Sunday 29 March 2009

Mount Cook

On Thursday we left the Lazy Dog and headed to Mount Cook for the weekend.  We have passed by the national park on both our journeys south from Christchurch, but we decided to save it for a weekend away from our Lazy base.

It was a fairly long drive and we broke the journey  with a lunch stop overlooking the spectacular Lindis Pass.  As temperatures have been low we headed to a campsite about  20km south of Mount Cook for the first night (so we could have a power hook up and therefore run our heaters if required).  We had a really good view up the valley towards Mount Cook and went a walk down to the Northern edge of Lake Pukaki (which is a lovely blue colour due to the dissolved minerals in the water).  

Our campsite had its own airfield and we decided that a helicopter trip up to see the snow sounded like a great idea…but unfortunately when we phoned to book  it was not possible as there was bad weather up on the mountain…and the bad news was it was heading our way!

The next morning we awoke to an overcast, grey day.  Mount Cook had disappeared behind cloud and we were feeling a bit more despondent as we drove the last 20km up the valley (memories of the Wet West Coast were resurfacing).  As the clouds couldn’t decide whether to rain or not, we decided to take advantage of the dryish weather and head for a walk.  

We drove 8km of unpaved roads (I will be happy never to see another unpaved road ever again once this trip is over) so we could walk a short climb up for a view of the Tasman Glacier.  Peter has developed a love of walking and he bounded on ahead to the viewpoint.  When we got to the top he had a massive grin as not only could we see the glacier, but the river was dotted with spectacular icebergs (one of Peter’s favourite things!).  We stopped for a snack and a spot of drawing for the boys before heading back to the van for lunch.  After lunch we managed another walk down to the river before the weather really closed in.

As the heavens opened we headed to the hub of the Mount Cook village…the Hermitage Hotel.  Peter was again in his element as he discovered the ‘Edmund Hillary Centre’ (Peter and Joe regularly play ‘Everest’ which involves a dramatic re-creation of Hillary and Norgay’s ascent of Mt Everest - in this version the famous mountaineers tie jumpers round their heads and carry folding chairs to the summit).  We threw caution to the wind and bought a family ticket to the museum, 3D movie and Planetarium…and the rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of educational activity for the boys!

We had been distinctly unimpressed with the campsite the previous night and with the rain teeming down we knew that we would not be getting out the van  wherever we stayed.  As the weather had been warm during the day, the sky was cloudy and there was a wind…we decided to gamble on a warm night and wilderness camp.  Our gamble paid off, the overnight temperatures did not go below freezing and we were not too cold.  As an extra precaution we had pegged blankets over the window to keep drafts out…which caused much confusion to Luke in the morning…he couldn’t understand how blankets over the windows would keep giraffes out!!!

The next morning we peeked out the curtains as the sun rose to see the clouds had cleared and the view from our bed was a spectacular sunrise over Mount Sefton.  After quickly jumping out the van in my PJ’s to get a few photos we relaxed in bed and enjoyed the view.

On Saturday we went a two hour (round trip) hike up the Hooker Valley and got some fantastic views of Mount Cook.  Joe did some brilliant walking and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We went back to the Hermitage for a well deserved lunch and cake.  We were very impressed by the Hermitage, it was a modern, quite smart hotel, with stunning views but yet it had a quite laid back vibe.  As we were relaxing in the lounge pondering where David could watch the Grand Prix on Sunday…we suddenly had a brilliant idea…a quick browse of the hotel website later …we were booked in for Sunday night!

On Saturday night we dropped a quick text to the ‘Sarahs’ only to discover that they were at Franz Joseph…this is less than 60km (as the crow flies) from Mount Cook Village and it felt really good to know that they were so close!!  We are meeting up with them on Tuesday and we cannot wait!!

On Sunday we did another two walks, visited the Edmund Hillary Centre again, ate more cake in the restaurant and then got checked into our room in the early afternoon.  We had booked a ‘motel’ room with a small kitchen and our own bathroom (a major treat when you live on the road!!).  Peter and Joe couldn’t believe their luck as we let them watch two hours of cartoons this afternoon before the Grand Prix.  Luke had a ‘lovely shower’ and then had an early night (he loves taking his toys and bucket into the shower).  

As the Grand Prix started I headed into the bathroom for an hour of beautification (including re-dyeing my fast-fading red hair).  As I write Joe is a zombie almost asleep on the couch watching the F1 Press Conference, David is delighted with a Brawn 1-2 and looking forward to an interesting F1 season, while  Peter is sleepily grinning as he recovers from the shock of Hamilton finishing fourth from last on the grid.  

I am sipping my wine, typing and reflecting on a perfect end to a fantastic long-weekend at Mount Cook, one of the best places we have visited in New Zealand and somewhere we will all take home fond memories of.  


Sunday 22 March 2009

Cold and frosty morning

We are back at the Lazy Dog near Wanaka for a few days while we plan our last few weeks.  We had a lovely day yesterday sampling the new restaurant menu and undoing all the healthy eating of the last three months!

The greatest shock came when we looked out the window this morning to see that the ground was frosty!!!  We have not awoken to a frosty morning since we lived in Scotland and so it came as some thing of a shock.  The boys were a bit mystified and wanted to go outside and see it...until we opened the van door and they were hit by an icy blast!  Joe, Luke and I made a quick retreat under the covers, but David and Peter braved the cold for their two mile run, although Peter claimed to have frostbite on his face when he got back.

The days do warm up and we are currently sitting on the patio at the restaurant enjoying autumn sunshine.


A Day in Christchurch

After Hanmer Springs we headed to Christchurch with the plan of looking around the city center, which we missed last time round.  The day we arrived we got sidetracked by one of the many shopping malls where I got a haircut, did some shopping and we enjoyed an 'All you can eat' buffet at Pizza Hut.

The next day we headed into the city first thing and followed the very handy 'Parking Search
 Route' until we found a non-multistory car park for the van.  We spent the morning wandering round the streets, people-watching as we had snack stop at one of the many pavement cafes, watching out for the trams and browsing the many second hand bookshops (where Peter and I were in heaven).

In the afternoon we walked to the Botanic Gardens, where we 
wandered along the river watching the punts, looked at the 'art' in the park and had had a relaxing afternoon enjoying the sunshine.  

Next time we are in Christchurch we will be heading off to Australia and it is starting to feel like we don't have much time left in New Zealand.


Thursday 19 March 2009

Hanmer Springs

We spent the last couple  of days at a place called Hanmer Springs, just North of Christchurch.  We hadn't originally planned to include this on our trip down, but after reading about it on another travel blog (someone doing a similar trip south about 2 weeks ahead of us) we decided to make a slight detour.

We arrived on Tuesday and headed straight for a campsite just outside of the centre for lunch.  The weather has really picked up again and we had a lovely afternoon of sunshine.  We went to a nearby playpark for a while and then headed into town with the boys riding ahead on their bikes. 

On Wednesday we walked into town around 10am and spent most of the day in the Springs pools.   The pools included a childrens area with slides, waterfalls
 and a water gun which entertained the kids for a while.  We then took a dip in the hot pools working our w
ay gradually up from the 33C pool to the hottest 40C pool (and then back down again so that the kids pool didn't feel too cold when we got back).  We had a nice picnic lunch in the sun before some grey clouds started to loom on the horizon.  We decided mid-afternoon to head back to the campsite before any rain arrived (it didn't rain in the end, but it did cloud over and cool down).  

Once the boys were in bed I headed back up to the pools for another hour and enjoyed the pools as they are meant to be enjoyed - in peace! 

Hanmer springs is a lovelly little town nestled amongst between several mountain ranges making for beautiful views in all directions - a really good find which was a surprise because it didn't feature at all in our Rough Guide to New Zealand!

Update on the kids

Peter has started reading some new books which he picked up in a second hand book shop in Kaikoura (where we also traded in some of our well-read books).  The books are childrens fiction based around the SAS - Peter has now decided that he either wants to be in the SAS or be an anthropologist.  If only his mum and dad had their future jobs as sorted - we still don't want to know what to do when we grow up (and we've only got 6 months to finish growing up).

Since his last triathlon Peter and I have been going out for a run every morning - normally about 2 miles in about 21 minutes.  This morning Peter ran a timed mile in 9:21.

When Nicola and I were talking the other day Luke announced loudly that "you talk rubbish mum".  Both his speech and perception are amazing for a two year old.

Joseph has decided that New Zealand isn't very new and should therefore be referred to as just "Zealand" or even "Old Zealand".  This afternoon he finally mastered getting started on his bike (previously he needed a push start from mum or dad every five minutes) much to his, and our, delight.

Photos here (I only just discovered that Facebook photo links expire after a few months, so if you want to look at photos linked from old blog posts you need to either get on Facebook or email and I can refresh the link).


Sunday 15 March 2009

Having a whale of a time in Kaikoura

From Blenheim we headed down the east coast to Kaikoura. On the way we enjoyed some splendid coastal scenery. The latter part of the drive hugged the coastline and we had some fantastic views of the sea pounding on the black sand beaches. The beaches and the ocean on this side of the South Island were again very isolated, but seeing them on a sunny day made them feel a bit less bleak. Just before getting to Kaikoura we drove along a stretch of coastline which was remarkably reminiscent of the west coast of Guernsey, giving us a brief stab of homesickness (for an island that is no longer our home).

We got sorted with accommodation near the town and headed into look around. It is a small town with a cluster of shops on the main street which mostly cater for tourists. After a quick wander along the street we headed to the shore for a look at the sea.

The beach was stones rather than sand and was extremely windy. We had some fun building some pebble towers and seeing who could balance the most stones in a pile before the wind blew it down. We were glad to be wrapped up in our warm coats as it felt more like a winters day out to Ayr than a summers day in the southern hemisphere!

Kaikoura is famous for whale watching excursions but when we looked into the boat trips they do not allow kids under 3, so no good for us! Peter was very disappointed as he loves whales and had been really hoping he would see one, however he made a quick recovery when he realised there was a great play park at our campsite!

Tomorrow we are planning another look at the shops, a cup of tea in one of the numerous cafes and then a walk on the peninsula...and we will take our binoculars just in case!

Photos here.


Saturday 14 March 2009

Heading south again

We have been back on the South Island since Wednesday evening, after an uneventful drive down to Wellington (with yet another visit to the museum) followed by an evening ferry over to Picton, where we spent a night before heading to Nelson. We had been planning to head into the Abel Tasman National Park, but after a couple of chilly nights we decided that wilderness camping might be too cold. After researching various buses and boat trips we decided on a trip from Nelson, only to discover that the trip we had chosen was no longer running so we decided to give the Abel Tasman a miss and just start heading south.

We stayed at a great campsite in Nelson (like a mini Eurosite) which had a couple of play areas and mini-golf. The boys had a great time on the mini-golf. As it was out of season David and I could relax, read our books and leave them to it while they played a version of golf that sometimes looked a bit more like hockey! There was a lot of space at the campsite, so the boys did some cycling and Peter and David did the "trim track" each morning.

There was a BMX track nearby that Peter enjoyed trying out. Joseph was not brave enough to try it on his bike and David and I were not brave enough to let Luke try it on his bike with no brakes!

After a relaxing few days in Nelson we are presently in Blenheim, which it has to be said is not the most exciting place...we went into town this afternoon and half the shops are closed...on a Saturday afternoon...makes Guernsey seem like a lively place!!

Onward to Kaikoura tomorrow, but we will not be whale watching as under threes are not allowed on the boats!


Friday 13 March 2009

Leaving the North Island

Our planned four weeks in the North Island extended itself to become over two months as we enjoyed the warmth and sunshine found further north in New Zealand. We have been reflecting on our time in the North Island and trying to remember all of the highs and lows of this part of the trip.

The highlights of the North island include our day sailing on a tall ship in the Bay of Islands, seeing dolphins, David trying the trapeze, meeting up with Dan, Fiona and family, visiting Waiuku, chilling out in Mount Manganui, experiencing the buzz of city life in Wellington, watching the Ironman in Taupo and of course visiting Te Papa!

We had surprisingly few lows, we found some of the driving quite tedious and lengthy, particularly heading from Napier to Gisbourne then north to Mount Manganui. We also had one mechanical breakdown (and one self inflicted breakdown), but as each of these was quickly resolved with minimum fuss (thanks for the diesel Andy) they didn't even make it as a low point. We think our only true low was saying goodbye to the New Zealand branch of the Holmes family, we had such a great time visiting and we know if we are ever planning a return trip to NZ it will be primarily to see them!

We are hoping that our final seven weeks on the South Island are as good as the time we have had on the North Island.


Saturday 7 March 2009

Ironman New Zealand

It was a long day...
The Ironman racing started at 6.45am this morning. We are staying at a campsite about 10mins drive away and we wanted to make sure that we got into Taupo early enough to bag a decent parking space, so the alarm clock was set for 5.30am and at 5.45 we set off with the beds still made up in the back of the van - Peter and Joseph are able to lie in bed with seatbelts around them, Luke had to be moved into his car seat which was anchored onto the bed.

We managed to land a brilliant parking spot which gave Nicola and the boys a view of the triathlon swim from bed. I got kitted up and headed out on the bike to watch the race. I watched the swim start, in the dark, down on the beach. At 6.45 the small wave of elite professional athletes headed off behind a Maori wooden boat which was paddled by a group which had just performed a Haka on the beach (very loud and impressive). The main wave, around 1400, made a start at 7am and the noise and sight of such a large number of people in a mass start in the water was quite amazing.

The main field was soon strung out across the lake covering with a distance over a mile between first and last. The first elite male exited the water having completed the 2.4 mile swim in around 45mins with the bulk of the men (including Britain's Stephen Bayliss) and the leading ladies coming out around 50 minutes.

The competitor I had come to support was Bella Bayliss (until November Bella Comerford) from Aberdeen who I used to train/race with when we were Scotland's top junior triathletes. She, of course, has gone on to a succesful professional Ironman career (see her Wikipedia listing here) whilst I became an actuary and, so far, am unworthy of a listing in Wikipedia.

Bella came out of the water just behind a group of girls in about 55 minutes - she has always won her Ironman races coming from behind after the swim, she is a very strong cyclist and runner.

I headed out onto the bike course to shout encouragement at a spot close to town which the cyclists passed twice on the course of 112miles. Bella had moved up into third place but with a gap of six minutes to the leader. Stephen (Bella's husband) was riding well with a group covering second to fourth places.

At second transition Bella had fallen to thirteen minutes behind leader (and her team-mate) Lisbeth Kristensen and was in fourth place. Out on the run I had a tiring time myself cycling up and down the road getting split times for Bella and then feeding them back to her. Over the first 5km she was reeling in the girls ahead bringing the gap down to under 10 minutes. However, the effort on the bike started to tell and after a period of holding the gap steady she began to lose time. She really struggled just after halfway having to walk at times (I did my best to shout words of encouragement, I was worried this might be more annoying than encouraging, but Bella claims that if I hadn't been there she might have just stopped and hidden somewhere!)

She did get going again but lost a further place to an Australian girl. She came home in a creditable 5th place (meanwhile husband Stephen dropped to 6th by the finish of his race after struggling in the first half of his marathon) having struggled through the marathon in 3hours 20 minutes (a time the average male runner would find acceptable in a straight marathon without the swimming and cycling first!). Her overall time of 9:41 was about 15 minutes slower than last year so she was understandably disappointed (again, the average male athlete would be very happy with a time of under 10 hours - the pros are just in another league).

After watching Bella finish we all took a drive out along the run course to watch other runners, many of whom were still on the first half of their marathons as sunset approached. As I write this back at our campsite with the boys asleep in bed there are many athletes still out there, with the cut-off time for finishers midnight tonight.

Overall the atmosphere and level of organisation for this event was amazing (there are over 2,000 volunteers organising the event) and the atmosphere was really special with spectators two or three deep in places lining the parts of the course through the town. Maybe next time I'm at an Ironman I'll be on the start-line myself.


Wednesday 4 March 2009

Triathlon swim video

Nicola, Joseph and Luke missed it because they were out waiting for Peter at the transition area, but fortunately I captured Peter's best event on video.

Click on the video below to play. Peter is closest to the right of the screen as they start (and then quickly gets into the lead).


Palmerston North Weet-bix Tryathlon

Today I did the Weet-bix Tryathlon in Palmerston North. It was a 100m swim, 4km bike and 1500m run. We had been in Palmerston North for a few days and our campsite was right beside the park where the triathlon would be. I had done some practice swimming, cycling and running with Dad.

On the morning of the race we went over to the park and I got my numbers and put my bike in transition. It was a very big race, there were over 1200 children taking part and transition was very big.

When I was practicing it was very windy and rainy, but today it was lovely and warm and sunny.

After I put my bike in transition we went to the "Weet-bix Breakfast Tent". I got a plain weet-bix, Joe and Luke got apricot weet-bix and Luke got a yogurt but he didn't like it and Joe got one that he liked but he didn't eat. I ate all my food and all the leftovers.

The 11-15 year olds went first, so we had a long wait till it was time for the 7-10 year olds to race. When it was time to start all the 7-10 year olds went to the pool. We had to wait for a bit but when we got into the pool I started off last in my heat, but I was first out of the pool. I was miles ahead!

When I got on the bike I was overtaken by someone at first, then I overtook them but they were gaining on me. I knew the course from my practices so I pushed on as I knew there was a steep downhill ahead where I could get away from him. The cycle was a bit easier than I thought as the course was shorter than I had practiced with Dad. When I got to the end of the bike I had a sip of my water (it was boiling BOILING HOT as it had been out in the sun).

On the run I was very tired and lots of people overtook me, as I am not very good at running. When I got to the end (about 100m away) I started to sprint for the finish. After I crossed the line I got a medal and I felt really good and proud that I had managed my second race.

After I got my medal I went out of the finishing area to look for Mum and Dad, but they weren't anywhere to be seen! I had a look around for them and saw Mum running over to the finish line to see if she could take a photo of me crossing the line, so I ran up behind her and said "Mum I am out here already" and she thought I had gone very fast!

When it was the Spot Prizes my number was 17419 and one of the prizes was a bike, the winner of the bike had a number very close to mine, but it wasn't me!

All of my family were very happy and proud of me. Joseph is looking forward to when he can do a triathlon with me. I am looking forward to my next race.

Photos here.


Tuesday 3 March 2009

Yo-yoing over Wellington

No, Yo-yoing is not some new adrenaline filled thrill-seeker sport exclusive to New Zealand, it's just that we haven't really gone far in the last week. After our first day in Wellington we headed back up the coast to a town called Paraparaumu (or, as we call it for short: Paraparaparaparapara) where we met up with Andy who was visiting on business from Auckland. Andy very generously treated us all to dinner and a drink at a local eaterie by the name of "H" (which was a nice contrast to the long town name).

Next we returned South to Wellington again and stayed a few nights at our new favourite New Zealand campground Camp Elsdon which is located about 20mins North of the City Centre in a place called Porirua. It is our favourite campground mainly because it is the first place where we have really felt we got value for money (like most places there wasn't much to the place, but at less than half the cost of most places on the North Island it was a perfect base for visiting Wellington). This campsite was the location for the now-famous Luke bike riding film (below, click on the video to play it).

Over the next few days we headed into Wellington to visit more of the city. On Friday we rode on the cable car up to the botanic gardens; we visited the cable car museum before taking a walk and some lunch. Over the weekend we had a lot of rain so we mainly visited Te Papa where we probably managed to see the majority of exhibits. Nicola's bid to complete the gruelling Marathon Des Sables began when she bought herself a pair of trainers (to be fair she has been for two walks in them, probably not much less than Chris did in February).

On Sunday we left Wellington, deciding that we might as well be on the road whilst the rain continued. After a one night stop on the way up at a Freedom campsite near Opitiki from where we had a nice walk in the forest (we had to camp in the car-park because all of the grass was too muddy but the rain did finally stop in the evening).

We are now back in Palmerston North at the same campsite we visited on the way down last month. The campsite has the "Lido" swimming centre on one side and Victoria Esplanade park on another side - conventiently the venue for the swim, run and transition area of Peter's second triathlon, which is tomorrow (Wednesday). Peter and I have cycled the bike course a couple of times for practise (we measured it at 3.5miles which means that it is quite a bit longer than the advertised 4kms) and this afternoon we visited the transition area (which they were in the process of setting up) and rode around the run course (an accurate 1.5km).

I expect our next blog will be an update from Peter about his latest sporting exploits.
Photos added into previous album