Monday, January 29, 2007

The Asylum Diaries (AKA The Ryan Saga)

I think I'll cover the days spent in the asylum as one entry. I didn't do a great deal of sightseeing while I was there. It was more about simple pleasures, bumping into old acquaintances and one "big news" story that tended to dominate events. So, here goes:

Wednesday 24th January 2007 to Saturday 26th January 2007

We had had a phone call from Ryan on Tuesday, saying that Emelie was getting the bus to Dunedin (from Te Anau) on Wednesday, whilst he was going back to work in Christchurch in order to make some money to cover his car repairs (it was more expensive than he anticipated). He asked us if we would mind picking her up from the station. We didn't and just assumed that things between them had cooled somewhat. Not really all that surprising for Mathias and I - things had begun to seem a bit strained in Milford Sound.

After a game of tennis and a cycle ride in the morning on Wednesday (sunny but cool), we picked her up and went back to the Asylum. Some other people had arrived at the hostel, three of whom I had met previously (Penny [Taunton] and Dave from Christmas in the Cat's Pyjamas and Chris [Bournemouth] from the Lion's Den in Coromandel). It's still a small world and always rather nice to see familiar faces, especially being so far from home.

We all went to see the penguins further up the coast in the evening, and thoroughly enjoyed such a close encounter with these amusing little creatures (it was bloody freezing, mind).

It was the next day that things took a turn for the strange (as you might expect for a lunatic asylum). I had a quiet day of washing, internet-messing and general lounging, while a few of the others drove into Dunedin to go to the Art Gallery. Having already been I decided that a repeat visit wasn't necessary. Meanwhile, yet more people arrived who I had met previously. This time it was Faye and Paul from The Pickled Parrot in Paihia. Given that it was such a small hostel it seemed a bit weird to recognise almost everyone staying there. It made it seem all the more homely and it was great to sit in the large open plan living area (complete with lovely wood-burner, huge palm tree [which touched the ceiling and must have been about 4m wide] and nice comfy sofas) chatting with the other guests.

Upon their return that evening Emelie discovered that her credit card was missing. Initial thoughts of carelessness soon turned towards thoughts of "slimy" Ryan being the prime suspect. The more we thought about it, the more things didn't add up. A bit of amateur detective work the following morning (before we went to the police station to report the matter) revealed that he had two different number plates (one given to one of the hostels we stayed in and another to the garage where the car was being repaired). The wonderful power of hindsight also made me realise just why he had suggested I move from my tent into the spare bed in their dorm. Luckily, I never gave him the satisfaction of doing that - even being cold in my tent was preferable to sharing a room with him. So he wasn't just being friendly after all. And thank goodness I always keep my credit cards attached to my hip.

Anyway, Emelie cancelled her card immediately and discovered that someone had already used it to the tune of $2000. Ryan seemed to be a fast-worker in more ways than one. It's fair to say that I never particularly liked the fellow, but I must admit it didn't cross my mind that he would be a bona fide criminal.

The police (in a quaint local station - talk about Heartbeat - this must be where NZ gets it reputation of being like the UK in the 1950s!) needed documentary evidence so this meant further phone calls back to Sweden and 2 subsequent visits. I think Emelie was glad to have some moral support and someone who could help explain events in plain English (it must be really hard doing something like that in a second language). In the meantime Mathias also discovered that he also had a credit card missing. And this is where it starts to get interesting...

It turns out that when Ryan offered to drive us to the starting point of our afternoon walk in Milford Sound, it was just so that he could have a good rummage through the stuff in their room. Somewhat foolishly, Mathias had left his spare credit card in his bag, which was in the room, and this must have been when Ryan took it. He had clearly told us all a pack of lies and I'm just glad that, being the old cynic I am, I hadn't trusted him from the outset (although I did feel a bit foolish not having suspected the criminal element earlier). What was really shocking, though, is that Ryan had been using Mathias' card to pay for things that him and Emelie did together in Te Anau. He even checked into the hostel in Te Anau using Mathias' surname. Either he was looking for the thrill of living so close to the edge, or was too stupid to cover his tracks. It's a shame that Emelie had been naive enough to trust him, but at least there was now a whole dossier of evidence against him. I myself was just glad that he had never paid for anything on my behalf, as I would have hated to think that I had benefited from his ill-gotten gains (we reckon he probably had a whole wallet full of other people's cards).

Another interesting aspect emerged from a further spot of amateur detective work. When we had been in Queenstown the hostel we were staying at had offered Ryan a job, so on the off chance that he had gone back there to take it, Emelie phoned the hostel to try and ascertain his whereabouts. And who should answer the phone? Yup, you guessed it. It would appear that our Ryan isn't the sharpest tool in the box, even if he is a pretty convincing con-man and actor. Naturally, Emelie hung up straight away so as not to give the game away. At this point it felt like I was in some sort of dodgy detective drama!

The police were pleased with the level of information we were able to give them (prime suspect, lists of fraudulent transactions, number-plates, photographs of car and owner, likely whereabouts of the criminal). Indeed, it is probably the most interesting case the local bobby has had to deal with in quite a while! So, now we could leave it with them and it would be up to them to make a conviction. They took our contact details and said we would probably be informed about any outcome (after several weeks/months of the relevant bureaucracy, naturally).

Aside from the visits to the police station (an interesting sociological exercise, and good coffee and cakes courtesy of the very friendly policeman), I really enjoyed staying at the asylum lodge. I played tennis several times, went to the local beach, collected mussels. I also spent quite a bit of time lounging in front of the fantastic wood-burner, which despite it being in the middle of summer was very much needed! It was also nice to catch up with the various old (well, recently old) acquaintances, finding out where they've been, what they've been up to and what they would recommend (the latter taken with a pinch of salt, as ever!). Still, despite the fact that it was a really nice place, what with all the raking-over of the previous few days (and looking into the mind of a criminal!), it was emotionally quite draining, and I was glad to be moving on up the coast and leaving this particular little episode behind. I think I have learnt to be even more wary of people (a bit of a shame as I am probably already cynical enough) and I suppose I have had a good bit of insight into the mind of a criminal (which you don't get everyday). Interesting, certainly, but not something I shall be wanting to experience again in a hurry.

Sunday 28th January 2007

So, it's back on the road again... After our final visit to the police station (the policeman thought it would be useful if I also provided a statement, given that I wasn't a victim and therefore not so emotionally involved in the case - I was happy to do so if would help to convict the scumbag).

We drove up the coast to Oamaru, stopping at the Moeraki Boulders en route. I was expecting massive lumps of rock, but in actual fact they are quite small and you can step up onto them quite easily. Still, it was moderately interesting and nice to walk along the beach in the fresh air (even if the leaden sky and cold wind made it seem like winter back at home).

Oamaru seemed quite promising. Nice hostel, nice sandstone architecture (well, for New Zealand) and more free internet!

Monday 29th January 2007

It was a lovely sunny day in Oamaru. We walked around the port, the historic part of town, the lovely gardens (just like England) and went to the cheese factory (although didn't feel comfortable enough to taste without buying).

It was so nice to see the sun again and actually feel its warmth out of the wind. I think this is why I like Oamaru so much. It's a bit of a funny little town, but the combination of blue skies, the warm glow of the sun on the lovely sandstone (most buildings in NZ tend to be wooden/corrugated iron affairs) and the friendly atmosphere of the hostel have given me a very good impression of the place.

And we didn't even see the penguins which is the town is famous for (apparently they don't come in until it gets dark and then you have to pay $15 dollars of the privilege of peering out into the blackness). And we had already seen some before, so none of us were desperate for further sightings.

Tuesday 30th January 2007

Well, we are finally there. I am actually writing this on the day of the entry. And today brings interesting news. We had a phone call from our friendly local policeman, with news of Ryan Slimy-Scumbag-Thief. Or rather Michael Something-Or-Other. In fact, he had a Maori surname and was wanted by the police for a missed court-appearance. He was born in the UK and grew up there for part of his life (hence the English accent), but everything else was a web of lies.

There had been an altercation yesterday at the hostel in Queenstown, where he had been working, after he was accused of stealing some money from someone there (surprise!). The police had been called, and after a bit of detective work to link various threads of the story, his true identity was revealed and he was arrested for both the previous misdemeanor he was wanted for and also for the fact that he was driving a stolen car (I'm not particularly happy about have been driven around in it, but there you go). They are still compiling the evidence for the credit card thefts, but will be hitting him with that too, once they have enough on him. And meanwhile he should be held in custody while he awaits sentencing. So that's a wrap. And time for us all to move on.

Further good news (for Mathias and Emelie at least) was they have managed to sell their car, which means we will be getting the bus up to Christchurch later today. So that's where I'll leave it for now. About to eat pasta with pumpkin and bacon, to try and reduce the load we have to car to and from the bus stop later.

James xx

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Final post from the Loony Bin

Saturday 20th January 2007

The overnight rain (which continued into the morning) now meant that the mountainsides were pouring with water. At points it seemed that the waterfalls were coming directly down from the clouds. Impressive stuff and a complete contrast to the day that we had driven up to Milford Sound.

Ryan had bashed his car whilst parking in Milford Sound and wanted to stay in Te Anau to get it checked out. Emelie decided to stay with him, so Mathias and I decided to continue on to Invercargill alone (in Mathias and Emelie's car).

Luckily the rain had stopped for this leg of the journey and the scenery was still nice, if somewhat less impressive than Milford Sound. We were following the Southern Scenic Route. It was particularly attractive around Manapouri, with the distant mountains fading into lighter shades of grey.

We arrived at Invercargill around 3pm. The Southern Comfort Hostel was lovely, but the town/city was most uninspiring: wide, grid-iron streets, warehouse-like buildings, general sprawl. And it was cold!

It was a lovely evening chatting to the various people in the hostel. The big wooden table in the dining room was definitely the hub. I then spoke to Mum and Dad on the phone, to wish them a happy holiday, which hopefully they are still enjoying now.

Sunday 21st January 2007

We set off quite early, with a double-header shopping dash (Countdown and Pak 'n' Save) prior to hitting the road into the Catlins. It was cloudy but dry - quite good sightseeing weather, through the undulating scenery of the Catlins.

Our first stop was the petrified forest of Curio Bay. This proved to be of secondary interest to the resident penguin, who was most amusing to watch. He/she (how do you sex a penguin?) was trying to jump up onto a rock and kept stumbling as it tried to hop up. So much nicer than a Sidmouth seagull.

Further stops along the coast included Florence Hill Lookout Point (a picnic lunch in the car - out of the cold wind - just like an English summer holiday) and Cathedral Caves. It was very reminiscent of parts of Devon/Cornwall, with the beaches, headlands, rolling farmland and plethora of sheep. Strange to be so far away and yet feel so much at home. The only real difference was the lack of people/civilisation - it was a bit spookily quiet at times.

We arrived at our hostel in Owaka mid-afternoon. It was a bit of a strange place (reminded me a bit of some of the odd places we stayed in the Basque region), but the owner was really friendly and there was only one other person staying there, so a quiet night was assured (I think I had the best night's sleep of my trip so far - it was dead quiet!).

Monday 22nd January 2007

Watched a bit of the news over breakfast and heard snippets of the "cargo ship disaster off the coast of Devon". The rather piqued my interest, and when I heard "World Heritage Site" I thought it must have been fairly local, but it wasn't until the following day that I saw the Branscombe chalets in the background and was able to pinpoint the exact location (they were showing images of people pushing away brand new BMW motorbikes). Aside from the comedy scavenging angle, let's hope it doesn't cause too much in the way of pollution on my favourite local swimming beach.

Back to matters antipodean (albeit in an area highly reminiscent of home), the wind was blowing from the north-west today and the Fohn effect was well in force. It was really warm (high 20s by lunchtime), in complete contrast to the day before.

We went to Jack's Blowhole in the morning, which wasn't blowing due to the offshore winds. Still, it was a nice walk over the cliffs and the beach there was lovely. The kelp here is amazing - so big!

In the afternoon we walked from Cannibals Bay to another beach (the name eludes me). Lovely spot, with very few people about. Various sea lions lounging on the sands. At first we thought they were dead/dying (one definitely was - half of it was missing), but in hindsight we think it must just have been the effect the heat was having on them. I guess Southern Ocean dwellers aren't particularly used to temperatures nearing 30 degrees.

After this we went to Nugget Point (The Needles of New Zealand!), where there were more seals, sea lions and penguins (albeit rather too distant to see well without the aid of binoculars). It was a really nice place and a fitting climax to the day. Well, perhaps "climax" is over egging it rather, but it was nice in a gentle/undulating/South West sort of way.

Tuesday 23rd January 2007

After another great night's sleep (the hostel in Owaka was really quiet), we drove along the coast to Dunedin. Back to cool south-westerlies today and rather overcast. The beaches actually got better closer to Dunedin in my opinion, but that is probably because I am a sucker for white sand.

Only stopped in Dunedin for a brief while to do some food shopping (it was "Cheap As Tuesday" in Pak 'n' Save) and buy a pair of flip-flops (jandals in the local lingo) in The Warehouse. A bargain at $4, especially if wearing them in-and-out helps lengthen the life-span of my sandals.

After this we drove to The Asylum Lodge in Seacliff (a tiny village on the coast, just to the north of Dunedin). It was certainly a interesting place. Various remnants of the old asylum dotted the grounds, mostly stuffed full with over 50 vintage cars (in various states of [dis]repair). It was in the middle of nowhere (lucky I was still in Mathias' car) and the surroundings were beautiful. Lovely beaches, great views back towards the Otago Peninsular. A nice place to stop and relax for a few days...

Well, I'll leave it there for now and I think the next update will probably come from further up the coast. So I'm still not fully up-to-date. Damn!

All the best,
James xx

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another missive from the (ex-) lunatic asylum

Back again with more ramblings...

Monday 15th January 2007

Another day, another scenic drive. We left early and had beautiful sunny weather for the whole trip. We split into the two cars - myself and Mathias and Ryan (English nob) and Emelie. For the first part of the drive the road was sandwiched between the lake and the The Remarkables and it was indeed stunning. The whole area gives you neck up from look up at the mountains in awe. In fact, the scenery didn't really let up the whole way. Towards Te Anau it got a bit flatter for a while, but was so clear that you could still see all the mountains in the distance. Beautiful stuff.

After an aborted attempt to find a picnic spot by a river (we ended up in a farm yard thanks to Ryan's know-it-all navigating), we ended up having our lunch beside the road. Not the most glamorous of spots, but the pasta salad was nice! We followed this with a walk in a nature reserve, which had all sorts of interesting mosses/lichens.

We eventually rocked up in Te Anau at about 3pm. The hostel was a bit of an odd one. It was attached to a campsite (I was in my tent) and the hostel seemed very much like an afterthought. It was clean enough, but rather lacking in both equipment (only one knife in the kitchen) and atmosphere. Still, a pleasant enough spot (only a few metres from the lake) for a couple of nights.

Had a look around the town (a typically drab New Zealand grid-type-affair) and got yet more shopping (found some really cheap steak and lamb chops for a bit of a mixed-grill) before sitting outside the hostel in the warm evening sunshine. The meat was an absolute triumph - the most tender and succulent cuts I have had in a long time. Yum.

Tuesday 16th January 2007

Woke up freezing cold in my tent. It had been really clear during the night and I could have sworn there was a touch of frost on the grass (in the middle of summer!). In fact, it stayed cold for most of the morning and it wasn't until the haze cleared just before lunchtime that the sun had any kind of warming effect.

Emelie and Ryan had decided to walk around the lake in the morning, while Matthias and I did a final food-shop for our 3-night trip to Milford Sound. It's beginning to seem that all I do is shop-for-food, eat-food and then write about shopping-for-food and eating-food. Ah well, it's good to eat.

After lunch, I walked around the lake with Mathias, stopping at Te Anau Wildlife Centre to see some of the local bird life (including the rare Takahe - a very odd thing - and some of the native parrots). We then proceeded to do a small section of the Kepler Track (one of NZ's many long distance walks). This part was really beautiful - through lush beech forests (much smaller leaves than our native beech), with yet more views of the lake and mountains in the distance. It had warmed up amazingly from the morning so we evening managed a swim in the lake. Brrr. It didn't seem quite as cold as in Queenstown, but perhaps that was because the air was a bit cooler, so the contrast wasn't as pronounced. Again, lovely clean water and such gorgeous surroundings...

It was another quiet evening back at the hostel, sitting on the terrace in the sun (warm enough without a jumper, as there wasn't a breath of wind). We had a veritable smorgasbord, with lots of nice tapas-style dishes, and the obligatory bottle of wine!

Wednesday 17th January 2007

Another cold, early start, to hit the road to Milford Sound ahead of all the tour buses. It was a glorious day. Really clear and crisp, with just a few wisps of misty cloud hanging around the mountains. We all squeezed into one car (quite a challenge with the mountain of food we had amassed) and left the other one in Te Anau, as we would have to return: there is only one road in and out of Milford Sound.

The drive just got more and more beautiful as it went on. I actually began to feel dizzy from it. Perhaps I was suffering from nature's equivalent of Stendhal's Syndrome, or just getting a head-rush from the constant craning of my neck to look up at the surrounding mountains. Hopefully some of the myriad photos will go some way to doing it justice. The fields of lupins (all shades from pink to blue) set against the green and grey mountains and the bluest of blue skies were awe-inspiring. As were the snow-capped peaks, propping up the ends of the valleys. It was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. We had our picnic lunch down by the Hollyford river - a crystal clear strip of turquoise, slicing through the rainforest-clad mountains. If it wasn't for the sand-flies (which appear in huge swarms as soon as you cross "The Divide"), I could have happily spent the entire afternoon there. I might even have considered a swim. The melt-water was freezing but the air was hot in the blazing sunshine (quite unusual for one of the wettest places on earth).

We arrived in Milford Sound in the early evening, exhausted from seeing so many stunning sights. We had been so lucky with the weather, it felt like a real privilege. I pitched my tent and collapsed into it soon after eating, happy to have some time to take in and process all that I had seen. Luckily the sand-flies couldn't get right inside the tent - they had to content themselves with gathering in the porch and waiting for me to enter/exit. I kept the insect repellent close at hand at all times.

Thursday 18th January 2007

The hostel offered a good deal on early morning cruises - $40 for an hour and a half (to help fill the boats before the tour buses arrive and bring with them the hordes). The weather was lovely again, so it was another opportunity to take hundreds of photos (like just about everyone who goes there - it would be interesting to find out just how many times Milford Sound is photographed in one year). The only (slight) disappointment was that the scenery got less spectacular the further you got out towards the Tasman Sea. Still, it was a beautiful trip, complete with free muffins and coffee, seal-sightings, waterfalls and the walls of rock rising up all around (more neck ache again today).

After lunch, Ryan offered to drive Emelie, Matthias and I up to a point where we could walk up to Key Summit. Ryan doesn't do walking! It was a bit further than Ryan thought it would be, so he was a bit miffed (he was a bit sulky as well as generally annoying). Still, without Ryan it was a wonderful walk. A good 500m climb, mostly through the rainforest, followed by a ridgeline walk with fabulous views. It had hazed in a bit since the morning, but was still reasonably clear and dry, which was the main thing.

It was another well-deserved early night, soon after dinner and a good night's sleep (I'm getting quite used to this camping lark and can happily sleep under canvas now).

Friday 19th January 2007

It was rather overcast and a bit misty, but Mathias and I decided to do a day walk nonetheless. Emelie and Ryan were planning to go kayaking but there weren't enough places, so they decided to stay at the hostel and relax instead. We packed up a picnic and made an early start. The trail up the Tutoku (or something like that) Valley started 2km up the road from Milford Sound Lodge. The track went through the rainforest, which was beautiful to begin with: loads of different ferns, tree ferns and moss-laden trees, all dripping with the misty dew. Very lush.

As we progressed, however, the trail became more and more difficult. Intertwined tree-roots, boulders to scramble over, gullies to clamber up and down. It was really hard going. And then it began to rain. Everything became really slippery and given that we were a bit tired from the day before it would have been silly to continue in such treacherous conditions. We had walked for 90 minutes and weren't sure how much longer we would have had to go to reach the point where the forest ended and the valley opened up. Rather miffed that we had walked all that way without seeing anything (the trail should eventually lead to the most amazing views of the upper Tutoku Valley), we headed back to the hostel.

Before going back down the road to the hostel, we decided to eat our lunch under the road bridge that crossed the Tutoku River (to shelter from the rain, which had become quite heavy by this time). It was a beautiful spot, but we were absolutely plagued by sandflies. I managed to scoff most of my sandwiches, without being bitten to death (I had to keep walking in circles in order to stop the swarm pitching on me) but we gave up before we finished and headed back with our tails between our legs. At least we had experienced the proper rainforest (it was really humid and not too cold) and got some decent exercise from it, but otherwise it was a bit of a miserable tramp.

The weather had really closed in by the afternoon and the forecast was for even heavier rain overnight, so I decided to treat myself to a dorm bed for the night and put my tent in the drying room. I wanted to be able to pack it away the following morning, without the risk of it festering in the bottom of my rucksack.

This proved to be a good decision as the rain just got worse and worse... We spent the afternoon relaxing in the hostel, washing our wet walking clothes, finishing our lunch, cooking a nice dinner and enjoying the contrast in the landscape from the previous days: the sheer mountains, now shrouded in mistiness, seemed to have no beginning nor end and lent a mysterious air to the sound. Eerily beautiful.

Well, that's enough for this session. Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow to bring this thing bang up-to-date.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Joys of Free Internet in a Converted Lunatic Asylum

Hello there. I'm finally hoping to get this damn thing up-to-date, as I'm currently staying in a hostel (converted lunatic asylum) with free internet. It is painfully slow, but at least I can type up the entries, even if uploading them proves problematic. So, here goes:

Sunday 7th January 2007

It was a nice drive from Dunedin to Wanaka, getting progressively more mountainous (and drier) as it went on. Quite a long stretch of the journey was alongside a massive (well, very long and thin) reservoir. There were lots of waterskiers, Dad, so you would have loved it.

It was a shame not to be able to stay in any of the Central Otago wineries, but they are rather spread out and there aren't a lot of places to stay nearby.

Snow-capped mountains heralded the approach into Wanaka. It was really warm and sunny on arrival and a beautiful walk up to the hostel, which was perched on the hillside overlooking the lake.

After a spot of shopping and general exploration of the town I went for a walk around the lake. Naturally, this was a lot longer than originally planned. It was really lovely in the evening sunshine - calm waters (more waterskiers), mountainous backdrop, aromatic plants (including tea tree) wafting their scent in the warm breeze. My kind of evening.

After getting back to the hostel I bumped into a couple of Swedish friends (Emelie and Mathias) who I had previously spent some time with in Taupo. It was nice to eat together and catch up on each other's respective journeys over a bottle of wine. They were also heading towards Queenstown, and offered me a lift, so I decided to leave Wanaka a day earlier than I had planned (2 nights instead of 3), and get a lift with them, instead of the bus.

Monday 8th January 2007

Walked the other way around the lake in the morning, with Mathias and Emelie. 'Twas cloudier than the day before, but still bright and dry. It was a lovely walk, which ended in a very steep scramble up a hill with fabulous views over the lake to mountains beyond. There were lots of nice beaches along the track and the water was really clean. It would have been really nice for a swim, were it not for the cool breeze and the freezing water temperature.

On the way back we stopped at Rippon Vineyard to do some wine-tasting. Nice range of wines. I really liked the Old Vines Pinot Noir and the Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling and Gewurtzstraminer were very good too.

We got back for a late lunch of pancakes (the Swedes are obsessed with them and it seems churlish to refuse such a kind offer, even if they aren't my favourite foodstuff). I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon - it had been quite a long walk and the wine tasting had finished me off! Managed to do some stuff on the internet, but otherwise lounged around in the garden, drinking tea, etc.

We cooked together in the evening (which was to become a regular occurrence over the coming days...). We decided against a trip to the (apparently) characterful local cinema as the only film I wouldn't have minded seeing (The Departed) didn't start until 9pm and lasted nearly 3 hours!

Tuesday 9th January 2007

It was a stunning drive with Emelie and Mathias over the high mountain pass to Queenstown. The fields of lupins were beautiful and so were the views on the drive down into Queenstown.

We stopped at a couple of viewpoints for the inevitable photo opportunities - great views of the mountains and valleys in the warm sunshine.

Queenstown was even bigger than I expected. It sprawls for quite a distance around the lake. It was quite a contrast from the small-town ambiance of Wanaka. But it still had the nice laid-back feel of a holiday town and the lakeside setting was, in the words of a yank, awesome. The views of The Remarkables (a mountain range), in particular, were stunning.

The first impressions of the hostel were promising. I had decided to stay in my tent and was pleased with my little patch of grass in the lovely garden which overlooks the lake (great views from the terrace, with lots of chairs for sitting around and admiring the surroundings).

As the supermarket was a little way away we decided to plan our meals for the next few days and do a big shop-up. It's nice to cook together after several days of meals-for-one (prior to Wanaka), even if it does mean making some compromises (such as pancakes!).

Had a nice bottle of wine watching the sun fall over the lake and then cooked skate-wings (a bit of a disaster as neither Emelie nor Mathias like bones - luckily I'm quite experienced in that field and with a bit of encouragement both managed not to choke to death.) The accompanying bottle of Chardonnay helped it along nicely, of course.

Wednesday 10th January 2007

It was a fair bit cooler and more overcast today so fine for pottering around town and getting our bearings.

It is such a bonus to have a nice hostel (complete with very cute Jack Russell cross). It is homely enough to feel completely comfortable just relaxing in the garden and enjoying the view. We all liked it so much that we decided to extend our stay from 4 to 6 nights and then travel together to Te Anau after that.

The other people at the hostel were really nice and friendly. This included two English girls, Sophie and Jolie (the latter from Taunton) who were really sweet and added to the homely feel. Furthermore, it's so nice to have warm, long evenings and be able to sit outside to eat and drink for once (albeit with a jumper). That's what summer should be about, in my opinion, and so far the opportunities for doing so have been rather too few and far between.

Despite all the "adventure-sport" activities on offer, it is an easy town in which to find your own niche. And mine seems to be enjoying what is free (the ambiance of the hostel, the views, the other people around me). Talking of which, a chap from Northern Ireland invited us to the pub for a drink and then proceeded to insist on paying for everything. Bargain. Apparently his girlfriend was poorly and I think he was glad for a bit of company while she was in bed sleeping. We were only too happy to oblige.

Thursday 11th January 2007

Much warmer today, rather putting to bed any plans of a mammoth hike. Instead i decided to do some chores in the morning (internet, washing) and then spend the afternoon lounging in the garden (so easy to do when it is so beautiful - did I mention the amazing view of the lake? Well, today there were patches of mist hanging prettily around the mountains). From there you can see the stream of activities on offer: paragliding, jet-boating, steamer trips on the lake, bungy-jumping, etc. And you can think about how much money you are saving by not doing any of them. Just call me Scrooge! Yes, I know I'm tight, but I embrace it and positively enjoy it.

Ryan, a friend of Emelie, arrived in the afternoon. First impressions weren't particularly good (and didn't really get any better from there on). He seemed like a bit of a wide-boy, or, rather, a posh, ex-public-school-boy, trying to act like one (even worse!). His grandparents own a stud farm and he doesn't seem to have any problem throwing his/their money around. Still, he will be travelling with us for a while, so I am happy to tolerate him for the sake of a free lift. You never know, my initial judgements might be wrong (they weren't). There are always lots of other people in hostels, so even if you are travelling "with" other people you are not forced to spend the entire time in each other's pockets.

Had a nice evening with a bunch of people from the hostel and go out for a drink in one of Queenstown's many bars (luckily a niceish one which isn't too boisterous - some of them seem to be rather too rowdy for my tastes).

Friday 12th January 2007

Even hotter today, so still no hiking on the cards. It's really humid too - the sort of weather that makes you feel like doing nothing.

I did some more internettery in the morning and after a leisurely lunch spent the afternoon on the beach. I even went in for a dip. The water is freezing (about 13/14C) but very refreshing/invigorating. There was a diving platform as well, so it was fun messing about until on the brink of hypothermia. The water was beautifully clean - just a shame it wasn't a few degrees warmer.

Another pleasant evening spent at the hostel. A good place for people-watching, including a very annoying girl from Israel (SO opinionated and obnoxious with it), and odd Dutch girl (mad eyes) and occasional other characters who were good for a laugh.

Saturday 13th January 2007

It was a clear sunny morning so I decided to walk up Queenstown Hill before lunch (I went by myself as the others were still in bed when I left). It was a nice change after a few days of mainly lounging around and the fresher winds made for more pleasant walking.

The views from the top were sensational and the walk through the forest was quite interesting too, with lots of nice redcap toadstools to photograph and the sunlight filtering through the trees. It was a good 500m climb (from 400 to 900+m), so it got the heart and lungs working nicely. There was an interesting sculpture at the top, although a lot of tripe was written about it on a plaque nearby, which didn't really help my enjoyment of it.

After lunch I was planning to spend the afternoon lounging in the garden. This went according to plan until about 3pm, when it clouded in and started to rain. Instead I retreated indoors to drink tea and converse with my fellow travellers (all the while entertained by the antics of Barney, the Jack Russell cross).

After dinner, several of the others went into Queenstown for a Saturday Night Out. In view of the weather and the prospect of an early morning wake-up (as is nearly always the case in my tent), I declined and headed to bed. This was most welcome as the previous few nights had been quite sociable.

Sunday 14th January 2007

It had peed down with rain for most of the night and continued to do so for the entire morning. In light of this I made further use of the internet cafe's $2/hr happy (two) hour(s). I finally manage to get up-to-date with my photos and start making a bit of headway with my blog and e-mails.

The rain stopped soon after lunch although it was still damp and misty and only really good for food-shopping. We did a massive shop for non-perishables as we weren't sure what the choice would be like in Te Anau, tomorrow's destination. In order to find the best bargains out trip took in The Warehouse ("Where Everyone Finds a Bargain" - ours? Tins of mixed beans for 89c), New World, Fresh Choice (cheap tomatoes) and Four Square (cheap bananas). Given that I like food shopping it was actually quite an enjoyable afternoon.

We all had an early night in preparation for an early start tomorrow...

Well, I'm going to leave it there for now, as I'm starting to get RSI from all the typing. We're staying another couple of nights in the converted lunatic asylum, so hopefully I will have the chance to get fully up-to-date before we leave. Until then, goodbye...

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Monday 1st January 2007 continued...

It was clear and sunny on arrival in Auckland and I made my way up to the hostel (a bit of a trudge uphill and I went to the wrong YHA first - luckily it was just around the corner from where I was supposed to be!). I got upgraded to a smaller room with single beds rather than bunks (there had been a mix-up with my booking) and I much preferred this hostel to the place where I stayed previously in Auckland (Central Backpackers). Nicer people and a generally calmer, more relaxed atmosphere.

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

In the morning I went to the Auckland City Art Gallery, which had a few half-decent works and some nice gallery spaces, but nothing mind-blowing. I then went to (try and) download my photos, which proved mightily frustrating as it was painfully slow. A good waste of two hours really. I should have given up and tried another place.

I then went back to the hostel for lunch and had the major bonus of finding a luxury Christmas Cake in the free-food box. It was almost as good as Mum's!

In the afternoon I walked a big loop around the city, taking in The Domain (where the museum is - I didn't have time to go in), Parnell, Parnell Rose Garden, The Docks and Ponsonby. It turned into a bit of a mammoth trek, so it was good to have a restful evening at the hostel. Of the sights, the Wintergarden and Fernery at The Domain were about the most interesting things. There were some lovely orchids (and ferns, natch). Oh, and the Rose Garden was nice for a wander too, with some good views out across the harbour and islands beyond. I didn't, however, think much of the so-called happening inner-suburbs of Parnell or Ponsonby. They didn't seem to be much more than a row of shops, although being on hills meant that there were some good views to be had. And perhaps the fact that it was a public holiday meant that there wasn't the same atmosphere as usual.

One of the Koreans staying at the hostel offered me a glass of Hawke's Bay late harvest Chardonnay (a strange one, that), which was really nice of him, and a good way to finish off my meal. I think it was from Mission Bay, so perhaps I will be able to go tasting there when I stay in Hawke's Bay at the end of my trip in New Zealand.

The weather had been fine and largely sunny all day, but there was a decidedly chilly breeze, which has been a frequent occurrence in New Zealand so far.

Wednesday 3rd January 2007

Today turned out to be an epic and very enjoyable day. I set out early to do the Auckland coast to coast walk, under clear blue skies. Still that chilly breeze, though, and jumpers were definitely required. The highlights of the walk were the extinct volcanoes, which the path went up and over. Both had been made into beautiful parks and the views from the top were absolutely stupendous (islands, bays, harbours, distant hills and the whole of the city spread out below). It was also interesting to see such clearly defined craters, albeit now covered in grass and sheep. The clear blue skies made it, of course, and put a spring in my step.

I reached the other coast by lunchtime and so decided to continue along a different walkway which followed the coast to the north. This was also beautiful, although the sea was filthy from the combination of extensive mud-flats and strong winds (or perhaps it is always just a silty brown).

I think I probably covered 30km in total during the course of the day, so I was pleased to find a bus stop close to where I left the coastal walkway.

Needless to say it was another quiet evening and after a brief chat with my room-mates (Korean, Brazilian and Colombian - an eclectic mix) I had an early night in preparation for my crack-of-dawn wake-up call.

Thursday 4th January 2007

I got up at 5:30am to catch the bus to the airport. It was just beginning to get light and was another clear and chilly (2 jumper) morning. I just missed one of the buses and was beginning to worry when the next one failed to arrive 20 minutes later as stated. Luckily it turned up eventually (15 minutes late) and whizzed us to the airport in record time. It only took 15-20 minutes, for what is usually about an hour-long journey.

I got myself checked-in and then sat down to watch the planes from the viewing gallery (naturally thinking of Dad as I did so). It was only then that I realised I had been given an aisle seat without even having been asked. Grrrr. Still, I was able to catch glimpses of the scenery below from the window (there wasn't a single cloud for the whole journey) and what I saw was beautiful. I was amazed how much snow there was for the middle of summer, but then, I keep being told by everyone how cold it has been for this time of year (they probably say this to the tourists every year!).

I arrived in Dunedin to find that it was even colder there, but still clear and sunny. The landscape is very reminiscent of Scotland, with lots of sheep, naturally.

Another upgraded room and still no bunk beds (I am being spoiled and it will come as a shock when I have to go back to bunks). I dump my stuff and grab a bite to eat. I then head out to explore the city. I made it much further than I expected (I hadn't slept well in my excitement). I climbed right up Signal Hill. It was quite a tough ascent (about 500m, straight up from sea-level), but the views out over the Otago Peninsula were well worth it. There were also loads of foxgloves (in all shades from white to purple), gorse and broom (Ponza!), which reminded me very much of home.

On the way back I took in the world's steepest street (another marketing gimmick) and (much nicer) Dunedin Botanical Gardens. These were huge and quite lovely. Loads of different flowers and some amusing talking parrots (one of which said "bugger" repeatedly... and made me laugh in my exhausted state).

It was a very long day, so I was glad to hit the sack at the end of it. Before doing so, I chatted to a nice couple of, er, let's say, "more mature" ladies from England (Gill and Julia) who were using up their Christmas gin and wine, and asked if I would help!

Friday 5th January 2007

Another sunny day. What is happening? After yesterday's exploits I was quite happy to spend the morning relaxing in the garden. It was really nice (and quite warm out of the wind) and there was even an extensive herb garden (and nasturtium patch) to assist with my culinary endeavours. After a lunch of pasta, fresh herbs, olive oil and cheese, I went for a walk down to the beach.

When I say down to the beach, I obviously mean another 20km hike, as the city is sprawling to say the least. Still, it was a nice enough walk once I had left the industrial estates behind. The beaches (I went to St Kilda and St Clare) were gorgeous and there was a huge swell coming in, so it was nice to just sit and watch the surfers doing there stuff. I tried taking my shirt off, but this was short-lived in the wind (freezing!). Swimming here was a definite no-no. I had a paddle and the water was freezing (12 degrees?).

There was a nice pathway round the headland at the far end (not a soul about) and some huge kelp forests, which surged in and out with the waves. Quite hypnotising.

I looped back to the city via one the many hills, and took in yet more great views of the city. It seems to me as somewhere which is better to look back on, than actually be in. But perhaps, because it is a student town (and they are all on holiday at the moment), it is lacking some of the atmosphere which would normally make it an interesting place to be.

A Canadian family had arrived at the hostel during the afternoon and requested to stay together in the room where I was staying. I was therefore asked if I would mind moving to a single room for the rest of my stay. Oh, what luxury! It was therefore just nice to spend the evening relaxing in isolation, making the most of my own space (which wasn't a tent). Lovely.

Saturday 6th January 2007

Ah, rain. All day. Thank goodness for my book, music and single room. It was peeing down for most of the day and really cold (no more than 12 degrees, I reckon). I did venture down into town during the afternoon and visited the City Art Gallery. It was similar to Auckland's in scope and once again contained a few nice bits and pieces (and was a nicely converted Victorian building). It was good to get out of the hostel, even if I did feel decidedly damp upon return. Ready to move on now, as Dunedin in the rain is really rather a depressing place (the heavy Victorian architecture doesn't help in this regard).

Well, that's all I've got time for at the moment. There'll probably be another delay in updates as I am leaving Queenstown tomorrow (Monday 15th January) and I'm not sure how good the internet provision will be until I reach Christchurch. Until then, take care...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Long-overdue update

Monday 18th December 2006

This is a continuation from when I last made an entry, which is now quite a long time ago, so apologies for the tardiness.

The rain had actually stopped by the time I had finished updating my blog, so I decided to walk down to the lake. It was really beautiful in the late evening light. All silvers and greys with clouds hanging moodily over the mountains in the distance. It was just nice to be outside after a day largely spent sheltering from the rain. It was a nice evening too, playing cards, drinking some wine, chatting and generally enjoying ourselves. Arjun from France, Hannah from Liverpool, Peter from Denmark and Emelie and Matthias (sp?) from Sweden were all really friendly and made for good company. Which was just as well, considering the weather.

Tuesday 19th December 2006

Well, 'twas another day of rain in Taupo. There was a brief dry spell in the morning, so I started walking towards the lake with Emelie and Matthias (unfortunately, the [little] mountain I had wanted to climb was shrouded in cloud). However, it wasn't long (approx. 100m!) before we were forced to abandon our plans. The heavens opened and the rain poured down. Luckily we found shelter in Pak 'n Save (supermarket). Given that it was still looking evil when we went outside, we decided to go back to the hostel instead of trudging around the lake in the rain. This turned out to be a wise decision as the rain got heavier and heavier for the rest of the day. I was really rather glad that I wasn't staying in my tent!

Had a glass of wine with lunch, followed by a snooze. Then proceeded to play cards for much of the day, watching the rain fall outside the window. Further cooking, eating, wine-drinking, card-playing... The hostel had a really nice atmosphere - one of the best that I have stayed in. In fact, if it wasn't for the weather, it would have been a shame to leave. Some of the nice touches included free daily papers, freshly brewed coffee (a major perk) and the general friendliness of both staff and clientele.

Wednesday 20th December 2006

I got the bus over to Rotorua with Jana (from Germany) and Arjun (from France). It was a bit of a misty ride through the hills/mountains, but was nonetheless quite scenic. It was still showery upon arrival, so we decided to shop and cook together and have a leisurely lunch (spag bol and wine). Very civilised. We wandered around Rotorua afterwards, taking in the boiling mud, steamy pools and all-pervasive sulphurous odour. According to Arjun, it was all a bit disappointing after the splendours of Iceland. Still, I enjoyed seeing the steaming lake, but it was let down somewhat by the poor upkeep and litter lying about everywhere. Afterwards we wandered down to the lakeside, which looked nice in the evening sunshine.

We got back to the hostel and spent some time in the spa before going for a free coffee and then a free glass of wine (I keep getting asked for ID and so did Jana [25]. She didn't have any and was told she couldn't stay on the premises unless one of us was her parent or guardian! Arjun was in his 30s but didn't look that old so we went back to the hostel to get her passport). Both vouchers were courtesy of the hostel, so naturally I liked that place. We ate quite late (nachos, chili and cheese) and I stayed up quite late chatting to Arjun from France. He's an interesting chap with Franco-Indian heritage, currently residing in Paris.

Thursday 21st December 2006

It was an e-mail/internetty type morning (still overcast and showery), followed by another long lunch with Arjun and Jana. Good company and a shame to say goodbye... Still, move on I must (didn't want to lose-out on my $1 bus fare!).

I got the bus to Mount Maunganui in the afternoon. Not such a scenic ride this time, although not ugly by any means, at least until I arrived in the outskirts of Tauranga (the city next to Mount Maunganui), which seemed a bit of a dump. The hostel was a bit of a trek from the bus stop, so I was glad to arrive and dump my stuff. It had brightened up a bit, so I decided to walk along the beach (long, sandy, islands off shore) prior to finding a supermarket (another long trek in the opposite direction). The hostel was quite big and a bit of a surfy place. Therefore it seemed rather cliquey to me. The beds were rubbish too. Soft, squeaky and it felt like an earthquake with the slightest movement from down below (I was in the top bunk). Luckily, I had a lovely bottle of Australian Shiraz, so not all was bad! I also chatted to two friendly Danish lads and a geography teacher from Holland. However, the general calibre of guests was lower than in the previous hostels.

Friday 22nd December 2006

Finally, it was a sunny morning! I walked around Mount Maaunganui's eponymous hill, then climbed to the top for the sensational views. It was really clear and bright and so nice to be out and about in the sunshine.

The euphoria of such a nice morning had worn me out, so I went back to the hostel for lunch and a lie-down. I walked along the beach in the afternoon... I think I definitely prefer the coast to inland places (although the fine weather always helps, of course). I finished the previous night's bottle of Shiraz and then watched a bit of the Lord of the Rings (in the absence of anyone nice to talk to). My gosh, what a load of old tripe! Slow, ponderous, tedious. Awful dialogue. Much like this blog, in fact. I started falling to sleep, so decided to go to bed. A noisy group of Koreans kept me awake, so I decided that I would be glad to leave this particular hostel, and was looking forward to spending Christmas in my tent (as long as the weather holds, that is).

I suppose I shouldn't be too negative about things though, as Mount Maunganui is a nice holiday town and its situation is splendid, with the ocean on one side and the harbour of Tauranga on the other. But it just goes to show how important both the quality of the hostel and your fellow guests are in determining the overall experience. All in all I must say that the Pacific Coast Lodge does not have a lot to recommend it. Steer clear.

Saturday 23rd December 2006

After the noisy Koreans had slowly rustled and chatted their way out the door at the crack of dawn, I was re-woken up by the owner of the hotel stripping beds in my room. At 8am! This didn't impress my after being kept awake my the noisy Koreans for much of the night. Grrr. But, on a brighter note, it is another sunny morning!

I wandered down to the beach for the final time and sat in the sun updating my diary. It started to spit with rain so I headed back to the hostel, only for the sun to come out and become hotter than ever (it was really burning in the courtyard/car park of the hostel). I could almost have been back in Australia.

I caught the bus without a hitch and got chatting to a French couple from Paris. The bus driver was having a bad day. First he took us down a dead-end in an industrial estate (Tauranga) and then almost overshot a subsequent turn-off. Ooops. I had to make an emergency toilet dash at one of the bus stops (me and my bladder aren't particularly happy about the lack of facilities on board NZ coaches). Otherwise, it was a pleasant and scenic journey (especially the last bit, through a gorge in the Coromandel).

I arrived in Thames mid-afternoon. The hostel was right next to the bus-stop (a relief after the hike in Mount Maunganui). Both the hostel and the town had a ghostly quiet about them. Everyone decamps for Christmas, apparently. I did manage to find a few people in Pak 'n Save, although it was nothing like the Christmas rush back at home (and they also had just about everything still in stock, which was strange so close to Christmas!). I had decided to do a Christmas shop, in case facilities were lacking in Whitianga, and ended up with a bulging trolley.

I then proceeded to make the most of the quiet hostel (about 3 other people). I made a nice beef stew and drank the remainder of the bottle of wine. One of my fellow guests was a cyclist from Canada who I had met briefly in Paihia, so we had a nice chat before an early (and very quiet) night.

Sunday 24th December 2006

Thames seemed even quieter today. I decided to take a picnic and explore the town before getting my bus. Despite sitting on the coast, Thames hasn't got much of a waterfront. Just a collection of unattractive uses (rubbish dump, light industry, retail park) and some worse-for-wear-looking mangrove swamps. And the brownest water I have seen outside of the Bristol Channel. Not very inspiring. There is a walkway along the coast, however, albeit about as pretty as Sunderland*.

Some half-interesting timber buildings were the highlight of the morning. About 100 years old, so they are probably grade 1* listed here!

My walk back to the hostel took me inland, as I tried to get higher up for a view over the town and gulf. Various ex-goldmining activities were in evidence and then came the highlight of the day: the town's cemetery. This is located at the highpoint of the town and the views are stunning. It was also interesting to see the graves carried on into the forest, where the reclamation of the dead by the trees, plants and decaying matter is eerily beautiful.

There was a bit of a hubbub at the bus station (2 buses at the same time - neither of them mine!). In fact, mine was a bit late and just as I was beginning to panic, the driver came to find me as he had been forced to park around the corner. Good service for $1! It was another scenic ( i.e. v. twisty) drive across the Coromandel Peninsula. And then the highlight of the day: my arrival at the Cat's Pyjamas. Ha! First impressions: eccentric to say the least...

*A slight exaggeration, perhaps.

Monday 25th December 2006 (Christmas Day for some of us)

Wendy and Buster were certainly interesting hosts. A right pair of characters! Still, they were kind and friendly and the other people staying at the hostel were really nice. Buster reminded me a lot of Grandad (in his more exuberant, younger days). Talk about life and soul! Which is probably why Wendy was so pleased to see and speak to all the guests (she even remembers everyone's name which is a nice little touch).

I decided to walk along the beach in the morning (after a nice long Christmas (Eve) chat with Mum and Dad. This was prior to a barbecue in the garden of the hostel. Lunch on the same lawn I was camping on... not too far to crawl for my post-prandial snooze.

The early clouds lifted upon my return and it was really warm for our al fresco Christmas lunch. Various guests hasd made bits and pieces (including sushi and Buster's Mussel fritters), so there was quite a spread. And a wholly non-traditional one, at that (apart from the lashings of trifle - not a patch on yours, Mim!). After a couple of hours of almost solid eating, I was stuffed. A secret-santa style game of pass-the-parcel ensued, to which I had contributed a couple of bottles of cheap(ish) beer (there was a $2 limit). I "won" a car sticker, which I have since misplaced and I can't remember what the joke was, apart from it being about divorce. Oh, I've got it: "Avoid divorce, stay single". Hmmm.

After lounging around on the grass for a while, me and a few others (Penny and Dave from Blackburn - Penny from Taunton originally - and Shona nad Peter from Newcastle (Australia) went to see Gallit (who I had met in Paihia) at the hostel where she was staying, just round the corner. It was nice for a change (it broke up what would have otherwise been a long day sitting in the same place), and we spent the evening chatting, playing silly games ('cause it's Christmas) and enjoying being able to sit outside. So much better than a cold Christmas, it has to be said.

P.S. The mussles with which Buster made the fritters were the most enormous mussels I have ever seen (even "world's strongest", from Sidmouth, couldn't compete!).

Tuesday 26th December (Boxing Day)

The friendly bunch at the hostel invited me to spend the day on the beach with them. It was probably my hottest day in New Zealand so far, so it was much too tempting a prospect to turn down.

We went to a lovely beach north of Whitianga (2 groups of 5 in two cars). Something beginning with an "O". Lovely white sand and clear water. I went for 2 swims and we played ball, had a nice picnic, etc...

Went back to hostel for a cup of tea before going to Hot Water Beach for an early-evening spa. It was a lovely setting and the water was certainly hot, although the smell of rotting fish and sulphur was a bit off-putting. Still it was a lovely evening, made even more memorable by Peter losing his car keys (Tim!), us seareching the length of the beach with a child's rake, and then him finding them in the bottom of his bag. We also had a good giggle about burning our feet, hands and bums on the hot spots in the sand. We were pllanning a barbecue on return, but were scuppered by a lack of gas and were forced to fry all the meat instead (there was no oven or grill at he hostel). It was really nice to cook/eat all together and it rounded off a wonderful day very nicely indeed. The people present were: Emma from London (such a city girl she didn't even know what a combine harvest was!), Chiara from Florida (via Seattle), Lydia from Gloucestershire, Charlie from Tamworth, Callum, Scott and Finlay from Scotland, Penny and Dave, Shona and Pete and Mat from somewhere in England (can't remember, oh yes I can - Newark, I think).

Wednesday 27th December 2006

I had thoroughly enjoyed Whitianga. The friendliness of the Cat's Pyjamas more than made up for the place's peculiarities (nothing fitted together, it was a total mish-mash, things were rather on the grubby side - just like the owners!). I was really lucky in my tent - no rain at all - although the 7:30 am furnace wan't always welcome (I had a couple of late nights by my standards). I was therefore quite tired and looking forward to some rest-days at the Lion's Den in Coromandel Town.

I was lucky enough to get a lift over there with Sara, one of Gallit's aquaintances from Whitianga. I thust forfeited a $1 bus fare, but saved several more besides as I hadn't pre-booked the Thames-Coromandel leg of my anticipated journey. As it was we took a scenic short-cut across the peninsula, along a gravel road (a bit hairy, as, as you know, I am not the best passenger in the world).

We stopped off at a Kauri forest and some waterfalls en route, both of which were lovely.

I arrived at Lion's Den in time for a late lunch and a snooze. It had started raining (after a bright morning), so I took it easy for the rest of the day (reading, listening to music and drinking tea). The hostel was the ideal place to do just that. There were loads of nooks and crannies around the place (in which to sit and read or daydream), the gardens were beautiful and everywhere was crammed full of Lynda's artworks. It's a really small hostel (max 15 people), and a veritable oasis of calm, away from the increasingly hectic holiday atmosphere of Coromandel town.

Thursday 28th December 2006

Lynda had made pancakes for breakfast. I thought I had missed them by having breakfast too early, but there was a bowl with my name on it waiting for me when I got back from town. Lynda is a bit eccentric too, but not in a mad-as-a-puffin way like Wendy and Buster. It must be here artistic streak - the hostel is stuffed full of her creativitiy (I keep discovering quirky touches that I haven't seen before).

I seemed to be developing a bit of a cold, so aside from a shopping tip and a bit of local explortation, I took it easy: reading, booking hostels in Auckalnd and Dunedin, reserving a place on the ferry back to Auckland (a treat: there should be a toilet on board!), drinking more tea, cooking and eating (feed a cold, right?). A pretty good day then apart from the blocked sinuses.

PS Gallit came round for a cup of tea in the afternoon. I bumped into here while checking my e-mail at the local tourist information centre.

Friday 29th December 2006

Full-blown cold today: My nose was streaming and I felt rough. I had a very easy morning. Luckily I had a good book to get stuck into: On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

I snoozed for a bit after lunch but decided that I needed a bit of light exercise to get the muscus running.

I had a nice walk around the coast to Turk Bay. All very scenic (the Poka-something-or-other-trees are beautiful with their bright red blossom at this time of year), although I would have preferred it if the wind had eased slightly - I might have to buy a coat at this rate.

I like Coromandel Town though. The prettiest town I have been to in New Zealand (on a par with somewhere like Milton Keynes, then). Hmm... maybe it isn't quite as nice as Russell, but I didn't actually stay there. The holiday bustle gives it a bit more atmosphere than some of the other places I have been to. I'm also appreciating the peace and quiet of the hostel. The people staying there tend to keep themselves to themselves, and while this would normally be a bad thing, I am happy to have some quiet time and let my cold get better. Staying off the wine and ladening everything with heaps of garlic and chili seemed to do wonders. There's a lovely kitchen at the Lion's Den, in-keeping with the generally homely feel, so pottering around was a pleasure.

Saturday 30th December 2006

I spent the morning pottering around (an emerging theme!!!) and taking it easy in the hope that my cold would get better more quickly. In fact , I already felt much better in myself, altough my nose was still causing trouble and I haven't sneezed so much in my life (the bugs clearly wouldn't rest until everyone else was infected)!

I read the Saturday papers and then cooked both lunch and dinner, making the most of having the kitchen to myself (and thus avoiding the rain too).

I was planning a longish walk in the afternoon, but met Gallit after a few hundred meters, so we both went into town and then headed back to her place for a nosey around. She was working at a herbal disensery and garden, in return for free accommodation in a cute little caravan on site. It was a beautiful setting, surrounded by this lovely garden, full of medicinal herbs (must have been the final cure that my cold needed!).

The sun had come out at lunchtime and it turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon. After a cup of tea we went for a wander around said garden.

I then went for an early evening walk, which turned into a bit of an epic. I found a path which climbed higher and higher into the hills behind Coromandel Town. The evening light was gorgeous an the views were stunning, but I had to turn around before reaching the summit, for fear that I wouldn't get back before nightfall (I'm not equipped with a headtorch, unlike Dad). Still, a lovely walk, followed by a very hot curry, the combination of which (and the herbal garden, perhaps) seemed to clear my nose a bit.

Sunday 31st December 2006 (New Year's Eve)

Feeling better, so I decided that another long walk was in order. I first went to the Tourist Information Centre to find out where yesterday's path ultimately went (v. friendly and helpful staff - all women, as always: why is this?). Apparently it isn't an official right-of-way, but lots of people use is to reach the summit (and others use it to Mountain bike back down). It also links into another path which runs along the ridge, so I decided to use that and then walk back into town down the road from Kennedy's Bay.

It got rather scrambly towards the top and, in hindsight, my backless sandals weren't the best choice of footwear. Still, I got round in one piece and the views from the top were well worth the effort - simply stunning. I think it was probably the highest I had been in New Zealand up to that point - well over 500m (a good climb considering I started at sea-level), although that is all set to change on the South Island.

I got back in time for a late lunch and the discovery of a cake that Lynda hasd just made for her guests. 'Twas lovely and moist and reminded me of home! Definitely my favourite hostel so far (although strangely, the other guests aren't up to much - luckily the remants of my cold are stopping me from feeling overly sociable).

Had a nap, updated my diary and read for a bit, prior to going up to Gallit's caravan for a New Year's Eve shindig. Well, I took some stuff to eat (dahl, pickled beetroot and some of Lynda's cake) and Gallit had made some other bits for us to share, tapas style. It was all very nice and we surprised ourselves by making it to midnight without falling asleep (my bedtime had been getting earlier and earlier while staying at the lions' Den). The rain had scuppered our plans of heading into town to sample to local festivities, but luckily it had just about stopped by midnight , so I was able to walk back in the dry. A nice, simple way to herald in the New Year (just what my post-cold convalescence required).

Monday 1st January 2007 (New Years Day)

After more of Lynda's Cake for breakfast (luckily I'm not resovling to lose weight), I went for a beautiful walk out to the end of a little peninsula, close to Coromandel Town. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, the sea sparkling and blue and the views great. I'm running out of superlatives. Rain clouds appeared to be building in the west, but these held off and it stayed sunny all day.

I got the free bus to the ferry at 4pm. The driver was very friendly and informative. The ferry ride istelf was wonderul. So much better than the bus. And two toilets, too! Stunning views, dolphins, calm sea, rainbows, it had it all (even free mussels, cooked on the on-board barbecue). As the rainbows might habve suggested we passed through a couple of showers, but otherwise the weather was really good.

As you can probably tell, my time was running out towards the end of this post. That should explain any change in tenor, and the obvious spelling mistakes (the spell check doesn't seem to work on such a long post). I am currently working on the last 10 days and will try to post them before I leave Queenstown (on Monday). Until then, best wishes...