50 hours in Tokyo

After our initial stop-over in Hong Kong, and then 2 weeks in Sydney, our final stop-over was Tokyo. Our time here was limited so this was a convenient way to get a taster, before deciding whether to spend more time in Japan some time in the future.

We arrived at Narita airport at 6am-ish on the 14th January 2010 to an outside temperature of -2 deg C, quite a shock after the (at least) 20 deg C of Sydney. This is a pretty ridiculous time to arrive in any city. Our main priority was to get into the city centre, and get to Shinjuku, the area our hotel was in. A small amount of research done on the flight, using the Lonely Planet “print and bind” guide we’d got at Sydney airport, had pointed us in the direction of the Narita Express train service, and the Suica pre-paid travel card which we could use for one airport to city journey, and for travelling around Tokyo. We had an hour or so wait for the train, so ambled around the airport, sampling coffee and tea and generally killing time whilst waiting.  I spotted this lonely little bear looking rather lonely and thought he ought to have his photo taken.
Lonely, lost bear at Tokyo airport

We arrived in Shinjuku station, and followed the signs to our hotel where we dropped our bags off but were told we couldn’t get our room until 2pm or so.  So, we decided to make the most of our limited time and get straight on with exploring.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

So, after a quick breakfast we headed off to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to get a (free) view across the city.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of our strategies is often to start our trip to a new city with trying to get to the top of a tall building to get a birds eye view, and the beginnings of our bearings. The Government building was only a short walk from the hotel, so proved perfectly placed for our first exploration.

Kumano-jinja shrine

From the tower, we spotted the Shinjuku Central Park area nearby and so headed off to investigate it, discovering the Kumano-jinja shinto shrine within it.

Shinjuku Street View

Our next mission was lunch, and so we headed back finding a place in the station complex which seemed busy, and reasonably priced. We also took a break to check in at the hotel, freshen up and unpack before heading back out to see what the more commercial areas were like, and having our first experience of getting horrendously lost in the rabbit-warren of passages beneath Shinjuku Central Station. We wandered around quite a few of the vast department stores, being completely fascinated by the sheer amount of wonderfully presented items in the Isetan food hall.  Our next attempt was to head to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden but we’d left it too late, and we arrived just as it closed, as it seems to close at around 4.30 pm all year around.

Shinjuku food stall

The Keio Plaza hotel has a bar area at the top of one of the towers which serves beer and light snacks, and it is here we found ourself that evening planning with great care the places we wanted to get to the following day. With such a limited amount of time available to us, we wanted to get the most out of it that we could, but without exhausting ourselves completely, so planning was essential.

Richard and the map

Our only full day started with us heading to Shibuya and after a little time watching the crossing, and finding the statue of faithful dog Hachikō we headed off in search of Kiddyland to go and spend some time browsing through the toy store. My main purchase was a new camera, no real surprise I guess, but I left clutching my new Superheadz Blue Ribbon along with a few odds and ends as gifts for friends and family.

Gate to the shrine

From a shrine of toys, to a true shrine, our next stop was to the Meiji Jinju Shrine, a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.  This shrine is situated in a large amount of forest area, and is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend an hour or so.

Wedding procession

Whilst we were at the shrine, we had the pleasure of watching, and in my case photographing, a wedding procession.


After all of that culture, our next stop was Akihabara Electric Town to explore what gadgets and gizmos were available.  We managed to keep our credit cards in our wallets and definitely restricted ourselves to window shopping.

The Tempura bar food ordering machine

Hunger struck us at this point, and after a quick wander around we managed to find a great tempura place with a unique, at least for us, way of ordering food. Press buttons which are either covered in illustrations (good for us Brits) or script, enter some money and get receipts. These receipts are then taken by the waiting staff and food arrives.


We then attempted to get to the gardens of the Imperial Palace, but we were about 15 minutes late getting there so headed straight off towards Ginza where we explored the Sony store, the Leica showroom and various other interesting places before heading back to Shinjuku.

Ginza at night

We finished our final evening in a conveyor belt sushi place in Shinjuku, where we were adopted by a Japanese gentleman who was keen to ensure we had the best experience possible.  He remained concerned that we weren’t eating enough, and when we looked around us at the other patrons and the amount of empty plates they had stacked up, we began to realise why.

Our airport bus left the hotel at 6am the following morning, and after a quick breakfast in the airport we were on a flight heading back to the UK armed with memories, souvenirs and lots of photographs.

As with Hong Kong and Sydney we used a lot of iPhone apps to get around Tokyo, but also found the Lonely Planet guide which we’d purchased in Sydney airport to be very useful, and being unbound and in a cardboard folder, quite discreet.

Tokyo was a wonderful place to spend some time, but 50 hours was far too short, I could easily have spent another couple of days there without running out of things to see and do. Although it was cold, the air was crisp, the skies were blue and the light was amazing for photography. I’d love to return to Tokyo, and Japan sometime, probably combining some more sightseeing with some snowboarding. I found the whole experience exiting and exhilarating, with a slight feeling of being in the film set for Lost in Translation.  Recommended.

2 weeks in Sydney

After our 60 hours in Hong Kong was a more leisurely stay in Sydney, Australia.

Our lovely friends Jono and Anna were getting married, and we were invited, and so it was around this event that we organised our three destination trip (Hong Kong, Sydney and Tokyo).

Day 1: 31 December 2009

New Years Eve champers

Jono and Anna kindly met us at the airport on the morning of New Years Eve, fed us, gave us tea, and access to a shower, in the hours before we could access the flat we’d rented in Randwick (a 15 minute walk from their place). It was a day of acclimatising, and light shopping at Bondi Junction, before welcoming in 2010 with Jono, Anna, Ash and Mitül and some wonderful Anna cooked food, and quite a few bottles of fizz, watching the fireworks from their sun-room.

Day 2: 1 January 2010

Planning complete

Our first communal (Jono, Anna, Ash, Mitul, Richard and I) task on New Years Day was to put together a basic plan for the rest of the week, making sure that Jono and Anna had all their pre-wedding commitments listed, so “The English”, as Richard and I and Ash and Mitül were collectively known, could sort ourselves out to do the more touristy bits and pieces on those days.


After all that planning, we were hungry and so stopped off for a bite to eat before spending time in the Aquarium, learning the differences between manatees and dugongs, looking at manta rays, crocodiles and a whole array of similar, and different, aquatic species.

Day 3: 2 January 2010

View IV

Whilst planning our days together, Jono had suggested a bit of light bush walking, doing the Spit Bridge to Manly walk. We all trooped off on the buses, with the five of us (“The English” plus Jono) getting off at Spit Bridge, whilst Anna and the children continued to Manly. The walk was a 10km-ish walk mostly along the coast, walking amongst trees, getting a chance to see lizards, and enjoying the warmth on our backs. Jono was a keen pace-maker, and we arrived in Manly after 3 hours and 15 minutes, ready for a sit down and a cool beer. Fortunately, both of these things were possible and we established ourselves at the Bavarian Bier Cafe just in time to watch a sudden shower empty the surrounding streets.

Fort Denison

After refreshing ourselves, we caught the ferry back into the City, enjoying the views and having landmarks pointed out to us by our own tour guide (Thanks Anna).

Day 4: 3 January 2010

Guy looking for a view

Ash and Mitul had previously booked to spend a couple of days in the Blue Mountains, so we opted to travel with them, but just do a day trip, so off we all headed on the train to Katoomba. As we got higher, the clouds got lower, and we spent the majority of the day in the clouds. This meant that we didn’t get to appreciate many of the great view points, but we did get to enjoy a wonderful walk through the rain forest and a trip on the Scenic Railway back to our starting point. We left Ash and Mitül here, and headed off back to Sydney by train, enjoying a lazy evening in the flat.

Day 5: 4 January 2010

East Chamber

A day wandering around bits of Sydney with Jono, he took us around some of the areas he lived in when he first arrived, and showed us the very lovely and photographically inspirational Paddington Reservoir Gardens before moving on to Centennial Park.

Day 6: 5 January 2010

Bronte Bay

Another day, another coast walk. This time from Coogee bay to Bondi bay on a well maintained route – a lovely way to get to see the different beach areas. The area around the Waverley Cemetery was especially beautiful.

Day 7: 6 January 2010

Great Picture Point

This was probably our most touristy day. We knew that we needed to be at the Opera Bar in the evening for pre-wedding drinks with Jono and Anna, various family members and friends, so we planned our day to take in some of the sights.

We met up with Ash and Mitül at Sydney Tower, and enjoyed our birds-eye view of the city. Over the years Richard and I have headed up many tall buildings as a way to get a feel for the extent of a place, so this suited us well.

Cadman's Cottage

Next up was a wander around The Rocks, and a look at the oldest surviving residential building in Sydney area (Cadman’s Cottage)


From here, we walked towards the Botanical Gardens and explored a bit before heading towards the Opera House, and the Opera Bar for drinks.

Harbour Bridge at Night

Day 8: 7 January 2010

Arrived at Coogee

As we’d done the Coogee Bay to Bondi Bay walk the other day, Richard and I decided to walk along a different patch of coast, so went from Maroubra to Coogee Bay, again part of the Coastal Walkway. This section seemed quieter, and the coast seemed a bit more rough, and in some ways a more pleasant stretch to wander along.

Day 9: 8 January 2010

Holding hands

Jono and Anna’s wedding day, the reason we were in Sydney at this time. The ceremony was late afternoon, so the rest of the day was spent just wandering around the local area, grabbing some wifi at a cafe, and generally just relaxing ahead of the evening. The ceremony was held in the open, with kookaburras joining in and was a beautiful occasion which we were delighted to have been able to present at. A lovely venue, with lovely people, and lovely food. Ahh, lovely.

Day 10: 9 January 2010

Genuine Aussie barbie

A very quiet day, attending the well named recovery barbecue at Anna’s Mum’s place on the North Shore and doing very little else.

Day 11: 10 January 2010

In transit

After packing up our belongings, handing the key back to the letting agent, and depositing the majority of our luggage at Jono and Anna’s place, we all (The English, Jono, Anna and Jono’s sister Lisa) piled into the people mover we’d hired and Anna, our designated driver, drove us out from Sydney to the Hunter Valley for a two night stay. We stopped for lunch at Hungerford Hill, and managed to do a quick bit of wine tasting before heading to Cessnock for supplies and finally reaching our accommation at the Lovedale Country Lodge

Day 12: 11 January 2010

Group shot: Richard, Me, Mitul, Ash, Lisa, Jono, Anna

A day of wine tasting in some of the boutique vineyards around the Hunter Valley. Richard blogged about this months ago, so I’m not going to repeat that detail here. The evening continued in much the same manner as the day, involving drinking some of the wines we’d bought, and making good use of the barbecue.

Day 13: 12 January 2010

Wine sales signs

A slow start to the day – probably related to the wine tastingdrinking of the day before – meaning that it was lunchtime before we even left our lovely lodge. We stopped off at Wollombi on our way back for a spot of lunch and then trundled back into Sydney, and made camp at Jono and Anna’s place for our final night in Sydney.

Day 14: 13 January 2010

Lighthouse in context

Ash and Mitül left first, heading off to the airport, and then on to Hong Kong for a few days. We returned to Paddington with Jono, getting to look around the Blender Gallery looking at the Pattie Boyd “Through the eyes of a muse” exhibition before walking across the road to the Australian Centre for Photography and the Montalbetti & Campbell “The Sensualists” exhibition. After meeting up with Anna and Lisa, we headed off to Watsons Bay for a last walk in the Sydney area before heading back to Jono and Anna’s flat, packing our bags and heading to Sydney airport for our overnight flight to Tokyo.

As with Hong Kong, we used an iPhone app as our main guide which turned out to be excellent and was based on the wikitravel Sydney information – see Richard’s post for information about which other apps we used.

So, two weeks in Sydney, and reading back over these notes it doesn’t feel like we saw that much, and we didn’t really venture into any other parts of the vast country that is Australia. But, we did get to go to Anna and Jono’s wedding, and spend time with them, their families and their friends, and that was why we were there. Walking along the coast was lovely, and was a really pleasant way to explore the coastline, and something I’d recommend to others to do. I’d also like to return to the Blue Mountains some time, and spend a bit more time there, hopefully being able to see something other than clouds 🙂

60 Hours in Hong Kong

I don’t remember when I first learnt of Hong Kong, I know it was whilst it was still under British rule. It interested me as a city, in theory at least, being an easily navigable city with lots to see. As we planned our trip to Australia to visit Jono and Anna for their wedding it seemed like a golden opportunity to visit.

We arrived at Hong Kong reasonably early on the Monday morning between Christmas and New Year and made our way to Kowloon, and the Hotel Benito, via one of the airport buses. We couldn’t check in for a few hours so abandoned our stuff and spent some time exploring the area surrounding the hotel and discovering Kowloon Park and it’s free government wifi.

Plant tree and gardener in Kowloon Park

After check-in, naps and a freshen up we headed back out for further exploration, still staying in the Kowloon area, taking a walk down to the Temple Street night market where we found food and beer, before heading back towards the Avenue of stars to take some night photographs of the skyline.

Night market, Temple Street, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Island at night

Our only full day started late due to the excitement of Christmas and travelling catching up with us, but after a quick trip to a nearby bakery to feed ourselves, we headed off to the nearest MTR station to pick up our octopus card (pre-paid travel card – similar to an Oyster card in the UK). Armed with our travelcards we headed off to Lantau Island to take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to see the Po Lin monastery and the Tian Tan Budha.

Cables in the cloud

Tian Tan Budha


After lunching at the monastery, we made our way back towards town and stopped off at Hong Kong Island for some exploring around that area, including, of course, a trip on the Central Mid-levels escalator and a trip to the Man Mo Temple.

Man Mo Temple

After our fill of culture, we headed off to check out a few recommendations from a friend of mine who lived in Hong Kong for a few years, so took in the Red bar at the IFC before finishing our evening at Lin Heung Tea House for dinner.

Beers at RED bar at IFC

Richard and I on the roof of the IFC

Our final day in Hong Kong, so after another bakery based breakfast and checking out of the hotel (and leaving our bags) we headed off to the 10,000 budha temple as our final cultural experience of Hong Kong, well, if you don’t include food courts in department stores, haggling for iPhone related stuff (case, charger etc) as cultural before getting our bags, getting on the airport express and waiting for our 10pm flight to find Jono and Anna in Sydney (of which more in another blog post).

Winged praying buddha

We used an iPhone app as our main guide which turned out to be excellent and was based on the wikitravel Hong Kong information. See Richard’s post for information about which other apps we used.

60 hours in Hong Kong was a reasonable amount of time to see most things – it was pretty cloudy most of our time there, so there was no point in heading out to Victoria Peak. The timing of our visit, between Christmas and New Year, made this even more interesting, as the cultures collide between dim sum, noodle bars and piped Christmas music from every possible outlet. The general cries of “copy watch, copy handbag” and “new suit, new tailored suit” at every corner were accompanied by the occasional jingle bell rendition – most odd. As a stop over destination, I really enjoyed it, and would gladly stop in Hong Kong again. It was everything I’d imagined it to be, an interesting city which, as an English speaker, is relatively accessible without too much difficulty.


Richard attended the JavaOne conference again, and so I headed out to meet him when it was over for a holiday. This time we spent the weekend in San Francisco, before heading to Lake Tahoe, the Wine Country and finally Marin County.

Friday – London to San Francisco

A day spent travelling and aclimatising.

Richard had already been out in California for 5 days at the JavaOne Conference so I flew from Heathrow to San Francisco to join him.

In an effort to stay awake we headed off for a wander around a favourite spot from our last trip, the Yerba Buena gardens, and I had my first chance to do some photography.

After an early dinner, we had a couple of cocktails in the bar at the top of the Grand Hyatt (where we were staying) before my tiredness caught up with me and I had to sleep.

Saturday – San Francisco

We met up with Paul for breakfast at Cafe de la Presse (a favourite breakfast eaterie from the last time we were there) before heading off to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The building was lovely, and light and airy and there were some interesting exhibitions going on.

After have been cultured for a bit, we decided it was time for a spot of retail therapy and explored the shops around Market Street before taking a break at the hotel.

For dinner we headed off on a streetcar towards Pier 23 and ate at the Fog City Diner.

Sunday – San Francisco

The others were heading back to the UK today, so we met up with them for breakfast at Louis Diner before going our separate ways.

I’d read about the murals in Mission in the Photo Secrets guide to San Francisco and Northern California and so we headed off for a look at them, and decided to concentrate our efforts on Balmy Alley. This was a great idea as there are so many of them to see, and they’re so very impressive. There are other murals all over Mission but we only saw a handful of them.

We headed back to the Yerba Buena gardens and sat around there for a while before going in search of the Ansel Adams Centre for Photography which we’d seen mentioned in the book. Unfortunately this had closed since the book was written.
Our next stop was to find the the Carnelian Room in the Bank of America building – the highest publically accessible point in San Francisco which hosts a very pleasant cocktail bar.

Before we left the UK our friend Nathan (who’d lived in San Francisco for 4 years) had recommended some restaurants, and we decided to go to the Baker Street Bistro – his favourite restaurant. It was a great little find, and wasn’t somewhere we’d have ventured to without his recommendation.

Monday – San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

We headed back to the airport to collect our rental car from dollar and joined the biggest queue in the rental area. Typical. Still, no real problems and we collected the car and headed off.

We’d decided to head to Lake Tahoe as we’d heard good things about it, and this proved to be a good decision. The drive was good, and we arrived at the North Shore with enough time to drive from Tahoe City to Incline Village to check out the best place for us to stay for a few nights. We ended up deciding on the Lake of the Sky motel in Tahoe City, a basic but pleasant enough place which had an outdoor swimming pool which we made use of immediately.

We headed to Lakehouse Pizza and ordered a huge, but tasty pizza and sampled a couple of pints of the local microbrews before needing to pass out.

Tuesday – Lake Tahoe and Reno

We read in the Rough Guide that Sand Harbor, on the Nevada stretch of Lake Tahoe was a beautiful spot so we headed there and discovered that it was true. Lots of beautiful clear lakeside, a beach area, and a boardwalk to follow.

After a lovely walk, and rest we headed off towards Reno, passing the Ponderosa Ranch – home of Bonanza.

Arriving in Reno our first visit was to the Planetarium at the university where we watched a couple of films, one about the International Space Station and the other about Clark and Lewis and then took a look at the exhibits (which had been overrated a bit in the Rough Guide but nonetheless looking at a large polished section of meteorite, and being able to touch a small meteorite was quite an experience.

Next we headed into Reno itself. Neither of us have been to Vegas, and so the whole Casino thing was quite strange to us. We wandered through quite a few of them, starting at Circus Circus before taking a look at Harrah‘s, Silver Legacy and Eldorado. We thought that as we were in a casino town we should take advantage of the cheap eats, and so headed off to Atlantis out of town to eat at the casino voted by the locals as having the best vuffet. I must admit, the quality of the food was good, and they mongolian grill was pretty tasty and impressive – you choose a bowl full of veggies and it gets freshly cooked for you with either chicken or beef.

I think we ended up being about $4 down after playing on the slots, so we felt we’d done ok.

We headed back to Tahoe City and headed to a local bar to get a couple of beers and watch (and try and understand) a baseball game on the tv.

Wednesday – Around Lake Tahoe

The first stop of the day was at Emerald Bay and we took the steep walk down to Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian “Castle” built as a summer house in 1929, and decided against doing the tour and instead took a walk to the waterfall.

After heading back to the car we drove slowly around the lake, stopping at viewpoints and just enjoying the drive before heading back past Sand Harbor and into Tahoe City.

Our dinner choice was mexican at Hacienda del Lago, where the food was tasty and plentiful, the view was good, but the service was rushed.

Thursday – Lake Tahoe to Calistoga

A day of travelling. We left Tahoe City and headed to Squaw Valley in search of the olympic flame. We were really impressed with what we saw as it looks to be a compact place with plenty of eateries and lifts to chose from. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll return for some snowboarding. We were “in between seasons”, which is the story of our recent travels, and so the lifts had closed after the winter season, but hadn’t opened for the summer season yet.

So, we headed off on our way towards Napa Valley and stopped off at Nevada City – an old Gold rush town. We took a wander around, and looked at some of the historic buildings including a long walk around the impressive Firehouse No 1 museum.
We headed off on the road again, and after consulting the Rough Guide again, we decided to head towards Calistoga as it a) sounded nice, and b) seemed to mention quite a few eateries and motels.

We arrived at Calistoga and had a hunt around for accommodation, but were struggling because we wanted to stay there until Sunday morning, and Saturday nights were booked up most places. In the end we figured we’d only stay 2 nights and chose the lovely Garnett Creek Inn.

After a rest, and a well needed shower we headed off to the Calistoga Inn Restaurant for a lovely meal outside on the patio.

Friday – Around the Napa Valley

We started off the day by taking a walk around Calistoga and getting some useful information from the Chamber of Commerce.
We headed off in the car and drove around both the Napa and Sonama valleys before arriving back in Calistoga for a late lunch at Calistoga Natural, an organic shop and cafe.

Feeling refreshed we headed off to the Sterling Vineyards for the wine tour and tastings as this was one of the recommended wineries in the Lonely Planet. It’s an excellent tourist option as it combines a gondola ride, with education on the wine making process and of course some wine tasting. To be honest we weren’t that impressed with the wines we were offered, but we learnt lots.

Having got back to the Garnett Creek Inn, we headed next door to Hurds Candles and Wines as they offered wine tastings from their OnThEdge winery. These were far more to our taste and we came away with a couple of bottles of Zinfandel.

After our wine related day, what better way to relax than by having a bottle of Californian sparkling wine on the decking of the Garnett Creek. Having got the taste for wine we ate at Brannan’s Grill and indulged in a flight of wine each (a flight of wine is 3 part glasses offering a selection of wines based on a theme – mine was Sauvignon blanc and Richard’s was Rhone).

This was the day that the new Harry Potter book was to be released and the Calistoga bookshops weren’t going to be left out of the fun. Copperfields had an event starting at 11.30pm, and Calistoga Books was opening at 11.45pm. By 11.15pm there were people in fancy dress waiting outside Copperfields for the event to start and so we decided that we really should hang around and that I should treat myself to the book. At midnight, the party was in full swing with prizes being handed out for best fancy dress etc, but nobody seemed intent on taking my money, so I headed off over the road to the other shop which was far more subdued but was doing a roaring trade to all sorts of people, from teachers, to children, to skater boys, to tourists from England 🙂

Saturday – Calistoga to Highway 101 via Marin County

Before leaving Calistoga completely we headed off to the Old Faithful Geysir where we watched the geysir spurt a couple of times.

We’d decided that Marin County looked like a fun place to spend our day, and would be an ideal spot to spend the night before heading back to San Francisco the following day. Unfortunately all didn’t go to plan and we couldn’t find a place to stay. So, we decided to do our Marin County, or more particularly Point Reyes Pensinsular exploring during the day before having dinner and then looking for a motel off the highway.

We headed on to the peninsular and stopped off at Drakes Beach which was beautiful and very windy. We took a nice long walk along the beach, enjoying the feel of the wind on our faces. We stopped off at another couple of beaches on the peninsular, but they weren’t as impressive.

We stopped at Inverness to collect some beers from a grocery store, and spotted a pizza place opposite which we decided to investigate for our dinner. It turned out to be tasty food and certainly set us up well for what was to turn out to be a nightmare trying to find somewhere to stay.

We headed along Highway 101, expecting to find somewhere to stay with relative ease. Of course, we hadn’t remember that the Nascar racing was happening in Sonoma, and never thought that we’d find everywhere booked up. Unfortunately that turned out to be the case and we clocked up quite some miles and time before finally finding a room in the Dollar Inn just outside Petaluma. The room was basic and the only reason that it hadn’t already been let out was that it had no tv.
Our evening consisted of drinking those beers that we’d fortuitously collected at Inverness, and then packing our luggage for the flight back.

Sunday – Back to San Francisco

We left the Dollar Inn and headed off towards Muir Woods. Unfortunately for us the parking areas were all totally packed, and so there was no space for us. Instead we headed off to Muir Beach, another lovely little spot.

We didn’t have enough time to explore properly, so we headed back to the car and drove on towards San Francisco taking a stop at the Golden Gate bridge viewing area to admire the view. It’s a shame that my home town doesn’t make as much of a fuss about it’s bridge.

We went over the bridge, and drove through San Francisco following Highway 1 until we arrived at the airport. San Francisco airport, or at least departures, seemed to have improved since our last visit, and we actually found somewhere to eat, and some shops to spend our time in before boarding our plane and heading home.

Honeymoon in New England

Brighton to Boston – 9th September

Our check in was pretty efficient, but our seat allocation wasn’t great – the middle 2 of a 4 block. I asked if we could be put on the upgrade list as it was our honeymoon and the lady said she’d make a note of it but that they weren’t looking to upgrade people.

We went through into departures and got some breakfast before heading to the gate. When our cards were checked we’d been allocated some new seats. It wasn’t until we boarded that we realised we’d been upgraded to World Traveller Plus. These seats were great, so much more space. During the flight I started to read the book Cathy and Levi bought me for my birthday – Mrs Dalloway (neither of us had realised that she was a Mrs Richard Dalloway) by Virginia Woolfe.

We treated ourselves to a small bottle of champagne and started our honeymoon in good style.

The flight was pretty good, and we arrived in Boston collected our baggage, cleared customs and caught one of the shuttle buses to the ‘T’ station. We caught the Blue Line and then the Green to Prudential and then walked to the Encore Bed and Breakfast.

The first thing on the agenda was to have a shower – we’d arrived in the middle of a heat wave and it was 29C. Our host Reinhold had thoughtfully left us a half bottle of Korbel Californian Champagne so we sat out on the balcony enjoying the weather, reading about Boston, talking about the wedding and relaxing.

We decided that it was getting close to dinner time and so we consulted the information that was in the room and chose a restaurant to head for. We first went and walked around the Reflecting Pool, part of the Christian Science Centre, looking at all the different buildings and styles that make up that centre. We then just walked along Huntington Ave for a while, looking at what was around until we arrived at Arlington Street.

The restaurant we’d chosen, Grillfish, was between Arlington and Berkley on Columbus Ave and we had a lovely meal there. We both started to flag and so didn’t hang around, just paid the bill, walked back and fell asleep.

In Boston – 10 September

I woke up early – breakfast wasn’t till 9:30 – but spent some time just relaxing before starting the day proper. We went down to the breakfast nook and had a really lovely breakfast and a nice, informative chat with Reinhold.

It was another hot day and so we headed off to explore. Our first stop was the Prudential centre and a visit to the Skywalk – a viewing gallery over Boston. There are some great views and it is getting traditional that we head for the highest possible vantage point.

We headed along Commonwealth Ave, a lovely tree lined road with a series of gardens before entering the Public Garden. There was a crane and a group of workmen all working on moving the George Washington off the granite stand. We watched progress for quite some time before they decided it was lunchtime. We headed off into Boston Common and picked up the Freedom trail.

The Freedom trail is a 2.5 mile walk linking 16 of the historically important sites. It’s really easy to follow as the route is marked by red bricks/red paint. It was a good walk with some interesting sites. We took a short shopping break near the Faneuil Hall to visit Abercrombie and Fitch, and then stopped for some chowder in a bread bowl at Quincy Market. We then headed on and completed the trail although by the time we’d got over the river to Charlestown we were both pretty weary.

We decided to head back to the Encore but decided to stop of at the Prudential shopping mall first – resulting in me buying a new skirt. Then back to the room and time for a much needed shower before heading off to Giacomos – an italian that was recommended by a shopkeeper we’d chatted to earlier. Our food was pretty good, but the service was very harsh and so this spoilt it for us a bit.

So, finally back to the room to relax a little before bedtime.

Boston to North Conway – 11 September

We turned the TV on and watched the coverage of the remembrance services being held at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Pensylvania. Much of it was very moving stuff.

We went to breakfast and flicked through the papers and spoke to Reinhold about 9.11, our plans for the day and also our thoughts on Giacomos – he also thinks the service is bad. He was also telling us about David’s (our co-host) new play which opens on the 13th – it’s called Bee Luther Hatchee and sounds to be very interesting.

We headed off back to Logan Airport to collect our hire car. Logan airport seemed quiet, and we overheard lots of conversations about where people were this time last year – I remember sitting at my desk in London with the Radio on, being morbidly fascinated and horrified by the events that unfolded. Today we were on the T with our bags and were wished a “safe flight” by one guys on the car. Awareness was high.

We collected our car and started our adventure. We’d decided to head off to New Hampshire and to the White Mountains. The car wasn’t too hard to get to grips with and we made good progress.

We stopped at North Woodstock for some lunch, eating at Peg’s Family Restaurant, a reasonable, simple place. It was raining so we headed off along the beautiful Kancamagus highway through the rain and clouds and into sunshine again. We stopped at a couple of scenic views, and spent some time at the Lower Falls.

We headed into North Conway and started the hunt for a hotel. We looked at the Stonehurst Manor but decided that it was a bit too far out. Then we tried the Oxen Yoke Inn but discovered that the Eastern Slope Inn Resort handles the reservations for it. As we left I managed to scratch the car on a set of unmarked rocks used as a road edge – this was annoying and un-nerving but I guess its why we took CDW insurance. Eventually we decided to check in to the Eastern Slope.

We went for an explore of the town and found quite a few interesting looking shops and eateries before returning to our room and watching some of the news coverage.

We couldn’t decide where to eat and the Lonely Planet wasn’t much help as it just listed places rather than commenting on them. After a look around we went for Horsefeathers which was a good, if very filling, choice. We attempted a starter between us and a main course each but couldn’t finish them. My Lobster Pot Pie was very nice indeed. We had a couple of pints of Tuckerman’s Pale Ale each, a local Washington Valley beer, which was really tasty.

In and Around New Hampshire – 12th September

We got up and had breakfast at a small coffee shop on the hotel complex. Then on with our adventure.

Our first stop was the Echo Lake State Park. We followed the road up to Cathedral ledge and had a walk around at the top, looking down over the valley. We drove down to the lake with the roof down which was really refreshing. We had a look around the lake but it was a bit too cold to linger so we returned to the car.

We then headed off to the Attitash ski area as there is a luge ride but we were too late in the season to play during the week although it still operates on a weekend.

So, we headed off to Crawford Notch State Park as it has a system of short trails. We drove to the Willey house site and picked up an information sheet about the walks. The Arethusa Falls walk sounded lovely, but after doing a short bit of it we turned back as we weren’t properly prepared for a 2 hour walk. Instead we decided to do the Ripley Falls trail. This follows the Appalachian trail for 0.25 mile or so before diverting towards the falls. The falls were beautiful and the area was really peaceful.

We headed back to the car and drove back to the Visitor’s Centre in search of some lunch. One of the day’s specials was Veggie Chilli so we had a good warmingbowl each.

We headed on again and pulled in at the viewpoint overlooking Bretton Woods. This is the hotel where President Roosevelt brought the world leaders in July 1944 to discuss the world economy. It has a wonderful situation with Mount Washington behind it.

We headed off on the base road to the Cog Railway station to look at the trains, the tracks and the mountain. The trip takes 3 hours (there and back), and the temperature at the summit was estimated at 30F. We weren’t prepared for such cold and so gave it a miss.

Instead we headed to the Wildcat mountain ski area and took the gondola skyride to the top. It was around 40F at the summit (approx 3,900 feet) and so was a bit more manageable. We stood on the Observation deck and got some pretty spectacular views.

Enough of being in the outdoors – so we headed back into North Conway and did a spot of light shopping before going back to the hotel room.

After some time relaxing we headed down to “Flatbread Company” an organic pizza place attached to the hotel. The toppings were unusual and the one we shared was very enjoyable. And another pint of Tuckermans Ale each as well – lovely.

North Conway to Camden – 13th September

We had breakfast in the Frontside Grind again before heading off on our way.

The mission for today was shopping and so we headed to Freeport – home of Outlet Shopping. We expected a set of concrete malls but it’s really nicely laid out. For lunch we’d just bought a Lobster Roll each which was a bit dissapointing as it wasn’t very filling. However this gave us a perfect opportunity to try a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. We opted for the 1.5 scoop and it was huge!

After our successful shopping experiences we headed off to Camden. It was a good job we’d pre-booked as a lot of the nicer looking hotels were showing “No Vacancy” signs.

We checked in to the Hartsone Inn and did a bit of unpacking and had a rest. We headed out for an explore of Camden and found somewhere to eat. It wasn’t the greatest place but it was pleasant enough.

In and around Camden – 14th September

We had our first breakfast at the Hartstone Inn and we were impressed. Lovely food, beautifully presented. On the strength of that we decided to see if they had any availability for dinner either today or tomorrow. Unfortunately not.

We thought that giving sea kayaking a try would be fun, and it’s something that the Lonely Planet mentions for Camden, and so Rich started calling around the various operators – no one was running any trips, so that idea was out.

Instead we drove to the Camden Hills State Park, paid our admission and parked. We decided to follow our host’s advice and walk up to Ocean Lookout (near the top of Mt Megunticook). There were quite a lot of people also doing this trail and so it wasn’t as peaceful as our walk on Thursday. However, the view was pretty impressive looking down over Camden and the areas around. We decided that having got so far we’d continue to the top of Mt Megunticook and followed the well-marked, fairly easy going trail. We retraced our steps back to Ocean Lookout and then took a different, tougher and quieter route down. A very pleasant way to spend a few hours.

We drove on to Lincolnville beach and stopped for a picnic lunch. The beach store provided us with good, filling subs which we sat on a bench to eat.

The only thing left in the Guide book for the area was Fort Knox so we headed off there. Bizarre place, really strange. For starters they were having a medieval demonstration – remember that the fort wasn’t built until 1869 – which seemed a little odd. Then we got lost inside the inner section, there were few signs, little information, no maps (apart from the one we got on entry) and no signs on how to exit. We weren’t the only ones having difficulty as there were lots of people wandering around looking confused. Finally we escaped and headed off before we got trapped again.

We drove back to Camden and to the hotel. We had a look through the menus in the binder downstairs and found a nice looking restaurant. After some time spent relaxing we showered and got smartened up and headed to Cork in Bay View Road. We didn’t expect to get a table but we were fortunate that some people had just left. The food was wonderful, and the portion sizes were just right for us. Rich choose herb crusted lamb for his main course, whilst I had the Lobster and mushroom casserole. We shared them both and they were both great, the best food we’ve had on this trip. The service was great, really understated, and the wine (a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) was a good choice. All in all a great way to celebrate our one week anniversary.

In and around Camden and Acadia national park – 15th September

Another great breakfast and different to yesterday. Today was lemon poppy cake with blueberry sauce and yoghurt followed by blueberry waffle with maple syrup accompanied by fruit and a couple of rashers of bacon. Lovely.

And when we got back to our room after breakfast it had been “done” – impressive.

Despite the weather forecast we decided to head to the Acadia national park – the only national park in New England. We head off along Highways 1 and 3 until we get to Bar Harbor stopping only at the Thompson Island Information Centre to pick up some kayak and cycle leaflets. We drive into Cottage St, Bar Habor and found the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. They had quite a good selection of bikes for rent, as well as items to buy – Rich bought a rain jacket (which proved to be a wise purchase). We hired 2 recreation bikes, 2 helmets and a bike lock. No sooner had we collected them than the rain started, and it was heavy.

We waited in the bike hire shop until the rain calmed and cycled off in search of lunch. We ate sandwiches at the Whales tale and monitored the rain. It calmed down and cleared up so we cycled off to the harbour (not purposely but never mind). We cycled into the park and soon got onto the Carriage paths. We took the route around Eagle lake and were around half way round when it started to rain again. We continued cycling and were soon soaked!

Rather than exploring any more we headed back to the bike shop. Fortunately they had a toilet space we could use to changs into dry clothing. The bikes themselves seemed to be really well maintained.

We drove back to Camden and had warm showers. The bathroom has a warm air heater so we used it as a drying room for our gear – this worked really well.

It was still pouring with rain so we decided to eat at the Frogwater cafe – 2 doors away. The food was simple but filling and just what was needed. We tried another couple of Microbrews – Andrews Porter and Andrews Pale – both of which were good to drink.

Camden to Vermont – 16th September

Another lovely breakfast, again beautifully presented. We packed our bags, and took them out through the rain to the car. We settled up with our hosts and told them that we’d decided to head to Vermont. We were given the
“Select Registry” hotel guide book to help us find somewhere good – a quick glance showed us that it featured lots of lovely hotels.

We start our long drive in the rain. The map we’ve been using seems to be a little out of date as road numbers have changed. We stopped at a large pharmacy and got a better one. The roads in some places are poorly maintained and we had a couple of “road work”s to negotiate through – in both cases the top surface had been removed leaving heavily pitted gravel and mud.

Our next stop was at the tourist information at Rumford – we were speaking to the lady who runs it and it appear that she’s English and so was another local lady so we talk about places in the UK for a while. We get some lunch supplies in the petrol station over the road and also call “The Inn at Round Barn Farm” from the new guide book. They have space for us and will give us a choice of rooms when we arrive.

We continue our LONG drive leaving Maine, passing through New Hampshire and finally arriving in Vermont. We arrive at the Inn and have a guided tour of the inn and the round barn. We have a choice of about 5 rooms, all of them arelovely. Eventually we choose the Sherman room and unpack.

We have a cup of tea and some hors d’ouvres from downstairs and sit by the pond for a while. We then have a game of pool in the games room – and remember why we don’t play very often (we’re not very good and a game lasts far too long).

I decide to make use of the facilities in the room and enjoy the steam room, then a shower – very relaxing.

The Inn doesn’t serve dinner, and there isn’t anything walkable so we head off to “John Egan’s big world” and have a good dinner. We come back to the hotel and call the innkeeper to see if we can get a beer to finish the evening off – she doesn’t know where they are kept.

In and around Vermont – 17th September

We had a good breakfast (3 course!), watched a chipmunk outside, and headed back to our room. This was still being cleaned and so we went for a walk around the grounds which was most pleasant.

We decided to head off to Burlington, with the thought of kayaking. Burlington seems to be a lovely city. We walked around and found an Old Navy store – a store we’d spent some time in in San Francisco. After a look around the shops we walked to the edge of Lake Champlain – a huge body of water. The nearby kayak rental places are only open at weekends now. Only when driving out of Burlington did we see an open one.

Our next stop was at the Ben and Jerry‘s ice cream factory near Waterbury. Here you can buy ice cream (obvious really!) and take a tour of the factory. We bought tour tickets and then spent a little time looking at the gift shop before the cowbell rang for our tour, We started with a short film about the history, then a view over the factory, and finally a taste of a couple of flavours. We weren’t quite ice-creamed out yet and so had a full size one each. Just as we were about to leave we caught sight of an interesting sign – the “flavour graveyard”. Here there are headstones to flavours that didn’t stand the test of time.

We decided to take a drive into Stowe, but didn’t stop as there seemed to be a huge traffic jam.

We drove back along the VT 100, a very scenic road and decided to drive down into the mountain area as we thought we should see the Green Mountains as well as the White Mountains. Our drive took longer than we’d expected and our plan of spending some time at the Inn vanished.

We got back to the Inn and decided to investigate the swimming pool – but it was dark by now, and the lighting wasn’t very good, and there were no towels, so we gave up.

We had a rummage through the menus and decided to go to “The Spotted Cow” for dinner. This is the closest eatery and had an interesting menu. They had space for us and we had an okay meal – the dishes were all a bit too fussy really, too many different flavours – but it was a pretty expensive dinner.

After last nights failure to get beer at the Inn after dinner we’d picked up a couple of bottles at a Supermarket during our earlier drive around – so we drank them before retiring.

Vermont to Provincetown – 18th September

We decided to go for a swim before breakfast and so got our swimmers and towels and headed down to the barn. We pulled the covers back and Rich set off, it took me a while to get in (the water felt a bit chilly). I swam a couple of lengths when I saw something green and bloated in front of me, a dead frog. That was too much and we both got out. The pool had dead insects in it, which didn’t seem so bad, but a dead frog. Yeuch!

We went to breakfast and had some more good food. Then back to the room for a steam and a shower before packing up and heading off. We stopped off pretty soon at a farm and country shop that we’d spotted yesterday, all to take photos of pumpkins!

Today was to be another long drive, although mostly on Interstates. We stopped for lunch in Manchester, and ate at LaLa’s Hungarian Pastry which was a real good feed before driving on. We hit quite a lot of traffic around Boston which slowed us down quite a bit.

We arrived in Provincetown shortly before it got dark and checked into “the Carriage House Hotel” which is a lovely place (apart from the shower in our room which is a bit damp). We unpacked, had showers and took it easy for a while before heading off in search of food. Our host suggested “Napi‘s” and once we’d checked out the menu we agreed. We wandered off, found Napi’s, drank Margeritas and I had my first whole lobster experience of New England – complete with apron, napkin and towelette – which was great if a bit messy.

In Provincetown – 19th September

We went downstairs for our “help yourself breakfast” there were lots of different items to choose from.

We decided to go for a walk around the town and found some really interesting looking houseware/garden shops. As we wandered into one Kayak outfitters we were asked if we wanted to go for a paddle, and that they’d offer us a 2 hour rental rather than a 4 hour rental if we’d prefer (they were having a quiet day and figured that some rental was better than none). We said we’d think about it and continued with our shopping. Our plan had been to hire bikes and cycle along the coastal trail but as we’d tried to find kayaks and failed a few times on this holiday, we decided that this is what we should do. So, after a quick change of clothes we headed off to Off The Coast Kayak. They gave us some instruction, a map and a watch (so we knew when our 2 hours was up). We paddled out and over to long point, near the lighthouse where we stopped on the sand for a few moments. Then headed back. We arrived back a few minutes early and got changed into our spare clothes (which we were glad to have as we both had really soggy bums).

We headed back to the Carriage House and had showers to get rid of that sea smell. We then opened up the half bottle of champagne that we’d bought earlier and spent a bit of time just relaxing.

We headed out to dinner via the front desk and got a couple of recommendations of places to try. We looked at the menu and headed off to try The Mews which turned out to be a pretty good place with nice food, nice wine and a lovely view out into the harbour.

Ireland Travel Diary

July 2002

Day One – Brighton to Galway

On leaving our train from Brighton we were immediately confused by the signs and it took us a while to work out which terminal we wanted. We checked in and headed through departures – here they took digital photos of us which they later referred to when going into the departure lounge. Very cool use of technology.

We left Gatwick about an hour late and had a fairly uneventful flight to Dublin. From the airport we took one of the airlink buses through Dublin and to Heuston station. We got our tickets to Galway sorted very efficiently and then sat around the station for an hour – stations are so dull! A note for future explorers, don’t join the queue for the train, there’s really no point unless you’re there early. We were quite near the back and realised that there were actually 2 queues – ours and one that seemed to be full of later arrivals and ours was the slowest. Bah!

The train journey was ok, some of the scenery was very pretty. One minor annoyance though – there was no announcements or signs at the station when we arrived in Galway, it was only the fact that the train was emptying that prompted us to get off! We couldn’t find a taxi rank but did find a cab office (left out of the station to the end of the road and left again) and got a cab to take us to our accommodation – the Brook Lodge in Upper Newcastle (and not on Newcastle Road as I’d been told – big thanks to the cab driver from Cara Cabs (091 563939) for finding the place for us)

After sorting our stuff out we went for a bit of an explore and walked into town, through the University campus and past the cathedral. We took a walk along Shop Street towards Quay Street in search of food. We decided to try Kirwan’s Lane Creative Cuisine as it sounded intriguing in the Lonely Planet (it’s a place that could happily sit in the most stylish areas of New York or London). We were fortunate to get one of the last tables. The restaurant is very stylish, and the service is excellent. The menu was extensive and full of interesting choices but unfortunately didn’t quite deliver. After our dinner we headed over the road to The Quays for a pint of Smithwicks each – a very pleasant ale. The Quays reminded me of a particular Irish theme pub in Picadilly or Leicester Square – I don’t know whether this means that it was a really authentic theme pub in London, or that the Quays is a English Irish theme pub – hopefully I’ll see more pubs during the week and can then decide. It was full of young (under 30 – strange how my definition of young changes as I get older!) people having a good time.

Day Two – In Galway

We headed downstairs for breakfast and our landlady introduced us to 2 ladies who are also doing the cycle trip – Vic and Kaye.

After an irish breakfast (with black and white pudding) we walked into Galway, this time taking the path by the side of the River Corrib. We walked right along to the Wolfe tone bridge and then decided to walk along the edge of the Quays and we stood for a while looking out to sea. We headed back into town and stopped off at The Kenny Gallery and walked around both the Manus Walsh exhibition and then the adjoining bookshop. We decided it was time for a break and so bought a newspaper and a couple of drinks and sat for a while in Kennedy Park.

After our break, and a quick recap of the Lonely Planet, we went and took a look at the outside of Lynch’s Castle (most of the present building, said to be the finest town castle in Ireland, dates from around 1600) which is now a branch of the AIB, and then the Spanish Arch (1584).

We decided that we’d walk along the coast path to Salthill, a seaside resort. We walked along one part of the path and seemed to gain a dog who proceeded to follow us for quite some distance. We had a rest, a bottle of water and an ice cream at Cafe Mauds before deciding to take a ride on the “Giant Wheel” which was part of the fair ground. From the top we got some good views out to sea and back over to Galway. We also spotted a set of skateboard ramps and after our ride we wandered over to take a look. There was a skate contest going on, and they’d arranged the competition into Under 9’s, 10 – 11 and 12 and over. There were some pretty good kids there, and they were all really supportive and encouraging of each other which was good to see. We got talking to one of the organisers who was saying that it’s part of a church mission – one of the Galway churches is joined to a group of 100 or so US churches and so the Americans had come over for a week and had organised this, a soccer camp and some face painting and bouncy castles. The kids all seemed to be having a great time.

We decided to head off back to Galway, and back to the Brook Lodge, both of us feeling somewhat sunburnt. We’d not been back in our room long when John, our guide, knocked on the door to say Hi.

We met up with John again at 6:20 and he drove us down to the Jurys Inn to meet up with the others. We had a beer in the bar, and had our introduction before going into the restaurant for a 3 course dinner. A couple of minibus taxis came to pick us up and took us back to the Brook Lodge, dropping the others off with their luggage. After a short time we headed of in another minibus to The Cottage Bar in Salthill for a few beers with our cycling group – there was some live Irish music paying and we both sampled our first pints of Guiness. We only stayed for a pint before getting a cab back to the B&B.

Day Three – Galway to Westport

We had a good breakfast, changed into our cycling gear, packed our bags and got onto the coach. We left Galway (about an hour late) and were driven to Cong. Here we got off the coach and claimed a bike each. We spent some time adjusting the bikes (I put my own saddle on mine), filled up our water bottles and started off on our 22 mile morning cycle. We cycled through Clonbur, along a bit of the Joyce Country Drive and through the village of Finny. Some of the scenery and views were wonderful, and generally about 9 of us cycled together. We had a tough hill to climb before we headed alongside Lough Mask.

Our lunch stop was at Paddy’s which is right on the side of the Lake. There was a bit of a mix up about food – apparently John had ordered sandwiches for us all, but he forgot to tell us. We ordered some food, and drank a couple of pints of orange and lemonade and rested for a while. One couple had had a problem with a flat tyre and so we called John to get him to come back and assist Bob who was, by this point, pushing his bike towards Paddy’s but was about 8 miles away.

We headed off on a tough afternoon cycle. There was supposed to be an easy option but John told us that the roads were going to be too busy for us, and so we should to the hillier climb. We had a bit of confusion with our instructions as we’d eaten at a different place but after checking it out we started the slow 2 mile climb. This was really, really hard work. Once we’d got to the top we had a photo opportunity with the 10 or 11 of us who were there at the same time before starting the 13 mile ride to Westport. This was billed as “nice downhills and a couple more uphills” but it was pretty tough going. Finally we got to Westport and arrived at the Cilcomman Lodge. We put our bikes in the garage, got shown to our room and had a long, very much deserved, shower.

We were picked up by John in the van at 7.30ish and joined some of the others squashed into the back as he drove us to the Asgard for dinner. As we all piled out of the back of the van some people in the pub were watching on amused as 10 or so of us climbed out. We had a pleasant dinner and then 8 of us (Randy, Vic, Kay, Shannon, Roar and Emilie plus us) went with John to Campbells about 4 miles away. This was a small pub and grocers and had a group of Irish musicians – it seems that Sunday night is a bit of an irish jamming session there. We’d planned to just go for one drink but the taxi couldn’t pick us up for another couple of hours. The music was great, but it’s been a tiring day.

Day Four – Westport to Leenaun

We had a good breakfast, packed up our stuff and got the bikes out and then waited for John. Eventually we gave up waiting and called him. He claimed he’d told us to meet at another B&B but that was the first we’d heard of it!

Anyway we headed off and followed the road on before stopping at a famine memorial “Coffin Ship” and going to take a cook at the remains of Murrisk Abbey. We then pressed on and arrived in Louisburgh (our lunch stop) after a fairly easy 12 miles. We discovered that the place we were supposed to have lunch at was closed so lots of us congregated at a pub and waited for them to start serving food. We’d just ordered when John appeared so he joined us for a while.

We headed off on our 18 mile afternoon ride. It was a really lovely ride and as the afternoon wore on the weather got more pleasant. We cycled through some beautiful scenery going along the DooLough Pass, through the Delphi Valley and towards Killary Harbour. We still had enough energy left (just) when we got to the Ashley falls to go for a walk to get a closer view.

Then we just had a couple of miles te go before arriving at Leenane and our accommodation for the night – Killary house. We had our showers before going for a quick look around Leenane.

We had a pre-dinner drink in the pub before moving on to the Blackberry for a lovely dinner. They only have a licence for wines so we had to get beer from the pub and bring it in. After dinner we went to another of the pubs (the Field – as seen in the film of the same name) for a drink before giving up and going to sleep.

Day Five – Leenaun to Roundstone

Last night John told us that today’s cycle was hard and more like 42 miles than the 36 mentioned in the tour details. He told us that there was a shorter route available.

After breakfast we went to reclaim our bikes to go down to Leenane’s main car park. My rear tyre had gone down overnight so I walked down with it. Because of problem with the gears and the flat I just took a spare bike out of the van before starting our revised route (most of the group opted for the short option). We headed off and caught up with DeeDee who seemed to be having rear brake problems (the wheel was catching a lot) and so we tried to help and made it a little bit better for her. Our first scheduled stop was at Kylemore Abbey. This was originally built for a wealthy English businessman. During the first wcrld war some Benedictine nuns left Ypres and set up the Abbey. The grounds are lovely and the neo-Gothic memorial church was interesting (and small). The Abbey is in beautiful surroundings with the Lake in front and mountains behind it. John replaced DeeDee’s bike as the front brake was catching too – she’d had a really hard time.

We cycled off again through the Lough Inagh Valley with the Twelve Bens mountains above us and lakes next to us. Some beautiful scenery. Not far after this we had a head wind for a while which may cycling somewhat harder. We arrived at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel and had lunch with Jeremy and Rachel, Tessa and Diana and Roar and Emilie.

Then back on the road for the last 6 miles of the day. It seemed to have cooled down quite a bit but we just peddaled a bit harder for a little while to warm ourselves up. We arrived in Roundstone at around 3:30pm and were met by John with the room keys. We all stay at the Eldons Hotel for the next 2 evenings – this is the first time we’re all in the same accommodation.

We had showers, then a quick stroll the nearest shop for biscuits and juice and then did the domestic chores (washing cycling gear).

We went down to the hotel bar for a pint and it wasn’t long before the others joined us. We ate dinner in the Beola restaurant (which is attached to the hotel) and the fish dishes were excellent. John persuaded us to try a Black Velvet (Guiness and champagne) which was, er, interesting. We finished the day off with a pint in Ryan’s pub.

Day Six – In and Around Roundstone

This is our rest day, although almost all of the group were at breakfast by 8:45. There were plenty of options for the day – John’s tour, cycle rides, walks. We decided to join John’ tour.

We met him, and the others (Jeremy, Rachel, Tessa, Diana, DeeDee, Vic and Kay) outside the hotel and then collected a couple of benches from the hall to go in the back of the van. We headed off and our first stop was overlooking Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay. Then on again and a stop at John’s house in Ballyconneely where we met his wife and their lively springer spaniel. He got his clay pigeon gun out and let some of us have a shot with it – I had a go, but I don’t think I got anywhere near the target (a football on a fence post). We moved on to the harbour and to take a look at John’s boat. Our next stop was at Frank Clarke’s mobile home. Frank is an artist who John really rates. Jeremy does some painting and exhibiting and so they had a lot to chat about. The site overlooks a beautiful bay and we sat and watched the sea for quite some time. John managed to get one of the van’s wheels stuck so we had to push it out a bit!

We moved on and stopped for coffee at the shop/bar/restaurant near John’s place before continuing on to the Alcock and Brown memorial (the 2 men who made the first crossing of the Atlantic by car). And off again, this time along the Sky road – this was one of the extensions to the long route yesterday, and Pat and Randy did that ride today (no way was I getting on a bike!). The scenery along the road was beautiful, and we stopped at the top to admire the view.

We took a lunch break in Clifden giving an opportunity for some light shopping as well as eating some very nice open crab sandwiches. After lunch we headed back to Roundstone.

As there was still 4 hours before dinner Rich and I decided to take a wander to the beaches, but stopped off at the Roundstone Musical Instruments shop where they make and sell bodhr·ns. One of the assistants told us all about them. They sell many other types of instruments as well – from tin whistles to tamberines – definitely a stopping point for the musical minded.

We headed off to Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay and spent a pleasant half an hour sitting there eating an ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

We had a lovely dinner before watching (and participating in) an evening of Irish music, dancing and singing. Good fun but tiring.

Day Seven – Roundstone to Carraroe

We had some breakfast and packed our bags and prepared to go cycing again.

There were 2 options for the morning cycle, and we chose the shorter one. This took us out of Roundstone, through Toombeola and Cashel before we cycled along the bog road. There were some guys cutting peat blocks along the roadside.

John had told us not to bother stopping at the recommended lunch stop – which was just as well as we didn’t see it! We stopped for lunch in a little Coffee shop in the middle of nowhere!

After lunch Rich and I, and Pippa decided that we’d do the “slightly more scenic option”. It was a pretty big hill but there were some lovely views. It was very rural’ and must be very bleak in winter. There were quite a lot of dogs around as well as the odd donkey and cow.

We rejoined the usual route and passed through Castla before arriving in Carraroe. We cycled through the village and beyond until we arrived at Lennafion Guest house. We showered before walking to the Coral beach with Vic and Kay. There were a load of rock pools around and we spent quite a bit of time watching the sea creatures. There seemed to be quite a fewjellyfish around as well. We saw most of our group down there at some point or another before we headed back to our accommodation.

We walked into the village and bought some snacks for tomorrow as well as a copy of the Irish Independent and headed over to An CistÌn for a pint before dinner. Roar and Emilie were there when we arrived so we sat and chatted with them for a while. The others all arrived and we went into the restaurant to eat what ended up being a very rushed dinner. There was going to be some Irish Country and Western music later but we were just way too full after dinner to stay any longer and so Rich and I and Kay and Vic wandered back to the B&B – slowly!

Day Eight – Carraroe to Galway

An earlier start today. We had breakfast, packed our bags and cycled up to O’Donahughes to meet up with the others. We headed out of Carraroe and followed the signposts to the ferry to Aran. John and Kaye met us there (Kaye wasn’t cycling today because she was going to meet up with some friends in Galway). We took the 10am ferry over to Inishmor and used the 40 minutes of the journey to read up on the island.

It had started raining on our journey to the ferry and so we decided to only do a little bit of cycling. We headed off to D˙n Aengus – a hill fort – with Vic, Shannon, Diana and Tessa and cycled along the main road, getting wetter and wetter. This really made us appreciate how lucky we’d been for the rest of our trip. Apparently the view from the fort is amazing but we were basically in cloud so I wouldn’t know. We cycled back to Kilronan and headed in search of beer and food. There seemed to be plenty of places offering one or the other but then we found the Aran Fisherman and had guiness and fish and chips. We still had a bit of time before the return ferry and so had a look at the shops and Shannon, Rich and I “helped” Vic choose an Aran jumper for her bloke – actually I’m not sure we helped that much as we all had very different opinions. She bought one anyway.

We caught the 4pm ferry back and reflected on how touristy Inishmor was. We’ve stayed in some very remote places, and it was quite strange to see so many people touring the island by minibus, cycle or foot. The ferry was fine and we were met by John and the van, and a minibus. We said goodbye to our bikes and were driven back to Brook Lodge in Galway.

John arranged for 2 minibuses to take us to the Jamesons Hotel in Salthill for our dinner. We had a more relaxed dinner than last night, but they still needed to move us on. We all wrote our names and contact details down and John got us all photocopies. Jeremy did a short speech and the presentation of the card and collection to John. He then spoke about all of us.

We headed on to the Cottage Bar for beer and more Irish music. Patricia (the Brook Lodge landlady) and her friend Rita came to join us, and Marian and her Mother were still with us after coming to dinner with us earlier. It was another good evening and many drinks were consumed.

Day Nine – Galway to Brighton

So this is Goodbye. The first people left at around 9am and for the next hour or so we said our Goodbyes until it was our turn. John called the remaining people into the lounge as Frank Clarke (the artist we’d met earlier in the week) was on. Jeremy brought his sketches down to show John, and they were really very good.

Rich and I shared a taxi with Diana and Tessa and they headed off to get a coach whilst we went to the train station and joined the queue again. Galway seems to be a one platform station. We saw Shannon there so she came and joined us and then sat opposite us on the train which was really nice.

We said Goodbye to Shannon at Heuston station and headed off to find the Dublin City Tour bus. A full circuit of the tour takes arout one and a half hours, and we just stayed on the bus all the way around to get an idea of what Dublin was all about. The guide was pretty good, although they only seem to cater for English speaking visitors. It started to rain on a couple of occasions but not sufficently to make us leave the open top deck. We left the bus on O Connell street and went in search of food. We found a pizza place and had our last pints of Guiness there.

We headed off to the bus station and caught an AirLink bus back to the airport. Check in was pretty efficient. The flight was on time and we arrived safely at Gatwick, bought a train ticket and headed back to Brighton.

Thoughts and Reflections

Would I do a cycling holiday again?

Yes, definitely. It was good fun, and made for a really good way of feeling at one with the countryside

Would I go with Irish Cycling Safaris again?

Yes I would. The Mayo tour has been recommended as being another flatter option – not sure I’m really for the really big hills yet

What would I take with me?

A basic tool kit, there weren’t many tools to share between us, so I’d probably take a basic puncture repair kit, and spanner set
I’d also definitely take my saddle again, it was worth adding into my luggage allowance. I’d also try and find an Ordnance Survey map or similar as that would have been useful – the map and directions provided were ok, but an OS would have been reassuring at times.

Would I visit Ireland again?

Yes, there were some really peaceful and rural parts. I’d like to explore more at some point, and I’d make a point of trying to avoid the overly touristy bits (like


January 2002

Why Malta?

Well to be honest we wanted to go away somewhere warmer than the UK between 2 Jan and 5 Jan (before I started my new job on the 7th) and when we were booking in December getting a flight back on the 5th was hard. Our first choice was Lisbon but the flights weren’t available – see the blog for more of a rant about this. When we called Crystal Cities, Malta was one of the only places we could get. So, that was that. We had considered Malta so it wasn’t a complete change of plan.

Wed 2 Jan
The alarm went off at 5:39 and we got ourselves up and moving and left the house at just before 6:30. There had been a heavy frost overnight but we were fortunate and our drive to Heathrow was fairly easy. We had prebooked parking at the Parking Express long term parking and so found ourselves a space eventually (it was really busy). The bus came along soon and we got to terminal 4.
The documentation we’d had from Crystal Cities told us to check in 3 hours before the flight. That is why we’d left so early. The check in monitors said that check-in was at 9:20 – it was now 8:30. We decided to make use of our time and changed some money into Maltese currency and then went in search of breakfast.
We found breakfast in a Weatherspoons pub and I started to take a look through the Rough Guide to Malta (we didn’t really know much about the island). We checked in for the flight and then joined the queue to go through into departures – the security clearance takes longer these days. We had a bit of time for shopping and bought a couple of DVDs before heading to the gate.
We boarded the plane and took off a little later than scheduled. The flight was fine, not much leg room but it wasn’t for long – 2.5 hours only (my last flight was 26 hours to New Zealand, and until the end of November I was travelling 1.5 hours just to get to work). We were handed a copy of the Malta Independent newspaper which occupied me for a little while. I think it was one of the Bill Bryson books which says that reading the local newspaper is a wonderful way to get a feel for a place. I guess we agree as we often do so now. From the Independent I realised just how small a place Malta is.
We arrived at Malta airport and stepped off the plane and into sunshine which had a bit of heat to it (around 11 deg c) – the recent weather in Brighton has been cold but bright. We went through Passport control, collected our bag, went through customs and then met our driver. About half an hour later we arrived at the Corinthia Marina hotel in St George’s Bay having dropped people off at Msida and Sliema. We checked in to what looks like a pleasant hotel and sat in our room and looked at the various leaflets and maps that we’d been handed.
We decided to go for a brief explore of the Corinthia Beach Resort and found some restaurants and many pools (mostly outdoor although there is an indoor pool, spa and sauna in the Apollo Club). We had a good look around before heading back to reception to get a safety deposit box lock and key.
It was time for a rest, so we liberated a couple of beers from the mini-bar and read some of the guidebook before having a bit of a snooze.
We headed off in search of food and were disappointed to find that Tapa Tapa (Spanish tapas bar) was closed this evening. We took a wander around the other hotel eateries and ended up at Vinotheque where we had a half bottle of Maltese Cabernet Sauvignon and I had salmon (which had so many bones that eating it wasn’t very enjoyable – being stabbed in the gum by a salmon bone isn’t the best experience!) whilst Rich had a house platter (cheese, pate and ham with bread).

Thur 3 Jan
When we were met at Malta Airport yesterday we were handed an envelope which told us that our rep Tanya would see us at 9am today. So, we set an alarm and got up and were downstairs in reception at 9. No sign of her. We asked at reception and were told to go to breakfast as she’d hang around for us. So we went through and had a breakfast of bread with cheeses and meats (we couldn’t face another cooked breakfast today) with some juice and tea. We sat around at reception and there was still no sign of Tanya (she represents United Travel who handle crystal holidays here). We waited for quarter of an hour or so before giving up and heading back to the room. At 10am the phone rang, Tanya had arrived. We took our return flight tickets down to her so she could confirm them for us and got told the time for our pickup on Saturday – 3:45pm. We asked about buses to Mdina and were told that the number 65 from Valleta or Sliema would take us there.
Unfortunately it was an overcast and rainy morning but we decided we’d still explore the towns around and about. We took the map of the area from the “Island Life” magazine in the room and headed off.
We left the hotel and watched a guy with a tractor removing the seaweed from the sand at the end of St George’s Bay. Our first stop was the bay street mall. We had a wander around and popped into Chaucers to get a copy of todays “The Malta Independent”. This allowed us to get some smaller change.
We headed around the bay and walked through the Paceville district of St Julian’s. We stopped at a Supermarket down Triq Wilga and bought a couple of soft drinks and some more tissues. We wandered along and got to Portomaso (the tallest building in Malta – a glass office block) and the Malta Hilton. We wandered down Triq Il-Kinisja and headed down some steps to end up at Spinola Bay.
Spinola Bay is full of fishing boats, mostly painted in bright colours and with the “Eye of Osiris” painted on the bow. The eye is believed to help ward off evil, bad omens and bad luck while at sea.
We carried along Triq Gorg Borg Olivier and were stopped by a couple of people. They asked us some questions about our stay and persuaded us to go to the Hotel Lapsi to listen to the timeshare presentation – this would take an hour, and in return we’d get a cup of tea and a bottle of gin and a bottle of wine. The 2 kidnappers would get £10 to share. As it was raining we went in and answered more questions while Carl gave us the sell. It seems like a good idea but it wouldn’t suit us really – we’re still enjoying the make it up at we go along phase and haven’t progressed to being able to decide in January how many weeks holiday we’ll want. The scheme is with RCI and the idea isn’t to return to Malta every year, but to swap through the space bank and go to new places (all 4 or 5 star places). We had a tour of the Lapsi and were then told the up front costs (£2200 ish) before leaving (2.5 hours later), by which time it had stopped raining.
The Lapsi is in Balluta Bay and so we headed on to Sliema down Triq Manwel Dimech and then down Santa Elena and Triq Sir Adrian Dingli (a long cut as it turned out). We walked along Triq It-Torri, past the Sliema Point Battery – Malta’s only Gothic Revival military building – which has a TGI Fridays and an Itallian restaurant in it. We continued to the Bus terminus and ferry terminal and decided to stop for food (it was 4pm by now). We ate at the “magic kiosk” and both sampled a local beer “hopleaf” and had fish burger and chips.
After food we decided that it was time to head off back to the hotel. It took us around 40 minutes and so we managed to get back before it got too dark.
I could finally take my wet shoes off and had to stuff them with yesterdays paper to attempt to dry them. We had a rest and a snooze and a read of the paper before going in search of dinner.
We tried Tapa Tapa for dinner. This is another eatery in the complex and frankly we were disappointed. We’re used to tapas places with long lists to choose from – not just 8, and we’re used to ordering 4 or 5 dishes and not being able to finish them. We had 2 plates of 4 tapas, and waited for the dessert menu which never appeared. There was a power cut (which wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper although many others were) We eventually got the bill and headed back to the room.

Fri 4 Jan
With no rep to see this morning we slept a bit longer and made our way down to breakfast at 9:30. One of the items in the hot food section was pastizzi – pockets of puff pastry filled with mashed peas.
At 10:30 we joined the queue of people waiting outside the hotel front door for the courtesy bus to Sliema and Valletta. There were quite a lot of people waiting and the hotel bus was running late, and so when we saw the service bus appear we all made a dash for that. So, we found ourselves on the number 66 bus heading to Valletta for 15cents. Maltese buses aren’t going to win any prizes for comfort but at least they are pretty cheap. It took around 30 minutes to get to the terminus at Valletta – lots of buses all just displaying numbers on their front, no place names or anything. The bus we thought we wanted didn’t seem to exist here (we found out later that it is from Sliema only) so we asked at the information kiosk and found that the number 80 or 81 would take us to Mdina. Another 15cent fare for about a 30 minute journey and we got off at Rabatt (the 81 continues to Dingli). We managed to start to head the wrong way before a helpful local gave us directions.
We walked through Howard Gardens and into Mdina. Mdina used to be the capital of Malta from 800BC until 1568. In 1693 an earthquake damaged almost half of the city and a slow rebuilding program started. We entered through the Main Gate (constructed in 1724 as part of the restoration programme). Typically we managed to arrive at Mdina at 12ish so everything was closing down for several hours (everything seems to close from 12 or 1 to 2 to 4). We walked around at looked at the outside of St Paul’s Cathedra, the Cathedral Museum and many other buildings before stumbling into Fontanella Tea Gardens for a warming cup of tea – today the sun has been shining but it is still very cold to be wandering around looking at architecture.
We read up about Mdina in the warmth of the tea rooms and then took another walk around spotting some more buildings. St Paul’s Cathedral wasn’t due to open again until 2pm, and Palazzo Fanton – an example of Norman architecture dating from 1495 – wasn’t due to open until 2:3 and we were too cold to wander around for much longer. We debated getting the number 81 to Dingli to look at the cliffs and to see the Clapham Junction Cart Ruts – sets of parallel pairs of ruts furrowed into the rocky surface – but instead we decided to get the number 65 bus to Sliema.

This decided we headed to the bus terminus and didn’t have too long to wait before the 65 arrived. This journey constitutes a specalized route and so costs 40cents. This journey took us from Mdina through Mosta, through some really narrow streets and then stopping and giving us a really good view of the parish church of Santa Marija. This is known as the Mosta Dome and is a circular church rather than the more usual crucifix shaped. It is claimed that it is Europe’s third largest dome (the others being the Pantheon and St Peter’s in Rome) but measuring domes is an inexact science. We then headed through Naxxar before starting to head into St Julians. We recognised the huge glass office block of Paceville and so got off the bus there so we didn’t have as far to walk.
We wandered through the streets and decided to eat at a place called “the avenue” which we later found was mentioned in the rough guide. It was a pizza/pasta/grills kind of place and we ordered a half bottle of Maltese Cabernet Sauvignon and both decided we’d have a pizza before being told that pizzas were off today. We chose again and we both had pasta dishes which were very generous and filling.
We left Paceville and started to walk back towards St George’s Bay. We stopped at Bay Street mall again and picked up todays copy of the Malta Independent before going back to the hotel.
The San Gorg hotel has a health club and so we spent a bit of time in the swimming pool and the jacuzzi. Then back to the hotel room for a snooze before dinner.
We wandered back towards Bay Street and wandered into Paceville by the back streets passing lots of pubs and clubs. We stumbled across Arthur’s Place, a restaurant specialising in maltese cuisine. We wandered in and discovered it was a theme restaurant, the theme being horses – we were sat in something that resembled a stable. We ordered a bottle of La Valette – a local red wine – and starters. I had baked macaroni and Rich had garlic bread. I thought mine was okay until Rich pointed out that it seemed a bit microwaved. For main course I had Lampuki pie (Lampuki with peas, sweetcorn, spinach with a fatty filo pastry top), whilst Rich had stuffed fish – this time we heard the “ping” of a microwave. So, quite dissapointing really. Maybe that’s why there aren’t many Maltese restaurants! Rich believes this is the worst restaurant he has ever eaten at.
We walked back to the hotel passing lots of clubs and quite a lot of police outside them. Paceville is one of the top nightlife venues on the island.

Sat 5 Jan
Again the alarm went off at 9, and we got ourselves ready and headed down to breakfast. We were a little later today and were still there as they started clearing away. We went up to our room and started to sort our bags out. We headed downstairs and checked out of the room, and left our main bag at the hotel till later.
We’d decided to visit Valletta today but by the time we’d sorted everything out we’d missed the courtesy bus and the next number 66 was 20 minutes or so away. It was a lovely day so we decided to walk to Paceville via the coast road. We got the number 62 bus from Paceville to Valetta and again it got really full as it approached Sliema.
We arrived at the bus terminal at Valletta and walked through the City gate. We walked through Freedom Square, catching a glimpse of the ruins of the Royal Opera House, and continued down Triq Ir-Repubblika until we reached Fort St Elmos and the end of the land. Fort St Elmos didn’t open until 1pm according to the Rough Guide so we had about 50 minutes to fill. We wandered along Triq Il-Mediterran in both directions, firstly towards the War Museum (stopping to poke our heads around the gates) and then back towards the World War II monument. This monument is really lovely and has a bell which rings at noon everyday. After spending a little while wandering around it, and looking out at the views we walked around to the Lower Barakka gardens where we passed a bit more time sitting in the sun. Everywhere we walked there were men touting their horse drawn carriage rides around the City, and every time we got hassled, and had to say No several times.
We headed back to Fort St Elmos and discovered that it actually didn’t open on a Saturday until 1.10pm, however it did cost only 50cents and not the Lm1 that it said in the book. We entered the Fort and joined the guided tour. The guide had problems with his legs, and so couldn’t do as much of a tour as he usually did – this suited us down to the ground as we knew we were a bit short on time. He told us all about the history of the Fort, and of the battle when the Ottamans tried (and succeeded) to invade Malta. He told us what the highlights of the Fort were, and so we wandered around, walking along the top of the bastilles and looking across towards Sliema and St Julians in one direction, and towards the Three Cities in the other.
At 2pm we headed back to the bus terminal and looked for a number 66. No luck so we got on a number 68 (which goes to St Julians) which got us to Paceville in around 20 minutes. We got off and walked through the streets until we stopped at “Piece of Cake” for chicken burger and chips. This was okay but there were some really lovely looking cakes but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to try one.
We headed back to the hotel and collected our bag. We had a quick sort out of stuff between our hand luggage and our main bag and then our driver arrived.
We got in the car and he drove us along the coast road until got to Sliema. We picked up 2 others at the Victoria Hotel and then headed to the airport. We nearly got stuck in a huge queue but one of our companions spotted that all 10 or so trolleys seemed to belong to one group so we managed to get checked in okay. We picked up a copy of the “Malta Independent” from a newsagent before going through to departures. We picked up a bottle of Plymouth Gin at duty free before spending the rest of of our change on water and cups of tea.
The flight was ok, we left on time and arrived on time. We were given food (almost the same as the flight out actually), and drink. I finished my book and so started reading the in-flight magazine. We listened to the family sitting around us having disagreements and eventually landed. The gantry at the gate wasn’t working properly so we had to get off by the back door down some steps, across the ground and into the airport.

As usual at Heathrow, it took an age for the luggage to appear, and I still can’t understand why it is that they seem to only have a few of the carousels working and insist on putting the luggage from 3 flights all onto the same one. Especially when I counted at least 2 that weren’t currently doing anything. Also, why do people crowd around the conveyor belt so tightly? If everyone stood back a bit, then you could see the luggage coming around and get a chance to grab it, rather than having to fight to get a space. Still, we got our bag, and wandered through customs and out of the airport. We had a short wait for the parking bus, and then got to the car park, found the car without too much trouble – although having a car with remote locking, so it flashes it’s lights when you point the remote at it is really useful – and headed back to Brighton, getting in the house at about 11pm.

Resources used

The Rough Guide to Malta and Gozo – this proved to be quite useful, although we were surprised by the amount of guide books to Malta available in our local bookshop. (buy)

travel-library.com – as usual I checked travel-library but they had no featured travel reports on Malta.


March 2001

Friday 15 March 2001

We’d been talking about having a weekend away for a few weeks but were unsure of where to go. There were a few more limitations than usual because of the foot and mouth epidemic. So, it had to be somewhere coastal. I’d never been to Wales so this seemed like a good idea. Rich did some research and decided that, despite the long drive, Aberystwyth sounded like a good place to base ourselves. We did some research on the web and found what looked like a fantastic hotel in Chancery, 3 or so miles south of Aber. So, armed with an RAC route plan we headed off.

We left Ealing on the A40, joined the M40 and motored along until we got to the Warwickshire services where we had “dinner” at Burger King. We got back into the car and continued on our long drive — 220+ miles in total. The Welcome to Wales sign had a foot and mouth caution notice next to it. After a slight wrong turn, we finally arrived at the Conrah Country House Hotel in Chancery. We checked in, got shown to our lovely room and crashed out.

Saturday 16 March 2001

We got up and went down to breakfast. There seemed to have been only us staying there as ours was the only table set. We had a lovely, freshly prepared breakfast before returning to find that the room had been serviced already. This was very impressive.

We decided to head North and started off by driving into Aber and stopping at the sea front. We got the camera out and discovered that it had a totally flat battery.

From Aber we headed along the coast road to Borth. We got the kite out and got some good flying in during the strong gusts of wind.

From Borth we drove to Dolgellau. We parked up and headed to the bank (which had a dual language cash machine) and then to Boots to get a new camera battery.

We drove along a bit further, having a quick stop just outside Barmouth for a photo opportunity, before arriving at Harlech. The Lonely Planet made the castle sound interesting, and so we parked up and investigated. Unfortunately, it was closed due to foot and mouth threat (apparently they keep livestock in the castle grounds). So, we had to settle for a cup of tea and a danish pastry at a coffee place in the town.

From Harlech we headed further North to Port Meirion — famous for it’s mediteranean architecture and being the setting for the 1960s series “The Prisoner”. Admission was £5 per adult which we thought was too much for something we weren’t interested in. The road to the village had disenfected rags at the end over the road which all cars were driving over to prevent foot and mouth from spreading.

From here, we headed back south and drove via Aberdovy — a fishing village. We had a quick photo stop at Furnace, where there were some lovely falls and a water mill.

We drove back to the hotel, and after a quick chat with the donkey in the grounds we headed back to our room to collect our swimmers. The hotel had an indoor pool in the courtyard and so we spent a good half an hour or so there. The only minor problem was the walk back to the main house in the cold with wet hair!

One of the magazines in the room was the Johansens Recommended Hotels in Great Britain & Ireland 2001 book. This lists loads of places to stay in the same league as the Conrah, some of them look great.

We decided to dine at the hotel and so went downstairs to reception. The orders are taken in the lounges (there are several) and so we sat down in huge leather armchairs near a log fire. So, we chose a bottle of red New Zealand merlot and our food and sat comfortably in the lounge until dinner was served.

We ended up having about a 6 course meal — appetiser, starter, sorbet to cleanse the pallete, main course, cheese board and finally coffee. The coffee was again served in the lounge. The service was excellent, but unfortunately whilst the food was good, it wasn’t outstanding.

Sunday 17 March 2001

We headed down to breakfast and didn’t have the dining room to ourselves this morning. Again, breakfast was wonderful and feeling ready to start the day we packed our stuff and checked out.

We decided to head South today with the eventual aim that we’d take the M4 back to London. Our first stop was at Fishguard and we drove to the area near the Ocean Lab. We got out of the car, but only briefly as there was an icy cold wind.

Leaving Fishguard, we crossed one of the many small toll bridges to get to Pembroke dock. From here we headed to Pembroke and parked up before walking to Pembroke castle. This castle was open as there was no livestock around the castle, and so we paid our £3 each to get in. We also bought a guide book so we could figure out what all the buildings were for. It seemed like quite a big castle to me, with lots of towers and parts of it that just looked like how a child would draw a typical castle. The guidebook was useful as it showed how the castle had expanded over the years.

We headed our from the castle and went into the nearest cafe for some refreshments. This was the Richmond coffee house, and I started off by finding someones camera on a chair. We ordered tea and Bara Brith (a fruit cake type thing) and shortly discovered that the owner had some very odd ideas: mobile phones should be banned; the internet was evil (no-one knew what was happening on it); and no-one says thank you anymore, everyone says Cheers which makes him think of drinking…

After escaping, we drove down to Tenby and parked up for half an hour or so. We took the kite down to the lovely, long beach and flew it for a bit, but the conditions were a bit poor and it was a struggle to keep it airbourne. At least the sun was out.

We then headed off to join the M4 and head back home to London. We went over the Severn Bridge and were surprised (and pleased!) to discover that you only need to pay a toll going west (we were going east). We headed off along the length of the M4 and finally arrived back in Ealing after a really pleasant weekend.

New Zealand

Dec 2000/Jan 2001

We spent 18 days in New Zealand in early 2001, and the following pages all tell of our trip. As a brief overview, we spent time in Auckland, Houhoura Harbour, Taupo, Wellington, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Christchurch, Nelson, Rotorua and back into Auckland.

It was a fantastic trip, and we’re making plans to return for a longer time.

Feel free to browse through the sections of our trip, they are written in chronological order, but it shouldn’t make much difference if you just read the sections which are about places you’re interested in.


New Zealand had held some interest for me for a while, I’m not sure why. When a friend, Cayne, left the UK in October 2000 it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. We figured we would give him a chance to settle a bit before arriving and so January seemed like a good bet.

Early November saw us looking for flights. Initially we considered doing stop-overs but it added a lot more money to already expensive tickets, and more time to an already short trip. We settled on direct flights with Air New Zealand obtained using the Expedia service on the web. We spent a lot of time manipulating the start and end dates to keep the cost down.

We bought a copy of the Lonely Planet book and skim read some of the general information. I bought Rich the Insight guide for Christmas — mainly because of the photographs in it. I also did a lot of internet research, storing anything interesting on my handspring visor. I read a couple of travelogues from the rec.travel.library website and also got advice from a Kiwi friend at work. Over Christmas I caught up with some friends who’d been to New Zealand twice and jotted down their suggestions.

Initially we planned to book our first 3 nights in Auckland but Cayne offered us his spare room. Thanks Cayne!

Where to go:
Using the various information we’d collected — from books, the internet, friends — we had an idea of some of the places we wanted to go but we had no fixed itinerary. We pre-booked a car for 2 weeks with Omega, a company recommended by friends.

Getting There

Day 01 — Sunday 31 Dec

A cab from Ealing Executive Cars arrived, as ordered, at 11am. It got us to Heathrow Terminal 3 in plenty of time and we joined the queue to check in. We got checked in, and got seats together — the first seats we were allocated weren’t. Next stop was to pick up our currency from Thomas Cook, we’d pre-booked this through the BAA which means no commission!

We went through into departures and did the usual shopping for films, video cassettes and batteries before having lunch at “Chez Gerard” which was very pleasant.

We boarded the plane and set off on the first (and shortest) leg at around 3pm — there was a slight delay due to the wintery conditions in London. The leg room on board flight NZ1 was pretty generous (for pacific class — that’s economy on most other airlines), and the meal was decent, with real crockery and a real wine glass rather than plastic stuff. I didn’t get much sleep, and so watched a couple of films and other programmes. We were presented with afternoon tea shortly before celebrating the British New Year. We landed at Los Angeles about an hour and a half later where it was around 5:30pm, still on the 31st!

We disembarked and were herded into the transit lounge, where there were some drinks, a very, very small shop, no more than a stall really, and queues for the toilets. We had to queue up again to get passes to allow us to board again and then got back on to the plane for the second leg.

The second leg was better for me than the first as I got a bit more sleep, and didn’t even attempt to watch any of the films. I set my watch to Auckland time, ate some dinner and alternated between reading my book and having a doze.

Day 02 — Monday 1 Jan

This was basically the day we lost due to crossing the international date line, I never worked out quite how much of the day we did see, but it can’t have been more than a couple of hours.

Day 03 — Tuesday 2 Jan

We had breakfast on the plane at around 3am, and landed in Auckland at 5:15am, about 10 minutes early. We cleared immigration, collected our baggage and went through customs really quickly. We rang Cayne from the airport at 6am to let him know we were on our way, and got a cab.

We arrived at Cayne’s place in Remuera 15 minutes or so later. We had a chat, a cup of tea, some juice and gave Cayne the kite we’d brought him. We had a much needed shower before deciding to head off to a beach — the 2nd is a public holiday in New Zealand. We thought we should take his kite with us, and so started to attach the cables to it. Big mistake! The diagram for the suggested knot was really hard to follow so we decided to knot it using the same method as we’d used on our kite. The first one worked okay, but the second was just a huge tangled mess and it took us the next 2 hours to sort it out.

After finally sorting the kite, we walked off to the local supermarket to get some picnic type food to take to the beach with us.

We set off and Cayne drove us the more touristy route, via Newmarket, Parnell and past the city before heading off to the coast. We took a wrong turn at some point and ended up in Huia which involved a drive through the Waitakere Ranges Regional park, and us stopping off a couple of times to admire the view. The Waitakere Ranges used to support kauri forests but they were logged almost to extinction in the 19th century. We retraced our steps and followed the correct road to get to Piha (pronounced pea-ha). Piha beach is a black, iron-sand beach. Apparently when Cayne was at school, they visited a similar black sand beach and discovered that the particles had the same properties as iron filings. Piha has roaring waves and is surrounded by bush covered hills. The Lion Rock sits just off the beach and many people were walking up it. Despite a strong breeze, the sun was warm and very welcome. We had our picnic lunch before unfurling Cayne’s kite and spending an hour or so playing with it, all of us getting wet legs as we walked backwards into the sea at one point or another.

Cayne drove us back to his place, and after attempting to wash the clinging sand off our feet and legs, Rich and I called it a day and went to sleep (at 7pm!).

Day 04 — Wednesday 3 Jan

The day started off gently. We both woke up feeling refreshed after our long sleep and slowly got the day going, with breakfast and showers. Once we were ready to face the day we walked to the bus stop and caught bus 625 to downtown.

Once in town we wandered up Queen Street until we got to the Tourist Information centre where we bought a road atlas, a where-to-stay guide and a couple of postcards, as well as picking up a few leaflets. We stopped for lunch in a cafe in the Civic building before making our way to New Zealand’s tallest structure — the Skytower.

We paid our admission and wandered through to the audio visual display about New Zealand and Auckland before catching a lift to the Main Observation levels. There are three main levels to be visited — the Main Observation level has glass panels on the floor in places so you can see the road a long way below you. We both walked across the glass slowly and carefully. There are notices stating that the 38mm thick glass is as strong as the concrete but it is still hard to trust it and walk across. We watched some kids jumping on it and thought how much more self-preservation/fear you get as you get older. We had paid the extra $3 to go the skydeck which offered really good views across the city. This was reached by a special lift. After spending quite a while there we went to the outdoor observation level which in some ways was my favourite as not only where the views as good, but there were benches to sit on and the sun was shining down. It was really relaxing. All of the levels have glass all the way around, so all photos have to be taken through that. We stopped at the cafe on the lower observation level before leaving the skytower.

One of the things we’d seen from the tower was a park, and so we headed off to find it. This was Albert Park and was very peaceful. We had also spotted another interesting looking building and so went to investigate. This turned out to be Auckland town hall which had a small park attached to it. There was a small bungy type thing for kids there, this involved a trampoline and 2 bungy cords attached, one at each side, to the harness. The participant could then bounce off the trampoline and get extra lift from the bungys.

Next stop was a walk down Queen street for a spot of retail therapy — we bought one item each, both clothing. We’d spotted a huge Father Christmas on the Whitcoullis building from the tower and had thought that he didn’t look very jolly, but closer up he looked positively evil, one eye kind of winked, whilst one finger kind of beckoned in a sinister “Come here little child” way — enough to give you nightmares.

We then wandered back along Queen Street to meet Cayne after his first day back at work. We decided to head to the waterfront and stopped for beers on one of the piers which was really pleasant. We had no real plans at this time, so we walked back up Queen street to the town hall (where I made Rich and Cayne stand in front of a well-lit Christmas tree so I could take a photo — Christmas decorations seem weird to me when the sun is shining and it’s a warm day).

Cayne proposed a plan. So, we walked off to the Auckland Domain, a big park which surrounds the Auckland War Memorial Museum. This domain is one of Auckland’s oldest parks and the museum is a really impressive looking building. We carried on walking through the domain and got to Newmarket where we hunted for a place to eat. After quite a bit of wandering around we settled on a turkish place which was good.

After our meal, we walked to the bus stop and waited for a bus to take us back to Remuera Road. By the time we got home it was 11:30pm and bedtime.

Day 05 — Thursday 4 Jan

Another relaxing day. We both slept well, and as yesterday took things easily over breakfast, showering etc.

We took the bus to downtown, and got another bus from the station to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.

When you enter Kelly Tarlton’s, you go through the Antarctic bit first which was my favourite bit. There is a penguin colony living in a -7 degree C area and it was great to be able to watch them. There is also a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut which was really interesting. Then there is a snow cat ride, supposedly to illustrate what it’s like in Antarctica with the penguins being one of the major attractions. The snow cat also goes past a simulated Orca attack as well as political information about the antarctic treaty. Once through the Antarctic Encounter, we moved on to the Underwater World — this is housed in old stormwater holding tanks and an acrylic tunnel runs through the centre. There are 2 main tanks, one holding mainly fish (these were being hand fed by a diver whilst we were there) and the other holding sharks and huge sting rays. I kept forgetting that the glass distorts the size, and these fish were a third as large again. There is a moving platform which you stand on to move around, although there is the option of stepping off the track to see more of something. Kelly Tarlton was a diver and he conceived the underwater world but unfortunately died 2 months after it opened.

On leaving Kelly Tarlton’s, after about a 2 hour visit, we stopped at “Jacques”, the cafe next door, for lunch overlooking the harbour.

After our lunch we decided to walk on a little further (out of Auckland) and ended up in Mission Bay. This is one of the town beaches and had lots of people around, some windsurfing, some swimming and some just sunbathing. We spent quite a while just relaxing before deciding to have a beer at “Bar Comida”, a nearby tapas bar and cafe.

Next we caught a bus back into town and, after a bit more clothes shopping, met Cayne at the bus station to head back to his flat. We relaxed at his for a while before heading off to Mount Eden, the highest volcanic cone in the area. The view was great, especially as it was approaching sunset. You can get down into the crater which we did, although getting back up again was a bit of a struggle. It was a lovely place to spend some time. At the summit there was a horizontal sign post to many major cities. According to that, London is 18339 kilometres away.

By now we were getting hungry again and so we went and got some takeaway chinese from Remuera which we took back to Cayne’s place and ate with a very tasty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Day 06 — Friday 5 Jan

We got up a little earlier today as we were collecting our hire car. We’d arranged with them that they would pick us at Cayne’s flat. They arrived at 10:45 and drove us to the Omega office. We filled in all the paperwork, collected the car, a white Toyoto Corolla, and headed off down Highway 1 towards the Coromandel peninsular.

Driving in NZ was okay and we arrived in Thames at 12:45 and so headed off to get some lunch at a cafe. The setting was good, and it had a nice courtyard. Unfortunately, they seemed to forget our order as after a 40 minute wait I had to ask where our food was. Within 5 minutes it arrived and was okay but wasn’t worth such a long wait.

Whilst we’d been waiting, we’d had an SMS from Cayne making plans for the drive north this evening. We arranged to get back to his place at around 4pm, so we didn’t have much time to explore the peninsular. We drove up past a few bays, Whakatete Bay, Ngarimu Bay and Te Puru, to get a feel for the place, and the bits we saw seemed really pleasant.

We drove back to Auckland and met up with Cayne. We’d packed a bag earlier in the day so we were more or less ready to head off on our way.

Cayne drove us in his car, and we headed off along highway 1 north through a load of rush-hour traffic before going over the Auckland harbour bridge. There are some great views to be seen further up the highway and we stopped at one spot to enjoy the view of the coast and some of the islands.

Cayne continued to drive and we stopped at Whangerai (pronounced fung-er-ay) for some food after having driven past the town basin to orientate ourselves. We ate at “Leks Tasty Thai” which was pretty good with some excellent fruit juice, really tasty. As we were walking back to the car we saw a load of water in the road side, and as we drove past about a minute later the pressure of the water had actually cracked the concrete. We continued our drive along, and I fell asleep when it got dark, and only woke up now and again.

We got to Cayne’s Dad’s place, at Houhora, near Kaitaia, at around 11:30, and had a cup of tea and a chat with Cayne’s Dad’s fiancee (Jo) whilst Jason and his Dad (Ross) rowed our bags to the boat. Apparently there have been some big fish caught off the North Cape this week and so the plan is for us to go out deep sea fishing tomorrow. Jason came back for us and we waded out to the rowing boat, got in and he rowed us all out to the boat. We had a look around the boat, which is made off kauri wood and is really smart and then headed off to bed. We had the master cabin, Cayne slept in one of the bunks and Jason slept in the main living area.

Day 07 — Saturday 6 Jan

We had a very early start to get off the boat, back to the house for breakfast and showers and on to the harbour jetty for 8:30am.

We all got on to the boat (named Attitude) and headed off to fish for some bait. We caught 3 little-ish fish (Rich and I caught one each) which were kept alive in the aft section of the boat. These were caught near some rocky islands with blow holes and great waves splashing against them. We sailed past a mussel farm and also caught sight of a couple of dolphins in the distance as well as a penguin. We had lunch at around 12:30ish from the food Jo had sent us off with. We went out past Henderson Bay and eventually around the North Cape which was great to see. By this point the main lines were out and they were trying to catch snapper, marlin or similar. Unfortunately, despite a good 3 hours of trying we caught no fish but we did have a good sleep. We got back to shore at around 7pm and walked back to the house. Cayne’s other brother, Scott, had arrived and so we had now met both of Cayne’s brothers.

Rich and I started to do some journey planning, but didn’t get very far before dinner was ready. We had a lovely barbecue dinner, with snapper, sausage and steak and lashings and lashings of salad.

After dinner Cayne, Jason, Rich and I headed off in Jason’s Lancer to 90 mile beach through the forest. We’d taken the Lancer because the road is gravel and really rough and the Lancer is a typical hooning car (to hoon is to burn rubber, drive quickly, show off). There were a few other cars/people on the beach, but there was certainly no shortage of space! We’d missed the sunset (as we were still eating at that point) but the sky was really beautiful with pinks and oranges and these colours reflected onto the sea as well. We played bat and ball on the beach until it got too dark to see the ball anymore.

We headed back to the house and got some advice on where to go on our journey for the next 10 days before Cayne rowed us out to the boat for the night.

Day 08 — Sunday 7 Jan

I had an excellent nights sleep, the mild rocking of the boat was really soothing. We got up and packed our bags and Cayne rowed us and our stuff back to the house.

Cayne had to wake poor Jason up so we could use his bathroom for showers before having a breakfast of freshly made scones (which were lovely).

Rich and I spread all the books, leaflets and maps over the floor and attempted some more planning, this time much more successfully. We now had a plan of sorts.

Cayne and Jo were telling us about the plans for the house. In 6 weeks time they’re going to have half the house knocked down and rebuilt to form a corporate home stay place. The idea is that Ross will take people out fishing on the boat, they’ll have a pool, lots of decking for relaxing on, and other water based activities. It sounds really well thought out.

We set off on our journey south to Auckland with plans to stop at interesting looking places.

Our first stop was at the “Ancient Kauri Kingdom” in Awanui, a shop which makes furniture, boxes etc out of reclaimed swamp kauri, somewhere in the region of 30,000 – 50,000 years old. There was a chain sawing competition going on. This involved contestants being given a lump of wood and then having to sculpt something out of it. The competition had started on Saturday and so there were some of the previous days entries displayed. Cayne bumped into an ex-girlfriend and so they were chatting whilst we were admiring the work.

Next stop for us was Cable Bay which is a really beautiful little spot, with rocks, sea and sand. We sat and watched the waves before continuing along the road a bit further, seeing some deer and an ostrich farm along the way before getting to Mangonui. This has a fish shop where we got some lunch — we got fried blue nose, 2 scallops, chips and a pot of mussels in seafood sauce. We took these back to the car and did a short drive to a reserve, overlooking the water, with a host of seagulls trying to scare us into feeding them — it didn’t work.

We headed back on the road and made a short detour to Whangarao harbour, a harbour which Cayne had first seen from the boat. We drove in and found a road to take us to a good viewpoint. This was close to St Paul’s rock which was technically the summit, and there was a 20 minute walk to it which we didn’t do. Instead we sat on the grass and enjoyed the really beautiful view.

Our next stop was at Lake Manuwai, a couple of kms off highway 10. This was a quiet little spot where people were sailing and some were snorkeling.

After this, we headed along the road a bit further and made a detour to Paihia, where found another nice beach to sit on, watching people playing in the sea, someone parascending and some people with a huge kite being pulled along and into the sea.

After this pleasant stop we hit the road again, catching up with loads of traffic around 50km out of Auckland. This was the evening before a lot of people’s first day back into work and so I guess a lot of the traffic was due to that.

We stopped off at Orewa, not far out of Auckland and attempted a bit of kite flying. Unfortunately the wind wasn’t very strong here so we went for a paddle in the lovely, warm sea after a few poor attempts to fly the kite. We headed back to Auckland and stayed at Cayne’s place again.

Day 09 — Monday 8 Jan

We had quite a slow start to the day, as we started calling various companies to reserve spaces on activities, at hotels and also at Orbit — the revolving restaurant at the top of the skytower — for the 18th when we’ll treat Cayne.

We packed our stuff up, leaving one small bag at Cayne’s place, and headed to the supermarket to get some nibbly food. We also picked up some muffins (the American cake type rather than the English bread type) for breakfast. These were a lot lighter than those I’ve had before and made a good breakfast.

We left Auckland and headed off on Highway 1 seeing some deer along the way. We took the 1B to bypass Hamilton but took a wrong turning somewhere along the way and ended up driving through it instead. We continued along Highway 1 going through a town with the oddest tourist information centre I’ve ever seen — in the shape of a dog’s head and a sheep’s head. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it. Eventually we arrived in Taupo. We drove through the town and along the lake edge looking at motels. The “Caboose” on Lake Terrace caught our eye. It is “a taste of africa” and has African pictures, decor etc. It’s a nice place with an outdoor pool and spa. We chose a “compartment” (all rooms are named as train related rooms) which is smallish but very pleasant.

After having checked in and got changed we headed off to the “Craters of the moon”, a Department of Conservation run thermal area which sprung up in the 1950s when the power station lowered underground water levels, reducing the pressure of the heated water, and causing more vigorous boiling and steam. The steam comes out of various holes in the area, and there are some craters too.

After this we headed off to the “Huka Jets” which we’d booked earlier. It’s a 25 minute trip in a jet boat, which can operate in very shallow water and travels down to the Aratiatia Dam and up to the Huka falls. The Aratiatia Rapids were a spectacular part of the Waikato river until a power house and dam was built shutting off the rapids. They now open the gates 4 times a day to give a display of what they used to look like — we didn’t get a chance to see them. The jet boat hoons along and can turn 360 degrees in it’s own length. We got very wet and it was great fun. After the trip we bought a copy of the photo they’d taken before getting back into the car.

We headed firstly to the lookout for the Huka falls, known as Hukanui in Maori which means “Great Body of Spray”, this is above and looks down on them and gives a lot of perspective. Next we went to a lower point and walked around the falls. They are really powerful and fall in a real milky/pale blue colour at the bottom. The amount of water which falls is regulated by a gate near Taupo. On this day it was at about 85% of capacity but sometimes it is as low as 15% and at this height it can be negotiated by canoe.

We headed off back to the hotel to get changed, and dried before heading off into Taupo for dinner. We walked past an aeroplane in McDonalds car park which formed part of the childrens playground! We ate at “Million Dollar View” which has a view over the lake. We both shared a scallop starter and had fish as our main course. All washed down with a really smooth bottle of red. We saw the sun set but unfortunately it started to rain and so it wasn’t exactly a million dollar view.

It was still raining when it was time to walk back to the hotel and so we both got soaked!

Day 10 — Tuesday 9 Jan

We went to the “Serengeti restaurant” at the hotel for a continental breakfast and we both ate lots of fresh fruit.

We checked out of the hotel and drove alongside the lake, stopping at one of the scenic lookouts. It was a good job we did as we discovered that when I’d changed the batteries in my visor, I’d forgotten to put the battery cover back on. We did an about turn and went back to the hotel. The cover was still on the bed, so I picked it up and we set off again.

We were still on Highway 1 which follows the lake around offering lovely views. We stopped at another viewpoint. This one had a few people around already, including a couple who were about to launch their canoes (or were they kayaks?)

We set off again, and continued to drive along Highway 1, past the lake, through a couple of towns and then through Tongariro national park. This park consists of 3 active volcanoes — Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Ruapehu is the highest and most active, it last erupted in September 1995 spraying volcanic rock and emitting massive clouds of ash. Tongariro’s red crater last erupted in 1926. Ngauruhoe is younger than the others and was the only one we could see clearly, the others being covered in cloud. There are loads of tramps that can be walked around the park, but time didn’t allow for us to do any this time.

We headed along Highway 1 for a bit longer before stopping at Bulls in the Rangitikei region for lunch at the New Zealand/Dutch windmill cafe.

Then we headed off again, still on highway 1. The last part of the drive into Wellington is right next to the sea, and offers some beautiful views.

On arrival into Wellington we first went to the Interislander and Lynx ferry terminal to collect our tickets for tomorrow’s crossing. This would save us time the following morning.

With the tickets safely tucked away, we drove into Wellington in search of a motel for the night. Wellington has a huge one way system which made our mission more difficult. Eventually, on our second trip around we found the “Marksman Motor Inn” and checked in.

After a quick cup of tea we headed off to the “Te Papa” museum — this is the national museum. We ony had an hour before it closed and so we concentrated on 2 areas, the awesome forces exhibition — all about earthquakes and volcanoes and quite a bit about the Taupo and Tongariro areas, and the Maori secton including a look at the Marae. A Marae is a set of buildings and open space designed to cater for and accomodate the community and it’s visitors. There were loads more exhibitions to see but we were out of time (again!).

We headed for a walk along the waterfront and decided that we were hungry and so looked at the waterfront restaurants. We chose “Shed 5” which was lovely, we shared thai fish cakes to start and then I had snapper and Rich had lamb. The good exchange rate from GBP to NZD makes the quality restaurants affordable. This meal cost us NZ$100 — about £33 which we could easily have spent on one person in a similar place in London. Our waiter was full of helpful advice for the rest of our journey and made some suggestions of where to go and what to see.

After our pleasant meal we walked to the cable car station in Lambton Quay. We took this to Kelburn at the top and looked down over the city. In the “Highlights” section for the Wellington region of the Lonely Planet it says “Take the exhilarating cable-car ride”. This wasn’t exactly exhilarating, it’s a very smooth, short ride up to the top — there are a couple of additional stops between Lambton and Kelburn.

We walked briefly into the botanical gardens and headed to the Carter Observatory. This has displays about stars and planets and also does shows in the planetarium. We had a talk about the New Zealand summer sky with the different constellations being highlighted, and then watched a film “Realm of the giants” about Saturn and Jupiter and their moons. We could have looked through the telescope which would have been great, but if we’d stayed we wouldn’t have made the last cable car back down at 10pm.

After getting the cable car back down, we walked through the city back to the motel. We set all the alarm clocks we could find for our early start and went to sleep.

Day 11 — Wednesday 10 Jan

An early start was necessary this morning as we were booked on the 8am Lynx to picton. The alarm went off and we got ourselves up and moving and left the motel at 6.45am. Someone had parked very closely behind us and so we had to negotiate our way out.

We drove out of town and, after a minor wrong turning (or scenic alternative route if you were to believe Rich), we joined the queues for vehicle check in and boarding for the Lynx.

Once we were aboard we got some breakfast and then settled down for the 2 hour 15 min crossing. We passed some beautiful scenery on the way and arrived on time.

We got off the sea cat and went South aiming to get to Franz Josef by the end of the day.

On our long (over 500km) trip we firstly went through wine country and very dry land. We did a driver change at St Arnoud. In the next stretch we spotted a swingbridge in a creek which made a really pleasant view. We continued on until Reefton where we stopped for lunch at Cee Cee’s Cafe on broadway. The portions were huge and helped us to keep going. Reefton’s claim to fame is that it had its own electricity supply and street lighting in 1888, beating all other towns in New Zealand. We headed off again, and had a quick stop at Greymouth to call our accommodation for the evening (which we’d booked on Monday) to let them know what time we’d arrive. Then off on the road again. During our trip we crossed many single lane traffic bridges and two which were single lane road traffic and train as well. We stopped again at Hokitika to fill up with petrol. Hoki was the first place in New Zealand to have a scheduled air service. Our final stage took us along some beautiful scenery, with the mountains of the Southern Alps in front of us, and at times the Tasman Sea to the right of us.

We took a slight detour to Okarito, which was marked on the road atlas as having a panoramic view of the Southern Alps. This turned out to be a 1.5 hour walk which, as usual, we didn’t have the time to do. There were some good views to be had anyhow.

We arrived at Franz Josef and found the Glow Worm Cottages fairly easily: Franz Josef only has 2 streets to choose from. We checked in and got our stuff into the room which is really nice. On the walls are photos of people on the Franz Josef glacier in the early part of the 20th century, with the ladies in full dresses with parasols/umbrellas. We took a walk into town to get some food from the grocery shop, and to find The Helicopter Line to check instructions for tomorrow’s flight.

We headed back to our room and cooked ourselves a very pleasant dinner of lamb and salad, all washed down with red wine.

Day 12 — Thursday 11 Jan

We had a lazy morning, and a quick breakfast before we wandered to The Helicopter Line to check in for our Mountain Scenic Spectacular trip. The flight had been delayed a bit so we hung around the office for a while until we were given our safety briefing.

We were taken close to the riverbed from where we boarded our helicopter — Rich and I were in the front. This was the first time I’d been in a helicopter and so I was a little apprehensive at first but the scenery soon put a stop to that. We firstly flew over the fox glacier, and then up to Mount Cook which was absolutely spectacular. Flying this close to mountains gives a really interesting and different perspective on them. We were lucky as the mountain stood out boldly against a blue sky. We continued over Mount Tasman and the Tasman glacier before heading on to Franz Josef glacier. We landed on the snowfields at the top of it, and took loads and loads of photos. The white of the snow looked fantastic against the still blue sky. It was really clear and surprisingly warm. Just before we headed back into the helicopter, we watched some low cloud move down over the glacier. We got back into the helicopter and flew over the glacier back into Franz Josef. It was a fantastic experience. Next time we think we’ll try the heli-hiking option — a helicopter flight up the glacier, then a landing and a 2 hour guided hike amongst glacial ice formations before a helicopter flight back to the village.

After landing, we were both hungry and so we went to a place called Beeches on the main strip for a quick lunch which was very pleasant and much needed.

For our helicopter flight we’d both worn trousers expecting it to be cold, but it wasn’t at all. Having come back down we were now both far too warm and so headed back to get changed into our shorts.

We got into the car and headed off to Fox Glacier and followed the access road, past the signs on the road stating “In 1750 the glacier was here”, and parked at the end. The first part of the walk is shared with the glacier view walk and there are lots of information boards around, about how a glacier moves, and how the Fox glacier has retreated over the last few centuries. We continued to walk towards the terminal face, across streams and rocks. At the terminal face there are yellow ropes beyond which you can only go with a tour guide. Looking up at the glacier was spectacular, and looking into the ice cave was interesting as we could see water dripping into the river below.

We walked back to the car and drove back along Highway 6 to the access road for the Franz Josef Glacier. Again we walked to the terminal face, across streams and rocks. There was less of a formal walkway here as the river had changed its flow. There were some beautiful waterfalls along the way, but it’s much the same as Fox. Franz Josef seems larger, but dirtier — some of the rocks on the top of it were pretty large, I guess that’s the power of a glacier. The rate of descent is amazing — at times descending up to 5 metres per day. Generally, though, it moves at about 70cm per day now.

After our walk we headed back to the Glow worm cottages for a bit of domesticity — Rich washed some clothes whilst I did some research into our next stop — Queenstown. There was a spa at the Glow worm so we thought we’d give it a go. Unfortunately it was cold water and so was refreshing rather than relaxing.

We walked back into the town and called to book some accommodation in Queenstown for the next day and Saturday. We also called Millford Sound Fly & Cruise to get some details about their trips as we still hadn’t worked out how to get to Milford Sounds — the coach and cruise option seems to take about 12 hours, and as we only have one full day in Queenstown this seems like too much time. (Time seems to be the thing we’ve been most short of so far.)

Our next stop was one of the tourist shops to get a few souvenirs. We seemed to do pretty well at this, loads of kiwis — magnets with kiwis on, fluffy kiwis, kiwi badges, wind-up kiwis, wooden kiwis… Then it was dinner time and we ended up in Beeches again, and again it was pleasant.

Day 13 — Friday 12 Jan

We made ourselves some breakfast before checking out and heading off on Highway 6. This was, in parts, really scenic and we drove through some quite thick rainforest, which was a really beautiful sight with all of the different greens.

Our first stop was at Bruce Bay, where we did our first driver changeover. This was a really wide bay with beautiful bluey green water washing up against a sandy beach.

We headed off again and drove along for a while before stopping at Knight’s Point lookout. Knight’s Point is where the Haast road was finally opened in 1965 — Knight was a surveyor’s dog. Apparently, there is no land to the South West of this point until Antarctica. We both got chased and landed on by some flying, biting creatures and so moved on.

We drove on past Haast, still on Highway 6 and did a couple of stops at 2 different waterfalls. The first was the Thunder Creek waterfall, about a 10 minute walk from the road. The second was Fantail Falls, only a couple of minutes walk from the roadside. Both of them were worth a visit.

We stopped at the visitor centre at Makarora to put some more fuel into the car and then continued on Highway 6, driving alongside the beautiful Lake Wanaka and took a stop at a lookout for Lake Hawea. Lake Hawea was raised 20 metres in 1958 to assist the power stations downriver.

From here we headed to Wanaka and had quite a long break here. Wanaka seems to have a lot going on, with many mountains providing snow sports during winter, and the lake providing many summer activities. We got some lunch at one of the cafes near the lake and then had a look in some of the clothing shops.

We left Wanaka and started on the last part of our journey, passing a few vineyards on the way. The landscape was a lot drier and browner here, especially after the greenness of the rainforest earlier. Our final stop before arriving in Queenstown was signposted as “Roaring Meg” but this actually turned out to be a power station and not as interesting as it sounded.

We arrived in Queenstown, after having driven past one of the bungy jump sites, and made our way to the Caples Court Motel which we’d booked by phone from Franz Josef. We were given our key and settled ourselves in — it’s a large but basic unit.

We walked into the main part of town and called to book a Millford Sounds trip — we’ve been debating what to do, the options being the coach and cruise trip, a 1.5 hour helicopter ride over the area or the airplane and cruise trip. This time we’ve decided on a fly/cruise/fly trip as the cruise sounds really good and lots of people have recommended we do it. So, weather permitting, we’re going with “Milford Sound Great Journeys” at 8 in the morning.

We wandered to the information centre and gathered a few more ideas before going to a bureau de change to cash a traveller’s cheque. One of the places we passed was showing film of the “fly by wire” experience — Jo had mentioned this to us on Sunday. This is a strange contraption, attached by a wire, with an engine which you use to control the speed at which you fly through the air, and handles to enable you to direct yourself. We next decided to take a wander to the gondola, but decided to leave that until tomorrow so we can do the luge too — the luge would still have been running until 9pm but we were both a bit too tired to appreciate it properly. Instead we went to the “Kiwi and nature park” and arrived in time to hear a 10 minute talk about kiwis as well as watching them being fed. We got to see a couple of North Island brown kiwis and found out about the other 5 varieties, and where they can be seen in the wild. The brown Kiwis are a lot bigger than I’d thought, and it was good to see them.

After taking a look at the other birds in the park, including a kea and some very large wood pigeons (they are the biggest flighted bird in New Zealand but how do they fly? ) we walked to the edge of the lake and started looking for likely looking spots for dinner. We ended up at a place called “Lagos”, overlooking the lake, which was a pleasant way to end the day.

Day 14 — Saturday 13 Jan

A dissapointing start. We woke up early and started to get ourselves ready. Rich rang “Milford Sound Great Journeys” to check about the flight and was told that the weather wasn’t good enough this morning and that we should call them at 1pm as the weather may get better. We were both fairly tired and so went back to sleep for a while.

We had some breakfast and then walked through town and to the Skyline gondola terminal. This is a cable car ride which travels through a gap in the trees and up to the top of one of the many hills in and around Queenstown. The view from the top is great — allowing views of most of the lake, and also of the Remarkables mountain range. At the top of the gondola there is a small complex with shops, cafe and restaurant. And also the Skyline luge — a luge in this case is a 3 wheel cart. This was excellent fun and we bought 5 tickets each. There are 2 tracks — scenic (the easier of the 2) and advanced — each lasting 800m. We both did the scenic twice, and the advanced 3 times. The advanced track has some fairly steep drops. After our fun we stopped off at the cafe for some juice before getting the gondola back down.

Once back in town we walked by the lake again, trying to avoid the huge number of people which seemed to be made up of a disproportional number of bikers. We wandered into Queenstown Gardens which jut out into the lake and we had a very nice stroll around them and stopped to watch the really lame skate boarders on the skate ramp.

As it was now 1pm we called “Milford Sound Great Journeys” to find out if the 2pm flight was on. It was, but was now full. So, despite them telling us to call back at 1pm they hadn’t allocated us any space on the flight. We were not impressed with this at all. We got ourselves some lunch and went back to the unit to get the phone numbers of the other operators. We called “Milford Sound Fly & Cruise” and were told that they had space on their 2pm flight, but we’d missed the pick-up and so would need to get to the airport ourselves.

It was now around 1:40 and so we quickly gathered our stuff together, got into the car and headed to the airport. We had a mix-up of directions and couldn’t find them. It was 2pm by now and Rich called them on the mobile and we got better directions — it was in the terminal building and not in the out buildings. We parked the car and ran into the terminal building. They’d waited for us. We paid our money and were taken to the plane — a 6 seater “Milford Sound flightseeing” aircraft.

We took off and flew out over Lake Wakatipu, and over some incredible mountains, one of these being Mount Christina. Again, flying over mountains was wonderful, with range after range being visible. We flew over the Milford Sound, heading out into the Tasman Sea to turn around before landing at the airfield.

We caught the shuttle bus to the wharf and just boarded the “Lady Bowen” — one of the Red Boat line boats. We got on, and the boat left. We sailed out, past Mitre Peak and out towards the sea. We were lucky enough to see some fur seals basking on the rocks and also to see some dolphins. Milford Sound is very beautiful, and not a sound at all, it’s actually a fjord as it was created by a glacier. We sailed out, beyond the point where the sound just looks like a bay — this is why it was undiscovered for such a long time. We came back on the other side, and got close enough to the stirling falls to be wet by them. Apparently during and after a big rain there are waterfalls everywhere. Rain is something that fjordland isn’t short of as it gets in the region of 8 metres per year. We came back past the Bowen falls before docking at the wharf.

We disembarked and caught the shuttle bus back to the air strip. We got on the plane and had a rougher return journey, with quite a few sudden drops. The views were still great, and we flew over the end of the Milford track. We also flew over, and past, the Sutherland falls which looked wonderful — they’re fed by a lake at the top (it’s not often you can see the lake that feeds a 630m waterfall).

We also got to see a lake high in the mountains which spends 6 months of the year frozen. We flew in over Queenstown and got a good view of the Gondola before landing.

Overall, we thought that the plane was better than the cruise. It’s possible that the cruise had been hyped up for us, as it was one of the things that a lot of people had told us to do, and the Lonely Planet said “A cruise on Milford Sound is a must”. We still like the idea of doing some sea kayaking around Milford Sound some time.

We got into the car and drove back to the unit for a bit of relaxation. We’d finally found a UK to NZ power adapter and so could charge up the video camera’s battery. The adapter we’d brought is one which has pins you can pull out and configure as required — the only problem was that there were 2 possible ways to configure it, and we weren’t sure which to do. Rich had also discovered that he’d left the lead for his rechargable shaver at Cayne’s, and there didn’t seem to be enough charge to get back there. The owner of the Caples Court motel, Wayne, kindly lent Rich his lead and so the shaver got re-charged.

We headed out for dinner and decided to eat in “Chico’s” — a sort of bar/restaurant. We had to wait for 20 minutes and so chatted to the chap at the bar about what we’d been upto. We had a pleasant evening but the food was covered in quite sweet sauces and so could have been better in that respect. There was a hen party in Chico’s, one of several we’d seen in Queenstown, so I guess that Queenstown is the equivalent of Brighton in that respect.

Day 15 — Sunday 14 Jan

We got our breakfast, settled up and headed out of Queenstown on Highway 6. As we were leaving we went past a couple of bouncy castles, one of which was a bouncy Titanic — depicting the ship sinking.

At Cromwell we turned onto Highway 8 and went past a selection of very big fruit (6ft or so) over the Cromwell name sign, this is apparently because Cromwell is the heart of stone fruit country. We continued on Highway 8, stopping at one of the state picnic spots to stretch our legs — we’d chosen well as there was a lovely babbling brook running by.

We were now driving along through the Southern Alps and beautiful turquoise lakes and rivers. We stopped at the Mount Cook lookout point for a while. The view of the mountain, and some of the other Southern Alps from this point was magnificent, especially over the clear turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki and with a beautiful blue sky behind.

We headed off again and stopped a little further along at Lake Tekapo. We found a cafe and had some lunch before exploring a little more. The turquoise colour is created by rock flour, finely ground particles of rock held in suspension in the glacial melt water. I guess the same is true off Lake Pukaki. We drove round to the “Church of the Good Shepherd” and spent a little time appreciating the views. There is a large clear window behind the altar which provides a beautiful backdrop. The church is used by many different faiths, and was being prepared for a wedding whilst we were there. There is also a statue of a collie dog nearby, this is a tribute to the sheepdogs which helped to develop the Mackenzie Country.

We headed off again and travelled along Highway 8, Highway 79 and onto Highway 1. As we got closer to Christchurch there were more and more English placenames, so we drove through Ealing, Chertsey, past signs for Lincoln, Huntingdon and many more — this is the area a lot of the British immigrants and Christchurch’s first settlers landed in the 1850s. We also passed what looked like a llama farm.

We arrived in Christchurch and found a motel with no problem at all — the “Southern Comfort Motel” on Bealey avenue. The owner gave us a choice of rooms and whilst showing them to us we got talking. He is originally from Halifax in Yorkshire and so we had a chat about what brought him and his family out here and what sort of immigration issues there had been.

We settled into our studio and then went for a wander into town. We passed some people punting on the river Avon, and then we headed into cathedral square where we sat for a while next to the Cathedral. We went for dinner at a cafe bar called “Azure” on Oxford Terrace which was really good before heading back to the motel for an early night.

Back at the motel we watched the film “Deep Impact” on channel 2 of the tv. We’d both seen the film before but thought we’d watch it anyway. There were a ridiculous number of commercial breaks in it making it almost unwatchable, and really frustrating.

Day 16 — Monday 15 Jan

We checked out of the “Southern Comfort Motel” and again the owner gave us some advice on what to do before leaving the area. He suggested driving up to Hanmer Springs on some of the unsealed roads. This sounded fun but we wanted to get to Nelson today and so didn’t have enough time to explore.

We left Christchurch on Highway 74 and soon joined Highway 1 again. We motored on until Cheviot where we put some more petrol into the car. We continued on the 1 until getting to the Kaikoura peninsular. We followed the signs to the lookout and got tremendous views over both coasts. We also stopped at the Nga Niho Pa, we didn’t manage to see anything there, but we also didn’t really know what the tell-tale signs to look for were. We headed into the town centre, passing lots of “Swim with fur seals” and “Swim with dolphins” centres. There are also opportunities for whale watching, even Whale watching flights which seemed kind of odd. I guess you get a better chance of seeing something as you can cover more of a distance, but I wouldn’t have thought you get as good a sense of scale. We decided to see what the bakery had for our lunch. We bought bagels and juice and went to sit on the pebble beach. No sooner had we unwrapped our lunch, than a group of seagulls started to hover over us. They were not afraid of us at all and no amount of shooing got rid of them. So, our relaxing picnic lunch turned into a bit of an intimidating time.

We survived and left Kaikoura, and the seagulls, and continued on Highway 1 driving past some beautiful scenery on our way up the coast. The most spectacular stretch was just south of Kekerengu where we stopped briefly to admire the greens of the sea meeting the blue of the sky. It was a really beautiful spot and it would have been great to have spent more time there.

We continued on Highway 1 until Blenheim when we changed onto Highway 6. The road wound through the Bryant Range of hills, with many logging trucks heading in both directions.

We arrived at Nelson and found a room in the second place we tried — the AA motel which gives a discount to members of any of the motoring agencies (AA, RAC etc). We sorted our stuff out before going exploring.

We headed off west out of Nelson, through the sea-side resort Tahunanui and on, down Highway 80 until we got to Rabbit Island — 13km of undeveloped beach with forest behind it. Rabbit Island is, as the name suggests, an island and the bridge to it closes at 9pm. It was only 6pm and so we were fine. The beach was lovely and we had no problem finding ourselves a deserted spot. We unfurled the kite and played with it for about an hour or so before the wind died down. We almost decided to go for a swim but sense got the better of us and we decided it really wasn’t warm enough and so headed back to Nelson instead.

Rabbit Island was a great place to spend some time, I’d like to spend some more time around there, and also around Golden Bay. Another place to add to the “next time” list.

We both had showers to wash the salt off us and then headed into Nelson. We walked up Trafalger Street and went for a look at the Art deco Christ Church cathedral. This started being built in 1925, to replace the previous one which had to be demolished because of an earthquake risk, but wasn’t completed until 1965 by which time the design had changed.

We had dinner at “Cafe Affair” where we had fantastic food. We shared a starter of local green mussels, which were excellent and then I moved onto a mixture of seafish which was also great. To accompany this we drank a bottle of local white wine — Tasman Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000 — which was again most pleasant. We chose well.

We returned to our unit and watched some of the news — the NZ president Helen Clark had spent her holiday time in Argentina attempting to climb the highest mountain in the Southern hemisphere. Somehow, I can’t see the British Parliament allowing our prime minister to do anything similar.

Nelson to Auckland

Day 17 — Tuesday 16 Jan

We got up early and headed out of Nelson on Highway 6 until we got to Blenheim. We then took the Queen Charlotte scenic drive route to Picton. This was indeed scenic, in between the raindrops landing on the windscreen. It was a very winding road, and took quite a while to drive along. When we finally got to Picton, we had a quick stop and Rich went to a bakery and picked up a couple of bread rolls.

We checked in for the 11am Lynx and waited in the car reading a local newspaper. There were a few announcements on the tannoy in the passenger terminal but all we could hear was “delay”, “Wellington”. It eventually transpired that there was a problem with the berth at Wellington and the Lynx couldn’t take any vehicles. We would have to take our chance on one of the later crossings. There was no need to stay with the car for a while and so we joined the queue of people waiting to get some food. There was very little information available about what would happen now — basically, they would try and squeeze as many cars as possible onto the next few crossings. We ate and then decided we ought to wait with the car. We watched the Interislander ferry arrive and all the trucks and cars disembark. We then watched all of the booked vehicles board the ferry. Some attendants started to walk up and down the line of cars and handing out boarding passes. We were fortunate and managed to get on this, the 1:30pm from Picton. We parked the car next to one of the train carriages and explored the ship.

It was almost full, not really a surprise, and we had to hunt around to find a couple of seats. Due to the loading of the extra cars, the ferry was now also running late and an announcement was made that we were now not due in Wellington until 5pm. Still, at least we were on it.

We sat in the Queen Charlotte lounge and watched as the ferry sailed through the Queen Charlotte sounds. There were a group of travellers sitting near by, they seemed to all be on one of the Kiwi Experience trips, and I was particularly amused by 2 English guys trying to explain “Only fools and horses” to a bemused Canadian girl. Rich and I grabbed some fish and chips on the boat as we thought it would keep us going during our long drive.

We arrived in Wellington and were off the ferry by around 5:15pm, we stopped at the ticket office to hand in our refund form — the Lynx costs more because the crossing time is less and (in our opinion) is a far pleasanter environment. We basically then re-traced our steps of last Tuesday, just in the opposite direction.

Our original plan for today was to get off the Lynx and drive straight through to Rotorua. This could no longer happen as we were 4 hours later setting off from Wellington and so we decided to head back to Taupo. We stopped a couple of times to swap drivers and once at Hunterville at around 7:45pm to call the helicopter company about a flight to White Island tomorrow — we’d booked this originally for 11am but it had been re-timed for 1pm, this suits us fine as it will give us a more relaxed morning tomorrow. Driving along, it became obvious how much more populated the North Island is than the South. On the South Island, only the area around Christchurch seemed to have lots of small towns.

The last hour or so was harder driving as it was dark by now. Fortunately, despite the hire car not being very good on hills, it’s lights were very good. I got annoyed with some drivers though as they didn’t shut their headlight beams off when passing me and so half-blinded me. Just outside Taupo we caught a glance at the vast number of stars that were visible — even star clusters. The light pollution in Taupo really made a difference and they were no longer visible.

We arrived in Taupo and checked into the “Caboose Taupo” again and had a room opposite the one we were in last time.

Day 18 — Wednesday 17 Jan

We started the day with a “hunter breakfast” at the hotel, before checking out and heading off on Highway 1.

We drove towards Rotorua and stopped at the Te Ngae shopping centre. It had a phone box which we used to call Vulcan — the helicopter company. We also called Rich’s folks as they’d left us a few messages on the Lonely Planet Ekno service.

We drove into Whakatane airport and located Vulcan. We had a very in-depth safety briefing with lots of information about what to do in an emergency, and what we should expect on the island. Vulcan was a very professional outfit and they were the first place to request a next of kin telephone number. This was a good thing in our opinion.

We had about a 10-15 minute wait while the helicopter was reconfigured for our group of 9 passengers. The aircraft had been out on a VIP trip in the morning.

We boarded the helicopter and started to fly to White Island (the Maori name is Whakaari, Captain Cook named it White Island because of the clouds of steam). The flight was much more stable than the one last week to the glaciers.

Our pilot, Robert, landed the helicopter in one of three main craters on White Island. White Island is about 324 hectares, about 50km off the coast and it is New Zealand’s most active volcano.

We were all issued with a hard hat and a gas mask. The gas mask was to clean the air up if any of us found it uncomfortable — I think we all did at some point. Robert proved to be very knowledgeable about the island and walked us around it. The island last erupted last year and we were shown what difference that had made to the island. In the 1880s and until at least 1914 there was some form of Sulphur mining going on. There are still a couple of huts visible which these miners would have lived in. There was a landslide in 1914 which killed the workers stationed there. It took 2 weeks before the landside was noted. The workers were never found.

We walked around the “safe” part of the island and stood looking into the main crater. At this point the smell of sulphur was very strong and many of us put our gas masks on to help us breathe. The most unexpected thing to me was the noise — the sound of escaping steam. The main crater today had a lake (apparently some times it does, sometimes it doesn’t), and watching the steam over the lake was really soothing. The lake is made up of acid, in a ph test it registers as ph -0.25 or thereabouts. There are yellow deposits all over, these are sulphates. The yellow funnels which steam came out of are sulphur.

After our walk around, we took our hard hats and gas masks off and prepared to get into the helicopter. We had to take our shoes off as apparently the acid on the shoes can damage the helicopter. We got in, and the helicopter started up, lifted off and flew us back to Whakatane after doing a couple of last fly’s around the island.

We arrived at Whakatane and then drove into Rotorua. We started looking for accommodation and chose the
“Ledwich Lodge Motel”. We both had a shower as we felt a bit sulphuric after our trip

We had a quick look at the footage we’d recorded on the video camera before heading out and both of us smelled sulphur whilst watching the film. We went and had a closer look at the lake before having a brief walk in the town looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up at “Mitas” an Indonesian restaurant. We had a shared platter and so we got to try many different dishes. After our meal we walked back to the unit via an ice cream parlour where we got a Hokey Pokey ice cream each — Hokey Pokey was another thing we’d been told we ought to try.

Day 19 — Thursday 18 Jan

We checked out of the motel and moved the car to a parking area before heading off in search of breakfast. We ended up at a place called “Zambique”, opposite where we ate last night. We both had a bowl of muesli and fruit with yoghurt and juice before heading off for a hunt around the souvenir shops. We bought a couple of books and then realised that we weren’t all that sure where we had left the car. We consulted the streetmap and worked out roughly where we needed to get to. This involved us walking past Government Gardens which looked quite pleasant, and seeing the people playing lawn bowls with thermal steam rising around them was funny.

Having found the car, we got a bit confused between Tarewa Road and Tarewara Road and realised that the Sport Luge idea at Extreme Limits wasn’t going to happen this trip as it was in the wrong direction. Instead we headed out to the Agrodome Leisure Park in Ngongotaha. This has two main parts, one is a farm type idea and the other is an activity idea. The first thing we did was Zorbing. This involves climbing into an inflated double plastic sphere into which you are strapped in (if you have a dry ride) before rolling downhill. We both had 2 dry rides (the alternative is the wash cycle where there is nothing strapping you in and so you stand up in it and they throw water in with you. If you can run down the hill then you get a free t-shirt). This was really cool. The Zorb was invented to get from the beach to the surf and back again. Apparently the inventor was at the Zorb site today. We watched a couple of people doing wash cycles which looked like good fun.

We then drove off and found the Agrojet site. This was a jet boat ride in the jet sprint mould. Instead of taking a jet boat around rivers and scenery, this goes around a man made course where the water level varies from being waist height to being ankle height. We’d first seen jet sprinting on tv on an “Extremes downunder” programme. This was a fantastic experience and was really, really good fun.

We got a drink each and sat and hoped someone else would do the jetboat so we could get some video footage. Unfortunately there weren’t that many people around so this didn’t happen. The other activities available where Swoop — a bungyesque thing, DirtThingz — a motorised skateboard and off road go karting.

We then had to head off and so drove along Highway’s 5 and 1. We stopped at Tirau to get some petrol. This was the place with the large dog and large sheep that we saw last Monday. We visited the big dog tourist centre and discovered why it was a dog. The owner of the sheep (a sheepskin shop) had the idea of the dog. When the South Waikato District Council were looking for somewhere to put the new public toilets the spot next to the sheep was ideal but the owers didn’t just want toilets there and so a compromise was reached involving a tourist centre, toilets, picnic area and car park. We had a pleasant lunch in a place opposite the sheep and dog. We walked back to the car via the Tirau shell and jade centre where Rich bought me a really lovely pendant.

We headed off again on Highway 1 and into Auckland arriving at Cayne’s place at 6pm ish. We chatted with Cayne for a while before heading off to “Orbit”, the restaurant at the Skytower. This revolves at one revolution per hour which was really cool. Our table was booked for 8pm and so our first revolution was in daylight and we watched the lights come on over the city. After our meal (which was really pleasant) we went to the various observation levels and looked out over the city. We got a taxi back to Cayne’s and the just sat around chatting for another hour or so.

Day 20 — Friday 19 Jan

We got up and started to pack our stuff up. We stopped off at foodtown and got some breakfast before heading into town. We dropped the car off at Omega having driven 2997km during our trip.

We took a walk down Queen street and continued until we got to the Auckland domain. It was very hot and was a longer walk than we remembered.

We went into the Auckland war memorial museum and started off by having lunch at the cafe. The museum has adopted a similar scheme to the Victoria and Albert museum in London in that there is a suggested amount of money to donate, with a lady at a till issuing tickets and taking your “donation”. We then wandered around the various collections — maori, pacific, colonial Auckland, nature, and we also took a look at the war memorial. The cenotaf is based on the London one but they couldn’t afford to buy the blueprints and so an artist went to the movies for a week and sketched it from the news reel!

We left the museum and found a different route back downtown from the domain. We again wandered along Queen street and did some CD and book shopping. We then went to Cayne’s office and met some of Cayne’s colleagues before getting the bus back to Cayne’s flat.

We finished our packing, got changed and Cayne drove us to the airport. We checked in and then tried to redeem our “Holiday Rewards” points at the Regency duty free shop. This turned out to be a bit of a mess as they made a mistake with the redemption so we got a $20 voucher instead of $60, their mistake but they wouldn’t believe me. I called the Holiday Rewards number and the chap I spoke to was really helpful and took my contact details.

We paid our departure tax of $22 each, filled in our departure card and headed through to departures where we bought a few presents for work — kiwi droppings and sheep droppings (some form of chocolate). We had a slice of pizza and a glass of L&P each (something Jono — a kiwi we know in London — had told us that we had to try) and then boarded the plane. For some reason we were sat in the middle 2 of 4 seats, this seemed like a really odd arrangement to us.

I finished reading my book, ate dinner — this wasn’t as good as the food coming out — and then managed to get around 5 hours of sleep before waking up yesterday — we’d crossed over the International date line.

I watched “Toy Story 2” whilst eating breakfast which was okay.

We arrived at Los Angeles at around 1pm LA time which is around 10am NZ time and 9pm UK time! I attempted to set my watch to UK time but the winder broke :-(. We queued to get our boarding card and then crashed in the transit lounge listening to “I love Lucy” being played on one of the televisions.

We got back onto the plane and set off on the second leg of the journey. The service was a little better on this leg, as was the food. We watched “Bedazzled” — which was rubbish!

Day 21 — Saturday 20 Jan

We were served breakfast a couple of hours before arriving at Heathrow. We arrived slightly early, disembarked, collected our luggage and met up with our mini cab which took us back to Ealing.

Thoughts and Reflections

Was it worth the 24+ hour flight?

Yes! The flight is long but it’s worth it. To adjust to NZ time we stayed awake as long as possible (until evening ish — 7pm) on our first day and this seemed to sort us out.

Was 18 days long enough?

No! 18 weeks might not have been enough. We definitely got a taste of both the North and the South islands but it was just that. We did a lot of driving, too much really but we saw a lot of things briefly. Some of the roads are really scenic (and winding) and so driving isn’t so bad.

Would we do the same again?

More or less — there isn’t anywhere I wouldn’t go back to. All our accommodation was good, as were most of the restaurants we ate in. I’d like to have more time to explore places a bit more thorougly, spend some time a bit more off the beaten track and spend more time with New Zealanders.

Where do we want to go next time?

Taupo again — to spend more time around the lake.
Napier — the idea of an art deco city sounds cool
Ninety Mile beach — playing in the sand dunes!
Abel Tasman national park — kayaking around what claim to be beautiful beaches
Heli-hiking on the glaciers
Sea kayaking at Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound

Did Holiday Rewards contact me?

Indeed they did. They discovered that Regency had indeed made a mistake and offered me their apologies. Also offered to extend the life of my card for another trip. They ended up crediting us for the NZ$40 on our credit card.



The Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand. This book was useful, but did overexagerate things sometimes… like calling the cable car in Wellington exhilarating. Useful to have around, and ours was definitely well used. (buy)

New Zealand Insight Guide. This book is a very good coffee table type book, it has all the facts and some wonderful pictures. We didn’t use it much on our travels, relying more on the Lonely Planet, but it has some good pre-trip reading about history, culture etc. (buy)

Web Sites:

Pure NZ — the tourist information site

TravelPlanner.co.nz — a good informative site, with articles about regions, activities and culture

Travel reports

All obtained from rec.travel.library. The ones I read were (in no particular order) were:

Iceland Diary

April 1999

Day 1 – Friday 16th April 1999

Our cab arrived a few minutes before 10am and took us down to Terminal One. After a bit of confusion about which of the Air Lingus desks to check in at, we finally checked in and went off in search of currency. We went to Thomas Cook in arrivals (next to the cashpoints) but they didn’t have enough Krone for us. They suggested we went to Departures instead. So, off we trotted and got £200 of currency between the 4 of us – 22,000 Krone.

After a wander around the shops in the check-in area we went through into departures. We went for a walk around and we bought a Minolta Weathermatic APS camera from Dixons, Amanda and Chris bought a Canon Ixus camera. Their’s really small whilst ours is big, chunky and waterproof to a depth of 10m. We then wandered around looking for APS films so we could all get the best deal. Once we were all shopped out we grabbed some drinks from Pret A Manger and packed our goodies away. We wandered off to Gate 36 and arrived just as the plane was starting to board. We found our seats and were pleased to discover that Rich and I had a spare seat next to us so we used it to store stuff away. There was actually quite a lot of leg room. We got served a quite nice lunch of salmon mousse, chicken and rice and creme caramel shortly after we took off. The film on the plane was “Home Fries” which helped to pass the time.

We arrived in Keflavic airport at 3pm and were met by a representive who would take us to the hotel. As we left the airport the scenery was like a moonscape, very barren – oh and snowy. There were 2 other people on the “people carrier” vehicle that brought us into Reykjavik. It’s 50km from the airport to Reykjayik and as we got closer to Reykjavik more snow was apparent at the side of the road. The vehicles have studs in their tyres to help in their grip. We went past a thermometer which read -3∞C. We dropped the other 2 people off at the Hotel Loftleidir and then carried on to the Hotel Leifur Eiriksson. We checked in and were given 2 twin-bedded rooms, one on the top floor and one on the ground floor. The decision of who got which room was based on “pick-a-hand” and so Rich and I were in room 105 on the ground floor. The rooms are quite basic but clean and warm and the hotel is in a really neat location – just next to the Hallgrimskirkja which is a really impressive building and an excellent landmark.

We unpacked our stuff and then went for a walk into town. Amanda wanted a hat so we wandered around with a mission. We stumbled across the Tourist Information Centre so we picked up a free map. We found a supermarket and so bought some tonic to go with the vodka we bought at the airport, some juice and a large bag of Paprika crisps. Amanda found a hat and then we trotted off back to the hotel as it was very cold.

Back at the hotel we had a hot chocolate followed by a small beer whilst looking at the various guides and leaflets that we’d aquired between us. It was around 6.30 and we were all a bit weary and so decided to retire for a while. We agreed to meet up for vodka and tonics at around 8pm in our room. Amanda took one of the bottles of tonic up to their room and hung it out of the window to chill.

At 8.15pm Amanda and Chris knocked on the door and we had our drinks before heading off to find a place to eat. We walked towards the Conran Bar/grill “Rex” but we felt very under-dressed for there as we caught sight of people in tuxedos. We wandered around in search of eateries and ended up at the lake – it had ice in the middle and ducks around the outside. We turned around and headed nearer the harbour and found a Bar/Grill place “Grillhosid” at Tryggvagˆtu 20 where I had a lovely lamb steak with chips and a jacket potato, Rich had lamb chops, Amanda had a Tex Mex burger and Chris had the largest BBQ pork ribs I’ve ever seen. We washed it down with a 2 litre jug of beer. it got dark whilst we were eating our meal at around 10pm.

Once we’d eaten we headed back to the hotel, packed a small bag for tomorrow and went to bed feeling very contented.

Day 2 – Saturday 17th April

What a day! The alarm went off at 7:30 and we dragged ourselves into the shower. After standing in the hot sulphury water I came out feeling like I had very soft skin but smelt like a boiled egg.

We met up at 8:15 for breakfast which was a buffet of cereals, bread, ham and cheese. We had time to go for a walk to the Icelandic knitting society shop so Amanda could buy her silly Icelandic hat.

We then headed back to the hotel to get togged up in our thermal gear.

Hakon pronounced “Howcon” from Geysir collected us at 9:20 from reception and we clambered into the Toyota Landcruiser which was to be our transport for the day.

Our first stop was after about 20 minutes at Geysir’s snowmobile clothing store where we all get kitted out with fur-lined suits, helmets and boots. There is a large building there which was described as being the “Party House” and behind the store is a swimming pool with steam rising into the cold air.

We put our suit, boots and helmets into the boot and headed off along the N1 and then the N374. The jeep was very comfortable. At around 10am we stopped at the Esso petrol station in Selfoss. We stayed in car whilst “Howcon” went to get some nibbles and some gloves for later.

We travelled further along past frozen lakes, rivers running with ice cubes on the top, icelandic horses, riding stables, small water powered power stations, and were fascinated by the really deep channel for a new power station, dug out of rock. We even saw some trees which was the first bit of green we’d seen.

We arrived at the motel in Hrauneyar at 11:30. The snow was really deep in places and there were lots of skidoos around the place.

We had lunch at the motel which consisted of asparagus soup, salad with prawns, bread, ham and cheese – it was really tasty.

A chap named Benny joined us for lunch. He works for Geysir but is currently on holiday skidooing. Hakon said that Benny was a bit of a nutter.

After lunch we got kitted up in our suits and boots and put the rest of our stuff into the jeep. We collected our helmets, goggles, cameras, hats and gloves and headed off to where the skidoos were. Benny told us how to start, drive and stop them. There were 3 skidoos for us to use between the 4 of us, so Amanda and Chris shared one (Amanda was a bit unsure about snowmobiling).

We set off at around 1pm with Hakon at the front, then Amanda and Chris, then me and then Rich. We started off doing about 10kph. Hakon kept turning around to check on us all. He turned around at one point and sped off behind us to rescue Rich who had driven into a rock.

As we got more confident we started to speed up which made steering much easier. We drove over rutted snow, over frozen ponds and rivers, up hills, down again. As we going around a bend Amanda fell off off into the snow. We set off again and go across the first stream uneventfully. At the second stream we’re not lined up properly so Hakon gets us to line up. Whilst turning the snowmobile around Chris, Amanda and the skidoo sink. Rich and Hakon go to help. Rich was holding the back of the skidoo whilst Hakon attempts to get it moving. Hakon gets it away, Rich falls face down in the snow and looks up just as the skidoo throws the snow back – straight into his face.

We cross the last 2 streams and arrive at Landmannalaugar. This is a chance to rest for a while and we go for a stroll. I decide to visit the toilets which are at the bottom of a snowy 6 foot drop which I manage to fall down.

We go for a walk down to the hot springs. The water is amazingly hot. It’s very strange to be in a landscape covered in snow but with steam drifting up from the springs. There were people swimming in the pools.

We return to our skidoos. We sit and watch some of the jeeps driving up unlikely hills. Hakon told us that they were mad and quite often rolled their jeeps. Amanda was not very happy about going back all the way as a passenger and Hakon persuades someone to drive over the streams in their jeep with her as a passenger. So whilst Amanda gets a lift over the water in a jeep we get to skidoo quite fast with a skidoo each We even had a little play up the side of a hill. We skidood through the first stream without problem. At the second stream we meet up with other Geysir party with one skidoo stuck in water. All of their group are sharing skidoos. We all get through the second stream okay, although Rich goes through a bit too fast and soaks himself and the skidoo. We go through the final stream and meet up with Amanda.

Hakon manages to persuade Amanda to try driving a skidoo. So we all swap around and Rich and I share so Amanda and Chris each have their own. Amanda gets on much better driving. Rich and I share the driving of our skidoo. I take us into very rutted snow but not fast enough so we fall over very slowly.. We pick ourselves up and drive off.

On our drive along we pass by some cross country skiiers. I’m starting to get cold as we get close to the end. As a passenger you get to look around a lot more than as a driver, but driving is much more fun. Hakon managed to drive his skidoo into a snow drift, so it wasn’t just us. The lads had to help him get his skidoo back out of the snow.

We got back to the motel at about 5.30 and had a well-deserved cup of tea and a Mars bar.

We clamber back into the jeep and drive along for about half an hour before Hakon pulls over and takes us to see a waterfall. The waterfall is named Hjalparfoss, which means “the waterfall of help”. It is really beautiful and the pool where the water falls into has broken ice along the top. We take a walk down the steps to get a closer look. Rich jumps onto one of the steps which is covered in snow and soon discovers that there isn’t anything under the snow up to around knee height. He picks himself up and walks down the rest of the steps.

We all get back into the jeep and continue our journey back to the hotel. Hakon asked us if we wanted to stop for a coffee and so we decided we would. He drove us into Selfoss and we stopped at a really nice coffee house there.

We returned to the hotel at around 8.30pm and then had a discussion about how we were going to pay for our trip. In the end Hakon decided that he’d get someone to see us on Sunday to take our Visa cards. We gave Hakon a 2,000 krone tip between us because he had been really good.

We then went back to our rooms and sorted ourselves out a little before meeting back up to nibble on some crisps before going to find a restaurant to eat in.

We wandered down the main street and decided upon Caruso, an italian restaurant. It was pretty busy and we were asked to wait for a table. There is a sitting room upstairs which is where we waited until a table was available for us. The menu at the restaurant was printed in the style of an Italian newspaper with the dishes displayed in boxes amongst stories.

I had garlic bread with cheese as a starter and flounder with shrimp in blue cheese sauce as a main course. All washed down with a beer. It was really lovely and very filling. We decided not to have desserts and just to head back to the hotel.

We sat in the cafe/bar area and ordered a beer each. Our main topic of conversation during the evening was skidooing, unsurprisingly. I think we were all hooked on it.

I asked Shaun, the barman, who we knew had lived in England for a while, and spoke with an african accent, how he came to be in Iceland. He said that when he was at school in Namibia he had a friend whose family was Icelandic and so he’d seen pictures of it. I asked him whereabouts in Namibia he came from and he told me Swakopmund, which is where Richard Gossow (a contractor at Glaxo Wellcome – a member of my project team) is from. So, of course, I mentioned Richard’s name. It turns out he his a big friend of Richard’s sister – small world.

We were all shattered and so at about 11.45pm we called it a day and went to bed.

Day 3 – Sunday 18th April

We got up later than yesterday and met up for breakfast at around 9.20. The lads went off to have showers and sort themselves out whilst Amanda and I tried to put together a plan for the day. The owner of the hotel was very helpful and gave us some good advice, including a restaurant recommendation for this evening.

The first thing we did was to go up the tower of Hallgrimskirkja. We were a bit unsure as to whether we’d be allowed up as it was 10.40am and their Mass started at 11am. They seemed very happy to take our 200Krone and so we took the lift to the top. The bells were ringing for Mass as we went up in the lift and we could feel the bells resonating. The lift took us up to the same level as the clock face. We needed to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the bells and the windows. There is a great view across the expanse of Reykjavik so we took lots of photos. The big bell started ringing whilst we were up there which was very loud.

We then walked down into the town via restaurant suggested earlier. I booked us a table for 8.30 although the booking was made in the name of Fotherdo as Fothergill was obviously far too difficult for the Icelandic lady to cope with.

As we were walking down towards the pond and the music tower we got accused of being german by some drunken lands with cries of “Heil Hitler” and “Iceland, Iceland Uber Alles”. We arrived at the lake and stood and watched the ducks and swan swimming, and doing skid landings onto the ice. We walked around the pond and down towards the harbour. We went into the covered market which was another place the owner of the Hotel Leifur Eirikson had suggested we take a look at.

We then started to walk back through the main shopping area towards hotel. Amanda and Chris popped into a supermarket to get a couple of donuts for their lunch. Rich and I decided to try our the 24 hour snack menu at the hotel, and so contented ourselves with toasted cheese and ham sandwiches which proved to be very tasty, all washed down with a small beer.

We went back to our rooms to rest, and I started looking through the Lonely Planet guide and the leaflets I’d picked up and I discovered that at 3pm there was an exhibition in town called “The Volcano Show”. We decided to go along and it transpired to be two films about the volcanic history of Iceland. The first one was a general film about volcanos in Iceland generally. The second one was much more interesting as it featured only the eruption of the volcano on Heimamy, one of the Westman Islands, and how the town had suffered, especially as the eruption lasted for 18 months. The other aspect of the second film was all about the creation of the island of Surtsey due to a 1963 eruption. I learnt a lot during the films, like for instance, Reykjavik has a minor earthquake every 3 weeks as it is directly on the planes affected by the continental shift.

We headed back to the hotel and had chance of a snooze before dinner.

I bought three postcards – two to send (general pictures of Iceland) and one to keep of Landmannalaugar in summer time. It seems very strange to look at the place where we stood, with snow deeper than our knees during summer when there is no snow at all.

We wandered down to the “Insert Name Here” restaurant and had a really good meal. I had garlic bread with cheese as a starter. Rich had orly shrimps in batter with toast and they were absolutely wonderul. For my main course I went for the pan fried rouvet (white tuna) in mushroom sauce, this was absolutely lovely too.

We got the bill and wandered back to the hotel and had a beer before bedtime. We decided that we would settle up the bill this evening as it would save us a job at 5 tomorrow morning.

We started to pack our bags to save us a job in the morning, and I was pleased to note that I’d brought just about the right number of clothes for the weekend.

Then time to sleep.

Day 4 – Monday 19th April

After a bad nights sleep (constantly waking up to check the time) we got up at 5am and were picked up at 5:25am. The journey to the airport was uneventfull. Weather very cloudy and not what we’ve come to expect over the last few days. It has definitely got warmer during our time here and some of the snow has melted away.

We got to the airport, checked in and went through security and into departures. We found the cafe place and had a cup of tea and chocolate croissant thing. Then took ourselves down to gate 3 and waited for the plane to board.

We boarded the plane at around 7:40 and this time didn’t have a spare seat next to us. Instead I appeared to be sitting next to a member of the French Resistance.

Shortly after take-off newspapers were brought around and then breakfast was served. Cheese omelette, tomato and bacon and potato cubes. Quite tasty. Icelandair seem to be pretty good and there is a reasonable amount of leg room.

After our breakfast, Rich was reading “Letters From Iceland” by W.H.Auden and Louis MacNeice and I was reading “Moon Country – Further reports from Iceland” by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.

We had a slightly bumpy landing into a 6 degree C Heathrow at 11:50am and made our way off the plane, through Passport control, through customs and into arrivals. We couldn’t be bothered to get the tube and so got into a black cab. The bloke at the Taxi information point in Arrivals had estimated it costing us £18 but in the end it cost £23. Still, it got us back to Ealing in one piece.

We all piled into my car and I drove Amanda and Chris to GW so they could collect their car from the car park. Then back into Ealing for us to drop the photos off to get developed. They can be collected tomorrow after work.