After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

North of the South Island - March 2013

At the end of March we headed away for a couple of fantastic weeks in the South Island. We started the trip with a three day hike along the Queen Charlotte track near Picton, hiking from Ship Cove to near Endeavour Inlet on day one, onto Portage Bay on day two, and finishing in Anakiwa on the third and final day. The walk is 71 kilometres of well marked paths through woodland and bushland, dropping down to picturesque bays and climbing over ridges with fantastic views over both the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Kenepuru Sound. For the most part the weather was fine, clear and with enough of a breeze to keep us cool.

 The accommodation we had picked out turned out to all be of a really great standard, particularly  Noeline's Homestay, run by 80 odd year old Noeline, who has travelled to over 60 countries since her husband died when she was in her mid sixties. What an inspiration! It was fascinating to see how challenging life on the Sounds could be, as when we were there she arrived back from driving to Blenheim to do 7 weeks weeks worth of shopping for her and her little dog.

After three days of hiking and having rested up in Anakiwa, we got up early the next morning and grabbed the hostel's kayak for a quick paddle around the bay. The sun was just peeping over the hills and the water was steaming and ethereal. After quickly packing up, we caught a lift with the postman back into Picton (the post service is an entrepreneurial sort of business around here!), and picked up our hire car.

We headed off to Nelson, via Pelorus Bridge where we stopped for a brief wander in the woods and ate our sandwiches in the dried up riverbed. Nelson seemed like quite an attractive place, and we enjoyed a wander round the lively market and checked out the informative displays at Nelson Provincial Museum. Beer wise, we headed to the Sprig and Fern and the amazing Freehouse, housed in a fabulous old church and we supped ale and listened to a barbershop trio (they were a man down) having an impromptu rehearsal a few tables away.
The Freehouse

Stoke Brewery
Our journey continued along the Coastal Highway and we bobbed in Stoke Brewery for a swift half, in a rather quirky bar with an assortment of old bits and bats for decor. Unfortunately we had just missed a tour of the brewery but vowed to return on our way back. To make up for this disappointment, it felt rude not to take a short detour out to Golden Bear Brewing in Mapua, where we had a sample of a couple of beers.

Next stop was the Abel Tasman National Park. We started off by catching the boat out to Bark Bay, then slowly walked back to Marahau along the beautiful Abel Tasman track, trying not to be tempted by every single white sand, turquoise watered bay that we came across. It truly is a stunning national park and we're not surprised that it is very, very popular in high season! Who needs Barbados?

The very beautiful Abel Tasman National Park

Our final destination of the trip was Golden Bay. We spent our last few nights of the trip at Shambhala, a gorgeous eco retreat, with regular yoga session, views over the ocean and beautiful gardens featuring an amazing tea house.

Time for tea?

View from the gardens over the ocean

Amazing food at
the Mussel Inn

We spent the evenings walking to the nearby Mussel Inn, along the glow worm strewn track, and even spotted a possum one night (our first of the trip!). The Mussel Inn is a completely brilliant brew pub, serving awesome ales and fab food in an amazing setting. Our favourite pub in New Zealand. And, possibly, the world. High praise indeed!

One of the many cute cafes
in Golden Bay
We spent the days exploring the local area, enjoying the hippy vibe, organics shops and fabulous coffee in the town of Golden Bay. We checked out the Te Waikoropupū Springs, discharging 14,000 litres of water per second, are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere, and contain some of the clearest water ever measured. We headed out to Farewell Spit for a long (ok, maybe we got a tad lost) beach walk. Last but not least, we headed out to Wharariki Beach, where the distance from the car park puts most families off and means you have a beach with amazing rock formations, beautiful clean white sand and wee seal pups in shallow pools almost to yourself. The seal pups are left there during the day as their mums go off to hunt, and they are most gorgeous, bold, playful wee things you have ever seen!

A pet seal pup now very much on our Bucket List

On our final day we ended up being turned away at what felt like every place we tried to visit, as it was Good Friday and everything was shut! So we finished our trip on a beautiful clear evening's sailing back to Wellington, accompanied by fish and chips and a bottle of Sav. An awesome end to an awesome holiday!

Enjoying the last of the sunshine on the boat home

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wellington - February and March 2013

Bearing in mind we are getting around to writing this in the depths of winter just after the shortest day of the year; looking back on February and March brings back pleasant memories, bathed in seemingly never-ending sunlight. Right on cue, the moment the schools went back after their "summer break" (most of December and January), the sun finally came out and seemingly didn't take a break for weeks on end. We had almost 2 months of calm and pleasantly warm weather... pretty darned blissful in most people's book. Not long before the rains eventually returned, there were rumours abound that Wellington was down to it's last few days drinking water supply. It turned out to be a record breaking summer, although interestingly the rainfall average for the month of March was normal - it just all came down at once and washed straight out to sea, thus doing very little to abate the drought. Bad news for farmers, but you didn't find many people in Wellington complaining.

Enjoying a harbour front coffee
whilst watching the paddle boarders
Droughts aside, it was fabulous to be able to enjoy being outside in this beautiful city. People here love to trot out the cliched-sounding "you can't beat Wellington on a good day" the moment the wind dies down and the clouds part, but it happens to be an undeniable truism (although I can't imagine there are many places on earth that aren't improved by blue skies and sunshine). The always impressive backdrop of mountain and sea wherever you look seems even more idyllic in the summer, and to complete the picture, pods of dolphins and orcas even paid the harbour a visits on a few occasions (although sadly we didn't see them).

The Rainbow Warrior!
Another visitor to the harbour was the Rainbow Warrior, on which we took a tour and learnt about Greenpeace's new flagship vessel and upcoming campaigns. It was a very different experience to visiting the Sea Shepherd boat, Greenpeace put on a much more corporate and respectable face (that's not a slight at either party, they just employ different way of raising awareness I suppose), and did a very good job of selling themselves to the average person in the street. Watching a video and listening to the fundraising spiel down in the hold felt a little full on, and we half expected them to lock us down there until everybody had emptied their pockets. But fair play to them, they do a fantastic job and the boat was paid for in it's entirety from donations (they don't take government grants so as to remain impartial), so I suppose they have to convince people to part with their cash somehow!

The buzz about town for most of February was all about the Rugby 7s, even the build-up to Christmas paled in comparison. Despite the usual marauding packs of drunken goons, it was good fun to be part of the excitement and chaos. Some of our friends threw a fancy dress party, and later on we hit the Jagermeister tent on the waterfront. Some of costumes we saw in town were incredible, and the group who won the official fancy dress competition were in very elaborate traditional dress then each covered with a transparent plastic dome, the idea being that they looked like souvenir dolls. It was a very commendable effort, and certainly put our half-baked outfits to shame! We didn't actually do much watching of the rugby itself, but it seems that's not really the done thing. Even when buying tickets to the event itself, you can opt to sit in the special 'rugby zone', where people who, for some weird reason might actually want to enjoy the spectacle of the sport itself, can do so without their view and enjoyment impeded by a rowdy bunch of Smurfs. Says it all really!
Rugby 7s Party

We partook in a rare bit of actual sport watching ourselves, at the Westpac stadium for the 20-20 NZ v England match. It was an enjoyable spectacle, the pace is of course a lot quicker than a test match, which given our casual interest in the sport suited us fine. New Zealand opened the batting with an uninspiring effort, which meant that most of the crowd weren't particularly enthusiastic about watching England trounce their beloved Black Caps in reply, so the atmosphere wasn't really as keyed up as we had hoped (not quite the same level of craziness as the Indian league anyway!). The match was the final test in the series (which had so far been a draw), so after watching England put on a show and very quickly destroy their 139 for eight score, the whole thing was over rather quickly.

Another Wellington summer tradition is a series of films shown outdoors in Waitangi Park, with everybody sprawled on the grass with cushions, blankets and bottles of wine. We went down to watch Searching for Sugarman, a documentary about the US musician Rodriguez. It's a bizarre tale of a man who was a household name in South Africa during the Apartheid era and became the subject of myth and legend, most believing the rumour that he had committed suicide on stage. In actual fact he was living a modest life in America completely oblivious to the extent of his fame in another country.

Ariel greeting us on arrival at Somes Island
As part of Wellington's Fringe Festival, we watched Adam Page perform both as a solo artist and as part of his 80s tribute show 'We Built This City', a riotous beer-soaked sing-a-long to various 80s hits, under the premise that the two musicians involved were responsible for all the hit songs of the 80s. Much more fun than it sounds in fact! We also watched a rather odd play called 'Follow, Follow, Follow' about children brought up in one room together without adult interaction. It was basically a commentary about how we learn about the world around us and ourselves if we don't have adult intervention, but it was fairly perplexing at the same time. Charlotte took part in 'Wheels of Justice', a murder mystery cycle tour of the city, with the audience playing new police recruits investigating a murder. Quite good fun! Also on the theatre front (but not part of the Fringe) was a production of the Tempest, taking place on Somes Island in the harbour, with the initial 'shipwreck' taking place whilst on the ferry on the way over. It was a very fun and accessible production, with the eerie nature of the uninhabited island really adding to the atmosphere of the show.

Charlotte took a one-off class to learn how to 'knit like a Viking' where she learnt that Naalbinding is a very tricky, technical and laborious technique. We checked out some retro games at the 'Games Masters' exhibition at Te Papa, a celebration of the world of gaming with an astonishing collection of old games to have a go on as well as all the new stuff. Liam thoroughly enjoyed being let loose on various free-to-play arcade machines, all the way from Space Invaders to Mario Kart.

We finished off the summer in style, and enjoyed a lovely holiday in the South Island before the weather turned and brought us back to reality. More of that in the next instalment!