Peaks and Troughs in Sydney

It’s now a whole 10 years since we threw in our proverbial towels, packed our bags and set off on what remains our longest and most thrilling trip; first to New Zealand and then on to Australia. And while we were to be away for almost 3 months it felt like a real adventure, rather than a ‘holiday’.

I’ve described our trip around New Zealand, and how we were to visit plentry of spots that many New Zealanders have not seen, especially those who live on North Island. We’d timed the visit to coincide with the Rugby World Cup that year but gave ourselves enough opportunity to see the country. Even so, there remain places we missed!

Nevertheless, before the final of the RWC we’d planned to move on- not to return home, but to return to Australia for a look at as many iconic and well-known sights as we could fit in.

Arrival to Sydney from Auckland was late, and by the time our transfer had dropped us at the opulent ‘Seasons Darling Harbour’ hotel it was too late to see or do anything [we’d been last to drop off on the transfer bus]. At check-in to the hotel we were told we’d been booked in the previous year and marked as a ‘no-show’. This was our first hitch of the entire excursion and a real blow, since there were no rooms available, apparently, although the receptionist rallied and offered us a ‘suite’ somewhere high up in the high-rise hotel. This was all very pleasant as the suite comprised a living room as well as bathroom and bedroom, although we were only booked in for the one night!

The following morning, as I sat on the high rise toilet and contemplated the stupendous view of Sydney Harbour I heard a loud rushing noise qhich was quickly followed by the monorail swishing past the window. Who knew? The commuters would have a tale to tell their colleagues.

Realising we should have given orselves more time to view Australia’s iconic city before collecting our first Australian van, we asked about reserving a second night, only to learn that the price would entail taking out a mortgage, upon which discovery we checked out to seek a cheaper option. This, sadly, turned out to be the ‘backpacker hostel’, providing as stark a contrast to the previous night’s stay as it is possible to describe. Nevertheless we wanted more time to see Sydney and had little choice but to check in.

Wary of the greyish sheets on the bed and the sticky carpet, we left our bags and set off to see the sights, which were, admittedly, quite wonderful- Sydney Harbour Bridge standing stately over the glistening water and the iconic Opera House presiding over all. The waterfont is all you would expect. We took a ferry over to Manly, mainly for the views.

Eventually, after a long day of tourist sight bombardment, we returned to the skanky hovel of our accommodation and made the best of it.

In other areas, our travel fortunes continued to be rocky when a cash machine denied my card and refused to cooperate, which was yet another blow. Without card use or cash we were proverbially stuffed. We gathered together such change as we could muster and bought a phone card which we used to call my bank, who, I was at pains to explain, had been thoroughly apprised of all our travel plans; at which, yes, they did restore my financial capability. Phew!

New Zealand 2011. Northland.

We’d come to the final leg of our New Zealand Odyssey, leaving Aukland to strike out to the country’s aptly named, northernmost part, Northland. Here we motored up to Cape Reinga via ’90 mile beach’, a long, curving stretch of sand up to a headland where two seas meet; the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. For the Maori these are the male and female seas coming together, ‘Te Rerenga Walrua’, representing the creation of life. Along the way, huge dunes provided a tourist draw for sand surfing, although there were no more than a handful of takers.

Here, as all of the coast throughout New Zealand the waters were clear, striking, azure blue and turqoise, topped with white froth. At the top of the headland where the two seas can be viewed in a turbulent cauldron there is a lighthouse and a couple of helpful signposts displaying distances.

We followed up with a visit to the Waipoua Kauri Forest. The Kauri trees are ancient giants of conifers, rightfully treasured and protected by walkways, platforms and paths. Like the giant Redwoods of California there are revered trees, special for their age or size and we took our time to gape and to wonder, humbled by the dimensions and endurance of these wonders.

There was little of our time in New Zealand left as we headed for Coromandel, where many tiny islands poke out of the sea and the terrain of the Peninsula is green and rolling. Coromandel town is tiny but we located a bar where we could enjoy a drink and people-watch. It was a favourite haunt of the local fishermen who loped in straight from work, wearing shorts and wellington boots.

Then we enjoyed a last visit to the beach at Cathedral Cove. I was glad, here that I hadn’t left it too late in my life to visit New Zealand. The climb down to the cove was not for the fainthearted. But once we’d got there we could understand how it got its name, as the rocks have formed a cave with a vaulted ceiling, as if a demented architect had been down here and built a huge temple on the sand.

It was time for us to leave. We’d had six weeks in New Zealand, meeting friendly people, enjoying the thrills of the RWC and taking in as many sights and experiences as we were able. And I know ther was so much more we hadn’t seen and done; the South Island east coast’s snowy glaciers and caves, the north west of North Island, Aukland and so much more.

But we were scheduled to leave. But not, reader to return to the UK. The trip had much more in store as we were about to leave NZ and take a look at another country- and a very large one, too. But that must wait for another time, another post…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New Zealand 2011. Abel Tasman.

If you were to write a tropical paradise then the Abel Tasman National Park, in the north of New Zealand’s South Island could be your guide. As we arrived to our camp site, at Kaiteriteri, the skies were a flawless blue and the sea azure. We’d learned that we could catch a water taxi into the park, be dropped off at the start of a hike and picked up at another point, which was perfect. On the way we got to see ‘Split-Apple Rock’ before the boat pulled in near to the shore and a walkway was lowered to the beach- thus avoiding wet footwear.

By now we had long given up our warm layers, as since moving north [and with the benfit of a few weeks on towards summer] the weather was becoming hot. It had been tricky packing one bag for a long expedition covering all weather conditions but until now we’d at least had the benefit of the van to avoid carting heavy luggage around too much, although later in the trip this did become a headache.

So we spent our day walking along the white beaches, padding across lofty bridges spanning ravines, wandering through forest shaded with beautiful tree ferns and following rippling streams. emerald with reflected vegetation and dotted with enormous boulders, a spectacular way to spend a day.

Next we were off to Nelson to watch Australia play Russia, a wacky event at which the Aussie spectators had gone to town with their outfits. We’d been on South Island for a month and had packed in a lot of sightseeing and rugby. We’d worked our way up to the north, leaving two weeks to see what we could of North Island before moving on to the second big part of our expedition. In order to travel to North Island with our van we needed to get the ‘Interislander’ ferry, which, under good weather conditions would be a spectacularly beautiful boat ride, but on this occasion we were unlucky and made the crossing under grey skies and misty drizzle- which demonstrates that the course of true travel does not always run smoothly. Then we came to Wellington and [appropriately perhaps] the heavens opened and we were inundated.

Another first was that all Wellington campsites were full, which meant we’d need to use the local rugby club’s facilities. We turned up there, following the diversion sign and went to the clubhouse, where we were warmly welcomed by the kindly members, offered use of the club’s showers [an interesting experience] and offered a curry sauce for the chicken curry I was planning to make for our dinner!

We made use of our time to see what we could of Wellington, in spite of the rain, taking a cable car to Victoria Peak and looking at the old, timber government buildings.

Next stop was Napier and its art deco buildings…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New Zealand 2011. Arrowtown and Continuing North.

We left Queenstown for the more sedate pleasures of Arrowtown, and to visit friends who’d moved from the UK a few years before and were now firmly established in a small community nearby. Lucky for us, a campsite was within walking distance of their house and was sparsley inhabited.

We went to dinner and were shown around their home which, although a work in progress was already a house to be proud of, not least for its wow factor of a view; mountains surrounding it. I often wonder how much our daily environment shapes us. What is it like to wake to a view of snow-topped peaks every day? Our friends were clearly not unhappy with their choice!

Rising next morning and preparing to look at tiny Arrowtown and walk Sawpit Gully, I took a couple of beer bottles to the recycling bin, where a portly man was reclining on a bench. ‘That’s a viry poor iffort’ he remarked as I dropped the two bottles in, a comment that had me chuckling for days.

Arrowtown is like a little old, wild west town with historic wooden buildings, its main street lined with rustically named stores like ‘The Golden Nugget’ against a backdrop of rocky hills. It is tiny and characterful. In the afternoon we followed the Sawpit Gully trail up into the hills for spectacular views.

Then we were on the move again, to Kaikoura, where the blues of the sky and sea are almost impossibly vivid, like jewellery and the air cool and pure. Young seal pups dotted the rocks and it was here we opted to go whale watching.

Before we left on the sturdy boat, packed into rows inside the cabin area, we were told to expect bumpy seas- and as we got underway and left the shelter of harbour I felt I could have succumbed to the boat’s movement, whci was decidedly quease-inducing. But I stared hard at the horizon and managed to stave it off, until the engines were cut to idle and we climbed up on deck to see the giants we’d come for. Two magnificent whales surfaced and hung around long enough for camera shots and gasps of pleasure from us all. On route back we also spotted an albatross- a giant of the skies with its widest wingspan.

I loved Kaikoura with its postcard perfect scenery. A subsequent earthquake tremor destroyed the beautiful coast road we drove in on and I felt lucky that we had been there at all. Yet it was quiet and we were free to stroll around the bay and sit in the sunshine with a beer and hardly another tourist in sight.

Some Brits we’d met on the Dunedin train ride, Ali and Claire, had recommended the Abel Tasman National Park to us, so it was our plan to travel there next. The skies were blue, the temperature warming, there was still so much to explore!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

NZ 2011. Queenstown.

You have only to make a cursory search into New Zealand’s highlights for Queenstown to come up in the results. It is known, not only for its stunning scenery but for its opportunities to be active in all kinds of ways. Jet skiing, jet boating, boating, kayaking, walking, mountain biking are just a few. But above all, Queenstown’s biggest draw for thrill-seekers is bungee jumping. And the most famous of all bungee jumps, the place where it all began is the Hackett Bungy at Jack’s Point.

The Queenstown campsite is elevated enough to provide spectacular snow-topped mountain views but was busy, accommodating all kinds of travel vehicles, from bells and whistles motorhomes to spartan, cleverly converted estate cars with cunning stoves that pulled out under the boot lid. The showers were beautiful but, unusually, needed a coin in the slot. In the bitter cold evening I walked across between the rows of campers to the block with my two coins clutched in my hand, intending to wash my hair. When ready, I inserted both coins into the meter, after which the shower ran tepid so I shampooed quickly, expecting the water to heat up. It didn’t. In fact it ran colder than any shower I’ve had before or since, the water feeding down from the snow clad slopes. With a head full of shampoo there was nothing for it but to continue and get finished as fast as possible! Invigorating but brutal and I was never more glad to be dry, dressed and back in a warm van.

Next day we were up for exploring Queenstown.

Now neither Husband nor I was ever likely to willingly throw ourselves off a spindly platform into the void attached to an insubstantial bit of elastic, but we were excited to see others take the plunge.

At Jack’s Point a footbridge spans a deep gorge with a rushing river below. A platform attached to the outside of the footbridge exists for those brave or foolish enough to want to experience the rush of adrenalin that accompanies hurling yourself into a chasm. There was no shortage of these, although most were young. One young boy was clearly terrified as he teetered on the platform, procrastinating until the operator helped him with a friendly shove. We watched him plunge towards the foamy water and bounce back up and down until the movement slowed and he was hauled into the waiting boat, an enormous grin on his face.

Our own modest venture into activity was a jet boat ride, during which we were given helmets and life vests, crammed into a fast boat and swooshed around on the lake.

Best of all, though was to be lifted up the mountain in a cable car and to step out for the most stunning mountain panorama I’ve seen; the bluest blues, the clearest air and a perfect circle of snow capped peaks. Some had travelled up with mountain bikes for a thrill-packed hurtle down, some were undertaking bungee jumps here at the top, but for me, to stand above Queenstown and gaze was breath-taking enough.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Dean. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

NZ 2011. Fjordland.

By the time we’d arrived to Te Anau in the far south of South Island we’d settled well into the trip, although the grin was still permanently fixed to my face. I should mention here that packing for a three month trip to another hemisphere was a tricky business. We’d bought large, soft, wheeled, valise-style bags and were aware we’d need to cover all weather eventualities. Here in Fjordland I was very glad of my thick fleece jacket and the layers beneath it and we made good use of the electric heater in the van. The site at Te Anau was one of the ‘chain’ variety, for which we held a discount card and had luxurious amenities with underfloor heating- much appreciated!

Despite the cold, Te Anau was an unearthly place- snow topped mountains reflected in the lake, which was opposite our site. The plan was to get a tour to Milford Sound, which I knew to be an iconic sight. We could get a coach and boat combined trip, better than trying to drive ourselves as the snow-laden roads promised to be difficult.

Having settled at the site and arranged our trip we strolled out in the bitter night air and found a bar where we could watch the day’s match [Japan and the Allblacks, as I recall].

We got an early start on our bus next day but the driver was informative and chatty, making stops for us to see places of interest en route, increasingly snowy as we went. Once we stopped and clambered out into the snow to make snowballs and photograph the landscape and in one of the places cheeky Kea parrots were busy dismantling the rubber trim around a vehicle’s windows. On arrival to Milford Sound we had lunch, then boarded the boat for a tour around the cliffs, inlets and waterfalls of the sound.

This is a place where weather is immaterial. On our day the sky was heavy with grey cloud, the water iron-grey. An occasional sunbeam brushed the tops of the towering mountains with a bright glow. Our skipper took us along the cliffs to where tumults of waterfalls fell, close enough to be drenched, or near to huge expanses of rock where fat sea lions basked. It is impossible to fully describe the majesty of the towering cliff walls of the sound, or the thundering foam of the waterfalls, but it is an unforgettable experience.

We returned to Te Anau via more wonderful places. At ‘The Chasm’, foaming water thundered along deep beneath a huge rock with natural viewing tunnels and in the temperate rainforest I decided I’d fallen completely in love with tree ferns which were everywhere, casting their umbrella fronds in graceful arcs.

Next day we were off again, this time to New Zealand’s great activity playground and with outrageously gorgeous scenery to boot…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New Zealand 2011. Ever South…

We’d left the Dunedin rugby pitch in the early morning, following a cold, cold night during which we’d barely slept, and continued our route southwards, this time towards Invercargill. Along the single lane road we would drive through villages and small towns, striking in their rural, agricultural ethos, with strong references to local industry. Most place names were qualified with ‘famous for…’, adding such produce as peppers or apples, and sometimes an extra-large facsimile of a fruit or vegetable adorned a roundabout or a roadside hoarding.

The architecture charmed me in that pavements and sidewalks alongside parades of shops were shaded by overhanging canopies reminiscent of the wild west. Once we’d visited a ‘dairy’ which could be located in every town or village, we never looked back as there were t delicious arrays of cakes, bakes and scones, ruinous for the waistline but scrumptious for lunches. My most overriding feeling during that trip south was that I’d been transported back to my childhood into a gentle reconstruction of the 1950s.

One place we loved was Oamaru, where even the wildlife seemed delighted to welcome us. There were various contraptions in Oamaru’s streets, including a ‘steampunk’ machine that wheezed and blew steam. With all the RWC international visitors, campsites were busy but the sites were clean and comfortable, often with underfloor-heated showers and a variety of accommodation, including simple rooms and an option to share use of a well equipped kitchen. This made for sociable travel as well as convenience. We were often to meet like travellers along the road to the next rugby match or at a site.

We were able to find quiet spots to park up and have lunch-often by a secluded beach. Once we ventured out for a post lunch stroll on the sand, only to be confronted by a beligerent sea lion which reared up in a growling, menacing stance between ouselves and the waves. Husband, in a bid to draw him off, dashed into the water then became cut off by the animal, who’d pursued him. At last the sea lion seemed satisfied that he’d terrified us into submission and loped away.

We reached the Catlins Coast and had our first views of penguins- yellow-eyed penguins along the beach.The coastline had begun to be rugged, waves crashing and foaming on to rocks and at times, a fierce wind. Inland, paths through rainforests held magnificent displays of tree ferns and vegetation dripping with moss and lichen as well as tumbling waterfalls. All was pristine. But this was not a trip for sun worshippers. The weather was cold and often wet, although it never once dampened our spirits.

We reached the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand, Slope Point, where all was bent before the fierce wind. This is the furthest south I have been on this planet.

At Invercargill we stayed at the racetrack and were treated to a view of a trotting cart as we woke up and readied ourselves for the next match. Later, down in the town the pubs and bars were full of kilted Scotsmen, then a thrilling parade of pipers through the streets.What could top this? We were to move on to what became, for me, the most memorable part of the entire trip…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

NZ 2011. Heading South.

Having collected our beautiful campervan and stocked it with everything we thought we needed, and armed with the helpful map booklet, the list of camp sites [with discount cards] we headed south out of poor, earthquake stricken Christchurch.

First of interest in our guide book were the Moeraki Boulders. These are astonishing. Pefectly spherical boulders lay strewn about along the beach of the Otago Peninsula. They are of varying sizes, some split open but most intact. They make for an engaging sight, looking like an Anthony Gormley sculpture along the sand. As with most of the attractions we were to see in New Zealand it was quiet, with only a couple of other sightseers to share the beach.

We were heading for Dunedin, where we’d be watching an England v Argentina rugby match. Driving was a simple matter- a single lane road that wound south following the railway line, so closely that we were to cross the track dozens of times. Aside from ourselves there were fellow travellers in vans of various sizes and some trucks, but not much else.

When we arrived at the Dunedin Holiday Park, St Kilda we were directed to the annexed, adjoining rugby pitch, sharing with hundreds of fans, the Argentine contingent dressed in their blue and white outfits and wigs, one group a perfectly executed group of Smurfs in pale blue.

Not to be outdone, the English fans assembled their own, often outrageous outfits.

Every match was preceded by carnival-type activities outside the ground-a real party atmosphere, and began with the blowing of a conch shell by a Maori dressed in traditional costume.

This first match was, however marred by the behaviour of some of the Argentine fans, who refused to applaud or acknowledge the arrival of the English team onto the pitch, then afterwards we waited in line for a bus to return to our site and having got to the front of the queue were elbowed off by some. It was upsetting at the time. I suppose a level of resentment and bitterness endures from The Falklands War, and there was no opportunity to tell them how I’d been opposed to it, how I don’t believe England should ‘own’ lands on the other side of the world. We are British=we are culpable. We took a taxi back to the site.

The days were warmish and sunny but the nights were cold-and we were in an area with no electric hook-up. Next day we were keen to see some more of the area and our guide book suggested that the Taieri Gorge Railway was a popular option. Dunedin station is beautiful and elegant and the ochre-yellow train was waiting at the platform.

This was a spectacular train ride up the Taieri Gorge, four hours into hill country with a few stops at railway holts for photos or to stretch legs.

Our second night at Dunedin was one of the coldest we’ve ever had in a van. Without electric hook-up we dared not use up all our gas for heating, and so we piled everything we had on top of the duvet, including towels, coats and all our clothing. Even so, as dawn broke we gave up and packed up to set off for our next stop!

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

2011. A Great Year for Travel.

We’d arrived to Christchurch, New Zealand, frazzled by the failings of Quantas and having missed our first night at the hotel. I was stupefied by lack of sleep and could manage nothing more then a drop into bed, whatever time it was, although Husband, an expert flight sleeper, was determined to stride out and around the area closest to us, in spite of the long, tedious journey. It was a great thrill for him to spot our surname everywhere in the area!

I should say at this point that since we had booked our trip earlier in the year, New Zealand’s South Island had suffered a catastrophic earthquake, the epicentre of which was Christchurch. It had rendered the centre of the city unsafe and our original hotel was within the fenced off zone. We’d been relocated to a hotel outside the fenced area, which was fine except for the alarming forest of accro supports holding it up.

Arriving a day late meant less time to explore Christchurch, but much of it was off limits, horrendous cracks in the streets and tumbled down buildings visible through the fencing. Once we’d slept off our jet lag we walked across nearby Hagley Park to see as much as we were able. The plucky inhabitants of Christchurch were already planning the renaissance of the city and an exhibition of the ideas could be seen in the park.

After one more night we needed to go and collect the campervan we’d hired and set off on our travels. At the van depot we were treated to a tour, during which I fell completely in love with the beautiful van-a panel van with toilet and shower, fully equipped with bedding, kitchen untensils, wine glasses and everything you could think of [plus more that you couldn’t]. It was all stored in clever, customised ways. We also had electric and gas heating. Heaven!

Husband needed to collect the rugby tickets he’d reserved so we found the place and while he queued to verify things and sort it out I made my way to the Woolworths supermarket to stock us up with everything we’d need for the road. I was charmed that it was Woolworths, as the store will be familiar to anyone of my generation, although not as a supermarket. Inside I managed to find most things we needed, but not tomato puree. When I asked a fellow shopper if she knew where it might be she walked around the shop with me, helping me with everything, making me feel truly welcome.

We had the van. We were stocked up. We were raring to go. We stowed everything away and, using the map book thoughtfully provided in our van hire pack we set off towards the coast on the start of our magnificent odyssey. I couldn’t help smiling- a state that was to continue for three whole months…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.