and a surprisingly good rose to take away with us. At the last minute I asked about good places to go for Chardonnay and the sommellier suggested I try one more: an oaky sauvignon blanc … and then we were leaving with three bottles instead of two.

Busy barman at Amisfield

Busy barman at Amisfield

We carried on to Queenstown, with Silvio’s budgie smugglers and my bikini still spread across the dashboard of the van drying out from our swim the previous day.

Excited!

Excited!

We drove around Queenstown airport before we found the little hangar for the Milford Sound flights, and crawled into a tiny aircraft just wide enough for two cramped seats, fitting about nine passengers in all. The bumpy flight across the mountains, Silvio wrote, “made me entertain the thought of displaying my breakfast to the other passengers, only personal pride and gravity saved them”.

Our flight path

Our flight path

Snowy mountains

Snowy mountains

River

River


The views out of the window were really amazing, we could see the Shotover river with the small red jet boats streaming down it, then the snow capped mountains followed by aquamarine lakes opening up below us as we grew closer to Milford Sound. Despite that, I was glad when we touched down, I think my breakfast was still safe but my stomach was also beginning to churn.

Mountains from the wharf

Mountains from the wharf

On the boat, we headed all the way through to the mouth of the Sound, where we met two cruise ships coming in. It was sunny, but with huge, heavy clouds sagging over the mountains that rose right from the sides of the water. There were several waterfalls cascading down the rocks, but with the dry weather there weren’t as many as when it rains. Apparently, Milford Sound is beautiful no matter what the weather.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Waterfalls


We were pretty far south and near the coast, so it wasn’t very warm despite the sun, and the wind on the boat was fierce – my hair was soon whipped into a birds nest and I dreaded trying to brush it afterwards. The top deck was fairly packed, but I managed to take a few nice photos of the misty river between the mountains. On the way back, we saw a bunch of young seals sunbathing on some rocks – apparently these were the young male seals that had been thrown out of the pack, and would grow stronger before returning to find a mate.

Seals on the rocks

Seals on the rocks

The flight back was much smoother – whether because we took a slightly different route, or maybe the wind was less, who knows, but we were both glad. I took photos of mountain tops poking through fluffy clouds, and the late afternoon light making the hills look blue.

Low clouds

Low clouds

At the holiday park in Queenstown – the first place we hadn’t phoned ahead to book, not having had any issues so far finding a spot – there was only one spot left for the night, right outside reception. We grabbed it anyway – the most expensive place of all the ones we stayed in, as well – I guess that’s what you get for coming to Queenstown so close to New Years.

View from the campervan

View from the campervan

Camper at the site

Camper at the site

Quackers at the campsite

Quackers at the campsite

Still, it was close to the centre of town, so we headed to a local place for dinner. We must have been early because it was empty, and we easily got a table outside with an awesome view out across the lake. We were messing about with the self timer on the camera, balancing it on the cutlery and trying to line up photos, when the waitress finally took pity on us and took one for us. I had lamb and Silvio went for the fillet steak, it was all delicious … I seized the dessert menu afterwards, I’d already seen the pavlova on it – a New Zealand specialty apparently. Silvio suggested we share it, but I pretended I hadn’t heard … (ok, I’m not that bad, I let him have a spoonful in the end).

Dinner time view

Dinner time view

Cheers!

Cheers!

Yum

Yum


On Saturday morning, we drove out to the Shotover river to have a ride on the jet boat. We were pretty early and had quite a wait – those guys were sending out two full boats every fifteen minutes, we calculated that they must have been making a mint! We finally got kitted up with damp black jackets and bright red life vests, and only just missed out on sitting in the front seats!

Ready to go on the boat

Ready to go on the boat

The boat driver warmed us all up for the trip by speeding up the river and spinning around before coming back for the obligatory photos, then we were off downstream. The river wasn’t very wide, and he swung the boat close to the rocks until we all screamed – even knowing he did this dozens of times a day without hitting them, it was hard to believe as we sped within a whisker!

Shotover jet

Shotover jet

Every so often, he spun the boat in a full 360 degree turn, sending a big splash across all of us and raising noisy shrieks, it was great fun. On the return journey he described the river in the winter with blocks of ice, apparently there are only a few weeks a year when the boats don’t operate although I’m pretty sure it must be freezing when it’s icy … glad we came in the summer!

Lunch at Wild Earth

Lunch at Wild Earth

After our wild river trip, it was back in the van and off towards Cromwell for lunch at Wild Earth, a winery and restaurant that we’d been recommended to try. All of the food is smoked in barrels and matched to the wines they produce, so we opted for the taster menu with six small dishes. Obviously, I also decided to go for the matching wine selection! It all arrived beautifully presented on a long wooden plate – it was all delicious, although the lamb with a 2008 pinot noir really stood out. The setting was really pretty as well, we sat outside in the garden where we could look across the hills.

Lunch platter at Wild Earth

Lunch platter at Wild Earth

Selfie!

Selfie!

Being silly

Being silly


Although it was good, the food left us wanting dessert but as it had already taken a long time to arrive we decided to stop somewhere else along the way home. We’d passed loads of wineries and one cheesery, so that seemed like a good place to make a stop! We tasted some really good cheeses, and ended up buying a lovely sweet cheddar (the thought of which is making my mouth water still while I’m writing this!) and a tasty blue cheese, with the intent of saving them for New Year’s Eve back in Christchurch. We also tasted some chardonnay and pinot noir in the winery and bought another bottle to add to the growing collection in the van!

Later that afternoon, back at the campsite but in a new site that was a bit quieter, we had decided to head out to go up in the gondola to the luge but it wasn’t meant to be: the heavens opened just as we were making our way out of the campsite!

20121230_115443

Luckily the weather cleared up overnight and on Sunday we made it over to the gondola. The luge was like a toboggan with small wheels underneath and a track nearly 1km long; we bought five rides but it was so busy that we kept getting stuck behind slower riders! We amused ourselves on the chairlift up to the top by making stupid poses for the camera halfway up, didn’t get to see any of them apart from the last one which was actually quite nice, so we bought it :)

On the very last ride, we finally lost the slow riders and sped down, taking the corners on two wheels, it was all over far too quickly and we came out giggling.

West Coast to Wanaka

From Greymouth on Boxing Day, our next stop was Franz Josef. We wanted to go quad biking, so set off reasonably early to get there for just after lunch. It was a little over four hours away, through more beautiful mountainous roads and valleys – easily the most amazing driving I’ve ever experienced.

Rivers along the drive

Rivers along the drive

We arrived at the quad biking and headed out to a dusty car park, where we kitted up under blazing sunshine in rubber trousers and jackets, with big wellies and red helmets. The bikes were all two seaters and Silvio and I were sharing, this could be dangerous in more ways than one!

Splashing through the water!

Splashing through the water!

The first part of the tour was great – after practicing a figure of eight, we drove across some dusty tracks and big rocks, through grass and then across a couple of shallow streams – that was the most fun. For the second one as our guide Kim took photos I tried to hold bunny ears behind Silvio’s head but it was too bumpy in the end and he missed them in the photo!

Off we go!

Off we go!

First drive through the river

First drive through the river

Lady biker

Lady biker


We drove up and over a small, steep bump then turned sharply along a river, coming to stop in a group behind Kim, who suddenly jumped off his quad bike in a panic. One of our group, Paul, had accidentally driven over the side into the river!

After Paul drove his quad bike into the river

After Paul drove his quad bike into the river

A few minutes later they reappeared, Paul looking very shellshocked and cradling a swollen wrist. The bike was turned over in the river, a good six foot drop, so despite his injuries it was something of a lucky escape. One of the other members of the group was a paramedic, so he was well looked after until help arrived to take him back to Franz Josef and hospital with his wife.

Pebbles, mountains and clouds

Pebbles, mountains and clouds

The rest of the group decided to continue on the tour, where we had a second long break by a beautiful, milky grey and icy cold river. I nearly lost my sunglasses after leaving them on the back of the bike as we drove off, luckily with the dust blowing into my face I realised very quickly something was missing! Silvio ran back awkwardly in his rubber boots while I just watched from the bike :)

Glacial river

Glacial river

Taking a rest

Taking a rest

Dramatic skies

Dramatic skies


He drove the last part of the tour, at the back of the group, intermittently slowing down to create a big gap so that he could rev up the bike for a bit to catch up.

Getting a speed up!

Getting a speed up!

Back at the camper van by late afternoon, we headed to the Rainforest holiday park that we’d picked for the night. It was really pretty inside, we were parked up in front of a wall of trees with the glacier and mountains rising up from both sides of us. We had a little table and chairs, plenty of time to chill in the forest and get going on some of the wine we had bought on the way to Kaikoura! There were loads of tiny biting flies though, we both ended up getting eaten alive.

Our home for the night in Franz Josef

Our home for the night in Franz Josef

Chilling with wine

Chilling with wine

Sunset at the Rainforest holiday park

Sunset at the Rainforest holiday park


We wanted to barbecue that night, but couldn’t find anywhere close to buy the meat, so we ate out instead. I tried two more New Zealand Chardonnays and we underestimated the size of the portions, ending up with a massive “side dish” of wedges to go with our already-pretty-large platter.

Selfie in the restaurant

Selfie in the restaurant

The next morning was sunny and hot again, the van was steaming by the time we finally decided to get up. We were headed towards Queenstown now, with a planned stop in Wanaka to break up the drive. With no real rush to leave, we had breakfast in a local cafe: pancakes with fruit, eggs with hollandaise sauce, mmmm … didn’t last long.

Ten minutes up the road, I had a panic: where was my phone? I tried calling it but we couldn’t hear it anywhere in the van, we had to stop, but luckily after a few scary minutes I found it buried in a bag in the back. Silvio teased me for always putting things down and forgetting where they are … well 34 now, must be my age catching up with me :(

Along the drive to Wanaka

Along the drive to Wanaka

We were trying to decide what to do in Queenstown – originally we had wanted to go canyoning, but the warm weather wasn’t set to continue for much longer and jumping into cold waterfalls when it’s grey and cloudy didn’t appeal that much. The alternative was to go and see Milford Sound, but that meant either driving several more hours to get there and back … or taking a beautiful scenic (but pretty expensive!) flight over the mountains to get there.

Bruce Bay

Bruce Bay

Meanwhile, the weather was gorgeous and along the way to Wanaka we passed Bruce Bay, a beautiful beach with irresistible sparkling turquoise water and sparkling pebbles full of crystals. We couldn’t not go for a dip! The water was cold but refreshing.

Enjoying the sea at Bruce Bay

Enjoying the sea at Bruce Bay

View across the bay

View across the bay

Enjoying the beach

Enjoying the beach


Silvio underestimated the force of the waves when he tried to go in wearing his sandals; luckily he managed to rescue them both but they were nearly headed back to Australia as unaccompanied baggage …

Back in the van, I managed to start writing notes for the blog (thank god, because otherwise I’d have forgotten a lot of things by now) and then practiced some Italian verb conjugation … quando arriviamo?

View from the lookout point

View from the lookout point

The roads began to climb and we stopped again at a beautiful lookout point before we finally reached Wanaka. We arrived before 5pm, the cut off time because that’s when the wineries close :) We made it with time to spare to the Rippon winery, which had the most incredible views across the lake out of all of its windows and from a small picnic garden. I sipped a cool glass of sauv blanc and we both took (and posed for) photos until it closed, and we headed to the next campsite.

Enjoying the sun outside the winery

Enjoying the sun outside the winery

Gardens at Rippon Winery

Gardens at Rippon Winery

Rippon Winery

Rippon Winery

Panorama of the winery view

Panorama of the winery view


It was still early evening and the sun was high and hot, so we headed down to the lake for the second cold dip of the day. I took my time getting all the way in but Silvio ducked under and tried to pull me in quicker …

Just taking the dog out for a jet ski

Just taking the dog out for a jet ski

Swimming under the mountains

Swimming under the mountains

Splash!

Splash!


Back on the gravelly beach, we finally decided on the Milford Sound flight over canyoning and I called to book. Silvio went to find his wallet but disaster struck … as he later wrote in my blog notes:

“the loss-phobia proves contagious: I can’t remember where I put my wallet: frantic moments followed by relief when my memory saves us from drama …”

It was in the glove compartment. Phew … flights booked!

Back to the campsite via the supermarket and we were all set for dinner – finally a place where we could buy some good meat! Over to Silvio again for a description of what happened when we got back …

“Back to the camping for a glass of wine and a bbq: rumbling in the air means it’s all but certain that there will be thunders in the night, dark clouds are forming in Jo’s tummy …”

Cleaning the barbie

Cleaning the barbie

And that’s enough of that, suffice to say I was feeling better by bed time, and we slept well under the shade of a tree until the van got too warm again the next morning.

New Zealand Christmas

New Zealand has always been a place I thought I would go one day, but after seeing Claudia’s amazing photos of her trip early last year, it moved pretty high up on my list!

Beautiful views

Beautiful views

We had booked the flights and organised a camper van while Silvio was away in Bangalore, thinking we’d have loads of time once he got back to research where we wanted to go … well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. With less than a week to go, we ended up spending more time arguing over whether I really needed three pairs of jeans than we did planning places to visit. We ended up with a rough plan to start by heading north, with a few places to stay in mind; to hit a few wineries and spend a couple of days in Queenstown.

After a pretty awesome (and fairly large) meal at Ribs and Rumps on Saturday it was an early start on Sunday, we had to catch the first ferry to make our flight.

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

Pebbles at sunset in Greymouth

We got to Christchurch, bought a NZ sim card since we can’t possibly live without the interwebz for a week, and jumped in a shuttle to our motel. The weather was gorgeous – glorious sunshine and almost as hot as Sydney – and it seemed like every other building was a small motel, this place is certainly set up for driving holidays.

We had a moment of panic as the shuttle drove off when I suddenly wondered if we’d remembered the name of the motel right, having booked a different one for the final night of our stay. We hovered outside reception waiting for Silvio’s laptop to start up, where the owner eventually found us and reassured us that yes, we were booked in – thank god!

Driving through the mountains

Driving through the mountains

Armed with leaflets and maps, we meandered down to the local Countdown supermarket for snacks (the logo looked suspiciously like Woolworths) They sell salt and vinegar Pringles here – wow!! Good thing junk food is allowed on holiday :)

Later in the evening we headed out to eat and then watch The Hobbit in 3D – although we could have seen it at home, it was pretty special to watch the scenery knowing that we were in the country it was filmed in, with a week of driving around that same scenery ahead of us. Compared to Australia, the evening stayed light really late, even by 8pm it still felt like 5 or 6.

Monday morning, yawning because with the time difference 9am felt like 7am, we headed off to the Wicked depot to collect our camper van. On the way, our taxi driver told us not to bother with the far south of the island, which knocked a few hundred kilometres off the journey very quickly.

Our camper van at the first campsite

Our camper van at the first campsite

At Wicked, we were bombarded with information. Firstly, I discovered that insurance works differently in New Zealand: although we had paid to avoid any liability for damage to the camper van itself, they didn’t cover us for damage to any third parties. Oh well, better drive carefully then.

She asked where we were heading, and was very concerned when we told her we hadn’t booked a campsite.

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Kaikoura in the sunshine

Brains buzzing and feeling a bit worried already, we trailed after her as she showed us where to check the oil and water, pointed out our small gas canister for cooking and how the sink worked, and informed us where to take it to clean it before returning it. This wasn’t like anything I’ve ever rented before! It was kind of cute though – smaller than we’d thought, just a converted people carrier with enough space for a bed and small shelves at the back, with curtains strung up across the windows for privacy, well almost, since they didn’t quite stretch all the way!

Our van was called Alien Life Forms, painted black and blue with various weird creatures on it. Across the back, it read “Artificial intelligence usually beats real stupidity” … at least it wasn’t rude!

Food store in the van

Food store in the van

At last we were off! We headed north towards Kaikoura, but it wasn’t long before we were feeling a bit hungry and seeing signs for wineries … mmmm! I wanted to stop at one that the taxi driver had mentioned but after taking a wrong turn and ending up in the middle of a vineyard, we finally arrived to find it was closed :( We headed back to the Mud House instead, which turned out to be an amazing place with beautifully cooked food. I tasted most of their wines afterwards, Silvio stuck to the pinot noir, and we left with three bottles including a lovely oaky chardonnay (mmm my favourite) and feeling pretty full and a bit sleepy.

Outside The Mud House winery

Outside The Mud House winery

Despite the warnings, we found a spot at a campsite in Kaikoura fairly easily. They were busy and everybody was fairly packed in – our closest neighbours had a large caravan and seemed to have already consumed rather a lot of wine, they were enjoying a good old sing song most of the evening.

Low cloud across the hills

Low cloud across the hills

More low hanging clouds

More low hanging clouds

Clouds hanging low over the beach

Clouds hanging low over the beach


The clouds were low over the hills, and it was pretty cool out, but we headed out for a walk along the rocky beach. I saw a single seal on the rocks, but it slithered away before I could get Silvio’s attention … meanwhile he found a rock that he could climb and headed up. Despite the grey sky the views were pretty cool, huge hills rising almost out of the sea and draped in clouds.

I'm the king of the castle

I’m the king of the castle

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Hmmm how do I get down now?

Me at the beach

Me at the beach

On Christmas Day, we woke up in a hot tin can! The campsite had a pretty good kitchen – in fact, one family were using it to roast a large hunk of meat for their Christmas dinner. As we sat eating breakfast, they carted bags and bags of presents out to their table and started handing them around.

Christmas Quackers!

Christmas Quackers!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

This is as Christmassy as I get!

Quackers, and our site marker

Quackers, and our site marker


We left the campsite and headed into the town of Kaikoura. The sky was still grey and the town was pretty dead, with only one small cafe and a tiny supermarket open. We wandered along the pebbly beaches watching the seagulls and the scenery, debating where to spend the day and night. The original plan was to explore Kaikoura then head to the wineries in the north, but it didn’t seem likely that they’d be open and there wasn’t much to do in Kaikoura on Christmas Day.

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Mine Mine Mine Mine Mine

Where'd the beach go?

Where’d the beach go?

I'm ready, where to?

I’m ready, where to?


In the end we decided to skip the north and head straight across to the West Coast, in the hope that we could get to Greymouth that day (an estimated 7 hour drive, although we later found out that was very conservative). By the time we left, the weather was brightening up, and even as we drove out of the town everything was looking very pretty in the sunshine.

Lord of the Rings country!

Lord of the Rings country!

The road was empty. Occasionally we would pass another camper van, but for most of the journey the world was ours alone. We followed a mix of winding mountain roads and single lane highways through the middle of the country, luckily the GPS on the iPhone worked so we could see where we were on the map, but there was no phone signal for most of the way.

We stopped in Waiau to get petrol from an unmanned roadside pump. The town was completely deserted, we didn’t see another soul – it was as though the Mayan predictions had really come true! In contrast to the heavy morning mists in Kaikoura, the sun was beating down by that time and it was lovely and warm.

Quackers in Waiau

Quackers in Waiau

We continued along to Hanmer Springs, where there is a fantastic looking indoor water park with slides and spa pools, unfortunately the one day of the year that they close is Christmas Day :( We stretched our legs and wandered around, but there wasn’t much to see – at least here though, there were a few people milling around so we weren’t totally alone!

Throughout the journey, there were loads of single lane bridges, some fairly long, luckily we seemed to have priority on our side most of the time. One in particular did scare me though: around 200m or more driving along a railway track. In fact, there were a lot of railway tracks, but we never did see a single train :)

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Lookout point near Hanmer Springs

Along the way, I tried to listen to some of my Italian recordings, but I struggled with too many words I couldn’t fathom and eventually got too cross with it, deciding to dig out one of the books for another day instead.

We eventually made it to Greymouth and headed to the Top 10 Holiday Park there, it was absolutely lovely, the best place out of all the campsites we stayed at. They were busy but not full, and our camper van site was pretty spacious with walls each side and nobody directly overlooking us.

Campsite in Greymouth

Campsite in Greymouth

The holiday park had a jacuzzi that we could book for a half hour, which was exactly what we needed after the long drive – a huge, hot bath!

The weather was threatening rain, but we were just over the back of the beach and the sun was starting to set so it would have been a waste not to go and watch it for a little while. Afterwards, we made use of the kitchen to cook a Christmas dinner of pasta :) eating outside under a shelter while the rain spattered a bit.

So that was Christmas over for another year!

Margaret River

When I booked my tickets to Perth to join a group of ThoughtWorkers heading to Margaret River in early March, it seemed so far off … I couldn’t quite believe that it had come around so quickly! Sydney was so dark and rainy on Thursday morning that it looked like evening outside, so I was glad to be heading off to somewhere with a real summer!

Amongst the things I had forgotten to pack was my sunnies, so when we reached the airport I headed straight to the shops, where Andrea helped me pick out a crazy pair with a red flowery frame. They’re different at least! We had time for a quick snack, a couple of glasses of wine and a catch up on the latest gossip from the week :) The flight was delayed by half an hour, which wasn’t too bad considering the bad weather, most of the flights had been delayed far more. Considering it was a domestic flight, it was really long at over four hours – I made the most of the free seats next to me, lying down across all three with Lana del Rey blaring through my headphones.

Scott and Alex posing

We met the rest of the group at the airport: I already knew the infamous Andy Tam (who had done the organisation so far) and the equally infamous Alex Ong and Scott Robinson, but I hadn’t met the rest of my fellow travellers: Magda, Silvio, Anette and Kai. We collected three rental cars and divided up so that everybody had a place to sleep before we headed out to Margaret River the next day – my allocated spot was on Silvio’s couch, I guess that’s one way to get to know somebody!

Breakfast on Friday morning was at a local cafe in Perth, where Andy laid down the main rule of the trip: No Talking About Work. This would prove to be easier said than done, but it was definitely a good ambition! After that, we headed out on the long drive to Prevelly, where we would be camping just around the corner from the beach – remarkably, the entire group was underway by around 10:30. We stopped halfway there to visit Harvey River Bridge Estate to sample their cider, although we had to buy it first – not a problem, Scott had purchased two large cases. We drove around the corner for some lunch, and Scott bought a water pistol in the tourist shop, unleashing it on all of us in turn and laughing a crazy laugh, muwahahahaha … Alex tried and failed to steal the water pistol and met with a rather wet revenge …

Muwahahaha, I will shoot you with my water gun

Back in the car and time for a nap. A couple of hours later we arrived at the campsite, having decided to pitch the tents before visiting too many wineries. Tents pitched and a couple more ciders down, I was hot and sticky and ready for a dip in the ocean. Alex, Kai and Scott were headed into town with instructions to buy food for the barbecue later, while the rest of us wandered across the road to the beach. The sand was coarse and sinky, our feet making deep grooves as we meandered across looking for a good spot to spread our towels. The beach was deserted – it was really windy and steep but the sun was gorgeous. We went for a dip in the ocean, the sea floor fell away steeply and I could feel the current pulling us with the waves, so we didn’t go in too far.

Andrea and I headed for a walk up to the top of the hill, meeting Kai along the way as he headed down with his kite and surfboard. Alex and Scott sped past us in their car, screaming out of the window as they went … they parked at the top before heading back down the beach to meet up with the group. We watched Kai kite surf for a while, whooping as the kite pulled him several feet into the air. He made it look so easy … I only found out later that it took a week of solid practice to be able to stand up.

We watched the sun set across the ocean until it slid below the horizon, then wandered back to our campsite to set up a barbecue. The fire-starting responsibility was handed to Anette, whose Norwegian heritage apparently includes a talent for this. She told us how every house in Norway must have a fireplace where they can light an open fire, in case of an emergency power outage during the winter when people could freeze to death without one.

Building the barbecue ready for dinner

There was a giant woodpile and a steel drum barbecue to build the fire inside, so Anette set to work with dry leaves and wood shavings to get it going. It was almost pitch dark, with only flashlights and a candle to work by! The fire was incredibly smoky at first but didn’t take long to catch, and she proudly built it up with the logs as we looked on hungrily. She may have done too good of a job though, we realised, when Andy tried to figure out how to get the “lid” on the drum to cook the food on. Luckily he didn’t have too many hairs on his forearms to get singed off, I don’t think he has any left now though. That fire was raging! Andy and Anette put tin foil across the top with rocks to weigh it down, then drizzled olive oil on top in preparation for the steaks … well, you can guess what happened to that, yep, pretty quickly there was a soft roar as it lit up. The sausages went on to the barbecue and within a minute or so the outsides were already cooked. Andy managed to get them off and cut them in half to cook properly.

Ultimately, we did get some very tasty burgers and steaks, along with slightly charcoaled sausages. The fire was so hot that the foil eventually caught on fire too, as well as the oil from the burgers, but eventually it did calm down a bit. Lesson learned: for the following night, we planned to light the fire much earlier so that it would be less fierce when we were ready to cook. It goes down as one of the most entertaining barbecues I’ve been too, especially watching Andy dance around it with tongs trying to avoid the flames licking the edges of the barbecue lid and remove some of the cooked sausages.

By 10PM, I hit the wall: with the three hour time difference it was time to head to bed! I woke again at 1am when the group in the cabin next to us were having noisy discussions outside, and my bed seemed to be starting to deflate … too tired to do much about it, I drifted in and out of sleep for a while until they finally wound down. It was incredibly warm, I almost didn’t need my sleeping bag at all. In the morning, the time difference was a benefit again, getting up around 7:30am felt like a lovely long lie in :)

Yummy breakfast

Even yummier breakfast

Farmer's Market

There was a farmer’s market on in town on Saturday morning, so most of the group decided to head over and find some breakfast. We almost missed the turning but thanks to Magda’s eagle eyes we found it. It was a fairly small market with some tasty looking veggies and a slightly bizarre guitar player massacring Coldplay and various other tunes, I had a very unhealthy breakfast including two sticky pastries, followed by a freshly squeezed juice to feel slightly less guilty. We met up with some other ThoughtWorkers who were in the region, and bought some veggies and food for a big barbie in the evening.

Andrea wants to be in our photo

Andy, Andrea and I headed out from the market to find out about a bush tucker canoe tour that we wanted to take on Sunday, and after that we planned to hit our first winery. Andrea opted to go for a surf lesson instead; I was feeling far too lazy! We started out at the Voyager Winery, where a lady called Claire introduced us to three white and three red wines. I liked all of them, and quite a few people decided to buy a bottle or two. We stayed for lunch, Andrea joined us after a while, then we headed off to go to another winery. We took a few photos in the beautiful rose garden out the back of the winery in the glorious hot sunshine.

Rose

Claire telling us about the lovely wines we were trying

Andrea and I in the rose garden

The wines at the next place were not quite as nice, it was darker and busier and by the time we’d finished tasting them all I was about ready to head home for a nap. Some of the others stayed for desert, some went out to the beach, but our tent was lovely and cool and I didn’t want to go anywhere! When I emerged around five, Anette and Magda were already on the case getting the fire lit and potatoes wrapped in foil ready to cook in the coals. The idea was to let the fire burn down slightly more tonight before cooking the meat :)

The wine was soon on the go and then the Captain was out as well, the potatoes and corn were in the charcoal and chaos reigned again. There were probably around twenty of us in all, trying to see by the light from the fire and our flashlights, dishing out food and losing our drinks … there was plenty of banter, and LOADS of food.

The time difference made itself felt before it got too late, and once again I was in bed fairly early. It was a clear night so slightly cooler, and incredibly windy – as I snuggled into my sleeping bag the wind howled around the tent. I could barely feel it inside, although there’s always that nagging worry about whether it will actually blow away … (it didn’t though). Sunday was bright and sunny again (I love Western Australian weather!) and we were up and excited about our canoe trip. Silvio joined Andy, Andrea and I to head up to the river mouth and meet our guide George, who handed us life jackets and oars, and led us down to the canoes. I was very amused that Silvio’s jacket had River Queen written on the back … Andy took on the job of steering our canoe, while the River Queen set the pace up at the front and George warned us that “relationships are made and broken on this trip”.

Happy rowers ... before the hard work began

We hadn’t gone very far down the river before Andrea complained that rowing was hard on her arms … well, she had done a pretty tiring couple of hours surfing the day before! The surroundings were beautiful though. George directed us into a small lagoon, where we beached the canoes and wandered through a small forest, and he described how the Aborigines would make their home in the forest for a part of the year, moving on when the river rose and claimed the land that we were standing on. The trees that grew there flourished even when the water was a few feet deep. Much of the land had been ravaged by the fire last November, a planned bush fire that had grown out of control. We climbed along the trees that hung over the river and joked about pushing each other in …

River Queen Silvio

Fellow canoeists

The mouth of the Margaret River

Back in the canoes, I decided to see how Quackers would enjoy a bit of a swim and put him gently in the water … the next minute he was being violently attacked by lots of small fish just below the surface. Poor thing! We got him back eventually though, and he didn’t seem too much the worse for wear – still smiling – I don’t think those fish had teeth.

Quackers gets attacked!

A little further along the river, George told us the story of the Bussels, who had built a beautiful house on the bank in the 1800s. The house is still there, along with one built more recently by the current owners, but sadly both had been burned in the fire last year. Although they are insured, it remains to be seen whether the walls of the old house suffered such bad structural damage that they would need to be knocked down and rebuilt.

We set off again and rowed further along the river, until it was time to turn around and go back the way we’d come. We stopped off for a refreshing dip in the murky water – Andy unexpectedly slipped over on a slimy rock, we tried not to laugh but it was hard … the water was lovely and fresh, but very brown, and I didn’t dare touch the bottom in case I sunk into the slimy mud.

Back towards the river mouth, we eventually stopped off for our promised bush tucker lunch. George laid a tablecloth over a crate and set out little wooden containers with many different types of unfamiliar foods as we all watched hungrily. He began with some crushed herbs: lemon myrtle, and a coffee substitute that apparently tastes worse than the cheapest available instant coffee, but for the early settlers with no option to grab a Starbucks, it was the only choice available.

Mmmmm, spicy

Trying out the various aboriginal foods

George explaining the different bush tucker foods

We had a small red fruit (I’ve forgotten the name) with a nut inside that resembled a tiny, hard brain; a tiny peppercorn with a fierce bite; a small tangy citrus flavoured fruit; and a nut that tasted like a combination of coconut or almond and paper. Lastly, George brought out some crocodile meat! It looked like ham and tasted a bit like a cross between ham and chicken – I went back for seconds, it was really good. With the tasting done, we could tuck in to our main course – emu, kangaroo and wild turkey, marinated and served with a choice of pestos and chutneys and sundried tomato bread. It was delicious.

The last part of the tour before we headed back was into a cave. Outside of the cave, the rock radiated heat like a huge cooker, but inside it was damp and cool. Water was dripping slowly from small stalactites on the roof. I wasn’t too keen on the cave – it was large enough to stand in, but I chose not to go through to the next cave, where people had to crawl in. Nobody opted to go through the tunnel of fun after George told it us would mean a bit of belly crawling … I was glad to get back outside into the sunshine.

Inside the cave

Quackers in the cave

George and the stalagtites

The sun was scorching as we headed back to the campsite, and none of us felt like doing more than chilling outside the cabin. Magda, who had gone off for a sky dive, returned around 3:30, so we decided to take in one last winery – Andy wanted to go to Stella Bella. It was definitely worth the trip – they had some lovely wines, an empty bar, and a lady who was very friendly and knowledgeable. We enjoyed several different wines and left with a good few bottles in the back of the car …

While most of the group headed down to the beach, Andrea and I decided we wanted to eat with at least a little bit of light, so we attempted to start a fire (all on our own, without Anette!). Just as we got it going, I nearly put the whole thing out by smothering it with a big block of wood, but it fought its way back and soon we had a lovely hot fire all ready to cook on! Andrea took charge of the food, so by the time the others showed up it was almost ready. It turned into another chilled evening with wine by the barbie, slightly less chaotic but just as much fun :) Scott, Silvio and Magda decided to leave that night after all, since they wanted to get back for work instead of taking a day off, leaving Andy all alone in his cabin.

Trying to set up the barbie for dinner

The rest of us got up early on Monday to pack up the tents and drive back to Perth. It was a bit cloudy, which made it slightly easier to leave … that wasn’t going to last though. Andrea and I carefully rolled the tent up and squashed it into its bag before she realised she’d left her phone in the inside pocket, so we had to undo it and do it all over again. Finally we were off – we made ourselves comfortable in the car with Andy’s pillows and stopped off for coffee and smoothies before heading down the highway … our lovely little holiday was all too soon over except for the long trip home and unpacking …!