Category Archives: Wine

Going out with a bang (pt 2)- Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls

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Victoria Falls Lunar Rainbow- one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

6th April: So our plan of having a lie in didn’t quite work out. Our body clocks still thought they were on safari and we both woke up at 5.30am! But ah well it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the sunshine in the morning before catching a taxi to the Zambian ‘Frontier’ so we could walk over Victoria Falls Bridge into Zimbabwe- our 12th and final country of the trip. We got our exit stamp from Zambia and then made the rather soggy walk through no mans land, over Vic Falls bridge which spans the valley carved out by the Zambezi River, and onto the Zimbabwe immigration post. It’s a good 20 minutes walk from Zambian immigration to Zimbabwean immigration and you do get wet, but it’s definitely better to walk than to get a taxi as the view from the bridge of the Falls is fantastic. This waterfall truly is massive! 1700 metre wide and from the bridge you can see it all. Top tip though- don’t wear flip-flops. The ground is wet from the spray so I was flicking mud up the back of my legs the whole way- gross! At the Zim border we got our passports stamped and paid the $55 for our visas. A bit steep but I imagine GB makes it just as expensive for Zimbabweans to travel into the UK. It was then just a quick 2 minutes walk to the Vic Falls Park entry so we could check out all the viewpoints of the falls from the Zim side. We were worried we were going to lose money as we didn’t have the exact dollars for the entry ($30 each). But we needn’t have flustered, Zimbabwe has officially abandoned their own currency and now use US dollars, ever since Mugabe devalued the Zim dollar and ruined the economy….just another achievement to add to his list then! In the park and legs washed clean of mud, we browsed all the info boards and then set off on the 3km walk around the park to all its viewpoints. There have been 8 previous sites of the waterfall created as the Zambezi river has worked itself back upstream from fault line to fault line. The next line of the fault will originate from the area around the part of the falls called the Devils Cataract but will take another 10,000 years for the collapse. At 107 metres high, 1,737 metres wide, and pouring 1,100 m3/sec, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world. And yet again we were blown away by its magnitude and majesty as we wandered around the park, and of course getting absolutely drenched in the process! When we got to the viewpoint for Livingstone Island we were shocked at how close Zambia and Zimbabwe were at this point, plus we got a great view of the rock pool we swam in…it looked much scarier from this perspective face onto the falls; we swam so close to the edge! Absolutely saturated we came to the last viewpoint at Victoria Falls Bridge and saw many rainbows form and dissolve in the mist underneath it. Beautiful. We took the dry route back and the opportunity to dry off on our way to the park entrance. In the end I went to the bathroom and I took off my top and skirt to wring the water out before popping them back on and standing in the sun. Needed to at least look semi decent for where we were heading next, to visit the historically colonial Victoria Falls Hotel. We took a shortcut through the bush to the garden entrance of the hotel. The view from the hotel gardens is pretty impressive- the churning Zambezi cutting through the valley, the industrial elegance of the Vic Falls Bridge and the spray from the main falls continuously pushing up into the sky in the background. And then you turn around and see an equally impressive sight, which is the Vic Falls Hotel. A pillared sun terrace, white wash walls and terracotta tiles. We made our way, still slightly damp, to the Stanley Terrace and order a High Tea for Two (available each day from 3pm; $30). To share, we got a 3 tier display: 1 layer of sandwiches, 1 layer of plain and sultana scones with jam and cream, and 1 layer of dessert cakes; plus copious amounts of tea! It was delicious and we ate it all- we were stuffed! We enjoyed a delightful 2 hours eating, drinking and watching the rainbow in the mist travel from east to west under the bridge. It was a fabulous afternoon. After a mouche around the hotel we ventured into Victoria Falls Village. Not much was open on account of it being Good Friday, but we caught the end of the arts and craft market and Hedd bought the lowest and highest denomination of the obsolete Zimbabwe dollar- a $5 and a $100 trillion-dollar note! We walked back over the bridge and into Zambia again and thanked the lord for our good fortune. There was not a cloud in the sky and the Full Moon was really bright already; it was looking good for us seeing the lunar rainbow. We paid our entry into the Zambian side of Vic Falls Park and headed for the Eastern Cataract which is the best viewpoint to see the ‘Moonbow’- a rainbow produced from the light of the moon instead of the sun. We got there at 6.30pm and it wasn’t too busy but by 7pm the viewpoint was packed. We’d got a good spot and we waited for the sun to set and the light from the moon to do its magic. Suddenly we saw something try to form in the bottom left of the mist and soon a big arch of a rainbow formed. It was incredible. Sometimes the moonbow just appears grey, but the moon was drenching the mist in so much light we saw bands of red, blue and yellow. It was truly astonishing and I was so so pleased I’d been so anal about dates 1 year ago when we were planning the trip so we’d be in Livingstone for full moon. I was so so chuft to have seen it and it was a moment where I had a chance to reflect on just how lucky Hedd and I were to have been doing what we have been doing for the last 6 months. An amazing day.

Easter Saturday and another jammed packed day of activities. First up an Elephant backed safari! A rep from Zambezi Elephant Trails pick us up from the hotel at drove us 10 clicks out-of-town along the Botswana road to Thorntree Lodge within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. On arrival the Head guide explained the background to the Elephant trails. The 6 adult elephants were all rescue elephants from the 1960’s-80’s when there was a massive culling exercise in the Zambezi Valley and a drought in the Gonarezha National Park. There are 3 little ones too- One, the daughter of the matriarchal female who went ‘bush’ and came back pregnant 10 months later; one the daughter of Liwa who after seeing Mashumbi getting pregnant, wanted one for herself so went off with the older male called Bop! And then little Sekuti who got brought home by the herd after they went grazing on a nearby island; no wild herds had been in the area for months so it seemed the little 6 month old had been on her own for some time. So all in all this herd’s history sounded like something off EastEnders! The guide also explained how they trained the elephants using positive reinforcement (i.e. treats and rewards) as opposed to the controversial ‘discipline and submission’ technique commonly associated with Asian Elephants. After all that (oh and signing our life away on an indemnity form no. 250!) we got introduced to the elephants. They are MASSIVE! And we couldn’t quite believe we were about to ride one. We mounted the elephant using a raised platform and we were on Mashumbi, the Matriarch and leader of the pack so we were out in front. All the elephants had someone on them apart from Sekuti who just came along for the ride, frolicking around the herd. We looked like a proper cool elephant family! The 1 hour trail led us through riverine bush and along the banks of the Zambezi. It wasn’t so much of a safari but we did see Impala. It was such a great experience being so close to an elephant. They are a lot hairier than I thought and the very tips of their ears are truly paper-thin, soft and smooth with lots of veins running through; much like a back of a leaf looks. Back at base it was time to feed Mashumbi her treats. You had to drop them in her trunk or throw them in her mouth, but I was completely rubbish at it. The trunk just freaked me out! It is such a funny yet incredibly alien thing with 2 massive nostrils! Anyway the whole 2 hours was really fun and elephants are lovely creatures. Back at the hostel and a budget beans on toast lunch, before getting picked up at 4pm for our booze cruise. We got picked up in a massive open air safari jeep which got stuffed with backpackers as they crawled around every hostel in town picking people up. It was so noisy and perhaps a flavour of what was to come! We got on our boat called Mukumbi from the stage outside The Waterfront Hotel and positioned ourselves by the bar (obviously!). $55 dollars, all you can drink with snacks and a hot buffet thrown in. Can’t complain about that! We soon got in the swing of things, with the bar man refilling our drinks without us even noticing at times! We were so engrossed in our various conversations with people that we almost missed sunset! But we caught it just in time, plus saw some game (elephants and hippo’s) too. It was really good fun and we continued the drinking back at the hostel with a load of trainee medics from America we’d met. My goodness can they drink!

8th April: another classic morning after the night before! Unsurprisingly we had a lazy morning, but were up and about by lunchtime to get ready to visit Lubasi Home Trust, the local home for parent-less and homeless children. It was set up by a guy from Sri Lanka who owned a few businesses in Livingstone and was shocked at how many children there were living rough on the street, either escaping from violent homes (due to the challenge of living in extreme poverty) or being orphaned (due to parents dying from HIV/AIDS). The area didn’t have any facilities to help these children so he stumped up the cash, bought the land and buildings at Lubasi from the government and set up a charitable trust to care for them. That was in 2001 and they have been going ever since, heavily reliant on the volunteer ‘mums’ who work there. Hedd and I were there to donate some of our clothes and shoes and just hang out with the kids for the afternoon. Hedd played football and I read to the girls. Each of the children were so different. The home is only meant to have kids aged 5-10 but there were children up to 18 there. And some were so quiet and withdrawn with others outlandish. The chap opposite in the pic was one of the outlandish ones who wore my sunglasses the whole time and enjoyed playing (almost breaking!) my camera. But he was happy so that was the main thing. I also had a stash of hair bands which I gave out to the girls. Whether they used them for the right purpose or as catapults I do not know! We stayed there for a good 2-3 hours then walked the 30 minutes back to town, having a strange interaction with a local who laughed and said “Before looking up I knew you (hedd) were a man and you (helen) were a woman, because you (man points to hedd) have so much hair on your legs….so much hair!” Hehe, very true random local man, very true!

9th April, and our last full day in Livingstone. Up and out early doors to catch one of the first flights of the day up in a microlight for a aerial view of the falls. I was so excited about this, which only grew as we waited our turn watching others take off and land. We were flying with Batoka Sky from their base at Maramba Aerodome just outside Livingstone town. Our 15 minute flight would take us along the Zambezi, figure of eight over the top of the falls and then back over the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and I couldn’t wait! Hedd was up first and I close behind in another microlight. My pilot was called Keith, he was from Scotland and had been here a month and it was great because it felt like he was as excited as I was to go up and have a glide around. I had a helmet on with ear phones so I could hear what Keith was saying. Although I struggled, goodness knows how non-english speaking people fare, he was Scottish after all! The falls from above are amazing, breathtaking and we got a great view of the Batoka gorge too. Keith pointed out various fancy hotels, and I could tell him “I’ve been there, I’ve done that”. Hedd’s pilot went low over the falls edge and he got wet from the mist. My guy went low over the national park and I got to see an elephant. It was a really great way to round the whole Victoria Falls/Livingstone experience off; I really recommend it! That evening to mark our last night in Livingstone we went for sundowner drinks at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We got there about 6.30pm and it was pretty busy but we managed to get a table right by the water on the sundeck. The sun dips directly in front of you and to your left is the drop of the falls. Hedd went up to order our cocktails and was told to sit down (all waiter service here!), which was lovely but it did mean we waited super long for our drinks. We did manage to get them just in time for sunset though which is the main thing. Although I kind of wished the sun would move about 100 meters left so you would see it dip behind the falls, the African sunset was still tremendously beautiful and a great way to end our Victoria Falls adventure.

10th April and time to say goodbye to Livingstone which had been our home for 10 days and we had grown to love it. An hour flight to Lusaka in an even smaller plane (2 seats wide and an aisle) and a taxi ride to our hostel in Fairview, and we’d arrived at our last accommodation of the trip- Kalulu Backpackers. Not the nicest of hostels and the bathrooms were a 3 minute walk outside in the garden which was a bit odd, but the staff were friendly and they had 2 cute bunny rabbits and a crazy dog to keep us amused! Our last day of the trip we spent do a slight exploration of Lusaka. It’s not the nicest city in the world but we did make it to Kabwata Cultural Village in the South East of the city to do last-minute present buying for our families. Hedd has 3 sisters and 1 brother so plenty of people to souvenir shop for! Our last supper was at Mahak Indian Restaurant on Great East Road which was lovely. It wasn’t too far from the hostel so we walked to it. Although walking back in the dark I was convinced someone would jump out from the drainage ditches which run alongside most of the roads and made Hedd walk in the middle of the street with me just in case! Completely unfounded fear but we had been so lucky throughout the whole trip with regards to safety and crime, I just didn’t want anything to happen on our last night! Needless to say we arrived back to the hostel safe and sound! Just time for one last African cider (Hunters Gold) at the hostel bar, before packing and hitting the hay.

12th April 2012 and time to fly back to Britain. To London Heathrow to be precise, and terminal 5 from where we had left 23 weeks before. I was ready to come home I think, and in reality we had to- funds had dried up! There will be time to reflect on best bits, low points and greatest moments in another post perhaps. But for now I thank you for reading this travelogue. The last 6 months have been incredible, and it has been a great pleasure to share the experience with you through this series of chronological posts which I suspect I will treasure forever.

Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Hot, but a little chilly in the Vic Falls spray!
    • Food= Baked beans on toast, cereal and UHT milk (budget running very low!)
    • Drink= Just too much box wine!
    • A must see in your lifetime= A lunar rainbow, a ‘moonbow’ (you can catch one at Full Moon at Vic Falls or at Waimea in Hawaii)
    • One of the funnest thing to watch= the trunk of an elephant- literally has a mind of its own!
    • A kindred spirit= “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy”- Ernest Hemingway
Hedd’s words of wisdom:

What a place to end our trip. Victoria Falls is amazing, it is massive. The biggest waterfall in the world and we are seeing it in high water. Well of course you can’t see all of it in high water because of the spray, but what you can do is feel the full force of it. We saw the falls from the Zambia side and the Zimbabwe side and we got absolutely drenched. It was like walking through a monsoon in parts, so much water, so much mist, it was exhilarating. We couldn’t see the full falls, at each viewpoint we could only see a small section, but each section was so impressive and there were so many sections. We saw rainbows everywhere in the day and of course we had the privilege of seeing a lunar rainbow at night, quite a sight!! The falls is also where we did the craziest thing we’ve ever done, which says a lot given Helen did the highest bungy in NZ and I jumped out of a plane at 15,000ft. We swam at the top of Victoria Falls. Insane – Yes. Amazing – Yes! There were no safety harnesses here, just our local guide who would act as some sort of goalkeeper should you go too close to the edge! If you ever get the chance to do this, do it! You won’t regret it – unless you’re the unlucky one that goes over the edge!!

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Durban to Jo’burg- Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho

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Getting to see Lesotho, what a treat!

26th March: So today we went on our ‘Face to Face Zulu Village Tour’ with Tekwenie Eco Tours. The only ones to book that day, we got a personal tour which was a bonus. We headed off East away from Durban and into Zululand, stopping off at a supermarket on the way to pick up some treats for the children of the family we were visiting. Although I think the football we bought them Hedd secretly was plotting to keep, he didn’t succeed- they were gifts after all! On the way to our first stop at a view-point overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills, I taught Alfred, our guide, a new word- Torrential- after explaining our damp time in Port St John. He like it a lot and stopped the car to write the word down and its meaning and proceeded to practice saying it, slotting it into various sentences. It was funny and certainly passed the time, seeing us getting to the Valley of 1000 Hills in no time. It was a ‘wow’ view- a green expanse of little hills (although I think 1000 is a bit of an exaggeration!) peppered with little clusters of circular buildings, home to the Zulu people, and the big Inanda Dam filling the valley like a natural lake. We then headed to Emaphephetheni village in the Nanda area of Zululand and to a cluster of houses belonging to the Ncibilika family who would be our hosts for the day. Arriving at their home, first thing we noticed was their million dollar view of the dam. When we explained this to our guide Jason, the 19-year-old son, that in the UK you would pay hundreds of thousands for a house with such a water view he very seriously exclaimed that this was too much money to be charging. Quite right Jason, we agreed! All the families circular houses were painted light blue with grey tin roofs- the colour Jason told us was picked by his Mum without input from the men of the household. They just had to do the painting! This was not a staged village, the family weren’t in traditional clothes etc; we were seeing how the Zulu people lived today and how, and what, Zulu traditions still influenced the course of life here. So first up- Zulu engagement. Jason took us down to the dam and picked us reeds to plait our own engagement bands. Around 26 years old Zulu people marry and its the girl who initiates the engagement by plaiting a reed bracelet and tying it on the boys right wrist as an indication of her intentions. The boy then presents his wrist to his parents for permission to marry and to agree the ‘terms’ of the partnership to present to the girl’s family (e.g. the requirement of 2 cows, land etc) and then the deal is done. Jason tied our bands so I guess we’re all going to marry Jason! I said neither Hedd or I owned any land or cows so I don’t think it will work out! We then walked to Jason’s grandmother- the villages natural healer. We found her in her round house with mud floor- it cannot be concreted so she can connect sufficiently with the earth- with little holes in the tin roof which projected little circles of light like a disco ball around the space. It was quite atmospheric. The natural healer is chosen from birth and knows how cure all ailments. So it was worth a shot…Hedd explained his back problem and with Jason translating, the lady suggested ‘Umuttli’- a natural remedy made of water, plants and bark- 3 teaspoons 3 times a day. It came in a Smirnoff vodka bottle, looked like mud and cost 50RAN! Armed with Hedd’s miracle solution we thanked the natural healer and went on our way through the long grass. Lunch was a novelty; spinach, butternut squash, salsa with Uphuthu- crushed corn- a little like cuscous. All very lovely but alas no provision of cutlery so we ate it Zulu style with our hands! Both me and Hedd struggled to get the food from the plate and into our mouths, but apparently food is meant to taste better using your hand. It was indeed nice food but I think I’ll stick to my metal cutlery for the future! Just enough time to join in with the younger girls dancing to music provided by the elder sister banging coca cola bottle onto a plastic barrel. Surprisingly tuneful, we kicked our legs following the moves of the little ones. On account of his back, Hedd instead jogged on the spot kind of to the music which I can’t emphasise enough how hilarious it looked! On the way back to Durban Alfred our driver took us through Inanda township where Gandhi lived for years from 1893 and the place where he first voiced his notion of non-violent resistance in response to colonial racial inequality. Gandhi! I couldn’t believe it. Inanda has remained a symbol of political activism and social justice ever since, including during Apartheid, and is where Mandela cast his vote at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Pretty cool. In celebration of Gandhi and in recognition of our new-found awareness of Durban as the home for the largest population of Indians outside India, we went for tea at an Indian that night!

27th March and another morning on the Baz Bus, taking us to our next destination- Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Northern Drakensberg. My goodness what a lovely part of the world, mountains and meadows everywhere! Our backpackers was great apart from the massive deposit regime they ran for everything. So after leaving a hefty deposit to borrow a laminated piece of paper with a printed map on it, we set off for a beautiful walk through the acres of maize fields dotted with gorgeous pink and white cosmos flowers and along the Mpande River. It was a gorgeous walk with light beams cutting through the clouds and shining down on the Drakensberg mountains and the valley below- wonderful! This hostel was in the middle of nowhere so they laid on dinner so we tucked into that, enjoyed the sun set and headed to bed semi-early in prep for our early start to Lesotho the next morning.

The 28th March and time for us to visit our 9th country- Lesotho. We were so excited waking up; a feeling only slightly dampened by the freezing cold shower- no hot water, nightmare! Off by 7.30am in the minibus for the 2 hour drive to the border, through the Monantsapas Pass (2,800 m). We got our exit stamp from South African Immigration and I was looking forward to getting my Lesotho entry stamp but as we descended through the pass and into Lesotho our guide informed us that the caravan which housed the Lesotho board control office had broken 2 months ago and the authorities hasn’t replaced is. So there we are, no official immigration into Lesotho! But my goodness, isn’t the country beautiful. Stunning mountains everywhere, valleys of maize fields with the pink and white cosmos flowers, sporadic clusters of circular houses with thatched roofs, roaming goats and cattle and beautiful light. With over 80% of the country lying above 1,800 metres, it is the highest country in the world and understandably its quite chilly. In response the local population wrap themselves with woolen blankets, as we do with coats and scarves, as they go about their business. Originally the Lesotho people were nomads but nowadays they keep in villages and we drove as far as Mafika-Lisiu village (that is also where the road ran out!) to visit the primary school. Sitting in the classroom our guide talk us through a bit of background about Lesotho; Sesotho is their language, Lesotho people are called Basetho… We also got to see the new extension which was funded by Amphitheatre Backpackers through some of the money we pay for the tour. That made us feel good and after hanging out with the kids for a while in the grassy playground, we set off on foot to explore more of the area. We bumped into the school principal along the way and she explained that the school is the lifeblood of the village. The children who attend are given lunch so at least they are definitely getting one meal each day and more and more they are supporting children to go to secondary school and college (it isn’t free in Lesotho). Health is still an issue with the doctor only coming once a month to this area; TB, aids, HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure still claim the lives of Lesotho people more than it should. We walked up and around one of the many hills in Lesotho for 1 1/2 hours and then stopped for our packed lunch at a great viewpoint overlooking the valley of rondavel hut villages and meadows and the back of what is known as the ‘Amphitheatre’ within the Drakensberg mountains. Gorgeous! Our guide explained more about the way of life here, namely farming is the order of the day. In the summer the shepherds take all the animals (goats, sheep, cows) up onto the mountain which have flat tops like Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the meadows in the valley are planted with crops. In the winter the animals are brought down into the valley again and they use the many natural caves at the bottom of the mountains to keep them in when it snows. And we walked past many of these caves with the dry stone walls built by the farmers across the entrances to act as pens as we descended the big hill. We also got to see some Bushman paintings on one of the cave sides depicting the eland (a type of antelope) which the Bushman thought to be sacred. We then continued down into the village again to find some home-brew beer to try. The Basetho operate a flag system for the selling of food, drink and services. White flag means beer, red= meat, green= vegetables and blue= medicine. If a family has any surplus of any of these to sell they raise the appropriate flag on a tall post outside their home so people far away can see it and walk to it to buy or trade. It’s a hark back to their nomad days really but still really clever as the Basetho still live really spread out. We spotted a white flag and walked to the hut to try some local brew. The corn beer came out in a large plastic canister and looked disgusting! It didn’t taste much better either- like fermented yeasty porridge with a sour and smokey aftertaste. Needless to say, even after my tiny sip I cringed at the taste of it! Back to the minibus and a quick ride to meet the Natural Healer- 1 of 3 for the area. We all crowded into his little rondavel round house and he explained that he didn’t choose to be a natural healer, the ancestors did by giving him the gift to see and communicate with them in order to heal people. He first knew he had the gift when he was at secondary school and got really ill and foresaw the death of 2 people in his village before it happened. He then got taken out of school and sent for training as a natural healer. He wears read as that was the colour he had on when he realised he had been given the gift. I asked if he liked being a natural healer, and he said he didn’t to begin with but now it is okay. Unbelievably this man is in his 40’s- I told him he doesn’t look over 30! There was just enough time then for us to drive to another Basotho family to try a traditional meal (ate with our fingers again!) and to the little local shop to buy some bottles of Maluti beer (only produced and sold in Lesotho) as gifts, before we made a dash for the border which closed at 4pm. Our guide shouted to the 4×4 accompanying us to race ahead and tell the border staff that we were on our way and we arrived at 4pm on the dot and was through it by 4.05pm….phew that was close! As we drove home, the most fabulous day was topped off with viewing a gorgeous sun set over the Sterkfontein Dam.

29th March and our last journey on the Baz Bus- hoorahhh! We lazed away the morning lying on the hostels large lawn in the sunshine with the hostels ancient scruffy looking dog until the Baz Bus came to pick us up at 1pm to take us to Johannesburg. It was a classic Baz Bus journey; the 3 hour journey took us 7 hours. We got into the city at 6.15pm but then had a whistle-stop tour of the cities hostels before eventually getting to the northern suburb that we were being dropped off at 8pm! Nightmare! Our first impressions of Jo’burg? A city of gates and armed response signs; this city had seen a lot of modern-day history! Our lovely hosts for our 2 nights in Jo’burg were my parents friends from Zambia- Pete and Lesie Hey, and they picked us up from outside the ‘Ritz Backpackers’ and whisked us off to their home in the northern suburb of Bryanton. The further north you go in Jo’burg the richer it gets and communities tend to be ‘boomed off’ with guards controlling who goes in and out of the estate and individual houses behind big gates. Bryanton was no different and the Hey’s house was lovely. Set in a 1 acre plot, you forgot you were in a city. Leslie had made us a traditional SA dish of Bobotie- a dish of mince, bread, egg, spices with rice; it was delicious. All washed down with a selection of SA wine from Pete’s under the stairs wine cellar called ‘The Cave’. It was fabulous! Conversation was beautifully easy as we retired to the lounge with yet more wine, before retiring to bed. We felt so lucky to be yet again looked after by such generous hosts. The next day, and Leslie very kindly had taken some time out of work to act as tour guide. So 9am we were out the door and embarking ‘Leslie’s Tours’ around Jo’burg. We were indebted to her as Jo’burg is enormous and difficult to navigate around without a car. First stop- the Apartheid Museum (R55 entry), and straight away you were given the experience of segregation; issued with a ‘white’ or ‘non white ticket’ you had to enter the museum in the appropriate door. Straight away you got the feeling of lack of choice and that somehow, on whatever side you were on, you were missing out on something. Great way to start and the museum continued in that quality of engagement, with tons of photos and videos which made the whole thing quite interactive. What I loved also was that it was Leslie’s first time visiting the museum too, so we all enjoyed browsing the exhibits together and interesting hearing Leslie’s reaction to it all as she had lived through it as a South African. It was the first time since arriving in SA that I understood the ‘why’s’ of apartheid. It roots start in the colonial years where the whole notion of ‘otherness’ and oppression of the natives within South Africa began. After the British retreated, the Afrikans took over the baton of oppression, believing ‘one race for one homeland’ and the Afrikaan leader and cabinet truly believed that the ‘one race’ for SA was white. And hence came the years of race classification and the 150 acts of Apartheid where the segregation of races was the cornerstone. The years of detention of people just because of their political beliefs, such as Mandela. The years of militant nationalism where many people were killed, battered and hung. The years of uprising from non whites, as well as whites, disgusted with Apartheid, who’s aim was to make the country unmanageable for the Apartheid government so the government would have to concede to regain order. All culminating in Mandela’s release after 27 years, peace negotiations, and the 1994 democratic elections and the appointment of Mandela as president. So there we are, a horribly simplified, but useful chronology (I think) of events. It will be heartbreaking to watch South Africa’s reaction when Mandela dies, he’s in his 90’s, and he is so entwined in all of South African’s consciousness; they will be so sad. All in all it took us 3 hours to walk around the museum. I think you could have been there longer but it was a bit overwhelming so 3 hours was about our limit! We then headed across town towards Rosebank to wander around Rosebank African Arts and Crafts market for a spot of souvenir shopping and our stop for lunch. It was then back in the car to try to get to the Cradle of Humankind in North Gauteng, 40 minutes out of the city. But alas traffic got in our way and realising we wouldn’t make it for last entry we headed back home, patting Leslie on the back for such a great day. Tonight was our last night with Pete and Leslie and they put on a traditional South African ‘Braai’ (BBQ) for us. We all sat on the ‘stoep’ (covered patio) chatting, eating and drinking Pete’s lovely wine for the whole evening. The evening was topped off with watching an electric lightning storm in the distance before we all retired to bed. A great evening!

The last day of March and also our last few hours in South Africa before flying to our last port of call for this amazing round the world trip, Zambia. All feeling slighting fragile from last nights exploits, we said goodbye and thank you to Leslie and Pete drove us heroically with a hangover to the airport. Apparently we had sunk 5 bottles last night and I’m sure I was responsible for 2 of them! Saying goodbye to Pete, we rushed around the airport exchanging money, checking in (which in itself took 45 mins) and only just made it to our gate on time. Stressful enough as it is, without having to comprehend such things with a hangover! Needless to say we were relieved to eventually be settled on the plane. And I was so excited and content to be heading off to Zambia- a country I called home for the first year of my life and a country so close to my family’s heart.

Durban to Jo’burg in a snapshot:

    • Weather= A baking 36 degrees in Durban, chilly in high up Lesotho, overcast in urban Job’burg
    • Food= Anything traditional- from Uphuthu (crushed corn) ate with our fingers in Zululand to a South African ‘Braai’ at the Heys
    • Drink= Hedd’s special Zulu juice (yuk!)
    • Real life moment= spending the day in Zululand with Jason and the Ncibilika family
    • Good to see before its infrastructure is improved and hefty tourism changes it= Lesotho
    • Number of embarrassing stories gleaned from Pete Hey about my Dad= None that, scarily, I didn’t already know!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

In Durban we got a taste of modern Zulu life, away from the costumes and all the fanfare that other tours offer. We saw how they lived today, we ate with them and I even purchased some traditional medicine for my back! It was horrible, looked like mud and it didn’t work. But it didn’t do me any harm, probably gave me a thorough detox!! Finally in Jo’burg we got to visit the Apartheid museum which is a must for anyone visiting South Africa. You will know from our Cape Town blog that I hated the whole Robben Island experience as it was rushed, touristy and not very informative. Visiting the Apartheid museum was the opposite, so much information, presented in so many different ways, we spend 2.5 hours walking around, but you would have needed double that time to read and watch everything. For us it was the perfect way to end our trip in South Africa as we finally got to know the whole story of apartheid, how it impacted on everyday life and how it came to an end.

Cape Town- South Africa’s Mother City

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My favourite city in the world!

So after almost 24 hours on the go we touched down in Cape Town, got a Backpacker Airport Shuttle to our hostel (RAN 270), Amber Tree Lodge in The Gardens area, showered and crashed into bed. I half expected to not awake until the afternoon the next day but no, up at 9.30am on the 8th March hungry! And so pleased we did as the weather was stunning, Table Mountain was clear and adhering to my Mum’s advice, “if the mountain is clear, you go up it…now!” We hopped on the Cape Town City Sightseeing Hop on/Hop Off bus at stop 7 just by our hostel, buying the Red Route Ticket for R140, which promised to take us around the city, up to the cable car station and around to Camps Bay and Clifton area. We drove through District Six, past the Castle of Good Hope and then up Table Mountain Road to the Cable Car Lower Station, admiring the view of the equally tall hill next door to Table Mountain called Lions Head. Blessed with no que, we bought our return ticket (R195) and boarded the cable car jostling with the other tourists to get the best spot at the glass-less front. However, all this panic was in vain as the floor actually rotates as you go up so everyone gets a go with the glass-less front and a chance to see all the different views! Very clever! The cable car ride was surprisingly quick and we were up at the top in no time. The view of the city, what South African’s call the Mother City, from the top were truly an amazing sight. Spanning from left to right, you got the aerial view of Lions Head, Robben’s Island, the UFO like 2010 Fifa World Cup Stadium, the City and the V&A Waterfront and in the distance the bays and mountains which stretch out from Cape Town masked slightly from the heat haze. So a bit about Table Mountain- it is 6 times older than the Himalayas and is famous for its flat-topped profile. It also made the new 7 Wonders of the World list. As we walked anti clockwise around the top on the Dassie Track, Agama Track and the Klipspringer Track to Maclears Beacon I got increasingly stressed about finding ‘the rock’ which my parents got a picture on when they lived in Zambia in the 1980’s and my grandparents too when they visited the city when they were younger. In the end, to cover all bases, I got photo’s of me on many rocks that looked vaguely familiar from those photos! Surely one of them will be the right one! At Maclears Beacon we reached Table Mountains highest point at 1,085 meters. Walking to the Beacon we got fab views of Camps Bay and the Cape Peninsular.  Walking to the Upper Cable Station along the Escapement edge we were afforded amazing views over the city and Bloubergstrand. It was hot work and after 2 hours of walking we got a refreshing drink and snack from the terrace cafe overlooking Camps Bay. We made our way down from the mountain at around 3pm and hopped onto the City Sightseeing Bus again which took us to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, passing by Camps Bay (the place to be and be seen), Clifton (the most expensive area in Cape Town), Bantry Bay, Sea Point, 3 Anchors Bay and Mouille Point Lighthouse. We hopped off at the Aquarium at the Waterfront to have a mooch about and buy our Robben Island tickets from the Nelson Mandela Gateway by the Clock Tower. They sell up pretty quick but we got 2 places on the 11am tour 2 days later. We got the second to last bus at 17.00 from the Clock Tower back to stop 7 and had a quick freshen up before heading out for dinner at a local Italian. We were both knackered from jet lag and our exploits that day, we almost fell asleep in our food! After a Skype date with Mum and Dad at a local internet cafe, I monumentally crashed into bed exhausted but content that we had made the most of our first day in the Mother City and we had been up Table Mountain in the crystal clear stunning weather.

9th March and time for our day trip to the Cape Peninsula. We got picked up at 8am and after touring the cities hostels picking up people we got on our way along the coastal road towards Cape Point. Our first stop was at Hout Bay Harbour where we spent 40 minutes wandering the wharf and its markets whilst some of the group went on a boat trip to see the seals. We had seen plenty already on our travels and decided to save the pennies instead. Everyone back together again we continued our way South, passing South Africa’s smallest pub called ‘The Workshop’ which holds just 20 people at once. And then we were on Chapman’s Peak Drive- a very picturesque  coastal drive with fantastic views back to Houts Bay. Simon’s Town was next, an important Naval Town in the past and also where Napoleon died a captive. Apparently he was fond of the local South African wine and was buried with a bottle in his coffin! We were here to see the African Penguins at a place called the Boulders- a natural  reserve for the little creatures. We got right up closer to around 100 penguins all clustered or scampering about on Foxy Beach. There were babies there too, still grey and fluffy. We witness an assassination attempt at an egg as a seagull tried his luck swooping down to grab an egg but the penguins saw him off. It was then onto Cape Point driving along the coast of False Bay. On the way we came across a troop of baboons and closed our windows really quickly as apparently on the smell of food they get über aggressive and try to get into the vehicles. Luckily we were okay and we soon found ourselves entering the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. We stopped 5.5km away from the visitors centre and got the bikes out from the trailer to ride the last stretch of road to see the reserve close up and work up an appetite for lunch. Hedd decided to sit this one out on account of his back playing up again and instead was chief photographer from the minibus. I was on a pretty dodgy bike which creaked terribly at every pedal, but I made it to the visitors centre in one piece really enjoying the ride. I found Hedd helping Grant, our guide, with lunch. Ham and cheese rolls with feta salad- yum! After lunch we made it to Africa’s most Southern West point- Cape Point. We parked up at the base of Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular up to the top. The lighthouse is a bit decrepid now but we still got a fantastic view of False Bay to our right and the Cape of Good Hope to our left. Rejoining the bus we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope, eventually getting a pic of us by the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ sign after battling our way through a conveyor belt of Chinese tourists taking picture after picture! After paddling our feet in the sea it was back on the bus for the1 1/2 hour express haul back to Cape Town. I slept the whole way still not being able to shake the jet lag! Fish n chips for tea (taste of home!) and a yet another early night to try to become jet lag free.

Up early in prep for our next full day of activities. Today was our day touring the Stellenbosch wine region with a company called African Stories. Our guide called Bruce picked us up at 8.30am and after some more picks up we were on our way North out of the city. The mountain had its table-cloth on this morning- a meteorological phenomenon that causes the cloud to tumble-down the mountain slope like billowing fabric. Very cool and I just loved how everyday Table mountain looked different. We also passed an overpass which suddenly stopped in mid-air. I asked Bruce about it and he brushed it off saying “ya, the government ran out of money and abandoned it”. Its been used in a lot of films too apparently driving cars off the end of it! The first winery we visited was called Villiera and Bruce took us on a cellar tour explaining the wine making process. The weather was fantastic and we took the tastings out in the wineries gardens. Bruce very impressively ‘Sabraged’ a Brut Champagne to kick things off. Basically he took a cold bottle of bubbly, took the wrappers off the neck, found the seam of the bottle where it meets the lip of the neck, then striked the bottle at that point upwards with a sword, and the cork still encased in its glass wrapping comes clean off the bottle. The pressure in the bottle from the fizz means no glass gets into the wine. It was fantastic! So after that display we tried 2 different types of champers, 3 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. A lot of wine and we were still on the first of 4 winieries- oh dear! Next up was a place called Fairview. The winery is famous for its goats cheese and its ‘Goats do Roam’ wine- their (piss)take on the French’s Cotes Du Rhone wine. There was a big food and wine festival on so the place was heaving, but we found a free tasting table and helped ourselves to 6 tastings, sipping the wine whilst trying different types of cheeses. My favourite wine was a Viognier dessert wine I tried. Next up was Solms Delta winery and the place where we were having lunch, thank goodness!  Now Solms Delta is in a stunning spot- a sunny walled lawn with vines in the fields and soft weeping willow trees blowing in the breeze. Under one such tree we were led by Leon, our customer liaison officer, in the tasting of 6 wines. He explained the history of the place which was really interesting. It was founded by Mark Solms, a world-renowned neuroscientist and the guy who located the part of the brain that makes us dream. He saw the social and economic problems being faced in SA and he decided to make wine and set up a trust that benefits the estates historically disadvantaged residents and employees. Over 50% of the profits from the wine goes into the trust so Solms must at best just break even on his investment. My favourite by far of the 6 wines was a Bubbly Cape Jazz Shiraz- a sparkling red wine! It was super yum and was the wine I chose to have a glass of whilst I tucked into my lunch of steak with blue cheese sauce, roasties and salad. Just what I needed after 3 wine tastings! And then it was time for our final winery, Zorgvliet, which was in an equally beautiful spot. We had our tastings in a grand room within a grand colonial building, overlooking majestic mountains. I think we tried 5 wines but by this point our palate was shot, so I just enjoyed wandering the beautiful gardens and soaking up the great view of the surrounding mountains. Driving back to Cape Town we drove through Stellenbosch town, the 2nd older town after Cape Town and now a well-known university town where women out number men by 7 to 1! Anyone needing to find a wife, this is the place to come! We arrived back at 5.30pm; too stuffed from lunch to contemplate dinner, we nursed our heads and whiled away the evening planning our Baz Bus road trip across SA.

The 11th March and our last day in Cape Town. We had breakfast on the balcony looking up at a crystal clear table mountain but as we chatted to the hostel owners they informed us the cable car had broken down so nobody could enjoy the clear views. We both reflected just how lucky we were on that first day to have gone up  and seen it clear as we took the 30 minute stroll down to the V&A Waterfront where we were due to get the ferry across to Robben Island for our tour at 11am. On our way we walked through The Company Gardens which had a gorgeous tree-lined walk way with lots of statues and flowers and plenty of inquisitive squirrels. Then through St Georges Market Square which was already bustling with stall vendors selling souvenirs and curios. Then all the way down Long Street to the waterfront. It was hot work, 32 degrees today and not a cloud in the sky, but at least we were going down hill! We were already seeing some of the 42,000 cyclist who had taken part in the 109km Cape Argus International Bike Race along the coast road that started that morning. It must have been tough in this heat but apparently a local had won the race so everyone was celebrating. We arrived in good time for our 10.30am boarding time but there was still a big que at the Mandela Gateway building to get onto our ferry. Needless to say we didn’t manage to get a spot on top deck for the 30 minute sail over to the island which was a shame. But we did manage to see a pod of about 20 dolphins swimming the waves off the boat which was super exciting.  As we got off the ferry we were herded into buses which would take us around the island. I think both of us though it’d be a walking tour so were feeling pretty uncomfortable as we squished ourselves down into the slimmest seats in a crammed bus. We looked at each other with worried expressions…this was not our type of tour. As we set off around the Island our tour guide introduced himself- a German who was studying African Political History at Cape Town Uni- and fair play he knew his stuff. I was relieved, we was telling us the history of the place with such passion, I almost forgave the fact that he wouldn’t let us off the bus to look at some of the sites close up! We first travelled to the prison-house where Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-African Congress, was held in isolation purely for his political beliefs. The Apartheid Government thought him so dangerous to their goal for one race (white), one nation-hood for SA that he was never actually free (being put on house arrest after Robben Island prison was abandoned) before he died of cancer. Pretty sad. Next up we passed the Leper cemetery and the male leper church (The Church of the Good Shepherd)- I hadn’t realised that the island had once been a leper colony before the cure was found. We then stopped and was let out of the bus near the 19th century lighthouse with a great view back to Cape Town. The view was truly amazing but it was not what Hedd and I had come to the island to see and we felt we would have preferred to stop at more of the sites to do with when the island was used to house political prisoners such as Mandela. Then it was back on the bus and passing yet more interesting things we weren’t allowed out to see. Including the Lime Quarry where Mandela along with the many other political prisoners carried out their life sentence of hard labour. Dressed in just shorts and shirt they had no protection from the freezing cold in winter or the blistering heat in summer. Without sun glasses the reflection from the white limestone day after day was blinding. Nelson Mandela today is unable to shed tears due to the damage caused to his eyes from working at the Lime Quarry. The cave at the quarry was the prisoners only shade and was the place they urinated, ate and held political discussions as to the future of a free and democratic SA. The guards never ventured in there on account of the smell! It was also the place where Mandela and the other university educated political leaders taught others about economics, philosophy and politics in general so that they all could be prepared for a free SA. They never gave up hope even though most of them were serving life sentences. Our last stop (and we got off the bus- hoorah!) was at the high security prison where the political prisoners were held. Here we got a tour around the prison by an ex political prisoner which included a visit to B Section which held many of the leaders from the various ‘banned’ political organisations. This included Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island. Now this part of the tour should have been a massive highlight but our group was too big and the guide too inaudible. We didn’t think we got the authentic story the Robben Island Tourist Board had intended for us to have by having an ex-prisoner tell the history. We got back on the ferry (had to sit downstairs again) feeling a bit disappointed by the Robben Island Tour. We felt it was important that we had gone but that it wasn’t worth the 220 RAN we’d paid. We got back to the V&A Waterfront at 2.30pm and were ready for lunch. However the place was packed with cyclist and their families celebrating which created a great atmosphere but meant we didn’t manage to eat until an hour later, and even then it was a MacDonald’s! We still got a great view of the mariner from our Maccy D stools though! We then made the walk back to our hostel which took us a whole heap longer than this morning as we were walking up hill and it was just as hot. We collapsed into the hostel’s comfy sofas with an ice cold drink and chilled for the rest of the evening. Having eating so late in the day and on account of the heat, neither of us fancied dinner so we just packed all our things ready for our road trip with the Baz Bus starting the next day and had drinks on the balcony watching the sun dip behind Table Mountain one last time.

Capetown in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot, 30 degrees plus
  • Food= Big lunches, no dinners (I know naughty)
  • Drink=Plenty of wine!
  • Do before anything in Cape Town= Table Mountain
  • If you have time= Walk up Lion’s Head for sunset
  • Maybe miss and go to Camps Bay instead= Robben Island Tour

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The first thing you notice about Cape Town is the mountain. It’s impossible not to, it’s everywhere. I’m not the biggest fan of big cities, too many people rushing around, too many tall buildings etc, so as far as big cities go Cape Town was a breath of fresh air. It has to be the best setting for a city, surrounding the impressive Table Mountain. We were lucky that we had an amazing view of the mountain from the balcony at the hostel each morning, but almost everywhere in the city you could look up and see the mountain  – wonderful!! We were very fortunate to get up on top of the mountain on our first day there, it was clear and the views were amazing. The next two days the mountain was covered by clouds and the day after the cable car was broken. So if you’re ever in Cape Town, do as the locals say  “mountain first, then everything else”.

Melbourne to Sydney on Highway 1 and The Blue Mountains

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Rain rain go away, come again another day…

It was February 26th but in this camper the day was only referred to as the Carling Cup Final Day! The morning was spent with Hedd driving us to Sale along Highway 1, after leaving a very hot Melbourne, anxious to book us into any type of accommodation with Foxtel Sports so he could watch his team, Liverpool, play Cardiff in the Final. We ended up in the Best Western Motor Lodge, the one and only establishment with the aforementioned TV channel. After checking into our room and double checking once more that it indeed had Foxtel Sports, Hedd relaxed enough to enjoy a bit of exploring. We made our way to the coastal village of Seaspray and then drove the Ninety Mile Beach to Golden Beach. The ninety mile sweeping beach in the shape of a shallow smile was really cool to see and had sand dunes all along it with golden fine sand. And it was sunny so we could actually see, walk along and enjoy this Ninety Mile Beach not like when we were in North Island New Zealand battling against the rain and mist to see Northland’s own Ninety Mile Beach! After paddling in the sea and having a chill out on the beach we made our way back to Sale. Touch and go whether we would make it as the fuel gauge was on empty for a considerable length of time, we were relieved to reach the edge of the town and dive into the nearest petrol station. Take out pizza for tea whilst watching a movie and ticking down the time to the match. As the alarm sounded at 2.15am for Hedd to take his position in front of the telly to watch Liverpool v Cardiff football game. My original intentions of joining him on the sofa was soon forgotten and I stayed in bed and dozed in and out of sleep with Hedd’s cries of delight and sorrow as Liverpool struggled through full-time, extra time and penalties to eventually win at 6 o’clock in the morning! Oh dear, got to love time difference!

Waking up just a couple of hours later, we woke up to rain. We drove through showers, chasing the sun, up the coast to a place called Lakes Entrance where it was still dry. Reliably informed by the tourist information ladies that “the storm was a’ coming”  we whipped around all the lookout points around the town before the rain caught up with us. The best lookout was funnily enough down Lookout Road, where we were afforded a view over Rigby Island, the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes, Reeves Channel, part of the Gippsland Lake Coastal Park and the Bass Straight. It was pretty with turquoise seas, white sandy coves and foliage covered small islands. Like a miniature Fiji! But alas the rain had caught up with us and as we ate our lunch in the shelter of our camper our spirits got lower as the rain got heavier. We set off north up the coast once more, turning off at Orbost to take the scenic coastal drive to Cape Conran. I was driving and it was really nasty driving conditions, 90 km/hr max, with the wipers tirelessly sweeping streams of water off the windscreen. My anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that a massive lizard dashed

out into the road which I had no choice but to run over. I screamed a lot; this lizard was easily 1 meter long and felt like I was going over a speed bump! We arrived at Cape Conran in a break in the rain and I must say I was pleased to get out of the car. The camper wasn’t damaged but Hedd said he could see lizard guts as he looked under the vehicle; squeamish and irrationally thinking all lizards were now out to get me, I ran away from the camper and onto the sheltered, white sand beach of Cape Conran. It was very pretty and we paddled our feet until we began to feel the rain again. Back in the camper and driving north again to our overnight stop at a town called Eden. However it wasn’t the paradise the name suggests as we creeped into town in the torrential rain and mist which made the 5pm look more like night-time! We found a holiday park next to Eden Beach, parked up, cooked soup for dinner and rooted ourselves on a covered picnic bench with a pack of cards and a bottle of wine to see the rainy evening in the best we could. We fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the camper roof. Oh Australia, where did your infamous sunshine go?!

Tuesday 28th Feb and a bout of bad luck struck Hedd. He started the day gently rolling into the car behind him as we left Eden (the gentleman was not bothered at all and was more annoyed that Hedd made him wind his window down whilst it was tipping it down to see if he was okay!); next up was a big rock flying up and hitting the windscreen creating a big chip; and finally as we stopped for lunch at Batesmans Bay for lunch the crockery box fell out of the camper as he opened the side door smashing our 2 glass cups! Needless to say Hedd was not a happy chappy! Still raining we got back on the road and headed towards Jervis Bay and the Booderee National Park- our stop for the night. We stayed in the National Park campsite called Green Patch- pretty basic but fine for just 1 night. We reluctantly left the camper and legged it over to the covered BBQ’s to make dinner- Chorizo sausage salad. Then legged it back to the camper where we hid from the heavy rain until, again reluctantly, we had to get out to brush our teeth before bed.

Happy Leap Year Day! Guess what, it was still raining! We worked out it hadn’t stopped since lunchtime on the 27th and by now our rain coats were drenched and we were both fed up of being constantly damp and not being able to do or see anything. These feelings were heightened especially in Booderee National Park as in the sunshine we could see that the place would be stunning, fantastic white sandy beaches, fun forest walks and cool historic sites to visit. We were determined to see/do something here. So we drove down to Green Patch Beach, where indeed the sand was white and the waters clear. Then we drove to the Cape St George Lighthouse ruins. Putting our soggy coats on, we braved the weather and walked up to it reading the info boards and visiting all the different lookouts. The weather now was truly atrocious- cold as well as wet instead of just being wet. But the lighthouse ruins and its history were quite interesting. The lighthouse had never served its purpose well, being designed all wrong and being in the wrong location; it became a showpiece. However each of the families that lived in it had tragic accidents so it was thought to be a highly unlucky (some may say cursed) place. People drowning in fishing nets, falling off cliffs, catching diseases, getting shot…all sorts of horrendous endings! Reading all about that plus the inclement weather soon saw us leave the place sharpish and driving out of the National Park and up the coast to Wollongong- our last stop on Highway 1 before heading west into the Blue Mountains. Having lunch and stocking up on maps and information on the Blue Mountains from Wollongong information centre, we set off for Katoomba- Blue Mountains main town. Passing familiar place names on our way, we drove through Penrith and Liverpool, before arriving in Katoomba at 5pm in the thick mist and rain. My goodness, the place really did look miserable! As we drove into Katoomba Falls Caravan Park- the only one in town and within a 1 hour radius- we couldn’t believe our eyes when we read the sign saying ‘No Vacancies’! Hedd went into the office anyway and looking so depressed the lady took pity on us and moved a load of bookings around so she could give us a pitch for the 2 nights we needed. Phew, thank goodness for that! We had pitch 13- unlucky for some but at that point in time, for us, our saviour! Nothing else to do but to make dinner, we headed over to the camp kitchen only to be greeted by a big group of 50-year-old + couples who slightly drunk offered us cheese, biscuits and dip. They were all from Newcastle, north of Sydney, here for a golfing holiday. But on account of the rain had done little golfing and a lot of drinking instead! As we proceeded in making our beans on toast the group took great interest in us and were given the title “the young people”. “Give the young people more dip and biscuits”, “give the young people some chairs”. And after our beans on toast one of the wives came over with 2 Aussie Patties (burgers) full with salad, cheese and sauce for us saying “she couldn’t see us going to bed with only beans on toast in our bellies” . Although pleasantly full after our beans on toast we weren’t ones to pass up on free food and enjoyed our burgers tremendously whilst chatting away with the group. Before they could feed us with more food, we retired to the van. For a while I refused to get out of the van on account of the foul weather, cleaning my teeth my putting my head out of the window. But eventually nature called and I legged it to the loo and back. Even though the amenities block was less than 20 meters away, I still managing to get absolutely drenched. I went to sleep hoping, wishing and praying that tomorrow we wouldn’t wake up to rain drops.

Naturally waking up at 7am, the first thing I notice was the silence…halleluiah it wasn’t raining! We both looked at each other and without speaking raced to get dressed to head out and actually do some sightseeing. We were walking out of our campsite and towards Katoomba Falls by 7.30am, picking up the Prince Henry Cliff Trail which wraps itself along the mountain side with views of the Blue Mountains and the valley below culminating at the 3 Sisters rock formation at Echo Point. We were so excited to be outside doing something we almost skipped along the trail. But we soon came to an obstacle- “Path closed due to recent bush fire activity”. We weighed up our options- turn back and go along the boring road with no views or push back the very flimsy gate, think blow it and proceed. We went with the later option and continued to enjoyed the spectacular view as we made our way to Echo Point. We were going along quite happily when we turned a corner and faced our “ah, this is what they were talking about” moment. A whole staircase of wood obliterated into charcoal! We clambered along and quickened up the pace in the fear of getting caught! Eventually we came to Queen Elizabeth Lookout and bent around the sister “closed path sign” and we were back on the path of legitimate walking! As we approached Echo Point we got our first sight of the rock formation called the 3 Sisters. Hedd was so chuft if was seeing them as he had convinced himself he would be confined to the camper until we got to Sydney. I had again some deja vu moments as I stood taking very similar photographs to the ones I took back in 2004 but I still took them! So the legend of the 3 Sisters goes that 3 beautiful sisters from the Gundungurra people were in love with 3 brothers from the neighbouring nation of Dhuarruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force. Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed but he was unfortunately killed in the battle and to this day nobody has been able to break the spell and turn the 3 sisters back to their natural form. Hmmm not such a clever plan after all! We then walked further along the track and down part of the Giant Staircase until we hit another ‘danger do not pass’ sign. We decided not to push our luck and turned back towards our camp site really pleased we’d had the break in weather to see the key sights in the Blue Mountains. After a well deserved breakfast and showers we headed out again but this time in our camper to drive Cliff Drive, culminating at Sublime Point, and stopping off at all the various lookouts on the way. As we checked out Honeymoon lookout, Kiah lookout, Leura Falls, Gordon Falls lookout and eventually getting to Sublime Point lookout we had seen the Blue Mountains in the now clear, cloud free weather from many different perspectives and, as the sun started to shine, saw why they were called ‘Blue’ Mountains. A blue haze appeared before our eyes in the valley as the sun hit the oily atmosphere created by the eucalyptus trees, gets scattered with only the blue being absorbed by the canopy giving its blue appearance. An optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh Scattering’. As we made the walk back to our camper from Sublime Point Lookout the spits of rain began once again and we smiled at our timing. Arriving back at the campsite we resume our hermit lifestyle as the rain lashed down on us once more. We were just pleased we had got our morning of sightseeing and whiled away the afternoon playing cards and listening to music. As it was St Davids Day we celebrated with a dinner of Lamb Burgers!

So the 2nd March marked our last day with the camper and we reflected upon what a vastly different 2 weeks we had had in terms of weather since picking it up in Melbourne, as we made our way past Penrith and Liverpool again and onto Sydney. Navigating ourselves into the big city wasn’t as bad as we had originally feared and we arrived at the Hippie Camper drop off by the airport our stress levels surprisingly low. We now just had to see that we got our bond refunded and hope they didn’t charge us anything for the chip in the windscreen. Hoorah everything was fine! As we waited for our taxi to take us to our first cheeky freebie place to stay, we wondered what mayhem would proceed that weekend when Royal Chester Rowing Club members regrouped and descended on the unaware Sydney suburb of Narrabean…

Highway 1 to Sydney and The Blue Mountains in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold, wet and miserable!
  • Food= Anything quick to cook in the rain (soup, salad, beans on toast)
  • Drink= Wine and plenty of it!
  • The area flooded in New South Wales= The size of France
  • Items thrown out due to saturation= Both our trekking sandals
  • Shouldn’t have done it but pleased we did moment= Walking along the closed, due to forest fire, Prince Henry Cliff Walk in Katoomba!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Rain, rain, rain…the heaviest rain in that region in 12 years! Great, well we could at least be grateful for two things. Firstly we were mainly traveling via the coast and were not in the areas effected worst by the flooding. Secondly, we were traveling in a camper van, and camper vans are so much better than a tent in the rain! Despite the rain, we still managed to have a great time and saw some cool things. Sometime you just have to make the most of a bad situation, which we certainly did. We went to all the places we were going to and although I’m sure that Jervis Bay and the Blue Mountains would have been so much more spectacular in the sun, we got to see them. We were even lucky enough to get 4 hours of no rain and no fog in the Blue Mountains, so glad we got up straight away and just went out to see what we could do. So there’s the lesson, when the weather is good make the most of it, and when it’s not make the most of that too!!

Queenstown- Routeburn and the Rest

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A toast to Queenstown’s magnetism and Routeburn’s Beauty…cheers!

After an early 6am start on the bus and stops along the way, including the mirrored Lake Matheson, Thunder Creek waterfall and the Blue Pools, we arrived in Queenstown late afternoon on the 31st January. It was our last day with Whales so we planned a big night out with him to say thanks, meeting at the famous Ferg Burger for dinner and then onto the bars. Now a bit about Ferg Burger- it was started by a local back in the day as a bakery to begin with as he felt you could never get good bread. Then he went onto gourmet burgers and its reputation is now global. Open 22 hours a day, 7 days a week and almost always packed with locals and travellers alike. And these burgers were big! As you can see from the pic and just as lovely as the reviews say they are. Then it was the big night out (haven’t had one of those in a while!) and we both enjoyed the 2 for 1 wristbands Stray got us. Plus there was a dance floor which I pretty much stayed on for most of the night!

Next day we just chilled and explored Queenstown. So a bit about Queenstown…it’s titled the adventure capital of NZ; hot in summer, freezing in winter- 2 ski fields really close by; it has a resident population of 20,000 people but a huge transient traveller population which doubles that figure and then some; its by a lake and surrounded by mountains. Hedd and I fell in love with it! So the 1st Feb was Hedd and I’s 18 months anniversary (awww) so we went out for lunch as a treat, walked the lakeside, and booked some crazy adventure stuff for us to do over our time here. Next day was bungy day and the day after was Hedd’s skydive- check out the blog post ‘Queenstown- the Adventurous Stuff’ for more about that. And after Hedd’s skydive it was time to get ready for our 2 night, 3 day tramp along the Routeburn Track the next day.

The Routeburn Tramp- 4th – 6th February

Day One

  • Distance= 8.8 km
  • Time= 4 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and Plains

We got picked up by the Tracknet bus at 8am to take us to the start point of the Routeburn track at the Routeburn Shelter in Mt Aspiring National Park. At 10am, from 600 m above sea level, we started making our way up through beech forest where we saw NZ’s smallest bird (like a tiny fat robin) called the Rifleman; along the Sugarloaf and Bridel Veil streams of gorgeous powder blue colour; and over lots of cool swing bridges. Walking with full packs was a a bit of a shock but we figured they could only get lighter as we ate more of our food supplies as the days went on (we forgot we still had to carry all our rubbish with us though!). We stopped for lunch at the first hut along the track called the Routeburn Flats Hut, where the warden called Liz was just finishing up cleaning after the overnight trampers. Oh a bit of context needed…The Routeburn is  one of the Department of Conservation’s ‘Great Walks’, which means that the track enjoys a higher standard of track maintenance and hut facilities. Each hut along the Great Walks tracks has a warden who works 8 days on, 6 days off (they walk in) and is responsible for maintaining the hut and the track that surrounds it. The huts along the Routeburn have gas, running water, flushing toilets and bunk beds. Luxury! So after the Flats hut, we walked over more swing bridges through more beech forest and got some ace views of the valley where a recent land slip had taken the trees down at the side of the path. We arrived at Routeburn Falls Hut at 2.30pm, claimed two beds and then boiled some water for a nice cup of tea with powdered milk (yuk!). The hut was in a fab location and had a big veranda overlooking the valley and a small waterfall behind it. We cooked up filled pasta and sauce for tea and ate from the pan. We met our warden called Keith at ‘Hut Talk’ at 7.30pm and he talked us through hut safety, etiquette etc; which all seemed pretty pointless as we’d been here since 2.30pm and had used all the facilities and were just about to go to bed! And that’s just what we did.

Day Two

  • Distance= 11.3 km
  • Time= 6 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Stunning snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes

After a surprisingly good nights sleep, considering we were sharing the room with 26 other people, a cuppa and a cereal bar, we were ready for day 2- our longest day and steepest incline for walking. We set off at 8am for the steady climb up the Harris Saddle. It was tough going but we hardly felt our packs or the ache in our legs because our minds were captivated by the landscape and views that surrounded us. Behind us as we climbed was the Routeburn Valley, Lake Harris came into view on our right and the snow topped Darran Mountains were to the front of us. It really was spectacular and bathed in the morning light too- magnificent! We did the climb at good pace too, getting to the top and the highest point of the Routeburn track (1255 m) within 1 1/5 hours. However as we got to the Harris Saddle Shelter the fog set in, with the wind blowing moments of clarity and disguise with the fog in equal measure. We could see the top of the mountain behind the shelter so we dumped our bags in the shelter and decided to do the side trip up Conical Hill, hoping the fog would clear some more by the time we got to the top. It was a tough old climb/ scramble up a very steep side for 45 minutes, the majority of which we were walking through fog and thought ourselves bonkers! But then we reached the top and the sky was blue, sun was out and the views were spectacular. From the top we had a superb view of the Hollyford Valley through to Martins Bay at the coast and the Tasman Sea. It was fantastic. After 30 mins or so we made the scrabble/slide back down to the Shelter again, had some lunch, retrieved our bags and continues the walk towards Lake MacKenzie Hut where we were staying that night. We were now in Fiordland National Park and the track seemed to go on forever now and after the excitement of the Harris Saddle and Conical Hill, a rocky path slowly going downhill was a bt boring! But we kept on spying the view along Hollyford Valley to the Sea which was lovely and eventually we got our first sight of Lake MacKenzie. It looked so close but we soon realised we had a way to go as we zigzagged back and forth down the slope to get to it. The last bit of the walk was through bush land- moss-covered trees and leafy paths. Looked all very mystical and Hedd and I had a few Lord of the Rings moments! Eventually we caught sight of our hut, arriving again at 2.30pm. Lake MacKenzie was pretty but not as spectacular as Lake Harris but we got to paddle in this one which was fun but freezing! After a relax we went off to explore more of the lake and went to a place called Split Rock which was exactly that a Split Rock. And then came back to the hut and chatted to our group of tramp buddies who we had shared the bus with by the lake. We sat and had dinner with them too (filled pasta and sauce again!), and waited for our Hut Talk with our warden. This one was called Clive and this was his 17th season as Lake MacKenzie Hut Warden and he was a complete nutter! He went on for 1 1/2 hours telling stories that didn’t really make sense. He finally let us go to bed at 9.15pm with a cryptic warning about possums. But I was too tired to work it out so just went to sleep and hoped not to need to go to the loo in the night!

Day Three

  •  Distance= 12 km
  • Time= 5 1/2 hours
  • Scenery= Forest and alpine wetland

Our last day of the tramp and we were up and out on the track by 8am again. We crossed a small flat before climbing steeply to the bush line over steps of tree roots and rock. And I thought it was all downhill today! Where the trees parted a little we were afforded with a view of the Hollyford Valley out to the Tasman sea with a mystical hanging of mist that gave it a very different character to the same view we saw yesterday. It was quite beautiful. We passed an area called the Orchard which is a natural clearing enclosing Ribbonwoods resembling fruit trees, and then we hit Earland Falls. Wow that’s a big waterfall! 174 m and the path took you right up close to it. You soon felt wet from the spray but it did a perfect job of cooling us down. We then made the gradual descent to Lake Howden Hut- our lunch stop. I took of my shoes and padded about in my socks enjoying the sunshine at the hut. Although th sandflies were out and causing their usual annoyance! As we were there 2 boys walked past with the hind legs of a deer around their necks. They had obviously gone hunting and this was some sort of hunting trophy display- they certainly looked pleased with themselves but I thought it just looked grotesque. After being put off having anymore food, we set off again up hill towards the Key Summit Track turn off. We dumped our bags by the sign and took our remaining lunch to have at the top. A steep zig zag path up through the bush-line took us to the alpine wetland where you get a view of 3 major river systems. There was a 30 minute nature walk around the top, so we took the information card and wandered around finding the various pegs to read about. We had our sandwiches at the view-point overlooking Lake Marian. We had great views of the Darran Mts and Hollyford Valley. But really nothing that we hadn’t seen before on Day 2 so we completed the nature trail and headed back down to the main track. Last little bit now- down hill through Silver Beech forest. The sound of the Milford Highway was getting louder and we arrived at the Divide Shelter- the end point of the track and the lowest crossing point of the Southern Alps- at 1.42pm. I know the precise time as Craig one of our friends from the bus was clocking everyone in in his diary! We bantered with the group (5 from California and 2 from Stockport) until the bus came at 3.15pm to pick us up. It was a 3 1/2 hour haul back to Queenstown (I slept most of the way!) and we arrived at 7.45pm, just enough time to get a shower and a celebratory Ferg Burger and cider before crashing into bed. Phew we had done it!

So back in the adventure capital of NZ and on the 7th Hedd did some white water rafting and the next day we both did Mad Dog River Boarding (check out the blog post titled ‘Queenstown- the adventurous stuff for more on that). For our last afternoon in Queenstown we found 1/2 price wine tasting on a website bookme.co.nz. The place was called Wine Tastes and you can taste over 80 NZ wines. You get a card which is loaded with money and you can pick any of the wine to have a taste, 1/2 glass or full glass of. It’s really quite clever. So we got there at 3pm and left at 4pm after trying 8 different wines and enjoying a 1/2 glass of our favourites. We found they had a free tasting session of 6 wines at 5pm so we hopped home for a piece of toast and then was back to try them! Cheapest drinking session we’ve had in NZ and a good way to say bye to our extended stay in the captivating township of Queenstown.

Queenstown and Routeburn in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Queenstown on the whole sunny; Routeburn a mix of sun and cloud
  • Food= the mighty Ferg Burger!
  • Drink= Milo on the Routeburn and Wine in Queenstown
  • Definitely check out= http://www.bookme.co.nz to save some money on Queenstown’s (expensive) activities
  • Definitely on the Routeburn you should= walk Conical Hill and slap on ‘Goodbye Sandfly’ lotion whenever you stop!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

At the end of Day 1, the ranger told us there would be no point going up Conical Hill if it was foggy and not to bother if we couldn’t see the top. Now you should probably listen to the rangers 99% of the time, but I’m glad we didn’t. When we started our side trip up Conical Hill, the fog didn’t look that bad, but we couldn’t see the top , however I was convinced it would clear by the time we got to the top. I was still convinced half way up when we could only see a few yards in front of us and one old lady turned around complaining that it wasn’t worth it as she couldn’t see anything. But we perservered and got our reward. When we got near the top, the fog started to clear and we could start to see the mountains and sky again, but nothing prepared us for the sight ahead. Over the last few rocks, we emerged on the top of the hill and stared in amazement at the snow-capped mountains right in front of us, the valleys to the left and the Tasman sea far off to the right. This was the highlight of the three-day tramp for me, it was stunning and it we would have never seen it had we listened to the ranger…

South Islands North Coast- Picton and Abel Tasman

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Welcome to the Stray Bus!

So after cramming all of our stuff into our backpacks again (previously strewn all over a rental car!) we took the $2 shuttle bus to the InterIslander ferry terminal for our 08.25am crossing to Picton- the gateway to NZ’s  South Island. We got an ace seat in the ‘atrium’- floor to ceiling window seating area- at the back of the boat and sat back for 3 hours and enjoyed the ride. The Marlborough Sounds is a flooded sea valley so has lots of little islands which the boat cruised around. Very beautiful ride and it was sunny- yey! We got in at 11.30am and was greeted by a Sequoia Lodge shuttle bus which took us to our hostel for the night. The hostel was nice enough, but best of all they gave all guests free hot chocolate pudding and ice cream each night. It was yum! We just chilled out in Picton for the day and enjoyed the sunshine. Hedd got his hair cut and went from looking like part yeti to an army recruit with short back and sides! Oops!

Next morning it was time to meet up with the our transport for the next 3 1/2 weeks- The Stray Bus. So Stray is a backpacker bus which drives you around, you can hop on and off, it guarantees you hostel accommodation for your first night in places and stops off at some cool places along the way. There are lots of different passes you can buy. But we were on the Short Ron. The map opposite shows the route. And today (25th) we were traveling to Abel Tasman- NZ’s smallest national park but the second most visited after Tongariro National Park. There were 24 of us on the bus and our driver was called Ms P. Quite a few of the people had been on the bus together since Auckland so there was a bit of a click on the go but everyone was nice enough. It was Ms P’s first time driving such a big coach and she took the corners pretty sharp so the tummy muscles got a good work out trying to keep myself in my seat! It was weird not knowing where exactly we were going, or stopping or how long we were going to be driving for after being so independent in North Island. But equally it was nice not driving and just going with the flow. Plus there is not many roads in South Island so if we had rented a car we would have just ended up behind a Stray bus anyway; so might as well be on it! So the first drive towards Nelson was through the Marlborough wine region which was very pretty. Marlborough is the biggest wine exporting region in NZ and they have gravelly soil great for grape growing just like Hawkes Bay. We made our first stop at Bouldevines Wine Celler near Blenheim to do a wine tasting. We tasted 4 whites for $2 and bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to have with our free BBQ that night that Stray was putting on for us. After tasting some fudge and different oils and chutneys it was back on the bus. We dropped some people off at Nelson and then continued forward through a place called Havelock which is a little town known for its green lipped mussels which they farm in the Sounds. Then it was onwards to Motueka- the last town before the National Park for a supermarket dash. Apparently Motueka is the one place Hippies and Farmers get on. The town used to be known for tobacco production but now they just grow hops for beer (and marijuana for the hippies!) It was just another 20 minutes to get to Marahau- the village just by the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park and where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. We were booked into The Barn in a little 2 person cabin which was very lovely and enjoyed a great BBQ that evening with the gang from the bus.

Next morning we decided to rent Freedom Sea Kayaks for the day ($55). We went with Independent Guides based at the hostel next door called Old McDonald Farm and Mitch, the owner, kitted us up, ran through a safety briefing and a quick lesson in kayaking before taking us and our kayaks down to the beach. We had to show we were semi-competent in the water (tick box exercise because Hedd and I passed and we were complete crap!) and then Mitch let us roam free!  Oh my goodness it was awful! We tried to paddle out and around Fisherman Island- absolutely over ambitious at our ability- and gave up half way as Hedd’s back was hurting, my shoulder was hurting and plainly it was exhausting! Hedd was setting the rhythm, although he would be the first to admit he has little, and I was attempting to steer with a rudder attached to foot loops that I had to almost dislocate my ankles to operate. All in all a frustrating time! But we made it around the first headland and beached at Appletree Bay, relieved to be out of the plastic prison that was our Kayak! Okay okay that was melodramatic, and after a sandwich, cereal bar and a sunbathe we ‘manned up’ and got back in the kayak. The going was still tough but we actually began to enjoy it as we kept close to the coastline looking at all the different bays. We made it to the end point for a 1 day freedom kayak called Watering Bay; surprising ourselves that we made it; and then headed back stopping at Observation Bay for our last sandwich and apple. The beach rivalled any beach we saw in Fiji- white sands and the water clear aquamarine. Although the water unfortunately was about 10 degrees cooler than the bath waters of Fiji. From Observation Beach we then made the long paddle home to Marahau beach. The favourable wind Mitch had promised us had not materialised and the trip home was long, hard and frustrating. We eventually dragged our kayak onto shore at 4pm, supporting the various bits of our body that ached. Semi pleased we did it as we got to see some of the bays in the National Park that are only accessible from the sea, but not for me sea kayaking I don’t think!

So the 27th January saw us exploring the rest of the park via water taxi and by foot. We got picked up from The Barn at 9am and taken to Aqua Taxi HQ to board our boat there which was on a trailer on the back of a tractor! This then tugged us to the beach for launch. You can imagine the chinese photo snappers loved that sight as we drive along the road to the beach! We had gone for a 1 day trip called the ‘Slice of Paradise’ where we would travel the length of the park to Mutton Cove and then back to Barks Bay where we would get dropped off and walk the 4 hours to Anchorage to be picked up again and taken back to Marahau. Our skipper whisked us off in our speed boat to see our first sight- the Split Apple Rock. Legend has it that it was broken clean in half by Captain Cook as he sailed past and shot at it with a cannon ball. Reality is a that it is young granite and full of iron which caused it to split in half after the impact of years of wind, rain and waves. We then zoomed off again passing Fisherman Island and settling by Adele Island to view Observation Beach. The whole area and the names of things have a lot to do with an explorer called Dumont d’Urville. He was the first European to spend much time in Abel Tasman back in the 1800’s and sort to complete Cooks charting of New Zealand. Story is that he got a bit friendly with a Maori lady whilst here and out of guilt for his wife back in France, named an island after her- Adele Island. Observation Beach is called such, as it is the beach from which Dumont d’Urville used the stars and super clever maths to locate NZ on the globe for the first time. His longitude and latitude positions were so good that they were used up until the 1960’s when they were then replaced with the coordinates from the satellites up in space. Worked out that Dumont d’Urville’s was only 2 km out! Fair flipping play! We then zoomed off again up the coast, stopping at Tonga Island to see the seal colony there. The seals were pretty lazy and our skipper told us they actually wait for the tide to rise to them instead of moving themselves to bath! We then continued to Totoranui and then right up to Mutton Cove at the top tip of the National Park. We saw Separation Point which is a headland with a little lighthouse on it and marks the point where the park ends and Golden Sandy Bay begins. We saw seals again and a wild boar. Then we turned back towards Barks Bay. On the way we saw Dusky Dolphins! Very unusual to see them as they are quite shy and smaller than the bottle nose dolphin. But they have lovely markings on them and 2 of them same up close. Our skipper was even chuft that he got to see them. Our last detour before Barks Bay was to a place called Shag Harbour. Its only accessible by boat at high tide and we had to go through this tiny entrance and then we found ourselves in a blue lagoon. The water was so clear we saw a sting ray swimming at the bottom on the shallow waters. Very beautiful place.

We finally got dropped off at Barks Bay at 12 noon, 50 minutes later than planned after the pleasantly eventful water taxi trip up the National Parks coastline. We had some lunch on the beach and then headed off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Path. The DOC guideline walking times said 4 hours to Anchorage. We had 3 1/2 hours before our water taxi ride back to Marahau so we went set a storming pace as we walked through forested headlines and coast line hugging track. It really was a lovely track to walk. Our first stop was at South Head to check out the view-point 10 minutes off the track. Abel Tasman certainly is stunning- challenging Coromandel Peninsular as my favourite place in NZ for sure! Then we headed inland, up and over various headlands and the Falls River. The glimpses you got of the coast along the way were just beautiful. Especially Frenchman Bay which, as it was high-tide, was covered creating a turquoise/aquamarine lagoon (see the pic opposite). Gorgeous! And some lucky bugger had a house on it! Then we made our way to Torrent Bay and had a rest and a snack on the beach there. Torrent Bay is one of the few places in the park with holiday homes on it. It was private land which DOC allowed the people to keep after turning it into a National Park. Its only accessible by boat now as the December floods washed the access roads through the park away and DOC aren’t rebuilding them. Although I hear a lot of the owners have their own helicopters too so I can’t say they are too fussed! As it was high tide we had to take the long 1 hour route to Anchorage instead of the mere 20 minute beach stroll you can do at low tide! Nightmare! So we stormed it again around Torrent Bay and up and over the headland. We stopped off at Cleopatra’s Pool which is a clear pebbly stream which gushes over a rock making a slide. We had our swimmers on with the intention of trying out the natural slide. But alas no time so we settled for dipping our toes in the icy water. To get to the pool you had to cross the river using non submerged stones. Needless to say there was plenty of screams on my front. But no injury, accidents or falling in so all was good! We walked the last little bit and arrived at Anchorage at 3.50pm for our 4pm pick up. Perfect timing! Our skipper this time around didn’t hang about and we were back at Marahau being towed by tractor out of the sea before we knew it. The tractor took us back to HQ and then we caught a lift to The Barn with a Kayaking instructor (ironic!). All in all a great day in the National Park.

The sun had gone in and it was much colder than yesterday, so we showered, wrapped up warm, had tea and retired to bed with a book with our jumpers still on! Tomorrow was departure day on a new Stray Bus with new people again. But this time we were heading for the West coast…..

Picton and Abel Tasman in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Sunny woop woop! Top temperature 28 degrees but cold cold nights
  • Food= Spag bol (classic) and free chocolate pudding
  • Drink= Sav’ Blanc and L&P (NZ lemon drink)
  • Watch out for= Sandflies (the bites itch for days!)
  • Top activity to do if you’re looking for an argument= Sea Kayaking!
  • Proof that you only get what you pay for= Hedd’s short back and sides Picton haircut!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Whenever I’ve seen people kayaking on rivers or on the sea, they’ve always looked so peaceful and I thought that looks like a nice leisurely way to spend a day. So when we were in Abel Tasman it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it – the place is famed for kayaking. So here are my words of wisdom for anyone out there who thinks that taking their significant other for a day of kayaking would be a lovely way to spend the day together – DONT!! It is bloody hard work, can lead to bickering and can result in lots of swearing!! Ok, we may have enjoyed the bit in the middle, the gentle paddling between coves, but the paddling out there and most definitely the long stretch back to the shore was exhausting. So if your thinking about a romantic day on the water, kayaking might not be what you’re looking for!!

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Hawkes Bay and Lake Taupo

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“The journey is the destination”

So the next day (14th) it was onto Route 5 from Rotorua all the way down to Napier on the Hawkes Bay coastline. The approach to Napier is all through industrial estates which doesn’t do the place justice. It has a nice promenade and the main high street is all art deco buildings. It felt too big for us to camp in so we drove onto Hastings, after having lunch by the sea. Hastings was deserted! We popped into the i-site to enquire about accommodation and wine tours and she told us everyone was at an annual ‘Blues, Brews and BBQs’ festival just out of town. So that explained it, but it still felt eery and empty town centre on a Saturday. The festival also meant everywhere was booked up. But we managed to get a pitch at a lovely campsite in Havelock North called Arataki Holiday Park. It was amongst farmland, was quiet, really sunny with a pool and crazy golf! After pitching our tent we headed straight for the pool…was nice to be swimming again after doing it everyday in Fiji.

The next day was wine tour time. We got picked up by Janine from A1Tours at 10.30 in her air con people carrier, which was a relief as it was a scorcher of a day, and took us to our first winery called the Mission in Taradale. It was a lovely spot- tree-lined drive way to a grand manor house overlooking fields of vines. The house we discovered used to be by the river in the valley, but it kept on getting flooded. So back in the day, the owners cut the house in half and transported it using a steam-powered vehicle up the hill, fixing it back together and here it still stands. The house was made of wood, not brick, obviously! They also have an open air concert at the Mission every year in February which attracts people like Rob Stewart and Lulu to perform. It sounds awesome, so if you’re in Hawkes Bay in February go see it! So to the wines! We tried 3 whites and 3 reds and 1 champagne. The champagne was my favourite…naturally! After taking a sneaky peak at the old chapel which was all laid out for a wedding reception (it looked lovely!) and walking the grounds, it was back in the car to our next winery called Church Road, still in Taradale. This was a smaller winery and as soon as we got in we were ushered over to the receptionist computer to read about the crashed cruise liner in Italy. After gorping at the crazy pictures and muttering how stupid the captain was, we tried some more wine! We tried 3 Chardonnay’s and 3 reds. Wow the Chardonnay’s were good- none of the overly oaky, yellow stuff that you get at home. These were smooth and creamy and yum! Why do importers stock such crap Chardonnay’s in the UK?!? We purchased one bottle from there, but this paled into insignificance compared to another couple who were buying boxes of wine plus a couple of Champagne Magnums thrown in for good measure! That got me and Janine gossiping about the circumstance and reason all the way to her parents B&B (who own the wine tour business) for lunch. We had made sandwiches which we ate in their garden, but the mum brought out cold drinks and various cakes for us too, which were lovely and made us felt looked after!

After lunch we were joined by 2 others- a mature Scottish couple who raced yachts and had plenty of funny stories to tell! We all laughed our way to the next winery called Moana Park. It was a vegetarian winery, so no meat or fish products go into the making of the wine. I was amazed what wineries put in their wine to ‘bulk’ up the grapes- yuk! Better not to know the ins and outs I say! Here I got to taste a rose. But they don’t call it Rose, they called it ‘Vin Gris’…it was Rose and nice all the same! We then headed to the Salvare Estate which is one of the wineries in the Ngatarawa Triangle. Now this winery was really lovely, surrounded by vines. We tried whites that just slid effortlessly down your throat, fruity reds and another Rose (yey!) and to end an iced wine that they called a Frappe Vino which was to die for! After a refueling (stomach lining) cheese board we were off again to another winery in the Gimblett Gravell area of Hawkes Bay. Oh a bit of explanation on Gimblett Gravell…it was waste land essentially, the old river basin with soil which was mostly gravel. But a guy chanced it and started growing vines on the land. Turned out it was ace grape growing soil as the stones in the soil warm up in the day and stay warm over night so the growing continues for longer each day, producing bigger and juicier grapes! And we ended the day with an ace winery called Vidal back near Hastings. The manager earlier in the day had been hosting some GB importers so there were loads of ‘yet to be released’ wines on the tasting table as well as the usual ones. We must have tried 12 wines there and the server Sam was really good fun too. Hedd bought 2 bottles of Riesling- one to keep and one to give to Ceri and Pork who we were staying with at Whangamomona. So the day ended at 5.30pm and we got dropped back at our campsite. We managed to heat up some tea and play a round of crazy golf (I lost terribly) before falling into our tent ready for bed!

Next morning (16th) we were up and out of the campsite by 10am. Stopped off in Hastings to buy Hedd his 3rd pair of sunglasses of the trip (this time we bought him a strap for around his head so fingers crossed it will be harder for him to lose!) Then headed back up route 5 into central north island  to Taupo. After trying a few places which were full, we ended up at All Seasons Holiday Park where we went about pitching our tent. But alas both our main poles snapped at a crucial join in the centre of the tent. We were kind of expecting this as the join was showing stress fractures early on in the trip but we hoped they wouldn’t actually snap! We taped them up the best we could and erected the tent anyway. It didn’t look too bad…just instead of a curve at the top, there was point! Hedd got pretty angry, but I rang the company up straight away to explain what happened and that it wasn’t because of us being rough and ready with it. So we will see what the owner called Jackie says…

That afternoon we went exploring the Taupo area. Taupo is famous for its massive lake, good weather and views of the Tongariro volcano and we went to a really good viewpoint off Huka Falls Road which has info boards telling you the Maori story of the mountain range which forms the backdrop to the lake. It goes something like this….Mt Pihanga was a woman and the surrounding mountains all fought for the love of this woman. There were many wars, but in the end Mt Tongariro won. And that is why the mountains are all placed where they are…all posturing towards Mt Pihanga! We then headed to a place called Craters of the Moon which was a 45 minute Geothermal Walk ($6). The walk took us through geothermal land of seething earth, hissing fumaroles and steaming craters. It was a nice walk in the sun but we weren’t over-owed by it. But its history is quite interesting. Craters of the Moon isn’t an old geological landscape, in fact the thermal area sprang up in the 1950’s when near by power station withdrew hot water from deep within the field, causing the water level in the deep reservoir to drop and the remaining water to boil more violently, producing more steam. Large quantities of this steam were able to escape at the Craters of the Moon….so just another classic way human’s have impacted on the environment in pursuit for energy! The craters still erupt from time to time…the last one being in 2002, so this potential danger contributed to the experience…and perhaps made us walk a bit faster around!

We then ended the day with a visit to Huka Falls which is a super blue waterfall. The falls are a 100 meter basalt crevice channeling the Waikato River into a frothing aquamarine frenzy before spilling the torrent over a 15 m ledge into a bubbling pool. It is a really cool sight- the water looks thunderous but as you look at the water dropping you can see sun beams in the spray coming off the crashing water which is really pretty. Plus this sight was free- yey! The next morning we packed up the tent and headed to Taupo Bungy to try out their Cliffhanger bungy swing. But alas Hedd wasn’t allowed to do it because of his back. Determined still to do something adventurous, Hedd has found a thing called the ‘Flying Fox’ down near Tongariro so will check that out instead. Onwards and upwards….

Hawkes Bay and Lake Taupo in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot and sunny- yey!
  • Food= Soup/ beans on toast etc and Hokey Pokey ice cream (vanilla ice cream with honeycombed pieces)- another Kiwi cuisine speciality ticked off…yum!
  • Drink= Rose Wine from Salvare Winery
  • Number of swear words used when the tent broke= Lost count!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

To rent or to buy, that was our dilemma in Auckland. We decided to rent, so that we would get high quality camping equipment. This was the sensible option as the weather forecast was bad. Well it was definitely the wrong option as our tent poles, which had been showing stress fractures and cracks early on decided to snap. Add to that the fact that we didn’t even use the stove we rented as all the places we stayed had kitchen facilities, then it would have been so much easier and cheaper to buy what we needed. If the broke we could have thrown them away at the end, instead we are now trying to get some compensation back from the rental company…i’ll let you know how that goes!!!

We did however have a great time in Hawkes Bay on a fairly private wine tour, just the two of us in the morning and then just us and a Scottish couple in the afternoon!! Four brits drinking wine in the southern hemisphere heat, recipe for disaster, but we managed to behave ourselves. Mind you my head was a bit fuzzy after 6 wineries and multiple tastings!! I even managed to buy a bottle of Dry Riesling at the last winery. The best wine I ever tried was a Dry Riesling from New Zealand at a wine tasting in London, I don’t remember what it was called and am on a mission to find it here, or find something better. This wasn’t quite as good but was close. The search goes on….