Author Archives: Mark and Sarah - MASTERS!

Life is never black or white – or even 50 shades of grey for that matter

I half expected the Pearl and Dean music to start as the lights dimmed and changed colour.  We’d just taken off from Auckland in our brand new LAN Airlines Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner”, the plane seemingly taking an age to get off the ground.

Dream on

Dream on

I’m not a nervous flyer, well not now after 31 flights.  However, the thought of flying 6,000 miles across the South Pacific on two engines to Santiago, Chile with no land in between, did make me briefly think I might not see my beloved Middlesbrough play in the Premiership next season. EDITOR:  Mr B not a happy Blogger after the away defeat at Rotherham United!

But it was a fantastic ambient light show in the plane’s cabin that distracted me from thoughts of death.  We’ve been in a couple of the giant A380 Airbuses on our RTW travels and they have had different lighting states. However our first ever flight in the Dreamliner topped that by some distance.  Firstly, as we boarded, a nice pinky/rose colour helped passengers de-stress as seatbelts were tightened.  Then as we hurtled down the runway, it changed to a bluey crimson colour – which must mean something, although I know not what.

At 34,000 feet, as we flew over the International Dateline, the lights took on an orange glow as dinner was served – in-lieu of candles perhaps?  Then, with people wanting to sleep, the purple hue around the cabin ceiling gradually became a silver/yellow moonlike shimmer, gradually fading to black as the cabin lights dimmed.

Hats off to manufacturer Boeing who are being really clever here as they try to trick our mind and circadian (body) clock through different shades of light.  I think it worked in fairness, particularly as the onboard computer also controlled the 40% larger than normal ‘portal’ windows by dimming and brightening when necessary.  For example, we set off at 1830 for an 11 hour flight, went over the dateline and arrived at 1400 the same day. But despite the sun having “been up” for the last 7 hours of the flight, the windows pretended that it was still night.  Clever.  So we were up for 31 hours and had no jet lag the next day despite very little sleep due to the excessive turbulence.  Maybe that’s the downside of these flexible light-weight carbon fibre planes.

Just wished I had taken some photos – but hey, for once, hope the above prose gives you an idea.

So, Santiago, Chile.  A new country and our first time in South America.  Excited.

Well we were for five minutes as we got in to the taxi, but suddenly we both thought it all looked a bit grey as we sped in to the centre of town.  Situated in a “bowl” haze not heavy smog, enveloped the City.  Something akin to Beijing was in the air, but we could breath.

Not a good start

Not a good start

We quickly dumped our bags in our 1970s throwback hotel, interestingly called The Vegas and headed out to explore, our legs still seized up thanks to the not so generous 30” legroom afforded in LAN Cattle Class. Dream on Dreamliner.

But what was this?  Nobody around. Shutters shut, grey coloured streets with nobody in them. Lots of concrete, randomly mixed with the odd Cubanesque colourful style building. We headed for the central plaza, graffiti everywhere.  The city increasingly looked like a cross between Romania in the height of the cold-war mixed with a down-at-heel part of Birmingham.  More graffiti.  It was sprayed everywhere.  Still nobody around as a piece of “Donald Trump” hair, sorry tumbleweed, blew across the street in-front of us as if we were in some sort of spaghetti western.

Translation please

Translation please

"Back end of beyond perhaps.....?"

“Back end of beyond perhaps…..?”  Look closely

Not open

Not open

Ah yes a BT phone

Ah yes a BT phone and a few more people

Baching Mad

Locals thought I was “Baching Mad” taking a shot of this

Shutter up

Shutter up

No escape from the spray.... not even trees

No escape from the spray…. not even trees

From the beauty of New Zealand to this in the blink of an eye.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and headed to a rather poor Italian restaurant for a bowl of pasta and a pizza.  It was the only thing we could find open within a half mile walk of the hotel.  In a corner, a hunched up old lady who must have been in her 90s, kept shouting out to her 65+ year old daughter over Sunday/ “Mother’s Day” lunch?  Back to the care home for her, time for bed for us after being up for 31 hours.

Next day, Monday, a different day and a good day.  The sun was shining, an excellent start.  The grey had changed to blue and suddenly there were people everywhere.  The place was alive, nay bustling, a veritable hive of activity in the street surrounding our hotel.  Streets and areas that yesterday had appeared to be reminiscent of a former 1980s Soviet State suddenly looked amazingly capitalist.  With the sun now out to play, temperatures quickly rose into the late 20s.

That's better, old and new

That’s better, old and new in the blue

Flag greets MASTERS arrival

Flag greets MASTERS arrival

Life and soul of the street

Life and sole of the street party

Coffee - ah yes coffee! More of that in a moment

Coffee – ah yes coffee! More of that in a moment

Fidel sadly could not make the free tour

Fidel sadly could not make it in person

Welcome to Santiago proper!

We decided to join the 1000 Free Walking Tour which started in the main Piazza. No hills, but still good exercise and the chance to find out more about the city we were in for 72 hours.

Franco (or El Presidente as I dubbed him), our late 20s tour guide was a real pro’ – he should have been after six years.  But as I said to him, his passion and enthusiasm were infectious.  It was as if this was his first, not 1400th tour.  Fair play and you could see why he lives off tips, he was that good.

Make Franco President

Start point of our tour

Start point of our tour – The Cathedral

Franco's followers, Mrs B at the back

Franco’s followers, Mrs B at the back

So our four hour tour started, taking in at first the historic bits of the central area as one would expect.  But I am delighted to say there was loads of social commentary and background on modern day Santiago and the people of Chile.  It was all fascinating.  So please, let me share some small vignettes from our walk to give you a flavour of this interesting capital.

MORE COFFEE VICAR?

Thirty minutes after we started, Franco stopped the group in the street and began talking about coffee houses… I was so glad he did!  Earlier that morning, I had stumbled in to what I thought was a café selling coffee, only to be met by a couple of men and a rather well-endowed young lady who asked me with a twinkle in her glass eye what I wanted!!!  Franco’s explanation was interesting.  Chile, he explained is not known for its quality of coffee so in the 1980s some bright spark had the notion of selling coffee in cafes with no chairs (just poser tables) served by ladies in short skirts.  The idea was a simple one. Men would be distracted from the poor treacle/stewed coffee by the beauty of the ladies and everybody would be happy. It summed up for me typical male crass thinking.  The irony, that this was International Women’s Day not lost on me or Sarah. We squinted through partially covered frosted window pains and both got eye fulls!  Libidos in check, we continued as history beckoned.

Distracted

Distracted

... It's not difficult to be distracted

… It’s not difficult to be distracted in Santiago

MAGGIE THATCHER’S MATE…. “The Party of Pinochet” – Blair 1999

We stopped, overlooking the Presidential Palace – not particularly ornate or grand as the photo shows.  But interesting because on the 9th September 1973 there was a coup and Margaret Thatcher’s friend General Pinochet strangely came to power after two President’s died in the space of a week. He was third in line. I personally remember Pinochet for a couple of reasons.

The first was his support of the British when we took back the Falklands.  Pinochet had no love for the Argentinians although officially neutral.  But when Margaret needed assistance to bomb the Falkland Islands, General P offered radar support in exchange for some Hawker fighters….  The “friendship” continued into the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and coincided with the second reason I remember this rather nasty Dictator.  Joe, our son once went to a birthday party when he was 3 on the Wentworth Estate.  Not any old party, but the leaving party for the Sultan of Brunei’s two sons who went to the same nursery – Happy Days (yes the real name of the nursery).  It was quite literally a palace, but interestingly close by was General P’s UK residence where he was holed up after being ousted from power in 1990 to evade possible arrest for nasties carried out under his watch.

Presidential Palace, the scene of the coup in 9/11/1973

Presidential Palace, the scene of the coup on the 11/9/1973 – Pinochet died in 2006

POLICE STATE?

Pinochet is long since dead, but one lasting memory I do have of Santiago is the Police presence on the streets.  Those of you who are Facebook friends will have seen a tongue in cheek posting I made a couple of days ago showing water canon units, armed personnel carriers and military police in full riot gear.  This heavy police presence was not as first reports claimed, needed to quell the disquiet of Middlesbrough FC fans in Santiago (me) after their diabolical performance against Rotherham, but was to “observe” what appeared to be a perfectly quiet demonstration involving around 10,000 mainly women who were campaigning for a range of women’s rights, including abortion.

You are conscious of the police

You are conscious of the police

Not always smiling

Not always smiling

COLOURFUL GRAFITI

Pity the police don’t earn their money by nailing people with spray cans in their hands.  I mentioned earlier that graffiti was everywhere and wasn’t a pretty sight.  However on our walking tour we saw examples of much better, even semi-professional “street art” which was actually quite good….

Good G

Good G

Better but not right

Better but not right

ART FOR ARTSAKE?

… but better still were the many artists who worked in the historic streets in the old quarter and in the student side of town close to a myriad of bars and clubs – the latter where a more “free” or should I say “drunk” style of painting prevailed .  I really liked their work, bright vivid colours reminding me in some cases of the great work of Steve Eker and Cate Field, who I hasten to add are both teetotal.

A chap called Bills

A chap called Bills

No pictures of Trump thank goodness

No pictures of Trump thank goodness

View from the top - better than my grey image

View from the top of the big hill – better than my grey image

ARCHITECTURALLY VERY GOOD

The Santiagan artists had some lovely backdrops to paint in-front of and Franco showed us many fine sights, the old buildings mixing with the new quite well except in the case of the Telefonica Tower, which looked like the stupid “brick” that it was in terms of a poor copy of a mobile phone circa 1995.  Judge for yourself.

Side by side

Side by side

The opera house

The opera house

Telefonica Brick circa 1995

Telefonica Brick circa 1995

BAILEY’S POLICE HIT LIKED BY LOCALS

Just round the corner from the Tower, I could hear the clear sounds of a rock band.  Listening to the music I was astounded to see a guy on drums and another on bass guitar “busking” in front of four lanes of cars waiting at traffic lights.  With full amplification, they started each time the traffic stopped giving them around 35 seconds to belt out various tracks before rushing down the sides of the vehicles to receive cash.  I watched these guys completely  fascinated, having broken away  from the walking tour party who were now busy looking at some really, really boring statue of a bloke from 1756.  The drummer stayed with his kit on the pavement whilst the guitarist gyrated big time as the lights turned to red.  Two performances later I heard the Police Number 1 “Don’t stand so close to me” from 1980.  I could not resist singing along from the centre of the dual carriageway much to the pleasure of the band and it would appear cars alike.  Tune over, we nipped down the cars and collected about 500 pesos – around 50P – which my fellow band members seemed pleased with.  I tried to explain that I was from “near Newcastle where Sting comes from” but my Spanish Geordie accent was not good and I think the message (in a bottle) was lost in translation.

No police, just Sting

No police, just Sting

Back to the group, the rest of the international walking tour members just never knew what they missed…

So, next up, Ecuador and our trip to the Amazon Basin and the “Poor Man’s” Galapagos.  Our LAN Airbus 320 has just pulled up on the stand beneath where I am sitting.  The white and blue fuselage shining in the late afternoon sun. We’ve had a really colourful last three days, just wish it had been longer really.

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A TIDE of SALTY emotion as we WAVE goodbye to the country of….

MARK: If you ask me what the TWO things are that I will remember most from our five weeks in New Zealand, it might surprise you.  What do you reckon?

Beautiful scenery, aqua-marine glacial lakes or incised ‘V’ shaped valleys? Snow-capped mountains, speeding jet boats or little planes affording brilliant views? Wine, wine and more wine?  The un-PC “classless” people, superb weather – only two grey days in 32 – or single lane roads where Chinese drivers cause mayhem?

Just some of the experiences that readily spring to mind. But just what will stay with me forever?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the masters20152016.com Award for Remembrance goes to…….. drum roll Oscar style……..

Big Blue Sky

Big blue sky and bright blue water

… the Sky and the Sea!

Yep I know, that may be a bit random, but let me explain.

The sky here seems so much”bigger” and bluer than any other country in the world we have ever been to.  Quick research on the web suggests this is possibly due to the lack of pollution, reduced ozone in the atmosphere and is linked to the angle of New Zealand in relation to the Sun’s UV rays.  Whatever it is, we have been sooooooo privileged to see so many amazing blue skies each day. And even on the few days it has been grey, the fascinating cloud formations have been just as dramatic.

OK that’s the sky bit over with, so what about the sea?  Good question Mark.

We’ve seen a lot of it during our 4,163 mile road journey around the two islands. From Bluff at the bottom of South Island to near the Cape Reinga Peninsula in the North.  Benign one minute, a tumultuous cauldron the next, it makes you realise just how insignificant you are in the scheme of things.  It is mesmerizing just watching the surf break. The noise can be deafening close up.  I certainly have great respect for those early explorers including Captain Cook who took on the might of the oceans and not always with positive outcomes.

A grain of sand

A grain of sand

The sky and the sea, literally came together during one of our last adventures, when we bounced along on an ex New Zealand Royal Navy rescue boat, owned and run by local Whitianga legend Steve Miller – The Cave Cruzer.  Steve and his lovely wife Vicki also own the bed and breakfast accommodation we stayed in – Absolute Beachview – a great place if you are ever in this neck of the woods.

But back to the legend for a minute who, by the way, drives an aqua-marine 1974 Mustang convertible…

Steve has saved the lives of TWO people in the past few months due to his fantastic CPR skills.  His latest heroics just over a month ago, got a lot of media attention as he saved a lady’s life on Monday, who then married on Friday of that same week. Read all about it for yourselves by clicking on the links below to access the online reports:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/weddings/76594618/Nearly-drowned-on-Monday-married-on-Friday

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11585911

The God that is Steve at Cathedral Cove.

The God that is Steve, at Cathedral Cove.

Heading off on Sunday morning the sun decided to come out and what a 3 hour trip we had!

The sun will come out

The sun will come out

The Rib was able to get really close to so many rock and cliff formations…and wildlife you could literally touch!

Hungry birds

Hungry birds

Tree-mendous stacks

Tree-mendous stacks

S and S

Big sky meets big sea

The Champagne glass

“The Champagne Glass” – sadly upside down and empty

Largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere

The largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere

Inside the cave the fish came out to play

Inside the cave, the fish came out to play

It was such a fun trip….

Smile please

Smile please as we pass through what is known as the “washing machine”

Captain Cook - you know, the bloke from Middlesbrough - named this Cathedral Cove

Captain Cook – the bloke from Middlesbrough – named this Cathedral Cove – Sarah impressed as you can see!

Leaning

Get a shave

And then WOW. Steve got a call to say there was a pod of Bottlenose dolphins in the Bay around the corner.  We sped off.  The first sight we had, came when one of these amazing creatures started jumping over a chap on a kayak nearby. Within minutes there were dolphins everywhere around our boat, heading towards the centre of the main estuary channel.  I decided to get in amongst them as you do – and they decided to move on, so that was the end of my swimming with dolphins bit.  No wet suit Phil W in the north!

Look at the size of the white bull (bottom)

Look at the size of the white bull (bottom)

Everywhere you looked

Everywhere you looked

Side by side

Side by side – two mates out for a swim

Out of focus, but you get the sort of idea

Out of focus, but you get the sort of idea

I frightened them off

I frightened them off – so I hung on the back of the rib as it headed off at speeds of 30 mph, my hair blowing in the wind from the big inboard motors

The two videos I took on my 35mm camera perhaps give a better idea – sorry about the shakes and the poor quality… Click on the link or the video arrow and have a look…

And so we say good-bye to New Zealand.  Only two days in Auckland before we fly over the international date-line to Chile on Sunday.  A few days in Santiago and then another couple of flights up to Ecuador for the start of our tour to the Amazon Jungle and beyond.  Wifi is doubtless going to be harder to access, so we will post when we can. In the meantime, a massive thank you to all those who continue to email, phone, text, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and post comments on the site.  We are getting on average 200+ unique views from around the World per blog from over 58 countries, excluding the rest of the site.  So a big thank you from us for following us and thanks for the amazing comments – we really appreciate it.

We "wave" goodbye to New Zealand

We “wave” goodbye to New Zealand… next stop somehere that sounds colder but is actually warmer – Chile – another wine producing country.  Get the real reason for this trip?

BIG THANKS TO THE EXCELLENT ALOA SEAVIEW RESORT MOTEL IN PAIHIA WHO HAVE KINDLY HELPED WITH THE UPLOAD OF THESE VIDEOS.  AN EXCELLENT MOTEL IN THE BAY OF ISLANDS – http://www.aloha.co.nz – SPEAK TO JASON AND SAY HI FROM ME FOR A MASSIVE DISCOUNT OR NOT.

Categories: New Zealand Blog | Tags: , , , , ,

Please Miss, can I climb a Volcano?

MARK:  Written in a motel room where all I can smell is bad eggs!  Welcome to Rotorua, New Zealand’s Geothermal Wonderland – where the wafting smell of sulphur is never far away.

I once drew a picture of a volcano when I was six and a half.  It was “pointy” in shape, grey at the bottom and towards the top had red boulders and lava spewing out of the top.  On the left hand side as you looked at it there was a stick insect boy climbing up – it was me trying to see if I could put the fire out!

I'll get there...

I’ll get there…

Mrs Todd, my teacher at Masham Church of England Primary School was very impressed and put it on the wall for all to admire.  I was chuffed, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever get the chance to do it for real.  But dreams do come true!

Art wasn’t my best subject at school.  That honour went to Geography, like my father before me and now our son Joe.  Handy for both Joe and I as tour operators and now for me when travelling the World.

I was rubbish at maths too.  Fractions I could just about cope with.  And how I scraped a Grade C Maths ‘O’ Level, only God and Mary Moss (teacher) will ever know.  That said, when it comes to looking after money I am red hot.  Indeed I can tell you at any one time how much money we have/haven’t got in our accounts/pension funds.  Sarah’s the same.  We both know exactly what the state of play is money wise and have the same values and beliefs where pounds shillings and pence are concerned.  This is a real blessing on a trip like this.

That strange moment when you realise that the photograph on your Thomas Cook Currency Card is the same as the view directly in front of you... the Champagne Pool Wai-O-Tapu

That strange moment when you realise that the photograph on your TC Currency Card is the same as the view directly in front of you… the Champagne Pool Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua

I get really excited – Sarah sometimes, when we go “under budget”.  I get a massive “kick” from banking money on our MASTERS spreadsheet. Every penny/cent spent is recorded and appears either as an expense for accommodation, car hire, fuel, flights, food or entertainment.  Each country we visit has a specific budget. For New Zealand, after all other costs have been taken in to consideration, £73 is the amount budgeted per day to spend on entertainment/activities.  That might not seem very much, but when you consider that a lot of the time we travel by car and there are so many free things to do, it is proving to be more than enough. Plus, when we go walking, or should I say training, ka-ching another £73 quid is saved.

So this week has been brilliant.  Not only have we undertaken four amazing walks and got much fitter, but we have banked over £200 and achieved my childhood ambition of climbing up an active volcano, seeing a splurging mud pool and marveled at a geyser that likes washing powder. Even you would have been impressed, Neil Barton!

But please, before you run away with the idea that it has been easy time, let me assure you right away, this has been far from a “walk in the park”.

Indeed, the week got off to a really bad start. Monday was a right off weather wise and the first time on this entire trip we were unable to do what we had planned.  The cloud base was low, it rained for most of the day and the temperature at the top of the mountain (according to the online weather reports) was down to 4C with wind-chill –   cold for what was essentially an “August Day”. You could not see a thing even at the bottom.

Hard to see a few meters infront of your face

Hard to see a few metres in-front of your face

Tuesday was a different proposition completely.  Game on for our attempt @ The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (central North Island), held to be one of the Top Ten Day hikes in a National Park anywhere in the World.

TAC has the distinction of being a dual World Heritage site for both its natural and cultural significance. The trek crosses over the multi-cratered active volcano Mount Tongariro for 19.4 KMs (12.1 miles).  Twelve miles in itself, no big deal, but the rise and fall was the real challenge for us.  The route started at 1120m (3,670ft) climbed to 1886m (6,188ft) and then descended down to 760m (2490ft).

Easy on paper...

Looks like a plan…

Good training for the Inca Trail…. except that little baby is 25-30kms a day for three consecutive days, the rise and fall per day is 2/3 times that of Tongariro and all this at altitudes of between 10,000-14,000ft.  But we weren’t looking that far ahead.  Indeed all I wanted to do was to see steaming vents, hot springs, lava flows and beautiful water filled craters.  Plus of course check out the amazing views weather permitting.  If we could do this within the average 7-8 hours then happy days.

Pointing the way

Pointing the way

The first hour was a doddle.  5kms and we nailed it.  This of course not a race (according to Sarah).  But it was a chance to compare our fitness levels against some serious walkers of all ages.  It gave me real satisfaction to “burn off” lots of younger people in their early 20s as they meandered along looking half cut from the night before.  The terrain in fairness not that challenging.

Overtaking

Overtaking

But then we turned the corner and read a sign that said if you were not fit, did not have the right equipment, could not hack it, blah blah bla, now was the time to turn round.  We walked straight past it and then OMG!!  Steps (over 750) and steep inclines, suddenly this was challenging.

Best foot forward

Best foot forward

The weather began to close in.  The grey day turned damp, mizzle ruining my hair, with shafts of light only appearing every ten minutes.  We walked on.  I was starting to blow, but this my way of taking in oxygen to climb quickly to keep the momentum going.  Meanwhile Sarah was having no problems.  Over the 90 minutes since we had set off, just five people had overtaken us – we’d past a couple of hundred.

350m above us ahhhhhhhh

350m above us ahhhhhhhh… long lenses can be dangerous

Harder and harder the route became, when suddenly I heard a north-west England accent.  I thought the three ladies in their 50s were probably from Bolton, they weren’t quite, Bury was their home – they didn’t know Andy Hamer though.  “Whose bloody idea was this….” said the rather stout lady at the back. We had to laugh, the throw away line was just what we needed to fire us up and get us over the top to the first plateau.

“There it is Mrs Todd” I said in my head, as 15 minutes later we had our first chance to see one of the volcanoes close up.  On the right stood Mount Ngauruhoe at 2,291m.  It was just as I had drawn it all those years before, the perfect schoolboy cone-shaped volcano, shrouded every few seconds by swirling cloud.

Me on the right

Me on the left, can you see?

Cloud again

Cloud again

It was like walking on what I envisage the moon to be like.  A flat barren landscape.  Low cloud skidding across the surface created a mirage effect and every so often I was reminded of my old school chemi-lab’ as smelly sulphur jets rose into the sky adjacent to waterlogged explosion holes.

Lunar landscape

Lunar landscape

Cloud catching us up

Cloud catching us up

But we had no time to lose.  The weather behind us was closing in rapidly.  T Shirts were no good.  The temperature dropped by 15C instantly, with the wind gusting to make it feel even colder.

Out came our sweat shirts and waterproof jackets. We were warm.  Others less prepared shivered.  One guy in sandals – seriously?

Ready for action

Ready for action

One more push, this time up the left-hand side ridge taking us to the top of our ascent.  Vertigo started to kick in.  Chains were tied to the side of the mountain so you could literally pull yourself up.  I kept my nerve and 30 minutes later after walking the last bit on red cinders we were there.  The weather was terrible one minute and then the next, wow. There was my red crater, blown out of the mountain side, as if it was an angry dragons mouth, oozing sulphur and steam deep amongst the crevices inside.  Check out these shots as the sky cleared right on cue.

Yes!!!!

Yes!!!!

The Red Crater

The Red Crater

Looking back

Looking back

On top of the World... well NZ

On top of the World… well NZ

Time to go.  We slid 500m down a 65 degree ash scree in the general direction of some beautifully coloured crater lakes.

Steady as she goes...

Steady as she goes…

Worth the worry - a 750ft sheer drop to Sarah's right

Worth the worry – a 750ft sheer drop to Sarah’s right

Two kilometres across a further plateau, a short climb up the other side and we were there at the pass and all down-hill from there on in.  What a beautiful downward walk in bright sunshine, heather reminding me of the Yorkshire Dales, further steam clouds rising as if produced from the cooling towers of the old Ferrybridge Power Station on the side of the A1M.

The Pass - 9kms to go

The Pass – 9kms to go

Like the Lakes

Like the Lakes

Drax or Ferrybridge?

Drax or Ferrybridge?

Home from Heather

Home from Heather

With a bound and a loo stop we were down. And down in record time – just five hours five minutes from start to finish.  Result!  Into the car we immediately climbed.  Two and a half hours later, after driving 125 miles to our next port of call, we crawled out, stiff and unable to move.  We’d done it!

Down but not out - made it in 5 hours 5 minutes

Down but not out – made it in 5 hours 5 minutes

Next day we needed to get rid of the stiffness and so settled on a short 6 mile walk along the banks of the beautiful Waihou River. It was like being in England again. Words wasted – the photos say it all.

Yorkshire Dales 1

Yorkshire Dales 1

Yorkshire Dales 2

Yorkshire Dales 2

Yorkshire Dales 2

Yorkshire Dales 3

Yorkshire Dales 4 Minus Palm

Yorkshire Dales 4 Minus Palm

Wiltshire

Wiltshire

Somerset

Somerset

And so to today (Friday).  We have been in Rotorua, described earlier as NZ’s Geothermal Wonderland or as I put it “Pong City.”  Heading 20 miles south, Wai-O-Tapu offered some amazing Mud Pools and the World famous Champagne Pool where my Currency Card gets its picture from (see above photo).  Star of the show though was the Lady Knox Geyser which was “set off” in a choreographed performance at 1015 by tipping in to the main vent hole a pile of washing powder – TRUE. Check out the two videos by clicking on either the link or the arrow on the video screen image and see for yourself.  Video 1 = Mud.  Video 2 = Lady Knox in full flow.

But fav’ geothermal experience for me was another seven mile return walk later the same day through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.  Bubbling brooks, hot water springs that gurgled and hissed everywhere you walked, with some of the most colourful rock and water features that only a child with a vivid imagination could draw.

Yellow lake and then half a mile further on....

Yellow lake and then half a mile further on….

... and then blue

… blue

Stunning Terraces

Stunning terraces

Amazing water features

Amazing water features

It was like a scene from Jurassic Park, complete with wild boars that frightened us to death when they jumped out.  Dinosaurs and volcanoes, what little kid can’t get excited about that!  Then again what about 52 year olds?  Mrs Todd, you’ll never know just what you started.

Diamond Geezer that Mark chap

Diamond Geezer that Mark bloke

Categories: New Zealand Blog

Art Deco Festival Draws Record Crowds

We did not expect to blog again so soon after the last missive…. however, our visit to Napier coincided with their annual Art Deco weekend and they sure put on a show to remember!

Few words. Lots of pictures. Historic NZ town.

On Tuesday 3 February 1931 Napier, in common with most of the Hawke’s Bay district, suffered a disastrous earthquake 2.5 minutes in length. The earthquake rocked the town almost totally levelling all buildings in the inner city, killing 162 people (a total of 258 in the Hawke’s Bay area), and raising some areas of land by as much as 8 feet. Some 4,000 hectares of sea-bed became dry land and today this sites not only the airport, but also residential and industrial property developments. The extensive rebuilding that took place in the 1930’s is the reason for the Art Deco flavour in the City. SOURCE: City of Napier website.

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If you are even remotely into Art Deco, go to Napier… forget Miami!

Categories: New Zealand Blog

Whaling and Wining

MARK:  What’s the best way of seeing a whale?  You’d think in a boat of course, but you would be wrong!

A few days ago we started researching trips to see whales in the waters just off the east coast of South Island.  It’s supposed to be one of the best places in the World to see the largest animals on the planet, where the warm waters of the North Pacific meets the South Pacific in a deep “trench” a few miles from the small town of Kaikoura.  These perfect conditions, created by the fault line that runs just underneath the surface of the earth, produces an abundance of squid and marine life that dolphins and whales love to munch on.

The Kaikoura Peninsula

The Kaikoura Peninsula

Our keenness to see these massive creatures was stimulated following a brief glimpse of a tail in a small boat off the west coast of America with Joe, close to Carmel, California in 2002.  It all happened so quickly that I never did get a photograph as the “big grey thing” dived down to the depths.  I vowed that one day we’d have another go…

Whilst trawling the ‘net (or should that be surfing) the thought also crossed my mind that I might want to swim with Dolphins, but after you have swum with sharks darling in the Barrier Reef, splashing around with “Flipper” is a little bit tame.  Actually that last statement, whilst partially true is rubbish really.  The waters here are far too cold and trying to find a wet suit large enough for a big boy is always interesting, plus I did not want to be snapped by Sarah and other wildlife photographers as a fine example of a MAMIL – Middle Aged Man in Lycra…

MAMIL MARK

MAMIL MARK a couple of years ago at the Olympic White Water Course, Enfield, UK

So we looked at TripAdvisor to see the reviews of local boat companies offering whale watching (WW) trips and were immediately put off by the whole idea due to the constant reference to sick bags and people throwing up.  We did not want to go there again – see: https://masters20152016.com/2016/02/04/if-in-doubt-just-do-it/

Not again...

Not again…

We “parked” the idea and only re-visited the notion of WW when we reconfirmed our delightfully named First Light bed and breakfast accommodation.  Tracy the owner, gave us details of a boat company, but then casually mentioned in her email, that we could see whales “from above” if we were interested.  Her husband just happened to be the manager of the local Aero Club.  It got better.  We were entitled to 10% off the flight cost because we were staying with them and the cost for a 30 minute flight was unbelievably cheaper than a three hour boat trip.  Plus we wouldn’t be bobbing up and down whilst trying to keep our lunch down.

We signed up there and then, with the added flexibility that we could fly when the weather was good during our 36 hour stay.  This of course after saying our trip over Mount Cook would be our last tourist flight…

No more.... oh, go on

No more…. oh, go on then!

All this email correspondence was happening whilst we were on the other side of the South Island at a place called Greymouth.  I’d pictured Greymouth in my mind as a place that would resemble something like Workington in Cumbria.  It was the sound of the place.  GREY MOUTH.  But this town was far from dull, as we saw hundreds of Hector Dolphins riding the white waves just under the surface at the mouth of the Grey River.

Next morning we said good bye to the dolphins and set off on a 286 mile journey through the mountains, by way of the Coast Road.  We knew it would add nearly a hundred miles but we wanted to see the Pancakes en-route before cutting through the mountains on scenic, if rather windy roads. Much better than the main boring Highway!

Shrove Tuesday had come and gone but the Pancakes served up a visual treat of sedimentary rock strata unique in the World.  It was worth the extra miles, as we saw wave after wave of 5 metre high breakers crash in to the rock and then “blow” through the holes in the cliff.  It was another geological marvel in a country which just keeps on making us go WOW.

Pancakes with syrup

Pancakes with syrup

Shrove Monday

Shrove Monday

We were just catching our breath as we walked away from the coast back to the hire car, when we spied a hitch-hiker.  We’d already picked up two guys earlier in the week – a 24 year old Frenchman and a young German from Cologne.  And, after we had both eye balled him and thought he was “ok”, we asked if he wanted a lift.  Martin (25) from Frieburg in southern Germany wanted to go to Nelson and we worked out with a further 35 mile detour we could take him half way.  He was chuffed, got in the back of the Ford Focus and we had a great chat for the next two hours.  Elloquent, good looking, funny… he was very similar to me 27 years ago!

The parting of the waves came really quickly and we gave Martin a banana as we peeped the car horn and said goodbye.  Four hours and 200 miles later all driven on ‘A’/’B’ Roads we arrived in Kaikoura an hour later than we had confirmed.

On the door of the beautiful timber house was a note welcoming us and saying that she (Tracy) was at the local swimming club with her daughter, and our whale flight had been booked at 4.00pm!  A glance at Sarah’s watch showed we had just 13 minutes to drive 7 miles back to the Airport.

Wheels spinning (James Duckworth you know what I mean), we shot off back down the coast road and in a cloud of dust, screeched to a halt, slammed the car doors and ran across the car park to a small office where a Piper Cherokee PA28 plane and a PC Six PA32 variant (John Smithson) were waiting on the grass.

John S one for you....

John S one for you….

Cabin crew doors to manual and cross-check

Cabin crew doors to manual and cross-check

Murray (Tracy’s husband) and the boss man/pilot/chief bottle washer greeted us and said we were a little late for his 1600 departure with four other people, but if we could wait an hour, his colleague Mel would “take us up” in a special flight just for the two of us.  A no-brainer.  The weather was so calm with little wind and bright blue skies. The forecast for next day showing really bad winds of up to 75mph and very heavy rain.

The 60 minute wait went in a flash and one hour later we were heading along runway 05 and the four seater Piper C’ rotated (took off) at 68 knots per hour, me sitting in the co-pilot seat.

The flight should have been for 30 minutes, but 25 minutes in and there were no whales to be seen – just hundreds of dolphins that had come out to play as the two Orcas (Killer Whales) had left the bay heading south.

Yes, they are dolphins - look closely

Yes, they are dolphins – look closely

There were three whale boats 1200 ft below us and every so often, Mel our pilot used her Short Wave Radio to update the boat captains as we had a much wider vision of the Ocean.  They in turn reckoned they were in the right place as their sonar had detected a 16m (50ft) Male Sperm Whale which was timed to surface any minute.  Nothing happened, another ten minutes went by.

I was resigned to the fact that we were going to be unlucky.  But Murray very kindly gave the go-ahead for another 20 minutes of flight – a perk of staying at the bosses house.

Stewardess Sarah

Stewardess Sarah

We kept searching, like a Nimrod after a Russian sub during the Cold War.  Hope all but gone, I suddenly spied out of the corner of my eye a spray of water and a white crest on the blue millpond.  “There she blows” some 400 metres away from the boats. We dropped to 800ft and started to circle.  Wow what a view.

The obvious thing to say is that these beasts are big – this one about 55 tons and as big as the whale boats.  Captain Mel’ told us they often dived down over 9,500ft and ate up to 800 squids day.  We circled a dozen times totally mesmorised and then with a quick flash of his tail – WHICH I MISSED AGAIN on camera – he was gone.

Whale meet again...

Whale meet again…

and again

… and again

... and again

… and again

... and again

… and again

Job done, we returned to the airstrip over the Peninsula and landed 55 minutes after take-off.

Still excited we listened to Radio 2 (Suzi Perry in for Vanessa Feltz) and she gave us both a great name check.  Click on the link below and “fast forward” to 56 minutes 35 seconds (available until 16 March 2016 on BBC i Player).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0705m82

Next day, the weather changed completely!  It started off fine on the beach….

Sarah the seal

Sarah the seal

Indian Joe

Tipi

…but then the wind and rain hammered down.  The views out to sea amazing, but no chance to see a whale.  Our mantra of “do it now” paying off yet again the day before.

Rough or what

Rough or what

Stormy skies

Stormy skies

We left Kaikoura very happy and headed north for a date with a Marlborough Wine Tour from our new base of Blenheim – the top of South Island, near the Picton Ferry.

Two hours later, we arrived in Blenheim but kept on going to Nelson.  We picked up our first English hitch hiker a guy called George Maule from Frome!!!  Frome, where Sarah went to school and it soon transpired that Sarah went to school with his Auntie Ruth and he had been to Sarah’s Dad’s sale rooms!  Small World.

But our main reason for visiting Nelson was to see Sarah’s God Daughter Becky, who we had last seen at her 21st birthday @ York Race Course ten years ago and who had been one of our bridesmaids!  Becky has been living in New Zealand for a decade and sadly suddenly lost her husband George a few months ago…

It was lovely to see Becky 12,000 + miles from home.  She looked really well and was on top form – look at her proud God Mother!!!

Becky and Sarah - it was lovely to see her - John and Helen - be proud, be very proud!

Becky and Sarah – it was lovely to see her – John and Helen – be proud, be very proud!

END OF COPY WHILST SOBER – WRITTEN 18 FEBRUARY 2016

 MARK:  DATELINE – 09:27/SATURDAY 20 February 2016/Picton Ferry Terminal – South to North Island Interislander

Well, there’s no way I could have begun to write anything yesterday evening.  And yes, I did have a drink, or 40 to be exact, falling off the wagon temporarily for what was one of those “stand out days” (and nights) which we’ll remember for many a long year to come.

Well said

Well said

We had no need to wine or gripe as Bubby Grape Tours and their affable Owner/Director Kerry came up trumps with an unbelievable trip around the vineyards of Marlborough including Cloudy Bay, Hunters and boutique wineries such as Nautilus.

Brilliant Bubbly

Brilliant Bubbly

I’m going to attempt, in this second part of the Blog to remember some of the key highlights of the day, but forgive me, I may have to resort to a few photos to fill in the somewhat hazy gaps in my memory.  Here goes, wish me luck.

Picture the scene.  A German couple from Frieburg who had brilliant personalities (rare for Germans as I told them), two Tasmanian blokes who we later found drinking beer rather than wine and four Americans, two of whom were doing something I’d have loved to have had a crack at if I’d been 30 years younger.  They were largely funding their year-long travel trip around the World by writing a Blog, which now has 60,000+ followers and real commercial potential.

CHECK OUT: http://www.roamaroo.com – Don’t quit your Daydream!

As a result of their large online following, Collette and Scott have been given freebie cruises, hotel stays and exciting experiences such as bungy jumps so long as they promise to publish a video story or write about their exploits. It’s a very clever niche business – more about that later.

The last tasting, somwehere in New Zealand I know not... Scott and Collette on the left

The last tasting, somwehere in New Zealand I know not where… Scott and Collette on the left – Sarah in her Sunday frock, which is confusing as it was a Friday

Back to this terrible ordeal which started on Friday morning at precisely 10:17 with the first of 10 wines from the wonderful Nautilus Vineyard. First up, a chance to sample some Vintage Rose 2013 fizz.  I diligently wrote some comments in the little purple spotted notebook Kerry had given me. This Rose was a pale salmon colour with a creamy mousse.  Floral rose petal notes supported by strawberry and nectarine fruits on the nose.  Made from 100% Pinot Noir, wine has real strength and depth, balanced beautifully by a touch of brioche….

A sparkling tipple

A sparkling tipple

It was a truly elegant sparking wine, a superb start to the day Chris Towers!!  But that, I shamefully have to admit was my very first and very last entry for the entire day as nine more wines were quickly sampled.  Pinot Gris Marlborough 2014, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay BBC (bring back Chardonnay) rather than ABC – Anything But Chardonnay.

By 11:00 Sarah was dancing on a small round table and nearly fell off.  Me, I was just mellow and thinking that we had five more places to visit plus a “gourmet three course lunch”.  Bring it on.

Smiling inanely to myself, I managed to somehow walk across the small car park and then without any assistance, fasten my safety belt in one of the Mercedes Van’s middle seats.  The side slide door slammed shut and off we went again a few miles down the road.  Kerry keeping a watchful eye on me through the rear view mirror because as she said “there is always one….” I took that as a big fat compliment by the way.

Kerry always seemed to be watching me - not sure why....

Kerry always seemed to be watching me – not sure why….

Mirror mirror

Mirror mirror

Next up on the tour was the Bailey request stop @ Cloudy Bay, the place which 30 years ago really put Marlborough on the map in terms of being an internationally renowned wine making region. It did not disappoint and I was given a personal behind the scenes tour, sneaking off with a very nice lady (not like that) in to the inner sanctum which held all the barrels.

The Daddy

The Daddy

Not many go in here

Not many go in here

Beautiful outside

Beautiful outside

Outside the sun shone, the mercury was rising to a very pleasant 25C in the shade.  This was a little piece of heaven with deckchairs and basket chairs suspended from trees just in front of the tasting area.  Five more small glasses down the hatch including a red number (name forgotten surprisingly) which Cloudy B now grows further south near Queenstown.  Yes Cloudy Bay still “The Daddy” for me in terms of wine producers.

Back on the van and it was banter time with, Scott, the blogger trying to outdo MB’s puns – he did a reasonable job for a young man.  Just reasonable.  Through a pretty small village with a cemetery, he thought he was being very smart with his “ah gee we must be in the dead centre of town” throwaway line.  I said he would be making a grave mistake if he kept coming out with such rubbish.

Meet Scott - left - always getting in on the act

Meet Scott – left – always getting in on the act

Suddenly the mini-bus stopped – we had come to a dead end, with one of the Tazzy Men coffin like a good-un from too many fags…

We’d arrived at our next torture chamber namely the Hans Herzog Vineyard, the requested visit of Norbert and his lovely wife.

Reisling, SB, Pinot G, something xxx…?!? Seven more fine wines to try and the chance to wander around the vineyards and smell the roses which were in full bloom – a good sign that the vines themselves were very healthy.

Perfect Day

Perfect Day

Hans Herzog - the favourite of outgoing Black Cap Cricket Captain Brendon McCullum who, whilst I've been writing this blog has just scored the quickest ever 100 in Test cricket - all this during his final game. 100 smashed off just 54 balls.

Hans Herzog – the favourite of outgoing Black Cap Cricket Captain Brendon McCullum who, whilst I’ve been writing this blog has just scored the quickest ever 100 in Test cricket – all this during his final game. 100 smashed off just 54 balls.

Team Tasters - Collette and Scott not missing another photo op!

Team Tasters – Collette and Scott not missing another photo op!

Attention to detail

Attention to detail

The wine here excellent, the visit all too brief, but we had a date with a gourmet lunch at Alan Scott’s vineyard 5 miles away and it was 12:45, or so somebody told me as my eyes were unable to focus on the large clock by the exit as we left.

Sarah's salmon - a super lunch at Allan Scott's

Sarah’s salmon – a super lunch at Allan Scott’s

LUNCH.  Now this was my sort of lunch.  High quality – bordering Michelin star standard as I mentioned to the chef, and the chance to wine taste between courses and then sample wines with the starter, main and desert.  I told the waiter I liked things hot, so he promptly brought out a very tidy glass of Reisling which was made with Chilli.  You took a sip and my God, the Chilli gave you a real kick down the back of your throat.  It was excellent.  Forgot the name though, now there’s a surprise.  NOT.

Back on the bus and we were telling people – when asked – about our trip around the World.  Our American friends could not believe that two “old people” in their 50’s would give it all up and do this.  We had gained new respect, with Scott asking us if we would do an interview later in the day for his blog as he thought it would make a story. After much persuading, well all of three seconds, I said yes and then promptly forgot about the conversation…

Two more vineyards.  Hunters – real quality!

A great tipple

A great tipple

Even Dickie Bird liked a glass or three

Even Dickie Bird liked a glass or three

and then the last one…. Ah yes the last one.  I’m sorry, I don’t remember.  It was somewhere in New Zealand and the staff were really good and so was the wine and, well, er yes hic.  The room was beginning to go round and round tumble dryer style.

Happy Days

Happy Days

Back on the bus, we thought that was it after we dropped off the Tazzy’s.  But we then decided to make a day and night of it at the suggestion of Collette and Scott. I was immediately up for it.  Sarah looked at me in that “why did you say yes” type of face, but interestingly put up no resistance – YES, party time in down town Blenheim.  We ate some food – not sure what, think it was a sandwich and then started on the craft beers which were all 5.5 Vol plus.  This place a possible replacement in 2017 for the Real Ale Train (RAT) boys night out JD?

I was pleased to be asked

I was pleased to be asked

Suddenly Scott asked if were still up for the interview.  He whipped out two radio lapel mics whilst Collette a TV commercial producer by profession got us ready with a couple of warm up questions.  We chatted away, and that was that.  Not sure what we said, but hey we might have 12.5 seconds of semi-fame, if Scott can edit my drivel down to a two minute sound bite.  Good luck with that mate.

Another three hours went by and by this time it was late in the night – 8.15pm!  We called it a day, staggered off down the road with our two German friends saying we must meet up again when they next come to the UK.

And that was that.  This is what travelling is meant to be like.  Great wine, great banter, great people, great weather, great food, great…. Well you get the idea, just great.

Enough.  Time to go.  Our car lane is now moving on to the ferry for the three hour journey across to Wellington.  Good bye South Island, hello North Isand.  Phil – I will be sober now and will report back to you what the North is like in due course.

A fitting end as an Albatross does a little fly pass midway between the South (in the distance and North Island

A fitting end as an Albatross does a little fly-pass midway between the South (in the distance) and North Islands

Categories: New Zealand Blog

Bailey Breathalysed in NZ Bobby Booze Blitz

MASTERS 50th BLOG

MARK:  “Turn towards me Sir, count to ten and speak in the direction of the machine.” The Traffic Cop looked me directly in the eye, thrusting his digital machine forward into my face.

ello ello ello

ello ello ello

Moments earlier, we’d been quietly driving along on a beautifully sunny South New Zealand road a few minutes out of Te Anau.  We were third in a group of five cars.  Two vehicles ahead had for some reason turned off left into a lay-by where a make-shift road block had been created.

One hundred metres to the left a police car had its boot open and inside appeared to be a mobile laboratory, one that a mad professor would have been proud of.

Coincidence...this p car was outside our Motel later on in the day...

Coincidence…this P car was outside our Motel later on in the day…

It then suddenly dawned on me. This was a coordinated blitz by the local constabulary targeting Summer drivers, ensuring they were not still drunk the morning after the heavy night before – something particularly important in a country where at this time of the year there are literally hundreds of camper vans on the road.

Jucy Lucy

Jucy Lucy

I could see out of the corner of my eye, one Chinese driver with numerous passengers in his “mini-bus” helping police with their inquiries. Happy Chinese New Year, or possibly not for this man…

The male driver of the first of the two cars in-front of me spoke to the middle-aged Policeman and was allowed on his way.  Next the lady in the white Toyota 4WD was waved on her way.  Now it was my turn.

But for once I wasn’t worried in the slightest and the “Bobby in Blue” could sense my lack of concern. The “B” Machine quickly showed I was clean and I was bid a good day and safe journey.

I wasn’t worried for one simple reason and that is I’d only had two glasses of wine in nearly two weeks, as I strive desperately to diet and lose around 2.5 stones in preparation for what will be the biggest physical challenge of my life, climbing the Inca Trail in 51 days time.

Rabbit food.. but 13lbs lost in 13 days

Rabbit food.. but 13lbs lost in 13 days

Every day we try and walk between five and ten miles. That in itself is not particularly difficult in what has to be the most beautiful country scenically anywhere in the World.  It’s when you add into the mix, mountains which quite simply means going up and down!  We are getting better and only today in Queenstown managed a small mountain of 850m from a base of 250m (five miles duration) followed by a second called Coronet Peak, when we walked from the bottom of the ski car park to “nearly the top”.  That was more of a challenge, walking up red ski runs from 1800m to near the summit at 2200m.

It is always worth it at the top as the photos below will testify.  Plus, you often meet some really interesting people. And there is nothing better than watching planes land beneath you @ Queenstown International Airport and then viewing scenic helicopter flights fly BELOW you allowing you to wave to the passengers who have paid a fortune for their trip around the mountains…

The start..

The start..

Valentine selfie silhouette. Ahhh

Valentine selfie silhouette. Ahhh

Nice guy from Colardo, US

Nice guy from Colardo, US

Stones!

Stones!

Nearly there

Nearly there

On top of the World... well nearly

On top of the World… well nearly

Great view over Queenstown

Great view over Queenstown

One of our best recent walks was about an hour after meeting NZ’s finest police officers.  We started near the Mirror Lakes…

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

…. and managed to get to one of the high walking huts between Milford Sound and Te Anau at a place called “The Divide”.  Elevation up and down was 1200m (around 4,000ft) and we nailed it (6 miles) in around 100 minutes.

Best foot forward

Best foot forward

The best bit was over-taking young people 30 years our junior and then to cap it off, a walking group who were professional trekkers.  OK, so they had probably walked 10 miles more, but the satisfaction of “burning them off” was great – not that I am competitive at all.

We walked down the hill, turned round and still beat them

We walked down the hill, turned round and still beat them

A real treat on this particular walk was making our way through the temperate rain forest where there was a superb display of moss, fern and lichens in an area that has around 8 metres – yes eight metres (football tele-printer “eight”) of rain a year.

Round the bend

Round the bend

Follow me

Follow me

Spooky trees

Spooky trees

Elated with our achievement, we celebrated by going to two “green toilets” that smelt to high heaven, which is probably where we were when you looked out of the “trap door”.  Thirty minutes later and a quick drive through a fantastic mountain tunnel we reached the World Famous Milford Sound which in my opinion was much better than Doubtful Sound, even with the “drizzle” – local speak for “chucking it down” for us Brits.

Moody Milford...

Moody Milford…

Talking of rain, we have worked out that it is has only rained for any significant period ie all day – for no more than 6 of the last 160 days.  The planning, in terms of working out which country we would be in, season wise, has so far paid off big time, none more so than in Northern Queensland where the day after we left, a Cyclone (Cat 2 hit) and it has been raining there pretty much ever since.

The sun has shone a lot here and one thing you do notice in New Zealand is the really deep, sharp colours of the sky, countryside, lakes and mountains.  Anne commented on this point after my last blog, based on her childhood memories and she is absolutely right.  Maybe this something to do with the ozone hole that is presently sitting over NZ, or the fact that there is no pollution which our Chinese friends just cannot get over.

Love the sky in NZ

Love the sky in NZ

They have been around in their thousands this week because it’s Chinese New Year… and no offence to Gemma, but we hope they leave for home soon as they cannot drive on the left to save their lives and each day nearly attempt to end ours by their terrible driving skills and their insatiable habit of taking selfies on blind bends when cars are whizzing past at 100 kph.

Anyway, enough of that, back to the colour thing and indeed our training programme.

So we were walking along a river just north of Queenstown on a short two miler, when the World famous SHOTOVER JET BOAT, roared past at a speed of 50 mph in a river no more than 6 inches deep.  Sarah’s red T Shirt matching nicely the red of what is a “Ferrari on water.”

Red devils

Red devils

We’d seen the picture of Kate and William having a go and we were not sure about daring to fly through canyons and ravines at such speed.  But then we thought what the hell, we’re not coming back here and so quickly walked back to the booking office and promptly got on the next flying boat 20 minutes later.

Inches from the gorge cliffs

Inches from the gorge cliffs

360 spin

360 spin

90 degree bend in 8 inches of water

90 degree bend in 8 inches of water

Where we first saw the Jet Boat

Where we first saw the Jet Boat

OMG what a blast, quite literally! It was a superb experience and you can see why this company has been going for 50 years.  I’ll never forget doing 360 degree spins with rocks on either side of the boat, so close you could virtually touch them.

Back down to Earth now. And as the light begins to fade over the mountains in front of me, we leave you with a few words from local artist Caroline Robinson and a shot of her BASKET OF DREAMS sculpture that we saw today.  The last line says it all…Happy Valentines Day!

The Basket’s spiral of steel follows you

INWARD

to reflect

to draw inspiration from the mountains, lake

and from those who are with you

OUTWARD

to dream

for the future.

TIME FLIES, ETERNITY AWAITS

The Basket - Shane, you would have been impressed

The Basket – Shane, you would have been impressed

Categories: New Zealand Blog

If in doubt, just do it!

MARK: I used to collect sick bags as a hobby. Not something many people know about me and I must admit I haven’t told anybody, including Sarah until this moment. Wonder why!

But for a while in the early 1980’s I had a reasonable collection, including one taken from a Dan-Air Comet 4C (my first flight to Tangiers) and a British Caledonian blue and yellow bag which was quite fetching.

My second favourite sick bag

My second favourite sick bag

But pride of place went to my Concorde sick bag which I grabbed whilst looking round the iconic aircraft in 1984 at Newcastle Airport, just before it went on a sub-sonic flight over the North Sea. I still have it somewhere at home in the loft. You never know when it could come in useful.

I have to thank John K Smithson (JKS) for getting me access to Concorde during the Newcastle Airshow and for the many flights John took me on around the north-east in his red Piper Cherokee four seater, call sign G-AYMK.

JKS was and is a legend. A superb broadcaster and BBC producer at Radio Newcastle. He gave me the wings to fly over the air waves, something I will always be grateful for. I was 19, had no experience, but he took a punt on me, allowed me to borrow his trusty Uher (tape recorder) and then paid me for my free-lance “packages” which appeared on his mid-morning radio show.

It was John in my early career who gave me the courage, to do things NOW before it was too late and to have a go. He taught me the importance of timing and following gut instinct, things which have helped me in later life and again here today in New Zealand!

In fact John has been in my thoughts a lot as planes, sick bags and the decision to “do it now” all came together perfectly in what has been an unbelievable day to remember.

Sarah and I had talked when we planned this trip about taking some sort of scenic flight over the glaciers near Mount Cook in South Island. The topic of conversation, had come up again as Phil Whitby had sent me an email earlier this week which said…. “There is an airfield near Lake Tekapo that takes charters around Mt Cook which goes over this incredible, aquamarine coloured lake. Takes in views of the Lord of the Rings scenery then round the mountain, which is amazing – I commend it to the house.”

We were still uuumming and ahhhing about what we should do as we approached the beautiful Lake Tekapo, in all its reflective glory.

Mill pond still

Mill pond still

God's country, this the view from the alter of the Anglican Church in Lake Tekapo

God’s country, this the view from the alter of the Anglican Church in Lake Tekapo

A fixed wing flight was going to cost a couple of hundred quid each for 50 minutes and would blow our “entertainment budget” for the next few days. And the sensible head on said “you’ve flown over Everest and the Barrier Reef, so why here?” Sorry about name dropping, just wanted to share thought process.

Looking at each other and the beautiful lake with Mount Cook in the distance, we agreed to go to the little airport to see what the crack was. It was after all a superb day, temperatures touching 30C and clear blue skies as far as the eye could see. What better opportunity to see Mt Cook close up?

We walked in to a near empty departure lounge/check in area that seated ten people. One of the smartly dressed pilots said there was a flight going in 20 minutes which would go head up the valley, turn left and return via Mount Cook. The offering was as billed. I tried to get a reduction, but no go. Thoughts flooded back to a negotiation training course at De Vere Venues. I was hopeless on the course and it looked like a case of history repeating itself.

But out of the corner of my eye I saw a Chinese family of four waiting to go on the flight and realised that the plane they were going to board for the pleasure flight was a six sweater….ummmm. No one else there = two empty seats. Not good business.

I politely thanked Paul the pilot/check in man and said I would have to consult with the Minister of Finance in the car and would “let him know…”

A quick chat with Sarah and we both thought at the same time “what the hell, we’re not coming back here, let’s do it”. But before we had the chance to say yes we’re on, Paul came rushing across the car park with “good news”. He wasn’t wrong. For some reason, the plane leaving at 1200 now needed to fly over the mountains to the west coast Air Strip known as Franz Josef. It would take 45 minutes. Then, if were interested, we would change planes and fly back to Late Tekapo, via Fox Glacier and Mount Cook. I quickly realised we would in effect be getting two trips for the price of one, would land at another airport and we’d be able to see both sides of the mountain range, including the rainforest. RESULT.

We took two nano-seconds to say yes, dumped out bags, paid our money and within seven minutes I was checking the safety card of our Gippsland GA8 Airvan (JKS the call sign was ZK-SAF) and discovering a nice clean sick bag.

JKS bring back memories

JKS bring back memories?

The rest of this blog is a photo-caption story, for which I do wish to make an upfront apology as there are over 40 photos. It was the only way I felt I could do this story justice and hope that you will forgive my enthusiasm for wanting to share in such detail.

No turning back. The landing strip at Lake Tekapo resembles a 'B' Road on the outskirts of Frimley

No turning back. The landing strip at Lake Tekapo resembles a ‘B’ Road on the outskirts of Frimley

The first thing you notice is how blue the lake is

The first thing you notice is how blue the lake is – 750ft after take off

Looking down

Looking down

A geographers paradise a glacial stream, complete with debris reaches the lake

A geographers paradise – a glacial stream, complete with debris reaches the lake

After 20km the lake ends.....

After 20km the lake ends…..

... and you see more fluvial deposits - this one from the Tasman Glacier

… and you see more fluvial deposits – this one from the Tasman Glacier

And then for the first time we saw Mount Cook about 25 miles away

And then for the first time we saw Mount Cook about 25 miles away

We continued up the valley. We needed to get to 10,000ft to clear the tops

We continued up the valley. We needed to get to 10,000ft to clear the tops.  Down below the glacial “flour” separating from the filtrated glacial water

Not much cloud

Not much cloud

A Kettlehole - funny how you remember your 'A' Level Geography 35 years later.

A Kettlehole – funny how you remember your ‘A’ Level Geography 35 years later

Sarah gets excites as we level at out at 10,500 ft.

Sarah gets excites as we level at out at 10,500 ft.

Just before we started over the Traverse

Just before we started over the Traverse

The Traverse just before the start of the Franz Josef Glacier

The Traverse just before the start of the Franz Josef Glacier

Looking down to the west coast of New Zealand - in the far distance, cloud envelopes the seashore

Looking down to the west coast of New Zealand – in the far distance, cloud envelopes the seashore

And behind us as we descended to around 9,000ft

And behind us as we descended to around 9,000ft

We descended really quickly, with the FJC seen under the wing, centre top

We descended really quickly, with the FJG seen under the wing, centre top

Suddenly the World was green

Suddenly the World was green

The strip came in to view

The strip came in to view

AND JUST AS WE CAME IN TO LAND, THERE WAS AN AWFUL SMELL OF SICK. THE CHINESE MAN BEHIND ME HAD DECIDED TO LEAVE BEHIND IN HIS SICK BAG, A “HAPPY MEAL” AS OUR PILOT LEON DESCRIBED IT.  YUK!!!

Sarah in our "return plane"

Sarah with our “return plane”

Off again on our return leg

Off again on our return leg

A complete contrast with rainforest now underneat the wing. Note the cloud cover over the Tasman Sea which literally stopped just as the beach started - weird

A complete contrast with rainforest now underneath the wing. Note the cloud cover over the Tasman Sea which literally stopped just as the beach started – weird

Our little plane had to do a few circles to climb to the safe height of 10,000ft - stunning valley views below

Our little plane had to do a few circles to climb to the safe height of 10,000ft – stunning valley views below

Mount Cook getting closer, but then suddenly...

Mount Cook getting closer, but then suddenly…

Cloud closes in... time for a cool head

Cloud closes in… time for a cool head

Co-Pilot Richard a very experienced Captain plots a route through the cloud for pilot Leon

Co-Pilot Richard a very experienced Captain plots a route through the cloud for pilot Leon. Mt Cook right and Mount Tasman (left) second highest mountain

Getting real close

Getting real close

Phew made it - then we flew right round and....

Phew made it – then we flew right round and….

... saw the mountain on the other side

… saw the mountain on the other side

The view "down" the Lake Pukaki Valley

The view “down” Lake Pukaki Valley on our way home – 24 minutes to go

Glacial lakes come in to view with ice bergs breaking away

Glacial lakes come in to view with ice bergs breaking away

The landscape looks more like the Lake District as we fly back to base. Here at 6,000ft

The landscape looks more like the Lake District as we fly back to base. Here at 6,000ft

Arriving back at Lake Tekapo

Arriving back at Lake Tekapo

Final approach

Final approach, “cabin crew take your seats for landing…”

A great trip, a great country.

Categories: New Zealand Blog

Whitby 11,641 miles away – but Phil’s here in spirit

MARK: It’s funny how you forget things. The pain associated with child birth (yes men suffer too you know), where you left your car keys/reading glasses, or when Middlesbrough FC was last in the Premiership.

And on this trip, we have both been very conscious of how you can lose your commercial sharpness as your mind retrains to take in different experiences rather than everyday work pressures. Your brain works in a completely different way, which has taken time to get used to.

But today, I was ashamed. Ashamed because I had briefly forgotten what had happened on 22nd February 2011.

I just didn’t have my thinking head on as we left our motel and set off to walk the fifteen minutes in to the centre of Christchurch. It was Monday morning.

I could put it down to the two flights from Brisbane via Sydney (9 hours with layover) and arriving just after midnight. Or thinking about the Immigration Officer who quite rightly delayed us whilst she ensured there were no “nasties” on Sarah’s walking shoes as she set foot on New Zealand soil.

But as we turned the corner, BANG I suddenly remembered. All I could see was the far end of the former Anglican Cathedral which had suffered serious damage and was now forlornly propped up by an ugly steel support structure. This English looking “home from home” had suffered a devastating earthquake, just below the surface of the Earth. It registered 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Yes 6.3!!!

Steel hand of God

Steel hand of God

We slowly moved on. All we could see were boarded up office blocks. The work of graffiti artists adorned buildings everywhere you looked. No guests at the multi-storey Millennium Hotel, which lay empty.

The Central Business District reminded me a little of when we explored Pripyat, the former Soviet town next to Chernobyl which had been evacuated after the nuclear explosion. The earthquake, which I’d somehow “forgotten”, had claimed 185 lives.

A common site

A common site

Businesses destroyed

Businesses destroyed

There was a 4.2 tremor just last week in Christchurch

There was a 4.2 tremor just last week in Christchurch

It was a sad, strange experience. Beautiful blue skies, contrasted sharply against the reflecting light of sea containers which were still being used as shops, offices, restaurants and cafés.

There's a good trade in containers

There’s a good trade in containers

Shops

Shops

Offices

Offices

Phil Whitby, a good friend of mine and Construction Director of Wates, would not have recognised the place from the lovely town he had visited with his family in 2007. Phil described New Zealand in a text to me 9 years ago as “the ultimate playground”. That I hope is still the case in the rest of this country. But all I could see across the skyline was crane after crane and lots of men with hard hats. Phil, they need you. Leave your highly successful project in Greenwich and head straight to Christchurch, NOW.

Phil - there's a job with your name on it here!

Phil – there’s a job with your name on it here!

I was getting quite emotional and sad by the whole experience. Sights, sounds and memories of Kathmandhu flooded back. There were close parallels and not just because both cities had been the victim of plate tectonics.

The Cathedral, which had been the centre of the town, had an ugly looking construction “keep out fence” around its entire perimeter. There was no sign of any activity and that we later found out was because of the continuing debate regarding the cost of repair. In a NZ Government commissioned report published just before Christmas it concluded that the bill would be in excess of £50 million. And in a country of just 4.5 million people who pays?

I put the camera lens through the fence to get this shot

I put the camera lens through the fence to get this shot

So we headed over to the new Transitional Cathedral, (the temporary replacement) made largely would you believe out of sustainable cardboard tubes. I have been to many Cathedrals, but this one had an intimacy and soul which you could really feel. Randomly, I attended the Midday Service which was very moving. There were two of us. It did not matter. It was Christchurch after all…

Cardboard eves

Cardboard eves

Half an hour later, we crossed the road to see a further graphic reminder of this tragic event. On a piece of waste ground, where a Church once stood, 185 empty white chairs had been positioned to create a thought provoking artistic memorial. Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighbourhood, the work of Peter Majendie. Each chair represented one of the 185 lives lost. It’s a simple but highly effective reminder, so people like me don’t forget. As we stared in silence as the Christchurch traffic roared past, each chair seemed to have its own personality. An office chair, symbolic of the many office workers who died. A child seat, centrally positioned, really made you think and a wheelchair with cheap bouquet positioned on the seat reminding us all that nobody was immune.

185

185

So sad

So sad

But this is not a town in mourning, and whilst nobody will ever forget, there are signs of new life and rejuvenation. Modern day art murals cover the sides of buildings. Humorous large sized furniture provides the perfect backdrop for a funny photo.

Art not just for art's sake...

Art not just for art’s sake…

Money for godsake

Money for God’s sake

Time for a little rest - after all she is a year older now.... ah bless

Time for a little rest – after all she is a year older now…. ah bless

The famous trams rumble past at regular intervals, even though the tracks don’t stretch very far.

Blackpool

Blackpool

Yes life goes on and this is certainly true in the beautiful Botanic Gardens, which reminded us so much of a National Trust garden in the height of Summer.

NT 1

NT 1

NT 2

NT 2

NT 3

NT 3

So a thought provoking first day, 12,800 miles from home. A day which has convinced me not to fall into my old habit of thinking about the future whilst forgetting the here and now. Sure we will bounce a number of ideas around about our new life when we return in just 100 days’ time. But as for the detail, Nah, we will continue living for the moment. What will be will be. I just hope my memory improves!

2 February 2016 – And my memory will improve with sights like this.  Phil, in an email yesterday said we should visit Akaroa.  So we did today.  Stunning and hopefully more to come, with temperatures hitting 29C and 28C due tomorrow…. it’s bound to rain soon.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Postcard from NZ

Postcard from NZ

Categories: New Zealand Blog

Lights, Camera – ACTION! There’s Nothing like Australia!

MARK/SARAH:  So what was the real reason for our visit to Australia?

As part of our RTW trip?  To see Shane, George and the rest of the family @ Christmas?  For Sarah to re-live her “alcohol-fuelled” east coast journey sober, 35 years later? Or was it something else?  Stay tuned and find out more after the break!

In the meantime, we didn’t think we would be blogging again from Australia.

BUT, we’ve just had an amazing day on Fraser Island (southern Queensland) and we both wanted to share what was a superb “post birthday” treat for Mrs Bailey.   Rather than the typical format of “prose with pictures”, we have decided to go with a pictorial blog – a few photos, with comments.  A bit like the “Jackie” girls magazine from the 1970s – something a good friend of ours (who will remain anonymous) starred in!  That’s the subject of another Blog in itself!

Background:   A chauffeur driven Hummer picked us up at 0730 from our delightful Colonial Lodge accommodation in Hervey Bay – check out Mark’s Trip Advisor Review (https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g255404-d1852678-r343261729-Hervey_Bay_Colonial_Lodge-Hervey_Bay_Fraser_Coast_Queensland.html) and after a 40 minute “barge crossing” drove us around the largest island made out of sand in the World.  Morning tea with cake, a superb lunch in the middle of a 150 million year old rainforest with a selection of wines and an afternoon finale of champagne, chocolates and strawberries on a beach which was a mere 75 miles in length.

This Mr T look-a-like vehicle picked us up

This “Mr T” look-a-like vehicle picked us up and whisked us away

Up with the Captain as we steamed across to Fraser Island some 12 miles. away from Hervey Bay

Down with the Captain as we steamed across to Fraser Island some 12 miles away from Hervey Bay

View from the front of the Hummer as we travel along sand tracks en-route to Mackenzie Lake

View from the front of the Hummer as we bounced along sand tracks en-route to Mckenzie Lake

MB taking a dip. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake (created by rain water only) sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 330 ft above sea level. Lake McKenzie has an area of 150 hectares and is just 16 ft in depth. The beach sand of is nearly pure silica and enabled us to "shine up" our wedding rings as if they were knew. Water temperature 28C and air 31C - beautiful.

MB taking a dip. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake (created by rain water only) sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 330 ft above sea level. It has an area of 150 hectares and is just 16 ft in depth. The beach sand is nearly pure silica, which enabled us to “shine up” our wedding rings as if they were new. Water temperature 28C and air 31C – beautiful

The water looks dirty - but don't be fooled. It comes from a spring and the water is 200 years old! The depth of the creek is about three feet - the brown you can see is sand. So clear - the forest at the other side has not been changed for 150 million years and is the same now as it was then, T Rex city!

The water looks dirty – but don’t be fooled. It comes from a spring and the filtrated water is 200 years old and some of the purest on the planet! The depth of the creek is about three feet – the light brown you can see is sand. So clear!  The forest at the other side has not changed for 150 million years and is the same now as it was then.  T Rex city!

A beautiful "Yellow" Robin to go with my "Blue" Wren

A beautiful Yellow Robin to go with my beautiful Blue Wren

On the 75 Mile Beach highway. We saw a Cop pull over a 4WD - the speed limit is 80kph and full Highway laws are enforced.

On the 75 Mile Beach highway. We saw a Cop pull over a 4WD – the speed limit is 80kph and full Highway laws are enforced – he was breatherlized and later released

A traffic jam - the cars ahead waiting for the waves t go out before heading around the rocks

A traffic jam – the cars ahead waiting for the waves to go out before heading around the rocks – a bit like Saltburn on a good weather day

Pit stop

Pit stop!

We could not spot any Dingos sadly

We did not spot any Dingos sadly

THANKS TO WIKIPEDIA... A major landmark on Fraser Island is the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 as a luxury passenger ship for the trans-Tasman crossing. During the First World War she served as a hospital ship in the English Channel, and was then returned to her owners to resume her usual commercial operation....

THANKS TO WIKIPEDIA…
A major landmark on Fraser Island is the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 as a luxury passenger ship for the trans-Tasman crossing. During the First World War she served as a hospital ship in the English Channel and was then returned to her owners to resume her usual commercial operation….

By 1935 the ship had been taken out of service and was sold to a ship-breaker in Japan. On 25 June 1935, while being towed to Osaka to be broken up, she was caught in a strong cyclone about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Queensland. The towline parted, and on 9 July 1935 the Maheno became beached on the east coast of Fraser Island

… by 1935 the ship had been taken out of service and was sold to a ship-breaker in Japan. On 25 June 1935, while being towed to Osaka to be broken up, she was caught in a strong cyclone about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Queensland. The towline parted and on 9 July 1935 the Maheno became beached on the east coast of Fraser Island…

... During the Second World War the wreck served as target bombing practice for the RAAF and was used as an explosives demolition target by special forces from the Fraser Commando School. The remains of the ship are now severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand. Because of the danger it poses, climbing on the wreck is not permitted

… during the Second World War the wreck served as target practice for the RAAF and was used as an explosives demolition target by special forces from the Fraser Commando School. The remains of the ship are now severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand

On the way back a small Cessna landed just in front of us, the white Landcruiser (right) took avoiding action

On the way back, a small Cessna landed just in front of us, the white Landcruiser (right) took avoiding action

It was a great day!  And a fitting way to end our 3,250 car miles / 5 flight trip Down Under.

So, bet you want to know now why we came to Australia!

Well, the answer is we have been assisting the Australian Tourist Commission with their latest promotional video (launched this week on Australia Day.) Despite protracted negotiations over three months, they did in the end decide to go for slightly younger actors and a different voice-over artist!  Nevertheless, we think they have captured perfectly the spirit of this wonderful country. Click on the link/video graphic below and see for yourselves:

And so finally we say good bye to Australia.  We fly to Christchurch New Zealand tomorrow (Sunday) from Brisbane, where we are currently spending the weekend amongst temperatures close to 39C and amazing cyclonic rain – the light show for which is something to behold.  Cheers from the two of us!

Cheers!

Categories: Australia Blog

Where two greats collide: Rainforest meets Reef

MARK: We’ll never forget that knock on the door. It was the news we’d been dreading.  “I’ve seen your missing cat poster in the newsagent’s window… I buried him”.

The old man, dressed in a brown jacket which had seen better days, took off his cap as a mark of respect and bowed his head.

Rushdie (after Salman Rushdie) our ginger (rusty coloured) RSPCA rescue cat was now no more. It was a CATastrophe for me and Sarah. Our little cat, who’d been such a part of our lives since we lived in York, had been mown down on the backstreets of Stotfold, Beds’ by a hit and run driver. We PAWsed and said a short prayer.

Interestingly, exactly nine months later, ginger haired Joseph Michael Bailey was born in the Lister Hospital Stevenage. Rushdie had been reincarnated and was now a 6lb 13oz baby that pooped everywhere. They were one and the same creation, that there is no doubt.

I suppose that really was the end of our animal magic period. And in truth, neither of us since have ever been fond of cats, dogs or any wildlife for that matter – sorry Janet, Stacy and all animal lovers that we know….

But hang on a minute, perhaps all that is changing.

Love Trixie the Jack Russell that kept us company at the wonderful Sea Lords Bed and Breakfast, in Mission Beach. Also love Sharon’s aptly named pink Crocs

Love Trixie the Jack Russell that kept us company at the wonderful Sea Lords Bed and Breakfast, in Mission Beach. Also love Sharon’s aptly named pink Crocs

Could it be that Australia has been the catalyst for a Dr. Doolittle type transformation in our joint outlook?

Well possibly yes, as we have amazingly encountered all sorts of two, four and “no” legged creatures during the past four weeks.  Plus, if you couple this with the beautiful natural world which uniquely collides as the Tropical Rainforest of Northern Queensland, joins the majesty and wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.  Yes I think we are now new fans of David Attenborough and Jacques Cousteau!

Rainforest and Reef

Rainforest and Reef

Two worlds meet

Two worlds meet

Our animal epiphany started with a lizard, Eddie my nephew’s lizard.  They’re not creatures that you regularly come in contact with whilst driving on the M3 southbound at Junction 4.  But in addition to Eddie’s mate, we have also fed a small one bread in the wild open spaces of the Blue Mountains (not sure we should have done that) and have been startled by one in a forest where to our surprise they are quite common.

Arthur, Eddie's pet - hope you are ok mate??

Arthur, Eddie’s pet – hope you are ok mate??

This guy loved Sarah's ham and lettuce sarnies... he came back for more

This guy loved Sarah’s ham and lettuce sarnies… he came back for more

Out in the open...

Out in the open…

We’ve also had a number of “Skippy” moments.  “Skippy” as in typical Australian animals that I remember from black and white TV days. Question, I digress, but can you do that “tut-tutting” sound like Skippy the Bush Kangaroo?  If you can, chances are you are 50+!  Happy 56th Birthday Sarah by the way (27/01/60).

Sorry, back on message now.

We met a possum, one of three who lived in Shane’s garage, loved seeing the baby ‘Joey’ close up and had a real fun moment chasing over 100 wallabies around an open area designated as a new housing estate in Mission Beach.  Boy, did those things move quickly.

One of three smelly P's

One of three smelly P’s

Ahhhhh

Ahhhhh

Fav shot

Fav shot

Out of breath trying to catch this lot!

Out of breath trying to catch this lot!

But it’s not just the exotic (to us) animals and birds that have caught our eyes.  It’s the everyday creatures which WE have never seen before and which Aussies just take for granted.

Take the little blue bird that hopped around us like a playful Robin.  Not sure of his name – Chris Towers can you let us know?  Then there is the national bird the Ibis, which you find everywhere.  Pigeons are pretty special too, especially the pure white ones.  Even the bees look brighter and more interesting than the ones in the UK.

Not sure of his name.... can you let us know Chris T?

Not sure of his name…. can you let us know Chris T?

Ibis everywhere

Ibis everywhere

Whiter than white

Whiter than white

I was being very careful when I took this picture

I was being very careful when I took this picture

But it wasn’t a bird, but a bat – ney thousands of bats, which had us gawping in amazement.  We’d been told by the skipper of the boat we went out to the Low Islands on, that there was one of the biggest colonies of Fox Bats in Australia, just around the block from the marina.  He said go there at 1900 as seeing them take off was quite amazing.

He wasn’t’ wrong. Bang on 1900, the sky was blackened as wave after wave of Fox Bats, decided not to hang upside down anymore on their eucalyptus tree branches, but instead head off to the Rain Forest some 15kms away for their evening feed.  I mentioned Skippy earlier on, well now it’s time to name check Scooby Doo and that opening scene as the bats take off or throw in the Adams Family as well to the mix and you get the sort of idea.  These mammals have a wing span of over a metre and could poo from a great height, all over the hire car which was white but soon had fruit stains all down it over the roof and windows.  Unlike certain nationalities I could name, the bats took off in sequence, with each group joining the back of the queue before heading off in the fading light towards the distant hills.  I tried to get some good shots, but sadly the ones below are the best that I could do.

Batty

Batty

Looking for Scooby snacks...

Looking for Scooby snacks…

I had better luck as I managed to photograph giant termite mounds as we headed down from Cape Tribulation, through Port Douglas and Cairns, into the area called the Tablelands.

Amazing what these little fellas can do

Amazing what these little fellas can do

The Tablelands is a beautiful area beyond the Rain Forest at a height of 3000 ft.  Beautiful for many reasons but probably because it is the nearest we have got to Yorkshire so far after travelling 34,000 miles.  We’ve hardly missed home I must confess, but seeing the view below made me think of Wensleydale and the view over the Vale of York from the top of Sutton Bank all rolled into one… I could go on, but you’ll just have to wait a minute so that I can dry my eyes…

YORKSHIRE!

YORKSHIRE!

There, ok now….. stiff Yorkshire upper lip now NOT trembling anymore.

Yes, we’ve seen some stuff during our 2,200 miles on the road “down-under”.  Other sights have reminded us of the UK, but then you drive a bit further and randomly see people riding camels.  I say randomly, but camels are not as random in Australia as you think.  Introduced in the 1840s by the British and the Afghans, there are now approximately 1.2 million feral camels and their numbers are thought to be doubling every 8-9 years.  They are beginning to become a real problem despite a culling and exporting drive of some 160,000 in recent years.

Lawrence of Arabia leading...

Lawrence of Arabia leading…

We could have done with a couple of camels as the road “ran out” into a dirt track a few miles north of Cape Tribulation.  No way were we going to be able to travel 120 kms further north to Cooktown without a 4WD.

Instead we turned around and bingo, saw just what we had been hunting for.

A few weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur we had been amazed to see the Cassowary, a large EMU type bird which was about 1.5 high with lovely blue, red and black plumage.  They are very rare and a lot of locals we had spoken to here have never seen them.  But as we rounded a corner, driving carefully at 50kph (because of yellow Cassowary signs), there was a male bird and his two chicks.  Now the observant amongst you will have read “male”, perhaps thinking I missed out the two letters FE.  Well no, I am right.  The lady bird gives birth and when the chicks are hatched it is the Dad, yes the Dad that looks after his offspring for the next 14 months before they become “adult birds”.  I was very impressed with this male bird – it reminded me of bringing up Joe in the same diligent way 23 years ago… or maybe not (Editor, Sarah).

Respect this MAN

Respect this MAN

I took a few pictures of this amazing sight and then stopped dead in my tracks.  I realised that I had parked on a blind corner and there was a large pick up van coming up behind us his Bull Bars suddenly filling my review mirror.  I flagged him down just in the nick of time and the Cassowary did a runner.  But we saw one – YES!!!

That road had many surprises.  It’s not every day that you have the chance to drive on a road through the middle of a rainforest!  The Daintree River Valley as it is known is where the rainforest grows right down to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef – the only place in the world where you can experience two World Heritage listed areas meeting.  We stopped at the Discovery Centre and discovered (funny that) that the wet tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world some 6 to 10 times older than the oldest parks of the Amazon.

Champing at the bit, we decided to go walk-about as it was like a scene from Jurassic Park.  You half expected to see a dinosaur as we walked amongst an ecosystem that had been there for over 150 million years. It was stunning. Fast-flowing rivers, deep gorges, numerous waterfalls, hills in the distance and the chance to walk high in the tree canopy at a specially created look-out point 100ft off the forest floor.

We got a good distance into the jungle, sweat dripping through near 100% humidity. Baby turtles in small pools said hello and more giant lizards, scuttled off in search of cover.

Hitching a lift...

Hitching a lift…

But the forest was too dense to walk right down to the Barrier Reef Coast, so back in our Hyundai Hire car we travelled a few miles coastal bound and got out once more.

We were greeted by fantastic trees, shrubs, vines and palms.  Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) would have been at home.  Rounding a bend on the trail we noticed a change in vegetation as the jungle gave way to mangrove swamps and signs warning us of crocodiles.  We were all alone, miles from anywhere and somewhat apprehensive, particularly as these crocs’ could read German.

Beware

Beware

Mangrove swamps

Mangrove swamps

Pushing on, fifteen minutes later we made it to the beach.  No-one there – result!  Well not quite, we were joined by thousands of small crabs who made beautiful patterns in the sand as they buried themselves in search of food and shelter.

Rainforest on the Beach

Rainforest on the Beach

Amazing patterns made by crabs

Amazing patterns made by crabs

Sarah and crabs

Sarah and crabs

The coastline was quite superb – you can see from the photos – but nothing in comparison to our three offshore Barrier Reef expeditions….

The first adventure (as previously blogged) was just off Port Douglas, 12 of us on a beautiful catamaran heading for the Low Islands, two dots in the National Park.  This was simply amazing for Sarah who for the first time in her life was able to snorkel because the boat operator had prescription goggles.  I’ll never forget being able to share this experience as we swam with giant turtles, dolphins and Reef Sharks that were just a few metres away.  The coral was alive, undamaged and unbelievably beautiful.

A few days later after more walking in the Mission Beach area, we arrived at Airlie Beach next to the Whitsunday Islands.  Sarah had talked so passionately about this area having been here 35 years before when she bought a car with a friend and travelled from Sydney to Cairns.

I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about until we caught a rib boat and sped off at 35 knots towards Whitehaven Beach.  OMG it was beautiful and there were only 20 of us on a white silica sand beach which stretched for 5 miles.

Amazing

Amazing

Stunning

Stunning

Superb

Superb

But more was to come.

As a pre-birthday treat for Sarah, we decided to fly over the outer barrier reef.  Sadly the sea plane was fully booked, but a small 14 seater Cessna 208 “Caravan” was just as good, flying 55 miles out to stunning coral reefs which we had only dreamt about and seen on David Attenborough’s documentaries.

Greens and blues and turquoises contrasted with the reef.  The outline of huge black Manta Rays could clearly be seen as the plane flew at just 500ft above the translucent waters.  I really can’t put it all in to words, forgive me – but hopefully the pictures and captions will give you an idea.

Unforgettable

Unforgettable

Heart Reef - for my loved one

Heart Reef – for my loved one

not a bad view - sorry about the wheel

not a bad view – sorry about the wheel

Back safe and sound

Back safe and sound

Big shout out to Bruce and Shirley at the fantastic Kipara Tropical Rainforest Retreat for all their help in booking of these once in a life time experiences.  Talking of which, do check these guys out if you are ever in the area, you won’t be disappointed.

 

So as we head further south on our journey down the Barrier Reef to Brisbane we leave with a lifetime of memories, a seachange in our views about All Creatures Great and Small and only our footprints left in the sand.

Happy Birthday Sarah – thanks for having the courage to do this trip of a lifetime.

The End

The End

 

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