A bit about Kiwi trees…and mussels

A bit about Kiwi trees…and mussels

Blenheim – Havelock – Pelorus Sound – Picton

The African Lily, known to us Brits as Agapanthus, has a special status in New Zealand. Whenever Kiwis set up a new homestead, they are obliged by law to plant at least half a dozen agapanthus – preferably blue, white being seen as rather outlandish – by the front gate. This is the required marker denoting property ownership, and also ensures the postie delivers your mail correctly. Or so we assume, having seen no homes yet in NZ without agapanthus hedges guarding the front gate.

Blue agapanthus
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Sulphur, sweat and curry

Sulphur, sweat and curry

Banks Peninsula – Waipara winery – Hanmer Springs – Kaikoura

We’d heard about the natural hot springs in Hanmer Springs, and a couple of days relaxing in the waters sounded just the ticket. We were heading north anyway, and Hanmer was conveniently on the route. On the way we passed from a landscape of sharp young hills, burnt brown by summer, into the green vineyards of a wine country. It seemed churlish not to stop.

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The French Connection

The French Connection

Christchurch – Akaroa – Banks Peninsula

In 1837 a shipload of French colonists arrived in Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand. Unbeknownst to them, the British Government had wind of French plans to colonise New Zealand, and had narrowly beaten them to it by signing the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori, ceding all of New Zealand to the British.

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Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Birmingham – Dubai – Brisbane – Christchurch

We flew out of Birmingham airport on Tuesday evening. By the time Qantas delivered us to Christchurch, South Island NZ, it was early Friday morning, partly because we paused our travels in Brisbane, Australia for 12 hours.

If, like us, you have loving and hospitable relatives in Brisbane, I highly recommend this choice of itinerary. It offers a much-needed break, and could save you a lot of money. Turns out Brisbane is a crew change point for Emirates/Qantas, so they like to go there. We saved thousands of pounds off the original flight quotes by specifying Brisbane on the itinerary.

It was cool and pouring with rain in Brisbane. But who cares when you have a delightful nephew and niece-in-law to chauffeur you round the city, and provide great food and a very welcome shower? We drove round my old haunts from my time as a Brisbane schoolgirl; I recognised virtually nothing. Brisbane has become a high-rise multicultural city that bears little resemblance to the quiet little city of my teenage years. But still a lovely place.

On to Christchurch. Having pre-booked a transfer from the airport, we stayed two nights at the Breakfree on Cashel, a well-located and comfortable modern backpacker hotel with good catering. The weather was much cooler (14 degrees) and wetter than we had expected, but we donned our British outer gear and set off to explore.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, but still compact and approachable. It was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, and this legacy is clearly at the forefront of minds here. We were very struck by the energy and commitment of the people to restore their city. Everyone knows the famous Cardboard Cathedral, of course; and a great deal of care is being made to preserve beloved Victorian buildings as well as taking the opportunity to build for the future.

Breakfast in pretty New Regent Street, pastel-painted Spanish Mission revival style, rather like Clough Ellis’ Port Meirion. Then we took the old electric tram to the wonderful Botanic Gardens, the legacy of a group of keen Victorian horticulturalists. Their efforts to recreate an ideal English garden had mixed results, but the fusion of native trees and European species is a happy one. The conservatories bear comparison with Kew. The paints looked as if a troupe of busy fairies equipped with dusters and leaf shine was ahead of us at every point. We spoke to the head of the volunteers there, herself descended from the fifth ship to arrive, who explained that Christchurch had been a middle-class English settlement, hence botanical gardens on the Avon river (narrower than its namesake) was a key priority back in the day.

On our way out of Christchurch the next day, heading to Akaroa, we passed a poignant memorial to the victims of the 2011 earthquake:

Every Sunday, the families of a lost loved one bring out on silent display a white-painted chair to represent their loss. One was a baby’s car seat.

Despite its energy and positivism, Christchurch has not, and will not it seems, forgot its losses.

Locked and Loaded

From the Front Seat

Several people have queried how light we appear to be loaded in the photos. Well, as the bard didn’t say, ‘appearances can be deceptive’ …we’re not stacked to the heavens with bound bundles and tie-downs – but we are heavy (man). Very heavy in fact. With sufficient stuff for 2 people for 6 weeks plus tools and fix-it-stuff all contained within

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Pretty places in France

Pretty places in France

11-14 June

We crossed the penultimate border, from Switzerland into France, winding our way up and down the Jura mountains. The nice little town of Pontarlier, in Roman times the main crossing point between Helvetia and Gaul, was our destination for the night. We stayed in a small but charming eaves room at Hotel St Pierre, and relaxed, feeling at home in familiar and much-loved territory. Continue reading “Pretty places in France”

Breakfast in Austria, and other meals

Breakfast in Austria, and other meals

7-10 June

From Siena we moved north to Modena, a large university city with one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Unusually for an ancient city of learning, we saw little to interest us during our over-nighter here. We had booked modena cathedralinto the instantly forgettable Hotel Donatello, which manages to combine high prices with tired accommodation in a bland tower block. It was a long walk along a busy road to get to the old town. Apart from looking round the outside of the very pretty pink and white marble cathedral, the highlight of the evening was meeting a pleasant young Brazilian engineer called Alex, resident in Modena, who greeted us in English. This serendipitous meeting led to pre-dinner drinks together and an exchange of LinkedIn details. As engineers do. Continue reading “Breakfast in Austria, and other meals”