Cameron Highlands

Just when you get used to one place, it’s time to move on. If this is what it’s like being on the run from the justice system, we won’t be committing an offence any time soon. Oh alright then. I apologise for any offence caused if, when I mention our next destination, Cameron Highlands, an image of probably our worst ever prime minister comes to mind. (There May be some competition, to be fair.)

For some reason, we had to be at Amanjaya Bus Terminal half an hour before the scheduled departure time. Jyoti had booked online, and she tried hard, but nobody wanted to give us actual physical tickets.

It was a long cab ride and the driver told us that there was a bus terminal much closer in Ipoh, but when you’re booking online, well in advance, from overseas, why would it even occur to you to check that you were travelling from the closest bus terminal to your destination?

Amanjaya is a very busy teminal and we had plenty of time to pass. I entertained myself by wandering around, intrigued by the not-yet-open retail opportunities on the upper floor.

The ladies in the various ticket booths were on the fine borderline between amusement and annoyance with their tuneless ululations, sometimes solo but more often in discord and disharmony. Sirens, attracting unwary ticket-buyers, only tuneless. Unfortunately, the official announcements were incomprehensible too, too much echo-cho-cho in the vast cavern of a bus terminal.

I forked out RM3 for a chair massage. It felt like a small man was hiding amongst the upholstery running a rolling pin up and down my spine and around the shoulder blades. Not unpleasant but a good reminder that there will always be some things a human can do much better than a robot.

The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands followed a long and winding road up and up into the hills. It was hard to read for too long, so many sudden turns as well as bumps in the road. It was however easy to nod off for literally seconds at a time. We climbed up very high, my ears could tell, and they passed on the information to me by frequently popping. Ipoh is about 22 metres above sea level, Tanah Rata 1440.

During the ride, the phone signal was intermittent but as we passed through one small town, I received a plethora of messages. One from my sister in Christchurch said “Don’t worry, we’re ok”. Oh no, I thought, not another earthquake. No, worse. A gunman had murdered worshippers in two different mosques and car bombs had been found and defused. New Zealand is the last place you’d expect to see this sort of terrorist attack, so disappointing and upsetting. The evil that is so-called “white supremacy” just continues to spread, aided and abetted by our own governments and the extreme right-wing press.

We’ve been living in a multi-cultural environment for the last few weeks, and it’s been great: everyone gets along and the only problem I’ve had is being able to find vegetarian food.

On arrival at Tanah Rata, we hailed a teksi which took us an embarrassingly short distance to our new home, a hostel called Father’s Guesthouse.

Welcome to Father’s Guesthouse

We were in a different universe here, where time runs backwards. It was much cooler than at nearly sea level so we anticipated a few good nights’ sleep. Little did we know!

Jyoti and I walked down the road to look for a coffee bar while Liesel had a rest.

Poinsettia

A poinsettia is not just for Christmas. Left to its own devices outdoors, it will grow into a tree.

We found a nice place, The Mossy Forest Café, had scones and coffee, and took a slice of cake back for Liesel.

The hostel seems to be mainly occupied by a strange breed of creature: young people. There are signs telling us to smoke outside and that the place for parties is in the town centre.

Pretty in purple

Jyoti knows the Cameron Highlands from over 40 years ago and is a bit saddened, if not surprised, by the amount of development during that time. There’s a lot of litter around, mainly water bottles, which is always a sad thing to see. We walked up a steep hill to Gurdwara Sahib.

Gurdwara Sahib

Jyoti spoke to a Sikh gentleman there in Klingon, I couldn’t understand a word; actually it was probably Hindi, come to think of it. We went in, a first for me, inside a Sikh place of worship and education. We took our shoes off and if there had been water in the footbath, we would have washed our feet too. I kept my hat on and Jyoti borrowed a scarf to cover her head.

Sikh shrine

The shrine was colourful but the place as a whole wasn’t as ostentaciously decorated as other religious sites we’ve visited.

Jyoti was very pleased with this poster that nicely summarises Sikh Heritage.

Fascinating Sikh Heritage

Unicorns live in the jungle around here, and even if we don’t see a real, live one, I was delighted to see this chap on somebody’s roof.

Unicorn

Tanah Rata is a busy little town and so far we’ve found a grand total of one pedestrian crossing. It’s always a challenge crossing the roads here, so we’re grateful for the one-way streets where we should need to look in one direction only before running across.

Very small papaya-like tree

We found a place for our evening meal, having convinced ourselves that the turtles in the tank weren’t on the menu. The restaurant was decorated with clogs and a lot of memorabilia relating to the Dutch national football team, so lots of orange.

Turtles in a fish tank

It was a delightfully short walk back to our hostel and a good night’s sleep. Well, poor old Liesel still has a cough, it finally caught up with her again after we thought we’d left it behind in Fiji. The coughing woke up the local cockerel who then decided to wake up everyone else. No problem, we had to be up early to join the tour we’d booked.

The bus picked us up and then collected 15 passengers from other hotels on the way to our first stop: The Butterfly Garden. Rajesh, the driver, was also our guide today, and he told us a little about each of the places we visited.

We have seen the odd butterfly flitting from tree to tree but this was a good place to see some close up. Other bugs were available too.

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing is the national butterfly of Malaysia. There were many here in the garden, sitting still, posing, unlike their cousins outside in the wild. They and other butterflies were even resting on the path that we walked on although, surprisingly, we only saw one squished under someone’s foot.

We were delighted to find an amorous pair of rhinoceros beetles. It reminds me of the picture on the back of Paul McCartney’s Ram album cover.

Beetles

Of course, they might just be good friends. The golden beetle looks artificial, but it was real, I’m sure. Either that, or fantastically detailed and finely tuned animatronics.

Golden beetle
Giant stag beetle

Talking about things being artificial, it’s hard to believe these plants are genuine too, so bright, so vivid.

Yellow and red
Almost turquoise

Some creatures blend into their natural background really well, but when they’re out in the open, you’d think they come from another planet or time, they’re so alien.

Leaf bug
Stick insect

There are plenty of other creatures here, scorpions, frogs, tree snakes, more butterflies and all are native to Malaysia, so it’ll be interesting to see how many we spot in real life, out in the wild.

You’ve been framed

We chose not to buy a collection of dead bugs, pretty as they are. I hope they all died a natural death, after a short and happy life, but who knows?

The Boh Tea Plantation is one of the biggest and still owned by a Scottish family. We were now over 1600 m above sea level. No ear popping today, though.

On the way in, we passed a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Christian chapel all located very close to each other, to cater for plantation workers from all faiths. That’s how it should be done.

Boh doesn’t stand for “Best of Highlands” as some believe. It’s named after a mountain in China, Bohea, and Boh means “precious”. Which led me to wonder: Bic Runga has a sister named Boh. She also has a song called Precious Things. I wonder if the song was named after her sister?

Taken through a dirty bus window, we saw this couple taking a selfie on the edge of a very narrow road. A Darwin Award in the making, perhaps.

Just one step back…

In the old days, tea was plucked by hand. Nowadays, they use machines to speed up the process. Workers are paid 26 sen (cents) per kilo: that’s about 5p per kilo.

After the short factory tour, I joined the queue for a quick cuppa.

Very welcome cup of tea

The colour was gorgeous and the flavour wonderful. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, the tea was hot, so I had to slurp. If anyone had asked, I would have lied that I was a professional tea-taster.

The view of the Sungai Palas Tea Centre was what I’d expected the whole Cameron Highlands to look like.

Tea plantation

And this is certainly what Jyoti remembers from her time here in the 1970s. Development, progress…

It was nice and warm, we were all in shirtsleeves. But this young lady was dressed up for the Winter equinoctial celebrations.

Wrap up warm

Tea leaves go through a number of processes before they’re ready to be turned into a nice cup of tea at home. So it was a surprise to find, during our quick excursion into one of the fields just by the road, that there was that familiar aroma of a fresh brew.

A quick wander in the field

It was Saturday and as had been predicted, the traffic became more and more dense as the day wore on.

Traffic

We never did find out what the Time Tunnel Museum was all about. Maybe we’ll find a time tunnel somewhere and pay a visit last year.

The bus driver was brilliant, very competent, taking the bus along narrow, winding tracks, letting cars and even buses pass by on the other side when there wasn’t really any room.

The view from the driver’s seat

Rose Valley must be the kitsch capital of Cameron Highlands. Apparently it is known as the Rose Garden of Malaysia.

Mickey or Minnie?

It’s always a joy to see Mickey and Minnie of course, but this must be one of the worst copyright infringements ever.

Yellow fountain or golden shower?

The main attraction here is of course the roses and other flowers. There were signs telling us now to pluck them. I’m going to use that from now on. Stop plucking your nose, Martha!

Purple roses for the bunga-bunga party?
More flowers not for plucking

Some of the statuettes had lost their heads although somehow, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all retained theirs.

Manneken Pis or golden showerer?

Cultural appropriation is a big talking point these days, and done well, it can enhance everyone’s experience. Sometimes though, you think, whoever had that idea, somebody else should have quashed it.

Big yellow shoe

Outside the rose garden there was a fruit market. 101 kinds of fruit but no apples. We bought oranges instead. No strawberries though because the next stop on our tour was the Royal Berry Strawberry Park. There, Jyoti and I took a small basket and went to pluck our own strawberries. We were not supposed allowed to eat free samples.

Strawberry fields forever
Strawberries, fresh strawberries

Here, they’re grown hydroponically, each plant has its own water supply. You cut the stems which are at waist height, no stooping and grovelling at ground level. We enjoyed a strawberry milkshake too plus chocolate-dipped strawberries. The fact that we’d not had time for breakfast was now forgotten.

A big bee greeted us at Ee Feng Gu Apiary.

Big bee (not real)

We sampled three kinds of honey: one made by stinging bees (sweet), one made by smaller, non-stinging bees (slightly smokey) and one made by bees from further down the hills (less sweet).

Liesel didn’t join me but I enjoyed my walk through the beehives.

Bee hives
Bees (real)

There were a few bees around but it wasn’t as buzzy as I’d anticipated. To accommodate this disappointment, they’ve installed some impostors.

A healthy grown up busy-busy bee

One thing I didn’t expect to see at the bottom of the hill was a small shrine housing Buddha.

Buddha
Yellow flute

We stopped briefly at Sam Poh Temple, where, unusually, we were allowed to use our cameras inside.

Sam Poh temple

One day, I hope to translate the script on this structure.

Outside the temple

All these years of meditating and chanting have been for nought. The words I was presented with on the first day turn out to be slightly wrong. No wonder I’m such a mess.

Om mani padme hum – surely?
Jyoti contemplating life, the universe and everything
Anuddha Buddha

On returning to our present home town of Tanah Rata, we walked down to what has become our default café for a couple of days: The Mossy Forest. We’d driven close to the actual Mossy Forest earlier on but the coffee bar that bears its name is as close as we’ll get this time.

Our friends Una, Phil and Kiran are currently on holiday in Hawaii. Jyoti and Liesel chose to speak to Una from the café. Luckily, I was the only other customer at that point so all the embarrassment fell on me.

Liesel was very disappointed with her brownie: they’d warmed it up without even asking, and it was rock hard, like a biscuit. On the way out, Liesel passed on a friendly comment.

The cockerel/rooster announced the dawning of a new day. Only it wasn’t dawn. It was three o’flippin’ clock in the morning. It cock-a-doodle-dooed for the next four hours more or less continuously. A couple of pauses lulled us into a false sense of security. The call to prayer is usually a welcome, soothing sound, but at 5.30, we just needed some sleep!

We walked down the road looking for a shop that might sell rooster extermination kits but alas, there were none. So we had breakfast instead to boost our energy levels for the day’s exertions.

The staff in The Mossy Forest remembered us from yesterday and by way of apology and recompense, they didn’t charge us for the coffee we had with our breakfast. It was a mistake to heat the brownie for so long, thanks for letting them know. At one point, we had four staff members serving us. Now I know how the Queen feels much of the time.

Rajen met us outside our hostel as agreed at 9.00. His driver took us to the start of our walk in a 4×4 heavy with the smell of petrol. The plan was for Rajen to take us on a hike through the jungle and for a moment there, I was sure at least one of us would acquire a fuel-sniffing-induced headache.

Liesel, Jyoti, Rajen

He was a very good guide with some fascinating stories. He told us about the British army being here in the 1960s, fighting the communists. 700 soldiers were stationed in this very spot. I wondered if (my late first wife) Sarah’s father had been here: I know he was in Malaya at some point.

The population of Tanah Rata has increased from 2000 to 45,000 in the last fifty years: Jyoti was right about the amount of development here.

The start of our walk

There are several Walks in the area, some tougher and longer than others. Our main track today would be Walk No 3.

We could expect to see deers, monkeys, birds, snakes, insects, monkeys, unicorns. Well, that didn’t happen and in the case of the snakes, maybe just as well.

The first view: pure jungle

The path was narrow, hard to avoid brushing against the plants but there was nothing to worry about unduly. Walking along on the flat was quite technical, lots of tree roots to trip over. But the climbs up and down really were a challenge. The “steps” are just tree roots holding some loose earth in place. Some of the steps were very high. We also had to clamber over some fallen trees and, when descending, we had to hold on to trees, lianas, vines, always checking it wasn’t a snake hanging there. Rajen did provide us each with a stick to help and I found mine most useful for gauging the depth of a step down: I’ve always been useless at climbing down.

On one occasion today, I was so busy concentrating on carefully stepping through the roots that I bashed my head on a branch across the path. Fortunately, the moss growing on this branch was nature’s very own crash pad.

Yep, still on track

We walked across a couple of streams too, none of us slipped in off the stepping stones.

Put your left foot there

There are no tigers in this area any more. All gone mainly for Chinese aphrodisiac reasons. Rajen didn’t have much positive to say about the Chinese at all. They don’t care about nature or the environment, they just want to over-develop to make lots of money. The previous, corrupt Malaysian government did nothing to prevent over-development in some places.

Pitcher plant

The pitcher plant didn’t eat much today: we saw very few insects. No mosquitoes was good. Lack of butterflies was disappointing. Although Jyoti did spot this caterpillar lurking in the bushes.

Caterpillar from Mars

When deciding which walk to do, we’d opted for “medium” difficulty: not too steep for too long.

Stairway to Heaven

I think we got it right. Rajen and Jyoti were able to keep a dialogue going as they walked, I couldn’t. I frequently stopped to catch my breath under the guise of taking a photo.

Baby bananas

Everything was green apart from the leaf litter so it was always good to see a splash of colour.

Inedible ginger plant

There are 120 species of fern in this jungle, some edible, most not, some have to be cooked, some have to eaten before they unfurl. We didn’t sample any on this occasion.

Big fern

Aha, a rustle in the bushes, what’s that? A rare member of Homo sapiens out for a solo walk in the jungle, which we all thought was very brave. I’m sure “brave” was the word we agreed upon.

She changed her mind about her chosen route, turned round and overtook us a few minutes later. We also came upon a party of three as we rested at a picnic table, rest area, a totally unexpected sight.

Time for a breather

We all had something to eat and were careful to not even leave behind a slither of orange peel. Later, we reached a slight clearing from where we could look down on a cabbage farm.

Cabbage farm way down down

I knew we were high but being totally surrounded by dense bush, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far we’d climbed.

We descended into Mardi, a small village just along the road from Tanah Rata but it did feel a bit rude to be walking through someone’s farm on the way.

Little yellow courgettes

Although this hike can be described as just a long series of trip hazards, it was very enjoyable. We were out for about five hours altogether and afterwards we all agreed that we felt nicely tired from the exertion, not just exhausted due to the heat and humidity.

But what an anticlimax now to be walking along the road. With traffic. I bid farewell to my faithful old stick: maybe someone will pick it up and use it again one day.

Big vegetables (not real)

After a siesta, of course, we re-visited our favourite café and they presented us with a fresh, warmed, brownie, which was perfect. Still very apologetic! Yes, we did order and pay for other things, but what a nice gesture.

Liesel and I returned to our room while Jyoti briefly visited the local market. She wasn’t there long, though, because the smell of fresh fish was so overpowering.

To Manly

It was wonderful to finally meet Helen at Sydney Airport. Not only had there been a couple of minor hiccups, the day itself was a milestone. Helen’s Mum, Sarah, and I married exactly 40 years ago today. The maelstrom of memories and emotions never really threatened to overwhelm, but it was there, just below the surface.

State Highway 25 next to the sea

We left Brett and his challenging kettle at Te Rerenga, drove through Coromandel Town and stopped for a break in Thames.

Jesus would have a great time here

Challenging kettle? Yes, the safety mechanism was kaput so you had to hold down the switch to reach boiling temperature. For a couple of days, you also had to hold down the lid, and when the kettle realised we were leaving, it forced us to hold down the lid again. It’s always a wonderful feeling when you can beat inanimate objects at their own little games.

Rocky beach that we didn’t sunbathe on

We had to return the car with a full petrol tank. The range of prices in NZ is very wide. Today, we paid $1.85 per litre, but we have paid $2.09 elsewhere. Anything about NZ we won’t miss? Yestailgatingdrivers.

I’m sorry we never adopted the kiwi national costume: gum boots, though.

Golfer in gum boots (hope he didn’t get a hole in one)

But then, we never played golf either. The rest of the photos taken that day were of the rental car: we caused no significant damage, but the loose chippings and gravel on some of the roads were always a little bit worrying.

We had a good flight, landed a little late at Sydney but we had gained two hours by travelling west across the Tasman Sea. Welcome to West Island, as some kiwi maps label Australia!

The machine accepted my passport, but the photo taken could ‘not be identified’ so I had to join another queue.

Most people’s bags turned up quickly on the carousel, but not ours. We waited and waited, along with about thirty or forty other people. When challenged, I assured the security guy that I was waiting for my bags but found it easier to walk around than to stand around.

Helen drove us to her luxury apartment in Manly where again, we were stunned (in a good way) by the view from her balcony. Adam had prepared pizza for us which was very welcome.

Our first trip the following, beautiful, day was to Brookvale, to the shopping mall. I got a SIM card for my phone. Liesel didn’t: we thought we could manage with just one.(Spoiler alert: we can’t. Liesel will be SIMmed up very soon too.)

Fish bones at Westfield

Helen, Liesel and I went for a gentle walk at Curl Curl beach, where the sea was rough, the sand was warm and the sky was blue.

Curl Curl Beach

We saw our first interesting, exotic, Aussie birds, today.

Wagtail
Australian Magpie
Bush turkey aka brush turkey

Before we left home in England, I read a book written by an American couple. They’d travelled around Australia with a view to seeing, and listing, 400 species of birds and other animals. We’re up to 3 so far. No intention of reaching 400: we have no such target.

We met Jyoti who’d been staying with cousins elsewhere in Sydney for a week. We’ll be travelling with her for the next month or so to far-flung places. But tonight, we all went for a meal at Manly Skiff Club, or to give it its full name, Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club. We watched the Sun set on our first full Aussie day while I drank two, yes, two pints of beer and ate a huge chickpea burger and chips. Helen’s fish and chips was huge too. And Monday is $10 steak day which might help explain why the venue was so busy!

It’s a short walk up a short hill to the apartment, but after accompanying Helen to Coles to buy some ice cream, it was hard for this old duffer. I was just keeping up with Helen, she said she was walking at my pace but, phew, I got my breath back eventually.

One day, I will get up early to watch the Sun rise over the beach, but for now, getting up and meeting Jyoti at 7am was early enough. She’s staying an an Airbnb just over the road from Helen and Adam, very convenient.

We walked to Shelly Beach, admiring all the hundreds of people up for an early stroll, or swim.

Bright Sun over Shelly Beach
Early morning swim club

Some folks had their work suits hanging from the trees, waiting for them to emerge from the water.

Sea water pool with Manly in the background

The forecast was for today to be the hottest February day ever. And it was. 32° by the time we’d walked back to The Corso.

Liesel and Jyoti chatting on the beach

Plans to walk as far as Queenscliff were quickly shelved in favour of breakfast. And where better to go than Three Beans Café, my favourite coffee shop from previous visits.

Helen was working at home today, so Liesel and I returned for a quick shower and departed so that we’d be out of her hair (and out of her client’s hair).

Phew, what a scorcher. There are a million ways of saying it, and I think we covered them all during the course of the day.

Jyoti, Liesel and I caught the ferry and seeing the Harbour Bridge for the first time, for me at least, was a magical moment. Yes, Helen drove us over it yesterday, but somehow, that’s not the same.

Selfie of the day

Adam started a new job this week (rotten timing with us visitors) and I think he still appreciates the commute into Sydney: it’s still far better than the Waterloo and City Line in London.

After disembarkation at Circular Quay, we first walked around to the Opera House. There are a couple of interesting shows coming up, but we won’t be around for one about John Lennon.

Sydney Opera House
Ooh this looks good, especially the feathers

So on this, the hottest day ever, we walked through Sydney to Darling Harbour. This wasn’t a random wander, we were going to visit Sealife Aquarium.

Ibis looking good, especially the feathers

Inside, I recognised it as a place I’d visited previously, and I think it was with my sister a few years ago. But the name, Sealife Aquarium, doesn’t really register as being something really special or different, not in my mental filing system anyway!

Squeakiest shoes in the Aquarium

<ph squealky shoid squeakiest

Hagfish, the snottiest fish in the Aquarium
Fat-bellied seahorse
Eastern water dragon

Sometimes, you can see eastern water dragons along the walk to Shelly Beach. We weren’t so lucky today, so it was good to see one here, albeit in a tank. Jyoti’s not a big fan of reptiles, so probably didn’t appreciate this exhibit as much as I did.

Jyoti and Liesel outshone by a stingray

This one took some staging. Jyoti and Liesel can talk the hind legs off a donkey so it was easier for me to jump into the aquarium, and position the stingray right behind them so that I could take the picture.

Seaspray, so refreshing

The ferry back to Manly Wharf was cooler and the spray on the window led us to think that a nice drop of rain would be very welcome right now!

37° was the highest temperature recorded today, in the end. In the evening, I went for a quick swim in the sea, as did Adam. Liesel and Jyoti had left earlier, but I couldn’t find them anywhere along the beach on the Wharf side. I did enjoy the sunset again, and I was pleased to see that a lady was taking a photograph of a seagull perching on a pole with the Sun right behind: just the sort of silly picture I like taking!

Although I wasn’t particularly hungry after this morning’s huuuge veggie breakfast and last night’s huuuge burger, I did consume half of a Fish Bowl. Helen bought them on the way home from work (she had visited more clients later in the day) and each bowl contains salad, rice, noodles, tofu, fish, you decide what you want, and the ‘normal’ size bowl is plenty for me. In fact, too much: Liesel finished mine!

The strong wind that appeared as if from nowhere, late afternoon, stopped just as suddenly. But we heard it again during the night, but strangely, we didn’t hear the birds that had woken us up the first morning here.

Just a quick note about the musical soundtrack in our car. We’re in the Ns now. The final song we heard when we dropped the car off was Nomad Blood by Martha Tilston. That’s us, that is, we have a bit of nomad blood right now, plus a spot of wanderlust together with the travel bug. Perfect!

Mary, Mathilde and Matilda

When I was growing up, most maps of the world were Mercator Projection. It made the UK look really big and important. Greenland was the same size as Africa. Australia loomed large and pink, the home to an aunt (I later found out there were two aunts and their families) and a place of extreme mystery. In the bottom right hand corner of the map, there was a little pink semi-colon. Later on, we would come to think of New Zealand as Australia’s poor little next-door neighbour.

This, the Land of the Long White Cloud, has hosted entertained us for two months, and we love it. Everywhere we go, the views are stunning, the Sun is in the sky: why oh why would I wanna be anywhere else? Yes, we missed Lily Allen in concert in Auckland last weekend, but the song must have been in the air somehow.

View over Coromandel Harbour towards Auckland

Our final three days in New Zealand are coming to an end. As ever, we know we’re moving on very soon and we know we’ll be homesick for the old place for a short while. This, despite the rain. Yes, it actually rained over night and into the day. But people have been talking about a drought here and we even saw the unusual spectacle of a golf course where the greens had been allowed to turn brown.

We returned to Coromandel Town, partly because that’s where the nearest Post Office is located, inside a supermarket and sharing its counter with a bank. Also, it’s the only way to visit Thames: there aren’t many roads to choose from.

On the way, we saw a whole flock of oystercatchers on a beach. Beaches on this, west, side of the Peninsula are mainly rocks and stones, whereas those on the east side have all been sandy.

A large number of oystercatchers
Thames big chessboard

We had lunch in Thames at a place run by a couple from Melbourne.

Cafe Melbourne

We’ll get to the real Melbourne very soon.

Hairdresser and philosopher services

I had to see the River Thames, so named by James Cook because it reminded him of London’s River Thames. It was wide and had water in it, but there was nothing like a St Paul’s Cathedral next to it, nor a QE2 Bridge over it.

Probably the worst picture of a river ever taken, from a moving car on a bridge

We decided to drive back home continuing in an anti-clockwise direction around the Peninsula. One of the main attractions here is the high point, The Pinnacles. We saw these high, almost vertical rocks from a distance but because of the road conditions, we weren’t able to get too close. There are plenty of walking and hiking trails, some of which take several hours, or even days. The old kauri forest would have been a fantastic sight, can’t wait to see the newly planted trees in a couple of thousand years time.

Pinnacles
Pinnacles

On the other hand, the view from one pull-out (layby) was obscured by trees which I thought was slightly ironic.

Can’t see the Pinnacles for the trees

Sometimes, I’m quick enough to take a photo of an exotic bird, and even though she was driving, Liesel spotted this heron before I did. It watched me watching it but cooperated by not flying away.

Heron looking into a well

We ended up back at our local beach, Whangapoua. As we did the following day. The weather conditions could not have been more different for our two visits.

What a difference a day makes (1)
What a difference a day makes (2)

We walked along the beach and made friends with a dotterel and her two chicks. They’re very wary of people (quite right) but they have no speed between standing still and running at 90mph: even the baby!

Mummy dotterel

This Island still looks more like a whale to me than a lump of pumice, but as they didn’t invite me to join the naming committee, I guess we’re stuck with Pungapunga.

Pungapunga Island should be Whale Island

I was hoping to make some new friends at New Chum Beach. I waded through the Pungapunga River as it flowed across the beach, that was OK. Not so good were the rocks that formed the route to Wainuiototo, especially as I was wearing flip-flops. I tried going barefoot, but the rocks were round and a bit slippery. New Chum Beach will have to wait until next time.

Rocky path to New Chum Beach, Wainuiototo

On the way back, I was pleased to bump into my old friend, the dotterel chick from yesterday.

Babby dotterel

There were a few people swimming in the sea… well, being bumped about by the waves. But one guy was having a great time kite-surfing.

Kite-surfing

And we found out what happened to the ozone layer above New Zealand. The kite-surfer was using it.

That’s enough of that

After walking the length of the beach and back, I found this lady sitting on the beach.

Liesel waiting for her ice-cream

On request, I went to the local shop to buy us ice lollies. It’s got to the time now where we’re trying to spend all our New Zealand coins.

We drove back to the b&b for the final time, unloaded everything from the car, wondered how we’re going to fit it all into our bags and moved on to something else.

One thing we miss in the car is Billy Connelly’s voice coming from the GPS (satnav). The Google lady gets it wrong sometimes, getting her left and right mixed up sometimes. One place she took us to was totally wrong too. When required, Billy tells us to do a U-turn when we can. Google just recalculates a whole new route, which might entail a U-turn eventually, but it might be a long way off.

Music news coming up… not for everyone.

One more thing we won’t do before we leave NZ is to reach the end of the music on my device, which we’re still playing in alphabetical order by song title. No Zs before the end of NZ.

We’re in the Ms right now but should make significant progress tomorrow on our nearly 3-hour drive to drop the car off at Auckland Airport.

The first few Ks were all Hawaiian, Ka something. Ms include Mary, Mathilde and Matilda. We’ve had some surprise Christmas songs too, which I’d forgotten were there: Let it Snow, Let it Snow and Mele Kalikimaka for example. Four, yes, four different versions of Life on Mars? were followed by Life on the Moon!

We need a wider selection: we have no Crowded House, to name but one kiwi band. And we’re about to split NZ too.

A Handful of Wonder

More beaches, not to be sniffed at. Well, mostly.

The first was half and half black and white sand. And the black sand was unbearably hot underfoot, even with flip-flops on. The thought of lying down on a blanket here was not appealing. And, as I have no photos, I guess it didn’t strike us as being particularly photogenic either. So after a quick walk, we made our way to Kuaotunu.

Kuaotunu Beach

This was much more pleasant and far more intersting. Northern New Zealand dotterels are an endangered species with just about 250 pairs on the Coromandel Peninsula. We were really lucky to see a pair, and what we believe to be the last chick, almost ready to fledge. It really was wonderful to see such a rare bird, and to be absolutely certain.

Two rare dotterels

One chick to fledge
More info

Finally, we found the Hot Water Beach. Naturally heated water occurs just below the surface on the beach, and two hours either side of low tide, you can dig a hole and climb into your own naturally hot spa. No, we didn’t. No shovel. We could have rented one, but we didn’t. Instead, we tried a couple of deserted holes only to find the water was no longer hot.

Liesel v lagoon to reach Hot Water Beach

People digging holes and maybe getting into hot water

This was a nice beach for a longer walk though, as we watched people swimming, falling off surf boards and especially enjoying the young men watching their girlfriends dig the holes.

There was one variable oystercatcher who bravely walked up to the water’s edge, but then ran back up the beach as the waves came in, his little legs going round and round like a cartoon bird’s.

Oystercatcher doesn’t like getting his feet wet

On the way back home, we stopped near Coroglen, formerly Gumtown for a picnic lunch by the banks of the Waiwawa. We said g’day to a couple who walked by but I was taken by surprise a few minutes later when I walked over to take pictures of the river, only to find the lady bathing in it.

Waiwawa River

Later on, I went down to Whangapoua for some groceries. Well, one item, one grocery.

Let’s confuse a Victorian time-traveller

If Charles Dickens or any other Victorian were to visit the shop, they would look up at the list of wares in total wonder. What the Dickens is all that stuff?

While in the vicinity, I further investigated the Pungapunga River as it flows into the sea, opposite Pungapunga Island. This beautiful Maori word means ‘pumice’ but, because of all the seaweed on the nearby beach, I bet most people say it should be Pongaponga. It was a bit strong and definitely not to be sniffed.

Pungapunga Island

Most people? No, probably just me.

Nighttime brought its own wonders. The sky was stunning, spelt g, o, r, g, e, o, u, s. It was so dark here, I couldn’t even see where to walk outside. And, there were no nightlights to worry about, just the odd car going by. Yes, I took some photos but mostly, I just looked up in wonder, agape and a-gawp, pondering life, the universes and everything. Not even the mosquitoes spoiled the moment. I suspect the rustling in the nearby bush was nothing more harmful than a hedgehog: it may have been a kiwi, they do live around here, but I didn’t want to frighten anything by using a light.

Orion and Sirius (top right)

Captured an aeroplane

If there had been a kiwi in the bushes, and if had I captured, murdered and stuffed it, then displayed it in a lovely case, this is what it would look like.

Kiwi and egg

This is one of the less attractive exhibits at Coromandel Mining and Historic Museum. The mining paraphernalia was very interesting, as were the displays about the Silver Band, the Freemasons, the Hospital and, right at the back, the old jailhouse, physically moved from its original location.

Having a break from walking round the museum

The Silver Band (not to be confused with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band)

There were many gold nuggets on display, all genuine, real gold, somehow supported by the feeblest of wood and glass cases.

Viscount Canterbury 890 oz

Outside the museum, there is a young kauri, planted in 1997.

Kauri just celebrated its 21st birthday

It has a long way to go to catch up with the one mentioned inside which was chopped down a long time ago. Chopped? It took several hours to saw, chop and cut it down.

4000 years old when they turned this kauri into ships

45,000 new kauris have been planted on the Peninsula since 2000 under a project called Kauri 2000.

We wandered around Coromandel Town for a short while, it was only 26° here compared with 30° back at home, and with a slight breeze too. Cloud was moving in and even though it doesn’t feel like it now, rain is forecast for early tomorrow morning. And they do need it. There have been bushfires in NZ and even when we were in Coromandel, the sirens went off and we saw three fire appliances race down the road.

We had a look in a couple of the gift shops and this doll caught my eye.

Attic Doll

It reminded me that we have no Alice Cooper on the MP3 player music device phone thing that we’re using. Anyway, the link is in the lyrics: We go dancing nightly in the attic while the Moon is rising in the sky. If I’m too rough, tell me, I’m so scared you little head will come off in my hand. (Billion Dollar Babies.) As Liesel said, there’s long list of people not represented on my phone, so we’ll have to rectify that.

Today’s attempt at a selfie has Auckland way over there in the distance, behind Waiheke Island, where we recently spent a few quiet days.

Selfie of the day

The road to this lookout was long and winding and turny and twisty and steep and narrow. It is hard enough work, so we have decided to give the 309 Road a miss: it’s much shorter, just as twisty and steeper but it’s unsealed, so very dusty, and apparently there’s a farm from where pigs wander onto the road.

This grass is very attractive when it bends and flows in the wind
Quite a recent landslip

There are some beehives just down the road from where we’re staying. I had to go and check because they don’t really look like hives I’ve seen before: more like show boxes.

Beehives
Bees and hives

We’ve noticed a campaign to stop mining in the Peninsula. There is a small mine run by a local family but other people with dollar signs in their eyes want it to expand. Most (?) local people are against this expansion. I wonder why?

“Mining is the pits” says the sign outside somebody’s house.

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.

Mount Maunganui

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were planning to move house and then go travelling. Out of the darkness came forth this very blog. We documented the nightmare that is selling a house and buying a flat. And we’re sharing our travels and adventures with anyone willing to join us here, or because they can find nothing better to do.

So, as we tuck into our first anniversary cake and swig our anniversary champagne out of the bottle, we would like to toast all our readers, followers, supporters, stalkers, anyone who’s liked or commented and especially anyone who’s come back for more. Cheers!

We stayed fairly local today, visiting Mount Maunganui.

First sighting of Mt Maunganui

We saw the mountain itself and thought actually, every High Street should have a mountain at the end. But the town itself was heaving. So many people, and we’re not used to that any more, really! So easy to become snobbish and not want to hang out with other tourists and visitors.

Yarn-bombed trees

There was a street market in the park which we had a quick look at. Disappointingly, there was no bread on offer, but we did, of course, buy a cake! (Disappointing on two counts: we like fresh, crusty bread but also, we later found the sliced bread at home to be mouldy, grrr.)

The live music was very good and enjoyable. We were even treated to an Oasis/Bob Marley medley, possibly a world first. Wonderwall and Stir it Up: who knew they’d sound so good together?

The mountain in the distance

Maunganui wasn’t the only mountain we saw in or near Tauranga. There were mountains and mountains of containers in the docks, the biggest port on North Island. I know they’re important for trade, we all need food and other stuff, but when you see that many stacked up just the other side of the fence from the road, they’re really ugly. On the other hand, the mountains of salt didn’t look so bad. It could have been sand, after all.

There are three Toll Roads in New Zealand and today, we found the third, so yippee, a hat-trick for us, and another opportunity for me to forget to pay online later in the day, be chased down by the authorities and banged up for a long period.

Kaiate Falls was the venue for our first proper walk of the day. Maybe a hike: it was down a sloping path and back up, including 244 steps.

Liesel creeping down the steps

The cascade of falls was quite stunning and despite warnings about microbial contamination, some people were playing in the water.

Water babies

The soundtrack here consisted of running water, birds and cicadas.

Selfie of the day

We drove to Te Puna Quarry Park, passing through both Judea and Bethlehem on the way. This was a lovely park and we enjoyed a longer walk through the bush. Without the rushing water, somehow the cicadas seemed much louder and more confident.

Cicada

We still don’t know the definitive pronunciation for this populous but hard to spot insect. Is it sick-arder? Or sick-Ada? Or sicker-duh?

As well as some pretty and fragrant flowers, there were some good sculptures here, some of them quite humorous. And as for the unexpected animals, there were plenty of those:

Exotic tool birds
Recycled bicycle
Stone flower and, er…
Waterwheel
Dragon

We watched the birds for a while and realised that if we weren’t travelling light, we might have had binoculars with us. And a camera with a good zoom lens and a tripod. But that would be a different kind of trip, and we’ll bear that all in mind next time.

I think it’s a tui but it’s definitely a silhouette
Peacock
Monarch butterfly
From certain angles, a Star of David
Choo-choo train and Thin Controller
Springtime
Mosaic owl and mosaic tui
Hobbit house door
Human beings
Snail
Runestones

Afterwards I realised, I should have had my photo taken here, wearing my proper wide-brim hat, packing a six-shooter, sitting on horse. Then I could have been The Runestone Cowboy. But it’s too late now.

Snake

You might think we’re easily entertained, and sometimes we are. The car stereo thought it was performing a Two Ronnies sketch as we drove from one scenic viewpoint to another. It kept displaying the name and performer of the track before the one that was actually being played. “That doesn’t sound like Ofra Haza, it sounds more like Eddi Reader.” And so it was. The only remedy was, of course, to turn it off and on again.

I finished Nicholas Nickleby a few days ago and my next book was totally different. A collection of stories, poems and essays written by British Muslim women. Items suggesting that Islam is a wonderful religion were followed by stories suggesting that it really isn’t, especially as far as women are concerned. Lots of food for thought, and so, my next book is a bit lighter. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. Much to Liesel’s chagrin: she wanted to read it first!

“Where’s Namibia?” asked Liesel. “South-west Africa, I think.” “No, Nivea, hand-cream?” “Oh!”

And while we were sitting on a bench, enjoying nature, within a couple of minutes, I used a couple of words that I very rarely use. Liesel commented on the greyness of the clouds. “Portent of a big storm,” said I.

Liesel pointed at an object gliding in the air, suggesting it was a butterfly. “No, it’s a bird, surely? I didn’t know butterflies glid like that.” But sure enough, a little later, we witnessed butterflies gliding between the flowers.

My phone downloaded and installed a Major Upgrade last night. OMG, it’s all changed. Buttons have moved, some are well hidden, functions that used to be one ‘click’ are now two. Even keys on my Logitech keyboard have been reprogrammed: the and the @ have swapped places. Android Pie. The first bite was a little bitter, but I’ll adapt to the taste fairly quickly, I hope. And one day, I might even find exciting new flavours.

The Wrong Hat

The glorious Sunrise was visible from our bathroom window, over the lake, but with a few obstacles, of course. It was going to be a nice day. I was tempted to get up early again, maybe go for an early morning stroll. Nah. That didn’t happen.

Sunrise over Lake Taupo

We went out for a quick visit to The Craters of the Moon. This was a fascinating place, but wasn’t the venue I had in mind. I’d mentally assigned this name to a totally different place. And the actual name of the place I was thinking of still eludes me.

Ever-expanding craters

But, this was meant to be a quick jaunt. So, unusually, I decided to go out without my bag. I just had some cash and my phone on me. When we arrived, I turned round to retrieve my hat from the back seat, where it wasn’t. “I took it indoors,” said Liesel. Hmmm. She continued, “But I’m surprised you didn’t bring your bag, you take it everywhere”.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but even if I had my bag, my hat wouldn’t be in it, because I left it in the back of the car”.

It was a hot day, I was going to suffer without a hat. Liesel offered to lend me hers, but then she’d be without one. Ilkley Moor bar t’at is one thing, subtropical, geothermal, noonday Sun without headwear is another.

So, while Liesel was queuing to pay, I went over to the little gift shop, and chose the least worst offering, a black Craters of the Moon baseball cap. I would have preferred a wide-rim sunhat but they didn’t have any. I placed the cap on the counter just as Liesel was paying for the tickets. “I solved the problem,” I announced.

“Oh yes, you’ll need a hat in this weather,” said the assistant, vocally. “Especially a bald-headed old git like you,” she added, telepathically.

The right hat (left) and the wrong hat (right)

And then, no tickets. Instead, we received a dayglo coral coloured handstamp.

We walked around for about 45 minutes under the beating Sun. Steam was venting, there was a very slight sulphurous smell. I could tell I was wearing the wrong hat because the Sun had full access to the back of my neck. Did I apply sunblock? Well, no, of course not. It was in my bag and I’d left that behind.

This was Liesel’s first visit to such a geothermally active place. I’d been before, but I was still surprised at how much vegetation there was, plus insects and birds.

Lush vegetation in a harsh environment
Steam vents
Liesel being hot and steamy
A deep crater

I was disappointed that the mud pool wasn’t bubbling away, but maybe there needs to be more water in it. A bit of rain would have cooled us off beautifully, of course, but the few clouds in the sky seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

On the way back home, we paid a visit to the gorgeous Huka Falls. Huka is Maori for ‘foam’ and it’s easy to see how they got their name, and why the water is such a stunning colour.

Huka Falls
Not a bad selfie

Even here, that evil alien lifeform known as bindweed has taken hold. Yes, pretty pink and white flowers, but come on, give the other plants a chance!

Grrr
Look at it, taking over the world

We drove up to a lookout from where we could see not only the great Lake Taupo but also the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, hundreds of miles away…that’s how clear the air was today, different to the mist of yesterday on Kapiti Island.

Lake Taupo and in the distance, Tongariro National Park

We found a nice little coffee shop called Bubu at the Rangatira Shopping Centre. The coffee was so good, I had to have a second cup straightaway. If I didn’t sleep the night, it would have been worth it!

After a spot of recovery in our Airbnb’s air conditioning, I went for a walk down to the lakeside, where I enjoyed a much lower temperature, a slight breeze, and the sight of people, ducks and black swans all swimming together.

Swimming in Lake Taupo
Great Lake Taupo

Later on, Liesel and I ate our fish and chip supper in the very same spot, only one of us (me) didn’t eat any fish. So just chips and chips for me.

You know sometimes on TV dramas, there are butterflies? And to keep them in shot, it looks like they’re dangling from a wire hanging in front of the camera as it pans around? Well, that might not be the case. Here in the garden of our Acacia Bay studio apartment, orange and black butterflies have flown by several times, exhibiting the same behaviour. They flutter by too fast to capture photographically but they seem to be dangling at the end of a puppeteer’s strings. Other butterflies have been observed too, which is fantastic, plus a couple of dragonflies. But, despite the raucous noise of the cicadas, which ceased spontaneously as soon as the Sun disappeared, the only one we’ve seen was dead, and being processed by a swarm of ants. Nature at its wonderful best.

There is a dam at Aratiatia Rapids and if you look closely at the picture, you can just make out rainbow colours in the spray. As ever, not as obvious as it was in real life.

Dam

We paid a quick visit here after leaving Acacia Bay and, yes, we couldn’t resist visiting Bubu once again for more of their delicious coffee, in our takeaway cups.

Our next place is near Tauranga but we made a detour vis Whakatane.

Never mind Cox Lane, Chessington or Church Road, Northenden, this is the sort of address I’d like.

Thermal Explorer Highway

After our terrific success a couple of days ago, I’m still on the lookout for kiwis. And in Whakatane, we struck gold again! Well, bronze, anyway.

Kiwi Boy by James Pickernell

We would love to visit Whakaari, aka White Island, as it’s an active volcano.

White Island (model)

This picture was taken from the model at the Information Centre, we didn’t fork out for a helicopter ride, nor have we invested in a drone.

Amongst the wildlife we didn’t expect to see in New Zealand was a Loch Ness Monster. But they’re here and living in a place called Matata. And yes, I did start singing Hakuna Matata to myself.

Loch Ness Monster but not the real one

And while I was quietly stalking Nessie, I made friends with a couple of pukekos.

Pukekos

We arrived at our new place in Oropi, just south of Tauranga and we sat in the garden, in the shade. A little chick was looking for his Mum and when a larger chook turned up, we thought, oh good. Until she started pecking and biting and picking up and throwing the little one. Nature at its wonderful best. Well, I encouraged the so-called grown-up to go back home, next door, and then all we had to worry about was the cat eyeing up the baby.

Our new, noisy neighbours

We made plans for the next few days, we had a quick chat with our new host, Raewyn. And while typing, I’ve been listening to Chris Evans’s new breakfast show on Virgin Radio, complete with all the old jingles from the Radio 2 incarnation, plus Vassos Alexander but no Moira Stuart, sadly.

We were just drifting off to sleep when suddenly, the room was fully illuminated. In my stupor/delirium, I thought we were about to be kidnapped by aliens and was torn between fear and excitement. I thought mybe the alien bindweed overlords were coming to get me. But it was only the motion sensors turning lights on outside the house. And, while I’m all for security, it did rule out any intention I had of sneaking out in the middle of the night to look at the stars.

We dragged ourselves out of bed, and set off for our day in a Living Maori Village.

The group of visitors was encouraged to learn how to say the name of the place, Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, and after a few attempts, I think most of us got it. Fortunately, it’s usually shorted to Whakarewarewa and, sometimes, to just plain old Waka.

Our guide was only 19 years old but was very confidant telling us about the village and about her people. She apologised for her English, but she had only been speaking the language for three years and she did very well. She used to be a penny diver. There’s a cold pool near the entrance to the village and young children jump in to dive for the coins that we visitors throw at them. It’s a long drop, and was one of the activities that Liesel and I both chose not to join in with.

Penny divers, diving for coins

Steam was venting all around us and any concerns I had about the fumes affecting Liesel’s asthma were soon quelled. The sulphur clears the sinuses beautifully. Our guide (whose name I apologise for forgetting) told us about their bathing regime in the hot, mineral-rich pools. They go au naturelle but only after all us visitors have left. The minerals clean the skin and leave it feeling nicely moisturised, no need for soap. But she told us that she does use soap as she doesn’t want to go around smelling like old people!

Quite a big tour group

We looked over at the geysers that were only spouting at half-mast on this occasion, but even so, what a remarkable sight.

Two old geysers, Pohutu and Prince of Wales

We watched a performance of song and dance, poi and sticks and after six weeks in New Zealand, we heard arguably NZ’s most famous song, Pokarekare Ana, for the first time!

For Helen
Maori performance

I managed to get a decent picture of a bug. It sat still while I fished my phone out, it didn’t fly, jump, hop or run off or vanish in a puff of smoke. I didn’t realise until today that New Zealand has some indigenous species of praying mantis.

Praying mantis

We went for a walk a little further afield to be rewarded with the sights and smells of a Green Lake, bubbling mud pools and a dragonfly (that was too fast for the camera) who was about to burn his feet on super-heated water. 140°C as it bubbles and sizzles up from below.

Bubbling mud pool
Green Lake (Roto Kanapanapa)

Sometimes, inanimate objects take control and so it was today. My phone spotted a beautifully tanned foot and decided to press its own button. And I am very proud to share the image.

Nominated for Accidental Photo of the Year in the ‘Body Parts’ category

We had to wait until the steam had dispersed a bit and for our spectacles to clear, but here it is:

Selfie of the day ft the right hat

Today’s Ridiculous Enviro-nonsense comes from a supermarket.

Don’t buy something we’re selling

One suggestion would be to stop selling this one item, if you’re that bothered. But then, I suppose you’d also have to stop selling all the other single use plastic in all these freezers, never mind the rest of the shop.

Buy all this, though, it’s fantastic, plastic

I did my bit for the planet today by again having coffee made in my new re-useable cup (thanks, Pauline). Or, as we used to call it: cup. Sometimes, I wash it in between uses.

While we were suffering in 27° heat, our family in England were below zero and building the biggest snowman in the world!

Martha and her snowman

Suffering? No, it was hot, yes, but what a fantastic place. And we did have an ice cream, of course. The diet starts tomorow…

We drove back via Rotorua and passed the signs for all the various activities that we just won’t have time to enjoy. Active things:

Skydiving, Sailing, River Cruise, Jetboating, Kayaking, Jetboard Tours, Lion Feeding, Zorbing, Sky Swing, Railcruising, Offroading, Horse Trekking, Lugeing. Nor will we visit the Cat Café: yes, there really is one in Rotorua. Some of the walks look interesting though, at ground level and in the canopy of a forest.

More music news. In our alphabetical journey through all the songs on my phone, we have reached the letter I. I never realised how many Dusty Springfield songs are in the first person. You don’t know what to do with yourself? Just close your eyes and count to ten. You can’t make it alone? You only want to be with me? Come to me, Try anything, You’re Coming Home Again. And Riot Squad made an appearance: I’d forgotten they were there too, totally ignored by ‘shuffle’.