The Grape oops Great Escape! - South Wootton, United Kingdom
South Wootton, United Kingdom
The trip of a lifetime looms ever closer. As I set up this blog, it is 4 weeks and counting & the nerves are starting to fizz. Hong Kong is first on the list, not overrun with grapes and their by-products I grant you, but not to be missed all the same. The next stop is New Zealand, followed by Australia, both of which are well endowed with wineries. However, please don't run away with the idea that our horizons will be limited to bottles only. Woe Betide!! I will just say watch this space........... Nov 1st/2nd 2013 Well blogsters, here we are in Hong Kong and yes, those of you who know about these things were all correct - the flat bed was worth every penny! My only concern is, has it ruined us for the rest of our lives?? The flight in was spectacular in the pearly early morning light and we were at our Kowloon based hotel by 7.30 am local time, delivered there by the HK equivalent of Jensen Button, who spent the whole journey weaving in and out of the early morning traffic and simultaneously shouting into his iPhone. Interesting, to say the least. However, not daunted, we have hit the ground running and investigated the Star ferry, which is just round the corner from the hotel, booked a couple of trips and managed to get to grips with the MTR (tube). Whilst waiting for the room to be ready we decided to take the tube (and it is exactly that a metal tube with no subdivisions) to the Flower Market, which was of particular interest to me, as you can imagine. It was chaotic and not only awash with exotic blooms, but also to my amazement English flowers, such as stocks, zinnias and ranunculus. Nearby, was the bird market and this was quite a sight to behold. Keeping songbirds in tiny ornamental bamboo cages is clearly immensely popular here and the equivalent of showing at Crufts it seems. I was both fascinated and appalled at the same time. There were dozens of tiny glossy green finches huddled together in a minuscule cage, parrots in another, minar birds and many more beautiful specimens that I couldn't name. I must remind myself that this is the culture and it is different here. We continued to walk back towards the hotel down a long market street buzzing with locals buying their weekend goods of all types. Huge high rise apartment blocks towered above us strung with lines of washing. There were bright neon signs, much shouting and selling, street food, wonderful bonsai trees, unusual fruit and vegetables and I suspect it is a scene that has remained unchanged for millennia. Finally, just to add a touch of meteorological interest, there is a Typhoon blowing in tonight. There's nothing like a spectacular welcome is there. We're told it is merely a type 1 storm and nothing to be concerned about, but we'll see. I'll keep you posted........... PS. Don't worry Devon, G&R are still with us, although I may need reins! Sun Nov 3rd There is no doubt about it that HK comes alive at night. As you will see from one of the latest photos posted, the view from Kowloon to HK island is spectacular to say the least. We ate outside at a local restaurant yesterday evening, trying various delicacies of the type not seen in the Uk. The pickled ginger with preserved egg was certainly memorable! Geraldine steered well clear!! It was a warm balmy evening and it was just lovely to wander around sans coat and muffler watching the world go by. This morning, after a breakfast buffet the like of which we have never seen, we took the Star Ferry to HK Island which makes Manhattan seem low rise! Wall to wall concrete and glass, with just the odd touch of green. A miracle of engineering without a doubt, but somehow strangely sterile. Every available area was full of groups of young Filipino maids on their day off,; picnicking, gossiping , having a pedicure, doing one another's hair and generally having what for them is clearly a family day. There were hundreds of them in every nook and cranny, sitting on rush mats and taking advantage of the warm weather. We were initially fascinated at home life being lived out in such a public place and eventually rather sad, that this was their only opportunity to remember home and the lives they had once lived. However, our object was to travel the longest and steepest escalator in the world , which we did and it is mind blowing. On the ascent, one has a bird's eye view of back street life on the Island and the juxtaposition of traditional Chinese architecture with modern glass edifices has to be seen to be believed. I was warned to look out for bamboo scaffolding and boy is it everywhere; cladding enormous buildings under construction, looking I have to say unbelievably flimsy. I know it is stronger that steel, pound for pound, but I'm not sure I would want to trust myself to it 20 floors up! We ended up in the clouds, or so it seemed. The next issue of course was the coming down, particularly for me with dodgy knees However, neatly solved by a passing taxi! Time for an afternoon rest before hitting the town this evening, which I will cover later. Note for the meteorologists amongst you, the typhoon has given us a miss. It is hazy today, and very humid, but no wind I'm pleased to say. This evening has taken us to the Temple St Night Market, something of an institution in these parts I understand. Hundreds of tiny stalls of all types crammed into a neon lit narrow street. Quite a Spectacle, although to be truthful mainly tourist tat. Pater and I both bought a carrying bag each and bargaining is the name of the game. This I left to himself, who you will not be shocked to hear was a natural. G&R discovered something of greater interest in the next door alley. As in times gone by, here were dozens of individual stalls of butchers and fishmongers, cheek by jowl. A food hygienists nightmare I can tell you, but one couldn't have said the fish wasn't fresh. All sorts of strange looking creatures were swimming in polystyrene troughs kept oxygenated by running water from a hose. Quite simply, you selected your dinner and took it home with you! On the corner was The Hong Kong Jockey Club Emporium, of particular fascination to PL of course. It instantly caught the eye, not due to its fabulous decor, but because it was rammed with 'customers' spilling out onto the pavement, studying form and curiously silent in concentration. Talk about betting on two flies up a wall, you couldn't have squeezed the proverbial fly in there. Peter made an attempt to insinuate himself but unsuccessfully, no one was giving up their faint glimpse of the screen. It would have made a great photo - PL in the middle of a sea of Chinese punters. Do you think I could have picked him out in a hurry? We moved on down to the pier to take a Harbour Cruise and watch the Laser Light Show, which was strangely disappointing. We all felt the same. Not sure what we expected, but hey oh it was certainly an experience to see the Kowloon and HK Island waterfront lit up from the Harbour. The accompanying buffet we were somewhat unenthusiastic about. To the forefront of the mind was the recently viewed alley of meat and fish vendors!! A salad is extremely good for you of course. Returning to the hotel we passed yet another massive construction site. On enquiry, we were told this is to be the terminal for the bullit train that is under construction, linking HK with Bejing. It will be open for business in 2015 and one will be able to take the train to China's capital in 9 hrs. It is currently a 29 hr journey by rail. Did you know that China has 70%2525 of the world's cranes just now? No, I though not - yet another usefull fact to squirrell away and on that illustrious note, I'll sign off for now......... Mon 4th Nov It has become apparent from one of two emails,that several of you are unclear as to the references to G&R. This is very remiss of me and I should have introduced you at the beginning! Geraldine and Reg are our old friends from Devon (35 yrs strong) and they are accompanying us to HK and most of NZ. They have braved a trip with us once before, 10 yrs ago, to New England and we hope to have as good a time now as we did then! Today has been Hong Kong Island based and as you will see from the posted photos, we started off at the Man Mo Temple, which is both Buddist and Taoist, which we thought unusual, until on explanation it became apparent how similar the two religions were. This small traditional temple has stood on the same spot since the 1800s and is surrounded by soaring skyscrapers , an interesting juxtaposition. We moved on to Victoria Peak and the railway. In sections this has a gradient of 24%2525, seriously steep. It takes 8 mins to ascend and the observation point is approx 450mtrs high. The views over HK are stupendous even on a less than clear day like today. The mist is still hanging about and we did have a little rain this eve, drifting in from the edges of the typhoon. Lunch was taken at The Jumbo Floating Palace, which several of you have mentioned as a must visit and you were not wrong. We had a sampan ride first amongst the various vessels moored in Aberdeen Harbour, before being delivered in style to the restaurant. They were a mix of working fishing boats and serious gin palaces, an interesting combination. A visit to Stanley Market concluded the day, after which we are definitely marketed out! Tues 5th Nov A quiet day today perusing the shops. I have never seen so many high end stores in such close proximity. London certainly cannot match it. I think I have seen every designer of all nationalities. The Chinese certainly do like their labels. I am not in shopping mode as this is not that sort of trip, but fortunately, even if I were so inclined, I would be struggling. Most sizes are very small as Chinese ladies are so petite. Now, this for you Joanne - such an embargo applies also to shoes, virtually nothing over a size 5! Darn it......... We are now at the airport ready to move on to New Zealand, so I shall give you a rest and recommence once in Auckland. Night night!! Thurs 7th Nov I am writing to you all from a cold and wet Auckland. It has been a timely reminder of home, which hopefully will soon fade. The journey from HK was trouble free and we were met by 'Uncle', a charming chap who delivered us to our apartment with all the information we will need. The car was collected this am, together with Kruise control, GPS etc and by this time next week we may have got our heads round it! This afternoon was so wet we diverted off to the supermarket for a few supplies to take with us on our journey and Geraldine and I had the novel experience of turning the corner of one of the aisles to see Peter and Reg ( not shopping aficionados by any means ) wrestling with a recalcitrant trolley and a couple of boxes. Where, oh where, is a camera when you need one!! This evening we met up by design with Clare and Alex Degan friends from Devon, who landed this afternoon. We had supper at a lovely restaurant on the waterfront called Soul and the sun finally shone, but not for long. Cab home! We move on to the Bay of Islands tomorrow and hopefully a dry day. We'll let you know! Fri 8th Nov It has certainly been all go today and I'm pleased to report the weather has bucked up , which is a bonus. We left for the Bay of Islands from Auckland this am, having finally worked out the sat nav and made our way out of the city, which by our standards hardly seems a city. The rush hour this morning was more on a par with KL on a Friday and the pace of life is noticeably slower. We travelled north up highway 1 which will take you to the very northernmost tip of the North Island if you are so inclined, stopping for a cup of coffee at a delightful art gallery at Orewa on the Hibiscus Coast. So pretty, as you will see from the posted photo of the centre and it's flowering tree. I asked the lady in charge for its name - she had no idea, but did know King's Lynn well having worked in the area when living in the Uk some 10 yrs ago. Small world or what? I tell you, no doubt which is the more picturesque spot. The coastal photo was taken just out of .Orewa. The sun continued to shine and we stopped at Puhoi for a beer at a really quirky pub. In fact the whole village was wildly Bohemian. It was like steeping back 100 yrs. The first little cafe we came across had the Devon Cream tea sign outside and I only just managed to stop Reg from dashing in and remonstrating with the owner, as Geraldine's cream teas are a legend and not to be outshone by Puhoi. (Don't panic girls, only joking, we took a photo instead as you see!). I was most taken with the sign over the public bar of the pub re the standards, as you will see from the photos and it seemed to set the scene. The barman was lugubrious to say the least. On being asked for a shandy for me, the response was a grunt followed by 'Bugger, we're turning into a cocktail bar!' As you can imagine this caused great hilarity from the assembled clientele, which mainly consisted of a group of extremely large guys on what they euphemistically termed 'A Tour Of Learning' and they wore the Tshirts to prove it. Great crowd, heading up to Cape Reina who insisted on having their photo taken for the blog, so here they are. Moving on, we stopped at Warkworth, Sandspit and Matakana - thank you M&M ! All very interesting, but Sandspit is particularly gorgeous, what a setting. I have included a photo, but to be honest it doesn't do it justice. The sea was turquoise and so clear. Matakana provided our first (& no doubt not the last ) NZ ice cream. You know PL can't pass an ice cream parlour. Good, but not up to Language or Salcombe Dairy. However, we'll keep sampling earnestly. We could have visited lots of wineries en route had we had the time, but will have to reserve the pleAsure for another day as time was getting on, we had stopped so many times. We finally crested the brow of the hill to have the Bay of Islands laid out before us at about 6pm and it was just breathtaking. Scenically, the journey had been beautiful all the way, but this vista was simply stunning as we made our way along the coast to our apartment for the next 2 nights. We had the joy of walking along the shore to find a seafood meal and the day ended with a beer before heading back to report in to you all. I have heard so much about New Zealand's scenery and I was expecting it to be special and it is obviously going to be just that and more . I think everything is heightened by the fact that it is late spring early summer and greenery is lush and verdant and the flowers both wild and planted are coming to their best. Blossom abounds and colour is vibrant and exciting. At Matakana we came across an exquisitely planted bed of Icelandic poppies and cyclamen which really took my eye. The natural bush everywhere is awash with majestic tree ferns of all sizes growing in mixed woodland of outstanding beauty. And this is only day one. What treasures there must be in store. I'll keep you posted. Saturday 9th November We struck lucky today and I'm not sure how we will better it. The day dawned clear and sunny and 9am saw us on board the NZ Explorer to explore The Bay of Islands from the water. There are 144 Islands in total, some small with a single poignant tree and others large and luxuriantly wooded, but the overall effect is stunningly beautiful. 4 are populated, two owned by single families, with glorious beach houses, only approachable by sea or helicopter. Must be unbelievably tempting for the average billionaire - I could join him!! We approached the Island that Captain Cook landed on (unpronounceable name) and hovered in Cook's Bay studying the spot where history was made. In 1769 Captain James Cook sailed into the Bay on Endeavour and subsequently named it the Bay of Islands. We saw the sugar loaf hill he climbed to survey his surroundings and all was carefully documented in his log, rather like this blog, but sadly I'm unlikely to get to name anything! We were able to sail in amongst a very friendly pod of bottle nose dolphins, that really put on a show for us, gorgeous creatures that they are and finally the skipper nosed the boat through the hole in the rock in Piercy Island. A bit nerve racking, but obviously perfectly safe as he does it twice daily weather conditions permitting. An exhilarating ride back for lunch on dry land, before we headed to Waitangi, where the treaty between the Crown and the Maori was signed by Captain William Hobson for King William 4 and 500 Maori chiefs in 1840. We were taken on an entertaining and illuminating tour by the young great grandson many times back of one of the signees of the treaty. He is a modern man in every sense of the word with his roots very firmly in his Maori Culture and he explained very eloquently that the treaty is responsible for the equal status of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The estate is in the hands of a trust and now in a very good state of repair, although this has not always been the case. The ceremonial waka, or war canoe was carefully inspected and we were then invited to approach the meeting house for a Maori Welcome, but before this could happen, we would need to select from amongst our number, a chief, to greet the Maori and who could proffer a symbol of peace (a frond of silver leaf fern, the NZ national emblem). At this pointthere was much shuffling about and studying of shoes before, Reg shoved Peter in the back and volunteered him. I know PL may have been considering a role for his retirement, but in his wildest dreams, I don't think Chief Peter, as he was now to be called, would have been a consideration!! The Chief had to stand his ground as he was approached by spear waving warriors with all the Haka type gestures of intimidation. Not a flinch from our hero, you'll be proud to hear. It was eventually established that our party came in peace and on removing our shoes we were allowed to enter the Meeting house and Mrs Chief had pride of place to watch Chief Peter perform the welcome ceremony. This involved presenting the silver fern leaf to the head warrior after much posturing and bloodcurdling war cries. Yet again, our chief held firm and concluded the ceremony with a rub of noses with a extremely large skirted Maori warrior. No comments please, believe me he has already heard them all!! He was then required to make a speech, which he delivered with his customary aplomb before being allowed to retreat to watch the rest of the presentation with Mrs Chief (naturally the power behind the throne) and his people! You will see various photos (I hope - don't know what happened yesterday, they are all showing on my copy here) which will hopefully give you a flavour of a most unusual episode and one we will certainly never forget. It will no doubt go down in Maori folklore, the day that Chief Peter came to the land of the Long White Cloud and made his own version of history!?! Follow that? Goodness knows how. I'm hoping for a boring quiet day tomorrow. This is only day two. Can we stand the pace............. There is a postscript to this tale, which those of you following this from Devon will find particularly interesting, if hilarious. We were just winding down from all the excitement and putting on our shoes outside the meeting house, when suddenly a voice pipes up ' Chief Peter, is that Reg Nicholls with you?!' Chief and Mrs Chief are somewhat confused, whilst Reg and Geraldine look on in astonishment as up walks Phil and Gail Bond who farm in neighbouring Dartmouth. You couldn't write the script!!! Sunday 10 November My wish has come true! A relatively quiet and uneventful day to report. We left The Bay of Islands with regret this am and travelled across to the West coast which is completely different to the East; wilder and more rugged and so sparsely populated, it has to be seen to be believed. We stopped for coffee at a lovely cafe in the middle of nowhere, with a panoramic view of the coast, to die for. You can view the Hokianga river and estuary where rollers from the Tasman Sea break violently over the top of the river, almost like a permanent bore. At the mouth of the river has formed an enormous dune, at a guess probably 4/500ft high. I've never seen anything quite like it. Our journey then took us on a southerly route following the coast initially and gradually moving inland to the Waipoua Forest. Here is the last refuge of the magnificent Kauri tree, a giant of a fir native to New Zealand only. 90%2525 of the Northland was once covered in this fabulous dense temperate forest, encompassing not only Kauri, but all types of ferns including tree ferns, vines, mosses, and other lush foliages I cannot name. It is a most attractive forest to walk through and I will try to upload some pictures to give an idea. Gradually it was eroded by logging, as the kauri is so hard and tall and straight it was perfect for ships masts in the 1800s. The Maori hollowed out the trunks for their wakas (war canoes) and big business built around the Kauri, until in the nick of time, the government was persuaded to buy up what was left (very little) and save them for the nation. We visited the largest Kauri in existence which is called Tane Mahuta and is thought to have been in existence for about 2000 yrs. Majestic would be the word. We eventually arrived in Snell Beach back on the East Coast late afternoon and move on to the Coromandel tomorrow. Monday 11 November Today dawned fine and clear and we started our day with a walk on a deserted beach at St Martins Bay which would lift the spirits of the grumpiest soul. We drove down to the Coromandel Peninsula arriving at lunchtime, stopping for a bite to eat at a lovely garden centre at Thames. The sun continued to shine whilst we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, on the east coast of the Peninsula. The scenery was spectacular, I have included the odd photo to give an idea, but in truth no photo would do it justice. All you flower arrangers out there, the driftwood was mouth wateringly tempting. It was scattered everywhere, but fitting it into a suitcase could be challenging! Clinging to the rocks at every conceivable angle were Pohutukawa trees. Known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, they are just coming into bloom, with their showy red bottle brush flowers. In a week or so the whole coastline will be aflame until Christmas and beyond, hence the name. Wild nasturtiums clothe the banks creating a riot of colour, interspersed by giant phormium tenax, throwing up their gigantic flower spikes. It was a thrilling drive, starting off hugging the shoreline for miles, eventually climbing higher and higher until the views over the coastline and sea with it's Islands took the breath away. Our trip this afternoon was to the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, just north of Coromandel. Sounds a bit odd? It was a revelation and an inspirational afternoon. The sun shone and we arrived at this higgledy piggedly group of buildings, set out vaguely like a railway station. (Peter T this is for you) The whole site, which is several acres, was bought by a potter called Barry Brickell in the 70s, to enable him to extract the good quality clay for potting and to establish a pottery workshop for himself and fellow artists. He is a something of an icon in these parts, both as an artist, railway enthusiast and conservationist. The land had been cleared of its original Kauri forest in the 1800s and laid waste by subsequent subsistence farmers. He set about building a short railway to convey the clay down the mountainous terrain for the pottery and it grew and grew. It now takes 1 hr to travel through the regenerated kauri forest (all his own work) which includes 2spirals, 3 short tunnels, 5 reversing points & several large viaducts. Every inch of track has been hand built and laid by Barry himself, in between earning himself a more than justified high reputation as a potter. The final terminus is The Eyefull Tower, yes, I'm not joking and the 360 degree views are fantastic! particularly today with the sun bouncing off the sparkling blue waters and the lush greens of the tree ferns, which clothe the hillside, together with replanted young Kauri , pittosporum and so on. A variety of pots decorate the whole site, hand made clay tiles line the tunnels, and embankments are built up with empty glass bottle, of which there is apparently no shortage (plenty of parties thrown as well as pots!). This incredible man, a native New Zealander, with a zest for life that humbles one, has achieved all this virtually single handed and at 78 still climbs up to the Eyefull Tower 2 or 3 times a week to read the visitor book and check all is well. He has taken no money from the project beyond essential expenses and intends to will the whole enterprise to the Nation on his death, for the conservation side of his amazing life long project to continue into the future. I asked Pete, the train driver, if Mr Brickell is married, thinking to myself, that his wife must be a remarkable person to cope with several all consuming passions beyond herself! The answer was fired back instantly ' Of course not, if he had been, the furthest he would have got up that mountain was putting out the bins!' We are staying in Coromandel town tonight, which is delightful and had a terrific seafood meal at the Peppertree restaurant. The local oysters are certainly to be recommended! Tuesday 12 November Thankfully for us and the blog, a quiet day today. We drove up over the top of the Coromandel Peninsula (well I did actually) to yet more stunning views and descended to the west coast, which is a limestone bedrock, making for beautiful cliffs and formations. Whitianga was a great stop for lunch and the ferry to Cook Island well worth the 5$ return. We walked across the Island (only small ) and sat on a beautiful deserted beach in the sun with the surf rolling rhythmically on to the shore. Two oystercatchers were feeding at the waterline, dashing backwards and forwards to avoid the waves and catch the little molluscs disturbed by the sea. It was warm, secluded and delightful and it was quite a job to move on! We trickled our way down the coast, each bay/ cove seemingly more enchanting than the next, until arriving at our destination for the night. Taiura, is a small town hugging the coast with a high hill boasting fantastic views over the area as you will see from the photos posted. Tomorrow we move on to Rotorua and a stay of 2 nights, which will be a luxury after 3 one night stops. Selina, this for you! We came across a Kiwi Experience coach today at Cathedral Cove and thought of you! Happy memories!! Wednesday 13 November A good trip to Rotorua, stopping at Waihi, an old mining town that still has an operating open cast gold mine. It is a BIG hole, (see pics ). Devon Merry Mystery Tourers eat your heart out. You want mining, this is it and the end result is so pretty! Interestingly, there is also the remains of a Cornish pumping tower on site, that used to pump 7000 gallons of water out per hour, in the 1800s. Lunch was taken harbour-side at Tauranga. Geraldine and I hovered over Safe Sex on the Beach, but decided it was far too chilly and settled on a Naked Grape! Before you think this trip has turned our heads , be assured, they are Mocktails!! Whilst on the subject of drink, we have taken the grape aspect of our trip very seriously and are trying out a different variety nightly. Our favourite so far has been a Villa Maria Sauvignon Southern Cays, but Napier looms and I expect it to have a run for it's money there. We arrived here at Rotorua late afternoon and are just a block from one of the geo thermal areas. A faint wiff of hydrogen sulphide lingers on the air and we have many physical geographical features to cover over the next couple of days. Tonight we visited a Maori village for a traditional hangi meal. The meat is cooked in traditional manner over hot coals buried under ground. It was very tasty and tender, accompanied by various salads, garlic bread and gravy(?!), the like of which have never graced an authentic Maori banana leaf I suspect. It certainly beat hands down the meal on the harbour at Hong Kong so that's a mighty plus. It was a good evening, but not a patch on the the Maori performance at Waitangi with Chief Peter earlier in the week, but then what could top that? In seriousness the highlight of the evening was the true Kiwi Experience. We were led through the bush to a series of large enclosures in the hope of seeing a live Kiwi, NZs national symbol. It is a strange but haunting flightless bird, that is almost mammal like and snuffles around in the undergrowth for its food. These are a small group of captive birds, part of a study programme that will not be able to be released into the wild. To our joy we saw 3 and for me, it sealed a perfect day. Thursday 14 November The day dawned bright and sunny and so it has continued. We have explored Rotorua and some of its geothermals. It is such a strange mixture. Close to our motel, as I mentioned yesterday, is a geothermal park and I must be honest I expected it to be an area of natural scrub interspersed with mud pools, steaming lakes and fumeroles. The actuality was something of a surprise. There were all of the aforementioned features, surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns, shruberies, laid out planting and topped with a wisteria clad Monet's bridge! The azaleas are at their best and the white Chatham lilies a picture, but it seemed such an incongruous mix as to be almost bewildering. I suppose I had Yellowstone in my mind as a benchmark and had anticipated a similar approach. The second area of volcanic activity is mixed in with a Maori village and expensive to view, as one has to take the whole package, so we left it, bearing in mind as we move on tomorrow, we will pass the largest area about 30 kms south. We drove slightly out of town this afternoon to look at some of the many beautiful lakes created as a result of past volcanic activity. At one spot, one can stand on a ridge between the green (Rotokakahi) and blue (Tikitapu) lakes and view the two. It is absolutely true, one does look blue and the other green, apparently due to the granite base of one and sandy bottom of the other. Well, who'd a thunk it!! We finished the afternoon by driving round the whole of Lake Rotorua, which is large. It was a perfect afternoon with not a cloud in the sky. We came upon a glorious spot called Hamurana recreation resort, of which I will upload a picture or two. To our astonishment, there on the lake, were hundreds of black swans and their cygnets. We stood and watched them for ages quite spellbound. This evening, our last in Rotorua, we had a meal at the Skyline restaurant approached via a gondola service. The views were amazing and the meal taken watching the sun set over the town and lake, as a myriad of twinkling lights transformed the area into a magical wonderland. Rotorua, is unusual and the jury is out for me as to my opinion. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Richard W, when he said he felt it had been over-commercialised to the point of ruination and not to waste a great deal of time there. I see exactly where you are coming from Richard and may well come to agree with you. Friday 15 November I think you can safely say we are geothermal'd out! We moved on this am to Napier stopping off at Wai-O-Tapu on the way. At last here were the type of volcanic features I had been expecting, in their natural setting. Those of you who know me well will be shocked to hear we were on the doorstep of the Lady Constance Geyser well before she was due to blow at 10.15am and this is 30 kms from Rotorua. The geyser is billed as a bigger event than Old Faithfull in Yellowstone. Not so on several accounts. Impressive certainly, but nudged into action by a chemical fixer and has been for the last 80 years, to prevent a huge blow out. There were sufficient coloured pools, boiling mud pools and travertine terraces to excite the average geographer to death. Peter on fixing his eye on the sixth mud pool was heard to mutter, 'seen one mud patch seen 'em all'! The sun shone, glistening off the silica deposits and the whole scene looked like a scene from a moonscape. Fascinating to think what is going on under the surface of such a green and pleasant land and how close everything is to being blown away. New Zealand sits on the edge of two tectonic plates moving over one another. The resulting eruptions and earthquakes have shaped a land of great beauty that is still evolving at a fast rate (geophysical lay that is). We sped on down towards Taupo and it's enormous volcanic lake to view the Huka Falls, which is another sight not to be missed. The force of the water is phenomenal and it is pure turquoise, which is arresting on it's own. Interestingly, the foliages on the edge of the gorge are really alpine, whilst just a few feet away is sub- tropical lush vegetation. Such contrast in such a small area. It was relatively quiet and we had no problem getting to and viewing whatever we wished to. The only irritating factor was the ever camera happy Japanese/ Korean/Chinese who seem to have to be photographed in front of every half interesting feature available. Manners are clearly non existent in their culture and I am just relieved that we are unlikely to be asked to view their enormous photograph collections!! The remainder of the journey to Napier passed without incident and as we neared Napier and Hawkes Bay the scenery became even more beautiful. Wineries appeared everywhere and we started to anticipate the wine tastings to come! The hotel here is super, on the beach and each room has a spa bath in to accommodate the whole of the wine group in one hit. We ate at a really good restaurant called Pacifico tonight. I don't expect to better the meal in the next 3 months. We came on it quite by chance and if you're ever this way look it up. Saturday 16 November We just love Napier. It has an elegance and timeless quality about it , in no small part due to its extraordinary architecture. Peter and I joined an Art Deco Walking Tour this morning and were lucky enough to be guided by a retired architect, who had been Chairman of the Art Deco Association. A charming fellow, who really knew his stuff. Napier was raised to the ground in 1931 by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale - Big. The townspeople set about rebuilding their town with the now added advantage of the land being raised 2mtrs as a result of the quake, giving them much more land to play with. This was of course the hey day of The Art Deco period (between the wars) , so consequently the whole CBD was expanded and rebuilt in that style. Amazingly, the town has managed to retain 140 buildings and now has the largest collection of AD buildings in the world. I had only seen the odd building in this style before and it's not until you see a whole planned town, that you begin to realise how groundbreaking as a style it must have been at the time and how attractive. Today being Saturday, there were cars of the age driving through the streets. There were lots of small interesting shops and for the first time on this trip I felt like a browse, but luckily for Peter there was insufficient time. I know, I'm loosing my grip- where will it all end? We did pop into one of the supermarkets on the way back to the hotel with some trepidation, it being prime time on a Saturday morning and images of piled trolleys and grumpy shoppers at Tescos flashed into the mind. To our astonishment it was practically empty, we could find all we needed and pay without any hassle. We came out shell shocked and had to find a strong cup of coffee to recover. This afternoon was the first of our planned Grape Escapes. We were collected from our hotel at 12.30 in a small coach, the back of which was already filled with young ladies, who looked as if they could be heading for a day trip of the lady Licence Victuallers Assn. We had't gone half a mile before PL leaned over and whispered 'do you think it's going to be this noisy all afternoon'. I whispered back 'noisier!'. He turned a whiter shade of pale . We stopped yet again in a small cull de sac of houses when yet more young things piled out of houses in skimpy frocks, tottering heels & in some cases complete with fascinators! We now have a full bus of 24 and apart from Greg the driver and organiser and Peter and Reg all were female ! South Wootton Wine Group eat your heart out(well the male half anyway). We all had to introduce ourselves in modern fashion, so amidst the Shelley's, Raquel's and Tanya's there were Dulcie, Peter, Geraldine and Reg. I'm not sure who was the more surprised. We visited 3 Hawkes Bay Vineyards or Wineries as they are known here. The sun continued to pour down and the afternoon just got noisier and noisier as the wines started to loosen a few tongues, that weren't slack already. Once the crowd adjusted to the idea of these old fogies in their midst, they became very welcoming and chatty and we ended up having to have a group photo taken with Peter and Reg overwhelmed by female lushness(is there such a word, or has the wine coddled my thought processes?) The wineries were a revelation. We tried around 8 wines in each one , plus some local olive oils and cheeses. If only there was no airline weight restriction! The tally of bottles and cases of wine bought increased as we moved on, until every time we went round a corner there was mass clinking. We did succumb and buy some lovely Sauvignon Blanc to take with us and drink at our chill out stop at Furness Lodge, on Queen Charlottes Sound, in a few days time. The winery was Ngatarawa and the setting was simply beautiful. I will upload a couple of pics for you to see. It was a fun afternoon and when we dropped back at our hotel we were clapped and cheered off the coach. It is most noticeable how friendly everyone is here. Strangers still say good morning in the street and stop to help you out if you look lost. The work/ life balance is spot on and it does make one nostalgic for more simple times. On returning to Napier we were in need to sustenance to soak up all that alcohol and Yep, you've guessed it, we headed straight to the nearest Fish and Chip shop and ate them out of the paper sitting at a picnic table by the beach. It was a glorious evening and all seemed right with the world. One night fine dining par excellence, the next F&C on the beach! Sunday 17 November A travelling day today, but an interesting start in Napier, the windscreen of the hire car had developed a crack overnight. Quel Horreur !! There folllowed multiple phone calls from PL accompanied by much pacing up and down and running of hands through hair, whilst the rest of us tucked into breakfast! The result was we drove down to Wellington with said crack and it moved not an inch, so all was well. We stopped at Martinborough, about 100 kmtrs north of the capital, as it is a small town renowned for its boutique wineries. When we arrived the place was heaving, and it's only small. It emerged that we had turned up just too late to immerse ourselves in a food and wine open Sunday, with all wineries open for business. Probably as well, as someone would have lost out, to be able to drive the rest of the way to Wellington. Looked really interesting mind and to test it out we had a great Martinborough Pinot Noir at dinner tonight. Lovely restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Boulcott Street Bistro, a lovely clapperboard quirky house, the original home of John Plinner the founder of the New Zealand Company. We are off to explore Wellington tomorrow-will let you know. Monday 18 November As you probably know, New Zealand's capital city was named in honour of the Duke of Wellington and we have been all over it like a rash, as we have only had this one day to form an impression. The Iron Duke would approve of our energy and perseverance, but then Peter did win his only school prize for the later! We decided to take a half day tour with Paul from Flat Earth and It was an early start (yet again, and you know how much I love those!). However, it was worth it to cover the ground. We drove all around the harbour, little bays and charming, if expensive, suburbs many close to the beaches, but just 15 mins from the city centre. Again, you have to think that the work/life balance is pretty good here. Coffee and a cheese scone at a shell built café at Scorching Bay. South facing and hill sheltered from the prevailing winds, so always, well, scorching! I have been really struck by the diverse architecture throughout our journey so far and none more so than here in Wellington. There are no two houses alike or so it seems and whether it be a traditional or modern style the kerb appeal alone is enough to draw one in. Many are built into the hillsides with fabulous sea or scenic views and some have no vehicular access at all. They are often individually serviced by their own private elevator running up the steep cliff face. I had visions of getting half way up with the weekly shop for there to be a power cut. I have left my phone on the kitchen table and am wearing totally unsuitable footwear and clothing. It is raining naturally and blowing a gale. All romantic illusions shattered in one hit or what?! We viewed the government and entertainment districts, plus the views from Mt Victoria. It was a cool and slightly overcast morning, so couldn't see the mountains of Kaioura which are often visible on a clear day over the Cook Straits. We finished the tour supposedly using the cable car, but it was out of action, so a bus had to suffice. Sound familiar? Well, they can't get everything right. Again, another fabulous harbour view, followed by a walk down through the The Botanic Gardens, which were lovely and yes, Mary, the Rose Garden was in full bloom and just wonderful. It reminded me of our trip to Houghton last summer, fellow wine imbibers. (Minus the champagne of course). An amusing note - we caught sight of an Oriental gentleman very carefully photographing the lift in the visitor centre. A normal lift, nothing out of the ordinary you understand. We are still trying to get our heads round it! Flower arrangers, please note the photo of the bench I found here. It will strike a chord. A more charming way to be remembered I cannot imagine. Lunch was taken at the outdoor cafe in the rose garden and the sun had by now appeared. Picture the scene; small tables under a vine pergola filled with fellow garden lovers, cheeky sparrows dodging about looking for scraps , a riot of colours from the rose beds and the beautiful Japanese inspired Peace Garden to the right, casting a spell over all. It was a delightful, calm oasis in the middle of a hectic day. Following a rest and bask in the sun we walked down through the city to the harbour, following the path round to Te Papa, Wellington's famous interactive museum, here we spent an informative and interesting couple of hours. The wharf areas have been redeveloped spectacularly in recent years, in common with many similar harbours throughout the world, from being somewhat dank and run down to an attractive and lively area full of restaurants, bars, sailing and rowing facilities and art work. The Wellingtonians are justifiably proud of their city as the art and culture centre of New Zealand and modern and traditional art installations are placed throughout the city and harbour, to great effect. It is without doubt a spectacularly naturally set capital with a great deal to offer. Much is made of the climate and it's disposition to wind. Perhaps we were lucky as there was none to speak of. I understand that it is subject to biting southerlies direct from the Antarctic during the winter, which would perhaps give rise to the notion. We retreated back to our city apartment, footsore and weary, but feeling that we had managed to achieve as good an overview as was possible in the time available. Yet again, it is time to pack up and move on in the morning, (crack of dawn once more!) leaving our car at the InterIsland ferry terminal and moving on to the South Island. We leave the North with regret. We have loved it, but are conscious that we have left plenty for another occasion should the chance arise. Fingers crossed!