Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Hermione Does France - The Book

Hi everyone. Just to let you know the Kindle book is now available on Kindle store and is very reasonably priced


Or just Google Kindle Store Hermione Does France  


Friday, 29 March 2019

Hermione Doesn't do New Zealand

"But why are you going to New Zealand? There is nothing there." My poor old mum said when I told her we were going to New Zealand. She was of course speaking as a specialist in European History. Well I believe the scenery is nice was my feeble reply. So why was I going? I asked myself? Well I managed to trace it back to the celebrations of Mr and Mrs King's 25th wedding anniversary in the pissing rain in Boughton Monchelsea. Mr Smith had asked Mrs K (Early on I presume) what we had planned for ours? Mrs K had said a trip to somewhere nice like Thailand or New Zealand. Mr Smith jumped on New Zealand and said that sounds nice, can we come? I believe the scenery is lovely.  So that was it. Six months of carefully watching Mrs K and Mr and Mrs S planning our motor home trip began.

The date arrived and after a long sleepless 36 hours of travel, catching up on all those films that you had rejected over the years and a brief encounter with a New Zealand customs official who I think was Anne Hegarty's big sister, we arrived. You see normally you agree you have no firearms or explosives , no knives or liquids but here in NZ I was asked if I had any outdoor equipment. "Well only my walking boots." I replied hopefully but I was immediately marched down a red route to see Ms Hegarty who asked to see my boots. After a frantic search no boots emerged. I noticed that the customs lady had a fixed stare. She said in a very slow and accusatory way "Is this your bag sir?"  "Well of course it is."  I watched her eyes slowly move to the object I had in my left hand. My wife's bra. After a lot of um-ing and ar-ing I explained that perhaps it was my wife's bag, they are very similar. Anyway I was marched to the outside concourse to see which wife would be brave enough to claim me and the boots were found and inspected satisfactorily and we were allowed on our way.  

We arrived in the highly manicured gardens of a suburb of Christchurch for a well earned sleep before we picked up our mode of travel.

And here she is. We had a few suggestions for names I went for Bertie but that was defeated as apparently all modes of transport are female not just boats. Roberta was dismissed out of hand and we settled on a tribute to the discoverer and explorer of New Zealand, Abel Tasman and James Cook. Two accomplished women! Taz and Cookie for short. This was Cookie and she was almost brand new and very well designed. Mr and Mrs Smith's was identical and almost as new.

Following a brief, poorly navigated, tour of Christchurch we hit the supermarket and loaded her up with provisions. We then made for Christchurch's 'Top Ten' campsite and parked up for our first night aboard Cookie and Taz. Being a 'Top Ten' we were able to have free use of the pool and spa so the plan was a quick bus trip into Christchurch, a tram tour and then back for a pampering.

We caught the bus with secondary school children returning home strangely all were in uniform and the boys wore shorts. Even I rebelled against shorts at 12 years old. None had tattoos or earrings either. Civilisation clearly hasn't reached New Zealand yet.

The tram was a real treat and gave us a good look around Christchurch which was recovering from the Earth quake of 2011.

The 'Act of God' took out the 'House of God'

We returned to the campsite and a quick look in the 12 foot by 15 foot child infested pool put us off a swim but the ladies were eager to test out the 'Spa.'

Well the 'Spa' turned out to be a hot tub in a box but the ladies enjoyed it and we had our first night's sleep aboard our land vessels.

Up bright and early the next day for a trip to the Banks Peninsular and the small, French -ish, town of Akaroa via the scenic route, and scenic it was.

 A lovely lunch stop and some hill driving that roasted the brakes saw us arrive at the campsite at Akaroa the first place I now wanted to live in New Zealand.

The trouble with land boats is you have to go and empty the holding tank by hand and they do not have a great capacity.

We called it 'the walk of Shame!'

Akaroa has sea, a happy hour bar and a museum, what more could one wish for in a town. I wasn't expecting much from the museum but it turned out quite entertaining with Maori stuff, early settler stuff, pirates and lots of arty stuff too, very nice.

We slipped our berth at Akaroa the next morning and made for Mount Hutt for lunch. We had read about a Gorge that was scenic. Sure enough it was an understatement and we had a lovely walk along the Rakaia Gorge after a Sally 'Omelette Special' for fuel.

Now the trouble with driving in New Zealand is that there are very few other vehicles around so there are no escapes for your latent, built in, British road rage emotions. In fact all New Zealanders we have met so far (and that is probably most of them) seem to have a relaxed, no worries, shall we have a beer, attitude which is much appreciated.

New Zealand rush hour.

Now I had mentioned that Mr and Mrs Smith had a slightly older van then ours but we have now established that they had been equipped more generously then we in that they had four plates to our two, bigger pans then us and more importantly their glasses were bigger than ours!

Outright, blatant favouritism!

I think that wiley old photographer knows people!

Geraldine was our overnight stop. A small Western type town where you half expect Clint to turn up on his temperamental mule. Mr Smith and I went for a scout round and found the supermarket and a rather nice and crowded bar. It may have been the cricket that drew the crowd or just the beer. New Zealanders appear to like their beer and pubs just like we used to before they were taxed out of existence in Britain. More interestingly they had a 'Drive thru' liquor store next door to the pub which to us Brits seemed to give a mixed message. Supermarkets only seem to sell wine and beer.

We provisioned up, had a compulsory coffee and strolled around the shops at Geraldine which were very pleasant with very nice shop keepers who always had time to talk. Lovely people. I even bought a 'T' shirt.

 Our next stop was to be what the motor world call a wild camp. Us sailors would call it anchoring with the one similarity being no services but free. We like free!

Lake Tekapo is a long lake en route to Lake Pukaki where our wild camp was to be. Tekapo is a glacial lake with lovely views so we stopped for lunch at the roadside. At this point I should point out that I am not making these names up but if I did I think they would be very similar.

The free camp at Lake Pukaki was another fantastic scene with mountains, sky and water that was an uncanny blue apparently something to do with glacial flour whatever that is, although I am sure you could thicken gravy with it. Mr Smith blamed it for his various skin diseases. Not that he got too close to it.

We also became aware of a single Canadian Goose sitting on the beach which we named Gurty. We weren't sure whether she may be injured and therefore barbequeable or that she was just an outcast. We plumbed for the latter as she proved quite agile and capable of flight.

A lovely way to spend the evening.

I woke up in the night worrying about how close I had parked to the edge.  Waking every couple of hours thinking that the van was tilting towards the water and therefore about to tipple in. Bad wine dreams.

Anyway the next morning all was great, the van had remained upright and I felt a little plucky so I decided to take a dip in the lake to wake me up a little. And that it really did. Bleeding cold!

After the hypothermia retreated a little we set off to Cook Mountain. We fueled up at Twizel a small settlement short of the mountain range and set off on the long, one way drive up to the Cook mountain. (Base camp) After a fun time trying to park a couple of motor homes which, I am sure as a parking issue, they must have come across before, we entered the centre which comprises of a hotel a shop and a museum of sorts. We paid a few dollars to go in and saw a great film of Sir Edmund Hillary and his life but that was the high light. I think they could have made more of this from the point of view of a day tripper but I am sure it's a great spot for walks and mountaineering. Maybe the day trippers support the more adventurous which is fine. Unless you are a day tripper!

A dusty coating of cloud for the great mountain.

Having hit the great mountain and perhaps not being swept off our feet by base camp we headed back towards the coast towards Oamaru. A once wealthy and industrious town which spent its wealth on creating quite a lovely Victorian type of setting. Blue Penguins seem to be the main attraction now and quite worth seeing these little blighters. They appear as little rafts of seven or eight out to sea and make their way in to this beach where they have their burrows. You are not allowed to photograph them which is well policed but quite okay because you just sit and enjoy them waddling slowly up the beach.

This is as close as I got to a picture of one although as we walked back from our penguin extravaganza we came across a few waddling ashore within the harbour. We stuck to the no photos rule though.

For some strange reason we made for Dunedin after Oamaru I am not sure why as we had already dismissed Invercargill as too Scottish but Dunedin actually means Edinburgh. Oh Yes Sal needed a phone card and this was the only Town within miles that could do it so at least we had a reason to go. 

Well we swept in to the town and Mr Smith, quick off the mark, spotted the Sparks shop and slid across the road and parked up. We followed thinking nothing of it but as we parked we noticed a load of New Zealander passers buy shaking their heads in dismay. I was approached as was Mr Smith by well intention-ed members of the Dunedin population who pointed out that in New Zealand you weren't allowed to park on the opposite side of the road and if you did you would feel the full weight of the law. It was almost as if we had been about to start fishing in their ornamental pond

We took the advice as we didn't want to upset the locals and made off immediately. However we were not quick enough for one resident who snapped off a picture and sent it to our hire company. We duly received an email of shame pointing out our disrespect for the New Zealand/ British culture and were admonished appropriately. I am sure there are no problems recruiting informants here.

We left town and made for the Aramoana beach nature reserve for lunch which was far more welcoming. We saw yellow eyed penguins, well one and not close enough to photo and sea lions.

However this seal type creature was all for posing for the camera and we were careful not to get within ten metres as is the rule here.

We stopped for a night in the Dunedin 'Top Ten' site but took Dunedin no further as we may have been on a wanted list and left quickly the next morning heading for Te Anau.

Now Te Anau was a different kettle of fish. Nice drive and a beautiful lake.

Nice walks and a nice little town with a supermarket to trundle around in. Now the whole point of heading this way was to continue up to Milford Sound. Before we got there we stopped at a lovely Gorge called Cascade Creek where we had lunch then saw the cascade in the pouring rain. The Gorge walk was spectacular and as a plus  we saw a cheeky Kia a parrot type bird that is quite tame and friendly which is why it is quite rare.

The Kia hopped about refusing to pose for me.

Milford Sound is an inlet missed by Cook twice but discovered by a Welsh Sealer called Grono. A very interesting Fiord perhaps all the more interesting because a guy called Donald Sutherland, not 'The' Donald Sutherland, sailed in, in 1877 and set up home there. His peace was eventually shattered by him taking a wife and they began the first tourist trade.

The route was made possible by the digging of the Homer Tunnel (Not 'the Homer') ( Simpson!) which opened in the 1950s and was started by five blokes with shovels. I bet there was some Irish in them.

This is the exit of the tunnel showing the huge rock it passes through. You can just imagine the workers looking at this and saying "Yes I think we can do it, pass me a pick axe."

A lovely boat trip dipping our noses in to the Sounds waterfalls and seeing why Cook missed the Sound due to the twisting nature of it was one of the highlights.

Again having to return via the same route we made for Gunn Camp on the Hollyfield river. Gunn Camp is an early pioneers camp and is, in my book, a must to visit, the current owner is a card and a joker but the history of the place is wonderful. From the tragedy of Davey Gunn and the loss of a twelve year old lad whilst both tried to cross a river on a horse, to the bones of a Moa the now extinct, large, slow, edible, type of Emu that existed then. Attributes conducive to extinction. A lovely spot. and we saw a Tomtit too.

Apparently a workers camp about a hundred years ago originally. Very old fashioned but lovely.

We left the next morning Sandfly bitten all over and made our way back to Lake Te Anou as there is no other way round and headed for Lake Wanaka via Queenstown to see the Bungee jumping. Very entertaining to watch for free those daft enough to part with a hundred quid in order to scare themselves silly. They did it from a very interesting old bridge too.

If it snapped this engineless dinghy would be no help either.

From here we pressed on via the scenic route to lake Wanaka. Very pleasant. Another lovely waterfall!

Lake Wanaka was a very well presented lake and a small but beautifully developed settlement which we found to be very welcoming. As if you were being taken in hand!

From Wanaka we made for Fox Glacier through some rather spectacular roads. We found the Top Ten camp site and Mr Smith and myself abandoned the lady folk to laundry duties and made for the local saloon bar for a couple of scoops. We found that the bar was full of sand flies sent by God herself to punish us for our wicked abandonment of the women folk. But Mr K managed to secure an Anniversary card in recognition of the fact that I had not secured one in the UK. There was only one card and the helpful lady in the shop, a fully trained wife, on seeing my inadequacy made me write it out and seal it in the shop for ease of concealment. Mr Smith agreed to hide it.

Now we had just arrived after a huge drive up the West coast to hear that the previous nights large rainfall had caused a road slip north of our location and we may not be able to get through. The alternative was drive all the way back and try and go round, Bloody miles! We put our faith in the New Zealand road traffic people and decided to hang around and take in the glaciers.

One of the best spots was the 4.4 Kilometre walk around Lake Matheson. Not many birds but we saw a Tomtit and some large Moorhen type birds too. No eels though. We then followed this up by a jaunt further along the road to the picnic area before Clearwater bridge for lunch and a really good view of the Fox Glacier.

Not knowing whether the road would open we decided to head for the Franz Joseph Glacier in the hope that Monday would bring good news. The Glacier was named after Emperor Franz Josef by the Austrian Julius Haast in 1865. We parked again in the Top Ten camp site and walked the 2 Km back in to town to shop and have a rather nice couple of beers and a large portion of chips to see us through. Arriving back we stir fried up and settled down to wine and cards. Lovely. I think I won!

Next morning up bright and early for a saunter up the Franz Josef glacier for a good look at that one.

We were allowed to get a little closer this time although there were plenty of warnings about going further and a number of examples of people who tried and died for their efforts.
In New Zealand there are a number of narrow bridges that just allow one vehicle through at a time and this is on interstate highway number six. Such a name would warrant at least six lanes in the USA and at least two in Cornwall. We came to the blocked, avalanche strewn, section of this road about an hour after setting off from Franz Josef but our plans to lunch in the traffic jam were thwarted when after a couple of minutes we were waved through.

We made for Greymouth and were allowed to pick our own spots in the campsite which we managed to do directly at the end of the runway for Greymouth airfield and suffered a couple of close encounters with planes and helicopters.

The next morning it was our 25th wedding anniversary and we had decided we would have both a breakfast out and an evening meal in celebration of Mrs K's 25 years of resilience. So, on the advice of the campsite manager, we made for Greymouth town and sought out Maggies Kitchen for a fat boys breakfast.

Interestingly on the way we encountered a bit of road rage from a car behind us who took umbridge at my careful driving which made us laugh. Here was a guy that would  have a heart attack if he tried to drive from Boughton Monchelsea to Maidstone.

In Greymouth we came across this sign.

Which, for me, made me think of the famous line from Blazing Saddles " For 'Land' see 'Snatch'
Greymouth was interesting in that it conformed to the wild west type of town we were becoming use to. The Museum was closed due to earthquake damage but we were able to replace a bowl that Mrs K managed to dislodge from the cupboard with some nifty cornering.

After Greymouth we made for the pancake rocks but the tide, as usual, was all wrong so we went past and did a lovely walk up the Pororari river valley. We thought we might get a paddle in the water but didn't due to the steep banks. However a very interesting walk.

After nearly two hours walking we came back and did the Pancake rocks. We waited around for an hour for the tide to get up so we could see the spectacular water chimneys but unfortunately the waves died down.

Nevertheless a very interesting spot.

Next stop was Carter's Beach Top Ten campsite where we parked up and went for a lovely meal at Donaldos, a beach side, typical New Zealand, restaurant which served high quality food at a reasonable price. lovely! I'd suggested jumping the fence on the way back but this was dismissed as foolish and Mrs K and I walked the long way round in temperatures that had dropped significantly while Mr and Mrs Smith lagged behind and jumped the fence arriving back rather smugly before us.

Next morning was a long old hike all the way across the upper part of South Island to Kaikoura via Hamner Springs. We stopped for coffee at Berlin and had a rather soggy sausage roll or rather I did. Then we set off in earnest with Mr Smith leading. We didn't stop at Reefton but it looked really nice. We motored on and were just sailing past Hamner Springs when the lead vehicle stopped and Mrs S approached our vehicle declaring that Mr S had been found guilty of un-husbandly conduct by not responding to her directions.

He was suitably admonished and we turned and made for Hamner Springs. Mr Smith paid the usual fine for such misconduct two large ice creams and we shopped and continued on our way. Whilst shopping we tried to let an elderly gentleman with only a loaf of bread through on the check out before us but he refused saying " No thanks mate I'll only get another job when I get home." Obviously retired without a plan. Poor chap. There is a brotherhood out there if only we could organise ourselves. 

The 330 Km drive was through some, now expected, spectacular scenery with its usual two way lanes and single track bridges with quite serious drops without barriers on the leading edges. Mrs K and Mrs S took these with surprising ease whilst driving although we / Graham received some flak for his speed at times. He was having a slightly bad day when it came to wife management not helped by Mrs K throwing in her 2 penneth worth every now and again. Still it took the attention off me for a while. Well, what are mates for?

We eventually arrived at Kaikouri through rather a lot of road works, Now in England it is our habit to see road works as the bain of our lives with those involve being seen as people deliberately intent on disrupting our journeys with their fences, traffic lights, and shovels, so in Blighty we pass them with at least a level of contempt equal to that afforded a liberal Democrat MP. However in New Zealand each road worker is almost applauded by the travelling public with each driver waving and each worker acknowledging the wave with some enthusiasm. These Kiwis have something I think. Not sure what.

Now we had to book in advance for the whale watching and I was selected to phone up and was given instructions to ask the right questions on calling which went well for a while until I asked what should we bring? And the lady hesitated after saying warm clothes and a light jacket which then prompted me to ask "what about a harpoon?" which seemed to land on stoney ground and I received the usual disapproving looks.

Well our first night at Kaikouri was filled with laundry, beer, a fabulous Red Thai curry created by Sal with some unusual chef dancing. Then a bit of foul weather, then trains that sounded like they may pass through your motor home and an early e-mail to say that all whale watching had been cancelled due to the weather. So we went seal watching which was up the road for free.

Very entertaining. We decided to get up early the next morning to keep on schedule and got an early booking for the whale watching which went well.

Now Sperm whales follow a simple pattern. Dive for about 45 minutes to a huge depth swallowing anything in their way from giant squid to great white sharks, then surface, overcome the effects of deep diving and eating large creatures whole, having a dump and diving again. Seems like a lifestyle to me.

However they lie on the surface doing this for about ten minutes so you see why they were easy to hunt and kill.

We also saw albatross  too.

Mr Smith had a tip top camera.

Well we all enjoyed our whale watching trip out of Kaikoura and appreciated the work they had put in dealing with the effects of the 2016 earthquake that raised the harbour floor by a metre and a half grounding most of their boats. So we didn't mind the lecture on saving the planet by being careful with our plastic bags and didn't make any reference to the amount of marine diesel used by them using four large speedboats each doing four trips a day to maximise their profits taking us out there.

We left Kaikoura after treating ourselves to a fat boys breakfast and Mrs K had a small spending spree in the shop too. We set off for Blenheim but had another quick fix of the seals on the way. You could watch them all day.

We arrived in Blenheim which is for some reason named after the battle of Blenheim in 1704. Well it was named by the then Governor probably because he was mates with the Marlborough family whose general John Churchill 1st Duke of Marlborough thrashed the French at Blenheim on the Mrs K's birthday in 1704. Bit strange but showed how people in power could do as they liked then. Just as now.

Had my haircut by an old guy with little conversation which seemed to reflect our view of Blenheim, then we made our way to a recommended pub on Dodson Street, the Grove where they served about 20 ales and had a small wine tasting shipping container nearby. The lady had an interesting story, Mrs Clarke, I presume, who came out here with her husband in the 90s and started growing grapes. Then son and daughter followed and added some expertise creating some lovely wines, 'The Clarke Estate' We bought 4 bottles between us at very reasonable prices.

Next morning we hot footed it out of Blenheim to make Nelson in time for the market and hit the campsite at 1100. Probably the strangest small campsite so far with the dump station right next to the narrowest bridge. Anyway we left in a taxi for the town centre and had a saunter through the market which was full of honey, carvings and health things. I wasn't allowed near the nicest stall. The bacon stall.

Then after a very nice coffee on Trafalgar street only interrupted by some noisy street entertainer, we made our way to the cathedral on the instructions of the taxi driver only to find it rather grey and drab. Perhaps we have been spoilt for cathedrals over the last couple of years.

After lunch we made for the Riwaka river source on the advice of another taxi driver and had a much more pleasant experience.

The river emerges from this hole in the cliff and the water looks very inviting but not inviting enough to overcome the fear of cold.

Next stop was Kaiteriteri beach which was hot and pleasant. (Too many syllables)

We worked out that we were outside of the beer ban so had a beer on the beach then back to the site for nibbles and drinks before a lovely bangers and mash.

Now Mr and Mrs Smith have friends so they abandoned us to go for a coffee with their friends while we shopped and made for Pelorus Bridge. En Route we were overtaken by a rather strange and aggressive hells motorbike fan who had suitable swear words on his jacket and who made rather a rude single figure gesture on overtaking us half way up a mountain. Well this caught us unawares as the strange chap didn't shoot off like a confident nasty hells angel but proceeded to be a bit of a wimp when it came to cornering a bike. We kept up with him in our campervan quite easily and I was hoping he would stop so I could speak to him about his gesture as driving with Mrs K often elicits some criticism but here none had been forthcoming so I did want to establish the cause of the problem and question him as to why he had seen a problem where a much more critical wife had seen none. Anyway he was never seen again. Perhaps he had once had a wife!

Pelorus Bridge was a nice little spot with its main history being the murder of five people for their gold. We waited for the Smiths then took the two waterfalls walk with the first being a little disappointing in that the rock wall was less damp then my student accommodation in Bouverie Street Chester in 1981. 

We moved on to the second waterfall a couple of Km along the track which was slightly better.

Mr Smith feeling a little outdone by my swim in the glacial waters of Mount Cook dived straight in with some bravery I might say. I contemplated the move and decided I needed at least a free hour to get in so didn't.

We hobbled back and pulled beers from our motorhome boot or garages as they are called and collapsed in a state of tiredness followed by Chicken Chasseur and nice wine. Mr Smith managed to gulp down my glass and then place his right next to the elbow of the vigorously cleaning Mrs Smith leaving us with only three wine glasses and more importantly less wine. Mrs K had to surrender my hidden wine stash to make amends. Dreadful! Not only that but they then went on to thrash us at cards. You can go off people you know!

Next stop the ferry to North Island.

The trip up to Picton was uneventful with the only event being the missing of the only turn to Picton by the lead driver. But this was resolved by a swift 'U' turn and we resumed on our way. The ferry was easy and we were soon lodged aboard the large ferry to Wellington.

Bye bye South Island.

Hello North Island across the Cook Strait.

Wellington is the capital of these islands and is known as the 'Windy city'. The reason for this is that it is bloody windy. But I have to say I took to Wellington despite our site being about 15 Km from the city. We parked up and took a number 83 bus in to town to have a look around and a meal. The 83 took an age to get there but we located the sites we wanted to see and then, via a bar on Cuba, street made for a top restaurant not too far away that served Cambodian food. It was excellent although I can't recall its name but featured about number six on Trip Advisor for Wellington.
We managed an 81 bus in the next morning and hit the cable car after a swift coffee and managed a lovely walk through the botanic gardens.

We wandered down the confusing path through the botanic gardens and ended up in the lovely rose garden before exiting in to the town looking for lunch.

 I had a slight slip when I slid off a kerb and fell full length in to the road in a sort of ' I'm having a fall' motion which would have been funnier if I hadn't lead with my head in to the road. Luckily New Zealand  has no major traffic and I was able to drag my forlorn backside to the kerb with very little injury to demonstrate my calamity and allow enough time for my companions to stop laughing.

We made it across the road and consulted maps only to be approached by a lovely inhabitant who asked what we were after. Mr Smith made it clear, food on the way to the museum and she directed us to the nearby Colonial cafe which served up a fantastic lunch with chips for the less restrained member of the group. At this point we have to mention the average New Zealander who we have come across are with a friendliness that is equaled by none that I have experienced. The bus drivers are so patient with their passengers and so understanding of their dumb tourists. In fact generally you have to see the New Zealanders as the most cheerful population of people in the world, bar the odd motorcyclist or Greymouth motorist.

We liked Wellington. The museum was fantastic and completely free. In  fact one thing that I would point out is that the New Zealanders do not take the piss over parking or visiting public sites which is fantastic. I hate going in to our home town of Maidstone in Kent in the UK because they stuff you for parking and anything else they can get you for. Then they wonder why the centres are dying while they over pay their executives. In New Zealand they don't. Please stay this way New Zealand. This makes me want to come back. 

Rant over.

The blowy waterfront is great and the city is vibrant.

After a good night but an annoying early morning stay at the top ten site in Wellington with commercial lorries firing up next to our camper vans at 5 am, we left for our long jaunt to lake Taupo about 340 Km away towards the centre of the island. Quite a spectacular drive as you moved further away from the lowlands around Wellington. Lake Taupo turned out to be quite a lovely site.

Even Mrs K was tempted in to the water.

A bit of a barbecue followed by cards and then bed and hopefully a quiet, none lorry starting, or wife book slapping, anti snoring, night previously experienced.

Well not quite. Of course the downside to the lakes side location was the proximity of the road and as you might imagine logging lorries seemed to attempt take off speed here. I also think I may have found out what the many signs about 'Engine Braking' was. I think it relates to the bloody awful noise they make when using the engine to slow down.

Anyway a new day saw a brief dip in the lake before the start of quite a few sights. The first Huka Falls.

Basically a nice blue torrent of water in a gorge which looked great for kayaking. We had a gentle stroll and saw a power boat with passengers experiencing the thrill of white water.
Next stop was an area called the Wairakei Moon Craters. A volcanic area interspersed with hissing and belching steam and water.

A warm spot nicely laid out but one of the few places that charged entry. 8 Dollars not too much and not resented. We had lunch at the Helicopter station where they had a Greek menu which was very nice but lead to overeating by some of the less self controlled in the party. This lead to a state of immobility but I pressed on.

Next stop was the oddly named 'Kerosene Creek' a hot water stream that attracted bathers from all over and seemed to have an inordinate amount of abandoned underwear. Still we all went in and enjoyed the rather hot sulphery splash.

The warm waters didn't help Mrs K's recurring hoovering injury to her hip but some of us got to show off our well tuned bodies.

We made for Rotorua and camped in a quiet site hoping and almost achieving a quiet nights sleep.
Next morning it was raining but Mr Smith was convinced that it would be fine and we set off with most of us in rain coats while Mr Smith dashed from tree to tree.

Rotorua as a town was a bit disappointing although we enjoyed our walk around the bubbling hot spring of the peninsular and had a lovely lunch at  a nice artisan cafe on Eat Street. Mrs K, suffering from her hoovering injury, braved a Thai massage parlour and Mr and Mrs Smith and I went and sorted out a spade for some bubbling beach where you dig out your own hot tub. It might make a good boat scraper.

We bobbed back to the site and had a snooze followed by a swim in the site pool and a shower before we went on our extravaganza of a Moari tour at Mitai village which wasn't the most organised or coordinated experience and probably not worth the money although we met some nice people, saw a dodgy Haka and saw some unimpressive glow worms. They need to work on this experience.

Well we slept well until about 0730 when some twit managed to set his van alarm off to wake us all up. Luckily he left before any of us could powder our guns. I managed another swim before leaving for Coromandel and its slightly dodgy but very pretty coastal road. Talking of roads it is well worth pointing out the plight of the Possum population which litter the road system in much the same way as he hedgehog use to in Britain. They are an introduced pest and are controlled by as many methods as possible.

Torrential rain lead Mr Smith in to a washer woman frenzy of launderetting whilst Mrs K and I sat around in our stain dribbled clothing, well I did anyway. After preparing a Granddad Philip curry the ladies left for the town centre while I waited for Graham to complete his good housewife chores (Maybe it was something to do with it being international women's week) then we made for the Star and Garter and met the womenfolk for beer. We staggered back and arranged bikes for the next morning before curry, cards and bed.

We weren't allowed to use the pedal cars but had to use the million geared mountain bikes. We set off in earnest for a bay identified by Graham but Mrs K's hoovering injury got the better of her and someone had to cycle back and get her book so we could abandon her by the roadside and carry on. By the time I got back with the book I was knackered but pressed on to somewhere near Tucks bay. Sal then left us to return to Mrs K and Graham and I went on a 45 minute walk through the forest where we met four ladies who told us all about the Kauri trees in New Zealand.

Which is a huge great tree with many not surviving the British fleets needs for good wood. I included Graham in the shot for scale purposes to demonstrate how much weight he had put on during this tour. After  a swim and more cycling, together with a great deal of chaffing, we found the ladies shopping in Coromandel town.

We had a great deal to fit in the next morning. Mrs K's birthday was looming and no present had been forthcoming so using the services of Mrs S who whilst shopping with Mrs K had spotted her interest in a Tui Jug in one of the local shops. I managed to offer to go and get some pain killers for her pain and slipped into the only gift shop open at that time. By a stroke of luck it was the right shop and the nice lady wrapped it for me. Mission accomplished. It is worth mentioning the Tui bird as they are quite common and make a really interesting sound in the mornings just like someone trying to tune in a World War Two radio or someone preparing a dodgy woodwind instrument before a concert. On my return, and the careful passing of the jug to Sal for hiding, we drained various parts of the vans then we had a quick bounce on the strange bouncy things on most of the sites before we made for Cathedral Cove.

After an arduous drive and unclear parking arrangements we plumbed for the boat trip to the cove but we discovered the boat wasn't running that day for no apparent reason so we gave up and made for Hot Spring Beach. A much more interesting spot and we had purchased a spade specifically for the purpose. That purpose was waiting for low water and digging your own spar pool on the beach. What could be easier?

Well there were two problems , Graham picked a spot too close to the waves so kept being swamped, then in his vigor he destroyed the 8 dollar spade requiring us to dig by hand.

Eventually, with the help of a couple of locals we produced the hot bottom spar and triuphantly handed it over to the wives.

We pressed on that afternoon to break up what would have been a long drive to the Bay of Islands by stopping at Orere Point. Now it was my turn to lead and Mrs K had been suffering from her hoovering hip injury so she was tucked up in bed whilst I drove unassisted and unaided. Well everything went fine until we were about a hundred yards off the campsite when, for no apparent reason, I turned left on to a little residential street called Bays road. Realising my mistake I decided to carry out a three point turn which was executed with some skill up to the point where, despite the reversing camera I mowed down a post box. Note no 3 rests against no 2 in a nonchalant, nothing to see here way.

If you look closely no 3 had its post snapped clean off at the base. I confessed and compensated the lovely man at number three before entering Orere point site and spotting that in fact I had damaged the van so a confession to Wilderness was necessary. I tried to blame the post but I think they saw through me.

Orere is  a small site which offered a small stream to swim in and an increasing amount of mosquitoes. We didn't swim due to the large population of ducks and the slightly murky water. We had a relatively uneventful night before setting off on an epic drive via Aukland to the Bay of Islands and Aroha Island for the night. Now Aroha island was off the beaten track but offered a bit of Kiwi spotting which was feeding Mrs K's developing bird watching desires. The park was in fact an island nature reserve with two resident Kiwis one being 40 years old. A lovely spot and we all went out that night to spot the birds but I was sent back to the van in disgrace after falling asleep on the spotting bench and disturbing the watchful and silent enthusiasts with my snoring. We all got bitten to death and did not see the Kiwis.

 We did see a number of ducks which seemed to please Mrs S or Mrs Mallard as she became known after this.

The next day it was Mrs K's birthday and after a ceremonial present and card giving meeting we made for Paihia for a fat boys breakfast. Paihia was a very pleasant seaside town with yachts anchored in the harbour. Another spot I decided I could live in and after a wander and a shop we made for the Car ferry to Russell Island.

Now we were nearing the end of our tour and we had decided that stopping in the small town of Russell for a few days to relax would be a fitting way to spend our last few days. Well Russell was the climax for me. Having said at the beginning I could live at Akaroa well I could really live at Russell. The place was beautiful.

A lovely swim in Crystal waters at Long Beach just over the hill followed by a lovely evening Birthday meal at the Swordfish club on the harbour front.

Through out life you look for the spot you might be content to die in. Well Russell is that spot except its in the wrong spot, actually bloody miles from the spot. New Zealand is lovely but too far from life as we know it.

Anyway we hit the Swordfish club for Mrs Ks 50 something birthday and had a lovely meal. Then booked ourselves a sail the next day aboard Phantom a 50 foot racer from 1972 run by Rick and Robin Blomfield a couple of long term ocean goers.

We saw dolphins and had a lovely lunch on board.

I was even allowed to  drive.

After a lot of talk about a fishing trip then the idea of a Kayak it all came down to a coffee followed by a bacon butty lunch followed by one of Mr Smiths uphill walks.

On the walk we ended up at flagstaff hill where there was a Maori / British tiff as the Maoris kept chopping it down and the Brits kept putting it back up.

It was at this spot that the Kiwi spotting desires were reignited when a couple told us that they had seen  some Kiwis on the lower path on the route we were taking a type of Kiwi that came out during the day. Well we crept through the woods stopping and straining our eyes. Mrs K thought she may have seen a Kiwis bottom and I saw a mound of earth that looked like a Kiwi in the distance. As time went on we became less convinced and concluded the may just have seen a Weka which to the untrained, slightly inebriated, eye may become a Kiwi.

After another dousing on another beach we made back to Russell town centre for a beer in the Marlborough Tavern where we heard of the mass shooting in Christchurch by a deranged twat.

We decided to revisit the Swordfish club that night and again received good fare. We bumped in to a couple on the way back who were from Tunbridge Wells and worked at the same company as Sal and Gra. So we had a bottle or two of wine with them before retiring.

Next morning up and away to make for Aukland to prepare to drop off the vans stopping at a non top ten campsite right on Takapuna beach. Slightly dodgy site with some similarities to some of the sites you might find on the isle of Sheppey.

We settled down to try to consume all our left overs in terms of beer and food before going out for our final evening meal in New Zealand.

New Zealand was a beautiful, relatively new, country with tremendous potential and a huge desire to preserve it's natural beauty. Everyone should spend some time there during their life should they be lucky enough to be able to get there. You just about see it as Tasman and Cook did all those years ago. The people were friendly and relaxed being clearly aware of the loveliness of their country. Wilderness, as a company to use for touring, lived up to their standards as we met a few less happy campers using some of the other numerous touring van companies. Despite our misdemeanors they were still talking to us when we returned the vans in Auckland and they dropped us off at the airport for our long journey home for free. A non stop trip from Perth to Heathrow. 17 hours in economy class. Quite painful but Quantas fed us well and looked after us.

What? Still talking about bloody Brexit? Could we have a Prime Minister like Jacinda Ardhern please? She knows how to manage a crisis.