Category Archives: Travel

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 30 and 31

The World’s Smallest Dolphin

So after the issues at Doubtful Sound we were ‘compensated’ by G Adventures with a windy drive to the south of Christchurch to Akaroa to have (another) cruise. Now you’ve got to feel for the guide. This detour was a demanding drive but also meant that instead of getting to Christchurch at lunchtime we got there in the early evening. As a consequence she had to dump us at the hotel and then go and drop off the bus somewhere else in town. Before leaving the bus she had to clean it internally and externally, in the dark, and get back to the hotel to join us for our farewell dinner. If this wasn’t busy enough she then had to be up the next morning at Stupid O’Clock to get a flight to Auckland for the next tour. Let me tell you guides are not well paid, hence this and the weariness means that there’s a high turnover in guides.

Our South Island tour route of over 1,000 miles. (Excludes a day trip in the very south to Doubtful Sound)

However, back to the cruise… I also sympathise with captains who have to take passengers out to sea hoping to satisfy their desire for wild animals. Will you be lucky and find any? On the agenda were dolphins, seals, various birds including one called a shag and penguins. Well the captain got a full set apart from the penguins although Anna said she saw one. (I think not.)

The Hector’s dolphin was about the size of a large haddock in a decent portion of fish and chips. It was a very small chap.

As we’re peering over the sides expectantly one wag did bellowed… ‘ORCAS’. Of course he hadn’t seen one but the boat listed as 50 passengers bolted to starboard to look for a whale!

The captain had some good patter and my favourite was his advice for those on the bow to hold onto their hats in the wind. ‘If you do lose it then immediately raise your hand. Also any other passengers seeing this hat fly off should also raise their hand. You can then all wave the hat goodbye!’ Another piece of information he gave that was fanciful but he qualified it by saying ‘I did take a drop of whiskey in my coffee earlier. Nah, that not true, I don’t drink coffee.’

I wrote earlier about Christchurch’s earthquake in 2011 and the horrific loss of life. The town as a consequence consists mainly of one storey buildings and is laid out on a grid system. It looks like a provincial English town. The name originates from being named after an Oxford University college.

The guide did eventually make our celebration dinner and was feted for her work. Envelopes, with tips, passed across. I had a burger, obvs. One guest a few days earlier had said she’d asked her travel agent in Canada what was the going rate for tipping. ‘Well you could take something with you from Canada like, say, maple syrup.’ was the advice. Frankly if I’d been given a jar of syrup the donor would have needed surgery to have it removed. 

For her hard work and dedication over two weeks, between the two of us, we gave her £100. Judging by the ever so grateful personal WhatsApp we got back thanking us profusely there’s a chance I fear that the other guests were less appreciative and that she’s well provisioned with her pancakes for some time to come.

The party departed home in dribs and drabs with some literally getting up at 3am to catch planes the next day and others hanging on for a couple of extra days. Hugs and email addresses were swapped and then one guest, after departure, advised that she’d tested positive for Covid, a legacy and memory nobody wanted.

In our time we spun round Christchurch dining well and seeing the town, river, memorials and cathedrals. The original cathedral was damaged in the earthquake and that’s being rebuilt but won’t be finished until 2027. In the interim they’ve built a transitional one. This uses shipping containers and cardboard.

Bridge of Remembrance

I’m not really much of a plant person but I was knocked out by the selection at the Botanical Garden. Not least my desire to eventually see a giant redwood tree. 

Christchurch is the largest city, port and airport for Antarctic access and several countries have operations based here. We visited the International Antarctic Centre that was quite interactive (read children running around pushing buttons and not waiting for the outcome before sprinting to the next button). Anna wasn’t very engaged with all the graphics explaining the history, exploration, geology, ice, wildlife etc and I did suggest that somewhere they’d be a room with photocopied outline pictures of penguins she could colour in with crayons and I could be left in peace to read all the walls without being urged to move along. However better than that she found real penguins, again these were blue ones and the smallest, of the breed, in the world and then a couple of huskies to stroke. In fact the dogs are a legacy as none, quite rightly (!) work in Antarctic any more.

The penguins all have names! They’re rescue birds

I was struck by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his achievements and ultimate demise in the Antarctic. He initially achieved the greatest distance in 1904 of getting toward the South Pole but was beaten to the actual pole by a Norwegian, Roald Admundsen, in 1912 by weeks. Ultimately Scott and his follow explorers perished on that trip. 

When you think of the clothing, nutrition, navigation technology, fitness, support etc that these men had it was beyond brave to attempt such a mission. I cannot imagine the deprivation and suffering ultimately leading to a terrible death.

From here we walked to the airport where our separation began as she contemplated the hell of three flights in Business back to Blighty and I revelled in the luxury of Economy. So goodbye New Zealand. Beautiful beyond expectation.

Mugs used in Business on an Emirates flight (possibly)

It was a long trip back back and I was bedevilled by unruly children, howling, seemingly unmanageable or small babies who wailed for hours dealing with weariness, the build up of pressure in their ears and the disorientation of clocks moving backwards and forwards.

Being one helluva guy I endured it through gritted teeth (for hours.) as I waded through my seven meals. As I type this a half dressed little three year old girl is running up and down the aisle at 15 mph. The good news is that she’s doing it quietly and, best of all, she’s irritating the stewardesses. It seems no one is claiming her; I wouldn’t. I’ve counted that she’s been past eight times in 10 minutes.

As always thank you for following the story (you have immense stamina.) I worry that I am too often curmudgeonly about folk and places I pass through but Anna and I had a wonderful time with lifetime memories and an appetite to revisit some of the places we’ve been. So where next? That’s half the pleasure.

PS  STOP PRESS – Fourteen times and counting

Australia & New Zealand – Days 28 and 29

The Beginning of the End

The departure from Queenstown was, in reality, the beginning of the end as we started back north to arrive in Christchurch and a flight home. Today we were heading for Twizel, no not Twizzle, think of the same pronunciation as twilight. The heavens opened on leaving Queenstown but we had few complaints as the weather had been very kind throughout New Zealand with lots of sun and seldom nithering. The road north included a stop in Cromwell where I espied this cycling joy of a tool centre that could help you inflate your tyres or tune up the bike whilst en route.


The front passenger seat was vacant on the bus but if so inclined you could jump in and join the guide. One benefit apart from the better view was the opportunity to commandeer the music selection and so I plugged in my phone and treated the passengers to my eclectic record collection. They were captive, they had no escape for several hours.

Riding shotgun

One of the deficiencies about the bus, amongst several design flaws eg. no internal storage and seats as wide as Economy on a Ryanair flight was that you could barely hear in the front of the bus the music that was, possibly, blaring out in the middle of the bus.

The guide’s automatic reaction in any case, when moving, was to play music, not that she heard it! For the guests to drink in the views to a bit of hip hop, Meatloaf or ABBA wasn’t the right soundtrack for sumptuous valleys, rugged coastlines or gazing at those magnificent big wide open skies over the distant mountain ranges. She really thought she/we should always drive to music. A partial solution was at least to play some songs you liked, I took the initiative.

We had lunch in Twizel but afterwards continued to the end of Lake Pukaki where most of us embarked on a 6 mile hike to get closer to Mount Cook (named after the Yorkshireman).

At the end of the path we saw a lake with the remarkable sight of bits of glacier plonked within it, they had slid down here from the main glacier.

Mount Cook’s there somewhere
Block of glacier

Unfortunately the top of the mountain was obscured in mist/cloud on this overcast day but it didn’t diminish the pleasure of the walk or the sense of achievement of adding another decent hike to our holiday.

One of the guests had wanted to organise a wine tasting evening as entertainment. Only New Zealand wines, of course, were to be considered. It was all ad hoc in arrangement and I have to ruefully note that the House of Ives unwittingly brought nearly 30% of the night’s wine to the party, for the 10 imbibers. Needless to say wine tasting turned into an elderly piss up whilst the five youngest didn’t attend!

It was a long night and during the merriment I personally had time to go into Twizel for a Thai meal with non-imbibers and return to find them still knocking it back.

I was very disappointed with Anna and her reckless pursuit of pleasure in my absence. In the end I dragged her back to the room as we had to get up and be away for 7am the next morning.

The night was a great success with all except the guide who had her own pre-arranged plans changed through the ‘grey’ drinking soirée. We’d had our third birthday fall on the holiday! In the guide’s world of pre-ordained responses this activated a cake, a communal dinner and singing. The fact that the latest guest to have this befall was really not bothered to celebrate her birthday; truth be told she’d already had quite a few before!

Grown in Cromwell

Given the ‘wine tasting’, dinner had to be cancelled and whilst I saw the cake it was never cut up or shared. (Chocolate for those interested.) To add to the woes of the guide she was booked by G Adventures into separate lodgings, a hostel, and appeared bleary eyed the next morning advising that her room was next to a crying baby’s (all night.) Given she was working so hard and not least driving hundreds of miles a decent night’s sleep seemed recommended?

Apparently Rakaia is famous for its fish

The itinerary said we were off to Christchurch the next day but G Adventures had other ideas. They had diverted us, before Christchurch, to visit Akaroa. A delightful small town and harbour where we’d take a boat out to sea to see wildlife.

Salted caramel and orange chip

Why such largesse? Well the ship’s captain on our disrupted sail around Doubtful Sound had advised, over the tannoy, that we were all entitled to a refund. I really think that the guests were not bothered, the day hadn’t been a disaster and, truthfully, boat rides and scenery were just about max’d out by then for everyone. However, G Adventures, now presumably worried, about the prospect of giving us all over £100 each back and/or worried about getting hammered in customer reviews put on this boat ride and a free dinner on the last night. As it turned out the boat ride had its moments.

Australia & New Zealand – Days 26 & 27

Play Time

Now quite a long way South on the island we were approaching New Zealand’s peak tourist town: Queenstown. However, the drive remained dramatic and first we dropped into Wānaka on Lake Wānaka. The town is an important leisure area not least during the ski season. It looked quite upmarket. For us it was a lunch stop in the bright sunshine.

A famous sight at Wānaka of a tree in the lake. Mystifying I know…

Soon we were in busy Queenstown. The three storey bag haul was inevitable and when completed we trouped into town to check it out. There were now Chinese tourists again (and a maybe lots of other nationalities, I know, Katrina) but the sight of upmarket luxury brand shops reappeared such as Luis Vuitton. For those of more simpler interests ie. me, we found an Irish pub and I enjoyed a Guinness.

Bedroom with a view

The focus of Queenstown is on adrenaline rush activities. Some of our party variously signed up to bungee jump, sky dive or indulge in a gut wrenching swing that threw you out from a high platform in a free fall experience. Their videos posted on the group WhatsApp reconfirmed their bravery and my conviction never to do something so stupid. We instead enjoyed Queenstown for its other delights, namely beauty and tranquility. We hired a couple of bikes. ‘Business Class’ maintained her ‘comfort’ stance and took an electric bike. I took something you had to pedal.

On purpose built gravel paths we rode beside the lake.

Nice path

It was sublime, however, we struggled to find a coffee stop until Anna noted we were near a golf club. So we ascended a steep hill to partake of a coffee and bun in an idyllic setting with views across the water. This activated the usual pantomime sketch. It involves someone attempting to type into a till Anna’s drink order. ‘A decaf cappuccino with oat milk’. All venues could stretch to such a requirement but several repeats and clarifications usually ensued. The lady at the golf club was also slightly hard of hearing.

On the next table were some kiwis up from Invercargill, about as far south as you can go on the island. We talked about their lives and how tolerable their life was with the next stop being Antarctic. As one of the party was sporting a mullet clearly there are worrying mental health issues down there.

Always loved a nice lawn

Back in Queenstown, much to Anna’s discomfort we took the gondola to top of the hill that overlooked the town. Even though the minimum age to partake of the luge was six Anna sat out the opportunity to plummet down two courses on a wheeled sledge.

Bearing up!

The plan is to never brake and being heavier than the majority of the teenagers on the track I did descend quickly but I must admit to suffering the ignominy of a 13 year old passing me on my second go.

Eat yer heart out Verstappen

Such was the popularity that the queues were long and you had to share the lifts (that took you from the gondola to the luge.) I sat beside a pale faced young couple and enquired if ‘this was their first ride?’ Then followed the kind of pregnant pause that lasted so long that you thought about calling a midwife when they reluctantly volunteered that it was their fifth ride! They were Swedish; not a loquacious nation.

‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.’ Shakespeare, Henry V. (There again you all knew that didn’t you.)

Back in town we dined royally at an upmarket restaurant. I have to say our guide is a burger, fish and chips or pizza kind of girl (or ‘woman’ if my eldest daughter is reading this.) It is a shortcoming in her steady stream of information, advice and hopeless folksy tales about the Māoris. (Often a lake or mountain is introduced to us with the Māori folklore of its origin. An illustration would be that some hole was carved by immense mythical Māori who dragged a giant stick gouging the earth to leave such a feature that water poured in and it is now a lake.)

In some towns the choice of food is limited but after a while you do yearn for something else better cooked and not starting life from a freezer. One irritating dodge is the NZ addition of a tax to your bill on public holidays. In Queenstown it was Easter. This tax is to cover the higher wages of hospitality staff for working on these days. At this restaurant it was 20% and then you’re invited to add a gratuity! Kerrrching! Like the rest of the world NZ is experiencing staff shortages. This is one way to try and retain them (at the customer’s expense.)

Had to sport Marigolds later in order to pay for it

The following day was the first misstep of the tour’s itinerary. We were bused to catch a ferry and then take another bus to catch a ship to cruise around some fjords. We’d now seen so much scenery and previously enjoyed cruising that to spend another day doing this was not a crowd pleaser.

Up above Doubtful Sound

The day had it’s challenges. We had the second bus (not ours) breakdown and that delayed the cruise starting. The ship we were allocated also had a mechanical issue and we were put on another vessel! This was slower and was unable to go to the fjord’s sea mouth in the time available. Frankly, the surprising highlight as we slowly slid beside cliffs looking at the vegetation was a 10 minute drift in silence where we were told to stop talking, put away our phones and enjoy the surroundings with their peace and quiet. Delightful.

Apparently it’s the moss that all the vegetation grows on/in. There is no depth of soil.

Doubtful Sound was identified and named by Captain Cook on his first visit in 1770, however, he never entered the fjord. A ‘sound’ is carved by a river and a ‘fjord’ is carved by a glacier. He got this identification wrong, apparently. On his second voyage to New Zealand, in 1773, he had to rest up just along the coast for five weeks at Dusky Sound whilst his ship, HMS Resolution, was repaired. He’d returned from sailing through the Antarctic and also the crew were exhausted.

From here we retraced our steps of bus, ferry and bus back to Queenstown for fish and chips (with a surcharge.)

Australia & New Zealand – Days 24 and 25

Nature Watch

Our early morning stroll around Franz Josef was accompanied by the soundtrack that could have come from an episode of M*A*S*H. Choppers coming and going. The settlement is exclusively there to service tourism for the glacier above the town. (An Austrian named the ice for his Emperor. As always it was here long before he turned up and the Māoris had a name for it in any case.) Inevitably the ice is in retreat although it has over various years grown from time to time. It’s celebrity partly lies in it being in a rain forest area.

The town can, at a peak operate 70,000 helicopter flights a year. For a place so small and beautiful the noise is disappointing. Needless to say the locals wrestle with resident fury and making a buck: you can guess which is winning. However, some of our party added to the din by ascending onto the glacier that sits above the town in a chopper. Their photos were super and they had a memorable time.

Damn slippy

Anna and I decided that after previously experiencing horrific turbulence over the Grand Canyon on such a helicopter pleasure ride that it’d now take something like being unconscious and in the capable hands of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance to get us airborne again. (Also Anna also doesn’t fly Economy.)

So as an alternative we were on the water, the Waiho River. This was a low key trip around the shores with the knowledgeable owner of the craft, Dale.

The boy Dale

On it he revealed the NZ programme of predator eradication in engaging and expert detail. I think we can all understand that the introduction of non-indigenous plant species or animals disrupt, destroy and take over environments but he explained on behalf of one of the five species of Kiwi bird, the rowi. First you have to understand that the only mammal on the New Zealand islands was a bat when the Europeans arrived. Due to no previous known predators some species of birds didn’t have the ability to fly. The introduction of other mammals or predators meant that the indigenous bird species didn’t have the thousands of years to adapt and survive such threats. Literally overnight it was Armageddon. To this end the NZ government now has a programme to eradicate the bird predators by 2050.

So calm

Back to the rowi, these chaps had dwindled to hundreds in number and despite being physically a big bird it’s flightless and vulnerable to killing by rats, ferrets, possums and stoats. Rats came on ships, the British brought stoats and ferrets to control the pesky rabbits they’d introduces, which had started to breed like, err… rabbits and, much to every New Zealander’s delight, the Australians are blamed for possums.

The kiwi baby bird is born so big that it can leave the custody of its mother shortly after birth. In other words a reasonably sized lunch soon leaves behind the wisdom and protection of its mother and is quickly devoured. This meant that only 5% survived. In the case of the possum due to the ‘new’ NZ vegetation it lives in it no longer gets the enzyme that tells it when it’s full. Hence it keeps eating. Even worse is that New Zealand forests are low energy with many trees growing in only half a metre of soil. The possum has to wander a large acreage to eat and sustain itself. As does the kiwi. Food is scarce. The stoat is a vicious little thing that kills gratuitously. When the Brits introduced this killer they miscalculated that Mr Stoat would abandon the pursuit of bunnies and instead it climbed trees to eat bird’s eggs or birds. In the case of the kiwi they were soon killed.

So what to do? First of all retrieve kiwi eggs and incubate them out of the forest. When hatched return them to the forest when over a kilogram in weight. Secondly eradicate by poisoning all its predators. Whilst kiwi numbers are slow in growing the survival rate is up to 65%.

Eradicating predators seems impossible but they create ‘killing’ zones that are bound by rivers or mountains. Also there appears to be no wibbly wobbly emotion about killing these fury animals. In the UK I’ve visions of mass protests led by popular Knighted electric guitarists about the heartless murder of these cute, innocent beings that have a right to exist, roam and eat anything.

Deer are a similar problem further south, again the Brits are to blame for their introduction for hunting. They are devastating for the local environment with their appetite. So they’re caught, tranquillised, hoisted up into the air by helicopter, corralled and then harvested for their meat. (I did wonder if the Duchess of York could adapt her epic works to included Budgie the Little Helicopter meeting Bambi and hauling him to his untimely death whilst he’s still grieving for his mother?)

In such sumptuous scenery there is much peering up at mountains or birds by the guests. One guest, looking toward the glacier, barked out – ‘Look a heron!’. Dale looked up and squinted before gently advising ‘No, it’s a helicopter’.

Back to town we embarked on a trek in the afternoon to see some of the rushing meltwater from the glacier and rack up a few more steps. We’re doing about 13,000 a day. This walk was vertical! This ensuing weight loss is compensated by boozing regularly, eating cooked breakfasts and having many coffee and tea stops that are simply too wet without muffins, scones and meat pies to mop up the excess moisture. The bathroom scales may have traumatic news in store when we return.

I’ve eaten a few of these over the decades

On environmental matters then the geographical nature of NZ means the dependence on fossil fuels seems to be ending no time soon. Distances on the South Island are long, settlements few and scattered. Charging infrastructure would be difficult to install or maintain. Electric vehicles may be successful in towns but you really couldn’t drive around the country relying on convenient charging points. Also flying, whether for tourism or the practicality of getting about is very important but thirsty and climate warming. However, compared to the scale of activity in larger countries I think they have the size of footprint that wouldn’t keep Greta awake at night.

Some of our trek route Loop

Next day we left to head further south to the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’: Queenstown. Again, it was a long transfer. To ease matters she stopped regularly for us to stretch our legs and take photos including wild blue mushrooms.

The Kōkako mushroom

In terms of epic landscapes NZ was the gift that kept giving.

Beyond sensational scenery

Queenstown kept the record up for providing a hotel with us on the third floor with no lift/elevator. Coming from Australia it was hard to pack lightly with our being away so long. I now have arms approaching the length of a baboon. Where we stay-over more than one night (and avoid weight lifting exertions) there is much celebration on the bus.

Australia & New Zealand – Days 22 and 23


The outskirts of Wellington looked very attractive as we made our way to the Domestic Airport terminal for a quick flight to Christchurch on the South Island. G Adventures provide for breakfast on some but not all mornings, which seems unnecessarily tight, so the fact they’re flying us all rather than putting us on the cheaper ferry seems baffling.

Hello darkness my old friend….

Similarly baffling was the absence of a bag security scan before we got on the plane. Fortuitously there was an off duty pilot in the queue behind me who knew the answer. If the aircraft carries less than 100 passengers you don’t need to. Gulp!

Goodbye Wellington

In Christchurch we jumped on to a new bus and headed up the east coast to Kaikōura. On the way there was a stop and some wine tasting. It was not a highlight due to the paucity of the wines but a nice idea.

There’s a fault line between two islands where tectonic plates meet and earthquakes happen around this area. Christchurch had a large one in 2011 killing 185 people and in 2016, our next destination, had one killing two people. Happily it all seemed calm as we trundled up the coast road.

Short of the town we were offered an hour’s walk along the coastline. ‘Business Class’ and I jumped at the opportunity of racking up some steps. From the cliffs we could see the seals basking on the rocks a long way down. The coastline was more dramatic but not dissimilar to Northumberland.

Who said ‘just shuffle back a bit further?’

Due to the two plates meeting there are some considerable depths of water. This leads to very cold water and it is a great habitat for fish. If you get fish you get Sperm whales (who love a bit of squid), dolphins and seals. The latter make a tasty snack for the Orca whales that cruise through on occasion.

The next morning various members of the party either went swimming with dolphins or flew to a great height to see whales (or not.) Anna and I remember well the excitement of going out on a boat near Savannah, Georgia to see dolphins. As it happened we disappointingly only saw a few in the distance. As we returned to the harbour a small ocean going fishing boat was ahead of us. As it tied up and started sorting the catch various remnants went over the side. At this point tens of dolphins surrounded the boat for a solid guzzle. Needless to say that satisfied any residual interest we had in ever seeing dolphins close up!

A man desperately listening and hoping his team holds on to the lead.

If that wasn’t exciting enough then Leeds United vs Nottingham Forest was. Via the Talksport App we listened to the game first thing in the morning. Later we found the highlights on TV. I have to say 3 points is a great start to the day and a celebratory breakfast was in order.

We took a stroll to the highest point in the town to look at the bay and came across some cars that were parked up. The owners were slowly going south to a custom car meeting and had stopped for a break. I love any old car. I enjoyed our long chat about the cars and the work they’d done to convert the original cars into these beauties.

Two Fords

From here it was a drive to Hanmer Springs, a spa town for the night. There were thermal waters and a whole water park built around this free hot water.

We can surely agree that Tony’s not a water park type of guy. In fact the only time I can recollect having any enthusiasm for swimming was when my dearly departed brother-in-law suggested the idea. When met with my initial indifference he countered ‘where can you go to see half dressed women and drink as much as you like for £1.50?’ The entrance price should alert you to the amount of time that has elapsed since I went swimming.

The tour group of 16, including 9 females plus the tour guide, did disrobe and go to the park. I promise you ‘half dressed women’ is a lot less exciting when the participants are ‘half dressed old women’. I concede that ‘half dressed men’ also looked a lot better when fully clad.

Two of our group screaming!

However, the women were game and after minimum inducement were prepared to throw themselves down tubes and/or double up on inflatables to scare themselves. A very fun break I must attest.

To continue a familiar refrain the next day it was back into the bus for a long drive to Frank Josef. This settlement is a tourist town either side of a road that exists because of the glacier high up above it.


The drive from Hanmer Springs took us over the Southern Alps via the Lewis Pass. So named after the European surveyor who found a route they could make into a road. (A little research inevitably identified that Māoris had found the route originally.) It was a good road but windy and hilly and it wasn’t for another 80 miles before we got off the bus in the old gold mining town of Reefton for a pee and a coffee. The scenery was like the Scottish Highlands with high hills usually covered in grass or trees. Deep valleys had wide river beds and fast running water albeit as this was the end of summer they were no way near full.

Today was a birthday of a young Danish girl on the trip. This sent the guide into a paroxysm of joy with banners adorning the bus. I think the guide ordinarily works with younger parties of traveller and has tried to create something approaching a party atmosphere. Often the microphone is cranked up and we get ‘Who’s excited about…blah, blah, blah today?’ Stoically I have attempted to participate in this merriment by abandoning my standard scowl on several occasions. I can ‘do’ happy at a pinch. I also pinch myself to think that I also am also a guide who’s a little more low key. Two operators could not really be much different!

Anyway we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and endured several repeat playings of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ before we left Hanmer Springs. (Later that night a cake with candles appeared at dinner as well.) I’m not sure if the birthday girl or guide was the happiest. However, well done for the guide for finding a cake in Hokitika: read on.

En route we stopped at Hokitika on the west coast. The small town had a larger population in the 19th Century when mining, including gold, was nearby and the harbour facilitated it’s export. Today it’s a ‘one horse town’ without the horse. Tourism is now so important for this part of the country, it seems other more money earning activities are well in decline.

Once had a Corgi or Dinky one of these

After Hokitika our drive was on flat coastal lands where we could often glimpse the sea.

The beach was strewn with driftwood.

Being a vegetarian hasn’t been easy for Anna on the trip. The New Zealanders, like the Germans and French, struggle with the concept of no meat. Let’s face it, Australasia is built on meat pies; so it stands to reason. Anna ordered vegetable soup at a Hokitika cafe. Knowing the challenge she meticulously cross examined the proprietor to ensure the absence of animal from the potage. Later she commented on how much she’d enjoyed the special chicken ‘vegetable’ it contained!

Our stay in Frank Josef was to be on the eve of Good Friday. We’d already noted the Kiwis enthusiasm for hot cross buns.

Aussies and Kiwis are big fans of a hot cross bun

Sadly, Jesus gives with one hand (a bible in the hotel room) but takes away with the other (no alcohol on sale anywhere on Good Friday).

No doubt left to help with young Rocky’s revival

In discussing the guidance we all could gain from finding the good book in our bedside chests one guest did brighten and said it enabled him to pick a passage and preach to his room sharing ‘buddy’. I’m not convinced he was joking. I told you the Canadians are eccentric.

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 20 and 21

The Long And Winding Road

This organised tour of both islands concentrates mainly on the south. As a consequence today was mainly about eating up the road miles to get to our jumping off point for the south island, Wellington. This is New Zealand’s capital city.

To ease the toil of being sat in the bus all day we stopped at a few attractions on our journey south. The weather has dried up and temperatures are late teens and sunny. The route is the main State Highway 1, a single lane carriageway for most of its length and only developing into a dual carriageway when it got near the sprawl of Wellington.

Our first stop was a waterfall that was memorable.

Huka Falls

Next we stopped for about an hour at Taupo. This town on the lake had a terrific and relaxed vibe with many outdoor cafes. I could well imagine spending a night or two here. One of its memorable attractions is the McDonalds restaurant that includes dining space inside the fuselage of a DC-3 (otherwise known as a Dakota or Skytrain.)

Back in the bus we had a brief stop at Foxton. Here they had created a tourist attraction by importing and erecting a windmill, as you do. An interesting decision!

An imported Dutch windmill in Foxton?

I noted this sign on a window to a visitor/community centre. The gangs allude to some seriously violent groups who are involved with controlling and selling drugs. The ethnic mix swings across all the people of NZ and can involve firearms. Quite a surprise really and it seems, with my brief research, to have started with Hell’s Angels in the 1960s.

Our hotel in Wellington was in the heart of the ‘downtown’ on Cuba Street. This busy strip was full of bars and restaurants. Finding a Mexican restaurant was a really welcome change but this had to wait until we watched the climax and finish of the Australian Grand Prix. It made a change to watch the race at the end of the day Down Under rather than at dawn in Yorkshire.

The promised rain made an emphatic appearance the next day and I wandered off to see the National War Memorial, a wonderful monument that seemed completely fitting of the sacrifice of so many servicemen.

From here I found the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa). I love museums and this was a truly an excellent celebration and explanation of the peoples, wildlife and geology of New Zealand. As regards the latter there was a small room that behaved as if an earthquake was happening ie. it shook and rocked for several intense seconds. I chose to experience this on my knees under a table in order to ‘live out’ the experience. There was much merriment amongst the other occupants of the room that an elderly nutter was sheltering under furniture!

Trouble on the streets of Wellington…

I learned a lot but also gained a real appreciation of how young the country was even though the Māoris had been here several centuries more than the Europeans. The introduction of so many species of animal and plant now seemed fraught and I read that the innocent introduction of goats had proven calamitous and the attempted cull and control had worked out at NZ$250/goat! For an economy dependent on food production you can appreciate the controls that exist at the borders.

Kiwi birds. (Yes both are stuffed.)

The Gallipoli campaign in WW1 was an attempt to invade Turkey along the Dardanelles after the country joined the conflict on the side of the Germans. The invasion in April 1915 was up steep cliffs held by existing (underestimated and disrespected) Turkish troops. The Allied forces were mainly Australians, British and New Zealanders. In Australia and New Zealand this failed campaign saw a horrific bloody agonising loss of life in a hopeless set of attacks against well held strongholds. The Allied forces had also to deal with heat, dehydration, disease, infestation and on occasion a shortage of supplies whilst contained by the enemy above in cramped spaces on the shoreline.

It was catastrophically ill-conceived, on distant shores, and personifies Alan Clark’s phrase for other WW1 battles as Lions being led by Donkeys. The lions being these young men slaughtered endlessly in attack after attack. The Turks fought bravely to defend their country and after months of stalemate, deprivation and loss the Allies withdrew exhausted and, frankly, beaten.

Nations can be built on this type of sacrifice, ironically. A spirit and resolve develops as heroes are made and legends written. Gallipoli is tragically the hill that New Zealand (and Australia) died on yet represents how magnificent they can be as nations. It was, however, never worth the price of nearly 9,000 Australians and 3,000 New Zealanders dead. The Turks lost 87,000 and the British, Irish and French also lost tens of thousands.

The exhibition worked its way through the campaign and told the story of the experience through soldiers, an officer and a nurse.

In the area of the graphics and models there were videos and accompanied by stirring yet melancholy music that fitted the funereal atmosphere. I was so touched I nearly shed a tear. Gallipoli is not a new story but relaying the spirit, initial false optimism, injury, death, squalor and family loss is a difficult task in a world where we’ve become probably hardened and indifferent to tragedy. Wellington is a long way to go but it would be worth the trip to see this exhibition. I won’t forget it. So powerful.

Later that night was another holiday highlight as Anna and I met up with Paul.

Paul and I knocked about and shared a student house in 1974 to 1976 in Altrincham whilst both at Manchester Polytechnic. We hadn’t met up since the late 80s in Amsterdam. Apparently our regular contact lapsed because I unfollowed him on Facebook? Something I can’t recollect but maybe guilty as charged.

Paul now lives mainly in Wellington and continues to work in IT, a very global and transferable profession. Candi Staton has a line in a song… ‘people change, but not much’. As I meet and still have contact with old friends I can confirm it is true. Sadly we all look different and life shapes our budgets, relationships and locations but the values, interests and affection never changes.

We had a couple of beers, a bottle of wine and an Italian whilst Anna and I interrogated Paul about the intervening period. Discoveries included his energetic love of cricket and an ability to play the ukulele. It was great to reminisce about days back in Manchester and the ability to park for free near the Poly. This included finding a parking meter and then feeding several handily available ring pulls off the pavement into the meter!

Music was always a common interest and spookily it seems Paul relatively recently went to see Nick Lowe in Pocklington. We were also there, oblivious to his presence! We’ve ensured that doesn’t happen again and plan to meet up when he’s next in the UK.

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Day 19

Kia ora

It’s unusual and unwelcome to wake up to the smell of last night’s fish and chips. However, were sharing a lodge with two bedrooms and the lady in the next room was heating up the remnants of last night’s meal in a microwave for breakfast. She’s Canadian, which might explain this eccentricity.

It was an early start down to Rotorua for more activities, unfortunately zorbing, zip lining and something else expensive and energetic didn’t appeal to ‘Business Class Hiawatha’ and we were to take a walk into town when we got there as our activity.

Soon after getting underway we stopped at Tairua to buy some pastries and coffee for breakfast. I had great expectations of my pick yet it was neither cheesy or particularly marmite tasting. I absorbed the blow as the bus trundled south.

What was clear was that apart from near the large cities it was single carriageways all the way and in this part of NZ lots of cattle in the fields. In fact dairy products and meat still remain the major export with this and other products going to their largest buyer, China. The UK and Europe are negligible as buyers nowadays but I long remember ‘New Zealand Butter’ as a popular brand back in Blighty. The other great export to the UK was lamb. This has declined as we can get lamb from nearer home now and fewer folk wear wool or eat sheep meat. When was the last time you ate lamb?

The economic importance of China comes at a price I read. As Australia kicks back against China’s growing regional military threat and takes actions such as the AUKUS submarine initiative then New Zealand chooses to emphasise its ‘independent’ foreign policy in order, probably, not to antagonise the inflow of Chinese dosh (£11 billon pa or about half of all exports.) The Chinese are also developing a greater profile and increasing subsidy of the Pacific Islands such as Samoa. Access to these countries could be militarily useful to a roaming Chinese navy and loan indebtedness to China helps solidify the loyalty of the island governments. These islands have traditionally looked to New Zealand as a developing or defensive partner.

Rotorua – not a distant fire but a geyser

The countryside remained very verdant, and rolling, as rain started to fall. It was the first time in a few weeks since we’d seen the heaven’s open. Rotorua is a largish town of over 50,000 and apparently 80% of the population is Māori. The town sits on the edge of a large lake and has considerable thermal activity. A reminder is the pungent aroma of bad eggs that greets you – sometimes as a faint background smell or occasionally quite halting. As a settlement it has loads of hotels but the town held little charm apart from a striking early 20th Century Bath Hall.

This was built to develop the therapeutic attraction for visitors of taking the waters. The visitors being of European descent. Throughout New Zealand the Māori heritage is emphasised and a ‘catch up’ appears to be underway to atone for 19th and 20th Century European settler racism and abuse such as suppressing the culture and language with the inevitable marginalisation. Unlike Australia these Polynesian people only beat the Europeans by 5 or 600 years to the land mass but when the white man got here, with his superior weaponry, the Māori independence and way of life was to be fatally eroded. Formally the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 made all the 500 tribes cede sovereignty to The British Crown. I think we can well imagine that wasn’t an arrangement that was between two equal partners. White settlers had differing attitudes, and laws, as to land ownership and the type of farming. The deforestation is awful to behold from the 19th to the 21st Century.

Sister hotel to the ‘Four Candles’

There are over 850,000 Māoris in NZ today (out of the 5 million) but despite the fine words, positive law provision and increasing promotion of their indigenous identity and rights many Māori people have their challenges socio economically. This manifests itself with lower educational achievement, higher substance misuse, worse health outcomes and high levels of penal imprisonment. However, away from this misery the tour party had a splendid night of Māori culture.

We were driven to a ‘village’ where some of the tribal traditions were explained, formal greetings were demonstrated between tribes and there was much wonderful singing and dancing. In our introduction we were asked to repeat Māori language words, the first, a welcome greeting of ‘Kia ora’. Yes, this phrase does not originate from a carton of orange squash I regularly consumed at The Odeon during the 1960s.

After this we were given a banquet where the meat had been cooked traditionally underground.

The meat being cooked outside using non traditional Māori aluminium foil

To elevate this ‘exchange’ we finished on a Q&A session with our Māori host. Merrill, she of the 7.30am fish and chip persuasion, cut to the chase and asked him about racism from the whites!

Being a class act he decided against being honest and making all the white tourists, who made up the couple of hundred guests in the room, uncomfortable and talked about the open approach of the Māoris with all people they interfaced with instead. He did identify the government as a ‘difficult relationship’. I suspect that may stretch all the way back to Queen Victoria in 1840 and the multifarious abuses and back sliding the Māoris have endured for well over a century afterwards.

Stuffed with food, culture and wiser we returned to the hotel.

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 17 and 18

My Vinyl Resting Place

Our travel agent at Trailfinders was from Auckland, he thought it a great idea to spend an extra day there before our organised tour started. Wrong! The thought of an extra day at Port Douglas or Auckland was a no brainer frankly. However, you live and learn and with a day to kill we decided to visit Mount Eden. This is a considerable hill (sea level to 200 metres) about three miles from where we were staying and to get to it was all uphill. So you’d get a bus, right?

Well, we tried and asked a couple of bus drivers if we were going to take the correct bus if we got on board but both gave confusing answers. The last one looked through Anna as if in the latter stages of an adventure with something psychedelic in tablet form. Heaven help getting on his bus in that state, I thought.

So we walked there. I suppose it was interesting to see a little more of residential Auckland and the view at the top of this former volcanic crater was terrific over the city. Mount Eden had been an important settlement and fortification for a tribe of Māoris. The site was sacred today and at a centre near the summit there was an explanation of its history. It was well curated and explained.

The site today
We were staying near the pointy tower

As we were nearing the grassy site off the main road we saw a bus go by with our spaced out driver at the wheel. This was his route! Anyway we did decide to avoid the joy of walking back and caught another bus back to the centre. At this point after a sandwich the present Mrs Ives returned to the hotel and I thought I’d look at a record shop on the route. Wow, what a corking shop. Lots of new and old treasure. LP’s are quite easy to put in a suitcase safely but I must stop as the case is getting heavier by the day. (I bought old second hand albums by Labelle and the Isley Brothers and I found a sealed new album by Zephania OHara, which of course doesn’t mean a lot to you all but he’s a New York based country music artist. I have his first release on vinyl but never expected to find his second one for a fiver.)

Later the ‘Grand Depart’ started with all the 16 guests coming together in the empty restaurant of the hotel. There was one Scotsman (residing in Melbourne), five English, two Americans, one Dane, one Swiss and five Canadians. There were only three couples and five men in the party. I ticked both boxes! Ages were between 21 and 73.

It was odd not to be personally delivering the introduction, rather than listening to it, but after that we were all set for an early departure the next morning.

Siobhan, was our Scottish guide. She’d been in NZ since 2015 and was to be the driver, organiser and guide. It was a big ask in my opinion. The guide has little opportunity to switch off between 6am and 10pm; by the end of the tour she’ll be exhausted. However, it appears she likes to talk and has a hands free headset that facilitates this hobby. Voice wise then imagine the bit in the song ‘Shout’ where Lulu goes ‘We-eeehhh-eeeehh- eeeell’ and you’ll have an idea. More of her in a later blog.

Out of the city the scenery was green and rolling with small hills and quite windy roads often involving short brutal climbs and descents. My mind wandered onto imagining this route on a bicycle: not easy. The traffic was light but we had periodic roadworks, apparently the recent cyclones have caused quite a bit of destruction. The schedule involved getting to Hahei, a resort on the north east coast. Hahei, so named by a Polynesian, called Hei, who claimed the area on arriving several hundred years ago.

On arrival most of the party plumped for a boat ride of the coastline and caves but the present Mrs Ives surprised me by signing up for kayaking, something she and I last did in 2007!?

A long way in a boat we’re paddling

Anyway what a wonderful experience. The sea was warm/tepid, the scenery interesting and the paddling manageable without me causing to admonish Hiawatha too many times. I watched the Dane and Swiss team coordinate their paddle strokes, I noted that providing I did two strokes to Anna’s one we didn’t fall too far behind!

Note paddle coordination on the left and wind milling on the right. We’re on the right…

Our guide, James was a star and posted some photos on Facebook the next day.

The beach here has geothermal waters beneath the sand. As the tide comes in the (very, very hot) water rises up the sand. Later that night, in the dark, as the tide came in we all trooped down to the beach to experience the wet sand heat. I went down but experiencing hot water wasn’t remarkable enough to entice me to expose my pinkies to this phenomena.

A beautiful setting, n’est pas?

There were no hotels out this way and we stayed at a campsite in a well furnished modern lodge. (Again wearing a cycling hat I would have loved to find this place as the tent camping was exceptional and the kitchen and laundry fabulous.) Fish and chips from a caravan were served for our evening sustenance and suitably weary from water sports we went to bed.

Australia & New Zealand – Day 15 and 16


As a management consultant I did learn a few things (surprisingly.) The main one is that the people who actually do the job often know the best way to improve it’s process and efficiency. It needs data to be gathered, an engaged set of employees with a set of helpful methodologies to extract the solution. It’s the best way, trust me. At Brisbane and Sydney Airport check in and baggage drop was achieved, or not achieved, on a self service basis using state of the art devices at dedicated stations.


The machines crashed each time you attempted to use them and frustrated travellers were left hounding the few members of staff who were in attendance. Needless to say tension was high as the travellers had flights to catch!

Had some manager/director, prior to spending money on this failing technology, asked the staff what was the cheapest, least stressful and efficient way to have travellers get a boarding pass and dispose of their suitcases it wouldn’t have been this. We found a member of staff; they disappeared to another computer (out of sight) and solved the glitch. With that crisis solved we were through passport control (yes, my wife sabotaging my passport by immersing it in a 30 minute hot wash didn’t appear to impede my Australian escape) and security to the ‘other side’.

Francis, his ‘English’ name, was sat with his son at a cafe just after you clear security. I asked if I could take up a spare place at his table and enquired of his 5 year old son ‘where was he travelling to’? In fairness the little Chinese boy was shy and his comprehension was poor. His father helpfully answered, ‘Guangzhou’. A mere 10 hours away it transpired!

The father’s English was excellent. It stood to reason as he’d spent over four years in England studying, including three years at York, although living in Halifax? It started an interesting conversation about China. Francis commented that getting the quality of education they wanted for their son and daughter in China was expensive and emigration appealed. That threw up challenges of where they could move to and the fact that whilst China would let them go it had tight currency rules and limited how much currency/cash they could take with them. He liked Australia a lot and the level of Chinese immigration here (and New Zealand it transpired) was high.

It seems economically Covid has dramatically hurt China and he was bemused about the U Turn effected by the government in December where daily testing was stopped and no masks or any restriction were suddenly accepted the next day. From January 2023 they were then allowed to travel abroad. It seems the mass protests caused the Party to implement Plan B. However economic activity is still well down and Francis’ business of selling pillows on Amazon abroad was still building back to former levels. He seemed a worried man. In fact that anxiety I’d seen with other Chinese men I’d done business with when I sold kitchens to Hong Kong back in the day. They always seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. He kept on using the word ‘stressful’.

As we’re shooting the breeze his wife is still in duty free checking out the merchandise. Chinese women can be very up to date and enthusiastic about premium brands such as Dior, Escada, Bulgari, Chanel, Gucci etc. I think shopping is one very key activity should they get abroad. Meanwhile my chat with Francis established he was an Arsenal fan. Clearly at this point, exasperated by his lack of judgement, I explained his folly and subsequently departed to the Gate. Before my move he did swap email addresses and I did reflect that probably someone in a subterranean bunker in Beijing has for a long time been digesting the contents of my email inbox, bank account details along with my, granted, hilarious posts on Facebook: frankly he just needed to ask them for contact details.

Goodbye Australia

So Auckland it was. Hello New Zealand. It took us two hours to clear the airport, not a great welcome. A combination of too few staff and bio security scrutiny. We were battered with announcements, signage and threats about bio security. As a consequence we dumped biscuits, mintoes 😢, liquorice, orange squash, ground coffee and rice cakes. As always I’m sure had we not done this we’d have been alright as we got waved through. Albeit a hound on a lead sniffed around our luggage as we left the zone, probably searching for drugs rather than digestive biscuits? A £200 fine was the risk. (Google (and I) suggests the large number of tourists from or residents returning from Far East countries make them ramp up this level of threat and potential scrutiny.)

Pathetically pleased to have found replacement digestive biscuits but can’t find mintoes. What kind of colony are you New Zealand? (Note coat wearing)

It’s a bright, often attractive and shiny city on a coast with a population of over a million. There is a long waterfront in the centre but the whole settlement seems very spread out. It’s apparently the financial centre for the country. As usual skyscrapers are being built with scant concern for how they blot the landscape (I thought no one came into the office any more?)

More concrete and glass to blot out the classic buildings

Again, people wise the city is very diverse; over 40% of the population was born abroad and a large percentage is non-European. I expect the suburbs are less diverse but a surprising amount of signage is in mandarin (with no English) in the centre. I also imagine the university, in the centre, has many overseas students.

Modern Central Business District
Lovely evening skyline

The following morning we did make our usual arrangement of joining a walking tour. However, so odious and tedious was the guide that I lasted 10 minutes and Anna a little longer. I won’t waste time explaining why, he’s not worth it and Wikipedia will tell me more about the place than he intended.

So I busied myself with a trip to a museum.

Built in Glasgow (the real one that is)
And there’s me thinking it’s all random doodling!

Again back to the history, so many liners were built on Clydeside and Tyneside for the New Zealanders in the 1930s judging by the graphics here. Lord knows the British quickly lost shipbuilding as an industry, yet ship building is as needed and is big as it ever was worldwide. Now don’t get me started on the decline of the British motor industry. We once had the world in our pocket.

Hotel lobby with sloping floor! Interesting glazing solution to work with the slope. Why not level up the floor to make it horizontal?

‘Interlude’? Well it feels like it as we await the start of our organised tour of New Zealand with G Adventures. On a bus with 16 other guests and a tour guide we’ll experience what both islands has to offer in a very busy two weeks.

John Dory and a few veg

Australia & New Zealand – Days 13 and 14

Electronic Wonderland

I was in Sydney three years ago and always felt it was grander and bigger than Brisbane. The taxi drive in from the airport confirmed this. At night it really looks wonderful.

The taxi ride was complimentary from the hotel we’d booked. The taxi driver, thanks to the hotel or details had the wrong address for the hotel and this luxurious ride ended, we discovered, 300 metres from the door. Oh how we laughed about this error with our three heavy bags and two rucksacks. We were smack in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District). In fact Anna and I were confused as to the hotel we’d booked and had no idea it was so expensive at about £220 per night without breakfast. (I do appreciate people reading this in the south of England will observe that a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Hounslow at Easter costs about the same amount.)


The hotel is well furnished, quite classy but has made some considerable missteps. Every corridor is in darkness, a bit like a nightclub without Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’ at volume 10.

A 12 year old must have been asked to propose the electronics. You had to present your key card to the lift call button and it would bring the lift, whence you can only ascend to the floor activated by your card. There were folk who’d just checked in bewildered by this weird arrangement as they searched for floor buttons in the lift. The gym had one static bike. However is was a ‘Peloton’ bike and you had to join or log in to the software to get any performance data. All building doors were activated by cards or mysterious hand waves over wall sensors etc. Needless to say our coffee machine wouldn’t work/pierce the pods to make a drink. There was near panic as a Yorkshireman barrelled his way to the Reception Desk with the offending article under his arm. ‘Next time Sir, please just call and we’ll swap it’…. what and miss the alarmed look on your face, in front of other guests, about defective appliances? Oh yes and only two of the three lifts were working; this meant wearying queues at peak times. On our last night a tannoy went off in the room advising a fire alarm, somewhere on the 30 floors, had gone off and we were to await further instructions. Having seen Towering Inferno Anna and I immediately dressed and descended to the ground floor. Here we witnessed firemen leaving the building. It was a false alarm. Someone on the11th floor had burnt something whilst cooking. Never a dull moment. I’m looking forward to the request for feedback from could be an essay.

The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are magnificent monuments. I’d done a walking tour in 2020 but did it again with ‘Business Class’ and I have to say Kieren was outstanding. Funny, in control and interesting with a mix of history, art, animal life, ethnic explanation and architecture. A top man, not all guides are this exceptional. He told the agonising story of the building of the Opera House that was over budget and continued to be designed well after the construction had started. The concern was enough to have the brilliant Danish architect (who won the design brief competition in 1957) eventually marginalised as the overspend and delays mounted. Ultimately he was replaced and offered a junior role, that he rejected, so that he resigned and went home to Denmark. In fairness his replacements didn’t address the delays and created appalling acoustics (since rectified.) When the Queen opened it in 1973 the architect Jørn Utzon wasn’t even invited. Relations were later patched up between the government and the Dane but it wasn’t a ‘good look’ given the unmatched iconic status of the building globally. Literally a wonder of the world.

In comparing my walking tours then the 2023 one had more recognition of the indigenous people. It’s a new theme. The Aborigines have been in Australia for 65,000 years and all of a sudden, in three years, the Australian (whites) are talking about them and pointing out the fact that they now fly their indigenous flags! Kieren also apologised for those who entered the old Custom House at Circular Quay about the swastikas inlaid in the marble floor. This apology was due to their Nazi connotations. I reckon that unless you’re over 60 and European then you’ve got little idea or sensitivity about their appropriation by the German National Socialists. You had to seek them out on the floor as you entered the building. The building was built and used in the 19th Century long before Hitler and Australia had no fascist sympathies. The swastika has been around since 500 BC in Eurasian art and I’ve seen them proudly displayed in Malaysia. It seems that you can never apologise enough nowadays.

The mighty Kieren
There were originally 50 species of bird in Sydney these cages represent them and contain sounds of the bird. On the pavement, beneath, the bird is identified.

Culturally there were other crimes that still persisted. I speak of the male mullet and moustache. Like the eradication of rickets and leprosy I thought such a look was long gone, it’s last recording was, I thought, in the 80s. Sadly not. Much to my distress whilst watching Aussie Rules ‘’Footy’ on the hotel TV I came across Bailey Smith. Surely as a child his parents should have opted to have him inoculated? Unspeakable? I agree.

I expect his mother still loves him…

We walked around the city and took a ferry across to Manly. Here we watched the surfers in overcast conditions show their skills before enjoying the views on the way back to Circular Quay.

Captain Ives

As I discovered last time, when I cycled out of the city, the suburbs are smart, often exclusive and interesting. Sydney has a population of over 5 million, about a fifth of the whole nation. If I had to live in an Australian city then it’s my pick.

Nice spot for a wedding?
Apparently the two animals on the National shield are incapable of walking backwards. Forward Australia!
Australian roadworks (or idiots with coloured spray paints employed by the council)
Underneath the Harbour Bridge this wonderful grand piano sat awaiting a pianist. No evident vandalism and a great spot to tinkle the ivories. (Yes, I know that phrase is probably now politically incorrect. Relax, the keys have been nowhere near Jumbo.)
I’ve cycled over that.

My first wife relaxed her grip on the purse as regards dining and some of the food was terrific.

Kingfish with potato, feta, avocado, tomato and onion
Protein restoration

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 11 and 12

Meeting old Friends

Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and the capital of Queensland. I’d been here before and stayed in a hostel about a mile out of town. This time I was located in an apartment, with kitchen, in the Central Business District with my ‘Business Class’ buddy who never ‘slums’ it.

It was handy being so centrally located as everything we wanted to do and see was nearby. The next morning itinerary priorities were set and Anna marched off to have her nails done! This released me to find a record shop and I happily flicked through the second hand LP’s looking for treasure. I intend to write a separate blog about visiting record stores abroad. I have something to say, elsewhere. Central Brisbane is ordinarily busy with tourists and many young folk, in fact there are 100,000 students in the city at three universities. Many of the students live and study in the centre of the city. It inevitably gives it a vibe and late night buzz.

I wanted to cross the Brisbane river and visit the South Bank Parklands, it was a highlight last time I came. This is a curated area with animals, swimming pools, rainforest, restaurants and children’s play areas. It’s delightful.

You needed to have swimming pools in this area to prevent anybody going into the river. Bull sharks lurk within and are flesh eaters. The good news is that as humans are not their usual lunch they will probably break off after tasting the menu. Clearly not a game you’d want to play however. There are 3,000 up and down the river.

There was much to admire and see. The scale is big and modern. However despite the restoration of 19th Century buildings it seemed, to me, a nonsense to then bury the artefacts in the midst of glass and steel skyscrapers. Was it ‘lip service’ to the planners and conservationists whilst the developers and money makers got their way? Sadly much of this development seems similar to the Far East where there seems to be no sentimentality about architectural history and an appetite for mixing concrete in every increasing quantities. One could argue this happens everywhere, including central London, but it seems very aggressive in Brisbane.

A little buried?

After visiting the far river bank we got one of the free ferries back to our side and disembarked at ‘Riverside’. It was here later we met Katie and Matt for drinks and a meal. Matt is an Aussie but Katie is not! She’s a close friend of our Favourite Youngest. Katie’s been known to our family for about 25 years. She started and finished school with Sophie (and Katrina). The inevitable happened that after a year out Down Under she found someone and has decided to stay. In order to secure her visa she’s had to spend into four figures and submit endless documents and links to social media to demonstrate the veracity of her relationship and intention to stay with it. She awaiting the result about a long term residency.

Moi, Katie, Matt & ‘Business Class’

One of the beauties of this climate are the evenings. Sitting outside in the warm balmy evening is a true pleasure.

We often take a city walking tour on our holidays and Anna arranged one with the ‘Brisbane Greeters’: a group of volunteers who give up their time, for free, to show tourists around. John was our guide, a mere sprog at 83 years old, and a font of all knowledge. He’d been born in England but arrived in Australia in 1948; he knew his way around. The website said no tipping was expected? This seemed hard given the four hours he led us.

What is obvious is the dramatic growth of Brisbane in terms of population and development over the last couple of decades. The ambition of the city holds no bounds and they’ve secured the 2032 Olympic Games. Quite why you’d want to host it isn’t something I can understand but I’m sure it’ll go well and be a success. Melbourne held the games in 1956, Sydney in 2000 and maybe Brisbane felt it should have a turn?

In the evening our cultural journey continued with attendance at the rugby league derby between the Dolphins and the Broncos.

The Dolphins are a newly formed team and Karl, our man in the city and much mentioned throughout my blogs organised the tickets. It was a wonderful occasion in the balmy evening in a world class stadium.

Dolphins 12 Broncos 18

We were amongst 51,000 fans who irrespective of their allegiance sat together and roared their men on loudly. We were Dolphin fans as Karl’s daughter’s partner plays for the Dolphins (but was absent on the night with injury.) The NRL is the most competitive and highest quality league in the world and it was quite something to enjoy the aggressive rugby and match day experience with light shows, flares, dancing and trumpet solos!

It was super to meet up with Karl and he’ll be back in the UK next month before a trip to the onward flight to the USA to go down Route 66.

Don’t spill your beer!
Phins Up!

The next morning we got an early bus to the airport for the last of our Australian destinations, Sydney. A big shout out to the quality of public transportation in the city, easy and cheap.

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 9 and 10

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Day 9 saw the driving catch up with us: we were weary. So we mooched about Hervey Bay and generally chilled. Hervey Bay generally has older residents and I was pleased to bring down the average age for the time we stayed there. It looks like a retirement spot. It’s a big place with large stores, dealerships and a two lane highway through it. However, the end of the town we stayed at was residential and close to the beach. We enjoyed our first Australian stroll on the sand and along the pier. The layout at the front with showers, toilet blocks, walkways was fantastic along with outdoor gym equipment.

The drive

We’re conscious that with New Zealand coming up we’ll be eating out every night. So we used the B&B’s excellent kitchen and had some omelettes that evening. Sometimes something very plain is a welcome change. We have a cold bag and have been carrying vegetables, cheese, butter, milk etc from place to place. It also provides a useful place to stow the white wine and beer.

Young Anna striding out

Refreshed we rose the next morning to find a rainy day and drove up to nearby Maryborough. This has a sad place in my heart as it is where I was told to abandon my 2020 bike ride from Melbourne to Cairns as Covid was shutting down the UK and I best get back whilst I could. I found the campsite where Trailfinders delivered the fatal blow on a late night call. At the time I had to find my way back to Brisbane to get a flight home. Not a piece of cake given that I had to quickly get back south with a bike. I couldn’t ride it and there was no rail link. One of the buses that runs up the coast came to my rescue. It was a fraught and stressful time. The problem came with packing the bike for shipment on an aeroplane. With shops shutting as part of the Lockdown and it also being the weekend I was struggling to get a box. You may find my blog at the time interesting (there again, you may not!).

So we looked around the campsite. Three years later the REO Speed Wagon is still there. A veritable trucking classic. (You may know the name from the 70s American rock band who nicked the name.) I also took a photo of the very spot my ride was ended in a phone call.

I was stood here using the charging points for my phone

The drive to Brisbane was in the rain and the temperature plummeted to 24°C! The traffic started to build and the inevitable road works slowed our progress. We initially thought we’d swing by Noosa Heads, then Gympie but as time was lost in the traffic we only had just enough time to visit Kin Kin. I’d stopped here, sleeping on the boundary of a cricket ground in 2020. The nearby cafe/restaurant left a very favourable impression on me and so returned.

‘Black Ant Gourmet’, Kin Kin
Oh look, another pie!

We continued and hit traffic jams on the outskirts of Brisbane. We dropped the wonderful X3 at the airport and caught a train link into the centre of Brisbane. In the early evening a rush of people came at you on the streets. It was also quite arduous wheeling and lugging our baggage in this busy place but we eventually found our apartment and settled in. I set off to find a ‘bottle shop’ or off licence for some wine. It was tomorrow we’d explore the city.

I’d read somewhere that we’d taken the ‘Easter’ off our eggs to protect some members of our society from offence. Clearly not troubling them here.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Beetroot and Hot Cross Buns – Days 7 & 8

The simple reality was that there were a lot of miles to drive before Brisbane and we needed to eat up the road. Mackay won’t live long in the memory but my early morning wander will. I dared to turn on my mobile to get the Leeds score. We won, good old Wolves saw fit to lay down and die in supporting our survival plan. This temporary agony relief should see me through to New Zealand and the resumption after the international fixtures break.

However the Sabrina Sugar Shed will live longer in the memory. It was about an hour south drive. We’d driven for hundreds of miles past sugar cane fields and Anna had found a place where it was all explained. We gave up an hour and a half to have the cultivation and sugar extraction process explained.

It all starts with an acknowledgement to the indigenous Elders before the tour begins. This is common on any public event. It seems appropriate in some instances but odd in others ie. before our flight from Melbourne to Cairns it was read out? The parallel with the USA and the native Americans seems complete. That is, the Europeans came and swept them to the margins whilst abusing or killing them. Especially in Australia there was an energetic and active campaign to have many indigenous children abandon their culture and become ‘western’ in the mid 20th Century. Despite all the kind words/acknowledgement today these people are marginalised in the economy or societal structure. It seems irretrievable and many here and in the USA are in a desperate place.

After harvesting the cane it needs to be quickly processed before it goes off and the raw cane is brought by rail to the mill on an agreed schedule with the farmer. Here it’s cut, crushed; the juice squeezed out. Then the juice is filtered to extract the bugs, bits of toads, extraneous weeds and all sorts of stuff that should ensure you now forever reduce your sugar intake. The refining continues until crystallisation and it’s then one step away from human use. That’s achieved in a controlled environment away from the mill. The vast majority is exported in bulk. This little operation made some samples up in chutneys, liqueurs, candy floss etc. using the product for us to drink or eat. The farming doesn’t involve a lot a labour and it’s not uncommon for the farmer to have another form of income. Typical of a lot of Australia the large mill behind our tour is Singaporean owned.

Ready for the Outback

Soon back on the road we were headed for Rockhampton, or as our colonial cousins call it….. Rocky. As we left the Shed we innocently enquired as to a good place to take a break and have a coffee on our drive. ‘Nah, that’s one long boring drive I dread’ she encouragingly replied. Excellent news.

What again?

The drive down The Bruce Highway was tedious but had to be done. We did pull into Marlborough where the local general store was doing great business in sandwiches and drinks. A steely elderly lady was running the show and here in the middle of literally nowhere she didn’t roll her eyes when the present Mrs Ives requested oat milk in her coffee. This reprieve was followed by that other Australian idiosyncrasy of putting sliced pickled beetroot into sandwiches. Strange but very common down the coast. Positively weird in a burger and bun but I have adapted with good grace.

The only other excitement came by being pulled over by a traffic cop to blow into a breathalyser. Obviously I was clear but the roads are full of signs urging people to rest up and seldom does the speed limit exceed 100kph (60mph). I think road crashes and high death rates and drinking must have historically been high on these long dull roads.

Rocky came into view and we found our hotel. Being Sunday night the dining choice was limited but a pizza and halloumi salad was found and then a long walk along the Fitzroy River to settle it before lights out.

Imagine a complete cacophony of birds in the trees

Back into the car I’d persuaded the Tour Guide to abandon the A1 to take the A3 south. This less direct route offered more of ‘Australia’. Our first stop was Mount Gordon and it’s historic railway.

Just a facade. The line shut in 1987

Whilst now an attractive but small town it had been important for much of the 20th Century as a town at the bottom of a railway route to the top of a mountain. The mountain contained gold, silver and a lot of copper. The railway excitement came via the need for it to ascend a 20% gradient. There was a video and exhibits explaining how it was done. That is a rack and pinion addition to the steam engine and railway line. I could explain more but I’m sure it would have you all slumped across your mobile/PC or tablet by the end of several paragraphs. I found it very interesting!

So back in the car we got to Bileola or as they say in Queensland ‘Bilo’. (I bet you never saw that coming.) Or ‘Bilewaya’ to use it’s Sunday name. Here we found a brilliant bakery and coffee shop. Given it’s location amongst tractor dealerships, farming supplies outlets, petrol stations and veterinary practices it was a delightful find. After coffee and hot cross buns it was time for more culture and we visited a heritage museum.

Skippy runs away from me

The exhibits were a little tired but the grounds contained kangaroos. Yippee my first ‘Roos in the wild. Entrance was AS$5 each (£2.80). Anna took pity and bought some coasters with aboriginal art on them. Predictably they were made in the People’s Republic of China. The lady manning this centre helped us find a route to our next night stop that didn’t involve driving on a gravel road. I didn’t fancy getting stone chips on the Beamer. The car had been a terrific boon and I stepped out of it in Hervey Bay after 351 miles fairly fresh.

On the latter stages of the country road drive we saw one car in a hour. This wasn’t early morning it was mid afternoon! The whole day had been driving in rolling wooded countryside. The trees were different to Europe but it could have been France.

Back on the A1 roadworks were regular features including wild kangaroos to our left and right grazing at dusk. After a long day driving and a desire to get the drive complete lots of restricted speed limits and traffic lights were not welcome. At about 6.30pm we pulled up at our B&B in the rain.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Southbound – Days 5 and 6

With a ceiling and standing fan we survived the night and emerged sort of refreshed the next day. The jet lag is finally receding.

The accommodation in daylight was commendable and alongside our room were guests from Germany and French speaking Canada. The latter were impressed with my language skills after all you never know when ‘le stylo de ma tante’ can come in useful. Breakfast was superb up on the verandah and we talked with the landlady, Dawn, originally from County Durham. With all that travel she was very interesting and helpful and we were sorry to say goodbye and head south.

Ours is the room on the right

The night before we’d seen some wallabies or small kangaroos in the wild on the grass at dusk. This morning there was one in the undergrowth. Sadly it didn’t photograph well as Mother Nature had enabled the small animal to merge into the trees it was sat amongst.

We set off south for Townsville stopping at Ingham for a coffee. Here we strolled along the parade of shops to stretch our legs.

Peering in the windows and ambling slowly we must have appeared lost as a chap asked us if we needed directions. In the brief exchange I told him we were from England. ‘Oh, where abouts?’ I duly told him and enquired if he had relatives over there or had visited? ‘Nope, I’m 67 years old and I’ve been abroad to Tasmania and New Zealand!’ Clearly not nomadic. We found a cafe, had a coffee and then set sail again.

Over the next few days we have to drive long distances every day. This means less notable attractions but lots of The Bruce Highway. This is a single carriageway with light traffic but a large number of roadworks. It’s an easy if not interesting drive unless you turn off. I cruise at just over 60mph. I spent some time changing all the units of measure on the car to imperial instead of metric. This should cheer the car rental company when they get it back. As we drive we listen to podcasts, my music, the BBC or my moaning about other drivers.

Port Douglas to Mackay

Townsville is Queensland’s second largest town after Brisbane. We got there in 33°C and after checking in I departed to find some trainers. I’d brought a pair from Blighty but found that they were strangling my instep. I needed to be able to walk! Given the adidas discount I can obtain from the Favourite Youngest Daughter the thought of buying any trainers away from England (and the discount) indicated how much discomfort I was in. I ended up in Athlete’s Foot where I was measured, assessed and found some shoes from the Sale! They fitted like Cinderella’s slipper. It was memorably great service. I skipped home a free man.

I’m ready for a Strictly after 5 minutes on here

That night Mrs Ives fancied a curry and across the road we sat outside on the street at a restaurant in the delicious heat consuming a tasty meal before a long stroll to jostle the bhajis, rice and, in my case, Rogan Josh to the bottom of my stomach.

Readers of my previous Australian adventure will recollect that I temporarily lost my passport for a night. This time it remained in my pocket. Unfortunately it was not extracted prior to going into the wash. It is now a sorry sight. If I don’t return or get out of Australia it’ll be down to a non too ‘delicate’ wash.

Tissues between the pages to mop up the damp 😩😬🫣

The next town to reach was Mackay. This we achieved after detours into Bowen, a one horse town without the horse, and Airlie Beach, a grim resort with much residential housing a bustling marina. Bowen was founded in 1861 by the British after they landed, threatened and dispersed the aborigines (who had probably been in this area for centuries.) The town has a mixed economy but I suggest it houses many workers operating a deep water port for the export of coal about 19 miles north of the town. On a sleepy and fiercely hot Saturday afternoon there was little life on the streets. I did however love the murals and my first pie on this trip.

Minced beef or ‘standard’ with mushy peas beneath the crust.

Airlie Beach is further south and is a more bustling prosperous place. It’s a jumping off point for Great Barrier Reef cruises and looks a lively, noisy place with bars and restaurants. There’s a lot of nice houses further out and tourism seems the ticket. Whilst there a bus pulled in and bedraggled millennials staggered off with rucksacks so large and heavy that I couldn’t lift them let alone carry them. One had a Canada patch on his luggage: he’d come a long way.

Airlie Beach marina

Eventually Mackay was reached and we checked into another hotel. Again it had a gym and I donned my cycling shorts to spin, and listen to Radio Four on my Air Pods, and Anna took a swim. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

In the Mountains and Down The Coast – Day 4

It was goodbye to the serene and manicured Port Douglas as the sun was starting to heat up the day at 7.30am. As is the way in these parts the trades were all hard at work trying to get a head start on their jobs before the real heat kicked in. The ‘council’ workers were trimming, mowing and cutting: their work looked terrific.

The drive was slow as we hugged the coast line on a treacherously windy road. The sea was mill pond flat and the sun was glinting off the surface looking alluring and exquisite. The destination was Freshwater Station, on the outskirts of Cairns. We were catching a ‘scenic’ train that ascended 327 metres up to Kuranda. This town was historically important at the top of the mountain for bringing supplies to the many gold mines there. Latterly it was important for the Australian Armed Forces during WW2. The construction of this epic climb started in 1877 and it was initiated because there was starvation in these communities due to being cut off with harsh weather. The access to these settlements otherwise was tortuous. The railway was a solution. The epic feat of engineering came at a price. It resulted in 32 deaths from the construction and many more from disease. The length was 33 kilometres; involved 15 tunnels and 55 bridges.

The start

The workers were mainly Irish or Italian and the days terribly hard. I can’t imagine working in such perilous sheer conditions in over 30°C heat with mosquitos draining you. In fact, despite it being the wrong era and country, it all seemed redolent of ‘Bridge Over The River Kwai’. We wended our way up slowly, and later, down the climb. We were hauled by two diesels from the 1970s.

There were some dramatic sights on the journey.

At the top there were no gold mines but something much better: koalas. I’d long wanted to see these sleepy fellows. There was a sanctuary.

Thrown into this cornucopia of native wildlife were crocodiles, a cassowary, geckos, birds, frogs and some wallabies. A parrot befriended Mrs Ives.

He is helping Anna identify which one he is
And make it snappy….
A cassowary

There were lots of arts and crafts on displays and some of it was very pleasing not least the aboriginal art.

The return train ride was a little painful as the open windows of the early 20th Century carriages invited the mosquitos in and they dined royally on my legs. On arrival back at the station we turned the BMW south and hit the Cairns rush hour. We worked our way through that and were soon turning off the Bruce Highway for our B&B at Mission Beach.

The accommodation was fine and run by some Brits who seemed peripatetic judging by their time living in various parts of Oz, Texas and the Middle East. The room was delightful, as were the other facilities, but without air conditioning it was a hot little oven.

After checking in we did a quick turn round and went out to find some food. The B&B recommended a few spots and in the dark they were hard to find. However, we decided by default to go to the Mission Bay Tavern. We had no idea what it was like but from the road it was brightly lit and seemed a bit ordinary. However inside we truly fell on our feet. It was the classic Australian pub. By this time the temperature had plummeted to 27°C.

Beyond the pub were many diners at the back including us!

We had standard pub fayre along with some Castlemaine XXXX. It was grand! Any way after this it was back to sweat off the drink and food at the B&B room (sauna).