same_difference: (Default)
Same username, same lack of time to write, new home. See you there.

32

May. 17th, 2015 09:15 pm
same_difference: (Me.)
Good if tiring weekend. Great way to celebrate a birthday, saw lots of friends, fed them all tasty food, and generally had a nice time.

Learned a few things:

  • We can host 20-21 in our house for a party is the upper limit. Ideally we'd need a few more places for people to sit, but cycling people out to the garden to see the bunnies worked well.

  • The bunnies are very social, and much more comfortable, even when there were 12 people, staring, petting or squeeing over them at a time.

  • Pies prepared the night before were a good way to feed people - should have balanced it more as there was more than enough Chicken, Ham and Leek, but not enough Steacon to meet demand. Potato wedges even though I don't eat them myself, are a good quick way to provide a decent accompaniment too.

  • Also related four pies, two pastries and two trays of wedges for 18 is the maximum limit of what can go in my oven at once.

  • My curry is also tasty if used to fill small pastries, especially given how often I was asked if there were any going spare (and also the offer of one Chib's to leave Sam for me for it).

  • Yet another reminder of how good my friends are, and how knowing a bunch of nice people means mixing company works.

  • Cooking a roast lamb for 6 today, feels like a small meal after yesterday.

  • It makes a nice change, but I definitely prefer smaller groups when you can chat more. I saw a lot of people, but didn't talk to many of them all that much once. Did at least organise myself in a way I didn't spend all day in the kitchen cooking (which was also a good thing compared to say if I'd done a barbecue).

  • My sister-in-laws cakes taste as good as they look.

Edit:

  • One I missed: If I offer to cook food, I can expect a much better lastish minute turn out from an invite than you would normally assume...

same_difference: (Me.)
So with our five o'clock flight to the North Island we had a morning and an afternoon to do a few things in Christchurch. We started picking up the chocolate things I needed for work - chocolate marshmallow fish and chocolate coated pineapple - and some things for Rachael's brownies too. The last of our gift shopping done we went had a pleasant bimble through the botanic gardens.

From there we went and had a trip up yet another gondola ride, up some 500m above sea level for excellent views of the Banks Peninsula. We also went on unintentionally amusing history ride, before just chilling out and having a bite to eat without much more to do before our flight.

Dropping the car off was odd, especially given it had taken us around two islands and 4213km of roads. I felt like I was missing something no longer having car keys in my pocket. With not a lot to do we ended dropping the car back an hour early with three hours till our flight time only to discover our flight was delayed another ninety minutes.

In Auckland we're once more staying in the Rendevouz, finishing the honeymoon where we started it. Our delayed flight meant we didn't get here till nearly 9pm, so our plans for one final night in Auckland became room service in the hotel instead.
same_difference: (Me.)
We started our day by walking out to the lake side, as cloud formed over the surrounding mountains, as well as seeing the other features of Lake Tekapo a small church and a statue of a sheep dog. From there we drove up Mount John, saw the outside of the observatory from our cancelled tour and spent sometime looking out across fantastic views.

Our three hour drive to Christchurch was our last big drive of the honeymoon - tomorrow we return the rental car just before we fly back to Auckland. Was one of those long long straight road drives. Really flat country too, could see miles to the horizon, well the mountains that rose up from the horizon in fact.

In Christchurch we went for a walk, passed an unsurprisingly large number of building sites, saw the earthquake damaged cathedral and did our souvenir shopping in the restart mall; its been constructed on the site of the destroyed mall out of converted shipping containers.

Dinner tonight was on a tram car restaurant; one it turned out that had only reopened last December - it has taken four years following the earthquake for things to get back to a state where it could. The tram itself looped sound a section of the city some six times I think while the four courses were served, the whole time swing music playing at a nice background level. The food was absolutely exquisite - for once not huge portions either so it didn't feel like we over ate. Excellent end to our last full day in the South Island.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today we travelled up to Lake Tekapo for our observatory tour; sadly for once the NZ weather was against us and our tour was canceled. We did get a relax in some hot pools while the rain continued down on us, and the lake is pretty, so not a total loss.

On the way up we visited Oamaru. Unfortunately the steam punk exhibit we had partly come to see didn't achieve its potential. We also stopped at a nesting beach for a yellow eyed penguin colony. We didn't have time to wait for when they returned but I did see a couple more furseals, one of which I nearly walked into! Once again the furseals are the reliable wildlife on this trip.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today is mine and Rachael's first wedding anniversary and we spent it exploring Dunedin, and on a train ride through Taieri gorge. The train ride and staying at the castle were a bit of symmetry with how I proposed to Rachael. We lucked out with a bonus similarity with our wedding as breakfast this morning was in a converted stable.

We did three different things today. The Otago Settlers Museum which we wandered into at first simply because it was free. It was really excellent, lots of things made locally at one point which we hadn't seen anywhere else. I particularly liked the collection of old computers. From there we went into the Chinese Scholars Garden. Very pretty, very serene. All built and designed by Chinese workers, originally put together in China, then dismantled and shipped over and reassembled. Dunedin has had a Chinese population ever since they first arrived during a good rush.

Then in the afternoon we had our train ride through Taieri Gorge. The gorge is only accessible via that private railway. The autumn colours of the leaves really added to the scene.

It was a great anniversary.

Just three holiday days left before it's travelling time. Really enjoying everything, looking forward to what's left, but also really looking forward to being home now too.
same_difference: (Me.)
So no update the day before yesterday as we were on a cruise on the Doubtful Sound without wifi or phone signal, though I did start drafting this. Yesterday was just tiredness.

We got to Manapouri at about 11:30, and caught our ferry that crossed Lake Manapouri to our coach that went up and over the mountain pass past the hydroelectric power station down to Doubtful Sound. The power station is unique in that it was built without altering the level of the lake (though that took a massive protest and ultimately a change of government to ensure that was the case).

Our boat for the night was called The Navigator had three decks and sails it didn't get to use due to the wrong wind direction. The boat cruised slowly down the sound (for reference a sound is a flooded river basin) pausing briefly for the passengers to go out on small tender boats or kayaks and for the brave to go swimming, before carrying on to the edge of the Tasman Sea. It then moored up halfway back for the night, and sailed the rest of the way back in the morning pausing only for a minutes silence for ANZAC Day.

The food on the boat was great. Muffins shortly after we left, soup just before we went out to the sea's edge, and a delicious and generous buffet main dinner and desert course. Breakfast the next morning was a mix of cooked and continental buffet.

So I spent the day and evening meeting an eclectic mix of people and having a really unusual of mix of conversations.

We spent dinner talking to a basketball playing couple. He a top league Australian current playing for Invercargel in the Australian of season; she an American currently playing in Italy, who is a part of the NZ national team. We discussed our jobs, driving in different countries and the NZ attitude to things.

After dinner while I watched the fish at night from the lights of the boat looking for barracuda I discussed the honeymoon and religion with a Catholic priest from Wyoming name Steve.

After that I chatted to a group while we collectively failed to solve a 3D puzzle. The group consisted of a geeky American au pair from Arizona with liberal views and a masters in social care, a couple from Northern Island one Catholic the other Protestant who were anarchist, and briefly a Germam student. We discussed everything from accents and how that affected your attractiveness to Americans, to Americans college students throwing 'British parties', politics, the NI troubles, jingoism and patriotism and how to (not) solve the puzzle.

Earlier Rachael had talked to the same Au Pair about geeky TV, we'd discussed our honeymoon with an elderly NZ couple, and possibly something else I forget.

The scenery of the sounds was stunning as we'd expected. We once again saw fur seals, this time the females, and a few little blue penguins. Sadly the bottle-nosed dolphins didn't make their precense known. Once again the seals are the reliable animals of this trip.

The next day having made the return journey we drove across country to Dunedin for our stay at Lanarch castle. Saw lots of the native harrier hawks on the way which was nice. The castle is more a manor house, as that's very much what it's design was based on. We're staying in the lodge rather than the main building as that's a tourist attraction. We're in the Scottish room which means pictures of Scotland, men in kilts, tartan pillows and a deer head on the wall.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today was a doing stuff day. Well a doing stuff, and occasionally being mesmerised by the views day. Not as full a day as we could of made it, but doing an overnight cruise tomorrow meant we didn't fancy boat activities today plus neither of us are into extreme sports so that ruled out a bunch of things. On a related note Queenstown shopping district is tiny, like double the size of Southgate, yet they have at least six competing information centres for booking the same activities.

What we did do was take a gondola ride up a mountain, pause to admire the views then have a couple of luge rides. The first was the scenic course, basically longer and less steep so with therefore more switch backs. The second one was the fast route, so steeper with a couple of sudden drops. Both fun, especially as I was able to achieve a different speed. Also nice to do after not having time to do it at Rotorua.

From there a wander into town took us to the marina observatory where you see below the surface of the lake. Lots of trout which my Dad would love to catch, a couple of eels and the hilarity which is seeing ducks on the surface form below and watching them dive. Ducks underwater are a nightmare to photograph though.

The last thing we ended up doing was a round of frisbee golf in the park. It's exactly what it sounds. We bought an ordinary frisbee, not a specialist frisbee golf one, and there was a lot of wind so we only made one par between us. Fun diversion though, gave us a focussed walk through the park and some gentle exercise.

Dinner tonight was tasty Chinese tapas.

Tomorrow overnight boat cruise through the Doubtful Sounds, so obviously no internet.
same_difference: (Me.)
Today was another day of largely travelling; unlike the North Island where we tended to have a day of activity followed by a couple of hours drive to the next place on the South Island it's more like either a day off activity or a day off driving for 4-5 hours.

So we're now in Queenstown having had a drive down broken up by stopping to marvel at stunning scenes of mountains and lakes. So many beautiful vistas, certainly made for a pleasant journey. Yeah really struggling to find the words to describe that.

Other than admiring the scenery we stopped at Puzzling World which is a sort of illusion based attraction. One half is a set of illusion rooms: holograms, following faces, a sloping room, a set of optical illusion statues and a room that distorts size. It was really good. The other half is a large maze with four towers to find. The normal route should take 30-60mins, we did it in about 20 as Rachael is really good at mazes it seems. Though I did redeem my poor maze skills by at least getting out again at the end.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today we had a helicopter ride up on top of a glacier, then had a three hour hike around it. It was fantastic, the ice really looked like an alien landscape, the hike wasn't too hard going and the guide clearly enjoyed life. We got lucky in two ways: 1) they cancelled the tours just after we got up there, 2) we only had six in our group (Rachael and I, two german lads, one brazilian woman who couldn't believe she wasn't experiencing sub zero temperatures, and a woman from Oxford who knows Oxford Nat) instead of the usual 12. It was raining, but that was probably a good thing. Meant the ice was cleaner, there were pretty pools, streams and waterfalls and no glare. All in all really enjoyed the experience and took what photos I could.

Also helicopters much less uncomfortable than I'd assumed. Different to planes too they just sort of float off the ground.

From there we had lunch, then relaxed in the spa pools at the glacier centre whose entry was included on our ticket. Three pools the coolest at 36C the hottest at 40C. Rachael stuck to the coolest, I gravitated to the warmer ones. They were basically all at perfect bath temperature, but unlike baths actually stayed that tenperature.

My neck and shoulders were stiff from doing 4.5 hours of driving yesterday so I booked a massage. It was very relaxing, but made me realise how bad I've let my back get so hopefully it's helped. Weirdest part was wearing the unisex, disposable fishnet briefs for it. Thankfully what modesty it didn't provide me was provided by a robe and strategic towel use by the masseuse.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today, well this morning was our whale watching trip from Kaikoura. It involved us getting up at 6:15ish, for the 7:15 check in time on the boat. It took them most of the trip to track down a Sperm Whale, actually staying out longer than scheduled in order to see the one they tracked down. We were one of the first boats out, and with no whales currently in residence it was a mixture of luck and persistence to find one at all; especially considering it was done using a mixture of eye sight, directional underwater mikes with a 5km detection radius, and two other boats. In the end we saw one fur seal, the back of a Sperm whale on the surface, with the occasional blow and it's fluke as dived. Given they can only hear the whales when they are dived and hunting, and the whales only surface for 10-15 minutes at most every hour or so we were very lucky. Having said that it was somewhat anti-climatic, if only because we had maybe expected to see more on the trip, and it took a lot of hunting to get that glimpse. Plus I ended up being seasick (after the whale sighting, and thankfully on a very very empty stomach), so the cruising around looking for the whale was hugely thrilling. Still glad I've done it, and I appreciate how rare a glimpse that was, maybe next time something a bit more active like dolphins or orca would be better maybe.

From there we got back to shore at 11:30 and commenced the 6 odd hour drive to Franz Josef, where tomorrow we visit a glacier. It was a very pretty drive, the views added to by the snow falls last week capping the tallest mountains beautifully. I only have photos of the last hour and a half of the drive, partly because that was the bit Rachael drove, and partly because there were no stopping points at the most spectacular views, and what stopping points we found tended to be very sheltered by trees.

Tired now after such an early start (it's nearly 23:40 here), here's the weather is good enough for us to be able to have our helicopter flight to our glacier hike tomorrow.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today was our journey day down to the South Isle. Leaving the ultra comfy B&B bed behind was hard, but we got ourselves sorted and made our watly ro the ferry. We stopped by the Te Papa museum again to catch the newly opened Anzac 'Gallipoli - the scale of our war exhibit'. This year is the 100th anniversay of the disasterous Gallipoli assault, and so the whole country is gearing uo for this years Anzac day.

We had to queue most of an hour to get in, but it was worth it. The exhibit did a fantastic job of capturing the horror and pointless waste of life while being respectful and acknowledging the heroism and sacrifice involved. The exhibit was done with Weta and so has several hyper detailed models. Including several twice life size models of people that had all the body hair and stubble individually defined.

We could't have asked for better weather on the ferry crossing; though it's no less windy than Wellington. We got some great views. Landing at Picton we have driven to Kaikoura. Tomorrow we have to be early to make our 7:15 whale watching tour, before we drive down most of the west coast of the island.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today is our mid-honeymoon day of rest. Tomorrow we take the ferry to the South Island; the day after we have our whale watching boat cruise and then we're driving most of the way down the west coast of the South Isle (6 odd hours of driving) so a day of rest is definitely needed.

We had our first lie in of the honeymoon getting up around 9, had a lazy morning then went for a walk to see fur seals. We got lucky and they were at the closer point about an hours or so walk from the car park. I reckon we saw about 8 of them from hopefully the 20m distance we were supposed to maintain. Really enjoyed seeing them in the wild.

Other than that we've just relaxed and it has been great.
same_difference: (Me.)
Today was our first day in Wellington. The bed in this B&B is super comfy, and yet we once again got up at 7:30 as we'd booked the 9:30 tour at the Weta Cave, one part of the Weta Workshop. We saw a great many props including the armour of Sauron (well one of the prop sets, the urethene plastic one not the steel set), we also learned the decision making behind the Witch King's weapon in Return of the King, saw the working Warthog they built for the cancelled Halo movies, and many cool things. No photos due to copyright and in progress projects rules.

After that we went into Wellington proper via bus, even if it turned out later we hadn't bought the bus ticket we thought we had. We rode the cable car up then walked down through the botanical gardens before spending a few hours in the Te Papa museum, seeing a variety of exhibits including the only preserved colossal squid specimen.

Tomorrow we're not entirely sure what we're doing other than having a lie in and probably driving to see some seals in the wild. That and enjoying the fresh loaf of bread, and home made baked treats we get fresh every day at the B&B.
same_difference: (Me.)
Sharks! I'm not sure what it is about apex predators that fascinate me, but they do, and sharks do in particular. So today while not quite the realisation of a dream was a pretty close approximation, and has certainly reignited the drive to learn to scubadive so I can do it in the wild.

So yes I did the snorkelling encounter at Napier aquarium. Thirty minutes in the oceanarium tank floating around on the surface in wet suit and flippers with no one else as the fish swim around beneath you if they chose. You can swim over about 50% of the tank, and there are four school sharks, two sting ray and assorted other fish. I was able to get pretty close to the sharks and rays, or well they got near to me. Oddly enough the only thing that worried me was accidentally brushing the sting ray, so I ended up mostly keeping my hands near my chest. I think the best moment was swimming along next to the biggest 3m shark for about a minute with it about a metre or so away, though it did swim closer beneath me at times. Oddly enough it's the ray and other fish that suprised me the most, they are so much larger than you realised when your in the tank with them than when looking at them through the glass.

Other than that it's a pretty average aquarium though it did give us a chance to photograph a kiwibird, and to see the endangered native Tautara lizard. It also had an unexpectedly entertaining diver feeding the fish, certainly knew how to entertain the small children.

From there we stayed briefly in Napier for some deliciously locally made gellato. Then we did the long (300km) drive down to Wellington. We've got a couple of nights here to rest and explore before we move down to the South Island. We're staying in a really nice B&B who had a loaf of fresh bread and homemade shortbread biscuits waiting for us when we arrived.
same_difference: (Me.)
So today we took a light aircraft flight (I forget exactly which model of Cesna) over about four volcanoes. The first three were extinct, though of those the largest had a crater that was 25km long, and went from mountain top, to under a lake to still slightly active as it rose from the ground at the other side of the lake. The last one White Island is still active and erupts around every 2 to 3 years. The rest of the time is slowly bubbles sulphuric acid down the island and into the ocean. It's odd to think that they used to mine sulphur from it; though unsurprisingly that ended when the workers were tragically killed in an eruption with the exception of their cat the only survivor dubbed Peter the Great by the rescue team. Considering the island was originally bought off the local Maori tribe for two barrels of rum, I'm not sure the buyers got the good end of the deal. It was an absolutely fantastic experience, really good that Rachael had come across it in a newspaper article.

From there we drove down back past Rotorua to Taupo on the Lake Taupo, and had a tasty lunch and enjoyed the view, including a snow capped Mount Doom in the distance.

After that we had a long drive to Napier going through a lot of their logging country. Between the very long straight roads, and the endless expanses of pine trees on both sides, that then snaked up into mountains it looked like somewhere out of the US or Canada, certainly very different to the landscape we were driving down before.

Tomorrow swimming with sharks in the shark tank. Super excited for that!
same_difference: (Me.)
So today we went to Hobbiton which was fantastic. I hadn't realised the set had been largely demolished as per the contract after the LotR films; it was only tourist interest (and bad weather) that meant it didn't get entirely destroyed. Tourist interest is also why when they rebuilt for the Hobbit trilogy they built it to last (also as per the new cobtract) instead of out of styrofoam, etc.

Considering the LotR films are why I wanted to visit NZ (I still don't have a travel bug) it was great to wander around a part of it (sort of). It was also fascinating. The sheer amount of work that went into getting things right is ridiculous.

From there we drove to Rotorua famous for it's high maori population, geo thermal activitu and hydrogen sulphide smell. We saw an excellent Maori village built on a geothermically active area complete with geysers - though they didn't half make us wait before deciding to jet. It must be weird growing up in a town where tourists come both to see what you live and to see you as almost an exhibit.

We finished the day with really good Japanese food. I really like good quality sushi.

An excellent day, though really incongruous going from the rolling hills of the shire to geysers and hot volcanic springs, especially as they are less than 50km apart.
same_difference: (Me.)
So yesterday we left the Coromandel Peninsula and drove sort of SWW to Waitomo to see the Glowworm caves (or cannibalistic maggots with effervescent poop caves as the guide more accurately described them), then on to Matamata for our trip around Hobbiton tomorrow.

The drive was interesting. Driving in NZ's North Island seems to be mostly either long straight roads on largely flat terrain or serpentine roads that snake up and down mountains and steep valleys. Also the change from Coromandel W which is either mountains or flat and feels either American mid West or South Pacific island, to Otorohanga province whose rolling hills wouldn't look out of place in the UK, and certainly make it obvious why they used it for the Shire, is stark. Curious to see how the rest of the country compares to those two.

The glow worm caves were spectacular in terms of the limestone formations, and the thousand of glowworms illuminating a starscape like pattern on the caves. We didn't do the more adventurous caving, underground rafting options in the end. Partly because not knowing when we'd arrive meant we couldn't prebook. Having said that the combination of underground "heights" and enclosed spaces made me uncomfortable - not quite phobia freak out but caught in that unpleasant anticipation phase.

From there we did our first unplanned detour to see live kiwi birds in a sanctuary. As the birds are endangered, nocturnal and sleep a lot it was probably our best chance of seeing them. They look very odd sorry of fat bodied and legged with very narrow beaks, and they wobble amusingly when they dig.

Today also marks our first taste of proper autumn rains. Some light and a few heavy downpours to add to the driving.

Speaking of which Rachael did her first bit of driving from the bird sanctuary to tonight's motel. She missed having a clutch, but it's good thing we have the option to split the driving if we want to.
same_difference: (Me.)
So this will go up a couple of days after I write it as the WiFi in this motel has a limited allowance. We spent the day exploring the Coromandel peninsula which is kind of the North Islanders holiday destination.

The explorative was kind of done in three chunks. The first driving around it; I'm not sure which was the more challenging drive - the windy coast road whose edges were either a cliff face on one side and an ocean on the other, or the serpentine gravel road that ran up and down the mountain. Very pretty scenery when I wasn't focused on the road; Rachael took photos and we stopped once or twice.

The second was a visit to the Driving Creek Railway in Coromandel town. Single track railway that snakes up another 100m above sea level from its base. Was a mix of pottery, and the trains, as the trains had originally been intended by the potter in order to collect clay and wood. Really good view of the peninsula from the top.

The last after checking into our motel in Whitiangi, was a drive then a walk down to Cathedral Cove. Something that was both recommended by friends and used in the filming of Prince Caspian.

This evening we finished off with a great meal out. I had a very tasty steak served on a grill stone. The meat is served basically raw but on a extremely hot stone that cooks it as you eat it, allowing you to take it off when it's done exactly as you like.

Speaking of beef I thought New Zealand was all about the sheep, but the only way that could be true from what we've seen so far is if the sheep were hiding behind all the cows.
same_difference: (Me.)
We started this morning with a visit to Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The site where the first treaty between the crown and the Maori tribes was signed, and where effectively New Zealand as a sovereign single nation was born. Unlike most of these sorts of arrangements there was a remarkable level of respect and good intention that went into it; though some translation differences between the English and the Maori version, and then an influx of new settlers largely undid that. It's also interesting because it took a private individual to buy the site, restore the buildings, and then gift it to the country as a way for this landmark to actually exist as something you can visit.

We also got to watch a maori cultural performance which is full of what I'm finding to be their typical big characters and big senses of humour. It's very much a country of people who know how to smile, enjoy a joke and don't wander around in the kind of grump you get used to from British strangers.

From there other than a brief stop for lunch, pudding and a visit to a pretty waterfall, it was a 4.5 hour drive Southwards to our rest stop at Thames, before we go explore the Coromandel Penisula tomorrow. We could investigate Thames but neither of us have a huge interest in the old history of gold mining (Rachael has had enough mining related history thanks to growing up in the Welsh valleys). Did get to see Orion from the Southern hemisphere orientation, and also see what it feels like to walk through a small town that basically either has gone to bed or maybe a bar at about 7pm at night. Very different to the late night busy towns I;m used to.

We had one incident on the journey which sums up why I dislike Satnavs. We spent maybe 15 unnecessary minutes trying to navigate New Zealand's spaghetti junction to get on the right motorway, all due to unclear instructions (keep going straight doesn't help when straight then splits into three equal paths). My dislike with satnav's is they encourage you to rely on them, and when they fail they tend to fail in ways you could avoid by just having looked at a map and planned at least the basics of the route yourself. Still we need it to get around this foreign country, and that is probably the most complicated area to drive through here too; so maybe I'm being somewhat unfair.

Right time for bed now I reckon.
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