Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Summer In The City
Hello folks. Hope you are all well and not shivering too much in “Good Old Blighty”. We follow the UK weather on a daily basis here in the colonies (as all good Brits should) and it looks like it’s been pretty white in most places over the last week or so.
Golam welcomes you to Wellington Airport
Pat and I were knocked sideways last week when we got an e mail telling us that Dai, from Narrowboat Jandai, had suffered a massive heart attack, while walking his dog on the towpath and had died. Jandai was the boat built by Kingfisher immediately before ours, and over the limited time we’d had on the system we had got to know Dai, and his lovely Partner Jan, pretty well. Dai was quite a character, and we will all miss his laconic wit, his encyclopaedic knowledge of the canal system, his almost fanatical obsession with foraging for wood, his partisan views on Welsh Rugby and his absolute conviction that Black Sheep Bitter was the best beer in the land. Our love and sympathy go out to Jan and their families. Dai was a very fit chap, and never had a health issue, so it really came as a bolt out of the blue. Thanks to Fred and Lisa, moored behind Jandai, for keeping us up to date.
We are still in Wellington and will be until the first week in March. Then we fly to Sydney and on to Hawaii, where we will meet up with Pat’s sister Monica and brother-in-law Garry. They know Maui well, so we should get the full tourist treatment. I have been doing some research in preparation at the local library here, and have checked out where I can try some ukulele’s out. It’s got to be the next musical project – uke’s are everywhere over here.
Pat & Livi enjoy a cup of tea in the Botanical Gardens
It’s the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, but you wouldn’t think it. The weather in Wellington is very patchy and we have been getting as many wet and windy days as sunny ones.
Last week we caught the ferry over to the South Island and then a bus to Nelson, to visit my old pal Vic, who was staying at his wife Val’s house on the outskirts of Nelson. I have banged on about Nelson a few times in my blog. It was my favourite place in all of NZ when we last visited in 2003 and that view has not changed. The city is the right size, has a great climate, with beaches, mountains and vineyards, plus a bit of a vibe, that I haven’t picked up in other places we have visited. Vic travels the world a lot, and has a base in Nantwich in Cheshire, close to the canal system, and came on the boat a couple of times last summer so we had seen him regularly, but we hadn’t seen Val for ages. We had a great time with them, visited some rather good vineyards, cooked some great grub and the weather was warm, apart from the day we flew back to Wellington when it poured all day. I even managed to get a pint of British-style real ale at a very nice pub, in the city centre.
Vic scans the horizon and dreams of pies!
They do like their pies down under, and Vic has an ongoing mission finding the cheapest pies in Nelson. He’s got me at it now, and when we go into “Countdown”, one of the supermarket chains here in Kaori, I have to inspect the pies to see if there is one I haven’t tried, especially if it’s cheap as chips. And I can’t leave Countdown without purchasing a Whitackers Peanut Crunch. Yum Yum

Because of its micro-climate, Nelson has a bit of a reputation as being the retirement capital of NZ, with a number of gated retirement villages in the area, so naturally being “potential customers”, we thought we would visit a couple and see what they were all about, and we were all impressed. Spas, gyms, outdoor pools – it was like a country club. It certainly is something to think about as we get on a bit.
Pat & Val on Rabbit Beach, in Nelson
We have got to know Wellington pretty well now. It calls itself “the coolest little capital in the world” and that is a claim that most Wellingtonians would fiercely defend. It is a very manageable size, very, very, hilly, and has some very attractive beaches around its huge harbour. Most of our days revolve around our granddaughter, and that’s the way it should be, as we will not see her again for several months. We have been to a number of beaches with her, to the zoo, the pet shop, and most days Pat and I push the buggy up the hill to the shopping mall at Karori, where we are based.

That is changing slowly, as Erica gets ready to go back to school next week, and we will be looking after Livi for longer each day. Erica has put me on her car insurance, so I am able to drive their car, and I would imagine we will have a routine in places within a couple of days.
Free concert at The Botanical Gardens and not a Stetson in sight
Kaori, is only a couple of miles from Wellington city centre. Halfway into the city is the Botanical Gardens, and through January they have free outdoor concerts in the gardens most evenings, with a mixture of music from jazz to classical. The whole gardens are lit and it really is quite special. We have now been to two, and the last one was a local country band “Way Out West”, who we thought might be a bit tacky, but we ended up knowing nearly every song they played. Pat got her “Boot Scoot Boogie” and I got “Redneck Woman” so we were well pleased. All being well with the weather, we will return for the last night this coming Saturday, when the Wellington Big Band will be swinging the park.
Cook Island dancers perform for the public
Last Monday was a public holiday in Wellington. There was lots going on by the waterside, but we were drawn, as were hundreds of others, to the Birdman competition, where Wellingtonians in various disguises and in various vehicles, threw themselves into the harbour off a ramp, to huge applause. It was judged by the mayor who commented that one of her favourite tunes was “I Believe I Can Fly”, and she had not been able to get the tune out of her head throughout the competition.

Crowd favourite at the "Birdman" competition - the Pirate ship and crew
Finally, when we were in Lake Taupo over the New Year, we were able to help out two young Alaskans whose car had broken down on the outskirts of town. They needed to get to Auckland and we wedged them into the back of the car for the three hour journey. On the way they told us about the “Coachsurfing” world-wide community, who exist to promote travel and give independent
travellers a bed for the night. They only ask that you do the same, if approached.
We thought we would investigate and have been able to find some interesting people to stay with in Santa Fe and San Antonio which we are in the States. Should be illuminating.



Monday, 7 January 2013

Kia Ora And A Happy New Year

Greetings my friends from “the land of the great white cloud”, or its near equivalent in Maori, and that’s Maori, as in Maari, not Maori, as in Mowari, or so we have been reliably informed.

All goes well, and thanks to all friends, on the water and on “dry” land, for your Christmas and New Year greetings. We hope you had a restful and peaceful break. Like all good boaters, we follow the weather forecasts daily and my, haven’t you all had a lot of rain in the UK.

James and Livi concentrate on some mini golf over the Xmas holidays

Here in “God’s Own Country” it’s been a bit of a mixture of cloud, with the occasional very hot spell and overnight shower. Over the water in Australia it’s really cooking at the moment we hear. Stuart, if you read this, please report from the Gold Coast.
In Wellington, where we are currently based, it’s a balmy 24 degrees this morning and Pat is at the moment having her breakfast outside on the patio, as she watches the tractors cutting the grass in the park, that backs onto Erica and James house.

Any of you who have visited this part of the world will know, however, that things can change very quickly. We had a 500 Km journey yesterday and at 5pm, we passed through a small town that was displaying the temperature above its KFC as 26 degrees, and a half an hour later, we arrived in Wellington to a very cool and breezy 15 degrees.

The forecasters had predicted a cool and showery Christmas Day for this part of the world, but it turned out to be the hottest in Wellington for 15 years, and there was no wind, which, to me, was more amazing. We joined Erica and James and their pals for a picnic above the beach at Scorching Bay, about 20 minutes from here, and the photo, below, with little Livi was taken there.

Christmas Day on the beach at Scorching Bay

On New Years Eve, we drove up to the Coromandel peninsular, to spend a few days with our Kiwi pals, Kevin and Helen. Erica, James and Livi, flew up and we picked them up at Auckland Airport. The previous day we had driven up to Napier (one of our favourite places with some great Art Deco architecture) and then overnighted in Taupo, by its huge lake, which we had previously driven through, but had never stopped. Lovely spot, but it poured down on our arrival.

The Coromandel is a little ear of land that sticks out, west of Auckland. It is stunningly beautiful, and it’s got the lot. Fabulous beaches, quaint little towns,mountains, and lush, verdant valleys. It’s where most of Aucklanders have their holiday homes and is a favourite weekend retreat for many Kiwis. Our base was in Whitianga, (pronounced Fitihanga), which has a winter population of 4,000 and over Christmas and New Year, that swells to 40,000. There were 14 of us in the house, and although it was a bit crazy at times, we had a great time and Kevin and Helen’s family made us very welcome.

Every house seems to have a boat in the drive and theirs was no exception. We were hoping to get some cruising in, as I am feeling a need to re-connect with the water, and James was hoping to go fishing, but despite a service the day before, the engine would not turn over on New Years Day and all the boat shops were shut over the holidays. It didn’t stop us getting out and about though.

Kev and Helen run a small farm near Hamilton, and all the meat we consumed over the week, which was considerable, came from their animals. Even the venison sausages. Kev’s neighbour saw a stray deer on the property and promptly bagged it and they dragged it home. They all thought it was highly amusing that I preferred my beer warm, rather than freezing the life out of it. I’ve had a similar reaction in Canada, and I now just shrug it off. Once they even put a bottle in the microwave as a joke. Ha Ha!
With Kevin and Helen at Whitianga

We spent around two days coming back to Wellington and drove all over the place. Getting around is easy, as they drive on the proper side of the road over here, but getting your head around the names of the towns you pass along the way is something else. Paraparaaumi and Ngauruhoe are two that spring to mind. Another thing we have noticed is that everbody in red coloured cars seem to drive very fast here. Can’t work that out yet!

The Poms cook for the Kiwis at Whitianga

They also like to put their individual towns on the map by plonking a giant “something or other” in a prominent place on the main street. We saw a giant sheep, a giant wellington boot, and a giant carrot on our travels yesterday. I know there is a giant Kiwi Fruit somewhere. We saw it last time we were here.
Waterfall in Tongararo National Park

This Thursday we are heading across to the South Island on the Interislander ferry, to see our pals Vic and Val in Nelson, my favourite place in all of NZ. Only there for a few days but looking forward to seeing them both.