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.