Hope you're well and getting into the Christmas spirit. Over this side of the world, there are a few token bits of scraggy tinsel here and there, but it doesn't really feel properly Christmassy down under!
We're now in Australia and have been here just over a week. Sorry for the delay in writing but our last few weeks have been pretty hectic, what with trying to cram in as much into our final days in New Zealand and then buying a car the day after we arrived in Oz (named Ruby by the hippies we bought her from - as Roland says: 22 years old, Japanese, been around the block a few times...)
We loved our time in New Zealand - it's such a beautiful country and the locals we met were very genuine and friendly. If you ever get the chance to go and visit, we'd thoroughly recommend it. Carole and Roy - you have a treat ahead! (and we'll send you our tips and the suggested itineraries from our Kiwi friends before too long, promise.)
So, last time we wrote we were in the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. From there, we visited the Marlborough wine region. It's known especially for its Sauvignon Blancs which were very good, but we were also pleasantly surprised by some dry Rieslings (didn't know such a thing existed!) It's (again) stunning landscape and a lot greener than the wine regions we visited in Argentina.
Then it was back up to Wellington in the North Island, via an infinitely better ferry crossing than before. We had a fun night out with a couple, Tony and Sophia, who we'd met in Bolivia a while back. It was Tony's birthday so we celebrated by spending the free bar tab we'd won at the pub quiz last time we were in Wellington. And then he really wanted a kebab, so who were we to argue with the birthday boy?
The following day we blew away the cobwebs with a trip to Zealandia - a wildlife reserve just outside Wellington. It's a massive area of lakes, forest and bush, surrounded by a predator-proof fence which has allowed the native brides and other wildlife to flourish. We saw lots of Tuis which have a wonderful call (a bizarre mix of trills, whistles, clicks and rattles!) Ben, you'd have loved it.
The next morning before leaving Wellington, we popped to the Te Papa museum, which is excellent, to see the Brian Brake photography exhibition. He was New Zealand's most prolific and best-known photographer and it was a very interesting collection. We were sorry to leave Wellington - it's a cool and laid-back city, and we even saw it in the sunshine this time which is something of a rarity by all accounts!
From capital city to dairy farm... We stayed with Michael and his family for a night on their farm in Taranaki. We'd met them on the Inca Trail, where they put me completely to shame by leading the way effortlessly, while I huffed and puffed at the back. We had a lovely evening with them and tried freshly-caught whitebait (which they serve in kind of omelette style fritters in New Zealand) and paua (the god-ugly shellfish that comes from beautiful iridescent shells). We'd said that we'd like to see the cows being milked the next morning - a choice I had second thoughts about at 5am... It was really interesting to get an insight into the process and amazing how the cows don't have to be coerced, they just shuffle passively along and know what they're supposed to do. It's incredibly hard work, with early starts and long, long days.
Before we went on our way, Michael took us to the base of snowcapped Mount Taranaki (an active volcano which they have a picture postcard view of from their kitchen), which was pretty impressive.
After a long old drive, we arrived at Waitomo where we visited the glowworm caves. These are wonderful limestone caves, over 24 million years old, full of stalagmites and stalactites, where you can take a silent boat ride in the dark to see all the tiny glowworms glowing like green Christmas lights. It's certainly a pretty unusual spectacle - but the experience was not exactly enhanced by the inane American tourist in our group who complained that it wasn't as well-run as Disneyland and that what they needed was more lights and maybe some music too...Not sure the glowworms would agree.
From there, we went to a nearby bird sanctuary so Roland could spy a kiwi which he was determined to do before we left the country. They are funny creatures - quite bulbous with long hooked beaks, and quite clumsy and ungainly.
Then another long drive was on the agenda to reach the Bay of Islands, but we'll post that as a separate entry with a lot more photos.
Ta ta for now.
Helene and Roland xx