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.

<ph 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.

Five ‘Baby’s

Driving isn’t our favourite thing but it’s a means to an end. I wanted to re-visit Cape Reinga, on the northern tip of North Island and we chose to to drive and visit some other places en route, rather then join a coach tour like Helen and I did 17 years ago!

Matauri Bay, like all the NZ beaches we’ve been to, is stunning. There were a few other people but on the whole, it was deserted.

Matauri Bay

As you can see, we really are honing our selfie-taking skills. But we’re taking plenty of time over the learning process.

Selfie of the day

The north of the island has lots of sand. Not just on the beaches and on building sites, but everywhere. There are sand dunes where you can slide down on a plastic board (or a piece of cardboard, I suppose). We decided not to take part in this activity, mainly because we didn’t want to walk back up afterwards. The tip of the island used to be separate but thousands of years of sea currents plugged the gap with more and more sand.

Sand dunes in the north

Again, I was surprised (but probably shouldn’t have been) by how much the area around the Cape and the light house has been developed since I was last here. There is a proper path to follow, so mostly, we keep off the fragile, and in some cases, unique, vegetation.

Cape Reinga light house

The wind kept us cool as we walked and it was fascinating again to see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacifc Ocean meet.

Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

The rival currents cause plenty of eddies which bring nutrients to the surface and this can attract bigger and bigger creatures: even whales have been known to come right up to the rocks for a scratch, to get rid of their barnacles.

Bonus selfie, a long way from home

Lovers of the environment and of toilets will appreciate the eco-design of the public convenience here.

Eco-Design Toilet

We visited Rarawa Beach because it has the finest, whitest, squeakiest sand in the north. It did feel really nice on our feet, and, when you get the right movement going, you can achieve quite a good squeak.

Rarawa Beach

Because this beach was so nice to walk on, we did, for over a mile. We decided to give Ninety Mile Beach a miss, all thirty miles of it: we know it will still be there when we come back. Which, as we see more and more of New Zealand, becomes more and more certain.

Our second day on the road took us to see a tree. Not any old tree though, but the fourth largest in the world.

On the way, we passed through Omapere. Liesel couldn’t work out why a place in New Zealand was named after the German word for ‘grandma’ and the French word for ‘father’. No, I didn’t make her get out and walk. Of course, it’s a Māori word, four syllables, named after the local tall, plumed, native grass, mapere.

It also reminded me of my first visit to the area. The name rung a bell, but I couldn’t remember why. Maybe we just passed by on that occasion too.

Lookout point near Omapere

The day was grey and cool and we had a few spots of rain. Mainly on the most winding of roads when you don’t really need your view obstructed by windscreen wipers!

Some of the landcape reminded us of the Lord of the Rings films, so rugged and harsh.

Frodo and Sam are having a rest by that rock

Some of the hills in the distance were hidden in the mist and we were glad we didn’t have to drive through the clouds, especially as the road was so twisty.

Fields are littered with rocks and you have to admire the settlers, Maori and Pakeha, for their perseverance here.

2000-year old Tāne Mahuta is the largest known kauri tree. It’s in danger, as are all kauri, from kauri dieback disease which is spread by soil movement. So we had to wash our shoes before walking the short distance to see one of the wonders of the modern world.

Brush and wash your shoes properly

I’d told Liesel it was only a five or ten minute walk, and luckily my memory was correct, on this occasion.

I’m sure we’ve been able to walk up to and around Tāne Mahuta in the past, but not today. Sad for us, but good for the tree.

The majestic Tāne Mahuta
Lord of the Forest

The Māori guide had traditional tattoos on her chin and she told us about the tree and how they’re all being looked after. Including, would you believe, giving the trees injections to protect them against the fungal disease. There are over 120 other species living in Tāne’s canopy, plant and animal, which makes me feel better about the things I have living on my skin. The guide’s accent was fascinating. We pronounce ‘kauri’ almost as ‘cow-ry’, whereas she said something more like’coe-dee’.

You ain’t stopping me with your boardwalk

We try to pronounce Māori words correctly but their vowel sounds are very subtlely different to ours. I wonder whether they appreciate us making the effort? Or do they think we’re just taking the mickey?

The tree is the focal point of Waipoua Forest which we spent some time exploring. It’s a proper forest too, you can’t see the wood for the trees. The road is completely enclosed and there is no room for manoeuvre on either side.

A thing in someone’s garden

We have no idea whether this is some kind of scarecrow or a North Island attempt at steampunk metalwork, but it was very prominent.

We saw quite a few little churches in the middle of nowhere too: white walls and red roofs that really show up against the green, green and green background. We can’t see how they can survive, each must only serve a few dozen people.

A typical white and red church

Equally, there are small cemeteries here and there. Maybe each is for one family or one tribal group, but they’re all very neat and tidy.

Frodo and Sam under the cloak of invisibility

As we passed by one field, we saw a cow licking a horse. This is not a euphemism. Maybe the grass is hallucinogenic or aphrodisiac.

We passed a goat that was tethered by the side of the road. When we passed by on our return journey, it had gone. From which we can only deduce that it had been taken by a dinosaur during filming of the latest Jurassic Park sequel.

The Māoris made terraces in the past, for defence purposes and, presumably to grow more produce. Those terraces are still visible on some hills and it’s obvious to even this casual observer that some terrace-builders were more skilled than others! Maybe they should have called upon the services of Hire-a-Hubby (see a previous post).

The road surface was really good but in a few places, something had happened, a landslide or some kind of sinkhole collapse maybe, because the surface was (temporarily?) covered with loose chippings.

The other main decoration on the road was carcasses. Lots of unidentifiable but definitely dead critters, some being enjoyed by the birds, some just being left to rot.

There are lots of birds around. When we’re in the woods, we can hear them but usually not see them. When we’re driving along, we can see them, and occasionally identify them. Over two days, we saw birds of prey, turkeys, emus, quails, pukekos, sparrows, ordinary seagulls and southern black-backed gulls which are about twice the size, leading me to accuse one of being an albatross. In fact, one such came by and joined us for dinner.

Southern Black-backed Gull

In the fields, we are still surprised at how many cattle we’re seeing compared with the number of sheep. We wondered whether there’s been a shift in New Zealand’s farming business over the last couple of decades. There are signs giving out a number to call if we need to report ‘wandering stock’.

These purple flowers are, amazingly, bindweed. I lost a 32-year battle against bindweed in our garden in Chessington: it kept invading from all the neighbours’ back yards. One day, it will take over the whole world, in a satanic deal with the cockroaches, probably. Horrible stuff, and just because it has pretty purple flowers here doesn’t make it any less evil.

Bindweed or concolvulus

Readers who aren’t interested in our musical entertainment while on the road can look away now and come back next time.

Thanks for staying: you will glean from where today’s title emanates!

I’ve commented previously on how ‘shuffle’ on my MP3 device seems to avoid playing some songs and even anything at all by some people. Well, hah, I had a brainwave. Play all the tracks in alphabetical order by song title. But the ASCII sort sequence puts special characters such as quotes and brackets, as well as numbers, before the actual alphabet. So before we could hear the first song beginning with the letter A, we had this sort of thing:

The first few songs on our playlist

You’ll notice something right away. There’s a duplicate track. There are quite a few duplicates, in fact. This is due to the unique way in which downloads are handled. I, the user, have great difficulty in controlling this. But we can just press ‘skip’.

Some tracks appear four times. Twice because of the double-downloading-by-mistake issue. And twice over because the same track appears on two different albums.

We got to the numbers and heard ‘5 Years’, ’50 Words for Snow’, ‘50,000 Watts’ then ‘500 Miles’. Yes, in that order, because of the comma.

And then came the letter A. Hooray!

The first few letter A songs

What a fantastic variety we have here. Well curated even if I do say so myself. Ofra Haza and The Unthanks are among those very rarely selected by so-called ‘shuffle’ mode.

The first treat was three different versions of ‘All the Young Dudes’. (For me, that is, not so much for Liesel: ‘skip’ was employed.)

By the end of the first day on the road, we had still not reached the end of the As. On the second day, the last half dozen or so A songs, were contenders to be the final one. We couldn’t wait for the As to finish.

But where else would you find ‘Aretha’,’Arienne’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ sitting next to each other?

The final few letter A songs

As A ends, B begins. But lo, what is this? BBC iPlayer file tags have names beginning with ‘b’. There are quite a few, probably intermingled with actual songs, so the ‘skip’ button might be required more often for a while.

And by the end of our second day, we hadn’t reached the end of the Bs. Who knew there were so many songs about ‘Baby’ something (‘Driver’, ‘Finn’, ‘Loves that way’, ‘Better start turnin’ ’em down’ and ”s Boat’), ‘Bad’ things, ‘Beautiful’ things or ‘Blackbirds’?

Here’s a tip: on your MP3 device or in your library, look at the alphabetic track list because it’s the best way to spot duplicates. I don’t mind a ‘studio’ and a ‘live’ version of the same song but it’s a bit of a waste having exact duplicates. Not that the higher population count helped the ‘shuffle’ mechanism find and play some of those duplicated tracks!

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

Banks Peninsula

Continuing the pattern of wet, dry, wet, dry, today was dry. We drove to Akaroa stopping a couple of times for short breaks.

Cormorant colony on the jetty

We drove back towards the penguin colony so that we could have a quick chat with the cormorants on the jetty. Hundreds of them including many babies learning to fly. They’d jump off, hit the water, start running, then eventually take off. It all looked too much like hard work to us mere humans.

Fledgeling cormorants running on water
A hill wearing a very bad toupé

There are signs here and there telling us that “New Zealand roads are different, so take your time”. One thing we’ve noticed is that the speed limits are all multiples of 10: 100, 80, 60, 50, 30 kph etc. But when you approach a slight bend, the recommended maximum speed always ends in a 5: 85, 65, 45, 25 kph. This isn’t a problem but I wonder if there is some deliberate thinking behind this pattern?

Dorothy the Double Decker – a reminder of home

The drive to Akaroa was very pleasant and as we approached the Banks Peninsula, the hills became more noticeably jagged and angular. The whole peninsula, as far as we can tell, was once one big volcano and we were both secretly looking and listening for telltale signs of an imminent eruption, after tens of thousands of years of dormancy.

Small but popular Akaroa beach

We went for a quick walk into woods, The Garden of Tane, into the shade, but it was too hot and too late to go too far. But while messing around with my phone camera, I took this selfie.

Just my shadow

And as with most accidental shots, I’m quite proud of this one!

New Zealanders equally are very proud of their kauri trees: so proud that this one has two plaques. Their wood is very hard, so suitable for construction, but there aren’t very many left after severe logging over the decades.

A very huggable kauri

We gave this one a hug and some words of encouragement, for what it’s worth.

On the way to our b&b at Little River, we stopped at a restaurant called Hilltop. As the name suggests, it’s on top of a hill and the views are stunning. While we ate, we just looked out of the window rather than at each other.

View from Hilltop pub/restaurant

My nachos were ok, nothing special, obviously reheated but that’s ok. Liesel’s pizza was better than the one she’d had a few days ago. Our landlady, Bridget, said the food at Hilltop was awful, she’d like to be able to recommend it to visitors but it just wasn’t good enough. Liesel and I looked at each other wondering whether the rumbling was the aforementioned potential volcanic eruption or a mild case of borborygmus!

The good news is, outside Hilltop, we actually saw a bellbird. A gorgeous yellow bird sitting on top of a post. And we know it was a bellbird because it made the bell-like noises as it flew off. Which, of course it did, just as I was getting my camera out.

Elusive wildlife seems to be a theme on this trip, unfortunately.

We’re staying in Little River in a b&b, not an Airbnb, and we’re the only guests, despite the booking site claiming that this was the only room available. The internet lies: who knew?

Bridget’s a character. She has two dogs, a husband, chickens, horses, lots of land and a strong kiwi accent.

Breakfast both days was fried eggs on toast and a reminder that we don’t need gluten-free bread on a regular basis. The fresh eggs and fresh milk, however, were delicious. I picked up the bottle. “You’ll have to shake that hard,” she said, “there’s a lot of cream on top. It’s straight out of the cow.”

It was a slow start to the day but it did warm up quite soon. Meanwhile, in Anchorage, they are having to put up with sub-zero temperatures and sights like this. Brrr.

Anchorage aka Narnia

We drove back to Akaroa but on this occasion, we followed the longer, scenic, tourist route.

At Pigeon Bay, we decided to go for a walk along a well-defined walkway. We followed the coastline for a bit, into the woods where the canopy made it quite dark and spooky in places.

It’s dark in these woods

We followed the path through some fields, over a couple of stiles, one strong and stable and the other much more like the Britsh government, totally wobbly and unreliable.

Wait for me, Liesel

We carried on driving the scenic roads, up, up, up, and still we climbed. It started drizzling, the view became obscured when we became immersed in the clouds. We didn’t really expect to be this high, and I’m sure the view is magnificent on a clear day.

The mist and murk (but not a Merc)

In fact, on the way back down, when we cleared the mist and the clouds, we saw little old Akaroa in the distance by the bay looking like a well-manicured model village. On the other hand, there were places where, from my window, I could see nothing but a sheer drop, no crash barrier, nothing, and that was a little disconcerting, not to say scary.

Let’s briefly go back to the musical entertainment item from last time… I downloaded a new album onto my phone and it seems to have stirred up the sludge of other tracks on my device. ‘Shuffle’ is now playing things I’d forgotten I had. As well as Murray Gold, we’re now hearing tracks from Duran Duran, Erin McKeown, Billy Bragg, James Galway, The Viennese Boys Choir, Inspiral Carpets and much much more! Plus, even the artistes it selected before are now performing tracks previously ignored by the so-called random shuffle feature. Mott the Hoople and Ofra Haza too had been hiding in the depths of my MP3 folder, unloved and unplayed. But best of all: The Red Hot Chili Pipers entertained us royally today.

We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the length of the main street in Akaroa, partaking of coffee on one side and a late lunch on the other.

A pretty little creek

We visited the Museum too but were asked to leave because it was a very early closing time. There’s a fascinating history here on the Banks Peninsula involving Maori tribes, Brits, Dutch and French explorers. Whaling was big here too and there are still some of the vast oil vats on display in the street.

A wooden campervan – or is it camperveneer?

We’re planning and plotting the next steps of our trip but everything changed when we came across this wooden campervan. If we rent a campervan, we now want a wooden one.

It’s another ‘Karoa sunset

There can never be too many pictures of sunsets, so here’s today, seen as we left Akaroa, climbing into the hills again.

Blackie the old hen

Meet Blackie, Bridget’s oldest chicken. She’s so old, she only lays five or six eggs a year now. But recently, following attention being paid by the rooster, her hormones must have been on a rampage, as she’s laid eight or nine eggs in quick succession. These eggs aren’t very nice, apparently, so Bridget has been giving them to the eels. Feel good story, right? Until you remember that the rooster is in fact Blackie’s son.

We packed our bags and said goodbye to the circus that is Little River and headed off towards Christchurch. We overshot and ended up in Hanmer Springs. What a beautiful drive, despite being on a main highway for most of the time. The clouds were strange, as if the painter was running short of white pigment.

Fuzzy half-finished clouds

There are plenty of very tall hedges here on South Island, too, often macrocarpa, tall-growing trees that need pruning but are often just left to their own devices.

Big hedge

I wondered whether any of these hedges are taller or longer than the supposed tallest and longest hedge in the world, in Meikleour, Scotland, that Fi Glover told us about, gulp, twenty years ago.

These hedges are meant to reduce the effects of strong winds but as is the case everywhere, there are disputes beween neighbours about reduced light and about views being spoiled.

It was 32°C when we arrived in Hanmer. I went and had a dip in the hot rock pools and the cooler pools while Liesel rested her eyes in the car, in the shade. I thought about booking a massages too but we still had to return to Chch. The 40° water wasn’t as hot as the ’40°’ water in the onsen in Japan. I could climb straight in, here, whereas in Japan, I had to enter one delicate body part at a time.

On the way back into the city, we passed by The Fanfare Sculpture.

Fanfare

This fabulous work of art has been on display in Sydney and latterly in Christchurch.

At the Thai Orchid restaurant, we chose to eat indoors rather than outside by the busy main road and this surprised the owner, I think. But the heat from the kitchen was preferable to the car fumes.

And so, to our final full day on South Island, in Christchurch. It’s time to pack again, properly, and so we began by shedding as much stuff as possible. Mainly by throwing away excess paperwork, after photographing it (just in case) and by sending some stuff back to the UK. We bought cinema tickets for this evening, we went to the library to print out some tickets and wow, Christchurch Library is stunning. There are four floors of good stuff, computers everywhere, lots of young children reading, loads of older people studying and some like us, making plans for future trips.

Big Lego bricks for little children

30°C today so a bit of a shame we spent so much time indoors and in the car.

It’s a hot afternoon and soon we’ll be off to the movies and you’ll never guess what we’re going to see… There’s a very tenuous clue in the title of this article. No prizes, though, it’s just for fun! Entries on a postcard…

Lyttelton

Well, I woke up this mornin’, the Sun was shinin’. I said I woke up this mornin’, the Sun was shinin’. It was too early to get up, so I plugged in the earphones, turned on the phone and listened to a recent episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (ISIHAC) (series 70, episode 5, to be precise). I don’t think my convulsions of laughter disturbed Liesel too much, but she did get up before me.

The chairman was Jack Dee and my mind went back over ten years to when the late, great Humphrey Lyttelton was the chairman of this antidote to panel games. He would read things out, not alway understanding the innuendo, the double meanings, the wordplay and would be surprised at the audience reaction. He was also a top jazz musician and at one time, a cartoonist (Note 1).

The late Humphrey Lyttelton

Humphrey Lyttelton’s father George William was the second son of the 8th Viscount Cobham, Charles Lyttelton. Charles was the son of the senior George William Lyttelton (1817-1876). He, our Humphrey’s great grandfather, was a member of the Canterbury Association, set up to encourage people to move to New Zealand, specifically, to the Canterbury Plain on South Island.

His name was later given to the Port of Lyttelton, known to the Māori as Ōhinehou.

By accident or design, it was Lyttelton that we visited today, just 20 minutes or so from Pauline’s house.

Fluffy clouds

It was a gorgeous day, beautiful blue skies and fabulous, fluffy white clouds that could have been drawn by a young child.

The Lyttelton Arms

We did not visit this pub on this occasion, but I feel I ought to out of some weird sense of loyalty to the Lyttelton dynasty (Note 4).

Pauline drove us there over the hills and we enjoyed the views and admired the many cyclists riding up the long, long and occasionally very steep gradients. In places, the road was quite narrow too and I’m sure I would have felt quite intimidated by the traffic, if I were cycling here. Or, more likely, pushing my bike.

Living on the edge

The town was bigger than I remembered from my last visit and our first job was to walk down to the Farmers’ Market where we purchased a wide variety of veggies and apples and bread.

Lyttelton sustained serious damage in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The Timeball on its stone tower has only recently been restored and we enjoyed seeing it slowly sink at 1.00pm precisely. Well, I did: Pauline blinked and missed it!

The Timeball ready to drop

We were eating our lunch at the famous Shroom Room having taken our shopping back to the car. The plan was to walk around the town and we decided to go up into the hills on this occasion rather than down to the harbourside.

We passed a school, the school’s grassy play area known as The Grassy, a children’s playground, a skatepark and a swimming pool as we ascended the foothills. And then, soon after, a cemetery.

Skateboard park down to the harbour

Looking back at the view of the sea was a fine reward for all the climbing.

The house is upright
It even looks steep in this picture

We walked round in a long loop, back to the car. Hilly, yes, but a really cute little place. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live up in the hills. It doesn’t snow very often here, but I wonder how many vehicles roll down the slope due to faulty brakes?

Up, up and away

The drive back was much faster. There is a tunnel between Lyttelton and Christchurch, another remarkable feat of engineering.

In the evening, the four of us went to the movies. We saw The Children Act, at The Deluxe Cinemas back at The Tannery. The rain had held off until now, but we weren’t too wet when we sat down inside.

What a film. Emma Thompson is always great of course, but she excelled in this role, you really felt for her character, a judge. And how lucky are we that we don’t have to make such life and death decisons as part of our jobs.

Too much chocolate, how to decide…

Back at home, we played the doubles version of 500. It’s complex and interesting but when it goes on for a long time and you’re playing with a partner and you’re scoffing peanut butter chocolate and you’re drinking red wine and it’s well past everyone’s bedtime, it’s quite a challenge to concentrate! Suffice to say, Pauline and I came a close second to Liesel and Andrew’s victory.

A bottle of Baileys was bought at Barrington Mall on my Sunday afteroon walk. Pauline and Liesel had been out shopping earlier and returned with a very small bottle of the Irish Cream ‘by mistake’. So now we have two bottles.

I walked back via Sydenham Cemetery, where I possibly found some long-lost relations. I’ll have to check the family tree sometime when I get home.

Related to Mick’s in-law Hoares a few generations ago?

Many of the stones and other memorials have been straightened up but not re-erected following the earthquakes seven years ago.

As the day progressed, it became sunnier and sunnier. Liesel did one load of laundry which dried satisfactorily outside. Pauline did some weeding in the garden. Andrew baked a cake. Liesel made a pasta dish for supper. So, to call it a lazy Sunday afternoon seems a bit mean, but other than my walk, it has been very relaxing!

I say, Holmes, what’s that growing in Pauline’s garden?

A lemon tree, my dear Watson

Note 1: Among the musicians who have played with Humphrey Lyttelton is one Tony Coe. Tony’s son, Gideon, is a good friend and a top presenter on BBC 6 Music (Note 2). I’ve seen Tony Coe play live a couple of times, once at Kingston’s Rose Theatre (Note 3) and once in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Note 2: We haven’t listened to as much radio from home as we would like. But this weekend, as well as ISIHAC, I’ve listened to Tom Robinson and Guy Garvey, also on BBC 6 Music. At Pauline’s house, we’ve heard a lot of National Radio New Zealand, in the background at least.

Note 3: We had tickets to see Humphrey Lyttelton at the Rose Theatre in the Summer of 2008. I got a phone call in April of that year telling me that he’d passed away and that my money would be refunded. All I was concerned with was the disappointment that he’d died, that we’d missed out on seeing him perform his legendary music. It was very sad, but the guy at the theatre seemed to be more concerned that I was happy to receive my refund, which I thought was quite sad in itself.

Note 4: The Lyttelton Arms here in Lyttelton, NZ, is not to be confused with The Lyttelton Arms at 1 Camden High Street in London. This latter one was indeed named in honour of our Humphrey, soon after the second world war. It is located opposite Mornington Crescent underground station. And as you know, Mornington Crescent is one of the most popular games played in the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. Which, as I said earlier, used to be chaired by Humphrey Lyttelton. Funny old world, innit!

Okinawa OK

We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.

Pavements eat broken pots

Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.

The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.

On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?

I’ll be your belly dancer

Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.

On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.

We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.

Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.

The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.

When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.

We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?

Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.

Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.

Dance steps 101

We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.

Old fogeys’ baseball

We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.

Young kiddies’ slide

There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.

There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!

Mariah Carey Sumo Wrestling

All I want for Christmas is to hear Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ on auto-repeat. Today, my wish came true. The siren called us down to the second floor for our breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any. It wasn’t included with our (admittedly cheap) hotel room fee. Nor was there an option to eat breakfast and pay later. Another example of a misunderstanding from a badly translated website. Hotel, you ask? Yes, we’re in Fukuoka for few more days and sometimes you can’t book an Airbnb for the exact length of time you need. So, we’re slumming it a bit on the 8th floor. It’s a quiet room except you can hear every other toilet being flushed: I think their effluent runs through our bathroom via pipes that think they’re sound amplification units.

But I did take advantage of the public hot bath. Not a real onsen, a natural hot spring, but as close as you can get on the 14th floor of a mid-town hotel. The hot bath was indeed hot. The one in the room next door was hot too, and it was open to the outside world, so on a cold day, you can potentially be snowed upon while in the hot tub.

I’d still like to experience a genuine, natural onsen, but that might have to wait a couple of days.

Colourful welcome to the arena

Today was a day for sport. We walked a couple of miles to the Kokusai Center to witness nearly eight hours of Sumo Wrestling. It was Day 10 of a 15-day Grand Sumo Tournament. And Mariah Carey was still in my head, possibly the most persistent ear worm in the world.

During the day, we saw over fifty separate contests. Each one is very short, preceded by lots of ritual. As the day wore on, competitors with increasing skill levels took part. The final 20 matches were from the Senior Division.

Very small audience early in the day

The Dohyō, the ring in which the contest takes place, is built anew for each tournament. The playing surface is clay and covered in sand. The men wear only a loin cloth, or mawashi, which may be tied tightly or loosely. The idea is to force your opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the floor with a part of his body other than his feet. It’s a mix of strength, weight, balance and strategy.

Not supposed to grab that bit

One of the skills most useful is hard to see, though, so if you’re squeamish, jump to the next paragraph. To prevent injury and pain in that area, sumo wrestlers are able to reel in their testicles to the safety of the lower abdomen.

Ritual before the contest

They all have their hair tied up into a top-knot, but each is a s lightly different style. Part of the ritual is to throw salt onto the Dohyō. This seems to be more common with the more experienced combatants. We saw one chap pick up and throw a huge handful of salt!

Not quite ready to go

The referees, or gyōji, wear brightly coloured outfits. They too are ranked and the most senior ones wear a sword because if they make a bad decision, they are honour bound to do the right thing.

Not always an equal size match

Some of the Seniors had their own group of rowdy supporters but there were a lot of westerners here too, like us, just for the experience. It was a great day’s entertainment.

Some of these are very popular
Curling is not the only sport with broom-wielders
Introducing the Seniors

Yesterday we went to Marine World at Uminonakamichi. As the name suggests, the place was full of fish. And dolphins.

Spider crab
Cleaning the rocks with your toothbrush

The ear worm on this occasion was Marina, Aqua Marina, from the old TV series Stingray. Look it up on YouTube and it will be in your head for the rest of the day, too. Unless you prefer Mariah Carey of course.