Xmas 2018 Nelson Trip

Day one – Thursday 20 December – train to Wellington

What an awesome start to our trip – the taxi driver didn’t charge us for the ride from home to the train station as a thank you for previous business and xmas gift. We arrived nice and early and checking in to the Northern Explorer train was fast and easy. The train was very comfortable with loads of room, huge windows, plugs for charging devices, comfortable dining car with great food and my favourite beer.
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The train ride took just under 11 hours and apart from the first bit from Auckland to Hamilton the weather was great. The best scenery of the trip was definitely Mt Ruapehu.
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We stayed in the Ibis hotel and after dinner we had a few beers in Dad’s hotel room.

Day two – Friday 21 December – Wellington to Picton

We did breakfast in the hotel and then said goodbye, Dad and Paula flew to Nelson and I stayed on to catch the ferry. I went on the cable car and loved the lights they’ve added to the tunnels. Weather ok and great views at the top.
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Click the last pic to view the video.

I ran in to a couple of people I know from work so we did a quick coffee and catch up in David Jones. Then I collected my bag from the hotel and headed for the ferry terminal.
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I chose to go on the Bluebridge Ferry rather than the InterIslander coz it was about $10 cheaper and they had Airpoints. BIG MISTAKE! As soon as I got on the ferry I would’ve paid anything to get off it and on to the other ferry (the Interislander). The whole thing smelt like a public toilet everywhere. I went outside for some fresh air and hopefully find a good seat, but it worse. On the right side of the boat were vents that made the air smell like old stale warm fat. On the left side were the vents that I guess went straight to the toilets coz that side smelt like poohs. Neither side was a good option. So I got myself a private cabin where I could escape the screaming children and horrible smells. The cabin had its own toilet and shower and a bed – very cool and it was the best $30 I’ve spent in ages. Before I headed indoors tho I did see a pod of dolphins – very cool, but very hard to photograph.
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The scenery through the sounds was beautiful but I just couldn’t stomach the smells.
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Getting off the boat was quite an ordeal too. The directions for the walking people (people without cars) was not very clear and I got lost trying to find my way out. Then once I was reunited with the other walkers we were herded like sheep on to a bus and shuttled to the terminal to wait for our bags. Then I was on my own with no signs to show me the way to get to the town and there are NO TAXIS in Picton. So I walked along the main road which was not the right way to go I found out the next day!
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Day three – Saturday 22 December – Picton to Nelson

Awesome weather in Picton, actually managed to get too much sun just wandering around in the morning and sitting in the shade by the stunning waterfront, while waiting for the bus to Nelson.
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While waiting for the bus to kill some time and get out of the sun I paid $25 to see the Picton Aquarium. Wow what a waste of money, it was awful and actually gave me the creeps.
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After filling in enough time I went to the bus stop to wit for the bus, unfortunately I was waiting at the wrong stop and 10 minutes before the bus was due to depart I wondered why it hadn’t even turned up and why am I the only one waiting for a bus. So I went in to the info centre next to the bus stop and asked if I was in the right place – I wasn’t!!! A quick two minute dash to the correct stop and luckily the bus hadn’t left. But the bus was overbooked and they needed two buses so there was some confusion and a 20 minute hold up. The bus trip was great and I’d definitely do that again. Beautiful scenery, loads of famous vineyards.
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Then at long last I’d made it to Nelson and Dad and Paula were there to meet me at the bus station. Short ride to my Aunt’s home and a beer!

Day four – Sunday 23 December – Nelson

This morning my cousins Janine and Stephanie turned up for a coffee and a quick reunion catch up. Then my Aunty and Ken took me on a little pilgrimage around Nelson to revisit the three houses I’d stayed in when we came to visit at Xmas time back in the 70s 80 & 81. It was hard to photograph the houses from the car so here’s an old pic I took back in 1980 of the house we stayed in that Xmas.

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After lunch at the McDonald’s cousin Stephanie worked at for her first job, we went to the Nelson Cathedral to see the Xmas Tree display.
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After dinner the old photo albums came out so Paula could see what I looked like as a Page Boy at my Aunt’s wedding back in the 60s.

img_7874  Me as a page boy.

It was a great evening filled with stories and so many memories.

Day five – Monday 24 December – Te Waikoropupu Springs

I remembered as a kid the whole family went for a really long drive to see the Pupu Springs and it was the most beautiful crystal clear water I had ever seen – but that was all I remember of that trip, so Dad and Paula took me on the long drive out to Takaka where the springs are. The drive up the mountains was spectacular and the long journey was well worth it, when we walked round a corner in the bush track and saw the stunning water bubbling up from the ground.
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On the way out to the springs we stopped in Motueka for lunch and I was amused by the name of the shop across the road.
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Day six – Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day

Lovely Xmas day. Presents and breakfast then getting ready for the cousins who turned up for the big xmas dinner at lunch time. We had a secret Santa before food and it was one of the few times I’ve seen a Secret Santa activity go well (something usually goes wrong) – everyone seemed happy with their gifts and everyone got one!
The following two pics are not from Xmas Day , but most days there were fantastic sunsets seen from my Aunt’s balcony.
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Day seven – Wednesday 26 December – Mapua and Kaiteretere Beach

Today Dad, Paula and I drove out to Mapua a little wharf town with a maritime museum full of investing facts about the area. The best thing I learnt was how Cable Bay got its name and that it only took 12 days to lay the cable between Australia and New Zealand back in the 1800s.
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From there we drove on to Kaiteretere a very popular beach with golden sand.
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Day eight – Thursday 27 December – Last Day in Nelson

This morning we had a visit from my Uncle Ray who I hadn’t seen since I was 21, great catch up and many more memories. After that Dad, Paula and Tarnie went in to town to check out the shops and have lunch. After lunch we had a drive out to the Maitai Valley River spot where we spent many days swimming back in 1980. I didn’t take any photos coz there was nowhere practical to stop, and the river bed was all brown and not as stunning as I remembered it. But at least we found it. So here’s an old pic of my Uncle Ray and Dad standing by our favourite Maitai river spot in 1980.
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Our very last stop before heading home was at the very beautiful Queen’s Gardens (to use the loo).
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Weekend in Cambridge

Last weekend I got to stay with friends in their very lovely home in Cambridge.  While I was there I was on a mission to take photos of spring for a photo competition I’m running at work.  So our first little venture out was to a park where there would be plenty of cherry blossoms and hopefully some cute little fluffy ducks.

On the drive back from the park we stopped by the side of the road for some shots of some glorious trees in full blossom.


We had a really lovely walk around the park and I even learnt some history.

For dinner we went to an amazing restaurant called Alpha St.  The food was amazing and I had the most fabulous desert ever.  You pour this hot berry sauce over a stunning ball of white chocolate to reveal the dark chocolate mouse inside.  Not only was it fun but it was very delicious.

  
The next day we drove to the Hamilton Zoo where we got to see some very pretty birds.

  
Meerkats, pigs and giraffes.


Tigers, ducks and a turtle.


A family of monkeys with a really cute baby.


But my favourite was the rhinos because it was their feeding time and we got to see them up real close.


After the zoo we headed back to Cambridge for lunch and then I drove home amongst all the school holiday traffic also heading home.

Weekend in Whanganui

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with friends in their lovely home in Whanganui.  What a great weekend it was.  A friend picked me up early from work on Friday so we could avoid the Auckland traffic and enjoy a couple of beers at the airport before jumping on the plane.  After possibly one too many beers we boarded the plane and very quickly made friends with the guys in the row in front of us and kept most of the passengers very amused the whole way (it was an intimate little plane).  Something about buying houses, finding a good bar to drink in with lots of homeowners had us in stitches for a long time.

One of our kind hosts picked us up from the airport and took us straight to the supermarket so we could purchase more alcohol.  Whanganui New World had the jackpot of wine selections – they sold BOTH of my faves.  These days it’s getting harder to find one or the other depending on the supermarket and the last supermarket I went in to with the biggest selection of wine ever had neither!

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We had dinner and a few drinks at a lovely neighbours house before settling in for many many laughs and quite a few drinks at the friends’ home.

The next day we drove round Whanganui looking at houses for sale, eating lunch at the Citadel – a very groovy café, walked through an amazing succulent garden many residents had got together and planted.  After dinner we did the real “Netflix and Chill” – I don’t have Netflix so it was cool to see what all the fuss is about.

For a treat on our last day we got taken out to an amazing garden in the countryside.  On the way we stopped at the recycling centre – you have to do your own recycling in Whanganui.  There was an impressive mural on the fence made out of recycled bottle tops.

Last stop before the garden was for a coffee from a funky coffee shop called Article, which sold groovy second hand stuff.  I really wanted to stay for a while and soak it all in, plus wander around the glass blowing gallery next door, but we had no time for such luxuries – we were on a mission to get out to the gardens and have a wee picnic.

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The Paloma Gardens were awesome – fascinating, clever, unusual and beautiful.  There is a large glasshouse with many types of cacti.

There’s even a Garden of Death, not my favourite thing but I have to admit it was a very clever concept and well done.

There is an unusual conservatory type area with chandeliers and a peacock.

Unusual art, beautiful flowers and pottery is everywhere – you could walk for hours to try and see everything but we did a short walk.

Then… just when I thought I’d seen everything the garden had to offer, we crossed to the other side of the driveway and found a fabulous setting for a wedding.

The fence near the entrance has lots of cool phrases painted on it, so even the driveway is fun.

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On the way back to town we stopped at a local pub for a beer and a bite to eat.  Then we went to the Wintergarden and lake to feed the ducks rice – because apparently bread is bad for them, but the ducks don’t know that and didn’t seem all that excited about the rice.

Then it was time to go home.  The flight home was very quiet and subdued compared to the flight down.  But it was on a really old plane which I’m sure had been borrowed from an aircraft museum, it was very cool though and quite spacious.

Christchurch for Four Weeks

I always feel very lucky to have a job I really love and there have been many highlights, but the last four weeks have been amazing.  I got to work in Christchurch for four whole weeks and fly home for the weekends.

Luckily on one of the flights I got to sit in seat 1A.  It was so cool, I felt like I was part of the flight crew.

The cathedral is still broken and it’s been like that for so long it’s become very overgrown, but one night on the way home from work the evening sun was shining just at the right time and it looked quite stunning.

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I even made time to go to the art gallery and soak up some culture.

On my last weekend I made it to the Gondolas for a grand view of the city and harbour.

One particularly clear morning I even discovered the clouds on the horizon weren’t clouds after all – it was actually snow on the mountains.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel had only just opened and they had really good opening special prices making it affordable enough even for my work to pay for.  The room was amazing, I never wanted to leave.

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I don’t normally take photos of food I eat but the hotel food was truly spectacular, delicious and very well priced.  Look how beautifully the chocolate cake was presented.

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And the view was stunning.

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After work one night I walked up the road to investigate an amazing playground my nephew told me all about, apparently it’s one of the biggest in New Zealand.  It was very cool and I would’ve loved to play there if I was a kid.

Photo 24-08-17, 5 51 44 PMwAfter that on my way back to the hotel I found I funky street with old looking shops, bars and restaurants.  But most importantly I found a wine shop!

During a lunch break on a beautiful sunny day I went for a walk to take some pics of the cool buildings near where I was working.

Day Twenty Two – the long journey home

Sunday 23 April

My very last day in England, time to find out if everything I bought (well actually all the Lego I bought) would fit in my suitcase.  Thankfully it did.

There was a “Last Supper” with all the friends I had stayed with and then it was time to go to the airport.

Thankfully the flight from Heathrow to Dubai was on time and I was on my way home.  This flight wasn’t packed like all the others and there was actually a spare seat next to me which was lovely.  I felt like a pro arriving in Dubai where everything felt very familiar but I still couldn’t figure out their infuriating departure board.  There seems to be so many flights that they flash too quickly and I had lots of trouble finding my flight.  I needed this info so I knew which gate the plane would be departing from and at what time.  

When we arrived there was a plane hogging our spot so we had to sit on the tarmac waiting for about 20 minutes and when the landing gear came down it sounded very broken but we landed safely so I guess it wasn’t.

I looked around the glamorous duty free shops but didn’t really know the exchange rate so I couldn’t tell if stuff was cheap or not, but when you see a pair of decent headphones selling for over 1,000 of their money, I figured things weren’t all that cheap in Dubai – the rich man’s paradise.  I splashed out on an iced coffee from Starbucks which turned out to be $9 New Zealand dollars.  (It wasn’t that great).

Boarding was on time but departing was not – turned out to be a slight mechanical fault with something that needed fixing before we could depart, so we sat there on the plane wondering what it was and waited and waited.  After about half an hour the problem was fixed and we were on our way – but I was most dubious as the landing gear once again made the most awful creaky noises as we taxied out to the runway and took off, I wonder if that was the mechanical problem or not.

Flying out over Dubai was quite spectacular and we could see all the famous buildings including the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.

  

After hearing all those creaky noises on take off I was quite scared of the landing in Sydney, but we landed safely and as I got off the plane I vowed never to fly in one of those awful A380s again, and never via Dubai again, it’s just too long a flight.

Sydney airport was cool – they’ve done it up very flash since I was there two years ago and there was lots of gorgeous shops to look in.


I also found a very practical coffee shop where each little bench had 4 plugs and USB connections for charging up all your devices while enjoying your coffee.


There was an indicator board near where I was sitting that kept telling me to “Relax”, so I did.  Even after the known boarding time it was still telling me to relax – then all of a sudden there was an announcement that they were boarding the plane starting with the people seated at the back of the aircraft.  So I had a rather hurried and slightly stressful walk to the departure gate which turned out to be 9 minutes walk from where I was “relaxing”.

Auckland airport was a breeze.  Passport control had no queue and the facial recognition machine actually recognised me instantly and I was through.  My suitcase made it all the way from Heathrow in tact and customs was very quick too and I think the whole thing took no more than half an hour from the time I got off the plane.  The biggest hold up was the little queue at duty free.

London Day Twenty One

Saturday 22 April

My last full day in London, so I made the most of it by catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen yet and visiting the Lego Store one last time.

I expertly navigated my way to the Lego Store all by myself, catching a train and the Tube just like a real Londoner.

There was a queue to get in to the Lego Store but it moved quite quickly and there were friendly staff chatting to people in the queue to take their minds of the fact that we were all queuing to get in to a shop to spend money.

  

If you look closely you’ll see something I find mildly amusing… there is actually only one child in the queue to get in to this toy shop, everybody else is an adult!


It was a sad visit in a way, knowing this would probably be the last time I ever visited this shop, so I needed to make the most of it – but I couldn’t buy everything I really wanted because there is only so much Lego you can fit in one suitcase.  It was cool though that I managed to come here on my first and last day!

After that I was really hungry and couldn’t wait till I met up with my friend to eat, so I popped in to a pizza place in Leicester Square right next to the last place I ate at 30 years ago (Burger King) after my big farewell with the people I worked with.


From there I got myself to the Tate Britain where I met up with a friend who is a member so we got to eat in the members’ lounge like VIPs and attend the Hockney exhibition for free.


I hadn’t seen this friend for about 5 years so it was cool to have a catch up.  The gallery and exhibition were very cool.  We have a David Hockney print on the wall at work which I walk past every time I go to the kitchen for coffee (so that’s loads of times) so it was awesome to see the real thing.  We couldn’t take photos so here’s a couple of pics of the fab light display at the entrance.

  
And here I am feeling very happy observing some cool taxis – they’re not all black anymore, although most of them still are.

  

From there we walked past the parliament buildings to get in the massive queue for the London Eye, even tho we had a ticket for a specific time booking.

  
That turned into quite a drama.  There were millions of people all hanging out around the area where you queue for the Eye and we could hardly move and then suddenly we were all told to turn around and head back to the bridge and go around the back of the building due to an incident.  This was quite scary as we didn’t know what was happening and nobody wanted to move and we were all being pushed backwards.  I’m was also aware that this is the very place there was a terrorist attack a couple of weeks ago adding to the whole situation.


Eventually we made it to the massive queue of people waiting to get on to the London Eye.  Some people had tickets, some didn’t and nobody knew where to go or what to do and none of the staff would tell us what was going on.  So we waited… and waited… and waited and then suddenly the queue moved and then shrunk and then stopped again.  Turned out they had closed the London Eye for some unkown reason and we were handed a form to get a refund.  We looked up at the Eye and noticed it wasn’t moving and half the pods were empty and some people looked very stuck in a couple of the pods, so we guessed it broke down and were very glad we weren’t actually on it when it broke down.  Imagine suddenly needing to go to the loo and being stuck up there.


So we decided the best thing to do instead of going on the Eye was to get a bottle of wine and sit on the grass enjoying the sun and make the most of our short amount of catch up time together.


After all the wine was gone we walked along the Southbank towards where my friend had to catch her train home from.  That’s where I noticed there was a beach!!! Right in the middle of London!!!


It may have had something to do with all the wine we drunk relatively quickly but on that walk in the sunshine – everything looked sparkly and stunning and we decided we shouldn’t wait five more years before we had another catch up, and as we met each other originally in Japan back in the 90s we made a pact to meet again in five years time in KOBE!!!

  
With that very exciting and happy warm fuzzy thought we said goodbye and I headed home.

London Day Twenty

Friday 21 April

Today the plan was to meet a friend for cocktails high up in a couple of the London skyscrapers, to enjoy a drink or two with a view.  To fill in time till then I booked an on-line ticket to Madame Tussaud’s and hoped there wouldn’t be the same long queues as on Monday.

After arriving at Waterloo station I caught the Tube to Picadilly Circus and walked all the way up Old Bond St for a spot of window shopping in the very flash designer label stores where all the “old money” goes shopping.

          
After that I caught the Tube from Bond St to Baker St where a queue-less Madame Tussaud’s awaited.

  
There were a lot of people inside it and it was a bit of a bun fight to try and take a photo without hundreds of people getting in the way or draping themselves over the mannequins for “selfies”, so in the end I just took photos of the random strangers anyway, don’t ask who the guy is standing next to the Queen, the Royal Family was a popular set and you had to queue up to have your pic taken by the professionals so I just took the photo and moved on.

  

There was a lot to look at and enjoy and there was even a 4D Marvel character movie experience which was very cool and a little taxi ride through the history of London (kinda like Toad Hall at Disneyland, or the Ghost Train for kids at the Easter Show).

                             
From there I walked down Baker St all the way to Oxford St and caught a Tube to Liverpool St to meet my friend who took me up to a bar called Sushisamba on the 38th floor of Heron Tower.  Fab views and very cool atmosphere. 

  
From there we went to Tower 42, which used to be called the NatWest Tower, we went up to the 24th floor to a bar called City Social on the 24th floor.  It was so flash and fabulous that I couldn’t possibly order a beer, it felt more like a coffee martini kinda place.

  
The views were awesome.


And the view from the toilet was so amazing I almost forgot what I went in there for.


Next we went down to the ground floor of the same building for more cocktails in a bar called Paul.  After that we walked round the corner to a restaurant called Burger and Lobster.  They only do burgers and lobsters – it was fab and yes I had a whole lobster all to myself.  After desert I looked at my watch and suddenly felt like Cinderella as I had a very short amount of time to make it to the station to catch the last train home.  But I made it.

London Day Nineteen 

Thursday 20 April

A nice lovely relaxing day today.  Usually when we go in to the city we catch the train to Waterloo and then we catch the Waterloo to Reading home and get off at Egham, but today I got to go the other way and find out what Reading was actually like – it was lovely.


First thing on our list of things to do in Reading was lunch.  Because we don’t have sit down Pizza Hut restaurants in Auckland anymore it was a real treat to go to one here.  They even serve alcohol!!!


After lunch we went to the big mall so I could see if there was anything in the Apple Store that I didn’t know existed but simply couldn’t live without.  There wasn’t!

I found a really cool retro Casio watch with the world time built in to it in a department store called John Lewis.  I need this watch for the long journey home because my Apple Watch has a minor downfall – you can’t manually change the time on it, it needs the iPhone to know the time and because I didn’t turn on data in Dubai as I had no idea of the cost, my watch permanently told the wrong time all the way to London.  It comes complete with a massive instruction booklet so that’ll keep me busy for some of the mega long 30 hour journey home.

After that we strolled around Reading for a bit and headed home.

      

London Day Eighteen 

Wednesday 19 April

Today I went on a Thames River cruise all the way out to Greenwich and the Barrier which was about two hours long and packed with information on all the best bits along the riverside, but the highlight was definitely passing through the Barrier and being right up close.

The boat departed from Westminster and while waiting for it to head on up the river there were plenty of great photo opportunities to get some different shots of “Big Ben” and the Houses of Parliament.

  

This was definitely one of the best ways to see the many stunning buildings and travelling under all those famous bridges was so cool.

        
We travelled past Canary Wharf the new financial centre of London, which looked more like New York than London.

  
We went right up to the O2 and learnt that it is a lot more than just a concert venue and you can actually walk on the roof.

  
There was so much to see including fascinating new buildings, works of art and even a cable car that takes you over the river to the O2.

    
Eventually we went past the Thames Barrier, something I’ve wanted to photograph for many years.  We were very lucky with our timing because one of the barriers was actually up so we could see how it actually works.

After the Barrier I got off the boat for a look round Greenwich and something to eat.  There’s a famous old boat permanently docked there floating on an ocean of glass – the Cutty Sark – it used to transport tea – so I imagine it was a very important ship to all those tea drinking English people.


Apart from the ship there was also some stunning buildings which I enjoyed walking round and photographing.

    

Then it was back on the boat to return to Westminster and enjoy some more stunning sights.

  
From there I decided to pop in on the Queen to see if she was home.  This required a walk through St James’s park where there was loads of beautiful flowers, fascinating birds and cute squirrels.

      
Eventually I found The Mall which looked awesome with gigantic flags lining both sides of the road.


I didn’t get to see the Queen, she didn’t even pop out on to the famous balcony for a quick wave, I guess she didn’t see me amongst the hoards of tourists also hanging around outside her place – oh well never mind, I’ve seen her being driven up Manukau Rd back in Auckland.