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Not a bad night’s sleep in the Youth Hostel, once Kirsten had silenced the Dutch backpacker who decided just before midnight that she’d make a lengthy phone call from the corridor outside our room. (That sounds a bit sinister – we’re talking polite requests here, not body bags…)

Down to the spacious communal breakfast area for our muffins and fruit. Next to the Post Office on this end of the Burger King street; we tried various envelopes for size before settling for an A4 box which we stuffed with booklets, brochures and leaflets for all the touristy things we’ve done since we left North America – all to be stuck in a bigger scrapbook once we get home. Nearly three kilograms for $70, even at the super-extra-slow-economy rate, delivered some time within the next century by a team of sea-snails.

We cleared out of our room and returned to our car just before it turned into a pumpkin at 10am (well, when the free parking ran out) and set the SatNav for the Apex car rental depot. All very efficient there; we handed back the keys and they offered us a lift to the airport – no other formalities.

Since our flight was scheduled for 3.30pm, we had ample time in hand at Wellington Airport – indeed, the Qantas desks wouldn’t open until noon, a full hour after we got there. Time to get magazines for Kirsten and the girls, and I tracked down (at last) the Rough Guide to Australia – it’s generally Lonely Planets everywhere.

Another dent to the wallet as we were requested to pay a whopping $70 in departure fees. I thought they were a South American thing, with all other fees being included in the ticket price; I was clearly mistaken. We dropped off our hold luggage (two big rucksacks plus our new cool bag stuffed with fleeces) and sat in the departure lounge for a couple more hours. The one saving grace is that we got free internet access for our $70 (even if it wouldn’t let us upload any more photos – they are on the way, though…).

A nice cappucino.
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At around 3pm it was time for the self-loading freight (as I believe we passengers are termed); we had a block of three seats and one in front (Kirsten today) about half way down. We sat and waited. The take-off time came and went. Nothing happened. Then some barely-decipherable announcement that they needed to take all the hold luggage out to be weighed back in the terminal before reloading it all. We were never quite clear as to why.

In the meantime, a selection of humorous videos for our entertainment. I thought Mr Bean would have run his course by now, but here he was again. And his ‘suitcase packing’ episode does hold an extra resonance now that we have faced a similar situation (weighing items to the nearest gram). Although we never resorted to trimming our toothbrushes down to the head…

We took off perhaps three-quarters of an hour late, but favourable winds over the Tasman Sea would gain us half an hour to Australia, they cheerily informed us. A beautiful day in Wellington, with clear views from the window of such-and-such an island (I really can’t remember – anyone care to identify it?).
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The usual customs and immigration forms to complete in blue or black pen in your very best handwriting. Any fruit? We hurriedly scoffed our dried apricots and final banana. ‘Do you have any criminal convictions?’ Of course I didn’t stoop so low as to reply ‘I had no idea that it was still a requirement’.

An uneventful flight; a scattering of clouds below us, and featureless blue below the clouds. As we neared Sydney we were warned that we’d be stacking for a while – cloud and a light drizzle slowing things down there. Great – we drag the bad weather everywhere we go in Australasia…

So the final descent showed us little of the city’s magnificence (we recall the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in brilliant sunshine from our previous flight here), just grey suburbs once we came below cloud level ready to land.

We touched down at 5.45pm local time (watches go back two hours); just over two hours to reach our apartment in Ryde – would we make it? But fortunately things were exceedingly efficient: our quickest-ever baggage reclaim, no queues at the passport desk and hardly a pause at Customs where I flashed our bag of Freddos and fruit strings. I extracted a wad of Australian Dollars from an ATM and by 6.15pm we were in a taxi, our ‘ticket to Ryde’. And it was a relief to see big signs stating that cabbies should never approach us to solicit business – we still haven’t got over the Sucre scrum when they mobbed us, forcefully attempting to prise our bags from my grip.

The meter flicked up five cents every second, $20, $30, $40 – oh, and there would be an additional $12 charge for the airport fee and toll roads. Did we really once complain about paying £7 for a taxi in Bolivia? A glimpse of the Harbour Bridge to the east as we crossed the water, but otherwise more grey, wet suburbs in the rush hour. After perhaps half an hour we were there. $60 fare, plus $16 (he ‘remembered’ yet another toll). Ouch!

Yes, reception was still open so we got our key and dragged our seven bags up the stairs. Room 42. But who’s been sleeping in my bed? The sheets were dishevelled, dirty towels on the floor. ‘Er, that room hasn’t been serviced; do you have an alternative?’ ‘So sorry, yes, I’ll just check it first.’ So we traipsed down to Room 21 on the ground floor. Marginally smaller, but at least it’s ready for us.

I looked at TripAdvisor after we booked this place, and several of the comments made me uneasy. It looks like they’re spot on, yet again. The apartments are tatty and run-down with some items missing; the website is misleading (the promised washing machine is in a communal laundry); Ryde is a long way out from the city centre. It would rank in the middle of our South American accommodation – we had some better, some worse. But I suspect that a nice apartment in Sydney would be way beyond our budget – you get what you pay for.

One final gripe – there is WiFi internet access here, but it will cost us an outrageous £8.50 every time we wish to connect (you can only purchase three-hour blocks of time, which cannot even be used up bit by bit; the time runs out whether you’re on line or not).

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Back north

Our last day on the South Island and after showers, breakfast and final packing we left Kaikoura and headed back north.

The weather started off being slightly overcast but as we drove on it slowly cleared with a little sunshine.  The journey was pretty smooth, albeit windy at times and with several lorries and road works to slow us down.

Kaikoura mutant crayfish.
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After a little over an hour’s  journey we stopped at a picnic place just outside Ward (Opa’s town) for a mid-morning snack of biscuits and fruit strings.  Then Tim offered to drive the second half to Picton. 

As we neared the town I noticed the petrol light had come on, one of my main worries when driving,  and Tim happily drove past one or two petrol stations!  Fortunately, as we got closer to the ferry port we managed to top up the car with the minimum 2 litres – all to do with returning the car to Apex in Wellington with an empty tank.

Now that the fuel was sorted we could check in the car.  But where was the ferry?  Where were we meant to go?  We could actually see the ferry but couldn’t get to it.  We had ended up in the long-term/short-term car park!  Because we had been so focused on finding a petrol station, we had missed the one and only sign to the check-in point.   I suddenly spotted a queue of cars behind the station, so we drove back past the petrol station and turned right across the railway line and joined the queue with still 20 minutes to spare.  (If you miss your check-in time you automatically lose your place!)

Once we had parked our car on Deck 5A we headed up the stairs and settled ourselves in the family area again.  We had our jam sandwiches in the car whilst waiting to drive onto the boat, but we were still feeling a little peckish so I went to buy a couple of sandwiches and muffins to share.

The crossing was very smooth, but seemed to take forever.  There were lots of families with screaming tired little children, a clown to entertain them for a good half hour (Ellen came back with a balloon in the shape of a giraffe) and two television screens showing Disney Channel (Mickey Mouse and The Little Mermaid) or the Oprah show.

It was gone 4.30pm before we drove off the ferry and into Wellington.  Within ten minutes we had parked at New World supermarket, which is pretty much opposite the Youth Hostel.  We checked in, received our key and found out about the post office (just around two corners) and clothes recycling (we could leave our bag with old clothes in a box on our floor and YHA staff will sort it out).

We left our two bags in our room and went to park the car at the waterfront.  If you park at the other side of the swimming pool, it’s free until 10am tomorrow morning.  We managed to find the last parking space and walked back towards the hostel. 

Whilst Tim and the girls carried on, I popped into the supermarket to buy a little food for breakfast and lunch (muffins, rolls, ham, fruit and dried apricots – pretty healthy!).

Tim quickly checked emails and then we all went in search of Burger King, we had promised the girls we would eat out there when back in Wellington.  We opted for a “midnight feast” again, and there were no left overs and even room for a small dessert.  There was a lot of to do about Ellen preferring her 60c ice cream in a cup rather than a cone.  We were told to buy her a $2.30 ice cream in a cup, although the customers in front of us were allowed to buy a 60c ice cream in a cup!  Anyway, after we pointed that out to the staff we were offered a tiny cup, which happened to be exactly the right size for Ellen.

Back at the hostel we made our way to the “lounge”, two comfy sofas and a coffee table where we sat for over half an hour reading, blogging and playing lonpos (12 puzzle pieces to be put in a rectangle – sounds easier than it is).

At about 8.30pm we retreated to our bedroom and got the girls ready for bed.  Time for me to write today’s entry and for Tim to update the blog with other recent entries.

View from our hostel window.
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Not a very early start tomorrow.  Our flight isn’t until mid-afternoon, so that should give us enough time to visit the post office (send home leaflets) and return the car.

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Trash Fashion

It was good to see the sun again today. We spent much of the morning in the garden, the girls sketching flowers while the adults were hatching plans.

Shortly after lunch we decided to make the most of the fine weather and walk into town along the South Bay Track. This looks straighforward enough on the map, but we discovered that it involved quite an ascent and subsequent descent to traverse the breadth of the peninsula. Lovely scenery and all good exercise; the girls’ initial grumbles (why didn’t we drive?) soon wore off.
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On the north side we walked down to the pebbly shore and failed to skip stones on the water (too many waves).

Chameleon Ellen blending into the background…
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Then west along the esplanade with its side streets – Margate, Ramsgate, Brighton and Yarmouth. Into the i-Site where Hannah and Ellen each bought a bookmark (one with the Moeraki boulders at dawn) before a welcome sit-down in the library (no WiFi here, though).
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We (well, Hannah) couldn’t pass a shop/gallery called ‘Trash Fashion’ without looking inside; as you might expect, it was full of recycled items of clothing, some for sale and some just for display – past entries for an annual themed competition inviting creations made entirely from discarded materials. No, not simply material, but materials. So we saw bottle-top skirts, toothbrush bras, fabric woven from old video tape, and Hannah’s favourite which was a wedding dress composed of old bras and petticoats. All very creative and (by and large) skilfully executed. We weren’t encouraged to take photos but I don’t see the harm in giving them a bit of publicity.
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Another rest in the Why Not Cafe for some much-needed refreshment and then to Paper Plus where we stocked up with diaries for the girls – we reckon Ellen will fill four of her half-picture half-text exercise books by the time we reach the end of our trip while Hannah will need two of her narrower-lined books.

We then continued looping along the main road (SH1) and back to South Bay; a long walk in total, perhaps three or four miles. We’ve lost the habit of going by foot since South America, but it’s reassuring to know we haven’t completely regressed to couch-potatodom since then.

Back around 4.30pm, after which the girls had a bath (yes, there’s a bath here) and we prepared our final home-cooked New Zealand meal – sausages and mash. We’re packing tonight, but this time it’s serious – in other words, packing for our next flight. Time to slim down ruthlessly from our bootful of belongings to six bags and no more. Leaflets to post home, clothes to leave at a charity shop, food to leave for the next visitor here.
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We had a poor night’s sleep (always seems to be the way after having restful days) but dragged ourselves up at 8am for final packing, cleaning and departure. Our first stop was a shopping centre to the south-west of Christchurch, recommended by Christine, and here I successfully replaced my tatty and stained microfleece with its broken zip. So what? Well, I’d just about given up on finding such a garment in New Zealand, and this represents my first new item of clothing in nearly six months of travelling (bar the hat from Cusco). That’s a clothing budget for me of about 13 pence per day so far (about the same as at home, then…)

We pressed on to Hanmer Springs a good hour and 40 minutes away, stopping for lunch (a savoury muffin followed by cake) in Culverden, half an hour before our destination. On arrival we were lucky enough to find a free parking space near the entrance to the Springs, but the vast numbers of cars foretold something of a scrum inside. We paid our $35 family admission, got changed, stowed our belongings in a fancy computerised $2 locker and picked a random hot pool to begin with. It seems that each pool has a unique temperature and chemical composition, and we started off with the 33C with sulphur, sodium and magnesium (presumably not in their pure elemental forms). Don’t put your face in the water, we were warned at every turn, and even when I floated on my back a ‘lifeguard’ came over to tell me (via Kirsten) to find another non-mineral pool or else keep my ears out of the water.

We sampled various aquatic environments, including the rock-and-concrete-lined ‘river’ connecting some of the pools and the three large and hot hexagonal tubs bearing a barely-humorous sign saying ‘beware of the honey bees’.
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The girls particularly enjoyed the cooler children’s pool with a little crocodile water slide – just the thing to boost their confidence, especially when Ellen managed it on her own without needing me to catch her at the bottom of the chute.
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Yes, it was all so much busier than last time, not just the Springs but the whole settlement which now offers bungy jumping and the full range of thrill-seekers’ activities. A shame – I don’t want to see the whole country turned into a giant Queenstown.

We spent two hours in the water (the time limit of our locker code), then emerged, got changed and had an ice cream. It began to rain and we continued our car journey to Kaikoura under dark skies along mountainous and twisting roads, arriving around 6.20pm.

Our penultimate stay is called The Kiwi Bach (no, it’s not the former residence of some talented Antipodean composer) and its slightly dog-eared, quirky charm is typical of so many seaside holiday homes here. The variety of accommodation here has been fun – many have had their little shortcomings but at least we haven’t been stuck in a series of nondescript and indistinguishable motel rooms. We’ve had the tree in the house (Motueka), the house in the trees (Punakaiki), the smart new fully-equipped townhouse (Christchurch) and the tatty old bach with no storage and water restrictions (Hot Water Beach). Kiwi Bach has lopsided curtains for some reason (i.e. they don’t meet in the middle of the window), moths in the bathroom and a fine sea view.

I met up with the owner (who lives two doors down) to settle up for our two nights here and then we drove into town to find somewhere to eat. Now we stayed in Kaikoura during our previous trip but apart from a walk along the beach in a gale we have zero recollection of anything else here. Scary to find one’s memory failing so spectacularly; you tend to think that it all gets stored away somewhere and with the right trigger it’ll all come back to you. It’s as if we’ve never been here before, and the beach episode may be down to a snippet of video we took rather than the original experience.

Anyway, we found The Black Rabbit Pizza Co. on the main road and ordered a Hawaiian pizza, garlic bread and spaghetti (well, tagliatelle as it turned out) with venison mince. Not a lot of ambience – no tablecloth or candlelight – just benches and a basic slatted wooden table for those strange customers (such as ourselves) who didn’t want a takeaway meal. Still, the food was good and more than enough to fill us up; even Hannah (who is not a great pizza fan) was impressed.

It should be a pleasant sunny day tomorrow – not sure we’ll be whale-watching, but we can get outside for a change.

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Doldrums

Nothing hugely negative here, just a personal impression of being becalmed, no wind in my sails, lacking momentum as we approach the end of our time in New Zealand. Perhaps it comes down to the weight of expectation we imposed on this country; a sort of Obama effect, we had such unrealistically high hopes that it couldn’t possible live up to them (through no fault of its own). Our trip divides roughly into five two-month chapters, and after the newness and challenges of North and South America we were to have a comfortable, familiar, restful time here showing the girls all the things we love about New Zealand, before heading off into the unknowns of Australia and South-East Asia.

But I wasn’t prepared for the significance of the shift from exploration to expectation as the dominant theme; that if you have been somewhere before you *can’t* simply switch off your recollection of ‘last time’ – there’s an automatic comparison going on constantly, however much you remind yourself that you can’t step twice into the same river.

So the dismal grey summer here (it’s the coldest January on record, they reckon) wouldn’t bother me nearly so much had we not basked in warm, sunny days before; we wouldn’t have known what we were missing in the deluge in Milford Sound but for the clear views we had last time; the merely moderate tourist crowds are only irksome because of the comparative solitude we remember from nine years ago.

Perhaps it’s to do with wanting the girls to enjoy the country as much as we did – they missed out first time around, and any disappontment I now feel is on behalf of them rather than myself. The irony is that the girls themselves are experiencing everything afresh, quite happily accepting things just the way they are…

This ear-and-throat virus is still hanging around me after a good two weeks and I’ll be glad to be shot of it – yes, it’s probably painting the world greyer than it really is. Time for the therapeutic effect of a dose of Sydney sunshine and a country bigger than Western Europe to explore – and all of it new to all of us.

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I was woken up at ten past four this morning by an unpleasant sound and thought one of the girls wasn’t feeling well.  It turned out that the neighbours’ guests were only just leaving! 

When we first arrived here, Caroline had warned us about noisy neighbours who had had parties the last two nights prior to our arrival.  She even looked up a phone number we could call anonymously in case we get disturbed.  I must say that we have been absolutely fine, with only the occasional thumping of music.  Let’s hope it will stay like that for our last night tonight…

After breakfast we gathered up our things to take to Christine and Rod; i.e. spade, little rucksacks and home made biscuits and arrived in South Brighton shortly after 10am.

Almost immediately I managed to get through to my parents via Skype.  As always it was lovely to see them and catch up on each others’ news.  The girls loved putting the headphones on and having a chat with Oma and Opa, it had been quite a while since they last spoke.

Whilst talking to my parents, Christine had layed out her best china cups (so Denise, your daughter *does* get those cups and saucers out every now and again!) and made a lovely pot of coffee.  The grown-up sat around the table enjoying their coffee with a slice of freshly home made marble cake.

Little Oliver joined us at the table, while his big brother Alex, Hannah and Ellen watched “Finding Nemo” in the lounge.  Oliver was really fighting sleep but after a good hour was more than ready for his morning nap.

I don’t know Christine all that well, so it was lovely to spend some more time getting to know her and her family.  It was interesting to hear that she too finds it hard to teach her boys Flemish/Dutch when based in an English speaking environment.  We both find it impolite to speak our own language in front of our friends, but at the same time really want our children to be able to communicate in Flemish/Dutch with their family and friends in Belgium.  Any advice here would be more than welcome…

Tim finished checking emails, uploading our blog and noting down our first address in Australia (thanks Christine for letting him use the computer), the girls finished watching the film, and all too soon it was time to say goodbye to two lovely little boys and Rod & Christine.

We returned home for a lunch of crackers and cheese and another peaceful, relaxing afternoon.  Later on Tim had the brilliant idea of visiting the local park and playground.  It was great to get some fresh air and let off some steam, kiddies as well as grown-ups.
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After our afternoon snack, Hannah offered to get our supper on the go.  She oiled the baked potatoes and, under close supervision, put them in the oven and then made the topping of tuna/mayonnaise.  We even had to phone her restaurant and book a table!

The usual routine after supper of tidying up and writing diaries, followed by getting ready for bed and reading time.

Tim and I have done most of our packing and made a good start on cleaning the house.  Not much left to do tomorrow morning and we’ll have until 11am to finish before heading up north to Kaikoura via Hanmer Springs.

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Fallow day

We all managed to have a slightly earlier night yesterday and all felt a lot fresher this morning.  On the way back home from Akaroa yesterday afternoon we all voted for a quiet day today – so if you’re after excitement you might need to look somewhere else …

Every so often during this trip I realise that if we were to go on a short holiday, lets say, 1 – 2 weeks, we would pack in as many sights, walks and activities as possible.  But when you’re travelling for a little over 10 months you’ll need a lot of stamina to keep this up.  Well, we find that pretty hard and we wouldn’t do that if we were to stay at home during the holidays.  Therefore we all agreed to stay at home today and do “homely” things like reading, watching videos (and rubbish tv) and baking and decorating yummy biscuits.

We did venture out this morning though, just around a couple of corners to the nearby Eastgate shopping centre.  The girls and I are still in search of a light cardigan and Tim desperately needs to replace his microfleece.  We popped into Warehouse and had no trouble finding the three cardigans (grey, light pink and fuchsia), at last, but finding a microfleece seems quite a challenge.  I think we’ll try again in Australia, but then again, the weather over there has been pretty hot lately, so I doubt he’ll need it!

Tomorrow is our very last full day in Christchurch and our plan is to take some of our homebaked biscuits to Christine, Rod and the boys, who have invited us for morning coffee.  We will also pass on our spade, which we bought at Hot Water Beach, as I don’t think we’ll be allowed (or want) to take it on the plane with us.  The girls have also agreed to pass their free Air Tahiti rucksacks to Alex and Oliver.  Instead Hannah and Ellen will be using some cotton shoulder bags I had been given with some of my purchases.  I thought they would be reluctant to give up the little rucksacks but fortunately I had something to replace them with, *and* the bags are more grown-up.

One more thought : whilst travelling it is so easy to just try and concentrate on things to see or do and you lose track of the people you’re with.  Today was a time to simply *be* together with lots of hugs and cuddles.  “Alles mag, niks moet”; freely translated as “everything is allowed, nothing has to be done” – I just *love* those days!

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