Friday, 29 January 2016

LOST IN THE REMARKABLES


Thoughts on New Zealand 



Blog written by Tina.
 


Three sets of siblings over two generations, three in-laws, Irish, English and French, 3003 km travelling from Christchurch to Auckland in two campervans and a Ford between 30th December 30th  and today, January 24th.

Our route took us from Christchurch in the south island of New Zealand through Akaroa, Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka, Fox Glacier, Murchison, Picton, Poharo and Rotorua.  We finished our road trip in Auckland.

We had never driven a 7 metre long and 3.2 metre High vehicle so
Sunset at Akaroa
some were a little nervous when we started the trip.  However, we took to it like a duck to water and apart from a little scratch on one of the roofs (not ours, and not done by a female) no damage was done to either the vans or their occupants during the trip.

New Zealand is an incredible country for many reasons.  The
landscapes are stunning and often breathtaking.  Most of our time was spent in the South Island.  This is probably why I came away with a preference for the south.  There are less people (out of the four million or so new Zealanders only 800,000 live in the South Island), incredible mountains, lakes and of course this is where I discovered the Tasman Sea, somewhere I had heard about but never really thought I would see.

Akaroa was our first stop off.  It’s not far from Christchurch on the East coast by the sea (Pacific ocean) and is a French town.  A Frenchman laid claim to the territory sometime during the 19th century when he embarked in this part of NZ.  It seems he went home to get some paperwork done and by the time he came in the British (well, English actually) had stepped in and taken over the country.  You can imagine that our trip began well when we discussed this amongst our English and French in-laws.  It was lucky the Irish were there to mediate!  

A good camper comes prepared .
Akaroa is beautiful and very quaint.  There is a sense of the far west that was to be felt in most of the smaller NZ towns.  The people were friendly and the camping park was great.  Our vans were facing out onto the harbour.  We stayed three nights and celebrated New Year’s Day in Akaroa.  Most of the occupants of this site were from NZ and they were friendly and cheerful.  The campsite (and in fact all the others we visited) were incredible.  Fantastic facilities and so well kept.  Everything was clean and everyone cleaned up after him/herself.  This was something that struck all of us during the short month we stayed in NZ.  We found ourselves having these big discussions about how clean the public loos were and it almost became a challenge for someone to find a loo that was not immaculate!  Mentioning this to Edmond I learn that the men’s loos were not always immaculate as the ladies.
Dunedin was the Scottish stop.   The highlights of Dunedin were its train station that is the oldest in the country and the visit to the world’s only mainland colony of the royal albatross.  These birds are just spectacular and the setting, at the end of a peninsula, was splendid.   Edmond and the children liked the Cadburys factory too! 

Dunedin Train Station
From Dunedin we headed over to Queenstown.  You will have already read about the slight detour of the Anglo-Irish part of our group to Invercargill on the way but enough said about that!  Queenstown was a favourite for most of the group and especially the younger members.   Liam, 16, did his first 46 metre bungee jump in the presence of his cousins and parents.  Martha (Liam’s Mum) was so paralysed that when she filmed the scene her camera went up instead of down.  A fine view of the Queenstown sky!  Some quite spectacular zip lining and field sledging (luge) were also enjoyed by the children and some of the adults.   Edmond, Barbara, Andrew and myself took off for a days cycling over the hills and around the Queenstown lakes.   

The Remarkables Mountain Range and Queensland

There is a limit to how many times one can say breathtaking or spectacular in a BLOG but those 50 km we cycled that day deserve to be described as such.  The mountains around Queenstown are called the Remarkables.  Those Lord of the Ring fans might recognise photos of them, as these are the hills that have been used in the LOR movies albeit somewhat photo-shopped along the way.    Our site in Queenstown was right beside the centre of the town so lots of shopping was done when the party was not taking gondolas up the hill and luges down again.    Ten of the party set off for a morning to the shotover river in a jet boat.  Before reaching the river they endured a perilous bus journey on a narrow track hanging about 200 metres above the sea.   Martha was put on the inside and spent the time counting the dust particles of the floor.   I was not allowed to go (bad back obliged) and was forced to relax back at the camp.

I don’t necessarily think the reader is interested in a blow for blow description of what we did all the time but I feel that a few words about our lifestyle during this time might be of interest.  


Wash dishes or jump?
If I were a reader I would be just dying to know how eleven relatively opinionated people (or we could just say eleven people with characters bordering on the strong side) could live in such close proximity for such a long time.  Now to be honest, how many of us have had to spend 24 hours a day over a 24-day period where the only break you get is to go and enjoy having a pee in an immaculate toilet?   It is quite remarkable but apart from a few minor hissie fits from one party or the other (no names will be mentioned of course) everyone actually managed to get on at least as well as usual (ie living in Ireland, France and England) which, incidentally, is pretty damn well.  So in my book this is quite a feat.  We had to get used to living in such small quarters and learn how to plan going from one end of the van to the other when someone was standing in the middle making a coffee. The clothes were washed in the laundries and Martha was often to be seen marching down the site's paths with a giant black bag full of laundry at seven in the morning (or so).  

John and friend (or maybe not...)
We sort of took it in turns to do the cooking in the evening.  The men excelled at the barbecue (see previous BLOG) if copious amounts of NZ wine was served at the same time and the ladies rolled out curries, spag bol, chillies, asian soup and other délices. We learned that the best way to make meals was in the common kitchens of the site.  Washing dishes, done incidentally most evenings by the children with relatively few arguments, was done in the common kitchens.  We had decided that we would not use the toilets or the showers of the campervans.  They were ideal places to store our suitcases and although we felt that a good old fight about the dishes was ok, none of us wanted to find ourselves with the job of cleaning the loos.   This was yet another reason for us to have been so ecstatic about the clean NZ loos (gosh I am mentioning this quite a lot).   

The Eastern side of the south island was completely different in terms of landscape and scenery.  

Pancakes anyone?
First of all there was the Tasman Sea to discover for the first time.  The water was clear and a beautiful blue (and cold). The landscapes were straight out of the Amazonian forestland.  Huge fern trees, humid air, birdsong we had never heard before, the eroded rocks in the sea reminding us of the statues in Easter Island or those found in Pancake rock which look like a million pancakes piled one on top of the other.   We spent a night in Fox Glacier but missed the glacier due to low clouds (fog one might say) and quickly moved on up to Murchison where ten of the eleven went white water rafting for the day.  I was not allowed to participate (the back thing again!) so was tied to the fridge of the campervan for the day.  I actually spent a lovely day bathing in the waterhole of the river we stayed beside and enjoyed the deafening silence of the day.

We kept heading north and eventually said our sad farewells to Barbara and Andrew who were leaving from Christchurch and not going over to the North Island with us.  We had a lovely last supper together, lots of hugs and “see you soons” before parting our ways.  The biggest mistake we had made while we were a group of eleven was not to have had a photo taken with all of us together. 


And then there were nine.  We spent our last few days in Rotorua in the centre of the North Island.  We had splendastic weather and pitched up beside the Blue Lake for three days sunbathing, swimming and generally relaxing.   One of the highlights for everyone was the pontoon in the lake where the children spent endless hours trying to tip each other off into the lake. 


Vital ingredients?
So a wonderful time had by all.  The general consensus is that NZ is a truly spectacular country in terms of landscape, the people are friendly and very conscious of the environment unlike our European homes, the sun shone practically all of the time and when it didn’t the stars did, the cost of living is more or less the same as home although the diesel is much cheaper in NZ, the wine is good, the beer is good, the lemonade is good but not as good as Peru (top tip for lemonade drinkers …go to Peru) and we all had a pinch in the heart as we set off towards Kuala Lumpur for the last leg of our trip.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

RAFTING, GLAMPING AND “TO FLIP OR NOT TO FLIP”


Blog written by Andrew.


To date, the IFEG (Irish French Expeditionary Group) and AIEG (Anglo Irish Expeditionary Group) have travelled from Akoroa to Dunedin, to Queenstown (with an aforementioned detour) and Wanaka, to Murchison via Fox Glacier (it’s melting v fast), from Golden Bay to Picton from where I am writing.  The combined tour comes to an end tomorrow with the IFEG party heading to the North Island and thence to Auckland and onto Malaysia for a few days.  The AIEG party are spending a few days in Kaiakoura before ending our tour in Christchurch from where we head back to northern climes.



New Zealand: some of the best white water rafting in the world
Where to start?  As the title suggests, we have been rafting – White Water Rafting to be more specific.  Based in Murchison alongside millions of sandflies, Intrepid Tours run rafting trips along many of the rivers in those there parts. We booked a whole day tour with three guides and three boats.   Dressed in thermal tops, neoprene wetsuits, neoprene boots, buoyancy jackets and helmets, we must have presented an odd looking group. The only accessible skin was our hands and goodness me did the sandflies make hay, as it were.   After a short drive to the Buller River – the longest free flowing river in New Zealand because it has not yet been dammed or have any hydro electric installations on it, we were given a short ‘elf n’ safety’ talk and as the poet Masefield put it, we ‘must down to the sea, the lonely sea and and the sky’ although it was a river and not very lonely.  Ah well.  We glided and paddled and then came to the first set of rapids.  Looking fairly innocuous (oh the bravery of the inexperienced!) it came as a rude shock when Matt, our ‘chap at the back’ shouted “Get down” and cold water washed all over us.  Once through that particular rapid I recalled in my mind the conversation I’d had with an insurance company whilst sorting out my travel insurance.  When I asked Doug, I think his name was, about ‘dangerous sports’ knowing that WWR (white water rafting) was a possibility he said he’d have a look at the list.  “Interesting” he said, “archery is there alongside badminton”. Both our minds boggled and I’m sure conjured up different mental constructs as to how either of them could be termed ‘dangerous’.  Mine had me strapped to a target with Robin Hood and his Merrie Men about to let loose a volley of arrows in my direction.  I digress but you will be reassured to know that guided WWR up to Level 3 is covered.



We mixed up the adrenaline fuelled shooting of rapids (‘Earthquake Falls’ was one such typical name) with gentle meandering down the slow sections of the river much like Ratty and Mole in The Wind in the Willows enjoying a delicious picnic of freshly made sandwiches, fruit and cakes.  One memorable moment came when Matt decided to ‘surf’ the raft in a rapid.  Suffice to say this meant holding the bow of the raft into a fast running flow of white water so much so that the two bow occupants,  the aptly named Perrier pere et fils, were subjected to a freezing cold, torrential shower from which emanated gasps of shock and air and the occasional “Mon Dieu!”.



How we laughed – in the back of the raft, dry and full of humour.  I cannot end this little tale of the river bank without mentioning something that our chums from Wind in the Willows did not have to contend with: sandflies.  We first encountered these critters in Wanaka but the Murchison version has a real attitude problem.  Any morsel of bare flesh was fair game to them and the seven hours we spent on the Buller was seven hours of sandfly heaven.  They are tiny little bugs and they give a noticeable but not especially painful nip; one spends a great deal of time brushing them off yet they still persist.  This hand above had over 30 bites on it.  Our physiological reactions ranged from no reaction to pustules forming on the hand in the case of Barbara (otherwise known as 'the Felon').  The poor girl was really very uncomfortable with pustular swollen hands.  In a group that contains three doctors, the way they seemed to distance themselves, professionally and physically, from the problem was slightly unnerving. As I write this, the Felon has reminded me to tell of the near drowning.  It almost escaped my memory which is a bit surprising because it was your correspondent who nearly drowned.  What happened is as follows:  along the lazy, slow moving parts of the river, our guides, Matt included, encouraged us to hurl ourselves overboard into the cool waters.  On the second occasion, I decided to join in the fun and not terribly elegantly joined Poseidon.  Remember that we were all dressed head to toe in warm, buoyant clothing so the danger of getting into difficulty was remote, to say the least.  After a few moments of floating Eeyore like, I felt a rising sense of panic and very quietly said “I’m panicking” to anyone that might have been within earshot.  No reaction so I grabbed a leg belonging to Edouard Perrier and said to him “Teddy, I'm having a bit of a panic here” and understandably given the lack of urgency in my voice, he laughed and carried on floating.  Luckily his father heard me as did Matt and soon the rescue was assayed and I lay, panting in the bottom of the raft feeling a tad foolish.  It was a horrid moment, I can tell you.



And so ended a fabulous day on the Buller – laughs, fear, adrenaline and weary arms and thanks to all the guys at Intrepid tours for joining in the fun and being so totally professional in the way they went about their work.



From Murchison, we decided to head north to Golden Bay and the Abel Tasman National Park.  I find it fascinating that the great man has a body of water and a national park named after him but he never set foot in New Zealand.  The motorhomes managed to secure accommodation at a campsite but us ‘saloonies’ had ‘no room in the inn’.  Tina found, via AirBNB, a glamping site for the Felon and myself.  After our experience of tents in Akoroa, the enthusiasm was muted.  Yet what an experience we had.  Owned by Shanti a young Coloradian who has lived in NZ for the last 15 years, the huge bell tent (5m diameter) was sited on her ½ acre property amongst fruit trees, her vegetables, chickens and a pet rabbit.  Nearby was a composting loo and a babbling stream – not , I repeat not, connected.   

Inside the Achillean tent was a queen sized sleigh bed, chairs, chest of drawers, lights, tea and coffee making facilities as per the best hotels.  All fully electrified.  In her garden shanti had made an outdoor cooking area for her guests consisting of a two ring gas burner and a sink with a rain water fed tap.  It was a wonderful two nights that we spent there – hearing the dawn chorus from the warmth of the bed and then after they had exhausted their repertoire, going back to sleep for another fours hours until the sun awakened us.  Thank you Tina for finding this adventure for us – no holiday is complete without a spot of glamping.



Wot a larf...
Finally – to flip or not to flip, that is the question.  Over the many evenings when we have enjoyed BBQ’d food, it has become apparent that there are deeply held views as to the correct way of cooking.  Are you a flipper or a sealer/releaser?   When you add males to the conundrum, the views seem to be more entrenched.  Some, perhaps two men, watching a third man cook are astounded at the speed with which the spatula is used to flip the meat.  It transpires that these two are ‘Sealer/releasers” whose credo is to Leave the Meat Well Alone.  Their ‘copain de feu’ is a Flipper and as soon as the meat is on the grill, he’s working away with the spatula, turning and flipping much to their incredulity at the heretical act they are witnessing. I’m sure that being the discerning reader you are, you will have your own views. 



Random but cool. Fence of bras in support of the big C.
A postscript:  no wars were declared or diplomatic incidents recorded in the cooking of consistently delicious food over the past three weeks.
 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

More dreams come true...sort of.

There's worse places to write.
Blog written by Hugh Mulcahy on 14th January 2016



Hi all from Hugh. Now where are we?  Ah yes, lying in the back of a 7.2 meter long, six berth camper van bumping along from Murchison to Golden Bay on New Zealand’s South Island trying to write a blog. This will likely last about 187km, mostly through mountain passes and sub-tropical rain forests, but also over O’Sullivan’s Bridge and past Longford. We’re really never too far away from Ireland.



Longford (not quite Ireland e.g. note the sunny weather...)
Although travelling through Na Zilin’, as the locals call it, my thoughts are still on Easter Island. I should note that not many people holiday there, and I don’t think I saw a single other touring family group on the Island. It’s mostly older tourists who go to gawp at the stone statues (moai) and snigger that they look like auntie Hilda on a good day. You might therefore wonder why we went to that most remote of South Sea Islands. Ah, um, yes, actually erhhhum, it was my fault.



I read Aku Aku, Thor Heyerdhal’s book on his Easter Island expedition, at the age of 17 in 1976. It describes his 1956 expedition to unlock the secrets of Easter Island: Who were the original settlers? How had the huge Moai, weighing many tens of tons, been moved across the island? How had the island population been decimated in the 18th and 19th Centuries? To be brief, his most important conclusion was that the island was originally populated by South American Incas who had built stone monuments, and that the present population were part of a later influx of Polynesians who built the Moai.



At 17, I was fascinated by his descriptions of the Island and its inhabitants, both animate and inanimate. I remember that the book was beautifully written, his results regarding the Inca settlers compelling and his radical anthropological conclusions both sound and appropriate. I vowed that I would one day travel there to see its glories, walk in my hero’s footsteps and stare Moai in their eye sockets. Thus, while sitting in Madrid Airport on December 8th2015, about a week before arriving in Easter Island, I picked up Aku Aku with joy and began rereading the book that had inspired my journey almost 40 years ago.



One hundred and eight pages later and less than half finished, I put the book down, bitterly disappointed at both its tone and content. My hero’s attitude towards the Islanders now seemed superior and even racist at times, his hypotheses and multiple unsubstantiated assumptions regarding the early settlers unusual and his results sketchy. Moreover, the book was badly written, littered with word for word conversations that he had had with various characters that appeared largely apocryphal, and all the while scattered with trite and prejudicial reflections on the Islanders and Island life. Nevertheless, as with all books I start but don’t finish, probably somewhat less than one in 40, I did read the final chapter. This did nothing to change my views, his conclusions appearing biased and unconvincing. Ah well, I can only suppose that everything we see, hear and read is coloured by both our present state and previous experience and that our views on any subject therefore necessarily change with time.



Anaena Beach
Nevertheless, I did get to walk in Thor’s footsteps a week later and cycled every road the Island had to offer. No south sea paradise this, but rather a quirky and somber place, despite its climate. Geographically, it’s roughly triangular with three volcanoes dominating the landscape. It has no port, a single beach and only a couple of landing sites for even a small boat, due to its rocky shoreline and constant surf. The Airport was built in the 1960s and the runway extended by NASA to accommodate the Space Shuttle, should it ever have needed to make an emergency landing in the Pacific area. The Capital, Hanga Roa, is really a loose collection of largely wooden and tin roofed houses, although tourism is beginning to change the architectural landscape with a western style hotel plonked in the centre of town.



 Sombre horses
Vegetation is sparse and the road system rutted and potholed, making cycling an interesting, though very rewarding and pleasant, pastime. The area outside the Capital Hanga Roa is sparsely populated and I couldn’t help noticing that dead animals appeared to be left to rot by the wayside. I saw more than one complete equine skeleton, while the sight and smell of a two day old corpse of a large cow was appalling. In contrast, the beach at Anakena, complete with palm trees and a row of Moai looking inland was a perfect site for a picnic, swim and sunbathing session.



Come in Mercury...
In my short stay, I found the people reserved, generally unsmiling and even sometimes rude, as on the day the scuba diving shop manager berated me for driving at about 10km hour by the seafront while waving to his friend hurtling by in a truck. Overall, my initial impression was that the people were somewhat like the Moais themselves, stern, unsmiling and a bit sad at times, sitting on their Island thousands of miles away from the rest of the World. Nevertheless, I would have travelled twice around the Earth to see the impressive and extraordinary rock-strewn landscape and the Moais. As an aside, I also saw the shy planet Mercury for my first time in the Easter Island twilight, as beautiful a sight as any I could ever wish to see. A fantastic journey to an Island that will probably be unrecognisable in 20 years.



Me and the happy campers.
And there it would have ended; me happy to have visited Easter Island, though worried that my views on T.H. were the product of ageing, jaundiced and crabby mind, except for the fact that I randomly picked up a book in a Tahitian bookshop. The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux, describes his journey through Polynesia in the late 1980’s. I was immediately attracted to his chapters on Easter Island, which were candid and informative. However, more interesting still were his and others views on Thor. It appears that my boyhood hero is now essentially considered as incompetent, opinionated, amateurish, contemptuous and offensive, while a review of his book in the journal Archaeology called it “a litany of hypocrisy, superciliousness and prejudice against Polynesians in general and the inhabitants of Easter Island...”



So how does that leave me feeling? Vindicated for putting down Aku Aku, yes. but I still have a little hole in my heart, a bit like that feeling I used get after finishing up with a girlfriend, sad but glad.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Invercargill – a childhood dream.


Blog written by Andrew (member of the Anglo Irish Expeditionary Force) . 

Dear reader, have you ever had a dream that at some stage in your life became a reality?  Let me share one particular dream with you: the Invercargill Dream.

Many years ago I did a geography project on New Zealand.  Having been bored senseless with the bovine and ovine statistics, my imagination was captured by Invercargill.  

The Purbeck Hills in Dorset (a bird's view, not mine).
Why? Because it seemed, on the map, to be the last place on earth before that wasteland of others’ dreams, Antarctica.  I felt a shared sense of isolation with the Invercargillites as I gazed out of a school room window across the rolling Purbeck hills.  I had to go.

But how was the dream to be realised?  Fifty years later (annoyingly these sort of dreams do have a habit of lingering) the suggestion came from Ireland that a trip to New Zealand in 2015/2016 might be a lot of fun.  While others, well one other, were thinking of the endless round of merry japes that a family group could get up to, my immediate thought was ‘Invercargill’!  The Realisation was in my grasp.  I can’t begin to describe my sense of excitement at the prospect of a school project becoming reality.  I mentioned this to various members of the touring party who scoffed at my notion.  Research was done and from this I ascertained that Invercargill has very wide streets in addition to a newly built entrance to the hospital.  Oh the sirens were calling alright, I can tell you.

In the later 50s or perhaps early 60s, Peter Sellers recorded a travelogue, in a cod American accent, about travelling in the UK.  One bit has always stuck in my mind not least because I lived there for a few months:  “Bal-ham, gateway to the south”.  Invercargill – gateway to the south via its wide streets.

The main body of the touring party travelled from Dunedin to Queenstown via the Ida Pass but from a previous blog you will recall Driver ‘A’ and the newly re-designated  following her felony, ‘Passenger B’, both travelled to Invercargill and then to Queenstown.  A short 450km drive or “uneccessary detour” according to one member of the IFEG. (Irish French Expeditionary Group).

Main street, Invercargill.
A fantastic drive made much more interesting by the curiously named ‘Presidential Drive’ linking the small towns of Clinton and Gore.  On a longish road trip it certainly caused much speculation as to ‘why?’. But, dear reader, I am only keeping you from what I’m sure is the mounting excitement you will be feeling as we inch closer to Invercargill.

We arrived after two hours and one minute short of three hours.  Being a keen student of history and in particular the First World War it still shocks to discover that remote towns and hamlets such as those we passed through have their own war memorials and that the loss of life was far greater in WW1 as opposed to WW2.  A small gesture is to look for familiar surnames and I noted that ‘Rankin, A.L.’ didn’t return from the Second World War.   The Cenotaph in my city of dreams is no less moving .  I digress but before I return to the present a further monument to the effect of war captured my imagination.  In the centre of the town is a fabulously ornate war memorial which we both assumed was to those killed in the First War.  It turned out, on closer inspection, to be a commemoration of those New Zealanders killed in the South African Wars at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps the difference in style reflected the change in attitude.  Back to the story….

Memorial to those killed in South Africa
Invercargill is fantastic – if you like wide streets and art deco buildings.  Unfortunately it was a bank holiday Monday when we went so nothing was open; as one local wag in Wanaka put it, a few days later when I was buying a pair of padded cycling shorts,  ‘having lived there as a child I’m not sure as you’d notice the difference’.  Being lunchtime we tried with increasing frustration to find somewhere to eat or, lowering our gastronomic sights, have a coffee but we were thwarted until we found a burger joint (even McDonalds was closed (thank god)).  Looking at the menu and the various sizes and types of burgers it gave the 8 year old in me a great thrill to order “Two Bastards”.  And so they were.

At last, a dream come true.
I guess we spent a good 60 minutes in Invercargill – not that time was hanging heavy at all – and we left happy, contented and thankful at what we found.  One tick that I have been glad to make.

And so we left for Queenstown and the next stage of the odyssey.  Would it be bungee jumping?  Or paragliding?  Or perhaps a spot of skydiving?  The next installment is being written.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Christchurch, Camping and … Crime

This blog was written by Andrew from the living room (which is also the bedroom, kitchen and everything else room) of a two-man tent (Didn't think that was possible).



The AIEG (Anglo-Irish Expeditionary Group) arrived in Christchurch on St. Stephen’s Day after a long but uneventful flight from Heathrow via Singapore.  Very full flights, sporadic sleep and little turbulence;  ‘nuff said.


Christchurch, Canterbury.  A name that brings back happy memories for me of five years spent being educated in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral also known as Christ Church, Canterbury. 

However, the Christchurch where we spent the first four days of our trip now is a very different prospect.  Devastated by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 the city centre is an extraordinary place.  I have never been to a war zone or seen the aftermath of war apart from newsreels but the city centre is an aweful (Ed: ‘sic’ please as I mean a sight full of awe) sight.  Being laid out on a grid basis the extent of the destruction soon becomes clear:  cleared gaps between buildings that survived, intersections that are four razed areas and nothing else.  There is evidence of building everywhere with the steel skeletons of new structures to the fore so it is to be hoped that the spirit of this noble city will survive and thrive.  We enjoyed a two hour guided walk around the city and from our enthusiastic guide, learnt more than the guidebooks’ offering.  For example, 10% of the population of New Zealand fought in the First World War:  170,000 men of which 17,000 were either killed or wounded.  Like the small island to the west of New Zealand, Gallipoli and the ANZAC have become a significant part of the respective national identities.

After our few days in Christchurch, we met some of the IFEG (Irish French Expeditionary Force) at the airport where they arrived after a short flight from Auckland having travelled from Tahiti the previous day.  All looked well and relaxed and we left them to collect their campervan before we headed off to Akoroa and the camping section of the trip.

Camping.

Camping for some.
I’m sure there are as many reactions to this word as there are road kill possums on the road to Akoroa:  hundreds.  One member of our small group who will feature later in this blog for reasons that will become obvious, had set their mind against the idea of spending one, let alone three, nights in a tent.  Our camping gear (tent, mattresses, gas cooker and gas bottle, kitchen kit) were all delivered to the hotel in Christchurch two days previously and sat, large and forbidding, in the living area of the suite we had booked as if daring us to have a go and unpack the tent.  So we did.  Never people to resist a challenge, we started by trying to erect the flysheet thinking it was the main body of the tent.  How we laughed at our simple ways.  Luckily the carpeted floor preventing us from pegging the tent to the ground with the very efficient hammer that was part of the kitchen box.  We were quick to appreciate that all it needed was a degree of common sense and, as they say in the very French town of Akoroa, “voila!”

Off we set to Akoroa on the Bank’s Peninsular a mere 74km from Christchurch yet driving in NZ is not really to be measured in kph but hours.  But more of this later……

Camping for others...
The campsite was set above the town and having checked in with Francois we found our site which was opposite where the two campervans would be situated.  I’m not sure who had the better view.  Dear reader, how can I describe what happened next?  Let me describe the allocated area.  A square measuring 10x12m neatly sectioned off from the adjoining sites.  It had a power source (yes, dear reader) a power source which I was told when discussing the booking with Tina was necessary for the hair dryer.  Our neighbour’s set up was more like a (small) tented city that contained a sleeping area, a day area, a cooking area all in three separate tents, alongside which was parked their trailer (huge) and their 4WD wagon.  Our little two person tent looked modest in comparison and together with our hire car meant we had acres of space in which to play volleyball, practice archery or simply get lost in.  Feeling suitably self conscious we started to unpack the camping gear and get stuck into the erection process.  Simple we thought and it was – thanks to Jill, our new Best Friend.   After a minute of rising temperatures both climactically and emotionally, I ‘knocked’ on the flap of Jill’s tent and asked her if she had a hammer.  By this stage I had forgotten that a hammer was part of our kitchen kit (I don’t know about you but I don’t keep a hammer in my kitchen kit at home).  Jill was all smiles and quite obviously realised she was watching two ‘inexperienced campers’ at work. Barbara asked her if she knew how to put up such a small tent and she metaphorically rolled up her sleeves and set to work.  Within a matter of minutes she had all but put the tent up and left us to finish the job off. By the time the others arrived it was done deal and our tent looked a homely little place in the sun.  All our own work, ahem. 

Living in a campsite has its rituals.  The evening rush in the kitchen block where if one looks helpless enough, there will always be someone to offer advice whether this be how to use a microwave or the best way to get grease off a pan or to clean the BBQs.  After supper, and washing up, the next rush is for the shower/loo block.  Most people are settled down for the night by 10pm even thought there was still a tiny bit of light in the sky.  For those in their campervans, the drop in temperature is not as noticeable as for those in tents.  But snuggled in warm sleeping bags listening to the rain beating a tattoo on the fly sheet (correctly placed on the outside of the tent, thanks to Jill’s expertise) only added to sense of security and snugness. In fact it reminded me of Pink Floyd’s great song ‘Comfortably Numb’ .  In the morning, the first thing I noticed was the personal offering of the Dawn Chorus.  By this I do mean the birds and not the next door site waking up.  It was so loud that I thought half the avian population of Akoroa was perched on our guy ropes giving full voice to their cheerful, welcome to the day.  For me the best time of the day as about 6 am when the sun is just getting itself together and you can feel its warmth on the skin – and I could go on but it’s beginning to sound a bit like an Attenborough commentary.

And so three days of camping were enjoyed, endured and all I can say is dismantling a tent is a lot easier then mantling one!  If, dear reader, you are gagging to know about what we did in Akoroa then a separate blog will be posted.

the Canterbury Plains
Now, to Crime.  I know that the title of the blog will have whetted your appetite and perhaps you have come straight to this bit and missed out on the City and Country sections.  I have to report that a crime has been committed by one of this party of two and it wasn’t me, your honour.  Driving in NZ is boring.  Let me be more specific. Driving on the Canterbury Plains is boring and I apologise to any Cantabrians who might be reading this but face it, the countryside is flat, boring and endless.   In fact I’m reliably informed that Florida cloud patterns are more interesting.  The countryside is almost exclusively agricultural with evidence of sheep and cattle raising and some croppage.  Being a major source of rugby players, it has much in common with Connacht not only from a rugby perspective but also the shared heritage of farming.

No names mentioned...
The speed limit is 100kph which in a campervan is more then adequate since to get to 90kph takes a few minutes.  We started off for Dunedin from Christchurch which as about 280 kms.  All was going swimmingly well and we changed drivers after a couple of hours.  For the sake of anonymity let’s simply refer to the drivers as ‘A’ and ‘B’.  B took over the driving and A went to sleep.  It wasn’t a long sleep but despite it’s brevity, was a deep sleep.  Until, that is, I heard B saying that there were flashing blue lights behind the car and as it was the police, should she stop?  She did, quite quickly.  When the very young policeman (is this an international requirement?) came to the car, he asked where we were going and that he had stopped us for exceeding the speed.  When asked what speed she thought she was doing, B’s ‘defence’ was that she had been doing 120kph and that  she was used to driving at this speed in Ireland and, less convincingly I thought, that she wasn’t used to an automatic car.  Our friendly traffic cop said that he had been to Ireland much enjoyed it.  At this stage I thought the somewhat flimsy defence might stand up but my hopes were dashed on the altar of a Traffic Infringement Notice and although the charming TC said he would count the speed as 115kph and not the 117kph he had clocked B as doing, the fine was still $80NZ.  When B asked him if he would like to be paid there and then, I thought we were in real trouble.  But no, dear reader, the wonders of the interweb mean that fines can be paid on line or at a branch of the Westpac Bank (I like to think there is account named ‘Traffic Infringement Fines).  The worrying thing is that B had only been driving for 10 minutes!

Barbara temporarily ditches me for the camper van and the wine
And so in the space of the first week, we have experienced the resilience, friendliness and authoritarian nature of New Zealanders.  It’s a great place!

To be continued……

(P.S, Happy Birthday Barbara) 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Don't even begin to get your head around the time differences...

Tahiti

The last time we wrote we were all feeling very anxious about the air strike in Easter Island.  We all loved Easter Island but only quite realised how isolated it was when we feared to be stuck there for an indefinite time (some of the party were particularly glad as we now knew all 320 or so statues almost intimately)!   However, we were lucky as the air strike stopped the evening before our scheduled departure for Tahiti.  Everyone felt relieved, as it would not have been in order to mess up our schedule.  And so, on 21 December, the nine of us packed into the plane at 1:00 in the morning for a six-hour journey down to Tahiti.  We arrived at 1:20 in the morning and transferred quickly by taxi to the hotel we were to spend the next week in.  A certain amount of tension reigned while the three boys got their sleeping arrangements sorted (thank you Martha for tipping generously a hotel worker who brought a camp bed to allow for each of the boys to have their own bed). 

Moorea
The hotel was set in an idyllic place on the island.  We had a magnificent view out on the ocean opposite Moorea another one of the Polynesian islands.  We quickly set into a routine of enjoying a huge buffet breakfast (giving us a good idea as to why 60% of the islanders suffer from obesity) followed by swimming, snorkelling or simply lazing at one of the pool areas.  We had planned that this would be our relaxing week after the adventures on the Inca trail and Easter Island.  

Papeete Roulettes
On the second day we took a trip into Papeete, the capital of Tahiti.  It was of course completely out of sync with the hotel we were in and we all discovered a relatively poor city centre with the hustle and bustle of the locals who were selling their wares at the town’s marketplace.  Papeete looks like a city that suffers a lot from poverty and we had a rather sinister sensation that there might be some corruption present too.  The children were disappointed but most probably due to the stark difference they found between their idea of what a city should be like.  We had been advised to visit the “roulottes” to have our dinner.  After a walk around we went to the place of the roulottes beside the sea.  Eight or nine vans were transformed into food vans where lots of different foods were available.  Beside each van there were around 15 tables set.  The idea is to settle at one van and order the food from there.  If some of the party wanted to get food from another van they could do so and then come and join us.  We chose Chinese and the children had burgers or pizza and came to sit with us once the food was ordered.    We all enjoyed the family atmosphere surrounded by many locals.  There weren’t many tourists and we were happy to be sitting and somehow being “part of the family” for the evening.  Over the week we came into town several times to eat more simple food and to escape the idyllic hotel setting.  We spent Christmas there and were very lucky that Santy managed to track us down and deliver stockings for the five children! 

Jelly fish don't seem so bad now...
The Perrier family and John set off on the ferry one day to Moorea, the island opposite Tahiti.  We rented a car and set off to visit the island.  We managed to get a guy to take us out towards the reef so that we could swim with sharks and huge sting rays!  After some initial hesitation from Lucy and myself we joined the boys in the water and it was quite an incredible sensation to swim with these beasts.  The stingrays came rubbing themselves off us as if they were looking for cuddles.  Later on we went out a little further and again went into the water to admire some seven or eight statues that had been settled off the coast by the locals.  In the past the island was dotted with statues to worship the Gods of the time before the protestant missionaries arrived on the island.  When the missionaries began to convert the locals they insisted that the statues be destroyed (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!!) and they were knocked down and thrown into the sea.  Many years later the locals built these eight statues and planted them off the coast in memory of all the statues that had been destroyed.  We had a lovely day with stunning views and all went back to our hotel in Tahiti feeling satisfied with our day out.   Liam had spent his day diving after earning his divers certificate in cold Irish waters during the months that had preceded our trip. 


Papeete airport - one of the 5 McDonalds in all French Polynesia
We had a lovely relaxing week in Tahiti and were ready to move on when the 28th of December came around.  Bags were packed and we left at 8 am on the morning of 28th.  Six hours later it was midday on the 29th and we had arrived in Auckland, New Zealand.