Blogs from New Zealand

Moving On

Date: 13/03/2007 | Author: Gabby

We leave New Zealand in less than a week. I feel a certain sense of closure as we are almost back where we started (Auckland) and have managed to cover a huge amount of this beautiful country. The summer here is drawing to a close and despite the fact that the weather is still gorgeous there is that end of summer feeling in the air.
We have booked our route back to the UK. We will be in Sydney for a week from 15 March. On 22 March we head to Bangkok, where we will need to book our local flights through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We plan to arrive in India on 22 May and home on 10 July, although of course, all could change if we want to stay somewhere longer.........
Thinking back on our time in NZ, we really have had the most amazing time. This country has all the features of a huge continent but they have been squeezed in to a small archipelago of islands in the South Pacific. It's a truly stunning place and never boring. I can honestly say there has not been one place I haven't liked. The girls are frequently asked where their favourite place has been and they always struggle with their answer. I think it is because we have been to so many amazing places and experienced so many incredible things in a relatively short space of time: swimming with dolphins, climbing glaciers, exploring thermal areas, scrambling up volcanoes, swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea, kayaking, canoeing and sailing. It's been so much fun and SO easy. Very much home from home except a lot less people, a lot cheaper and better weather. It really is one of the most staggering places I have ever visited.
Asia is going to be a different story. In New Zealand we've had a car that has been our constant 'home'. I know I can feed the girls anything they crave. They can drink water from the tap. If they get bitten by a mosquito they're not going to contract anything nasty......the list goes on.
The Asian countries we're visiting will present more of a challenge. The girls sort of know what to expect and they are really looking forward to it. Kerala is still in their memories from last Christmas and of course we were in Thailand for a week on the way to Australia, but I know the travel will be different and harder in many ways.
It will be fantastic and they will learn so much about different cultures, faiths and histories. I'm sure with their white blonde hair they will attract a lot of attention. It will be a great experience to travel through these countries as a family - children are a huge asset when you travel through lands where the family is so respected. But, of course, I am slightly apprehensive. We have already addressed the vaccination issues and we have to get some anti-malarial tablets as we intend to go to a few areas where there are current malaria outbreaks. Malaria is not a legacy of our adventure I'd like any of us to be left with.
Ultimately, I am really looking forward to witnessing and watching the girls witness so many new and different things. I am sure they are going to gain so much from the Asian experience - I just hope they enjoy it as much as the New Zealand one!

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Cape Reinga

Date: 10/03/2007 | Author: Dave

We took one night out from the Barclays at Tepaka to drive to the far north of New Zealand. We positioned ourselves for the night at a farm backpackers, perfectly poised for an early morning drive up 90 Mile Beach. Fantastic scenery and a breathtaking experience for us and for the girls who had their heads out of the sun-roof for as long as we would allow them. Managed to fly straight past the last exit point from the beach. I knew that Te Paki Stream was the most northern creek so it did not take us long backtracking to find it. This stream has a reputation for swallowing the occasional car in patches of quicksand. It may be a little undeserved though. 35 seater coaches (full of tourists) use it to access this beach every day!
After visiting Cape Reinga, the point where spiritually all Maori leave the island, we headed back to Te Paki Stream for a spot of sand tobogganing down the extraordinarily high dunes. Armed with 4 boogie boards we climbed far up into the dunes. I am guessing they are around 400 feet high. We are always coated in sunblock and carrying water but today in this mini Sahara of course we forget both.
I got every orifice filled with sand twice before realising that seated is a much better way to descend these hills than face first. All good fun and very fast on the long rides. (see Ella and then me at the start of our video).
We have more to do here in NZ. Friends to see, South East Asian visas and anti-malarials to pick up in Auckland. Some of the nicest people I know live here and we do need to see them one more time before we move on. Looking again at the Te Paki sand dunes video for me, sums up our time in New Zealand beautifully.
If you're fond of sand dunes.........

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90 Mile Beach and Sand Dunes

Date: 10/03/2007 | Author: Ella

90 Mile Beach is a beach that is actually closer to 90km but that is still very long for a beach! It is a very special beach because you can drive all the way along it but only in a four wheel drive car like ours. Our car has a sun roof so as many times as I could, I would stick my head out of it and feel the breeze! The sea was the wildest sea I have ever seen, you wouldn't be able to launch boats in to it at all. There were 5 gigantic waves in each set and looking at it even made you shiver.
At the end of 90 mile beach we turned around and started heading back. We were looking for Te Paki stream which is where you can drive off the beach. As we were driving down the stream we had to close the sun roof as lots of water splashed into the car. As we approached the end of Te Paki stream we could see gigantic sand dunes getting closer and closer. We hired boogie boards so we could toboggan down the dunes. The highest sand dunes were as the tall as the Eiffel Tower but that meant that we had to climb right to the top before we could get our reward of sliding back down. It was really hard climbing up such steep slopes but it was worth the walk when we started zooming back down. Unfortunately, my boogie board went over some rough sand which made the board fly in the air and me get a face full of sand!! After spending ages cleaning the sand out of my face and ears I managed to slide the rest of the way down. The smallest slopes were still quite big and great fun. We had races down them and I won the most!

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Sand Dunes

Date: 10/03/2007 | Author: Florence

We drove up 90 mile beach. As we were going up we saw some beautiful sand dunes on the way. So we went to a shop to hire boogie boards. I had a yellow one. When we got back to the sand dunes we climbed half way up one and we slid down. Then we climbed back up it again and we climbed to the top of the dunes. It was hard work and I thought I was nearly going to faint at the top. Then we slid all the way down on our boogie boards. About a quarter of the way down I was going too fast so mummy was trying to slow me down but she accidentally tipped me over and I had a face full of sand. Sand doesn't taste very nice - it's all crunchy and yukky! But I did have a fantastic go tobogganing with Mummy down the rest of the big sand dune. Daddy climbed back up to get my boogie board and slid down really really fast. I washed my face at an oasis and then slid down the smaller sand dunes. It was a lot of fun (see the video!).

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The Far North

Date: 10/03/2007 | Author: Gabby

With such lovely homely accommodation in the Bay of Islands, it would have been very easy to stay put but we were so close to the far north point of Cape Reinga and the famous 90 mile beach we took an overnight side trip. We stayed in a farm backpackers in the small town of Pukenui and woke up early in the morning so we were driving up 90 mile beach by 8am. The girls found this particular drive a lot of fun - poking their heads through the sun roof to catch the lovely breezes. They didn't have as much fun as their dad though - he loved every minute of it. Needless to say I was NOT given the opportunity to take the wheel!
A quick walk to the lighthouse at the northern tip of NZ where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean was followed by a stop at the giant Ta Paki sand dunes. Equipped with a boogie board each we didn't bother with the nursery slopes and instead headed straight for the highest, steepest dunes. We were ill prepared and had forgotten to bring water, hats or sunblock from the car. It's really hard (and thirsty) work walking up steep dunes but the view from the top of the highest peaks over the wild Tasman Sea was worth it. The toboggan rides down received a mixed reception. Dave went first and in typical bloke style, went head first - he didn't manage to pick up much speed down the slopes but did manage to pick up a face full of sand! Ella went next, and after initial trepidation, finally let go and hurtled down the slope at break neck speed - again ending up with a face full of sand (see the video clip)! Florence and I went together but on separate boards. Florence, being so little and so light, was like a cork on the board and flew down the steep long dune and in the attempt to stop herself ended up with a face full and pants full of sand and in tears! When we finally reached the bottom of the dunes, thirsty but in one piece, we had a lot of fun tobogganing on the nursery slopes - perhaps this is where we should have started!

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Bay of Islands

Date: 05/03/2007 | Author: Dave

We have spent the last seven days up in Russell. (Tepaka Point to be exact)
Once the original capital of New Zealand, Russell is now a sleepy seaside village. A friend/work colleague has a bach up here and he has provided us with the perfect base from which to explore the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga. It is only about 50m from a lovely, safe for the kids, swimming beach with a floating dive platform. We had a great first day here, out on a tall ship, the R Tucker Thompson. On the way out, under motor, several of us climbed up to the crows nest, as you do. More like two short white sticks but then I guess crows don't complain. You were required to wear a simple harness and I certainly felt the need to clip on. We dropped anchor in a sheltered bay and they gave us plenty of time to swim ashore through the crystal blue water or just hang out on the boat and swing from the yard arm into the crystal blue water. Either way it was very enticing.
Under sail on our mostly downwind return Ella got to further her maritime experience by helming this square rigger for most of the journey back to Russell. She looked very sweet at the wheel of this boat and not at all nervous about what was required of her. Captain Sam, a very relaxed Australian, was very tolerant of her interpretation of the set course and even wandered off below on occasion leaving Ella in complete charge of our destiny, so it seemed.

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Bay of Islands

Date: 05/03/2007 | Author: Ella

We stayed in Rocky Point for three nights. Then we headed north to the Bay of Islands. We were staying in a house close to the beach at Tapeka Point just outside a town called Russell. The beach was not a very big one but if it was in England it would be absolutely crowded. Of course, this is New Zealand so the beach was rarely busy! It had bright golden sand and a lawn at the back of the beach. The best thing was the pontoon that floated rather deep in the water. It was great for jumping and diving off, lying on and swimming to! We had a lot of fun there.
We had a great day sailing while we were at Tapeka Point. We sailed on a large boat called the R Tucker Thompson which has sailed right around the world. You could climb up the crow's nest but I decided not to. Instead, I decided to climb on the bowsprit, which is the nose of the boat. It had a net around it to climb on and to stop us falling in to the sea! We stopped for lunch at a beach. Mummy and I swam from the beach back to the boat. We had fun jumping off the boat. There was a rope to swing from into the sea but I was a little bit scared of that so just jumped off the side. On our way back to Russell I got a chance to steer . Our skipper was called Sam and when we finally left the boat he thanked me for giving him the afternoon off.

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North of the North Island

Date: 05/03/2007 | Author: Florence

Daddy drove us to a town called Russell. We are staying at a house where we can walk to the beach on our own. It is only out of the house down the hill across the grass and to the beach. We went sailing on a boat that looked very old. It has sailed all around the world. We climbed on the bowsprit. You could sleep on the boat but we liked our house toooooo much. It was a big boat and Daddy got to help sail and Ella steered the boat. We went back to our house then we went to a posh restaurant and played a lovely game (Boggle) while we were waiting for our dinner (yum yum).

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Bay of Islands

Date: 05/03/2007 | Author: Gabby

Robbie and Sally Barclay's bach at Tapeka Point, near Russell, was perfect. Family friendly and very comfortable with amazing views. The location was stunning - just 50 metres from a really lovely, kid friendly beach with a swimming pontoon! Being here made me feel a bit homesick for the first time - it's the sort of place we would have had a great time with friends. I really wanted to whisk some over for the week. The girls, possibly picking up my feelings also confessed to missing their friends and wanting to see them - a first on this trip. Considering we have been away for three and a half months, I don't think that's bad!
We had a great sailing trip on the R Tucker Thompson on our first day. Ella even managed to take the helm for quite a while. A great day, where we swam to a great beach, climbed up to the crows nest and out on to the bowsprit as well as swinging from the yard arm and jumping in to the sea.

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North for a bit.

Date: 02/03/2007 | Author: Dave

Rocky point is perhaps the most peaceful place I have ever been. A true feeling of privacy envelops you here. Greg and Mary-Anne have met us at their property about 1.5 hours drive north of Auckland. They have a hilly, 50 acre coastal block here with 60% native bush and 1.6km of foreshore. I can understand why Greg fell in love with it. They can live here in a couple of nicely converted 40' Japanese truck bodies. Kayaks, several sailing dinghy and dirt bikes are all stored in other truck pans. We kayaked when it was calm and, when a stiff easterly blew the following day, Ella and I had great fun sailing. I had to use the trailer to get the boat back up to the field as the tide had gone a fair way out. At one point my Pajero left a surprisingly deep rut in the shelly beach. Having carved a fine clay canyon for about 20 feet along Greg's lovely beach, I felt it necessary to find a square mouth shovel and do about 20 minutes work there. This was not the right way to leave a friends beach. Nature would have fixed it eventually but she needed a hand believe me.

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Rocky Point

Date: 02/03/2007 | Author: Ella

After Rotorua we went to Auckland to celebrate my mum's birthday but apart from that we didn't do too much there. So, soon we were heading north to Rocky Point. Rocky Point is so quiet and isolated and the only people we saw were the farmer, his dogs, his sheep and Greg, Mary-Ann and Truman. Greg and Mary-Ann are Daddy's friends and Truman is their 2 year old little boy. They invited us to come and stay with them at Rocky Point. Their holiday home is lovely. Well, it's not completely a holiday home, it's actually truck bodies made in to mobile homes! At Rocky Point there were lots of things to do like, driving a little car around (which I did), going kayaking (I did that as well), making camp fires (I also did that) and sailing a dingy (aren't I lucky!). When I went sailing with Daddy we had a great time. I even got to steer the boat and work on the sails. I did it twice because I liked it so much.
I really liked Rocky Point and it was great to have Truman to play with.

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Rocky Point

Date: 02/03/2007 | Author: Florence

We are staying at a wonderful place called Rocky Point. There are lots of things to do. It is Greg's and Mary-Ann's holiday home. They have a little boy called Truman. The first day we went for a walk around the beach. We played in a little hut and pretended it was a cafe. I like getting people things that is why I like making a cafe. We picked our mums first (they do say "ladies first"). We worked in the cafe until dark. Then we made a fire and went to bed.
The next morning we watched 'Babe Pig in the City', mum said we could watch Rocky Point Morning Movies - it's a bit of a mouthful. It was a lovely movie and Babe the pig became a hero. Then we went kayaking and I didn't have to paddle (haha). Ella went on her own and I went with Dad then Mum. After kayaking we learnt to drive a car. It was built so people could learn to drive, it was very simple. We also went on a motorbike but we didn't drive, Greg did. At last Daddy said 'kids activities over'.........aaaaahhhhhh!
Sadly, little Truman and his family had to go but the good news is WE CAN STAY LONGER! The next morning we went sailing with Daddy. The boat was tiny. One side got soaked and the other side stayed as dry as a peanut. I didn't enjoy it much, water went over the side of the boat.
We haven't seen anyone here apart from the farmer and some sheep.

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Rocky Point

Date: 02/03/2007 | Author: Gabby

We are so lucky to have some friends in NZ. A little insider knowledge goes an awfully long way. Greg Peacocke, who I only met for the first time on my birthday at the end of February, has been like our Kiwi guardian angel - helping us in so many ways: instigating the purchase of our car, introducing us to great people in Queenstown, helping us with accommodation as well as giving us great advice on places to go or not to go. The list is endless and it was great to finally spend some real time with him and his lovely wife, Mary-Ann, at their little bit of paradise about 1.5 hours drive north of Auckland. Rocky Point is a 50 acre plot of land they bought a couple of years ago - it's lovely, with hills, bush as well as 1.6km of coastline and is completely isolated. They have kitted out some semi-trailer truck bodies until they decide the exact style and location of the house they plan to build.
Greg has all the toys there, motor bikes for getting around (although my attempts at riding were pretty poor!), kayaks (great fun with the kids - Ella's kayaking is particularly good, Florence prefers to be a passenger!), a dingy with outboard as well as a single sailed dingy. Dave had a great time on the sailing dingy with the kids and it was great to see him sharing and passing on his skills. In fact, for me, one of the highlights of this trip so far is to see Dave bonding with the girls so much. He spends so much time away when we are at home, they are getting so much from having his undivided attention!
After one lovely boozy night by the campfire with Greg, Mary-Ann (who share my penchant for French champagne!) and their little boy Truman we had another couple of nights there on our own. Other than the neighbouring farmer, we didn't see anyone else for our whole time there - it was the sort of seclusion that you just don't experience in the UK.
Next stop Bay of Islands and just as I was about to book us some accommodation, Greg sorts us out once again. A friend of his, Robbie Barclay, who knows Dave vaguely, has offered us his family bach (NZ term for holiday home) for a couple of days or longer if we need it. We have been so lucky and people have been so generous for the past couple of weeks our accommodation budget is beginning to look really good! Bring on the Pinot Noir............

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Swimming in NZ

Date: 26/02/2007 | Author: Ella

There are lots of places to swim in NZ but while we were in Taupo and Rotarua we went to three very different places.
The first one we went to was next to the place we were staying De Bretts Resort in Taupo. It was a water adventure park but it was heated by the hot thermal water coming from underground. There were four different pools (all different temperatures) and a kids play area and a great water slide. We went there every day and really liked it. Unfortunately, one of the times I was hurtling down the slide I cut my foot in the plunge pool at the bottom of the slide on a sharp piece of gravel so now I have a nasty cut and a blood blister.
We also went to Kerosene Creek, which is a hot creek (again heated by the thermal activity) and waterfall near Wai-O-Tapu. Mummy and Daddy really liked it but Florence and I couldn't get too deep because we found it too hot. It was a boiling hot day and really I wanted to swim in cold water rather than hot!
The other place we swam was in the Waikato river which is New Zealand's longest river. The river was very clear and very cold - I really enjoyed swimming in it. It cooled us down loads but best of all it had a rope to swing on. I was jumping in the water off a tree but I needed to stick with daddy because the current was very strong and if I had missed the rope I would have been carried off!!

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Thermal Wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Dave

We stayed two nights in Taupo and two nights in Rotorua. in between these towns is a grab bag of tourist spots where one can witness the earths inner heat letting off steam and boiling a some mud. We were lucky with the order that we visited our choice of attractions. The awe and wonder ramped up steeply over these thermal themed days.
Craters of the Moon impressed us, but was actually the new kid on the block. The following day Orakei Korako did truly amaze us. Especially the cave. On a negative note. Toward the end of our walk I saw a chap from Europe with a dyed red mullet sticking his finger through a one inch thick colourful skin just below the Diamond Geyser and pulling at it. How long did nature take to form this? He was over 40 and behaving like a 4 year old. These badly dressed vandals are getting on my goat.
Back tracking the next day from Rotorua, to visit Wai-O-Tapu, turned out to be a real treat. Greg had mentioned it as the best thermal activity in the area. Stunning stuff indeed. You could not make it up. Phenomenal.
We were tipped off that there was a good creek for a swim just half an hour from here. We found Kerosine Creek just to the North. It has a nice pool below a waterfall. With a water temperature of about 40 degrees celsius, it was more of a bath then a swim but an appropriate full stop to a day that was literally not of this world.

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Thermal wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Ella

The crust of the earth is nothing like the skin of an apple. Instead it is more like a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces are called tectonic plates.
New Zealand is a very young country. About 130 million years ago New Zealand broke away from Gondwanaland (which included Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South America) but has only been it's present shape for 10,000 years!! New Zealand sits where the Pacific and IndoAustralian plates meet which causes Earthquakes, Volcanic eruptions and thermal areas - but never mind those the only thing I worry about is tsunamis!
We went on three walks to different thermal areas. The first one we visited was called the 'Craters of the Moon' walk because it did look rather like the moon with all the steam coming from underground and the craters that looked like they belonged to a different planet. The second thermal area was called Orakei Korako. The most interesting thing we saw on this walk was a very big cave with a nice pool of warm water at the bottom of it. It is very special to Maoris because Maori women used to use the pool as a mirror seeing as it was so still. Apparently, you can make a wish if you dip your left hand in to the water at the same time as wishing and your wish is guaranteed to come true if you don't tell anybody. I made my wish but I've wished it for the future so I'm not quite sure it will come true yet. Another interesting thing we saw on the Orakei Korako walk was seeing the 'diamond geyser'. It is called this because if it erupts water spurts out into many different droplets that look like diamonds shooting in to the air. The last thermal area was called Wai-O-Tapu which means 'Sacred Waters' in Maori. My two favourite features were the devil's bath which looked like the devil's bath - it was bright green, not a very nice green, it looked like the devil had been bathing in it. My other favourite one was the 'Champagne Pool', it is called this because it has bubble of carbon dioxide in it, like champagne. The champagne pool was 80 metres deep and was a bright blue colour! My mummy would have really liked it if it was real champagne!!
The thermal areas were amazing - there aren't many things like that in England!

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Thermal Wonderlands

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: florence

The crust of the earth is not one piece like the skin of an apple. Instead it is made up of many pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. These pieces are called tectonic plates. New Zealand is located where 2 plates meet, one is called IndoAustralian and the other is called Pacific. Because of this there are lots of volcanoes and mud pools. We went to a place called Wai-O-Tapu where there was a lovely green thermal pool. It was called Devil's Bath and these are some facts about it. The Devil's Bath is a large crater. It smells of rotten eggs!! But It is a beautiful green-yellow colour.
When we went back to our cabin at our campsite we played in the playground, then we had a swim. The water in the pools was heated from the land and earth. I went on a great slide, it was the biggest slide I have ever been on. First it was very scary but then I got used to it. Once I turned and turned and turned. I had a lot of fun on that slide. Another thermal pool we went to was a waterfall. It was too hot to sit down. I had just got used to it when we had to go.
Mummy was going to do a bungy jump but changed her mind so we just went swimming in the river instead. I think that was a much better idea. I went snorkelling and I saw wood, seaweed, logs and lots of other things under the water. We were swimming by an island called Cherry Island, it was a private island and someone lived there. There weren't many people there.
One evening we went to a special Maori show and dinner. The food wasn't very nice but I had a very good time. We saw some Maori dances called the Haka and a Poi dance.

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Jumping out of Planes

Date: 25/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

I never used to have a problem with heights. Like wrinkles, vertigo is one of those things that seems to develop with age. When we were in Queenstown, I rather flippantly said to Dave that I'd like to do a skydive. I have always maintained you'd never get me on the end of a bungy cord. The thought of chucking myself off a platform at great height has never appealed, but I didn't feel too daunted at the prospect of strapping myself to a man and being thrown off the plane with him. We didn't manage it in Queenstown but we knew Taupo, on the north island, was another popular place for skydiving, with views that surpassed anywhere else in New Zealand. On the way there, I made a few calls to the many skydiving operators and was advised to book at least a day ahead. Our first morning and we woke to cloud and wind - 2 things that hamper the chances of a jump. I called Taupo Tandem Skydiving and was informed there were no jumps today but we could be fitted at 1pm the following day, weather permitting. I booked the slot for Dave and myself. We couldn't go on the same flight as one of us had to be with the kids but we could go one after the other.
We woke to perfect skydiving conditions - I didn't seem to have the appetite for breakfast. We arrived at Taupo airport and I insisted that I wanted to jump from the lower altitude option of 12000ft. Dave, of course, wanted to jump from right at the top - 15000ft - and thought I should do the same. An extra 15 seconds of freefalling at an additional cost of $75NZ, I just didn't see the point! A lovely Irish girl, Catherine, checked us in and spotting gullible written all over me, not only persuaded me to jump from 15000ft but book the all singing, all dancing camera crew (well one extra guy) to record the experience. Of course I wanted the event recorded, what's the point in just doing it. I needed the proof so I could show off to my mates!
Looking at the information and photos of all of the tandem pilots, I was hoping to get the biggest man possible (like that's going to save me if the 'chute fails!) who'd done the largest number of jumps (most had done at least 5000, some as many as 15000). In the end I was given Mike. He wasn't tall, but quickly scrutinising his certificate I saw that he had completed over 8000 jumps and was FA1 World Record Holder (I never asked him what that meant). He was, obviously, very competent but was really lacking in the humour department which didn't help my nerves. I was with about 8 other people and their pilots on the plane. As we were approaching 12000 feet it was clear that everyone else on the plane had decided to jump from that altitude. I was tempted to tell Mike we should get off there. Being the only jumper on the plane for the final 3000 feet ascent was pretty scary. We were so high up I could see both east and west coast coasts of the north island: we were above the clouds and I could see the curvature of the earth - bloody hell, no going back now! At 15000ft, the straps between Mike and myself had been tripled checked and tightened as far as they could go with my arse pushed firmly in to Mike's crotch - all completely necessary of course! We shimmied our way to the plane door where I had to dangle my legs out of the plane and smile to the camera for the exit photo. The only thought on my mind at this stage was DON'T LOOK DOWN! Before I knew it Mike told me to look upwards, gave me a shove and we were out - a quick spin and then looking downwards, hurtling towards the earth at 200km/h. It's a strange feeling - although we were travelling at such speed we didn't getting any closer to the ground - I think's that's because we were so high up! After the initial few seconds of freefalling I spread my arms and really start to enjoy the feeling and the experience. It was an incredible view - huge lake Taupo as well as the 3 volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngaurahoe and Ruapehu thousands of feet below. About a minute later, I was almost disappointed when the parachute was opened, forcing us to decelerate rapidly. Of course there was relief too! The parachute ride down was almost as enjoyable as the freefalling and certainly a lot more relaxing. It was lovely to see the girls waving up at me as I approached the landing area - Dave was already in the sky, about to experience the same. Huge relief as I hit the ground, my ears were blocked and my eyes were watering but it had been amazing.
All things said, I still can't bring myself to bungy jump!

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The Mighty Waikato

Date: 24/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Nice to stay at the flying fox for two more nights. Still my favourite accommodation on our journey so far.
Taupo next stop for a spot of skydiving. (see 'Gabby' for details) A lovely view and an exciting way to spend 60 seconds. Don't need to do it again. One of those, must do in life things. Box ticked. My lovely wife may have followed it up with a bungy jump. In fact we drove straight there but with several people hanging around that that were decidedly bungy-negative it ended up a no thanks. One good thing about our visit to the bungy platform was spotting some youth swimming, by an island, a short distance upstream, in the clear green Waikato River. The river here is fast flowing and up to 100m across. The Waikato flows out of Lake Taupo a little way upstream from here. Taupo is the largest lake in the country and was formed as a result of the worlds largest recorded volcanic eruption nearly 2000 years ago. That was pre the Maori but it was heard as far away as China. Ella and I spend some time jumping into the river from a tree. This is a great swimming spot. There is a rope to grab, hanging into the water from a branch. Just beyond this rope the current is too strong to swim in but Ella is a confident swimmer and her aim for the rope is true. Florence snorkels in a back eddy. Several kilometres down stream from here is the Huka Falls, where the Waikato funnels through a 15m wide gorge. It is spectacular here and on this hot, sunny, Sunday afternoon we are only sharing this spot with about ten other people. The phrase 'if this was in the UK...' pops up for the umpteenth time since we arrived in New Zealand.

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Thermal Activity

Date: 24/02/2007 | Author: gabby

We are all learning loads about volcanoes and plate tectonics in New Zealand. The country is at the point where the IndoAustralian and Pacific plates meet, hence the mountains, glaciers, fiords, earthquakes and thermal activity. Heading for the Taupo and Rotarua region we were looking forward to bathing in a few thermal pools and experiencing other elements of this fascinating country.
During our time there we went to 3 thermal areas, each more interesting than the last. The 2 biggest, Orakei Korako and Wai-o-tapu were absolutely fascinating. Huge areas covered with collapsed craters, geysers, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. The rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide everywhere (for some bizarre reason Ella quite liked the pong!). I had never seen anything like this in my life. The pools of water full of so many different mineral elements they were all different colours and very beautiful in very unnatural ways.
Obviously, being new Zealand, plenty of spa like premises have been developed to take advantage of the healing qualities of the mineral rich and naturally heated waters. There was one next door to our campsite in Taupo, complete with a kids play area and giant slide, which the girls loved.
By far the best 'spa' for me was Kerosene Creek - about 15km south of Rotarua. It's probably one of the few thermal pools in the area where you can bathe for free and is completely natural. The drive down an unsealed road off the main highway takes you to a small river. Walking for a few hundred metres you arrive at a small waterfall with lovely pool for swimming. The only difference to the other waterfalls is that the water is a gorgeous temperature - maybe 40 degrees C - slightly too hot for your average bath but lovely once you get used to it. The girls weren't quite as keen - it really was too hot for them and they wanted a pool to cool down in rather than heat up in. I loved it and could have spent all day there. Once again, as is so common in New Zealand, there were just a handful of people enjoying this amazing, natural delight. It was just lovely.............

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Back to the Flying Fox

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Fewwie, it was great to be back at the Flying Fox with it's green hills, stunning views and Billy the dog. Oh, how great it was to play with Billy again. he's only a little dog, a cross between a Jack Russell and a Fox Terrier. I'm not so fond of small, yappy dogs like that but he was just sooooo cute!
We didn't do much there except walking Billy, playing by the Whanganui River and playing fashion shows with the posh hats from the bedrooms. Like the last time we visited the Flying Fox we enjoyed playing vinyl records. We mostly listened to Abba, Supertramp and the Small Faces which are records mummy and daddy used to listen to when they were younger.
When we left the Flying Fox we popped up to Pipiriki to visit Bobby Grey again. This time his little coffee shop was very busy so we didn't have a very long chat with him but he remembered us!

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Back to the Flying Fox

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went back to the the flying fox and saw Billy the dog (he likes the smell of Daddy). First we unpacked, second we went on a walk with Billy, then we did a little bit of our scrap books. After that we did a fashion show for Mummy and Daddy. We dressed up as different people from different countries and we used the hats from Mummy's and Daddy's bedroom. We made up funny names for ourselves. It was lovely to be back at the Flying Fox - I really liked it there! Billy is the best!

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Special People and Places

Date: 22/02/2007 | Author: gabby

I felt very sad leaving the South Island. It's an amazing, beautiful part of the world with jaw dropping sights as well as a feeling of remoteness that makes you feel like you're at the end of the world.
However, we were looking forward to going back to the North island. We'd loved it when we first arrived in NZ so we were sure that wasn't going to change. One of our favourite places in the whole of New Zealand was the the flying fox on the Whanganui River Road so we booked a couple of nights there as our first stop back on the North Island. It was as lovely as we remembered. The remoteness of the place ensures you relax and do nothing. We spent our time there reading, listening to old vinyl records and helping the kids with their scrapbooks and school work. Waking up to the sound of birds was magical and the starry night sky encouraged a blissful night's sleep. It's all music for the soul. We were very sad to leave there. We hear the largely unsealed Whanganui River Road is going to be tarmaced for it's entire 100km or so length which will definitely change the character of the area.
Another reason to head back to the Whanganui River Road was to go to the Pipiriki Coffee Bar and reacquaint ourselves with Bobby Grey, the lovely 70 year old Maori man we met on our last visit there over a month before. He had created a lasting impression on all of us. The girls know him as Koro (Maori for Grandfather) and over the previous month had often spoken of him.
As we walked in to the coffee shop I warned the girls that he might not remember us, but I need not have worried because he did and despite the fact that he was busy he still made some special time for all of us.
I don't know what it was about him that made him so special. Sometimes in life, you have fleeting meetings with people but they leave permanent footprints in your heart. Koro is one of these people. Perhaps it was his wisdom, he certainly shared a lot of his wise thoughts with us, maybe it was because he found the time to talk and listen to all of us, I'm really not sure. I was incredibly sad to leave him and hope that if I ever return to this beautiful country I will still find him making capuccinos at the Pipiriki Coffee Bar......

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Leaving the South Island

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Sitting on the ferry back to the North Island is a good time to recap. We have been on the South Island for one amazing month and I couldn't imagine doing it in less time. As it was we did not go to the far south. I wanted to eat oysters in Bluff and explore the Catlins but somewhere had to give when trying to do justice to the places we were visiting. As we leave the South Island I have only one small regret. When in Queenstown I wanted to do two drives. One along the Skippers Canyon, a road carved out of the cliff-side by Chinese gold prospectors and the second was the road up to Mace Town. This is an old gold-mining town and the track to it crosses the creek 22 times on the way up. Apparently all you need to do is keep looking for the correct spot to leave the creek each time you enter it. i.e. keep to the well beaten path so as to avoid driving into a pond and filling the car with water. Unfortunately just the thought of Skippers Canyon road ruffled Gabby's sense of vertigo and she never really explained properly why she would not go to Mace Town. I could, however, go if I could find the time and some alternate company for the drive. I can recall her using the word 'macho' in the sentence but the rest escapes me. I may have mentioned damp carpet at one stage. Don't understand the 'macho' bit, I am definitely the only person on this ferry wearing a lilac Ben Sherman polo shirt. I think that sometimes just the journey there is enough reason to go. Don't get me wrong we are getting on amazingly.

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Why are adults so obsessed with wine?

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: ella

I can't believe that as soon as we got to Blenheim my mum and dad dragged me and Florence through the Marlborough Valley on a bike just to go to one stupid winery. That's why I keep asking, "Why are adults so obsessed with wine?". Mummy keeps saying it's just because they all taste different and it depends on the type of grape, the type of soil the grape grows in, how much sunshine the grape gets, blah, blah blah. She compares it to drinking my favourite juices but I think juice is completely different compared to wine.
I don't completely like the smell of wine but if you breathe really deeply while your nose is in the glass, you can smell lots of different fruits, like passion fruit, lemon, pears and grapes (obviously!). I think I might try wine when I'm older because Mum says it tastes very nice but I'll have to try it for myself first. I am 100% sure I am not going to drink beer or vodka and tonic or yucky things like that and I know I'm not going to smoke so that's a good start isn't it?

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Wine

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: florence

Today I learnt " A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine". I read this at Highfield Estate Winery and mummy told me it was true. We got there by bike, I was on a tag-a-long with mummy she said I was really fast!
Ella and I looked at all the different rows of grapes and we played races down the vines.I wanted to eat some!
I learnt about Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines. I smelt lots of wines and I could smell lemons and passion fruits and pear. But I didn't taste any wine because I didn't think they would taste very nice.

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Blenheim and the Wine Country

Date: 21/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

Talk about cramming a lot in.......
We left Kaikoura fairly late in the morning - it was difficult dragging the girls away from their new found friends. On the road between Kaikoura and Blenheim there are fur seal colonies to look at as well as a fabulous eatery with amazing views over the Pacific Ocean called the Store at Kekerengu - we had to stop there for a spot of lunch!
Anyway - we were an hour from Blenheim, a town in the heart of the Marlborough Valley - New Zealand's most prolific wine growing region. We'd only briefly stopped in a couple of wineries so far on our travels through NZ (Wooing Tree in central Otago for it's Pinot Noir being a favourite) so I felt I had to make an effort in this region. If we'd been travelling without kids, I'm sure I would have scheduled a good 3 or 4 days in this area. As it was, we had the afternoon, with maybe a couple of hours the following morning, before we had to get the ferry back to the North Island. By the time we reached Blenheim I had booked some bikes for all of us (Florence on a tag-along) and earmarked about 6 vineyards I wanted us to visit. I know one of my short comings is to try and cram too much in to a short space of time but this was the Marlborough Valley and I wanted to discover if there was more to this region that Sauvignon Blanc. I was being a tad optimistic but thought we might manage 4 if we were lucky........
I hadn't banked on several factors:
1.The bike hire location was about 5km from the nearest winery and along quite a busy road.
2. Ella hadn't ridden a bike for nearly 3 months and has never ridden more than 1 or 2km at any one time and that would have been at Center Parcs (ie no cars)
3. Florence's experience on a tag-along is very limited.
4. It was bloody hot - about 30 degrees!
In the end we managed to get to one winery. I wasn't disappointed though. We didn't stop at the one with the finest wines, Highfield Estate, but the building itself was lovely and the views outstanding - even the girls had a great time there. We could have possibly squeezed one more in that afternoon but didn't want to push it!
It was great to cycle through this lovely region and it's a fabulous way to get around because the area is so flat. Ella did brilliantly on her bike and Florence really helped me on the journey back with her great pedalling.
We did squeeze in 2 wineries the next morning: Seresin, where I discovered the delights of Pinot Gris, a grape I have previously turned my nose up at. Also, a delicious Reisling at Te Whare Ra.
The only thing that slightly marred the morning was Dave being booked by failing to stop at a stop sign. A friendly caution and $150 fine later we were finally on our away to Picton to get the ferry.
I was very sad to leave the South Island, a month there has whizzed by..............

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Wine

Date: 20/02/2007 | Author: dave

Well, there is only one way to get to the ferry at Picton from here and that is through the very dangerous Marlborough Valley. Running the gauntlet of some of the worlds top wineries. We have a map with 46 marked but given only half an afternoon and the handicap of riding bicycles (Florence on a tag-along) we manage to visit only one. Highfield Estate. We are staying in Blenheim for the night at another Top 10. It is our fourth night in a row in a basic cabin. Can't actually fit all of our luggage into one of these. The load in the back of the Pajero seems to have increased a little in volume and seems to clink more than it did at the start of the South Island. Central Otago, the home of the Wooing Tree winery, is only a few days behind us and we have a few bottles of our new favourite Pinot Noir in store from there.
The following morning we pack up quickly and with a more sensible mode of transport manage to reach two more wineries. Seresin and Te Whare Ra. At Seresin the girls tasted the olive oils while Gabby and I concentrated on the wines. At Te Whare Ra we received a real education from the affable wine maker, Jason, and left there with a new found appreciation (and two bottles) of Reisling. Our short stay in Blenheim not only confirmed that there is more to the Marlborough Valley than Sauvignon Blanc but also that Ella can ride a bike 10km in the heat.
Bodes well for the school run this summer in the UK.

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Dolphins and New Friends

Date: 18/02/2007 | Author: Ella

We went to Kaikoura to go swimming with dolphins. The experience of swimming with dusky dolphins was amazing. I had to wear 2 wetsuits and a hood because the water was so cold. At first I felt I couldn't breathe but I soon got rid of the feeling of being uncomfortable. As soon as I got in the water I held Mum's hand and we were soon surrounded by dusky dolphins coming from in front of us, behind us, under us and above us!! We went in for 4 swims with the pod of dolphins - it was brilliant to be so close to them.
In Kaikoura we were staying in a cabin on a campsite where there was a swimming pool and a jumping pillow. We made some new friends at our campsite, their names were Emily, Orlando and Ben Murphy and they are from Bristol. Emily is also in year 4 at school and I gave her some of the books I have already read. She even came to our cabin for a sleepover on our last night. It was good to play with some new friends!

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Swimming with Dolphins

Date: 18/02/2007 | Author: Florence

Mummy and Ella went swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura. I couldn't go because I was too young. They had to swim in the deep ocean without life jackets. I just had to stay on the boat and watch but I took lots of photos (this is one of mine!). We saw so many dusky dolphins. The dolphins jumped up and down and did lots of somersaults out of the water. A group of lots of dolphins is called a pod. It was a big big pod, it was more dolphins than I have ever seen before and more than my mummy and daddy have ever seen before too. There were lots of dolphins, they were surrounding the boat.
In Kaikoura we stayed in a Top 10 Holiday camp. We met some friends named Emily and Orlando (they had a big brother called Ben). There was a bouncy pillow we went on. It wasn't that bouncy, it was impossible to jump but it was great fun! Emily and Orlando are from Bristol. We have lots of other friends in Bristol. We liked them a lot. Emily even came for a sleepover to our deluxe room (cabin)!

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Up the East Coast.

Date: 17/02/2007 | Author: dave

Our last six days on the South Island slip by. The drive north-east from Twizel was fantastic thanks to Shaun's advice to detour along the shores of the two local lakes. Pukaki and Tekapo. They are so turquoise that the cloud above them this morning is infused with their colour. A short side road takes us up to the cafe at Mount John Observatory. Well worth the detour for some photos of the lakes. Beautiful. See photo page. The main difference between Australia and New Zealand scenically is that where Australia stays the same for hundreds of miles at a time, New Zealand seems to change routinely.
We wind our way down to Christchurch which was like a trip back to the 70's. We had two nights here for an internet connection in our room and a visit to the homeopath for the girls. Had to be done. I know neither of these things are 70's but the rest of Christchurch was. Maybe we didn't see the best bits.
Kaikoura, our next stop up the coast, was always a must do on our South Island list. Dolphin Encounter here runs a boat with limited spaces for swimming with dolphins. The local dusky dolphins love the deep canyons here, where their favourite foods come close to the surface every night. Ella and Gabby are still wait-listed as we drive into town. The limit on swimmers and boats for this trip is kept in check for the welfare of the dolphins. After arriving at the Kaikoura Top10 the phone rings and they are suddenly confirmed for the following morning. A big relief. Florence and I will be spectators. Jez had mentioned that it was amazing but I was not really expecting what we sailed into that morning. A pod of perhaps 300 dolphins of which you could at times see 100 or more at the surface. Ella had on two wet suits, a hood, mask, snorkel and fins. A bit for her to adjust to. Luckily, it was a lovely day with a low ocean swell over the 1600m deep canyon. Ella was a top snorkeller and they both had a time of their lives.

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Kaikoura and Dolphins

Date: 17/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

It's been my life's dream to swim with wild dolphins. I have often looked at the opportunities from the UK but they are very expensive and/or involve a lot of travel. When I read about the possibility of swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, I immediately put it on my list of 'must do' things to do while we were here. There's only one operator running Dolphin Encounter trips from Kaikoura and they are strictly limited by the Department of Conservation as to the number of trips they can do and the number of swimmers allowed in to the sea at any one time. As a consequence, when we tried to book the swimming trip, nearly 2 weeks beforehand, we were told we would have to go on the waitlist. Basically, if spaces come free you are called but if your answerphone comes on no message is left, the next person is called so I was told the list can be worked through pretty quickly. Not a problem, I thought. After Twizel, we spent a few days in Christchurch just to do chores so not worth writing about. By the time we were heading to Kaikoura we still hadn't received a call so I was beginning to get a little agitated. After all, we were only going to Kaikoura for the dolphins and although there there were plenty of other things to do I needed to swim with the dolphins! I needn't have worried because an hour after we reached the small coastal town we were called to say there was space for Ella and I to swim and Dave and Florence to watch (Florence was too young and Dave had done the heli hike in the glacial region after all!) at 8.30am the next morning...........
It was an amazing experience! I had been told there were literally hundreds of dolphins in the waters around Kaikoura. Of course the operators can't guarantee seeing any dolphins but as the earlier trip that day had seen some they were fairly optimistic that our trip would have a similar success. We'd only been out to sea for about 10 minutes when we witnessed the first dusky dolphins somersaulting out of the water behind us, there were maybe 4 or 5 we would see. About 5 minutes later, as I stood next to the skipper he pointed out a dark patch in the sea and said it looked like a pretty large pod. Once we were upon them we could see hundreds of them. You've never seen so many people get ready to get in to the ocean so quickly. The conditions were great, it was a lovely sunny day and there wasn't too much swell. Ella was a little nervous at first and felt very claustrophobic in her 2 wetsuits but as soon as we got in the water the discomfort was the last thing on her mind. She was a top snorkeller! As we held hands swimming through the massive pod of dusky dolphins we found ourselves surrounded - they were so close we could have touched them!
A lifetime's dream for me. Ella thought it was great but was very keen to get back to her friends at our holiday camp as soon as we got off the boat.............kids can be so fickle sometimes!

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Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Near Mount Cook is a town called Twizel. Just outside Twizel is a farm backpackers called Omahau Downs which is where we stayed for 2 nights. I didn't completely enjoy Twizel but we did do 2 quite cool things while we were there.
The first was swimming in the stream near to the farm. The water was really cold but Mummy and Daddy liked it so much they went skinny dipping. Unfortunately, Daddy still hadn't put his clothes back on when 2 elderly ladies arrived at the stream for a swim. He had to STRUGGLE to get his trunks back on without them seeing his bottom!
We also went on a walk on the Hooker Valley Track. It was such a hot day and there were no clouds around Mount Cook. On our walk we got hotter and hotter but fortunately at the end of the walk there was a big bit of shade next to the glacial lake. It was so amazing seeing icebergs the size of cars being pushed madly along by crazy rapids.

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Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went on a long long walk near Mount Cook. We bought some snacks so I didn't get hungry. On the way we saw a little hut and saw that lots of people had written their names all over the walls. We also met a little boy called Thomas. We walked over 2 swingbridges, we then walked past Thomas. We walked and walked and walked. At the end we met up with Thomas again and invited him to play with us. We made a little house while our mums and dads sat in the sun. We made some pretend food and invited our mums and dads over for dinner. We then walked back the same way.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook

Date: 16/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

A strange town, Twizel. it only came into existence in 1968, when it was built to service construction of the nearby hydroelectric power station. We decided to stay there because of it's location close to Mount Cook as well as the fact that a rural homestead on a working farm, Omahau Downs, about 2km north of the town, had been recommended. When we phoned to book, the only accommodation available was a room for 4 in the backpackers house........
It's not all bad news staying in a backpackers, you can meet an eclectic bunch of people and Omahau Downs was no exception: 2 eccentric elderly British women (we'd met them at the stream when Dave and I decided to go skinny dipping!), a couple of English girls taking a year out, 2 young medical students on their elective, a 50ish year old Chilean woman who had to flee Chile during the Pinochet regime, a group of German women who kept themselves to themselves as well as 2 shepherds who were working on the farm mustering the thousands of sheep kept there. We were the only residents drinking Pinot Noir.......
A gorgeous sunny day greeted us on our first morning, I hadn't slept that well because the walls were paper thin and one of the shepherd's in the room next to us was one of the loudest snorers I had ever heard! However, waking to the sight of Aoraki/Mount Cook not covered in it's usual shroud of cloud propelled us out of bed and in to the car to drive the 50km to the start of the Hooker Valley Track. It was a boiling hot day, yet snow capped mountains accompanied us the whole way. We crossed 2 swingbridges along the relatively flat path until we arrived at the Hooker Glacier terminal lake, a grey lake with huge clumps of ice floating around in it. We sat at the lake's edge for hours just gazing at the enormity of this country's tallest peak. Another great New Zealand tramp!

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Twizel Farm

Date: 14/02/2007 | Author: Dave

We stayed on a farm just north of Twizel for two nights. Backpacker accommodation with an amazing view of Mount Cook in the distance. We went for a swim in a stream on the modest 10,000 acre sheep farm. I did not realise that Shaun, the backpacker manager, would recommend the same spot to everyone and I managed to surprise an elderly English couple with my lack of swimming attire as they came teetering over the embankment. However, I made a quick recovery and they were happy to continue with their swim.
Another (ultimately pleasant) surprise at he farm were the two 'shepherds' in the room next to us. Mike and Dean were sitting on our communal deck, with blood splattered legs, as we arrived back from our swim. Nice enough looking gentlemen but too much blood on a chap does tends to colour your initial impression. The following night they took the girls to see their mustering dogs. Nice guys.
I woke up before dawn and took a few photos. The day continued to stay clear so we drove the 60km to the town of Mount Cook and set off on the Hooker Valley Walk. A stunning cloudless day to the end.
Keep running into people from our Doubtful sound trip. Complimentary about the kids, one and all. Nice.

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Overnight cruise

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Ella

After Queenstown we had one night on the Fiordland Navigator which is a large motor boat that cruises along the Doubtful Sound Fiord. It sleeps up to 70 people in the really nice cabins or smaller quad share cabins (we were in the quad share cabins)! All of the crew on the boat had multi-jobs, for example, the waiters were also boat drivers for the tender boats and even the captain got involved with the washing up.
The views of Doubtful Sound were absolutely amazing. As we headed along the fiord to the sea we saw some fur seals on the rocks. Then we had our dinner and soon after a gorgeous pod of dolphins started swimming with the boat. They jumped out of the water really high and had about 10 babies with them!
We also went swimming when the boat put it's anchor down. The water felt so freezing after being all snuggled up in a coat and that I wanted to get out as soon as I got in. You could jump off the boat from a higher level and I went up to do it but I stayed up there for too long and got a bit dizzy so didn't manage to do it.
I thought that it was a really exciting trip and very different from the other places we have been staying.
Highly recommended!

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Boats and Dolphins

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went on an overnight cruise to Doubtful Sound and slept in a cabin with 2 bunk beds. The top bunk beds were to high so Mummy and Daddy slept there :-( It was a lovely cruise, a kind lady gave us a lolly pop each. Then we did some great activities. First we went on the tender (the small boat used to carry people to and from the big boat) and we cruised around the fiord and were told some things about it. Then we went kayaking - mummy paddled and pulled me along. Next we went swimming off the back of the boat. Some people jumped off a high platform but I just went off the easy way. Ella tried to jump but she stood there for too long so she got a bit dizzy! We then went out to the open sea, it was very rough but we saw some seals on the rocks. Later on, after dinner, we saw some dolphins swimming around. They were bottle nosed dolphins and were jumping by the side of the boat. We then watched a slide show and learnt about kiwis and other New Zealand birds. Then we went to bed.
In the morning we saw some more dolphins and had breakfast. After breakfast the captain stopped the boat and turned everything off so it was really quiet and we could hear all the sounds of the birds - it was very peaceful.
We loved the cruise.

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Fiordland

Date: 12/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

We booked our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound over a week before we planned to go, as we knew this was a popular trip. This was another activity that was costing us rather more than we planned but it had been recommended by so many people and this is the trip of a lifetime. If a few nights without Pinot Noir is what it takes to experience the best of what this country has to offer so be it!
We left Queenstown early in the morning for the 3 hour drive to Pearl Harbour. Here a small boat took us across Lake Manapouri, then a short bus drive over Wilmott Pass before we reached our 70 berth boat the Fiordland Navigator. The scenery was stunning from the outset and as soon as we stepped on board the crew went out of their way to entertain the kids - they were the only little ones on board and initially they were a bit disappointed that there were no other kids to play with but quickly realised the 10 or so crew were going to make a special fuss of them. I cannot describe how amazing this trip was. We quickly felt at home on board our lovely boat as we cruised down the hidden waterways. A great hour kayaking was followed by a fantastic swim in the cool fiordland waters. Once again the weather was sublime, pretty rare for this area. The piece de resistance for everyone on board was the arrival of a pod of Bottlenose dolphins who came for a ride on the bow of the boat just after dinner (check out the video). You have never seen a restaurant full of people empty so quickly. The dolphins leapt so high and seemed to follow our boat for ages. They turned up again early the following morning, a great way to wake up. Another magical moment that morning came when everything on the boat, from the engine to the ovens, was turned off as we sat in Hall Arm. Lowering the noise floor immediately revealed the natural sounds of the fiord. We were all asked to sit still and silent for just 5 minutes. Ella particularly struggled with this but once the sound of kiwis, bellbirds and moreporks reached her ears she was able to resist the temptation of moving around the boat and just listen to the sounds of silence around her - it was a truly amazing experience. The crew on the boat - all of them - were brilliant. I love New Zealand!!

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Doubtful Sound

Date: 11/02/2007 | Author: Dave

My local contact described the Doubtful Sound cruise as the "The best one-day trip in the country". A massive boast in a country of such beauty. We decided to book on the overnight trip on a largish boat called the Fiordland Navigator. It sleeps about 70 but has a very personal touch, thanks mainly to the very knowledgable and enthusiastic crew. Lovely boat as well. Only about 6 years old. I think aside from the constant amazing scenery the highlight for all of us was probably the twice that the local bottle-nose dolphins appeared. They were with us just to amuse themselves in our boat's ample bow wave. These dolphin, this far south, grow typically up to 10 feet long and were definitely the most impressive I have ever seen. Great jumping. Doubtful Sound will usually have between 2m and 6m of tannin stained fresh water sitting on top of the sea water. Nice for a swim for us non-dolphins as well, from the stationary stern of the Navigator. A brilliant 24hours.

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More Queenstown Adventures

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Queenstown is a really adventurous place and these are some of the adventures. We all watched daddy do a bungy jump on the Nevis bungy high above a river. There was a glass floor in the cage that daddy jumped from. I was absolutely terrified of it but everyone made me lie on it (see the picture)!!!!! We have also been on a Shotover Jet Boat which is a boat that goes along the Shotover river. It was so fantastic. The boat driver could do some amazing tricks and one of them was spinning the boat round and round in circles. One of the most scary bits of the jet boat ride was the driver kept pretending to run the boat in to rocks (but narrowly miss them)!

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More adventures in Queenstown

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Florence

We went to watch Daddy's bungy jump. We went in a flying fox to a cage high above the river. We went across in order from the heaviest to the lightest so I went last. I watched all the bungy jumpers through the glass floor in the cage. Everyone screamed except Daddy. He was very brave. Ella and I had harnesses on too - we clipped our harnesses to a rope and had a swing in the cage while everyone jumped off the cage!
That afternoon we went on a jet boat. We were twisting and turning around. It was very fast. We saw an old engine on the banks of the river, some people had found it in a tunnel. The man who was driving our driving our jet boat made a special sign before the boat turned so we knew it was going to turn!!!!!!! I was snuggled up with Mummy on one side and Daddy and Ella on the other side so I felt very safe.
After that I felt very hungry so we had dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant called Fat Catz. I had pasta, it was delicious. The restaurant was all about cats. We drew pictures of cats and we read books about cats too. We had a lot of fun in Queenstown.

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Queenstown adventures

Date: 10/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

A week in Queenstown, in an amazing house with a stunning view - it would have been easy to completely relax, kick back and do nothing except read and soak up the rays. However, we're in the adventure capital of the world and that would have seemed like a cop out. The girls did their tandem hang glide - I'm not sure who was the bravest, them, or me for letting them go! When had to sign the liability disclaimer I scrutinised it so carefully I almost didn't let them partake of this 'dangerous' activity. But they had an amazing flight and it was a great experience. Florence was particularly relaxed, but she did have rather a dishy pilot to cling on to and make her feel safe. She's definitely her mother's daughter ;0)!
Dave did his 134m bungy jump with great style and aplomb. We all insisted that we went along to watch, something I was quite regretting as we were being harnessed up just for the flying fox ride to the cage that was suspended nearly 200 metres above the gorge. I have never been good with heights and as I get older my vertigo seems to get even worse. I soon forgot my own fears as I watched the 20 or so people swallow dive off the small lofty ledge - you could smell their fear in the confined space of that cage! I was quite envious of the women jumping off (they were all a lot younger than me!), if only one of my feisty girlfriends had been with me to egg me on, I might have been tempted!
The other must do in Queenstown is the Shotover Jet Boat ride. Our house at Canyon Ridge looks over the Shotover river so we had to give this a go as we'd witnessed at least 30 boats a day careering past the house on the river below us. It was a great but terrifying experience. These incredibly fast boats fly over phenomenally shallow water (they only draw about 10cm), through narrow gorges and hurtle towards granite rock faces, missing them by a hair's breadth. I just kept wondering how many accidents there had been on this trip as a the margin for error seems minuscule (there aren't many at all apparently)! Dave and I had the girls sandwiched between us, with Florence next to me. She was white knuckled and screaming so loudly through it all, I wasn't sure if she was loving or hating it. Of course, when we jumped off the boat at the end of the 20 minute ride both the girls wanted to do it again but once was enough for me!
Needless to say there are more gentle activities to participate in when in Queenstown and we did a few of these too. The highlight for me was a trip to Lake Moke about 20 minutes out of town, the small campsite, lovely crystal clear water and the gorgeous sunny day made me wish we had had our tent with us - a wonderful, quiet spot not far from the madness and mayhem of this busy town.

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Queenstown Fun

Date: 09/02/2007 | Author: Dave

Morning
Was not too nervous. Deliberately booked on the 8a.m departure from town so that I would not dwell on it all day. Thoroughly enjoyed the jump to be honest. Time to think and look on the way down. Very smooth acceleration and very fast. The longer the bungy the smoother the ride apparently and at 134m drop they don't come any longer in NZ than the Nevis. The distance down to the river is 154m so it looks quite near as you turn at the bottom. Well, quite near, compared to the view from the jump pod.
The girls all had great fun out for a close look at my elegant dive. The only 'scary' part is the penguin like hobble out to the end of the dive plank. see video!
Afternoon
The Shotover Jet Boat ride is spectacular. Lots of 360 degree spins at full speed and passing rocks and cliffs with only a few inches to spare. This is said to be the most exciting jet boat ride in NZ and being on one of these beasts is much wilder than just watching them from our house, 100m above the river. Met some lovely folk in Queenstown and both Gabby and I could imagine living there for a while. It would improve my skiing.
From swimming in the warmer lakes to the luge to the steamboat trip across Lake Wakatipu we all had a great time in Queenstown.

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Extreme Adventure Capital of NZ

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Dave

A short drive across the Crown Ranges and we zig-zag down into Queenstown. We are staying a bit over budget on this one A week at a house called Canyon Ridge overlooking the Shotover River Canyon. This is Gabby's dream house and the web-site does not do either the house or the location justice.
To say there's a lot to do in this town is an understatement. I wasn't expecting the girls to want to hang glide but low and behold, day one, off they go on tandem flights from the top of the local ski-field, Coronet Peak.
I personally would like to do 'The Nevis' bungy. At 134m it is the highest bungy jump in the world, courtesy of AJ Hackett the originator of this bizarre act. To be honest, the girls are all insisting that I do it. My lovely family are paying to come out over the canyon as passengers. They want to experience the fear from as close as possible.

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Queenstown

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Ella

Straight after Puzzling World we went to Queenstown, where we are now staying. We are staying in a little cottage overlooking Shotover river. All the Shotover jet boats come past our house and make a lot of noise but we are getting used to them.
On 6th February we went hang gliding. My pilot's name was Toby, he took us high above the mountains. We got caught up in a thermal which was a bit bumpy. The most exciting bit was taking off because you had to jump off a cliff and we started going down and down until the wind caught the glider and we went up again. It was absolutey amazing soaring above the mountains like a bird!
On the 7th we went on a luge which is a funny go-cart, the luge was amazing but a bit scary. Our next trip was to a farm on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, we got there by a very old steamboat which was built at about the same time as the Titanic. It was wonderful and we even got to meet the captain, I also did a bit of steering because the captain was so nice. At the farm we saw the farmer sheering sheep and the dog rounding up the sheep.
We are staying in Queenstown for a week and so far it has been really exciting, I hope it carries on like this.

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Queenstown

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Florence

When we arrived in Queenstown we unpacked our bags (because we are staying a whole week) and had a lovely time looking around our house. We made a pretend cafe called Oasis and invited our Mum and Dad over. We also practised cartwheels and handstands on the grass. It's a really lovely house and Ella and I have got our own bedrooms.
The next day we looked around Queenstown to see what activities we could do because there are lots of exciting things to do here. We went to a cafe where Ella and I pretended we were called Pickled Onion and Tomato Ketchup - it was very funny!
We went Hang Gliding the next day. It was very funny but very scary at the same time. My pilot's name was Rick, he made me feel very safe. The most exciting thing was landing. The day after hang gliding we went on a luge (like a go cart). There was a choice of a scenic track and a fast track. We had to go on the scenic track because I was too small to go on my own and you can only go on the fast track if there is only one person in a luge. I went with Dad first (he goes really fast) then Mum. Then dad went on his own on the fast track - it was too fast. Then we went home and practised more cartwheels - Mum does the best.
Another trip we have done was to go to a farm. We got to the farm on an old steam ship. At the farm we saw a sheep dog rounding up the sheep. The man was whistling to the dog to make him stop and he whistled again to make the dog go to the right places. The sheep were really big as they had lots of wool. When they have lots of wool they don't run very fast. Then the dog rounded up some sheep who had their wool shorn off, they can run much faster so the dog has to run much faster. Next we saw sheep shearing. The sheep had lots of wool, the man held it between his legs. The sheep was on it's back so it couldn't run away. The wool he cut off was very dirty but it was very soft.

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Blowing the budget

Date: 08/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

I have developed seriously discerning taste for New Zealand Pinot Noir. Find a good one and it's absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the good ones generally cost at least $40NZ (about 15) and that, coupled with the fact that we are often spending more on accommodation than we should be (after our Havelock experience), means we are blowing the budget in a big way. At the moment we are spending a week in Queenstown in the most amazing house canyonridge - check out the view in the photo - so something has to give. Unfortunately, while we are staying in such opulent surroundings, it has to be the wine. Of course Dave and I have no intention of not drinking at all, so we have to find a cheaper alternative. Having said that, it is really difficult to go back to the farm once you have tasted Paris. Fortunately, NZ's neighbours (Australia) produce some great (cheaper) wines so we have found some reasonable alternatives. However, we have made an agreement that if we spend less than $100 (35) a night on accommodation we can once again treat ourselves to some delicious NZ Pinot Noir.
Naturally, I have booked a few backpackers and homestays for the rest of our stay on the South Island..........

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The Rob Roy

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Dave

A few more good walks and a circuit of the lovely Lake Matheson under our belt, we headed through the spectacular Hasst Pass eastward away from the certain promise of more torrential rain. Don't get me wrong, I think the weather has been kind to us.
Oh yes, and I dragged the girls into an old mining sluice tunnel before we left Franz Josef. Picture a dark tunnel, hand hewn from solid rock, maybe 100m long with icy water running along it's floor. We all stopped mid tunnel for a chat and I went ahead alone to see if it was worth while the others pushing on through the pitch black. As I was forging ahead, my family, sadly, turned around and waded back out. Mainly on Florence's advice... "in case Dad had been eaten by a monster" and they would be next. Ella, on the other hand was insisting Gabby go back in with a fresh torch to rescue me.
It's amazing.... the sky has recently changed colour to the deepest cobalt blue. It always looks big down in this part of the world but I am not sure I have ever seen it this deep a blue. All the hills and mountains are standing in stark relief in the foreground (like a movie blue screen). Driving around Lake Wanaka the view is impossibly beautiful. Queenstown, only an hours drive away, will look very similar in a few days time. I understand where the local rivalry comes from. Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu is 399.3m deep. The bottom is 90m below sea level.
I digress, we are in Wanaka to do the Rob Roy Walk. It turns out to be our favourite walk so far. A steep, 11.5km return track. The end of the walk was classic. It required sitting for an hour to soak it all in. Huge waterfalls, kea birds and ice breaking off the end of the Rob Roy glacier and falling down the valley toward us.
Not sure where my hat went.

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Ella

In Wanaka, we did the most amazing walk. OK, it was long and tiring but we saw loads of Keas (birds that are only found in the mountains in this part of New Zealand) and they kept trying to steal our food. When we got to the top of the track we sat staring at the gigantic Rob Roy glacier. We watched a big block of ice fall off the glacier and break in to tiny pieces as it tumbled down the cliffs and rocks below it.
Before we left Wanaka, we went to a wonderful place called Puzzling World. It was really amazing and there were illusions everywhere you looked. There was a maze in which you had to go to the blue, green, yellow and red towers and then get back to the place you started from. They maze was very hard - it took us over half and hour to find all towers and then get to the exit! One of my favourite illusions was a room where if you went to one corner you would appear big and if you stood in the other you would appear small. I think Puzzling World is one of the best places I have ever been in my life!!!

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Florence

When we arrived in Wanaka we went to a lovely house, it had a jacuzzi and a swimming pool. We were staying for just 2 nights. The first morning we had a jacuzzi then walked on the Rob Roy track. We walked a long long way to the glacier. My legs ached after that. We arrived home very late but we watched TV because we weren't tired. We watched a very nice film about a lady who had children. We watched it until the end and were so tired we went straight to bed. We were going to Queenstown the next day but before we left we went to Puzzling World. We went to a maze where you had to go to the red, blue, green and yellow corners but the hardest thing to do was find your way back to the start. There was also a room that made you look bigger and smaller. I loved Puzzling World.

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Wanaka

Date: 03/02/2007 | Author: Gabby

We weren't going to stop in Wanaka but several people we had met here (as well as a few people from home) had said Wanaka was one of their favourite places in NZ so we felt we had to check it out. The town was lovely but the stop was really worth it for the stunning walk on the Rob Roy track. The best walk yet! After crossing the Matukituki river on a great swing bridge the track climbs through a small gorge and finally takes you in to an area of dramatic alpine scenery: glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and countless waterfalls. Even the girls, who had struggled for the steep first half, found the final vista breathtaking and thought the effort was well worth it. There were plenty of playful and inquisitive Keas (NZ Alpine birds) at the top who kept us amused as they tried to take off with our rucksacks and food. Dave's hat went missing on that walk so if you are in the vicinity and spot a Kea in a Dickies baseball cap please let us know. We spent a good hour at the top of the track just staring at the huge (but rapidly retreating) Rob Roy glacier. We even saw a huge slab of ice break off and tumble down the cliff face - the sound of cracking ice thundering down the cliff will live with me for a long time.

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Glacier Country

Date: 31/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

Another short drive and another dramatic change in scenery. We didn't seem to climb very high from the beach and were suddenly confronted with the enormous icy fracture that is the Franz Josef glacier - one of 3 huge temperate glaciers found in this part of NZ. We arrived in the small town in gorgeous sunshine early in the afternoon and wanted to investigate the glacial opportunities still possible with such young people in tow. Unfortunately, little Florence, being only 6 and of small stature, wasn't able to take part in any of the more adventurous hikes. Ella was just above the minimum age, height and weight required to do the Heli-hike (a helicopter ride and 2 hour walk at the top of the glacier), which Dave and I were both keen to do. All Florence could do was the scenic flight which would only give a brief landing on the glacier - still an amazing experience - so with great current weather and torrential rain forecast for the next few days we struck while the iron was hot and parted with a huge amount of cash to take the girls (and ourselves) on the experience of a lifetime. It didn't disappoint - the girls loved it, I had a great snowball fight with Florence at the top of the glacier with 400m of snow and ice under our feet while Ella hacked her way through ice caves and over crevasses with her dad (of course!).
The torrential rain the following day meant any walking or glacier action was out of the question so we spent the day in our really lovely apartment (thank God we weren't in a cabin) glenfern doing the more structured learning we are endeavouring to do with the girls, playing games and watching DVDs. It's great sometimes to have a day where you do nothing. We've been away for over 2 months now and all this constant activity can be a bit exhausting!

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Franz Josef Glacier

Date: 30/01/2007 | Author: Dave

Somehow the rain avoids us as we survey the driftwood sculptures on Hokitika Beach. This is a wild, pebble and black sand beach strewn with thousands of pieces of driftwood. A fossicker's dream.
We arrive at Franz Josef the next day to a clearing sky. We are here for three days but are having problems booking on a heli-hike because Florence is too little to walk on the glacier.
Being lucky has always been a feature of my life, and thus the non-arrrival of a couple for the last heli-hike today made a slot for Ella and I.
The helicopter flight up was a roller coaster ride over rainforest ridges and valleys. The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers both have their terminal face in the temperate rainforest. All this outrageous weather we drive through feeds both the ice and the greenery. We landed half way up the glacier on a small pad that our guide 'Goose' had chopped out of a pinnacle this morning. Goose was great with Ella while she got the feel of walking with crampons and an ice pick. Through blue ice caves, over ice arches and staring up the glacier at blocks of ice 4 stories high moving at about 4 metres per day. At the bottom Franz Josef is advancing at about 400mm/day. Most glaciers in the world are retreating.
I don't know if I enjoyed the chopper flight or the hike the most but needless to say, both Ella and I felt very lucky to have this experience, and in perfect conditions as well!
The following day it was torrential again. No hiking of any kind today. In fact it is 6pm and we still haven't stepped outside. Stuck like this, a good day's schoolwork was done by the girls but I would hazard a guess that Ella learnt more up on the ice yesterday.

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The Glaciers

Date: 30/01/2007 | Author: Ella

This was the best day so far!
I went on a helicopter for the first time and we landed in the middle of the Franz Josef glacier. All glaciers are the shape of a tennis racket and we landed on the handle part. Walking on that ice was amazing and we stopped to look at an ice cave and even got to walk through it. Freezing cold water filled my boots and it took 5 minutes to kick it all out. We walked for 2 hours and saw lots of different ice formations. When we arrived back at the helicopter pad on the ice our guide told us that the top of Franz Josef glacier is bigger than the city of Auckland (which is New Zealand's biggest city). When the helicopter came we flew back down the glacier to town. I had an amazing time and was one of the youngest people to go on the glacier because you have to be at least 9 years old to do this heli-hike.

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Let it snow............

Date: 30/01/2007 | Author: Florence

We are staying in a village called Franz Joseph which is named after a big glacier near the village. Yesterday I went on a helicopter for the first time! I was too young to go with Ella and Daddy on a heli-hike (they went on a helicopter ride and had a long walk on the glacier) so I went with Mum on a helicopter ride where we had a short time on the ice and snow at the top of the glacier. It had snowed the night before so the snow was very smooth. We had heard that it snowed a little bit in London but there was much more here (the snow & ice is about 400 metres thick). The snow was so deep your feet sank right in to it! The helicopter ride is the most exciting thing I have ever done and it was really cool to be on the top of such a big glacier.

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West Coast

Date: 29/01/2007 | Author: Dave

After a couple of nights at a very homely cottage in Nelson we drove to the much lauded west coast. It may be a fact that the west coast of New Zealand's South Island has the highest rainfall in the world. If not, it must be damn close. It buckets down and roadside waterfalls add to the spectacular vista as you travel.
Punakaiki is first stop at he very tasteful Hydrangea Cottage. On the phone their selling point was "the accommodation has polished concrete floors". However the days end and the cessation of rain revealed one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. Forget the polished concrete underfoot... it was the view to the west that will stick in my mind. (see photo page)
We walked early at high tide to see the famous pancake rocks. The rocks were stunning but despite the big-ish swell the blowholes were not working.
A beautiful piece of coast.
By breakfast the rain starts to fall again. Time to drive south.

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West Coast

Date: 29/01/2007 | Author: Ella

After a week in the north of the South Island we drove down to the west coast and the first place we stayed was Punakaiki. We woke up early on the first morning to see the famous pancake rocks. These rocks are amazing because they look like huge piles of thick pancakes coming out of the sea.
After Punakaiki we headed along the coast to Hokitika. The beach there is wild and covered in beach debris like driftwood, seaweed and rocks. Because of the debris the town holds a sculpture competition every year. Anyone can enter and the only rule is that you can only use things you find on the beach to make your sculpture. My favourite sculpture was called 'Viking Cruisers', it looked like a Viking boat and amazed me because it was made out of so many natural things such as pebbles, driftwood, seaweed, shells and sand. The sculpture that won was called 'Goin' Swimmin' - it was a turtle carved out of a piece of driftwood that had once been a tree root. There were a lot of brilliant sculptures on the beach.

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West Coast sculptures

Date: 29/01/2007 | Author: Florence

We went to Punakaiki which has rocks that look like pancakes. The most amazing thing about the rocks is that scientists don't know why they look like pancakes piled one on top of the other. The west coast is way different from any other beaches we have been to on the South Island because the sand is black and the beaches are really wild and the sea is really rough.
We then drove on to Hokitika where we looked at a sculpture competition on the beach. The sculptures were just made out of sand, seaweed, driftwood, pebbles and other things you find on the beach. There was a turtle sculpture but my favourite was a house you could walk through (see my picture). The turtle won first prize in the competition.
Hokitika is famous for jade and we went to a shop with lots of jade jewellery and sculptures. In the shop I found a door that lead into a very dark room with beautiful sculptures lit up. I showed my sister and she told mum and dad. It was a great shop with lots of interesting things.

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Yoga and the West Coast

Date: 29/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

Having left the beach and peace of Awaroa lodge, we headed to Nelson, sometimes described as one of NZ's 'most liveable cities'. We stayed in a weather board cottage in one of nelson's oldest streets, with an interior that looked like it belonged in the 1970s. The girls loved it and, despite it's twee decor, it was very comfortable and had everything we needed for our 2 day stop there. Nelson was great, there was a fantastic Saturday market and I even managed to go to a yoga class for the first time since I left the UK. It was 'hot yoga' and I did enjoy the workout but I'm not sure it's for me - it was a packed mixed class but the men were practising their asanas in just shorts. Everyone was sweating profusely and there was no time for relaxation postures! I felt great afterwards but spending an hour and a half with half naked, balding, sweating men is not my ideal way to spend a Sunday morning (it's a good job Dave has hair)!

After Nelson we drove on to the West Coast in horizontal rain. This is the wettest and least populated part of New Zealand. We had an overnight stop at Punakaiki, where the sun shone through briefly for a mind blowing sunset.
The drive to Hokitika, further south, took us past and to the wildest beaches I have ever come across. Pounding grey ocean, black sand, green rocks and pebbles and driftwood of all shapes and sizes fill this long stretch of coastline. It's a huge contrast to the golden sands of the Abel Tasman national park, yet is a relatively short distance away. Hokitika is NZ's jade craft centre and there is a beach sculpture competition held every year using just materials found on the beach. The competition had finished the day before we arrived so we were able to spend hours looking at the amazing and bizarre structures - it's the most interesting exhibition I have ever been to and the girls loved it.

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Abel Tasman

Date: 26/01/2007 | Author: Dave

This is all starting to feel a bit indulgent. I am sure the NZ wine sales will show an unusual upward blip for the start of this year. Gabby says "we need not be concerned on a personal level (i.e. alcoholism) because the Vietnamese wine will not tempt us to these levels of consumption".
We spent the next five nights up in the Abel Tasman National Park enjoying more walking and sea-kayaking. Great fun to be had here. The huge tidal swings in this area create massive currents running in and out of the estuaries. We had a lot of fun swimming in these. These sandbars appear and disappear faster than I have ever seen.
Awaroa Lodge for two nights was a bit of real luxury. Great food and an excellent wine list. Leaving there, by water taxi, should have felt a bit sad but in NZ, it now seems, we are always headed to somewhere very nice.

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Abel Tasman National Park

Date: 24/01/2007 | Author: Ella

After Havelock we moved north to Marahau at the entrance to the Abel Tasman national park. On the way there we stopped at a place to go quad biking. I was on a quad bike with daddy (he goes much faster than mummy). We drove through the most amazing scenery and stopped at a 2000 year old Matai tree - it is the oldest living thing I have ever seen.
In Marahau we stayed at a cabin (much better than our last one) on Old MacDonald's farm - it was a great campsite with loads of animals and a river running through it. We went sea kayaking again with a cool guy called Mike - he was very funny. We went to some lovely beaches and saw a rock named split apple rock - there are some amazing legends about the rock.
We then moved to a lodge in Arawoa which is right in the park. On the beach in Arawoa the beach is so golden and there are so many shells - most of them purple or white. There were even some shell sculptures and sand pyramids on the beach. We really liked it at Arawoa and did lots of walks from there.
We are doing so many activities in New Zealand, sea kayaking, canoeing, swimming, walking - if we carry on like this we are going to be really fit by the time we get home.

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Awaroa

Date: 24/01/2007 | Author: Florence

We went by boat to Awaroa because you can't get there by car. Our boat was an Aqua-Taxi. There was a lovely waitress called Bessie. We stayed in a lovely house. Ella and I slept on the sofa bed. On the first day we walked to a lovely beach and we saw the tide coming in. We were surrounded by water. We had to swim across. Ella and I made secret club houses and it was a lot of fun. We invited our mum and dad over. On our last day we had a big big big big walk. We walked across millions of shells. My legs got very tired.

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Abel Tasman National Park

Date: 24/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

First stop at the gateway to the Park, Old MacDonald's farm in Marahau - a fantastic 100 acre campsite with great camping grounds, loads of animals, a river with deep swimming holes as well as a few cabins and a studio. It's for sale and for about 10 minutes Dave and I entertained the idea of selling up everything in the UK to come and run this place but I think I'd be very bored come the first winter. We had 3 nights there, more sea kayaking, a lovely horse ride on the huge beach and finally some great beach action because the weather is (finally) gorgeous!

Next, on to our luxury lodge at Awaroa. There are only 3 ways to get here - on foot, by air (helicopter or plane) or by sea (water taxi or kayak). Now it's too hard with the kids to get here by sea kayak (it's a 3 day trip). Even I wouldn't suggest blowing the budget on choppering in. On foot is out of the question - you have to walk for 3 days and carry all supplies on your back (not really my style - I'd collapse under the weight of NZ wine I'd want to bring!) so of course we opted for the sea taxi. A great way to arrive - a comfortable, if bumpy, speed boat ride with great views of the passing beaches and islands.

Awaroa Lodge doesn't disappoint - our room is great, the food is stunning, the sea is warm and the beach is golden. This feels like a real holiday! We manage a few great walks - for me the best yet - along beautiful coastal paths with dips along the way in the turquoise sea. Absolute paradise - I wish it was closer to home because I definitely want to come back....

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The South Island

Date: 23/01/2007 | Author: Florence

We got the ferry from the North Island to the South Island and met up with Jez, who is my Godfather, and visited him in his campervan. We stayed in the same campsite in a little hut - it was awful, it was the size of our wendy house.
On our way to the next stop we went on some really exciting quad bikes. There was a fun track and we went through water. We had to keep our legs up so they didn't get wet.
Now we are staying in Old MacDonald's Farm. We are staying in a really nice house with our own kitchen and bathroom. There are lots of animals here, we have seen llamas, alpacas, sheep, horses, peacocks, baby ducks and chickens. We even found a rotten egg!

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Day 1 on the South Island......

Date: 22/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

We arrived in Picton after the very pleasant ferry ride to the South Island. We were meeting up with our friend, Jez Webb, in the nearby, rather non-descript town of Havelock for our first night. There wasn't much to do there so we whiled away a Saturday afternoon at the local pub drinking the fabulous local wine (we're in Marlborough province after all!) while the girls entertained themselves and the bar staff. We were staying in a cabin in the local campsite - our worst accommodation yet - a place the size of a garden shed, equipped with 2 bunk beds (much to Dave's complete horror) with such soft mattresses it was like sleeping in a hammock. Thank goodness we were able to share in the luxury of Jez's campervan.
There's always an upside to staying in such a dismal dwelling - I had no problem in suggesting to Dave that we book in to the Awaroa Lodge awaroalodge in the heart of the Abel Tasman National Park which is our next port of call............

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86.3km/hr Flying Fox

Date: 21/01/2007 | Author: Dave

Our first day on the South Island was an appropriately boozy affair with Jez Webb. Great to see one of our dear friends this far off piste. This is his third trip around NZ in a campervan. We sat outside the only pub in Havelock. The kids played and strayed nearby all afternoon. We occasionally lost track of them but found Florence one time propped up at the bar with a juice, chatting to the very affable barman and Ella on another occasion writing the specials board. Very flexible children.
We stayed in a dog kennel called Cabin 5.
Driving to Able Tasman Park the next day we stopped unplanned at a 'flying fox' adventure place. We quad-biked up the hill and then soared seated over the bush for 1.6km reaching over 80km/hr then backwards to the start point. (It takes four rugby players and a tail wind to get it over the ton). Saw the oldest Matai tree in NZ. A stately 2000 years old. The quad-biking was great and we had a most splendid three hours. Dusty, muddy and happy.
This is going rather well.

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Sad news in Wellington

Date: 21/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

We spent a couple of days in Wellington catching up on boring chores like washing etc. It was here we were told of some really sad news from home. Our lovely cat, Duchess, who is being looked after in Bristol by some good friends, Suze and James, had an accident and has had to have one of her back legs amputated. Suze finally managed to get hold us (after days of trying) on our first night in NZ's capital city just as we were about to go for dinner. This wasn't the right time to break the news to the kids but we found some time the next morning. It's a hard task giving little ones such heartbreaking news when you're such a long way from home. Of course there were tears, lots of them and from all of us. I think it's good for children to see their parents cry and it was very cathartic for us all to have a good sob together. The kids still are (understandably) very upset and sometimes shed a small tear but they do comfort each other. Of course, we all feel guilty that we are not there to comfort our little cat. Suze and James are regularly emailing us with updates on Duchess's progress - I think they are finding it more distressing than us. But she is convalescing well and it's really reassuring for to know that she is with such a loving family.

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First stop on the South Island

Date: 20/01/2007 | Author: Ella

The first place we stayed on the South island was Havelock Motor Camp and there we stayed in the tiniest cabin you can imagine - even the smallest caravan put our cabin to shame! We met up with Jez who is an old friend of daddy's (and Florence's Godfather) and went to the Clansman pub with him. While we were there we made friends with the people who worked there and I even got to write the specials board for them!

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Snow and Water

Date: 20/01/2007 | Author: Florence

After Raglan we went to the mountains and we saw some snow! We got on a chairlift nearly to the top of the mountain. We got so high no more trees grew. The mountain was a volcano but luckily it didn't erupt while we were playing there. After the mountains we went to the river. We got a jet boat up and canoed back down. Then we went to the Flying Fox which is a hotel you can only get to by flying fox. It is not a flying fox like the one in Holland Park - it is one with a basket. At the Flying Fox we met a dog called Billy, he was lovely. When it got dark we had an outdoor bath that was warmed up by burning a fire underneath it. The water was fresh from the river.

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Mountains and rivers........

Date: 20/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

Oh my God! What a mind blowing, jaw droppingly beautiful country New Zealand is! Every corner reveals another amazing vista and you can go to so many places in such a short space of time. We left the beaches at Raglan and headed to the volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park for more walks on snow capped, lava strewn mountains.
Next on to the gorgeous Whanganui River where we stayed in our loveliest accommodation yet, the Flying Fox on the Whanganui River Road www.theflyingfox.co.nz. The 2 cottages (and one gypsy caravan) to rent are only accessible by jet boat from the river or by flying fox 30m above the river. The setting and grounds are stunning and the cottages themselves are equipped with great books, lovely furniture, really comfortable beds and sumptuous bedding. One of the best features was a turntable in the living area with loads of old albums we hadn't listened to in years. We'd booked a couple of days ahead for just one night's stay but I could have easily stayed there for a week.
While we were there we engaged in yet more active pursuits - jet boating up roughly 13km of gorgeous river and canoeing back down. This was where one of the increasingly infrequent rows between Dave and myself took place & all to do with paddling technique! We got a little stuck in a rapid and our canoe started spinning - while Dave insisted on shouting instructions at me I preferred to paddle intuitively! After a minor slanging match (the kids were present after all!) and, once we were on dry land, a well deserved glass of local Pinot Noir, we were friends again. If that's all we argue about we're not doing badly!

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Fun on mountains and rivers

Date: 19/01/2007 | Author: Ella

After Raglan we headed to the mountains of Tongariro National Park. In the Park were 3 volcanoes:
Mount Tongariro
Mount Ngauruhoe
Mount Ruapehu
We climbed up Mount Ruapehu and and played in the snow. Mount Ruapehu is the most recent volcano to erupt in New Zealand. We had fun climbing up the lava flows but had to finish our games as clouds started to wrap around us in a foggy, damp mist.
After that we headed to Whanganui River Road. We went there for jet boating up and canoeing down the Whanganui river. While we were there we also met an old Maori man called Bobby Grey. He was very smart and after our chat with him I thought that he was practically amazing.
Further down the river was the most exciting place we have stayed yet, The Flying Fox, a lovely place to stay, with sheep and a dog running around the grounds. We stayed in a lovely cottage with an upstairs as well as a downstairs. Billy the dog was lovely and followed Florence and I around the place. I loved it there and as we left I had many happy memories.
Next on to the South Island!

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A Busy Day

Date: 18/01/2007 | Author: Dave

Ok, check this out.
Wake up early and drive to the end of 'The Bruce'. On to chairlifts and up toward the snowline on mount Ruapehu. A bit of scrambling amongst moonscape beauty and waterfalls below the snowline but above the clouds. Then we hit the road south to a chance meeting with a Maori elder in Pipiriki who lectures us on Maori language mainly, and then makes us tea. Learnt a lot. Next we jet-boated 13km up the Wanganui River and paddled a canoe back down through grade one rapids. Got spun right around in one of them. Didn't know grade one rapids could do that. Though, I did discover an extension to Gabby's L/R confusion, 'backpaddle'. Anyway, beautiful scenery. One hours drive further down the river was our accom for this night. Accessible, for us, only by flying fox high over the Whanganui. theflyingfox
After cooking dinner we lit a fire under the bath (under the stars) and had a family soak. Imagine a bath that gets hotter the longer you stay in it. I am sorry if this sounds like too much in one day but what can I say.... "we are keeping busy, relaxed and happy at the same time"

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Flower Girls and Dogs

Date: 16/01/2007 | Author: Florence

In Raglan we were flower girls at Victoria and Marcus's wedding. There were also 2 dogs wearing flowers around their necks. We had a lovely view of the sea from the wedding. I was really nervous about being a flower girl, but once I had done it I wanted to do it again. This is how I feel when we have a class assembly at school. I liked Raglan a lot.

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Home schooling the kids

Date: 16/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

I never thought it would be so hard to get the girls to focus on the very small amount of school work we try to get them to do. We are really not asking much because they are learning so much from the travel anyway. Just a weekly blog update, a scrap book to run & a little spelling and maths - it amounts to a few hours a week! Florence isn't bad - she really focuses when we ask her to. But Ella, my lovely distracted Ella - she'll find the smallest thing and get sidetracked by it! I don't know how her school teachers get her to concentrate but Miss Stacey, if you're reading this, please email me a few pointers - I really need them! The idea of putting the girls in to a Kiwi school for a month is starting to really appeal!

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Hahai, Raglan, Waitomo, Tongariro

Date: 14/01/2007 | Author: Dave

I thought I was up to date on my blogs but too much is happening. Anyway, while they sleep I will try to catch up.
Next stop is Hahai (pic of cathedral cove), we sea kayak and love it. A new experience. Couple of rainy days so we speed watch the best of NZ movies. 'Once Were Warriors' particularly potent and 'The Piano' very relevant and very current for all the shots of Karekare.
Then to Raglan for the wedding. I have to be honest and say I fell in love with the place. We drove up a 65 acre block of land (for sale) with ocean views like I have never seen before. My first serious off-roading in the Pajero. Should have read the instruction manual before attempting this one, but hey, I know where I went wrong. Have read it now, so next time....
Next stop Tongariro National Park via black water rafting in the Waitomo caves. Adventure in rubber tubes lit only by glow worms for the most part. In the dark 65m undergound jumping backwards off the top of a waterfall with your bum in a rubber car tyre tube.
Yes we do seem busy. I am liking Gabby's idea of spending a month in Raglan.

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A Kiwi Wedding

Date: 14/01/2007 | Author: Ella

Victoria and Marcus got married on the 14th January. Florence and I were asked to be flower girls for the wedding and I was really excited about it. The other flower girls and I (there were 5 of us) sprinkled petals on the grass as Victoria walked along with her Dad to where Marcus was standing. During the ceremony we saw rain rolling in over Whale Bay but they were married just before it arrived - a great wedding!

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Raglan Wedding

Date: 14/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

After a few wet but lovely days on the Coromandel peninsula we headed over to the surfy community of Raglan for a wedding. Victoria, a UK friend was getting hitched to Marcus, a lovely, laid back Kiwi guy I met for the first time at a muddy Glastonbury festival a few years ago. Loo was maid of honour & the girls were flower girls which they were incredibly excited about! We were very lucky to be accommodated by some locals, lovely Neil & Linda. It's so great to stay with people rather in a bach/hotel or motel - I little local knowledge can go a long way. Neil & Linda's house was lovely & had the most stunning views over Whale Bay & the great surf. The wedding was gorgeous, beautiful words, a fabulous setting (next door to Neil & Linda's!) and a very happy couple. We met some great people there - Raglan is definitely a place I could imagine staying for a while! If we get tired of the constant travel we could always stay there for a month or so & send the girls to the local school!

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Karekare and Hahei

Date: 13/01/2007 | Author: Ella

After a week in the city of Auckland we have now spent our time on the beach and in the bush. We stayed in Karekare (just west of Auckland) in our friends, Sarne, Flo and Celeste's house. We have been on walks, scrambling over boiling black sand dunes and watched the Flintstones.
We also went to a lovely seaside town called Hahei where we went sea kayaking with a guide called Michael. He took us over big waves into cool caves and nearly at the end of the kayaking trip we stopped at a beach called Lonely Bay and Michael made us hot chocolate and cookies!

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New Zealand beaches

Date: 12/01/2007 | Author: Florence

After Auckland we went to Karekare. In Karekare we went on 2 big walks, they were very nice. But I liked it best when we pretended that Celeste's treehouse was a restaurant. We made a menu and invited our mums and dads over for their dinner - but not really!
After Karekare we went to Hahei. It rained lots but we still got to go sea kayaking. It was a lot of fun. We caught lots of waves to get us to land. One wave made us go up then down on the kayak.

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My Trip So Far

Date: 08/01/2007 | Author: Ella

My favourite place so far: Tasmania
Reason: It's beautiful, my cousins were there and we had lots of fun.

The best thing I have done: Jumping off rocks in to the Opal Plunge pool - the ledge was 4 metres above the 3 metre deep pool.
Place I did this: Karekare - NZ

The thing I like most about our trip: We have only been to exciting places, no boring places.

The thing I like least about our trip: Getting bitten by mosquitos and sandflies!

What I am looking forward to: Being a flower girl at Marcus's and Victoria's wedding on 14th January in Raglan.

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The trip so far.......

Date: 08/01/2007 | Author: Florence

My favourite place so far: Tasmania
Reason: I enjoyed playing with my cousins.

The best thing i have done; Going to Kylie's concert in Melbourne.

Thing I like the most; That we are seeing the most beautiful things and places.

Thing I like the least: Biting insects!

What I am looking forward to: Marcus and Victoria's wedding!

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The Black Sands of Karekare

Date: 08/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

Karekare, such a gorgeous place, so wild and so empty! It's the location of Jane Campion's 1993 film, 'The Piano' - you should rent the DVD because not only is it an amazing tale of erotic longing, but it also conveys the beauty of this stunning area far more than I can in words. We stayed at Sarne, Flo's and Celeste's lovely beach house and they took us on some amazing walks to beautiful places. Once again Ella and Florence made me proud with their stamina (as did Celeste (nearly 5) who was the strongest of the lot!) - they all managed a 7 hour walk, including an hour picnic lunch stop, no problem!
On our final day Sarne took us to the Opal plunge pool, a 3 metre deep pool of clear, cold water which is best accessed by jumping from a 4 metre high ledge. I'm not great with heights or freezing cold water but when Ella did it without hesitation I felt I had to overcome my fears. I did, but I hesitated! I am so proud of Ella, I don't think she would have done this a few months ago so hopefully this trip is making her more brave!

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Karekare

Date: 07/01/2007 | Author: Dave

Today we walked the track from Sarnes and Flo's house, south over Zion Hill. A lot of up and downhill. After the first 2 hours of mainly uphill climb we reach the distance sign. We have gone 20 mins. It is very steep terrain but we are not that slow. Our reward for monumental effort is stopping for a much needed picnic in a beautiful valley, about another 2 hours ahead yet. Then back along the beach to Karekare via the old railway tunnel once used to transport Kauri to the timber mill. Only a pretty swamp exists where the mill once stood. The valleys we have just walked through were once full of these grand slow growing trees. We four adults with Celeste, Ella and Florence took 7 hours to complete the circuit. Of course little tired legs are forgotten when we reach the sea and they run like we have just got out of the car. It was a spectacular days walk. We are all a bit mashed this evening. More beautiful than Cradle Mountain and it is literally walking from their back yard. More on that later. Too tired. Must sleep.
Before we leave Karekare we are treated to a plunge in Opal pool (only 10 mins walk from the house). I am not great with jumping from heights. Ella seems to have no problem. We are all very impressed. (see video)

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Farewell Granny Pad Hello Aunty Loo

Date: 02/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

Jan 2nd - Mum's last day before she heads back to the UK tomorrow. It's been great having her around - a bit of a journey in terms of our relationship. There are things I have learnt about her that I don't particularly like - probably because I see them in myself! Mum you are sooooo opinionated but it has been fantastic having you around - you're an ace Mum & a top Granny - we're going to miss you!

2nd Jan is also the day Aunty Loo arrives and it's her birthday!
We decided to celebrate in style at the Sky Tower orbit restaurant - stunning views and lovely food.

Happy birthday Loo & have a safe trip home Granny Pad!

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New Years Eve 2007

Date: 01/01/2007 | Author: Dave

A great night with great friends.

Anyway, enough of that.
Loo's birthday on the second of Jan. I'm rushing now to the good bit.
Gabby spotted on the internet... 'Crew On Americas Cup Match Race' between NZL40 and NZL41 on Auckland harbour. To me this is a dream come true. Have never actually dreamt about it, but that is splitting hairs right now. So excited. On the 3rd of January with a clear blue sky and a 20 knot breeze, out we go. Gabby, Loo, Bart and I. Bart and I are winch grinding early on. Our boat wins the start and then win the race convincingly. Yes, you guessed it, good winch grinding at the start is fundamental to the end result. The wind picked up to over 30 knots while we were racing. Americas Cup yachts don't go out in over 30 knots so I think we felt the top end. Top day for all of us. Need to post a bit of video of this..... quick Pete!

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Happy New Year

Date: 01/01/2007 | Author: Ella

We are now in New Zealand. We spent New Year here and had lots of fun. We were with lots of other adults and kids. We bounced on trampolines, climbed trees and went into tree huts. Florence and I stayed up until midnight. It was the first time Florence had been awake to see in the New Year.
On the 2nd of January it was my Aunty Loo's birthday and we went up in the Sky Tower to a revolving Restaurant to celebrate it. The Sky Tower is the tallest building in the Southern hemisphere so when we went up we could see the whole of Auckland. When we arrived the sun was setting but when we were half way around the restaurant we could see the moon. That was also my Granny Pad's last night so we had special drinks and a delicious dinner.
The next day my Aunty Loo, Mum, Dad and my daddy's friend Bart went sailing together in a gigantic yacht in a race with another yacht.
While they were racing Florence and I went to Kelly Tarlton's, which is an aquarium, with Tania, who is Daddy's friends sister. Tanya is a very nice lady and we had so much fun with her.
On Thursday the 4th of January we went to the Auckland Museum and learnt how the Pacific people navigated the seas and how to survive moving from one island to another.
I hope you had a very happy new year!

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New Year

Date: 01/01/2007 | Author: Florence

We are now in a new country. (New Zealand)
I had a very nice New Year. it was the first time I stayed awake till midnight! Before midnight Mummy and I went to a beach with black sand called Karekare. On our Aunty Loo's birthday we went to a moving restaurant in a very tall building called the Sky Tower.
Next morning we went to Kelly Tarltons which is an underwater aquarium. Mummy and Daddy went sailing so we had a baby sitter called Tanya - she was lovely.
On Thursday the fourth of January we went to Auckland Museum. While we were there we saw a Maori show called Manaia. We learnt our first Maori word 'Kia Ora'. It means lots of words such as 'Hello' 'Good Health' 'Awesome'. We saw some Maori dances including a Poi dance and the Haka. At the Museum we bought a book and are going to learn more Maori words. Our Granny Pad has now left New Zealand and is on her way home.

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Happy New Year from NZ

Date: 01/01/2007 | Author: Gabby

I hate 4WDs - they hog the roads in the city and in London are generally driven by small blonde women chatting on mobile phones (that includes you Helen!!!) - they pollute the environment and are completely unnecessary..........unless of course you are holidaying in new Zealand! With 90 mile beaches to drive down and glaciers to drive up, I have been told a 4WD is an absolute necessity. Forget our carbon footprint (that's been blown with the number of flights we have taken over the last 5 weeks), forget all things environmental.
We haven't rented one (you can't drive down beaches or up glaciers in a hire car) we have bought one for our stay here. We're not sure how long yet, maybe 2 months, not a lot less. We have only been in Auckland so far - a beautiful city but not much call for a 4WD to drive up Queen Street. We had a great NYE with lovely friends in Karekare, an amazing beach about 45 minutes drive W of Auckland - a lovely drive but something our lovely London Saab would easily have coped with.
I am sure Rosie, as the girls have named the 4 wheeled beast, will prove her worth over the next couple of months. Watch this space. I might yet be converted to the merits of a 4WD although I don't think I will be exporting one back to London. How much is the congestion charge for 4WDs there?
I do think I'm going to like it here in NZ..............

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New Zealand

Date: 31/12/2006 | Author: Dave

I knew that waxing lyrical over the beauty of Cradle Mountain would sooner or later lead me down a difficult path. Well I rode that path sooner than I expected.
Landed in Auckland at 12:30 am and drove away from airport 15 minutes later. Nice start I must say. We have purchased a Mitsubishi Pajero (2004 exceed 3.8 v6 NZ$30,000 if you are interested) with the aim of going places only a 4WD can go. Like 90 mile beach. The camper-van route has some advantages (like tea on demand) but I am confident this purchase will see me proud before too long. A manoeuvre like this needs local help. Greg you are one of life's classic gentleman!
It is now the 31st and a lovely English lady is speaking from Greg's Sat-Nav and guiding us to (our great friends) Sarne and Flo's house at Karekare for New Years Eve celebrations with some of my best friends/work buddies. After leaving Auckland suburbs the short drive to the coast through the Waitakere Ranges is beautiful. Karekare beach (of black sand) is beautiful. The vista from Sarne's back yard is beautiful. Auckland is beautiful and I know that this is just the start of something very special.
Must throw a huge bucket of greenlip mussels on the barbie. Nice one Sarne.

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