Monday 29 December 2008

Christmas Down Under

We had a great Christmas in New Zealand. Christmas does not seem to be so huge over here it is more like any other public holiday. We went to do some last minute shopping on the 23rd and 24th December in two different nearby towns and found no last minute rush, no queues and were hardly any other people...apart from some fellow Scot's from Aberdeen...who overheard our exclaiming at the lack of Christmas feeling and agreed heartily that it was not the same over here!

On Christmas Eve the stockings were hung in the restaurant and the boys happily went off to bed, awaiting with great excitement the arrival of Santa overnight. The letter to Santa had been quite detailed "Dear Santa, We are not in a town, we are living in our campervan between Cromwell and Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand" so there was no fear that he would not find us!

Christmas Eve took a rather bizarre twist when around twenty cows escaped from the nearby field and were running all over the main road. One was hit by a car... in a cow hit and run (the car ran not the cow) and as the farmer was away our friends Dean and Diana raced up to the road to round the cows up and back into their field. We elected to stay and look after the boys and watched from a distance as the cows were safely returned to their field. As all this happened in the dark I was a bit nervous for the rest of the evening when I heard moo-ing in case they had missed one!

In the morning I woke up just before seven to the sound of Peter jumping up and down on the bed, saying "oh yeah, oh yeah...presents, presents" to himself as he was eyeing the small pile of gifts beneath the tree in the motorhome. With Joseph and Luke stubbornly refusing to awaken Peter got increasing louder until they eventually opened their eyes.

We headed over to the restaurant and we were pleased to see big piles of presents all round. The top gifts were:

Peter - Ben Ten action figures/DVD/colouring book, a BeastQuest book and a Diablo
Joe - A train set (what was Santa thinking...we live in a motorhome!!) and a Ben Ten watch
Luke - A Mickey Mouse phone, a lawn mower and lots of Thomas the Tank Engine books.

Once the presents were opened, Dean and David headed into the kitchen and cooked up some very tasty bacon and egg rolls for breakfast. The rest of the morning was spent playing, reading and eating chocolate.

We had a lovely lunch of bread, cheese, prawns, crackers etc and then headed out for a walk to try to burn off some of the morning's chocolate. We burnt off slightly more than planned as we ended up running away from some very scary cows who were following us as we walked through their field. This might not have been too bad, except that they seemed to move really quickly and when we turned around they were just standing behind was like a scene from a Japanese horror film!

We enjoyed the rest of our walk and returned ready to face the roast dinner which Dean had prepared (spending Christmas with a chef in a restaurant has definite advantages!). After a delicious dinner we were all happy, full and exhausted. A great day all round.

Photos here.


Saturday 20 December 2008

Wilderness camping

We have had our first taste of wilderness camping. When we bought our campervan we got something that was capable of being used in the depths of nowhere (without power and water on tap etc). This weekend we headed out for its first test.

The restaurant received its final building consent on Thursday following the final inspection and to celebrate we decided to head into the wilderness for a night away with Dean, Diana and Jack (their first night off in several months). After filling up our fresh water tank, emptying the smelly-water tanks and stocking up the fridge we headed North to Wanaka and on towards the Matukituki. Just outside of Wanaka the rain clouds started to drop their contents, but the mood remained good as w enjoyed spectacular views of Lake Wanaka, the mountains and lots of waterfalls. Half-an-hour later the road ended as a narrow dirt track led us into the valley.

Our speed on the dirt track quickly fell away, ranging from 20kph up to 40kph depending on how rutted the road was and how many sheep were on the track. In the back of the van the boys really had their teeth rattled, but fortunately they were kept entertained waving out of the back window at Jack in the truck behind. The rain steadily grew heavier and as progress was slower than expected (due in part to a troublesome clutch on Dean's truck) we decided to make our dinner stop and park up for the night.

We found a place where a gate opened out onto a clearing beside a large river (no idea what river it is - but it feeds into Lake Wanaka eventually) and parked up. The rain eased off a little and we managed to eat dinner outside and cross into an island in the middle of the river for a walk and some stone throwing (a favourite pastime for boys young and old - the girls stayed at camp and chatted). After getting the kids down for the night surprisingly easily whilst Dean built us a lovely camp fire the adults sat out for the night, or so we thought. Eventually the rain picked up again and finally forced us in for the night.

Overnight it rained and rained and rained some more. By morning we woke to find the river had risen and was now a lot closer to camp than it had been when we arrived. The island we had walked on the previous night was less than half the size and the mountain tops were covered in a fresh layer of snow! It was agreed that the best plan of action would be to get back on the road ASAP and worry about getting dressed and fed later. Fortunately the ground we were on was slightly more firm than most of the area and both campervans managed to make it out without any spinning wheels or flying mud.

Back on slightly more solid ground we headed to a spot back on the road to Wanaka and stopped for a long breakfast of pancakes and bacon. We like to think that we had it tough camping out in the wilderness, but bringing along a chef definitely made it a bit nicer. A couple of cups of tea later the rain was still driving down and we decided to abandon our orignal plan of staying out another night and headed for home.

In the end it was a great experience, but given that the weather spoiled most of the views and we risked getting stuck in a field beside a rapidly rising river we might check the weather forecasts more carefully next time. Apparently it's going to be nice in four days time.


(photos to follow)

Sunday 14 December 2008

My first triathlon (by Peter)

Today I did my first triathlon. It was at a place called Frankton, near Queenstown. It was a 100m lake swim, 4km bike and a 1km run. I had been practising my running and cycling around the field at Jack's restaurant.

First thing this morning I went with Daddy to register for the race, I got my number written on my leg. I was number 161. Then I had to get my bike checked over, they tightened my brakes and pumped up my tyres.

I was in the second wave, so I watched the 5-6 year olds doing their race. When they were finished I had to go for my briefing, I was in the 7-8 year old race.

We all lined up at the start and when they said go we ran into the water. There was over 20 children in my age group and most of them were running in the water, not swimming. I thought the water was too cold to swim, I tried to swim a little bit but I ended up wading along with the other children as there was not very much space.

I got out the swim onto the bike, which was a bit hard. I was trying to overtake the person in front, but they kept wobbling about, so I could not get past them until I was in a field.

After the bike I was on to the run, which went from the transition area up to just past our campervan and back. I didn't get a stitch on the run and I only had two short stops to get my breath.

When I finished I was very proud of myself for finishing my first triathlon and Mum and Dad were really proud of me too.

Photos here


Saturday 13 December 2008

Building the Lazy Dog

When we are not spending time in the library, the pool or the shops then we can usually be found helping out with the building works on the restaurant. The Lay Dog Cafe and Cellar Door is continuing to take shape and is due to open on 26th December. As this date is drawing closer we have become immersed in the details of the build. Compliance inspections, fire inspections, water flow of the fire hydrant, statutory requirements for paraplegic access (including a toilet door you must be able to open with a club hand) and health and hygiene rules have taken over as the main topic of daily conversation. Each small milestone is exciting and this week we have seen the main builders leave, toilets and sinks plumbed in, hot water tank installed, the bar fitted out, new cooker installed, the front patio completed, painting commence, the wood stoves lit and the lights turned on in the main room.

We have been spending most evenings helping out with whatever needs to be completed before the next day. This week I have been painting the kitchen and the toilets and David has been tiling the staff shower. We have had a few late nights and our waistlines are expanding as we eat midnight snacks of cheese, crackers and wine (coke for David).

We have headed off for a few days as the movers are coming on Monday to move all the furniture and equipment from the old place and we thought it would be better for them if they didn't have three kids underfoot, so we are looking forward to seeing it again on Tuesday.



Last weekend we packed up the van and headed off to Queenstown, which is about an hour's drive away. Queenstown is the nearest “big town” and there were some amazing views as we drove along the lake. It looked very like Austria or Switzerland and I could have sworn I saw a family dressed in old curtains singing as they skipped through the alpine meadows.

We got the van parked up at Lakeview Campsite which was five minutes walk from the town center, although the location was excellent the name of the site was slightly misleading, “Slight-glimpse-of-the-lake-if-you-are-standing-on-tiptoes-behind-the-shower-block Campsite” would have been more accurate. It was a “battery” campsite, with rows and rows of vans and minimal space per site, but luckily it was not too busy and we didn't intend spending much time there anyway.

We headed out to explore and firstly had a good look around the shops, which were mainly selling tourist tat (which is fine...we are tourists after all), extreme bungy/jet boat/sky dive/paraglide experiences or Lord of the Rings tours. David is debating the extreme sport options and will probably do something before we leave...I will be saving my money for shopping I think! Peter, Joe and Luke were less interested in bungy jumps and managed to spot the Golden Arches of McDonald's and so they had a junk food fix and were happy!

On Friday we headed up the Gondola to the top of the mountain. The Gondolas were quite small so we all got in one, while Luke's buggy followed in the one behind (much to his delight). At the top we took in the fantastic views over Queenstown and the lake and did a walk around the top. There is a Luge at the top, but we are saving going on that for when we visit with Dean and Diana (although David was itching to get some practice runs in so that he can beat Dean!).

On Saturday the boys played mini-golf while I hit the shops for some Christmas shopping, which did not feel right as it was too sunny! Then on Sunday we headed back to base, but came back the long way over the mountains and had some more amazing views and amazing roads up the mountains, before getting back to see what had been done on the restaurant while we were away!

Link to photos.


Thursday 4 December 2008

Cromwell and Wanaka

We have had some time to do a bit of exploring around the two towns near us, Cromwell and Wanaka.

Cromwell is south of where we are staying and is the smaller of the two towns. It has a small town centre, a library and a swimming pool. We have joined the library as all the boys and I love our books and the library staff are starting to recognise us already! There is a weekly storytime where Joe and Luke can listen to stories then do a craft activity. We have also been swimming a couple of times, there are three pools, a 25m pool, a learners pool and a shallow toddlers pool and we can all have hot showers without refilling the van water tank!

Wanaka is to the North and is on Lake Wanaka. It is more picturesque than Cromwell and is slightly bigger. There is a playpark on the lakeside with a huge “Dinosaur slide” which has proved popular with the boys.

Just outside Wanaka is Puzzling World where there is a maze and illusion rooms along with a large selection of puzzles to try out. So far we are still working our way through the assortment of puzzle tables and it is fast becoming a favourite stop when we visit Wanaka.

The nearest big town is Queenstown and we are planning a visit before too long to do some Christmas shopping.

Link to photos here.


Sunshine and showers

We are beginning to suspect that we have uncovered the World's greatest urban myth...that New Zealand has good weather. Since we arrived the weather has been distinctly “Scottish”... there has been rain, howling winds, mist and only an odd bit of sunshine.

The locals assure us regularly that the good weather “will be here in four days” but despite hearing this for two weeks, it has not arrived yet. We have tried reading the weather forecasts, but find then unintelligible...fueling my belief of a giant conspiracy theory by the New Zealand Tourism Board.

Today we are sheltering in the van as torrential rain beats down on us, the weather forecast in the paper says “A trough of low pressure, preceded by a northwest flow, is approaching the South Island. Tomorrow, a front moves northeastwards over the South Island, then clears to the North Island on Friday followed by a ridge of high pressure. The ridge drifts east over the country during Saturday, while a northerly flow becomes established over New Zealand on Sunday”.

I think this means the good weather will be here in about four days....I will keep you updated!


Wednesday 3 December 2008

Lazy Living

We soon settled into our new parking spot, but it came with a price...lodging in exchange for a bit of help with getting the restaurant up and running! Within a few days of arriving we had found some jobs to do...mowing, painting, assembling cabinets, digging. Every day we were inspecting the builders' work then getting more done overnight, so very quickly the place has started to take shape. We are becoming increasingly familiar with the requirements for disabled access and fire regulations along with becoming accustomed to regular power and water cuts!

David has been a full time helper and I have been more of an evening assistant (as during the day I try to keep the boys out of the builders' way, away from power tools, off mud piles and out of holes...which is probably harder than doing the building work). Luke is a wannabe builder and spends all day "helping" David and Dean (who is his new hero) and his favorite activity is sitting on David's knee on the digger.

As we were a bit isolated out at the site (about 20km to Cromwell and Wanaka) I decided a needed a car to run about in. Dean had a friend who had something suitable at his garage and $600 later I have a rather battered 1989 Fiat Uno for speeding down to the shops in. Luke has a knack of naming cars and this one he christened "Sally-Car" (our motorhome is "Johnny Five" and Jack's car is "The Dog Ferry").

Dean and Diana also have a dog called Lazy (after whom the cafe and the Dog Ferry are named) and we were worried how Peter and I would cope with allergies. Thankfully we have been totally fine (although our grass allergies are another story) and we are all becoming rather fond of Lazy. Luke especially loves Lazy, but Lazy does all he can to escape as Luke's fingers are just at dog eye-level and Lazy is not taking any chances... in fact Lazy looks visibly happier when Luke is safely strapped into his buggy!

The restaurant is starting to take shape and David and I built the entrance path this weekend. We will have to get on wifi soon we can get the photos uploaded!


From Christchurch to Cromwell

After getting the fridge sorted in our motorhome (and spending even more money in the shops kitting it out), we could finally head South to Cromwell. We were heading there first as this is where our old friends from Guernsey, Dean, Diana and their son Jack live. We saw some amazing scenery on the way down. The mountains were still covered in snow, Joseph instantly fell in love with the views and was disappointed we did not get high enough to see snow by the roadside.

On the way down we spent a night at Lake Tekapo, a beautiful blue lake with a picturesque backdrop of mountains. The lake has mineral deposits in the water which gives it the beautiful colour. We had a great parking spot for the van with the view from our back windows. There was also a tiny church on the lakeside, The Church of the Good Shepard, which had windows inside looking out over the view of the lake and the mountains. It was all very beautiful and would have been peaceful if we had been able to leave the terrible trio in the van, but we enjoyed it despite the slight breach of the peace that comes from three small boys!

We reached Cromwell and phoned Dean for directions...they were pretty simple...turn right, drive 22km and you can't miss us. We did as instructed and we were soon at their new place. They currently run a restaurant (called the Lazy Dog) and are building a new place and are planning to open on Boxing Day. They have bought a large piece of land and when we arrived the exterior of the building was up, the roof was on and the windows were in. They have also planted an olive grove and vineyard.

We had not seen our friends for over four years, but it just felt like yesterday and Peter and Jack acted as though they had seen each other yesterday. We are going to be staying with them until January (parked up on their land, beside their motorhome) and it feels nice to have somewhere we can be a bit more settled for a while!


(photos to follow...can't upload from the library!)

Monday 1 December 2008

A quick update

What have we been up to for the last couple of weeks? We have not vanished into Middle Earth...we are living in a field between Cromwell and Wanaka on the South Island, so internet access is a bit more tricky!

We are staying with our old friends Dean and Diana, who are in the middle of building a restaurant on a piece of land they recently bought. They are opening on Boxing Day and there is lots of work to be done, so it has been a bit like an episode of Grand Designs! David is loving using the tractor and the ride on mower and I getting better with the circular saw.

The only downside is that the location is very isolated and it was pretty impractical to drive the motorhome into town each day, so we have bought a little runaround for me and a bike for David. Now that we can get to town more easily we have joined the library and have been to the local swimming pool and playparks.

We are planning to stay here until early January and then head up to the North Island for four weeks.

Better go...the boys are rampaging around the library as I type...