We have ourselves a convoy!

With a mere two hour wait for Mum’s campervan (I reckon they like building the tension, but maybe they’re just slow…), we were off on our journey, with three campervans in a line, holding back the traffic for miles – to be fair it’s only our van that is slow (diesel, automatic and full of water for the loo), but we were at the front.
The amazing thing with driving in New Zealand is that you get places quicker, only because the distances are so short in comparison to Australia. In a few hours, we’d done half of our travel for the next five days, and made it to Kaikoura, site of our fun for the next couple of days.

Growing in numbers

Today we’ve increased in numbers, not by one, but three! Cat joined us in the morning, and before long we were picking up her petite campervan/car. There was a bit of time convincing the rental guy that the tyre was flat, and that having a nail in it wasn’t a good idea, before it was replaced. With a few hours to spare the Antarctic centre beckoned. Christchurch is the launch point for many visitors to the coldest continent, and the centre gave us a taste of what it’s like down there, including a chamber where they drop the temperature to -18C, a summers day on Antarctic, but a bit nippy! They say it can get down to -93C, that’s a third of the way to absolute zero! The final bit of fun involved a rattling ride around in the Antarctic people mover, an enclosed buggy that zoomed up steep hills whilst we clung on for dear life in the back, the ride finished in a deep pool with the water rising up behind us – fortunately the thing floats!
With a Mum and Ian found at the airport, we all had enough time to punt down the Avon river in Christchurch, in gorgeous sunshine – so much for those thermal undies we bought yesterday!

Preparing for the cold

It has been a while since we have experienced a winter but it looks as though our time has come and we can no longer out run the cold. It is hard to say just how cold it is going to get here but it was clear we were not prepared. So it was with this in mind that we hit the shops today and I’m pleased to say it was a successful mission. Thermal T-shirts were bought (hopefully Si won’t actually need three but it was too good an offer to pass up!) as well as warm snuggly jumpers. We are now ready, bring on the snow!
I also got another very exciting purchase: a new camera! Yep, we wore another one out with all our holiday snapping. I hope you are all prepared for the number of photos you will be subjected to on our return 🙂 Now with my new jazzy camera I can do all sorts of fun and cool things. It has settings for every conceivable photo opportunity from landscapes, portraits, a portrait against a landscape, pets, children and so on. It is great fun to play with and I now almost rival Si in the number of photos taken each day. But the best bit about it is that it is PINK! Which is great just cos it’s cool but also because Si is less inclined to nick it!
After our very successful shopping trip we went off in search of something to take photos of. South of Christchurch are the Port hills where we hopped on a gondola (cable car) up to the top. We were warned about the lack of visibility at the top and it was no lie. The clouds had the hill covered and the wind literally took your breath away so the only other hardy soul, apart from ourselves, braving the elements was a hedgehog. True to form New Zealand wildlife is not as scary as the Aussie variety.

Cultural Christchurch

You can tell Caroline and my priorities easily, our first day in Christchurch and our first around open shops for a while – she’s off to get her hair cut, and I’m off to find a phone.
We did also manage to visit some of the sights though, and ventured up the cathedral tower for a view over the city, watched the chess game and listened to the buskers in the square and then got all arty with a trip around the art gallery. We haven’t gone all upmarket in our touring, it’s just that the only map we had was in the Cultural Christchurch guide!

We’re in New Zealand

As we flew over New Zealand towards Christchurch airport we were treated to some spectacular views to whet our appetite for things to come. There were rolling green hills, snow capped mountains and even a glacier (surely the best way to see it is from the air!). As soon as we touched ground we raced off in excitement to pick up our new van. Our Jucy Chaser is awesome, quite palatial in relation to what we are used to. It has a permanently high roof so no hunchback poses for us, it has a toilet and shower (check us!) but the best bit is it has a living room feel to it by day with two long seats and a table and then come nighttime it converts into the hugest bed! Yep I think this van rocks! (I’m ignoring the fact that I was quite excited about the last van in the early days, this one, I’m sure will have staying power!) The only slight fly in the ointment is that it is a diesel and an automatic (It has been a while since I have driven a deisel and I have NEVER driven an automatic!) that coupled with the fact that less than 20% of Kiwis have insurance and seem to be quite crazy drivers – it just might take me a while to work up to driving this fab van.
(It also has a confusing rear tent attachment that will keep me guessing for ages, as you can see! – Si)

Squeezing it all in

Not since we arrived in Sydney have we managed to get all of our possessions into a couple of bags, and despite a practice in the van, we were squashing down, chucking out and praying to the zipper god this morning. The walk to the train station had us making resolutions to not carry so much, and look enviously at the people with small easy to manage bags. Fortunately, some bright spark came up with left luggage, so with our load lightened, we walked around the city one last time before retreating to the airport hotel in preparation for our early flight to New Zealand.
It does feel like Australia has been home for the past seven months, and we’ve been lucky to squeeze so much in. But New Zealand beckons, and it wouldn’t be much of a World Tour if we stayed in one country!

Chilling in Melbourne

With only one full day in Melbourne we should have been up and away early, but a comfy bed always wins. It being Saturday, there was more life than Good Friday, but there was still a sleepy feel to the city. We wandered around some of the sights, but skipped on Melbourne Gaol (I’m sure it’s nothing on Port Arthur), and noticed that Captain Cook’s cottage that was shipped across from the UK probably wasn’t put back together in the same way. What was more impressive were the grand buildings that are abundant in the city, holding their own at the foot of skyscrapers, and way more interesting with their gothic feel and yellow and burgundy facades. It’s amazing what a huge goldrush can fund!
Our wanders around the city parks kept us amused until dark when we headed back to the Comedy Festival (third largest in the world) and chuckled at a few British comedians before sampling some of Melbournes ales and music.

Farewell wee van

So we arrived in Melbourne this morning and only had a few hours of van time left. There seemed only one thing to do… visit Ramsay Street. It was not at all what I expected and quite surreal actually. For a start it’s not called Ramsay Street in real life (quite obvious I suppose!) but also it is tiny – a mere court with about six houses, only one of which I could say with any conviction that I recognised. There was also a security guard keeping an eye on preceedings!?
Our wee trip down memory lane only took about five minutes so we headed to St Kilda, site of our hotel and began the long process of clearing out the van ready for our parting of the ways.
We delivered the van back to Dirk at the airport and managed to keep our tears in check. Just. Our wee van had served us well, clocking up 12000km and has been our home for the last three months (longer than the time we lived in our flat in Sydney!)
The rest of our day involved a wander around Melbourne soaking up the atmosphere. After dinner we stumbled across a comedy festival. One of the comedians managed to persuade us to come to his show because it had Scottish connections and he promised to talk about something I didn’t really understand (I thought he was talking about a person called Kay Lee) but he seemed so pleased with himself that I didn’t want to disappoint him by admitting I’d never heard of her! Anyway it turned out to be the perfect show for us, all about movie trailers and a grandfather who was born in Ireland and moved to Glasgow. The comedian had a bit of a dodgy Irish and Scottish accent (turned out he was talking about ceilidhs!) but he was very funny and like I said the show could have been tailor made for us! Melbourne rocks so far!

That wee bit closer to home

Yesterday afternoon involved a lot of driving in the rain but it was all worthwhile today because we got to spend all day walking in the glorious sunshine. We woke up to discover three very large and impressive peaks looming over us (they had previously been obscured by dark clouds) so we set off towards Freycinet National Park to explore. The first leg of our walk had us climbing up a steep hill to Wineglass Bay lookout. It is probably one of the most photographed beaches in Tasmania but you can see why. We then walked down to the beach itself to marvel at the amazingly clear turquoise water which I’m ashamed to say was too cold to tempt us to dip our toes in today. Our walk continued on to Hazards beach for a spot of lunch before a two hour coastal walk back to our van. After such a long and exhilarating walk we felt it only right to treat ourselves to coffee and cake before we hit the road again.
Next stop: Campbell Town. Really only because it’s a namesake to the real one that is home, but we were pleasantly surprised to find quite a lot to this wee town. It was of course settled by Scots many years ago and for a wee town has a lot to boast about; the first telephone call in the Southern hemisphere, several bushrangers (bad people, so we won’t go into too much detail about them!), a local who flew around the world in a biplane, a bridge built by convict labour in 1838 which despite an annual load of about 1,200,000 vehicles has never needed any repairs! There is more but I’ve been told to stop there!
It’s also the last night sleeping in the van and then we have four whole nights of sleeping in a real bed to look forward to, what bliss!

More than seagulls

The coast of the Tasman peninsula is considered to be one of Australias finest, and what better way to see it than from a boat! Our vessel for the morning was essentially an oversized dingy, and if we’d known how rough the Southern Ocean can get (heard of the roaring forties?) we might have thought twice about it, or at least not sat right at the front. However, it was great fun bouncing up and down the massive waves, and a good job they gave us full length waterproofs and a seat belt as we caught some definite air during some of the drops and got mighty wet too.
I’ll not bore you with how the huge sea cliffs (tallest in southern hemisphere) were made, but I did come away with a new respect for Albatross and Muttonbirds. The Albatross don’t seem to need to flap their wings at all whilst flying, and effortlessly fly a few inches above the pounding waves. The Shy Albatross only nests in Tasmania, yet is found in all of the world’s oceans, that’s some serious mileage. They are also suffering from fish shortage, and it’s thought we may be the last generation to see them.
The Muttonbird is also quite amazing; all Muttonbirds mate on exactly the same day, meaning all eggs hatch at the same time. When it comes to leaving the nest, the chicks spread their wings for the first time, step off the sea cliff and fly. Not only that, they continue flying non stop for 18000km. Makes the 18+ years homo sapiens take to reach independence look quite pathetic!