New Zealand - A Homily to Homestays
THE NORTH ISLAND
Agapanthus grew everywhere like giant blue weeds which perfectly matched the cloudless sky. We had been in New Zealand for 24 hours, having landed in Auckland, where we’d caught up on some much needed sleep after a long flight from the UK. Sebel Suites, in the centre of the city, were functional but uninspiring. Our dark room had brown curtains, a brown carpet, brown upholstery and looked straight onto a multi-storey car park. I was too exhausted to be disappointed.
Try as I may, I couldn’t keep my eyes open beyond 6pm and fell into a dreamless sleep. After what seemed like minutes, I woke with a start at 2am, wishing I’d tried harder. Maybe if I’d drunk coffee and paced the floor instead of laying on the bed I would not have been so jet lagged. Peter and I were the first to enter a quayside coffee shop at 7am, ravenous as we’d skipped dinner the previous night. The 24-hour flight had played havoc with our body clocks.
It felt warm and balmy, even at such an early hour. I tucked into my bacon and waffles with maple syrup and tried to feel less like the walking dead. There was a full itinerary ahead. That morning we would be on our way to Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. It was here that we would be checking into our first homestay.
Homestays offer a unique form of accommodation. We would be travelling throughout New Zealand for 6 weeks staying in peoples’ homes. I was looking forward to it, as I had heard only good reports about the Kiwi hospitality.
First of all Peter had arranged to pick up a rental car. He set off at 9am, leaving me to pack the few things that we had taken out of our overnight bags. This took me about five minutes and so I put on the television to pass the time. We had to check out of the hotel at 11 o’clock and, at 10.55am there was no sign of my walkabout husband. I tried in vain to stem my over active imagination. What if he’d been mugged, taken ill, got total amnesia and forgotten that he had a wife? I phoned reception and asked for a porter to help me down to the lobby with our five bags. Within minutes this was accomplished and, at this stage, Peter decided to stroll in, oblivious of my concern.
“Where have you been, I’ve been worried?”
“Oh, just looking around for somewhere to buy a map,” he replied with an air of nonchalance.
After what seemed like a military exercise, and with much huffing and puffing, we managed to get all our baggage into the boot of the hire car. In high spirits we set off for Coromandel and immediately got lost in downtown Auckland. Tempers were fraying slightly, after all we had been awake for ten hours by now, but we eventually managed to get onto the right road. We should have checked the map.
In my befuddled state, I did not remember much of Auckland that day. However the Sky Tower was an exception. Aptly named, this tall edifice literally towered above all the other buildings. We planned a visit to the Orbit restaurant, which was perched on the top of the Sky Tower on our last day in New Zealand.
Once out of the city we were struck by the unique landscape of the island. Having watched the popular films based on The Lord of the Rings, the unusually mounded hills reminded us of Hobbit Land. The scenery soon changed as we reached the Coromandel Peninsula. Beautiful, unspoiled beaches, palm trees and tropical flowers abounded. It was hard to imagine that this country actually had a winter. We could have been mistaken for being in the tropics with such lush scenery washing over our senses. At last we had arrived at our first homestay and were not to be disappointed.
Hot Water Beach
It was exciting to approach our first Kiwi homestay. We had found it on the Internet and downloaded some pictures but they did not do justice to the beautiful home, perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Our hosts, Gail and Trevor, welcomed us like long lost friends and showed us to a tastefully decorated room that had its own deck overlooking Hot Water Beach. Gail explained that the beach was called by this name because of thermal activity under the sand.
That evening we enjoyed a delicious meal that was served on the large deck leading off the living room and which overlooked the sea. We feasted on barbecued fish and roasted vegetables. The wine was a crisp Chardonnay. New Zealanders are proud of their white wines, and rightly so. They are excellent.
We sat outside, trying to keep awake even though it was only seven in the evening. The arduous flight from the UK had taken its toll and the jet lag was hanging over us like an opium mist. It was intriguing to watch people digging up the sand on the beach below and wallowing in the glorious mud; nature’s free spa treatment.
As we were not yet acclimatised to the heat wave that had assaulted us upon our arrival the day before, we decided to give the hot mud treatment a miss. We were in another world. It seemed hard to believe that it was snowing when we left England.
We were woken early the next morning by a Bellbird making a strange piping sound outside our window. He heralded in another hot, sunny day.
On the breakfast bar in the open plan kitchen a wide variety of fresh fruits, cereals, yogurts and breads were presented. There was even an array of homemade jam and marmalade served in pretty pots. Gail was brewing fresh coffee, her bobbed hair immaculate at this early hour. Helping ourselves to some fruit we wandered outside where freshly squeezed fruit juice was waiting on the table. We were the only guests, a common occurrence in home stays and were treated like royalty.
“G’day. How would you like your eggs?” Trevor appeared wearing a large, manly apron.
“An omelette please”
“And a little bacon on the side?” he asked.
It was hard to resist.
Our cooked breakfasts soon appeared, garnished with herbs from the immaculate garden. We were to find out that this type of fresh food was to be the norm in these Kiwi bed and breakfasts; a far cry from many of the English counterparts with their greasy fry-ups.
Fortified, we headed out on quiet, bumpy roads to do a spot of exploring. Coromandel town seemed stuck in a very pleasant time warp. It was typical of many of New Zealand’s towns, consisting of a main road with single storey shops. Parking was free and easy - just choose your spot. Something about the place reminded me of the one-horse towns in cowboy films. Was that John Wayne riding in on his trusty steed or was I just jet lagged? We wandered into a grocery store to buy some bananas. How pleasant that people knew each other and had time for a chat. It reminded me of the days I went shopping with my mother when I was a small child in the far off late fifties.
Next stop was to be the Driving Creek Railway, brainchild of engineer, Barry Bricknell. This amazing achievement took over twenty years to build and is still being extended. The railroad meanders up into the bush land where lush, tropical plants flourish in abundance. The little train was packed with tourists as well as locals as this was the last week of the long Christmas holiday.
Thurch Church restaurant in Hahei served us a delicious meal that evening. I had chicken stuffed with coriander in a hazelnut sauce. The restaurant was quiet and the decor very attractive as the original features of the quaint little church had been preserved. We sat in the conservatory with its triffid-like plants and savoured our first dinner in a New Zealand restaurant. Afterwards we drove a little down the road to Cathedral Cove where the rock formations formed an impressive arch on the beach. We stood mesmerized as the sun sank and disappeared behind the sea.
The next morning we shared breakfast with a young English couple and their baby who had, like us, just arrived. This was another first, sharing breakfast at a communal table with strangers. We met some interesting company and looked forward to each new day, wondering who would be tucking into a home cooked breakfast and sharing travel stories with us.
Before dragging ourselves away we had a walk on the empty beach before heading off to our next homestay. We soon found out that when New Zealanders go abroad it is not for the beaches. If a beach has more than six people on it then it is considered crowded.
What a Performance!
We arrived in Ngongataha, an unremarkable small town on the outskirts of Rotorua. Ariki Lodge looked uninspiring from the front but had a back garden that stretched right down to the shore of Lake Roturua. Our ensuite room had coffee and tea making facilities and a glorious view of the lake. Our Kiwi hosts were friendly and hospitable.
It seems that Ariki Lodge had a bit of a history. The previous owner was a businessman who, for reasons we never found out, had installed bulletproof glass at every window. This, in a country where people don’t lock the doors of houses or even cars, seemed a tad over cautious. We slept well that night in the fortress-like conditions of the lodge.
Breakfast was delicious and we shared the large dining table with an English and an American couple. Hearing about the excellent airport hotel in Singapore we wished that we had broken our journey. Next time maybe. Both the men in the group wore socks with their sandals and had grey beards. The women beige slacks and white blouses. Was this a strange coincidence or was this look de rigour amongst the tourists?
Roturua was close by and we planned a trip that day. It is a favourite settlement for the Maori as we found out when we visited the tourist village of Whakarewarewa. They liked to settle near the hot geysers and made use of the natural heat to cook their food by burying it in the ground and then leaving it until ready.
The Maori people arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia in long boats called wakataua, ostensibly a long time ago and certainly well before any white settlers. However, as the Maori had no written language the exact time is uncertain. This is one reason why their artwork is so important to them as each piece tells a story. Their carvings are intricate and distinctive and are similar to the designs of the tattoos that at one time covered the whole of their faces and bodies.
We, together with a gaggle of other tourists, experienced the haka or welcome dance. Anyone who follows rugby will have seen a form of this intimidating ritual performed by the famous team, the All Blacks. After a long performance with accompanying grunts, bulging eyes and displaying of tongues, we were considered ‘friendly’ we were invited into their wharemui or meetinghouse. We walked across the marae, a type of village green, before solemnly entering the wharemui. There are around 1,050 marae in New Zealand and are an important part of the Maori community. Non-Maori folk are not allowed in, except by invitation. We respectfully took our seats inside the community hall before being treated to a typical song and dance routine. Although the show was put on for tourists the performers seemed to enjoy what they were doing. It reminded me of a similar show that we had seen in Hawaii. Not surprising really as both peoples are originally Polynesian.
Next we visited an arts and crafts centre where local people were working on their woodcarving. There we purchased some pretty paua shell jewelry, the mother of pearl turquoise that is a glorious, iridescent colour.
The shy Kiwi bird, only native to New Zealand, was a bit of a let down. As it is a nocturnal bird we could only view it in a birdhouse in the semi-gloom. This non-flying, drab brown bird was hiding under some foliage in its cage as tourists strained their eyes to decipher it. At least we could say that we’d seen it.
Within the same Maori village we were treated to an amazing show which nature put on for us. The hot geysers were quite a sight as they spouted enormous fountains of steaming water with alarming force and regularity.
That evening we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Woolie Bugger restaurant. Peter loved the name as it is called after a particular type of fly used for fishing. The owner was a jolly New Zealander married to an Indonesian lady, who turned out to be an excellent chef. We dined on Gado Gado salad with peanut sauce followed by delicious satay and then black rice pudding. These exotic dishes took us back in time to Hong Kong where we often frequented an Indonesian restaurant in Causeway Bay. It was a hot night and I was pleased to sit by an open window. We could have been in the tropics such was the heat. Local people told us that this weather was unusual.
Just as I was finishing the rice pudding I felt a sharp pain in my ankle. As it was only momentary I thought nothing of it until we started to walk back to our homestay. My ankle looked bruised and swollen. I wondered if it was because of all the walking that we’d done that day. However, when I looked closer I noticed some small puncture marks on my ankle. That night I felt a familiar itching on different parts of my body. Mosquito bites so nothing to worry about. Or so I thought at the time.
Over breakfast the next morning I asked our host if he’d seen mosquito bites turn black. My ankle was now an interesting shade of indigo. He looked puzzled and said that he had not. I tried not to worry about it.
En route to our next destination we called into Waiotapu, another thermal area. It was as if we’d landed on another planet. As well as vigorous geysers we viewed large expanses of coloured earth. Bright yellow and orange here, turquoise there - it was as surreal as if we’d found ourselves on an artist’s palette. Pink smoke emanated from one particular source, giving the whole atmosphere a dream like quality.
Apparently chemical deposits explain this strange phenomenon. The orange colour is due to antimony oxide, the green to lime, and the yellow to sulfur, which explained the odour of rotten eggs that pervaded the atmosphere. We passed a witch’s cauldron of thick grey, bubbling mud, also due to the sulfur content.
We returned to the tranquility of our homestay, the smell of sulphur still in our nostrils.
Next stop - Napier.
Our next port of call was Napier, the Art Deco town, situated on the East coast of the Northern Island. The sky looked threatening and, as we drove into the town, it started to drizzle. Captain James Cook was the first European to arrive here, having sailed down the coast in 1769. I wondered if he had been greeted by inclement weather in an area that boasts one of the highest areas of sunshine in New Zealand.
We had hoped to lodge in one of the 1930’s style homestays but they were fully booked. Instead we stayed in a rather characterless motel in the modern outskirts of the town. We could have been anywhere in the world. The room’s orange colour scheme jarred, as did the traffic, which zoomed by and kept us awake most of the night. This was not what we had expected. The next day the rain was still insistent but, undaunted, we took lots of photos of the amazing architecture.
The town had been destroyed by an earthquake, which killed 256 people, in 1931 and was rebuilt in the distinctive Art Deco style, similar to that of Miami Beach.
The buildings were beautiful, even in the grey downpour. The sharp angles and brightly painted relief work were displayed on every building. The experience there was surreal as if being in a Bonny and Clyde film set. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see some gun-toting gangsters wearing trilbys emerge from one of the buildings. Still my ankle throbbed as if I had received a bullet and I promised myself that I would visit a doctor if the swelling had not disappeared within a few days.
In spite of my discomfort I took a stroll down Marine Parade, a tree lined ocean boulevard resplendent with fountains and gardens. We expect rain to mar our seaside trips in England but, for some reason, feel cheated when the same thing happens abroad.
Such was my disappointment that we were unable to stay in a proper Art Deco house that, for the first time during our stay in New Zealand, we had a row.
“If you would just book into these homestays in advance instead of leaving it until the last minute we wouldn’t have had to endure that ghastly motel”
“Why do you have to be so organized, just relax” Peter snapped back at me. Our nerves were frayed after lack of sleep and a tasteless breakfast served on plastic plates in our room. Having taken the marriage vow to love, honour and obey – I obeyed and fell asleep as my dearly beloved drove in heavy silence.
The sun was still elusive as we made our way to Martinborough, but feeling refreshed, I got out of the car to survey a delightful wooden house. Our next homestay beckoned us.
As we drove between vineyards, the sun broke through, chasing away any remaining clouds. The homestay in Martinborough was perfect - a tiny wooden colonial looking house, painted cream and in a quiet road. Thank goodness we had not taken a package holiday, which included motel accommodation. Our host brought a tray of tea and biscuits to our room, which had its own balcony that overlooked a lush garden. We could have been back in Mauritius, minus the lizards and cockroaches. There were Persian rugs thrown onto polished wooden floors and snowy white cotton bed linen on the comfortable bed.
After showering, changing and refreshing my makeup, I strolled out to join Peter. We had planned to have dinner in a nearby restaurant.
I must have looked a wreck when we arrived, as our host exclaimed when he saw me, “My goodness, you scrub up well!”
We dined in a chic restaurant called Este, just walking distance from the homestay. The kingfish with anise mousse was excellent and cooked to perfection. There was a delectable pudding on the menu, all types of chocolate desserts in miniature. We ordered two, then were told that they had run out. Disappointed, I asked if they had one left. They did. We ordered this and two spoons. There was enough for two and consisted of a delicious tart, mousse, white chocolate ice cream and truffles. It was very naughty, but so nice.
I noticed that I was the only person there who had bothered to dress up. Everywhere we ate people wore very casual clothes - sometimes even shorts and flips flops. New Zealand is a back packers’ paradise.
Martinborough had only a few shops but each one looked tasteful, from the delicatessen to the interior design shop.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we had a beautifully prepared breakfast. We were the only guests and chatted to our host, who seemed pre-occupied, as he had to go out shortly.
“Bye. Glad you enjoyed your stay. Just let yourselves out when you are ready. No rush”.
With this he prepared to leave, giving us the run of his house.
“We haven’t paid you!” Peter said.
“Oh, I forgot.” Our host chuckled.
Such is the casual nature of the homestay host.
Apart from the city areas, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the roads are virtually empty. This was such a welcome break after travelling on English and Spanish roads. The notorious N340 on the Costa del Sol is like a racetrack, so this holiday was very relaxing, in spite of a heavy itinerary. There’s a 60mph speed limit out of the towns, which is frustrating on such empty roads. Later we were to discover that the speed cops are vigilant to the point of being manic.
On our way to Wellington, we took a detour along the coastline and admired the seals, basking in the sun. They reminded me of old men with gout and stared at us lazily, without moving. The scenery here was different again, rugged and austere with a hint of Scotland. Cape Pallister lighthouse, cheerfully painted red and white, was perched precariously on a hilltop. Peter decided to walk off some of his breakfast and took the 258 steps to get a closer view.
On his way down he passed a couple, who had been sitting next to us in Este the night before, which was a bit of a coincidence. They greeted us self consciously, averting their eyes as the English do.
Just before entering the capital city we took a break. On my way out of the toilet I bumped into the same couple that we’d seen at the lighthouse. He was wearing socks with his sandals, brief shorts and sported a grey beard. Soon we were to discover that this look was de rigueur amongst the British tourists who roamed New Zealand.
“Maybe I should grow a beard.” Peter looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.
“No way. You’ll be wearing socks with sandals next and then I shall have to pretend that I’m not with you.” I replied.
I was not joking.
Windy Wellington is the political centre of New Zealand but somehow it maintains a quaint, relaxed atmosphere, in spite of a population of around half a million. New Zealand cities are more like boutique towns. Everything is on a smaller, more manageable scale than in Europe and, best of all, nobody seems to be in a frantic hurry.
The famous Te Papa museum beckoned us but, as time was limited, we promised ourselves a visit on our return from the South Island back to the North in a few weeks.
Our immaculate homestay was owned by a German lady, which she ran in typically efficient Teutonic style. The large 1940’s house was well decorated, spotlessly clean and we were pleased with our pleasant room and modern bathroom. There was an annex at the bottom of the garden, which looked inviting, as it had the appearance of a wooden doll’s house. Unfortunately someone else had booked in before us – next time maybe. Our hostess did not offer dinner at her establishment but recommended a nearby restaurant, and so we decided to give it a try.
We dined on venison that was served by an eccentric young waiter with a black ponytail who insisted on making references to Bambi. I asked him if he was a vegetarian but laughingly he assured me he was not. I struggled to remove images of everyone’s favourite deer as I chomped away at the meat. After the meal, we had a stroll and peeped into shop windows displaying artistic, up market wares. A stone’s throw away was the President’s house; an imposing residence in large grounds, but it could have belonged to anyone, as there were no guards outside.
On our return to our lodging, our hostess assured me that the crossing to the South Island the following morning would probably be smooth, but offered me a seasickness tablet if the weather changed. I went to bed that night slightly apprehensive. At 2am I awakened with a start. The furniture was shaking. I woke Peter in distress but he just took stock of the situation and said matter of factly, “It’s just an earthquake.”
With that he turned over and went back to sleep! He’d had a similar reaction to a small earthquake that we experienced in Cheltenham. Peter has acquired the art of understatement.
Not a good sailor, I picked at the beautifully prepared breakfast the following morning, as I had been told that it could be a choppy crossing. Having spent a miserable thirty hours sailing from Plymouth to Santander, I vowed never to take another sea crossing again. We had ventured around the Bay of Biscay in a severe storm. At one point the curtains in our cabin stood out parallel to the floor, such was the velocity of the gale. Peter went to the ship’s restaurant and enjoyed a meal with about two other diners who also had good sea legs. It was too dangerous to dock and so we just sailed out to sea and waited until the storm passed. When we eventually docked, terra firma had never felt so good.
To kill time whilst waiting for our New Zealand crossing, we drove around the western peninsular, marvelling at the tranquility of the beaches such a short distance from the city centre. We passed a film crew and were told that it was the same one that shot Lord of the Rings. We were told later that they were filming Gondzilla, but I did not manage to spot any giant monsters.
The crossing to Pickton, South Island was a breeze. After the shock of the earthquake, I wasn’t in the mood for bracing winds. A gentle mist around Queen Charlotte Sound added to its mysterious beauty.
Our next homestay was to be with a dog loving Englishman. It proved to be unusual experience, and the only really poor homestay at which we stopped during the entire six-week trip.
The Hounds of Mahau Sound
A shroud of gentle mist slowly emerged like an apparition, giving an ethereal feel to the scenery, as we drove from the ferry terminal in Pickton, to Queen Charlotte Sound. We had reached the South Island of New Zealand intact and I did not need a seasickness tablet after all.
The foliage was rampant and the views across the bay enthralling. We had booked a homestay with its own private beach and were anticipating another marvellous visit. There was no reason to expect otherwise. Mistake!
Feeling strangely apprehensive, we negotiated an overgrown driveway in a deserted part of Mahau Sound. I was struggling to shut the broken gate, when our host sauntered out to greet us. He was followed by three dogs, which lunged at me, barking wildly. We attempted, with some difficulty, to shake hands with Malcolm, our host, while fighting off the hounds. Was it my imagination, was Malcolm swaying slightly, or perhaps I just needed to regain my sea legs after the ferry crossing?
A sour odour of stale whisky emanated from Malcolm as he introduced us to the dogs. We were then instructed how to treat these delightful creatures and it was explained that only dog lovers were allowed to stay. Assuring him that we indeed loved all canines, we were ushered into the tired looking timber house with its peeling paint and mismatched furniture.
Eventually, after more dubious instructions on the care of dogs, we were taken to our room, which was basic but fairly clean. I glanced up at the mantelpiece and was startled by a row of glassy eyes. About twenty teddy bears were perched on the shelf and their eyes seemed to follow me around the room. Hungry and tired, as I’d been woken the night before by the earthquake in Wellington, I stopped my imagination in its tracks. It has always been vivid at the best of times. I unpacked before joining our host for a pre-dinner drink.
Malcolm was an immigrant from England and was to be our only British host during our six-week stay in New Zealand. He cooked for us, his only guests, a delicious dinner of venison, which took five hours to get through. The wine flowed and Malcolm waxed lyrical - about his dogs initially but then about his interest in the occult. The more he drank the quicker he spoke, leaving us no room to comment. We gave up after a while and just let him continue full flow. The lights were dim, we were in a very remote area and the house was spooky. Denis Wheatly books adorned the shelves. Large knives were on display in the open plan kitchen and then there were those teddies with the strange eyes…
After asking us five times if we’d like some Manuka honey ice cream, eventually we were served some. Although by this time, I wished I’d declined two hours previously and just gone to bed. Throughout the meal, satellite TV blared out and Malcolm bobbed up and down at least a dozen times to let his weak-bladdered dogs into the garden. Each time this happened he repeated the command, “You may go,” accompanied by an exaggerated flourish of the hand.
It had been a long day. When the dessert eventually materialized it was delicious. As I was savouring the unusual taste of the Tea Tree honey ice cream the biggest dog, a Newfoundland the size of a small pony, started to drool on the tablecloth just next to my plate.
“It’s all right, my darling, you shall have some. You beautiful girl,” cooed Malcolm.
No, he was not addressing me, but his beloved dog without any table manners. Every so often he would bend his grey head down from the table to kiss the top of the dogs’ heads. At one point, to my amazement, he got up from the table, lifted one of the Springer Spaniel’s tails and kissed its bottom. The appeal of the ice cream melted away at that moment.
Malcolm’s conversation was continually peppered with compliments to the various dogs, such as, “Musetta, you gorgeous girl, you’re the love of my life.”
Stunned, we staggered to bed well past midnight, after struggling to shut the reluctant dining room door, which objected with loud groans. This was a trigger for the dogs to start barking uncontrollably again as if at some unseen phantom. Remembering the supernatural stories that had been recounted over dinner, I felt nervous and wondered if there was a way of securing our door. Homestays do not have locks on the bedroom doors and so, trying to ignore the row of glassy eyes on the mantelpiece, I flopped into bed for a restless night’s sleep. This, in spite of the fact that I’d superstitiously placed my bible, like a talisman, on the bedside table.
The next morning dawned grey and drizzly. It was like an omen. We had planned on spending the day on Malcolm’s private beach. This had been the main draw and one of the reasons that we wanted to stay in this particular guesthouse. It had been featured in the Homestay Book and looked irresistible. Malcolm’s garden overlooked the sea and the beach was just yards away. But it proved to be so near, but so far away. Not only was the weather inclement but also it seemed that the beach was inaccessible. Our host, sporting a skimpy bathrobe, prepared our huge, cooked breakfast. Throughout the preparation of the meal, he had unselfconsciously adjusted his nether regions, whilst giving a running commentary about the forbidden beach. Malcolm explained over breakfast, while competing with the television, which was on full volume, that he did not like the dogs going to the beach and so had let the foliage take over. We were told in no uncertain terms that we must not attempt to visit the beach in case one of the dogs should follow us. This was the last straw. Malcolm should have been running a kennels not a homestay.
We decided that it was damage limitation time. Feeling slightly jaded after much driving and only one night in each new place, Peter had booked three nights at this homestay, but he made an excuse and reduced the time to two nights. This information was greeted with a frosty glare and we were served pasta that night and no wine - at least not for us.
Although we hadn’t planned it, we went to Nelson that day. It felt safer somehow. The sun shone bright and clear and we enjoyed strolling around this lovely little town with its Art Deco cathedral. Another bonus was that a string quartet was practicing in the cathedral for a concert that night and so we had a free preview.
Upon our return to Mahau Sound at around 5 o’clock, I glanced through the window to see Malcolm swigging from a whisky bottle, which he promptly hid away when he heard us. The dogs went wild when they saw us and the younger of the two Springer Spaniels leapt up at me, scratching my arms and bruising my legs. Malcolm abruptly informed me that he did not believe in saying, “No,” to a dog. This is after I’d said, “No,” sharply to the offending hound. Instead, I should have just turned my back on the creature and it would have got the message. If only I’d known.
Dinner didn’t take so long on our second night, in spite of the canine toilet ritual. After enduring another monologue about his dogs, we made our excuses and went to bed. But first came the battle with the heavy dining room door once again, which fought back, and trying to ignore the ensuing barking that this invoked, we made it to the refuge of the bedroom.
Realising that we were not going to be part of a Stephen King type horror scenario, but that Malcolm was just a lonely, harmless drunk who was besotted with his dogs, we slept soundly.
The next morning, after perusing the Homestay Book, we decided to stay at Willow Lodge, a 1930’s style house, near the centre of Christchurch. Malcolm kindly agreed to book us in and assured us that he would phone the owner.
“It’s all part of the service,” he said with a smile.
Maybe he was not such a bad chap, after all.
Christchurch Part 1
Before I begin this story about Christchurch, I must explain that we took the visit just before the disastrous earthquake that struck the city on 22nd February 2011.
On our arrival at Christchurch, we were pleased to find that our homestay was an attractive 1930’s style house, perched on the banks of the River Dee that runs through the city. Willow Lodge had a flower filled front garden and pretty stained glass windows. It was good to be back in civilization after the previous remote homestay and the house looked cheerful and welcoming.
Grania, our hostess, was quite a character. Tall and slim with wild, curly hair, she seemed to have limitless energy and enthusiasm. She needed it as she ran the homestay on her own.
“G’day. You’re booked in for one night, right?” she greeted us, lifting our heavy suitcase as if it was made of polystyrene.
“Er, no. We booked through Malcolm, our last homestay host in Mahau Sound, for three nights with you.” I was beginning to wonder if this was deliberate, after all he was an unusual character. Maybe it was revenge as we had cancelled our last night with him.
Unfazed, Grania sorted everything out. She had some Americans booked in the following night who had specifically requested our room. We had an early start the following day, and so Grania said she’d move our things into a much smaller and more basic room after we had left. However, the night after that she was fully booked. We needed to find somewhere else to stay as we had planned a full itinerary.
Scanning the Homestay Book, we found one round the corner that had just opened. It was in a converted warehouse and sounded interesting and so, after dinner, we strolled round to look at it. The room was gorgeous. It reminded me of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong but at a tenth of the price. The furnishing and pictures were oriental in style and every luxury was catered for. There was even a cut glass decanter and glasses on the antique dresser.
By contrast, on our return, Grania’s home looked a bit tawdry, although interesting. It was like a museum. Everything in it, from the crockery to the curtains, was authentic and in the Art Deco style. Our large, sunny bedroom was furnished in typical bulky 1930’s furniture. Even the slightly faded bedspread was an original piece from that era. It was a lifetime’s work that she had taken on and it was charming.
The alarm clock woke us at 6am. We had arranged for a taxi to collect us at 7 o’clock to take us to the Trans Alpine Express.
It was a bright, clear morning and the flowers along the side of the river were being coaxed open by the sun.
We boarded the TAE with anticipation. The scenery that we were to pass through was reported to be stunning. It was. By now we almost felt as though we were on scenery overload as we passed through the heartland of New Zealand from the East to West coast. We chugged along past lush farmland, forests, active volcanoes, soaring mountains, alpine tussock land, wild gorges and broad rivers. Everywhere in New Zealand looked beautiful.
However, the Trans Alpine Express turned out to be a bit of a misnomer, as the journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, which should have taken eight hours, took us a gruelling twelve. The express turned out to be a slow coach, as the rails had heated up in the unusually hot weather, and we could only chug along at twenty miles per hour.
A chattering bunch of Japanese tourists, eagerly clutching their latest digital cameras, boarded with us. At each stop along the way we picked up another group, the women wearing extraordinary clothes combinations and cotton hats to maintain their upper class pallor. They looked as if they’d all shopped at the same store. All were snapping pictures of each other on the platform, then proceeded to take more of their fellow travellers drinking coffee in the carriage.
“I wonder if they delete these pictures when they get home,” I remarked to Peter, who takes shots sparingly and with much thought.
Maybe they take more photos of each other looking at the pictures on their state of the art flat screen televisions or computers.
The deserted scenery was again beautiful, as we crossed the plains between the mountains. We were told that this particular trip was more enjoyable in the winter when the mountains are clad with snow.
Then we spotted some mad fools. Participants in the coast-to-coast run from Christchurch to Greymouth. They were going faster than the train! Apparently, people spend months preparing for this arduous marathon and come from all over the world to participate. Part of the route is spent kayaking and cycling.
I felt exhausted just watching them.
Due to the length of our journey, we only had half and hour to spend in Greymouth, an ex-mining town. Maori settlers were the first to make their home on the West Coast and named the area Te Tai O Poutini. It was valued for its pounamu jade but, centuries later, European pioneers arrived in search of gold, coal and timber. We just had time to grab a snack before boarding the train once more for the slow return trip. In typical Kiwi fashion, the staff kept cracking jokes over the intercom. These were interspersed with nuggets of information about the various places we passed through.
The Kiwis have a great sense of humour. They seem to get a sadistic pleasure from poking fun at their rivals, the Australians. They have a love/hate relationship and refer to Australia as, “that offshore island!”
When we eventually got “home” there was a party atmosphere. The American guests, who now had taken possession of our room, had arrived and were having a whisky tasting session. Then one of Grania’s friends, a famous local artist and gallery owner, arrived bearing sparkling wine. We were immediately included in the small party, and although travel weary, had a glass of wine with them. Grania told us that evening that the TAE is often late and people using the train to get to Christchurch Airport frequently miss their flights.
One never knows whom one will meet at breakfast in these homestays. The surprise is part of the fun. The next morning we were introduced to a retiring English couple who had arrived at 1am. Grania had dozed on the sofa, waiting for their arrival. She looked a bit tired, as she served a healthy breakfast of organic muesli, fresh fruit and whole meal bread and cheese. The American gentleman was not too impressed with this wholesome fare.
“Could you fry me some eggs, Grania?” He boomed.
“If you want such an unhealthy meal - you can get it yourself,” was her curt reply.
An embarrassed silence fell on the happy gathering.
Then the American lady came to the rescue, “Oh, I always tell him to fry his own eggs.”
The awkward moment was over and conversation, along with the coffee, flowed again.
Christchurch Part 2
We bade a sad farewell to Grania and Willow lodge before driving along the banks of the River Avon to The Chester, our rather grand homestay. The Avon flows through the centre of the city and is named to commemorate the Scottish Avon, which flows into the Clyde.
Our dirty clothes had piled up and I wondered how nomads ever managed to get any laundry done and was grateful that a solution was at hand. That day we were to meet up with some old Kiwi friends, Jane and George, who used to live in our hometown in England. We were looking forward to catching up with them, as we hadn’t seen them for over twelve years. They had kindly offered to show us some sights before having a barbecue at their home and - deep joy - letting me use their washing machine.
We were just installed in The Chester, when George and Jane arrived to whisk us away on a tour. I could have spent a couple of hours revelling in the luxury of The Chester and felt exhausted after the marathon train journey of the previous day. However, I dragged myself away from the huge painting on the wall, which I was admiring when the doorbell rang. The work of art looked rather familiar. Then I had sudden recall as I remembered where I’d seen the painting before. It had been in the Sistine Chapel in Rome and was a copy of Michael Angelo’s Sybilles. I wondered why he painted such muscular women and later learned that he only used male models, even when painting women.
It was good to see our friends again. George looked thinner and both looked a tad older. Jane was a little plumper and more sophisticated than I remembered her. She was a brunette when I had last seen her and now she sported a blonde bob.
“G’day. I’m a psychotherapist now,” she greeted me.
I didn’t know quite how to respond to this piece of information.
“Hello, Jane. I’m a writer now.” I responded and she had the same surprised look on her face.
No longer the businesswoman, I expect she thought that I had lost any lingering air of sophistication. We all laughed. It’s strange meeting up with people after a long break. The veneer can appear different but usually the person is the same on the inside. It takes a while for this to sink in and a type of shyness, as if meeting with strangers, forms an invisible barrier for a while.
Our first stop was at The Cultural Precinct, situated in Cathedral Square, in the centre of Christchurch. We had a coffee on the pavement café before watching some street performers. The ambience had a very English air about it. We could have been in Oxford. This remarkable similarity is no coincidence, as the Canterbury pilgrims had the idea of building a city around a cathedral and college on the model of Christ Church College, Oxford. Christchurch was named by the Canterbury Association, which agreed this name at their first meeting on 27th March 1848. One John Robert Godley, who had attended Christ Church, Oxford, suggested the name. The cathedral took pride of place in the square and, like several buildings, was constructed in the Gothic Revival Style.
It was a Saturday morning and the city was alive with residents and tourists enjoying the sun. Red trams clanged past us, bringing back memories of my childhood in Merseyside.
We drove to Sumner Beach and had lunch in a little café, before George took us for a long drive, pointing out places of interest. Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand, so there was a lot to take in. Picturesque, it is bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean and is a third of the way down the South East Coast.
It was in Christchurch that we were introduced to Southern Man. George patiently drove us round, so that my husband could take photos of his heroes.
Similar to the tough, no-nonsense Aussie Man, Southern Man is macho and a man of few words. He was introduced to us in the form of large billboard hoardings advertising Speight’s beer. The adverts always had the same format; two men, one young, the other older, wearing outback gear and having a conversation. For example, the younger man would ask a question
YM “Ever been abroad?”
OM “Not much of a cross dresser, boy.”
YM “Cricket fan?”
OM “Only if there’s nothing else to eat, boy”.
See what I mean.
In spite of New Zealand men appearing macho, Southern Woman is no pushover and appear strong and independent. Jane was no exception.
“We’re going to the shopping mall now,” she told us as we piled into the car.
Soon we were in a characterless mall in Shirley, on the outskirts of the city. Like large hotels or airports, we could have been anywhere in the world. Jane stocked up on provisions for the barbecue and soon we were sampling the delights of outdoor cuisine on their terrace. George had even opened a ten-year-old bottle of Pinot Noir to celebrate.
During the course of the evening, talk turned to my still discoloured ankle. Jane inspected it curiously.
“You have been bitten by a White Tail Spider!” She announced dramatically.
Swallowing hard, I absorbed this piece of news before asking her what the implications might be.
I was regaled with information about this terrible creature - an import from that offshore island. Words like blood poisoning and amputation bombarded me.
“What’s the treatment?” I asked, wondering if my last hours were to be spent at the Chester. There were worse places to end one’s days.
“Antibiotics.” Jane continued to dress a salad.
As it happened, I was just completing a course of antibiotics for a chest infection that I’d picked up a few days before our trip. I was still on them when the dreaded insect had taken a fancy to me. What had seemed like a nuisance at the time could be a blessing. But, was the dose strong enough and were they the right sort to combat the assault of the deadly White Tail Spider?
“This will explain why I haven’t been unwell and the swelling is starting to go down a bit. Well, it hasn’t got any worse.” I told her. Was I trying to convince myself?
After a wonderful barbeque, we said our good-byes and George returned us to our opulent room. Yippee, we had clean clothes again, thanks to Jane’s help. As I folded back the exotic silk bedspread, I decided to see a doctor for my ankle. Just to be on the safe side.
The next morning, as promised, a tray was left outside our back door. Breakfast was served. Although the room had a fridge, microwave, kettle and toaster, we did not need to use them. As we were enjoying our freshly brewed coffee and croissants, an exquisite sound wafted through the ceiling from upstairs. It was Jan, our host, practicing for a concert on his violin. Grania had told us that he was the director of music for the New Zealand Philharmonic. Somehow the serenade fitted the perfection of this place. Pity we had to leave so soon.
Before we set out on our travels once more, our delightful homestay hosts came down to say, “Farewell.”
“Please sign the guest book before you go. There are only a few entries as we’ve only been open for business a few weeks,” Jan asked. Jan is pronounced ‘Yan’, as he is Dutch.
As I opened the guest book, I noticed there were indeed only a few entries. Two were Japanese and the other was written in a flourish by a couple from Australia (that off shore island). Lord and Lady someone.
I was tempted to sign, Lord and Lady Cross of Gloucestershire, but Peter restrained me from penning such grandiose illusions.
Instead, I signed Peter and Susan Molyneux Cross, thinking that this sounded suitably impressive for such a salubrious place.
As we reluctantly left the comfort of our air-conditioned room, the heat outside assaulted us. It was going to be a scorcher.
Little did we know that not long after our visit, Christchurch was to be rocked by an earthquake, the force of which, would wreak unmentionable havoc and loss of life.
After Christchurch, our destination was Lake Tekapo, where we arrived mid-afternoon. The temperature was a staggering 38 degrees and it felt as if we were walking in soup.
Tekapo is a small resort town on the shores of a stunningly beautiful lake, one of three that run along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin. The second largest of the three, it is 32 square miles and dominates the town in all its splendour.
My ankle, still affected by a mysterious bite, was looking a little calmer and so I decided to not bother looking for a doctor in such blistering heat.
The Swiss chalet style homestay overlooked the lake and was plain but comfortable. Rosemary, our hostess, looked like a wilted flower and tried to muster up a smile when we arrived. She showed us to our room that faced the full glare of the sun. It was like stepping into a sauna and so I drew the curtains as they do in the tropics, in an attempt to cool it down a little. Coffee and tea making facilities were available on a shelf on the landing that we shared with other guests. Not surprisingly, the milk had gone off and so I brewed black tea, which was quite refreshing. I languished on the bed for an hour like a lazy Mem Sahib while Peter went out for a wander; a true Sahib – toughened by the twelve years when we had lived in Mauritius and Hong Kong.
A Chinese takeaway beckoned and Peter had bought a bottle of White Cloud wine, which cooled to perfection in the fridge in Rosemary’s kitchen. The Maori named New Zealand the Land of the Long White Cloud when they first settled and I could see why. Whispy clouds hover over the mountain ranges that run along the centre of the two islands. We ate on our balcony and watched the sky change the reflections on the lake while sipping New Zealand nectar. Even now, I can’t resist putting a New Zealand white in my supermarket trolley when we are in the UK. The Marlborough vineyards produce excellent wines.
The next day we awoke to some welcome monsoon rain, which ushered in cooler weather. Breakfast was taken with a German and English couple that shared their itineraries with us. The table had been set with care and Rosemary had even made some croissants herself. They were not quite up to the standard of the French variety but still impressive. As I spread homemade jam onto the flaky delight, I admired a collection pretty jam pots. Each one had what looked like a different fruit imbedded into the inside of the clear domed lid like a timeless fossil. They were identical to the ones at the Hot Water Beach homestay and I decided to take some back to England as a souvenir. Not, you understand from Rosemary’s table!
As I savourd my second cup of coffee, I brought up the subject of White Tailed Spiders. Rosemary seemed quite knowledgeable.
“Bites are extremely rare but can prove fatal.” Her words hit me with force in the solar plexus.
Agog and suddenly nauseas, I decided it was time to find a doctor that day. The plan was to drive south to Queenstown, a sizeable distance, where we’d already booked into the next homestay for a whole five nights. Luxury. We could even unpack. En route I’d find a doctor I promised myself, as we loaded the boot of the car once more, the rain bombarding us with the ferocity of bullets. But first it was imperative to make a call to a famous site.
On Rosemary’s recommendation we visited at a quaint little chapel perched on the side of the lake. The Church of the Good Shepherd is the most photographed church in New Zealand. I could see why. Built in 1935, it has an altar window that frames the lake and mountains. The effect was as beautiful as any stained glass window and a testament to the wonders of Creator God. And as I gazed out at this awesome vista, all thoughts of White Tailed Spiders were lost.
White Tail Spiders
Back in the car we headed south, leaving Tekapo and arrived in the small town of Twizel. It seemed an unlikely name for a place; more suited to a chocolate snack bar to keep you going between meals. I announced to Peter that I’d like to find a chemist and ask his advice about my ankle. This was done easily as we parked outside a pharmacy in the small shopping centre. The chemist looked curiously at my swollen, discoloured ankle and suggested I go to the doctor’s surgery round the corner.
We sloshed through muddy puddles in our summer sandals and found a cosy surgery in what looked like someone’s house. The place was deserted except for a lone receptionist. She looked up from her knitting as I shared my concerns with her.
Glancing at her appointment book, she announced helpfully,” Come back in six hours when the doctor has a slot.”
I would not have been surprised to see a sign hanging up on the doctor’s door, GONE FISHING.
We were en route for Queenstown, had a long drive ahead and our hosts were expecting us for dinner that evening. I declined her offer.
We waded back through fat raindrops to see the chemist and enquire if there was another surgery in the town. There wasn’t.
“Your best plan is to call into the clinic in Frankton, just outside Queenstown. I know them there. Just say George sent you,” he announced with a broad grin.
I reflected on this conversation in the car. It’s funny how in this country people seem to know each other, even miles away. The New Zealand population is so low that the country is like one amiable village.
So, encouraged, we set off for Frankton. The further south we drove, the better the weather became and with it my spirits lifted. Soon we were back in the brilliant sunshine that we’d started to take for granted.
Frankton is small and the clinic easy to find. Unfortunately, name-dropping did not get me an appointment, as they were fully booked. The receptionist recommended the local hospital that was round the corner. I groaned inwardly. My past experiences with A & E departments had meant tedious hours sitting in dismal waiting rooms. I braced myself for the long haul.
To my amazement, the waiting room was empty and eerily quiet until a diminutive nurse bustled in with a clipboard. So, within five minutes of my arrival she had me seated in a treatment room, where she proceeded to take my blood pressure.
“Have you been in hospital in England over the past year?” She asked.
I told her that I had not and she looked relieved as she wrote on a complicated looking form.
“We don’t want any of those nasty hospital bugs here,” she said, while looking at my ankle with a puzzled expression on her face.
I asked her about White Tail Spiders, as I was certain that I'd been bitten by one. My hope was that someone in the medical profession would give me sound information, without the usual accompanying drama.
“I’ve never seen a bite before but I can see some puncture marks, so you’ve been bitten by something. We’ll see what Elizabeth has to say.”
I asked her if Elizabeth was another nurse.
“Oh, no. She’s the doctor.”
Once more I was amazed at the informality of this country. I mentioned this to the nurse, who assured me that New Zealand hospitals are indeed friendly places - not like those formal, overcrowded ones in England that she’d heard so much about.
With that bit of information, she breezed out, leaving me to wait for Elizabeth.
After a few minutes Elizabeth arrived. She did not wear a white overall but looked as if she was having a vacation.
“Does this hurt?” she asked with an English accent, pressing hard.
“Ouch!” I squealed.
“Did that hurt, then?” she asked.
I wondered what she would have said if I’d replied, “No, not at all. I just like the sound of Ouch”.
She then asked me if I could remember falling down, as she thought that I had broken my ankle. I assured her that I had not fallen, or even knocked my ankle on anything.
“You’d better have an X ray anyway. I’m going off duty now, but James will see you with the results.”
“He’s the doctor – right?” I was getting used to the system by now.
“Yes, he’ll be along shortly,” she assured me.
After many X rays, James sauntered along looking like a film star and not wearing a threatening white coat. He was from Denmark. It was like the United Nations in sleepy Frankton.
“Your ankle isn’t broken,” he told me.
I wasn’t surprised.
“Then what is it?” I asked.
“No idea,” was the response, which was given with a broad grin, exposing perfect teeth.
With that I left the A & E department, which was still devoid of patients, non-the wiser but somewhat relieved that amputation was not imminent. However, I was still puzzled as to what had actually happened to my ankle.
I’m sticking to the White Tail Spider theory.
We were late arriving at our next homestay - Twin Peaks in Queenstown, where the magnificent lake beckoned us.
Queenstown Part 1
After the White Tail Spider drama we were late arriving at Twin Peaks, an amazing house (see my last New Zealand blog for a picture) and situated on Lake Wakatipu in the bustling tourist resort of Queenstown. The area is popular with both locals and foreigners wanting an adventure holiday. For the energetic, there is no shortage of sport from jet skiing, sky diving, mountain biking, trekking to snow boarding. Legend has it that the town received its name when a gold digger remarked that the place was, “Fit for Queen Victoria.”
Margaret, our hostess, greeted us like royalty with the usual Kiwi hospitality and, if she was irritated by our late arrival, she disguised it well. She ushered us into the most stunningly modern and unusual house that I have ever seen with walls on the waterside that seemed to be made completely of glass, so that we were at one with the enormous lake. The vistas were breathtaking.
We apologized for our late arrival, explaining the visit to the hospital.
“These chairs are reserved,” Margaret pointed to two recliners in the window, “for you,” she continued with a wry smile.
This was just what the doctor ordered. We sat there in a sort of daze with a pot of tea , munching on home made cookies and drinking in yet another spectacular view.
Recovered, we were shown to our ensuite room. Like the rest of the house, it was tastefully furnished and full of light. Twin Peaks only had two guest rooms, each luxurious. The bedroom doors folded right back so that we could enjoy the view of the lake through the glass corridor walls. This house was an architectural masterpiece.
Margaret had thought of everything - coffee and tea making facilities, home made cookies in a jar, a bowl of fruit and fresh flowers were arranged in our room.
At 6.30pm we were invited to have a drink on the terrace. Derek, our host, was back from work and took a bottle of Chardonnay from the fridge that was built into the outside wall. The spectacular mountain range beyond the lake took on different hues in the changing light. We wondered how long it would be before developers would ruin this unspoiled spot. I couldn’t help comparing this mountainous region to the tourist spots in southern Spain which is so over developed.
Derek told us that people from Europe and the United States were investing in holiday homes in the area. It seemed that retirees were now travelling to the Southern Hemisphere to winter. Personally, found New Zealand just too far away to do this. In the time we spent waiting for our connection from Sydney to Auckland we could have flown from Bristol to Malaga. Flights had become cheap and cheerful within Europe even if it meant forgoing seating allocation and decent on board meals.
After a pleasant ‘cocktail hour’ we decided to savour the delights of Queenstown. The streets thronged with tourists. Feeling slightly homesick for Spain, I was pleased to see a tapas bar offering meals. We sat at a table in the window, which was a cross between a bar and a ledge opening up onto the busy street. Sitting there we had a bird’s eye view of the passersby. Equally, they had a good view of us and we felt rather like zoo animals on display as we ate our fish and chips. Well, the Spanish like fried fish and patatas fritas too!
After our very English tasting meal (no olives or baguette on the side), we went for a stroll on this balmy evening in December. Soon we were caught up in the throng who had the same idea. There on the Boardwalk we saw the famous restaurant where President Clinton had dined. The establishment was bustling and very different from any other place we had visited in sleepy New Zealand. It came as a bit of a surprise when we returned to Twin Peaks that the door had been left open for us at eleven o’clock at night. This was definitely not the Costa del Crime. Margaret had turned the bed down for us and put a chocolate on each pillow - a five star touch.
The sun caused sparkles to bounce off the lake the next day as if diamonds had been scattered from an unseen hand. After such a lot of driving, we decided to have a leisurely morning planning the rest of our itinerary. Peter wanted to experience at least one fishing trip and I was hoping to do a spot of watercolour painting. We both wanted to visit the fjords in the south and a glacier at Mount Cook on our return north. These adventures needed to be pre-booked.
Margaret helped with all this and booked us a flight to see the fjords the next day. This done, we returned to Queenstown to take a ferry ride on The Earnshaw, a restored steamboat. We had a leisurely cruise around the lake, stopping to pick up some more passengers at a beautiful old, colonial style house. This used to be the governor’s residence and it reminded us of the type of building that one could see in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or India in the days of the Raj.
There was a lounge area on the boat, which was like going back in time with its polished brassware and oak panelling. A Japanese tourist sat near us, oblivious to the beautiful scenery, which surrounded us. He just sat, transfixed, his gaze never leaving the floor. Perhaps he was afraid of water or maybe he was just exhausted from too much sight seeing. Apparently, the Japanese pack a great deal into their week’s holiday. It made our schedule seem positively lazy when we heard what they did in such a short space of time. The poor tourist looked as if he had over done it a bit. It was Tuesday, so it must be Queenstown. Tomorrow, Wednesday - Mount Cook, and so on. I suppose you'd call it 'going Japanese.'
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Queenstown Part 2
God's Frozen People
When we arrived ‘home’ at Twin Peaks in Queenstown we met some new guests - always interesting. This time it was an English couple. He was a doctor with a grey beard and she a friendly person with a scrubbed, wholesome appearance. If I’d known about his imminent arrival, I wouldn’t have bothered visiting the hospital the previous day! They were having one night of luxury before two arduous weeks of trekking, camping and kayaking.
Trekking, or tramping, as the Kiwis call it, is very popular. Many tourists visit New Zealand just to experience this and stay at specially built cabins, which are distributed en route for the convenience of these hearty travellers.
That evening we revisited Frankton in search of the jam pots with the unusual lids. Margaret had them on her breakfast table each morning too and, knowing I admired them, recommended we try a large shop called The Warehouse, which was situated on the outskirts of town. We got there five minutes before closing time but, unfortunately, they did not stock the elusive jars.
After being thrown out of the huge shop by staff eager to get home, we spotted a restaurant opposite in the tiny shopping precinct. It didn’t look very exciting but we were hungry and thought we’d give it a try. The food was superb, beautifully cooked and presented and, amazingly, was half the price of the restaurants in Queenstown. There was not a tourist in sight but it was packed with locals.
Sitting in the window gave us a marvellous view of the nearby mountain range, The Remarkables, which are aptly named. We also had an unremarkable view of The Warehouse car park, which was the practice ground for a couple of roller blade hockey players. They went round and round, hypnotically and tirelessly for over an hours.
We mentioned this to our host, Derek, upon our return to Twin Peaks.
“Oh yes,” he remarked dryly, “ a couple of lunatics escaped from the asylum this evening”.
Naming the restaurant, we were told that the same person who ran the famous establishment on The Boardwalk owned it; the one frequented by presidents. This explained why the standard was so high. Apparently, it had not yet been discovered by the tourists and was a secret that the locals were keeping to themselves.
The next morning we were disappointed to find out that our flight to the fjords had been cancelled due to bad weather. Looking out of the window, this news seemed improbable but apparently the weather was rough the other side of the mountains, making a flight in a light aircraft dangerous. We rescheduled for the following day and drove to nearby Glenochy instead. The Scottish sounding name is appropriate as the scenery is bold and rugged. Many Scots emigrated in the past to the Southern tip of the South Island, settling in Duneden, which is supposed to resemble Edinburgh. We ran out of time and never made it to Duneden - maybe next time. Glenochy was like a Wild West outpost with a bar to match. We had a coffee there, served by an English waitress and chuckled at yet another Southern Man poster, this one more detailed than the outdoor hoardings with their one-liners. (See Christchurch blog)
On the way back we stopped to take some photos and I did my first sketch. I had itchy fingers and was longing to do a painting. My opportunity came that afternoon. My husband wanted to go on a jet speedboat - an exhilarating, fast and bumpy ride. I decided to stay home and be sedate. Margaret went out, leaving me alone in Twin Peaks. How trusting these homestay hosts are! I was also given free reign to use the well equipped laundry room. Laundry had become a bit of a problem with all our moving around.
My husband got back, on an adrenaline high, after his ride. He even had a professional photo to remind him of the white-knuckle event.
This was child’s play compared to what we witnessed the following day - bungee jumping from a great height into the Kawarau River beneath. No, we did not participate. Just watching was enough to send the blood pressure soaring.
We never did get to see the fjords at Milton Sound as the flight was cancelled again and, as heavy rain was forecast the following day, we gave up on the idea. Instead we made a trip to Wanaka and looked into some art galleries. There is also a beautiful but much smaller lake there. The town was quieter and there were very few tourists to be seen, which made a pleasant change. We wandered around in brilliant sunshine, knowing that the weather was squally the other side of the mountains. My other half was keen to visit a flight museum that was on our way back to Queenstown. What a poignant place. Not a few New Zealand airmen sacrificed their lives in the Second World War.
As this was to be our last evening in Queenstown, we decided to have a drink in a bar called Minus 5. We entered into another world as we donned thick anoraks, boots and gloves, all provided by the proprietors. Such were the conditions that we were only allowed into The Zone for twenty minutes. Any longer may have been dangerous. As we paid our rather expensive bill before entering, I started to feel rather apprehensive. I need not have worried, as I don’t feel the cold much, although minus five degrees is very parky. Everything in the bar was made of ice - the stools, the tables, the walls and even the glasses. Cleverly carved ice sculptures decorated this igloo. Everyone was served a fruit flavoured vodka, which did not freeze. No wonder it is so popular in Russia.
“My hands are starting to feel numb,” my husband observed after about ten minutes.
“It’s no different to a day in January in the north of England.” I was feeling flippant after the vodka.
About ten people sipped their drinks shyly and did not speak to each other. All were English tourists, God’s frozen people. Some sported grey Elijah beards.
After our twenty-minute slot we were told, “Time, gentlemen please,” and we all shuffled out into the warm night air, transported back into the real world once more and glad to remove the arctic clothing. Not feeling very hungry after our large lunch, we popped into a takeaway and ate a packet of chips on the street corner practising our new game, Grey Beard Alert. Why was it that so many tourists had a penchant for facial hair? I think we counted at least twenty that evening. It all helps to pass the time.
MINUS 5 BAR
Margaret had warned us that some new guests were to arrive in the wee small hours that morning. We were woken at 2am as they were shown the room next to ours.
In spite of their late arrival, they were up bright and early and we shared breakfast with a friendly Dutch couple. Entrepreneurs, they had founded the franchise Oil and Vinegar. This couple looked sophisticated, successful and wealthy and wore expensive looking clothes. They asked us casually over eggs and bacon where we had eaten the night before.
I couldn’t resist it, “Oh, we ate a packet of chips on a street corner.”
They were too stunned to reply.
We said a fond farewell to our hosts, Derek and Margaret, the following day. They both hugged us and Margaret said that we had become a part of the family. Upon our return home to England, we received several emails from homestay owners. Maybe it’s just good marketing, but I like to think that we made some new friends.
Our stay at Twin Peaks was faultless. The only regret we had was that we had not booked a boat trip to see the fjords instead of relying on a flight. Apparently the cruises never get cancelled.
Derek had recommended that we stop enroute for a homemade ice-cream at a place called Cromwell. We found a huge fruit and vegetable store where we purchased strawberries and cream ice cream. This we devoured in a fragrant rose garden in the grounds. Fortified, we made our way to Twizel, home of George the pharmacist (do keep up - see previous blog).
Twizel looked more appealing in the sunshine and I was relieved that I would not need to visit the elusive doctor. It is a relatively new town, built in 1968 in a scenic Alpine style, as a greenfields project.
Araki Lodge was to be our home for two nights. The pretty wooden house had a cottage style garden ablaze with colour, and a verandah along the width of the building. We found the house easily enough but there was no one at home. Outside was a blackboard with a big fish drawn on it and an announcement underneath:
‘Vlad and Oksana are out at the moment. Make yourselves at home.’
A mobile phone number followed this friendly announcement, but try as we may, we could not make a connection and so we let ourselves into the house. Of course, the door was not locked, something that we were getting used to. We sat on a comfortable sofa and browsed through some magazines, wondering what our Russian hosts would be like. The lodge did not have the luxury of Twin Peaks but this was reflected in the price. My husband felt at home immediately in the sitting room with it’s lofty wooden ceiling, as everywhere was decorated with fishing paraphernalia. We soon learned that Vlad, an ex-officer in the Russian army, was a hunting and fishing coach.
After about half an hour, Osana breezed in, all smiles, with a toddler in tow. She showed us to our basic room and said that dinner would be at 7 o’clock. At little hesitantly she told us that we would be sharing the dinner table with some Irish gentlemen.
They turned out to be a hilarious threesome who stayed in Akari Lodge every year to pursue their first passion - fishing. Their second passion seemed to be drinking. It took a while to get used to their thick accents as they bantered between themselves.
I said to one of them, “I have difficulty understanding your accent. Do you have difficulty understanding me?”
His immediate response was, “Only when you speak!”
That evening they went out ‘for a little drink’ and left us to the peace and quiet of Akari Lodge.
At breakfast the following morning, Osana offered us bacon and eggs. Our fellow guests, who looked an interesting shade of green, declined anything to eat. Our hostess took all this in her stride. No doubt she’d seen it all before.
We were pleased to see that Osana had received a fax early that morning informing us that weather conditions were favourable for helicopter rides. A flight had been booked to Mount Cook that day.
I was a little apprehensive as the last helicopter ride, taken in Hawaii, was rather hair-raising. Our pilot had been in the U.S. Army and had flown in the Gulf war. Perhaps he was missing the adrenaline rush of living in a war zone, as he seemed to get a lot of pleasure scaring his passengers witless. We’d been flying low across lush foliage in what seemed like a glass bubble when, without warning, we flew over a drop of hundreds of feet. Experiencing this was terrifying and I remember letting out an involuntary scream. The taxi driver who took us to the heliport earlier that morning may have encouraged my fear. He relished telling us about the fatal helicopter crashes that had been a regular occurrence in Hawaii. Flying over the active volcano with its noxious smoke was rather like looking into the bowels of hell. I was relieved when my feet felt the reassurance of terra firma.
Fortunately the flight to Mount Cook proved to be more sedate and I actually enjoyed it. Our pilot was steady and did not have a wild glimmer in his eye like our friend in Hawaii. We landed on the glacier and were able to walk on the snow and enjoy the splendid frosty landscape, sparkling in the pristine snow, before returning to base.
Next stop was The Hermitage, a hotel and popular tourist destination overlooking the majestic Mount Cook. After lunch, there amidst loads of tourists, mainly Japanese, we took a stroll in the grounds and admired the view of the mountain from a different angle. I recognized a familiar face on our walk - an English tourist with a grey beard.
“Does that man look familiar to you?” I asked Husband.
“No, but you know me. I never remember faces.”
This was true. I knew I would remember eventually where I’d seen the face. Perhaps it was breathing in that clear air on the mountainside while standing on the snow that jogged my memory. The bearded one was with us that evening in the icy Minus 5 bar in Queenstown.
We got back to Twizel in time for me to paint a picture, in the solitude, of the Araki lodge garden. I am by nature a very chatty people person, except when I’m painting. It’s during these times that I become as quiet as a nun in a silent order and lose all sense of time. I was enjoying this artistic interlude, when people speaking, what I presumed to be Russian, broke my reverie. It was our host, Vlad, and a party of Russian tourists who’d been camping together for the weekend.
After sharing a very strong and vigorous handshake with Vlad, the party disappeared into the house. Vlad appeared tough and wiry. It was easy to imagine him wearing a Russian soldier’s uniform. I returned to my painting. Within minutes our Irish friends appeared after a successful fishing trip, hangovers forgotten. That night they decided not to go out “for a little drink.” Instead they honoured us with their company and we laughed until we ached.
The thinnest of the three of told us that he had paid a Chinese waiter in Hong Kong to go up to one of the others and ask in English, with an appropriately blank face, “What would you like to drink, you fat bastard?”
I had no trouble believing this.
The next morning was squally and so we were glad that we’d visited Mount Cook the previous day. We shared our final breakfast with our new friends plus a new guest, a Swedish girl. Not understanding Irish humour, she seemed alarmed by her fellow guests, gulped down a little fruit and disappeared back to her room.
We said our good-byes.
“Don’t forget to call into The Shed when you pass by. It’s a great experience.” They told us. I made a mental note of this as we drove off, the windscreen wipers working overtime.
Whatamango and Wellington
Our next homestay sounded like the description of a prize fruit. Whatamango, near Picton was surrounded by rampant foliage, so that it was easy to imagine tropical fruit growing wild. The large house where we would be staying enjoyed dramatic, sweeping views of Queen Charlotte Sound. Our hosts were welcoming as usual, although our room was disappointing and the bathroom seemed positively antiquated after the luxury of the previous one in Eynerwell. In civilized fashion, we were invited to join the other guests for pre-dinner drinks. This particular homestay included dinner if requested and, although pricey, we decided to treat ourselves. Maybe our host was a qualified chef.
To our amazement, we found out that two of our fellow guests hailed from our hometown in England, while the other couple were French and on a business trip. After the usual pleasantries, the other guests headed off to the restaurants of their choice, while we stayed behind to enjoy a gourmet meal.
The starter, which was produced with a flourish, turned out to be a grilled tomato with a bit of grated cheese on top. The main course consisted of a small piece of fried fish served with soggy vegetables and the pudding was some fruit salad. They poured us each a small glass of white wine that was not topped up during the meal. You could say that the meal was a disappointment.
Our hosts were interesting company, even though their cooking skills were dubious. Both retired teachers, they had travelled extensively throughout the Far East and had decked their home with many interesting artifacts. We had some miniature brass cockerels in our bedroom, which were once used to weigh opium.
During the evening our hosts told us to look out to sea. White sails fluttered in the breeze like restless butterflies. We had the glorious view of a yacht race.
The next morning, we took a quick sight seeing tour of Picton, with its pretty bay and small marina before catching the ferry. Once more we had a smooth crossing, for which I was thankful. We managed to get another rental car quickly and easily as, for some reason, the hire company would not let us take the same car from island to island. We had arrived in windy Wellington once more and were looking forward to seeing some old friends.
WELLINGTON - MAKING A MEAL OF IT
Wellington was even windier than our previous visit and we were buffeted by boisterous gusts as we made our way to The Museum Hotel. It felt rather impersonal after all the homestays, but the room was well furnished and we had a splendid view of the harbour. We also had a balcony that was completely devoid of furniture. Maybe it had been blown away.
Next-door was a large, well-equipped supermarket and so we decided to check it out. The city supermarket felt more familiar to us than the small town grocery stores that were the norm in New Zealand. There was a ready-cooked meal section and so we bought a Chinese takeaway and took it back to our hotel room.
That night we slept badly. The wind whistled around the hotel and everything seemed to shake, rattle and roll outside. Feeling a bit groggy the following morning, we strolled to the impersonal dining room for an adequate breakfast. Once more we wished we’d booked a homestay instead of a hotel. But the position was convenient. Opposite, the Te Papa Museum beckoned and so we crossed the street to see what was on display. It was not a disappointment. We started at the top of the building with an art exhibition, which featured life in the 70’s, from fashion, to music, to furnishings. Although we had spent the entire 70’s in Hong Kong, it seems that the trends were identical in New Zealand. Platform shoes, flared trousers, macramé – the list goes on…
As a complete contrast, the early settlers section took us to another world. This had been a harsh world, where the survival of the fittest was the rule of the day. The long boat journeys out from the UK were often dangerous and the conditions poor. The reconstructions were life like and, at times, heart rending. My husband, always a culture vulture, went back to the museum in the afternoon, while I made use of the hotel laundry facilities.
A few days prior to our visit to Wellington, we had phoned some old friends from our hometown in England. They and their four children had emigrated to New Zealand and lived on the outskirts of the capital. James was pleased to hear from us and had asked us to go for a coffee that evening. For speed and convenience, we bought a ready-made beef stroganoff and rice from the supermarket next to the hotel. The portions were enormous but we managed to finish the lot. Replete, we set off to find the home of our friends.
They were located in a large dormer bungalow in the pleasant suburb of Porirua. Their home overlooked the beach and was a far cry from their modern semi in England. We were given a warm welcome. Neither James nor Alison had changed much, although Alison looked a lot more glamorous than I remembered her. Now that her children had grown, she had more time for little luxuries like putting on make-up. She also worked full time, which appeared to have given her an added confidence. We would not have recognized the children, as all had grown beyond recognition. They appeared fit and tanned. Life here suited them.
After enjoying a guided tour of their spacious home, James invited us into the dining room. Dinner was served!
There it stood in all its glory - mounds of glutinous, filling, rice and an equally robust amount of steaming meat in a rich sauce.
“Hope you like beef stroganoff. I made it just for you this afternoon.” James enthused.
I felt the colour drain from my face at the thought of trying to eat a polite amount of this gastronomic achievement. Should I try and soldier on with it or come clean and tell James the ghastly truth? I decided the latter was the least damaging.
“I’m sorry, James, but we’ve eaten already. We understood that we were just coming round for a coffee.” I apologized.
James’s smile froze slightly, before he kindly invited us to just try a spoonful of his concoction. This we did, while the family tucked in. At least they would have enough food left over for the following day.
Fortunately, he had not slaved over a pudding. We were to try dark chocolate with a glass on Pinot Noir. This we managed. Just.
We returned to Wellington, our friendship intact, to another blustery night.
The weather was quieter in the early morning and, as I drew back the curtains, I was startled to see a Chinese gentleman on our communal balcony. He was polite and averted his eyes, as he arranged pot plants and garden furniture, so that the bleak balcony was transformed into an inviting sitting area. However, we had to set off to our next destination, so there was no time for sun bathing. We had guessed right, the furniture had been removed due to the high winds. No doubt the Chinese gentleman would be kept busy.
Check out my debut novel, Tea at Sam’s by going to the home page.
Before setting off from Wellington, I popped into The Warehouse, part of the chain of stores like the one I’d visited in Frankton. My search for the illusive jam pots with the pretty lids was in vain. I had more luck at a good quality leather factory shop where I managed to buy a large travel bag. Husband had destroyed mine by pulling it out of the car boot by the handle. As there was a heavy suitcase on top of it at the time it just couldn’t stand the strain. It was about ten years old, so had been about a bit.
On our long drive to Turangi a car flashed its lights as a warning as it travelled on the opposite side of the road. Just as well, as we soon came across a small landslide that blocked our side of the road. Peter swerved to the other side of the road, and, fortunately nothing was heading towards us.
We managed to find a lovely picnic spot at the side of a river. Once again we had the whole car park to ourselves. We were sitting on a picnic bench, enjoying the warm sunshine, when a car drew in close by. An elderly gentleman slowly emerged from the driving seat and strolled over for a chat. He was on his way to Lake Taupo but was concerned that his car was overheating. We had two drinking water bottles in the car and Peter used one of them for the car’s tank. He then used the other bottle to draw water from the river. As we were heading in the direction of Lake Taupo, we followed the pensioner, in case he ran into trouble, but all was well. We did not pass a single garage, so it was a timely appointment.
The speed limit in New Zealand is very low - 60 miles per hour out of residential areas. We’d been following a slow moving car and trailer for several miles. Overtaking is often difficult on the narrow, winding roads, so soon as we came to a straight stretch, my husband put his foot on the accelerator. It was at this moment that his speed must have been picked up by radar. A police car was soon on our tail, lights flashing. We were pulled over.
A smiling policeman got out of his car and issued us with a ticket.
“What speed were we doing?” Peter enquired politely.
“63 miles an hour. The limit is 60.” The smile never left his face. He was having fun.
Peter apologized politely and the policeman reduced the fine from a hefty $120 to a bearable $30. A little grovelling went a long way. We were told to pay the fine at a certain bank near Lake Taupo.
With much checking of the speedometer, we finally arrived at our fishing lodge in Turangi. This turned out to be another attractive wooden house in the colonial style, surrounded by secluded gardens. Ika Lodge had one guest room and a self-contained apartment with two bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen. As we were the first guests to arrive, we could take our pick. For a little extra money we plumped for the apartment, which had a secluded deck overlooking the back garden. Just over the hedge was the lake with a footpath running alongside.
Unlike Eynerwell, Ika Lodge was close to shops. We bought steak and salad and enjoyed a meal ‘at home.’ I was looking forward to watching a bit of television but was soon disappointed. Old re-runs of English soap operas is not my idea of a treat. Coronation Street is particularly popular in New Zealand. One lady I got chatting to on the ferry said that some New Zealanders believe that all English people live like those in that famous street.
Suzanne, our hostess, prepared our fellow guests, another English couple, a very good cooked breakfast. She was not as bright and cheerful as our usual hostesses and we learned that she and her husband had been trying to sell their property for a long time. I sympathized, as this can be a stressful experience.
We headed for the metropolis - a small shopping complex that was a three-minute drive away. As we parked we noticed a Maori boy, about eight years old, up a tree. He took no time in chatting to us.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jam pots.” I described the ones I was looking for.
“Follow me.” He announced confidently as he leapt from his lookout post.
So we did. He took us straight to a kitchenware shop but they did not stock the jam pots.
Just as I was chatting to the shop assistant, a tourist approached me.
“Excuse me. Sorry to bother you,” she whispered in typical English fashion. “I know where you can get them. There’s a gift shop in Taupo that stocks them.”
Knowing that we would pass through Taupo in a few days time, I thanked her profusely. We said goodbye to our new Maori friend, who told us that his Dad had moved out, and we headed home, saddened by his news.
The following day was a Sunday and Peter was looking forward to a fishing lesson with Kerri, our host. I decided, as it was to be our first Sunday that we would not be on the road, to go to church. Not knowing which one to go, I called into the local tourist information office. Anyone would think that I’d announced that I’d like to visit the moon, such was the look of shock of the assistant’s face.
“Do you have a list of churches?” I asked.
“Er, no. We’ve never been asked before. Do you know which church this lady could go to, Jane?” She turned to her colleague, a Maori lady.
The colleague knew a lot about local churches. She searched in a drawer and found a scrappy piece of paper with a list of churches and phone numbers. I scanned it and decided to try a ‘free church.’
The Maori lady informed me that the church was run from a couple’s home but did not have a phone number or time that the service would start. She wrote their address on a piece of paper and gave me directions.
I soon found a bungalow near the Information Office and rang the doorbell. A sweet, elderly lady called Isabel greeted me. She invited me into her tidy sitting room, where a large bible sat on the coffee table and we had a long chat. Their own church had closed down but she told me of a lively Maori church which met in the Community Centre. Isabel and her husband attended the Anglican church, which had merged with the Presbyterians and Methodists. I decided to try the Maori one as it would probably be the only opportunity to do such a thing.
Over a cozy cup of tea, she told me her life story, how she’d emigrated from Scotland and settled in this remote area of New Zealand. I was touched by her open hospitality to a complete stranger. Before I left she drew me a map from our homestay to the Community Centre so that I wouldn’t get lost.
That afternoon, Peter and I took a leisurely stroll around the beautiful lake. It was an idyllic scene and the weather matched. Children swam in the cool water and played noisily, without adult supervision, on the riverbank. This would never happen in the UK anymore. Our stroll took one and a half hours and it was good to be able to have our own kitchen to prepare tea upon our return.
Suzanne seemed even more grumpy the following morning as she begrudgingly served her guests breakfast. She was a sort of female Basil Fawlty. I ignored her mood, as I was looking forward to visiting the Maori church. Kerri, looking as grouchy as his wife, took Peter off for a morning’s fishing tuition.
I set off to find the church, clutching my little map and feeling quite adventurous. It was found after a ten-minute walk and the welcome was warm. Isabel had phoned Pastor Paine to tell him I would be visiting. Soon Isabel slipped in and sat next to me. She had come straight from her Anglican service “just to check that I was all right.” The worship was lively and spontaneous. My eyes were drawn to a large man with a ponytail playing the guitar with gusto. He resembled a sumo wrestler and I found out later that he was Sumatran. After a rousing sermon and another song, I was encouraged to stay for a cup of tea and home made cake. I will never forget the warmth and friendliness of those Maori Christians.
When I got home, Peter was sitting in the garden looking rather downcast. He told me that he’d had a disappointing fishing lesson. Kerri was bad tempered and critical which made Peter all fingers and thumbs.
To our surprise Suzanne kissed us goodbye when we left the following morning.
“Thank you for encouraging me,” she said.
All we had done was relate how we sold our house and in the North of England but it seemed to have helped her.
We had to pay our speeding fine in Taupo that day. As we were passing through on our way to the outskirts of Auckland, this was not too much of a nuisance. Taupo is a small town of the edge of a magnificent lake. I decided to look for the gift shop that sold the jam pots after we’d paid our dues. There in the gift shop stood all the jam pots in their splendor. Feeling triumphant, I bought one with oranges in the lid, one with strawberries, one with kiwi fruit and a cute one with a flower and bee for honey. Goodness knows what jam I’d put in the Kiwi fruit one, but I bought it anyway as it was typical of New Zealand. The shop owner, a lady who had emigrated from Cirencester, said that the pots were very popular with the tourists, as they’d seen them in the homestays.
I’ll never forget Taupo, not just because of the magnificent lake and jampots but because of the absence of toilets. On arrival I was desperate to find one and I ventured into several cafés, but to no avail. In the end I asked in the tourist office - surely they’d have lavatories. After queuing to ask, I was told they did not have any but to try the public ones in the park. I practically ran there!
I was surprised that the cafés didn’t have loos. How did people manage with children, who invariably need the toilet half way through a meal? I could imagine parents having to leave their meals half finished, sprinting to the loos and coming back to finish a, by then, cold meal. Perhaps the children are made to wear nappies for such occasions. Either that or they have developed strong bladders.
We knew we were nearing Auckland when the traffic became congested. This city has the highest population in New Zealand and the roads are not wide enough. It was such a contrast to drive through this sluggish, dense traffic after enjoying roads that were practically empty. Having got through Auckland at a snail’s pace, we found our first service station. Wow, it seemed so modern and sophisticated. We called into the Tourist Information Office and asked there if we could book a few extra hours in the Sebel Suite before leaving for the airport on our last day. The assistant, an Irish immigrant, phoned on our behalf.
“Wished we’d thought of this before.” I told Peter.
The assistant didn’t seem too hopeful. I remembered that there was not even a sofa in the reception area, let alone a restaurant or lounge in the basic Sebel Suites.
“They are pretty full but you can stay until 2pm,” she said in her soft brogue, “but it will cost you an extra 85 dollars.”
As we had a 24-hour flight ahead of us, we decided it was worth it and so Peter produced his credit card.
Waiwera and Bog Standard
Now on the last lap of our journey, we hit the road again for Waiwera, just north of Auckland, where we’d booked a homestay for one night. Our last port of call was to be a quiet homestay in a remote area in the balmy north.
An imposing house overlooking the sea, Island View homestay was easy to find as it was on the main road just out of the city. Our host was friendly and showed us into a large, well furnished room with a splendid view and luxurious ensuite bathroom. You may have gathered by now that I’m rather keen on swishy bathrooms – I was not disappointed. He looked pleased with my reaction as he showed us around. A chatty guy, he informed us with glee that he was a bohemian! I thought he looked pretty straight - short back and sides and not a hint of patchouli oil or a kaftan. Then it dawned on me what he meant. His father had settled in New Zealand after emigrating from Eastern Europe. He was proud of his roots and longed to visit the old country. No longer wanting to be tied to a bed and breakfast business, he told us that Island View was also on the market.
We had a pleasant, well-cooked dinner that night prepared by our hostess, who was shy and retiring. My salmon was delicious and the vegetables crisp. Our Bohemian host was attentive, topping up wine and checking that everything was to our liking. As this type of formal service is unusual in a homestay, I asked him if he had ever run a restaurant. He almost bowed before proudly announcing that he had done just that. They were the first hosts not to have eaten with us at the table. It must have gone against the grain if they were used to viewing guests as customers. Instead they ate in the kitchen with their daughter who was as shy as her mother.
Our fellow guests were an interesting couple, hailing from Wales and Austria. The Welshman had, you guessed it, a grey beard. He worked in Dubai as an architect and his Austrian wife invited us to call them if ever we happened to be in Austria, where she spent a lot of her time and gave us their card when we left. We had been chatting about the impressive airport in Dubai where we had spent an hour en route to New Zealand and agreed that the opulence of the place was unforgettable.
Our new acquaintances recommended that we take a slight detour on our way north, calling into the Kauor Museum where examples of the giant kauri tree are on display. We didn’t have time to see these trees growing in their natural habitat in the Waipoua Forest, so thought this would be the next best thing.
We set off early the following day in drizzle, hoping that this inclement weather was not going to settle in. This was the last leg of our trip and our final beachside homestay. We had several days booked in there and I was looking forward to unpacking and relaxing on the beach.
By the time we reached the museum the sun had broken through and it was hot again, over 30 degrees. I bought some paus shell jewellery for presents before embarking on what was supposed to be a lightening tour of the museum.
It wasn’t to be as we lost each other by the giant kauri tree. I left him to admire a section of this magnificent tree that can grow to over 50 metres high. He was in his element.
My husband always takes longer than me in museums. He reads every scrap of information while I walk round, only reading things that hold my interest. Although this was a small museum, the layout was such that we both wandered around for over an hour looking for each other. I wondered if I should ask someone if he had been spotted. “Have you seen my husband – a tall, slim, good looking man with distinguished grey hair? No, he doesn’t have a beard.” After half an hour the words that I had been rehearsing in my mind changed to, “Have you seen my husband? He’s wandering around, oblivious to the fact that he has a wife. He has a distracted air.”
Finally, in desperation, I went to the front desk to see if someone could page him. Just as the helpful lady took a deep breath to make her announcement, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the Wandering Husband.
“Where have you been?” We both asked at the same time.
The lady at the desk chuckled and said that this happened all the time.
Feeling frustrated that we’d wasted valuable travelling time we set off again, agreeing that if this ever happened again we’d meet in the foyer.
There’s a famous public toilet in Kawa Kawa designed by the German artist Hundertwasser. We couldn’t pass through this small town without having a pee-k.
It was not hard to miss, with its distinctive, colourful appearance. The Gaudi-style architecture on the modest sized building was stunning and very unusual. It was adorned with different coloured domes, bottles were inset into the plaster together with lots of rainbow coloured mosaics. Grass grew on the rooftop to add to its charm.
I got so engrossed taking photos that I unsuspectingly wandered into the gents. Both cubicles were occupied and so I waited patiently for one to become vacant. I didn’t know that Husband was in one of them because we’d lost each other again! Soon a young Maori guy came in and looked horrified to see me.
“This is the gents,” he glared at me with that warrior gaze that they do so well.
Apologising, I made a hasty retreat. If a man was found taking photos in a ladies’ loo he would probably be arrested. Husband remained silent throughout this embarrassing incident, preferring not to know me.
Realising that this was not a unisex loo as I’d first thought, I found an obscure wrought iron figure depicting a female and wandered into the ladies' room. This was very unusual and had a stainless steel lavatory set amidst the many mosaics. After using the facilities I decided to take a photo and so, in order to take a more esthetically pleasing picture, I pushed the plastic sanitary bin to one side, propping open the door and getting an excellent shot.
I was just washing my hands when an English tourist wandered in and proceeded to use the loo without shutting the door, which was still propped open. All this art must have made her lose her British inhibitions. As she peed she chatted away with me as if she’d known me all her life.
Safely away from these public toilets, where one makes friends and perhaps enemies, my long suffering husband decided that it was safe to be seen with me again. We found a gift shop selling all manner of items in the Hundertwasser design. After buying a pen from a slim, blonde lady with a plunging neckline and slash of bright lipstick, she told us that she’d been a personal friend of the artist when he was alive. She said that there was a museum of his works round the corner but that it would be closed by now.
We decided to have a look anyway and found that it was still open. An elderly couple welcomed us in as if they were expecting us. I would not have been surprised it they had offered us afternoon tea. We were fortunate, as the opening time had been extended for a party of tourists that they were awaiting. This couple was also friends of the late artist and delighted in showing us some of his works. Most of the items were privately owned and lent to the museum. We watched a fascinating video of the artist’s life. A Jew, he had emigrated to New Zealand from Germany, making his home in the tiny town of Kawa Kawa. The locals found his work a bit too avante garde and limited him to designing a toilet. Such a waste!
Realising the late hour, we took our leave to head for our last home stay, which was intriguingly called Wai Wurrie.
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HUNDERTVASSER PUBLIC LAVATORY
Driving along the north east coast road, we eventually reached a remote area called Matauri Bay in Mahinepua. The homestay book described our next port of call as being in its own grounds and with a private beach. We were travel weary and looking forward to four days of rest and relaxation before driving back to Auckland to prepare for the long flight home.
Already late, we drove around for about an hour trying to find this hidden gem called Wai Wurrie (pronounced Why Worry). By the time it got to 6 o’clock we were worried.
We did find a beach but it had been taken over by Maouri squatters, intent on reclaiming their land. They looked a little threatening as they stood by their caravans with savage looking guard dogs.
Eventually we stumbled upon Wai Wurrie. The owners had deliberately removed the sign, as they wanted to discourage squatters. They were part of a gated community that seemed rather exclusive and properties were so well spaced out that no one overlooked their neighbour.
Wearily we stumbled out of the car and were greeted by Vicki who strolled out barefooted and grasping a gin and tonic. She had wondered what had happened to us.
We were each handed a gin and tonic and led onto the lawn before we even had time to unload our cases from the car. Sipping the ambrosia in the warm evening sun, we gradually began to regain the will to live. The lawn overlooked a glorious, sparkling bay, a white-sanded beach - and squatters. A small island situated in the bay was pointed out to us. The same guru that was popular with the Beatles had bought it up. This was a rumour and I wasn’t sure that I believed it, as this particular maharaja had seemed old at the height of his fame in the swinging sixties.
Our host, Roger, played down the squatter situation and said that we could use their own private beach. Things were beginning to look up. Vicki assured us that everyone who visited was so relaxed after a couple of days that they were practically horizontal.
“Just you blob and fluff out,” she told us with a broad grin.
For some reason this stuck and thereafter we were called Lady Fluff and Lord Blob.
“Would Lady Fluff prefer chicken or salmon for dinner?”
“Chicken please, we’ve had a lot of salmon recently,” her ladyship responded.
While Vicki prepared the first of many excellent meals, Roger showed us to our spacious room. The only en suite guest room was upstairs. It had a sharply slanting ceiling as we were in the attic and, to my surprise, no curtains at the windows. I wondered if they had not quite got around to finishing the room or if this strange quirk was intentional.
The large modern house was set high on a hill. Vicki had completed an interior decorating course and this was reflected in the traditional, stylish decor and furnishings. Although there was a formal dining room, we ate all our meals in the open plan breakfast room next to the kitchen. A table was placed strategically next to the large windows so that the panoramic view would not be wasted and we watched the sun go down in a blaze of orange and red as we ate our meal. Vicki was larger than life, tanned with blond hair that she tied back in a loose pony tale. She chatted and joked while Roger sat quietly, not missing much.
We were looking forward to using the private beach. Unfortunately we couldn’t go there the next day as we were told that a group of school children would be using it. I was disappointed and wondered why we couldn’t share it with the kids. However, we were told that we could use the family “batch” on a quiet part of the public beach, away from the squatters and their canine friends.
Batches are very popular in New Zealand. They are called this, as the word is an abbreviation of bachelor. These small bungalows were originally built as bachelor pads but are now used as holiday homes.
The next morning I woke early and lay in bed looking out at a brilliant sunrise, glad that there were no curtains to obscure such a start to the day. After a typical large, home-cooked homestay breakfast Vicki took us on a tour of their extensive grounds in a Land Rover. She drove fast without drawing breath as she explained the history of the place. Her father had bought the land for logging many years before.
“Follow this route to the beach,” she said as the miles clocked up. We thought we would just stroll from the garden to the beach. Not the best of travellers, I soon felt a bit queasy and it had not been long since the enormous fry up. The beach seemed more and more remote with each sickening mile.
At last we arrived at a sun-drenched cove and were amazed to find that the area was arranged like a small village. Different family members who lived on the estate had built themselves small batches on the land close to the seashore. There was even a wooden bridge built over a small inlet. It was idyllic; the silence tangible.
In the midst of this remote village was a large tent, permanently set up, military fashion, with a cooker, sink, worktops, pots, pans and shelves of non-perishable food. Non-drinkable running water had been rigged up and a large table and chairs were placed in a dining area in case of inclement weather.
Vicki showed us how everything worked.
“You can use the beach the day after tomorrow. My sister and her husband are here tomorrow for their wedding anniversary.” It seemed that four would be a crowd on this ample beach.
On our way back to the Land Rover, Vicki showed us the ‘dunnies.’ These were two flushing loos; all mod cons were provided.
“I could spend six weeks here.” I thought as we dragged ourselves away from this secret cove.
I decided it would be a good idea to sit in the front of the vehicle on our return journey to avoid throwing up. Vicki gave me a look as if to say, “What a wus.” We hurtled along the empty tracks until we got to the gate, which opened up onto the main road. There Vicki worked a combination lock - they didn’t want any unwelcome visitors.
Later that day we met Vicki’s father who had planted all those trees many years ago. He told us how Vicki used to get sick as a girl when he drove along the unmade tracks on his land. I couldn’t help a wry smile.
The next day was the first quiet, relaxing one since we had arrived in New Zealand all those weeks ago. Vicki gave us the key to the batch, showed us where the tea and coffee were kept and left us with a picnic of home made muffins and fruit. The batch was a small, two-bed roomed wooden bungalow with a handkerchief garden and was situated right on the edge of the beach. We put on our swimming costumes for the first time since arriving in New Zealand. Peter was soon on the rocks fishing and I sat in the garden with my watercolours. Perfect.
The beach was quiet, except for one or two visitors and some cows. To my amazement a small herd of cows seemed to appear from nowhere and were being herded along the beach and up a lane at the side of the batch. I wondered whether to paint this scene but decided it would look too unbelievable.
We returned, carefree and hungry to Wai Wurrie to find that Vicki had invited a friend to join us for dinner.
“This is Shabby.” Vicki paused for effect, as we wondered if we had heard right.
Shabby had been a nurse in the New Zealand army, had been active in the Gulf war and done mountain rescue work. She was riveting company as she relayed anecdotes from her past as Vicki served up a barbecue. While she was getting the pudding, I told Shabby about Jackie Pullinger and her work with the drug addicts in Hong Kong. We had lived there for ten years and I knew Jackie well.
“Have you heard of her?” I asked Vicki.
“Is she in Corrie?” Vicki asked with a deadpan expression. I told you Kiwis were crazy about Coronation Street.
We were beginning to get used to our unusual room. My husband is tall and kept banging his head on the low beams and I couldn’t get used to using the shower and loo in a bathroom without frosted glass or curtains at the window. The first time I used the facilities I stood up to find people in the driveway below. So I adopted the habit of walking around the bathroom with bent knees. When I told our hosts about this and demonstrated how I walked with bent knees and my husband like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, they both laughed. It was like a sketch from Monty Python’s ministry of funny walks. They assured us that no one could see in and that they didn’t have curtains at their downstairs bathroom and bedroom either, but I wasn’t convinced that we would be unspotted.
The next day was the one we were looking forward to. Private beach day.
“You can go bollocky if you like. No one is around for miles.” Vicki said as she handed me a picnic and bottles of drinking water. It was hot out there again.
We knew that the only access that strangers had to the cove would be by boat and the beach was deserted when we arrived. There was a yacht anchored out at sea so I kept my swimming costume on. I’d never been nude on a beach in my life. Husband slapped on some sun cream and sauntered over to fish off the rocks, where he caught some snapper. After taking a proud photo he gently put it back in the sea. He remarked that he’d last seen this particular fish for sale in Tescos and wondered if it had been transported from New Zealand. No wonder it had been so expensive.
The day drifted along like a dream and I savoured each moment. I painted, floated in the clean sea and dozed. The yacht moved on. We were completely isolated in paradise. Remembering what Vicki had said, I slipped my costume off and had a splash about in the sea then sunbathed nude for a while. It felt very strange but rather freeing.
I used the dunny and was fascinated by the rather rude graffiti drawn all over the wooden walls. There was also a weather report from previous years:
Xmas 1992 - weather mixed
Xmas 1993 - rain
Xmas 1994 – sunny…and so on.
Then I remembered that the entire family always spent Christmas on the beach. Imagine preparing Christmas dinner in a tent. These resourceful people could probably do it standing on their heads. Before leaving I decided to try “the shower” which was operated by pulling a string. Rainwater was stored in a metal container above and heated in the sun. Who needs electricity when the weather is warm?
Peter returned from his fishing looking relaxed.
“Did you see that I was wandering about in the nuddy?” I asked my dear husband.
“No, I was too busy concentrating on the fish.”
That was the first and probably the last time I would do such a thing and he didn’t even notice!
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WAI WURRIE PRIVATE BEACH
Feeling rather dreamy after all that relaxing on the private beach, I returned to our homestay to see that Vicki had done all my washing and hung it on the line to dry. As I was unpegging it in a bit of a stupor, I jumped as I heard a revved up engine. Within seconds a car appeared, zooming up the drive. Had boy racers invaded paradise? Heaven forbid.
Vicki and Roger’s 15-year-old son was driving the banger. He and his school friend, in the passenger seat, whooped and waved at me before jumping out and running into the house. Then I remembered that our host, Roger, had said that we would have company that weekend. Having had a teenage son, I had visions of late night returns from parties, smoking and loud rock music. Paradise had indeed been lost. We were surprised to learn that 15-year-olds could obtain a driving license. This apparently was a throw back to farming days, when young lads needed to drive tractors. It is just as well that most roads are deserted.
I need not have worried. All these boys were interested in was deep-sea fishing and set off at first light with Roger in search of marlin.
Roger had proudly shown us a photo of himself standing next to a marlin, towering over him and that he had caught with his son. The monster fish must have measured eight feet in length. He’d had the fish canned and gave us one as a memento of our stay. It is still in our kitchen cupboard in England as, for some reason, we can’t bring ourselves to open it.
The lads watched rugby on the television that evening while ‘the grown ups’ sat around the dinner table chatting well into the night. Our hosts were keen to know what we thought of our day on the beach right down to the last detail. I told her that I’d been fascinated by the original graffiti on the dunnie.
“Oh, no, that one was the gents.” Her blue eyes widened.
I recounted the incident in the men’s Hundertwasser toilet. Perhaps I needed counselling.
“Lady Fluff, you seem to be making a habit of going into men’s toilets,” she joked with a twinkle or was it a tinkle in her eyes.
The evening stretched along pleasantly. For some reason we got onto the subject of plumbing - as one does.
“In my next life I’m going to be a plumber,” announced Husband.
“There won’t be a second chance. I hope that we’re going to heaven.” I do not believe in re-incarnation.
“Oh, there are plenty of drips in heaven, so he could be busy,” quipped Vicki. She had a wicked sense of humour. The banter went on until we got onto the more serious subject of the Maori squatters.
Roger told us of their concerns that the Maori may claim some of his land as their own.
In 1840 a treaty between the British crown and the Maori was signed at Waitangi. It is claimed that the copy of the Maori treaty differed from the British version. As the native people were illiterate at the time, they signed the treaty on trust. Their version stated that the British immigrants could buy any land they wished. Land was sold for a song and now the Maori, feeling cheated, want a lot of it back. The government in power at this time seemed to be bending over backwards to keep these people happy. Perhaps they fear impending trouble.
So, we were told, the Maori get better deals on things like social security payments. This sometimes causes resentment by whites, who claim that the native people use the race card to get what they want. According to the old, Maori pagan religion they believe that the sea, the beach and the sky belong to them. For this reason, when they fish, they are permitted to keep more of their catch than the white man. This was also why they had claimed the nearby beach as their own.
As a tourist, it was difficult to get the full picture of such a delicate situation and, no doubt, there are two sides to the problem.
We spent our last day packing, reading and enjoying the views from Wai Wurrie. Incidentally, I was told that Wai meant water and Wurrie, a building: a clever play on words. At 4 o’clock Roger returned with the two boys, still in high spirits, to take Peter on a promised deep-sea fishing trip.
He came back elated. This trip made up for the disappointing one in Turangi. He had caught seven different varieties of fish: trevally, snapper, kingfish, granddaddy, haapooka, maumau, parrot fish and kahwai.
The next morning we said goodbye to the boys and Roger, who padded off cheery and barefoot. I didn’t see anyone in the family in so much as a sandal the whole time we were there.
I signed the guest book, ‘Lord Blob and Lady Fluff’ and said a sad farewell to our last homestay. We were so glad that we’d decided to stay in these amazing bed and breakfast establishments instead of motels. Apart from one unfortunate stay near Pickton, each home was lovely and each experience positive.
As we drove away, Husband pulled the car over and got out to view something that had drawn his attention at the side of the road. It was what the locals would consider vermin. A poor possum lay dead, its tiny paws together as if in prayer.
En route to Auckland we visited Keri Keri, about a forty five minute drive from Wai Wurrie, and their nearest shopping centre. This turned out to be a pretty little harbour town with an old Mission House built in 1822 and now called Kemp House. Some smart yachts were moored in the basin, giving the sleepy town a sophisticated air.
Like a Japanese tourist, I flew about taking photos of the harbour and an old white clapperboard church that I stumbled upon. Keri Keri was an early white settlement in New Zealand and the church was one of the first ever to be built. Perched on a hill, this simple little church had a garden blazing with colour.
We had a long drive ahead of us that day but Peter had to stop in Wangarei because he had once lived in a house by that name in Portsmouth. The previous owners had named it and, although Peter’s parents knew it was a Maori word, they had never visited New Zealand, let alone the very town that their home had been named after.
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MISSION HOUSE - KERI KERI
Don't Look Down
Going back into the Sebel Suites in Aukland was like entering a dungeon after all the bright and cheerful homestays we’d experienced. This room seemed even darker than the previous one and was rather poky. Looking out of the window, I saw the same dreary multi-storey car park that was our view on our first night in New Zealand, and wished we’d paid the extra for a harbour view. We’d become accustomed to looking out across a sparkling bay for the past few days.
We did have a meal to look forward to at the Orbit Restaurant and this made up for the gloom of the hotel. It was only a short walk from the Sebel Suites to the Sky Tower, which dominated the skyline. It is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and stands a majestic 328 metres high. As well as the revolving restaurant it boasts a hotel, a 24-hour casino, plus bars and cafés.
The ride in the lift was rather hairy, as it whisked us up to the observation deck in just 40 seconds. Bungy jumping was an optional extra and one that we decided to give a miss. We had booked a table for 7 o’clock so that we could enjoy the magnificent 360-degree views in both daylight and in the dark. The meal was excellent and served by friendly staff in the packed restaurant. I was unaware that we were revolving as it was at a snail pace. The views were mesmerizing as the sun set and, as the lights of the city came on, it was transformed into fairyland. I could have remained but, after two hours, one has to leave to make room for the next group of diners who are eagerly waiting to take your table.
After eating, we went up to the viewpoint and walked across the ‘windows’ set into the floor, enabling us to look hundreds of feet down to the pavement below. Similar windows are set in the lift floor. Looking down was a bizarre experience and a fellow customer just closed her eyes for the entire 40-second descent.
It had been the perfect end to a perfect holiday.
The next day I was to flood two bathroom floors. Quite a feat, even for me.
THE SOUND OF MANY WATERS
Being rather pre-occupied with our trip back, I didn’t notice that the drain in the bathroom floor in the Sebel Suites must have been blocked. As we were in a room for the disabled, there was no shower cubicle, just a tiled floor, with wheel chair access and a shower curtain. I suppose it was the ultimate wet room. After showering, I noticed that the floor was flooded. Using all available towels, I mopped up the mess before phoning reception.
“The bathroom is flooded. You must have a blocked drain.”
“Would you like us to send a plumber?” She was trying her best, I suppose.
“No thank you, we are leaving soon. Could we just have some more towels so that my husband can take a shower?” The last thing I needed was a plumber at this stage.
I was feeling sad to be leaving New Zealand with its wonderful scenery and friendly people. We had a couple of hours to spare and so I decided to look for a beauty salon, so that I could have a lash tint. Having owned a beauty salon for many years, they always cheer me up. I found one around the corner but the therapist could only fit me in forty minutes before the taxi was to arrive to take us to the airport. It didn’t take me long to figure that I could just fit the treatment in.
Unfortunately, I had to wait a bit when I got to the salon. I told the Italian therapist that I had to leave the salon at 1.45pm as a taxi was collecting me at 2pm at the hotel. She was very professional and I was out of the door, lashes jet black and mascara free, in time. Just. I hurried along the road by the port, where a few large liners had docked. For one ghastly moment I thought I was lost and, without a mobile phone, this could have been disastrous at this late stage.
Looking for a landmark I noticed a café that I’d passed. Whew. I rushed into the lobby of the hotel where Husband was pacing and looking at his watch. I had planned on changing out of my tee shirt, sandals and cropped trousers. Too late. The taxi had its engine running and the boot was loaded. I got into the car feeling scruffy and slightly guilty.
We got to the airport in plenty of time and enjoyed an uneventful flight to Oz. My apparel was fine for casual Sydney airport where we had to wait for an hour. A familiar face entered the dining room. Who was this attractive, slim woman with the blonde hair and wearing a pink jogging suit?
“Who’s that lady?” I asked Husband.
He glanced up. “Haven’t a clue” he responded. This didn’t surprise me – he’s never taken an interest in celebrities.
Then it dawned on me. Olivia Newton John. I had not seen her since Grease but she still looked stunning.
I contemplated asking for her autograph but decided not to pester her, besides it was time to board our next plane for the second lap of our marathon journey.
Eventually we reached Dubai, where we had to change planes. The business lounge at Dubai airport is the height of luxury and I felt conspicuous in my casual attire in this Muslim country. I had stuffed a warm tracksuit into my hand baggage and decided to have a shower and change. It would be cold when we arrived in London.
It was a pity that we were not hungry as there was a full buffet of hot and cold food and every drink imaginable. Staff in crisp white uniforms hovered. It was a far cry from Heathrow or even Sydney airport.
I made my way to the bathroom, which was gorgeous. Fluffy white towels were neatly folded in preparation for guests and full size toiletries were lined up on the vanity unit. I was looking forward to a relaxing shower after the fiasco of the one in Auckland. Being careful not to wash off my makeup and not wanting to get my hair wet, I lifted the shower head from its holding. What a great power shower it was - only the best in Dubai.
As I climbed out of the cubicle to reach for my enormous towel, I was horrified to see that the entire floor was flooded. How could this happen in such a luxuriously appointed bathroom? Then I noticed a gap in the shower door. If I’d left the shower in its proper place this would never have happened. I grabbed the rest of the towels and spent the next ten minutes mopping up. Deja vu.
Sheepishly I made my way to the very glamorous Middle Eastern lady sitting at the desk. Mortified, I told her that the bathroom floor was rather wet. Without batting an eyelid and with a professional smile she told me not to worry. Emirates train their staff well.
An eternity later we landed at a crowded Heathrow airport. Outside it was sleeting and grey. Our driver had a wide smile and dreadlocks, and held up a placard with our names emblazoned on it.
“Hello, my name’s Ezekiel,” he said, shaking my hand.
I was too tired to make any jokes about dry bones.
As we let ourselves into the house, I wondered if I dared take a shower.