Saturday, 27 March 2010

Up, down, here, there, everywhere, and back again - Phil and Meg

Well, after we left Mum and Dad in Auckland, it was back to work for us two in Hanmer, both at the campsite and Phil also had his shifts at Monteith's. We were both a lot more happy with our work situation there than we had been in Ohakune. Maybe it's the simple reason that it was summer, who knows? We made good friends with eveyone there.

And Alan the boss made regular Sunday bbq's/fry-up which we all enjoyed!

We definitely felt quite happy and content in Hanmer. The whole place is surrounded by lovely walking and mountain biking tracks in the forests and up the hills, and it is easy to get out of the town, within 5 minutes you're into the wilderness. We tried to do as many of the little walks as we can while we've been here, and we've been using them as running tracks too. However, for a few weeks, it was far too hot to do pretty much anything! So running went out of the window, and staying in the shade was the main aim of our days.... It was really sweltering! But we certainly didn't complaining: we had been waiting a long time for some hot weather!

After a few more days at work, we had another exciting event to look forward to: we were going to meet up with Sadie and Steve in Christchurch. They had been travelling on a round-the-world ticket as their honeymoon, and had already been to Hong Kong, Australia and spent about 2 weeks in New Zealand. They were flying out from Christchurch, so we were desperate to see them before we missed our chance. So on the 17th Jan we finished work early (Alan kindly let us off) and we drove the 2 hour trip to Christchurch. We had arranged to meet up at the Stonehurst hostel which has campervan sites. Sadie and Steve had hired a van for their trip so we were able to park up right next door to them. It was so exciting to see them, as we had not been able to go to their wedding in the UK in October. They looked really well and incredibly happy, and we were so chuffed to have some of our English friends with us. Steve had already spied a cool pub/restaurant to go to, which we headed to. It was The Twisted Hop, which had loads of home-brewed ales on proper hand-pulled pumps, which made us feel very at home. We had lovely food and wine with them, before going onto Sol Square (a cool area of the city) to have a few more drinks and chit-chat. We didn't want the evening to end. We wandered back through the main city square where Meg got 'inspired' with her camera.

However, when we eventually got back to our campervan at about 1am, we realised that Meg had left her bag (with money, cards, and crucially, van keys!) in the city square. Uh-oh. Feeling a bit tipsy by this point, we had to quickly sober up and run for about 10 minuted back into the city. Thankfully, Christchurch being quite a sleepy city, it wasn't anything like Manchester or London, which has people all over the city centre 24 hours a day, and lo and behold, I found Meg's bag waiting for me on a bench in the middle of the main square were she'd left it. We felt very lucky.

In the morning, we had to bid farewell to Sadie and Steve who had to catch their plane onto the pacific islands. We also had to get back to Hanmer for the start of our shifts!!
We arrived back in Hanmer in time for me to start at Monteith's at 11am, and Meg went back to the campsite for her morning shift. It was quite a typical busy monday for the first few hours. And then a strangely familiar man came up to the bar, and asked 'Are you Phil?', to which I replied yes, but thought nothing of it, but then he asked, 'Meg's husband?'. I responded positively, but my cogs started turning over, and I suddenly realised. James Wilthew. And Anna his wife was standing next to him. James is a really good old friend of Meg's from her uni days, and who I had only met once at his wedding in 2004, nearly 6 years ago. We had absolutely NO IDEA that they were in New Zealand, let alone near Hanmer.
After being rather shocked, and asking lots of questions, it turns out that a friend of theirs had had a wedding in the North Island a few days earlier. They knew that we were in New Zealand, and James' sister Angela had emailed Meg to ask how things were going, and where we were working at the moment etc. Meg had thought nothing of it, as you wouldn't do. The information was then passed from Angela onto James, and he decided to surprise us. The incredible thing is that he didn't know exactly where we were working, so on his arrival in Hanmer, merely thought to himself, 'well if I was looking for work in town, what would I do? Probably work in a bar', and then proceeded to ask someone where the nearest bar was, which led him to enter Monteith's.... and there I was serving people at the bar. Obviously there was such a slim chance that a) I would have a bar job, b) that I would be working in that particular bar, and c) that I would be working at that exact moment....

Anyway, it was excellent to see them both. I told him that Meg would be coming to meet me at 5pm for the end of my shift. When Meg arrived I got her to come into the bar to have a drink (always an easy task). As Meg picked up her drink and turned away from the bar, she got the shock of her life as James and Anna casually walked up to her to say hi.
The whole experience still feels a bit (a bit? A LOT!) unbelievable, but it was fantastic.
We quickly discussed our evenings plans and arranged that we would come with James and Anna to stay with their family friend, Mo, who lived in Hanmer.
When we drove to Mo's, we saw another side of Hanmer – her house was amazing. She had horses and loads of land, and beautiful 360 degree views of the mountains, as well as having a neighbour who flew everywhere in his helicopter that he kept in his garden.

She was a lovely lady who didn't seem to mind us dropping in on her completely uninvited. She even kindly let us use her kitchen to cook our spaghetti bolognese...!
We had another lovely evening drinking and eating with our English friends, and catching up after so long.

In the morning, we had to start work at the campsite at 9am, so had breakfast with James, Anna and Mo, and then had to dash off. We'd had a crazy 48 hours, but felt really lucky to have seen some special friends in New Zealand.

A couple of days later, we had another exciting trip away to see John and Dorothy. They had completed their tour of the north island, and we had arranged to meet them off the ferry in Picton. We set off at about 9am in the morning, but the 4 hour drive from Hanmer was much longer than we expected. We had to stop off at grey Kaikoura and found this funny sign:

John and Dorothy had already arrived and pottering around Picton by the time we got there. We greeted each other and then caught up with each others news over a leisurely sandwich at a cafe. Following a little wander around the harbour market, we decided to get on our way towards Havelock, where we would be spending the night.
Havelock is renowned for its green mussels, which are larger and more succulent than its northern hemisphere cousins, so we booked ourselves into the Mussel Inn for the evening. We got to choose which sauce the pot of mussels got cooked with and got presented each with a pot of mussels to devour. They were lovely, and nicer than the mussels I had had in Golden Bay a few months ago.

After our mussels, we had a quick look around Havelock, which isn't particularly big. It turns out that Ernest Rutherford (he, of physics fame) had studied at the school here as a teenager. The school is now the YHA and we spent some time looking at the information about him and chatting to the owner of the YHA.
John and Dorothy then had to drive onto their B+B a few miles away, while me and Meg treated ourselves to a nightcap at the Slip Inn, a nice pub beside the campsite where we were staying.

The next day was our trip onto the Abel Tasman National Park. We met John and Dorothy at a pre-arranged picnic spot, and drove onto and through Nelson (where we picked up food supplies). Our destination was Fraser Highlands, a B+B located just outside Kaiteriteri. It was a steep drive for Salvador, but when we got there we saw that it had been worth the effort. The owners, Jim and Sue, had built their own house on top of the hill, with no other houses around, and had the most incredible views of the valley below, the coastline and mountains behind them. They had a huge garden area, where they grew all their own veg, and were very keen for us to help ourselves – we took some rhubarb which Dorothy later stewed and we ate with crumble and custard – yum! We had been given the self-catering cottage separate to the house, but unfortunately there was only one bedroom! In the UK, Dorothy had enquired via email whether there was space for a sofa bed as her children would be staying with them. Sue had said that there was space, but obviously didn't appreciate that these 'children' would be fully grown adults. As such, the sofa bed option wasn't really a go-er. But I guess that is why Salvador is so great. Me and Meg were more then happy to sleep in Salvador, and then John and Dorothy could have the cottage to themselves at night-time. This seemed ideal, as it meant we could use the main room for cooking and eating and not have to worry about beds in the way, etc.

We got ourselves settled, and then had a drive into Kaiteriteri to see the beach and sort the following day's activities out – this would be our full day in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Returning at the cottage, we were quite happy relaxing and enjoying the views – Meg and John both got inspired by the light, and got a bit camera-happy.

Phil made a delicious Lasagne and garlic bread, and John and Dorothy attempted to teach us Bridge – something that will obviously take some getting used to.

In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and sorted ourselves out for our day in the park. John and Dorothy had booked onto a 'Discoverer Day', taking them up and back down the coastline, meaning they got to see the whole length of the park. As the park has no roads within it, the only way to see it is either on foot or by boat. Me and Meg decided to do a section of the Abel Tasman coastal walk, so we started from Marahau and did a 3-4 hour walk ending in Anchorage.

John and Dorothy had disembarked their boat here also, which meant we could meet up with them and go for a short walk around one of the bays.

We had a walk towards Te Pukatea bay, which was possibly the nicest beach we had seen in the park (but don't get me wrong, they are all beautiful!), and it took us through lots of natural forest, which seemed alive with cicada's – tiny flying cockroach-type creatures that make an incredibly loud clicking noise with their wings, which can be almost deafening when there's about 1000 in the audible vicinity of you.

On our return to Anchorage, we were all keen to have a swim in the Tasman sea, so got our swim costumes on and ventured into the sea. However, in typical fashion, as soon as we were ready, the rainclouds appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to have a 20minute shower on us. We still swam though, which was lovely (as long as you had the courage to get in the water in the first place..!)

Our water taxi soon arrived to take us back to Kaiteriteri, and by this time it was about 5pm and we had all had quite an exhausting day, so we headed back to the cottage. We had another evening full of lovely food, wine and card playing ahead of us!!

The next day came and unfortunately me and Meg had to return to Hanmer. We'd had a fantastic few days with John and Dorothy, but we had to return to work. Jim, the owner of the cottage played us out on his bagpipes as we departed.

We had about a 5 hour drive back through Murchison and then along the Lewis Pass, so it was a lovely drive as well as being long. We did stop along the way at a small country fair, with horses, sheep, shearing contest cattle, dog-trials, etc. However, it was raining so we didn't get a chance to take any photos, sorry. But it was great, so there.

We had to get back to Hanmer for early evening, as we had another appointment to make: Aunty Anne and Aunty Pat were in town! They were on an organised bus tour around NZ and we'd only discovered a few days earlier that they would be spending a night in Hanmer Springs!! We had been in touch with Sarah (cousin Rob's ex-girlfriend) to let her know and she had also arranged to come to meet up. We'd booked Sarah into a cabin at the campsite, and she was already there when we got back. It was good to see her, and she'd been enjoying seeing the west coast of New Zealand for the last couple of weeks. We had dinner with her at a tiny thai restaurant in town that we had not been to before – Green Chilli – that was really nice, and then had a drink at a bar before heading to Anne and Pat's hotel to see them. We couldn't have met them any earlier as they were busy being entertained by their tour hosts for the evening. They were staying in the Heritage – very posh – the central hotel in Hanmer. We met them in the restaurant bar, and had a good chat for an hour or 2, but couldn't stay any longer as they were exhausted after being up for about 18 hours travelling from the north island. It was great to see them over here, and by this stage we were feeling very lucky to have seen so many friends and family such a long way from home in such a short space of time!

After those exciting few days, we had to come back to reality very quickly. Back to work and shifts at the bar etc., but at least we knew it was all money that we were earning for ourselves.

Alan, the owner of the campsite, has been really good to us, and after doing an 8 day stint without a break, let us have a day off to relax. We decided to drive ourselves to Waikari, which is a tiny village about 50km away. We have driven through it a number of times to and from Hanmer. It sits in the middle of the Weka Pass – an area which has amazing limestone rock features. We actually camped there the night before we arrived in Hanmer to look for work, so headed back to the same campsite - a patch of grass by a cricket pitch and tennis courts, but it is very quiet and we have never seen either used.

We treated ourselves to a walk to the local pub, where we had a beer and some chips – a lot cheaper than the tourist prices in Hanmer.
In the evening we cooked steak and mash and drank beer under the beautiful red-skied evening. The moon was huge and we ventured over the playing field to get some better pictures.

The next day was sweltering. We had to return to Hanmer later in the day so decided to go for a walk before heading back. From Waikari, there is a nice walk over the hills in the main Weka Pass limestone area. We walked pretty slowly up the exposed hillsides, mainly because it was so hard to walk up in the baking heat.

But as we descended on the other side the cool rock features became evident, and the whole valley had weird bits of limestone sticking out from its underbelly. Around here there was also a limestone overhang, which has ancient Maori paintings on – this has been cordoned off now to stop people graffiti-ing the rocks, but we were still able to make out the original drawings, of people and animals.

The rest of the walk back to Waikari was along beautiful farmland, surrounded by cool limestone rocks and overhangs.

The next meeting up with Phil's folks was only a few days later. On Thursday they arrived in Hanmer, and pulled into the Alpine Adventures campsite unexpectedly (we hadn't told them in which campsite we were working). It was great to see them again after a 2 week break and they had had a good time down the west coast and central parts of the south island. We showed them to their chalet and caught up on each other's events, before setting out for the hot pools. This was only the second time we had been to the hot pools (the first was with Carol), and it was still a lovely experience. Even though it had been a hot day, by the time we got there it was turning into a nice cool evening, and the hot pools were a very relaxing thing to do, as we flitted from one pool to the next.
I wanted to show them where I worked, so as we were all relaxed after the pools, we went for a meal at Monteith's. Despite working behind the bar there, this was the first time that I had eaten there, but the food was lovely and it was a nice way to round off the day.

The next day was a big one for Meg. She had agreed to do another shoot for The Wool Company, but the only date that everyone (client, model, photographer) could agree on was while Phil's M+D were here. So unfortunately Meg had to leave us for a couple of days. The client arranged and paid for Meg to fly up to Napier (in 2 tiny planes, which Meg was quite apprehensive about!), so Meg drove herself to Christchurch airport early on the Friday morning, and Phil would now travel around with his mum and dad until her return on Sunday.

After Meg had left for the airport, me and the folks headed towards Kaikoura. We had rang ahead to enquire about whale-watching and decided to try and get on the afternoon's boat-trip. We got there in plenty of time, so headed out to the seal colony on the peninsula to see what was there. We saw a few seals sunning themselves but little else.

The boat trip whale-watching was obviously the main attraction, so we headed to the boat launch and had a cup of coffee/hot chocolate before being ushered into a bus to take us to the boat. Once on the boat we all took our seats and we whisked off to the open sea. The crew clearly do this many times a day, and were very good and professional. They must use sonar and other communication with other boats as they zoomed around the ocean following apparent whale 'sightings'. We saw about 4-5 sperm whales, some of which were fully breaching the water and crashing back down which was mightily impressive. Others just rested on the surface of the water, hanging about and resting for about 10-15 minutes before eventually diving back down to get some food, and everyone on board managed to get the obligatory 'tail' shot on their camera.

We also saw plenty of gannets and the Royal Albatross which was HUGE.
As we landed back on dry land, we went off to find our accommodation for the night. We were in a self-catering cottage on the outskirts of Kaikoura. It was a lovely change from sleeping in Salvador, and because Meg wasn't with me, I got a whole double bed all to myself!!
In the evening, I cooked Spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread, and me and Dad lazed in front of the TV watching the rugby sevens in Wellington. Very relaxing.

The next day we decided to drive up Arthur's Pass. We had hoped to take the train journey on the Sunday but after enquiring about costs it became apparent that it would be almost double the price for a weekend ticket...! So we didn't take much convincing that we should make Arthur's Pass our destination for the day. It was quite a long drive and the weather was pretty obnoxious as we drove along the Canterbury plains, but as soon as we started to reach the high country, the clouds turned into blue skies, and we were treated to a hot afternoon. The drive was very windy and we went through some beautiful countryside, and we finally passed through Arthur's Pass village and stopped to overlook the Otira viaduct, which cut through the landscape quite dramatically.

We had a peaceful lunch back alongside the DOC office in Arthur's Pass hiding in the shade from the baking hot sunshine. As we headed back to Christchurch, we stopped at a few places to admire the impressive valleys and mountains.

The Castle Hill reserve, which is a protected area full of fascinating Limestone formations that have been forced up from the earth. It is a rock climbers dream, as all the rocks present themselves for perfect bouldering opportunities. I scrambled up to the top of some of the rocks, as was afforded great views of the large limestone area.

Back in Christchurch, we found Mum and Dad's B+B, which was very central to the city and I found the nearby hostel that I would be staying in. For the evening, we found a English-themed pub which did lovely homemade pies and British ale. It was a lovely taste of home.

The following day, Meg was due to arrive in Christchurch in the afternoon, so I met up with mum and dad after some breakfast and wandered around the city's main sights – the arts and crafts market, Rutherford's Den, and the botanical gardens, where we chanced upon a troupe of bagpipers in the central garden area, so we had some tea and cake while they played.

We met up with Meg at the hostel and caught up with her exciting tales of small planes and photo shoots. I will let Meg explain her experiences:

The morning of my shoot was the day Phil and his Ma and Pa were heading off to Kaikoura. Phil helped me to get loaded into the van and waved me off at some unearthly hour. I had a two hour drive to Christchurch airport and I knew that was without getting stuck behind any tractors or sheep being moved to another field along the highway.

I arrived in good time and made my way into the airport filled with apprehension about my flight. Knowing I like to sit above the wing on the plane I had decided to look at the type of plane I was flying on in order to choose my seat. It was then I realised it was more like a canoe with wings (Bombardier Q300). Still this was for work and I couldn’t exactly tell my client I wasn’t able to do the shoot because the plane they’d organised me to get there on wasn’t big enough. After speaking to my sister who suggested pretending to myself that I was famous and the plane was my own personal jet, I felt a lot better! Napier here I come.

Margot met me at the airport and we went for some lunch and then looked at some different locations. After the last shoot I knew it would be better this shoot to keep the background as simple as possible. It was quite difficult being strict with myself as there were lots of amazing options. We had the beach, various cool old mills, vineyards, restaurants/bars, retro baches (kiwi holiday homes). We had to decide within 2 hours so we could start shooting as soon as the model arrived. The model is Margot’s university friend from about 20 years ago and Margot’s clients Love her! We used another model as well as Caroline on the last shoot and the feed back wasn’t great so Margot wants to stick to her friend Caroline. Much to Caroline’s disappointment as she is not a merino cardigan wearer herself.

We began shooting at Caroline’s Mum and Dad’s house that is situated on “The Hill” over looking Napier. The views were amazing but we used the front porch and the side wall as our location, glamour all the way! To begin with we had an audience- Caroline’s Mum, Uncle, Uncle’s wife, and their friend. When we were left alone we got cracking, stopping around 6.30pm for the night.

We had a slow start the next day but decided to make up for lost time by shooting at Caroline’s house. This was the kind of house I dream of living in. In keeping with the Napier vibe the house has an Art Deco feel with an ornate veranda outside, polished floorboards, really high ceilings, open planned and like most Kiwi houses all on one level making it feel very spacious. We rattled through the pictures and went to two other locations. It was quite frustrating how much we needed to do in such a short space of time. I didn’t feel as though I was able to be creative at all. But this is always the way with catalogue photography and I should just accept it instead of feeling frustrated! The great thing about this shoot was that Margot and Caroline are both lovely, so an otherwise stress full shoot was actually really good fun. To celebrate finishing everything Margot and Caroline took me to a “cool” part of town where we drank a couple of bottles of bubbly. Quite a world away from Phil and I’s usual Saturday night.

I spent the morning doing the digital work for the shoot and then Margot drove me to the airport with my laptop on my knee and the images still copying to Margot’s hard drive. The down load was complete with about 5 mins to spare before I had to board my plane. Luckily the airport was so small we could see when the lady who had checked my bag in walked the 5 meters to the gate to open the gate and ask people to start boarding so I knew I didn’t have to go far.

The flying canoe was fine and I arrived back in Christchurch unscathed!

I drove into town where Phil and his Ma and Pa met me at the site that Phil and I were going to stay in Salvador. Within an hour an a half we had rendezvoused and were up the Christchurch gondola. Which to my surprise isn’t actually in Christchurch. It is on the south eastern side of the city, the gondala takes you to the summit of Mt Cavendish and has 360-degree views of Christchurch, the Canterbury plains, the volcanic outcrops of the banks peninsula and the Southern Alps. After a walk and some cake at the cafĂ© we made our way back down.

That evening there were a few things going on in the city. We decided to go to a jazz service that was being held in the cathedral. The Cathedral itself is what the whole city is based around and was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the architect of London’s St Pancras. As it was the day after Waitangi day the Vicar was trying to relate the jazz to the signing of the treaty - the 19th century struggle between whites and Pakeha's was mirrored by the suppression forced upon the early black American jazz musicians....... I wasn’t convinced but it was still nice to hear the jazz from the local musicians and see the inside of the Cathedral. I did not envy the vicar trying to conduct a service with lots of people (mainly tourists) coming and going and taking photographs. Even a drunk heckling his sermon, well handled by the Vicar, the Kerr’s conKerred!

Phil again:

We left the service early as we were concerned that we would miss our meal booking. We ate at Mu Steakhouse, which was very posh, and very meat orientated. We all had different steaks, all cooked to different specifications and delivered with different potato/veg combinations. All washed down with some posh red wine. It was one of the best meals we've had in New Zealand.

In the morning, we headed to the airport to try and get Mum and Dad on an earlier flight to Auckland and to drop off their hire-car, but were unfortunately beaten by the red tape of bureaucracy. Needless to say, we had to wait about 6 hours til their originally scheduled flight so entertained ourselves by all fitting in Salvador and going to have a late breakfast at the Willowbank Reserve, where Meg and Carol had previous been to see the haka and kiwi's. It was Mum and Dad's first time in Salvador!:

Once it was time for Mum and Dad's flight, me and Meg had to rush back to Hanmer in time for more work shifts. It was sad to say goodbye to Mum and Dad, but we departed in the knowledge that it only be about another 10 weeks til we saw them again in the UK.

The following couple of weeks we knew we had to get our heads down and get as many hours as we could under our belts. We made the most of any time off to try and get Salvador ready for the market . Our anniversary of meeting (12th Feb) and Valentine's day passed by without too much fuss, but we treated ourselves to walking up Jacks Pass (the hill behind the campsite), nice food, nice wine and watching the film Cocoon, a film about lots of old people and aliens. Very romantic. In fact, we went on local walks whenever possible. Both us feeling incredibly grateful/lucky to be living somewhere so gorgeous.

With only 2 weeks left in Hanmer our boss Alan was heading to the UK. He asked us if we’d like to staying his (big) house while he was away, the deal being, we cleaned it in order for him to put it on the renting market. Of course we jumped at the chance… can’t take that long to clean…can it? Two days later and lots scrubbing and hovering, we were in and the house was spotless. Still smelt of stale cigarettes but I was getting my essential oils out and trying my hardest to sort the lingering odours out. And while we were there, we had one of the most brilliant vibrant sunsets:

In the first few days at Alan's house, it was Pancake Day!!:

During the 10 days we were staying at Alan's, we were able to completely empty Salvador of all our stuff and give him a thorough cleaning. We took the opportunity to do a spring clean of all our stuff , so threw a lot of stuff away and felt a whole lot better for it. The weather during these few weeks was the hottest that it has been since we've been in New Zealand. It was often so hot that going outside was unbearable, and we just tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. Still, we didn't complain, having been desperate for hot weather for the best part of a year. We did go for a few walks around the local forest that was quite well shaded.

Meg was able to take advantage of the local horse trekking company, as they were offering free horse rides to the local employees in Hanmer. The owner-woman had had a lot of bad stuff said about her in the town, and Meg was able to witness how badly she treated her staff close-up... But she was very appreciative of the horse treks and was a highlight of the week.

Our last weekend in Hanmer was the 27th/28th February. This coincided with the local jazz festival that was being held all around town, and the main stage was at the old Queen Mary Hospital. We were working all day on Saturday at the campsite, and followed this by having a big barbeque with all the staff. It was a nice way to finish working there, and we headed off to the jazz festival with Rewa, a friend we had made at the campsite. We found a nice spot on the lawns and proceeded to chat, listen to the jazz, and drink nice local wine for the rest of the evening. We had to walk/stumble home, but it had been a really fun night.

The next morning wasn't quite so much fun, as we all felt very hungover, and had to clean the toilets for the last time....

We left the campsite at lunchtime, with the plan being to head as far south as we could. We had to stop off at timaru to show the van to a potential buyer who had been in touch, and then we camped up for the night at St Andrews, a small settlement nearby. It was a great feeling to be on the road again, albeit for the last time as we knew that we only had 4 weeks left in NZ.

The following day we stopped off at Oamaru, where we wanted to see the famed blue Penguins. These are the smallest penguins in the world, and are pretty rare. The main 'show' is in the evenings, which we weren't around for, but we were still able to wander around the colony area, where little houses/dens have been built for the penguins.
Because we were there in the middle of the day, there wasn't too much activity to be seen, but we were able to peek into a few of the dens and see the 'at home' penguins resting. You could tell which boxes were occupied, as they had lots of little feathers surrounding the opening – this is because they were moulting and their skin was not waterproof enough for the ocean. They were very cute and very shy, and very small!

Just beyond the colony set-up, we went for a walk around the coast. We found some pillow lava in the cliffs, which created an amazing layered effect as well as lots of Paua shells, which we collected to bring home – these normally cost quite a lot in the tourist shops!

As we left Oamaru, we realised that all the street names were names after English towns and rivers and came across this one:

We were heading towards Dunedin, but before we got there we wanted to stop at Moeraki, where the famous boulders are located. These boulders are almost perfect spheres, that have just been formed over millions of years and been forced/carved out of the cliffs/ground. The tide was coming in as we arrived so we got to see the boulders in amongst the water. They were very strange but felt quite magical. A few of them had been broken open and you could see the honey-combed effect of their insides.

Simon Field is an old friend of Meg's from school. He now lives in Dunedin with his wife Bobby and their daughter Georgie. We stayed with them for the evening, and got treated to a lovely roast beef dinner and chocolate puddings. They are such a lovely family and very welcoming to us in their home.

In the morning, we had a few chores to get completed in the city – buying some camping food for the Routeburn, a new thermarest, and some tent waterproofing, and some dirt-cheap haircuts!
We had hoped to spend the night camping somewhere on the Otago peninsula but the only campsite was booked up, but we still really wanted to go and have a look around, so after a bit of a to-ing and fro-ing getting Salvador filled up with diesel, we eventually got out to the tip of the peninsula. Here there is the only mainland breeding colony of Albatross in the world. Annoyingly the very tip and colony was fenced off and you had to pay an extortionate amount to view them. So we quietly sat outside and managed to see plenty of Albatross flying up above – they really are HUGE, it is amazing when they are surrounded by other gannets and gulls and you can see that they are about 3 times the size of anything else in the air.

Down at the bay beside the colony there is also a known blue penguin colony, and unlike the one at Oamaru, this one is free. So we sat in the van and cooked some food. And waited until dusk came around.

At dusk, the penguins come in from the ocean where they have been fishing all day; they are very nervous so come in when it is dark and less predators are around; they call out for their partner, who has been sat 'at home' all day in the den (they were moulting when we were there, which meant they weren't waterproof enough to go into the ocean), and then make their way to their respective dens.

We were stood just above the beach and squinted our eyes in the darkness to watch for the little penguins to arrive at the beach from the water. We actually couldn't see anything on the beach, but the penguins had obviously come in and made their way up the little hill behind the beach because all of a sudden we heard a loud inhuman cry repeating itself. We tried to follow the noise and slowly but surely we made out the sight of 3-4 penguins huddled together and shuffling their way past us – they were only about 2 metres away! We had to keep very quiet and still so as to not frighten them as they listened for the partners in their dens and waddled up their houses for the night. We saw about 10 penguins in total, but it was very hard to follow their movements in the pitch black.

As we couldn't stay on the Otago peninsula, we drove back past Dunedin towards South Brighton, where we could park up and have a shower. We didn't really want to stay here for too long, so once we had showers in the morning and refreshed we headed further south down the coast into the Catlins area. This is a really beautiful area, mainly used for farming and had gentle undulating hills all around. It felt very much like parts of England, and the constant rain also helped! The coastline here was also stunning. It had some of the longest, whitest beaches we've seen in New Zealand, and they were all empty. There are so few people living down here that maybe the beaches are a local secret...

We stopped off at the Taeri Mouth and had a walk out towards an offshore island (it was low-tide, so you could walk all the way over if you wished).

There was quite a lot to see in the Catlins, but we only had a few days to get round everything, so had to decided what we'd do.
We stopped off at Kaka Point Scenic Reserve and did a short walk before heading to Nugget Point. This is a rocky outcrop with a lighthouse at the tip, and a few rocky islands out to sea – a bit like the Needles on the Isle of Wight. It was very blustery, but the sun was in the right position for a rainbow to appear just out to sea, and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of seals scatted around all the rocky formations down below.

At Cannibal bay further along the coast we hoped to see some sea lions. We spotted one about 100 metres down the beach, but daren't go much further as it was MASSIVE and looked pretty scary – it was breeding season and we'd been warned not to go too close. We met a man called Doug who was camping there in his camp bus for the night. We had a cup of tea and a nice chat, and he kindly gave us some freshly caught fillets of blue cod to take away with us.

That night we camped at Purukaunui bay, where we found a busy DOC site. But it was clearly busy for a reason, as it was right on the beach flanked by dominating cliffs. It was probably the most beautiful place we've camped.

We found out in the morning that a lot of our fellow campers were surfers who'd come for the morning waves as we were awoken by noisy surf dudes getting ready. This didn't matter too much as we wanted to get on our way to the Purukaunui falls, which were a gentle stroll into some native bush to the beautiful waterfalls.

Our plan for the day was to do a 5 hour walk along the Catlins river – this would be a warm-up practice for the Routeburn the following week - but the access bridge had been closed because of the bad weather, so we had to re-jig our plans. Instead we found a nice 2 hour loop walk at Tahokopa, which took us along the beach and through the forest. It was very windy but we saw some amazing sand formations from the strong winds.

We also stopped at the Maclean waterfalls which had some school kids jumping in and out of the splash pool.

Finally, we ended up at Curio Bay, which is famous for its fossilised forest – a Jurassic-age forest that has been fossilised and is occasionally visible at low tide when the sea reveals the tree stumps.

The sea was incredibly wild and rough while we were there, and we were mesmerised by the power of the waves as they crashed all around the jut of the land that we were on. Unfortunately we didn't see any Hector's dolphins that live in the surrounding sea, but we did see plenty of Yellow-eyed penguins that were jumping around the rocks by the sea.

Back in the van we cooked the fish that Doug had given to us and had them along with some chips from the local takeaway van – it was delicious!

We camped that night and Weirs Beach, a free camp site that we found nearby.

This was about as far south as we were able to get – there was a little walk to the southernmost point, but the next morning the rain was unforgiving and we didn't fancy getting outside in the cold wet. Instead, we drove to Invercargill where we had some chores to do – petrol etc, and then continued on our long drive to Te Anau, stopping at Gemstone bay and the Clifden Suspension bridge along the way for breaks from driving.

In Te Anau, we went straight to the DOC office. We had been talking about the Routeburn track and Meg was unsure about carrying a heavy rucksack for 3 days (she has lower back problems). She still wanted me to do it, and it meant that we would not have to pay out for the costly drop-off and pick-up fees as Meg would be able to do that. I think she probably just wanted to get rid of me so she could have some peace and quiet!
We camped at a lakeside campsite and planned to stay in Te Anau for a few days to rest and chill out.

While we were in Te Anau, I had to re-waterproof my tent and we also had a good look around the town, treating ourselves to eating out for lunch(!), and went to see the local glo-worm caves in the evening. This was fantastic, getting a 45 minute boat ride up the lake to the caves. The caves were a mythical attraction until the mid-20th-century when a local explorer spent 3 years searching the lake and eventually discovered them. Once arriving at the caves there is a low arch to crawl under and then it opens up into a magical world, full or waterways, waterfalls, rock formations, and ultimately glo-worms.

We had to keep very quiet and still as we took a boat along one of the cave waterways and there were thousands of glo-worms surrounding us everywhere, only a matter of inches away from our face. They were like multicoloured stars, glowing the shining in the damp dark atmosphere. It was like nothing we'd seen before. Of course, you weren't allowed any photography in the caves, so don't have any images to upload the blog, but we took away some great memories. When we came out of the caves, it was about 10pm, so it was also pitch-black and the real stars were also out in force. Seeing the stars so much and so often will be one of our most-missed aspects of New Zealand...

The following day was Sunday, and we had another lazy day in Te Anau, spending some time walking to and around the local wildlife park, where they had a couple of Takahe birds. These birds were considered to be extinct until they were re-discovered in the 1940's in a small remote area of Fiordland. They are, like a lot of NZ birds, flightless, and are about the size of a fat chicken. They are not protected in the same remote area of Fiordland, and all predators are kept out as much as possible, but the Te Anau wildlife centre are allowed a couple of them to educate and inform the general public.

We had put Salvador up for sale on trademe (NZ equivalent of eBay) a couple of weeks previously, and Sunday night was the end of the auction. Unfortunately he didn't sell, but we put this down to the fact that we were still in the South Island, and that if we got ourselves to the north island (in particular Auckland, where 3/4's of the population lives, we'd get a lot more interest. So although we were disappointed that we hadn't sold him yet, it made us have some direction for the next couple of weeks – driving up to Auckland! Therefore, after the Routeburn we would have about a week to drive about 1500 kms.

I was due to start the Routeburn track on the Tuesday, so on Monday we drove to Milford Sound, and it was possibly the most amazing 2-3 hour drive that I have experienced in New Zealand – luckily it was a bright blue sky day, and a still wind, and around every corner the views and landscape were just incredible: wide, flat expansive valleys, followed by dramatic sheer cliffs along the road, followed by deep rainforest, followed by 2 km tunnels through seemingly impenetrable rock faces, followed by waterfalls everywhere, followed by a windy road into Milford Sound itself.

Milford Sound was very cool. We could stroll right up to the water's edge and had picture postcard views of Mitre Peak and some of the waterfalls coming into the Sound. It was clearly not as dramatic or as awe-inspiring as Doubtful Sound, so we were glad that we had spent our overnight excursion on Doubtful. There were no sandflies about, surprisingly, so we were able to sit on the grass and have an ice-cream as we enjoyed the views.

We stopped onm the way back at The Chasm, an impressive waterway that has cut through the hard rock along the riverbed.

However, we also had to stop twice along the way out of necessity (once there, and once on the way back), because Salvador decided to overheat – the hills were pretty unforgiving and going in 1st or 2nd gear for 15 minutes at a time didn't sound very healthy... It meant we had to stop for about 30 minutes or so before topping up with fresh water and then getting on our way again. At least we had some nice views! We knew this would be something that we'd have to get looked at by a mechanic when we got to a larger town.

We were camping at a DOC site that evening (Cascade Creek) very close to the beginning of the Routeburn for the next morning. It was very busy with other campers, but we found a nice spot, and went for a little walk through the forest to Lake Gunn and packed my bag for the big walk.

Meg drove us to the Divide in the morning, where one end of the walk is.

Most people start the walk at the other end, which meant there weren't loads of other people there at the same time as us. Meg walked with me for the first 90 minutes or so, to the top of Key Summit, and it was great walking up through the cloud to reveal some amazing views all around.

However, shortly after arriving at the summit, the clouds started to drift in, and sure enough they were there to stay for the next day or so.

Meg headed back to the van once we had reached Lake Howden hut and had had lunch together.

For the remainder of the first day I was walking gradually uphill for about 3- 4 hours through lush verdant forest,

with occasionally waterfalls and glimpses of the blue sky that existed above the ubiquitous white clouds.

For the first evening, I was camping in the tent at Lake Mackenzie. It was a beautiful setting, and was a peaceful place to rest up for the night. I cooked with my stove and read my book beside the lake.

When I woke in the morning, the mist was even thicker.

It was scheduled to rain during the day, so I started walking pretty early to try and get most of the walking done before getting wet. Again, it was pretty hard-going for the first few hours, as it was a constant uphill heading towards the Harris saddle, the high point of the walk. It was a big shame that the cloud was so thick as I knew there would have been the most amazing views in clear weather. The days' walk was mainly on exposed alpine ridges, and there wasn't much protection from tree or forests like the previous day. I arrived at the Harris saddle shelter and found about 20 other walkers taking shelter from the rain that was starting. I had lunch here (jam sarnies, of course), and left my bag at the shelter to take a side trip up Conical hill which should have given some more panoramic views, but of course the cloud restricted everything.

There was little point hanging round up there for the cloud to scatter as it was showing no signs of shifting, so I decided to get a move on down to the next night's stop: the Routeburn Falls hut. Coming down from the Harris saddle, I was leaving the Fiordland national park, and moving into the Mt Aspiring national park. It was weird seeing clear sky far ahead of me for the first time, as behind me it was very grey.

The Routeburn Falls hut was a very well looked after hut. There was space for about 48 people, and was situated with stunning views over the Routeburn valley. It was pretty much full to capacity and a nice atmosphere as everyone cooked in the large kitchen and headed to bed as night fell – there was no electricity anywhere so as soon as the sun sets, everyone goes to bed.

In the morning I wasn't in such a rush as the previous day as I knew I only had 2-3 hours walking to do. I had a leisurely breakfast and waited for most people to leave before packing my bag and heading off at about 10am. The day's walk took me through some beautiful alpine beech forest before coming alongside the Routeburn river and following it down towards Lake Wakatipu.

While I was doing the Routeburn track on my own, Meg had time to relax without me, but she also had quite a few chores to do – she had to take Salvador to a garage to ask their opinion on the overheating (they just said it would be fine until we got to a larger town and get it checked then), and also had to drive about 400km in order to pick me up at the far end of the walk. She got to the far end in the morning of my final day, so was able to walk some of the track and we met up in the middle of the forest! We had a nice stroll back to the car park, past the bridal veil falls along the way.

From the car park, we drove to the Glenorchy holiday park so that I could get a well-earned shower, and then we moved on to Queenstown. We had some chores to do here, and also treated ourselves to a famous Ferg Burger, which certainly lived up to the hype.

Our aim was to get to Wanaka, as we hoped to go to the Wanaka show the next day. We camped at the Lake Outlet camp, where we had been previously with Carol in November.

The Wanaka show the next day was excellent. It was huge, with loads of shows and stalls. There was plenty of horse activity which kept Meg entertained, and other animals were cattle, alpaca, sheep, goats and loads of cool entries to the fruit and veg competition, including some fascinating manipulation of some foodstuffs to represent a variety of animals and objects.

While we had been at the show, we had left Salvador with a local mechanic who had been recommended. We hoped they would take a look at the cooling system following our 2 overheating incidents on the Milford Rd a few days previously.
The mechanic's wife dropped us off at the show and then picked us up a few hours later. They had replaced the thermostat and refilled the system with new water/coolant.

When we had previously been to Wanaka, we had been on a wine tour with a lady, Julie, and she had offered us to pay her a visit if we ever returned to Wanaka. So after leaving the mechanic we had a drive out to her house to meet her and her family.
Julie had been working during the day with the horses at the show, so had returned just before we arrived. We met her family and all her animals – cats, dogs, horses, and cows. Her house was a bit bonkers but very cool. It had loads of land around, and her house had lots of things hanging off the walls and ceilings. It was very cool.

The show was going on for another day, but we wanted to get further up the west coast towards the glaciers, stopping for a walk by the blue pools, which were a peaceful place to stop and admire the crystal clear waters.

We camped that night at Gillespie's beach, close to Fox glacier and Lake Matheson. The campsite was free, so it was quite busy, and it was basically just a car park, but we could stroll onto the beach, and we enjoyed the dramatic sunset. Being along the west coast is a fantastic feeling, and we love just watching the pounding surf attacking the coastline in endless waves. It can be really hypnotic.

We got up early the next morning as we wanted to get to Lake Matheson before the masses. Lake Matheson is the location for many a famous NZ photograph, as the lake offers near-perfect reflection of the distant Mt Cook and the southern alps. As we arrived there were some coach loads coming in just behind us so we quickly got a move on and walked around the lake to find the best spot. It was really amazing to see the southern alps, as when we had last been on the west coast in November, we had been there for 3 or 4 days and the rainclouds had never lifted.

From Lake Matheson it was a short drive back to Fox Glacier, where we had not been before (we'd done Franz Josef last time), and we parked up and did a nice walk up to the Chalet viewpoint, where we got to see the full frontal angle of the glacier. We were even able to spot some ice-climbers and helicopter, which really emphasised how huge the glacier was.

Driving further up the west coast we stopped for brief lunch at Harihari, but knew we had a long drive to get to Arthur's Pass, our target for the night, stopping briefly at the Otira viaduct where we got pesterered by Keas.

We arrived just before sunset and again, it was very dramatic.

In the morning, we had a quick look at the DOC office in Arthur's Pass but couldn't spend too long, as we had decided to get the next morning's ferry over to Wellington. We stopped for a break at Castle Hill, where we explored the limestone formations and had our sarnies.

That day we had to drive for about 7 hours - probably our longest driving day yet - and we got to Blenheim in time to get a takeaway pizza and arrived in Picton at about 9pm.

Our ferry was at 6.30am, so we didn't get a huge amount of sleep before having to get up at 5am and drive to the terminal. The crossing was far better than it had been on our first trip and we were able to get some sleep during the journey after firstly watching the sunrise over the Marlborough Sounds.

Wellington was a big shock after spending nearly 5 months in the South. Suddenly we were on a multi-lane carriageway with about a thousand other vehicles going a lot faster than us, and people were everywhere. We had arranged to stop off and see a friend of Meg's mums in Lower Hutt, which is a large suburb of Wellington. We called in to see Lynne for a good couple of hours and it was nice to rest and chat with a nice Yorkshire lady for a while, as we played with her new puppy Dolly, and talked about her kids and life in New Zealand. She had a fascinating Swan play outside, that attracts a certain type of Caterpillar and in the summer it gets covered in Chrysalis's but then they all turn into the most beautiful butterflies.

After seeing Lynne, we decided to treat ourselves to a cinema visit so went to the nearby mall to see what was showing. There wasn't a great selection, but went for 'Up in the air' – the recent George Clooney vehicle. It was OK, not amazing, but it was great to be in a cinema again after so long. From Lower Hutt, we hit the road to travel further north to Taihape, where we had organised to meet up with Margot – Meg's Wool Company client. She and her husband Norton had cooked a lovely roast chicken dinner and let us sleep in their spare bed, which was a real luxury.

Margot let us have a cooked breakfast in the morning which was brilliant, and we packed our stuff together. We called in at the Wool Company office to see everyone and Margot gifted us with some possum merino wool socks – ACE!

We drove through Ohakune from Taihape, and it felt strangely normal to be back. We called in at Kings to say hello to Tracy and Ian, but unfortunately Tracy wasn't there. We had a catch-up with Ian and the dogs Harry and Bella, and also saw Selwyn.

I wanted to do the Tongariro crossing the next day so we camped at a DOC campsite near to the start – Mangahuia. Again, the sunset was very dramatic, but the night was the coldest we'd had for several months – in the morning the inside of the window screen was frozen!

Meg drove me to the start at the end of the Mangatepopo lane at about 8am, so that I could get going before all the hoards arrived.

The Tongariro is known for being one of the best one-day walks in the world. It is about 19km long, and traverses the central volcanic region in the north island. It is very barren everywhere, as the lava and volcanic rocks surround the pathways.

It was a fantastically clear day so I could see over to Taranaki in the far west.

The first 2 hours were solid uphill, which took me up to the base of Ngaurahoe, which was used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film.

As a side-trip it was possible to scramble to the top of this volcano which of course I did. However, it took about 75 minutes to get up to the top, clambering up soft, loose volcanic soils and rocks, and at times clinging on for dear life! There were plenty of other people also going up, but there was not defined path, so you just had to pick and choose your route up and hope that it was OK.

At the top you could tell that you were on top of a volcano as there were steaming vents all around and the smell of rotten eggs was very strong. It was very windy so I didn't stay there long, but I made sure I got a good look of the 360degree views , and it was cool to see the other side of Mt Ruapehu and across to Taupo the other way looking over Tongariro.

The rest of the walk, once I was down from Ngaurahoe was fairly straightforward in comparison, but took me through very alien terrain – I could have been on the moon! There were craters everywhere and shimmering Emerald lakes to be seen, as well as richly red-coloured cliffs and bluffs.

The walk back down to the far end of the walk was through some native bush which seemed quite tame after the landscape behind me, but it was still lovely and serene.

I met Meg at the carpark and caught up with what she had been doing, and then we drove on to Taupo.

The main aim in Taupo was for me to do a skydive!!! This was an early birthday treat, but we had to wait for the weather to clear the next day before we got the go-ahead. Meg would have liked to do one too, but she did one when she was last here with her sister and the activity is so expensive that we couldn't afford for both of us to do it.

We got a safety briefing before we got harnessed up and were all told to remain as calm as possible, as if we got too much adrenaline flowing through our bodies we wouldn't be able to remember any of the jump.

We got assigned an instructor, ans after an initial mix-up I was told that Logan would be looking after me. I was on the second flight of the day, so got to see a plane-load of guinea pigs going up before me. They all came down with their parachutes open, so I was relieved.

We squeezed onto the plane, which didn't leave much room for manouvre – you didn't have much choice but to get friendly with the people behind and in front of you. I did my best to remain calm as we went further and further up, just looking out the window and not thinking of what I was about to do.... When we reached 12,000feet the slide door opened, and my time had come. I was about 3rd or 4th to jump. Well, I say jump, but really everyone gets pushed out. I slid to the edge of the plane, tucked my legs under the outside of the plane, tipped my head back into my instructor's shoulder dip, and next thing I knew we were outside tumbling towards the earth. It is a really strange feeling, almost weightless, as you adjust to your new surroundings. Like the safety briefing had told us, it just feels very very windy, and you can't necessarily tell that you are falling at all, as you can't tell that the earth below you is getting any closer...

I was apparently free-falling for about 45 seconds, but it seemed to go by in a flash, and the parachute went up above me, and we were suddenly stopping in mid-air. After getting over the initial discomfort around my groin area (the straps pull on you rather harshly when the chute opens), I was able to enjoy the float back down to the earth, and enjoyed the view of Lake Taupo below me.

Landing back on the ground was a relief, but the whole of the last 30 minutes had seemed to go past in a blur and I couldn't quite believe that it was all over.

I waited in the reception to get my obligatory DVD and t-shirt, and then we hit the road again.

After another 2 hours, we were arriving at Megan Ince's house in Arapuni. She was actually preparing for a friend's wedding at the local village hall, so we popped in to see everyone and then went to unload at her house. We cooked Chilli con carne for everyone (Megan came back with her boyfriend Kevin) and had a nice evening catching up with them.

We stayed there for 2 nights, and just took the opportunity to relax after a few days of long driving. We packed our bags properly so that Salvador was ready to hand over to a new owner should he sell when the auction finished in a couple of days time. On the second night (Saturday), Megan and Kevin were at the wedding so Me and Meg entertained ourselves by watching about 10 episodes of Phoenix nights – bliss.

On Sunday morning, we had to drive to Rotorua to show Salvador to a potential buyer. He was very nice and took Salvador to a mechanic friend who gave the engine a good once-over. He thought it was in very good shape, but was unsure whether there might be a problem developing with the cylinder head..... However, he was still confident that we had a good van on our hands and didn't discourage his friend from making a bid on trademe.

From Rotorua we drove back to Megan's to pick up our belongings and then got straight off to Raglan, which was the destination for my 30th birthday.
We camped at a place called Solscape, which we had seen online a few months before – it is a bit of a hippy retreat, with tipi's and old converted train carriages dotted around the grounds. We liked it, but the people there were a bit too cool for school, too busy perfecting their boho image to be very friendly to anyone.

Meg booked us in to the campsite and came back to tell me she'd also booked my surf lesson for the next day!! I have always wanted to surf, and Raglan is known for it's excellent surf beaches so I was very excited!!
In the morning, I got a further surprise when Meg dumped about 30 birthday cards on me! She had been in touch with friends and family back home and got them to send cards to the Hanmer campsite where we had been working, and secretly stashed them in preparation for my birthday. This was a lovely surprise, and really made my day.

My surf lesson was at 10am, and fortunately there was only me and one other beginner, so it was pretty much a one-on-one lesson.

Andrew was the instructor and was very good at going through all the basics on the beach before taking us into the water and getting us to practice in the little waves.

I was in the water for about 90 minutes, and managed to stand up about 10 times, mostly falling off straight away, but 2-3 times I got my balance and rode all the way back into the beach.

It was so much fun, and I can't wait to go to Cornwall in the UK to keep it up.

We had a lazy afternoon in Raglan, mooching around the art galleries and little shops, and even managed to have a little snooze in the van parked up by the sea – a perfect afternoon!

In the evening we ate at the Harbour view hotel in the centre of town. It was a treat to eat dinner out for an evening, and was a good end to a great day.

The next day was Tuesday and the big event of the day was: our trademe auction of Salvador would be finishing!

It wasn't scheduled to finish til about 9 in the evening, so we drove up to Auckland in the daytime, and arriving at Nic's house at about 2pm. We made friends with Nic in Winter when we were working in Ohakune.

She had kindly offered us to stay at her house for a few days. We met her housemates Tom and Caleb, who were both lovely and had a communal roast dinner for tea. Very nice.
As it got closer to the end of the auction, we turned our interest to the internet and watched as the clock ticked down.
We had a 'Start Price' of $4000, and a 'Reserve Price' of $5500. We didn't have any bids before Tuesday so were bit nervous that we'd end up with no bids again, but after a final flurry in the last 10 minutes, we sold Salvador for $6150!!!!

We were very happy, but also very sad, as it really was turning into the final home-straight of our NZ adventure, and Salvador had been our companion for so long.
The buyer actually lives in Australia so we have arranged to drop the van off at his aunt's in Pukekohe, just south of Auckland..

So we have had our final week in Auckland. We have slept in Salvador outside Nic's house but been able to use the toilet and kitchen and living room in the house so it's been a nice few days.

We also spent a night in Whenuapai, a north-western suburb, where we met up with Alana, an old-friend of mine from university who now lives over here with her kiwi boyfriend. It was lovely to catch up and see her new life over here, and we were very envious of all her freshly home-grown fruit and veg that we got to eat for dinner.

We also spent a day over on Waiheke Island to see Heidi and Kirby. This was another sad moment, as this was where we had started off our NZ journey last April, and leaving Waiheke in the evening was quite emotional as we waved goodbye to Heidi.

Earlier in the day we had also seen an old friend of Meg's from when she was travelling with her sister. We met Ben and his wife Paula and their baby Oliver by Onetangi beach, and had a lovely hour or so catching up with them.

In our final few days, we are just tying up loose ends in New Zealand, making sure that we have got everything packed and that everything is ready for our next 3 weeks in California.

It is a strange time for us as we realise that we have had our year here, and it has flown by so quickly. However, we know that we have done everything that we hoped to, and have got tonnes of memories to take back to the UK with us. We fly to San Francisco on the 29th March and then back to London on the 20th April, almost exactly a year since we left.