Another photobook

https://www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/0b937b5d-672d-4601-9408-009f3e47bed5

 

Landscapes

photobook-landscapes

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Photobooks

We have now produced a series of photobooks covering the trip.

The first three volumes consist of the daily blog entries with accompanying photographs.

The other volumes are themed.

Albelli now produce an online version of the photobooks, available from volume 3 of the blog.

The links are:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/0ffa7d87-0a8e-4bb8-8149-68f8d519cd32

Animals

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/62fced17-aa28-4816-8348-a5b238a5192d

Birds

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/b0b39be2-6ad6-42e6-a1da-d0ec3d2e563b

Historical Sites

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/705f3ef3-4431-4e3e-8d7c-763d3005bb7d

Plants

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/68f9b048-8bb1-4ecb-b168-b1d99877331f

Sunsets

www.albelli.co.uk/view-online-photo-book/a377bca6-0329-4556-806f-08e0961132bc

 

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Christmas Letter photographs.

DSC09220

Australia. Christmas Tree, Cairns.

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The last post (for now)

Saturday 7th March 2015. Day 181 Circle closing

Nothing from National Express as to which ticket to use, we must wait until we reach Heathrow Central Bus Station to sort this one out.

Awake at 7.15am and breakfast at 8.15 am. We had nothing planned for the day and as checkout was 1.00pm we took our time in packing in the air conditioned bedroom. After checking out we left our luggage and headed for the next air conditioned haven the restaurant we had used yesterday. Lunch of Fillet Mignon, a lemon tea and a café latte concocted from a straight coffee and a cup of hot milk, kept us in the cool until 3.45pm when we returned to the hotel to make final adjustments of clothing and then we waited on the balcony for the taxi to arrive at 5pm. We were therefore more than a little surprised to be told at 4.20pm that the taxi had arrived. Thankfully we were ready and by 4.50pm found ourselves in the check in area looking for the TAP desks, of which there was no immediate sign. Airport information pointed towards the far end of the hall where a short queue stood patiently in front of unlabelled desks. Eric checked the whole hall again and then asked two passengers at the end of the line if they were queuing for the TAP flight. They confirmed they were so we joined the nascent queue. By 5.20pm there were signs of life behind the desks and confirmatory signs appeared. Individual check in seemed to take a long time but eventually we reached the desk and were delighted to find they had seats for us through to Heathrow as scheduled.

Passing through passport control and security took very little time, as there were no queues, and we made ourselves comfortable by gate 25. Having spied a money exchange booth Eric went off to find a toilet to allow him to discreetly access the Tahitian money stowed in the body belt. Frustrated at first by only finding Ladies he eventually found a Gentleman’s toilet upstairs in the café area and transferred the Francs to a pocket. Descending to the ground floor he tentatively proffered the franc notes. The lady teller went through the usual routine of looking at each note as if they were something the cat dragged in but gallantly went into her computer system and verified that these strange notes were legal tender and could be exchanged for dollars. The transaction completed she confided that this was her first time with exchanging this currency.

Eric returned happily to Joyce who then went off to search for the Hagen Dazs ice cream kiosk Eric had spotted upstairs, she duly found and enjoyed a chocolate chip ice cream. Boarding time came and went with an influx of transit passengers from our flight which had arrived from Bogotá. Eventually the plane was ready for us and we boarded around 8.15pm with take off a good 25 minutes late.

Dinner and a film, Angels and Demons, later we settled for some sleep around 11.00pm.

 

Sunday 8th March 2015. Day 182 Lisbon lacuna

The cabin lights came on around 4.00am, equating to 9.00am Lisbon and London time. Breakfast swiftly followed and we landed in Lisbon around 11.00am. A coach took us to the terminal where, as transit passengers, we only had a relatively short wander to gate 47A.

Due to board at. 12.00pm an announcement was made that there was a delay for essential maintenance. Visions of missing our coach connection flashed through our minds but thankfully the deadly was only 15 minutes before we were bussed to our aeroplane. Once aboard, the two hour flight went quite quickly and we arrived within our scheduled landing time, although we were then stacked, making us 25 minutes late in landing, at just before 4.00pm. Although the passport queues were short for Heathrow, using the e-passport system put Eric straight through, but the system did not work for Joyce, however, she was able to go straight to the support desk. The luggage appeared quickly and, following the signs with two lift journeys, we were in the central bus station by 4.30pm. Eric went to discuss the ticketing issue with the desk staff and a helpful lady printed out the tickets and let him telephone customer services to discuss which of the two tickets to use. It was decided to use the one we had been given, hopefully allowing us to reclaim the money on the other. In the end this turned out to be moot as the coach driver did not ask to see any tickets. The coach left at 5.10pm and the journey was uneventful, although we were delayed by a diversion to avoid a problem on the M4. The coach reached Chepstow at 7.25pm and Merv, the taxi driver who had driven us in September, was waiting for us and we were home in St Arvans by 7.40 pm. A light supper was possible through the kind offices of Clare, Ed and Marina, who had laid in essential supplies.

 

Monday 10th March

‘No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until they come home and rests their head on their old, familiar pillow.’

Lin Yutang

 

A late awakening after a good night’s sleep in our own bed. Getting back on line proved to be an hassle, but eventually, after a long phone call, the mobile WiFi was topped up. An email check revealed that National Express have agreed to the refund on the single ticket and we are more than happy with this gesture of good will. We now faced mountains of washing and six month’s post, valiantly screened and kindly delivered by Clare and Ed. The good news is that cars started after standing on the drive all this time, the bad news was the boiler appeared to have packed up during the day. In the end this turned out to be a gas failure and the boiler was working again by the middle of the evening. A trip to Tesco gave us the basis of sustenance for the next few days before heading off again to catch up with family and friends. It has been strange to be here without Yangzi, who is still sojourning with Clare and Ed.

 

‘We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.’

Hilaire Belloc

 

‘Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience’

Francis Bacon

 

‘Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.’

Ernest Hemingway

 

The trip has been a truly amazing experience and we have seen and done so much. It is still hard to take in what we have done and it will take some time to process our memories, especially the over 128 GB of photographs and movies.

 

‘Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.’

Susan Sonntag

 

We thank the loyal followers of our all too intermittent musings and reports and apologise for the failure to publish more pictures, a job too far at the end of the day.

 

‘Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.’ Benjamin Disraeli

 

In Summary

Souvenirs we said we would not buy: 33 (all very small, honest)

Bookings, mostly made before we left:

79 units of accommodation plus 2 with friends

31 tours

19 commercial flights

4 tourist flights

6 coach transfers

24 taxi journeys

3 rail transfers

8 hired cars over 99 days

In total our journey had 61 travel links and we travelled in excess of 51,830 miles, more than twice round the world, of which Eric drove 11,645 miles and we flew 36,959 miles.

The blog records over 99,000 words.

It has been a real blessing that over the past 6 months, apart from the odd hiccup, irritating rather than critical, all the bookings we made worked as we expected. Although there was always a worry factor at each stage we were very happy with all the arrangements.

 

“A person travels the world over in search of what they need and returns home to find it.”

― George Moore, The Brook Kerith

 

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Five steps to home

We are just packing up after our last night in Panama City and thing up loose ends, including catching up with publishing the blog. We fly with TAP to Lisbon at 2020 tonight and should be back in London at 1525 on Sunday. If the coach tickets are sorted we should be in Chepstow at 1910 where a taxi should be waiting to take us home.

Here is the latest update.

Thursday 26th February 2015. Day 172 Chile connection

Awake at 7.00am we expedited the packing, carefully checking weights of hold and hand baggage and working out what sleight of hand might be required if hand luggage was weighed. Final washing up and disposal of rubbish achieved we sat and waited for Ricardo who was to take us and our luggage the short distance to the airport terminal. He arrived in good time and we were soon checking in, having said our farewells. Traversing the x-ray hurdle we joined the short queue for our usual economy seats. The hold luggage passed the weight test and hand luggage remained unchecked. Although scheduled for 1.10pm today the flight apparently would leave at 1.40pm, so we had a good 90 minutes to sit in the check in area, watching the waves of people pass through to check in, and reading.

Eventually we received the call to enter the departure lounge. As this was an internal flight we had no need for passport control or more security checks. Once aboard we settled into our seats and as we took off had our final view of the island as the coast slipped away beneath us and the plane headed resolutely eastwards over the rest of the Pacific.

The flight was uneventful with a meal and in flight entertainment, Muppets and Frozen, keeping us amused. The coastline of Chile appeared beneath, with the Andes beyond us and soon we turned to make the final approach to the airport. We landed just after 8.30pm, still in daylight. Trekking to the baggage reclaim area we waited a good while for our luggage to appear on the carousel and it was almost 9.30pm when we headed for the exit. In his innocence Eric had thought that booking a shared minibus seat would ensure a problem free pick up, with someone waiting to guide us to our transport and he had neglected the simple backup of printing the reservation confirmation. Next time he will remember to pack a printer for such eventualities. The lack of this vital piece of paper led to a frustrating time, as did his inability to speak Spanish. Nobody seemed to be expecting us at either the company’s desk in arrivals nor at the minibus stand outside. Eventually Eric was able to negotiate a place on a minibus which, on review, cost only a little more  than the prebooked price.

It was now almost 10.00pm and the minibus headed along the motorway towards the city. Having dropped off two other passengers it became obvious that, despite the gps, the driver had become a little disorientated. Eventually we were deposited at the Bella Vista apartments and after a little discussion with the porter, who had enough English to be useful, an envelope was found with our name on it. Using the key inside we found our way to our apartment where we fell into bed, despite not having any dinner and, in our real time, it was only 9.15pm. The room felt pretty warm so we were glad of the fan to aid sleeping.

 

Friday 27th February 2015. Day 173. Santiago simply

We did not enjoy a particularly good night’s sleep as, although we were on the 6th floor, being back in a large city, and the party quarter, with clubs and restaurants, to boot, we found the noise unsettling. We dragged ourselves up, without a proper breakfast, and Eric headed off to the office to settle the bill for our stay. The good news was they accepted credit cards, the bad news was we were to pay a dollar rate and the dollar was strong against the peso. Once the bill was settled and advice given about local amenities Eric rejoined Joyce and we then headed out to explore our immediate environs, with the aim of finding a supermarket.

The lack of breakfast was taking its toll and Eric has to come clean to his devoted reader that we settled for brunch in the American Embassy, McDonald’s. The inner person satisfied we pushed on and investigated some supermarkets where we made basic purchases to cover breakfasts, lunches and one evening meal. Eric was happier with the pricing system having now gained a handle on the exchange rate and accepting that the $ sign meant pesos and the apparent decimal point was in fact a thousand separator. The second supermarket we visited provided us, and the staff, with some entertainment as we navigated the system that involved ordering an item, leaving it with the assistant, taking a chit to the cashier, then bringing proof of payment back to reclaim the goods, all enlivened by the fact that the fresh food then had to be weighed and go through the same rigmarole.

We carried our spoils back to the apartment and took stock. We were able to Skype briefly with Andy and Annabel and then headed out at 4.00pm for our first tourist visits in the immediate locale. We first looked for a tourist office where we booked a tour to Valparaiso for Monday, the day most tourist sites are closed in the city. Outside a street vendor, selling knitted finger puppets, caught our attention and we were attracted enough to buy some of his wares. We then found the Patio Bellavista, with its restaurants and shops. Joyce enjoyed an Italian ice cream while Eric used the ATM. We again attempted to change our Tahitian money but the agent just looked at it and smiled as he passed it back.

Having enjoyed the refreshment we headed further along the street, past numerous restaurants and cafes with their street tables. Reaching the foot of Cerro San Christobal we turned east to find the Santiago house, ‘La Chascona’, of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning poet, which is now a museum. It proved a fascinating warren of structures built at different times, initially for his lover, then as a home for them both. It is furnished with an eclectic range of furniture, household fittings and art and very much reflects his individual taste.

From here we returned to the foot of Cerro San Christobal and rode the funicular to the top, Eric having no trouble in convincing the ticket lady that he was eligible for the Senior rate. The journey up was quick, taking us up 300 metres vertically along a 500 metre track with one intermediate stop for the zoo, and we stood on the balcony to enjoy the view over the city, catching glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the smog. Joyce declined the invitation to join Eric in a stroll to the very top, remaining seated in the amphitheatre, the hill, at 880 metres, is crowned with a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which on its 8 metre pedestal, stands 22metres above the summit.

On the descent we stopped for a drink before passing the Tudor Hall, which houses the machinery for the funicular. A swift descent on the funicular and short walk brought us home just after 7.00pm and we enjoyed ham rolls and coffee for supper. The daytime temperature of about 25C had been comfortable and opening the balcony doors drew in the cooler evening air so that we did not need the fan on overnight.

 

Saturday 28th February 2015 Day 174   Santiago sampler

Another noisy night meant that neither of us were enthusiastic to get up this morning. We eventually roused ourselves and after breakfast we headed off to the nearby metro station to enjoy the challenge of another public transport system. The experience proved remarkably straightforward as it is a flat rate to travel, which can be accessed by purchasing a ticket on the station or by buying a BIP (beep) travel card. We opted for the former and soon found ourselves on a L5 train bound for the Plaza de Armas, two stops away. Eric got confirmation of his senior status when a young lady offered him her seat, an offer quickly refused. The ride was very smooth as these trains run on rubber wheels.

On reaching the Plaza, quite busy on a Saturday morning, we admired the northern façade comprising the Central Post Office, National History Museum and Municipal Offices. We then visited the Baroque Cathedral, dating from 1745. It has an impressively long navel, with a lantern over the altar.

From the Cathedral we found Museum of Pre-Colombian History and spent a happy two hours, including a coffee break, exploring the archaeological remains of the Andean cultures, reminding us of old friends such as the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs and Maya from Mexico, the Ecuadorean cultures and the Chauvin, Chimu, Nava and Inca from Peru. Also included was a fascinating subterranean display on Chilean prehistory which included some more pieces from Easter Island, as well as introducing us to new cultures such as the Mapuche, who survived both the Incas and the Spanish while embracing the opportunities offered by the introduction of the horse.

Lunch, on a bench in the Plaza, was accompanied by the distant drumming of two one man bands and the oration of an itinerant preacher. After lunch we looked for the church of San Domingo, only being able to admire the façade, before retracing our steps past the Museum. The Art Deco style is well represented by some of the major buildings in this vicinity. Once past the Museum we were able to view the Courts of Justice, the old Congress building and the Palacios Larrain Zanartu. The latter has been gutted, leaving only a façade, and the interior within the surrounding walls used for market and shopping units. As we left the Palacios we passed more Art Deco architecture in the form of bank buildings. A short stroll brought us to the Presidential Palace, Palace de la Moneta, fronted by the Plaza de la Constitution. Police were very much in evidence, as they had been throughout our tour, but Joyce felt far less intimidated than during her first visit 35 years ago, during Pinochet’s dictatorship.

A walk along the exterior brought us a good view of the Intendencia Metropolitan followed by the Palacios Ariztia, the University of Chile and the Club de la Union. Crossing the wide street we visited the church of St Francis which is a fine basilica built with large stone blocks and extended using brick. The ceiling, lantern and interior decorations are Baroque.

The attached museum being closed we headed for the nearest metro station, Santa Lucia, opposite the fine National Library. The queue for tickets was fairly long and each transaction ahead of us seemed to involve a great deal of discussion and toing and froing of travel cards and money. Eventually it was our turn, a relatively quick transaction for 2 tickets, although the myopic ticket seller did make a meal of producing the required change. In the coins Eric was introduced a 5 peso coin, which had not appeared before.

The metro, soon returned us to our starting point and after a brief stop to replenish drink supplies, the change from which introduced Eric to yet another new coin, the 1 Peso, we returned to our apartment by 5.00pm in time to Skype Andy and Lucy. Joyce prepared dinner of chicken, baked potato and vegetables and we enjoyed putting our feet up, for the evening.

 

Sunday 1st March 2015. Day 175 Santiago summery

We slept better and were up by 8.00 am, our first visit this morning was to Santiago Community Church for the 10.30 am service. This church serves the English speaking community of Santiago and is conveniently located near the Metro station of Tobalaba. We took a little longer to travel than we had expected and arrived just after the service had begun. The liturgy was a traditional Eucharist and the American Pastor delivered the Word on the job specification of discipleship.

We reboarded the metro and headed back into the city centre to visit the museum opened in 2010 to record the events and outcomes of the years of the Pinochet military Junta from 1973 to 1990. An audio guide helped us navigate the galleries and we spent 2 hours understanding the impacts of the period. The museum is housed in a purpose built structure which is light and airy, belying its brutal contents.

After a picnic lunch outside the museum we strolled around the nearby park with the Natural History museum set on one side. We felt rather museumed out and merely admired the façade with its moai. Taking the metro again we stopped at the Bella Artes station and visited the Bella Artes gallery, which had splendid glass dome roof and an interesting display of statues. The remaining contents were something of a disappointment and did not detain us long. From the gallery we sought out the Basilica Santo Domingo, which was shut up and covered with graffiti . We were then set another of the dilemmas between ice cream and a hill climb, solved as before with Eric combing Santa Lucia while Joyce visited an ice cream parlour.

A walk through the Parque Forestal brought us to our accommodation and after a short rest we walked the short distance to the Patio Bellavista where we browsed the souvenir shops before enjoying an entrecote in a French restaurant. During the evening Eric tried to activate our National Express open return ticket but could not activate the calendar beyond December 2014, which led to an email being sent to enquire the reason.

 

Monday 2nd March 2015. Day 176 Valparaiso views

We had booked a tour to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso with a pick up at 8.00am so the alarm roused us at 6.30am. The minibus arrived on time and transferred us to a coach at a nearby hotel car park which took to the tunnel under the centre of the city towards Route 68. This in turn traversed two further tunnels under the ridges of the coastal ranges, the first into the Curacavi valley with a town of the same name and the second into the Casablanca valley with its eponymous town. On entering the latter valley with its extensive vineyards we stopped for a toilet stop before pressing on to Vina del Mar.

Our first stop was to admire the floral clock, with its Swiss mechanism, on the seafront and our second to few the copy of Rodin’s ’Thinker’ recently donated to the city by one of its entrepreneurial sons. Also in the area was the Naval Academy with a very impressive display of naval weaponry. Our third stop was to admire anther moai in front of the local museum and a visit to a lapis lazuli showroom where we particularly admired the tiny penguin statues.

Lunch followed at a very nice restaurant at a very nice price with both enjoying the spaghetti Bolognese. Having completed the meal the coach took us into Valparaiso itself, past the University and up into the hills with the extensive buildings surviving from the heyday of the city, the end of the 19th century, before the Panama canal robbed it of trade. The buildings, in a variety of contemporary European styles, share one thing in common, the extensive use of corrugated iron for cladding and roofing. We drove up on to the steep hills above the port, past Pablo Neruda’s second house, another museum, with an extensive mural celebrating his roots in southern Chile particularly the Mapuche people.

We were dropped off on one of the streets and began a walk down hill towards the sea, giving us a chance to admire the architecture and decorations of the house, often with murals. On reaching one of the funicular termini we descended to the port and walked along the commercial street, with imposing stone built buildings, originally financial institutions but some now housing the Chilean Navy. Reaching the dockside through a pair of imposing towers we embarked on an ex fishing boat, one of many tied up or offering harbour tours. We spent 30 minutes on the water admiring the antics of the local seals which used flats topped buoys as sleeping platforms, as well as the floating dry dock, the container port and the Chilean naval vessels.

Once back on dry land a short tour of the souvenir stalls brought us to our coach which returned us to Santiago. On the way back into the city we saw remnants of the marginal shanty towns, now being redeveloped.

A shuttle bus took us to our hotel where we finished off our grocery stock for supper before packing. We had received an email from National Express which told us our so called open return was only valid for three months and therefore we could no longer use it as planned. Eric immediately began an email conversation challenging this and asking for a refund while buying a single ticket to ensure we could get back to Chepstow. He also booked the taxi to take us from the coach stop to St Arvans.

 

Tuesday 3rd March 2015   Day 177 Santiago segue

The taxi company was due to collect us at 8.40am and we were outside on the pavement with our belongings at 8.30am. When nothing had appeared by 9.00am Eric went to the concierge to request a phone call to the company. Just as the call was made the minibus pulled up. The transfer to the airport, via the sub city tunnel, was relatively fast and we pulled up at the taxi office to pay. There was some confusion as we had not been able to use the booked service when we arrived and they tried to charge us for it, and then the full price for a single transfer. In the end they accepted the reduced fare and we arrived at International Departures by 9.40am, only to find that COPA airlines were not listed on the check in boards. Fearing the worst we enquired at Airport Information and were reassured to be given the desk numbers. Being a little early for check-in for the 12.20 pm flight there was only a short queue to join. Check in was relatively painless, with no weight issues, and we took advantage of the extra time to finalise our souvenir shopping, finding a lapis lazuli penguin to spend our last pesos on. We also made two attempts to convert our Tahitian currency, again to no avail. The tellers simply looked at each note, as if it were Monopoly money, and then returned them. Eric swears the second chap laughed on consultation with a colleague.

Passport control and security were very quick and we made our way to our gate via Dunkin Donuts for an elevenses break. Having walked all the way to gate 11 it was then changed to gate 15, right next to our coffee stop. Embarkation was efficient, with the plane less than full, and we left on time. The flight was straight forward, much of it over the Pacific, although we did pass over western Ecuador before crossing water again to Panama. In flight entertainment was very up to date and we enjoyed ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ and Joyce also watched Philomena. We landed ahead of schedule and passed quickly through immigration, although there was a longish wait for luggage, which duly arrived on the carousel. We were out into the airport concourse just after 5.00pm searching avidly for the promised board with our name on it being held aloft by the taxi driver. 5.30 pm came and went with Eric prowling the halls like a caged lion, avidly reading each brandished sign and finding a wealth of names, unfortunately none of them ours. Eventually at 5.50pm our driver arrived, claiming parking problems had delayed him.

The run into Panama City was straightforward, despite being in the tail end of rush hour, and we were soon standing outside Autograph Lodge. It took a few attempts at ringing the bell next to the gated entrance but eventually we were admitted and shown to our room having confirmed the pick up time for tomorrow’s tour by the receptionist’s phone. Tired after the travel and having lost two hours we elected to have an early night. We were very grateful for the air condoning as it was still a hot and humid.

 

Wednesday 4th March 2015 Day 178. Panama panorama

We slept surprisingly well, but woke a little chilly as the aircon had been set at 18C. The alarm went at 6.30am and we were in breakfast by 7.00am. Our tour guide Ross, an enthusiastic and very competent young Zimbabwean, arrived around 10 minutes early but we were ready and boarded the minibus. Two hotels later our party of 6 was complete and we headed through the heavy traffic to the Ancon Hill where we enjoyed extensive views across the city to the south east. Panama has a thriving economy, growing 10% per year and tall buildings are shooting up. There were large numbers of ships queued up for the Canal in the distance, and we could see the Bridge of the Americas and the start of the Panama Canal and its infrastructure to the north east. On the way up a nekkie, a squirrel sized animal, ran across our path on the extensive one way section.

We then drove to the Miraflores locks and the Visitor’s Centre where we enjoyed the dramatic views of the huge ships in the pair of locks. At this time of the day the ships travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the one way travel determined by the narrowness of the Culebra Cut, which traverses the continental divide. At 10.30 am and pm the flow reverses. From the viewing deck at the top of the 4 storey building we descended to the auditorium for a 3D film on the history and workings of the canal and then visited the museum which explained the abortive French attempt to build a level canal, with initial work on the Culebra Cut which was thwarted by mudslides and the huge death rate from malaria, Yellow and Dengue Fever. The successful US intervention, with the linking of a shallower cut to the artificial Gatun Lake and the double flight of locks, Miraflores and Pedro Miguel at the Pacific side and the single Gatun locks on the Atlantic side, was also explained. The operation of the locks, a precision operation given the size of vessels relative to the lock itself, depends on the use of lock side locomotives to tension the ships during lifting and falling as well as into and out of the compartments, with the aid of tugs, and a Panamanian pilot, who takes complete control of the vessel. It takes around 8 minutes for the locks to fill or empty and the ships are booked in to a specific time slot. In between the locks the vessels sail under their own power, although accompanied by a tug. The whole feat of engineering and the operational logistics are most impressive. It has only been closed twice, briefly, during its 100 years operating history. The capacity of the canal is being increased to cope with even larger vessels, with a new set of larger locks and the widening and deepening of the Gatun lake channel, by dredging and raising the water level by 1.5 metres. This is now due to be finished by 2017, having missed the planned completion during the centenary of operations last year.

From the Canal we drove along the causeway that links four islands to the south west of the city and enjoyed the views from the Isa Flamenco, before stopping for lunch at a restaurant on the causeway between Isa Perico and Isla Naos. After an excellent lunch of pork chops and Créole salsa we walked through the Smithsonian Tropical Research facility on Isa Naos, where we saw a number of three toed sloths and their young. We also visited the aquarium, turtle pool and frog reserve.

Our last visit, via the bypass road around it, a viaduct over the sea, was to the World Heritage site, Casco Viejo, the second foundation of the city, built after the sacking of the first city by the pirate, Henry Morgan, in 1671. This area is being renovated and we enjoyed the walk through this area to look at a range of fine buildings built in decorative Spanish colonial and some French architecture. The tour even included a stop at the local ice cream shop, which was much appreciated.

We were back at our hotel by 6.00pm after which we took a walk to the nearby Subway, where Eric enjoyed his first meatball sandwich experience.

 

Thursday 5th March 2015. Day 179 Hilton highlight

We had thought about visiting the island of Taboga but the comments on Trip Advisor were less than compelling, we would have gone for half a day, but with only one ferry run, 8 hours seemed too long a stay. As a result we decided to confine ourselves to the city. After breakfast ar 8.00am we left the hotel at 11.00am intending to walk to the coast. Reaching the Via Espana we visited the Carmen church then headed coastwards again, investigating the possibilities of a pause in the Hyatt and Bristol Hotels, to no avail. Eventually we found ourselves at the newly opened Hilton and visited the bar, with its extensive views over the bay, for a refreshing thirst quencher. The day was developing into a particularly hot one and we were told it reached near 40C during the afternoon.

From the Hilton we devised a two pronged plan, with Joyce spending a few hours in the air conditioned comfort of the Multicentre shopping mall while Eric took a taxi to visit Panama Viejo, the archaeological site of the original Spanish city. The tourist map in our possession proved to be inadequate but after a moderate walk and one request for directions we found it. On investigation it offered sufficient attractions and facilities to keep Joyce amused so Eric headed out again to look for a taxi. The first driver quoted $20, which seemed a trifle excessive but a little further along the street he found one for $5, much more reasonable.

The 15 minute journey completed Eric obtained a Jubilado (over 55) rate for entry to the museum and park. The museum was small but informative and the site extensive with significant survival of the larger central buildings, mainly monasteries and convents. The Plaza Mayor offered the site of the cathedral with its surviving tower which offered extensive views from the top. Although built on mangrove swamp and burnt by the Spanish after Morgan’s attack, enough remains to give a good impression of a thriving 17th century city. Finding a return taxi, driven by a driver listening to Christian music FM, for $2 was a nice surprise, earning the driver a rare tip.

Once back at the mall at 3.45pm Eric found Joyce in the coffee shop where we had arranged to meet. Eric enjoyed the coffee Joyce had just bought and, after a short pause to draw breath, we moved to the top floor to enjoy an early Pizza dinner.

Our route home seemed to be possible through the rear entrance of the mall but we were thwarted by the chaotic street plan and the uneven, discontinuous pavements. A short cut through the Hard Rock Hotel also proved of no use. As a result we retraced our original route and with a short pause in the Bristol Hotel for a sit down in their air conditioned lounge and a cut through the Metro station to cross the Via Espana, we found our way back to the hotel around 7.00pm.

 

Friday 6th March 2015. Day 180  Monkey meandering

The last few mornings have seen continued email conversation with National Express as Eric has been passed up the chain of command, being stonewalled at each level. However this morning persistence finally paid off, up to a point. We now have another pair of tickets, as a goodwill gesture, for our return trip. The saga continues.

Having enjoyed Wednesday’s tour so much we had booked another with the same company for today. Ross was the guide on this one which arrived 20 minutes late this time at 8.20am. We again had a few people to pick up, one (David) from the Hilton had been with us on Wednesday, to make up a bus full of 9 passengers.

Once we had the bus full we drove out of the city, past the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks and the Culebra Cut, crossing the continental divide and stopped near the town of Gamboa, the nominal half way point in the canal which is the logistics centre for maintenance and the building of the new sections of the canal. Overhead large numbers of hawks, kites and frigate birds soared over the canal and neighbouring forest.

At the mouth of the River Charest we boarded a boat which took us out under the combined road and rail bridge into the Panama Canal within the Gatun Lake. In the distance we could see a huge container ship heading towards the Atlantic. As we traversed this part of the canal we could see the dredgers ar work deepening the newly widened sections.

After a few kilometres we left the marked channel and started to explore the islands created when the area was flooded. Wildlife observed included Capuchin and howler monkeys, although Geoffrey’s Tamarin proved elusive, snail kites, three coloured hawks, toucan, a variety of waterfowl and a terrapin.

Returning to the Canal we were privileged to see ships travelling in both directions and as we returned to the Charges we witnessed a near collision. Once back in the river we were taken to a village of the indigenous Wounaan, who moved to the area in the middle of the last century from the Darien Gap. They were involved in training US troupes to survive in the bush and since their departure have become actively involved in ecotourism. They have chosen to continue living a fairly traditional life style but men go to work in the city each day and the children go to school. We had a rain forest walk to be shown a number of plants and their uses, a talk about their culture and a demonstration of their dances. Only one of their community has left, she won a school scholarship and went to University in Mexico and now works there as an environmental lawyer. There was an opportunity to buy craft products and Eric succumbed to a bird carving.

Back on the boat we returned to our starting point and the minibus. Ross then took us to a food court in the Fort Clayton, after chicken and chips, we headed back to the city at the start of the rush hour. We passed the tatty tenement blocks of the low income families, most people are in work with only 2% unemployment. We were back in the hotel by 4.00pm to find that there was a power cut, as it was still really hot, we headed out to find a café with air conditioning. The first couple of cafes had no power, but after a little exploration we found the lower end of Via Argentina and a cool café enjoying ice tea while reading. Having relaxed we headed on a little further to the Via Espana then back to the hotel. Power was restored so we spent the evening catching up with the blog and reading.

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Easter Island idyll

Thursday 12th February 2015. Day 157. Eastward extension

We completed our packing this morning, carefully weighing all the components of our luggage to find that, with a little bit of sleight of hand, we should pass any check in tests. After breakfast Eric walked Joyce to her hair appointment then returned to complete some last minute arrangements, booking a tour of Tahiti and an airport transfer for Santiago. This done he went back to collect Joyce and pay the bill. Last minute checks complete we went down into the car park and loaded the car for the last time. Once we had exited we had to park so Eric could return the car park keys to the accommodation. With the gps programmed for our last New Zealand destination, the car rental depot, we headed off via Epsom to drop off the car. This passed very smoothly and a minibus took us to international departures where the queue moved slowly. On check in all our bags were weighed and Eric was glad of pockets to temporarily house some heavier items from the hand luggage. On leaving the UK we had decided to limit the amount of cash we carried and therefore did not have any for Tahiti nor Easter Island, the latter needing a significant sum to pay for the accommodation. Eric had built up a stash of New Zealand dollars but not enough for the future demands therefore wanted to draw some more, before visiting currency exchange to set us up for the next two legs of the trip. He was somewhat nonplussed on having his perfectly reasonable request for a cash withdrawal refused owing to lack of available funds. All sorts of scenarios ran through his mind but, having checked the account balance, the worst of these had not occurred. At a second ATM, reducing the amount required, gave us the minimum needed, The next phase of the operation proved even more time consuming as we juggled the exchange of New Zealand dollars into three other currencies, US dollars, Tahitian francs and Chilean pesos, to maximise the amount exchanged. The teller was very helpful and we emerged with only 10c remaining in New Zealand currency. Having taken so long playing with money meant that we were nearing boarding time on the wrong side of the passport and security checks. Thankfully both of these were negotiated with the minimum of delay thanks to e-passports our departure from New Zealand was a lot faster than our arrival. When we arrived at the gate we went straight on to the plane to find ourselves seated in the central block behind a large family, including an active infant and noisy 5 year old. The flight passed uneventfully, although as we made our landing we were exposed to some significant turbulence, the result of cumulo-nimbus clouds which produced torrential rain and impressive lightning as we disembarked. Being in the EU proved a blessing as we entered Tahiti with one less form to fill in and through a relatively fast passport lane with fewer passengers. Luggage came off the carousel relatively quickly and our transport to Fare Suisse was waiting in the arrivals hall. While we were waiting for his other passengers we were entertained by a group of men doing the hake and presenting their returning friends with over a dozen lei round their necks. The rain having eased, we were then transported and settled in our room and ready to sleep.

Thursday 12th February 2015. Day 158 Déjà Vu

We have now jumped back 24 hours and are 10 hours behind the UK rather than 13 hours ahead, so we has the luxury of a second Thursday 12th February. We both slept very deeply and were awoken by the alarm at 0800, Eric finding it particularly difficult to stir himself. Once up we started to repack. We had ordered breakfast last night but the order had not been registered, however, after a little behind the scenes action, we had an acceptable petite dejeuner placed before us. After breakfast we completed packing, checking out just after 10.00am, we then sat on the terrace watching the continuing rain. By the time Beni arrived to take us to the ferry terminal, just after 11.00am, the rain had stopped. We were dropped at the ferry just after 11.30am and having converted our internet tickets into the proper billets we sat and waited until the Aremiti 2 docked, just before 12.30pm. Boarding was quick and the ferry slipped its moorings a few minutes after its scheduled time at 12.50pm. Heading out into the harbour we had a good view of the port activities. On the water were a number of outrigger canoes being put through their paces. Passing through the harbour mouth, a gap in the fringing reef, we headed across the channel towards Moorea. The clouds shrouded the peaks of both islands. The crossing was very smooth and was enlivened by the tireless activity of numerous seabirds gliding over the low, white capped swells and soaring over the bows of the ferry. The harbour of Viaira necessitated another narrow passage through fringing reefs and having negotiated the treacherous entrance we smoothly reversed into the ferry berth. Disembarking was relatively swift and once ashore we headed for the battered bus pulled up near the terminal. An enquiry as to whether it was travelling our way led us to a second bus, parked just behind. The driver took our money and Eric hoped that having asked to be dropped at our hotel, just north of Haapiti, that we would be dropped at the right place. The bus left very soon after and headed clockwise along the coastal road that rings the island. Lined with residences there were few signs to locate us. Eventually we pulled up at Linareva and were soon checked into our studio by 2.20pm. Collapsing on the bed we slept for a couple of hours before going for a walk to explore the environs of our current abode. On the seaward side was a jetty that allowed access to deeper water for swimming, from which we could see shoals of fish. We admired the landward views of steep volcanic ridges clothed in tropical greenery. Reaching the road we headed north to what we hoped would be a supermarket. The road was fairly busy, with convoys of vehicles weaving their way around the potholes. While we had slept the wind had significantly increased and we were exposed to falling palm branches and coconuts. Passing the two local eateries, a roadside van and a pizzeria, we continued our quest, after some time Joyce sought directions from a local restaurant, but our limited French suggested the market was still some distance away and with high winds and rain clouds threatening we decided to return. Nearing the hotel Joyce investigated the roadside van and the proprietor opened up for us, cooking Boeuf et Legumes and Poulet Citron, which we ate on our verandah while photographing a magnificent sunset.

Friday 13th February 2015. Day 159 Moorea miscellany

The weather turned rainy overnight and we had awoken to the steady drumming of drops on the roof, counterpointing the chirrups of the large house gecko. Breakfast had been ordered for 9.00am and we enjoyed our fruit, bread and bacon and eggs looking out over the choppy lagoon with the ocean surf breaking in majestic rolls on the outer reef, creating a constant distant thunder. Heavy squalls continued during the morning so we enjoyed the semi-outdoor life on the comfortable veranda furniture beneath the large sheltering roof, reading and game playing. The intensity of the rain was impressive, as were the swirls created by the gusts of wind blowing the curtains of rain across our view, masking the waves from our sight and hearing. Late morning there was a break in the weather so Eric took one of the sea kayaks out for a reconnaissance of the lagoon. Looking seaward the breaking waves looked even more majestic while landwards the heavily eroded volcanoes created a stunning backdrop of sharp, buttressed ridges with magnificent inland cliffs, covered in lush vegetation. The highest peaks remained shrouded in thick cloud. As he paddled further out Eric was fortunate to see a ray jumps above the sea surface. Having found that he could remember how to make a canoe follow a more or less straight course, Eric returned to the beach to collect Joyce for a trip out over the coral. The clarity of the water, despite the surface disturbances by the variable wind, allowed an excellent view of the coral blocks separated by white coral sand. The coral seemed to be growing well, with brilliant blues, purples, oranges and reds in areas of active growth. The coral was largely blocky although brain and plate corals could be seen as we glided effortlessly inches above the coral. Despite seeing a wide variety of fish from the end of the jetty, which extended to the edge of the inner reef, we failed to spot any fish further out. Eric kept an eye on the mountain peaks, watching the clouds gather and stream seaward, accompanied by strengthening wind and curtains of rain moving swiftly down the valley. Not wishing to be caught out in a storm like the one we had experienced this morning, in comfort, Eric headed back to the beach, leaving the canoe hauled up on the sand in anticipation of another trip out before a snorkel from the jetty. As we ate our lunch, the baguette remaining from breakfast, the rain again returned with a vengeance and set in for the afternoon, forcing us to just sit and enjoy the free time. As evening approached, with no sign of a let up in the rain, Eric set off in his trusty rain jacket and armed with a torch, up the road to the pizzeria which was hopefully open tonight despite the weather. He was heartened in his quest by noting the food truck was open and soon arrived at the pizza place which was open and doing a reasonable trade. 20 minutes later carrying a La Reine (ham, mushroom and olives) and a Trios Fromages Eric returned to Joyce through the slackening rain to deliver tonight’s dinner, which was very tasty. Unfortunately the cloud precluded a sunset extravaganza tonight.

Saturday 14th February 2015 Day 160 Paddling peregrinations

We woke to improved weather with broken cloud and sunshine creating a beautiful azure effect in the lagoon. Breakfast was again at 9.00am and we savoured the food in such a beautiful setting. Improved weather meant more potential for activity so once our meal had settled we had another paddle, a little further into the lagoon, again with no fish. We had seen fish jumping in the shallows and Eric had spotted a black tip reef shark, but nothing while we were out. The wind again proved troublesome but the threatened rain thankfully came to naught. Borrowing mask and snorkel we went to the end of the jetty and entered the warm embrace of the lagoon. The reef edge here proved to be an excellent habitat for a variety of fish, many we recognised but still could not name. Two sea snakes were of interest as were the multiple colours exposed along the margins of clams and the large anemones. Returning to our cabin we reprised yesterday’s lunch before heading out on the water again. Eric followed this with another snorkel before a rushed shower and change as we were being collected by an Avis representitive, based further north at the intercontinental Hotel, at 3.30pm. Her slightly early arrival put us under a little pressure but soon we were picking our way through the potholes back to her office. Once the paperwork was completed at 4.15pm, we were footloose and fancy free, with the car to be returned to the office near the ferry terminal at Vaiare in 24 hours. Although not the cheapest car hire rate we worked it out to be the best option to allow us to see what we wanted and allowing an easy return to the ferry while keeping our luggage secure. Leaving the car park we headed clockwise around the northern part of the island. Stopping at one village to look at a distinctive church we then found the ‘good’ road to the Belvedere lookout, which we followed. On the way we came across the Opuhere Archie logical complex, a series of marae, meeting or te mole platforms. Built of volcanic boulders in the drystone technique and decorated with short standing stones these proved of interest, as did the supposed archery platform at the upper end of the site. Reaching the viewpoint we enjoyed the landscape laid out before us with a sheer 500 meter cliff behind. The views of Cook Bay and its headlands were delightful, although the cloud and evening light made it difficult to photograph. There is a forest walk available but we did not feel we had the time to enjoy it properly, so decided to drive on. Retracing our path we rejoined the coast road. The next section proved to be of superior quality, although still with 60 kph limit. As we drove we could see glimpses of the mountainous interior to our right and the coast to our left. We had been recommended the Moorea Beach Café as a good place to eat but not having found it by the time we reached the airport turnoff we turned round and by dint of careful map reading by Joyce we found the restaurant, set right on the sea edge. Being St Valentine’s Day they had laid on a special his and her’s set menu which we sat down to eat as the sun set behind the headland to our left. Having thoroughly enjoyed our romantic meal we headed back in the dark to our accommodation.

 

Sunday 15th February 2015. Day 161 Shark swim

The highlight of any visit to Moorea is apparently the Lagoonarium so after breakfast at 8.30am and checking out at 9.15 am we headed counter clockwise back towards the ferry port. A few kilometres before the ferry we found the entry to this attraction. Having bought tickets and hired masks and snorkels we were taken in an outboard driven outrigger by Wilfred, the proprietor, to the outer of a pair of Motu, small islands, just inside the outer reef. On this narrow islet a concrete platform had been constructed on which were set A frame palm huts and, in the form of a boat, a bar with shower and toilet. Outside each hut and in landscaped sandy areas along the seaward edge was ample seating. In the lagoon on the seaward side a rope, supported by buoys, led through the lagoon and around a rocky outcrop. Our first introduction was to the most dangerous denizen of this stretch of reef, the stone fish, and we were reminded of the importance of good shoes (we were both wearing our water shoes) to avoid stepping on the poisonous spines of this camouflaged creature that lies in the coral sand with only its eyes showing. From here we were shown the facilities and the cabin that was ours for the day. Once settled Eric took to the water and found the purpose of the rope lone, which facilitated exploring the coral given the strong current that runs just offshore. The fish life here was even more prolific and included at least 4 stingrays, that had had their stings blunted, and 10 black tip reef sharks. The fish are fed twice a day, around 11.30am and 2.00pm, near the island and in deeper water. Although not a feeding frenzy the mass of piscine bodies is a magnificent sight. Joyce also enjoyed a tour of part of the reef, admiring again the wide variety of familiar if anonymous species, but found the current too strong to complete the circuit and returned to the calmer waters. Having arrived at 10.45am we left at 3.40pm. Unfortunately our return to Moorea was not without incident and Eric failed in a fundamental husbandly duty, not catching Joyce as she slipped exiting the canoe. Wet clothes and a wrenched and grazed knee were the outcome. Having changed and treated the damage we continued towards the ferry and on past it to complete our circuit of the island. Shortly after a fine viewpoint we reached the airport turnoff which marked last night’s furthest foray. Turning round we went back to the ferry, stopping at the petrol station, then returning the car to the Avis office at 4.45pm. We had a little time in hand so repaired to the café sandwiched between Shell and Avis for a coffee and then a snack meal. While eating we saw the catamaran of a second ferry company, Tuareva, that we had not found online and which left a little earlier. However having in our possession tickets for the 6.45pm Aremiti ferry, at Seniors rates, we waited for this vessel to arrive. We had hoped to catch the sunset from the ferry but it was late leaving and although the light and the view of Moorea’s mountains silhouetted against the amber sky were special, it did not make for easy photographs, especially as the wind and sea swells conspired to destabilise the camera. We arrived at the terminal at around 8.45pm to find Beni, our Fare Suisse host, waiting to run us back. We were put in the room we had previously used and after admiring the splendid star studded sky we retired to bed.

 

Monday 16th February 2015. Day 162. Tahiti turnaround

With the flight to Easter Island being in the early hours of tomorrow morning this was always going to be a strange day. Although we had to be out of our room by 10.00am Beni was happy for us to use the public facilities and to run us to the airport at 10.00pm. We therefore had booked an afternoon tour of the island to make best use the time. Breakfast at 8.30am allowed time for first approximation of packing. And having moved the luggage into store, and being entrusted with the key, we sat reading on the terrace until 11.30am when we left to head for our 1.00pm pick up at Le Retro restaurant in the Vaimo shopping centre. Two cruise ships were in port, Ocean Princess running a 10 day cruise around the islands, and P and O’s Aurora. Fare Suisse seemed to acting as a staging post for US cruisers travelling from and to LA. We walked into town via the local church, not open, and the Tahiti Autonomy gardens, which extended for a long stretch along the harbour. Reaching the shopping centre we saw the restaurant and headed off to visit the cathedral before Eric dragged Joyce the other way round the shopping centre to be sure that it was the right restaurant. Once sure we took up station outside the restaurant at 12.40pm. At just after 1.00pm Ruth, our guide, made contact and having found two more of the party we moved to a small minibus which was to be our tour vehicle. We picked up another, Canadian, couple then headed clockwise along the 113 kilometre coastal road. Our first stop was a viewpoint to overlook Papeete, the reef and Moorea with glimpses of the cloud shrouded interior mountains. Next we visited Venus Point, the headland from which Captain Cook observed the transit of Venus on his first voyage. As well as a monument to this there are monuments to The Bounty crew and to the English missionaries, and a lighthouse designed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father. A little further on brought us to the blow hole, an impressive hydraulic spray emerging from the kerbside of the old coastal road which went around the headland, beneath which the waves force water into fissures in the volcanic rock. We next visited an impressive waterfall which starts with a double flow over a 10 meter drop before combining in plunge pool and then falling the remaining 100 metres. The access to the viewpoint had been chained off because of the risk of rock fall but we were happy to cross the barrier ‘at our own risk’. Passing a number of coconut groves we noted metal collars near the tops of the palm trunks. We had seen these in New Zealand on power poles and trees, where they prevent possums electrocuting themselves and shorting out the supply or damaging the growing vegetation. Here they prevent rats and coconut crabs, the latter huge, the length of a wheelie bin, and apparently good eating, from damaging commercial coconut crops. We continued south, crossing the isthmus which connects Tahiti Nui (big) with Tahiti Iti (little), and drove in to see the exterior of the Gaugin museum, which is under renovation. Whilst of some interest the collection does not contain any Gaugin masterpieces save a few on loan from a local collector plus some studies, although there are works by other painters. The museum is next door to the botanic gardens which hosts two Galapagos tortoises, now well over 140 years old. A short distance further on we visited the Vaiphai gardens, a beautifully laid out garden around a small lake, planted with local flora on a site associated with historical ritual mummification. The gardens extend up valley into a forest walk which time did not permit. Continuing north we stopped briefly at one of the fern grottoes which was a favourite of Gaugin, appearing in three of his paintings, to which he cycled the 13 kilometres from his lodgings near Papeete. This is a cave at the foot of what appears to be a relict sea cliff, the mouth of which is fringed with large ferns and which contains a pool of water. Our last stop was at a Marae which consists of three platforms, illustrating the dry stone construction using lava boulders with courtyards and altar structures. The copies of two tiki, carved figures, stand near the entrance. The originals are in the gardens of the Gaugin museum. Stopping only to return two of the party to the Airport hotel we returned to the centre of Papeete. We then headed for the food vans next to the ferry terminal, a pop up food court complete with tables and chairs for each van. A wide variety of cuisines was on offer and we selected an Italian van, sitting a daytime carpal, between two huge cruise liners, enjoying our meal of steak fries and tagliatelli while watching the sun set over Moorea. After the meal we sat on a bench to watch the world go by before walking back along the waterfront and through the gardens to our main landmark, the church we had passed on our way out. Eric then found he had miscalculated his route as we found ourselves on an unfamiliar back street in the dark as we had no torch and there was no street lighting. Eventually Eric realised his mistake and we pushed on another block to find our street and the guest house. Once back we retrieved the luggage and completed the final bits of repacking. The ticket, which Eric had not read fully, told us for this leg we had 3 pieces of 23kg luggage each with 16 kg of hand luggage, which made our packing easier. Benin arrived at 10.00pm and having settled the bill he drove us to the airport where we joined along queue for the LAN desks that were yet to open. While in the queue Eric finally got round to reading the ticket properly and it finally dawned on him, confirmed by the clearly printed ticket, that somehow for this leg we were booked into Business Class. Reaching a temporary desk that was vetting the queue we were diverted into the right line for Business Class and after another 20 minutes wait we finally checked in. Passing through the final checks we waited in the Departure lounge.

Tuesday 17th February 2016. Day 163. Easter extension

25 minutes later than scheduled, at 0.45 am we began to board the aircraft, feeling very special as we had a separate boarding gate. Once aboard we found our luxurious seats and were treated to personal service with a drink and snacks before take off. Joyce enjoyed a glass of champagne while Eric succumbed to the lure of a Pisco Sour, about the only alcoholic drink that he enjoys. Once airborne we selected a chicken dinner and then settled into our horizontal beds for a few hours sleep. We were awakened just before the plane started its descent and landed on Easter Island at 12.40 pm, with our first view of a platform complete with carved head. Business Class offered a final benefit as we were near the head of the queue for immigration, which seemed to take a long time to process each passport. Once through that check we found our luggage already circulating on the carousel, although Joyce’s suitcase had somehow been knocked off into the central space. With no one around to help Eric nipped across the conveyor belt to retrieve it then nipped backed through a narrow gap in the moving line of suitcases. One final check through customs and we had arrived. At the door of the terminal our host, Ricardo, held up a board with our name on it and we were soon in his car wearing our garland of flowers delivered by his daughter Miele. He took us for a short tour of the main places in Hanga Roa for eating, shopping, banking and car hire before taking us home, close to the end of the runway. We are staying in a cottage in their garden and were soon installed, enjoying a glass of watermelon juice having been introduced to Miriam, his wife. Feeling tired after the travel and all too brief sleep, we settled for a quiet afternoon. Eric sat and read and caught up with the blog while Joyce enjoyed a snooze. In the early evening we went out to explore, checking out restaurants and supermarkets. Eric had a huge problem getting his head around the exchange rate but finally thought he had worked it out. Not feeling very hungry we opted to buy some provisions from a supermarket then walked back, pausing only to chat to another English couple, staying in a hotel near us, who we had seen in the immigration queue. Back in our cottage Joyce cooked scrambled egg on toast and we turned in for the night with the comfort of a cooling fan delivered by Ricardo. Wednesday 18th February 2015 Day 164. Easter easement We slept well and awoke briefly as an aircraft arrived before awakening fully just after 9.00am. We had a very relaxed and leisurely morning. Miriam popped in to take cash payment for the cottage. After a sandwich lunch we strolled into town to check out car hire. This proved to be too expensive to just have a car for all our stay so we booked a small jeep for two days, starting at 3.00pm tomorrow. On our walk we found the harbour and had our first close up view of two Ahu, platforms on which were placed the Moai, the giant stylised carved heads. In this case one Moai was free standing with a complete head on one platform and a fragment on the other. We sat on the headland near the harbour for a while watching the bathers on the two tiny pocket beaches in the low volcanic cliffs while offshore surfers and body boarders enjoyed the challenge of the rolling ocean waves. Close by were the two banks, both closed for the day, but Eric tried out the Santander ATM to withdraw some more local currency. The first machine was recalcitrant but the second gave up the cash. Walking back to our cottage we paused at an ice cream emporium and at the supermarket to buy provisions for tonight’s meal. Food prices are UK equivalent or slightly more and it proved difficult to source recognisable meat, although fresh vegetables, if a little jaded, cooked meat products and pasta seem in ready supply. We found the heat and humidity enervating and the walk tired us out further, leading to a nap before Joyce cooked supper, a carrot and bean Bolognese sauce on pasta with an undressed slaw and tomatoes on the side. We spent a little time reading some local information about the island and its archaeological remains to formulate a plan of campaign. Easter Island is triangular in plan, rising 3,000 metres from the ocean floor, the corners rounded and marked by major volcanoes. To the north is Maunga Terevaka, the largest, rising to 507 metres and youngest at 200,000 years old. Its north and west coasts have no roads rendering the sites of Hanga O’Pea, Hanga Omohi, Hanga Otero and Vai Tara Kai Ua accessible only on foot or by boat. Rano Kau, 2 million years old to the south and in the north east the oldest, Poike, 3 million years old and standing 307 metres tall. The landscape also boasts a further 104 volcanic edifices of craters, cones and domes. Hanga Roa is the only settlement and there is one major cross island road to Anakena half way along the north coast with another back to Hanga Roa by way of much of the south coast. One road leads towards the interior site at Ahu Akivi, returning along the west coast as a dirt track, and another out to the south west to the site at Orongo. We decided to start with the south coast, then the north and finally the centre and west.

Thursday 19th February. Day 165 Passing platforms

We had booked the car for 3pm so felt no pressure in getting up. We sorted ourselves out and left for town at 12.30pm with a sudden concern that perhaps our watches were wrong, having seen no other timepiece since our arrival. In passing we popped onto a hardware store where two clocks behind the counter confirmed our watches as correct, although on leaving the other clocks on a side shelf told a different story. Having time in hand we walked through the memorial park and found our way to the Roman Catholic Church, the site of worship in Hanga Roa for almost 150 years. Although a simple structure the interior boasted some interesting wood carvings of local origin. Heading back to the care hire location we stopped for lunch at a small café then collected the car. Our first destination was the local National Park Office where we bought our $60 entry tickets, valid for five days. Continuing south we rounded the western edge of the Ranu Kau crater, reaching a viewpoint allowing full appreciation of the feature. It originally contained a lake, which is silting up, creating a series of ponds and which supports a wide variety of plants in its microclimate protected from the wind and sea spray. A little further on we reached Orongo ceremonial village. This represents the final phase of indigenous culture which developed in the 18th century when the ancestor worship represented by the Moai was replaced by the Tangatu-Manu ritual. They resolved power struggles between clans by a race to obtain the first egg of the Sooty Tern, from the island of Moto Nui, involving a climb down 150 metre vertical cliffs, a 1.4kilometre swim, a long wait until the birds laid then the return trip to Orongo. The winner’s clan held power over the island until the next competition. The village comprised boat shaped, corbel roofed structures built of basalt slabs and covered in grass. At the southern end of the village petroglyphs recorded the birdman cult and the deity Make Make. Returning down the volcano we visited Ana Kai Tangata, a sea cave with remnants of paintings representing Tangatu-Manu. The rock here is finely layered leading to rapid and extensive roof collapse, destroying much of the decoration. Driving around the airfield we reached the westernmost accessible site on the south coast. Vine Pu has two ruined ahu with their moai pushed over, face down, landwards. Their pukao, top knots, lie scattered where they had rolled. The platforms are ramped to landwards, the moai originally standing on a flats section on the seaward side and facing to the land. They are also bounded each end by lower platforms. One of the ahu had the main seaward wall constructed in Incan style cyclopean masonry, while the other was of vertical slab construction. Heading east along the coast road we passed and from a distance photographed Hanga Hahave,, Hanga Poukura and Tanaka Poukoura before we visited Vail Hu, built by the bay of Hanga Te’e. As part of this complex there was a canoe ramp. The ahu supported 8 moai now face down with pukao scattered around. We next visited Hanga Hua Reva before driving on past Ura Uranga Te Marina, finally reaching Akahanga, which had two ahu, but in this case some moai were pushed seawards and lay on their backs. Although we were both invigorated by our first foray into the culture of Easter Island time was getting on so we returned to the cottage by 8pm for sandwiches. The advantage of the time zone here is that the sun does not set before 9.30 pm, allowing exploration later in the day.

 

Friday 20th February. Day 166 Moai musings

Having gained some feel as to the time needed to do the archaeological remains justice we were away by 9.30 am towards the north coast, reaching the bay at Anakena by 10am. The site, also known as Nau Nau, consists of a reconstructed ahu, with seven moai, four with pukao. The terrace edge stones are well dressed basalt. The complex also boasts examples of Manahan, circular walls to protect plants, traces of village with hare oka, round stone houses, and hare moa, stone chicken coops, house foundation stone of well dressed stone with holes along top edge and umu pae fireplaces surrounded by 5 to 7 partially buried rocks. On the site was also a ruined aha all set behind a sandy, palm fringed beach. Here we took the opportunity to enjoy a paddle in the warm waters, walking from one end of the bay to the other. From here we drove east and visited the ruin of Te Pito Kara on which can be seen, lying face down on the landward side of the platform the last and largest moai erected by a widow in memory of her husband, at 10 metres tall. Most moai are in the four to six metre range. Continuing our drive we passed Ahu Heki’I and then visited Papa Vaka, an expanse of dressed basalt with sea themed petroglyphs, including hooks, canoes, tuna and a well defined shark. Driving on we viewed Ahu Ra’ai then stopped at Hanga Taharoa where we found six ruined Ahus, one in the cove and one set back from the others, consisting of well dressed cyclopean masonry to seaward. Before reaching the south coast we stopped briefly to look at Pu O Hire a stone with carved holes, which in local lore acted as a fish caller and was often a tribal prize. Stopping for lunch in the car park with a view of the site of Tongariki, at the head of a bay and set against the brilliant blue sea. After eating we visited the site which is dominated by a restored Aha supporting 15 moai, only 1 with a Pukoa. On the landwards side are village remnants, curved edging blocks laid in the shape of boat which were the foundation of hare paenja, noble’s houses. These were 10 to 15 meters long structures with flexed branches fixed into the holes supporting cross beams and teaching. A narrow door was inserted halfway one side. One had been reconstructed near the site entrance. At the northern edge of the site lay Papa Tataku Poke with more fine petroglyphs on horizontal surfaces showing Tuna, hooks, canoes and Make Make. A short drive inland brought us to Rano Raraku. This was the quarry for Moai and the site boasts a large number some in process of being carved out of the cliff face, other set into the hillside with a trail of moai, in the process of being moved, leading to the south west. Joyce now feeling exhausted settled down on a comfortable chair to enjoy a drink while Eric walked to the inside of the crater revealing a beautiful crater lake. On the slopes above the southern edge of the lake more Moai can be seen. On his return, we took advantage of the local retail opportunity to buy postcards. As we stopped to photograph some of the moai abandoned in transit we were accosted by a charming young couple looking for a lift. They turned out to be from Corsica and we agreed to give these hitchhikers a lift. Continuing along the south coast we stopped for a view of Hanga Tu’u Hate before making a short visit to One Makihi where we were able to assist a tourist with flat tyre by lending him part of our jack. From here we visited Hanga Tetenga where one moai was pushed seaward before viewing Runga Va’e and Oroi from the car. Dropping our passengers off and a quick visit to the supermarket brought us back by 6.30 pm for Joyce to cook a Fritata in three parts with fried potato. Saturday 21st February 2015. Day 167 Cave contortions Given that we had the car only until 3.00pm we left a little earlier at 9.10 am and soon found ourselves the only visitors to Puna Pau. This is a Scoria cone, a distinctively red rock, which was used for the Pukao. The masons cut out cylinders of rock which were then transported and completed onsite at the ahu. A number of quarried cylinders lie on site, in the quarry or trailing south westwards down the side of the cone. There are clear petroglyphs on lower abandoned ones which seem to be bird man and Make Make. Our next site was Ahu Akivi, which has been restored with seven moai, reputedly honouring the ancestral discoverers of Easter Island. This site is the furthest from sea and is orientated to sunset on equinox. There are 3 cremation sites behind the platform. From Ahu Akivi we joined a dirt road which showed the value of hiring a jeep with its high wheelbase. The road was distinctly rugged and the jeep was able to cope well when driving over large steep rock steps on the ruggedly rutted ruin of a road. At Ana Te Pabu we found a lava tube which had been used as a defensive clan site. Eric descended into the partially collapsed skylight entrance and found that the lava tube had a well defended entrance, being filled with stone walls, rock structures inside, and at the other end another complete skylight, which was also defended. Driving on we reached the west coast and the site of Ahu Tepeu. Here we found extensive village remains with hare moa and a number of oval hut bases, one of these being significantly larger than any we had seem. The site also boasted 2 ruined ahu. Returning to the dirt road we came to Ana Te Pora, another lava tube, with two defended entrances, one a very narrow crawl through which Eric entered before discovering the easier entrance through which Joyce saw the site. From here we had a good view Motu Tuatara, a small, flat, offshore island a few metres above the sea. A little further on led us to a third lava tube dwelling site at Anu Kakenga. This had a very well defended single entrance, with a long narrow crawl. This one we only looked into. Reaching a better road as we neared Hanga Roa we reached Hanga Kio’e. Here we found two restored ahu, one supporting a complete moai, the other a fragment. Our final visit was to Thai which is a restored complex of 3 ahu, with a canoe ramp in middle. The southern ahu has four complete moai, one with damaged head and one fragment, other two support one moai. The northern ahu is a complete restoration with the moai boasting white and black eye infills and a Pukao. Also on the site were reconstructions of Orongo village houses. Having completed the eastern circuit by 2.00pm we returned the car and on the walk home we did some grocery shopping, returning to the cottage by 3.10pm. We then settled down to enjoy some restful reading. In the evening Joyce prepared a delicious meal of chicken in mushroom sauce and pasta.

 

Sunday 22nd February 2015. Day 168 Easter evanescence

We left for church 10.30 am but as we opened the gate two of the three resident dogs followed us as if they expected a morning constitutional. This continued well down the main street so Eric brought them back and closed the gate on them but they escaped again and we were again followed all the way to the church. The service was a Roman Catholic Mass, in Spanish, with a standard sung liturgy, well known by the locals, with no musicians, or hymns. Communion was only the bread. It rained heavily just after service started at 11.05 and before it ended at 11.45am, so we escaped a soaking. After the service we wandered through some souvenir shops and bought postcards before stopping at a café for a pizza lunch. Continuing our daily tradition we bought a few groceries returning to the cottage by 2.30pm. We again enjoyed a quiet afternoon and evening with a sandwich snack to end the day.

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Farewell to New Zealand

It was the East Cape drive what done it, honest guv. Eric again offers his sincere apologies to our avid readers (he lives in hope) but it has taken a while to recover from that one day’s drive, which was definitely worth doing but ….. The last few days on Auckland have allowed some catching up and Eric offers the diary up to date. This time it is all his own work, Joyce has not been able to proof read it, nor add supplementary detail, so Eric apologises for any inadvertent errors or errors introduced by the quirky auto correct function in Word which has a field day with New Zealand names.

Tomorrow we fly to Tahiti and cross the date line, gaining an extra day and going from 13 hours ahead of the UK to ? Hours behind (Eric has not worked the time difference out yet). We are not sure as to our connectivity to the interweb from hereon in so gaps in posting may be legitimately the result of lack of WiFi rather than Eric’s innate indolence.

Sunday 25th January 2015   Day 139   Wellington wanderings

This morning saw us heading back to Johnsonville to visit St John’s Anglican Church. This was a non standard Sunday service as they conducted two baptisms and communion. The vicar was multi-talented not only leading the liturgy but also the worship with his trusty guitar.

From the church the continued fine weather suggested that we should use it wisely so we headed for the beach. This time we decided to try a different part of the peninsula and headed south to Lyall beach where we sunbathed and paddled. Having enjoyed the sunshine we headed back into Wellington to finish our exploration of the Te Papa museum.

Having enjoyed visiting the historical and Natural History galleries, the in house Marae and bush walk we returned to our car, thankfully not being ticketed for overstaying our two hours, again. We then drove to near Lambton Quay and found another parking spot from which we walked to the Cable Car and ascended to the Botanic Garden with its extensive views over Wellington. We began to explore the gardens but realised that since they occupied a very steep valley we would have a long haul back to the cable car if we visited all the gardens. As a result we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre, deciding that the rose gardens would be past their best and headed back up past the Observatories to use the return portion of our cable car ticket.

Once back at Lambton Quay we took advantage of a dinner deal at the Arizona restaurant and enjoyed our steaks. Feeling replete we then drove to the Civic Square from where we explored the Waterfront before returning for an early night.

 

Monday 26th January 2015 Day 140 Kiwi kapers

Our focus today was the wildlife reserve of Zeelandia, which is a predator free area of regrow native bush centred on two reservoirs. Construction of a predator proof fence along the ridge line combined with trapping has successfully eradicated stoats, cats, opossums and rats, although the occasional mouse can still be found.

We enjoyed three hours strolling through the forest and looking for the threatened bird species that are successfully breeding in this safe forest environment. The stars of the show were the resident pair of takahe, South Island flightless birds believed to be extinct but surviving in the wild on a small colony in the mountains above Te Ana; the kaka, a rare species of parrot and the hihi, a nectar feeder. We also saw many other birds such as the Mew Zealand scaup, a diving duck, tui and the kereru.

After our walk we enjoyed lunch in their café and visited their very informative exhibition. As part of the package we booked a night tour and therefore returned to our accommodation for a rest and a snack tea before returning to Zeelandia. The night tour started at dusk and extended into full darkness. We were fortunate to hear and then observe a New Zealand Falcon, albeit flying high above us and to hear the morepork owl and the lesser spotted kiwi. We also saw juvenile and adult Tuatara, the brown teal and the longing eel. However we did miss out on the Maud Island frog and the weta. The highlight of the evening was seeing two Lesser Spotted kiwi rooting for food. The second we observed for a long time before we lost sight, only finding that it had crept up behind us. As we walked back to the Visitor Centre, way beyond our nominal finish tome, we marvelled at the display of stars laid out above us including Orion, the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

 

Tuesday 27th January 2015. Day 141 Hastings hastening

Leaving our accommodation at 10.00am we ignored the route proposed by our gps and headed up the Hutt Valley After a short drive we stopped at the Mangaroa Hill scenic reserve viewpoint with a good view of the reservoirs and the valley. A little further on we drove into the Kaitoke Regional Park in search of the location of Rivendell. The river scenery here is beautiful and in a grove of trees by a tributary scene we found the location. Information boards show where the components of the set were located, with a even gate left in place. As we were there a small group tour was doing the rounds and one of the visitors, in supplied costume and pointed ears, took a pose under the very tree where Legolas had his publicity photographs ramen. After enjoying the contact with the silver screen, albeit at a very far remove, we walked down to the swing bridge over the river to enjoy the scenery.

SH2 now took us over the pass at the head of the Hutt valley and down a steep and twisting road alongside the Rimutaka gorge. In Greytown we paused for a pie and then continued north towards Napier. Just before we arrived we diverted into Hastings to look at the Art Deco architecture which resulted from the rebuilding after the 1936 earthquake. As we began our wanderings around the town centre the rain began, inhibiting a more extensive tour.

Having viewed a number of building façades we then drove to Napier easily finding our accommodation on a hill above the city centre. Our hosts very kindly invited us to join them for dinner and we had a most convivial evening before retiring to our self contained studio room.

 

Wednesday 28th January 2015.   Day 142 Deco dallying

Having breakfasted in our room we headed out to explore the Art Deco architecture of Napier parking near the spa we walked on to the steep black sand beach with its heavy surf. Taking our hosts advice and using their guidebook, we started with a film at the Art Deco centre which explained the events of the 1935 earthquake and the way in which Napier had been rebuilt in an unified and up to date style, which happened to be Art Deco. The significance of such a concentration of this architecture in one place had been recognised and led to its preservation, with Napier taking the theme to its heart, with a festival and events celebrating all that was the 1930s.

We spent over two hours in the centre, overrunning our car arming allowance. Thankfully, although a warden had been around as we left the car, making our tyre, she had not returned by the time we drove away.

Our next stop was Bluff Hill with its superb viewpoint over the Port of Napier, with its extensive stock piles of large logs, and along the Napier waterfront. After our picnic lunch we drove back to Ocean Spa and tried to recapture our enjoyment of the Hammer Springs experience. Although there was some water jets and spouts it was not quite the same, although we did enjoy it. Feeling relaxed we returned to shower and change before heading back into town. A search for eateries led us to the Lone Star restaurant near the sea front where we enjoyed a dinner of lamb shanks. Having eaten we drove along the extensive beach before returning to bed.

 

 

Thursday 29th January 2015. Day 143 Mata magnificence

With a lot of possibilities today we made a reasonably early start, leaving at around 9.00am. Our first stop, having by passed Perfume Point the old sewage outfall, was a view of the fishing harbour of Port Arhuriri and the old Rothmans tobacco factory built in the Art Deco style. We had missed two places to visit on our way into Napier so we retraced our steps to Havelock North where we admired the church, having a tour delivered by the vicar, and its shopping centre. We then drove up the mountain to Te Mata viewpoint, with extensive and superb views from a platform perched atop a knife edged ridge.

Resuming our northwards track and by passing Napier and visited Whirinaki Conservation Park. The road was narrow and very windy with a great deal of heavy traffic travelling the other way. For the first time we felt threatened, especially when two logging trucks passed us fast on corners, across the median line.

Further on the route we stopped at Wairoa for Osler’s bakery pies which we are sitting by the river. From here we drove out and partially round the Mahia peninsula, as suggested by tonight’s hostess, enjoying the beautiful coastal views.

Our next stop were the Morea hot springs where we walked through the bush up valley to what used to be bathhouse number two, bathhouse number one having been buried in a landslide. Here we found three stainless steel ponds, two with hot spring water, the other filled with cold water. The two existing occupants soon left and we were left on our own to enjoy a good soak in the very hot water.

From here we drive into Gisborne, viewing the main street in assign and going to the riverside to view the statues of Captain Cook and Nick Young, the first to sight New Zealand in this area. On a hill above the town is the Titirangi Domain, with its own statue of Captain Cook and which offers good views of the town and the coast.

Having enjoyed the view we drove a little further to Wainui, where we resolved a very warm welcome from our hosts.

 

Friday 30th January 2015. Day 144 Cape contretemps

We knew that this was to be a big day but Eric had not fully appreciated the demands of driving a relatively long distance on largely classic New Zealand roads, narrow, winding and with logging trucks thundering the other way.

We started at 9.00am with a walk along the delightful Ennui beach then headed for the East Cape. The coastal scenery was beautiful and we took the opportunity to enjoy the views at a variety of bays and headland viewpoints. Including Pouhawa, Whaihau, Tolaga, Tokomaru Bays. At Tikitiki we much enjoyed visiting the richly carved Maori church. This whole region has a strong Maori as evidenced in the many Marie, with their meeting houses. At Te Araroa we stopped for a picnic lunch before taking to the unsealed road for the drive towards the East Cape and it lighthouse, the most easterly. The road gave delightful views of the coast and we spotted a large number of cows enjoying a stroll or lying on the sand. As we neared the cape the rad quality deteriorated with one section very narrow, on its outside edge crumbling into the sea 15 metres below. On reaching the furthest point on the road we spied the lighthouse on the ridge above us. Apparently it could be reached by footpath but we thought that seeing it was enough so we retraced our steps to Te Araroa.

From there the coastline was attractive but without many particular stopping places. We tried to view the church at Raukokore, perched in splendid isolation on a low headland, but a service was in progress so we pushed on. Eric found the last part of the drive very tiring and was very glad to reach our B&B accommodation in Thornton, having driven through Opitiki and Whakatane. Eric felt too tired to venture forth for a meal so we resorted to our emergency meal of Macaroni cheese, which we enjoyed on our hosts’ deck.

 

Saturday 31st January 2015. Day 145 Gorgeous geothermals

Still feeling very tired we headed out at 10.00am and drove back into Whakatane to view the sights. We enjoyed the riverside with its quay and drove to the river mouth to view the coastal scenery. On our way we found Murieai’s cave, sacred to the Maori and saw the Mātaatua Wharenui meeting house which travelled extensively before returning home in 1996.

From Whakatane we drove to Ohope, stopping at the Lions Club lookout before driving towards Kohi Point along the West End beach. Stopping at the end we paddled along the beach. Our next stop was Ohuwa harbour then we turned back towards Whakatane to pick up our route through the mountains to Taupo, avoiding Rotorua. This road took us over the Matahiri dam, where we stopped for lunch and brought us on to the Rotorua to Taupo road amidst clouds of steam from the geothermal sites. Seizing the opportunity Eric stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, the Department of Conservation managed geothermal site. Although the weather was obviously threatening rain Eric set off in only his shirt, ignoring so many years of telling others to only go out fully prepared for any weather. As a result during the tour we were soaked by the increasingly heavy showers of rain. However it was worth it as the site has a wide range of very colourful geothermal features which are visually stunning. Photographing thermal pools in the rain adds an extra dimension to the experience. Having explored the whole site we drove into Taupe and found our accommodation, well placed just off Rifle Range Road.

Having settled in and rested a little we walked the short distance into Taupo to investigate the possibilities for eating. Finding many of the menus were the same and fancying chicken we settled upon the Coffee Club for chicken schnitzel. The lack of clientele should have given us a clue and while adequate the food was not outstanding.

 

Sunday 1st February 2015   Day 146 Doom disappointment

The day began with a Skype call to Clare and Ed followed by a visit to the local Baptist church. The lively worship band led very well and the word underlined the importance of legacy and the importance of passing on the message to future generations.

From the church we headed south into the Tongariro National Park to see the volcanoes. We stopped on the shores of Lake Rotoaira to visit the excavated site of a Maori village and to view Motohupui island where the All Blacks Haka originated.

The weather continued to be poor and the rain became heavier and more persistent, with low cloud, as we drove into the National Park. As a result instead of the sight of three magnificent volcanoes all we could see was mist. Mount Doom was hiding. Discouraged we heed to the village of National Park for lunch. Our host had recommended Speights but when they could not supply the steak on their menu we repaired to the nearby Station café for a small steak sandwich.

Lunch completed we headed back towards Taupo. We drove into Whakepapa Village, past Chateau Tongariro, a most impressive edifice, and up to the ski area and the ski lifts. Visibility was now down to 10 met rest and we could see nothing of the mountain. Descending towards the main road we had a dilemma. On the one hand a cup of tea at the Chateau, on the other a walk to Tawhai falls. The only solution was to divide the responsibilities. Joyce would take tea and Eric would undertake the walk. Once the falls had been views and photographed Eric joined Joyce in the plush, if slightly faded, glory of the Chateau’s lounge to finish Joyce’s cup of tea while listening to the pianist serenading the guests.

Once we had enjoyed our refreshment we headed back to Taupe, pausing only to visit the lower redoubt at Te Porere. Once back at our accommodation we enjoyed a meal of beans on toast before a Skype call to Mud, Lucy and Annabel, the first since the New Year now their internet has been connected in their new home.

 

Monday 2nd February 2015. Day 147. Geothermal gallivant

This morning we resumed our northwards track and headed towards Rotorua. The pouring rain did little to speed our departure and it was gone 10.30am before we bade farewell to our host family. As it was so wet we paused in Taupo to visit the local museum which had some interesting Maori artefacts, a medal winning Chelsea show garden and some challenging modern art.

From Taupe we visited Huka Falls where the outflow of Lake Taupe, the Waikato river flows through a narrow gorge, producing a very impressive set of rapids ending in a waterfall. Near the falls we found the Craters of the Moon geothermal park. Joyce did not think this worth a visit but Eric did homing and enjoyed the variety of fumeroles on display. Although not the most spectacular examples it had some specialist interest.

Resuming our travels northwards we then diverted to visit Orakei Karako, the Hidden Valley geothermal park. Although a long way off the main road it was worth the extra distance. From the visitors centre we crossed the arm of Lake Ohakuri, originally a fast flowing river, to the broad sinter terrace which descends into the water. From there a well made path leads up through the valley past the ink pools, hot springs and mud pools to the Ruatapu cave, 36 metres deep with the mirror pool at its base. This was a fascinating visit which offered many beautiful views of the geothermal landform, albeit without any of the geysers in the park putting on a show.

Having completed our visit we rejoined the main road towards Rotorua, retracing our steps of Saturday to Wai-O-Tapu where we visited the mud pools we had missed. From here we drove into Rotorua to our motel. The town has the distinctive geothermal smell of H2S which permeates everywhere. Once settled we popped over the road, in the car, to the Countdown supermarket to repel nth supplies, buying a roast chicken and vegetables for tonight’s meal, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Tuesday 3rd February 2015. Day 148 Volcanic views

Our first full day in Rotorua offered more geothermal possibilities. As we were again tired we did not leave the motel until almost 11.00am. The smell of H2S continues its impact.

The first attraction was Hell’s Gate, a geothermal park to the north of the town. Named from George Bernard Shaw’s description of the area as ‘the entrance to Hell’ it offered another chance to see the range of geothermal activity and to be exposed to more Sulphur gases. A short drive brought us to the Park and we spent almost 2 hours strolling round the two geothermal areas, separated by a short bush walk. The features on show ate now familiar, although less colourful than this we enjoyed on our way to Taupo. The mud pools, ink pots and boiling water pools all generate their own fascination, engaging sight, hearing and smell as well as feeling the heat given off from the sinter. As we walked along the defined paths the sounds of boiling water or mud emerging from hidden vents close to the path was at times unnerving. The results of the geothermal activity here seemed to be more violent than those already experienced.

After enjoying this area we drove back towards Rotorua before diverting eastwards towards Lake Tarawera. On the way we drove round the eastern side of Lake Okareka then stopped at the Blue Lake, Lake Tikitapu where we had lunch on the lakeside. Finding a suitable spot was not without its minor excitements. We first chose a car park right on the lakeside, already occupied by some cars but with plenty of spaces in between. Choosing a space midway between two cars Eric neatly parked only to be presented with an excellent view, of a drain. Repeating the exercise further along the view this time was of two rubbish bins. Third time lucky we found a spot with a picnic bench.

After lunch we drove to a viewpoint which allowed a view over, not only the Blue lake but also the sacred Green Lake, Lake Rotokakahi. The colours of both lakes were distinctive, especially when they were not in shade from the intermittent cloud cover.

Beyond this viewpoint we reached the buried village, which was destroyed by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, a fissure eruption which also involved two neighbouring peaks. The vulcanicity here is facinating as these volcanic edifices are lava domes of rhyolite but this eruption generated basalt.

The buried village was the village of Te Wairoa which had grown up as a service centre for the tourist industry revolving around visiting the exquisite white and pink sinter terraces on nearby Lake Rotomahana. Although set up as a model farming village by an early missionary, the resident Maori soon took advantage of the economic opportunities offered by tourism. As a result f the eruption 120 people died and a number of kainga (Maori villages) were obliterated and the focus of the tourism, the terraces, were destroyed, drowned under a much enlarged lake. The night of the eruption produced tales if tragedy and heroism and the excavated reminds offer testimony to the strength of natural processes and human resilience. There is a link to Surrey as the Te Waiora meeting house, Hinemhini which survived the eruption now resides at Clandon Park.

From the village we drove to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Tarewera and down to the lake itself, allowing a clear view of the volcanoes, before returning to the motel.

At 5.20pm we were collected by a coach to take us to Tasaki village for our Hangi meal and cultural experience. Having validated our booking at the visitors centre the coach, named Huia, driven by our excellent guide Cairo, who greeted us from the four winds, headed south towards the village. As we drove this vehicle became a waka, a canoe, which we paddled around roundabouts while learning some Maori and what to expect fir the rest of the evening. A chief was selected, who would represent our tribe during the evening.

On arrival at Tanaka we assembled around the welcome space and the chiefs stood in front to face the ceremonial challenge from 3 warriors, the last bearing the peace offering, a tree branch to be picked up by one of the 4 chiefs from the 4 wakas that arrived that evening. Once this ceremony was completed, the women sang a welcome to us and our chiefs were welcomed with the Hong (pressing noses twice) and exchanging ‘Kia Ora’ we were welcomed into the village.

Once inside the gate we were divided into six groups which began a round robin of demonstrations of aspects of traditional Maori culture each located in front of a whare (building) dedicated to that skill. The demonstrations were:

Poi – the dexterous manipulation of balls on strings

Weaving

Stick games

Warrior training – improving footwork

Tattoos

The Haka

Volunteers were requested for many of these, thankfully not the tattooing, and Eric felt that he should join in with the three for which he was eligible. After participating in the stick game, a version of catch the stick as participants moved in response to commands, the warrior training, step patterns without touching the grid and the haka, he felt he had made enough of a spectacle of himself for the evening. How wrong he was.

The demonstrations completed we were shown the removal of our food from the pit where it had been steamed on a bed of hot stones. We then moved into the meeting house for a cultural show of song and dance, which was delivered with skill and enthusiasm. This was followed by the hangi, the meal of steamed food. It was cooked to perfection and the potato, sweet potato, stuffing, lamb and chicken went down a treat. This was followed by steamed pudding and Pavlova. A final round of songs, led by Cairo, closed the evening and we returned to our waka.

Once aboard we were expected to offer a song to the rest of the tribe, starting with the chief. Eventually it was our turn and Eric elected to go it alone, singing an old campfire song ‘Our paddles clean and bright’, which he got through without forgetting the words or the tune, although the latter was probably more ‘all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

As we started dropping off members of the tribe at their hotels we sang ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ as Cairo drove four times around the same roundabout. We were almost the last to be dropped off and we retired extremely happy with the experiences of the evening.

 

Wednesday 4th February 2015. Day 149. Geyser gushes

We continue to be tired, so are trying to cut down on what we are doing. We left the motel at 10.30 am and drove to the shopping mall across the road to find some new insoles for Joyce. Having done so much walking thus far her current set are quite worn through. Thx task accomplished we headed for Te Puia, to view the spectacular geyser. We found the site with no trouble and were allowed to park near the main entrance. Having purchased our day pass we decided to visit the geothermal parts first. From the terrace we could see spectacular geyser activity so we headed in that direction, pausing only to visit the kiwi house in a vain effort to see the Greater Spotted kiwi.

 

The geysers were still active when we arrived and we visited various viewpoints to enjoy their display. Set in a large sinter terrace, complete with numerous fumeroles and solfatara with bright yellow sulphur crystals, the large of the two geysers was erupting a continuous column of water and attendant steam up to 20 meters from a well developed sinter cone. Despite the benefit of a map of the park it was not fully clear which geysers we were seeing. In the end it turned out that we had seen the main geyser, Te Puia and its smaller neighbour ‘The Prince of Wales Feathers’ but at that time being ensure we Sa and waited for the next eruption. After almost an hour of waiting, the main geyser is supposed to erupt two of three times every hour, we gave up and walked around the rest of the geothermal displays, enjoying the boiling pools of water and mud. The mud offered a constant delight with bubbles forming and reforming and generating fountains of boiling mud. In one pool a wide range of volcanic forms could be seen, created in mud, with simulated lava flow, volcanoes and caldera, albeit on a very small scale.

On returning to the centre of the park Joyce returned to the car for our picnic things, as the visit had token far longer than we had expected. From the picnic table we were able to see the geysers again in full display as we enjoyed our lunch. After eating we revisited the kiwi and enjoyed watching the bird rooting through the forest floor in its enclosure in the dim light.

We next visited the Maori part of the park with its reconstructed village and marae. Here we saw a decorated share and store house and were allowed to enter the richly carved and panted meeting house, with its woven wall panels. As we left the park we visited the national carving and weaving centres, with beautiful displays of high quality skilled artistic endeavour.

From Te Puia we drove through Rotorua to the lake front and then parked near the museum. Built as a spa at the beginning of the 20th century as a government venture to encourage visitors the South Sea Spa was built in mock Elizabethan style, using innovative construction techniques including concrete made with crushed pumice. Despite the inspired vision the realities of creating a luxurious bathing establishment foundered on the technological difficulties of handling geothermal water and the building eventually became the museum.

Inside there was a cinema, with a 4D film on the 1886 eruption and an excellent display on the local Maori culture, with more about the 1886 eruption we had explored yesterday. An art gallery and a display of the building’s us in its heyday, including an exploration of the basement and the roof space en route to a viewing platform on the roof, completed our visit.

On our way back to the motel we passed the Polynesian Spa, where we took advantage of entry to the adults only pools. This spa can trace its roots back to the earliest bath houses in Rotorua and utilized hot eater from the Priests spring, an acid hot spring reputed to offer recovery from muscular maladies, and the Rachel Spring, an alkaline one offering eternal beauty. Having enjoyed 90 minutes soaking in a number of pools of both types we repaired to the motel for our second roast chicken meal.

 

Thursday 5th February 2015. Day 150. Lake longeurs

With only a short distance to drive today and no significant sights identified on our itinerary, we took our time and checked out at the latest possible moment at 10.00am. Having been regaled with the advertising blandishments of ‘The Warehouse’ and having failed to enter its hallowed portals yesterday, today was the day to check out this home of bargains. Once again driving across the road next to the motel, we parked and did a quick reconnoitre of this emporium of myriad delights. Having satisfied our curiosity we left without any purchases and took to the road to explore more of the Lakes District.

We retraced our steps on highway 30 towards Whaketane, passing Hell’s Gate, and reaching Lake Rotoiti. Although the overnight rain had passed and blue skies were becoming the order of the day, with occasional cumulus and cirrus clouds, the legacy of the tropical storm that had just passed could still be felt in a strong gusty wind. This tended to inhibit leaving the calm of the car so we admired the view of this large lake through the car windows. As we left our viewing spot we took a side road to Lake Okataina, which proved a short but interesting drive on a narrow, typically winding, road. This lake was a little more sheltered and offered a beautiful view from the boat launching ramp, albeit a little spoilt by the string of buoys supporting the nets inhibiting the spread of aquatic plants. This crater lake was smaller, with steeper sides clothed in native trees and with a more convoluted shoreline, making it visually more interesting. Having taken our fill of lacustrine loveliness we returned to the highway and passed Lake Rotoehu, with a brief picture stop, then Lake Rotoma, where again we paused for view, the second time at the downwind end of the lake where the breaking waves on the lakeshore were more reminiscent of ocean swells as they showered us with water.

Having completed the run of lakes we turned north for the coast and stopped at Matata where we enjoyed our picnic on an extensive sandy beach with very few other people in sight. The sunshine and the relatively light wind made this an excellent stopping point for a lunch and a paddle.

After lunch we resumed our travels towards Tauranga, passing through Te Puke, the Kiwi fruit capital of the world. As elsewhere we passed through the horticultural district marked by its very high wind break hedges, approaching 15 metres high in places.

We then drove into Mount Maunganui and having been blown off Pilot’s Beach we parked next to the Main Beach, which was a little more sheltered. Disappointed that he could not drive up the 232 meter high peak Eric resolved to climb it on foot. Joyce however decided that ice cream and a cup of tea were a far more sorting challenge therefore we again resolved the dilemma by dividing the responsibilities, Eric doing the climb and Joyce enjoying the refreshments.

On hour later Eric joined Joyce in the café where she had found refuge, having had her ice cream almost blown out of her hands. After a cup of something hot we drove towards an historic house we wanted to see in Tauranga, but snarled in heavy traffic we changed the plan and decided to head to our accommodation, which turned out to be where we had just left. One ‘U’ turn later we found our hosts and settled into the studio room.

After a brief test we went to the New World supermarket for a few necessities then took advantage of Pizza Hut’s 5$ for a large pizza offer, enjoying the pizzas back in our room.

 

Friday 6th February 2015. Day 151   Hobbit hokum

Today we undertook a long expected journey to visit the film set of Hobbiton, recreated in a more permanent form, with attendant tourist potential, for the Hobbit trilogy. We had booked a tour departing from the i-site in Matamata at 11.45am and therefore enjoyed a quiet start to the day before leaving must after 10.00am.

The route took us across the bridge to skirt Tauranga CBD, with impressive views over the harbour and into the port and the marina. Avoiding the toll road we made our way via Judea and Bethlehem, following the Cambridge Road. Try and do that anywhere else. Once we had shaken the dust of Tauranga from our wheels we headed over the Kaimai range on a fast but windy rad, especially descending to the plains beyond. The weather ahead looked threatening, with heavy showers in view, despite the blue sky, and the wind continued to be strong and very gusty.

The trip to Matamata took just over 50 minutes, with a stop for petrol as the warning light came on as we descended the hill. A convenient Gull station, which accepted our Countdown money off voucher, provided relief for Eric’s continued worries about running out of fuel. We pushed on along the main street, searching for signs to the i-site building, with no luck but ahead saw the building itself, a very impressive thatched structure which, despite being above ground, had all the hallmarks of hobbit architecture, including round doors and windows.

Finding somewhere to park for more than 60 minutes we visited a café for coffee and a snack, as our tour extended across luncheon and because second breakfast never goes amiss. We checked in at the registration desk, using the e-ticket on Joyce’s pad and were issued our entry tickets. The shuttle bus was waiting at the front door and we were soon heading towards Hobbiton, built on a mixed stock farm in the hills beyond Matamata. The site had been spotted by aerial survey as a potential setting because of its lake and distinctive pine tree, which was needed as ‘the party tree’. The original set, for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ had been temporary but the film’s success encouraged a more permanent replacement for the Hobbit.

The throughput of this site is impressive, with over 1,500 visitors per day in guided tour groups of around 40 people in the peak summer season. On arriving at the entrance to the site, with its extensive car park, café and gift shop, we collected our enthusiastic guide Jess, a student, who led us through the set while supplying us with interesting stories about what could be seen and what happened during filming. At least that was the idea but once the tour started 40 keen photographers stopping for ‘the picture’ made the reality a little different. We were not immune to the delights of photographing this gorgeous place and therefore missed many of Jess’s gems. The photographic process was made more difficult by the couples and families wanting a series of photographs with their loved ones posing in or in front of the points of interest. This proved a problem at times, leading to Eric muttering choice imprecations under his breath as a fifth or six photograph was being poised, with the photographer taking a long time to capture the moment.

The set is a delight with the quirky architecture of round windows and doors, at various scales for cinematic effect, set into hillsides with chimney pots set on the slope above. The gardens, decorative, vegetable and fruit, are beautifully maintained and produce crops to be used in the restaurant. The detail within each frontage is delightful, with beekeeping and an artist’s studio being most notable. Bag End is a delight, complete with the sign on the fate ‘No Admittance Except on Party Business’ and a most realistic artificial oak tree set above it.

The view over the lake to the thatched mill and Green Dragon Inn, with the stone built arched bridge, is a real delight and the tour ends with a drink in the Inn, although not to Eric’s aster as on offer was either alcoholic, carbonated or both. Once those who could had enjoyed their beverage we returned to the coach which took us back to the Visitor’s Centre for time in the gift shop, before returning us to Matamata at just before 3.00pm.

We were looking forward to an all day breakfast at the café we had visited earlier, only to find them losing up as we arrived. We finally discovered a pub where we enjoyed the next best thing, steak and chips. Having fortified ourselves we reversed our route and drove back over the mountain towards Tauranga. Nearing our destination we took a detour to McLaren Falls where we stopped to admire the rock face with a wide range of potholes exposed as much of the river’s flow is rounded behind a dam. Carrying on we explored a little more of rural New Zealand before rejoining the main road. The gps attempted to navigate us through the port, closed off by security gates. We had learnt better yesterday so Eric took his preferred route, eventually finding our way back to our studio by 5.20pm. A quiet evening followed, with some work on the blog trying t catch up on the days missed.

 

Saturday 7th February 2015. Day 152. Beach blandishments

Leaving Mount Maunganui we drove bit Tauranga where we visited the gardens of the Elm Mission, the home of the missionary efforts in New Zealand. The house and chapel were closed but we enjoyed a stroll through the grounds. This was followed by a walk around the Monmouth Redoubt, a defensive position built by the Monmouth Light infantry during the Maori rebellions of the 1860s.

Leaving Tauranga we reached Katikati where we took a few photographs of the murals then drove to the headland at Bowentown, pa site, with good coastal views. Buying coffee en route we stopped at Waihi beach to drink it and have a paddle. This was followed by a brief stop at a reserve in Waihi town, where a pond boasted 3 resident Pukekas.

From Waihi we drove into the Karangahake gorge, the middle section of which is spectacular. This area was an important gold mining location and boasts much industrial archaeology. From across the river we viewed the Victoria battery, a rock crushing site allowing recovery of gold and visited the Goldfields railway Waikino and Waihi stations Back in Waihi we saw the 230m deep gold mine pit.

Our route then took us to Waimama beach and then the long Whangamata beach where we enjoyed Craig’s fish and chips on a bench overlooking the beach. We then went to the crescent beach at Onemana beach and Opoutere beach of whitish sand, reached after a stroll through a forest.

At Tairua harbour we enjoyed ice-creams while viewing the marina and beach. Our last stop was Hot water beach where a large crowd of people marked the best spots for enjoying the hot springs which lie beneath the sand. We arrived just before 6.00pm, two hours after low tide, so the tide w’s coming in but there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the thermal pools. We realised w were not correctly equipped as we did not have our own spade to dig a pool in the sand. However w dud find an abandoned pool and Joyce enjoyed sitting in the hot water, tempered by cold sea water as the waves invaded the pool, driven by the rising tide. The water was certainly very hot, digging ones feet into the sand resulted in near scales. Eric did not embrace the while experience, preferring just to paddle. Having experienced this phenomena w drove to our hosts marina front cottage in Whitianga, which had been moved as a single unit from elsewhere.

 

Sunday 8th February 2015. Day 153 Whitangia wanderings

Today saw a leisurely start as we were booked in to the 10.30 glass bottomed boat tour of Mercury Bay. The boat left from the wharf only a short walk from our accommodation. With a party of 14 we headed past the impressive ignimbrite cliffs to Cook Beach in Cook Bay then into the spectacular Cathedral Cove, with its long tunnel through the headland and numerous stcks. Aging we flirted with the silver screen as Prince Caspian was filmed here. We also visited Champagne Bay and Orua’s cave, big enough to take the boat, and developed along the fault line associated with the springs at hot water bay. We spent time in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve watching the marine life through the glass bottom of the boat. Just outside the reserve near one of the island in the bay w enjoyed a snorkel and were impressed by the profusion and variety of sea life.

Returning to our room we showered and dressed and enjoyed a sandwich lunch before heading out at 2.15pm to explore more of the Coromandel peninsula. On our way we visited  Kuaotohu Bay and Matarangi Beach with its beach front houses. At Whangapua beach we paddled at one end of the beach and enjoyed ice cream at the other, having looked at the lagoon and the way to New Chum beach.

The road then travelled inland and over a pass with the Maungataururu viewpoint and access to the Lissell battery, which proved too far to walk. We then reached Coromandel and drove north looking at Shelley Bay, Oamaru Bay, Papa Aroha and Amodeo Bay. We turned round 7.7 km before reaching Colville and returned to Coromandel. A elk along the main street produced a number of dining potentials bur in the end we chose the Pepper Tree restaurant for a meal of Lamb and Beef n Reef

Returning to Whitianga involved a short cut using Road 309, an unsealed road. This proved to be an interesting drive. The road surface was fine but again the way was steep and tortuous. Soon after the start we found the Kauri grove and walked to a viewpoint of 8 mature Kauri trees which had survived the extensive logging of the region. Although kiwi apparently lived in the area we were not fortunate enough to see any more.

 

Monday 9th February 2015. Day 154. Auckland arrival

Leaving our hosts at 9.30am we took another unsealed road, this time Coraglen to Tapu. As we neared the other side of the peninsula we stumbled upon Rapaura falls and water gardens and enjoyed a visit to to this beautiful site. After a coffee and cake we drove on to Tapu. Following the coast we traversed the Tapu-Ruamahuga scenic reserve and the Te Puru foreshore and scenic reserves bore reaching Thames.

Thames had a wealth of industrial history, based on gold, with a number of very fine old buildings. We strolled around the older parts of town and enjoyed a snack of pies in a bakery. We then drove into th Coromandel Forest Park along the Kauaeragai Valley, although we turned back when a notice on the unsealed road informed us that the road beyond that point was not council maintained.

From Thames we headed into Auckland with one brief stop for an ice cream. Joyce had a chiropractor appointment for 6.00pm so Eric dropped her off before finding our last B&B stay in New Zealand in Newmarket, near the Auckland Domain. Having settled in Eric drove beck t collect Joyce. Near the chiropractor was a take away selling roast dinners o w enjoyed a sit in meal of pork and beef. Needing petrol Eric consults the gps for the nearest BP or Caltech station as he needed to use up the points on h’s AA fuel card. Par for the course, as in Sydney, the first location proved to have no petrol station. Trusting in technology and being sure lightning would not strike twice Eric headed for the second indicated location and again drew a blank. Frustrated he headed off in a random directions and finally found Caltech station, with relatively cheap petrol, finally a win: win situation.

Following the gps back to Newmarket took us part Mt Eden. We drove to the summit and enjoyed evening views over Auckland as well as the view into the spectacular crater. Once back in our accommodation Eric parked the  underground carpark, not needing it until we travel to the airport on Thursday.

 

Tuesday 10th February 2015. Day 155 Domain doings

We took our time this morning, with Joyce dong some washing and Skyping with Clare and Ed. Just before 12.00pm we headed out into the Auckland domain to visit the War Memorial Museum. Set on the hill top in a most impressive building with a recent extension, fronted by the cenotaph, the museum houses a most impressive collection of Pacific and Maori artefacts on the ground floor, as well and Natural History on the first floor and on the top floor the military and memorial sections, which are well displayed. We spent 3 hours exploring the collections and having lunch in the café, finally finding our all day breakfast.

On leaving the museum we headed for the Parnell district visiting the beautiful wood church of St Mary’s, in the Gothic style and the modern Holy Trinity Cathedral, the choir and chancel built of brick and stone and the navel of wood. The stained glass west window is very impressive. After this we wandered along the shopping street with its picturesque buildings before returning to our room. Dinner tonight involved eating up or last emergency meal.

Eric spent the evening, until late, bringing the blog up to date while Joyce completed a second round of washing, ready for the next stage in our travels.

 

Wednesday 11th February 2015. Day 156 Maritime manoeuvres

We were again a little slow in getting going this morning but were heading out by 10.30am. We had bought two HOP cards yesterday for use on Auckland’s public transport system, despite the fact that we were only using them for one day and they cost $5 before any top up. Eric had decided that using the card would be far easier than using cash. We first investigated the location of the hair salon for Joyce’s appointment tomorrow then walked to the Khyber Pass Road to find a bus stop for the Inner Link route.

The bus soon arrived and we tapped on for the short trip to K-Road where we were to catch the City Link service. Despite protestations from Joyce, Eric dragged her off the bus, remembering to tap off, at what he was convinced was the correct stop only to find that we had to walk to the next stop, where conveniently the red bus was waiting long enough for us to catch it.

Proceeding down Queen’s Street with its imposing, if slightly drab façades, we passed the ferry buildings and reached the Wynward area of the waterfront which is being newly developed. Passing the storage silos and the fish market, with views of the harbour bridge in the distance, we found ourselves amongst cafés right on the quayside with the Maritime Museum in close proximity Joyce stopped for a much needed coffee while Eric went back to take the photographs he was going to take on our return to the bus stop where we were going to catch the returning bus to the Maritime Museum which we now no longer needed to catch as the Museum was so close at hand, if you see what I mean. After coffee and a pause as the pedestrian bridge was raised to allow a catamaran out of the inner basin we strolled further along the waterfront to the Maritime Museum where we gained discounted entry, with another voucher, on our Senior’s price. We also booked a harbour cruise which left from the museum’s jetty.

While waiting for the cruise we walked around the first two galleries with interesting examples of Pacific canoes and more modern New Zealand seafaring. At 1.15pm we assembled, along with a group of excited school children, ready to board the Tom Ashby, a ketch rigged scow which had been built for the museum’s inauguration, 20 years ago. Although normally under sail this trip was under engine power and we traversed the marina before venturing out into the outer harbour and under the harbour bridge. We then travelled back past the ferry and cruise terminals before docking at the museum.

As time was getting on we left the museum and found a waterfront café for lunch of fish and chips for Joyce and burger for Eric. After the meal we went back into the museum and finished our tour before walking to view the ferry terminal from the shore, conveniently at a Movenpick ice cream outlet.

Having enjoyed the entertainment by Swiss ice cream we walked up Albert Street to Sky City and watched as intrepid souls flung themselves from near the top. We attempted to gain entry but the top level was closed for maintenance and there was no discount on the entry nor would they accept our discount voucher on Senior’s entry prices. Eric walked out in disgust at this.

From Skycity the Inner Link bus was available to take us back to near our accommodation going the long way via Ponsonby. We sat and waited for almost 30 minutes before the 5.25pm bus arrived at 5.55pm, displaying a Bus Full sign. Thankfully some passengers alighted and we were able squeeze on. The journey took us through some new areas of Auckland and from Grafton Station a short walk along the edge of the Auckland Domain, where 10 games of cricket were being played within the space of the major cricket field, brought us to our accommodation. We spent the evening packing ready for our flight tomorrow.

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