Thursday, December 29, 2005

Absolutely loving it!!!

Neil in the biscuit - doesn't the setting look idyllic?

Christmas Day jaunt in Hagley Park

From left; Jen, Fran, Emma (looking most attractive!), Dan, Natalie, Matt & Jo having devoured a lot of food!

The llamas and wise men.

The Loburn nativity including the traditional golden labrador!

Upside Down Christmas

A belated Merry Christmas! For us it's been quite hectic but very good fun and in some ways more 'upside down' than last year.
As well as the decorations & shopping that always start well before December, working for a church means that the planning & celebration of Christmas also seems to come early. So much so that, for us, it was all finished by the end of Christmas Eve! The first nativity was organised by one of the smaller churches and set in a very rural location complete with Mary riding a real donkey and llamas substituting for camels to bring the wise men and their gifts to Jesus!
The pageant this year told about the birth of Jesus from the perspective of the angels in heaven preparing to bring the announcement to earth; a kind of Sister Act idea with a group of angels who can't sing at the start but become a heavenly choir by the end. We needed alot more practise to be a heavenly choir - that's about all I can say!

Though Christmas here is very different ('Upside Down Christmas' is a modern-day carol written about the beach & sun of Christmas in the southern hemisphere; it's a little bizarre but at least there has been a realisation that singing 'In the bleak midwinter' is totally inappropriate!) it was also quite strange in the Shepherd family back in the UK as the focus was the arrival of our first niece - Emma Lucy - on December 23rd. Welcome to the world, Emma! Very exciting but odd being so far away for such a significant event.

Christmas day started as semi-traditional for the eight of us gathered in Emma & Dan's flat; the rain poured down (but it wasn't cold) as we wrestled with a huge turkey and all the trimmings (though minus the sprouts, much to our dismay!), listened to carols from Kings (a replay downloaded from the Internet) and even watched the Queen's speech (@ 7 not 3pm)! The sun did come out in the afternoon, though, and we wandered to Hagley Park where the lads played off their dinner with football and the girls just wandered. It was a lovely day spent with friends and left us contemplating our 'traditions' of Christmas from years gone by and how (or should?) they change in such a different context. Answers on a postcard...

Boxing Day was much more Kiwi! Having finished Christmas I was definitely ready for summer to start with a vengeance - and it did. We went out for the day with our friends, the Trotter family, who have a boat (lots of Kiwis have boats - it's not the same as the UK). They took us to a couple of lakes in the mountains (one was way too windy to lauch a boat but a good spot for a picnic) where the the kids and Neil had great fun as they took turns in the biscuit/donut; sitting in an inflatable ring with a solid bottom which is pulled behind the boat. Ed's driving was quite sedate for Josh (8) and Ben (6) but he had some fun with Neil who bounced all over the place and did eventually end up thrown out and in the water. Jen was a little concerned but I knew he'd have loved it and it was a while before the grin left his face!

The rest of the week has been pretty chilled, though with steady preparation for Summer Wine - the camp we're at next week where we're leading the work with the 11-13 year olds.
I think the sun is here to stay for the time being. We were pining the English chill but now Christmas is over I'm ready for my summer holiday!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Another picture of Baby Shepherd!

Baby Shepherd!

Looking towards the lighthouse and out to the inlet where you can spot or swim with dolphins.

The sea front just down from our b&b

Stunning Akaroa

Competitive father & son on the Gondola luge - I'm sure Neil would like it pointing out that he's winning!

Us on our 6th wedding anniversary in front of Lady Knox geyser.

Neil, Sylvia & Ken at top of Queenstown gondola.

Neil on Moeraki Boulders on east coast of South island


Finally got some pictures of the last few months so I'll post them altogether & you can work it out!
Clearly the most exciting picture is the first of Baby Shepherd @ 18 weeks and all functionng well with everything in the correct place - praise the Lord! Also we have both felt it moving around this week - another step towards this feeling 'real'.
My sister, Katy, and her friend stayed for 5 days last week which was lovely. They were pretty travelled out so it's a good job the weather was lousy otherwise I'd have dragged them off to mountains (where they filmed Lion, With & Wardrobe - which we saw this week & thought was great & really bought the book alive though not sure Aslan can ever truly be captured as intended...) or beaches. But really they just needed to chill - they've seen NZ for 5 weeks anyway!
Christmas tree now up and we're coaching ourselves into the festive spirit with candles, cheesy Christmas music & watching Love Actually! It's not that we don't want to be Christmassy it's just a little harder when it's warm & muggy (though still have the grey skies & cloud so that's familiar!) & not dark until 10pm. Plans afoot now for Christmas dinner trying avoid a bbq 'til Boxing Day if we possibly can.
Today it's Matt's birthday so we're out to play tonight - but only after Emma & I have practised being angels for the pageant (I know, why would we need to practise...). You may remember Neil's starring role as Joseph last year? Well this year he has firmly declined - I'm sure it's that he doesn't want to steal the limelight again!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fish 'n' chips!

Last weekend we went away to Akaroa for a night & really can't believe we haven't made it there before. We had heard that the drive was very 'wiggly' (perhaps not how it was described!) and it took ages to get there but it only took just under two hours and the drive was one of the best bits! There's no point in my describing the vistas - I'll have to get photos on the blog (I'd just like to say there's a lack of pictures because we don't have a USB port on the pc @ home so can't take them straight from the camera & the software on the computer @ work doesn't yet allow me to put pics on blog, proabaly v. easy to rectify, just haven't done it yet!) - but the water is just an awesome colour & the little harbours delightful. We had a great meal out & then stayed in a b&b with very friendly hosts who, it turned out had lived in Rangiora & worked as dairy farmers with people from church 25 years previously so they wanted an update on developments in and around the place - this place really is a small world.
We then did a walk up a very steep hill which took rather more out of me than expected (I was careful though!) so had to refuel with possibly the best fish and chips I've ever had! Neil used to go to Whitby from Hartlepool for fish'n' chips as a kid nad has decided that this could now take it's place (not that fish anywhere in NZ is poor - as Emma says, it really tastes like fish!).

The sad news of the week is that my step-Nanna died back in Swansea. It's very strange being so far away when things like this happen in your family, though I'm grateful because God has made us really aware of His care when we can't be there (like prompting people to pray even though they don't know of anything going on). It's harder for my step-sister, Katy, who is travelling at the moment here in NZ but she's coming to stay at the end of this week so we can catch up then & share stories & memories together.

Still no sign of the long, hot summer promised - well, not here in Canterbury, the 'land of the endless blue skies' anyway! The rest of the country looks like it's getting a better deal so we'll wait patiently...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Things

Lots has happened in the month since I last blogged, and as usual I'm hopelessly slow at updating. I've decided it's because the computer is in our 'study' out the back of the garage and on chilled evenings when I've got time to write the last place I want to sit is out there! Our friends are here with a laptop & I've decided that's the way forward...but for now you may have to be content with infrequent blogs.

Anyway, new things - mainly in the form of people. Dan & Emma arrived just over a month ago to join us as part of The Order of Mission. Dan has a transfer from KPMG Leeds to Christchurch for 2 years and Emma (as of today) has a job working in the physio dept of Christchurch hospital. They've found a town house to rent fairly near the city centre (much fun has been had kitting it out!) and it's just great to have friends around. Not that we haven't made friends here who are fantastic - we have & they are a huge blessing - it's just nice to hang out with people we connect with so well & who we have a longer history with. It meant that we had to experience the A&P show again (remember the huge bulls & tractor displays?) - it's one of those things that you have to do if you are new here but we realised why our next door neighbour hasn't been for 30 years! Though on this occasion we did experience our first polo match which was actually good fun - it reminded me of the film 'Pretty Woman' whilst the others got hooked on conversations about Prince Charles!

Matt & Jo have also been staying with us for a couple of weeks; they are travelling round the world to see where God wants them to stop and we are one place on their trip. Not sure how long they're staying - perhaps 'til Feb but new possibilities come up regularly so who knows? It's been very refreshing to have them around as they see things from a new perspective which can be challenging but at least honest!

The other new 'thing' in our life is a tiny Shepherd currently 16 weeks old in my tummy & due to enter the world in May! All going well so far; we've heard the heartbeat & apparantly it's kicking & flipping over (so the starnge noises coming over on the microphone indicate!) & scan is booked for a fortnight. It's bizarre being so far from family at this time but really know it's God's perfect timing. We'll keep you posted on progress though I don't think I can bring myself to pictures of my expanding waistline!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Last installment! Sylvia had been reading the guidebook on our journey where it suggested that a visit to Auckland is not complete without a trip to one of the gulf islands just off the coast so to Waiheke island we headed! Finding the car ferry was the trickiest part - you know when signs just stop as if visitors to a city are just supposed to 'know' their way, or when you suspect nobody wants you to actually ever get there! The ferry took about an hour and on arriving we drove on the only main road of the island to the largest 'town', Oneroa. The island has about 8,000 residents, most of whom commute to Auckland, but this number can swell to 30,000 in holiday season.It's a bizarre place! It's difficult to describe why it just felt odd and there were lots of things that seemed strange - maybe it's just a closed community so people do laugh or stop talking when you walk into a shop. Maybe it was just us! It has several vineyards and olive groves, though we went to visit one and it was like we were invisible; nobody served us or spoke to us, other customers seemed to ignore us. Maybe it was us! Anyway, we decided to stay the night and our accomodation was a lovely house with stunning views out to both sides of the island. In the morning we had to be pretty assertive getting a place on the car ferry - we got the feeling we'd have just been left there otherwise!
Back on the mainland we caught the bus round the city and took another ferry over to Devonport so we could see the whole of the skyline of Auckland - good photo opportunities! At 5pm we went up the Sky Tower for dinner in their orbital restaurant; your booking lasts 2 hours and in that time the restaurant revolves round twice so you get to see out across the city as you eat. The meal was amazing and, as we were there at dusk we saw the city in a different 'light'.
When we left the Sky tower we drove Ken & Sylvia to the airport to catch the plane back to Singapore. We'd had such a good time with them and got so used to them being around that it was very strange - a few tears.
I've not really mentioned accomodation much because it was all good & a big treat for us to stay in motels but this night's hostel does need some comment. We'd picked a backpacker hostel that said it had car parking because we still had charge of the hire car. There weren't many to choose from but we did suspect it may be dodgy when we drove past it on the bus earlier in the day. I really don't think it was because we'd become accustomed to a higher standard - this place was bad! The bathrooms were grim, Neils was outside and I blew the electrics when I turned on my hairdryer!The real downside was the ants nest in the bin in the bedroom which the owners didn't seem bothered about when we told them the next morning! As you can imagine we checked out the next morning but it had all added to the holiday experience!
We spent our last day in Auckland walking! We went round the museum, though by that stage we were a bit museumed out. We wandered to different shopping centres and sat in parks and also went to an underwater world (sting rays were their speciality and now we can identify a male from a female!) which had a fascinating antarctic exhibition and a replica of Scott's hut. In the evening we had dinner with Paul & Laura Kingsley-Smith (for those who know them) in their new, swanky apartment and it was really good to catch up with familiar faces and hear about all God's doing with them here in NZ.
The final night was spent in a Youth hostel which was much more comfortable (and we got a car parking spot!) and we flew home the next morning. Done the North island now - joke! But it does seem we've done lots more than most Kiwis but that's always the way. I can't believe the places I haven't been in the UK...

Maori Experience

After leaving New Plymouth we embarked on another mammoth drive across to Taupo. We saw glimpses of Mount Taranaki again and also the snow-capped volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park - Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe & Tongariro. The scenery we drove through varied quite a lot; the most interesting was through the 'Forgotten Valley' which ended up being an unsealed road that the car struggled with somewhat! We'd have probably got to Taupo in 2 hours tops on the M1 but as it happened it was after dark when we reached the lakeside town (though we did see an awesome panoramic sunset en route).
The following morning was beautiful and we saw how popular Taupo is as a holiday/weekend town - there's fishing and water sports as well as easy access to the ski fields. It was a relatively short drive to Rotorua (via pretty dramatic Hooker waterfalls) and it was a destination I'd been really looking forward to - mainly for the Maori cultural experiences on offer as well as the vast amount of geothermal activity. The latter means the town hums with a strong sulphurous odour which can be quite over-powering - depending on which way the wind is blowing! First we went to Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. Here we had a tour of a the NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute which included seeing Maori carving & weaving and Maori buildings. The guide was very enlightening and we came away feeling like we understood significantly more about the people & the culture than we had before - and had had some misconceptions addressed. The other aspect of the village were the goothermal attractions - boiling mud pools (I bought some for a face mask!) and various geysers, some of which shot superheated water upto 30 metres out of the ground.
In the evening we visited the Tamaki Maori Village - a very commercial Maori cultural experience though excellent nevertheless. You are not allowed to drive to the village; part of the experience is being collected by coach from your accomodation and getting to know your bus driver & fellow visitors. The idea is that your bus is like the 'waka' - the boats that the Maori's first arrived on. Our bus driver's name was Ngata (or 'nutter') and he had a remarkable ability to remember people's names & various aspects of personal information and he knew a stack of songs from every country that visitors came from so he could sing to us on the way home! The most random English song he knew was 'On Ilkley Moor bar 'tat'!
When we arrived we (well, our elected chief of our 'waka') were challenged by a Maori warrior in traditional dress and then roamed around the woods seeing various demonstrations of Maori warfare, dancing, singing etc. We then saw a 'concert' (including the 'haka') and then ate a traditional 'hangi' - food cooked in hot rocks in an earth oven. The highlight of the evening for me was another tribe from Hawkes Bay who had actually come to visit the experience. They were invited to perform one of their tribes songs and the fact that everybody from the tribe got up and joined in and it was completely unrehearsed made it all seem much more authentic to me.
On the Sunday morning we headed back towards Taupo so that we could visit another goethermal area with spectacular geyser that they 'set off' at 10am every morning. It's timed so well because they pour soap flakes into the mouth of the geyser which lowers the surface tension & causes the superheated water to erupt. There were also other geothermal pools in very pretty colours due to the different mineral deposits, but once you've seen one, you've seen them all!
Next stop the Waitomo caves; here we visited caves with impressive limestone formations and an incredible glowworm cave. Glowworms are only found in NZ & Oz. At one time in their life-cycle they emit light which attracts insects into the cave, they then catch the insects using tiny treads they have spun and which hang from the roof into the cave. We travelled through the main body of the cave on a boat in silence (any noise causes the worms to 'turn off' their light!) and it really was quite amazing.
We stayed in Hamilton over night but there was nothing of note there , then we headed onto Auckland

Windy Wellington

The first stage of our journey North was to Picton, which was not an unfamiliar route for us and was pretty uneventful. Though having said that, loading the car was a bit of a drama! Ken & Sylvia had their month's supply of clothes etc. plus numerous souvenirs & gifts purchased and we couldn't do our usual 'just chuck it in the back of the car' trick because we would be flying back down from Auckland. Convinced I needed heaps of room I packed the largest suitcase and then it wouldn't fit in the car so I had no choice but to cram it all in a smaller container. I should of been pleased at my skilful repacking, however it does mean that in the future there will be no excuse for taking oodles of stuff with us, as I'm sure Neil will remind me! The hire car did do very well considering the weight it had to carry and it took very skilful manouvering on and off driveways so that the bottom of the car didn't get left behind!
Right, so on to Picton. Just remembered another drama; an emergency dentist's appointment in Kaikoura for Neil who had an infection of his wisdom teeth. We tried dentists in Rangiora before we left and they all laughed when we said we needed an appointment that morning, so we kept trying places on our way up the country. The Greek dentist in Kaikoura took pity on us when we gave a sob story about going on holiday etc and he agreed to see Neil even though it was his day off.
Only other remotely interesting point was the number of seals & sea lions we saw as we drove up the coast; normally seal colonies are deserted whenever we visit so we'd given up, but we could see dozens just from the side of the road - lots of babies too.
Right, Picton. Stayed there over night and then, after an hour or so delay the next morning, we were on our to Wellington. The 'ferry' was fine but not the 'cruise' that it advertises itself as! The weather was beautiful and the views through the Marlborough Sounds were stunning - it was bizarre to see little batches/holiday homes that clearly only were accessible by boat.
By the time we reached Wellington the wind had picked up and the whole time we were there we were reminded of why it's the 'windy city' - permanent bad hair days. It felt like we should have been in a different country, though I can't really put my finger on why. It was much busier than anywhere we've been in the South and we liked that! The highlight for me was definitely the Te Papa museum with a wide range of interactive exhibits on all kinds of topics which tell the stories of the different cultures in NZ. I discovered how precariously placed on fault lines the country is and the potential for natural disasters is much greater than I knew - though there were tips on how to earthquake proof your home so that was reassuring!
We stayed over night in Wellington and just really enjoyed the buzz of the big city. And the fact there were lots of different people around - far more multi-cultural than Christchurch. We also caught the cable car to the botanical gardens and though the view of the lights across the city was cool I think there is lots more to see in the daylight! The following morning we caught the circular bus tour around the city's 'top spots'! We stopped at the cathedral and parliament, known as the beehive, and happened to be there at the right time for a tour. It certainly helped us understand the whole MMP thing.
We then set off on a mammoth 5 hour drive to New Plymouth on the far west coast. The trip was uneventful but we got a good impression of how much more densely populated the North island is compared to the South; when you reach a settlement of the same size writing on the map as one on the South island, there's actually something there, quite alot there actually! As the sun was setting we caught amazing views of the volcanic Mount Taranaki but it was dark by the time we reached New Plymouth.
I was quite nervous the following morning as we headed for the library in search of information about great, great, great, great, great grandfather's land purchases back in the 1840's. Sylvia had a photocopy of the land deed and was hoping for more information but we really hoped the archives would have something so it wasn't a wasted trip. Much to our amazement, they typed in 'Paul Fletcher' and there he was! When Neil and I came to find her, Sylvia was reading the original land deeds over 160 years old! There was also a map of the plots of land as they had been divided up at that time but apparantly, Mr. Fletcher would have had to come to NZ to actually claim which plots he wanted so we couldn't go and stand and claim the ground now. Though the deeds do say things like 'for his decendents & ancestors from here on & forever' (words to that effect!)...We're still none the wiser as to why he never came to claim the land he purchased but Sylvia's off to dig further into family history back in England.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Spring Snow

Little update in between the holiday report...Despite the lack of winter, we still managed to get a snow surprise this week. (A quick stat from Neil: there has only been snowfalls, to this near sea level, this late in the year 4 times in the last century!) The reaction was pretty much the same as in England, people didn't go to work, schools were shut, shopping malls closed and supermarkets were manic as people prepared to be snowed in for weeks!!!! However, by 3pm the snow had ceased, was melting rapidly and was gone by tea-time - what was all the fuss about?! We did find out that in 1992, the last major snowfall in this area, the snow was waist deep and people were snowed in for weeks.
Oh, and we've had an election but a week later we're still none the wiser as to what the government will look like for the next three years. The system works on MMP and this year, out of 121 seats, Labour have 50 and the National party have 49. There are still 200,000 specials votes to count & that won't be completed until next weekend, at which point the party first past the post has a crack at forming a coalition. At this rate any coalition will be made up of at least 4 parties which seems a bit of a mish-mash to us. In the mean time politicians are being very polite to each other in case they need one another in the weeks to come!

Ducks and planes

After staying in Oamaru for the night, we travelled south to Dunedin - the Scottish centre of NZ! On the way, we stopped to view the Moeraki Boulders. These are almost perfectly spherical boulders scattered along the beach - some of them are upto four metres round (circumference for the mathematicians!) The looked amazing and it was fascinating to see those boulders emerging from the cliff face and yet to be totally exposed. Plenty of opportunity for arty photos!

We only spent the afternoon in Dunedin, once you have been to one town they all can begin to look the same (Neil's opinion not Natalie's). The delights here were the older buildings, particularly the railway station which although only 100 years old did look pretty impressive. Goldrushes in NZ brought money to Dunedin, this resulted in the grander buildings. We visited The Early Settlers Museum, which gave us a thorough insight into the early life of Dunedin and the surrounding area. A mooch through the town centre to the Cathedral (where the guide's family had come from Hartlepool, much to my parents amusement) concluded our visit here - we know there is more to see in and around the city but it will have to wait for another time.

The plan was to travel to Queenstown by the evening, but the sun had set by the time we reached Alexandra, so we spent the night there. Not much to say, other than a floating clock in the night sky - during the day the mountains around the town reappear and the clock is attached to one of the cliff faces.

The next morning was a quick dash to Queenstown, we were racing to beat the southerly weather front that was moving up the country. We headed straight for the Gondola, to catch the awesome views and this time couldn't resist the luge. The most hilarious part was Natalie and Sylvia racing around the course to get photos of the father and son contest - the son won obviously!!! At the bottom of the Gondola, we visited the Kiwi and Birdlife Park - our first sighting of the famous native bird. They are nocturnal, so quite difficult to see but at least we can now tick that box! In the afternoon, we had a ride on 'The Duck'. This is an amphibious vehicle (travels on water and land) that moves at about 2 mph. The driver was very entertaining and knew lots of useless info but did risk handing the wheel over to Neil for a spell on the water.
The highlight of Sylvia and Natalie's stay in Queenstown was the bath in the motel - we are easy to please! The southerly arrived during the night, bringing a sprinkling of snow, but not the dramatic ' dump' that was forecast. People up early for the morning photos of lake and mountains and then off to Arrowtown.

It has to be said, Arrowtown loses much of its appeal in the winter without the glorious autumn colours thought this time we went in the 'Remarkable Sweet Shop' which sold a plethera of English goodies (including Penguin biscuits) as well as German Haribo - Natalie's favourite! (still not quite the same as from Germany itself but hey, it's such a hard life!). We then drove the same route back as we had taken in April, the weather was just as glorious and the day was perfected by an absolutely awesome scenic flight over Mount Cook and the surrounding ranges. Ken & Sylvia had missed out on the flight over the glacier when they visited the West Coast due to the excessive, but not abnormal, amount of driving rain. What was fun about their stay (though out of my comfort zone on occasion!) was the spontaneity of so much of the stuff we did; Ken spotted the flight company as we were driving down the road, we turned round and in half an hour we were up in the air! Birthday & Christmas presents all rolled into one for a number of years! It's absolutely impossible to describe it but I think it's more clearly etched in our memories than the heli-hike because the flight is longer and everything seems to gently glide past so we had time to take it all in.
That's about all that was new for our south island tour, next installment the unchartered territory of the north island...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Parents & penguins

I thought I'd sneak in a quick blog update in between our little jaunts around New Zealand - we've done so much that leaving it all until the end of the holiday would be too much for you to take (or far too much for me to remember!).
Neil's parents arrived on the Monday morning looking incredibally fresh though they probably weren't feeling it after we dragged them around the churches in our parish for the afternoon in a bid to 'help' them stay awake until the evening! They mooched around Christchurch for a few days, finding shops & cafes that we didn't know existed. On the Friday we caught the trans-alpine train across the country to the West Coast. The train crosses some spectacular gorges, through the mountains & then onto rainforest. The rain didn't materialise in Greymouth which we weren't complaining about (though Ken & Sylvia did get almost the annual rainfall on their visit to the West Coast the following week) & we were quite happy to only spend an hour there before the return trip as there's not much to see or do.
Last Wednesday we headed south again, but this time down the east coast. It really was perfect timing because we arrived in Omaru @ about 5pm, just before dusk and in time to see the blue penguins returning for the night. Blue penguins are the smallest in the world & stand at only 30 cm tall. They are very predictable and just after dusk, in groups of between 10 and 20, they 'ride the surf' up onto the rocks and then waddle up to their breeding colony. Penguins mate for life and it's currently the breeding season so the partner's came out of their nests eagerly awaiting the return of their mate & food. Very cute displays followed as they were reunited, flapped their wings at each other other then dived on top of one another making lots of noise! Clearly they couldn't wait to get back inside their breeding hole! We saw about 70 penguins in the space of about half an hour and as we left there was one bird making it's way back down the cliff in search of it's mate who hadn't returned home. It was very touching and we felt sorry for it though we had spotted a penguin making tracks further up the cliff path away from the breeding colony and we wondered whether he/she had taken an escape route - the 'divorce rate' among these penguins is apparantly about 10%!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Home & Away

Life has been pretty mundane here which is why I've not felt inspired to write. But Neil's mam & dad arrive tomorrow for three weeks which will include time away for us & more travelling stories so I thought I'd fill in the gaps now.
July was a month of feeling a long way from home. The Lions came & went & the NZ media ribbed Clive Woodward for far too long after his departure. London won its bid to host the Olympics which amazed us (maybe it wasn't quite as much of a shock to those still in the UK but obviously there was less build up to it here) and then the bombings the next day really left us reeling. It was interesting reading emails & comments from other Brits who were temporarily out of the country; all seemed to echo the same feeling of wishing that they were back home to comfort & somehow 'defend' it.
Neil's had a birthday &, having been an 'old woman' for just over a month, I'm now 'as young as him'. There was a highly competitive, testosterone spirit in the air as he & mates celebrated with a go-karting grand prix. He came second over-all & would have won had he not been forced into the tyres in the first race - I know that sounds like an excuse but more than one person has told tales of such dirty tactics being played (and subsequent penalties being given) that I think it's true. He has to be given the benefit of the doubt seen as it was his birthday!
And spring appears to have arrived, it doesn't seem possible that winter can be so brief (though we have been told not to count our chickens because there is still 2 weeks of August left & anything can happen...). The daffodils are out, blossom everywhere & lambs abound (what do you expect, it is New Zealand!). The other day we were on the beach in temperatures over 20 degrees C & our friends were skiing just over an hour's drive away. Crazy!
Well that's about it for now. Tomorrow sees the arrival of the first of several visitors before the year ends which is very exciting for us - we're missing you all heaps...

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Well, winter has definitely arrived here. It's freezing. A friend's outdoor thermometer read -5.9 degrees c yesterday morning - if I were that thermometer I would have refused to work! But the mountains do look awesome covered in snow & we found ourselves not feeling too jealous of the UK heatwave (until Wimbledon started) - after all we haven't had winter for 18 months! And anyway, days are getting longer again already!

I'm now a year older and realised how much older 28 sounds than 27. I had a wonderful day though. Lots of phonecalls from England, little gifts & cards from near & far, lunch out and then dessert & drinks in the evening with friends. I felt very loved. One of the best presents had to be from my small group here who got together & bought me Pride & Prejudice on DVD as my video was dying - I've already watched all 6 hours!

One new experience we've had this weekend is being in the minority to watch our national (ish) team (ish) play rugby. We went with English friends to a local church who had the first All Blacks vs. Lions match on a big screen. To be honest, I wouldn't have wanted to watch it anywhere other than a church as even in this environment some of the comments were v. cruel and I found myself feeling very defensive! Still, two more tests to go & maybe we won't be only cheering when the All Blacks miss a try/kick...

Neil at the top of the Gondola, the view looks across Queenstown to 'The Remarkables' mountain range. The hill, centre picture, was used in the filming of Lord of the Rings.

Natalie and Sarah, incredibly 'giddy' in the front of the helicopter.

Neil risks his life to enter an ice cave.

One of the many ice caves! This cave will be accessible for two weeks and then will collapse! The colours inside were awesome.

Fox Glacier; this part of the glacier moves up to 4 metres a day!

The Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall, Arthur's Pass.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Little Luxuries

We've just finished a 5 week stint house-sitting; it's something we could have got quite accustomed to as the property featured in the May edition of NZ House & Garden! Peter and Juliet had gone to South America, primarily to visit their daughter and son-in-law, who are YWAM missionaries in Brazil, and their new granddaughter. We felt at home almost immediately, probably because we'd stayed there before (in February) so we knew where everything was but this time the biggest blessing was not the swimming pool but the wood-burning stoves! The garden was still producing delicious vegetables (leeks, spinach, cauliflowers & broccoli and still new potatoes!) and having a bath was just heaven - I don't think I've ever been so clean (or wrinkled!).
The weather had been pretty good until the third week in May when it rained for seven days non-stop. Once again everybody was telling us they couldn't remember ever having this much rain in Canterbury. We didn't really mind because we were cosy & dry and had a tumble dryer but when water started dripping through the ceiling on the seventh morning of rain we did get slightly concerned. Fortunately the downpour ceased soon after and the roof could cope again. We bonded more with the cats this time too as we fed them (we didn't let them starve before but just filled an automatic feeder!) and they seemed to be in more sheltering from the dreadful weather. Having called them Mitsy & Motsy for the duration of our last stay, we discovered their names were Jack & Frieda. I had forgotten how nice it was to have pets around though vomitting up their last meal including traces of the mouse they just caught is slightly off-putting.
It was nice to have more space to entertain friends and on the Queen's Birthday weekend (how bizarre for Kiwis to have the Queen's birthday as a public holiday...) our small group came for lunch and stayed & played tennis & games until the evening.
This term has been good for us to really get into the swing of the youth & children's stuff we've started (if you ring & get our answer phone message you will have the opportunity to share the week's investigation codeword with us as well as any information you've discovered about Jesus through the week...!). I'm still focussed with the church in Rangiora but Neil is working more with the smaller churches in the parish, helping them work with children and families.
The weather is now cold. And not just a one off day! Our oil column heater seems to heat our little flat well enough; that is one advantage of having a small home - you can heat the whole flat as opposed to just the main living area where the temperature then plummets when you go to the bathroom or to bed.
The Lions rugby team have also arrived and played their first four matches which has made us rather nervous as they haven't been incredibally convincing. A couple of people have asked us if we'll have difficulty deciding who to support; uh, no. Really not been here long enough for that to be an issue! Though you can buy a half Lions & half All Black shirt for those whose loyalties are torn. There are so many English immigrants here in Rangiora that one sweet shop has tapped into the market by ordering boxes of Walkers crisps, Jaffa cakes, Double Deckers, Galaxy chocolate, Wine Gums etc. from the UK. The shop keeper told us people can't get enough of them and one English child in my Bible in Schools class reminds me weekly of items I can now purcahse in 'Just Lollies' (lolly is the Kiwi word for sweet). I hadn't even missed Jaffa cakes until they were mentioned...

Final Installment

On the final morning of our trip we took the Skyline Gondola to see the spectacular views over Queenstown, The Remarkables (mountain range) and Lake Wakatipu. It was a beautiful day so the panoramic views were very clear. We had a short walk around and I was quite excited as for the first time in real life I saw those large, red toadstools with white spots that fairies live under in stories! I was going to take a photo to put on the blog but that would just be like you seeing them in a story book so I didn't bother. Neil is looking forward to a return visit because we didn't ride the luge on this occasion and the small, toboggan like vehicles look great fun! We'd both definitely return to Queenstown, not least to see the surrounding mountains covered in snow which must look awesome.
Leaving Sarah in town as she was catching a coach further south, we began our 500km journey home. We had an amazing day as we drove through incredibally diverse landscapes including valleys of vineyards and orchards in Otago to barren, moor-like peaks in Lindis Pass and then gentle rolling hills and fields of cattle & sheep through South Canterbury. The weather remained glorious but we were aware of a front moving up from the south which was bringing with it a severe weather warning for snow! The highlight of the journey has to have been the view across Lake Pukaki. I had been navigating and making an attempt at pointing out key mountain peaks and ranges but Neil was losing confidence as I repeatedly said "No, that can't be Mount X it must be Mount Y" or "Now, maybe that's Mount X, not the previous three peaks I've pointed out"! Well, the ultimate clanger came as we were driving north towards Lake Pukaki. I had read that, on a clear day, the views of Mount Cook (the highest mountain in NZ) were supposed to be stunning so as more of the mountain range came into view I was trying to determine which was Mount Cook. I'd start by saying "That looks like it must be it, it's taller than the others", then we'd drive further, more of the range would come into view and there'd be another higher peak which then became 'Mount Cook'. This happened enough times for me to conclude we weren't going to be able to ascertain which mountain was Cook when we suddenly came around the last bend and viewed the whole of the range across the lake. "Oh, that's Mount Cook!"- it was massive and SO much taller than the surrounding peaks in the range. It really did look stunning. And on returning home we spoke to several Kiwis who have never seen the mountain because the weather has never allowed - we felt very blessed.
The final place we stopped at was Lake Tekapo, the waters of which can apparantly look almost electric blue though not on this occasion. But there is a tiny church, the Church of the Good Shepherd, that is built on the shores of the lake; it can seat about 30 people but is a popular tourist attraction because the view across the lake from the window behind the altar is amazing. I'm not sure I'd concentrate if I regularly worshipped there!
The final stage of the 7 hour journey took us through familiar countryside (well, we'd driven it once before on the way back from Summer Wine!) and as the sun set all we could think about was getting home before the fish and chip shop closed - it was nearly 8pm which could have been pushing it!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The journey South continued...As we came out of the Haast Pass (and the torrential rain) we caught our first glimpses of the Southern Alps. The three of us thought it looked alot like the Lake District though slightly more dramatic. The town of Wanaka lies on the edge of a lake bearing the same name with the mountains (snow-capped) as a stunning back drop. We stayed in 'The Purple Cow' youth hostel two streets up from the water front. This was the most up-market of the hostels we stayed in; we were sharing with one other girl, Birgit, the four person room had a kitchenette, sofa, TV and it's own bathroom. [Little aside: Birgit was from Germany and had been travelling in NZ for a couple of months but her journey was hampered when she twisted her ankle on a road whilst trying to hitch a lift. She said she lay in agony trying to wave at cars to stop & help her but lots drove past! Eventually a lady did stop & took her to the doctor; she then took Birgit home to stay with her for a week until she was more mobile! Isn't that kind! When we shared a room with her she was hobbling on crutches but hoping to make it to Queenstown in the next few days.]
We frequented an Irish pub in the evening and a couple of gift shops the following morning but then headed further south towards Arrowtown. This is the most like a quaint village we've come across and the highlight was definitely the tree-lined avenues and the hillside ablaze in the most gorgeous autumn colours I've ever seen. It used to be a gold-mining town and is infamous for its exploitation of Chinese settlers in the mid 19th. century. There is a reconstruction of some of the settlement buildings but I think we've been spoiled by English Heritage & the National Trust - some of the reconstruction was laughable!
It was only another 45 minute drive before we reached Queenstown and then the joy of negotiating the roadworks (it seemed the whole town's road system had been dug up!). Now, I must mention the roadworks. Sometimes they have cones, sometimes not. Sometimes they close the lane they're working on and re-direct the traffic, sometimes they just let the cars carry on driving over the surface - it seems to help them level it! Sometimes they warn you on the approach to the roadworks, sometimes not. On the way over the Haast Pass we drove for about 5km on road that had been dug up. We then approached 2 large machines digging up our side of the road and absolutely no way for us to know whether it was safe to overtake them on a bend where we couldn't see any oncoming traffic. Having negotiated this hurdle we arrived at traffic lights (though at this point there seemed to be no need for them as no work was taking place) where we sat for nearly ten minutes with no traffic coming the other way wondering if we would sit there all night. So, as you can imagine, Queenstown was nearly carnage.
The backpackers hostel was the most budget accomodation but we selected it because it had a spa. When we got to the spa there were alreday two American guys there who were settled in for the remainder of the afternoon with their bottles of beer. They had not drunk for a month (they decided they needed to detox after a particularly heavy spell in Auckland) and had decided to break their fast. They told us their surfing & fishing tales and about the bag fulls of mushrooms they'd picked from a forest that then turned out to be completely the wrong type! They had a bungee jump booked for the following day but the last thing we heard the next morning was that they'd missed their pick up and when the hostel owner had gone to get them up they were still out cold and their room stank of booze - it possibly had not been the best night to end the detox.
Anyway, the three of us headed for Glenorchy to do a days walk along the Dart-Rees track - a semi-circular, four day route with huts along the way. The drive out to Glenorchy was spectacular & we kept stopping to take photos. When we arrived we could see where they shot some of the footage for Lord of the Rings (one of the few places it's easy to identify & you don't need a guide book and alot of imagination!). There was another 15km to drive on unsealed road to Paradise before the track started. On a couple of occasions we stopped and thought we'd just better start walking because we didn't think the car would cross the ford but then a guy slowed down & reassured us that our car would definitely make it through & it was still quite a way to the start of the track. Well, we did make it there and the tramp was amazing. We saw about 12 people near the start of our walk who had started at the other end of the route and were just completing the track after their last night in one fo the huts. But after that we saw nobody and really did feel in the middle of nowhere. Part of the track wound along side the Dart river but the majority was through forest. We kept glimpsing snow covered mountains through the trees & wondered if we would actually make it to a clearing before it was time for us to turn back. Well, we did. And it was awesome. We just wished we had the time to carry on & complete the track because we know there are more treasures further in that will have to be seen to be believed.
The evening we could have really used a spa it was closed for cleaning but we compensated with a large meal out (absolutely no point in trying to cook with about 30 people in a kitchen that's not big enough to swing a cat - though it did have a cat which climbed all over food benches...) and Neil and Sarah continued on their hunt for a decent pint. We then returned to the hostel and, as you can imagine, slept very well. The final part of our adventure will have to wait for another day...

Friday, May 27, 2005


I hope you're all sitting comfortably 'cos this could be a long post!
In the middle of April we took a few days holiday and extended the southerly limit of our travels, making it as far as Queenstown. The main purpose of our trip was to use one of our Christmas presents, a voucher for a heli-hike on Fox Glacier. A family friend was visiting New Zealand and a visit to the glaciers was part of her itinery so we decided we'd go together. We set off for the West coast on the Monday morning to clear skies & sunshine. This is not unusual here at this time of year but whenever we've reached the top of Arthur's Pass the cloud has come down and it's been pouring with rain so weren't that hopeful. However, on this occasion, the weather was glorious all the way to the West coast allowing Sarah stunning views of the mountains and the sea. We also mananged to reach the Devil's Punchbowl waterfall. Access to this had been closed until recently as they were improving the path due to a number of accidents & at least one fatality. As we walked along the newly constructed walkway above the old path we wondered how anybody had made it safely. It was stunning and we took pictures but they don't really capture it - you'll have to come & see them for yourself!.
On the coast, we briefly stopped in Hokitika before driving on to the hostel for the night. The scenery is much different on the west of the island, more like rainforest, which is quite stunning but we all agreed that the whole place just seemed increbibly remote and not a place we'd want to stay long (we do seem to have offended a few people with this opinion but maybe, as Kiwis, they are more used to be isolated...).
As the sun set the cloud rolled in from the South and we weren't sure what that would mean for our 9am heli-hike the following day. They can cancel the flights up to 10 minutes before you leave so you really have to wait & see. I was concerned that we'd be stuck there waiting for the weather to clear - it isn't as though we could just pop to the next ytown & come back the following day - the next town on our trip (being brutally honest, the next town worth stopping in for more than a toilet break) is 5 hours drive away!
Anyway, we spent the night in the Chateau Franz youth hostel in Franz Josef which was very comfortable and, although fully booked didn't seem too crowded. We went for a drink in a local pub and it's one of the only places we've been in that has character - though Neil & I realised we really haven't been out all that much but then realised that's because there really isn't anywhere to go! [This is a little aside but, after one particular busy evening, we decided to grab a take-away in Rangiora (which is a large town in New Zealand). At 9.45 pm there was not one place we could get food of any description - have we just been used to inner city Sheffield for too long? I don't think so!]
Back to the story...We woke up on Tuesday morning to see that the cloud had lifted and we could actually see the mountains around the glacier, hallelujah! We drove the 20 minutes to Fox Glacier (there are also guides on Franz Josef Glacier - tour guides say to do both, maybe next time!). and then The Alpine Glacier Tour company took us by bus to the helicopter. The three of us were like giddy kids! None of us had been in a helicopter and we couldn't discern whether we were excited or nervous. Well, we all agreed it was one of the best experiences we've ever had. Sarah & I sat in the front next to the pilot (it's encouraging to know that you're the lightest in the group!) and had awesome views as we flew over the 'nose' of the glacier (there is probably a better technical expression). It's really quite indescribable - all I can say is, if you ever get the chance you must take it. We landed on teh glacier itslef and tentatively scuffed our way to a gathering point about 10 metres from where the helicopter landed. When everyone had arrived we were given instructions on how to use cramp-ons effectively and the warnings of how not to stray from the path the guide hacks out with his ice-pick or you're likely to end up down a crevasse. Sobering thought. Most people in our group were pretty confident as we walked across the glacier, a 10 year old boy particularly so as he decided he wanted to pursue another path across the ice and nearly led us all down a crevasse (he actually reminded me a lot of my brother when he was younger...). Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed over 2 hours of hiking across the ice, crawling through ice tunnels (absolutely freezing, you're shaking so much you can't control your limbs but the most spectacular colours) and caves and every now and again looking up and marvelling at the fact you are walking on a glacier. I remembered many of my geography lessons but it looked so different to the diagrams & pictures we'd studied - now the glaciers are long gone in North Wales the field trips don't really give the same experience.
By the time the helicopters came to pick us up we were beginning to feel the cold as the cloud had returned and the sun had disappeared - we were really blessed with the weather because the next trip was probably going to have to be cut short or they may not have been able to get back off the mountain. By the time we got back to our car it was pouring with rain and it did so the whole way to Wanaka - about 5 hours! At least we were driving through rainforest so we saw it at it's best!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Still Here!

We're sorry we've not been very communicative but we are still here! It's one of those "so much to write I don't know where to start so will leave it yet another day/week/month until I can face it!" Well, here is the start.
March was quite a busy month; church stuff in full swing and deepening friendships. We've realised over the last couple of weeks that we talk about seeing 'friends' now as opposed to merely people who we don't have an emotional attachment to. That seems a development in terms of settling in though still do feel horribly homesick from time to time.
The major event of March was 'Easter Camp' - a Christian camp over the Easter weekend that we took 8 of our youth to so they could join with the other 2,500 teenagers in having lots of fun & not very much sleep! The weather, which had been gorgeous for the majority of the month, changed on the Thursday but the rain was a blessing in that it softened the ground enough for tent pegs but didn't turn the whole site into a swamp (unlike the previous year when they had to send people home!). It did rain on & off for the rest of the weekend but not enough to spoil the fun. Our kids were pretty well behaved and their wildly differing personalities meant they got very different things out of the whole experience. We managed to sleep well once the campsite was quiet (about 1am which I didn't think was actually that bad) and it wasn't too cold but 4 nights camping in the middle of autumn did take its toll on the group with nearly everyone having to have time off school/work in the following week to recover from colds etc.

Monday, March 07, 2005

February's Frolics

Thought it was about time we updated the blog seen as people have begun to comment! We hit the ground running in February with the start of the new academic year; special children's events (The Love Night), a parish camp (which ended up only being one day) and the church started the '40 Days of Purpose' campaign. We've started meeting with a small group of people from church during the week and it's good to be making deeper friendships. Also spending quite a lot of time in coffee shops with our youth as they're so busy that getting them all together at the same time is nearly impossible.
We made the very most we could of the summer when we were very blessed to house sit for friends while they were on holiday. They live further out in the countryside with a very nice, large house (recently extended & renovated with plush new bathrooms), a vegetable garden with an abundance of food just ripe for picking, a swimming pool and a tennis court! Our very taxing job for two weeks was to water the plants (though only those in the pots & in the vegetable garden) and feed two cats. Nothing died - which you'll realise is nearly miraculous giving Natalie's track record with house plants - and the cats were fine. But it wasn't until the end of the fortnight when we realised that the cats weren't as greedy as we thought and we'd actually been supplying a local hedgehog with his/her nightly feed too! Very cheeky considering we'd rescued him/her or one of it's fellow hedgehog kind from drowning in the pool earlier on in our stay. We checked the pool one morning to find an exhausted hedgehog stuggling to stay above water having gone for a swim and then been unable to get out. It began to sink just as we fished it out, a task made all the more difficult as it rolled into a ball to protect itself. Anyway, we moved it to a flower bed and left it to recover which it clearly did considering the cat food it managed to consume!

The youth also enjoyed our stay at the Worsp's house as it meant they could come & use the pool as well. Surprisingly enough they nearly all managed to make it to Pancake Night (something they don't usually mark here in NZ - why not?!). They were very creative with the pancake toppings they brought, though it took a while to get round to eating as Jenni decided to jump into the pool fully clothed;of course, the others had to follow and those who didn't want to were soon 'persuaded'!
The weather has been fantastic for weeks now, to the point where we were beginning to take it for granted! For those of you hampered by the snow & cold in the UK at this time, we would like to say that the hardships of summer do include a prevalance of flies which drive you to distraction (as fly spray gives you an intense headache) if that is any consolation. And we think autumn is on its way as the leaves have begun to change colour and the nights did begin to be slightly cooler. Last Monday we decided to walk to the top of Mount Gray which is about half an hour from Rangiora and apparantly has amazing views over the North Canterbury region. We did attempt this a few months back but couldn't quite find the path. Our attempt was thwarted again but this time by a hailstorm, the line of which we watched move steadily towards us, unprepared for quite how wet it would make us. Drenched does not describe it! We decided to head back to the car (by his time there were rivers flowing down the mountain side!) and we were literally wringing our clothes out as we walked! However, the story does not end there because the weekend brought sunshine and high temperatures with it so we set off again and finally reached the top - the views (and obviously the exhilaration of the climb) were well worth the wait.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Summer (by that we mean warm, dry weather) finally arrived the day we went on holiday. Natalie was very grateful as we were camping which she doesn't enjoy when she's cold and has no where to escape from the rain!
Anyway, the plan was to head north to Blenheim on the Monday, stay there for the night and then drive on to Picton the following day. However, Natalie was struck by a mysterious 24 hour bug so the holiday was delayed by a day and we drove straight to Picton (~300km) only stopping briefly in Blenheim on the way through. We were quite glad we didn't waste a night staying there; it really wasn't much to speak of and we don't think that's because we were too prejudiced by the Rough Guide's opinion that it is a 'sterile' town! We've realised you have to take what guide books say with a pinch of salt because they are only one travel writer's opinion and they may want slightly different things on their trip than you do! But they were right about Blenheim!
Picton is a rapidly expanding town and most visitors to New Zealand would at least travel through it on their way to/from the ferry that connects to the North Island. The campsite had good facilites though we did wish the hand driers in the toilet block didn't work at 3am! Our tent was as close to the toilets and showers as it could be which Natalie thought was a good idea if she needed them in the middle of the night. However, a favourite game of several children was to take a running jump off the path leading up to the toilets and we were never quite sure where they were going to land!
Not much more to say about Picton (we did have a nice meal out - and that's another area we don't trust the guide books for, we couldn't even find the places they recommended!) but the following day's drive across to Nelson along the Queen Charlotte Drive was stunning. By this point there were no clouds and the clear sky & sunshine complimented the scenery beautifully. The Marlborough Sounds are a series of valleys flooded when the sea level rose a few million years ago. The best way to explore them is to kayak around or have your own motor boat. Kayaks, bikes and a boat seem to go with the 2.4 children in this country - everybody has them attached to their vehicle which can be rather frustrating driving behind them when their speed limit becomes 80km/hr! The Queen Charlotte Drive is only about 30km but it can take longer when people want to stop at every viewing point there is to take another picture! No comment. One of the most surreal views was looking south and seeing snow still on the tops of the mountains even though, by this time, it was very hot.
As we drove into Nelson it was evident why so many New Zealanders holiday there year after year. Gorgeous houses on the hillside looking out across the Tasman Bay to the mountains of Kahurangi national park, palm trees, sandy beaches, the most unbelievable colour sea...idyllic. We were staying in Richmond, the next town along, and this time our allocated tent site was as far as possible from the toilet block which turned out to be preferable!
We spent the following day wandering around Nelson, sitting outside of cafes and watching the world go by. There are several parks to enjoy and we climbed a hill which has a plaque on the top marking the 'centre' of New Zealand - the most northerly and southerly tips of the country lie 760km from that point but both at angles from there rather than in a straight line. We also went to the place where they played the first rugby match in 1870 not that you'd know unless you had the trusty guide book!
On the Friday we drove to Motueka which is about 40km around the bay from Nelson. This campsite was by far our favourite. There were lots of trees for shade and it wasn't in the middle of the town which meant it was much quieter. All the campsites had been well equipped with clean kitchens, fridge/freezer, clean and decent toilet/shower blocks but this site also had barbecues (the gas ones I think we've mentioned in a previous blog entry) and the highlight - the 'Jumping Pillow'! This is a cross between a trampoline and a bouncy castle; it's an inflatable 'pillow' which is safe like a bouncy castle but you get the height of a trampoline. Because it's a pillow shape you can just slide off to the ground rather than fall off like a trampoline but it also doesn't have the grooves of a bouncy castle so you can't get caught in them and fall over (and then try and get up but you can't because you're being trampled on - sorry, childhood memories...). Generally it was swarming with children but if there was ever a lull that's where you'd find Neil - he wanted to suggest that after the curfew of 8.30 there should be half an hour just for adults!
We were going to drive further north to see 'Golden Bay' but decided we'd driven quite a lot and actually we just wanted to chill on a beach. The beach at Motueka was nothing to speak of so we drove about 15 minutes to Kaiteriteri which was heaving - well, as much as anywhere does here! The best place to bathe was in the river that flowed along the beach and then into the sea. This was actually warm-ish as opposed to the sea which was freezing!
The following day was the highlight of our holiday. We drove back to Kaiteriteri for 8.30am for half a day kayaking and then a half day hike in the Abel Tasman national park. There were 10 people in our group (2 other couples were English) and our guide was nicknamed 'Sideburns' for obvious reasons when you see the photo. He was good fun and had lots of Maori tales to tell us about various sites we passed. We kayaked to one bay where we had a rest and explored caves. Sideburns was a bit of a nutter and tried to get us follow him through tiny gaps in caves covered in barnacles - Neil did take up the challenge and has the scars to prove it! In the afternoon we got a water taxi to further round the Abel Tasman and then did a 3 hour walk back to the start of the national park. The views were glorious - indescribable really. You can take about 4 days to walk through the whole of the park and stay in huts along the way. Actually, there are lots of opportunities to tramp and stay in DOC (Department of Conservation) huts overnight throughout NZ but we haven't got that far yet. But Abel Tasman is definitely a place we'd go back to. In the evening we had a barbecue with the other English guys we met on the kayaking trip as they were staying in the same campsite as us.
On the Sunday we had a leisurely drive back to Rangiora via a couple of inland lakes and through the mountain ranges alongside Lewis Pass. We were going to stop at the thermal baths in Hanmer but, though Natalie did not get sunburnt whilst away (which she is very proud of herself for) she did get heat rash and we didn't think 40oC pools were a good idea. However, compensation (like we needed any!) came by stopping at our favourite cafe to date, in Culverden, called The Red Post which sells the most delicious cake!

Neil outside The Red Post in Culverden

Abel Tasman National Park

Our kayaking team - the 'sideburns' aren't very clear!

The Marlborough Sounds

A viewing place off the Queen Charlotte Drive

Natalie in the gardens in 'sterile' Blenheim

Friday, January 07, 2005

Water and Wine

Happy New Year! We did want to be the first to welcome you to 2005 seen as we were some of the first around the world to reach the New Year but, as you can see, it's now 7 days later so that didn't happen.
Our excuse is that we've actually been quite busy! Christmas was lovely (though we did miss family, friends and our usual traditions) and we had two large dinners including various hot and cold meats, vegetables, salads. Dessert was strawberries and pavlova - Christmas pudding doesn't seem to be the same here unless you're originally from the UK and make it yourself! We had lunch with the vicar and his family and then went into Christchurch to spend the evening with the Carley family - Andy, Hillary, Alison & Jonathan - who moved out from the South of England about 6 years ago. We had lots of fun and suitably embarrassed ourselves on 'Singstar Party' the PS2 game which is a little like karaoke but when you sing into the microphone the programme matches your voice to how the song should go and then gives you points for each line. Neil and I went head-to-head on 'Video killed the radio star' but there were also team rounds where you passed the microphone between the team members. Naturally, the girls won - we seemed to be more familiar with the range of songs from Little Richard to the Scissor Sisters.
The 'water' in the title really refers to the weather which has been pretty much abysmal. I've almost forgotten what blue sky is. However, the sun did come out on Boxing Day and so we went to the beach with some other friends from church (they moved over from Huddersfield 8 years ago - bit of a nightmare because their container of everything they owned fell off the ship in Sydney and it took the insurance company 18 months to sort it out!).
We were entertained by a couple from Doncaster who have been here 30 years but still have their broad Yorkshire accents - very comforting! We also went to visit Rosemary (Angel Gabriel in the pageant, so spent alot of time with Neil getting words wrong!) and Geoff (who's originally from Swansea), who have a three acre plot on which they keep llamas, sheep, pea hens, doves and five dogs. The llamas are funny because they love getting wet so when the irrigation system comes on in the evening they dance over the top of the hoses to cool down!

The rest of the week up to New Year was spent getting ready for Summer Wine - a Christian camp held in Geraldine about 150km away. We were responsible for the 11-13 year olds and had quite a lot of planning and preparation of games & teaching stuff to do. We took Jenni & Miriam with us from Rangiora so they could be small group leaders and it was great to get to know them better over the week. The kids were fantastic and we had an awesome time. We had lots of fun with the teams (they named themselves 'The Incredibles' and 'The Smurfs' and came up with brilliant chants!) and they reallly got stuck in to newspaper fashion challenges, caterpillar races, banana split making competitions - in fact quite a lot involving food! The best bit by far was the way God came and revealed Himself more to the kids - it was a real privilege to be a part of that.

Here we come back to the 'water' because on the third day the sun did come out and loads of youth & leaders headed to the Orari Gorge. There was quite a convoy of cars which was good because we're not sure we would have crossed the fords in our car had it not been for the other similar vehicles in front that managed to get through safely. Usually, in summer, the streams have dried up so it isn't an issue but because of the unseasonal amount of rain this year it was slightly more challenging. I held my breath and Neil kept saying 'It'll be fine, we just need to keep moving and not stop in the middle'. Well, we made it there and back fine though the car now looks brown rather than green! At least the weather has not been as bad as on the lower North island where campsites have been flooded out and roads and railway lines washed away.