Da Lat.

We left New Zealand excited about the next leg of our journey, although we had set ourselves what was potentially a tiring start.

We left on an eleven hour flight from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur at 1am and then grabbed a couple of hours sleep in an airport hotel (most Asian airports have several onsite facilities which allow for this). We left Steve’s bike and most of our luggage with the hotel (who were happy to store it for a month), and we set off on a three hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam with 7kgs of carry on luggage each.

Don’t worry you have plenty of luggage for a month.

We arrived in HCM City in the evening and having spent three days there a few years ago we felt our time would be better spent elsewhere. In fact, that was our plan for Vietnam in general. Having been lucky to visit the country twice before, this time we were trying to visit places we had not previously seen. So after some food, a sleep and a quick refresher on how to cross the road (more on that later), we were on an early morning flight to the mountain city of Da Lat.

“I know the plane looks a hundred years old, but we will be fine”

The airport was an hour on the local bus outside the city. So by the time we arrived at our hotel we had been on the go, on and off, for almost 36 hours, and we had walked around Auckland for 10 hours before starting out. We were pretty whacked.

However, there is nothing like the excitement of turning up in a new place to re-energise you. So we set off exploring our new destination.

Da Lat is set high in the mountains in South Central Vietnam and at over 5000 feet the air is far less humid than other cities in the country. It is also home to half a million people and although very popular among Vietnamese holiday makers it isn’t all that established on the international travellers route.

Our first day was ‘Crazy’. First stop was ‘The Crazy House’. Where do we start with this one? Designed by an artist/architect with, shall we say a vivid imagination, the house and grounds are a mixture of some form of sprawling giant tree. It twists it’s way around a scene, something vaguely like a cross between a fairytale, the Hobbit and The Little Mermaid.


You walk up and down, in and out, over and under, never quite knowing what is around the next corner. One minute we found ourselves loving it, the next not really understanding it and the next thinking it was all too much. Even now we are not sure about it, but it definitely goes down as an experience!

“I have no idea what it’s all about or where I’m going”

After the Crazy House, we went to The Crazy Bar or Maze Cafe or 100 Roof Tops Bar. Things in Vietnam can sometimes have more than one name, or more than five names. As if things weren’t confusing enough.

We just called in for half an hour, for a drink and to see what it was about. After entering the bar and buying a drink you go down a staircase and into a tunnel network underground.

“See you later, I hope!”

It’s pitch black initially, so we had to use the light from our phones to navigate. Then you come up into a series of dimly lit passage ways that gradually wind up and up passing small alcoves which have seating areas.


Eventually you emerge into daylight on the roof top, but the paths continue on up the hillside until you reach a small patio at the very top with a view over the whole city.

We were joined by a Dutch girl and her recently retired father who were travelling together for five weeks in Vietnam and a couple of Danish guys who were digital nomads making their way around South East Asia.

Three hours later we were still there, swapping stories and experiences. We had a great time and we were all crying with laughter. Steve thought it’s a good job he is now fluent in Dutch and Danish …. Seriously though, it never ceases to amaze and embarrass us how unbelievably perfect some Europeans can speak English, even their accents are great. It’s easy to forget you are speaking with Dutch, or Danes, or Swedes etc etc.

The view across the City

Our second day in Da Lat involved what has become one of our favourite pastimes, travelling on local transport.

“I think this one is ours ….. or maybe it’s that one?”

There are always organised tours available to see the sights. Sometimes these are the only way and sometimes they are the best way as you need the expert information to fully appreciate what you are seeing, especially if it is something you are really interested in.

However, most of the time there is enough information out there to piece together a tour of your own. This is always at a fraction of the cost of an organised tour and invariably throws up some new, unforseen issue or experience. So now we have time on our hands it is our preferred and default method of sightseeing and they have become known to us as ‘Crossley Tours’. “Who knows what you will get!”.

We planned a trip to see The Elephant Falls and the nearby statue of Guanyin, a prominent figure in Buddism.

These were about 40km out of town. First stop was the bus station, which wasn’t really a bus station as such, just a wide part of the street where buses stop. It’s probably a good time to mention that our grasp of the Vietnamese language extends to two words, Cam On, meaning Thankyou and Ngon, meaning Delicious (the last one is used mainly out of politeness!). These, however, are two words more than 99.99% of the Da Lat population can speak in English.

So asking a bus driver if the bus is going in our direction was the first obstacle. Google Maps help, but firstly it’s in English (imagine being presented with Google Maps in Vietnamese! I’ve seen it and it isn’t pretty). Secondly, a lot of people are not good at reading maps.

Anyway, once we are on the bus, the real fun starts. Buses in Asia, as in Central America, are not just used to transport people. They are a sort of postal and courier service for anything and everything including birds (live), fish (live), insects (live), letters, small parcels, big parcels, motorbike (engines), motorbikes (whole). We have seen all these things on buses and most of them on this particular bus. Someone flags the bus down, gives the conductor the item, an address and some money. Then someone flags the bus down further down the line and collects the item. Steve was laughing so much he forgot to take a photo of Sarah helping three locals get a motorcycle off the bus!

Bits and pieces are starting to gather.

Steve was following the progress of the bus on his phone and looking a little concerned and we both burst out with laughter when, after 20 minutes, we turned a corner and we were right back where we started!!

Steve tried to speak to the driver who nodded and gave him a thumbs up. Five minutes later we were off again. This time Steve looked much happier as we left the city and headed off into the countryside, in the right direction. The conductor came and showed us a Vietnamese bank note. We found this to be the way costs are communicated. Steve gave him the equivalent back and the conductor nodded and gave him the thumbs up!

The bus stopped here and there, people got off and on, parcels were delivered and collected and after about an hour the bus stopped and the conductor indicated for us to get off. Steve nodded and gave him the thumbs up!

We then sort of stumbled into the entrance of the falls at the back of a roadside cafe where we paid the equivalent of £1 each for the entrance fee and a coffee.

Elephant Falls

The Elephant Falls were better than we had expected. Other people we had spoken to had visited some smaller falls close to the city and had been disappointed. They had, in true Vietnamese fashion, been over commercialised and they resembelled a Disney theme park. Elephant Falls were still pretty much natural and we enjoyed them a lot.

This was pretty impressive.

The Guanyin statue just down the road didn’t seem to appear in any tours but it was fantastic and the adjacent pagoda and grounds was also impressive.

The journey back was a lot easier as all buses were heading back to the city. So it was just a case of standing by the side of the road, waving at the first bus to come by, then having the visual display of bank notes to establish the price and finally the nod and the thumbs up and we were off.

The centre of Da Lat is taken up by a large lake which has a perimeter of about 6km. A pathway and a wide road run around it and it is a favourite place to walk for locals and visitors alike. So we thought we would join in. After about ten minutes we heard a Police siren on the opposite side of the lake and saw a Police car with flashing lights moving very, very slowly. We then became aware of dozens of Police Officers in cars, on motorbikes and on foot. Then they started putting on road blocks and diversions and the incredibly busy road was all of a sudden deserted. “It must be some sort of visiting VIP”, said Sarah. Then in the distance we saw a runner. Not an Olympic athlete dressed in lycra, but some guy in local Police Uniform. Then another came by and then another, all of them with numbers pinned to their shirts and most wearing some old gym pumps from the 70’s.

Unusual running attire.

It turned out the big operation was to facilitate twenty or so local officers having a race around the lake, non of whom appeared to be serious athletes. In fact, we were a little worried about the condition of a few of them as they collapsed at the finish line.

We continued around the lake visiting the much touted Flower Garden enroute which was a nice stoll around but in all honesty nothing special.

The flower garden was pretty but maybe not worth a detour.

On our way back to the hotel we had to cross a main road. Now, in Vietnam this is a skill in itself, which we thought we had mastered pretty well. The city roads are always busy and the number of lanes is determined not by road markings but by how many motorbikes can fit side by side. There are several things to remember when crossing. Firstly, the traffic WILL NEVER STOP FOR ANYTHING!! Next, when you start to cross you keep going at the same speed and finally do not stop or turn back.

The first step into the traffic is always the scariest and on this occasion we were struggling to commit. Then out of nowhere an old woman appeared, she must have been 80 years old if she was a day. She grabbed hold of Steve’s arm with a fierce grip and dragged him into the road and through the oncoming, swerving traffic all the way to the otherside. Sarah jumped on the procession and we emerged unscathed. Then the woman disappeared as quickly as she appeared. Vietnam is great in so many ways.

Our final day in Da Lat was spent visiting a pagoda on the outskirts of the city. This was a pretty good place to visit and had been very well decorated in a broken glass and mosaic tile design.

Extremely decorative.

However, the parking for the coaches bringing the tours was directly in front of the pagoda, maybe two metres away. So getting a good shot for a few photos took some imagination and patience by Sarah.

“Can we edit the coaches out?”

The highlight of that day was the journey back. We had read about an old train that runs three times a day. We had missed it on the way up because, suprise suprise, the online timetable bore no resemblance to the actual timetable. However, we checked at the station and managed to catch it back.

For £1.50 each we travelled in the VIP section with deep leather seats, dark wood decoration and a big smile on our faces.

Sarah the VIP.

Our final evening was spent strolling the night market. This wasn’t like a lot of night markets we have visited in Asia, it was aimed much more at locals and holidaying Vietnamese. No “Good Morning Vietnam” T-shirts here. Hundreds of stalls lined the main street selling mainly cheap clothes, flowers and food which we could only guess at the content.

A small section of the night market.

After three days here in a City with a population of half a million, we had seen easily less than 30 people who may have been white European and we kept seeing the same few people over and over. It’s a phenomenon we have encountered before and it’s bizarre really, but you find yourself waving to each other in some kind of strange alliance.

We came to Da Lat to have a little bit of down time and to relax, but we didn’t realise how much it had to offer. We felt like we had been at it non stop. Maybe our next port of call might be different …. but then again, maybe not!

North or South?

After our short stay in Taupo we decided to have a few days away before returning again for Steve’s race.

Our options were still limited due to the extensive cyclone damage, which was causing major problems across many areas of the North Island. After some research we decided to risk a few days in The Coromandel Peninsula. This area had been battered by consistent and heavy rain for most of the Summer, which had caused a series of landslides completely destroying parts of the road network. However, it escaped the worst of the cyclone and a road around the peninsula was still passable, so we thought we would give it a go.

En route we made a stop in Rotorua, which is apparently the main geothermal hotspot of New Zealand.

Our first stop was to see some boiling mud pools, which we found fascinating. It looked like a scene from a prehistoric age, where dinosaurs could have roamed. A large lake of thick mud and water was simmering away, with steam floating across the surface. On a regular basis the activity would increase and boil over shooting hot mud a few feet in the air, sometimes quite close to where we were standing. No matter how much you were prepared, it still made you jump!

Mud glorious mud.

It was mesmerising, like sitting by a fire watching the flames dance.

While in Rotorua we also did a three hour walk through a Geothermal Valley. In terms of time, this is very much a younger area of activity, with most of the area being created in the last hundred years or so, and the most recent activity was only 40 years ago.

Colorful terraces and spouting steam.

Along the way we passed through colourful sulphur terraces, steaming vent holes and volcanic craters which are now lakes and had steam being blown across them creating strange eerie patterns. It was a throughly enjoyable walk.

Steam blown across the lake looked very eerie.

After Rotorua we continued our way North towards The Coromandel. The scenery returned to the rolling green hills and farmland which had been the main theme since we left Wellington.

When it comes to scenery The North Island is very much the poor relation to The South Island. We had loved being South so much that we were struggling a little with the North. Our advice to anyone visiting New Zealand would be, if possible, to do the North first.

We totally appreciated that the North was not at its best having had such a difficult few months with weather but when most people conjure up images of the country, in general, those images will be of South Island features.

Luckily for us we had allotted much more of our time to spend South and that proved a great decision and the fantastic weather had helped.

We arrived in the small seaside town of Whangamata on The Coromandel on a cold, wet and windy morning and it was Steve’s birthday. If he can he always likes to do a bit of training on his birthday, come to think of it he likes to do a bit of training everyday!

He spotted a sun shade over a barbecue area and set up his stationary trainer using the shade as rain shelter while Sarah went to get breakfast.

Happy Birthday to me.

When Steve had finished he went back to the van and found Sarah had decked it out in balloons and bunting and put some candles in a banana cake!!

Happy Birthday to you.

The rain kept coming and we spent the rest of the day catching up on admin and making plans for the next few days, weeks and months.

The following morning the rain had passed through, the sun was out and Whangamata had taken on a whole new image.

Whangamata minus the rain.

We parked up by the scenic marina, wandered through the nice little town and strolled along the wide beach, which had almost golden sand.

The beach was pretty good here.

We did consider staying longer in Whangamata but with more rain forecast we decided to try another beach and see a little more of the area. We decided the next day we would head to Waihi Beach.

We got up the following morning and checked the Internet for current road conditions and saw that Waihi had been hit by a tornado! “Tornado! They don’t have tornadoes in New Zealand”, was Steve’s response. “They do now”, replied Sarah.

It turns out it wasn’t just a little one either as it had torn down power lines and ripped the roof off at least one house. But as it had passed through and the sun was out we went anyway.

Waihi was similar to Whangamata but with a smaller town and bigger beach. It was Sunday and the place was buzzing. We sat by the van right next to the beach for hours watching The World go by.

Waihi Beach.

Like on so many beaches on a Sunday morning in both New Zealand and Australia the local Surf Life Saving club was out for training. This involves all ages from real youngsters up to adults participating in all sorts of drills and competitions, all designed to improve and practice their lifesaving skills.

Always the highlight for us is watching teams race each other from the beach, run out to a fast boat, get it ready to go, then speed out to sea around a bouy and back to shore.

All ready to go.

With yet another spell of wet weather forecast for The Coromandel, we decided to cut our losses and the next morning we packed up and headed off back in the direction of Taupo.

This time, however, things were going to be a little different. Our friend Sandra was now on her way to Australia and we were taking up residence in her lovely little house for the week. No campsites for us. A real bed, comfortable sofa, and a toilet and shower in the same building! Paradise.

The added benefit was that the house was in the lovely village of Kinloch, about 20 minutes drive outside Taupo.

I think we will be OK here!

Kinloch sits right on the edge of the lake, and has some great walking trails that pass right through it. There is also a section of shingle beach on a sheltered part of the lake with a great general store which served the best gelato this side of Italy. So with the weather set fair we settled down for a relaxing few days.

How good is this?

Just when we had completely switched off from travel, organising and planning, our comfortable and relaxing time was brought back down to earth with a bang as Steve’s race was suddenly upon us.

Although it is Steve who has to go out and swim, cycle and run ridiculous numbers of kilometres, Sarah’s contribution to the day is equally exhausting.

She does so much running around in the couple of days before the race, making sure he is in the right place at the right time for the registration, clothing bag drop offs for the three legs of the race, cycle racking and special needs bags!

The evening before……. If only those clouds had stayed around.

Then on race day she is up with him before 5am, making coffee and bagels. Then from sunset, when the race starts, until almost sunset when Steve finishes, she can constantly be heard above all the other spectators, “C’mon Steve. Keep going. You’re doing great”. Even when he isn’t!

And they’re off!

She seems to pop up all over the course cheering him on. Then when things aren’t going according to plan, as was the case this time, she can always find the positives in his performance to keep him moving forward to the finish.

This is soooooo hard.

Then at the very end when it’s all over and he can barely walk, she is there to half carry him back to some food, a shower and bed.

So when Steve crosses the line and gets his medal and Ironman Finisher T-Shirt, it really does belong to Sarah as much as to him.

All finished.

No matter what length of time it takes to cross the finish line, it is an amazing achievement and Steve sometimes forgets that. He sets himself high targets which were difficult for him 30 years ago never mind now and to meet those targets things have to go pretty much exactly right. So when the wind picks up, the sun shines and the mercury rises, which it most certainly did on race day, those targets realistically become out of reach.

It’s not until the days after the race when Steve looks at the other athletes’ results and speaks to people about town that he then realises most other people missed their targets too. Then maybe he thinks “I didn’t do all that bad after all. I made the top 10% of my age category and almost the top 20% of all the starters, and I am getting on a bit”.

Together at the finish.

Just a couple of days after the race and Steve was completely recovered. This is a little bit unusual and probably down to the fact that for some reason he just couldn’t get going properly in the race. Consequently, he didn’t go so hard to completely flatten himself like he has done in the past.

It probably also helped that we spent the day after the race soaking in the wonderful hot pools at Waikerai Terrace!

A wonderful place to recover.

We were also able to take advantage of his quick recovery and head out on one of the wonderful trails around Kinloch, which wound its way around the edge of the lake through the forest.

We really loved Kinloch.

We stayed on at Sandra’s place as long as we could, which left us with a half day drive up to Auckland where we were due to return the campervan.

As is normal for us, we used every last day of our trip and spent the time exploring the city on foot.

The Sky Tower in Auckland.

Over 10 miles later we had seen all the major sites and we were both a little surprised how good it was. We hadn’t expected too much as it really doesn’t have any World renowned iconic sites, but it was just a pleasant city to stroll around with plenty of different neighbourhoods. Ponsonby was probably our favourite, described by many as ‘hip’ and ‘cool’. “Just like me”, said Steve. “Absolutely”, said Sarah with a big roll of the eyes!

The Auckland skyline.

So at just after 1am in the morning our plane left the runway and our three and a half months in New Zealand were over.

We had enjoyed the South Island enormously and the North Island maybe not as much. The Taupo and Kinloch area had probably been our favourite purely because there was so much to do and it had been mostly spared the ravages of the cyclone. But it had also been fab to catch up with Sarah’s Mum, her sister Louise, her husband Greg and their three wonderful boys. Will we return to New Zealand? You bet we will, probably a few times!

“Did I mention I’ve entered another one?”

A Cyclone and an Earthquake.

After we had such an amazing time on the South Island the North Island was definitely going to have a hard act to follow, and it did struggle.

We were, in truth, a little taken aback by how different the two islands were. Even though we had a flying visit to New Zealand 22 years ago we didn’t really register the differences between the Islands. Back then it was rush, rush, rush, while we hunted out the adrenaline activities. This time the pace was much slower and it was all about seeing the country.

We should mention that a big factor affecting our experience on the North Island has been the weather. The North Island has had the wettest summer on record. Any news we had encountered while on the South Island seemed to be about all the bad weather up North. It had already rained an awful lot since November and then Cyclone Gabrielle hit in mid February causing devastation on a huge scale (more on that later). Meanwhile the South Island basked under beautiful, blue skies in what was to be the second driest summer on record. That’s a bit like Northern Scotland and Southern France swapping weather for the summer! Strange times.

We started our Northern excursion in Wellington with a five day visit to Sarah’s sister, Louise, her husband Greg and their three fabulous boys. Plus, an added bonus was Sarah’s Mum was also visiting at the time so it was a nice reunion. In fact, we couldn’t really remember the last time all three had been together.

Nice house, or is it a mansion?

They live just outside of the city, close to the water, in a beautiful big house with a swimming pool. They made us extremely welcome with Barney, the eldest nephew giving up his bedroom for us and allowing us a lovely respite from the campervan. He also gave us a tour of the City and the impressive Te Papa museum. He starts University in Wellington soon and is well acquainted with the city.

Sarah (on the left!) and Barney at Te Papa

Sarah spent some time catching up with her Mum and walking the family dogs during the week, while Steve explored the area on his bike. Although it was lovely in the immediate area he was surprised at the number of burnt out cars and fly tipping a little farther afield. Something we hadn’t seen in the South.

Someone is having fun.

At the weekend, with work and school out of the way, we spent some time watching the boys at their various sports, Jack at the local tennis club in the morning and Rory in a sailing regatta in the afternoon. Then, in the evenings, Steve and Rory made the most of the pool and hot tub.

Jack ‘smashing’ it!
Rory looking the part.

On the Sunday morning Greg took us all out across the harbour to Wellington for a look around the market in his super fast boat and in the afternoon Louise cooked a wonderful meal for everyone.

Out on the water.
Time for a great meal.

After a really successful five day visit it was time for us to move on further North. So we packed up the van, said goodbye to everyone, and headed off on the road again. Once out of the Wellington area it became much more rural, pretty but not spectacular. We started to pass through more and more run down villages which reminded us a little of some parts of Washington State and North Oregon, when we cycled from Canada to Mexico. These sort of places don’t make you want to hang around, unless you really need to.

All the talk in the media was about the imminent arrival of Cyclone Gabrielle. Where was it going to hit hardest? We were tracking its progress very closely and making route adjustments accordingly. On our first day out of Wellington we changed our destination three times! Eventually we ended up in a car park in National Park (that is the name of the village, a little strange and confusing at first). It rained quite heavy overnight and it was a little windy but we woke up thinking the whole thing might have been over-hyped.

Our view after the cyclone ….. little did we know!

Then we checked the news on our phones. Wow. It was certainly not over-hyped. Gabrielle had torn though the North and the East leaving behind a trail of total devastation including floods, the likes of which had never been seen before in New Zealand, leaving miles and miles of agricultural land and crops ruined in a matter of hours. Major arterial roads had been ripped appart by landslides, and thousands of mature trees had been washed away or snapped like twigs. Whole communities had been left without power and some left completely isolated.

The North Island was in a state of shock and the country was placed in a State of Emergency for only the third time in its history.

We knew at that moment that our New Zealand trip was going to change shape. A good proportion of the North Island was now inaccessible, and even if it was they certainly didn’t want tourists getting in the way of what was going to be an emmense lifesaving and clear up operation.

We headed to the West Coast surf town of Raglan. It had escaped the cyclone almost totally and we needed somewhere to take stock and see how the next few days unfolded.

Raglan turned out to be a good call. Not only was it a chilled out little town but, as is often the case with cyclones, the weather that follows can be calm and sunny. We had a similar experience in Western Australia a few years ago.

Raglan was a great place to sit and wait…
….and wait a little longer!

We spent four days relaxing in the town and on the cliff tops watching the surfers. Sarah decided it was time to pay a visit to the hairdresser, so with a little research she found one that fitted the bill and off she went. Well, what a disaster! Honestly, it looked the hairdresser was either drunk or blind. Even Steve, who isn’t the greatest hair connoisseur, could see how wonky and uneven the cut was. A few years ago this would truly have upset Sarah and even though she was far from impressed, travel sort of puts things into perspective. At least her house hadn’t been washed away! Still, she did go back the next day to point out to the hairdresser how she hadn’t cut it quite as requested. To be fair she was horrified and accepted all the blame, sat Sarah down and with nervous, quivering hands set about trying to rectify the problem. Obviously this attempt didn’t last long as Sarah had visions of ending up with a Steve hair style. The hairdresser, almost in tears, wanted to give Sarah her money back, but she felt so sorry for her she declined and put it down to experience.

You should have seen it before it was tidied up.

The following day Sarah decided to put the hair experience behind her and booked a massage. Now, Raglan is a surf town in New Zealand and as such is a little …. how shall we put it?…. rustic! So when she turned up for the massage and it was being run out of someone’s shack of a house she was cautious but not surprised. But when the occupant arrived and was more than a little on the large and sweaty side, she became a little more cautious. Then, when he led her around the back to a dilapidated shed, her thought switched to, “Do I run now?”. But she didn’t run!! Out of curiosity she stayed. “What’s the worst that can happen? Getting locked under the shed with the other idiots that didn’t run!”

Well it turned out there was no under ground cell and the massage was one of the best she has had, just like all the online reviews had said. Appearances can be deceiving.

Just as a reminder as to where we were in the World, the evening before we left Raglan we felt our first earthquake! New Zealand gets several each day but most of them are low down on the Richter Scale and are not felt by the general population.

We were sitting in the van and it started to sway from side to side and the water in a glass could be seen swilling around. Initially we couldn’t work it out. It was a lovely evening and very calm with no wind. Then we both said, “Earthquake”. We checked the National Earthquake site online which updates immediately and saw it had been a 6.0 strong quake about 400km away. Because it had been several kilometres deep it hadn’t caused any damage. It was much nearer Wellington and had shook Sarah’s sister’s house for about 30 seconds. “All we need is a volcanic eruption now and we’ll have had the grand slam!”, said Steve.

After four days in Raglan, a cyclone and an earthquake, we were starting to get a bit of a clearer picture as to where we could think about going next. We had planned to head North of Auckland to visit friends we met in South America but that was absolutely off the cards, so the safest bet, for now, was to head to Lake Taupo in the centre of The North Island.

The shores of Lake Taupo.

Taupo could be described as The North’s equivalent to Queenstown in The South. Located in a gorgeous setting by a huge lake it has a never ending list of things to do. However, school summer holidays were over so Taupo was far less busy than Queenstown and the moment we drove into town the place had a great feeling about it. Plus, it was the location for Steve’s race in a couple of weeks so he was able to check out the course.

We found ourselves a wonderful, spacious, free camp on the lakeside, about 15 minutes out of town and settled down for what turned out to be four days.

A great spot for a few days.

We enjoyed the town, the lake views, the surrounding area and we did some of the tourist sites.

We are not volcano experts but we have learnt a few things about them since being here and the presence of Super Volcanoes is one of those things. It turns out there are about 16 of them on the earth and when they erupt it is a ‘planet changing’ event; end of the dinosaurs, start of an ice age, that sort of thing. Lake Taupo is the top of a Super Volcano and, in fact, the most recent erupting, about 65,000 years ago. It’s easy to look out at the lake and forget what is under there!

One of the more popular attractions around Taupo are the Huka Falls. A narrowing of the river forces the water over a small drop, with impressive volume, and in true Kiwi style you can see it from numerous vantage points, either on foot, in a leisure boat, speeding on a jet boat or overhead in a helicopter depending upon the depth of your pockets!

We chose the view on foot option.

Next on the list was ‘Craters of The Moon’ which was an hours walk around a geothermal area where steam is spouting out of many points along the way. It is quite good to see and at some points boiling water is gurgling and spitting out of the ground. Once again it re-emphasies just how unstable and fragile the whole area is.

You get the feeling it could blow at anytime.

We also visited the Aratiatia Dam, which is opened three times a day flooding the gorge below in rapid fashion. Like so many places in New Zealand, scenes from the movies ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were filmed here. In fact, for fans, ‘Mount Doom’ is just the other side of the lake from where we camped.

Flooding the gorge.

Our final stop in Taupo, for this visit, was to call in on a friend we met in Australia. During the pandemic we rented an apartment for three months in Far North Queensland. One of our neighbours there was Sandra, a Kiwi. She has since moved back to New Zealand and lives 20 minutes outside Taupo.

I’m sure she won’t mind us saying but she is in her late 70’s and is still unbelievably active. She plays golf twice a week, attends exercise classes and is an avid walker in Summer or Winter.

Sandra is the one on the left!

We popped in for coffee and stayed for lunch, then some wine and eventually dinner, catching up on what we have all been doing.

It turns out Sandra was off back to Queensland for a month to help out her daughter whose husband has had a very nasty running accident. Typical of Sandra’s generosity she has offered her house for us to stay in for a few days when we return to Taupo for Steve’s race. Now there is an offer we can’t refuse.

Snow, Sand and Seals.

As ever it has been a busy few weeks, what with seeing the sights, travelling between them and Steve trying to squeeze some training in the gaps. So we have fallen behind on The Blog ….. again!

“Just another couple of miles”

After Wanaka we made a short stop along the Haast Pass, to the Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park. The drive there in itself was worth the trip with stunning lakes, mountains and valleys and all on a beautiful sunny day. We always appreciate what a great adventure we are on, even during the hard, rough, tiring time, but some days we appreciate it just that little bit more and today was one of those days.

The Blue Pools

A lovely little walk led out to the Pools and it was very popular with families, with children and adults alike swimming and jumping off the swing bridge. Steve was tempted with the jump until he tested the water. “I think I’ll give that one a miss, it is freezing”.

Tempted, but the water was just a little too cold!

Next it was on to another National Park. This time Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. We have been trying to get here since we left Christchurch, but with notoriously bad weather everytime we got within striking distance we kept having to pass it by.

Now, the forecast was giving a 36 hour window of fine weather and we were only a couple of hours away, so off we went.

As with many places on The South Island, The Department of Conservation had a fantastically located campsite right in The National Park and all the trails around the area either started there, or passed through. The campsite was very basic but it’s all about the scenery and the accessibility here.

Not a bad location to spend the night.

We had started the day at 6am so by the time we had driven to The Park, found a spot to park up and had a cup of coffee, we were off and walking before 10am.

We chose to do the Hooker Track which is relatively easy and leads to the glacier at the foot of Mount Cook. Consequently it is one of the busier tracks in The Country.

The Hooker Track is truly spectacular.

Although there were more people walking than we had seen on any of our other walks, this didn’t detract too much from the experience. The weather and the route were amazing alongside the glacial rivers, across swing bridges and under blue skies.

View after View as we walked along.

After half an hour or so Mount Cook came into view with its snow capped summit. It looked pretty impressive so we stopped to take photos, which were really a waste of time because what we thought was an impressive sight turned out to be just the starter course as the views just got better and better.

We eventually arrived at the Hooker Lake and sat down to eat some sandwiches and grab a drink. Then Steve thought he would push on a little further, scrambling over some boulders for another 30 minutes, getting even closer to the glacier.

Star jumps before lunch.

The return leg was no less impressive and although Mount Cook was behind us, the only slightly smaller Mount Sefton loomed over us and our campsite.

After a bit of a rest back at the van we did another walk in the early evening which was an elevated walk to another viewpoint of the valley for some more great photos.

Our last look at Mount Cook.

We slept well that night and woke the next morning with the intention of doing another early walk, but the 36 hour window turned out to be just 24. The mountains were covered in a blanket of clouds and heavy rain, so we packed up and moved on. We spent the best part of the morning saying how lucky we had been to have had such a beautiful day.

We only had just over a week to go before our ferry to The North Island and we wanted to have a few days back in Abel Tasman where we had been house sitting back in December.

We plotted a route back which involved a two day detour back to Akoroa and The Banks Peninsula. Steve had enjoyed the cycling there so much, that he couldn’t resist doing some of the rides again.

One day he had been out for four and a half hours of hard cycling and met Sarah in the village of Lyttleton. She had parked on the side of the road, put our chairs in front of the van and had lunch all ready waiting. Steve sat down in the road to eat when a woman stopped in her car and wound down the window. “Here we go”, thought Steve, “I’m bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down”, as he prepared for some abuse. “I noticed you have been cycling”, said the woman. “I live in that house just there, if you want to come in for a warm shower, you are more than welcome”. During 40 years of cycling that has never happened to him in The UK. Some people are just so nice!

We made our way up the East Coast and had a stop in the small town of Kaikoura. This is the place to go in NZ if you want to go whale watching. We came here 21 years ago on a wet and windy day and it was a bit of a desolate, unattractive place. Then six years ago it was hit by a massive earthquake which completely destroyed the town and road network. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Kaikoura has emerged as a fabulous place, with a great atmosphere to just stroll around. With more time we would have liked to have stayed for a couple of nights rather than just the one. But Sarah did manage the time for some good old fish and chips out of the paper sitting by the sea.


We skipped the whale watching this time and instead set off on a two hour walk along the rocky foreshore. We knew there was a seal colony there and we spotted one or two a distance away as we wandered along.

An inquisitive seal family.

The further we went the less and less people were around. Then, all of a sudden we rounded some rocks and found ourselves right in the middle of the colony, in fact, we were in what looked like the kindergarten. Dozens of seals and their pups were playing in a big rock pool, not at all bothered by our presence. We watched for a while and then moved on not wanting to overstay our welcome!


We then drove all the way North through the vineyards of The Marlborough region. We have had one or two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in the past which had come from those very vines.

We will be drinking those in a couple of years.

Eventually, the asphalt road ended and we found ourselves at a campsite right on the beach. The area reminded us of some of the places we had camped in Far North Queensland, Australia with palm trees and ancient forests all mixed in right on the edge of a deserted beach. The weather wasn’t quite the same though, certainly not a sunbathing day.

Steve, with Sarah down on the beach.

And so our final stop on The South Island was right back where we had started 11 weeks before in the Abel Tasman area.

We initially had a couple of nights at a freedom camp, right on the foreshore in the town of Motueka, where we had been house sitting. It’s a wonderful little town and right up there with our favourite places so far.

Sarah spent the days relaxing with her book and Steve spent the days not relaxing with his bike and running shoes!

“Just a few more miles!”

We then spent a couple of days camping in Abel Tasman and did some walking on the Abel Tasman Track and managed to squeeze some time in on the beach too.

The beaches in Abel Tasman are, in our opinion, far and away the best in New Zealand with golden sand, turquoise blue waters and a back drop of green forests.

Pretty good?

The track is about 40 miles long, but if you don’t want to do the entire length there is an amazing water taxi service which picks up and drops off at five points along the way. So you can do whatever section of the track you feel like doing.

“Wait for me”

The Track is exceptional. It’s not a hilly, elevated track, but it hugs the coast and winds its way through the forest, past waterfalls, over rivers, some which have bridges and some that don’t. Some sections have a high tide route and low tide route, where you can drop down onto the beach and cross the estuaries. At every corner there seems to be a view into the forest or out to the beautiful golden sand and piercing blue water.

“We will never finish at this rate”

We loved the walking in Abel Tasman and Sarah enjoyed the water taxi just as much. You get a great view of the coast and then, at the end, the taxi is dragged out of the water on a trailer towed by a tractor and you stay on the boat as you are driven back through town to the start of the track.

There’s always one!

So our time on the South Island was almost over and we made our way to Picton from where the ferry departs. We took the scenic route along Queen Charlotte Drive, a 40km twisting turning road which precariously hugs the cliff edge. We passed several places where the road was only one lane wide, not through design but because the other lane had fallen into the sea in a landslide!

The views from Queen Charlotte Drive.

We spent the last night at a Department of Conservation site down by the water’s edge and spent the evening talking about all the absolutely fantastic things we had done since we arrived in late November.

The following morning we boarded the early ferry bound for Wellington and a family reunion.

Our transport to The North Island.

“Bye bye South Island, see you again for sure. It’s been a blast!”

“Yes, of course you can come for a run”