South From Bangkok………………..

I arrived back in Bangkok from Sydney on Saturday 23rd March after a very enjoyable couple of weeks, spent mostly lazily relaxing at Scott’s waterfront house; and I must say that it is by far the best “hotel” that I have stayed in since my winter sabbatical began……..thanks once again buddy……….mud in yer eye……….

After a couple of days in Bangkok, I headed south and spent a couple of days at the seaside town of Hua Hin, just a bit of beach-walking and swimming (and consuming copious amounts of Pak Boong Fai Dang, which I have been craving for the last 6 weeks) before taking the train south to meet up with my friend Yada in Surat Thani, where she lives; she has a decent car and we drove south to Krabi, where we spent a couple of nights in a beachfront hotel at Ao Nang

We have a good arrangement, I am responsible for all the driving, while Yada sits cross-legged on the passenger seat, giving directions and administering refreshments; as anyone will know, I enjoy driving, so this arrangement is perfect for me……………

The railway station at Hua Hin; with only one line and one platform, it removed all the fun and anxiety of wondering if you were on the right platform, and getting on the right train…

Old Locomotive on display at Hua Hin station…………

Yada knew of a beach that was only accessible by boat from our Hotel at Ao Nang, so we took a boat there for the day……….above, leaving our beachfront hotel, and below, arriving at Railay beach…………………

From Railay beach, we hired a double Kayak for a few hours to paddle around the dramatic rock formations  jutting from the Andaman sea; Yada had not been in a Kayak before, so her contribution to our propulsion was minimal, but the sea was calm and paddling was easy

 

Our return transport back to our hotel at Ao Nang, after an excellent day trip……………..

 

Last Look At Sydney………………..

I rented a car in Sydney for a week, just to have a drive back to some places that I remembered from my 9 months spent there in the seventies, and first on my agenda was a trip to Katoomba, in the blue mountains, about a couple of hours drive from Sydney…………

 

This ancient rock formation is known as the “Three Sisters”

I could not leave Sydney without posting the perfunctory photos of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge…………………

And finally a few more photos from the balcony of Scott’s beautiful waterfront house in Sydney, where I have had the  privilege of staying for the duration of my trip to Sydney……

The Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree……..Merry, merry king of the bush is he……………

This one, kindly perched in one of the Eucalyptus (gum) trees outside of the house…………

Above………..the choice of swimming in Scott’s pool or the beautifully clean, clear water of the bay, hopefully you can see just how clean the water is in the shot below…………what a place to live

 

 

About an hour after sunset, one lovely evening, as we were sitting on the balcony eating some lovely steaks that Scott  had barbecued, and, of course, drinking a splendid bottle of   wine from his cellar…………….

 

 

 

Sydney……………

I am now in Sydney, where I am enjoying the wonderful hospitality and excellent good humor of my friend Scott; he has very kindly offered me accommodation in his beautiful waterfront house in Sydney, for the couple of weeks that I shall be here, an offer that I have gleefully accepted…………….another good decision, it is so lovely here, quiet and tranquil,  with the house situated  to look out across a splendid bay……………..

 

I arrived here last Friday and Scott kindly collected me from the Airport, with his two friendly and charming  kids, Sophie and Matthew; on Saturday the four of us went for a coastal walk, with Scott’s lovely girlfriend Cindy, her two kids, Ella and Euan and their two dogs………………..we walked from Clovelly to Bronte and to a headland overlooking Bondi beach, which took about an hour and a half each way; it was a lovely sunny day, about 28 Celsius with a nice cooling onshore breeze………………………..

Above and below, the view from one of the living areas in Scott’s house……………………

Above and below, some shots from the coastal walk…………………………..

 

Bondi beach, viewed from the headland…………………..

Above and below, the area is awash with frangipani trees and their beautiful flowers, in different colours…………………

………….and clematis………, I think………………….

Local fisherman………….a cormorant ……………

An aptly named Rainbow Lorikeet, these colourful birds are to be seen flying around Scott’s house everyday……………………………………….

 

I (nearly) forgot to mention the wine………………

I forgot to mention the wine………as you will know, New Zealand produces some very good wines; its fourteen hundred kilometer top to tip distance which embraces various climatic conditions allows for the growing of many different grape varieties……..I have for many years been a fan of their excellent Sauvignon Blanc’s, however, since arriving on this visit, I have been introduced to, and smitten with, some of their Pino Gris’ ……….It is a slightly aromatic wine, with a very pale peachy blush to its colour and is bursting with all of those (pretentious) fruit flavored descriptions that we all hate so much……….so, you white wine lovers, Pat, Liz, Sue et al, look out in your local “offie” for Pinot Gris from New Zealand; the ones that I have fallen in love with have been produced in either Marlborough or Hawkes Bay………”Monona Park” is a very good one, and if you can get over the unfortunate naming, “The Ned” is really lovely…………….

 

and if you read this Alex, I had a bottle of this in a wonderful Thai restaurant that I found in Dunedin, and it is great with Thai food, the aromatic edge offsets the spice of Thai cuisine wonderfully, without shouting at you like the Alsace aromatics (Gewürztraminer – for example) do……………………..so, I shall expect to find one on the wine list at the “Thai Pin St Margarets” on my return, it will be a great accompaniment to my “Pak Boong Fai Dang”

Bluff to Dunedin……………………….

I left Bluff and continued along the south coast before starting to drive north up the east coast to Dunedin, where I was hoping to see the first day of the first test match between New Zealand and England; I managed to get a ticket for the 1st day’s play and took a stroll to the venue, The University Oval, the day before the game, to find out how long the walk would take me from my motel……….

 

It was a beautiful sunny day (Tuesday) and when I arrived at the ground, the England team were practicing in the nets that are just inside the main entrance; I was allowed into the University Oval, where I spent a couple of hours watching the players in the nets, and strolling around the lovely little ground……….it was a very relaxed atmosphere and it was entertaining listening to the banter between the players as they practiced, they are obviously in a relaxed and confident frame of mind…..

 

My run of good luck finally took a tumble on the day of the match (Wednesday) ……..the weather was quite good when I got up at 7 am but when I got to the ground it was dark and overcast with heavy black clouds, the intended start time of 10.30 am arrived and it started to drizzle and then batter down with rain……………….

 

Above and below, the very pretty University Oval Dunedin, the day before the test match was due to start……………….

Above and below, the England captain Alistair Cook, facing delivery’s from Steve Finn…..I think this man could still manage to look elegant if he was hanging wallpaper………….

It’s that man…………..K.P…………”padding up” for a stint in the nets……….

and below, texting a couple of his chums in the Kiwi’s dressing room……………

New Zealand produces some excellent clover, and lavender honey, I saw this rather chubby bee feasting on lavender, in the park, just outside the University Oval……………….

10.30 am Wednesday 6th March………..waiting for the rain………………….didn’t have to wait long…………….

It is now 9.00am on Thursday 7th March here in Dunedin, as I am preparing to leave my motel and drive north, probably to Timaru for the night before my flight to Sydney on Friday, so this will probably be my last post until I am in Australia……….

 

As you may have concluded, I have had a great time in this wonderful country; one of the great advantages that New Zealand has, apart from its astounding natural beauty, is its glaringly obvious underpopulation (don’t tell anyone)……………………New Zealand is larger than the whole of the UK and more than twice the size of England, it has a population of 4.4 million and if you exclude the populations of 3 major cities, Auckland, Wellington and Christchuch, there are barely 2 million people inhabiting the rest of this country……….the UK has a population of 63 million, London (including greater) over 8 million…..Manchester more than 2.5 million, so, with this perspective, it is easy to understand why this country, and its roads seem so quiet, slowly-paced and leisurely..…………………. and why for visitors from the UK, at least, it distills the very essence of a bygone era……….. it seems naive and far too romantic to describe it as having an unspoiled innocence, but it is difficult to dismiss that opinion when you are here.

 

I have found the New Zealanders, warm, friendly and extremely helpful; every-time that I have asked someone here for help or directions, my customary apologetic approach of “so sorry to trouble you but” has been met with a “it’s no trouble at all” or “that’s okay, only too pleased to help”………it’s the pace of life here, everyone has time for each other, and on occasions, time itself seems to hang suspended…………….

Oh, and they still employ people in garages, who put petrol in your car’s tank, say hello, smile at you, clean your windscreen and rear window, and ask if there is anything else that you need…………..

Thank you New Zealand………………(*_*)

 

 

 

Milford Sound to the South Coast

 

I drove from the Milford Sound down to the south coast; as soon as I reached the coast the weather and feeling changed quite dramatically, from this coast, looking south, there is just the Southern Ocean and Antarctica; the wind was incredibly strong and cold even though it is late summer / early autumn here, it must be a most foreboding and inhospitable place in the grip of winter……………. this is when you really feel that you are in New Zealand, you see women lifting fully grown sheep (circa 80 kilos) over fences, men appear wearing checked, lumberjack shirts…….remember those, I have a minds-eye picture of Wally wearing one, which I’m sure he’ll deny and force an apology from me for the inference…….. this is not the terrain or the climate for the faint of heart, so I took a few snaps and  vamoosed, tout suite

Despite the obvious severity of winters here, palms still populate the roadsides; but they are a shorter, sturdier and more robust variety than I have seen elsewhere……………..

Everything growing here leans inland, blown that way by the relentless onshore battering of the antarctic winds……………..

Above and below…………..there are hundreds of one lane bridges all over New Zealand, they must outnumber two lane bridges by at least ten to one, but with such little traffic, you rarely need to give way to oncoming vehicles…………..

 

The school bus shelter at Colac bay, positioned to protect the kids from the howling winds that rip through this bay, and decorated to raise a smile (*_*)

 

I then continued along to Invercargill and then down to Bluff, which is the southernmost town in New Zealand and is colloquially  referred to as New Zealand’s southern extremity, as in “Cape Reinga to the Bluff” (lands end to John o’ Groats)……………it is not geographically the southernmost point, that honor goes to Slope Point

 

 

 

Maori legend has it that the south island is anchored to Stewart Island, the south island being the canoe of a Maori chief and traveler, who then when fishing from his canoe, and pulled the north island out of the sea…………there is a huge sculpture of an anchor at Stirling Point (Bluff) commemorating this legend………….I wonder who pulled the Isle Of Wight out of the English Channel……………………..

Stirling Point, Bluff………..often referred to as Lands End, and my motel for the night (which is for sale)………….. and below, another one of their signposts of isolation…………………….

The anchor sculpture…………..

Above………Slope Point, geographically the southernmost tip of New Zealand……… bleak, desolate and lashed by winds that must have been upwards of 50 kph when I got there….

Above and below, I don’t know what these are, but they are growing everywhere in this southernmost part of the country, looking strangely at odds with the climate……………

Mount Cook to the Milford Sound…………….

I checked out of my hotel room at the Hermitage after a nostalgic and rather expensive overnight stay, to be greeted by a grey and cloud filled valley that left Mount Cook and the Tasman glacier completely obscured from view, and I reflected on how fortunate I had been the previous day, to have made my “Pilgrimage” through a sunlit valley beneath a canopy of blue sky………..

 

My good fortune is not something that I take for granted, since I left home in early November, I have embraced everyday with an appreciation of how fortunate and privileged I am to be able to travel to, and experience, the wonderful places that I have been to, and the people that I have met along the way; it is the gift of freedom, a gift that many people in this world will never experience, or even dream that it exists, it is a precious gift, a gift that you cannot hang a price-tag on, and I will never be complacent about my good fortune in this charmed life……………………… I am indeed, a lucky man, a fact that  renders me extremely grateful and unapologetically happy………(*_*)

 

With the clouds engulfing Mount Cook and the Tasman glacier in my rear view mirror, I set off for Queenstown, when I eventually arrived, it was very crowded, and after driving past countless motels with “No vacancy” signs, I stopped to replenish the fuel tank of my little Hyundai and drove on to the Milford Sound, where I was lucky enough (again) to get the last available (tiny) room in a lodge there; this enabled me to book an early morning boat trip, which cruises through the sound out onto the Tasman Sea and back again

An hour or so after leaving Mount Cook, sunshine and blue sky prevailed and another river  and its obligatory bridge appeared alongside the road……………

Above and below, Lake Te Anau, which keeps the road to Milford Sound company for about 30 kilometers………………..

I arrived at the Milford Sound late afternoon, and the huge rock face’s of the sound had cast a premature shadow over the shoreline

Early morning, waiting quayside for the boat……………

The rest of the shots below were taken from the boat and do not, I think, need any attempt from me at description……………………….

Wanaka to Mount Cook (the calling answered)

 

 

As some of you know, back in the seventies, when I was a young man, I spent a couple of years traveling around the world; six months of that time was spent in New Zealand, three of those months working at the Hermitage Hotel at Mount Cook; that time, those halcyon days, I have remembered fondly ever since, and a return to Mount Cook had slowly evolved in my mind to a kind of Pilgrimage status, I doubt if that makes much sense, but that’s how it has felt to me………….

 

 

 

So, it was with much anticipation and excitement that I set off from Wanaka to drive to Mount Cook, and for the first time since I have been in NZ, I pre-booked my accommodation, a room at the Hermitage, of course……….the drive from Wanaka is over 200 kilometers, up what is in reality, a dead end road, not a trip I wanted to make to find the limited amount of accommodation there to be fully booked.

 

 

 

It is a wonderful drive and I was very lucky to get a lovely clear sunny day for it, which is  more important for this drive than most others; the reason for this is that, unusually for the highest mountain in a range, and Mount Cook is the highest, not just in the southern alps, but in the whole of Australasia, you get a clear view of it from almost 60 kilometers away (given a clear sunny day)…………so,  as you drive closer and closer, the image of this mountain becomes incrementally larger, drawing you towards it, as if you were zooming in on it with a tele-photo lens………..fabulous……..

 

The beautiful turquoise water of lake Pukaki, appears on your right as you enter the valley to drive towards Mount Cook, and it stays roadside to within about 10 kilometers of the mountain……………..

Still about 50 kilometers away……………………

Mount Cook, centre-stage, getting ever closer…………………

I thought that it was great that they have hoisted one of the old ski planes up in the hotel’s museum………..I might have flown in this one……………

When I worked at the Hermitage hotel all those years ago, I graduated to the best job there, which was driving the garbage truck, firstly, this job meant that you were outside most of the time enjoying the scenery, and also, the job entailed collecting the garbage from the little airstrip, where tourists could take flights to view the alps and land on the Tasman glacier; I soon got to know the couple of pilots there, and when there was a spare seat, they would call me over for a free flight………..after the little biplanes took off from the airstrip, the pilot would ask me to wind the skis down so that the plane could land on the glacier; this was done by cranking a handle inside the cockpit, which would wind down the skis and lock them into place below the wheels………………you can see (below) the mechanism on the outside of the old ski plane that they have suspended in the hotel, it is painted red and drops down from the cockpit, through a hinge system and then through the wheel hubs to fix to the skis………….magic………… more nostalgia………………..

Above and below………….Roaring Meg, a river that is channeled through a vey narrow gorge, providing enough momentum to power the hydro-electric station that you can see below………….this is on the journey back from Mount Cook to Queenstown………..

They have experienced on of their driest summers on record, I would love to see “Roaring Meg” in full voice………………….

The small hydro-electric station that utilises “Roaring Meg”

Haast to Lake Wanaka

I left Haast to drive to the town of Wanaka, on the southern shore of Lake Wanaka; it was a lovely, leisurely drive, through the type of beautiful scenery that I have become accustomed to since I arrived in New Zealand……………..

Soon after leaving Haast, on the now familiarly deserted condition of highway 6, heading inland towards the heavily forested Mount Aspiring National Park…………………………

The imaginatively  named “Fish river” which runs alongside Highway 6 for several kilometers…………………………………….

I stopped in Mount Aspiring National Park to take a forest walk to the aptly named blue pools; to get to the pools it was necessary to cross this very bouncy suspension bridge…….stopping to take this photo meant that by the time I walked onto the bridge, 2 pie-eating champions were coming towards me, causing the bridge to rise and fall at an alarming rate, I think I lost my composure and grabbed one of the hand rails……………

Blue pools, taken from another, shorter and consequently more stable suspension bridge, you can probably recognise my shadow on the right……………….

 

 

 

Soon after driving out of Mount Aspiring National Park, the northern end of lake Wanaka appears on the right hand side of Highway 6, and stays there for several kilometers…….

Highway 6 curves left and turns away from lake Wanaka, but before you get over the disappointment of losing that particular vista, Lake Hawea suddenly appears on the left of the Highway, and stays there for some 20 odd kilometers, to its southernmost shore…………………..below

If a lake of such beauty and wonderfully clear, clean water was located in most other places in the world, it would probably be populated by power boats, sailing dingy’s and those awful jet-skis things, not here, thank you very much, just nature’s aesthetic………..

 

Above and below, the road that turns off of Highway 6 and delivers you into the lovely little lakeside town of Wanaka……………………

And finally, below, a few shots from the lakeside in Wanaka……………….

 

Permanently fixed sun parasol ………………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westport to Haast

I left Westport and drove the costal route,  the main Highway 6, down the rugged and beautiful west coast; even by New Zealand standards, this is an extremely deserted part of the country, with the Tasman sea to your right and palm trees, forests and mountains to your left, you pass bays, coves and beaches that seem idyllic, yet are completely uninhabited………..

 

As you get further south, the southern alps appear on your left, pushing themselves out towards the coastline; you pass the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, which spill out from the southern alps towards the Tasman sea………..

I drove as far as the costal township of Haast, where I found a little Motel for the night……..

 

Leaving Westport on Highway 6……..Wednesday 27th Feb 2013, 08.45, it’s rush hour…………………….. but somebody forgot to tell New Zealand……………….

 

 

 
First sighting of the southern alps from the west coast……………….

 Below, the Franz Joseph Glacier, where I took the long hike (1.5 hours) up the huge valley to get as close as you can get to the ice-face (500 meters)

One of many waterfalls in the valley
Looking back down the valley towards the Tasman sea
One of the many smaller lakes that you come across………………
And below, a few kilometers from the Franz Joseph Glacier, I was struck by the ice blue colour of the glacial water, rushing down from the southern alps towards the Tasman sea………………..