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Days 1 and 2 - The journey!

Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer? Preferably one who deals mainly with unreasonable behaviour and mental cruelty!

I suspect that accurately sums up day 1 through to day 3. 26 years we've been married and still he's surprised at my lack of enthusiasm for endurance tests and 'out of comfort zone' challenges.

I would never recommend a 29 hour journey to anywhere especially with 23 hours sitting in a cramped seat. On the first leg our plane was changed by Singapore airlines to an older version one with seriously limited leg room. We had two young toddlers by us who were constantly on duty to make sure no one slept. I didn't know a child could cry so long without taking a breath. Seriously impressive! The second plane was marginally better although the man in the row in front must have reached an all time record on the snoring decibel scale.

Our few hours break at Singapore had some pleasurable moments like swimming in an open air pool listening to the roar of jet engines and gently inhaling aviation fuel fumes. Whilst in the changing rooms I was somewhat delayed whilst helping a lady wash the clothes she had been wearing with antibacterial handwash. Unfortunately she had been sick all over them on our plane!!!!!

Day 3 - Monday 4th March

And so we arrive in NZ. Oh for the luxury of a superior campervan. The ultimate Winnebago experience surely........ And what do we get after a 2 hour wait (because they are oh so busy) ..... this small Ford Transit van with holes knocked in the side.

We sit at the table with knees touching and I have 'campervan envy' as I look out the window at our campsite.

Day 4 - Tuesday 5th March

It's day 2 of our trip and we are in Kaikoura. Not very warm although blue skies. Still pretty tired from the previous day but raring to go. Very exciting - whale watching. Now this is more like it. Got a little uneasy feeling when it was suggested if anyone was prone to seasickness they should take a tablet now!! How strange as the sea looked like a millpond. Oh such deception. For those of you who know me really well will realise that my worst nightmare is to go on anything that vaguely mimics the feelings of a roller coaster ride. That was the journey out on the boat. Oh joy! Even Bob was muttering. Where's his alpha male, Boy Scout backbone gone now?

All was forgiven during the next hour and a half. Amazing. 5 separate Sperm whales viewed and an added bonus of an Orca swimming alongside the boat. To say nothing of the numerous albatross and seals. How lucky were we? All I could keep saying was 'wow'. I sounded just like James!

And tomorrow is another day - swimming with dolphins. Same boat journey..........

I have so gone off my ipad! I painstakingly recounted my innermost feelings last night for my blog and it’s somewhere in cyberspace – never to be retrieved- so here goes again.

Day 5 - Wednesday 6th March - Dolphins!

How nervous was I? My imagination was working overtime and by the time we reached the Dolphin Encounter Centre in Kaikoura I was convinced I would be shark fodder at best and an Orca titbit if not. Orca’s do eat dolphins the whale man told me the day before – see the logic?

No photos of us wearing our wetsuits – it would be grossly unfair to inflict such a sight on anyone!!!
The weather was beautiful with calm sea and we soon came across our first pod – so many dolphins, I was blown away.

I invaded this ‘very nice young man’s’ personal space in order to learn how to breathe through a snorkel but more importantly to seek some ‘shark’ reassurance. No reassurance forthcoming – quite the contrary. The good news was the sharks around were mainly blue sharks not great whites. The bad news is that they still like to take a nibble! What on earth does ‘take a nibble’ mean and where do they nibble???

I was only in the water 5 minutes when I had to be unceremoniously hauled out by the scruff of my wetsuit Oh the embarrassment. Needless to say Bob completely ignored this fiasco and continued in his own little world singing ‘I was born under a wandering star’ in deepest base. Poor dolphins. No need to feel sorry for neighbouring swimmers as he seemed to be ‘Billy no mates’ and had been given a wide berth.

The reason for my ‘rescue’ surely could have happened to anyone. I had taken a float in the water just as an added drowning prevention and in my excitement and whilst singing ‘Rule Brittania’ I had forgotten to breathe through my mouth and attempted to through my nose therefore causing water to enter my goggles. Now this is where the float causes problems – it worked so well it prevented me from being able to tread water and empty my mask, hence struggling like a meerkat on steroids I was spotted and retrieved.

Float then rejected and back in the water. Totally amazing. I really feel my harmonious renditions of ‘God save the Queen’ ‘cos Katy said the dolphins needed to know I was British, ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ and best of all (they so liked this) ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ enticed so many of them to come and check me out. It certainly kept the sharks at bay.

What an emotional experience. One I thought I would never achieve but one I know I will never forget.

After all that nervous tension and excitement the only way forward was cake and chocolate and after that Emma’s cliff top walk- such views but didn’t expect the seals at the start Nearly tripped over one and was very taken aback. He just gave me a dismissive flipper wave and a dirty look enough to say ‘another alien invading my privacy’.

A fairly uneventful but stunning drive through the magnificent rolling hills of the Marlborough country to Picton. One quick pitstop at a Truckers paradise – greasy spoon to us- with an overwhelming smell of agricultural waste – nice!

Could tomorrow bring a trip to a winery or a Crichton route march/bike ride – tough decision.

Day 6 - Thursday 7th March

Forget the winery or the route march or the bike ride – a wonderful 4 hours taking the mail to outlying residents of the Marlborough Sounds. A tip to do this given to us in Christchurch by the campervan engineer- very good advice as no other boat trip goes anywhere near the places we went to.

I started the day with a jog – felt too shattered to even attempt any exercise before today. Saw a nice lady with her dog by the harbour who suggested a rural path to take after asking if I wanted flat or hills. Flat of course!! So what’s her definition of flat – it certainly isn’t the same as mine. Hence it took me quite some time to get back to the campsite. I just pretended I’d been sightseeing a little which of course I had!!!!

Thought I would add a photo of the unfortunate ratatouille. Anyone can make a mistake with quantities of ingredients… Think Bob is still in denial but he’ll come round.

Day 7 - Friday 8th March

Long driving day today - from Picton to Motueka on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park.  Missed all the glorious weather - blue skies and 25 degrees.  What a better idea it would have been to travel later in the day and explore a little more of the amazing Picton area.  Now that last sentence was the basis of our minor domestic!!! 

To punish Bob for his complete and utter lack of judgement we hired a couple of bikes for an early evening ride along side the sea.  His punishment came in the form of too low a saddle with no spanner to remedy this, cow horn handlebars and a dutch braking system.  Now that caught me out too.  If you pedal backwards, even the slightest, the back brakes stop the bike instantly with the possibility of hurtling you over the handlebars.  It was a close call. Why the Dutch don't stick to making cheese with holes instead of making ridiculous bikes, I have no idea.

Well tomorrow we are booked up to become 'swingers' for the day. For those of you of a certain age, rest assured we aren't completely losing the plot and joining a hippy commune. The actual name of the expedition is calle 'swingers' named after the swing bridge we have to cross over a ravine - so exciting, my very own 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' moment. I just can't wait to dangle periously. Why oh why?!!! At least it might take my mind off the numerous bites that are driving me insane with itching.

So it's pickup at 8am and kayaking for 11km around the coastline with seal, penguin and dolphin watching. Then a 7km hike over said bridge and picked up at some little cove and taken back by water taxi plus a free lunch. Better start packing essentials now - just not sure how much you can get in a kayak!!

Day 8 - Saturday 9th March

Major Hiawatha day -And I went to bed fairly relaxed about today's adventures, thinking of calm little coves as shown in the brochure.  Brochures lie outrageously.

8am pickup - fine.  Half hour transfer to get kitted out with kayack gear and a safety briefing etc.  Still feeling reasonably OK.  10 minute transfer to kayacks and launch.  Choppy sea, in fact vast seriously choppy sea with not a cove in sight.  Not so fine any more.

Made Bob sit in the back to work the direction pedals (I suspect rudder is more nautical) so I sat in the front. I was first to be pushed in the sea -once launched Bob would jump in the back (that's the official plan). Whilst in the process of slithering into the water a tsunami crashed into me and left me looking like a horror struck bedragled spectacle.

Poor Kristy in charge of the 7 of us was horrified and ridiculously apologetic. I laughed it off - oh how funny was that - NOT!! It was like the jungle drums as anyone and everyone we met from them onwards referred to me as the poor lady who Kristy soaked... Apparently it's a big 'no no' to do that to a client.

The early mishap did mean that I had to spend the whole day in a swimming costume with a small travel towel tied round my waist to offer some kind of modesty. Not a pretty sight I can assure you.

I think if I stayed in NZ for any length of time I would have the wimp gene knocked out of me. Today was 2 hours of sea kayacking (with blisters as proof of my effort regardless of Bob's insistence I must be slacking - foolish man - it's pretty tough ploughing through monumental waves!!!) followed by lunch on an idyllic beach and a 2 hour trek. Plus 2 trips over the rough sea in a super speed boat (me in a speed boat!!!!) All really great fun.

I'm most impressed with myself - I even saved Bob's life as I noticed a huge and I mean huge dark shape near him in the water when he was swimming. It was an enormous sting ray ( I remember Steve Irwin). I have to say he scuttled back to shore pretty sharpish which was a first Not quite so macho today.

Pizza and ratatouille for the 2nd night running No more rat left now. Am gaining weight quite rapidly. I can hear Ann saying that serves me right!

Thought I might go for paragliding or skydiving tomorrow with a bungee jump thrown in for good measure.

Day 9 - Sunday 10th March

Long travelling day today heading down the west coast.  So sad to leave Abel Tasman - by far the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

5 or  hours on the road but as it is Mother's Day Bob showed incredible kindness and for him amazing sensitivity and took me to the longest swing bridge in NZ - literally.

It actually took my breath away.  Not because of its splendour or the stunning sheer drop down a ravine to the fast flowing river beneath and not because of its fragility and narrowness but because of absolute all consuming horror.  The 'wuss' gene is here to stay - I was terrified.  The nearer the middle the more the swaying.  Every nerve in my body was on red alert.

Through gritted teeth I insisted Bob stop walking and let me manoevour it on my own, but there in front of me was a Chinese lady frozen with fear being gently encouraged to move by her husband. It was pretty obvious she wasn't going anywhere and no way was she going to let go of the rails. So swinging perilously how on earth was I going to get past?

The next few minutes were scenes from a very low budget Houdini movie as I alternated hanging over the side and invading her personal space just a bit too much as I inched past her whilst she squeaked and refused to lessen her grip. She certainly did nothing to improve Anglo/Chinese relations!

How Bob managed to get by is beyond me as all I could hear was 'Oh sorry', 'Ooh excuse me'.

What a really thoughtful treat - and best of all I had to come back the same way. Either that or some kind of contraption on a zip wire. Needless to say I was fairly monosyllabic for quite some time afterwards.

Bob was under orders from Emma, Ben and Katy to buy me a Mother's Day treat from them, so thankyou my children for my $5 treat. Rest assured it will be etched in my memory for all time.

On a better note we stopped further south to see the pancake rocks and blow holes at Punakaiki - amazing see photos.

Day 10 - Monday 11th March

Another very long travelling day.  Left Hokatiki at 10.30 am after a run on the beach (so unfit already!!) and arrived at Wanaka Lake at 6.30 pm.

We stopped briefly for lunch at Franz Josef Glacier - pretty impressive sight - but didn't have time to explore.  The little town was full of adrenaline-seeking young travellers either taking off in a helicopter across the road or kitted out in wierd and wonderful attire trotting along like little clones to explore the ice caves. Worse still there was a crowd of buzzing youngsters next to us heading for a skydive and then jetboating.  Doesn't matter what age I am none of the above would have been on my agenda  I tell a lie - I did tentatively think of going up in the helicopter!

Quite getting the hang of driving the van now but so many winding roads!! Had to try and concentrate as the scenery is so stunning hence had a few hairy moments. Suspect I may be making Bob a bit jittery.

Day 11 - Tuesday 12th March

Tough, tough day today – wasn’t meant to be, but we hired mountain bikes – thought we looked pretty ‘cool’ in our cycling shorts – quite the business. We were duly given the map indicating the various cycling routes although the young upstart in the shop wouldn’t have won any awards for customer relations that’s for sure and obviously deemed us a poddlers. Geriatric poddlers were advised to cycle part of the way around Lake Wanaka.

Were we having any of that? – not on your life. A gentle poddle for us when we even had the ‘gear’ on.  Unfortunaely pride goes before a fall.

6 hours later we virtually crawled into the hire shop to hand our instruments of torture back (whoever created such an uncomfortable saddle needs shooting – certainly has to be a man!!!). Over 5 hours in the saddle and over 50k on serious mountain bike tracks in the blazing sunshine – surely we should know better. I blame Bob as he was the map reader. Mind you there was a little justice as he fell off his bike while trying to negotiate a little bit of sand on the track and what a fuss he made – pathetic! Methinks alpha male must have been napping…

Saw some great views, white water and some potty NZ youth jumping into the river from a bridge- totally certifiable. They probably thought the same about us – ‘mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun’. One cheeky lad suggested we had a dip to cool off if we had our togs. I now realise ‘togs’ means swimming costumes. Bob did just that without his togs but in his cycling shorts.

Am back in my little tin can writing this blog, kneeling. Can’t sit!. Sorry weather is pretty cold and miserable in UK - it’s blue skies here.

Day 12 - Wednesday 13th March

Left Wanaka at 10 am and arrived at Lake Tepako at 2 ish. Did stop en-route for coffee and compulsory cake. Also managed to buy James a squawking Kiwi and Niamh a 'real noise' penguin ( to help with reaching the top of the mountain -don't ask).

Ridiculously expensive over here though this hasn't deterred us from buying chocolate, wine or beer! Am aiming to sample as many Sauvignon Blanc vineyards as possible, whereas Bob remains boring and predictable in his choice of beers sticking with IPA. he tried the stronger stuff but ended up riggweltered.

Lake Tepako is beautiful but Lake Pukaki surpasses all (see photo AND the water is really turquoise). 'Trolling' through 'Lord of the Rings' country - really spectacular.

Be impressed - climbed Mount John at Tepako. Be less impressed - it only took us 45 mins although we were huffing and puffing like steam engines. I had to apologise to one poor guy as Bob sounded as though he'd misplaced his oxygen cylinder. For the less hardy and possibly more sensible tourists there was an alternative route by car.

Nice cafe at the top run by Chinese as was the bakery, motel, petrol station, merino wool shop, gift shop and Chinese restaurant. There was a rogue Japanese restaurant there also - what's going on, this is New Zealand and middle of nowhere New Zealand !

Mind you we did feel a bit embarrassed being British watching a bus load of Yorkshire tourists hit Tepako for a pit stop. It was like a scene from 'Last of the Summer Wine' with totally inappropriate comments (a bit like mine) and raucous laughter at the number of seagulls they could entice with their package bus trip packed lunch cheese and pickle sandwiches!.

Fortified by a cup of tea we made our descent and felt the need to relax in a thermal spring spa. My goodness this life is tough. Hard work all this holidaying.

Duly cleansed we continued our journey to Fairlie at about 7 pm. We'd travelled roughly half way there when Bob started acting very strangely uttering words like ' I don't believe it ', 'How could I not have noticed ', ' Quick get the GPS out and tell me how many kms to Fairlie '.

Oh we do live life on the edge. Needless to say we'd run out of diesel. The little yellow light was winking at Bob and the manual said we were ' running on the limited reserve tank and refuel immediately '. In the middle of nowhere I don't think so! Burke's Creek loomed and we thought we saw a petrol station - school boy error, see photo.

Not a petrol station for another 30 miles. For me, I was remarkably calm - mainly because it was all Bob's fault. Bob was somewhat agitated to say the least, but we made it by cruising down hills , driving 'economically' and turning the air con off (such joy). Such a fuss about nothing.

Parked next to a very 'nice' couple of gentlemen, even more inept than us - another story, another time.

Day 13 - Thursday 14th March

Campervan envy has reached an all time high today. I was invited to view the hired 2 person van next to us on the campsite. What another world?  What a lovely husband to have put his wife's happiness and comfort first. She viewed ours and credit due she neither laughed nor sneered just uttered those damning 6 words 'oh no I don't think so'. To make matters worse I took pity on the lady next to us on our previous site this morning and gave her our blanket. The logic being we only have one sleep to go and she has another 2 weeks. It really does get chilly overnight. Crichton of the Artic may add to the problem by keeping the air vent above the bed completely open.  I may have to dress up tonight for bed. Am seriously thinking of wearing my fleece as a minimum. 

We did the last long journey today. Waved goodbye to our friendly gay couple and to Liz, the blanket coveter and headed to Christchurch. Our preferred destination was Akoroa but there just wasn't time - shame. I sound like a spoilt brat now but 10 days on this incredibly beautiful island is just not long enough. Never thought I would say it but another visit has to be a must if only to see Milford Sound. Bob's still sulking cos he couldn't get down to Dunedin for the cricket - shame!

So here we are at South Brighton for our last day. After a chat to neighbours as mentioned we hired mountain bikes yet again. Still sore! Mine seemed to have a puncture so I had to take it back to the chappie at reception. Poor bloke was sixpence short of a shilling and straight out of Fawlty Towers. He insisted on pumping the tyre up and then systematically slowly turning the wheel while lying on the floor. I have no idea how long we would have stayed there watching in disbelief if big boss man didn't turn up, ask him what he was ....doing and forcefully suggest he gave me a different bike. By now it was 4 pm!

The area of Christchurch we are staying in has been devastated by the earthquake. Numerous houses and buildings are being demolished as they are structurally unsound. Coral from the poultry section of the local supermarket gave me a geology lesson and complete autobiography. Bob had lost the will to live as he was on bike security duty outside the shop - apparently it took me 45 minutes to buy 2 chicken breasts and a Mars bar. I think Coral was a bit lonely. She was a Liverpudlian and a long way from home although she had been in NZ since 1973.

The highlight of the day was accidentally finding the Pacific Ocean. These things just pop up out of nowhere. Cycling along the beach was great. Will revisit tomorrow morning before returning the van.

I have just spoken with Esther and we are meeting up for dinner tomorrow evening. More about that in the next instalment.

Day 14 - Friday 15th March

Our last day in NZ. I think I may cry for a week when I say goodbye to our campervan - I don't think so! I made most of the morning, went for a jog but was seriously embarrassed by a group of leery workmen - one little upstart called out 'crazy woman'. I hate to think what the others muttered but they all smirked!!!!! You'd think by now there would be a cure for varicose veins and cellulite.

Lunch by the beach was highly calorific but great. Felt a touch of my mother's genes in play when I felt obliged to feed the lurking little birdies. Bob wasn't amused.

So campervan duly returned - absolute mayhem. It was like an exert from 'Supermarket Sweep'. I shot out of the van to retrieve our suitcases from the store and then we had to ram clothes etc into them whilst the van moved along a conveyor belt of similar vans with equally demented people doing much the same. Such a ridiculous system. I felt much like you would after half a dozen redbulls.

We met Esther for dinner. So lovely to see her. She's looking incredibly well and happy in Christchurch. It sounds as though she has a very responsible although tough job teaching pretty aggressive children
Great Italian meal and then back to the airport hotel.

With virtually no sleep - seriously noisy neighbour conversing with his seriously noisy friend, no air conditioning ( how ridiculous in NZ) and an alarm clock set for 4 am- we then headed to the airport.

Now how did this happen. How many months ago did BOB book this flight? We ended up sitting separately along the back rows of the plane. I was so not amused. No tilting seats with the man in front of me perilously close to sitting on my knee because he most definitely had a tilting seat!

Rob and Finlay met us at the airport. It was so brilliant to see them and Finlay gave me such a cuddle. Eve is just as I remember her, but Maisie has grown up so much into such a pretty little girl. Every picture tells a story.

Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March

Two days in one now as we had no Internet in our strange little doss house in Sydney. We spent our first day getting to know the children, wrecking a toy shop and having a lovely time catching up with Claire s Rob had to work a bit. Hopefully lots of photos here.

We stayed the night in a strange little room in St Mark's Lodge where you just pay for a room and nothing else. It certainly wasn't the Ritz but still scored much higher than the campervan.

Sunday saw the arrival of Dan, Lucy and a very jet lagged Hamish and we set off for the journey to Jervis Bay. How Dan managed the drive is beyond me. I suspect it was the constant drivel from either Rob or Bob to keep him awake did it.

Our house here is utterly amazing and the endurance test to entertain 4 children begins. I suspect the beach will have a big part to play in the next few days. It's just the spiders, snakes and nasty critters that worry me. A note was left in the house to say they hadn't seen any snakes in the area but there were Huntsman spiders. Have you ever seen the size of them. They're humongous. And actually cast a shadow. Feeling jittery already.

~ The end ~

That's it for the blog! From now on we will be posting photos and comments on our Australia online slide show.

Thank you for reading - this is the real truth: don't believe a word in Bob's effort!

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