The Great Ocean Road

We enjoyed a big breakfast before the short drive back to the airport. As I was taking pictures of the car, I was asked to move it from the place it was parked. Unfortunately, by this time, I’d already returned its key.

I sat by the window on the flight to Melbourne. I missed the moment when the colour of the earth below changed from ‘red’ to ‘brown’ and from great expanses of desert to small, regular, rectangular fields.

First signs of non-deserty civilisation

We collected our next rental car and drove to Torquay, south of Melbourne but avoiding the city centre. It was a fast drive along the motorways and it felt strange to drive along a noise barrier for such a long distance.

Noise barrier next to the motorway

Donald Trump would be very happy that the Aussies are keeping those pesky Mexicans off their freeways, with a big wall. Big.

We decided to slum it for one night at a motel. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, a nice big room and a hot tub, although in the end, none of us used it.

Jyoti and I walked down the road to Fisherman’s Beach, some brightly coloured birds flying by.

Panoramic view of Fisherman’s Beach

I was impressed by the sundial where you stand in the correct place according to the date, and your own shadow points to the time. It was very decorative, too and I’ve decided that on our next trip, I’ll bring a drone so that I can take fantastic overhead shots of outsize sundials.

Colourful, functional sundial
The Laughing Gnomon

What a difference a couple of days makes. It’s more than twenty degrees cooler here in Victoria than in the Northern Territory. But we thought the worst of the scary animals was behind us. Oh no. The first thing Jyoti saw in the morning was a big hairy spider on the net curtain. I didn’t hear the screams, but maybe these old ears of mine can’t pick up such high, piercing frequencies any more.

G’day, Mr Huntsman, Sir

Not knowing whether it really was dangerous or not, none of us went near it. A huntsman rarely hurts people: apparently most injuries are caused by the surprise of seeing the spider and jumping back or falling off the chair or something.

We were at the start of The Great Ocean Road and our first stop was Bells Beach, famous for its surfers. You thought the spider was bad enough? Look how dangerous this place is!

Bells Beach warnings

The waves were stunning, huge, powerful, and of course there was no chance of us going for a dip in the sea here. But we did have a pleasant walk, watching the water and the surfers.

Wave, hello

There were too many surfers to count and from our perspective, in the distance, they could easily have been a group of seals. No wonder sharks get confused, sometimes.

Waiting for the right wave

We watched one man try to swim out, and every time he made some progress, a wave would bring him back in. He persevered and eventually disappeared into the crowd. And there were some fantastically long rides on the waves, too.

Making it look easy

You not only have to admire their skills, but their courage in going out into such strong waters in the first place.

Then, when you’re all done, you just nonchalantly ride a wave back in, all the way to the beach.

Finished for the day

Competition time! If anyone can explain or interpret this piece of modern art on the back of a street sign, please let us know!

Modern art? Or vandalism?

Tree sap escapes, runs down the trunk and solidifies into a lump of amber. If it’s trapped a fly that has just bitten a kangaroo, then, in millions of years time, they’ll be able to extract the DNA and grow a whole new kangaroo from scratch! There’s a book and a film franchise here, somewhere.

Amber

Point Addis was the venue for a nice stroll too. We could look back at Bells Beach from here and watch the surfers from ‘behind’ as we were high up on a bluff. We saw plenty of seabirds, and we think these are shags over on that rock.

Scraggy rock and sea birds, possibly shags or cormorants

Hooded plovers are an endangered species and we weren’t lucky enough to see any here. Sadly, we did see evidence of how inconsiderate dog owners can be. We’d commented earlier on the amount of dogshit left on paths and tracks, and this sign was written by a very angry person.

Very restrained, under the circumstances

It was a bit of a messy beach, lots of seaweed and shells, all natural stuff, but still messy.

Where’s Liesel?

After all this natural beauty and fresh air, it was only right that we indulge in something tacky. So it was with great joy that we found the Chocolaterie and Icecreamerie.

Caution in the Chocolaterie car park

And our first sighting of kangaroos today.

Kangaroo ice cream

We decided to have lunch and it was delicious. The main ingredients were sugar, fat, sugar, cream, sugar, sugar and a little bit of fruit. But we also were given shortbreads with our coffee and little cups of thick, hot, milk chocolate.

Eclair, mousse, jelly, cream, pastry: your 5-a-day

I tried to help out, but I couldn’t manage to consume all three cups of chocolate. I felt that there just wasn’t enough blood in my sugar stream to cope with even more chocolate.

Liquid milk chocolate

And it may surprise you, dear reader, but we did not have ice cream for dessert, tempting though it was, especially the (genuine Australian) hemp flavour.

Niblick Street. Golf Links Road. Bogie Court. Fairway Drive. Yes, we visited a golf course in Anglesea. They let us in, after we paid, but we weren’t here for a round of golf, oh no. We were here because kangaroos live on and around the course, and we were driven round to see them up close and personal. Very personal, as this little joey will testify.

Breakfast time for Joey

There were lots of them, too, some with collars as they’re part of a research programme being conducted by one of the universities. Some of the golfers don’t like the animals on the course, and some really don’t like the idea of these tours, it’s just not cricket.

Golfers and kangaroos

We walked by Anglesea Beach too, and at the end of the fishing jetty, I was pleased to see a ruler, so you can measure the fish you caught and not measure the ones that got away.

Swingers
Measure your catch here
Shark in the playground
Selfie of the day

The sand on the beach was lovely, too, very soft. And look at the tanlines on this hoof.

Look at the tan on this foot!

We walked up to Split Point Lighthouse, although it wasn’t open to visitors. The views were good from this height, and I was especially pleased to see a sea stack, even with a couple of photobombers.

Sea stack plus
Sunlight through the lighthouse window

There is a great memorial to the men who built The Great Ocean Road, probably the best ocean road in the world, so of course, we had to go and spoil it by standing in front of it.

Liesel and Mick and a memorial arch
Mickey Mouse spoiling the sculpture

Although we’d planned to go to Lorne (where I remember a great coffee shop from 2002!), instead, we went straight to our new b&b in Pennyroyal. It’s on an unsealed road, one of several cabins in the woods, and it’s terrific.

More or less as soon as we arrived, we made friends with the local king parrots. To this end, Phil, our host, had left us with a jar of bird seed.

King parrot on Mick’s arm

At one point, we were watching over half a dozen kings eating either out of the bowl or from the rail of the balcony. There’s definitely a hierarchy: one, presumably the senior, wasn’t going to share the bowl with his underlings.

Kings asking for more food

Just like Samantha from ISIHAC, I do like to see a cockatoo first thing in the morning. Right outside the bedroom window, he was, on the balcony.

Good morning, Cocky

Liesel put some food out and after a short while, he returned with some mates.

Some other little chaps came by to say hello and enjoy our hospitality, too. Red brown firetail finches, apparently, very pretty.

Red brown firetail finches

A hundred photos later, I managed to capture the sulphur crest that gives the cockatoo its name.

Cockatoo displaying his sulphur crest

Jyoti and I went for a bush walk, and in a most unusual turn of events, we visited our second golf course in two days. This one only has three holes but we walked the length of the course without the burden of clubs nor balls. I did replace a flag even though we hadn’t removed it. I assume that’s the correct etiquette.

Tee-off number 2
Green and hole number 2

We heard plenty of birds, but were disappointed not to see any other wildlife. On the other hand, quite glad not to come across any of the snakes that Phil warned us about. But then, he hasn’t seen one for a few years, either. As advised, we stomped around so any snakes would take the hint and vamoose.

In the middle of the woods, we found a child’s slide. I wondered whether I would want my children or grandchildren playing here, knowing about the snakes? Some of the flowers were very pretty and we also found small red berries and blackberries. No, we didn’t try either, just in case.

Airbnb cabin in Pennyroyal

We had another small but very timid visitor to our balcony, so, until we see another one, this picture taken through the screen mesh will have to do. It’s a superb fairy wren, very pretty.

Superb fairy wren

We drove to Deans Marsh, aiming for coffee at the Martian Café. When it finally clicked, I thought the name was very clever. Deans Marsh. Marsh. Martian. Anyway, it’s closed down and the premises up for lease, so no Martian coffee for us. The Store over the road, however, has everything. Coffee, cakes, pies, a shop, a bakehouse, a post office, alcohol, it really is a one-stop shop for the town. I assume the blackboard is in what was once the schoolroom.

The Store at Deans Marsh
Time for some SRN

We found Tiger Rail Trail after Lake Elizabeth proved elusive. We’d ended up in the middle of nowhere, along a dusty, unsealed road, no sign of a lake. But the trail was a lovely, flat walk, along the the track of a long lost railway line.

There are some strange plants in Australia. This weed, we don’t know its real identity, is nearly six feet tall, lots of small twiddly leaves, capped off with a very dainty, yellow flower.

Big, tall weed

Whe ferns were as bright as any we saw in New Zealand, although mostly not as big.

Small, bright green fern

But the best thing of all was our first sighting, in the wild, of a koala. Liesel spotted it first having just pleaded to the gods, show me a koala!

It was a hundred feet up in the tree, unmistakable when you you see it, and very exciting. This was one of those occasions when we would have benefitted from binoculars and a proper camera with a decent zoom lens.

A koala, way, way up in the gum tree
The best close-up we could manage without actually climbing the tree

Forrest is home to Platypi Chocolate. I thought the plural of platypus was platypusses or even platypodes but if chocolate and coffee are involved, I don’t really mind what the place is called! And, to be honest, it’s probably as close as we’ll get to seeing a real platypus out in the wild. It’s a new building, looking out over the woods, a perfect spot for bird-watching, although we weren’t very lucky on this occasion. Except, we had great coffee of course!

Colac Batonic Gardens should be the name. We thought we’d enjoy a nice wander amongst the flowers and trees, all beautifully labelled. But what caught our attention instead was a bat flying overhead.

Fruit bat coming in

Then another. Followed by more and more. We realised, there were dozens in one tree, far more than we’d seen at Manly last week. And all the other trees, too, hundreds of fruit bats hanging there like old black socks drying in the wind.

Lots of bats in the trees

We did look at some of the trees too, of course, as we ambled round.

Peppercorn tree

The bats aren’t universally welcome because there are so many and they’re destroying the fruit trees. On the other hand, they’re a protected species. This is according to the elderly, local couple, both on mobility scooters. They also told us why Lake Colac itself is ten feet lower than it used to be. A few years of drought saw to that, killing off all the fish in the process. One flood started to refill the lake, but they need at least a couple more floods to fill the lake to its original level. At attempt to restock with fish was foiled when a flock of 1500 pelicans ate them all!

There are many species of bird on the waterfront so we continued walking along the shoreline. Spoonbills, coots, moorhens, gulls of course and many more.

Birds by Lake Colac

We returned to our cabin where, after supper, J&L went for a short walk. They saw a couple of kangaroos who soon hopped off. No photo evidence, unfortunately: I’d decided to go to bed early instead, and neither of the ladies had a camera.

To Coromandel Peninsula

We had a quick chat with Raewyn and Craig while we packed for our final house-move within New Zealand. It was hot standing in the porch. We left and headed north for our final kiwi week, in the Coromandel Peninsula. This is a venue we haven’t had time to visit on previous occasions, so we hope to make the best of our time there.

But a quick diversion was called for. We stopped at and enjoyed a nice long walk on the Papamoa Beach.

Mt Maunganui

For the last time, we saw Mt Maunganui in the distance and came to the conclusion that every beach should have a mountain at the end.

16-lb cannon to deter foreign invaders

We stopped at The Orchard House Café where we had eggs on toast and a coffee. “Two breakfasts in one day” is the name of the new single by Crowded House, apparently. This venue caters for canines too.

Doggos welcome

The road was quite narrow in places, and very sinuous, but the views were lovely. Unless you were driving, in which case, you couldn’t see much apart from the road immediately in front. We stopped at a lookout, and after a short 10-minute walk, saw the Forest properly for the first time.

View of Coromandel Forest Park

We bought some food before moving into our new home on the M25. No, not M25, it’s SH25. Or, as our Google Maps navigatrix insists on calling it: “New Zealand State Highway 25 State Highway 25”. And glad to report, it’s one lane in each direction, nowhere near as busy as our “favourite” orbital motorway, and the house is a nice long way back.

Most of the road surface is fantastic in New Zealand but every now and then, we come across a section that reminds us of home. Patchwork quilt of tarmac, potholes, “men at work” signs but no men at work. Now and then we find a lay-by (pull-out) but the view in concealed by a group of trees. We think they should chop down those trees, there are just too many getting in the way.

No, not really.

Two beaches in two days? I’ll take that. Whangapoua is our nearest little town and its beach is big: long and wide and some lucky people live in houses overlooking it. We set up camp on the sand, after a bit of a walk and then we both entered the sea. The waves were so powerful though, I didn’t go in too far: the thought of being tumbled like I was that time in Hawaii was too scary. Yes, clear sinuses afterwards would be great, of course, but, still too scary.

Where’s Liesel?

I walked the length of the beach, saw a few people in the water, a couple in a boat, a few people learning to kayak, one little chap trying to dig a hole in the sand but the water kept filling it in. I wondered whether the water would be less forceful where it was sheltered by the little island, Pungapunga. But no, just as strong.

The tide was slowly going out and I found standing in the water as it came in and out quite mesmerising. The small ripples on the surface moved in one direction, the foam flowed in another and the pressure on my ankles suggested the water was moving in a third direction. Very strange: who needs recreational drugs when something like this can make you feel a little bit ooky?

Foam and waves arguing over the direction of gravity

One more quick dip then we decided to move on. If there were any shade on the beach, we would have hung around longer, but we would have been in the full glare of the Sun for the rest of the day. So we packed up, changed into proper clothes and set off.

Where’s Liesel?

Back at our new gaff, we read a book or watched a movie while drinking coffee, sitting out on the patio.

We had a little visitor sniffing round, seeking attention. I couldn’t see a ball so I picked up a stick and threw it. Chico, for that is his name, ran after it, picked it and the took it further away. Eventually, he brought it back, but wouldn’t let go. I tried wrenching it from his mouth, but either the stick or his teeth were cracking and creaking, so I gave up. Chico is a little 2-year old fox terrier.

Liesel cooked up a fab meal for supper, rice and chili (non carne, of course). My contribution was to cut down an ear of corn from the garden with a machette: well, a 3-inch long kitchen knife.

Fresh Corn

It was very sweet corn, sweet and succulent. Chico came to investigate while I was pulling the husks off and he ran away with some of those silky corn strings on his back.

The thinnest and most useless bead curtain in the world

Meanwhile, in other news: Helen and Adam are currently in Fiji but they’ll be home next week to welcome us into the bosom of their home. Australia is going through a heatwave right now, experiencing the hottest temperatures since records begun, in many places. We’re hoping it will cool off a bit before we arrive. Meanwhile, Klaus and Leslie are in Hawaii for a month, away from the sub-zero temps and snow in Anchorage. Lots of sympathy for Jenny and Liam and the children making the best of the cold and snow in Manchester!

The Android Pie upgrade has caused two major problems so far. It drains the battery much faster than before, but that just means more frequent recharges are required. We were driving along somewhere and the phone died. I said it was dead as a dodo, then realised, I should have said “dead as a moa”.

But worse than the battery issue is, my Fitbit will no longer sync with my phone. How will I be able to keep tabs of my steps if I can’t sync my Fitbit? A truly terrifying prospect. Never mind, I thought, Google and/or Samsung and/or Fitbit will address the issue and it will be resolved very soon. But no. Fitbit have been “working on a solution” since the problem was first reported, last August. Not holding my breath, then.

To Wellington

From one extreme to another. One day we’re as far north as we can go on this island and just a few days later, we’re pretty much as far south as we can go. Wellington is the capital city but much smaller than Auckland. The route Google Maps chose to take us to our place of abode was bizarre to say the least. It took us off State Highway 1 far too early. We drove up into the hills, at which point, the app changed its mind and wanted us to go round the roundabout and back down the narrow hill we’d just climbed. But after two days on the road, about twelve hours driving, we are now settled in our new b&b for nearly a week.

We decided to come to Wellington as quickly as possible, spend some quality time here before travelling back to Auckland at a more leisurely pace. Was that the right decision? It was a tiring couple of days, but here are some highlights.

The sight of the Auckland city skyline as you go round the bend on State Highway 1 really is heart-stopping. Even though I was expecting to see it, when it finally materialised, I cheered inwardly. If I weren’t driving at the time, there would have been a hundred photos, probably.

We stopped for brunch at Te Hana. I think this is Maori for Greasy Spoon because the all-day breakfast I had wouldn’t have been out of place at Jenny’s in Chessington or any other Joe’s Caff in England. Very welcome!

Near Kinleith

There’s a small toll section on SH1, $2.30, which I remembered to pay online later in the day. That converted to £1.31, much more reasonable than the M6 toll road. But then, there are no toll booths to staff: payments can be made online or at certain other physical locations.

One big surprise was the number of coffee shops that close on a Monday. At one place, even a local couple followed us up to the door and walked away again with disappointed etched on their faces.

We camped for the first time in NZ. Well, I say ‘camped’. We were in a Top 10 Campsite at Motutere, on the shores of Lake Taupo, yes. But we stayed in a cabin and used the communal toilets and showers.

Lake Taupo playing rough

Yes, this boat is in a bit of a heap outside our cabin, but it wasn’t us that took it out onto the lake.

Wrecked

On one of my nocturnal wanderings, I took this photo of the Moon, merely hours after the lunar eclipse that wasn’t visible from NZ.

Full Moon

One of the real highlights was driving through the Tongariro National Park. The stunning sight of active volcanoes never disappoints. And, admit it, there’s always a small part of you that hopes it ‘goes off’.

Mt Ngauruhoe
Ruapehu

Yes, of course, we would love to explore this park more fully but there’s just too much else on offer!

New Zealanders do like their big, funny sculptures. A big trout welcomed us to the Capital of Trout, Turangi. Was there a big wellington boot by the side of the road, you ask? Well, yes there was, but we didn’t go back for a photo here either.

Bulls. Lots of model bulls seemingly on all the main roads leading to Bulls.

Welcome to Bulls

We had coffee at Coffee on the Moove.

Coffee on the Moove

We didn’t visit any other shop with a punny bull-themed name. Nor, sadly, did we come across a Bulls China Shop.

Our next stop was Otaki Beach on the Kapiti Coast, opposite Kapiti Island which we hope to visit later.

Otaki Beach was a bit of a mess, there were literally tonnes of driftwood here. I was going to take a piece home and turn it into a lamp, but, well, I’m just not that skillful.

Driftwood and lots of it on Otaki Beach

Interestingly, the sand was darker than usual, and it felt quite spongey underfoot, especially where it was still wet. The sea was wild, roiling, boiling, stirring up the sand so that even the water looked brown. Some people were in the water but at least there was a lifeguard on the beach, and advice to keep between the two flags which were only about 3 metres apart.

Kapiti Island just visible through the haze

I heard Liesel say “Tourniquet FC” and I thought that was a funny name for a football club. Then I saw it. Lovely rural New Zealand, green fields, cows, barns, shacks. There, in the middle of all that, in the middle of nowhere: a KFC.

There are many more cows in New Zealand than sheep, according to our observations. And they are amongst the most qualified cattle in the world. They’re all outstanding in their field.

We stopped once more, this time in Paraparaumu. Here, at the information centre, we picked up flyers for some of the places we want to visit while in Wellington. We have five full days here. No, it won’t be long enough. Yes, we’ll just have to come back again! We had a coffee too and marvelled at the coincidence in languages between Maori and Latin.

Eat well

It was an Italian restaurant. The translation is Italian. D’oh!

As we approached Wellington, SH1 veered to the right just as it does on its approach to Auckland. But, sorry, Wellington, the city skyline here isn’t quite as impressive. Google Maps took us on an unguided tour and we finally arrived at our b&b. Our host, Craig, made us welcome. He even left a bar a chocolate for me. Yes, me: it was on my side of the bed, so…

It was a ten minute walk down to the nearest shop and more than ten minutes to walk back up, up, up, carrying heavy bags of shopping.

More musical musings from me and a bit of a moan. I won’t be offended if you go and do something more interesting instead of reading this stuff.

We’re following the black highway through the countryside, listening to three different songs called ‘Blackbird’, all nice and gentle and folky. Then ‘Blackbirds’ which is a little more jolly and upbeat. Then, brace yourself: ‘Blackmail Man’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads kicks in. Wow, that was a shocker: it’s a great, funny song, but it certainly spoiled the somewhat chilled mood on this occasion! That’s the danger of playing songs in alphabetical order, of course, you can’t control the segues. But then, even the shuffle mode itself could bring up such screeching juxtapositons.

On the other hand, we’ve been treated to Billy Bragg, Jack Johnson and others whom I had forgotten were even there, since shuffle chooses to ignore them.

In terms of musical style, we’ve had folk, rock, pop, jazz, even a bit of choral and orchestral. So far, we’ve been sung to in English, Icelandic, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Gaelic, and we’re only part way through the Fs!

There was a challenging half hour or so in the middle of the Ds when it kept telling us what not do do.

Don’t be Careless, Love
Don’t Believe a Word I say
Don’t Forget Me
Don’t go Home
Don’t Jump, don’t Fall
Don’t let me Down
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying (yes, 2 different songs)
Don’t let the Sun go down on Me

But during this sequence, I was so delighted to hear the one and only Beatles track on my device, that I played it twice. If Liesel noticed, she didn’t complain.

Do you remember when you bought records and tapes and even CDs from different shops? Then, when you got them home, you filed them by HMV, Virgin Megastore, Harlequin or wherever you bought them? No, nor do I. This is why I don’t get why all the ‘online stores’, Amazon, iTunes, Google, want me to put the downloads (MP3s) I buy from them, in their own little ‘library’ on my PC. I then spend far too long putting them in a location of my own choosing. Sometimes they’re moved, sometimes they’re copied, sometimes they need converting. I want my music to be in one convenient place. And when I copy it to my phone, I want to know it’s all been copied. Once. Not duplicated because of the shenanigans I’ve had to go through previously.

Also, there should be some sort of standard when it comes to the volume of the music. You have to play it quite loud when you’re on the road because the hummmm of the tyres drowns out some of the music’s key frequencies. But some albums are so much quieter than others. When you’ve heard Tom Hingley belting out something, you shouldn’t then have to turn it up to 111 to hear the delicate tones of a more gentle folk singer.

Having Fun

Our final evening in Christchurch was spent in the company of Mary Poppins. The new film, Mary Poppins Returns was released less than a month ago and it felt only right that I should see it with Pauline (and Liesel and Andrew came too).

My sister and I had seen the original Mary Poppins film with our Mum way back in 1964, and it’s unreal and unfair that she passed in 1991, halfway between the two movies. So there was a slightly melancholic feel but, thank goodness, the film itself didn’t disappoint. Jane and Michael Banks are grown up now, Michael has three children of his own buit their mother has passed away.

Mary Poppins returns with a handful of songs, the music often quoting or reminding us of the songs from the first film. There are some very funny moments and we each awarded it 5 stars, a total of 20, making it the best film we’ve seen so far, this year.

When asked, I usually say that my favourite film of all time is Lawrence of Arabia. One of the reasons is that this is the last film I remember seeing in a cinema with my Dad, when I was 7 or 8. (Not because there are no women in it: I only became aware of this fact many years later!) Lawrence of Arabia: he might crop up again later.

Our penultimate meal in Christchurch was a takeaway from the local Indian place, where they very generously gave us an extra dish and an extra starter. Pauline and Andrew have leftovers for a while.

After packing, in the morning, we drove to The Sign of the Kiwi, a small café at the top of Dyers Pass from where there is a fantastic view of the sprawling city below. It’s a good place to hike or cycle to and from. Oh to be fit enough to cycle up that hill one day.

Looking down on Christchurch
Liesel, Andrew and Pauline
The Sign of the Kiwi

We bade a tearful farewell, returned the car, flew to Auckland and picked up a new hire car. It’s not as good as the Chch one and, worse: it’s red. We caught the ferry to Waiheke, an island in Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland.

Really looking down on Christchurch
Approaching Waiheke Island

Our new Airbnb is run by Fi and Tom, and they share the house with us. Or vice versa. Of course, they’re poms. From Kent, via London and they’ve been in NZ for 7 years. I managed to speak to Helen on her birthday, in between rounds of drinking and partying (her, not me).

I went for a quick walk before settling in and what perfect timing.The sunset was gorgeous, but I was surprised at how much shorter twilight is here, compared to Christchurch.

Wide Sky for Anna Neale

It was a hot night and neither of us slept particularly well. We were conscious of Fi and Tom being in their room, just over there, and of mosquitoes flying in, and of the heat. And, no, I probably didn’t help matters when I got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, and ended up going outside for a while to look at the stars and in particular, The Milky Way. The sky being velvet black instead of sodium-lit orange is a bonus in itself but the number of stars in unfamiliar southern hemisphere constellations was mind-boggling. I tried to take some photos, and to be fair, the results aren’t too bad for a phone camera.

Gorgeous night sky

On Saturday, we visted Onetangi Beach but the notion of going for a longer walk in the Sun was soon dispelled. We knew that, later on, we’d potentially be sitting in the full glare of the Sun for several hours.

The popular Onetangi Beach

As we were driving along, I said, “Oh, look, there’s Waiheke Workout if you want to stop.” “Of course I do,” said Liesel. After a beat, she continued, “You did say ‘lookout’, right?”

No, it was ‘workout’, as in, it’s a gym. We didn’t stop.

We had booked a few days on Waiheke at this time because Bic Runga was performing at Goldie Estate, one of several wineries on the island. The venue was much, much smaller than we’d become used to at Hyde Park concerts in London. The support act was performing under the name Lawrence Arabia. I said that name might crop up again, and it very nearly has.

Goldie Estate
Where’s Liesel?

I think he was good but the crowd weren’t going to stop chatting just to listen to the music at a music performance. His introductions to the songs were too long: we don’t know you and we really don’t care, yet.

Lawrence Arabia

Bic Runga was better received but even so, we listened through a hubbub of background noise. So disrespectful to the artistes, never mind the rest of the audience. Sad to see that this antisocial behaviour really is a universal phenomenon.

The stunning Bic Runga

We got our own back, though, by singing along to some of the songs. I hope my voice is louder than Bic’s on your phone’s video, mate!

Selfie of the day: Mick and Bic

One of Bic’s songs has always resonated, even though I’m not and never will be a touring performer. Get some sleep could have been written about Liesel’s and my adventures: sometimes we feel we’re not getting enough sleep either but on the whole, “I believe I might be having fun” and that’s all that matters, really.

Whinges apart, we enjoyed the show immensely and we only feel a little bit guilty about not sampling the wine at a vineyard.

Copious amounts of sunblock had been applied, a few times, and I am pleased that neither of us reported any sunburn at the end of the day, hooray!

Our accommodation was only a 20 minute walk from the venue, so no need to join the throng catching buses and rushing for the last ferry back to the mainland.

Our hosts caught the last ferry back from Auckland where they’d been to see Mumford and Sons in concert. Earlier in the day, Tom had been playing his guitar and singing bits of songs that we mostly recognised.

The plan to get up early and go for a walk in the cool of the early morning came to nothing. I think I was out of bed and breakfasted by midday but I could be wrong.

We spent most of the afternoon on a small, quiet beach in Owhanake Bay. We made friends with a duck who seemed to have been expelled from her family.

Duck of the Day for Marko

I continued reading Nicholas Nickleby, which is still much funnier than I would have expected. I attempted two killer sodukos, one successfully. Liesel tried to plot and plan future excusions, to no avail. But sitting under the shade of a big tree, on a beach, with a slight breeze, was definitely very welcome.

A family of oystercatchers entertained us too. The parents were teaching the chick what to do. Mum would find something attractive in the sand and stomp her feet. This was the cue for the baby to run over and have a tug of some tasty morsel.

Catching oysters

Despite its best efforts to remain anonymous on the street, we found The Little Frog, a nice, small restaurant with great coffee and fab food. If only it were more visible and not overwhelmed by the wine shop next door, I bet it would do terrific trade.

My mint choc chip ice cream was both huge and very minty and choccy. Liesel thoroughly enjoyed her apricot and honeycomb ice cream too. Jealous?

Toilet Talk. The latest in an irregular feature in which we discuss toilet issues. Not toilet tissues, well, not this time, anyway. Having blue water in cisterns has been fairly common here in New Zealand but the vibrant shade of blue that gushes forth in our Waiheke bnb is amazing. Cerulean. If he were around now, Michelangelo would use it for the sky on the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It seems such a waste of hypnotic blue pigment, flushing it down the loo, but that’s typical of the wasteful society we live in, these days, I suppose.

Meanwhile, top marks for this toilet door in a restaurant in Onetangi.

Mermaids and pirates

Christchurch

A rainy day in Christchurch, it seems like it’s rainin’ all over the world. We’ve been so lucky with the weather during the last few months, so we shouldn’t really complain but this rain in Christchurch is just so ///wet/// and penetrative and persistent. We could have stayed in all day and looked miserably through the windows but we had to go out for reasons of health and beauty. I was forced to wear my actual waterproof coat, the weather was that bad! So, if you’re not interested in bodily or medical issues, just scroll down to the first picture.

It’s three months since my last visit to the dental hygienist so it was time to have another session of oral torture. She was very good, realy, a couple of sensitive spots, but mostly OK. She didn’t know my kiwi periodontist back at home.

I also visited the local GP to obtain a prescription for my next three months of medication. The limit of three months at a time seems to be universal.

Liesel was attended to from top to bottom. Eyebrowsn and eye lashes all polished up and then a pedicure which was different to the ones enjoyed in Alaska.

Liesel also wants a massage and/or some physiotherapy. Her ‘slipped disc’ / piriformis muscle issue is still not resolved. We didn’t walk nearly as far in Fiji as we did in Japan so that helped a bit, but those two days in Auckland reminded us of the level of discomfort that can be felt.

On the other hand, I feel pretty good. I’d like a massage but don’t feel I ///need/// one right now, but they usually find something that needs loosening up, in the shoulders or thereabouts.

Occasionally, one of my feet complains. It’s like there’s a length of string between the second toe and the heel that just doesn’t want to stretch for a while, so I have to walk funny, almost limping. Pauline said I always walk funny anyway!

That is the end of the medical news! Spoiler alert: there’s a haircut coming up soon.

Rain on the decking, in case you don’t know what rain on decking looks like

We bought some groceries and then hung around waiting for the rain to stop. And waited. And waited. We had coffee and tea and muffins. And waited.

In the end, we started walking home but just as we left the shopping centre in Barrington, a taxi pulled up in front of us. The driver dragged us in, kicking and screaming, and reluctantly, we took a ride home to Pauline’s house.

When my sister asked me a while ago what food I wanted in New Zealand, I suggested PIES! I have missed pies, with proper pastry, and I’ve missed proper, tasty, crusty bread.

Tonight for supper, we had a pie. It was fabulous. So pastry-y and tasty. There was a filling too, apparently, but the pastry… mmm.

While walking to The Tannery the following day, we were in danger of an attack of homesickness. (No, not really.)

Palatine Tce

Palatine Road is the main shopping street near where we now live in Northenden. And this poor old postman still has use of a bicycle. I think if he tried harder, he could really load it up.

Kiwi postie’s bike

It was a pleasant walk, not sunny, but at least it was dry. There are many areas around here that share their names with parts of London: Sydenham, Beckenham, Waltham, Edgeware, even a St Martins.

We always go for the low-hanging fruit. Well, Liesel does as she’s so short. But I think this is the first time we’ve been scrumping, for plums, in New Zealand. Small but sweet, and if any officers of the law are reading this, it was Liesel’s idea.

Small plum tree. The plums are small, the tree was quite big
Small plum or big fingers

One local sport seems to be fly-tipping. These guys parked across the pavement, forcing us to walk in the road, while they threw hundreds of plastic bottles over the fence. It might have been a legitimate place to dispose of the waste items, but what a bizarre way to go about it. They could have driven into the yard, just along the road a bit.

Let’s park on the pavement while we’re fly-tipping
The owner needs a p

The Tannery is a cute, little Boutique Shopping Centre in Woolston. There are bars and restaurants too. When we arrived, there were two girls performing but they soon disappeared, unfortunately: they were making quite a nice noise.

While we ate lunch, we enjoyed some classical music but as there was so much background noise, Shazam was unable to confirm it was by Mozart.

While Liesel went window shopping, I found a barbershop and had a haircut and a shave. The girl was from Greenwich, has been in NZ for twelve years and hasn’t lost her accent. Yet.

Pauline joined us after work and we had drinks at the chocolate shop.

The Tannery
Trompe l’oeil great tiles

In the evening, while Pauline was doing stuff in the kitchen, Liesel, Andrew and I played a game of Scrabble. Then, Andrew taught us a new card game: 500s. I don’t think I’d heard of it before but it was fun learning a new game. Especially one in which, under certain circumstances, the jack of clubs pretends to be a spade.

Friday was Pauline’s last half-day at work this year and to avoid meeting her just after lunchtime, Andrew drove us into town. He joined us for a short while in the Botanic Gardens and we continued after he left for home.

Very colourful Botanic Gardens
Southern hemisphere Sun dial
Invisible reindeer
Chaffinch
Diminish and Ascend by David McCracken, 2014
Waxeye

We continued our slow walk into the city centre.

Rubbish selfie of the day, in front of big bubbles

It’s all new to us of course, and I don’t suppose the earthquakes were at the front of other people’s minds. There is a lot of building work going on, but apart from that, Christchurch is a lively, bright, functioning city. It’s not as busy as usual because at this time of the year, many people go away, especially to Nelson at the north of the island. There are plenty of visitors such as ourselves, of course.

This building needs a lot of support and love
Cathedral and cairn

There is a great window display in the big department shop, Ballantyne’s, and plenty of other Christmas decorations, but it doesn’t ///feel/// like Christmas to me. I know it’s the middle of December, but this whole adventure of ours sometimes feels so unreal, it’s hard to add more excitement to it.

Christchurch Christmas tree and bauble
The Merry Mice of Dunstable House, window display

We took the bus home and arrived an hour before the rain. Pauline was in the garden pulling up some big weeds. I was not at all gallant, I didn’t offer to help. I would only pull up the wrong things.

Zoo Time

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw was a video of Martha riding her bike. Yes, we are a little bit jealous that we’re not riding bikes right now. It would make a welcome change from all the walking.

Martha’s a Tour de Force

Of course, it wasn’t really Chelsea, but that song just popped into the old noggin.

We planned to visit the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates buildings and streets to give an idea of living in Osaka in the past: this would be interesting and inside.

We also planned to visit Nagai Botanical Garden: this would be fascinating and outdoors.

In the end, after a slow start to the day, we went to the zoo. A no-frills zoo: no frills for us customers, and not many frills for the in-mates.

Yes, Tennoji Zoo was very cheap to enter, compared with London, Chester and Anchorage Zoos, for instance, and there was no big gift shop at the exit. So, with such a small income, it’s no wonder that many (most?) of the animals didn’t seem very happy.

The first animal we saw was a koala way up at the top of a eucalyptus tree. We don’t know if he had friends or family with him, but if not, he had a lot of space.

Koala

The pelican seemed happy enough, a nice big pond to swim in, but as with many of the exhibits, the wire mesh made it difficult to get decent pictures.

Pelican

If we were kids, we might have taken up the offer to eat polar bear curry.

Mmm tasty polar bear

We were too scared to visit the aviary as the ducks are the size of bears. Plus, we didn’t want to be pooped on. Certainly not by a bear-sized duck.

Ducks the size of bears

Against expectations, the polar bear seemed to be the most contented of the large animals. He looked a bit grubby but was having a great time playing with his toys.

A rare green-nosed polar bear

I suspect the green cone and the buckets are the food delivery system but even so, he was so much happier than the poor old thing confined to concrete at Chessington World of Adventures just a few years ago.

We were particularly taken by the huge rat pen. I mean, the pen was huge, the rat was just a normal rat.

Rat

Oh, it turns out this was a bear enclosure. The rat was eating the spectacled bear’s food.

Spectacled bear

A lot of the animals seem to require visual aids: here is a nocturnal spectacled owl.

Spectacled owl

Chinese wolves, one of the tigers and the giraffe all seemed to be very short of space which was a little depressing. The lions seemed resigned to their situation. Only one of the females was walking around in circles, the other two just soaking up the Sun.

The days of being allowed, nay, encouraged to ride an elephant at the zoo are long gone. Or so we thought.

Blue elephant and no, you haven’t been drinking

The sad news is that the real elephant here has packed his trunk and said goodbye to the zoo. He’s in elephant heaven now hopefully with plenty of heavenly plains in which to roam.

Rhinoceroses mark their territory by scent, according to the sign.

Rhinoceros toilet habits

The rhino we saw was slowly eating, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to the pile of grass horns first: he looked as if he’d just been for a swim with the hippos.

A rare green-nosed rhinoceros
Grey-crowned crane
Demoiselle crane

My phone has a clever app on it which can translate text into English. The results are variable: sometimes it makes sense but sometimes absolute garbage comes out.

And sometimes, you understand the message while the words displayed are just funny.

Useful instructions for using the dog park
I think the translation software is drunk

The zoo was very clean, no litter littering the place and just before we left, we saw a chicken being fed. We don’t know whose dinner the chicken was intended to be but what a strange sight after all the exotic fauna from faraway.

In the evening, I went through all the paperwork: maps, receipts, tickets, brochures, confirmations of bookings, boarding passes… and binned it all! Yes, the days of keeping paperwork only to throw it away years later are over! This is a major leap forward. (But, hedging my bets, I did take photos of it all, just in case, y’know…)

A day in Osaka

It was going to be a lovely day for our trip to Osaka. On the walk to the railway station, I was too slow to take a picture of the lady riding a bike with an umbrella (parasol) failing to keep the Sun off her face. And I was too slow to capture the bike with nice lace gloves where normal cyclists have handlebars.

We saw the Umeda Sky Building almost as soon as we left Osaka station. It was originally designed to be four towers, connected at the top, but in the end, only two were built. They are still connected at the top, so from certain angles, the whole resembles a glass Arc de Triomphe.

Umeda Sky Building

Merry Christmas!

One of the first things we saw was a huge Christmas tree being erected. Halloween was yesterday and it seems to be almost Christmas here. One of the restaurants we visited was playing ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. A muzacky version, yes, but, come on, it’s far too early for that sort of nonsense!

Merry Christmas indeed!

The view from the top of the tower was terrific, such a clear day, and a reminder that this one day in Osaka would not be enough for us. It’s a big place.

Bridges on the Yodo river
Kuchu Teien Observatory

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed up to the roof garden. The recent Typhoon 21 caused some damage and this is now being repaired.

We walked over to Osaka Castle, which was visible from quite a long way off, being on top of a hill.

Osaka Castle and a fountain

The walk took us through the park, in fact, past a number of people selling plants and flowers from their stalls. In the middle of the park, we stopped for a snack and watched the fountain.

A very pretty tree
Birds on a gate

We’ll never know what’s inside this time capsule as it won’t be opened until the year 6970.

Time capsule buried in 1970

The castle is built from half a million very large stones brought here from quite a long way, from all over Japan. The logistical arrangements must have been quite difficult. We saw no evidence, but suspect slave labour may have been involved.

Some of the ‘bricks’ are huge

The exhibit inside is spread over several storeys and I was reminded how inadequate my History lessons at school were. All this exciting, interesting stuff going on in Japan and all we learned about was the English monarchy, with the odd nod to people who may have affected the monarchy, such as Oliver Cromwell. Hardly anything about how ordinary people lived in England in the past, and certainly nothing about what was happening in Japan, China, south America, Australia, Africa etc at the time.

Model depicting the Summer uprising
A gold fish

Walking back through the park, we stopped for a quick coffee, and watched the people. Further along the path, I saw a woman wiping a dog’s bottom. I was torn: part of me was ‘that’s disgusting’ and part of me was ‘good for you’. Then I realised, I had the dog back to front. She was in fact feeding it. But it really was a pushmi-pullyu of a pocket-sized dog.

A very pretty tree

We agreed that we’d have to come back and visit the Osaka Museum of History on another day. Liesel’s putting up with a lot of discomfort, pain even, and all I’m worried about myself is a slight crick in the neck and my feet ache at the end of the day.

On the walk back home from our station, Settsu-Tando, we walk over another, parallel, railway line. When a train’s coming, there’s an audible alarm for a few seconds before the barrier comes down. As soon as the back of the train has gone by, the barriers lift and we’re on our way. Compare and contrast with the level crossing at Hampton Court where the barriers come down far too early and stay down far too long after the train’s gone by. There you go: whinge of the day!