Friday, 6 December 1996

Homeward Bound

Pack, visit the aquarium, then catch the coach to Auckland, then taxi to the airport, to find that the plane is delayed several hours with a broken windscreen. Avail ourselves of the business class hospitality suite for the 4 hour delay - which leads to a zero-time stop-over at LAX as we just march from one plane to the next.

And so home again, to early winter and short days.

All in all a wonderful time, despite lousy weather at times. The food is excellent, and by EU standards, very cheap. I would highly recommend it as a place to go (despite the two 12-hour legs of the flight there). Just don't try to see all of it at once. We were there 4 weeks, didn't even attempt the South Island, and hardly had time to catch our breaths while we were being shown a little bit of everything.

Thursday, 5 December 1996

Uttermost North

Did the obligatory tour up to the utmost north, stopping at the Puketi Kauri kingdom, to admire the huge trees, then up the Ninety Mile Beach, stopping at the north end to body-board down the dunes at Te Paki, and thence to the very tip of the island.

And there it is, Cape Reigna, with its lighthouse, where Indian and Pacific Oceans meet, and the spirits of the Maori make last landfall before heading north into the spirit world.

A bit of a hiccup as the coach runs out of fuel as we start back, and diesel has to be dragged from the stores at the cape and poured into the tank through a makeshift funnel.

Back via purveyors of local honey, and where semi-fossilised (20kyr+ old) kauri wood is excavated and sold (buy a salad spoon and fork set, and a bowl).

Dine at the Saltwater Café again, then wander to a dark part of the beach and show Karen the Magellanic Clouds and other features of the southern sky.

Wednesday, 4 December 1996


Lazy morning, then I join a kayaking tour around the estuary, with a guide who has got things figured out just right - spending the summers kayaking in Canada, then the summers kayaking in New Zealand. For myself, I didn't manage too badly in amongst the mangroves, but the pedal steering goes the wrong way according to my intuition, so tryng to catch everyone up on the open water, I ditched and rolled - the escape being automatic and reflexive, and getting back in again simple. I accepted a tow from the guide, but managed to ditch again when I tried steering, so ended up a passive tow, and then walked back home from the falls which were the half-way point of the tour. Meanwhile Karen window shopped, and took a short bush walk.

Dined at Tides, where they served excellent red wine scandalously young - they were already serving the '95 vintage! So we bought a few bottles to see in 2000 with, and by then it had had some chance to mature, and was wonderful.

Tuesday, 3 December 1996


We joined a swim-with-dolphins trip at dawn, under leaden skies. After 3 hours we find a pod, but they have young (one still showing creases in the side where it had been curled up before birth), so we are not allowed to get into the water. We follow them, watching them feed, for about an hour. In the afternoon, while Karen dozed, I went out for a ramble. Dinner at Khushbu, an Indian vegetarian restaurant.

Monday, 2 December 1996


It's enough even to tempt Karen into shorts. We take the ferry across to Russell, where I wander around the hillside, and Karen swims. Dinner at Bistro 40.

Sunday, 1 December 1996

Bay of Islands

Farewell to Uncle Brian, who is returning home, then we catch the coach up to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, far to the north. The rain is coming down in the bucket-loads as we wait for the coach, and as we depart Auckland, the roads seriously awash. It peters out into misty drizzle during the day. Dine at the Saltwater Café.

Saturday, 30 November 1996


Wet morning for the drive to Auckland, but has cleared by lunchtime. Wander around the not terribly pretty down-town; decide not to join the long queues at Kelly Tarlton's Aquatic centre, but just take the chance to amble about by ourselves for a change (a family emergency having kept Judy at home meaning that we are no longer being enthusiastically supervised to have a good time).

Friday, 29 November 1996

Rained in

Last day at Inglewood, staying indoors against more foul weather, which has abated by the time we go to McFarlanes for dinner.

Thursday, 28 November 1996

Pause for breath

A quiet day; wander around New Plymouth, lunching at the Yellow Cafe in the mall there. We had a brief glimpse of the mountain in the morning, but it is hidden under cloud again in the afternoon. The weather worsens, with torrential rain and thunderstorms at night, and a tornado at nearby Bell Block.

Wednesday, 27 November 1996

Inglewood once more

After another small tremor in the early morning, we journeyed back to Inglewood the pretty way - round the lake, to the south, where volcanic vents wafted steam, over the top of the island, where the physical road petered out beyond Taumaranui into dirt track that was still called State Highway 43. Here we were back into weather, pouring rain that didn't help in the up and down hairpins. At one point we came to a T-junction - and needed the sign telling us which way was a farm track, and which the main highway.

We finally rejoined the metalled road, got out from under the weather, (where the picture of Mt. Taranaki was taken) and arrived at Stratford .

Tuesday, 26 November 1996


From Napier it was inland to Taupo on a beautiful sunny day, seeing the Mohaka waterfalls by the roadside, and long views across the plains to the three main peaks, Ruapehu, Ngauranuhe and a third whose name I didn't record, now seeming to have ceased their activity. There are more falls - more rapids - just outside Taupo, at the Haka falls at the bottom of a gorge where hardier souls than we were bungee jumping.

Taupo is built beside an enormous caldera lake, (the Haka falls being its outflow) and we took a cruise on it, seeing the famous modern Maori carvings on a cliff on the lakeside, and Errol Flynn's yacht being sailed on the open water.

Looking north from the lake, the hills behind Taupo can be seen as a female form, the sleeping princess.

Monday, 25 November 1996


On foot to do tourist stuff in Napier - seeing the kiwis, otters and dolphins at the wildlife centre, and paddling in the Pacific, visiting the Clive Square gardens with the enormous palm trees, and the Mission Estate vinery. Shop for dinner.

New Zealand catering has up till recently been mired in the 1950s, but in recent years, the PacRim style of cooking has taken off [though with some quaint hangovers yet - their idea of refried beans is something that looks more like our baked beans in tomato sauce]. Our hosts, being of an older generation, hadn't really caught up with the change, so we were grateful for the chance to take over one self-cater evening and pass up the weaker parts of traditional New Zealand style. OTOH, I did find that the access to older sheep meat (hogget - last year's lambs - and mutton have much more flavour than bland lamb) was one of the better features of the traditional style.

Sunday, 24 November 1996

Shocks and surprises

Small earth tremor about 09:00. Head out for Napier, via the Manawatu gorge. East of the gorge, the flatter terain is already turning brown as spring fades into early summer. We stopped to ramble in the rose garden at Frimley Park in Hastings, to the accompaniment of a Dixie band performing as part of a wine promotion. Overnight at Telegraph Hill villa on the Te Mata road out of Havelock North - accomodation for two couples with its own private helipad and tennis court, and views over the whole Hawke's Bay area, though not quite as panoramic as from the top of the Te Mata peak overlooking it.

Saturday, 23 November 1996

Windy Wellington

To Wellington with cousin Matt, spending the day being driven all around the hilly, windy, streets of Wellington (and occasionally getting to stop and look at it from one vantage point or another). Overnight at the Plaza Hotel, where Matt had pulled some strings to get us rooms, ones overlooking where part of the city had been blocked off for street motor racing. Dinner at Red Dog in Blair Street.

Friday, 22 November 1996


"Tiki-touring" around the Wairarapa - Martinborough, with its taxidermy museum; the Te Kairanga vineyard, which, like most NZ vineries, has most of its output bulk-bought by Californian shippers; a mushroom farm; and a paua-shell shop at Carterton, selling mainly kitsch decorated with the beautiful turquoise shell. Overnight at Masterton, where we dined at Tellers - good PacRim fusion food, but relaxed service.

During the day, we ran into one of the local traffic jams - a huge flock of sheep being driven slowly along the road.

Thursday, 21 November 1996

Meeting the cousins, part 2

After breakfast that included grapefruit picked from the garden (definitely showing we were in warmer climes than we are used to) we made the long drive further south, past Wellington, to join up with other cousins, past the Pinnacles - eroded towers of loess, protected by capping boulders - at Ngawihi, to Cape Palliser, where we overnighted at a bach (pronounced as in bachelor) in the little settlement of Mangatoetoe, near the Black Rocks seal colony, and the rock-sheet faced hill called Kupe's Sail. From here we had our only glimpse of the South Island.

A clear night for once, and dark, but no chance to go out and star-gaze due to mosquito density. Through the windows that evening, the Southern Cross is visible, head down, just above the ocean to the south.

Here I am loading the car for the next leg of the journey.

Wednesday, 20 November 1996

Meeting the cousins, part 1

Driving down, through Whangenui (stopping to feed the ducks), finding a local arts-and-crafts complex that included a seller of home-made full cream ice-cream, with cones bearing huge quantities for (to those used to the pernicious effects of the French-inspired CAP) rediculously low prices. Then from the Kapiti coast, to Palmerston North, to see Karen's cousin Karen and family (plus Kelly the labrador and Popcorn the cockatiel).

Tuesday, 19 November 1996

Storm warning

New Zealand was battered by the largest storm on the planet. 90mm of rain fell. We stayed indoors, and read, being quite chilly as the houses really weren't built for that sort of weather.

Monday, 18 November 1996

Return to New Plymouth

First expedition concludes, with a return to New Plymouth, over the gorse moorland and pine forests of the inland plateau, breaking for leg-stretching at the Whakamuna Dam on the Waikato river.

Sunday, 17 November 1996

More hot water

A lazy day, a little walking around and window shopping, much soaking in the hot pools at the Polynesian Spa (leaving the 40C+ pools to the Korean and Japanese tourists), then an Italian dinner at Zanelli's.

Saturday, 16 November 1996

In hot water

We visited the Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park and Farm -- plenty of rainbow trout in the streams, all sorts of breeds of sheep, lambs to hold, and a black Porsche with the honest vanity plate "GREED". After lunch, out to the Te Whakawerawera Thermal Reserve - geysers and boiling mud - then trying the hot but relaxing mineral pool at the motel. Rather than doing the touristy thing and eating at one of the places doing a Maori haka, we found a Thai restaurant for dinner.

Friday, 15 November 1996

To Rotorua

En route, we visited the glow-worm cave at Waitomo (as described in David Brin's Earth), phosphor-blue dots scattered like stars over the roof of the cave, lunched at Te Kuiti, the self-proclaimed shearing capital of the world (and heroic scale sculpture of a shearer to drive home the point, rather like those Soviet Worker statues).

We could tell when we were close by Rotorua, with the sulphurous smell in the air, a mix of the smells of salt beef and pease pudding boiling together, eggs, and propane. Arriving mid afternoon, after settling in at the randomly chosen motel on the outskirts, we walked around the lake at Ohinemutu (a Te Awara Maori settlement), then around the hot springs at Kawaka Point park. At Ohinemutu, where the road follows the lake shore, I spotted one of the standard !-in-triangle hazard road signs, with the explanatory text "Steam" - when the wind is in the right quarter, the fog over the steaming waters can blanket the road. Dinner was a curry at the Mr. India restaurant not too far from the motel.

Thursday, 14 November 1996

A pause for breath

Quiet day at Inglewood, a brief sight of the mountain, hardly distinguishable from the cloud about it, a walk around the neighbourhood, and lunch and the excellent little local café, McFarlanes.

Wednesday, 13 November 1996


Early rain had cleared by after breakfast, so we went into New Plymouth for a for shopping and a walk around the Komaroe aquatic centre. Met Judy's mother for lunch at the at Big Jim's, the very nice restaurant associated with a local garden centre. Despite the cloud, we pressed ahead with a trip up to the Egmont Visitors' Centre, half-way up Taranaki - which was cold enough to get us unpacking the woolies we'd brought along for our return home. There was essentially no visibility uphill from the centre, only brief glimpses of fresh-fallen snow in gaps in the cloud, so after a little walk to stretch the legs, returned to base via a gemstone shop, which had some nice pieces of jade and petrified wood.

Tuesday, 12 November 1996

Welcome to New Plymouth

We were taken on a trip into New Plymouth, to Marsland hill, with the carillon and war memorial, and the views from Churchill Heights. At the lee breakwater, 4m swells were washing over the top leaving standing water on the beach car parking behind. Fortunately there were paths elsewhere high enough above that we could watch the waves - at Paraitutu, to watch the surf crashing against the rocks, and along at the East End.

After lunch at the RSA club, we had a visit to the black volcanic sand beach at Oakuna, and then to a little vinery (Cottage Wines) that specialised in non-grape wines (it has more status there than the home-brew elderflower plonk in the UK), with feijoa being a specialty.

Dinner at the eat-all-you-can buffet at the Devon Hotel - a good place for those who like oysters which, along with green-lip mussels, are a local delicacy.

Another wet and windy night with no sign of the mountain.

Monday, 11 November 1996

A Land down under

To celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, and to placate relatives, we spent most of November and some of December '96 in the North Island of New Zealand. We were based out of Inglewood, near Mt. Taranaki (left). This picture is taken from somewhat south of there (on the dirt track that masquerades as a national highway from Taupo), on one of the rare occasions where it was not hidden by cloud.

The flight out departed late afternoon in the depths of autumn from LHR, and chased the fading sunset up over Scotland, and into the arctic, where a strange wan light glimmered over the ice. Dark fell as we turned south, over the Dakotas, that sprawl of light that is Las Vegas, to LAX. Although we were flying business class (really not a luxury for long haul flight), and could have used the posh lounge, we didn't feel like facing US immigration to get out to it, but just got back on the plane as soon as possible for the long dark flight over the Pacific to Auckland at dawn, to change to a local flight for the hop to New Plymouth. Cloud prevented much in the way of views, but we were pointed out the plumes of ash rising from the central volcanoes that had recently started erupting gently.

We were met by Karen's uncle Brian and his wife Judy at New Plymouth airport to weather that seemed to have come along for the ride with us - cold, windy and raining. After a shower and change, we were taken out to the Pukekora park and fernery to sample the distinctive vegetation that makes the green and rugged terrain look exotic. Forcing ourselves to stay awake until gone 21:00 local, we collapse into bed only to be kept awake by a stormy night of wind and heavy rain.

Friday, 6 September 1996

Azhrarn (24th Feb 1982 - 6th Sept 1996)

Named after the demon from Tanith Lee's Night's Master who created the first cat (which was of course black) it seemed he would be a permanent fixture in the household.

He was never a well socialised cat, having been born to a semi-feral mother, who was left to rear her kittens undisturbed in a room to herself - he never cared to be handled, was always very timid, and prone to marking out little bits of territory to himself (even indoors, alas). He was also very affectionate, and would dribble while purring ecstatically when stroked, and always wanting to groom the person in return (slobber! rasp! - his tongue was very rough).

He broke a tooth (one of his upper incisors), and found eating painful, and after having the stump removed, quickly went into a decline. Whether the kidney failure that he suffered had been the cause of his problems, or was triggered (or merely exacerbated) by infection of the gums or the anaesthetic for the dental work it's not clear. One problem with an outdoor cat - you can't tell how much they drink.

The picture was taken a little after his 14th birthday.

Friday, 31 May 1996


Having enjoyed the good weather once, we did it again this year, only taking a slightly different itinerary, visiting Aigues Mortes, and then St. Gilles. On the route between, we detoured to the ferry crossing of the Petit Rhône at Bac Sauvage, and to the Parc Ornithologique at Pont de Gau, and assuming there's no Mistral, we'd recommend that route. From St. Gilles, I made a long side trip, via Arles, to Les Baux de Provence (shown here looking south from the crest of the range, with the Rhone delta plain behind the outcrop on which the citadel was built):-

in the Alpilles (inspiration for the town in Robert Westall's The Cats of Seroster), over to St Rémy (where I lunched again at the same excellent crêperie, then back via Tarascon (home of the original tarrasque, for the D&D fans out there), Beaucaire and Bellgarde. [This image has been enlarged from postage-stamp size from a not very good photo, I'm afraid].

On the way from Arles to Les Baux, I nearly got caught in a bull-running event in Fontveille, one of the little towns north of Arles. In fact in late May, the whole area breaks out into bull-fighing and related events, so be warned.