The whitest sand in the world – Thursday 12th April 2012


Just a 2 hour journey today. After weeks of traveling relentlessly towards Sydney, we are going to stop for a few days and enjoy ourselves. Jervis Bay was recommended by our friends in Melbourne, but we have seen it rated as on of the top ten “whitest sandy beaches in the world”. Who could we not want to come?

We have two hours before we are able to book into our ‘budget bungalow’. After the past few cabins in holiday parks, I am beginning to get an eerie feeling that the title of this is not good. There were beautiful photos of bungalow 1 and Waterfront Bungalow, but only a stark ‘older kitchen in budget bungalow’ photo. Still it is considerably less expensive than the others and brilliantly located as absolute waterfront on the river.

First we head off to Hyams Beach. This is said to be the beach with the whitest sand, according to the tourist books and Internet. We look at the smaller section first, to the left of the main beach. Yes, the sand is white, but seaweed covers much of the beach and the grain of the sand is slightly course. I feel irritated with myself for having such high expectations.

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John insists he has not warmed up yet from the cold of yesterday, which had actually been warmer than the day before. He stubbornly sits on the beach with his jumper on. My concept of tropical beach has difficulty coping with this.
We move onto the larger Hyams Beach. This lives up to my imagination. The sand is talcum fine, and brilliant white. It is truly hard to see without sunglasses. The water contrasts beautifully with the white. Even John is warmed by the view and his jumper magically disappears. We sit in awe of the beauty that surrounds us, envious of those in the sea; we have swim wear lodged in the murky bottom of our cases back in the car.

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Eventually, we quit the beach for an impromptu lunch of hummus and bread from the food bag out the boot of the car.
Finally, at two o’clock, we arrive at Husskison at the budget bungalow. The setting is just as I wished for, grassy, well kept with a long wooden jetty protruding into the estuary. Two wood chairs and a small table invite us to take coffee and admire the view.
We spend the late afternoon wandering round the town. They too have a sandy beach, where we have brought our swimwear and simply soak up the sun, until the evening shadows force us to return home.
But the bungalow itself is, also, as expected. The kitchen is large with two modern yet already aged sofas and a smell of unkempt, unloved cupboards. The bedrooms are good enough and we set to making it comfortable. The best bit is the verandah, where we bask in the evening sun and eat our meal.
Best of all though, we are staying here a while. Four nights to recover, to relax, to get to one the area better.

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Swimming in the rain – Saturday 3rd March 2012


Hanmer Apartments not only has loads of space, but a staircase! We opt to sleep upstairs and the moment we close our eyes we hear rain beating on the roof. We feel sheltered and warm. The place has a heat exchange unit. The rain does not worry us!
It is still raining when we awake. Torrential rain. The rain the tv warned us about yesterday! For 22 hours there is no abating. This is not a time to be out. The offer of free bikes, the lure of good walking, must go unheard. We turn up the heating and settle down with a good book.

By one o’clock we feel there’s no option but to brave it. The mountain in the back garden has appeared briefly, disappeared and is now making a braver appearance. There is some slowing in the density of rain. We could manage a dash to the car, and a pub lunch down the road in the town.

It was a good meal and the rain becomes mere drizzle as we eat.

Hanmer is famous for its springs. We would get wet there no matter the weather. We’ll brave it! Poor things probably no one else will be there.

Don’t you believe it!

If anyone had told me I would be standing in my swim wear, with about 100 other people similarly attired, all running about happily in the drizzle between pools ranging from 40 degrees to 30: I would have laughed in their face.

But there we were, having a wonderful time. There are three hexagonal pools, which seem to be the hottest and have underwater chairs in them; shallow rock pools where warm water flows between and the setting is natural and calming, all very well planted and secluded.
The complex is made for all the family and there is a large children’s section with a water tube, a swimming pool and lots of splash ponds. Yet on the other side adults can enjoy the steam room, the sauna or lounging in thermal sulphur pools, or hydrotherapy pools with massage showers or jacuzzi style bubbles. Near the swim pool is a track of fast flowing water. You enter, grab a float and hang on while you whoosh round with dozens of children and grandparents. It’s really good fun!

It’s still chilly but you are hop in between such warm water and such a wide variety of pool that you begin to forget! Eventually I felt quite warm and we spent about 2 hours here.

That evening we watched the final DVD of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We both agreed it was a day which left us warm and happy.

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Doubtful Sound – Tuesday 21st February 2012


As often happens, when I have to get up early, I don’t sleep well. I can never work out why this is. Is it excitement, anticipation, or some mis-cued autopilot going off too early? Anyway, today we pack our overnight bag, and leave the rest with the car, at the motel. For today we are going on an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.
The journey is very much part of the experience, but as with most trips, it begins with a pick up from the motel in a coach.
Important background reading
Lake Te Anau feeds Lake Manapouri but has its water level strictly regulated under government legislation. Lake Manapouri feeds the hydo-electric power station which provides all the electricity for the aluminum smelting at Bluff. Once the water has turned the turbines it runs through a long tunnel out to Doubtful Sound.

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This is all a key feature of the area and runs as a sub- plot to the whole day!
The coach takes us from Te Anau to Lake Manapouri, where we board a boat up to the power station. There are lots of different tours using this boat, so it feels a bit crowded, especially as we have booked our cruise on the Southern Secret because it only holds a maximum of 12 passengers.
Many of these tours stop to tour the power station, but we, eight, get on another coach, well minivan.
So why is it so important I explain about the power station? Well, everything needed to build this power station had to be brought in by boat to this point, and then they had to build a new road from the far edge of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound which has sea access, so large equipment could come in that way and to support the project.
Now, of course, they no longer need the road but it has been seen as a wonderful tourism opportunity. Most coaches grind their way up the steep road, visit the tunnels and take the day trippers to cruise on Doubtful Sound.
‘The Southern Secret’ is wonderful! A luxury motor cruiser with a galley kitchen that many houses would appreciate, and spacious en suite cabins. It really is very comfortable.
While we wait for new gas bottles to arrive, we spot 12 dolphin and before long set of to join them. They play and leap, and as we approach five decide to swim under our bow. They stay for some time and I am captivated by them.

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We cruise towards the sea and eat our packed lunch, which is enormous, and before long we see more dolphin. They stay for a slightly shorter time, clearly we are not very entertaining for them and they set off on their own adventures.
Doubtful Sound is very rare, very green. It’s raining for much of the day but it has a different feel to Milford Sound. For one thing it is clearer, less mist! It’s calmer, more remote and far less traffic on it. We rarely see another boat.
After a time we stop engines and Ken, John and I choose to kayak off the back of the boat. We are in single kayaks and I find it hard to keep up with the men (I didn’t say that!) but it was brilliant to feel so intimate with the scenery.

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As soon as we are back on board, we find the others fishing. I am quick to pick up a line and others seems thrilled to be able to show me what to do. Actually it seemed very simple, casts line overboard, wait three seconds, feel something bend the rod, pull and hey presto! Trouble was I couldn’t stop laughing! (I think it helped that the captain used radar to find the shoal of fish in the first place!)

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Huge eyes! Ugly brute! Not really very big! Nasty fins! Altogether we catch about 12 of these, which are cooked for our dinner.
Dinner seems a peculiar mix! There are these Jock Stewart fish, a massive crayfish, chicken, lamb…

The crayfish, which I named Herbert, was already on board when we arrived. He was sitting in a large bucket, looking none too happy. Jamie our host, picked him up to show us but his back was thorny and he managed to get to the floor, where he danced a hornpipe, flapping his segmented tail and careering backwards.

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Now I did not realize that crayfish got to be so big. They said he might be 20 years old! Nor did i know they drowned in fresh water. You can also stab them in the head, or throw them into boiling water, but if you try the latter, be careful because they can, quite rightly protest violently against this treatment and flick water onto you with their powerful tail. Herbert was drowned in the sink.
Anyway he was incredibly tasty, especially his legs.
So first course was hors d’oeuvres of cheese, then we had fish, which we knew was very fresh, then chicken and lamb. For dessert we had meringue with fruit and cream. Amazing!

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We were an intriguing group, and you’d doubt, initially if we would get on well, but we did! A group of friends, retired biology professors, who had worked together in their lab, having attended Cambridge, their wives. All very well travelled and fascinating conversation. Then a couple from Essex, who had a very different education background but were more streetwise. All of us were retired. Over the course of 24 hours we got on very well and enjoyed each others company.
But how interesting, only one said they sometimes woke in the morning, strolled over to the TV and instantly felt tired. I want to avoid this at all costs!

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Waimangu Volcanic Valley -3rd February 2012


Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a short drive from Rotorua and costs $34.50 to walk through. The entire valley was created by a volcanic eruption in 1886. Mount Tarawera destroyed the surrounding area and opened up a 17km rift, splitting itself in two. There are 7 craters in the valley and each is different.

But the area is so young in geothermal terms, it is still evolving. Within 15 years of the original eruption, hot springs were established and just 30 years after the devastating explosion, plant life had returned. There were further eruptions and huge geysers which existed for just a few years before blowing themselves out. The most recent activity was 1973!

There, that’s the guide book!

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As you walk through the valley floor, descending to the lake created by the blast, you witness a wide variety of micro-climates. I could not believe how acid the crater lakes were here. 2.5-2.8!
Once again we were struck by the weird beauty. The colours were incredible. Some places gold and green; others pure brilliant pale blue in a white silica basin, and an eerie mist rose of the waters of the huge lake.

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Again we could not believe when all the people were! The car park seemed full, the cafe was reasonably busy but not many walkers! Those we saw scampered on, whilst we marveled at these unique wonders.
It was a simply beautiful, natural park, full of amazing sights.

Strange thing: this evening a girl I met 5 years ago in China emailed to say she had a friend living in NZ. Happens to be just where we are headed next. Most amazing, I have just booked a dreadful backpackers in penance for paying so much on helicopters etc. but the reviews are dreadful. Phoned up new NZ friends and – joy of joys they are more than happy to see us! Yippee!