Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph – Wednesday 15th February 2012


As the curtain opens, we draw a sigh of relief that the sun is shining and there are patches of blue sky. Fox Glacier looks bluer today. We are given heavy hobnailed boots, a raincoat for John and a backpack for me and we dismount the coach at the foot of the glacial valley.

This, of course is the path we have trodden before (on Monday) but at its end, we climb stone stairs and begin our ascent onto the glacier itself.

It is blackened with the chips of stone, which it has been carrying and grinding for years, but beneath its surface, shines a blue. Fox Glacier guides spend their day with an ice pick cutting stairs in the ice for half day trippers.

We pick up a pole, strap on our crampons, before setting foot onto the ice itself.

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In places it gushes with melt water, it’s surface irregular, pitted with rocks and stones ground from the mountain.

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The water is pure enough to drink freely. The ice has been sculpted into beautiful ice caves and caverns. Some big enough for us to climb into, others simply beautiful in that special ice blue.

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In places large crevasses open, or pools of water lie by our feet. I take the opportunity to push my pole down one and am horrified to see it disappear by nearly a meter and still no resistance. I pull itback hastily!
Maybe, we don’t get far in one half day treck, and it was not actually too taxing physically, but I am so glad we did this.

In the afternoon, we drove to Franz Joseph to see their glacier. It is much further from the car park, much steeper to access and climbs more steeply. And it was raining!

We had left Fox in glorious sunshine, here it poured with rain. I am keen to keep John dry as he is still coughing quite a bit, we take a short walk up a hill to a viewpoint and then drive into town, but I am not excited by it, so we drive back home. As we enter our own valley, the sun shines again, so we walk down to Lake Matheson and back to a lovely restaurant, where they serve great cappachinos. The scenery is beautiful. We stay on for a beer, watching the sun and clouds move gracefully over the mountains.

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Back at the motel, we see a rainbow from the window. It’s been a wonderful day!

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Abel Tasman and Kayaking – Friday 10th February 2012


Kayaking: it feels like a big adventure for me! You see I was the girl who missed the bus for PE at school, even when they offered sailing. And believe me, in the East end of London in 1969 offering sailing was a big deal!

The only sport I have ever liked are tennis and swimming. And I am no good at tennis! I mean, I don’t even watch sport!

So it is with my heart in my mouth that we set off, over yet more bendy roads and mountain passes to Kahu Kayaks.

They start promptly, taking you to the beach, hauling the kayaks out on a tractor and off loading them. I think we are miles from the sea and worry briefly about having to carry my kayak. A safety briefing is direct and to the point because the tide is coming in. Over such a flat beach, the sea rushes up and before I have finished fiddling with the steering pedals, i am in the kayak and afloat!

When we had woken, it was disappointing to see it had rained through the night and not quite stopped yet. The sky as we got underway maintained its grey quality but the sun was warming it slightly. As we started moving, the grey cleared, the drizzle ceased and the blues began like a second dawn.

The sea was incredibly calm. The only waves we encountered were from passing motor boats. We were a group of 4 kayaks and it was fab!

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We pulled up on a beach for morning coffee – how civilized! It was plunger/ filter coffee with warmed and whisked milk!
We cruised over to an island and saw 4 fur seals and 3 pups, the tiniest baby being really agile jumping on the rocks.

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After three hours, we parked on the mainland and began our walk back. This was advertised as a 4 hour walk and we were very pleased that we did it in 3 and three quarters, including the fact that we stopped for lunch and for a short sit on a beach! Average sitting took up about three quarters of an hour so we walked it in three hours!!!

Despite the grey we were never cold. In fact, I think we did better for it being a little cooler and not burning in the sun.

Of course, that evening we suffered from muscles, both in legs and arms but I am really proud of us for doing this. And exceptionally proud of me for being so sporty!

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Volcano on White Island – Wednesday 1st February 2012


Today was awesome!
Oh! This is so difficult!
Since October, last year, I have been writing about amazing scenes, exciting days, and things that made me go ‘wow! I love it!’. So how am I going to tell you about today!
Well, it is up there with my top 10 of everything we’ve ever done.
It’s as wow as the whales in Sydney and (though I was not blogging then) the Grand Canyon or the Victoria Falls.
And it is to the credit of Anne-Marie and Michael who host the Arista of Rotorua that we went. Thank you guys!

John has always wanted to see a live volcano up close. For me, it was whales: for him, volcanoes!

Our friend in Melbourne told us that White Island was stunning and well worth the trip. But the debate was over how to get there: helicopter or boat?
Partly it was a question of money. The boat being about one quarter the price of flying; not just money, but value! In a boat you’d see dolphins and take all day. The helicopter only takes three hours.
The boat means an early pick-up, a coach ride and possible sea sickness if it’s rough. Travel Advisor reports feature sea sickness as part of their reflections on going by boat, because it is a long way out to sea. The helicopter, however, flies out direct form Rotarua but it is VERY small and carries other risks: like plunging into the sea from a great height.

Well, you’ve guessed by now, we went by helicopter.

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We arrived at the Lake before 8 am and witnessed the clear grey of post dawn. It was eerily silent and the helicopter was not actually there. We were very pleased to see it fly in as by this time we were sitting on the closed office steps of Volcanic Air Safaris, wondering what was happening. However, we loved watching the crowd of sleeping brown ducks bobbing on the water.

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Once airborne the journey was fantastic. The lush green forest, the aerial view of the logging company at work, the coast, the simple blue of the sea and sky melding together, and finally the island, itself, looming before us.

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First we sweep over the island and it’s volcanic heart. White Island is one of our younger volcanoes and erupts with some force every 11-15 years, the last major eruption being about 11 years ago!

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At times it was just too steamy to see through the sulphurous gases. You could feel our little helicopter battling against the sudden jets of wind in the chaos which reigned about the crater.
But the island was phenomenal!

Colourful: red ferric and ferrous rock, black lava in aerated light bombs, white steam gushing from black vents, even some green algae – who would want to live here?- but the most impressive of all was the sulphur! From palest yellow, through hues of bright yellow, gold and dappled yellow with white. Simply beautiful.
Noisy: pits of bubbling mud or boiling water; jets of steam hissing through vents; the wind roaring round so strong that three time it blew off my compulsory hard hat, which, by the way, perched delicately on my head no matter how I adjusted the thing. It was to protect us against the occasional black bomb of hot lava which may spring out of the volcano. If it had done the hat would certainly have come off and the next bomb would get me!
The ground was surprisingly soft, mostly with abrasive rocks littered in all colours over it.
And the smell! Acrid sulphur. We really needed our masks to permit us to approach some of the gaseous areas.

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Kerry, our pilot and tour guide, was casual and informative. He let us take our time so that in all we spent over an hour walking around the geological wonder. He showed us the sulphur mine wreckage, long abandoned and told us how it was used for fertilizer! We walked down to the seashore and burnt our fingers on the hot black sand.

In all we took 300 photos between us, and came home overwhelmed by the excitement, the wonder and the amazement of seeing such a hot, hostile environment. Anne- Marie bounded out the office to ask how we got on. Having enthused to her, we got straight onto Facebook and shared some of the photos with friends.

Then there was the afternoon…

Tall ship – Tuesday 24th January 2012


There are some things in life that you know, instinctively are special. When we saw advertisements for sailing in a tall ship, with all the square sails blowing and the rigging straining, John would look longingly. He loves boats, and has done a fair amount of sailing both in England and the Mediterranean.
Fullers Great Sights offer a day’s sail from Russell for $145 on a beautiful 8 sail tall ship, some 20 years old. How could we resist. The profit from these summer cruises goes towards subsidizing school trips for secondary school children, who get a week long sailing experience.
It was amazing!

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John got to haul up the sails, steer the ship and learn about those very top sails, which he’s never been able to work out exactly how they are maneuvered into position.

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The wind dropped completely at one point and we had to take all the sail down again and motor through, between the islands for a few minutes, before coming to our swim stop, and lunch.
I was most impressed with the excellent salad and barbecued chicken, the glass of wine (bought separately) and the scone and cream.
John and I swam over 100 meters to the shore, but we could have taken the dinghy. Many people simply swing out overboard, crashing into the sea, only to swim back for another go!
We took over 100 photos.

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We came back rather exhausted but so very happy. Everyone left the ship with a big smile on their face! It seemed like saying goodbye to really good friends. We did feel rather too sun kissed, and my lips will take a while to settle!
However, we recovered sufficiently to walk up Flagstaff Hill, once it became totally dark. There we marveled at the Milky Way, and became amazed the Orion, not only clearly had his bow (which I have never seen before) but, seemed almost lost by the mass of other stars now clearly visible. For the first time I saw the Severn Sisters or Plaides and we found the Southern Cross and it’s pointer stars. What we could not understand was why these pointer stars twinkled so brightly, that through binoculars, we could see red and green! They certainly never moved so we are sure they were neither planes or satellites.
What an awesome day!

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Gearing up to move on – 27 & 29th December 2011


Way back, end of October we were going to fly to Cairns and the Qantas strike hit us. It meant we spent a few days in Newcastle
It was a simple matter to get our money refunded but only when we were in Byron Bay did a fellow traveller tell us that Qantas were also offering a compensation flight! For free!!

I think I just learned to use links and italics on the iPad WordPress app. If this works, you should be able to link straight back to the right place in my blog and read all about it. A technological miracle!

Now I have loved being in this house. But at times I have felt that itch, which travelers get. The one to get moving again. It certainly helped once we got the car…

But planning has taken up lots of our time here. The free Qantas flight has been incredibly good for us as we cashed it in for a flight to New Zealand. We fly on 10th January.

There has been lots of web browsing research, a lovely neighbour who comes from NZ has been over to help us plot an itinerary. The tension is mounting and we’ll soon be off again.

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Fraser Island Thursday 24th November 2011


Fraser Island is entirely made of sand! It’s 76 km long and has a variety of eco-systems. Jo, our tour guide from Fraser Island Day Tours (run by Greg not a huge multi-national), drives a 4WD with a skill and assurance which is dazzling! She takes no prisoners on the road and has strong opinions about the Island, giant corporation sharks, and independent drivers who fail to cope with the arduous conditions. She talks for Australia and I wonder if the young Spanish couple can keep up. There are only 6 of us with a couple from Scotland. During our tour we experienced a torrential storm for over 30 minutes before the sun returned. Jo drove through the sand track, now greased with rain with such confidence, making this a thrilling part of the day.

Jo’s passion begins before we’ve even gotten into her vehicle. She believes in “by the people, for the people and from the people”, dingos, dreamtime, spirituality and respect. She is incredibly knowledgable, having lived on Fraser Island for 3 years and a great campaigner and educator. I grow to like her very much over the day.

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The barge ferry has a ship’s cat on board who has never left since being a kitten. His job is to stop swiftlets from nesting. His duties include being stroked by all passengers, tolerating children, and he volunteers to go inboard the small dingy when the hull needs cleaning, just for the ride.

This is one of those times when photos can only tell you how beautiful the place is.

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There’s abundant birdlife, but Kookaburras are happy to be photographed.

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Despite the threatening storm clouds the white silica sand refuses to be dulled the pure freshwater lake remains turquoise.

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There is evidence of the treacherous currents, mind you, this ship was also used for bomb practice!

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Dingos here are of the purest blood.

There is incredible beauty on this island. It has refreshed me totally and renewed my thirst to learn of new places.

Wild koalas and a venomous adder – Tuesday 15th November 2011


I find it really exciting planning to wake very early. We want to set off at 6am to benefit from the cool air. Just down the road from Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island we were amazed to see a dead wallaby, stiff but not obviously a road kill. It looks so complete, just lying on its side, although rather gross as it is already puffing up. What had happened?

Not more than two meters away was a tightly coiled pink and grey striped adder, curled in a pinwheel. My first thought was to push it with my foot to see if it was really dead. Was this road kill too? Impossible, look at the shape!

We walked on talking about what might have happened. John rightly telling me that it was NEVER wise to kick a snake, alive or dead, and me laughing.

We were heading for Forts Walk, a recognized bus stop, but easy enough to walk from Horseshoe. I knew we stood a very good chance of seeing a wild koala there. On arrival we read the usual notices, a history of the place and it’s use in World War Two, ‘keep on the path’ and DON’T touch the pink and grey short, big headed adder, which is highly venomous.

Could it be that the poor wallaby had ‘nosed’ the sleeping adder, who was trying to warm up on the tarmac road ready for the day? Did the adder nip him and kill him? Well of course I will never know but it seemed likely and I was very glad I had NOT nudged the snake!

So we tread carefully on our walk and it is very pleasant with not a soul about yet. When my daughter had taken me on this walk 13 years ago, we had been lucky to see one koala.

The hillsides are covered with eucalyptus, it must be koala paradise! They certainly don’t move much and I’ve never heard any kind of noise from one. They can be so frequent in the same place, so that sometimes people out twigs in the shape of an arrow to indicate which tree might house a koala!

Other signs to find your Koala: look down for droppings, when you find them look up- you may well see a koala. They seem quite happy near the path and are not over anxious by quiet talking. We go very slowly, regularly checking the trees. For what seems like hours, nothing at all, but trees! We get distracted by sea views and begin to quicken our pace.

“Right, just one more try!” I announce looking straight up into a ball of grey fluff that soon evolves into a koala wedged into the fork of the tree, head down, eyes closed, long claws lazily attached to the bark. We watch in awe!

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The fort itself affords fantastic panoramas over the sea. Just below us is Horseshoe Bay, Arthur Bay and Florence Bay.

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Gradually a few more people appear on a koala hunt of their own. A Cardiff couple have seen one in a different place, so we go to explore. To our delight we see a total of 5 adults and three of these have babies!

It’s not always easy to see the babies as they hide well in the arms of the curled mother. Watch out for extra legs sticking out and take your time.

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Good luck in your own hunt!

Screaming night life and a dried up lagoon – Monday 14th November 2011


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Last night we watched the stone curlews: long legged, hesitant birds, who seem quite meek and mild during the day but get very het up at night. They shriek and scream as though being mugged! I was once told that the aboriginal people thought these noises were the spirits of the dead. Well I can well imagine someone might think this! The curlews work themselves up with a small hiss, which moves to a soft whine, then whirr and then the full show!

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The birds were joined by three cute possums who maintained a dignified silence, but raided bins. There is clearly a division of opinion about possums: pest or cute?

Throughout the night I woke to hear various noises, including various air con units throbbing softly, but breakfast on the balcony more than made up for the disturbed night.

We took the bus to Nelly Bay where the ferry came in. As a shopping centre, it is minute but it has a supermarket and a post office with a few restaurants and shops. We bought some food and a birthday present for John’s sister and posted it.

Back at Horseshoe Bay, we discovered a freshwater lagoon, set several hundred meters from the main road. We make our way through the bush, along a hardly used path and I realized I have totally the wrong shoes for this kind of thing. Although the water has all but dried up, the mud oozes thickly over my things/ flip flops. YUK!

So back to the beautiful beach to look for the whitest possible shell.

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Magnetic Island revisited -Sunday 13th November 2011


I loved Mission Beach, but I have to say it was really easy to pack because the room had so little space we never really unpacked!

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But I was eager to get to Magnetic Island and thankful that the Greyhound was uneventful with a positively jovial driver, who stopped for lunch by the sea.

The travel connections were as smooth as I remembered from 13 years ago, the only other time I have ever been to Australia, to visit my daughter on her gap year. I had come over for just one week: half way across the world! By myself! It had cost too much for John and I to come together in those days.

The excitement, I remember, that I had made it. The total pride and satisfaction that her instructions for connections and travel had all fallen into place so smoothly. I remember so clearly as the ferry pulled out of Townsville, then, I couldn’t wait to see her and hold her again, she’d been traveling for 6 months back in the late 90s.

Today, I felt I’ve returned to the destination I had always wanted John to see. A calm filled me; a resolution completed.

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Some of Magnetic was instantly recognizable to me but the distances between towns now seemed so much less! Geoff’s Place, is now the YHA Bungalow Bay, but it’s essence remains the same. Horseshoe Bay is more developed but the Jet Ski and several of the shops have not changed. There’s far more shops now and it’s a busy Sunday with the Marlin Bar full, a packed audience listening to 3 girls singing.

We stay in the same kind of triangular hut but it now has a fridge in it. Now that’s an improvement.

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The showers have been refurbished, which is good because they used to be full of spiders! It has associated itself with the koala sanctuary, which I remember as being some way distant and wonderful, because it was so casual. Now it is a money making tour and we decide not to go. I will take John to the Forts walk where there are wild koalas for free.

It’s good to be back and I can’t wait to re-discover all the places which my daughter showed me all those years ago.