The day started early as usual. This time we couldn't blame the children; it was the grown ups that were keen to catch the ten o'clock flight to Christchurch.
We're like a well-oiled machine when it comes to packing up and checking out. In fact, recently, it's the only time we've been well oiled.
And so we set off from Piha and drove to Auckland airport. As ever, the road signs were scant and it required help from a petrol station to get us back on the beaten track. Bec feels obliged to buy something in each of the garages we stop at for directions. Currently our haul includes a cordless screwdriver, a cool box and a patio heater.
The flight from Auckland to Christchurch took just over an hour and was straightforward. There was a poor chap behind us who was petrified of flying who shook throughout the entire flight. Unsurprisingly, the madcap antics of our progeny did nothing to calm his nerves.
Alistair met us at the airport. Luckily, like Andy he has a truck, so getting us and our pile of luggage back to his house wasn't a problem. On the way back we learnt of a crazy rule of the road that I'd been blissfully unaware of on North Island. If you're turning right, seemingly approaching traffic turning left into the same road has priority. No wonder the North Islanders had been scowling at me.
When we got to Al and Susan's house the children were immediately transported back to toy heaven. We didn't hear a peep from them for hours, and only had to reprimand them once for throwing stones at the neighbours' houses.
A quick visit to the park followed and then we dispatched them. Once all was quiet we opened a bottle of wine, and then another. And then another.
And this morning the children seem to be making an awful lot of noise. Funny that.
June 11, 2005.
Today we all jumped in the car and drove downtown. Christchurch is a small city, not dissimilar to the size of Leeds. In summer I suspect it's heaving with people and has quite an atmosphere. Today, in the depths of winter, well it just looked like Leeds.
We visited an arts centre, which was neat. Lots of artisans selling their wares. They were all wrapped up in outfits that would have been suitable for a nuclear winter; these guys are obviously not cut out for the cold. We strolled round in our shirt sleeves. I think if we had let her, Lottie would have taken her vest of and run about in just her pants.
At the market, there were four Maori children that were doing the Hakka. These guys were probably aged between four and ten, but the whole thing still looked quite impressive. Goodness knows how intimidating it must be when fifteen All Blacks square up to you and do it. Ben gave them quite the hard stare, and I was pleased that he didn't attempt to wrestle them to the ground when they'd finished.
We jumped on a tram that trundled round town and gave a historical commentary. Alistair's commentary was much more contemporary and better value. Still the kids loved it, and with Al's help, they now know where all the Strip Clubs are.
In the afternoon we drove back home and the children played in the garden and watched television. Regardless of our location in the world, it seems we are only ever been ten feet away from a Lion King video. It's a reassuring thought, and buys us all some quiet time.
Simba and his Chums drove Al and I to head for the hills. We took the mountain bikes out and headed off up some steep and dusty track. Despite my two week Canmore boot-camp, Al was well ahead of me on the bike. It was good to get out, and, despite the damp weather, the views over Christchurch were reasonable.
We arrived home covered head to foot in mud. I think we even scared the children.
Tomorrow we're headed off to Hamner for a short break. If I can get this mud out from under my eyelids, more later.
June 12, 2005.
Now here's a thing. I reckon I'm solar powered. The weather here is cold and grey and whilst this makes me feel less homesick, it's much harder to feel energised.
Our hosts are continually apologising for the weather. Although it's not the weather we ordered, it's almost certainly better than home. And at least it's not acid rain.
The only downside is that my capsule wardrobe isn't quite cut out for the climate. In fact I'm having to wear the entire capsule all at once. I've convinced myself that the Hawaiian shirt really does set off my wellies.
In search of better weather we packed up the cars and headed off for Hamner. This is a resort some ninety minutes drive from Christchurch. We've booked a holiday home for a couple of nights and so it's like a holiday within a holiday for us. It was reassuring that our hosts, the Blomleys, took more stuff away with them for the two night break up the road than we have with us for our three month round the world jaunt.
On the way we stopped at the Golden Arches for some lunch. Despite you thinking that by now we must have 'supersized' ourselves, this is only the second time in the entirety of the trip that we have eaten chez Ronald MacDonald. Anyway, the meal was sufficiently nutritionally deficient to mean it tasted absolutely great.
The drive north to Hamner was geologically interesting. These guys have got every type of landscape; it's like driving through a geography text book. But less boring. Much of the journey took us through limestone country, with the sheep, the rolling hillsides and the drizzle we could have been at Malham.
We arrived in Hamner and moved into our house. The place was freezing and the only real source of heat was a wood-burning stove. So it didn't take long before Alistair and I were out flailing about with axes in a fairly random attempt to chop wood.
Typing with only seven fingers is tough and so my posts might get increasingly shorter.
With a roaring fire and the children full of spaghetti and sausages it started to feel more like home. Thankfully you can buy beer and wine in Hamner so the evening' entertainment was, as usual, the blokes talking nonsense.
Our plan tomorrow is to dip in the hot springs. I might even take some of these clothes off.
June 13, 2005.
Apologies for the latest outage. Things have been a hoot here, and we really have been too occupied to keep this journal updated. A temporary aberration, I promise.
We continued our winter holiday in Hamner and woke up to more lousy weather. Our hosts are still continually apologising for the weather, which is unnecessary, but keeps them busy. The weather today was exceptionally lousy and in keeping with the scenery is just as you'd expect in December in the Lake District. It was that fine rain. The dinner ladies would have had us all sat inside for sure.
Fortunately, the weather today didn't matter as we were off to the hot springs. These are outdoor pools that are fed with geothermally heated water. The smell is pretty sulphurous, and for the first time in about six weeks we didn't need to keep smelling Ben's bottom to see where the stench was coming from. Nevertheless the water is hot hot hot and so we spent all morning turning into prunes.
The actual process of taking children swimming is fairly straightforward. It's the getting them changed in and out of their trunks that results in a gong show. This time the whole undressing thing passed without incident. It was the getting out part that fell to pieces. In pursuit of efficiency, Bec and I had chosen to take one child each. I had the little fellah and Bec had the little princess. Just as I took Ben into the changing room he weed (is that the past participle of to wee?) down my front. That bit is par for the course, but when I returned to the locker Bec had taken all of our clothes into her cubicle. So I was running about outside where it was about five degrees, peering under the other cubicles in the hope that I would spot my wife from a purely ankle based perspective. In the meantime Bec had replaced my clothes, with some of hers back in the locker. I eventually found them and swiped the lot. The whole hide-and-seek process was repeated several times in an increasingly comedy style. I remained largely naked and covered in urine throughout. Terry and June eat your heart out.
Once we'd recovered we ate an unusually relaxed lunch and took the children back to the house for some quiet time. Grabbing our chance, Al and I took the mountain bikes out again for a quick hurtle round a local forest. Trees, mud, lots of huffing and puffing. It was good fun and nice to be outside, despite the awful weather.
We returned to the house and acted like excitable schoolboys; 'Look ladies, look how muddy us blokes got. Look at us in our muddy underpants. Look how we're all muddy, except for our feet. Look'. I strung it out a bit longer than Al, because I'm a bit better looking in just my pants. The ladies love it.
Once showered and fully clothed we put on some of Alistair's eclectic music collection and danced with the children. Ben was the last man standing; in fact I think he was hoping for an all night rave.
In the evening Al and Sue looked after the children and Bec and I had a rare evening out together. We ate out at a local restaurant and spent the time reviewing the trip so far and planning the weeks to come.
On balance, a great day. We seem to have been away for ever.
June 14, 2005.
We woke to more miserable weather and on this basis decided to leave our holiday home in Hamner. We'd exhausted the wet-weather options there, and mini-golf in the rain just didn't appeal to any of the grown-ups.
So we packed up and hoovered the house. It's amazing how much stuff four children can grind into a carpet over the space of just two days. The inside of the vacuum cleaner must have looked like a giant bag of Bombay mix.
Anyway we packed up, leaving only Lottie's coat and drove the ninety minutes back to Christchurch. We stopped briefly to shatter the peace of the other diners at a beautiful restaurant on the way home. The staff we very attentive, and apart from providing cable ties to cuff the children to their seats, did everything they could to help.
The food here in New Zealand is exceptional. Everything seems fresh and full of flavour. I'm not naturally a great foodie, but I think the stuff here is great. I might put the bathroom scales on eBay when I get home.
When we finally got back to chez Blomley the weather had dried up a little, so we drove out to Sumner, a small coastal resort just fifteen minutes drive away. We took toys with wheels and scooted along the esplanade on a variety of scooters, trikes and a dinosaur on a leash.
Then for the second time in less than four hours we took the children to trash another café. In Sumner there is a place dedicated to the enjoyment of tea. A good cup of tea is high on my list of priorities and so we went to see what all the fuss was about. The place was superb, playing oriental music and offering low-slung benches on which to play out the whole tea ceremony thing. It was an oasis of calm. And then we turned up.
Disaster. The teapots were presented with burning candles underneath, and egg timers to ensure perfect infusion timing. Soft drinks were presented in foot-high gossamer glass flutes. It was possibly the least child-safe venue on the whole of South Island.
Anyway we blew out the candles, gulped down our tea, knocked things over a bit, apologised and left. The place was great, it just wasn't right for us.
We came home, washed tea off the children, and packed them off to bed. We watched television, drank beer, and ate crisps.
From Terry and June to Homer and Marge in less than twenty-four hours.
June 15, 2005.
In a selfless show of kindness, Al and I offered to look after the children this morning for a couple of hours whilst the ladies went into town. They could stay out as long as they wanted, as long as they were back before eleven o'clock.
There was method in our madness, as Al and I had planned to drive out to the Mount Hutt ski field to do some skiing. We did a reasonable job of stopping the feisty infants from maiming one another whilst the ladies were gone. The house was toast, but no blood was spilt.
On their return we did a handover of about six seconds and then drove ninety minutes up the road to Mount Hutt. The last sixteen kilometres of the journey were the most impressive, and consisted of a very steep unsealed track with almost room enough for two cars to pass. If the roads to the ski resorts in Europe were like that, the sport would have died out long ago.
At the resort we bought an afternoon ski pass and hit the slopes. In fact, I spent most of the afternoon doing just that, hitting the slopes. In a moment of poorly structured thinking, Al persuaded me that he should ski and I should snowboard. It would be like a handicap system, each of us exploiting our weakest discipline.
After just one lap of nursery slope, Al was convinced I was ready for the chairlift. Besides, I had eaten most of the snow of the lower slope, and the steep stuff at the top looked much tastier.
I managed to buy more time with the beginners and it was during this time that I decided that I was an old dog and that snowboarding was a new trick. At this point we swapped boots and reverted to our transport of choice. There were only two slopes open; it's early in the season, but the snow was good, and on skis I spend much more time standing up than on my backside, so I started to have some fun.
Later in the day, Al persuaded me to move back to the dark side and strap the slippy tin tray back onto my feet. His explanation was great, and peppered with phrases like, 'No it's really very easy, just put your weight on your left leg.' It all made sense until it came to the execution whereupon I just kept biffing my head into the snow. I got quite good at that bit.
The skiing came to an end at about four o'clock and we headed back down the hill. On the way back to Al's house we stopped at Susan's parents' place. It's fantastic and was almost identical to our house, apart from the twenty-five acres, the pool, the aircraft hanger complete with plane and the airstrip. Worse still, Susan's parents are lovely folk.
Susan's Dad was out cutting the lawn, so Al stole the electric golf cart and we rode out to meet him. Now here's a thing about electric golf carts, they can go pretty fast. Particularly when Al is driving. He took care not to take out many of the sapling hazelnut trees that grow on the estate, but it was a white knuckle ride nonetheless.
We stayed to drink tea and talk about our skiing exploits, and then hurtled off in the truck back to see the ladies and the children.
Anyway, that's all for now. It's been tricky trying to type this with my wrists in plaster.
June 16, 2005.
A day on the beach. More later. I promise.
June 17, 2005.
The objective today was to drive as far south as possible. Our target was Queenstown, four hundred and fifty kilometres away, but we knew that this was probably further than we'd get in one day.
After a morning spent retrieving our stuff from the farthest corners of the Blomley's house we set off south. Actually getting out of Christchurch was the most difficult bit of the journey. We had begun to wish we'd brought a ball of wool with us, one end tied to their gatepost, so that we could simply wind it back up in a week's time.
Alistair has lent us his car for the duration. I don't think it's ever been driven so slowly. His parting shot was 'it doesn't matter if you trash it, I need a new one anyway'. He's only been in New Zealand for five years and already he's a full-on Kiwi bloke.
Once we were out of the suburbs the weather started to improve. There was a nor-wester, a warmer wind which allegedly makes people behave strangely and causes an arch of cloud in the sky. We saw the cloud, but behaviour was pretty much standard in the back of the car.
As we drove further south we started to see the picture postcard New Zealand. Lots of empty plains surrounded by mountains and sheep. Lots of sheep.
We stopped for a run around at Lake Tekapo, a vast body of water surrounded by snowy peaks. By this time the cloud was hugging the mountain tops so we saw few summits. It was very reminiscent of Scotland in the winter. Very pleasant indeed.
We stopped at a tiny church on the shore of the Lake where a couple had just got married. The setting was tranquil and the mountain air still. Then Ben slipped on the steps, banging his head and letting out a shrill yodel down the valley. They may have to dub the wedding video.
About an hour later we arrived in a place called Twizel. The Lonely Planet guide refers to it as an uneventful place. And they are right. The only redeeming features are some abandoned diggers that now serve as a playground. On the strength of that alone we decided to stay the night.
More rugby on the television tonight. The best bits are the adverts. In amongst ads for beer, cars and supermarkets are ads for worm treatments for cattle and sheep dip. It's a different world.
Tomorrow we're headed further south. Expect more then.
June 18, 2005.
Whoa It's Chilly
It may be the hottest day of the year at home but it really is winter here today. We woke up in Twizel to a ground frost and not for the first time I began to wish I'd packed more clothes for this trip.
Lottie and Ben were eager to play on the abandoned diggers that I mentioned yesterday. It transpires that these were left behind after some hydroelectric project that was completed in the late sixties. Despite being old, rusty and covered in ice they are just the job for entertaining under fives.
When I'd managed to unstick Ben's frozen tongue from the bucket of a front loader we jumped in the car and continued our journey south.
Bec drove today and quickly got the hang of an automatic gearbox. I was demoted to navigator, a fairly lowly role on a two-hundred kilometre stretch without any junctions.
Despite the cold start, once the sun was up the temperatures began to rise quickly and we were driving under blue skies. The landscape remained very reminiscent of Scotland as we passed through mountain roads interspersed with flood plain. As we got beyond Cromwell and closer to Queenstown the landscape became less rugged and gave way to acres of orchards and vineyards.
We arrived in Queenstown at lunchtime and ate at a funky café. It was too cool for children really and we shattered the peace of the hungover twenty-somethings who were enjoying a relaxing Sunday brunch.
After lunch we headed down to the lakeside where all sorts of adrenaline inducing activities were taking place. Lottie pronounced that 'This place is even crazier than Disney'. She was right, despite not ever having been to any of Walt's resorts.
The only extreme activity we engaged in was toddler wrestling. Ben had decided that he was going on a boat. Without consulting either parents or crew he would bound up any available gangplank, his little legs carrying him as fast as possible. Any attempt at restraining the stowaway ended in a sustained crowd-stopping wail.
We found a place to stay overnight and then walked back into town. We stopped to kick a ball about in a vain attempt to tire the children out.
The rest of the day followed its usual course. Find somewhere to eat, order chicken nuggets, cover them in sauce and drop them on the floor. The children didn't disappoint and Ben displayed the highest degree of gongery which won him the big prize of three spoons of Medised, which was awarded at bedtime.
As ever, more tomorrow.
June 19, 2005.
We'll Get There When We Get There
Despite his Medised chaser, Ben was up with the lark again this morning. It seems impossible to wear the little guy out.
Part of the problem with early starts right now is that it doesn't get light until just after eight, so the first two hours of the day are spent putting sugar puffs down the back of the sofabed.
The room we were staying in last night didn't have a dining table. We did, however have a low-slung coffee table in the room. I decided that we would eat breakfast Japanese style, all of us knelt in an orderly fashion on the carpet with our bowls of wheatiebangs on the coffee table. Hands up who thinks that worked? The room ended up looking like the set of Tiswas.
Breakfast was more abandoned than completed, and after picking up a gazillion sugar coated corn puffs off the carpet I'd have given my right arm for a dustbuster.
Once out of the hotel we set off to the park. The weather was cold again and it didn't take the children long to freeze to the apparatus. We stopped for coffee and then went shopping.
Lottie has grown out of, or worn out most of her clothes. Her current look is asylum seeker chic. So much so that people we visit have been taking the clothes off the backs of their own children to dress ours. This is a cost effective strategy for clothing kids but is now so effective it's embarrassing.
And so we spent an hour in a kids’ clothes shop buying outfits for Lottie. We were congratulating ourselves on how unique our daughter would be when she gets back home with her Kiwi wardrobe. Look at us with our Pumpkin Patch princess. Oh, isn't she global for a four year old.
It was only when we'd spent a hundred dollars that we saw that their catalogue listed a branch at the Metro Centre.
We ate lunch at a particularly good place called Dux de Lux. They even had toys for the children that we had to prise out of Ben's hands when it came time to leave. Toy deprivation is the worst part of this trip for the children. When they complain I tell them they better get used to it. We sold all their stuff to finance the trip.
After lunch we climbed in the car and drove the hundred and seventy kilometres to Te Anau. This is the last town before Milford Sound. The drive out here was uneventful. The terrain was less dramatic than yesterday's drive and the light was much flatter. For the most part the children slept. During the last twenty kilometres Lottie woke up and then asked how far we had to go approximately every hundred metres. On balance she's been very patient with all the driving we've done. Almost as patient as her parents.
We arrived at our motel at around four in the afternoon. We chose it on the strength of its playground. In reality this is little more than a rusty swing and a piece of corrugated tin roof that doubles as a slide. The picture in the brochure looks like an advert for the tetanus jab.
Other than that the place is fairly basic. In fact the whole town is fairly basic and has a real out of season feel about it. There's little reason to come here unless you're on the way to Milford Sound. It's a long way to come just to play on a rusty swing. Even Ben senses that there must be another reason for stopping here.
It's a big day tomorrow. More driving, a boat out on Milford Sound and then back here to the Bates Motel.
Sea legs and psychopaths permitting, more tomorrow.
June 20, 2005.
I'm Never Getting On A Boat Again
As ever Ben was first out of the blocks this morning. However, for a change our six o'clock wake up was consistent with our schedule. Today we were eager to get a flying start on the road to Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau is only one hundred and twenty kilometres, but there is a good deal of scaremongery masquerading as driving advice in these parts. The motoring advisories make it sound like you're driving to middle earth and cinematically you are. But practically there's not much to worry about. There is no petrol en route and snow chains are recommended. Given that we had a full tank and it wasn't snowing we were more than adequately prepared.
We set off well before eight and headed out in the dark. The rain was atrocious and there was hardly anyone else about. On this basis alone it felt like we were setting out on a big adventure; even the children picked up on this and were unusually subdued.
The first half of the drive was similar to much of the territory we had already driven through in the last few days. However once we were over what is called The Great Divide the landscape changed dramatically. All of a sudden the peaks around us became incredibly steep sided, the vegetation turned into temperate rain forest and waterfalls cascaded from every available surface. It was, and I use the term advisedly, awesome.
About twenty kilometres from Milford we passed through the Homer Tunnel. This was only completed in 1953 after eighteen years of hard labour. It is the roughest looking tunnel I've ever been through and apart from the sealed road surface, looks entirely unfinished. The tunnel walls have been left as rough rock and the illumination is provided by little more than a string of fairy lights. Still, as tunnels go, it works brilliantly.
We arrived at Milford and bought tickets for a two hour sailing that was to take us the length of Milford Sound through to the Tasman Sea. The boat we were on wasn't the biggest on the jetty. It was bigger than a raft but smaller than a ship. I'm sure you nautical types have a proper name for this type of vessel. Anyway there were about twenty passengers with room for about thirty more.
From the boat the views were incredible. Although the torrential rain meant that visibility was reduced, it did mean that the waterfalls were brimming over. I've never seen so much water. Except for maybe bath time when the kids have been on the Red Bull.
The whole place is magnificent. It's no good me blathering on about it. It almost defies description. Suffice to say the sides of the fjord are very steep and they get up to nine thousand millimetres of rain a year. It's waterfall central.
As a family we were ahead on points at this stage. We'd not run out of fuel, dropped off the edge of the road, missed the boat or fallen in the water. It was never going to last.
And so, just minutes after we'd emerged from the fjord into the Tasman Sea we hit the swell. Three metres of angry swell. It took Lottie less than fifteen seconds to announce her intentions and within a minute the contents of her stomach was neatly bagged and held tightly in my hands. It transpires she has more stomachs than a cow and by the time we got back to the flat water I was clutching five bags of partially digested sugar coated corn puffs.
Just for the record she was a very brave girl, and didn't complain once. We felt very sorry for her and some guilt at subjecting her to the ordeal. As we disembarked there was a beautiful moment where she announced to one of the crew 'I am never getting on a boat again'. I can't fault her logic.
And so we drove back to Te Anau stopping briefly to walk up to The Chasm, a waterfall that has cut huge cleft deep into the surrounding rock.
Our learning point today was not to buy fish and chips from a newsagent. Tonight we did. In an attempt to save a few dollars and a restaurant carpet we thought we'd buy fish and chips and eat them back at the motel. The only place in town that was open was a newsagent that had a deep fat fryer. The lady behind the counter was sufficiently overweight to suggest that her fried fancies were nothing short of irresistible. Encouraged by the girth of her outsize jogging pants I ordered two portions of cod and chips and ten minutes later I found myself salivating all the way back to the motel.
The first hint of disaster arose as I began to unwrap the soggy chips. They'd been packed into waxed paper bags identical to those Lottie had been decanting her stomach contents into just hours earlier. The memory was just too fresh to ignore.
Worse to come was the fish that sagged woefully under an inch and a half of barely cooked batter. Not wanting to put the children off their meal, Bec and I looked sideways at each other and mumbled 'Cette poisson c'est merde'. Lottie asked what we were talking about but Ben evidently understood because he just tipped everything on his plate onto the floor. I don't blame him. Another meal abandoned.
Chips from a newsagent. Incredible. They weren't even wrapped in newspaper.
June 21, 2005.
To Dunedin And Don't Spare The Horses
We had quite a long drive ahead of us this morning. It's nearly three hundred kilometres from Te Anau to Dunedin and so we checked out of the Bates motel at around eight o'clock and hit the road.
The roads were deserted. As always the road was in good condition but was single carriageway for its entire length. By now the children have got quite used to getting in the car, squabbling for half an hour, demanding that we play the fun songs tape and then falling asleep.
Just a tip to any of you who might be considering taking infants on a bigtrip. If you take a cassette to play in the car, make sure you can bear the songs to be indelibly etched on your soul for the rest of your days.
I've even created my own star wars version of the classic 'The Hokie Cokie'. You can try this at home, just start by replacing the chorus with the phrase 'Obi-Won Kenobi' and busk the rest.
Bec was right. We should have taken more than one tape.
Anyway we were on our sixth rendition of Jungle Jazz when we approached another car coming the other way. This provided a bit of interest on these otherwise unpopulated roads so I broke out of my jungle jazz induced trance and stuck my foot down.
Look Daddy a police car. Look at its flashing lights. Look at the angry looking police lady. Look Daddy she's pointing at you.
Anyway she stopped me for speeding. I'd been driving at 112 kph in a hundred zone. Well below my personal best as it happens, but it made me a felon nonetheless.
I decided that my approach to the police lady should be eccentric English fop. For the next few minutes I was Hugh Grant, charming, humble and apologetic.
My acting career was hopeless and short lived. It cost me eighty dollars, twenty demerit points and a hard stare from my wife.
The rest of the journey was straightforward by comparison. We arrived in Dunedin mid-afternoon. Dunedin is the medieval name for Edinburgh and there are lots of Scottish connections here. It's not a particularly touristy place but it's far from unpleasant.
We ate lunch at a café, paid my fine at the local bank and then returned to our motel for an hour of wrestling with the children.
Anyway unless I'm banged up for more misdemeanours, more tomorrow.
June 22, 2005.
In his eagerness to explore Dunedin, Ben was up at half five. Our motel room was dark and cold and it felt like a long way from home. The place we were staying was huge, it was a two-bedroom suite, the biggest problem was heating it with little more than a hair dryer and a packet of peppermints. Bec asked the question 'how did we ever go camping?'. It was a good one. We must be turning soft in our old age.
The only discovery we have made in respect of keeping warm is the marvellous electric blanket. They are all the rage over here and all the beds seem to have them. Waking up in the morning with deep fried buns is delightful. It just makes getting out of bed all the more difficult. Still, the children help with that part.
We packed up the car and made it down to the Otago museum in town. It was superb. Lots of stuff for children to do and pretty interesting for grown ups too. I still can't believe how the Polynesians got thousands of miles across the Pacific in dugout canoes. It's another thing to add to my list of conspiracy theories.
We left Dunedin at lunchtime and drove very carefully to Timaru. It was two hundred kilometres and I drove all the way at 99.8 kph. After the first twenty kilometres I had a six-hundred vehicle convoy in my wake. Still I was the leader of the pack. And that's where any further comparison to Gary Glitter ends.
We arrived in Timaru two hours and fourteen seconds later. There's a nice beachfront named Caroline Bay and a high street but not much else. We had pre-booked our accommodation and were delighted to find we'd been given the Heartbeat themed room. All that was missing was that cheeky Nick Berry. It was the most incredibly old fashioned room I think I've ever stayed in. It was retro, but not in a good way.
We ate out at a miserable restaurant where Bec ordered and then sent back green-lipped mussels. We then went back to the room and cried.
Actually that last bit's not true. We put the telly on, which to my surprise wasn't black and white, and sucked on peppermints wrapped in electric blankets.
Us, not the peppermints.
June 23, 2005.
Back To Christchurch
Ben woke early again. I've stopped looking at my watch when he wakes up and instead use what little energy I can muster to establish the temperature. Our motel this morning was particularly chilly, and so we had to lift Ben from his cot and bring him into the grown-up’s bed to defrost. He then spent an hour playing keepie-ups under the duvet. That boy sure can kick a ball.
Breakfast was unusually civilised. The children were so cold that their survival instinct was telling them to eat anything they could fit in their mouths. It's a useful technique, and as a consequence I'm thinking of putting the central heating on eBay when we get home.
We were glad to be leaving this particular motel. It was worse than I described it yesterday. It's one of the very few places where the thought of stealing the towels has never ever crossed my mind.
After having checked-out we decided to drive down to the beach. We felt that perhaps the accommodation had unfairly clouded our view of Timaru and thought that we should spend at least the morning giving it a second chance. And we were pleasantly surprised. There was a skate park that Lottie and I visited and a more traditional playground. The skate park was fun, even without a skateboard; we threw ourselves around it making skateboard noises. It's much safer that way. Thurrrrrrrrrccccccccc.
The beach was pretty cool too. Sand, shells, seaweed, a dead bird. Lots to pick up and put in your mouth. When we mentioned a spot of lunch I was sure Ben turned to us and said, 'No, I couldn't possibly eat another thing.'
We ate lunch at a local café and engaged in some banter with the locals. Everyone over here is very friendly, but the opening gambit right now is always 'Yere fetha footy?' which roughly translates as 'Have you come to New Zealand to follow the Lions Rugby Union tour?'. Whilst we're not part of what is comically referred to as the 'Barmy Army' it's good to be here during the tour, and it seems like the media are talking of nothing else.
Lottie gave her rendition of the song 'Jonny Jonny Jonny Jonny Wilk-in-son'. It's one of those songs where the title, the verse, and the chorus consist of the same five words. Two words I guess. But it goes on forever. Still, it kept the locals amused.
When we got back to the car, the lights had been smashed the windscreen stoved in.
No, again that's not true either. But you've got to be careful over here. These guys sure love the 'Orl Blix'.
After lunch we got in the car and drove back to Al and Susan's in Christchurch. It was great to be back. A family to eat out of house and home, a washing machine to abuse and a fridge full of Al's beer to drink.
They looked delighted to see us again.
June 24, 2005.
An Incredible Day
Today was a most incredible day. I can't even think of a way to put a comedy spin on it all. So I'll tell it straight.
When we woke up today, the weather was superb, a perfect winter's morning. The sky was blue and there was a light dusting of frost. Al was particularly enthused by the fine conditions and so, during breakfast, he called Susan's parents to see if Harle was taking his plane out.
Turns out he wasn't, but Al strong-armed him into suggesting it was the perfect day for a sightseeing trip. So, in little under an hour we arrived at their house and the Cessna four-seater aircraft was being put through its checks.
Bec and I were a little nervous about both being in the air at the same time. Probably not as nervous as Susan who would have been left with four children for the rest of her days if anything untoward had happened. Harle asked us our weights, and did some calculations to work out whether we'd be able to take off. For reference, this is a good time not to lie about your weight.
Anyway Al, Bec and I climbed into the plane with Harle at the controls. We taxied down the airstrip in front of their house, and within a few seconds we were airborne. We flew to an unmanned airstrip fifteen minutes away where we filled up at a fuel pump by swiping a credit card. Just incredible. We then flew for a further hour and a half across what seemed like the whole of South Island. This was really flying. Forget all your jumbo nonsense, a single prop is what you need.
The scenery defies description. The Kiwis correctly describe it as 'fintistic'
On our return leg there was a beautiful moment where Harle called his airstrip on the radio. Coral answered, there were a few words of serious sounding radio protocol exchanged and then she said 'What time will you be back love? I'll get the kids lined up to watch you come in'. Superb.
Whilst we were up in the air, Al's phone rang. Small planes are pretty noisy and in a curious spin on the ridiculous 'I'M ON THE TRAIN' conversation, Al had a similar conversation. Anyway, it turns out that the call was to let us know that there were two tickets to this evening's rugby up for grabs.
And so in the late afternoon Bec and I were picked up and taken to see the first test in the Lions tour. The weather was awful, as was the Lions' defence. But the atmosphere was superb, and it was great to watch the All Blacks on their home turf.
Some guys in front of us had a double-sided banner. On one side it said 'It's feeding time!' and on the other 'Don't panic, we've brought our boots'. It stayed on the 'Don't panic' side throughout.
The weather was dreadful. And do you know what? It didn't matter one bit.
June 25, 2005.
The odd thing about this trip is that despite the high fun factor that persists most of the time, there are still chores to be done. More unusual still is the fact that I actually quite like doing them. There is comfort in routine.
And so today we spent the morning doing jobs. There was stuff to sort out in terms of booking ahead for the next leg of our trip, there was the Internet banking to sort out and there was lots of catching up to be done on this journal.
Best of all was a real DIY job to help with. What I hadn't mentioned yesterday is the bloke that gave us a lift back from the rugby reversed into Al's gate on his way out of the drive. So we had a wrought iron gate to uncrumple.
Luckily Al has more tools than Bob the builder. And I make a pretty good Wendy. I stood about having good ideas whilst Al got his hands dirty. An hour later we had almost brought down the national grid with our overzealous application of power tools, but the gate looked great.
The gate thing was important as it then meant we could effectively corral the kids and stop Ben from attempting to make his own way home. Once the ladies were confident we could safely leave four children with two easily distractible parents they fled into town to do some shopping.
In the afternoon we all drove out to Bottle Lake Forest at Burwood. We took mountain bikes and rode round in the mud. It was the best dedicated mountain biking area I'd ever ridden. It was truly outstanding to ride through beautifully prepared tracks from forest to the sea. As ever, I ended up in the car park covered in mud in just my undies.
The evening was spent eating, drinking and putting the world to rights. This was our last evening in New Zealand and so this was our last opportunity to eat and drink them out of house and home.
We didn't let them down.
June 26, 2005.