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World Travels 2

New Zealand 2017

Boulders on Morerak beach

Monday & Tuesday 3rd & 4th April
We were picked up from home at 7:30am., the driver lives locally at Mary Tavy.
On a bright & sunny morning we set off to link up with the A30 at Sourton for the drive towards Exeter.
The trip was good & relaxing we had plenty of legroom in the back of a people carrier.  Ian was able to enjoy the views on the way having not to drive.
We eventually arrived at Heathrow Terminal 2 at lunchtime, we had a sandwich on the go.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 4:15pm.
Take off was on time & we started the 10 hour  first leg flight to Los Angeles.
We were unlucky regarding seat allocation, ending up at the very back which afforded little leg room, such a long flight was tedious. Sitting next to us was a young American lad who had been visiting Manchester to play football.
At LA we had to leave the aircraft with our hand luggage for security checks, including ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) this would take an hour or so, however all the computers had failed causing some confusion. We eventually made it through & returned to the same aircraft - crazy!
The next stage of our journey was to be a more comfortable, the American lad had disembarked in LA this gave us a lot more room to stretch out, we were able to utilise a facility which allowed us to modify the seats into a bed.
We eventually touched down in Auckland having had to fly a few circuits of the airport  before landing, avoiding bad weather.
Wednesday 5/4/2017
We were greeted at the arrival lounge by our tour guide (Babs) & driver (Kerry), we were then ferried to our hotel.
It was good to relax a bit & enjoy a deep hot bath before going down to the breakfast bar.
Our stay started with an exploration of the city, the weather was bright & afforded us time to enjoy some quiet time alongside the sea near a busy container port.
All too soon the skies darkened & the rest of the day was dogged with heavy rain -   the ass end of a recent cyclone.
We jumped on a local bus for a ride back to the hotel with a couple of beers & a packet of crisps.
Thursday 6/4/2017
We were awake early, so went down to breakfast early.
At 8:30am we made our way to the hotel reception area to meet the rest of our tour group.
We all boarded the coach for a tour of Auckland City.
We were driven to the harbour & waterfront where we had extensive views of the city.
On a local pier a few old time fishermen were trying their luck, there were a couple of snapper fish in their buckets.
Next stop was the Myer Robinson memorial park, here we explored the area in warm sunshine.
The city museum next, a huge complex with two or three floors, we enjoyed some of the hundreds of exhibits of Maori people & culture, we really didn’t have enough time to take it all in.
We were then dropped off at the ferry terminal for Devonport (there are many sites in New Zealand which have twinned names from England).
We landed at the Devonport quay & enjoyed a wander along the coast in warm sunshine. Gardens had semi tropical plants growing in them. Everywhere was spotlessly clean.
Our wanderings took us to Torpedo Beach where the heavens opened so we nipped a nearby naval museum. Here Caroline noticed information regarding action on the river Plate, this is where her dad served during the war. There were many young people with their teachers wandering around.
By the time we left the museum the rain had stopped.
A pleasant stroll back to the ferry port, we had chance to visit one more geocache before sailing back to the city.
We returned to the hotel where we had a shower & rest.
The evening meal eventually arrived after a hour & a half wait, however we enjoyed our dinner.
Friday 7/4/2017
Moving on today to the Bay Of Islands.
We were on our way at 8:30am after a substantial buffet breakfast, will have to go on a diet when we get home!
We made our way north through the busy streets of Auckland, we were surprised with the amount of traffic we encountered, taking into consideration the population of New Zealand is only 11 million.
We left the city over the Harbour Bridge built in 1964, however in 2000 two extra lanes were added, they were manufactured & shipped from Japan, they are affectionally known now as the add-ons from the Nippon’s!
To gain access to the bridge, traffic was restricted by traffic lights which only allowed a few cars at a time to zip their way into the existing traffic – seems the bridge still not big enough!
Not far out of Auckland we stopped off at a small complex which had at its centre of  attraction a huge & we mean huge 800 year old Mc.Kinley Kauri tree. The girth of the tree is 7.62m & its height 11.89m. Whilst here we were treated to a heavy down-pour.
Onward & upward, we stopped for lunch at Whangarei, whilst most of the group had a meal we opted for fruit & a stroll alongside the river. There were a multitude of yachts here, all taking shelter from a recent cyclone. We indulged ourselves with a rather nice ice-cream before returning to the coach.
The tour continued north, we hadn’t gone far from when a car drove out of a side turning in front of our coach, if it wasn’t for our drivers quick reactions we would have certainly had a crash. The offending vehicle with a young driver at the wheel speeded off in a panic driving on the wrong side of the road for a while before turning off. Our tour guide Bab’s telephoned the police to report the incident.
Our trip continued passing through small farming towns until we reached our destination – The Bay Of Islands.
Our hotel was in Paihia which is just south of Waitango, it was here the famous treaty of Waitango was signed on 6 February 1840 The Treaty of Waitangi (Māori: Tiriti o Waitangi) is a treaty was signed by representatives of the British Crown & various Māori chiefs, it resulted in the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand by Lieutenant Governor William Hobson in May 1840.
It was arranged we would visit the Treaty House site where the treaty was signed.
We were assigned a Māori guide to lead us around the museum, he chose to communicate via a blue tooth microphone. As we progressed however, the bombardment of information & facts was far too much for anyone to fully take in.
With our ears still ringing we started a tour of the grounds around the Treaty house. We were shown elaborate wood carvings & huge war canoes one of which is the biggest ever built worldwide, its name was Ngaatokimalawh-aorua, its construction was from the giant Kauri tree.
All In all we enjoyed our informative experience.
Back to the hotel for a bath & dinner.
Saturday 8/4/2017
Awoke to a sunny morning.
The plan for today was to cruise around the Bay Of Islands. We chose seats on deck & enjoyed the journey around the bay in sheltered waters. The captain kept us well informed regarding each island we passed.
Suddenly from the front of the boat someone shouted out there were dolphins swimming alongside – we were able to watch them playfully diving & jumping.
We sailed out of the sheltered waters towards the ocean, standing alone here was a huge rock with a hole, the captain asked us all if we should sail the boat through the hole, we all agreed, the passage was tight but we made it without disaster.
Our boat was a catamaran. We continued cruising passing the old lighthouse on Cape Brett. We were informed by the captain that the once lighthouse keepers house was now a hostel for walkers who take on the 20km walk to the end of the cape.
We landed on one of the islands & had chance to explore the coastline. Oyster Catchers were busy on the foreshore looking for lunch. As usual we would have liked more time to take a more detailed look around. As we made our way back along the pier to the boat we noticed huge eels swimming under the pier.
We next sailed off to Russel.
Russell, formerly known as Kororāreka, was the first permanent European settlement & sea port in New Zealand. As at the 2006 Census it had a resident population of 816.
Russell hosts the oldest church in New Zealand, established in 1836. The graves in the graveyard were mostly of Māori origin. Many of the graves were that of young children, surviving all those years ago in such a difficult times must have been tough.
The inside of the church was fairly basic, however all the kneeler cushions had been decorated with images made from cross stitch.
We had time for a coffee & a ‘Kiwi’ biscuit before returning to the quay to catch the local ferry back to Paihia.
We returned to the hotel to freshen up.
Dinner was at 7pm, we enjoyed a very pleasant evening chatting to a couple in our group, the gent originally came from Falmouth Cornwall, his wife was French.
Sunday 9/4/2017
Having decided to opt out of todays’ optional excursion, we had breakfast & returned to our room to set up a few geocaches to look for.
We planned to link up with a footpath to the top of a lookout walking through temperate jungle. As we made our way to the start of the footpath we were treated to a heavy shower of rain, whilst sheltering under a huge tree we heard & spotted a Tui bird, its song was beautiful with varied notes.
Whilst climbing through the jungle we encountered many different species of song birds including fantails. We slowly climbed passing huge tree ferns.
Along the way we stopped to chat to a young couple brewing up a cup of tea, we stopped for a chat, they were able to help us with some names of birds we had seen.
We continued & eventually arrived at the lookout. We were treated to fine views of the Bay Of Islands. As a bonus we signed in the geocache here.
Ian was feeling fairly good so we decided to tackle the 2.5 hour trail along the ridge to Opua. The start of the trail was a little way back along the way we had come.
We very much enjoyed the ramble through the forest even though there were a good many climbs on the way. Alongside the track we noticed stoat traps, these were placed here to cut down the Stoat population as they prey on the now very rare Kiwi birds.
The trail seemed to go on forever. A young man passed us walking in the same direction as us.
Caroline started to show concern as to if we were ever get to the end. In time we met the young man on his way back.
With some doubts we continued & eventually arrived at an unmade road, following the GPS we started the downhill trek, Ian by now was feeling he had had enough realizing we had just the same amount of distance to go as we had already walked.
Tired & weary we eventually reached the main road. We managed to bag a geocache here.
It was now time to revert to our old ways & start hitching a lift back.
Eventually a blue car stopped, the driver was a farmer who took pity on a couple of old fogies.
We were dropped off at an ale house in Paihia & loosely made an arrangement to meet our driver for a drink later. There was live music planned at 3pm. in the pub
We enjoyed a well-deserved couple of beers & a plate of cheesy chips.
As expected the band struck up at 3pm & it wasn’t long after this our driver arrived.
We enjoyed a chat & a beer with him.
We eventually left & made a wobbly return to the hotel where we enjoyed a long hot bath.
After dinner we elected for an early night.
Monday 10/4/2017
Moving on south today retracing our outward journey.
We had coffee in a French café in a small village beside a rive. We had took a stroll beside the river, as ever we were short on time.
Our journey continued through rural New Zealand countryside which is much the same as England with cows, sheep & a lot of water!
Lunch stop was taken in a small café beside the River Waikato which flows through Hamilton. A lot of the surrounding countryside was badly flooded. There were a few Koi birds feeding in the riverside reeds.
Hamilton was our next stop & we had a chance to wander around a multicultural gardens, where there were examples of gardens from China, Japan, India, Italy & of course good old Blighty. We spent a very enjoyable hour here in the sunshine.
The plan was to stay in Hamilton tonight, so after our garden visit we were taken to our hotel which again was very upmarket.
Tuesday 11/4/2017
An early start today, after an early breakfast Caroline nipped out for a wander along the river bank, on her return she announced she had spotted a Kingfisher.
Rotorua was our destination for today, en’route we stopped at a few places of interest, the first was the caves of Waitomo. Here we were led underground to explore extensive limestone caves, our guide was a Māori.
We saw many huge stalactites & stalagmites. Clinging to the roof of the caves were a multitude of glow worms, these creatures hang from the roof of the caves dangling tentacles below them, the light they emit helps attract flies & bugs which get tangled in the tentacles & becomes a meal.
We found ourselves in a cavern with near perfect acoustics, we were all asked if we could sing, we all agreed & sang Jerusalem which just happens to be the WI’s anthem.
Next we were led to an underground lake where there was a rowing boat waiting to sail us out, as we went there was hundreds of glow worms above which resembled a LED light display, perhaps it was!
Back to the bus & we set off again.
Lunch was taken in a small town, we had a pie & coffee.
The afternoon started with a drive to the Agrodome where we enjoyed show featuring New Zealand sheep. The presenter of the show was charismatic & entertained us with a dozen or more different breeds of sheep, he was assisted by a very energetic sheep dog.
There was a milk the cow competition with audience participation.
Back to the coach & set off for Rainbow Springs Nature Park, here they breed the rare New Zealand Kiwi birds for release in a predator free zone. We were shown into a building which had a labyrinth of dark glass fronted wooded areas, we were told to be very quiet & not to use cameras. With 38 pairs of eyes it still took a good while before the shy Kiwis were spotted. Apparently one of the Kiwis is 50 years old, the other two were much younger. We spotted all three in the end.
Our nature trail continued & we saw the Tui bird, a New Zealand pigeon & the very rare Kakapo bird.
There were shoals of large trout swimming in clear spring fed pools.
As we made our way out through the reception area we were offered the opportunity to purchase a photograph taken whilst we were visiting, this practice is repeated all over New Zealand’s tourist traps.
By the time we left it was raining.
A short drive saw at our destination Rotorua, as we drove through the streets of the town we could see many geyser spouts some of which were in local gardens.
Most of the homesteads in Rotorua use the heat from thermal springs to heat their homes.
We eventually arrived at yet another up-market five star hotel.
Our evening meal was a buffet, the quality of which was excellent.
Wednesday 12/4/2017
Having had a good night’s sleep we awoke refreshed to face another day.
We were to visit the geysers at Te Puia.
Back to the coach to drive to a huge new development where Māori men were being taught how to carve wood, the apprenticeship lasted some years. Also within the complex were Māori women busy weaving.
Next we were taken to huge area of geysers, some of which eject steam spouts some 30’ in the air & erupt 20 times a day, they all have names.
We were able to explore on our own for a while. There was one hole very close to we were standing which had boiling water bubbling in the bottom.
We had another treat at Te Puia where we saw a young female Kiwi at another Kiwi breeding house.
We returned to Rotorua.
We elected to be dropped off separately at a local park which supposedly had a thermal heated pool, unfortunately it was empty. We had borrowed an umbrella from the coach, which would become invaluable later.
We wandered around the park visiting a few geocaches, we passed a good few hot water pools on the way.
Leaving the park we made our way to the lakeside for a coffee.
The umbrella came into its own when we left the café.
Alongside the lake was a very colourful church, as we made our way along the path towards the church the graves on either side had steam issuing from them.
The interior of the church was quite basic.
The lake was very rough, water was spilling into the church grounds. A boat moored nearby was taking a pummeling.
We made our way back to the hotel where we had a shower & a rest.
It had been planned for us to eat at the Tamaki Heritage Village. A bus arrived to pick us up driven by a Māori lady who had a great sense of humour.
We were taken to a reconstructed Māori village where we were greeted in a typical Māori manner which at times is rather threatening. It was now raining heavily so we were shown to a sheltered area where we observed Māori warriors arrive by canoe & performed another aggressive welcome.
We were next led through the village gate & were shown typical Māori customs which included Ian taking part in the Hucka (traditional Māori greeting). We were also treated to a few more customs such as cooking food in a pit from the heat of pre heated hot stones.
At the end we were given the food cooked in the pit as a buffet. There was plenty of food for all including lavish supplies of Pavlova for pudding.
It was still raining when we eventually left & were ferried back to the hotel.
Thursday 13/4/2017
Today we were off to Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, the journey would take us about 6hrs.
A strong cyclone was forecasted for today!
We arrived at our destination at 6pm. Wellington's streets were thronging with commuter traffic.
Our hotel for the night was rather plush as we were now used too.
Dinner was at 7pm we were the last to turn up & as usual was of a high standard.
Early to bed.
Friday 14/4/2017
Breakfast was good but no porridge available!
We joined the rest of the group, boarded the bus & was treated to a tour around the city.
The sea in the harbour was very choppy, the day started to brighten up.
Mt.Victoria next a prominent hill overlooking the city, we snaked our way up to the top from where we enjoyed all round views of Wellington's hinterland.
We decided as a couple to make our own way back to the hotel collecting a few geocaches on the way. There was a strong wind blowing, but at least the sun was trying to break through.
The path down was rather slippery so we both took extra care, as an extra precaution Ian broke off a branch & used it as a walking stick.
Eventually after a snaky walk down we arrived at the seaside road, there were plenty of people out & about enjoying the now dry weather.
Our wanderings saw us at Wellington's main museum, a massive building with three floors of exhibitions, there were areas where the public could participate, one interesting exhibit was one depicting earthquakes giving examples of ground tremors.
We left the museum to continue exploring the harbour & seafront, there were many sculptures which Wellington is known for.
Using the GPS we made our way back to the hotel which is on two levels, to access the upper level there was a lift from the street.
Saturday 15/4/2017
We contacted Andrew first thing & had a long chin wag, it was good to hear everything was holding equal strain.
Today we had the morning to ourselves, the plan for the afternoon was to visit a local winery for a tasting.
We decided to revisit the seafront for a stroll. The water today was calm. Alongside the docks were huge cranes which had now become inoperable due to the earthquake last year on November 19th. Unloading containers now is either done by cranes on board the ships or at other New Zealand ports.
We were told that somewhere along the sea front was a market, after a considerable search we found it, most of stalls were craft orientated, we spent about an hour here browsing.
The wind was still strong as we left the market but the sun was warm, we found a sheltered seat to sit a while near a war memorial.
It was time to return to the hotel, on the way we bought a packet of biscuits which we thought would help soak up the wine this afternoon.
On time we all boarded the bus for the hour & a half ride to Martinborough for the wine tasting.
Our route zig zagged its way over a mountain range.
The sun was warm as we made our way to the vineyard.
We were duly welcomed by the owner & lead into an outside conservatory, here we were given a few samples of really rough wine, most of our group were not impressed, some leaving half full glasses behind.
We returned to the hotel & arrived 5pm.
Sunday 16/4/2017
An early start today as we were to catch the ferry to the South Island.
The journey across Cook Straits was to take us 3hrs, fortunately the day was bright & calm.
Picton was our docking port, the cruise through the approaching waterways was serine, either side mountains reached for the sky & there were no signs of inhabitation.
We had to join our bus on the car deck, here was a fleet of about 30 old Minis, they were touring New Zealand to help fund a charity.
Our next port of call was to be Hanmer Springs, the journey took longer than it ought due to earthquake damage.
Our first stop was Lake Rotoiti, there was a pier here, swimming beneath it were huge eels being fed by visitors. The lake was being enjoyed by many folk involved with all manner of water sports.
Our journey continued to the gold mining village of Murchison.
We enjoyed exploring the local museum with its comprehensive exhibits of life in the area, there were a good many explanations regarding gold mining. The lady proprietor told us of a good size gold nugget her son in law had found in a nearby river.
We would have loved to stay here a little longer but the holiday schedule called!
We arrived at our hotel at 6:30pm & had an early night after a long wait for dinner!
Monday 17/4/2017
Today we had to ourselves, so we planned to visit a few geocaches.
Hanmar Springs is a small town with the attraction of thermal springs.
As it was Easter Monday there were a lot of visitors about. We made our way to the now redundant hospital.
The geocache here involved collecting information from within the hospital grounds.
Brightly coloured maple trees adorned the ground around the hospital along with a good few mature trees including horse chestnut. Conkers lay strewn along the paths, we thought it strange that the local children hadn’t taken advantage of the bumper crop.
With the geocache safely bagged we set off north on the trail of another, which ended up hidden in a woodland area.
There were many woodland tracks, our chosen one lead us onto a big grassy area where locals were enjoying the sun. We settled down at a picnic table beside a pond to enjoy the sun also, there were some unfamiliar ducks here.
As we rested, a few of our group passed by having climbed Conical Hill which overlooks Hanman Springs, it was our intention to climb the hill also, before we did so however we had a couple more geocaches to visit.
There were many trails including cycle tracks, we made a concerted effort to avoid these.
It was time for our assent of Conical Hill, as we climbed we noticed strewn on the forest floor masses of Fly Agaric mushrooms.
Eventually we reached the summit & were rewarded with all round vistas of the local area.
We ate some fruit before making our way back down. The day was slowly clouding in & a cold strong breeze blew resulting us having to wrap up a bit.
We arrived back at the hotel where the temperature was more favourable, by now the top of Conical Hill was shrouded in mist.
Tuesday 18/4/2017
Another early start today, left the hotel at 6:30am for the drive to Springfield to catch the Tranz Alpine train which would take us through wild country boarded on each side by high mountains.
We arrived at the station at about 9:00am. One of our group had prearranged to meet up with a long lost friend who she hadn’t seen for 30 years.
We all boarded the train & steamed off. We enjoyed many dramatic views including glacial rivers & snow-capped mountains. There was an open carriage at the back of the train, which ended up full to the brim with eager photo snappers.
After an hour & a half our ride was over, the bus was waiting ready to take us on to Hokitaka where we enjoyed some time. There were a good few Jade workshops in the town, we managed to blag an offcut of the Green Stone.
We ventured down to the beach which was festooned with drift wood which had floated in from the Tasman sea.
As ever, time was short. Ian managed to visit a local gold shop where he was treated with permission to handle a gold nugget weighing a half pound with a value over a £100,000
We eventually arrived at our hotel in Franz Josef.
It had been planned that four of us would take a helicopter ride to land on the Fox Glacier but unfortunately weather conditions were not favourable, much to Caroline’s relief!
We joined the rest of the group for a walk to view the Franz Joseph Glacier from afar. Over the years the glacier had receded a good many miles due to global warming.
Back at the hotel we were informed that, weather permitting our helicopter ride was scheduled for early tomorrow, much to Caroline’s glee!
Wednesday 19/4/2017
A really early start today, we were up & ready to go before our supposed wake up call, which never arrived!
After breakfast we made our way to the flight office to link up with the Helicopter which was to take us to the Fox Glacier where we were planned to land.
There were two other lambs to the slaughter Tony & Christine, Caroline was somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing!
The morning was bright & sunny a stark difference from last evening.
We had to wear wrist-bands & we all had to be weighed in-order for equal weight distribution.
The flight company also organise skydiving events but we all decided to give that a miss.
We were given a safety talk before making our way to the helicopter.
At the helipad we watched as the helicopter landed, the sound of its engine so close was a little disconcerting but exciting.
The pilot ran through a safety check before lift off.
In a rush of adrenalin the helicopter banked & we were on our way, it was very exciting to be flying in such a small aircraft.
As we made our way up the very deep gorge towards the glacier the pilot pointed out helicopter a good way ahead of us, through our headphones he asked us whether we thought the helicopter ahead was higher or lower than we were, we all said lower but in actual fact due to an optical illusion it was a hundred meters higher.
We were having such an exhilarating experience as we flew over Franz Josef glacier, we could see massive cracks in the snow below, this was the result of the glacier slowly moving towards the coast.
We eventually touched down on the neighbouring Fox Glacier, its surface was frozen solid, so no chance of any snowball fights.
The views were crystal clear & we enjoyed sightings of Mt.Cook (New Zealand’s highest) & Mt.Tasman. We spent about a half hour enjoying this rare treat.
All too soon it was time to return to the helicopter. We all changed seats for the return trip, Ian was lucky enough to bag the seat alongside the pilot, there was a glass floor which was to add an extra thrill as we lifted off.
After a few more fly passes & more photos we were on our way.
Hugging the side of a very deep valley was a walkers bothy or bunkhouse, our pilot related the story that once he had to deliver a pizza there in his helicopter, to some hungry hikers.
Our landing spot was a few miles from where we took off, the plan was for our bus to pick us up here.
Unbeknown to us the pilot had snapped a photo of us on the glacier & had sent it back to the office, on landing we were offered a copy for a price!
The bus duly arrived & we were on our way for today's destination Queenstown.
A Jet Boat Safari up the river Haast had been planned as an extra excursion, we opted out of this one.
The plan was to pick up the sailors further up river. We had some time to fill.
We were taken to a pebble beach which was festooned with massive amounts of drift wood.
We all enjoyed foraging through the pebbles for treasure, Ian was lucky enough to find a green stone pebble (Jade).
All too soon it was time to pick up the rest of the group.
Our journey continued through some spectacular scenery, furnished with crystal clear lakes - it was like our own Lake District on steroids!
As we neared Queenstown we visited a roadside fruitier which was very well stocked, we bought a few bits & pieces.
We arrived at Queenstown at 5pm & after having a tour of the town after which we were taken to our hotel.
Dinner was a buffet which by now we prefer, as we could choose what & how much we wanted.
Thursday 20/4/2017
A day to ourselves today.
Across Lake Wakatipa which we could see from our hotel looked an interesting place to visit, how to get there was the next question.
After a leisurely breakfast we made our way to a bus stop where we were told to ride to Frankton which is at the head of the lake & from there we could catch another bus to Kelvin Heights, our planned destination.
After a fairly short bus ride we arrived at Frankton, the next bus to Kelvin Heights was 11:35am which was too late for us so we started walking linking up with The Queenstown Trail.
The trail followed the coastline of Lake Wakatipa, there were plenty of walkers, joggers & cyclists also using the trail. We enjoyed the walk passing some very expensive properties, we were able to visit a few caches on the way.
We arrived at Kelvin Heights & set off for a walk around a headland which boarded a golf course. During the walk we passed a few sculptures & visited a few more caches.
Earlier we had noticed a water taxi ferrying people to Queenstown which by now was across the water. We thought it a good idea to use the taxi in order to avoid the long walk back to Frankton.
As we approached the quay we asked a young woman if there was any chance of catching a water taxi back to Queenstown, she said this was possible & very kindly telephoned the taxi firm to pick us up.
We waited patiently on a nearby pier for our taxi, after a fairly long wait our lift arrived & delivered us to Queenstown.
Our evening meal this evening was planned to take place high on a nearby hill which overlooked Queenstown, to access the restaurant which was on top we had to ride in a cable car or gondola.
The eating house was huge & could accommodate many customers.
We enjoyed a buffet meal of tender venison. If one could ignore the hustle & bustle the experience was good.
We took the cable car down where our bus was waiting, the night sky was clear & we were able to enjoy the stars including the Southern Cross not seen by us before.
Friday 21/4/2017
A leisurely breakfast at a reasonable time - the room seemed full of Asians this morning.
Today we had to ourselves.
With the our hand held Global Positioning System in hand we set off to visit a few geocaches.
We made our way to the town & harbour.
Queenstown is surrounded by high mountains, today a band of cloud hung like a curtain leaving the tops of the mountains showing. The view over the lake was magnificent.
A brightly coloured steamer was tied up in the harbour, tourist hustled to get aboard for their cruise across the lake.
We set of SW along the lake side, there were three huge Wellingtonia trees growing on the verges, going by the girth of their trunks, they must have an age of over a hundred years.
We continued along the lake side to a wooded area & set about finding a geocache here near a huge fence & bollards, Caroline spotted a can of beer which seemed heavier than it should have been, assuming this to be the cache we retired to the nearby beach to take a closer look, eventually we gained access to the log book, the container had been cleverly modified.
After enjoying a half hour or so on the pebble beach we started back towards the town.
The town centre was by now thronging with tourists, the lake was also busy with all sorts of water spots in progress, jet skis, paddle boarding, paragliding & underwater jet skis, these craft were decorated with images of sharks & spent most of the time under water only to break the surface with a leap.
Entertainers & stalls were near the harbour walls earning a few shillings.
Just south of the town was a well trodden park on a peninsular, as we wandered through the park we noticed a frisbee golf course, a bit like real golf but using frisbees & nets.
We enjoyed the park collecting a half dozen or so geocaches.
Saturday 22/4/2017
Moving on today.
Our first stop was  the suspension bridge known to be the site of the highest bungee jump in New Zealand & at one time the world.
We watched as customers leapt from safety towards the river below.
A young lad who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old had a go. He stood for quite some time being instructed on how to tackle the challenge, eventually he flung good sense to the wind & leapt, by now a large group of people were watching & gave a huge cheer. Below was a boat to take him to safety. We wanted to have a go for ourselves but unfortunately time was tight & we had to return to the bus.
Arrowtown was our next port of call - an old gold mining town, now a honeypot for tourists.
As luck would have it today there was an annual fair taking place & the town was busier than ever, the streets were lined with stalls.
One of the shops in the Main Street was selling all mater of gold trinkets including gold nuggets, some over a half pound in weight! Ian was allowed to handle one of the bigger nuggets & if fitter could have run off with it.
We continued to wander around the stalls sampling their wares.
We just managed to get back to the coach in time to leave, unfortunately however two of our group didn’t turn up - don’t panic! After launching a search party they returned after a half hour or so.
Today seemed to be jinxed, one of the party had left their passport in the hotel safe so we had to return to retrieve it.
We were soon on our way once again towards Lake Te Anau, the scenery on the way was spectacular.
 Among the animals being farmed were deer, they seem to be more popular than sheep at the moment.
We followed the bank of lake Te Anau for many miles eventually arriving at a lakeside town where we were to spend the night.
For our meal tonight we enjoyed Venison casserole.
It was a lovely calm night so we decided to take a stroll, we met a few of our group sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, the stars were bright & we were able to see the southern cross. After explaining the pastime of geocaching to them they showed an interest in finding one, so off we trekked, the GPS took us to a bus stop where we found the very small cache attached to the shelter, our guests seemed to enjoy the hunt.
Sunday 23/4/2017
Today we were to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Milford Sound. The journey was to take us the best part of three hours.
Along the way the scenery became more & more dramatic, mountains reached for the sky on both sides of the road.
We were about an hour away from Milford Sound when the rain started.
To stretch our legs we stopped to take a look at a waterfall access was over a boardwalk. The river was tumbling over slate, over millennia huge rock basins had formed. The walk was circular & the coach picked us up at the other end.
Our journey continued a short distance to Homer tunnel which is a half mile long, at the tunnel entrance we pulled into a small parking space alongside the road, here we were amazed to see four or five Kea birds (ground living parrots) patrolling the parking area. They have a reputation for stealing food, one tried to board the bus.
By the time we reached Milford Sound the mountains were higher & the rain was still falling!
Moored in the dock was a cruise ship which would take us for a trip through the dramatic mountain lined sound towards the sea.
We boarded the cruiser at 10am. The trip was to take a couple of hours or so, a picnic lunch was provided.
We set sail & slowly started cruising along the south side of the Sound into an inlet, the cliffs here were very high & vegetation including trees clung to bare rock.
In the shelter of the bay was a school of dolphins, the boat slowed to give us all a rare treat to watch their antics.
Some facts - Milford Sound is in the Fiordland National Park which just happens to be the biggest National Park in the world. Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea at Dale Point the mouth of the fiord & is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) or more on either side. Among the peaks are The Elephant at 1,517 metres (4,977 ft), said to resemble an elephant's head, & The Lion, 1,302 metres (4,272 ft), in the shape of a crouching lion.
Milford Sound sports two permanent waterfalls, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. After heavy rain temporary waterfalls can be seen running down the steep sided rock faces that line the fiord. They are fed by rain water drenched moss and will last a few days at most once the rain stops.
The extent of our trip was to emerge into the Tasman sea which thankfully was calm.
The route back was to hug the north side of the Sound.
Milford Sound geography is as a result of glaziers carving their way to the sea over many ice ages.
At the mouth of the Sound (Dale Point) there is an obvious geological fault line, this is where two plates meet, the Indo Australian plate which plunges beneath the Pacific plate, this meeting point is known as the Alpine Fault. The result of the two plates meeting has caused the Southern Alps which is the backbone of New Zealand’s South Island.
All too soon our trip came to an end & we found ourselves once again at the dock.
It was now time to start the long bus ride back to Te Anau.
Back at base the majority of the group were to take part in a wine tasting, we on the other hand decided to track down a few geocaches. Our walk took us along the lake shore.
In a nearby park we saw a very unusual sight, a man was exercising a pot bellied pig, he had brought the animal here in the back of his car.
Our wanderings took us to a few hot water springs before it was time to make it back to the hotel.
Monday 24/4/2017
Dunedin today, we left the hotel in misty conditions. As the journey progressed the weather deteriorated somewhat.
The countryside we travelled through was mainly farmland with sheep, cows & deer grazing.
We stopped alongside the coast at one point & had a chance to spot dotterels, feeding on mud flats.
We continued along the coast passing many beaches, breakers were crashing onto the shore, apparently these beaches are famous for surfing.
We arrived at Dunedin at 2pm & were dropped off in the centre of the city so we could have a wander round. There was a cathedral standing proud in the centre which looked very old on the outside but quite modern inside.
A party had been arranged for the last evening of our tour. The men of the group had been asked to obtain black tea shirts, which we were able to do here in Dunedin.
Eventually we met up with the coach once again & were taken to our hotel.
Our evening meal was interrupted by the fire alarm going off, we were all told to assemble outside, unfortunately it was raining. In a short time three fire engines tuned up & firemen stormed the building. After a lengthy search it was deemed the alarm was a false one. We all re-entered the hotel to finish our meal, we were offered a free drink each for the inconvenience.
Tuesday 25/4/2017
Today it was planned for a motor boat cruise to Otago Peninsula.
We boarded the boat near Dunedin docks, it was a cold windy day.
The Harbour bed is a the remains of a dormant volcano & the water depth at low tide is very shallow, the ship's captain has to know the route to take.
The main reason for our trip was to hopefully spot a colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses
The cruise was to take us 90 minutes or so. In about 20 minutes we passed Port Chalmers, this is used to accommodate container ships.
Port Chalmers was where Sir Walter Scott set sail for Antarctica, he never returned!
There is a memorial to the great man on a hill overlooking the port.
Our boat stopped to pick up a few more customers at Wellers Rock. We were all supplied with wind cheater coats to combat the cold conditions.
In a short while we arrived at the west end of Taiaroa Head to catch site of the Albatross colony, we saw only a couple of nests with one huge chick in each. Very occasionally the parent bird would visit with food. Taiaroa Head is the only mainland colony of Albatrosses in the Pacific Ocean.
The boat cut its engine for a while in order we would have sightings of an adult Albatross flying overhead. The chicks take 8 months to fledge, this is the longest time of any bird.
Eventually we started back stopping off to see a colony of New Zealand fur seals lazing on the rocks. Nearby was a nesting colony cormorants.
We were treated to an Albatross skimming the sea. Apparently Albatrosses have difficulty flying in calm weather. Being such a big bird they need a fairly strong wind to keep them moving, they are able to process saltwater into fresh water to drink. Albatrosses stay at sea most of their lives only coming ashore to breed.
Time now to return Wellers Rock to drop a few people off, we stayed on board for the boat ride back. Near Wellers Rock we caught sight of a Little Penguin reputedly the smallest Penguin in the world.
On the trip back the tide was out & large areas of seabed could be seen.
Wednesday 26/4/2017
Day to ourselves today, our plan was to hop on a bus to Port Chalmers.
The rest of the group were off for the day so we cadged a lift to the local bus stop.
We had some problems finding the correct stop but after asking a few local people we eventually found it.
There were no tourists on the bus only us, this is the way we like it.
It wasn’t long before we were alighting at the small town of Port Chalmers.
High on a hill overlooking the town we spotted a church so we climbed our way to it, unfortunately it was locked, apparently the church is only open when one of the many cruise ships visit.
Due to the shallowness of Dunedin Harbour at low tide, cruise ships are unable to gain access to the city.
There was a graveyard near the church & we spent some time wandering around. Most of the older graves were only 100 years old, this is when the first settlers arrived. The majority of graves were occupied by Scottish people.
Next we continued the climb to a memorial erected to Sir Walter Scott who sailed from Port Chalmers for Antarctica.
From our vantage point here we could see the Port & watched containers being arranged in order by automated lifting vehicles.
The descent back to the town was hard on the old knees but we soon made it & found a cafe for a cup of tea.
Suitably refreshed we set off to explore the harbour & coastline.
There were huge piles of wood waiting to be exported & containers were piled high nearby.
Our walk continued along the sea shore passing an old Phosphate factory.
We rested a while out of the sun to enjoy the quiet.
Eventually it was time to make it back to town, where we only had a short wait for the bus.
At Dunedin the bus stop was a good way from the hotel, the walk back took us past the many buildings belonging to Dunedin University.
Thursday 27/4/2017
We were to leave Dunedin today.
A short coach ride saw us at the bottom of the reputed steepest street in the world!
Everyone was dropped off for a climb up, eventually most of the group managed to get to the top with much puffing & panting. Walking down however was more uncomfortable & testing for the old knees.
Back to the coach for another short drive to Signal Hill, a lookout spot overlooking the city.
Eventually we were on our way 50km north to Morerak which is on the coast, very near to the centre of the town is a sandy beach on which was an amazing sight - huge spherical boulders littered the area, they were half submerged in the sand. There were a good few tourists (mainly Japanese) here enjoying this very odd spectacle.
Near the beach there was a cafe & Ian mistakenly bought a couple of cups of tea which we had to transfer to take away cups, as the coach was ready about to leave.
Our route next hugged the east coast where we enjoyed views of an unsettled sea. There was the possibility of spotting Dolphins today.
We eventually arrived at the city of Oamaru for lunch & were allotted an hour to wander around.
During our wander we met a couple from our group who told us that Diana, one of our fellow travellers was feeling quite poorly & that Barbara our tour guide had taken her off to the local hospital for treatment, this meant we had another hour to ourselves.
We visited the local Information Centre where we were able to download a few geocaches sited in the area, armed with the information we struck off to find some.
The first one we looked for was sited on the end of the local pier.
The next saw us in the local park. On checking the time we were surprised to realise we had only a short time to make it back to the coach, after a sprint we just made it.
With Diana feeling a little better we set off once again this time West inland, stopping off at a couple of reservoirs, the largest in the country.
Our trip continued, the scenery was slowly getting more mountainous.
Our next port of call was Lake Ohau ski lodge where we were to spend our last night together as a group. We arrived & were cordially welcomed by the proprietors & shown to our rooms.
The ski lodge is lakeside & mountains were all around, we would have loved more time here but we had to make do with a glimpse.
Before our evening meal we had a bit of fun time, the boys entertained the girls with a demonstration of the Hakka & the girls did a song & dance, all good clean fun.
After our meal with everyone relaxing in the lounge Ian introduced Barbara & Kerry (tour guide & driver) to the game of conkers, we were surprised the lack of knowledge on even how to play the game, conkers are unknown in New Zealand. A  lot of fun was had by all watching the game between Barbara & Kerry.
 port of call was Lake Ohau ski lodge where we were to spend our last night together as a group. We arrived & were cordially welcomed by the proprietors & shown to our rooms.
The ski lodge is lakeside & mountains were all around, we would have loved more time here but we had to make do with a glimpse.
Before our evening meal we had a bit of fun time, the boys entertained the girls with a demonstration of the Hakka & the girls did a song & dance, all good clean fun.
After our meal with everyone relaxing in the lounge Ian introduced Barbara & Kerry (tour guide & driver) to the game of conkers, we were surprised the lack of knowledge on even how to play the game, conkers are unknown in New Zealand. A  lot of fun was had by all watching the game between Barbara & Kerry.
Friday 28/4/2017
The city of Christchurch was today's target, so an early start.
The original travel itinerary included Christchurch as a place to stay, however not so long ago there had been a strong earthquake here, hence our stay by the lake last night.
We started our drive in damp misty conditions which soon cleared as we made progress.
We soon left the mountains behind for the flatlands.
Farmland was being irrigated with, in some cases 1km long watering frames.
We had a few stops at viewpoints along the way. We passed a good many dams & hydroelectric generating sites.
We stopped close to one hydroelectric power station, the outflow of which was very fierce.
Our journey continued passing Lake Aviemore which was particularly rough, the strong winds whipping up huge waves.
The lunch stop was in Timaru, we had our first New Zealand pie here, however we would rather have had a good old Cornish pasty!
Ray & Anne who we had gotten friendly with helped us look for a geocache here, unfortunately we failed to find it.
The scenery in the afternoon was less spectacular, so to brighten things up a little Babs our tour guide entertained us with games - lovely!!
Eventually we arrived at Christchurch & had a tour of the city which was still showing signs of devastation as a result of the earthquake, there was still a huge amount of work to be done.
The cathedral was badly damaged, the whole site was cordoned off for safety purposes.
We dropped a few of our party off at hotels as they were staying on the South Island to link up with relatives etc.
We continued on to the airport for our planned flight to Auckland.
Our flight had been delayed.
Eventually we boarded the plane & were shown to our seats, the air crew were very efficient & supplied us with cheese & biscuits.
The flight was a short one, & after picking up our luggage we caught a shuttle bus to our hotel in Mount Wellington.
Saturday 29/4/2017
On our own now!
We awoke & made an early cup of tea to start the day.
We made contact with Andrew & Andrea to catch up with news at home, all OK.
Our plan for the next two weeks was to hire a car & tour the Coromandel peninsular which is only an hour or so drive from Auckland.
First task of the day was to find somewhere to hire a car, by chance there was a an advertising flyer from a car hiring firm on the reception desk, the receptionist was kind enough to contact them & arrange a pick up.
In time a people carrier turned up & a rather surly chap ferried us to the car hire firm which was a half hours drive away.
At the office we were greeted by a very switched on Indian.
We filled up all the relevant forms & checked the car which it has to be said had seen better days! Ian took photos of the car to save any arguments on return.
It had been raining & the windscreen was covered in raindrops, Ian was told to check the windscreen for stone chips. Included in the relevant forms which we were asked to fill in it specifically highlighted a clause referring to windscreen chips, a replacement screen would cost $500:00.
The car was an automatic, so to familiar ourselves with driving it we toured the industrial estate a few times which was a good idea as it turned out.
Our tour begins.
A good friend of ours John Dingle who is a local farmer at home has a son (Tom)  living near Auckland so we thought we would give him a visit.
All the roads surrounding Auckland seemed to be under repair which makes driving in an unfamiliar country uncomfortable.
In time we arrived at Toms, there was a locked access gate which needed a combination number. Without a phone we couldn't contact the house for the number however nearby was a dwelling so we enquired whether they could help, indeed they could.
Armed with the combination number we drove the farm track & arrived at Tom’s house. As it was Saturday the whole family were home. We were able to have a fine old natter, Tom is a goalkeeper for a local football team & had to leave after a short time.
We continued our journey to Miranda on the east coast, unfortunately there was no accommodation to be had here so we continued on to Thames which once was a gold mining town. We were able to find a rather friendly motel where we had planned to stay for a couple of nights.
There was a supermarket near by so we were able to stock up.
Sunday 30/4/2017
After a comfortable nights sleep we were out of bed & ready to go at 7am.
Our plan was to explore the immediate area & visit a few geocaches.
Wi Fi at the motel was only available after 8:30am, at 9:15am we abandoned any chance of accessing the internet when a knock came at the door, the lady of the house still dressed in her night gown informed us that the WI Fi had been turned on. So we were able to download plenty of caches in the area.
We were soon on our way driving off in a NW direction, stopping off at intervals to visit a cache or two.
We stopped off at a refurbished stamping mill, which was once used to crush gold bearing rocks.
The day was unsettled & clouds hung to the tops of the mountains. We had to sit out a rather heavy shower.
We moved the car a little further N to a small nature reserve, a wooden walk-way wended its way through a mangrove swamp. We donned our waterproofs & set off for a stroll. Along the way there was a bird hide, we sat a while here but we saw very few birds.
We found a good path which made its way out onto a small peninsular, there were a couple of brightly painted wooden art structures here, in the ground at the base of one of these structures was a very cleverly hidden cache, it was a small container the top of which had gravel stuck to it & when the cache was in situ melted in with the surroundings perfectly.
On our way back to the car we spotted a mineral museum & thought we would take a look.
There was a small shop at the entrance selling a large selection of mineral specimens, we enjoyed a lengthy perusal here.
Adjoining the shop was another building housing even more mineral samples, the whole setup was being run by volunteers, a $5 entrance fee saw us being shown around the huge mineral collection by a very knowledgeable curator. The collection had been donated by a keen local collector. Ian bought a small piece of New Zealand greenstone (Jade).
The afternoon brightened up so we moved N & spent some time in the warm sun on a beach where we saw quite a few birds including, a Blue Heron, three Kingfishers & many Oystercatchers.
We had planned to dine out in the evening but had to make do with a takeaway piza which was quite good.
Monday 1/5/2017
We were moving on today driving N up the Coromandel peninsular. We were advised by the motel owner to drive to the east coast & make our way N from there as there had been rock slides on the mountain road, caused by recent floods.
The road was very bendy & without local knowledge took our time.
Eventually we arrived at the settlement of Tairua & decided to have a stroll to admire the views. A large flock of Canada Geese had just landed in the harbour & according to one of the locals, these birds do not migrate.
We climbed high to a vantage point overlooking the bay where we enjoyed panoramic views & were able to visit a couple of geocaches.
Back to the car & drove on to the next settlement of Tairua Har where we were able to stroll to the end of a small peninsular where we saw Kingfishers & Stilts.
Whitiangi was to be our next port of call where we had planned to spend the night.
We were lucky enough to secure rather nice accommodation, a self contained chalet with a veranda, we decided to stay four nights.
After settling in we set off to explore the local area.
We walked to the end of Buffalo Beach & needless to say managed to visit a couple of caches on the way.
We returned to the chalet & drove to a supermarket on the edge of the town for a few supplies, we stopped off on the way back for fish & chips.
It was to be a cold night!
Tuesday 2/5/2017
We awoke to a bright & sunny morning.
A ferry runs from Whitianga to Flaxmill across a wide inlet. We decided on the spot to visit Flaxmill so we purchased a return ticket & set off.
We had a few geocaches to look for on the way.
There is a mountain trail which ends up at Flaxmill Bay so we thought we’d give it a go.
As we were about to set off, we checked out the first geocache of the day.
A steep narrow uneven trail saw us at the top where we had views of the Witianga marina below.
We had to backtrack a little to join an adjoining path to Flaxmill Bay. The route took us through another rain forest, along the way we spotted the silver fern growing, which is the emblem of New Zealand.
The only people we saw on our trek was a lone young woman & a couple involved in walking a long distance footpath from Wellington to Coromandel, a distance of about one hundred miles, we were to meet the couple later on.
After a testing walk through the forest we eventually intersected a road which we followed for a short distance & were able to cross off a few geocaches.
The road followed the shoreline, we spotted a couple enjoying a swim.
Our packed lunch was had on a bench near a small sandy beach, whilst here along came the couple we had met previously, they stopped & we enjoyed a long chat with them. They were eager to snap a photo of us for their internet blog. We swapped travel stories & they seemed very interested in our adventures. Their names were Anthony Behrens & Fiona Burleigh.
The afternoon started with a few more geocaches & another walk / climb through Shakespeare Reserve towards Cooks Beach, we eventually reached Shakespeare Cliff Lookout, where there a few visitors enjoying the all round views northward over Mercury Bay.
Mercury Bay was to be our turn around point. Walking the road to the ferry terminal was arduous for me, the hard surface of roads is rather uncomfortable. Eventually however we arrived at the terminal & celebrated with an ice cream each.
We caught the ferry back across a very strong outgoing tide.
Back to our cabin for a refreshing beer on the veranda.
Wednesday 3/5/2017
Another bright & sunny day, however the night had been quite cold.
Our plan was to drive along the east coast north, stopping off at intervals to explore the many coves.
Our first stop was the small hamlet of Kuaotuna, we took the chance to stretch our legs here.
We sat in the warm sun near the sea shore watching the sea gently lapping the shore.
Back to the car to continue our tour hugging the east coast to Matarangi. We thought we could have had a swim here but the sea was a little lively!
Coromandel was to be the extent of today's tour, unfortunately the petrol gauge was showing nearly empty. We asked a couple of men in a field nearby if there was a filling station close by, the answer was a negative one, so we turn tailed & set off back along the coast.
We had almost made it back when we decided to stop at a small sandy bay, again a swim was not recommended due to the rough sea.
Caroline spotted a small & what seemed to be a model boat some way out to sea. There was a chap on the beach, he seemed to have had a line connected to the small craft.
We were intrigued  to see how the scene would pan out.
In time the mast & sail on the small boat collapsed, the man on the shore started to reel in. The line attached to the vessel had fish hooks dangling from it, we were amazed to witness, all in all about five huge snapper fish hanging from the hooks.
We made our way over to the fisherman to get involved in the excitement. We learnt that the mast on the boat was anchored with barely sugar which in time was eroded by the sea water, leaving the mast to drop, all very clever. There were a few more fishermen on the beach using the same method of fishing.
We returned to the car for the drive back to Whitianga, filling with petrol on the way.
Thursday 4/5/2017
Today our plan was to visit the town of Coromandel, some 50 Kms north.
With a full tank of fuel we set off following a very windy route, on each road corner was a number which was a guide as how fast the corner should be taken (good idea)
We took a turning west at Te Rerenga towards the coast passing through what can only be described as a flood plain. The road came to an end at Whangapoua Harbour, not a lot happening here, the wind was quite strong.
We returned to the main road & hadn’t gone far when we turned off again towards the coast, the termination of this road was a beautiful long sandy beach (New Chums Beach), the sea was calm so we decided to take the plunge. We changed into our swimming costumes at the car.
Caroline was the first in to test the waters, Ian was close behind her. The water felt very cold at the start but after getting accustomed to it was very refreshing. We stayed in the water for a good 20 minutes. There were only four people on the beach which included us.
Back to the car to resume our journey to Coromandel. We arrived at the very picturesque town at 11:00 am. The town seem to have a pleasant community with a varied selection of shops.
To check whether there were any geocaches sited in the town we tracked down the local library, the librarian was very helpful but couldn’t help with the internet. We chatted a while with him & learnt he once lived in our home town of Plymouth, he had worked for six months in the Naval Dockyard.
We set off for the bank to change some money, whilst at the bank Ian took advantage of the bank's internet connection to download a few geocache details.
It was too early for lunch so we decided to hunt down a couple of caches. One of the caches was sited on top of a hill overlooking Coromandel & the surrounding hinterland.
Time for lunch so we made it back to the town but unfortunately the cafe we were making for had now run out of lamb curry, thank you Caroline.
After another wander around the town we started the drive back.
Caroline noticed another chip had appeared on the windscreen as if by magic, not long after that another chip appeared, something very fishy seemed to be going on! We had collected three chips without anything hitting the windscreen - um!
We had both been silently concerned about the windscreen problem so we Googled scams regarding windscreen chips on rented cars. We learned that other customers of the same car rental firm we had used (Quality Car Rentals (Thomas) Freephone 0800 680123 - www, had had problems.
What should we do?
We came up with the idea to stop the credit card used to hire the car in order to minimise any chance of the rental firm deducting $500:00 from the account for a replacement windscreen.
We made it back to our cabin.
The lady at the campsite allowed us to use the office phone & in quick time the credit card had been stopped.
We could have done without the anguish this caused but that's life!
Friday 5/5/2017
Time to move on today.
We set off south negotiating high bendy roads once again.
We eventually reached the coast road & as by chance spotted a sign to “Hotwater Beach”, we had initially planned to visit this quirk of nature but didn’t think we would get near to it.
Hot thermal springs bubble up on the beach & at low tide it's possible to dig pools in the sand & enjoy the heated sea water.
We made our way to the surfer's car park which was free as the walk to the springs was much lengthier than parking at the official car park.
Armed with our swimmers we started the trek along the beach, stopping off on the way to change.
There were a good few visitors at the springs. The tide was on its way in.
A multitude of sand pits had been dug out by previous visitors, we were able to use an unpopulated one. The sea water trapped in the hollows was comfortably warm, at times however the water was too hot to bear. After warming up in the pools we made our way to the sea to cool off.
By the time we were ready to leave most of the pools were flooded by the incoming tide.
A pleasant walk back along the beach saw us eventually at the car.
Our next port of call was the village of Tairya where we treated ourselves to a coffee & an apple slice.
We continued our drive over more high winding roads until we arrived at Whangamata.
We checked the Lonely Planet guide book for somewhere to stay but there seemed none to be had!
We stopped a gent who was digging into a hot meat pie to ask the way to some nearby accommodation. He suggested we try Beverly Road, we drove up & down the road eagerly looking for any signs of somewhere to stay. As by chance who should we meet again was the gent with the meat pie, after chatting with him a while he kindly offered us the use of a chalet/batch sited at the rear of his house.
After confirming the deal with his good lady we were shown to the self contained batch & quickly settled in.
The sun was shining so we sat a while in the garden to enjoy the warmth.
Sean Patrick (the landlord) came out to join us & harvested a few feijoa fruit, he explained how we should eat them, we weren't keen!
Sean suggested we visit the local working men's club in the evening for a drink & a cheap meal, in order to gain access we were to mention Sean’s name.
With an hour or two to spare we decided to take a stroll along the sea front, where we were able to visit a few geocaches.
Back to our accommodation for a hot shower.
It was time now to track down the working men's club, following Sean’s instructions we soon found it.
The lady on the door was an octogenarian & signed us in as temporary visitors.
We enjoyed a very nice curry & a couple of pints which went down a treat. Later Sean turned up & we spent an enjoyable evening chatting.
Saturday 6/5/2017
We were up & about at 7am. Breakfast consisted of porridge oats & boiling water in a mug, followed by bread & jam, a bit different from the five star meals we had been used too.
After a restful morning we had lunch at a local bakery.
Our plan for the afternoon was to visit a trail of eight or more geocaches sited along a relatively new cycle path to the west of the town. The sun was warm as we set off, the geocaches were to be a challenge, but we managed to find them all.
Near the end of the trail the track passed the local golf course, there were many cars in the carpark. As fate would have it, who should we spot preparing for a game of golf was Sean, talk about coincidence!
Unfortunately we had to return to the car on the same track. Along the way however we visited a very interesting second hand shop with all manner of interesting things on offer.
By the time we reached the car we had clocked up 6 kilometers.
Sean had suggested we visit a local waterfall & gave us instructions how to reach it.
We arrived at the car park to learn the trek to the falls would take 1.5 hours.
The trail passed through dense woodland & to Ian seemed to go on for ever.
There was a lookout platform near the waterfall where we had good views of the 100 foot falls.
Needless to say there was a geocache under the lookout platform, whilst searching for it a young German girl arrived who joined in the search.
Ian had dreaded the walk back to the car as he had enough already, the walk back seemed twice as far as the walk out.
Eventually we made it back to the car, Ian’s hip was giving him jip!
A gingerly drive back to the batch for a beer & shower.
Our evening meal was again had at the working men's club, we even managed a game of snooker.
Sunday 7/5/2017
We were awake early & were able to settle up with Sean our landlord, who was still in bed.
Sean had shown a keen interest in geocaching since our stay & showed and was eager to find a geocache. We agreed to take him along to find a cache we had found earlier during our stay.
We all jumped in our car & drove to the nearest access point to the cache. Off we set for the short stroll to the site. The cache was particularly tricky to find sited at the end of a corrugated fence, as expected Sean failed to find it, he was surprised & intrigued by how well the cache was hidden.
Sean snapped a few photos to use in a report he wanted to publish in the local newspaper.
After returning Sean back to his house, we said our farewells & set off for Waihi. The road was windy & traffic busier than we had encountered throughout our stay on the Coromandel peninsular, perhaps it was because we were that much closer to Auckland.
Eventually we arrived at our destination.
Waihi had been a major open cast gold mining town, we were able to view the huge 250 meter pit however activity was almost non existent.
Nearby was a reconstructed 100 year old Cornish pump house, renovation took place in 2003.
We decided to visit a nearby beach & whiled away a pleasant afternoon in warm sunshine, the beach had many attractive sea shells scattered on it.
Taking advantage of a nearby cafe we enjoyed soup & a roll.
Accommodation was almost non existent in Waihi so we drove on to Paeroa.
A famous New Zealand soft drink is made here using lemon & local spring water - L & P.
We found a one level motel for our last nights stay in New Zealand, & had our evening meal in a local Indian restaurant.
Monday 8/5/2017
We both had a restless night, concerned about returning the rented car & getting lumbered with a £500:00 bill for a chipped windscreen which definitely didn’t occur on our watch, we suspected foul play on the part of the rental firm.
To give us enough time to sort out any problems we left early for the drive to Auckland.
We battled our way through Auckland’s morning commuter traffic & after many false turns we eventually arrived near the rental garage.
To fill the time we took advantage of a nearby nature reserve & park. We sat on a park seat hatching a plan to avoid any windscreen damage costs.
Eager to put any oncoming stress behind us we set off in plenty of time for the garage.
With all guns firing we entered the office & was met by Thomas, whose first comment was did everything go OK. This was our chance to list the problems we had & stressed we were worried as to the roadworthiness of the car.
Our snag list consisted of, steering veering to one side & a clunking sound coming from the drivers side front wheel when turning on a full lock.
Thomas asked if Ian would accompany him for a test drive, as expected all problems were confirmed, because of the commotion the windscreen problem was not mentioned, Thomas even offered us a lift to the airport, we arrived just before lunchtime, our flight was planned for 9 pm.
There was a shuttle bus which would have taken us to the city but at a price of $60:00 each, we gave it a miss.
After checking in our luggage in we set off for a stroll away from the airport & as by chance we spotted a Mc.Donalds just the job, however Caroline was less enthusiastic.
We enjoyed our meal & made the most of the free soft drink offer.
Still with plenty of time to spare we took advantage by searching for one last geocache. We arrived at the site which was in a small nearby copse, the container was an old ammunition can in a hole disguised as an electric junction box.
The geocache was set up as a geocache hotel, travel bugs are left here by incoming & outgoing air passengers.
We returned to the airport to await the first leg of our 12 hour flight to Los Angeles.
As we passed through security checks I was singled out once again for an explosive check - thankfully all OK.
The second leg of our flight to Heathrow was to last 9 hours.
We touched down at 11am & were greeted by our taxi driver for the ride home, we arrived at 3pm - Knackered.


Tuesday 6/4/2016

After a panic running through the procedure securing the property, we eventually met up with the driver & car parked at the end of the lane who would ferry us to London.

A pleasant journey, the driver lived in Dousland so we enjoyed varied conversation throughout which made time swiftly pass.

We stopped just outside Yeovil at an eatery the driver often frequented. We enjoyed a home cooked meal in a comfortable clean environment.

Our planned night stop was the Premier Inn very near Heathrow, we arrived at 5pm.

After a hot deep bath we enjoyed a relaxed evening. The temperature in the room was too hot so we had to turn down the thermostat a few notches.

Wednesday/Thursday 7/4/2016

An early start saw us jump on a local bus armed with bus passes for the short ride to Heathrow Terminal 2. The bus was half full of commuters who seemed miserable & rightly so!

Checking through security was straight forward for Caroline but I was subjected to the usual scrutiny!

We had our breakfast before flying.

Our flight was a half hour late due to the plane overrunning the runway (good start).

The aircraft was a Jumbo Jet & was only half full.

We were spoiled throughout the flight by an efficient team of immaculately turned out Singapore lady flight assistants. We had two excellent meals on board before touching down in Singapore on time 5am.

The next flight to Yangon Myanmar left at 11am, to kill time we wandered around the numerous retail outlets.

Nearer to the time of take-off we made our way to the departure lounge where we saw a few more passengers with luggage tags like ours.

Our flight took off on time, however the flight path took us to Mandalay where we had to vacate the aeroplane & re-join it for the journey to Yangon.

In time we reached our destination & was greeted by our tour guide Kin Kin, we had no need to haul luggage, this was all taken care of by the staff. We were whisked away through the busy streets of Yangon to the hotel Chatrium were we were to stay for two nights. After settling in we met up with the rest of the group of fifteen at 6:30pm. Our evening meal was arranged to take place at a nearby restaurant & we enjoyed a meal alfresco.

We returned to the hotel at 8:30pm.

Whilst enjoying a beer we could hear sounds of a live band near the swimming pool area, eager to investigate we made our way out onto an upper level, in dim light or shall I say no light at all I descended two or three steps only to find out the last step was a 4’ deep ornamental pond! I climbed out of my watery grave & dripped more than usual on the edge of the pool. The consequences of this faux pas left our camera inoperable. I splashed my way through the hotel reception, on route we bumped into the hotel manager who seemed concerned about my predicament.

Back in our room I spent the next hour trying to dry out the camera without any effect.

Friday 8/4/2016

Awoke about 7:30am after a restful night.

We were spoilt for choice at the breakfast bar, such a wide selection of fare on display both European & Asian. We were waited on hand & foot.

At 8:30am we met up with the rest of our group & was ferried in the coach to the circular railway station where we jumped on an old diesel train. We mixed in with the locals enjoying the busy atmosphere. The old locomotive chugged on through Yangon until we eventually linked up with our coach once again.

We were driven to a local market where we enjoyed the sights sounds & smells of busy trade. As we progressed Kin Kin explained some of the unusual fruits & we were able to taste a few.

Being unused to roaming in a group I lagged behind a bit & before long realised I was alone!

Panic set in, every which way I turned no familiar faces, what was to be done, I had no means of contacting the group, didn’t know the name of the hotel or how to get to it & best of all no means of communicating with the population. As by chance I emerged from one of the market isles onto a main street & to my relief the coach was parked, Kin Kin (our guide) had gone off to find me, the driver telephoned her to say all was good.

It was coffee time so we made our way to a cafe & enjoyed a couple of cups of Burmese coffee with a very pleasant unique taste.

Refreshed we were driven to Bogyoke Aung San market where we spent a very enjoyable hour wandering around the many stalls.

Next on our agenda was lunch which we had at the Monsoon restaurant near the Sule Pagoda.

The afternoon started with a stroll part way around Kandawgyi Lake, the water was green with algae, on the north side of the lake was a restaurant with two enormous gold dragon heads.

Back to the coach & off through the traffic filled streets to Shwedagon Pagoda, well what an eye opener, the whole area was covered in gold leaf & gold paint. After leaving our footwear outside, we used an elevator to gain access to the second floor. On emerging from the lift we joined the many wandering pilgrims. There were young monks & nuns. Volunteers were busy keeping the area meticulously clean working as a team with brooms. Our guide had arranged for us to take part in a lighted candle ceremony, we all had a lighted candle with which we lit a line of some thirty oil lamps. We wandered around a little more enjoying the ambience of the complex.

Eventually we left at 6:45pm & were taken back to our hotel.

Dinner was had in house, I had fish & chips Caroline had chicken satay washed down with a beer. Loud music was coming from outside, we tried to join in but the venue was for ticket holders only.

Saturday 9/4/2016

Today was time to move on so an early start. We received a wakeup call at 5:30am left our luggage outside our room & went down to breakfast, after which we were able to use the hotel computer to log a few geocaches & send a message home to Andrew.

We eventually made our way to the coach. As we emerged from the hotel we were hit in the face with a hot blast from the morning sun.

The plan for today was to hop on an internal flight to Began, famous for thousands of Temples Pagodas & Stupa’s

On touchdown we were greeted by another coach which ferried us to a number of temples built in the tenth & eleventh centuries.

First site of interest was to be Bagan Pagoda. Most of the many temples in this area had suffered damage mainly to their tops by an earthquake in 1975, so most were in need of repair.

Originally the temples were constructed with large terracotta bricks held together by water buffalo skin, modern ones use cement; the surrounding area is mainly sandstone so building bricks had to be ferried down the Ayeyarwady river.

The next temple we visited was quite large, with a number of huge Buddha’s all made of gold painted teak, there were also smaller Buddha’s sat in small alcoves. In one passageway bats were clinging to the ceiling.

Next a drive to a lacquer workshop before lunch.

We arrived & were shown around; there were about twenty staff all busy with individual tasks producing many lacquered objects. The whole process is very long & time consuming. Lacquer is applied to either wood or bamboo, once the lacquer has dried any cracks have to be sealed & excess lacquer scraped off, there can be up to twenty layers of lacquer applied at different stages. Ladies were engraving intricate patterns which in time would be coloured in. The final product is stored for months before it is ready for the shops.

There was a retail outlet on site so we took the opportunity to browse, many beautiful objects all of which very expensive which reflected the amount of labour involved, we bought a small lacquered cup.

Lunch was taken at a very rural village, local people living in palm leaf houses & & oxen in the shade outside. Dusty tracks linked the dwellings.

We eventually arrived at a dinner table laid out under trees where we enjoyed a fine feast.

All go, the afternoon started with a visit to yet another temple after which a drive to our hotel which was made up of small bungalows set in green gardens.

Before our evening outing we had chance to enjoy a refreshing swim in the pool.

At about 6pm we were treated to pony & cart rides.

The evening was concluded with a visit to a very tall Stupa where we were to witness the sunset. Many visitors were climbing the many steep narrow steps to the top; there was a geocache half way up which we found on site.

Because of the amount of people we decided to photograph the sunset at ground level.

Next we were dragged back to the hotel to a well-deserved rest & bed.

Sunday 10/4/2016

We were awake early in order to leave at 8am. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast - many choices.

Spot on time we left for the drive to Mt.Popo, the countryside was sparsely populated. After an hour & a half we arrived to find the whole area was thronging with pilgrims. There is a shrine on the summit of the hill, to reach the top one has to climb a thousand or more steps most of which were under cover.

We started our climb passing at first many stalls.

We had to leave our footwear at the bottom so the whole climb had to be completed barefoot.

Eventually we made it to the top where we enjoyed all round panoramic views.

Towering above & to the west was an extinct volcano which has been renamed Mother Mountain.

On the summit we were asked many times to be included in photos, for whatever reason!

Descending is always harder than climbing so we carefully made our way down the thousand steps. At intervals volunteer cleaners were asking for payment.

Eventually we reached ground zero, where we were confronted by a troop of savaging makak monkeys; some had young ones clinging on.

Time for the drive back, stopping on the way for lunch in a local restaurant where we enjoyed a buffet meal consisting of curried meat & fish with fresh vegetables. The traditional puddings in Myanmar are all Palm sugar related.

Just before the meal I went to watch the harvesting of the palm sugar which involved climbing the trees with the aid of homemade bamboo ladders, where the higher section is left tied to the tree for the next harvest which occurs twice a day.

One interesting use of the harvested Palm sugars is to distil it into alcohol; we had the opportunity to taste a little, very, very potent 40%.

Another product of this area is peanut oil, the manufacture of which is produced by grinding the peanuts using a donkey walking in a circle causing a mill to grind.

The day was now very hot & it was time to drive back to the hotel for a well earnedmaca rest.

Another trip had been planned for the evening to visit an old tery where a traditional Burmese tea had been laid out for us in the grounds. The snack consisted of banana cake, Madeira cake, Jaggery ( local Palm sugar sweets) all washed down with tea or coffee.

Kin Kin took us into the temple were there were a Buddah & old murals the colours were exquisite.

After tea we slowly drove back to the hotel over rough ground.

Back at the hotel most of our group stayed at the hotel whilst we had a wander around the few shops in the nearby village, where we purchased a post card & a couple of souvenirs one of which was a small brass figure depicting a Buddha & a fictional animal known as 'Garuda'. This charm is supposed to give good luck to anyone who was born on a Sunday (me). Coincidentally the girl serving was also born on a Sunday & the best of it all was today was Sunday, so it had to be bought.

Monday 11.04.16

Moving on today destination Mandalay. After an early wake-up call & breakfast we drove to the airport arriving at 8am. The flight took off on time at 8.30am. It seemed we had only just taken off when it was time to land. The view from above was interesting – the ground was very dry, most of the river courses were parched.

At Mandalay International Airport we were advised to visit the toilet – which most of the women did. On leaving the airport another coach was waiting to start the drive of 42kms, which would take 2hours due to traffic & road conditions. About two thirds of the way into the journey we stopped to visit a temple which was suggested by the coach driver. This temple had three huge python snakes in residence. Quite an experience to see such a spectacle! We were able to touch the reptiles – some people were very frightened. We found out later that the locals only fed them with bread & milk (no meat), the snakes were able to roam the temple at will.

Our journey continued which involved a zig zag climb to the top of a mountain range, at one point we had to stop to let the engine cool down, here we had chance to browse the local shops, most were selling vegetables & fresh fruit in contrast to Bagan.

Leaving here we carried on ever upwards stopping at a restaurant for lunch – a choice of chicken, fish & vegetable curry with rice & of course a couple of ice cold beers.

We eventually arrived at our next destination Pyin Oo Lwin – which was originally a British hill station – so much cooler here (or so our guide told us). The hotel was situated right next to the National Kandawgyl Botanical Gardens – a 400 acre site with much to see. We were able to enjoy a couple of hours exploring the gardens along with many Burmese tourists, as this was their New Year holiday.

Armed with a map we were able to wander freely, meet some of the locals, who inevitably wanted photos with us. We saw black swans on a sun blessed lake, at the centre of which was a temple with the usual gold decorations. We also visited a walk-in aviary & saw mostly ground nesting birds.

There was supposed to be an orchid garden which we tried to find unsuccessfully, however we did see a collection of petrified trees & a bamboo forest. We also encountered a couple of Takins – an animal that looked like a small bison – but belongs to the goat family.

At 5 0’clock we returned to the bus which then ferried us off to ride on horse & carts for a ride through busy streets to the old part of Pyin Oo Lwin, it was most enjoyable - the carts were colourfully decorated & had tops to shelter us from the sun.

Before our evening meal we both enjoyed a swim at the hotel in the covered swimming pool – very refreshing.

Our evening meal was taken in a nearby restaurant – al fresco – the building used to belong to the father of Aung San Suu’s.

Home to bed to look forward to another early start tomorrow 6am.

Tuesday 12.04.16

The water festival begins!

We were actually awake before the early morning call today! We dressed & left our luggage outside the room, then proceeded to the restaurant for breakfast. We were once again spoilt for choice.

Eventually we left the hotel at 7.30am to board a train for the journey to Lashio. We had time to look around the local market selling all manner of fresh vegetables. We were able to buy fresh garlic. There were many things on sale which were unfamiliar to us, including what we thought to be preserved eggs.

At the train station we watched locals loading heavy goods onto a train.

Spot on time our train arrived, we were allocated seats in the upper class carriage. The train departed on time & we started our journey through the Shan Mountains.

We were all pre-warned to carry waterproofs in preparation for the onslaught of water that was to be thrown through the open windows at every station we passed through, we were like lambs to the slaughter however this caused great hilarity to all. The train travelled slowly through the countryside around hairpin bends & steep ascents & descents. The surrounding countryside seemed very productive, farmers were busy planting in the fields.

We crossed very, very slowly over the Gokteik Viaduct – some 318 feet high with a 2257 foot span. This viaduct was a spectacular sight – it's Myanmar’s longest bridge – time for many photo opportunities.

After the four hour journey we arrived at Lashio where the bus was waiting to take us to our lunch spot where we all enjoyed fried rice & cool beers.

The afternoon started with the ride back to Mandalay, negotiating the very twisty roads . In the built up areas we were subjected to water being thrown at the bus – we were all glad to be shielded .

By now we were all shattered after a busy day & early morning start, however just one more hill had been planned, Mandalay Hill which is 760 feet above sea level. Visitors would visit the summit by way of 1729 steps – nowadays however moving stairs take you to the top! Our first reaction was that it was very bling.

We were able to look down on Mandalay to see the size of the city & how far it has extended over time. Kin Kin told us that the prison which was once on the outskirts of the city, is now included in the city itself. We were in time able to see the sun setting.

After our descent we boarded the bus & were whisked off to our nearby hotel – a very plush establishment, on arrival we were offered fresh lemon squash & given our keys to our room. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing – phew!

Wednesday 13/04/16

A buffet type breakfast in house, again plenty of choice. The day proper started with a ride to the first temple of the day. Unfortunately as it was a holiday it was not open to visitors! Along the way the water festival was once again in full swing, we were bombarded from all directions. Our bus was hosed many times but we were able to keep dry!

Our second port of call was the Kuthadow Pagoda – the home of the world’s largest book – which is a collection of more than 700 marble slabs with the teachings of Buddha inscribed upon them.

Next stop was Mahamuni Pagoda home of one of the countries most revered Buddha images. Standing at the centre of the complex was a huge golden Buddha weighing in at 1.5ton – made of gold. Only male pilgrims were allowed to touch it – most were adding layers of thin gold leaf to the statue for good luck.

There were also huge bronze statues brought from Ankar Wat Cambodia. Legend has it that whoever had pain should just rub the area on the statues in that same area & the pain would get better!

Around the main courtyard were a selection of huge bells which were free to bong – also here was the largest gong in the country some 8' in diameter.

Time to move on this time we left for Ava, the former capital of Myanmar between the 14th & 18th centuries. We took a long tailed boat to cross to the other side of the small stream as the locals call it. On landing we were treated to a horse & cart ride around the old city which is now abandoned & used by farmers.

We enjoyed a pleasant ride of about two hours seeing rice being grown, beans, bananas, cabbage & a whole lot of other tasty vegetables. It goes without saying that we were to visit a good few temples along the way.

The first one had small dark corridors – which were very cool – at times bats would fly past us. The doorway in the centre had a wooden teak door 2’6” in width cut from a single piece of wood.

Next we visited a tower which was leaning slightly which our driver informed us was known as the leaning tower of Pisa. He had a little command of the English language & informed us that he was the third son & had two sisters also.

A very old temple next built in the 1800’s, in the corner of the yard grew a huge very old banyan tree.

In my opinion the next temple we were shown was the best we had seen so far. It was completely constructed of teak, huge 30ft. pillars supported the main structure, each pillar had a diameter of about 2ft. Amazing carvings festooned the inner sanctuary. One of the figures depicted Sunday’s child & was shown eating a dragon.

We eventually arrived back at the quay for the short boat ride back, where we enjoyed a very nice lunch washed down with a couple of beers. The afternoon started with a tour of the ancient city of Amarapura, here we visited a silk weaving workshop & were fascinated by the intricacies of the craft, two ladies worked like lightening.

Near here was the 200 year old wooden bridge made of teak – it has the world’s largest span of approximately 1.5km. We walked almost half way along & dropped down a flight of stairs to watch a flock of ducks being looked after by two men.

We had a good day but by the time we arrived back at the hotel we declined to venture out for dinner opting for a quiet evening in. Well I say quiet at 20.30 hrs whilst writing the journal the hotel shook with an earth tremor. In a panic we dressed & took essentials, opting not to use the lift, taking heed of a notice stating not to be used in an earthquake! We used the emergency exit. By the time we reached the reception the shaking had stopped, the counter staff told us not to worry – good of them to say this!

We appeared to both sleep quite well after our experience.

Thursday 14.04.16

Another early start which by now we were getting used to. Bags were out by 6.15am & we were ready to leave at 6.45am.

A bus ride to Mandalay airport where we boarded a plane for our short flight to Helo.

The water festival was still in full swing.

We were not able to keep to our itinerary as planned, because many of the sites of interest were closed, however we did stop at a winery for a wine tasting session – very nice indeed some of our group bought a few bottles to take on.

Next we drove on a little further & stopped at a the very fanciful Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, it was carved out of teak & was well used by local pilgrims. Here we watched a cat with 10 kittens.

Time to move on to Nyaung Shwe where we all enjoyed a rather nice lunch above a canal, we were able to watch the long tailed boats taking people here there & everywhere. The canal itself was very low awaiting the rains which were due at any time, hence when it became our turn to take a boat we had to use a jetty further down river due the low water level.

In our boat were two other customers. Our planned destination was a resort some 10km distant on the far side of Inle Lake. Our boatman manoeuvred his way through the floating gardens on the way. The resort consisted of individual bungalows each in the shape of a boat. There was also a couple of restaurants & a swimming pool here.

We unpacked quickly & went out to use the facilities. Afterwards Ian went to join in the water festival & returned to the room rather wet & bedraggled.

We had a talk with Andrew & heard that Jacob had passed his driving test!

Our evening meal was a pizza eaten in a restaurant owned by our resort across the road, the sound of crickets filled the air. Very nice indeed.

Friday 15/04/16

Yet another early start.

The breakfast area this morning was very busy due to many holiday visitors to the complex.

The first adventure of the day was to take a long-tailed boat to the south side of the lake. It all went smoothly & we were taken through water gardens tended by the locals in their dugout boats, we cruised between stilted dwellings, the inhabitants of which were busy with day to day chores.

This morning the whole lake seemed to be alive with long tailed boats speeding up & down ferrying tourists, consequently we passed many & waved as we passed, this seemed the natural thing to do.

Along the way we happened on a small group of fishermen busy working with their dugouts, laying out nets – these fishermen have the skill to row the boat with one leg whilst pulling in their nets. We passed the well tended gardens with gourds, beans & purple hyacinths growing. We motored through more stilted villages, with shops & dwellings some 10ft above the water surface.

The first sightseeing stop of the day was a monastery which once had boasted preforming cats which jumped through hoops – but this tradition has now been stopped due to the chief monk dying, we only saw a couple of sedate cats & a good few carved ones.

Next on our list was a cheroot factory we were able to watch three ladies expertly rolling cigarettes, some of which were flavoured.

Back to the boats & on to a silk weaving workshop where they were tie dyeing bundles of silk for weaving later, it was fascinating to see all the weaving tools.

Off again this time we visited another weaving shop where we watched the very unusual technique of extracting fibres from lotus stems – these when dry would be woven into yarn. The resulting material felt very soft but understandably very expensive.

We stopped for lunch at the Golden Kite restaurant, we had fish, (which arrived whole) chicken, fresh vegetables, desert was a rather nice chocolate pancake.

Bellies full we started the 45mins journey back to our resort where we all gathered in reception to hear we had yet another excursion planned at 3pm.

We took advantage of the rest bite to have a swim – we were the only ones.

At the designated time we rendezvoused in reception to find a coach ready to ferry us the half hour drive south to yet another massive collection of stupa’s (Incheon). From Nyaung Ohak, the nearby village, a covered stairway climbs the hill leading to Shwelun Thein Pays – a complex of 1054 weather beaten zedi (stupas) – most constructed in the 17th century. Some of the zedi leaned at crazy angles whilst others had been reconstructed – we preferred the untouched ones.

Our return to the coach was via a pleasant stroll through communities & alongside a watercourse – local folk were washing clothes & themselves. Back at the bus we were treated to water festival revellers but we were able to hit back if somewhat feebly.

On our return to the resort we had a couple of hours rest & a relaxing soak in a large sunken bath before venturing out to return to the restaurant we frequented last night.

Saturday 16/04/16

No wakeup call today so we enjoyed a lay in – we had decided to opt out of the optional excursion as it involved five hours of travelling. After a leisurely breakfast we arranged for a boat to take us to Nyaung Shwa on the far north side of Inle Lake. We went with two others from our group (Margaret & Jenny from Ilfracombe) – the trip took about 40mins – stopping for a photo-call with a fishermen – using the old way of fishing.

At our destination we said farewell to the other two & set off to find the market. The water festival was still in progress! The market was very interesting, plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers & dry goods. We bought some tea, turmeric & peanuts.

Next we set off to try & find the Ywa Twit Monastery – where there was supposedly a geocache. Instead of keeping to the road we walked on small tracks between houses – all very close to each other – one would have to be friendly with the neighbours!

Eventually we arrived at the Monastery & & were shown upstairs to meet the chief monk. We spent about 45mins or more listening to him & looking at all his photos which had been sent to him from all over the world by previous visitors. We were offered a plate of rather nice bananas. He had a very good sense of humour & command of the English language. Before we left he insisted on a “selfie”. What a character – he was known phoneticly with the name Mr.Earring he was 76 years old & had been a monk for 56 of them.

We were sorry to leave this fabulous spot but eventually we had to. We made our way back to the village – unable to avoid the water festival – we arrived back rather wet! As we neared the centre we stopped for a much needed drink.

At the boat quay we were able to quickly negotiate a ride back to the hotel.

We both had a shower & were able to relax for a couple of hours before having a curry for our evening meal. An early night was on the cards after an exhausting but enjoyable day.

Sunday 17/04/16 New Years Day

Fly back to Yangon today so an early flight time of 8.30am had been arranged. Breakfast in house with the usual vast selection - by now we were sticking to our familiar English fare.

At the airport everything went like clockwork – however the security checks were almost nil!

The flight was to last 1hr. 5mins, we were treated to a snack during the journey. The plane as usual with all internal flights was propeller driven.

On arrival in Yangon a bus was waiting to ferry us to downtown where our guide gave us a tour, making us aware of many ex-colonial buildings. We stopped en’route to visit a park in memory to Myanmars independence, near here was a large Christian Church.

We used an overhead walkway from which we had views of the Yangon River in the distance. Whilst here a tram passed under the walkway.

We eventually returned to the hotel which we stayed in on the first night here- Hotel Chatrium on the Royal Lake.

I had decided to make the staff aware of the fall into the ornamental pond on the first visit.

Dinner had been organised at a five star colonial hotel called The Strand, this hotel had been refurbished not so long ago.

We enjoyed a rather lavish meal. On the menu was a choice of beef or giant prawn, cauliflower soup & a chocolate brownie with ice cream (mind you this was not how they described it!). The shock came when we had to pay £14.00 for two glasses of wine!

Monday 18/4/2016

After a good night’s sleep we decided that last night’s evenings meal was a little too overpowering for us, so we opted for a more regular breakfast.

Our flight to Singapore was due to leave Yangon airport at 3pm, so this gave us the morning to ourselves & decided to take a stroll around the nearby Royal Lake. The morning sun was almost unbearable. Along the way we spotted a few black headed blue beaked finches.

Eventually we came to rest at a pier & sat awhile in the company of a few elderly people accompanied by their Grandchildren. In Asia the family unit is very strong & is very important in their culture.

We set off back to the hotel after which took 10-15min.

On arrival we took advantage of a last luxury wash & brush up.

Eventually we gathered in the hotel reception in preparation for the drive to the airport, we left at 2pm.

We took off at 4pm. pretty much on time. A 2hour flight saw us touch down at Singapore 6pm.

The transit procedure went to plan & we were soon on our way to London Heathrow which would take 13hrs.!!!

The night dragged, on, I managed to while away the time by watching three movies.

Touch down at Heathrow 5:10am. After the arrival formalities we were greeted by the driver who would drive us home to the door, we shared the ride with Margi & Jenny who were making their way to Ilfracombe.

Home at last 12:30pm.