Tuesday 31 January 2012

Day 302: Puzzleworld in Wanaka

We aren't doing a lot of attractions on this trip, but we made an exception for Puzzling World in Wanaka.  It's a very nice place to spend an afternoon. It has an outdoor maze that really is fun and challenging, but I'm not going to give away any secrets here.  It has illusion rooms of which the most fun was one with a hugely sloping floor in which everything had been arranged so it somehow gave the illusion of being horizontal or sloping uphill when the opposite is the case.  There is a sliding seat on which people look as though they're sliding uphill, and a little running water arrangement that looks as if it is running uphill.  When your brain is falsely convinced of where horizontal is, it no longer knows how to position your body and its extremely unbalancing and disorientating.  There is also a little cafe with lots of puzzles you can work on for as long as you want.

We're expecting wetter weather for the next few days and have decided to take some time off touring to work/study.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Day 300: Day walk on the Routeburn Track

The view over Routeburn Falls hut.
 We decided to do a day walk along the Routeburn track from its eastern side near Glenorchy to the second hut at Routeburn Falls.  It is quite cool up here where the mountains meet Fiordland.  We were surprised, but quite pleased to find ourselves walking through forest - the famous New Zealand beech woods I have been reading about.  The lower levels of the forest are all ferns or many kinds, and VERY healthy looking mosses and lichens.  We had lunch at Routeburn Flats.  The flats here are what they say, the ends of river valleys that are going to let into lakes.  They are completely flat with mountains rising abruptly around them and filled with the threading lines of river and tall windswept grasses.  There were also a few sandflies, so Mike had the chance to try his sandfly potion on them.  It's super natural and made of essence of aromatic plants, and I think its purpose is to make the wearer smell like a plant so that the sandflies won't bother them.

Routeburn Flats from above
After that, we went for a little climb up the mountain to Routeburn Falls.  We got back to the car far too late, disposed of the sandflies that were trying to hitchhike, and went to get Indian food takeaway.  That was worth the effort - it was really good and all we had to do when we got home was eat.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Day 299: Peninsula walk

We went for a wild looking walk around a little peninsula on the Wakatipu lake in wild weather.  We watched the speed boats being forced to slow down for the waves and the golfers trying to make their balls fly straight.

Friday 27 January 2012

Day 298: Summer Snow on the Otago

Snow in January, at least on the high mountains.  It really cools down here when it rains!  Then it warms right back up again.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Day 297: French day

This turned out to be a French day!  Antonia had an unexpected playdate with a local Franco/New Zealand family, and we went along for morning coffee.  Then Mike and I went out for lunch in childless splendour, pottered around all afternoon, then went back for an aperitif with more French people.  We had a really nice time, and have exchanged a few children's books. All in all it was a fun recovery day. Tomorrow, Antonia goes back for a birthday party!  It started to rain in the middle of the afternoon, so the temperature dropped like a rock.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Day 296: Macetown again

This is one of those 'Penny went to Macetown, and all we got is this lousy drawing of a tree' situations.  That's because I accidentally on purpose forgot the big, heavy camera.
 Our last attempt to get to Macetown, the abandoned mining town near Arrowtown nearly ended in disaster.  I couldn't let it go, and planned to walk there along the 4WD road (about 30 km return).  The rest of the family weren't having it, though they did wonder if they might wander out a bit towards the evening to see how I was doing. I suggested that they might gather my near-lifeless body tenderly in their arms, carry me home and feed me a glass of wine, a delicious three-course meal and some birthday cake.  Mike was giving this idea slow and serious consideration, when a sweet, innocent little voice piped up from the back of the car.  'Fat chance, Mummy,' it said briskly.  "Fat chance!'  So I knew what to expect.

Actually, the walk turned out to be easy and pleasant.  It takes me just over 3 hours to walk 15 km and I arrived under that tree in good time for an early lunch and a bit of drawing.  There is really not a lot left of Macetown.  Just a couple of reconstructed buildings, some ruined walls and some clumps of these kinds of trees, the kind you find where humans have been living.  When I arrived, I had the place to myself, but soon after other picnickers turned up... in 4 wheel drives, quads and mountain bikes, but no others on foot. I started walking back at about 2pm.  On my way out, I was mostly in the shade of the hills, but now the sun had moved overhead and the bare hills were certainly quite blazingly bright.  Fortunately, it wasn't too hot, so I got home under my own steam and even got my own glass of wine!

Addition:  Mike did cook me a marvellous dinner all ready by the time I got home, and Antonia offered to rub my feet (after they were showered)...

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Day 295: Planning Asia (don't hold me to any of this!)

Taking it easy...  At least I'm sitting out it the garden to pore over my computer!!

We are pretty much alternating a quiet day with a hiking day at the moment, and this is one of the quiet days.  I spent a good part of it sorting out the basic outline of our trip through Asia and our return to Europe.  I haven't got all the details ironed out yet, and the plan is rather constrained by borderline climatic conditions at both ends so lots may change but this is what it looks like at the moment. 
  • June 29 - a cruise ship will deposit us in Singapore
Early July
  • A few days in Singapore
  • Possibly fly into Thailand for a few days
  • Fly into Cambodia for a few days - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh
  • Fly to Hong Kong for a few days - we must be the only people in the world who have to go to Hong Kong on purpose because we couldn't fit it in any other way
Late July - August
  • Mike and Antonia will fly to Bali and stay till the end of August (where he has a cousin, for those who don't know)
  • Penny will go to Japan for a month and hopefully Bali for a week or so either before or after Japan
  • Everyone will fly to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam from where we will make our way overland through Vietnam to Hanoi.  So Vietnam is the country in SE Asia we've decided to pay extra attention to.
  • Train from Hanoi to Beijing - 2.5 day ride
  • We will take a 1 month organised tour of China, in what should be near ideal climatic conditions, probably from Beijing to Shanghai
  • Return to Beijing preferably by train
  • Trans-Mongolian train from Beijing to Moscow, stopping at Ulan Bator, Mongolia and hopefully Lake Baikal, then crossing Siberia. We are hoping the winter starts late!!!
  • Return to UK - we haven't decided on the details.  We will consider climate and decide whether it is worth meandering through St Petersburg and Scandinavia or whether we had better stick to the Moscow - Paris train.
  • We intend to arrive back in the UK by 15 December at the very latest and be there for Christmas.  After which, we will live in London for a while.  We haven't yet decided if we will ask for our house back, look for a house boat, or simply rent some other place.
So that's it!  It's about 2 months less time than I would have like to spend in Asia, but the constraints of us really, really wanting to take the Trans-Mongolian mean that I doubt we should leave much later than early November.

Monday 23 January 2012

Day 294: Rob Roy glacier, Mt Aspiring NP

The good thing about Arrowtown, apart from the high density of restaurants for such a tiny place (!) is that with a bit of effort, you can make it to the very southern end of the Alps or the very northern end of Fiordland on a day trip and still leave yourself time to do a hike.  We decided to leave the house at 8.30 in the morning and push over to Mt Aspiring National Park for a hike that was supposed to be both easy and pleasant.

Raspberry Creek (I think)
We had been driving along for about 20km when we noticed we were running out of gas.  There was no way we would make it to Wanaka, and I doubted there was gas in Cadrona so we got the gps out to try to find out.  It turned out we were going to Wanaka the long way, via Cromwell, which was just as well.  There is gas in Cromwell.  We reached Wanaka without incident except Mike falling asleep at the wheel and me taking over.  I went tumbling along 33km of good dirt track along the Matukituki river.  It is a beautiful valley, incredibly flat, filled with grass, lines of trees and sheep, and surrounded by steep golden mountains.  Eventually we reached the car park, 2.5 hours after we set off,, and decided we needed lunch.  It is a very good thing this is a short and easy walk.

Rob Roy glacier
Even from where we sat and ate lunch, we could see glaciers in the distance.  Our path led us up across a very bouncy suspension bridge and along a windy path through typical New Zealand fern forest to prairie just under the Rob Roy glacier.  The view was beautiful, and we sat around for quite a while, drawing, photographing and mutually being teased or teasing the keas.  Keas are New Zealand's native alpine parrot.  They are intelligent, sociable and utterly amoral : ). Leave something lying around and they will come and see how to take it apart.

"Butter wouldn't melt in my beak."
We came back the short way via Cadrona and eventually reached a high pass we remembered from our previous trip to New Zealand, looking out over immense vistas of Otago.  I stood looking out at the view, thinking that four months was still not going to be enough and that yet again, I was not going to be ready to leave New Zealand when the time came.  I consoled myself by fantasising about Antonia moving here when she grows up, so I can make like all those other elderly British people we keep bumping in to who winter down here every year to 'visit their children'.  If she doesn't we may just have to winter down here anyway.

View over Queenstown and Arrowtown valley

Sunday 22 January 2012

Day 293: Sleepy Birthday

Unfortunately, I spent my birthday in a state of advanced sleep deprivation, due to various causes (two, actually). I didn't do any of the things I had initially planned to do.  We went out for lunch, which proved very nice, even though I was almost too tired to walk 200 metres to the restaurant.  I got my family back by making them sit outside for lunch, even though it was fairly chilly.  I really don't like eating indoors unless it's cold and dark enough to get a fire going!!  Then we staggered back and watched a weird Japanese animation during which I nearly fell asleep, after which I really did fall asleep.  I woke up at 8pm and mooched around for a couple of hours hoping it would soon be bedtime.  Great birthday, huh?!  Never mind, I'm planning a hike for tomorrow.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Day 292: Lake Hayes

This time we went on an easy hike for real.  We drove 15 minutes out of Arrowtown and parked beside Lake Hayes.  I figured it is not possible to get lost while walking around a lake, provided you keep it on the same side of you at all times, and I was right!!  We had a very easy, short, uneventful stroll along paths and boardwalks with nice views and a picnic at a lovely beach using some giant trees as a windbreak.  That's why the biggest adventure of the day was watching a Swedish couple put together their assemblable canoe (it comes in a bag and looks like a meccano set), paddle almost over to our beach with their six-month baby aboard, then disassemble and repack the canoe back at the car park.  We also found some little wild plums that didn't seem to belong to anybody, so we helped ourselves.

Friday 20 January 2012

Day 291: Queenstown

The view from Queenstown beach
 I pretended to be young, free and single and went off to Queenstown by myself... and bought school books and chapstick for my daughter, ginger beer and various other groceries for my husband... But I also had lunch in a nice quiet cafe where I typed out a whole pile of notes and went for a walk along the lakeside!

Queenstown's top rated activity is ultra-fast speedboating

Thursday 19 January 2012

Day 291: Recovery Mode

The leader of the Dragon Club in 'action'...
 This is what recovery mode looks like:

10.00 - eat breakfast, go back to bed
12.00 - eat second breakfast, politely called 'brunch'
13.00 - write blog posts
15.00 - eat afternoon snack and participate in Antonia's Dragon Club program.  Activities include puzzle time, story time, movie time and creative time
17.30 - make pictures out of aperitif snacks for Dragon Club creative time and eat same
19.30 - go out for dinner
21.30 - set alarm for 6.15 in attempt to reset schedule, then eat late night snack

Next day, 8.15: alarm goes off having apparently decided to have a 2 hour lie in!!

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Day 290 - Otago Hike

Antonia thinks we're very cute! That's what having a daughter is for...
 Today we were supposed to be going on a longer 'stroll' to Macetown which is a ghost town from the gold era not far from Arrowtown.  Instead of doing that we ended up having quite an adventure.  The first part of the walk was straightforward enough and we got great views over the surrounding country.  When we reached an intersection in the trail system, we realised that the supposed distance to Macetown was stretching out, and if this sign was right, we probably couldn't make it that day.  We started following a route off to our right, which the sign said would get us back to Arrowtown in two and a half hours.  Unfortunately, as we were soon to learn, this is a route where you have to follow poles.  Half of them are down, and they have only a vague relationship with any paths there may be, which are probably mostly made by sheep.  There were some French Canadian guys just in front of us, and when they lost the poles and ran up against a fence, they decided it was probably meant to be followed.  I couldn't see any more poles either, and the fence seemed to be going in the right direction, so off we went.  We actually had quite a good time sliding down the tussocks of grass on our behinds!

What shall we do now?
The fence led us to a precipice from which we could see the road and the river below, and even Arrowtown but couldn't get down.  We had to start working our way along away from where we wanted to go and mostly uphill.  At this point I was starting to worry about the water more than anything.  We had passed lots of water sources earlier and I had iodine tabs but for some reason we were now in a dry area and being forced back uphill away from anything that looked like it might be wetter land.  We were really tired, because it is twice as hard work fighting your way through grass as walking along a path.  In the end we got to a flattish place and Mike decided to call for help.  I wasn't too sure about this because it seemed to me that it sets in motion a train of action that leads to an expensive and embarrassing helicopter turning up and I didn't think we were there yet.  We really had everything we needed except more water, which I was sure we could get, and a route.  Fortunately, they didn't do the helicopter thing.  Mike spoke to someone in Auckland who relayed him to someone in Christchurch.  That person took a detailed hiking map and gave Mike the gps coordinate for the path.  It turned out to be only 400 metres to the north west but completely invisible from where we were sitting.

Otago foxgloves for my father, to distract him from fussing when he reads this post!!!
 It turned out that the only problem with the phone calls was the time it takes.  I'm sure we spent 45 minutes over the first one, then Antonia and I waited about 30 minutes when we got to the path, waiting for Mike to get back in touch with the guy to let him know we were OK.  When we finally made it back to Arrowtown, we had to make another call to them to let them know we were back.  Although they asked us to call us, it was very hard to get back in touch with the right person each time, or feel sure that they had really updated our situation.

Back on track - the small point in the middle is Antonia standing by a post.
In the meantime, we were back on the path.  Antonia, who had been getting quite worried was now full of energy and raring along, so she was the first to find the spring just above the path.  We filled our bottles and drank what was left of our remaining water, knowing we would only have to wait 30 minutes for the iodine to work.  It still wasn't absolutely easy finding our way down, because the poles are badly placed and falling over, still only vaguely connected to any existing paths and they finally dumped us just above the road.  We had to scout around again to find our way down to that, but it wasn't too hard.  Finally we were matching along the 4-wheel drive Macetown track on a 6 km trek back to Arrowtown, swigging down our iodine juice.  We arrived at dusk, which is about 9.30pm around here.  Sort of typical for a New Zealand hike really.  We are all completely exhausted and in full-on recovery mode.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Day 289 - Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

Antonia looking at the Chinese inscription in Ah Lum's shop
We went for a very short stroll and picnic along the Arrow River and back again which is supposed to get us in shape for more serious things.  After that Antonia and I continued along to the Chinese settlement.  This is a few reconstructed houses and a store which were used by Chinese goldminers, or maybe it should be goldpanners.  One of the most interesting things on the information boards is the photograph of how the place used to look with vegetable gardens filling the hills, nothing like the isolated huts we see now.  There are many disturbing things about the arrival of Chinese miners: the way they were invited by a government that had a rather negative attitude to them.  It's easy to imagine that the motivation to control the xenophobia (or racism?) of the local population was low.  Young Chinese men left their families behind, and in many cases never collected enough money to return, meantime they found themselves isolated in a new country and built this little community of, essentially, single Chinese men.

Monday 16 January 2012

Day 288: Arrowtown Stream

When I first visited New Zealand, 3 years ago, I didn't really know how to appreciate the more human structures.  Now, I really notice how much the Australians and New Zealanders are good at building and using public hang out spaces.  In lots of the cities I've seen stairs that don't go anywhere and are designed purely for hanging out (or loitering as it may be termed in the US).  There is nothing easier than finding a place to picnic - with a few other people picnicking in it!  All the cafes and bars are beautifully designed for hanging out with low sofas, armchairs and big tables that have 'spend your day here' written all over them.  It's very cosy and relaxing.  But moving on...

The photo above is Mike and Antonia panning for gold in the stream at Arrowtown using coffee cup lids.  Mike just said he'd 'caught one but it got away.'  Honestly, while there might be a tiny bit of gold somewhere in this river, its heyday as a gold rush community is long over and now it is just idyllic.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Day 287 - Arrival in Arrowtown

We drove to Arrowtown although actually, I did nothing but sleep most of the way there, sleep for several hours on arrival, then sleep all night.  Mike took lots of photos of New Zealand looking gorgeous as usual.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Day 286 - Christchurch

We had to start the day by going to take a look at the state of Christchurch, which made me and Antonia feel quite sad and Mike feel very curious.  Basically a large section of the town centre is completely closed, and it still seems to be more under controlled demolishment than reconstruction.  Around that, the city is more or less functional but there are lots of boarded up buildings.  When you see the long term impact a disaster can have on a city in fairly wealthy country like New Zealand, you understand why places like Haiti do not recover fast.

We picnicked in the botanic gardens which haven't changed much, and headed off towards Tekapo.  We were planning to just pass through there, and take in the hot thermal pools which overlook the lake.  Unfortunately, we hadn't been there long before Antonia developed a stomach ache.  Little girls have stomach aches all the time, so Mike and I were a bit unreactive until the stomach ache turned into something rather more... ermm... explosive.  We headed back to our cabin wondering what had happened, and by about midnight, I came down with it too.  Better if I just draw a veil over the rest of the night....

Friday 13 January 2012

Day 285 - Flight to New Zealand

Today we took our first aeroplane of the trip (well, mine anyway) to New Zealand.  Mike spent hours finding the airline with the most liberal luggage allowance.  When we showed up at the airport, we discovered that we had failed to buy our outward bound tickets out of New Zealand in accordance with their rules.  This is because we were being vague and hazy about our plans, and also because I have been so busy I haven't been able to keep an eye on the future and its requirements as I usually do.  So, suddenly, our plans got made for us, or we weren't going to New Zealand.

We had a fine flight during which I watched Bollywood videos and Antonia watched Toy Story 3, arrived in Christchurch and headed for the only motel left in the place with available rooms.  Mike bought pizza and fish and chips for dinner and I wandered into an Asian supermarket and got some sweet buns and melon juice for breakfast (uh-oh!)

Sunday 8 January 2012

Day 279: Entering New South Wales

We crossed the border today between Victoria and New South Wales on Rt 1, the coastal road.

I have to admit that most of the drive was like this:
Rt 1 is lined by eucalyptus trees most of the way

We had to detour off the road, sometimes a considerable distance, to get a view like this:
View of coast near Eden, New South Wales

Saturday 7 January 2012

Day 278: Buchan Caves near Orbost, Victoria, Australia

Some catching up here from our trip between Melbourne and Sydney.

After Phillip Island, we stayed the night near Orbost, Victoria.  The day we spent there we visited Buchan Caves, about a 40 minute drive from our hotel.  We went in two separate caves: The Fairy Cave and the Royal Cave.  Both were spectacular.  These are some of the best caves I've ever seen.  Almost in every "room", in every direction, there was something to see, and it was very varied.

Not ice!  Calcite stalactites in front, a "bacon" curtain behind 

This looked like gold dust spilling out of a hole in the wall

Hard to see but this was very sparkly and what gives Fairy Cave it's name

Though I managed to avoid this in most of my photos, most of the cave is protected with this sort of chicken wire.  Too many people have been tempted in the past and unfortunately this is necessary.

More very large "bacon", this was about 80cm tall.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Day 277: Phillip Island Penguins

This evening we went to watch the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island. It was massively crowded. There must have been a couple thousand people there. It was fairly expensive, more than $30 for Antonia and myself. They were selling coffee, tea, and popcorn as if this was a huge media blitz. I was expecting millions of penguins to storm the beach! We arrived at about 9pm, headed to the beach with the droves of others and tried to get a glimpse of the beach through the crowd. They have stadium bleachers set up. After about 9:30pm a large majority of the people wandered off. I never saw millions of penguins. The ranger told us on an average night, they see maybe 600-900. I think we spotted 3 groups with between 7-10 penguins and maybe 20-30 in groups 1-3.

We wandered back up to the visitor center where you watch the penguins waddle their way up to their burrows. Pretty interesting watching them arrive and greet their mates and coo. We had a good time though I think this tourist event is way overly hyped.

Photos are strictly prohibited outside of the visitors center. I snapped this photo through the window of the visitor center where it was allowed without a flash. It was taken in near total darkness, manually focused, 6400iso and an exposure of about 1.5 seconds. Out of 20 or so shots like this, this was pretty much the only one that came out and even then it's quite blurry and grainy if you look at the larger image.

Penguins waddling along towards their burrow

Day 277: Phillip Island koalas

Today we went to see Koalas on Phillip Island at the nature reserve. I got some excellent photos thanks to the guy who took a stick and woke up several of the koalas!

An unusual photo of a koala wide awake (after being rudely awaken)

Man with stick prodding a koala as people take photos

There are signs in both English and pictographs to be quiet and NOT to disturb these creatures. They need to sleep about 20 hours a day to digest their food which they get very little nourishment from.

The man in red was later detained by a park ranger, lectured, escorted from the park. We were told he faces a possible fine for his actions.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Day 276: Melbourne to Sydney first stop Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Antonia and I are driving from Melbourne to Sydney on our own this week.

The first night we stayed on Phillip Island (it should be marked with a B on the map above). I was incredibly lucky to find a house on Phillip Island: Janice Flash's Absolute Beachfront Apartment. It's small but absolutely fabulous.

View of Beachfront Apartment (below on left)

View from patio of apartment

Antonia playing on sand