Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year


New Year was seen in from the top of Mount Buffalo which provided welcome relief from temperatures in the high thirties down in Bright. We had met friends in historic Beechworth and very much enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the well preserved former gold mining town.

Previously we had crossed over the Bogong Plains from Omeo and enjoyed good walks including a circuit to the top of Mt Bogong taking some 8 hours. A night up at Buckety Plain had been our coldest here but a roaring fire took the edge off and we dug out Sarah's hot water bottle!

It is the height of the summer holidays here so places are busier but we intend to head to quieter parts of the Alpine Park drifting towards Melbourne for the ferry two weeks today.

We are both well and enjoy hearing from folks back home where the rise in temperatures must be welcome - Happy New Year to all.

Links to photos and locations as usual

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Yuletide Log


Our return to the hills started with a night at Goongerah where we sampled kangaroo courtesy of a group of lads living a somewhat itinerant lifestyle - it may well have been roadkill but was nevertheless delicious. We then followed the Barry Way which took us through wonderful upland scenery to McKillops Bridge on the Snowy River where a good day walk and an empty camping area provided a memorable stay.

The route along the Snowy River valley to Jindabyne passed through mountains and eucalyptus woods that had been totally destroyed in the 2003 bushfires. New growth was evident everywhere but the bare white trunks of dead trees stretched as far as the eye could see covering every ridge and valley.

From Jindabyne where we had a powered site as the temperature had dropped sharply we travelled via Adaminaby to collect some mail and then headed over the tops via Kiandra to Yarrangabilly caves which provided a couple of good walks. Fresh snow lay on the tops despite it being the summer solstice but the forecast was improving so we headed out on Long Plain Road to visit a number of historic drovers huts and to observe herds of brumbies (wild horses).

During a night back at 3 Mile Dam we saw the lunar eclipse as the skies had cleared to give a cold but spectacular night.

Cabramurra - Australia's highest town - had a surreal feeling with snow drifts melting under the hot sun after which we dropped to sleepy Khancoban before pulling in to the Tom Groggin camping area where the kangaroos were surprisingly approachable.

Up at Thredbo we enjoyed a chair lift to the plateau above the valley that gave us access to the four hour return walk across to Kosciuszco's summit at 2223m ASL. Panoramic views across the nearby snow covered tops dissolved in to the lower foothills that seemed to stretch to infinity covering much of the area we have explored over the last fortnight.

The Christmas weekend is approaching so we intend to walk in the Perisher/Charlotte Pass area before the holiday makers arrive and then head through less popular areas towards Melbourne.


Wishing everyone a good Christmas and Happy New Year with photos here and our various locations here.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Mountains and Coast


Sarah enjoyed an excellent few days riding in the Snowy Mountains high country with good camps, good company and sightings of brumbies whilst I hunkered down at Mount Selwyn with a couple of walks completed.

After meeting Silwyn for a boozy night at Jindabyne we headed to the NSW/Victoria coast again to enjoy empty beaches, peaceful camping areas and a variety of reptiles and mammals. The lighthouses that protect the coast made good focal ( ha ha) points to aim for - one was best reached by bike followed by a swim in the clear waters of West Bay.


We now head via Orbost to the hills again as we expect Christmas to be busier on the coast and will then follow the ranges south west to Melbourne where we have booked the ferry to Tasmania for mid January. A de luxe cabin each way and a flexible return date will do as our Xmas pressies to each other - on which note we wish all at home a very Happy Christmas.


Pictures and SPOTS and Horse PIctures courtesy of Sarah here

Saturday, 4 December 2010

South East New South Wales

Well the last ten days or so have been diverse to say the least. A visit to the magical beaches of Jervis Bay preceeded a very enjoyable stay with a couple we had met in Gloucester Tops. Their comfortable house and excellent hospitality was followed by an invite to a memorable Xmas function where we danced the night away until the small hours.
A couple of unsettled days followed which saw us hunkering down in one site as the road was too slippery to get out, a peaceful night in the Congo with a lovely walk on the Bingi Bingi track from which we saw several sea eagles and a pod of dolphins from the beach and three hours spent assisting a stranded van to get out of a very muddy track followed by a night at Dalmeny to get ourselves cleaned up and clothing washed. The excellent coastal location offered good views but the overnight wind and rain rocked the van alarmingly at times.
A variety of beaches and bays were visited with Naroomba providing a boardwalk out to the harbour entrance where a seal was playing and pelicans on the return trip were waiting for scraps from local fishermen.
Mystery Bay provided quiet bush camping where we met a guy from Orange who has travelled extensively in Europe and is now exploring Australia - he had loads of useful tips for Tasmania and the rest of our planned itinerary.
Central Tilba was a well preserved and interesting historical village with traditional wooden buildings set in granite hills
The whale museum at Eden was well worth a visit with plenty of interest and we are now in Bournda NP having back tracked slightly as tomorrow we head inland for the start of Sarah's riding trip. We took the bikes around the local tracks and lakes for a couple of hours this evening - considering they have been out in all weathers for over a year now and regularly exposed to mud, dust and dirt they were in good mechanical order.
We have very much taken to Australia and although the locals feel summer has yet to start for us it is quite hot enough - even when it rains it is still warm to us. Images of a wintry Britain remind us how lucky we are - the Christmas decorations here look somewhat incongruous when people are in shorts and T shirts.

Spot the pictures here and picture the SPOT here

Friday, 26 November 2010

Moving on Slowly

Our exploration of the Great Divide continued as we headed south and west. Jenolan caves were explored on a misty dank afternoon but provided some impressive walks and caverns. We spent the night in Kanangra Boyd NP and woke to a sunny day ideal for our walk out to the spectacular Kanangra Walls where Sarah posed for pictures in a dramatic location before we walked a few hours out over the plateau with extensive views across miles of wilderness.

Yerranderie a former silver mining town was reached via 30 miles of dirt track and proved to be a fascinating historical relic with old houses, mine shafts and machinery all slowly dispappearing in to the bush. Owned for 5o years by a remarkable old lady the future seems uncertain as she has no direct heirs and is in her late 80's. For now though it made for a memorable place to spend a couple of days and appreciate how isolated the few people who still live there are - the most direct link with civilisation being a rough airstrip cut in to the bush and kept in trim by roos and wallabies.

Wombeyan caves provided more good walks and a clean and peaceful Parks camping area before we headed to Goulburn for food, fuel, gas and laundry topped off by lunch out to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. Later that evening we arrived at Bungonia NP set in an area of karst and riddled with sport caves. Walks on the surface linked up to give us a good day out followed the next day by the descent in to Slot Gorge a narrow defile that seemed impenetrable when viewed from above. In fact the route lay through a jumble of house sized boulders worn smooth by water that rewarded us with a swimming pool at the far end before the long hot climb out.

We are now in great comfort at Trevor and Anne's (a couple we met in Gloucester Tops) house with an invite to a Christmas do this evening - fancy dress is ? optional so our thinking caps are on. Sarah rides a week tomorrow after which we will explore the mountains of Victoria before heading for Tasmania in early January. We are adjusting to the heat and humidity, enjoying the very diverse bird and wild life and accommodating the huge distances in to our plans for 2011.


Links as usual to photos and SPOT










Thursday, 18 November 2010

Out and Back

The Warrumbungles provided a couple of excellent walks around the ridges left by an old volcano and ascending the remnants of lava domes with the distant views of the outback plains encouraging us to head that way.

A full day's drive brought us to the remarkable www.willieretreatmacquariemarshes.com.au miles from anywhere run by a remarkable couple ably assisted by a friend from Sydney who provide a lovely campsite on the edge of the marshes which provide significant and varied bird habitats. The area was looking unusually gren and verdant after the breaking of a 10 year drought and we spent a hot and humid evening listening to the nocturnal birdsong. Unfortunately heavy rain was forecast and as the access roads soon turn to mud we left early the next morning.
Hill End was a remarkable place to spend a couple of nights as it used to be a substantial gold mining town but now has only around 100 residents, many old buildings and masses of history.
In a similar vein (ha ha) the old oil shale mining town of Newnes provided a memorable two nights camping beneath the lofty plateaux of the Wollemi National Park with a fascinating walk to explore the old industrial ruins, a long chat with the enthusiastic owner of the unfortunately dry hotel and an evening climb up the Pipeline Track to a viewpoint a thousand feet above the valley floor.
Today we set off early to follow the Glow Worm Tunnel walk that follows the former railway which with luck and a lot of effort will one day be a cycle track. This gave us time to visit a family friend in Katoomba who last saw me almost 50 years ago - sadly similar hair and rotund even then apparently!
We are now at Lake Lyell prior to heading down to Jenolan caves and the Kanagra Boyd NP both of which should return us to the wilds.
At some stage I will have to remove the splash guard from the rear brake disc as it is rattling - the other was removed in NZ not 3 months ago, otherwise we are in good shape despite some long stretches of unmade road and various fords and rough sections. Pics here and SPOT here.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Re : United

After my month or so of exploring solo Sarah arrived safely at Sydney despite the Airbust problems - SAL's checks only delayed her flights by 2 hours although they later withdrew all 380's.
We headed to Bent's Basin NP so she could enjoy a relaxing day to recover followed by a day of socialising at our friends in Sydney who produced a royal feast from the barbie.
Later that evening we headed to Munmorah where I had spent my first night and enjoyed the peace, quiet and a walk on the beach.
Monday saw us stop briefly in Newcastle for shopping before we climbed up in to the Gloucester Tops, part of the Barrington Tops NP where after 6 fords we reached an excellent secluded campsite. We settled in with Sarah still a bit tired and enjoyed the sounds and sights of the luxuriant rainforest. Schnapper was cooked over the barbie and 3 Scots lads in an old van arrived later on to cook a tin of beans and a pot noodle over same with less than satisfactory results.
Up on the Tops we enjoyed a couple of walks before thunderstorms moved in - once they abated I did a quick oil and filter change on the van before we returned to the camping area to enjoy a very sociable evening with a couple from south of Wollongong who have just started exploring Oz in a demountable unit based on a ute - invitations to stay sometime were extended and accepted.
Moving on we drove through rolling hills to climb up to the Barrington Tops and an empty camping area at around 1500m. A good walk ensued but ended up with another thunderstorm - later radio reports advised of a severe weather warning for the area but back at the van we were soon warm and cosy with Sarah absorbed in her excellent Kindle.
We have now moved on to the Warrumbungles which promise a good walk following the volcanic ridges with a clear day forecast. My copy of The Times has downloaded to the rather amazing Kindle and internet access is possible as there is a comms mast on a nearby top which is probably the highest point for several thousand miles to the west and a few hundred in any other direction!

Photo link here and SPOT progress page here - any help messages were merely tests!


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

High and Wild

The high country of the New England Tablelands has provided a memorable week of panoramic views, good walks, quiet camping areas and a taste of civilisation on Saturday as I spent my first night in a proper camp site to get laundry done, take advantage of hook up and hot showers and visit the extensive and enjoyable Armidale Farmer's market.

Continuing along the Waterfall Way and staying at various camping areas gave me a chance to meet some fellow travellers including a couple from Perth on their 5th circuit.
The wildlife continues to amaze me and a good guide to the birdlife should allow me to identify some of the many to be seen across the various habitats.
NSW's drought breaking rain in recent months has made the various waterfalls even more impressive with Dangars and Tia particularly memorable.
My drift back to Sydney to collect Sarah is a day ahead of schedule as I dropped down from the wilds of the Werrikimbee NP as there seemed to be an abnormal noise from the front brakes. Following a strip down nearer a town it turned out to be just slightly loose wheel nuts probably as a result of the many miles of rough track I have covered. Last nights camping area was truly memorable for its location, silence and the howling of dingoes in the not too distant woods.
With time to spare I intend to return to Myall Lakes in the hope of enjoying a dip before calling in at Newcastle for various items en route to Sydney.
As well as pictures here there is also a link to our SPOT shared page that tracks our movements here

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

National Parks and Forests of northern NSW


The last ten days have been spent getting used to the scale and scope of exploring the National Parks both on the coast and up in the Great Dividing Range - both areas lacking in 3G or mobile coverage so the PLB has been a great re assurance as I have seen very few other cars or people - particularly up in the mountains at Nymboi Binderlay and here in Chaelundi. Mount Chaelundi is a high point and rather surprisingly had a signal hence this blog and photos.

The variety of wildlife both mammalian, avian and reptilian has been remarkable - sinister black snakes, colourful parakeets and the remarkable roos and wallabies have been highlights but perhaps so far the humpback whales migrating south have been the most awe inspiring.

The weather has generally been hot and sunny although a spectacular storm broke out on the coast at Yuraygir NP. The van has been performing well and I have stayed mostly on the NP camping areas so relied on strip washes, solar power and the odd wood fire in the evening.

I intend to drift slowly south spending some time in Barrington Tops before picking Sarah up a week on Saturday- it will be lovely to be reunited and explore together.

A number of good walks have been enjoyed in a mixture of rainforest complete with leeches and the drier eucalyptus woods with their lace martins (the tree climbing goanna) and colourful butterflies.

Pics here.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Settling In


So the first week on the road has passed without incident but with much progress. Munmorah gave me a very peaceful place to relax for a few days but being within reach of good beaches would I figured be busier over the weekend. Thus armed with information from the books bought in Sydney I headed for Watagans Forest a large (by UK standards) area of woodland straddling the sandstone escarpments of the Great Divide. Here at Gap Creek I took a walk and within minutes had encountered a variety of lizards and the like - the anxiety was mutual as was the desire to shin up the nearest tree.

I spent the night in a wooded clearing at Onley where the noise of the birds and other creatures at dusk was remarkable - during the day I had enjoyed extensive views to the coast from the lofty escarpment and met a wallaby hopping down the road towards me - fortunately he veered in to the foliage before I did.

With strong winds forecast I headed back to Gap Creek which was more open and spent a quiet night after cooking steak and all the trimmings on the gas BBQ provided (like the camping )free of charge.

My onward journey to Myall Lakes took in a shopping expedition in Newcastle for a variety of items to fill gaps in our inventory. The 'spare' spare wheel now has a cover and houses a washing up bowl; spare water containers, a new solar shower and food saw me right for the stay at the lakes which are inland waterways separated from the Tasman Sea by extensive dunes. Although it was sunny the southerlies meant that for me it felt comfortable whilst the few locals around were wrapped up and my chosen camping area was empty being right on the lake edge and subject to a refreshing blast.

Today started with a fix to the water tap/switch which had ceased to function overnight and I then dived beneath the van armed with a can of spray grease as the AQIS steam cleaning had left the brake, gear and other mechanisms devoid of both grime and grease. Otherwise all looked well under there and I decided to take the bike out for a spin - five hours later after an excellent ride along forest trails with lizards galore I returned for a shower courtesy of our 12v pump and spray head using water collected from the lake and topped up with a kettle from the hob - wonderful.

Finally trout cooked on the barbie as the sun set followed by strawberries and cream and a lengthy chat to Sarah rounded off a very enjoyable day and the end of a very positive first week.

Pics here and if you do get a copy of the SPOT message the link in that will put you overhead thanks to the wonders of Google maps.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Worth the Weight

Well against expectations I am at last on the road in the van which was released last Friday. I had actually quite enjoyed my time in the Jucy as the staff were all very friendly and the depot location gave me 3G internet access and was within walking distance of the shipping company offices. The incident with the compound's sliding gate was a classic comic interlude but for Thursday I returned to the excellent YHA at The Rocks with its superb terrace view and completed a number of tasks in the city.
I collected the van with a stern warning that it should have been steam cleaned before leaving NZ – not what we had been told in Auckland and then headed off to friends at Turramurra. I spent the weekend there being very well looked after and fed whilst I sorted out the various boxes, repacked in to cupboards and sourced new gas cylinders and a SPOT PLB.
Two good pub meals introduced me to the concept of 'barbie your own' and reacquainted me with Guinness before on Monday I obtained a second spare wheel for which Draig Engineering knocked up two fixings.
Later that day I stocked up with food before heading north to Freeman's Campsite at Lake Munmorah where I have spent today Tuesday just relaxing after a rather hectic fortnight. A 12v computer fan to enhance the fridge cooling has been fitted and the locator beacon and contacts activated alongside a few other jobs that will prepare the way for us to head off – my plan is to circle anticlockwise around northern New South Wales returning to Sydney in early November to collect Sarah.
Warm sunshine but a refreshing breeze set the scene – tomorrow might see the emergence of the solar shower!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Still Waiting


The cunning plan to escape the city in a Jucy worked well until the head gasket blew leaving me stranded on the motorway until towed back to the depot. There the team agreed that I could base myself there in the same vehicle - an unusual but satisfactory arrangement as I had internet access and it was a short bus ride in to the centre to chase up all manner of things.

Contact with the shipping company confirmed that the long weekend had delayed cleaning of the van until today Friday but that it should be released in time for the weekend - we'll see!

I spent the day in Sydney yesterday allowed me to chase up car insurance and roadside recovery, buy a couple of guide books from Dymmocks where Rick Stein was signing copies of his latest fishy tome and look in to the purchase of a SPOT personal locator beacon which may one day save our bacon.

To escape from the confines of the Jucy I also returned to the excellent YHA at The Rocks for a night giving me a chance to enjoy the top class vew from the roof terrace and later walk through Circular Quay soaking up the atmosphere.

Sarah is filling her time at home with all manner of trips and treats and looking forward to coming out in just under a month - our plan is to drift south and head over to Tasmania for about 6 weeks but we may need to adjust our plans to take in the huge size of this vast continent.

Pictures here - finally mastered the new camera!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Waiting Game

After the pavlova of getting to Sydney the first night in the airport hotel went someway to restoring my energy levels and I caught the shuttle back to the airport on a gorgeously sunny day after contacting the shipping companywho said that the van was currently undergoing its Customs inspection. Trying to find Qantas staff who knew anything about our refund proved frustrating and with a heavy bag to lug around I hit on the idea of leaving it with the van so caught a taxi out to the address. Unfortunately the driver's sat nav took us to the right road in the wrong suburb - a fact I only discovered once he had disappeared. A second taxi took me back to the airport and on to the correct address where at Specific Freight the van was waiting in a large depot. It was amazing to see it sat there yet again after another long trip but there seemed to be some confusion over carnets and the van was likely to need quarantine cleansing. As Sydney was due to celebrate a long weekend off the van would not be available for almost a week so I decided to head in to the city to find accommodation and sort out a number of issues.
A brand new YHA in the trendy Rocks area provided clean good value accommodation with a view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House augmented by the departure of a vast cruise ship. Later that evening a spectacular firework display lit up the foreshore and by early next morning another cruise ship had slipped in to the docks.
This combined with the long weekend off, a jazz festival and a major sporting event meant that all accommodation was fully booked which left me with a problem for the Saturday and Sunday nights as even the dive in King's Cross I found for Friday night would be full.
Meanwhile I made use of the time in the city to purchase a 3G modem, obtain my Qantas refund, check out book shops and car insurance and finally hit on the idea of renting a small camper for the period until ours became available. After a haircut where Frank from Naples recommended a good restaurant I checked in to the Formule 1 motel which was as noisy and grubby as I had expected. The Italian turned out to be a scruffy but bizarrely popular cafe complete with formica tables that did a basic but excellent bolognese with salad and bread for £10 - more than enough to fill me up.
Noisy revellers had me awake and away by 8 only to find that many shops in the centre did not open till late so I jumped on a bus up to the Jucy depot near the airport. Here after observing the skilled sales patter offered to other hirers regarding insurances and liabilities - cheap hire rates rocket skywards when you take out insurance cover but your liabilities are huge if you don't - I collected my vehicle which would provide car hire and accommodation for the next five days at considerably less than the hotel options left.
I headed slowly out of Sydney crossing the Harbour Bridge and heading north until I stopped for food supplies. As expected the Jucy Crib was far less satisfactory than the van with limited storage, facilities and space and being a 2l automatic petrol seemed remarkably thirsty for fuel. As I was still tired from the long journey I decided to stop at Stockton near Newcastle which is the largest coal port in the world - glamorous eh? In fact the site was on a peninsula and would have been OK had it not been for the holiday weekend crowds who occupied every nook and cranny. I was as a favour squeezed in and began to discover the full horror that is the Jucy - we had observed broken misshapen people emerge from their interiors across New Zealand and now they had even more of my sympathy.
Even for one the whole concept was beyond a joke but for me it provided a snug retreat out of the intermittent showers and a chance to catch up on some sleep.
The dongle worked well and I rang or skyped a few friends and family during the Sunday as I had decided to stay a second night rather than head in to the hills as the forecast was poor - mild but wet. Sunday evening was enlivened by most fellow campers watching the soccer match and celebrating in true Aussie style although by 10 the damp conditions had sent most to bed.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Unintended Consequences


This post follows quickly on from the previous although due to the vagaries of time zones is being written what seems like ages after Monday's musings.


We finally boarded the Qantas airbus that had failed to depart that morning after a repair to the hydraulics that operate the landing gear- the smaller size of the replacement 747 being the reason for many of us to be delayed.


The long flight to Singapore was comfortable with a wide range of entertainment on offer and some sleep grabbed after my early start from Bristol. On approach to Singapore much whining and thumping precluded a rather rough landing and as we approached the terminal the captain announced that the fault had re appeared overnight and we would be required to stay 12 hours rather than 2 in Singapore whilst repairs and checks were made.


After much confusion we were bussed to top end hotels where we enjoyed a remarkable feast and I took a walk through the city centre with Margaret a kiwi from Auckland who had been another of the originally delayed group. Tropical conditions combined with the glitzy neons reminded me of Tokyo as we observed teams dismantling signage following the F1 Grand Prix that had filled the city over the weekend.


An early start saw bleary and weary queues forming as we checked in once more, submitted to security and boarded the now repaired jet for a 7 hour hop to Melbourne. Many peoples plans were thrown in to disarray but I was fortunate to have no fixed or urgent agenda. Further problems at Melbourne where the ground crew could not open the doors merely added to the fun but at least we were met by Qantas staff with offers of reimbursement and assistance with onward plans. A final leg to Sydney gave us a chance to compare an older Boeing with the Airbus before I was shuttled to a local hotel where at long last internet was available to plan future progress. Just to end on a final note of amusement the hotel gave me initially the wrong key card for my room followed by one that was broken thus adding to a litany of cock ups that began 3 weeks ago with the multiple deficiencies of our British banking system and the random workings of Royal Mail redirections.


The van is in the hands of customs and the shipping company have made further contact so I expect to make progress later today - breakfast awaits and the sun is rising on a clear morning - we are 9 hours ahead of the UK and of course approaching late Spring.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Short but very sweet.


A month has passed since our last post - unintentional but predictable given the amount of tasks to complete during my short return to the UK.
The long flight passed smoothly enough and the hire car at LHR provided a comfortable mode of transport to see my parents in Coventry and collect a year's mail, divert to Neath on our way home to collect the other van and return to autumnal Pembrokeshire where our friends and neighbours had left cards, ballooons and champagne by way of a welcome home.
The flat was in good order and with limited baggage we were soon unpacked and adjusting to the time difference. All was well and after a few days I headed off to Brecon for a week of visiting other friends and enjoying the Beast mountain bike charity event which was a blast.
Meanwhile Sarah caught up with her crowd enjoying a two day ride in Pembs and a four day walk on the new coast path north of Cardigan before I returned after a visit to family and friends in Shropshire.
En route I addressed (ha ha) the non redirection of our mail which conspired to make resolving a number of outstanding banking issues bizarrely complicated - the potential for reform across that sector of the UK economy is substantial.
For my final week we had the use of the main house next door and were able to welcome a number of friends and family, walk the coast path to admire this seasons seal pups and enjoy a spell of fine settled weather.
Sarah has another 5 weeks at home so our parting was sad but positive and finally I set off for Australia with little info. about the van's shipment from Auckland to Sydney, a rucksack full of service spares and new clothes and another list of friends to catch in the Bristol area. With a new boat examined, holiday pics viewed and jokes exchanged in the pub I finally slept on a sofa for a few hours before checking emails in the small hours to confirm that the van has at least set off.
Having returned the car and waited for check in I was informed that the planned Airbus was out of service and 40 of us were to be put on a later flight with hotel rooms for day use including lunch. As a substantial cash incentive was offered and my now to be unused room in Sydney refunded this was very acceptable leaving me the day to update the blog.
Hopefully the next post will be from the van near Sydney so until then a few pics live here briefly covering our short time in Pembs.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Last Post


Well here we are - almost a year on and we are back in Orewa north of Auckland sorting out the contents of the van, deciding what to take home, what to send on and what to ditch - mostly our now rather threadbare clothes.

There has been nothing we brought with us that we have not used at some stage which is pleasing as we are always conscious of the limited space available - we may not need cold weather gear in Oz but will take some anyway and are already planning to add additional water and fuel storage plus somehow a second spare wheel! Anway this is all in the future so time to recall the events of the last few weeks.

After an inspiring few days around the Cape we headed down the west coast staying at isolated and empty campsites before a weekend in Pahia with Sue and Danny which included an exciting trip on the Mack Attack which took us on a roller coaster journey out to the Hole in the Wall in the Bay of Islands.

Back on the West Coast we visited the remarkable large kauris that are remnants of the once extensive native forest cover - moving and thought provoking and well worth the diversion.

After a day or two on the Pouto Peninsula where we walked on wide empty beaches but missed the ancient lighthouse we visited the Matakohe kauri museum which filled a whole day and was one of the best we have visited.

Back on the east coast we re-visited Tutukaka and then Whangarei before another stay at Uretiti DOC site from where we visited Marsden Point - NZ's only oil refinery explained through an excellent visitor centre.

Finally we returned to Tawharanui headland where the almost sinister predator proof fence enclosed us as we enjoyed a full moon on what was to be our final night in the van.

A slow puncture and a poor forecast encouraged us to head to Orewa a day early where we now sit awaiting the next phase of our travels.

Everything seems to be in place and with luck we will be able to post a more reflective piece before we set off home.

Final few NZ pics are here - some 3000 in total stored and that's after heavy deleting!!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

TOPPING OUT



The North Cape has proved to be a wonderfully rewarding way to finish our trip with the warmth of this almost sub tropical area and lengthy spells of sunshine very much appreciated.


Our leisurely pace took us up the east coast with visits to wonderfully deserted beaches, another snorkelling session and some memorably quiet D0C sites right on the beach.


A short break at the excellent Acacia Lodge in Mangonui provided some home comforts before we headed for Cape Reinga itself.


En route the Te Paki dunes were a major highlight with the vast and extensive sand hills stretching out above Ninety Mile Beach where a night at a quiet camp site at Hukatere had been particularly special.


Moving Spirits Bay was memorable for its sense of tradition and meaning but we spent longer at Taputupotu as there were good walks available nearby. A kiwi family who had just embarked on living on the road full time had plenty of advice regarding Australia where they had lived for many years and were keen to learn about the many highlights of New Zealand - Jack and sarah even managed to communicate via their Nintendos!


The walk to the Cape was strenuous but worthwhile following a coast path that dropped to idyllic Sandy Bay with the odd sharp shower followed by hot sun manipulating the view across the Pacific.


Round at the Cape the merging of the Tasman and Pacific created a dramatic maelstrom with huge waves crashing together with the Three Kings Islands in the far distance. The finger post detailing distances to various places was for us quite significant listing as it did London, Tokyo, Bluff and the South Pole amongst others.


The following day we enjoyed a full day's walk out to Cape Van Diemen which felt like the end of the world surrounded on three sides by blue ocean - green lipped mussels the size of cricket balls were collected for tea before the long trek back along the deserted beach.


So we now head south with only a fortnight left on the road - Cape Reinga has been the perfect finale to ten amazing months - time now to get home and see everyone whilst looking forward to more adventures as a new chapter unfolds.


This link will take you to the latest humble photo offerings.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Northland - Winter (ish)


After a relaxing week in Orewa we have headed up the east coast of North Island staying in empty DOC sites and enjoying superb coastal walks under a warm sun as the weather has settled down considerably since June. A slow meander brought us to Whangarei with amazing scenery, memorable bays and remarkable views down across the Hauraki Gulf.


Unable to resist the alluring blue seas and distant islands any longer we booked with Dive Tutukaka for a day across to the Poor Knight's Islands where whilst others dived we enjoyed snorkelling in the clear waters teeming with a vast array of sub tropical fish and marine life. Sarah took the plunge - literally and was a star for having a go - enjoying with the rest of us the feeling of flying as we floated over the sea bed many metres below.


We are now in the picturesque village of Russell and cross to Paihia tomorrow with Cape Reinga our destination for next weekend.


The good weather has been welcome and even the evenings are getting lighter - this week's full moon provided a surreal seascape at Oakura as the gentle swell washed ashore not ten feet from the van.


Photos here - underwater photography is yet another steep learning curve!


Thursday, 15 July 2010

Out and About in Auckland


Piha and the vast black sand beaches provided a final dose of wild country west of Auckland before we hit the motorway and arrived in Orewa at the start of a week long high pressure weather system. This enabled us to enjoy lunch in the garden, walks in to town and along the beach and a bike ride round the estuary.

Staying in the house was quite a novelty and we made good use of the usual comforts to chase up the Australian transfer and address some of the tasks we will face when we return home in 6 weeks time.

Tuesday saw us drop the van in to Continental Car Services for a change of timing belt and water pump leaving us the day to catch a train to the Museum of Transport and Technology where an impressive collection of planes, trains and automobiles filled the day. The display of Ed Hillary's crossing of Antarctica using three Ferguson tractors was particularly impressive.

On Thursday we parked up at Devonport to catch the ferry across to Central Auckland enjoying the fabulous panorama of the waterfront shining in the bright sunshine. The Skytower was well worth a visit particularly on such a clear day with a few intrepid souls braving the jump - amazing.

The Maritime Museum rounded off the day with its extensive galleries and exhibits - a sister steam crane to the one moored down at Wellington and modern yachts vied for space with traditional Maori canoes, sailing dinghies and artefacts from the heyday of New Zealand shipping before the road network was improved and cheap flights arrived.

This weekend Sue and Danny return after their trip to Europe and we head north on Monday for our final leg - click here for pics.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

West Coast of the North Island in Mid Winter


The wet weather that has followed us intermittently around North Island has largely dissipated to be replaced by cold nights but warm and sunny days - particularly on the coast. After much socialising in the Rotorua area we spent a couple of nights in a self contained and well appointed lodge where the out door hot tub was celebrated with a glass or two of fizz - 'tis a hard life on the road.


Raglan and the coast south were a delight - few tourists venture down the twisty unsurfaced road to Kawhia and we enjoyed the scenic isolation with vast empty beaches.


Here in Waitomo an area famous for its many cave systems we have enjoyed walks around the surface limestone features but resisted the temptation to venture underground.


We now head to Auckland which will be something of a culture shock but should enable us to finalise our onward plans before our final push to the heady sub tropical delights of Northland and Cape Reinga. Less pics than usual here as it is only a few days since we last posted.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

East to West to East and back again.


We have criss crossed North Island taking in the Wairarapa, back through Tongariro, down the Whanganui River, around Taranaki and then along the Forgotten World Highway and through Te Urewera to the east coast once more giving us the chance to head around the wild and beautiful East Cape.

Deserted beaches, quiet villages and empty campsites combined with sunny warm weather to give us a memorable stage of our trip. Tolaga Bay with its pier was memorable as was the view from East cape lighthouse with Ohiwa providing excellent cycling around the inlet and lagoons - the shortest day of the year but back to T shirts and breakfasts outside.

Rotorua and its thermal and volcanic sights was remarkable and enjoyed from the comfort of Liz and John's excellent farmstay at http://www.lakeviewheightsnz.co.nz/

A major highlight on a perfect day was the trip over to the volcanically active White Island where water bubbled, sulphurous steam erupted and gas masks were issued -an amazing place to visit with the constant risk of another eruption.

We now head via Tauranga to Raglan for a treat for Sarah - riding and a comfy eco lodge before heading to house sit for a week in Auckland and start bringing this trip to a close.

The van has continued to perform well beyond reasonable expectations and we are both fit and well. Try this link for the latest pics.

Monday, 14 June 2010

North Island And A Touch of Winter








We crossed to Wellington where the Te Papa museum provided much of interest and a puncture late at night in the carpark - solved by replacing two rear tyres the following day.
The Wairarapa coastline was wild wet and windy with the highlight being 200 seals seeking sanctuary on the grassy verges as we drove to Cape Palliser lighthouse.

After enjoying the art deco and maritime aquarium of Napier we headed across to Tongariro for a superb walk on the slopes of snow clad and dormant Ruapehu before heading to the Whanganui River area.
Here we enjoyed the Athene Skyline Trail in good weather - recently it has been a mix of torrential rain and bright sunny days causing flooding and damage around New Zealand with South Island getting some heavy snow rendering areas we enjoyed earlier in the year inaccessible.

Mount Taranaki and the Surf Coast provided more impressive scenery on a grand scale before we took the Forgotten Highway across to Taupo enjoying superb native bush and the Whangamomona Hotel.

At Taupo the 'Craters of the Moon' and Hukka Falls were impressive - the former being steaming vents of volcanic gasses bubbling and hissing away as a result of changes following the constuction of a geo thermal power station.

Te Urewera National Park was a demanding 60 miles of twisting unsealed road that is still very much a Maori heartland - again people living in very isolated circumstances deep in unspoilt bush. It is an undervisited area and provided us with a couple of excellent walks through superb forest scenery.

Finally we have emerged on the East Coast once more and the mixed weather is showing signs of settling down as we head from Gisborne north around the Pacific coast highway.
DOC sites have provided good camping but when it has been wet the lure of power and hot showers has been too great and we also plan to have the odd treat in a bach or cottage during our final 3 months here.
Our visas for Oz and flights are in place with arrangements for shipping the van to be made when we pass through Auckland in early July.
Internet has been limited until today but we hope to post again soon, meanwhile the pics are here

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Final Days on South Island


With our departure to Wellington booked for tomorrow we have decided to mark our departure from South Island with a couple of days of luxury in a resort complex at Portage on the Marlborough Sounds - www.portage.co.nz
The timing is good as New Zealand is in the middle of a severe winter storm with masses of rain and gales due over the next 48 hours so the Cook Strait crossing could be fun!
Since the last post we have enjoyed the Golden Bay scenery, observed the pig hunting competition at Collingwood and spent a wet weekend near Nelson giving us the excuse to go to the pictures for the first time in ages.
We then headed out to the Sounds arriving at French Pass where a beach side DOC site provided a remarkable place to stay the night. A highlight was the large pod of dolphins passing through the narrow channel that separates the peninsula from D'Urville island.
Other gems such as Duncan Bay and Penzance gave us more walking and cycling opportunities and an insight in to the lives of people living in such inaccessible areas which we followed up later by taking the Pelorus Mail Boat on its all day run out to scattered homes that look forward to the weekly delivery of mail and groceries. Mussel farms are scattered around as Havelock is the green lipped mussel capital of the world and the whole area is a boaters paradise with the mass of islands, inlets, coves and beaches. Stunning properties mostly only accessible by boat include one on Forsyth Island currently for sale as an entity for only £900k.
A soggy pitch on a DOC site gave us a good excuse to use our winch for the first time to extract us from the mud but no such problems were encountered at stunning Titirangi at the head of the Sounds where we stayed as the only visitors on a remote DOC leased farm reached by a long and winding road.
So tomorrow we move on after a superb six months down here - the variety of scenery has been remarkable and we have a host of happy memories the latest of which are available at the picture link by clicking here


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Karamea, Cobb Valley and Farewell

The coast north to Karamea was wild and beautiful and the DOC site at the south end of the Heaphy provided a good base from which to explore the palm fringed beaches, admire marine life and then walk the Oparara limestone basin with superb scenery and features that are very much undersold.
With the move to North Island fast approaching we then headed round to the Tasman area to spend a week in the Cobb Valley reached via a narrow winding road and then a gravel track that crossed the ridge bringing us to a DoC site at the head of the valley from where we enjoyed the Mount Peel Track and our coldest night yet with a severe frost. We were cosy in the well insulated van and the good weather rewarded us with walks to Lake Sylvester and a circuit to Asbestos Cottage where a remarkable couple had lived miles from anywhere for 37 years in total simplicity.
We have just enjoyed a few days at the excellent Wharariki campsite ( www.wharariki.co.nz ) and explored Farewell Spit on foot and horseback - wonderful views, superb beaches and great people.
Limited internet here so a shorter update but hopefully pics at the link as ever.

Friday, 23 April 2010

West Coast Once More


After an enjoyable stint with the pigs for me and a great girls weekend for Sarah we met at Christchurch Airport and headed off to Mount Thomas and then Arthur's Pass once more. Here the walk in to Casey's Hut provided a memorable night and an excellent walk out the following day before we headed to Lake Moana and the coast.

The west coast has a substantial gold and coal mining history which made for several fascinating forays to Waiuta where we spent the night on the former bowling green, Denniston with its steep inclined coal tramway and the Charming Creek coal mine with several relics spread throughout the gorge. The famous pancake rocks were well worth a visit and the young seal pups at Cape Foulwind were a delight.

Greymouth and Westport provided museums and shopping before we headed north towards Karamea stopping a couple of nights at peaceful Gentle Annie's.

Currently we are at 'The Last resort' in Karamea enjoying the space and comfort of a self contained cottage for a night prior to reaching the end of the road and the start of the Heaphy Track where the Oparara limestone area should provide some good walking and even a bike ride on old logging tracks.

Photos at the link








Sunday, 11 April 2010

Half Way

We are now around the midway point of the New Zealand trip with the last four months spent on South Island which has exceeded all expectations. Signs of the approaching autumn are all around and we intend to head north to warmer climes in late May after visiting the far north of the West coast and then Marlborough and Nelson including Kahurangi National Park.
We left Westland to travel over Arthur's Pass where the change from wet rainforest to dry mountains was rapid and dramatic. Avalanche Peak provided a memorable day walk before we went our separate ways at Christchurch as Sarah has gone on a girls weekend to Auckland and I have spent several very relaxing days ( but frosty nights) near Ashburton keeping an eye on the pigs and enjoying the views across to Mounts Hutt and Somers.

The van passed its WoF (equivalent to UK MOT) which was good news as we have travelled many miles on rough and dusty tracks and it recently passed the 200,000 mile mark so we are now clear to the end of this leg. Preventing the ingress of dust has been an ongoing issue with extra mesh installed behind the fridge and cooker gas vents and the application of some double glazing sealant to the rear doors where slight gaps around the seals allowed the fine powder in.

Meanwhile I have been researching the complexities of taking the van to Australia where the various states and territories seem to have very different and not necessarily reciprocal arrangements.

We meet up again tomorrow and will head to Mount Thomas and Oxford Forest Parks where we hope to get out on the bikes again as they spent six weeks in storage during our Westland foray.



Monday, 29 March 2010

Wandering through Westland


After the dry conditions of Otago we have crossed the Main Divide via Haast Pass after a few very enjoyable days near Wanaka including a spectacular storm that washed out roads and tracks towards Mount Aspiring.
After Haast we were in to the wettest side of New Zealand but still managed a number of bright spells enabling us to visit lonely Jackson Point, see the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and walk the empty beaches and bush of Okarito. Some fun, games and ingenuity were required to repair the sliding door roller which collapsed - gaffer tape and a temporary bush fashioned from 15mm copper pipe have done the trick and with good old VW wanting £200 for the part we hope it will last until a breakers can be found. Otherwise things seem to flow very smoothly - and whilst there are a surprising number of rental vans around on the West Coast Road - mainly because there is no other option it still feels a very wild and unspoilt area.
Again the history of the early settlers is a testament to their strength and ingenuity with various museums providing generally excellent displays and artefacts.
Sarah is off to Auckland in a week and I return to the pig farm near Ashburton - summary justice I fear.

More pics available at the link comme toujours.










Friday, 19 March 2010

Autumn Approaches


In early March a short but memorable flight over the area where Sarah had been riding and the slopes of Mount Taranaki took us back to North Island where Sue and Danny spoiled us with an excellent party before we caught the Overlander Train back to Wellington passing through some of the familiar scenery from November last year.
The Interislander ferry and Transcoastal Train delivered us back to Christchurch where a minor repair to the van's cooling system had been effected - eventually.
Thus we were ready to collect Annie, a friend from Pembrokeshire on an Australasian visit who joined us for a week which included visits and walking to Tekapo, Mount Cook and an overnight stay at South Temple Hut near Lake Ohau - all enjoyed in excellent weather. The glaciers and ice floes in the Mount Cook area were especially memorable and we were fortunate to have the S.T. Hut to ourselves.
After dropping her at Queenstown we drove the rough and at times precipitous Skippers Canyon road culminating in a stomach churning crossing of the Shotover River on a 110 year old wooden bridge 100m above the blue swirling waters. This enabled us to spend two nights at the old Mount Aurum station which 150 years ago had been at the centre of the extensive local but short lived gold mining boom.

It was a remarkable place to stay - the more so for the fact that some 2000 people had lived in this remote area and 200 of them many miles up at Bullendale where teams of horses had pulled in heavy generating equipment for the first industrial use of electricity in New Zealand.
Arrowtown provided a service night and the chance to confirm that we have been granted 12 month visas for our proposed visit to Australia as well as the charms of its excellent museum and historic buildings. We now head for the mountains around Wanaka and then the West Coast via the Haast Pass with the fine weather continuing but a definite chill in the air after sunset.

Pics below as ever - usual problems surmounted if necessary by highlighting and clicking although I have recently downloaded something or other which may resolve the problem...............







Wednesday, 3 March 2010

50 NOT OUT


As we are heading to Auckland today for a brief visit we are currently in Christchurch after a week in the Lake Sumner National Park. Almost two hours down dirt tracks this remote area provided excellent walking including a night at Jollie Creek Hut to celebrate my 5oth in our sort of style.
Down at Loch Katrin we met Lem an 86 year old Latvian and his wife who have been visiting their fishing hut for 55 years - we were welcomed in and made very comfortable.
Sarah had a superb four day ride in to the high hills with Alpine Horse Safaris with some of the hardest riding she has ever done and memorable nights under the stars at musterers huts.
On our return to Christchurch in a week we hope to meet up with a friend from Wales for a week as we head south to Mount Cook and then across to the West Coast.
Our good fortune with weather has continued as autumn slowly approaches and the van has performed remarkably given the tracks we have been exploring - whilst we are away we hope to get the slight coolant leak sorted out by the local VW dealer Miles Continental in Chch and have also made enquiries regarding shipping the van over to Sydney - surprisingly not much cheaper than bringing it from the UK as much of the costs are fixed as they cover paperwork and dock handling fees with the transit element less than 20%.

Links below to 2 albums of pics - 1 horse related covering Sarah's rode and 1 more generalised. Again access may require highlighting and then clicking.

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/lh/sredir?uname=sjarratt5&target=ALBUM&id=5444286291062428753&authkey=Gv1sRgCOiIj4ekgKrOmQE&feat=email


http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/lh/sredir?uname=sjarratt5&target=ALBUM&id=5444342190738088945&authkey=Gv1sRgCK_Yl9ycw8CQ3gE&feat=email


Monday, 22 February 2010

Heading north - slowly


After the pleasures of Fiordland we headed in to Eyre Mountains and Mavora Lakes which provided several days of good walking, some excellent bike rides to old musterers huts and peaceful camping in empty DoC sites. A puncture some 40 miles down a dirt track caused a few anxious moments as we returned then to Te Anau some 60 miles away where two new tyres were fitted by the team at Mobil - my ability to mislay the security bolt for the wheels merely added to the excitement.
A drift towards friends near Ashburton took us over Lindis Pass with a night spent near Lake Ohau where we intend to return in a few weeks time after a brief visit to Auckland in early March.


We are now apart as Sarah is mid way through her ride at Alpine Horse Safaris near Hurunui and I am in Christchurch arranging our onward trip to Australia later in the year plus our return to the UK in the interim, probably in September.

The excellent weather has continued so we hope to enjoy more of the Alps and then the West coast where apparently things get even quieter - the main kiwi holiday season is drawing to a close and the visitors from abroad tail off as well but other than at Queenstown we have yet to experience any great numbers of tourists anywhere.

A few pics at the link - again it may need highlighting to access them.

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/sjarratt5/EyreMountains?authkey=Gv1sRgCKX2p_W4iqHPfA&feat=directlink











Monday, 8 February 2010

Re the last post - Phwoardland there seems to be a glitch with the Picasa link - if you want to view the pics you will need to highlight the whole link and then right click to go there - I will now try and resolve the issue by actually reading the Picasa instructions !!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Phwoardland



Since leaving the Catlins we have headed in to New Zealand's largest National Park Fiordland where we have been able to explore some of the remoter areas during a prolonged and welcome dry spell.
The South Coast Track took us to the historic former timber milling centre of Port Craig staying in the DOC Hut with a varied group of international travellers and enjoying freshly shot venison
The Borland road took us in to the back and beyond of Lake Manapouri's South Arm where we enjoyed a few nights in the middle of nowhere with two excellent walks and a cycle ride down to the shoreline.

Manapouri itself provided the starting point for the full day over to Doubtful Sound via the West Arm power station which was a fascinating experience being located substantially underground. Heavy rain the night before had cleared to bright sunshine so we enjoyed a perfect day before returning to the quirky camp site with its motley collection of ageing Morris Minors,
After a lazy day on the shore of Lake Te Anau we headed over to the Hollyford or Gunn Camp a former Ministry of Works labour camp that is now run as a camp site with the old workers cabin's providing other accommodation. The fascinating museum houses a remarkable collection of artefacts relating to the history of the area and the Gunn family who were and are closely associated with both the camp and the Hollyford Valley.
A ten hour walk took us up to the Harris Saddle returning along the best section of the Routeburn to Howden Hut and Lake before dropping back to the camp.
Finally today we enjoyed the drive over to Milford and a sun drenched cruise on the Sound where due to the recent dry weather the waterfalls were less dramatic but the towering mountains more so.

We are now in a chalet in Te Anau so Sarah can ring Carolyn on her 50th before heading to the Mavora Lakes for more walking if the weather holds.

Photos at the link - next estimated update will be in a fortnight when we return to Ashburton prior to Sarah's ride at Hurunui.

http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/sjarratt5/Fiordland?authkey=Gv1sRgCI_mzPP9pPyDxwE&feat=directlink


























Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Otago Peninsula and Catlins Coast

The wildlife of the Otago Peninsula was remarkable but required in the case of the penguins a decent telephoto lens and the sea lions a respectable distance - the giant albatross were easily seen but again a photographic challenge as in this case the gale force winds at Taiaroa head made standing hard enough. Back in Dunedin the Taieiri Gorge Railway was a worthwhile trip back in to Central Otago whilst the rough camping on the domain at Brighton was compensated for with a superb beach and sunset.
The Catlins were a quiet backwater with stunning deserted coast, sweeping beaches and wooded inland upland areas that provided good walks and an empty DOC site. The opportunity to walk on empty golden sands with sea lions basking occasionally was remarkable and despite strong cold winds the sun shone most of the time.
Curio Bay was a quirky but memorable site to stay on with the nearby petrified forest an interesting diversion - the trees were almost as old as the site facilities.
Finally today we have arrived in Invercargill after the obligatory diversion to Slope Point the most southerly point in mainland New Zealand and an afternoon spent on the nicest beach yet - name and location to remain a secret.
So far everything is holding together after 3 full months on the road - we eat well, sleep well and have had mostly excellent weather - even the notorious sand flies have yet to appear in any numbers. The van is due a service in the next week or two but the necessary is stowed away somewhere so a quiet corner one afternoon will do - despite miles of rough tracks and a full load the old bus is doing very well and provides a comfortable retreat at the end of a busy day. Some of the kiwi DIY conversions are amazing but being usually based on old Japanese coaches they lack the flexibility we enjoy.

The link to pics is below - any pics of home in the snow are welcome by email