Thursday, February 22, 2018

The day's forecast depends on which window you look out of

The skies are clear! Hallelujah!

Here at The Nook at Arthur's Pass, what you can expect from the day very much depends 

on which window you first look from. From the bed, a small window high in the wall offers an enticing view of snow capped peaks dazzling in the early morning light.  On the other hand, the view from the bathroom, while just as lovely, brings clouds slipping down the mountainside towards the stream that bubbles along behind the railway line. Until last night, that rail line was closed due to the cyclone, so overnight a number of freight trains crept through town, trying to make up lost time. Today the Alpine Express, the tourist train from Christchurch, recommences.  Not sure that I would want to bathe outside - although you are screened from the direct view of the road and rail below, I still think that I would be a nervous nellie!

Spent about 45 minutes searching for accommodation for tonight - finally settled on an Airbnb listing in Whataroa about 3 hours away. We set out right on 9 am.

Down to the National Parks Visitor Centre just down the road where we get the low down on the walks through the Arthur's Pass National Park.  One of the walk sections is closed after a metre of snow fell at the beginning of the week, coupled with rain and wind from the cyclone has caused a slip along the path.

Michael sets off to do the Devil's Punchbowl walk to the falls.  Gentle slope but a lot of stairs. Supposedly a 30 minute return walk.  He make it back just inside the hour.  He can't believe the number of Koreans and Chinese walking the path.  Of course, it is Chinese New Year, so they are here on holiday!

The next stage of the walk is the actual Arthur's Pass Walk and from the carpark where he leaves me, it is about 1.5 hours walk one way  to Jack's Hut a little higher up the mountain.  Thank goodness I didn't wait the 1.5 hours to drive up there.  Within 45 minutes of leaving the bottom, he is at the Hut car park!

The walk passes through a range of forest types with remnant antarctic beech forests that are heavily laden with mosses, to the start of the fir forests to dry scherophyll forests and even to the pampas grasses.  Once Michael arrives back to me he is filled with stories of the vistas and the snow capped peaks that are close even to touch.  The air is filled with a thousand new smells - many of them as old as the trees - literally. There is that wonderful earthy, truffley smell that is just so enticing!

From Jack's Hut we continue up and over the Pass, pausing to take a look at the Obelisk to Arthur Dobson - one of the two brothers who pioneered this country.  And then it is on to the Otira Viaduct which was completed in 1999 following the crash of a bus and the death of a child while travelling the switchbacks down the mountain.  Leading in to the bridge and to the south of it, the road is a very decent 16% slope - so it is down to second gear behind a cattle truck.

Once we are 'over the top', the vegetation changes quite dramatically - and quite quickly.  The more regular and heavier rainfall to the west of the mountains means that the forests are denser with more firs and eucalpyts and lots and lots of ferns including large, lush tree ferns and may that we have never seen.  It amazes me that whole walls of ferns grow up the cliff faces above vehicle height, and yet at car or truck height, where they would be brushed against all the time, there are the smallest of petite little varieties that hug the cliff face away from the danger of being scraped off!

We head for Hokitaki, pausing at an interesting homage to bridges in NZ and part of the first Arahura Bridge.  Of course Michael is thrilled that he can again see those snow capped peaks!

We finally arrive in Hokitaki quite famished about 3:10 pm.  We head straight for a bank as NZ eftpos points do not like our Australia debit card!  Then just a few shops away we spy the Stone Oven Bakery and Cafe.  Man o man were we in for a treat.  Their sign says that they specialise in Butter Chicken Pies.  And they were right. Those pies were some of the best that we have ever tasted and the coffee was strong and hot. 

We needed fuel and almost had a coronary when we saw how much the price of fuel is here - it might explain the number of cyclists that we are seeing - making fun of them as they climb crazy slopes!  And yes, the photo is not a mistake, it DOES say $2.07 per litre. And of course the hire car company insists on us using U95 which is $2.23 litre.

There is nothing worse than not having a water supply in the car, so we stock up with water, fruit and crackers at the local supermarket - again, can't believe the cost of living.

Hokitaki is right on the ocean so a quick trip to the beach and we see lots of driftwood piled high with local artists making the most of the ready resource.  Quirky and fun.  A stop at the local Greenstone store and a stone painter is also in order before we again turn the car south to head for Whataroa where we are staying in an Airbnb with Joan.  

She cautions us that there are not too many places for a meal here, and suggests that we eat before we get here.  But with those scrummy pies not long eaten, we take a chance on finding something open.  

Luckily the Whataroa Pub is still open and cooking.  We feast on freshly battered Gurnard with chips and salad.  SO good.  Finally at Joans with Roger the Poodle and Sumi the cat.  Just like being at home!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wind and wonder

Hello all.  Well, that was an arrival to beat most.  On the coat tails of TC Gita!

We left the Gold Coast about 1.5 hours late - mainly because the plane on the route had been initially delayed on a domestic flight in NZ.  Michael wasn't fazed by the wait though - tapped into free wifi and Netflicks while plugged into a port at the airport - happy as Larry! 

And I know that New Zealand, amongst other things, is known as the Land of the Long White Cloud, but seriously, did not expect to experience that as soon as we stepped on to the plane.  They were pumping the cabin full of some sickly-sweet white vapour (read condensation in the cooling system guys before you all think I need 'educating'!) that seriously filled the cabin from the top of the overhead bins!

The flight actually wasn't so bad.  Luckily I had a spare seat next to me as the lady in the aisle seat had booked a seat for her son also, who did not end up fling. She was telling me that Jetstar had maxed the flight out at 165 passengers instead of 180 passengers and had taken on extra fuel.  I managed to snooze a little as there was no entertainment system on the plane and the air turbulence made doing puzzles too much like hard work!  At one point, we hit pretty severe turbulence mid-flight and the poor lady went into a major panic attack.  NEVER thought I would be the one calming someone on a flight!  Fist pump, high five!  Managed to help her calm down.  Go me!!!!

We landed to rain and 9 degrees.  Didn't actually feel cold, but it was a wee bit breezy.  We landed late - about 11:45 pm local time.  A booked was going to cost $85 so I opted to book the shuttle bus at $31.  Only drawback (apart from the last person to get on still exhaling lungs filled with some carciogenic crap and the rest of us having to breath it) was that we went half way round Christchurch before being let out at the Breakfree on Cashel about 12:40 pm.
The plus was that check in was super fast!

Very interesting room layouts.  Economising on space provides maximum income I guess, and although the rooms were a little claustrophobic, everything fit neatly and compactly.  Bathroom in the room with glass sliding doors separating it from the sleeping space and another glass door separating the toilet and shower. The bed was super soft and the pillows lovely and firm - just what we needed as our heads fell to sleep after 1 am local time.

I has set the alarm for 7:30 am and by 8:30 we were having breakfast and watching wave after wave of blustery rain move through.  We only have until 3 pm today and had decided we would do the hop on hop off tram - a real tourist treat. There are 4 trams travelling a inner city loop of 17 stops that cover most of the main points of interest. We began on a full loop before deciding to head to the Museum and the Arts and Crafts Centre.  Both are indoor attractions and by the time we are done with both, the rain has cleared by Gita is finishing off blowing her fury just off the coast and the wind is ferocious and very icy (she is now dragging wind off the Southern Ocean!).

The Maori history is very interesting and while I knew that Europeans arrived in the Canterbury area around the same time that Maryborough was settled, I didn't know that the Maori peoples have only been in this area for about 800 - 900 years. Not sure why, but I assumed that they had a history similar to the first peoples on the Australian continent. Turns out that Polynesia was not the place to be then and some of them ventured out to find new homes.

The examples of their culture and art were fascinating and it is easy to imagine the terror that some of it created to those who found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

One of the final rooms we move through in the Museum is dedicated to the World Wars and the impact on New Zealand. All the more interesting due to the Gallipoli to Armistice project under development back home! And then we came upon the measures needed to enlist: Do You Measure Up?  Are you over 5' 4"? Do you weigh less than 12 stone.
So we measured Michael and my immediate, unplanned, reaction was to audibly utter "Only in your dreams" as he measures in at 5'6"!!  The lady walking past thought it was hilarious!  Michael topped out at just over 5'3" many years back and today is considerably less!  Guess the army was either not too fussy, or getting desperate, or both!

We are told that Christchurch prior to the big earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 was akin to Melbourne - hip and with a unique style that melded the old and the new effortlessly.  Now however, quite some years later, it is still a City in recovery.  Almost all the highrise is gone and new laws restrict new buildings to  a 6-7 storey limit with foundations that must go much deeper.  The City lost most of its impressive edifices - civic, commercial, domestic and cultural.  The art gallery was lost, so the City fathers invited artists to help brighten the street-scapes until a new gallery was finished.  As a result, the art of Christchurch is seen everywhere from the street sheep to new murals and street art.

The Anglican Cathedral was lost and although it partly stands, will most probably need to be completely reconstructed at some phenomenal cost.  A temporary Cardboard Cathedral nearby is amazing - we will get photos when we get back here - especially as the night photos are the most stunning. 

The Chalice is a stunning piece of public art that dominates the square in front of the damaged Cathedral.Designed by artist Neil Dawson, the steel sculpture was installed in 2001 to mark the new millennium and the 150th anniversary of Canterbury's foundation. The metal is cut into shapes of native plants indigenous to the area. 'Chalice' survived the Christchurch earthquake of February 2011, despite the severe damage to the nearby cathedral.

The Arts and Crafts Centre houses a myraid of operators and is housed in the former University complex. It is undergoing an almost complete restoration after being very badly damaged at a cost of more than $300 million.  It is hard to comprehend the scale of damage, and the work still to be done.  Streetworks are taking years as the number of contractors available are few and the trams have to pass through a number of streets that are 'gated' while the paving is being repaired.

The day is racing by and we have booked our hire car from 3 pm so about 2 pm we head back to the trams to return to a nearby stop to the accommodation where we have left our luggage, only to find the roads blocked with 3 of the 4 trams in the blocked area, so the tram we are on is not going the entire route.  We quickly bail out and walk the rest of the way. A phone call to Apex Hire brings their Michael in a car to come and collect us and paperwork done, off we set on another road trip!

The Canterbury area of southern NZ is stunning.  Unfortunately, you will have to wait until our return to see most of the photos.  
We arrive in Sheffield too late the sample the supposedly best pies in NZ according to Brian and Sally Jessett.

Despite the less than brilliant weather, every corner we round, every pass we top and every watercourse we cross brings reason a plenty for oohs and ahs.  The higher we climb off the Plains, the more spectacular the views.

One of the best off-shoots of the cyclone was that the rainfall it brought has resulted in lots of busy small waterfalls and added water rushing down the mountain streams and creeks.  The cloud is settling lower and lower as we climb into the Southern Alps | Ka Tiritiri O Te Moana, and to our night's destination of Arthur's Pass.

The scenery presents example after example of moraines, scree slopes, glacial and then river valleys. If all that is double dutch, then I'll provide a phew geography and geology lessons on my return!

And the Long White Cloud continues to develop, dropping into the tree tops and tumbling down gorges and ravines. Like the alps in Europe, these alps too are cloud factories - we can literally see clouds forming before our eyes - it is, as always, truly mesmerising.

We see interesting land formations off to our left with a sign pointing to Castle Hill. The soft limestone, exposed through wind and water weathering have developed into huge structural looking blocks that truly resemble a castle's ruins.  Lots of Japanese here taking selfies with this landscape behind them!

We finally pull in to Arthur's Pass - known for its winter skiing just after 7 pm.  When we ask our host Kristine what the dinner options are, she suggests that we hurry to the local Wonky Kea. Basic but good she says.  Good but expensive we say. And i'll call out the owner as someone who obviously thinks that his prices alone will bring sufficient income.  Wanted coffees to go, but as he had literally just closed (with about 5 groups still eating and drinking) he said no to selling us coffee.  So no link or +ve feedback here.

And the corker of a comment from Michael late this afternoon "Oh wow honey, you can see snow on the top of the peaks!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Back on the world road - dependent on a little lady named Gita

Not sure why we always seem to have drama around departure times.
Left home in good time this morning having sat up till 2 am trying to get a whole heap of things ready for lots of current projects.  And book accommodation. And get travel insurance - woops, forgot that before. And hire a car. And book our car into storage on the Gold Coast.  Yep, just a little busy.

And still had not packed! Did that when we got up this morning.
Gita will bring significant swells to many central and western areas, as well as the east coast of the South Island.

We left home still not knowing whether the flight would even depart.  There is a little lady wreaking a bit of havoc in the Tasman Sea at the moment.  Ex Tropical Cyclone Gita will cross the NZ coast today and without trying to overly alarm anyone, there have been some pretty intense forecasts of rain and winds.

By the time we reach the departure gate, our plane departure has been delayed by 40 minutes which means an arrival after 11 pm tonight! But if that is the worst then we are happy.

Despite our growing  international mileage, we have not yet been to New Zealand.
Oh, there have been plenty of people espousing the idea to us, it is just that the time has not been right to now.  And as we only have 16 days, we are only going to the South Island this time.  We will book another trip some time to do the North Island.

If anyone else needs encouragement, have a look at the following video: 

So off we head again.
Looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all again.
Watch this space, but won't be posting more today as our arrival is now later than 11 pm and I suspect that we just might be a little tired! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Everyone and everything was crying

Its always hard to leave loved ones and the end of this trip has been no different. We left Steph and Felix at 7:15 am on Thursday to begin the mammoth trip home.  

Tears all round.

Even the sky is crying. It is the first day of significant rain in our whole trip and for once, it feels justified and real.  We head up into the low cloud hanging over the Rechburg hill behind Straßdorf and into blinding rain and howling wind - a bit like someone wailing.

Over the top, it clears a little, although the going is still slower than normal in morning work traffic.

We are headed to Munich International Airport (Franz Josef Strauß) via Ulm. Somehow, this trip seems to take longer - as though something is holding us back a little.
The traffic while normal for a business day is heavy and we keep pushing on.
We get to Munich Airport at around 9:50 am.  Returning the rental car is an interesting experience here - you drive into a huge underground lot where all the company's cars are received together by an efficient band of  ipad toting young people. Quick checks all round for damage and mileage and a check of fuel and you are asked to "leave the keys in the ignition please" and off you go.

Michael sorts a luggage trolley as we have as much to bring home as we took over!Back through the car rental hall - thank goodness we are not trying to get a car today, there are hundreds of people in multiple queues.

We had discussed upgrading our return flights to business class to try to give us some more space and the hope of some sleep.  I had emailed Thai Airways, but they said it could only be done on the day at check-in. We have a little time to kill, as the check-in desk does not ope until 2.5 hours before departure (it is now 4 hours before). We find a cafe and have one last German meal for breakfast - Weisse Wurst mit Bretzel und Mustard. We added freshly squeezed orange juice to top it off - yummo.

Finally, the check-in counter is open. We walk up to the clerk and tell her we want to enquire about an upgrade to Business Class.  She tickets our economy seats and then sends us to her colleague for the purchase.  Just to make sure that we know how much it will cost, she takes out her mobile phone and calculates the two ticket prices and shows it to us. €2,990  ($4,470.23)  THEN she tells us that this is for the Munich to Bangkok sector only. Egads.  Still, we so need some sleep - neither of us slept well last night. The Clerk is just about to process the new tickets when I had a brainwave and I can't think why I didn't think of it before:
"Is the plane full?" I ask."No", she says "in fact there are about 100 empty seats".  
"Any chance that we can have a spare seat between us then," I ask.
She is very obliging - she gives us seats 40D and 40G which are the two aisle seats in the centre block, and blocks out the two seats between us - effectively giving us 4 seats!!  For free.
Way to go - a $4,470 saving!  

Feeling very pleased with ourselves, we head through security through a maze of walkways and corridors and get to passport control to find only 1.5 gates open. 1.5 because the second one is dealing with people in wheelchairs (any older Indian), families with babies or children, rabbis who refuse to queue like everyone else and the odd person who tries to jump the queue.  This was the most painful part of the process and it takes more than 40 minutes to snake our way through.  Michael stops to get nougat that we couldn't get in Schwäbisch Gmünd and, having coffee, we realise that we still have some unspent Euros. It is better to spend than to lose on the exchange, so we pool it and Michael goes to see what he wants to buy. Came back with a new watch for ME, and nothing for himself. Ahh, love! 💖

Needless to say, we had a comfortable flight and Michael even managed a few good zzzz's.  The service is fabulous and the trip uneventful.  Food was really tasty - complete with real cutlery. I had Chicken in Gravy with Potato and vegetables while Michael chose Pork and Beans with rice and an egg. We both had a small proscuitto salad, pretzel rolls, cheese and crackers and cake.

When we get to Bangkok, we need to transit to our next departure - along with at east half of our flight and many from other flights. One of the very good things about Bangkok Airport is that the signage is really clear in directing you where to go - AND it includes distances so you know how far to your destination!  And unlike our arrival where we had to walk so far, this time it is only 350 m to the transit security check point and then only 400 m to the next gate.  Then down to the gate that is not yet open.  

And the world is still crying. We came in to Bangkok through some pretty impressive storms that included lightening!

And if the first flight was so good, this one was almost the opposite. I will be writing to Thai Airways and pointing out the very significant differences.  The plane is full - in fact I only see two empty seats.

Michael is beginning to look annoyed.  Now that we are on the way home, he just wants to GET home!

We are served breakfast, the same one that we had so recently had on the Munich - Bangkok sector - not a problem, not everyone has come from that flight. No pre-meal drink of water - yes, problem. Cheese omelette, potato cake, chicken sausage and tomato relish. Orange juice, diced fruit (the pineapple and pawpaw (which I don't normally like, were delish), croissant with impossible-to-open butter and jam.

Ten very long hours later - no water offered between meals - in fact no service at all, no working entertainment system, which meant that the lights were dimmed out as soon as breakfast was served - like by 10 am and the heating turned up. Talk about the sweats.  Being crammed,it is hard to sleep. Thankfully, I still had Felix's book and soon finished that.
Later in the flight we got to know three young Italians sitting next to and in front of us. They are coming to Australia for their working holiday year and we chat about their home and ours. They know about couchsurfing, so we expect them to visit us during the year!

Ten VERY LONG HOURS later, we touch down in Sydney.
Donna is meeting us - wonderful.  I sms her to let her know that we need to go through quarantine where, as expected, the painted eggs present a problem - they need to be dipped in some anti-bacterial solution and if we want to keep the egg carton that has protected them thus far, it will cost us $100 to have it treated.  It goes!
The officer is very obliging (although I witness two of her colleagues not as nice). She helps dry and wrap them and even gets us some bubble wrap to help protect them.

Finally, out to Donna and to be greeted with bear hugs. I think that we are all remembering our joint time in Europe all those years ago.
We get out to the car and are whizzed around to the Mecure only a couple of kms from the Airport. Although the waiter at their restaurant is closing, when the manager sees that there are a number of people wanting something to eat or drink, she makes him stay open.
We have a panini and a coffee and then head to the room.  Its now about 9:30 pm and neither of us have had any quality sleep for about 2 days.  we chat with Donna for a little longer and then head to bed.

Tomorrow, the last leg home and then we need to race home from Hervey Bay airport as Bella arrives at 1:30 pm.
Love to all - see you soon.

Another adventure done. 😢

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

All good things . . .

. . . come to those who wait, or come to an end.
Our six weeks whirlwind visit back to Germany has come to an end tonight. We celebrated our time here by cooking dinner for Steph, Felix and some of their extended family.

But not before we did some last minute touring and buying today.
Firstly Steph, Mathilda and I head out to buy meat and fruit and veges for dinner. We have decided on devils on horseback (my version: dates stuffed with goats cheese, wrapped in speck and oven baked) as an entree then roast beef with gravy, mixed roast vegetables (potatoes, butternut and jap pumpkins, carrots, spanish onions) and zucchini. We will finish with the Persian Love Cake.

The local butcher did a fabulous job of trimming the silverside roast of every bit of sinew and fat. Just over 3 kgs should feed the 13 of us and maybe have a bit left over for Steph's freezer.  And it did!
Back to Edeka and then home to cook.
Started off with the cake and then thanks to Steph's two ovens put on the roast!  
We had some lunch -  flammkuchen made by Steph (dough with fried ham, eschallots mixed in to creme fraiche and spread over and baked - BIG yum). Cake is out and the syrup applied so we then decided to head into town for one last visit.  

We had long looked at a church on the opposite ridge but had not yet had a chance to visit it. On quizzing Steph and Felix, they tell us that this the St Salvator Chapel site and that it is accessed by a not insignificant climb up the hill.
Michael heads off to explore while I wait below.  This pilgrimage site is a traditional crossroads with sculptures and chapel houses with life-size figures leading up to the St.Salvator pilgrimage site. 
The church sanctuary, the St. Salvator Chapel, was built by the church builder Caspar Vogt after 1617. He built existing cave grottoes into a lower and upper chapel.  All very dramatic Michael reports, but also very popular as I observe a number of groups exiting the route while I wait.
Michael also discovered a little carved man in his own little niche!

Back into the city proper.  Past the 'Spongebob Squarepants' building - the Gold and Silver Forum that doesn't try to meld into the surrounding building types!

Over the past six weeks we have been past a Jewellery store very regularly. And for the better part of those six weeks, I have been admiring a particular necklace and debating with myself whether I (i) need it or (ii) want it enough to buy it.
Well, today I did!!
Went into Delta Schmuckgestaltung  and asked to see it.  The jeweller was on hand to tell me about it -including that it is two necklaces, not one.  "Really", I said, "they look so good together".  Her reply?  "Yes - I thought so too when I put them in the window!"  Martina Peter-Eckle has been a jeweller for more than 30 years and trained here in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The City has a history of gold and silver smithing for jewellery that dates back to medieval times.  Martina is thrilled that some of her work is travelling home to Australia with us.  She also gives us complimentary key-rings - a really lovely touch.
So a few euros poorer, but very happy with my double purchase, we leave to stock up on Hussell nougat to bring home.  Sorry guys - they are out of the one I wanted - will try at the airport.

Back to Stephs about 4 pm and I adjust the roasting meat temp and prep the vegetables and get them into the other oven.  Cake now cold enough to ice.  Gravy made.  All ready to go.

The family arrives just before 6 pm.
Felix's dad Dieter, Steph's aunt Olga and uncle Rudi, Steph's cousin Ulli, her husband Andy and their twins Mara and Anneka.  We remember them as the 8 year old little girls we met last visit - they are now confident young women of 17!

Dinner was a huge success and Michael is finishing packing the suitcases as I write.

Steph and Felix have done a great job of renovating an old home into a modern living space for an active family. It was lovely cooking in a very up-to-date kitchen too!

Tomorrow morning we will leave by 7:30 am to drive to Munich and board our Thai Airways flight home. Wonder how much an upgrade to Business might cost? Will ask in the morning.
A couple of long days ahead before we are home.

Hope you have enjoyed travelling with us!