I’ve just seen the breaking news on the BBC that soap drama Eastenders is to stop filming amidst the Coronavirus Global Pandemic that I’m currently sat typing in. Actually, as per usual I began this blog post four weeks ago and all soap dramas have now ceased filming, the UK alike many other countries is in ‘lockdown’ with schools, businesses and parks closed, travel restricted and outdoor activities limited to essential exercise and shopping. Even four weeks ago the announcement about the first long standing soap drama becoming newsworthy made sense, we are all being asked to social distance ourselves and actors are no different, we are all human, we all have a responsibilities to our families and for those around us – but it did get me thinking about how much time I’d have on my hands if I didn’t watch soap operas? Reading below its pretty clear in my writing how many years I’ve actually enjoyed watching the soaps – I made a point of visiting the beach where Home and Away is set in Australia and referenced my disappointment at not spotting any such soap celebrity. From as early as I can remember my mum also watched the soaps – and while my sister has no interest, I can understand the escapism that watching the soaps allows us to have, it is my time to sit down after a busy day and watch something that doesn’t require a set level of concentration. I don’t watch them thinking its reality, thankfully my short Media Studies Access Course at Norton College allowed me the opportunity to research the popularity of soaps and reality TV (not comparatively) and understand this without a shadow of a doubt, but it is a condensed version of everyday, and often works on some hard hitting subjects that emote and relate in a way film doesn’t. I no longer watch Home and Away, my age bracket has moved me to later soap time slots, but this being said when it comes to taking holidays, or the kids needing me at that set time I don’t feel the need to watch it on catch-up TV, that’s the beauty of soap operas – you soon pick up where it was left off. All around us things have been postponed and cancelled, there isn’t anyone that Coronavirus isn’t affecting in some way – but for me I’m going to choose to take it as an opportunity to use this unprecedented time to see how it works when we try things out of everyday routine, and hope that by the end of it – like TV soap operas, we’ll all pick up the pieces where we left off, only perhaps we’ll have learnt new skills and new ways of interacting with each other for the better.
My blog below began with a Joe Bennett book title – A land of Two Halves, I still have this book along with many other brilliant travel books since. I sometimes wonder if I’m alone in reading, the world is full of options on purchasing amazing TV and film packages that I wonder when anyone finds the time to read, I often carry a book in my bag in the hopes that my day may come with a coffee break and time to read a few pages (it rarely does), and then I spot others; on the tram, on the bus, in coffee shops, and online asking for new book recommendations so I know others, they do exist, and that gives me hope that I’ll keep coming across opportunities to read about the places I’ve been and those I want to visit from the viewpoints of others who may one day write about these in a novel I’m reading.
Most recently I read a book called The Choice by Edith Eger about a survivor of the Holocaust and how she made the choice to forgive those that held her as a prisoner in such unspeakable times. I visited Auschwitz with Nathan and a good set of friends in January and found the experience to be utterly devastating. I’m not sure I learnt anything I didn’t already know – but seeing the personal items, seeing the buildings, being inside a gas chamber turned words into reality – a reality that wasn’t mine, but a reality that guides will tell you to visit because the truth should never be forgotten. We read, we travel, we learn, we educate – and throughout all of this we grow as individuals. I’m clearly not the same person I was in my twenties when I wrote the blog below, life’s experience have changed me, and with this what I recognise as being most important now is the acceptance of those we hold closest changing and growing too.
I didn’t intend for this to feel somber so on a lighter note I’ll bring it back around and link it back with life as a backpacker in my twenties - I’m fairly confident Andy would these days, now a respected father of two, refrain from scorching the hairs off his arms and eye-brows attempting to light a gas BBQ that clearly didn’t want to be lit on Christmas Day; something I failed to mention in my journal below, not because it wasn’t funny (afterwards), more out of embarrassment for myself who Andy had grabbed and thrown backwards into the hotel pool with himself in attempt to stop further singeing, mid panic my bikini top had become loose unbeknownst to me who had prized myself free from Andy only to stand in the shallow water thanking the hotel owner who had arrived to fix the BBQ baring all! Thinking about the things we do in our twenties it is often followed with talk about what age we begin to mature, and whether girls mature quicker than boys. Some of the things I’ve considered important enough to journal about below already show some signs of a twenty six year old girl being more responsible than the twenty seven year old boys she was travelling with, but not enough to still not feel young and crazy enough to join in with certain elements. Let’s take Canoeing in the estuary that led to Lake Rotorua where we were camping as an example. I distinctively remember having a great deal of fun with Nathan and Jed until we reached the edge of Lake Rotorua with absolutely nothing stopping us canoeing out onto it. I watched the boys paddle straight out, I can still see this beautiful image now – the lake stretching farther than the eye could see in every direction, as for me, I was frozen in panic, literally no one knew we were out on this lake, and I had this impending sense of responsibility to stay where I was in case I needed to get help. The boys of course ribbed me, and I did desperately want to join them, but looking back now, I’m happy to conclude that my maturity (or sense of responsibility beyond my immediate self) was clearly beginning to kick in. This being said I remember a trip to Oman with my Dad and Nathan some three years later; we’d followed a friends previously trodden travel advice and gone in search of a hidden waterfall which meant a good hours trek along a Wadi walking for the most part on a dry riverbed passing on route the Bedouins. We did discover it, but the only way to it was to dive between two rock edges with no idea of the depth. The maturity I have just said I’d found in New Zealand on this occasion wasn’t mine, it stayed with my Dad who chose to stay behind. I on the other hand grabbed hold of Nathans hand as he dragged me under the water to see - to-date – one of the most incredible water falls I’ve ever laid eyes on. Perhaps I’d have missed this if I didn’t think I had backup waiting on the other side – or perhaps sometimes the excitement of not being able to see the unknown (remember I could see all of the Lake) is enough for the adrenaline to kick in allowing us to embrace those inner fears. Yet, and now back to last year, and unlike the 90 mile beach at Kaitaia where we rebelliously drove Jed’s non 4x4 for the craziest three minute off road experience having seen a Ford Falcon fly by unscathed, Nath and I decided on this occasion we wouldn’t put the kids through any unnecessary digging out of ditches or endless reversing on Fraser Island in Australia– we instead were both sensible parents and took the organised bus tour, so much more appealing in our thirties; I can see a pattern, don’t get me wrong I’m not a psychologist, but I’m going to put it out there, that linked with maturity is trust. I trusted myself to rescue the boys in NZ, I trusted my Dad to rescue me and Nathan in Oman, and our children trust in us as parents to keep them safe until they are mature enough to analyse the risks themselves – and there we have it; Isabel and Zack haven’t grounded me, they’ve allowed us to mature as individuals, into parents.
Being mature doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, take risks, or try new things, and when I’m reminded of things like the video of Nathan doing a random ‘hat dance’ on New Year’s Eve in Sydney, of which I have no idea what happened to this, I smiled thinking of the more recent video clip we have of Nathan being eaten by a T-Rex at a Dinosaur show we attended for Zack’s third birthday. The entertainer was looking for volunteers, of which Isabel and Zack were soon grabbing ‘Dad’s arm’ and willing the entertainer to choose him. As Nathan stepped onto the stage, the next person to join him was someone else’s Nana – and for one wonderful second I thought of my mum and imagined that was her stepping on stage – she’d have volunteered herself, or she’d have been grabbing Nathans arm with the kids too, she taught us the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves.
Even when I think about the style of food I like to eat these days I recognise the journey I have been on learning to appreciate ‘good food’, not only because it’s written down in my earlier journals, but because these evoke memories that all lead me back to sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home sharing a meal having watched my mum making it. Let’s face it, my clear lack of knowledge of the difference between tinned corned beef and a Sunday roast beef talked about below is utterly ridiculous, of which I hold my mum wholly responsible, her Sunday roasts were all over cooked, and led me to have no interest in learning how to cook or to know the difference between any meat; whereas these days, living with a keen chef, I am able to recognise when a meat would need to be carved and am now fully able to make a tasty Sunday Roast – genuinely – no seriously, I can. Don’t mistake my mum’s food for being inedible, sure the meat was ‘tough,’ but it was all made with love, and that added all the missing flavour I needed to understand that food is more than just taste, it is sitting together with loved ones discussing our days, connecting and refueling for what lies ahead. When I think of trying new things, food often comes to mind, the Eggs Benedict at Sunrise Café in New Zealand remains unbeaten, although Joe’spresso here in Sheffield is the closest to topping this title; my Dad however will argue it was a café at Bondi Beach in Australia where we ate with mum on their visit in 2007. It’s clear in my twenties Al-la-carte wasn’t my thing; back packers don’t have time for small plates packed with flavour, we need on the go, charred, wholesome food. Yet, living in Dubai surrounded by restaurants owned by some of the world’s leading chefs it was impossible not to learn how to appreciate this style of food, and as the thought of having children came to mind, so did the ideas of having a healthy body to carry these children to term, and for this reason I am thankful to have been living in a country where ‘good food’ is at the forefront of its reputation and we were privileged enough to be in a position to learn from this. These days I can be found eating a mixture of all styles; Brunch remains my favourite time to eat. Al-la-carte is saved for the precious times Nathan and I get to have a date night when we don’t have to share food with the kids. At home I’m proud to say the kids eat an array of foods from frozen delights to palette conquering unknowns. We bake an equal balance of tasty and down-right unsuccessful cakes and deserts, we have a messy kitchen with food splattered and dropped in all manners of ways, and pots and pans of every size and description are being washed daily, but it never takes long to restore the kitchen back to a habitable state, and the times we eat are always shared together, with a thought for my mum as just like I did, we now discuss our days, connect and refuel for what lies ahead together as a family.
I’m going to end this thinking about taking risks – much of the things we do are all about taking risks – but of the risks I’ve taken, most of them have paid off instantly, and these are the ones I focus on when making new decisions. It was a risk to gamble so much of our backpackers budget flying to New Zealand forfeiting seeing other parts of Australia that even having revisited we still haven’t seen and would like to; instead, because of this decision, Nathan was able to appreciate his first helicopter ride as a surprise birthday gift from my Auntie Pat who we were staying with. I was able to introduce Nathan and reconnect with my cousins who I had last met when I was 8 years old and now as adults create some wonderful lasting memories. It’s worth noting that it has taken thirteen years for me to think about hiking up any other mountain since my last experience with my cousin Jed, partly because, hang on, I haven’t got a ‘partly because’ really good reason other than I haven’t wanted to, however over the years I have been building up a friendship group of ‘strong females,’ and it turns out whilst discussing what I’d like to do for my 40th next year, that I’d actually like to climb a mountain with these ladies, and when I do I’ll think of the beauty of New Zealand and how even the most far away distance of cousins can, when up close, become your best days of adventures. Australia with Andy and Kelly was our first Christmas away from home in the UK, Dubai was the second, both of which remain two of the best Christmas Day’s ever, and both of which had us reflecting on the things we missed – quite simply our home comforts of family traditions, therefore we knew it was a risk to take the kids to Katoomba to see the Three Sisters in attempt to make it a tradition of getting a photo with visiting friends and family as mist was forecast, and as predicted we couldn’t see a thing. Yet despite my own disappointment memories flooded back of the visit with Andy and Kelly and being privy to witnessing their faces as the beauty we’d previously seen unfolded before them – this was priceless – this memory was worth the risk - the kids wouldn’t have appreciated this, but they did love the glass cable car over the rainforest, and seeing ‘mums’ horrified face when we descended 545 metres on the cableway train in ‘adrenaline junkie’ mode, and they now have photo evidence of our similar matching neon raincoats that we wore unbeknownst of the comedy tourist family we had become. It was a risk to go to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve so soon after my mum had passed away in the October before knowing I was still so deeply grieving and may not enjoy it, but it gave me the time-out I needed to learn to appreciate what I had; wonderful friends and family and a whole world that still needs exploring. It was a risk to move to Dubai for jobs we had no previous experience in, but as friends and family visited we were again privy to watching their faces as they too marvelled over the iconic Palm Jumeira from our hotel-home balcony, or at the tallest building in Dubai (the world at the time), the Burj Khalifa, our risk had meant we’d given opportunities and memories to others that may not have happened otherwise. All risks are a gamble – some we instantly know we shouldn’t do, but for the ones that become our ‘what ifs,’ for the best part I’ve always followed my heart – and that has led me to some incredible places for some incredible experiences with some incredible people.
Dear Isabel and Zack – These last four week we’ve watched you both adapt to a new way of living – indoors essentially. School and nursery have been closed while the UK and every other country tackle the Coronavirus, something 50 years from now you’ll be talking about as adults. Thank you for making our job as your parents easy; your love of learning has meant home-schooling you both has been fun and your sibling bond at best has been inspiring. Together we have learnt to be more creative at home and in the garden in the ways we play together – and your kindness shines through in your social skills when thinking of those we can’t see, taking the time to call and play games with your friends and family online, to write and make cards, to make rainbow pictures for others in the neighbourhood to enjoy, to stand united each week with our neighbours and clap for the key workers. Our wishes jar is filling up with plans for the future for when this global pandemic is over – it will be over – and I love that collectively we all want to go to the beach, to dip our toes in the sea and to travel. To date I haven’t met Jed’s children Renee and Aiden from New Zealand, but if you get to meet them before I do, be sure to have an adventure with them, I have a feeling you won’t regret it. I also still have the water shoes and Dad still has the ice-breaker, all essentials for NZ that we’ll happily pack you off with if that’s not too embarrassing.
PS – Isabel please see Auntie Nicky for the Spider-CD if you haven’t managed to conquer your fear by adulthood, sorry, no idea how I have passed this on to you.
Dear Mum – A month ago just before we were in ‘lockdown’ I attended my first audition since being a teenager for a show being produced for the Sheffield Peoples Theatre, before I filled in the form I wondered for a second why I wanted to do this, was I crazy, am I too old, and then you popped into my mind. When I was younger all I ever wanted to be was an actress, I see now how cut-throat this world is for aspiring professionals, how much on-going training is needed, and how difficult it is to make ends meet financially, and I know you already must have known this. Isabel tells me this is the career path she is interested in (along with being a Biotechnologist), so I will, like you did for me, encourage her to follow her dreams despite what difficulties may be ahead. Thank you for encouraging me to join the Scunthorpe Youth Theatre which became my favourite after school class; the experiences, the friendships and the confidence it gave me has stayed with me all the way to the last year in my thirties. I chose not to pursue a career in acting, but watching your granddaughter grown in confidence and skill at her weekly performing arts class has me wondering what it would feel like to be on stage again. So I filled in the form, and as I walked through the doors for the audition my heart warmed up just a little bit more because I felt your bravery of loving who you are, within me. Whatever Isabel, or Zack (who is currently showing traits of being the next Bear-Grylls) choose to be, I will support them, and continue to give them opportunities to explore their chosen fields, because it really is comforting to think that as I prepare to enter my forties, you more than ever, are still by my side willing me on to embrace the unknown.
A land of two halves (a great read!) - Aka New Zealand.
Hello from Sydney again, and man do we have a few tales to tell you from our 5 week trip to New Zealand.
Firstly let’s get you up-to-date with our Christmas antics. As you know we were staying in the Blue Mountains having an awesome time exploring the area. Wentworth Falls is beautiful besides the fact it was a downhill stretch for an hour and took nearly double for me to get back up; I don't think the cafe in Leura was all too impressed with our sweaty arrival! We managed to catch up with the Melbourne boys at our favorite hostel in the City center; The Wake Up, and with Andy and Kelly due to arrive and lots of places we wanted to see together we decided to splurge and stay as many nights as we could at the hotel in Ryde with them. Andy and Kelly were so jet lagged when we collected them from the airport that even as we got our bags out of the car with their suitcases and started checking in they didn't have a clue what was happening, they genuinely thought that we were somehow gate crashing their room (you should have seen their faces)!
Of course Andy and Kelly's first comments were; "You're not very brown?" It is a working holiday you know which generally means we pick up a tan and loose it as quickly as we acquired it when we are stuck inside all day. Home and Away isn't all it’s cracked up to be, I swear they wear St Tropez every week. So be warned the Todd clan – no tan references on arrival.
We revisited all the major sights again, including watching poor Kelly, petrified of heights, have to do the bridge climb on Xmas Eve soaking wet from the downpour of rain-welcome to Australia! Of course me and Nathan were happily dry in the pub overlooking the bridge. Xmas eve night was spent in our other favorite backpacker haunt-Scruffy Murphy's. A hilarious drag queen karaoke session ended the night perfectly. After worrying what the weather would be like Xmas day we were pleased to not have to work out a ‘plan B,’ ‘plan A’ went ahead; BBQ breakfast at the hotel, followed by a trip to Manly Beach for a Christmas picnic dinner, catching some rays (closely followed by sunburn!) and a good swim was an amazing way to spend Christmas in Australia. Then we followed on up to the O’Brien’s for a fantastic Aussie traditional BBQ tea complete with self peeling prawns. Perfect. The only thing missing was you lot!
Next day we took a trip to see the Three Sisters at Katoomba followed by a ride on the scenic railway to the national park in search of kangaroos. These were to be found in Glenbrook National Park, it was fantastic to see Andy and Kelly's face watching the kangaroos roam around as it all feels very familiar to us now. Be warned this is a great camping spot so I hope you are prepared for a night roughing it Rachel. The days passed so quickly but we managed to fit in a visit to Taronga Zoo (our Christmas present from the O’Brien’s) which was well worth every penny, I fell in love with the merecats and trying to get Nathan away from the most hilarious monkeys we’ve ever seen was near on impossible! To top this, we sat watching the elephants for some time, these elephants seriously have the best view of the city! We took the ferry to ‘Home and Away's’ location at Palm Beach but found this a real disappointment as it turns out all the main filming is done in a studio so we didn’t capture any TV celebs. I did manage to get a photo of the surf club and stand on the stretch of beach where all the drama happens, wait till you see my photo shots, I’m a self-made extra!
The week ended with a farewell treat of lunch at China Town, and then NYE celebrations in Central Sydney. Lisa had done a fantastic job of booking a large group of us in at The Lowenbrau German Bar located in the rocks next to the Harbour Bridge. An amazing 3 course spread followed by traditional German dancing, bell chiming, and Nathan doing the ‘hat dance;’ don't worry I have it on video. As a very merry countdown to midnight approached we headed out for a good view of the bridge, unfortunately we didn’t get the very best view as we soon discovered stepping out of the Lowenbrau that this meant we had become one of many thousands of people all waiting to capture this moment…5,4,3,2,1 Happy New Year! We could see a glimpse of the bridge and twenty minutes of colourful fireworks lighting up the sky. We definitely weren't disappointed, NYE in Sydney with truly the best of friends. New Year’s Eve ended back in the Lowenbrau with plenty of drinks to toast in 2007, and then a very tired Andy and Kelly, who we’d laden down with a collection of things for them to return to the UK for us, and now had to say farewell to us.
And here is where we head to New Zealand. We made it to bed at 5am New Year’s Day only to rise at 8am to catch the train to Sydney airport. Very tired and a little hung-over I was pleased we'd packed a few days earlier. Upon arrival we were told we couldn't go to New Zealand as our visit was planned for longer than a month. I must have given one of my famous 'do not mess with me' looks, as the check-in advisor disappeared and returned with an apology and boarding passes. We have no idea what was said, nor did we question it. A long day of waiting around and flying to NZ via Brisbane with a hangover and no food on the plane and finally we made it to New Zealand only to be interrogated by customs about the details of our visit and a discussion about the mud on our walking boots that we were trapesing into the country took another hour. I was however pleased we'd booked return flights as the two girls next to us weren't so lucky and looked set to be deported straight away. Finally with our collected luggage our eyes were looking at Auntie Pat, Alistair and Jed at 2am who gave us the quickest tour of Wellington by night, after which we arrived at their home to Champagne and Christmas presents on our immaculate looking bed. Present opening and champagne drinking unfortunately all had to wait till the next day, it really was time for some sleep; we didn’t rise again until 1pm the next day where we were ready for the adventures ahead.
It was a very busy first few days meeting the rest of the family who hadn't seen me since I was 8 years old, it was fantastic to catch up with everyone and introduce Nathan, we exchanged life stories and genuinely had this feeling like I’d known each of them forever. There was lots of planning of where to go and what to see on both islands, followed by bookings of ferries and a car, and finally it was time to see a little bit of Wellington by day. It’s cold! Ok it wasn't as cold as England but it was very windy. Jed and Pat drove us round all the bays of Wellington and up to the traditional view point. Wellington looks very beautiful from all directions, beaches followed by rolling countryside with on this day a very calm sea all around the bay. The best thing about Wellington is how accessible it is from all directions, 10 minutes to half an hour in any direction and you are away from the city to somewhere completely rural. One of these journeys included a walk up Whitereria Park Hill, nothing but rugged cliffs and a view of The South Island far off in the distance.
With the roof box attached, Pat and Ali's welcomed offer of warm clothes for the ever changing NZ weather (any warm clothing we own is back in the UK where it appears according the weather forecast you are all needing your own at the moment?) packed, and a quick lesson on Maori language; 'Wh' becomes "F", and the soon to be mischievous threesome (me, Nathan and Jed) are ready to hit the North island on a week-long trip to Auckland. First stop, a view from the Rimatuka Hills where a vastness of green hills engulfed us – it’s just amazing. I must apologise now before I continue for any Kiwi's reading this, namely you Tony, I have tried my absolute best to write the names of places down as we pass them but often it is all memory, and one thing I have learnt about New Zealand is that the name places are very interesting indeed.
We drove through Hastings having our first beer stop at the art deco town of Napier. A good choice of pub being Rosie O’ Grady's who let me sample every NZ beer on offer - I like Macs, Export Gold, Speights, the list goes on. The ocean here is a very strong turquoise colour which contrasts beautifully with the very pebbly beach that we have soon discovered most NZ beaches are; hurrah for water trainers and Kmart. Continuing along State Highway2 we found a hidden waterfall gushing down the side of a mountain, excited by this we made it our first nights camp in Taupo.
Taupo is famous for Lake Taupo formed by a large volcanic explosion; it is seriously huge, so huge that it has its own tides! Nathan delighted in being able to fulfill a childhood ambition of hitting golf balls into the water without being in trouble, of course he was hoping to win the jackpot by hitting the hole in one target – he didn’t. Somehow we'd managed to book in at a 5 star camp site and was delighted in being able to make use of the heated showers blocks, the jumping pillow (a very large trampoline where I discovered I’m not as supple as I once was and nearly broke my back), and the heated swimming pools. A trip to the supermarket and we soon had beer (Nathan has made a personal vow to never shop at a Pak n Save again after being asked for ID and the cashier not accepting his British one, he was to be 27 in a few days, come on now?), cheese and biscuits, and snacks for the first nights camp ahead where we spent much of the evening practicing and learning new words relevant for the trip; 'Nustar,' which Jed assures me is ‘cheers’ in Czech was our word of the day after meeting some Czechoslovakian backpackers. The only problem we occurred whilst camping was the cold nights, being surrounded by the snow capped Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tangario meant that once the sun disappeared the temperature dropped and we really needed the jumpers and hats, thank goodness we’d borrowed these, occasionally we had the interruption of Jed climbing into our tent, it really was that cold that his small one man tent wasn’t heating him so he stole our heat! Nathan really disliked the Hu-Hu bugs (large moths with no wings) that just loved to land and climb on Nathan, we often woke to hear him with the torch handing out a few whacks in the dark. We did have one mishap where the stove failed to work for our bacon breakfast so we retreated to the camp kitchen which was overrun with school children; we made do on this occasion but was sure to fix the stove before we went in search of the day’s adventure. First stop The Hidden Valley. A sulphur active island complete with caves and mud pools (not the type you bathe in). Hooker falls followed this where we witnessed the amazing force of the water that only the very experienced rafter would ever contemplate; you could hear the roar of the water before we even saw it. Jed then insisted he knew this great place a bit further up that you can swim in, having swam in all sorts of places by now I was keen to jump in this river, and instantly very keen to get out as soon as possible after very ungracefully slipping into what felt like an ice cold plunge pool! Nathan being smug at not being daft enough to get in of course had the camera ready-thanks Jed! The day concluded with my knees wobbling watching the bungee jumpers at AJ Hackets Bungee. I’ll give Nathan and Jed fair do's, they tried every tactic going to get me to jump but I was pretty certain the thought of a single cord tied to my legs was not enough to make want to plunge to the depths of the water below!
Moving on we made it to Rotorua. We found the friendliest camp site ever located on the estuary that runs along to Lake Rotorua. Included was free canoe hire where we passed a couple of hours of the afternoon canoeing, paddling up the estuary, and hanging from the tyre tree swing. The tyre wasn’t to my liking but the guys loved it. After this we managed to relax in a romantic spa for 3 at $5 for half an hour, each of us clasped a bottle of Speights-lovely. We ended the night with a drink of hot mulled wine offered by Chris and Kate in the next camp site to us. The next day we figured the best way to see the sights of Rotorua was on the Luge. We rode up in the gondola and were met at the top by someone who handed us a helmet for the Luge. The best way I can describe a luge to you is kind of like a one man bob sleigh, made of plastic, with wheels and one lever which you, the one and only driver, have to control as you start at the top of the hill and can only go in one direction - straight down. Seriously great fun! It had three tracks, scenic (the one where we got the photos we needed for the album), intermediate (the one with a bit of speed to get your adrenaline going), and advanced (the one that is enough to scare the crap out of anyone-well me anyway), what a way to spend the afternoon. The only bad thing we found about Rotorua was the smell of sulphur, like rotten eggs, that is constantly lingering – best guess is that this is why it is nicknamed 'Sulphur City.’
It was raining as we left Rotorua and headed to 'The Bay of Plenty', mainly because it is generally a hotter climate, and thankfully it was. By the time we'd had our gourmet eggs benedict breakfast at the recommended 'Sunrise Cafe' the sun was in full beam. Jed insisted we did a small trek up Mount Maunganui. It didn't look small! By the time we reached the summit I could literally wring my T-shirt out and as it happened I found a mini breeze so stood in just my bra cooling off doing just as I’ve suggested next to one of my favorite trees the Punga tree. Once my heart rate had returned to stable and I was breathing at a normal rate I went in search of, and found Nathan and Jed staring at an unforgettable view; miles of ocean surrounded by bays, sandy beaches, bustling towns, and countryside. Sometimes a photo doesn't do a memory justice and this was one of those moments. For the record I had put on my t-shirt! We could just make out White Island; the only active volcano in NZ that you can view up close if you dare, it does still leak sulphur; I have no intentions of getting any closer than where I was standing. Once we'd climbed down to the bottom, which was decidedly easier, we headed on to Paero to view the big L&P bottle; a famous NZ drink. It didn’t disappoint in size it was unbelievably large, clearly much alike ‘who made pavlova first (?) Australia or New Zealand, the two countries are as competitive about their ‘large tourist items.’ Unfortunately as Jed produced for each of us a can of the drink, much alike marmite’s advertising, you either love it or hate it, and each of us with mixed views we decided it was time to move on where we discussed this in the car for a fair few km's. Needing a break from the discussion we stopped at the Karangahake Gorge and spent a few minutes trying to cross the river with the stepping stones. Besides the fact it was impossible without getting wet, the sand flies had set in for an early tea, so we retreated jumping back in the car heading for Thames; a town famous in its days for gold mining and still attracts a fair few travellers. On this occasion, we weren’t mining, the reason we were in Thames was for a free bed and feed at Jed's Dads place. What can we say here but thank you, thank you, thank you. Great food, good company and a view that could predict the weather forecast quicker than the news could report it; we knew if there was going to be rain the next day or not, we could come see it coming in from miles away.
The next day, despite knowing that rain was on its way, we were not in a mood to let it spoil our fun so we set of on the winding roads to 'The Coromandel Peninsular'. Views of forests and mountains were soon interrupted by the bleak weather and before we knew it the poncho that you'd bought us Pat soon became my favourite item ever; if Ponchos were best friends then mine was one of a kind. The most bizarre image was seeing people still swimming when the rain was howling down at horrendous speed and no-one apart from us three seemingly be aware of it. With this image embedded we ploughed on in the car and managed to get a good feel of how fun the peninsular would be on a fair day. In short we drove to Pauanui, checking out all the amazing houses we’ll live in one day, next stop Tairua, which should be a good beach; the Hot Water Beach which turned into our biggest disappointment on the NZ trip as we didn’t get to dig our own hot pool. Apparently if you wait for the right tide and take a spade out you can dig a hole in the sand which will spurt hot water-you’re own mini spa. Sod that though on this miserable day, we made do with the local ‘dry’ handmade craft shop. Next we looked at Hahei and the Cathedral Cave, stopped at the touristy town of Whitianga (pronounced 'foot-e-anga') for a well earned food stop. We ended the day with a drive back through the Corumandel Township; Ngatea ('Na-tear'), and 6 hours later, the wind howling and rain lashing the whole way we are make it back to Thames.
A big shout out to you here Jed for being our own personal tour guide, I’m not sure whether you made a lot of the stories up but it sounded convincing enough to us, stuff I know I’ll be repeating for years to come. To Che and Grant, how can we forget to thank you for having Jed’s beloved dog Tess who took to tearing up your garden in a fit of rage at being left behind, we are glad we could be a part of helping you come to the decision now is not the time for a dog.
The next day, after mostly having been in the car yesterday, we agreed on some exercise, namely a 2/3 hour tramp up to the trig at the Karangahake Gorge. We set off at 11.45am and made it back to the car at 6.25pm. I make that 6 hours, 25 minutes and 27 seconds later Jed; not anywhere close to the 2/3 hours. I’m not bitter about this can you tell! Seriously though, after walking off the pain in my foot and stitch in my side (there was little else I could do as I really didn’t fancy being stranded alone with the wild goat we could hear in the distance!) it really was a great NZ experience. At times we were climbing very close to the edge of this extra large hill (Jed will kill me if I call it a mountain), it had been raining so we were slipping over every other step, I had two handmade walking sticks to help me climb through bush and to make new tracks, cuts all over, approaching landslides that we had no choice but to cross, seeing streams and waterfalls coming from nowhere (beautiful) and all in all having an intensely mesmerising time. Towards the end of the track we came across old mining caves, having packed the torches, and boys being boys, they of course had to investigate. At this point in time I had a call of nature and returned to the boys slyly telling me to look in the cave. I’m not so naive to know they were up to something so after protesting and eventually caving merely so we could proceed I did take a look. I focused my mind on it clearly being a spider. 'Move the torch to the left.’ ‘There’s nothing there?’ ‘A bit lower.’ ‘I can’t see anything…holy f***, back up back up, get me the f*** out now!' A Cave Wetter! Now you'll have to do your own research on this, as you need to see one to believe it, but these things are huge, ugly and dangerous. It was at this point I found a second wind and made it back to the car in no time at all, stopping only once to get a picture of silver fern; an iconic NZ symbol. Surprisingly we didn’t see one other person on this tramp! To say we slept well that night is an understatement.
Not content with yesterday’s tramp the boys convinced me to go back to the gorge to do a shorter walk called the 'Windows Walk'. Not convinced they were telling the truth I put my flip flops on as a statement so they knew I wouldn’t walk too far in them-amazingly it wasn’t too far. This was a walk where you can actually venture into the old mining cave (minus cave wetter’s as they are too populated with visitors for them to settle), being unguided meant we could walk to our own time schedule and enjoy the scenery which included a few glow worms along the way. A few hours later we were heading for Jed’s gaff at Mission Beach in Auckland which overlooks the Rangitio Volcano. Unfortunately no champagne awaited us on arrival; instead it was the hoover and a spring clean. Jed, you'd better keep the newly spring cleaned gaff up to scratch! It really was an incredible road trip. We went for a welcomed Italian meal that evening followed by a few more than intended drinks at the local Irish bar 'O'Donahughes' where we talked over the best bits and the next few days.
A few surprising things happened while we stayed at Mission Bay. I learnt how chilled I have become about spiders, Jed has a pet spider that sits in his kitchen window that he feeds flies! I not only tried to catch the flies and feed the spider which we named 'Charlotte' for obvious reasons, but I washed up with absolutely no anxiety while Charlotte sat watching. Maybe the CD you sent me did work after all Nicola? The second being that we managed to have a wonderful evening of food and entertainment literally three streets away from Jed’s house at what turned out to be Nathan’s Uncle’s partners nieces house (do you need a second to comprehend this?). Big thanks to Dave and Ann for hosting us with some great advice for the rest of our time in New Zealand.
For the rest of our time in Auckland we spent some days work shadowing Jed, fit in plenty of souvenir shopping to include the Victoria markets, ticked off the tourist look out points such as Mount Eden and One Tree Hill, spent the day at the cinema experiencing one too many Bond films which concluded with the new film; Casino Royale, thankfully it was better than I expected although I can’t see me being a Bond fan just yet. We fit in more late night dancing and drinking, brunch at Titiarangi, and searched out the views from the Waitaeke ranges with a trip to Piha beach. The sand here is black and the waters warm with a strong undercurrent making it one of NZ's dangerous beaches. Our time in Auckland had come to an end, it was time for Jed to go back to work full time, and for Nathan and myself to explore the North of the North Island.
Nathan’s 27th birthday, 15th January 2007, the car loaded and seat adjusted off we go. We travelled up the West Coast stopping to view the Waipoura 'Kauri' Rainforest. The Kauri is the largest tree in NZ and I agree, it is pretty large. In general our trip was surrounded by rainforest and various colours of green, we were starting to feel engulfed by the surroundings and wondered if we'd ever see daylight again. Just at the point we were about to turn green ourselves the road lit up and standing in front of us was the largest sand dune we've ever seen. We were at Opononi. And with a camp site located bang opposite the sand dune we decided this was to be our first camp. A perfectly good spot allowed us to see the sand dune reflecting on the Hokianga Harbour surrounding it. After a disappointing birthday meal (the only restaurant in the town happened to be A-la carte, you know the posh ones that advertise ‘fish of the day with vegetables’ and serve on a large plate a very small portion in the middle, admittedly very tasty and neatly presented though!) still hungry we found solace in the bar, and later strolled along the beach to watch the most amazing sunset, so many colours before our very eyes. Nathan’s quietest birthday yet but he doesn’t know the present is yet to come on the South Island'.
Having driven the previous day to Rawene and thinking it looks like a hell hole, we decided to bypass the ferry and enjoy the drive to Kaitaia, stopping for breakfast at Okaihau. We’ve really grown to love these small country towns in Australia and NZ is proving much the same, friendly people and good service, we somehow managed to leave with a bag full of fresh oranges absolutely free just by chatting with the locals. Kaitaia was bustling with tourists and the kind of town that is always overly keen to take advantage of the tourist so we moved on heading down the main road that runs parallel to the famous 90 mile beach. Totally intrigued we pulled off and headed down a very pebbly dirt track which eventually met gorgeous sands that stretched for miles. Getting out and taking a short walk it was easy to imagine ourselves lost, secluded and totally alone, I’m making that sound sinister when I mean it more in a chosen to be lost on a desert Island sort of way. It was at this point that a standard Ford Falcon much alike our Stanley ripped past us at almighty speeds, probably so they didn’t get stuck on the sand, and with one look at each other followed by a nod (seriously no words left our lips), we just knew we had to give it a go. Discarding all the warnings about not taking non 4 wheel drive cars on the sand, we seat belted up and took the quickest ever ‘3 minute’ round trip on the beach. Sorry Jed. We definitely have to get a 4x4 and do this stretch when we visit again.
Making good time we headed for the final stretch to Cape Reinga, this was to be found at the end of 116km dirt track and is the most northern point of NZ. The Maori’s believe that when they die this is where their spirits depart the earth. What is a definite fact is that looking out towards the ocean we could see the point where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, joined together with large crashing waves, and once I’d got over the fact that the two seas weren't actually different colours it really felt quite an enigma. We'd been told that in bad weathers the swells can reach as high as 10 meters, now this I would have liked to see as there are no rocks for them to crash against. As we left Cape Reinga we had to stop at the large sand dunes we could see in the distance. As we got closer the sand dunes started taking over the view point and before we knew it we were surrounded by them. Rather bizarrely there was one small van at the foot of these hiring out boogie boards and teaching you the basics of sand surfing, so yes of course we had a go. A completely mad sport in my opinion, if only because over half of your effort and time is spent climbing up some of the dunes which is really bloody tiring. I couldn't even get half way up one of the dunes and was glad I hadn’t after seeing Nathan's face on the way down; he looked pretty worried he might actually break an arm; we have it on video, it’s worth a watch. Cleaning off in a nearby watering hole we headed to our camp of the night at the Houhara Harbour at the Pukenui Holiday Park. Tired and missing Stanley (your car is just not made for 2 people to sleep in Jed), the tent is going to have to come out, and what’s more besides this, the sand flies and mozzies which in NZ are real biters; it’s like ‘attack of the sand fly’ everyday so we knew we had little choice but to spend some money investing in a better aero guard!
Bitten to high heaven we awoke the next morning and set off down the East coast stopping at a place that makes things out of the famous Kauri tree, a short 10 minutes later we were leaving; as much as I really fancied the chair at $35,000 I made do with a picture frame at $45 at which point Nathan had made a clear exit so I couldn’t purchase anything else – not that I wanted to. We drove past Doubtless Bay, famous for the first landfall for the legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe, but what we noticed most passing by were the pristine waters. We passed through Mangonui to Keri Keri where we stopped for a cup of coffee (hot chocolate for Nathan's sweet tooth) overlooking the steamboats on the banks of the Keri Keri River. We viewed the oldest standing building in NZ, Mission House, built 1822, and not quite having had enough of NZ history we headed to Waitangi and viewed the famous treaty house built in 1832 which was where the signing of the treaty between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown took place. Although we didn't go inside, the natural landscape and the grounds outside were sufficient to make us understand just how important this history is to NZ. It really is somewhere on my ‘must return to’ list for when we next visit. We stayed at Harura Falls Caravan Park, only 5 minutes from Paihia. Harura Falls being quite small in comparison to the waterfalls we've seen but nevertheless calm to watch and a nice area to pitch up. Deciding that the car just wasn't big enough for the two of us we finally succumbed and pitched the tent, a much better idea and a much better night’s sleep. Keen to keep funds for adventures and exploring we decided to stick to our backpacker food budget, we bought a cooked chicken, and actually accidentally walked out of the supermarket leaving it at the counter. Despite the obvious embarrassment, Nathan sat with the car ticking over while I returned for the forgotten chicken which was waiting for us – good job as we were even hungrier than we thought with the extra time it had taken to drive back for it.
The area we finalised our road trip for the North of the North Island is known as the 'Bay of Islands’; the original landing site for European settlers in the early 1800s. Paihia is a very touristy town but with a welcoming and accommodating approach that makes you feel settled instantly. This particular town is known as the 'jewel' of the bay due to the fact the first mission station in 1823 and NZ's first church were built here. While we were enjoying learning about the history we were also lacking the excitement of an adrenaline rush so we booked on the 'Mack attack' speed boat that goes around the bays and through the hole in the rock. Typically it was raining when it was our turn so we were kitted out in all the appropriate wet gear. I was glad I took the rather un-flattering sunglasses as the spray we were getting from the swells was quite sharp on my skin. There are 144 islands to explore in total but we only did a few, passing dozens of caves and interesting rock formations. Out of all the bays only 2 are privately owned, the rest are run by the department of conservation making it very green to look at. By now the water is getting pretty rough and I’m convinced as we pass Russell Island (this speed boat saved us some time getting the ferry trip over) that we wouldn’t be going through the hole in the rock, especially as there was a young girl screaming at the front saying 'I’m scared mummy,' I’ swear I was thinking along similar lines. Talk about white knuckles! Thankfully we made it through the other side (clearly as I’m writing this), only to see another boat turn around and not even attempt it! On the way back we passed Cape Brett, a 2 day tramp was pointed out which sounded amazing but still recovering from Jed's 6hr 45min 27sec walk I was not even in the mood for contemplating it. Time has passed since this though and I am now though; what do you think Jed?
On our way back to Auckland to collect Jed from work for the next leg back to Wellington we stopped at probably the most bizarre tourist attraction to date, the Hundertwasser Toilets. Yes these are toilets, and yes we only stopped as Nathan did actually need to use them. I on the other hand figured I best see what all the fuss is about and ended up in a queue for the toilet myself so thought I’d be polite and go. What is all the fuss about you ask? Well it made the headlines after the above named guy sculptured lots of glass into the large columns making it very interesting to look at, or at least that’s what the news report says; I’m not convinced it’s worth half the fuss! It wasn’t long till all three of us were packed, on our way, and soon arriving at Thames, our overnight stop on route and just in time for corned beef and sweet potatoes. Corned Beef you say, well this corned beef I swear you can’t buy in the UK, it’s like carved meat that you'd have on a Sunday; extremely tasty. The night was spent practicing shooting skills and viewing the passing comet in the sky. We felt pretty lucky to see the comet as it only comes around every 400,000 years, in NZ the stars feel much brighter than the UK, you almost feel like you can reach up and grab them they are that close, so seeing the comet was pretty spectacular. Next morning we made an impromptu stop at Tauranga for a BBQ brunch and to see Shelly and Warwick's new boat, I totally felt for Shelly though who was trying to impress the new in-laws and we all just rock up on the doorstep; I think we behaved though?
The drive along the old desert road was much alike its name suggests; long, hot and extremely tiring. The boys were taking it in turns to drive and doing their best to amuse me; I don't know how many games of cards, eye spy, name this, name that games we played, but it hit rock bottom when we started checking out what was on Jed's laptop! We managed to collect Tess at 9pm, and arrived back with Pat and Ali at 10.30pm, once again we were shattered, but the hot belated birthday cake for Nathan sure made up for it, and this time we didn’t wait until the morning. Although we haven't even touched the West coast of the North Island I have no doubts we will return and visit the things we missed and revisit a long list of favorites from this time around. One of these being you Jed, you made our trip enjoyable and humorous at the best of times, although you can talk I’ll give you that, I didn't think anyone could talk as much as me but you certainly put me to the test, you can tell we are related. I know we'll all keep in contact, thanks again Jed for adding a new playlist on the iPod; the new music will keep us going for the final leg in Australia, and we'll of course see you in March in Sydney so we can show you a little of Australia where I promise to have the pair of binoculars I owe you ready and waiting.
The next morning was Sunday, once again we were up bright up and early as Nathan had decided we must go to the Wiarapa air show. Luckily you convinced me Pat with a promise of a great picnic and sunshine, and you weren't wrong; never before have we needed a trolley to pull the crazy amounts of picnic items you’d prepared, it’s just a shame we hadn’t thought to top up the sun cream and all ended up sunburnt. But besides all my inhibitions I had a great day and Nathan certainly did, he was given a present of a ride in a helicopter for all of us, it was Nathan’s first time so he of course had front seat action with such awesome views. The day itself however ended quite sourly as an accident had happened on the only real road into Wellington meaning we were pretty much stranded at a stand-still until midnight on the opposite side of the hill, we didn’t make it home until around 1am.
Monday morning as I’m sure you've all guessed was very lazy and well needed. We did pack our bag ready for the trip over to the South Island tomorrow and gathered all the essentials that we may need, you know such things like jumpers, raincoats, saucepans, cups, plates, iPod speakers - all handy and needed! We passed the day fixing cupboards and doing odd jobs around the house together which felt like a perfect way to say thank you to Pat and Ali for such generous hospitality. Late afternoon we walked along the waterways harbour pausing to take a quick visit to the Te Papa Museum, another must to revisit, followed by a visit to your favorite pub Dad; 'Macs Brewery.’ I’ve discovered I now like Macs dark ale while Nathan was really keen on the ginger beer – he couldn’t get enough if it and would have probably stayed all night. Instead we had tea out at Patone followed by ice-cream and coffee at the cinema. This cinema was fantastic, each person had a settee and a cushion, the aim being to feel like being at home but being at the cinema, and made even better by the choice of film, no Bond, this time we watched Dream Girls. We would have enjoyed NZ either way I’m sure, but having had family here for us made our visit to the North Island all the more special. Tomorrow we go to the South Island, so it’s a good point to stop typing here, I’m confident this could be the longest journal entry yet, for now we shall leave you all to contemplate the North Island of New Zealand. The busy cities of Wellington and Auckland contrasted with the beauty and the rugged surrounding areas- a must see for everyone a least once in your lifetime. We hope you are all well, and we’ll be in touch soon.
Love, Lindsay and Nathan x
*Photos above; top and middle are the road trip we took with my cousin Jed in New Zealand, bottom is at the Three Sisters National Park in Katoomba with Andy and Kelly.
I am a 'wannabe' Nomad who currently lives in Sheffield with my husband and two children. I genuinely love exploring new places but finding time to fit this in is tricky so more often than not I'm found in the closest independent coffee shop because nothing cheers me up better than a decent coffee.