Archive for the month “January, 2016”

The Open Road.

One of the joys of being a Grey Nomad is that you can go wherever the mood takes you and stay wherever Trip Advisor will allow.

We left the Blue Boat House and made our way to Manapouri in order to visit Doubtful Sound, which everyone told us was beautiful.  It was in the part of New Zealand where much of the “Lord of the Rings” was filmed.

The motel we staying in  was nothing remarkable, but next door was the ‘backpackers’ section where we found the most curious selection of Morris 1000s that I have ever seen.

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The Morris 1000 was my first car. It was old, a bit rusty, and was called Doris.  She cost me £85.00 in 1972 and I sold her two years later for £80.00 and the only reason I parted with her, with a tear in my eye, was that the Metal Box Company, my first proper employer, had decided to give me a car in order to facilitate my new and somewhat-less-than-illustrious career as a bottle-top salesman.

Out with the faithful, reliable, steady, quirky, old Morris 1000, in with the shiny, new, featureless, overpowered, zippedy-doodah  Marina 1500.






Those were the days!












By selling my much-loved Morris 1000, I had finally sold my soul to the capitalist devil.  It was to be five long years before I was able to buy it back.  (My soul, not the car.)



Red Skies at the Blue Boat House.

One of the joys of having a new camera, a house with a deck overlooking the harbour and plenty of time is that you can watch a sunset and record it phase by phase, day by day.

Day 1




And then Day 2.










A fitting way to bid farewell to the Otago Peninsular.

Christmas Day 2015.

What do you do when it’s Christmas Day and you are on the other side of the world and it’s mid-summer?

Answer:  Go on a train ride, obviously.

I knew it was going to be a classy trip as soon as I saw Dunedin Railway’s ticket hall.

From floor to ceiling it was a veritable temple to rail travel.




Of the two options, we chose the Taieri Gorge trip.


Good choice.


Some lovely scenery and an incredibly long train full of lots of other people who couldn’t think of anything better to do on Christmas Day.




P.S.  The photo below makes a brilliant screen-saver.


You’re welcome!


Little Blue Penguins

One of the occupational hazards of being a Secondary teacher was constantly being stopped in the corridor by earnest students carrying out ‘surveys’ on all manner of subjects as part of their studies.  This used to happen in my last school all the time. The Citizenship teachers had clearly found a terrific wheeze for getting kids out of the classroom and wandering around the school for most of the lesson. 

More often than not, I would be a less-than-useful informant, because I didn’t have an opinion on which is the best brand of hair gel, I didn’t have a favourite Harry Potter character, I had no idea about what makes a good computer game and couldn’t tell them what I would look for in a new iphone.  (I still have a phone that just makes phone calls.  Imagine that.)

On one occasion a couple of students stopped me to ask my opinion of saving the panda.  Oh, dear!  I wish they hadn’t asked.  I knew it would end in tears.  Did I think that more money should be devoted to saving the panda and if so how should the extra funds be raised?  How much should the Government contribute to saving the panda?

My answer left three Year 10 girls white-faced, flummoxed and very nearly speechless, which, you must admit, is an impressive achievement.  They just stared at each other in despair, trying to work out how my contribution fitted in to the questionnaire that they had designed.

I said that I believed that it was basically immoral to spend money on saving the panda.  The species should be allowed to die out.  Three shocked faces.  “You can’t say that, sir!”  “Why not?” said I.  “Because they are endangered.”

I said that there are all sorts of species that are endangered but people have focussed on the panda just because they are cute and cuddly, which is no reason for them to go to the front of the queue.  What about the hairy, one-eyed, slimey, Argentinian snot snaiI?  It is also endangered but no-one wants to spend millions of pounds saving it from extinction.  (OK, I admit, I made this last bit up, but the girls didn’t know that!)

I went on to point out that the stupid panda had evolved to the point where it would only eat bamboo shoots and, most of the time, couldn’t even be bothered to breed, so perhaps it is time that they disappeared.

I asked the girls where they would put the money if it was a choice between saving a panda and providing equipment for the local hospital that could save people’s lives. More consternation.

I just couldn’t help myself.  I know I am a bad person, but sowing confusion in the minds of teenagers, who normally think they know everything, is such good sport.  It is one of the perks of being a Secondary teacher.  Everyone should try it. 

Warming to my topic, I went on to say that I would be quite happy to eat the last panda on earth, with mint sauce and mashed potato.  At this point, the girls decided that they had to get back to their classroom to talk to a proper teacher, who would give them the right answers.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, in the garden of the Blue Boat House there was a small colony of Little Blue penguins. 


These little creatures are the epitome of cute.  We were told that they spend all day out at sea feeding and that, at about eleven o’clock at night, when it is properly dark, they come ashore and return to their nests, where they regurgitate what they have previously swallowed and feed their young.  (Starting to sound a bit less cute now?)

We were very excited on our first evening at the Boat House as we sat in silence and waited for the penguins to arrive out of the waves.  Sure enough, at about 11.00pm, they appeared, – about six of them – waddling across the little garden.  Cute as cute can be.  Aaaaaah!  Sweeeeeet!

They then proceeded to produce a staggering assortment of blood-curdling noises, a ‘mash-up’ of squawks, squeals, screeches, screams and growls that would have terrified a witch, and all at a level of volume that seemed impossible, coming from such small creatures.  None of them was more than about 12 inches tall.

After about twenty minutes of this cacophonous mayhem, they retired to their various nests to vomit on their chicks and peace was restored to the Blue Boat House.  We went to bed, delighted with our evening’s penguin-watching.

Less than five hours later and they were ready to go to sea again!  The whole noisy progression started again as they squawked and squealed and screeched and screamed and growled their way back to the water.

By this time, however, it was four o’clock in the morning and the cuteness index was falling fast.

By the third night, as I lay there trying to get back to sleep, I found myself wondering what Little Blue Penguins would taste like with mint sauce and mashed potato.

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Say thank you to Mr Noakes.

When you drive the 20km  along the twisty coastal road from the Blue Boat House into Dunedin you go past nearly a dozen bus stops.  John Noakes was a local artist who took it upon himself to cheer up these otherwise dull concrete buildings.  We thanked him every day for enlivening our journey into town.

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Well done, John.












All sorts of cheerful designs to brighten your day.















Some designs inspired by local wildlife, others that probably contravene copyright law.


But is it art?


Perhaps not… but who cares?


Sitting on the decking, doing absolutely nothing.

The deck of the Blue Boat House is definitely the place to sit and contemplate the wonders of the universe… or, failing that,  just sit and watch what goes by either in  or on or above or on the edge of the water.


This chap decided to put on a show for us one day, spinning around merrily in a display of boundless joie de vivre, before disappearing out to sea.


This fine fellow just strutted past, as only a spoonbill can strut, …

birds… while some swooped overhead…


… and some just sat quietly on the water and watched.


Others sat on posts and dried their feathers but the bloody seagulls…

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…some just sat on the roof and argued!

But birds were not the only things to go past our deck, as we kept our self-appointed watch.


Scruffy little fishing boats.


The little tourist boat that took us our albatross spotting


A little red number whose purpose we never discovered.  And then…


…the big ones that drifted past on their way to Dunedin harbour.

On one occasion it looked as if this monster was heading straight for us.

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By the end of the day,  when the cruise ship arrived, I had tired of my coast-watching duties and had moved on to other concerns.


…as the sun set gently over the hills.


The Otago Peninsular

From Lake Tekapo we made our way further south to the Otago Peninsular near the town of Dunedin.  From the safety of the internet in Madang, we had rented accommodation in something called “The Blue Boat House,” and were curious to see what we had let ourselves in for.


I had already had a telephone conversation with the owner, Trev, to arrange the booking.  I told him that we were thinking about staying about two weeks, to which he replied, in a display of salesmanship that defies belief, “Good heavens, I don’t know what you are going to find to do down there for all that time.”

So we cut our stay to a week.  Big mistake.

What is there not to like about a peninsular that starts off with a piece of street art that makes you smile and then paints its bus stops?  (More of those later.)

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We started our 30km drive down the peninsular, with some trepidation, passing various boathouses, in various stages repair, on the way.  All very picturesque, but nowhere that you’d want to sleep in.

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We weren’t much reassured when we saw the state of some of the mailboxes that adorned the road.











We needn’t have worried!  When we got there, the Blue Boat House was wonderful.  Very well equipped, great views over the entrance to the harbour, a deck that you could sit on to watch the world go by and drink wine, even a hot tub to soak away the cares of the day.  What cares?


There are worse places to while away a few relaxing days!


A footnote on Lake Tekapo.

On the edge of the Lake Tekapo, a few hundred yards from where we were staying, there was a small stone church, with a picture window at one end that gave worshippers, and people like me, a great view of the lake.


Small church.  Big car park.


A view to travel for.

The church authorities wouldn’t allow photography inside the church, but it’s amazing what you can get from a distance with a zoom lens.


Coming from Britain, little stone churches are nothing out of the ordinary, but the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo is famous throughout New Zealand and busloads of tourists, most of them either Chinese or Japanese, arrive every day to visit it.


(Note the young woman in white, texting, (don’t they all?) at the side of the church.

One rather strange tradition that we observed on every single day that we stayed at Lake Tekapo was the phenomenon of young Japanese women turning up at the church, changing, in the car park, into elaborate wedding dresses, having someone fix their hair and make-up and then posing, endlessly, for photographs in front of the church. 


Primping nearly finished


Bridesmaid nearly ready, (once she’s finished texting!)


Perfect.  Beautiful.  Ready to go!

Sometimes there would be a man, playing the part of a groom, but this seemed to be an optional extra rather than an essential element of the ritual.  Says it all, really!




One of the striking images that caused me to stop to take pictures in New Zealand were the fields of lupins that lined the road as we drove into and out of Lake Tekapo.  At home we might see lupins in a flower shop but certainly not growing wild on the sides of the road. 

















What was doubly surprising was to find signs telling us that lupins are a weed that should not be encouraged, because they spread everywhere and block up water courses and drainage ditches.


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And I just thought they were pretty flowers.






Mount Cook…

…where Sir Edmund Hilary went to practise, as the local museum was proud to tell us.

While we were in the Lake Tekapo area, we spent a couple of days with our boots on, (yes, those boots that the nice lady at Auckland Airport had kindly washed for us), wandering through the foot hills of Mount Cook.  We were on the edge of the glacier that is receding at an alarming rate, but still provided some belting good pictures.  I just wonder if anyone will be able to take the same pictures next year and the year after.


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A timely reminder that the weather can change very quickly in the mountains

Indeed, a few days after our visit a couple of experienced climbers were killed on this very mountain because they were caught unawares by a change in the conditions.


We walked along the wonderfully named ‘Hooker Valley’ towards the glacier itself on a beautifully sunny day. and gradually we began to notice the face in the snow.  No, really!  It was there!  I didn’t imagine it.

Indeed, the closer we got, the more stern and forbidding the face became.  It was easy to understand why, in less enlightened times, people believed that there were spirits in the mountains that had to be appeased.


So preoccupied were we with this unsmiling face in the snow looking down on us in the valley below, that we renamed the glacier “Grumpy Old Bugger Mountain.”   I am not sure that the name will stick, but it amused us.


Tell me that you can’t see the face on the mountain, and if you can, that it doesn’t scare the pants off you!  No?  Really not?  Don’t believe you!


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