The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (8) – Queenstown day one

A relaxing day in Queenstown

Mercure Queenstown

Mercure Queenstown

After such busy days and new places everyday, we had organised three whole nights in Queenstown, at the Mercure Queenstown Resort hotel. This hotel had excellent lake views, and a pretty decent restaurant and bar. However the rooms were a little shabby and worn (they looked as though they hadn’t been refurbished in quite some time), and we decided against using the outdoor pool since it didn’t look very clean. However, it was a good value stay, and the lake views were well worth it. We definitely needed a restful day (we had mild travellers’ colds, possibly caught during the cold day in Sydney), so we decided it was not a day for the car. Queenstown has a lot of things to do, although rather fewer for those looking for relaxation as opposed to jet boat rides and bungee jumping.

Birds and Gondola

New Zealand has a lot of unusual wildlife. and Queenstown has the excellent Kiwi Birdlife Park, where one can see it without having to spend nights camped in the bush.

NZ Pigeon

NZ Pigeon

One is not allowed to take photos of the kiwi themselves (they are in a special nocturnal enclosure), but it was interesting to see them, and hear about their weirdness (the egg is about 1/2 the size of the female), and the fact that they seem more like hedgehogs than birds. Other highlights were seeing the rare lizard the tuatara, lots of ducks, and the yellow-headed kakariki (photo here).

Then it was time for a trip up the Queenstown gondola (the mountain cable-car type, not the Venetian type). For anyone who has been up similar affairs in Switzerland or elsewhere in the Alps, this is not a particularly dramatic ascent, although there are decent views at the top. Like everything in Queenstown, there are things for the thrill-seekers, in this case a bob-sled run.

Waterfront dinner

Waterfront dinner

Evening took us gently back into town and dinner on the lakeside (the Waterfront Bar and Bistro), and some time to relax over a nice glass of local Sauv Blanc! Views were excellent, the service great, and the food truly superb. Well worth visiting if you’re passing through.

Morning light

Morning light

That night, for some reason I woke up early in the morning, and instead of just rolling over as is normal, I got up for a look out of the window, and was rewarded with a fantastic light show over Lake Wakatipu. The next instalment – day 2 in Queenstown, and a trip out into the surrounding mountains for a short walk.

 

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (7) – from the forest to the lakes

Collyer House to Queenstown (Otago)

Haast Pass

Gates of Haast

Gates of Haast

This was a day of travel (and we both had mild colds), but which showed how much contrast New Zealand has to offer. We woke up to more traditional West Coast weather (otherwise known as rain), and then enjoyed the excellent breakfast hospitality of Collyer House (see previous post). Our route took us over the Haast Pass (this is the lowest of the three passes across the Southern Alps) from West Coast into Otago. The other horror of the morning (other than the rain), was being attacked by sand flies whilst trying to get the pictures! The white rental car was clearly very attractive to them, and we ended up covered in the things, despite heavy use of repellent! Fortunately, they can only fly very slowly (you can walk faster than they fly), so a bit a rapid movement spared us the worst.

Into Otago

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

The West Coast side of the Haast Pass predominantly runs through Beech forest, and at the watershed (the boundary between West Coast and Otago), the scenery (and weather in this case) change dramatically. The forest stops, and scrubby moorland predominates. This is a result of the southern Alps providing a barrier to rainfall on the landward side.

Driftwood on shore

Driftwood on shore

Otago gets about 1/10th of the rainfall of the West Coast, and can’t support the large numbers of trees. As well as breaking away from the forest for the first time since Arthur’s Pass, we broke out into sunshine, which was accompanied by a fierce wind. The road winds along the side of Lake Wanaka, and then crosses a lower watershed to Lake Hawea. Both lakes are really stunning blues, and very large (when compared to lakes in the UK!). I think what really surprised me was the amount of driftwood on shores on these lakes, testament to the climate and also to the lack of man’s influence on the area. See also this photo on my other blog.

Lake Hawea

Lake Hawea

A Hike

Having enjoyed our drive past the lakes and stopped for a bite to eat in Wanaka township, we took a shortcut along New Zealand’s highest paved road, the Crown range road, which reaches a height of 1076m.

Queenstown

Queenstown

Us being us (well, me mainly) parked at the view point there, and despite the slightly threatening cloud-scape and our colds, decided to make the ascent (by foot) of the 1485m Rock Peak. This has a radar station on top of it for controllers of the aeroplanes approaching Queenstown airport. Not somewhere I’d care to land (look closely at the picture, and you’ll see the 737 on approach).

Queenstown

After returning to the hire car, it was a winding drive down to Queenstown, which was certainly the biggest and most bustling place we’d seen for a few days. We would have three days here to recover from the non-stop changes of location, and to explore the local area (and do some laundry). More of that in the next instalment.

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (6) – Along the West Coast in sunshine

Okarito to Collyer House (Haast) via Fox Glacier

(click map / zoom out for full view)

Segment six of our trip saw us wake up in our Hutel in Okarito in lovely sunshine (apparently quite a rarity on the “Wet Coast”. The rainfall totals in this part of NZ really put the UK to shame!). Our drive would take us just over 100 miles along this sparsely populated coastal area, past rainforests, glaciers, and wonderful coves, to Haast, and beyond to Collyer House. First stop was the rather lovely Continental bakery at the far end of the township of Franz Josef (This is where one of the two famous West Coast glaciers can be found).

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Being as we are, we decided that the majority of tourists would stop at the first of the two glaciers, and we should therefore head onwards to Fox Glacier, where it might be a bit quieter. These two glaciers are very unusual, both in that they reach down to only 300m above sea level (within the rainforest), and also that they are advancing, when most world glaciers are in retreat. The car park is reached up a short spur off the main highway (6), which ends with gravel. There is then a twenty-minute hike across the moraine and gravel areas between the car park and the end of the glacier. There is a high-risk of rockfalls in this area, so obey the signs, and do not venture onto the ice without a guide. You can get pretty close (about 200m) without, which is free, and is a very enjoyable trip.

Once back at the car, it was onward along the Coast Road. Our guidebook had suggested a good spot for a break was a lay-by that would allow you to take the c. 30 minute hike down through the rainforest to Monro beach, where (at the right time of year) penguins can be found, and which is a beautiful location at any time of year.

Monro Beach

Monro Beach

The walk was pretty quiet (only a few other similarly 20s-30s, middle-class, couple-types (NZ seems to be full of them) down through the forest, and it wasn’t so steep that we worried about the clamber back up. On reaching the beach, we found stones, beautiful blue pacific surf, a lovely bay, rocks out in the bay, and a complete absence of penguins (we must have just missed them, based on the signs out).

View from the coast road

View from the coast road

Just up the coast, there is a lovely viewpoint (Knight’s point),

Knight's point view

Knight’s point view

named for the dog of the foreman in charge of the road construction, and several other lesser viewpoints. This one is famed, since there is a meeting of currents, and on quite a few occasions throughout the year (not the day we were there) one can see whales and other large sea-mammals feeding in the waters below the road. The views are good without the whales too though.

The West Coast is a truly stunning place, and is (for a busy European) very empty. You can easily drive 60km or more between settlements, and each of those might only have 350 people. You do tend to see the same people / cars / Jucy vans at every guide-book location however! Finally we came to Haast, and turned off the main route 6 road, to head down the road towards (but not all the way to) Jackson Bay (we would later return to Haast for a beautiful fish and chips at the Hard Antler (next door to a shop selling New Zealand jade and other interesting lumps of rock)), to our B&B for the night at the delightful Collyer House. Run by the lovely Neroli Nolan (just about everyone within a couple of miles is a Nolan!), who is an excellent photographer and equally excellent hostess, the special place is close to the ocean, with wonderful views.

Collyer House

Collyer House

Breakfast is also very good, and we enjoyed talking with Neroli and the other guest (who had just come down from one of the great walks the day before) about travels and life in NZ. Needless to say the others’ stories were slightly more exciting than ours (such things as being left stranded by a broken down bus in the middle of the night in Vietnam etc!). But a lovely convivial morning it was, and we certainly didn’t start the next day’s journey as early as we had thought we might! The rooms at Collyer house are stunningly appointed, and contain antique British furniture in many places (ask Neroli about that!), and it was a very comfortable place to stay; we wish we’d booked it for more than just one night.

Next… away from the coast and into the mountains.

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (5) – Blue rivers, beautiful coast (NZ)

Arthur’s Pass to Okarito

The next day of our adventure sees us drive from Arthur’s Pass, to the tiny settlement of Okarito (population 30). Along the way we took a variety of scenic detours: a walk in the Otira Valley, an excursion to the shores of Lake Brunner, and a view of the amazing Hokitika Gorge, all rounded off with a lovely sunset on the west coast. The driving was primarily on beautiful, quiet roads, although there were a few holdups at the single lane bridges which New Zealand is famous for, including one which is shared with the railway line!

Otira Valley

Otira Valley

Otira Valley

The Otira valley walk is about 45 minutes each way along a fairly easy path from a laybay just up the hill from Arthur’s Pass village, taking you to excellent views of the surrounding mountains, always with the noise of the river running in the background. The DoC information suggests it’s easy to get to the bridge; we didn’t quite make it that far, turning back when it became necessary to get wet / scramble across the foliage. Still, the bridge was in sight, so pretty close. We spent about 90 minutes on the walk in total, and didn’t meet another soul. A lovely morning stroll. One of the things that was interesting to us northern Europeans, was the differences in all the plants along the path – which looked so alien to us, on this our first day in NZ.

Lake Brunner

Reaching this stunning like (near Moana), means driving along a back-road

Arnold River

Arnold River

(fully sealed) from the Route 73 to Route 6 (the coast road), reached by turning off to the right, not long after the summit of the Pass. The stunning Arnold river (crossed on foot by the wobbly bridge in the photograph) provides the outflow from the lake, which contains freshwater mussels (amongst other things). We stopped here in the hot sunshine for a gentle (and short stroll) before heading onward through the large town of Greymouth towards Hokitika for lunch.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

This is one of those sights that photography just cannot do justice – the blue colour is truly stunning. This colour is the product of how the water gets to the river, being glacial water. All the tiny bits of rock ground off by the glacier (known as glacial flour), are suspended in the water, and the minerals in these tiny bits of rock give the vivid blue colour.

The road to the gorge from Hokitika is an intriguing drive – dead straight for miles, with right angle bends interspersed as it goes around the odd field that the owner decided they didn’t want the road to go through. The last few hundred metres are unsealed, but easy driving. The walk down to the gorge, which includes a lovely bridge over the river, is very easy going. Warning: do not attempt without good strength sand-fly repellent; these little beasties will bite you to within an inch of your life! (for Brits – they are like Scottish midges, but worse!). We were fortunate to meet some locals coming the other way who clearly guessed that we were unprepared, and shared their repellent!

Okarito

After Hokitika Gorge, it was back to Hokitika village to fill up on some supplies

Okarito

Okarito

(pasta and sauce) for our night in the “Hutel” in Okarito (pop. 30), and then the drive down the fantastic west coast for 90 minutes or so (with a turnoff about 16km before the end of the drive) to our destination.

Okarito is right by the sea, and is home to the Okarito lagoon, an area full of nature. As you can see from the photo, you can look back to the mountains of the Southern Alps also. On arrival in the village, we were given a warm welcome, and shown to our “hutel”, which is a self-contained unit, which seemed to contain more knives than any other implements – they covered about half of the wallspace in the kitchen area – only sleep there in the company of someone you really trust! We were laughed at when we asked where the key was “no-one locks their doors here, if you’re worried, leave things in your car”. We ate our pasta and sauce (I like garlic in my sauce, but clearly not as much as NZ’ers do, since it was outrageously garlicy), and went for a sunset stroll.

Okarito sunset

Okarito sunset

Sadly, we were so close to mid-summer, that the sun set just behind the headland, but we had a beautiful evening. It turns out the NZ is full (well, perhaps not full, but you see them quite a bit), of couples of our sort of age, also trying to enjoy a romantic walk at sunset – you certainly don’t even get a spot as out-of-the-way as Okarito to yourself. It seems as though many tourists are at the “happily-married-for-a-bit-in-a-stable-job-no-kids-yet” bracket, which sort of makes sense, since it’s expensive to get to, but even more so if you have a family!

Lastly (for now), the ducks in NZ are really big:

Paradise shelduck

Paradise shelduck

We saw this paradise shelduck, with his mate and a duckling the next morning before departure. About the size of a particularly succulent goose!

Next time, a glacier in the rainforest, and a beautiful bay.

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (4) – Arthur’s Pass (NZ)

Another Instalment

It’s been a while since I last posted on this topic, and since there is still a lot of the trip to go, I’d better add another day. The last chapter had us getting to Sydney airport for our morning flight to Christchurch NZ. Following our long-haul experience getting to Sydney, a 3.5hr “hop” over the Tasman Sea seemed pretty short. Again we flew with Qantas, this time on a Boeing 737. The flight into Christ Church on the South Island of New Zealand involves flying over the Southern Alps – the snow-topped mountain range which covers a large proportion of the western side of the South Island. More on them in later instalments.

(zoom out to see the full route).

The Hire Car

Our trusty  steed
Our trusty steed

After arrival in Christchurch, it was time to get the hire car. Rather than forking out with Avis or Hertz or anyone like that, I’d decided to go for a more “local” company, Kiwi Direct. The service and contact during the booking process was excellent. However, for those of us who are European and like a bit of formality and “in Ordnung” paperwork, that part did leave something to be desired. To pick up the car, we had to call a mobile number, and we were then picked up and driven to a layby where the handover happened – ie we signed the pink bit of the form, and the driver wrote down my credit card number. The hand-back instructions were given to us, he told us where the relevant buttons and switches were, got out, and left us to it! Having said that, they car worked fine, helped us cover the best part of 3,000km in 12 days, and coped admirably with the numerous excursions down gravel roads. All very excellent.

The Drive to Arthur’s Pass

Our destination for the night was the hamlet of Arthur’s Pass, a township of 54 people,

Heading to Arthur's Pass
Heading to Arthur’s Pass

located about 750 feet above sea level in the mountains, and near the summit of the mountain pass of the same name. This was a 140km (90 mile) drive from the airport, the first half of which (in distance, but less in time) is across the Canterbury plain, characterised by long straight roads, and increasing views of the mountains. A lot of the route also follows the tracks of the TranzAlpine railway route from Christchurch to Greymouth. In the second half of the journey, the road winds its way through the mountains, passing soaring peaks, broad river valleys and forested hills. The road was also very quiet, making for excellent driving, although the three gears plus overdrive on our automatic transmission hire-car took some of the thrill out of the hillier sections. In many ways, it was very similar to driving through the European Alps, although the roads here are dramatically quieter.

Arthur’s Pass – the town and surroundings

View from Arthur's Pass
View from Arthur’s Pass

The township itself consists primarily of a large number of historical buildings (mainly single storey, and made from corrugated metal), a lovely hostel / motel (Arthur’s Chalet) where we were staying (the last two storey building for many miles), and the usual tourist info centre. There is also a railway station on the TranzAlpine, and a lot of walking tracks. We decided to use the advantage of the long evenings of daylight and have dinner before going for an evening stroll. We were advised by the Chalet that their main chef didn’t work that day of the week, and therefore to try the “Wobbly Kea”, which is the local hostelry. This was a great success – proper Alpine grub, washed down with lovely New Zealand wine (a sauv blanc for Mrs T, and a Riesling for me).

Dinner in the Wobbly Kea
Dinner in the Wobbly Kea

A kea is a parrot, endemic to New Zealand, which is the world’s only alpine parrot. We didn’t spot any near Arthur’s Pass, but we did see them close up and in the wild later in the trip. After dinner we took a short walk up to the devil’s punchbowl, which is a rather dramatic waterfall. It was interesting for us to walk through the forest and see such different trees and plants from those we are used to back at home – the beech trees for example have such small leaves.

Devil's punchbowl

Next time

The next day involves stunning sunshine, a beautiful blue river, and a tiny settlement at the end of a road to nowhere.

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Clergy Child’s Lament

paulmthomas:

I’m not a clergy-child, but this is well worth thinking about (especially for those who know clergy and their children)

Originally posted on musingsofaclergychild:

I didn’t choose it
You called my parents to it
You made a place for me
Where I thought there was none
Out of my comfort zone
And into Your calling

‘Incarnational ministry’, they call it
‘Invasion of personal space’, I respond
My house is not my own
My time is other people’s
My life is a sermon illustration
I am to be an example to all
I apologise for things that are not my fault
I welcome in the stranger
I make small talk with anyone
‘Tea or coffee? We have plenty’
Is my battle cry

I smile politely at the personal comments
About my weight
My hair
My intelligence
My family
My life

I will share anything with them
Including my parents
My dog
My sofa
My home
My life
I will share anything with them
Except my mug.

I didn’t choose it
You called my parents to…

View original 155 more words

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (3) – Sydney

As promised last time around, next stop on the trip was Sydney. Flight time from Singapore was about 7.5 hours, which wasn’t really enough for a solid night’s sleep between Qantas squeezing another dinner into us and them waking us up for breakfast.

Arrival

We were to be staying with a friend in Manly (a nice suburb of Sydney), but it being a summer Sunday, he was engaged to play golf for most of the day, so we would meet him and drop off our kit. He’d promised us that the Syndey summer would not disappoint, and on arrival in the city (early in the morning), it certainly seemed hopeful. Wall-to-wall blue sky, and already 25 degrees by the time we got to Circular Quay (for the Manly ferry) at 8am.

The iconic Sydney shot

The iconic Sydney shot

Sadly, after meeting with Mr William Duncan Munro IV, on the Manly end of the ferry, and after he had promised us that it’d be short and t-shirt weather all day, things began to change. Which was a shame, since he’d left us for the next six hours, and he had the only keys to the flat which contained all our worldly possessions.It being a Sunday, we occupied ourselves for an hour or two at an excellent Church service at St Matthew’s, Manly, which is the only church I’ve been to which combines having an organ scholarship with having the sort of worship band which has guitar solos in the middle of songs! We received an excellent warm welcome, although it was rather odd singing advent music in the warmth.

St Matt's, Manly

St Matt’s, Manly

It was also unusual to see opening stained glass windows – back at home we do everything possible to minimise drafts in our churches!

After the traditional tea/coffee after church the weather had changed completely. Overcast, about 15 degrees, hints of rain, and we still had nearly 5 hours to survive! We decided to take a walk along the strand from Manly Beach (home of the “Manly Life Saving Club”) to Shelley beach. This is clearly a favourite summer Sunday walk for many families and dog-walkers, and it is very beautiful. There is plenty of good local wildlife to see too, from eastern water dragons to rainbow lorikeets. For a photo of the eastern water dragon, see my other site.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

Surviving the cold!

The vigorous walk had kept us thermally ok for a while, but we were beginning to shiver, so we decided to use the transport passes to get back on the ferry (hoping that an enclosed space might be a bit warmer) to Sydney. The flat, calm seas had changed somewhat so the crossing was very bumpy, but quite good fun. Sydney is also a very challenging place to get an affordable snack – exchange rates are very bad for us Brits, and food is expensive, and we’d spent virtually all our Australian dollars on the transport tickets – note, always best to research how expensive places are before you arrive with too little currency! After sharing a sandwich and some very good chips with mayo(!) we ventured back onto the ferry, and back to Manly, with only another 45 minutes to shelter from the increasing storm to await keys and warmth!

A day out in Sydney

Monday was our full day in Sydney, and being a working day for Will, we were once again left to our own devices. The southerly had still not passed over, so it remained chilly and moist – we hadn’t expected to have to wrap up warm at this stage of the trip. Indoor activities were the order of the day, so we decided to go to Sydney’s excellent aquarium. This has excellent facilities and really good displays and interpretation of local wildlife, including the quintessentially antipodean mammal, the duck-billed platypus.

Sydney aquarium

Sydney aquarium

I would love to share my photo of the aquarium’s playpus, but, to be honest, it didn’t come out that well! There were also penguins, many sharks, an example of the really rather ridiculous dugong, and of course lots of beautiful tropical fishes. I let my belovèd loose with the camera, and she took some quite excellent photos.

After lunch (on the quayside near Darling harbour – special offer lunches for AU$10 each!), we decided to use our transport tickets to sight-see up one of the arms of the harbour (the Parramatta river), past the Olympic park to see what was up there – not a lot it turned out, although it was an interesting enough trip. Then it was back to Circular Quay, the Manly ferry again, and back for food and “tasty beverages” chez Munro.

Departure

The next morning, our flight required an early check-in (arrival at the airport by about 645). The ferry to town didn’t start up early enough, and we decided that since we had transport tickets, why pay AU$80 for a taxi. We were better than that!

Wobbly Kea

Wobbly Kea

We used the handy local bus route planner to plot a 2-bus+1-train journey to the airport which would get us there in time – there are buses all through the night, and they run on time and are mainly packed with people going to and from the gym it seems. Very successful, and much cheaper!

Next time… A Wobbly Kea in New Zealand.

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The Thomases’ grand antipodean adventure (2) – Singapore

Singapore

Following on from my previous post, 12 and a half hours of flying later and we landed, about 1 degree north of the equator in the lovely city of Singapore. Changi airport is (for those used to London Heathrow) a bit of a revelation. Clean, efficient, and only the equivalent of £1 into the city centre on the shiny underground system. Singapore is very free of litter, and the underground trains are a real contrast to those in the UK – you are not even allowed to drink from a water bottle whilst on board, so they are not full of old newspapers and litter.

Clarke Quay Singapore

Clarke Quay Singapore

We had been slightly chicken, and booked a European hotel (the Novotel Clarke Quay). However, this turned out to be right near the centre of the thriving area of the same name – a beautiful spot for eating wonderful local food by the quayside. We had a fantastic meal (the picture on my previous post), and retired to the hotel to bed, having been given a free upgrade to a premium room.

A day of exploring

Hotel window view

Hotel window view

The next day dawned bright and sunny, and we were up early (about 6am); owing to the 8 hour time change it felt a bit like mid-afternoon. We had been told about the botanic gardens, and decided to head there before the day got too hot – coming straight from a British late autumn (or winter if you prefer) to 30 degree heat being a bit of a challenge for us (although a pleasant one). We had been warned that in December, Singapore is prone to being cloudy and rainy virtually all the time, so we were pleased to see the Sun during the morning!

Singapore is a very clean city, litter laws are strict, and even the dogs seem to have learnt from this. We saw many dog-walkers in the botanic gardens, and each time a dog needed to do its morning business, the owners managed to get pieces of news-paper down on the ground for the dog to defecate on, to avoid mess in the gardens. Lovely!

In the botanic gardens

In the botanic gardens

For us, the particularly interesting parts of the gardens were those in the original tropical rainforest, and the other tropical plants, since these are so different from home – even the grass in Singapore is different.

Returning from our walk in the gardens – it got too hot – we had agreed to meet a lovely friend for a guided tour. Our friend had moved to Singapore earlier in the year, and was clearly settling in well. After meeting near Marina bay, we had a walk around, and went to “The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands(r)”. This is a large, air conditioned mall, complete with lots of designer shops, and also such things as an indoor canal with Venetian gondolas! The real highlight, in this city of much wonderful food, was lunch at Din Tai Fung, which consisted of wonderful dim sum, and beautiful fruit juices.

Marina Bay

Marina Bay area

Raffles

After lunch, is was time for a bit of a walk around, with the main aim of heading for the iconic Raffles hotel, home of the Singapore Sling (a cocktail), to sample one of the same. The odd thing about the Raffles bar is the tradition of customers discarding monkey-nut shells onto the floor, creating a distinctive crunch! It also creates a slight issue with pigeons flying into the bar area! In the end, we thought it a bit overrated for what it was, but the Singapore Sling was very very tasty (if a bit pricey).

Raffles

Raffles

By now, it was time to wander back to our hotel to pick up the luggage, to bid our friend adieu, and to head back to the airport for our onward flight. All in all, Singapore is a lovely place for a stop, and we would certainly like to go back there, possibly for longer than 24 hours, in the future.

Next stop

Next up – Sydney, and a thermal disappointment…

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (1)

The first of many!

At the end of 2012, Mrs T and I set-off for a big trip – three and a half weeks visiting Australia and New Zealand. Our “excuse” for making the trip was that we wished to see two friends of ours in Melbourne who had got married during 2012, and whose wedding we had been unable to attend. An extension of the trip to NZ seemed like a sensible option, since we were going so far, and had always wanted to visit. A trip such as that has many highlights, and therefore I plan to blog about a segment of the trip, or an individual day, every so often for the forseeable future. My aim is to write about a new day or segment each week, but since this is the first post for 11 months, I suspect that that won’t quite happen. I’ll try to include some links to places we went or things we did, and also talk a bit about highlights of each location. I also hope to put a few of the more interesting photos up on Paul’s Photos.

The Trip

The map above shows the scope of the trip. We flew out to Sydney with a 24 hour stop-over in Singapore, followed by a couple of nights in Sydney, then onwards to Christchurch, NZ. We spent nearly two weeks driving around the South Island, before returning to Australia to spend Christmas in Melbourne. Return to the UK included a 24 hour stopover in Hong Kong.

Day One – Departure

All our flights were in economy class with Qantas, the National airline of Australia, originally named as the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. Our outbound flights to Sydney were on the Airbus A380, and we were very impressed with the level of service provided – the meals were excellent with a good choice of wine with them. Seats were comfortable and there was enough space (I’m fairly tall). The seats recline quite a long way, which does mean that once the person in front of you has commenced relaxation, you pretty much need to put your seat back straight away to avoid having them lying on your chest! Having been anxious about such long flights, we found that overall the experience was not too bad at all.

Departure was from London Heathrow, and Mrs T’s father had kindly volunteered to drop us off. The journey to the airport was uneventful, except for the final roundabout off the M4 (onto the infamous Heathrow spur). The traffic light phasing on the roundabout had led to the whole roundabout being full of vehicles, so it took nearly 40 minutes for the traffic to rotate the 270 degrees around the roundabout we needed to go! All the exits were clear, but the roundabout itself was completely blocked. All it would have taken was one policeman to stop people trying to enter the roundabout for one turn of the lights, and it would have sorted itself out. Heathrow Terminal Three wasn’t as awful as it could have been, and we enjoyed a surprisingly excellent meal at ‘British Restaurant and Bar “Rhubarb“‘ once through security. Decent food, not cripplingly expensive, and very good natured (Polish) waiting staff. An enjoyable experience to send us off.

Once on the flight, we discovered the ‘plane was quite empty, and after takeoff we moved to a block of three unoccupied seats so we could spread out somewhat. After another late dinner (take-off time was 2130), it was time to try to get some sleep, before arrival in Singapore, c. 13 hours (but nearer a full day in solar time) later. More about Singapore in the next instalment, but here is a “taster”.

Dinner in Singapore

Dinner in Singapore

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A tour of some country houses

Last month, my belovèd and I tool a gentle tour of some of England, and called in at some lovely houses along the way. First was a trip to my homeland of Yorkshire to visit my parents, and to take in some of the National Trust’s best properties in the lovely March.

Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall

First on the list was Beningbrough Hall, just north of York. This house was built in the early 18th Century, and contains some excellent examples of local woodcarving, a skill for which York was justly famous in that period.

Beningbrough Daffodils

Beningbrough Daffodils

Photography is not permitted within the house unfortunately.

Additionally to the house, there is a lovely spring garden, which at this time of year is full of various breeds of daffodils, and is a real haven of peace and tranquility. The house itself looks over wide open grounds, and takes advantage of the flatness of the surrounding area to create grand vistas over the fields.

Day two of the trip consisted of an excursion to Whitby (where sadly the Abbey was not open), and a walk up to the delightful, if somewhat unusual church on the cliff top. This church has grown over the years in a rather random fashion, and contains some very unusual box pews (in which half the seats face away from the front) and quite a few areas where there is no possibility of seeing the altar.

Triple-deck pulpit

Triple-deck pulpit

It has two particular aspects which stood out to me – 1) the triple-deck pulpit, which still has attached ear-trumpets for the wife of a past vicar; and 2) the wonderful coal-burning stove which is still the only mechanism of heating the nave of the church.

On the return to York from Whitby, we passed through Nunnington Hall, a much smaller house than Beningbrough, but which was also particularly interesting – over time, the main axis of the house had changed by 90 degrees as extensions were built and rooms were reassigned. Some of the panelling and artefacts date back to the 16th century, although much of the house is in the condition that it was during ownership by the Fife family in the first half of the twentieth century.

Nunnington Hall Dining Room

Nunnington Hall Dining Room

Day three and our trip further North (Cumbria) commenced. Having stopped at the llama Karma café (see also my Scottish trip blogpost), for a quick bacon sandwich and cup of tea, it was to our next National Trust property, Acorn Bank mill and gardens. This house is not yet open for viewing, although the intention is to open it up soon, but there are lovely gardens, and a very interesting partially restored watermill. The gardens are particularly known for their collection of several hundred edible and medicinal herbs.

Aira Force

Aira Force

Next up on our journey was an old child-hood destination of Aira Force (National Trust car-park here!), and the classic short circular walk up the side of the falls, around to the next village, and back down the other side. We were blessed by a magical improvement in the weather in the Ullswater environs, and some excellent views down over that lake. A drive over an increasing misty Kirkstone Pass took us down the “Struggle” to Ambleside, and an excellent pub lunch, then over the hills towards Thirlmere and our Inn.

The King’s Head coaching inn (www.lakedistrictinns.co.uk), was our choice of location. Reasonable rates (c. £60 per room per night for B&B in winter), quirky rooms (ours had a four poster and Victoria bath), odd artefacts (the odd miniature suit of armour sort of thing), and a lovely location between the slopes of Helvellyn and the waters of Thirlmere made for a lovely two night stay. Only drawback is the noise from the road (single glazing), but that wasn’t too much of a problem in March (traffic pretty much stops after about 8pm!). There’s also a decent bar and excellent resident’s restaurant, with good quality food such as pheasant and other local produce. All very excellent.

Surprise view

Surprise view

Day Four and it was “walk day”, obviously facilitated by parking in another National Trust car park, Our route took us from the banks of Derwent water, up past the famous Ashness Bridge (postcard territory), beyond “surprise view” (pictured), and up to Watendlath, a very remote hamlet and tarn, which is allegedly Prince Charles’ favourite spot. A gentle walk over the watershed and down into Borrowdale took us to the half-way point of our expedition. The descent took us past the Bowder stone (a large rock deposited on what looks like a precarious knife-edge) by the action of glaciers in the last ice-age. No time to linger though, onwards toward Grange and the foot of Derwentwater, and finally back to the car. 8.5miles, 4hours, and generally a lovely day. The day still had enough time for us to venture to Castlerigg stone circle, but the combination of a bitter wind and our tiredness reduced that visit to long enough to take one photograph, before we went to find a nice dinner. For this we went to the location of my first legal drink, and provider of excellent, succulent sizzling steaks, the White Lion Inn, Patterdale. And then for an early night!

Hardknott Roman Fort

Hardknott Roman Fort

Day Five did not dawn as appealingly as the previous days, but nevermind! We set off in the car to another National Trust site – Hardknott Roman Fort. This is over the somewhat ridiculous Hardknott pass road, which is not in the best of condition, and is insanely steep – the road surface is buckled at the bottom of each of the steep sections, owing to years of abuse with the force of vehicles trying to get up, which has a rather negative effect on grip on these key sections of the road. The fort itself, known as Mediobogdum, is in a very remote, hilly location, which I’m sure has a great aspect on a sunny day, but on this most normal of Cumbrian days, in the gale and the drizzle, seemed like a very depressing place to have been posted, especially since most of those posted here allegedly came from the Dalmatian Coast of what is now Croatia. An afternoon snack at Coniston, and it was then time to head to our next beautiful country house destination.

Johnby Hall

Johnby Hall

Johnby Hall is not a National Trust property, but is the delightful home (and now B&B) of two of our friends and their family. With unique accommodation, and breakfast served in the Great Hall, it makes an excellent place for a stopover. Our room was in the “modern” 17th century wing of the house!

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall

Our return home, via an excellent performance of Brahms’ Requiem in York Minster, given by York Music Society, was rounded off by an excellent tour of Hardwick Hall (you guessed it – National Trust), just off the M1 in Derbyshire. It is particularly noteworthy for the enormous collection of tapestries, which literally carpet the walls. It is also incredibly grand (as befits a home owned and used by the Countess of Shrewsbury). Well worth a visit and a tour, but the carpark was a total quagmire (despite the dry spell in March!).

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