Monday, 25 March 2019

Having A Whale Of A Time

So here we are in Kaikoura. Its full name is apparently "Te Ahi-kai-koura-a-Tamatea-pokai-whenua" meaning "the fire which Tamatea-pokai-whenua made to cook crayfish". You can definitely see why it's shortened to Kaikoura - try fitting that other stuff on the front of the local bus!

This place first started out as a whaling town, and there's an old building on the coast which is literally built on whale bone foundations. However they now specialise in whale watching rather than whale killing, which is what we're going to be doing today.

We'd booked 2 places on a boat which was going out to hunt for whales and the signs looked good weather-wise. Yesterday, when we'd arrived, a mist hung over the ocean, but today it was nice and clear. We showed our tickets and were told that the sailing conditions were pretty calm so we wouldn't have any trouble with motion sickness, but I'd heard that it can get bad so I bought a couple of capsules of stuff that was supposed to help avoid any nasty spewing incidents. Then we sat down for our safety briefing and it became clear that we might have a problem. The tour promises that you will see a whale, or they'll refund 80% of the ticket price. We were told that the boat which had just returned - and which we might have gone on if we were the sort of people who like getting up early (which we aren't) - hadn't seen any whales. It was obvious that the lady delivering the briefing was preparing us for almost certain disappointment too. We boarded a bus which took us the short journey to the quay and got onto the boat, without much optimism.

As we sped out into the bay we were told all about the whales we may (or may not) see, the most likely type being a sperm whale. Sperm whales are typically 12 metres long, about the size of the boat we were on, and are attracted to this area because an underwater canyon provides a perfect place to visit and feed.

After about 20 minutes, the boat stopped and one of the crew lowered a strange contraption into the water. This was an extremely sensitive, highly directional, underwater microphone. With this they can detect any sounds made by a whale in the area and use that to work out where the whale is. They're very keen to point out that they don't use any invasive techniques to track whales, such as using sonar, as this could confuse the whales and potentially have very harmful results, so all they do is listen, and rely on information coming back from other boats.

The bad news - no whale sounds being picked up here. The engines were fired back up and we headed out further, presumably based on past experience of where the whale hotspots are. All the time, we're urged to scan the ocean looking for a plume of water which might indicate a surfacing whale. Another stop, another dip of the magic microphone, another big fat silence. We had all but accepted that we would not be seeing our first ever wild whale.

Then a radio message came in from the boat which had gone out an hour before us. They'd found a whale in the opposite direction we'd been going. They were going to hang around there so we turned around and went full throttle towards our prey - we were going to have one last try to see a whale before we had to call it a day and go home. We were really bouncing through the waves now, and if this was a calm day, I'd hate to have been out on choppy seas. I was just about keeping it together, thanks to the drugs I'd taken, but there were some retching noises coming from a few rows back which indicated that one bloke was not faring so well.

The seasick-express powered on for another 30 minutes until, thank goodness, we caught up with the other boat. Again the engines were switched off and it was all hands on deck. Everyone scrambled out of the cabin and scanned the surrounding sea. And then he appeared, Tiaki the sperm whale.

He allowed us a tiny glimpse of his back, like a shy nuclear submarine, whilst spouting water into the air. Cue 20 people snapping away with their cameras for 5 minutes. Finally with a flick of his tail, Tiaki went back below the surface where he would stay for up to an hour and a half before coming up to breathe again. We turned round and sped back to the harbour having ticked the "seen a whale" box.

As a bonus, we also saw our first royal albatross, which flew over our boat while the whale was playing hide and seek, and Jus reckons she saw a penguin as we arrived back (though it could just have been a duck on its way to a black-tie do).

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Floating Around The Marlborough Sound

This morning we're leaving the North Island and boarding a ferry to take us across Marlborough Sound to the South Island. Once again, I'm amazed by the things you can do with luggage. At the ferry terminal in Wellington we hand over our suitcases on the understanding that they will be put on this ferry, taken off at the other end, then put on a train, which we will also (fingers crossed) be getting on and eventually we'll collect them at Kaikora station.

Once we boarded the Interislander Ferry we legged it as fast as we could up to the top deck to get a good view. This was a big boat similar in size to the Hull-Zeebrugge one we've been on in the past, with bars, a children's play area and cinema, but we wanted to see as much of the scenic journey as possible.

The first third was spent watching Wellington slowly disappear from view, while sailing past islands, some of which were populated and at least one of which was only inhabited by wildlife and all non-indigenous animals were strictly forbidden.

The middle third got a bit cold and windy, so I took the opportunity to catch up with a bit of football (Spain v Denmark I think) in the sports lounge.

The final part of the crossing was spent picking a route through beautiful narrow channels of water between dramatic hills and tiny inaccessible bays. This was almost worth the cost of the ferry journey alone.

We bobbed in to Picton about 3 hours after leaving Wellington and we were now South Island dwellers (for a couple of weeks). A short walk from the ferry terminal was the train station and we boarded the Coastal Pacific to Christchurch, though we wouldn't be going that far yet.

The train line we'd be using had only reopened in January this year, having been severely damaged in various places by the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, so we were quite lucky to be able to travel this way. However, what we weren't able to do was go in to the open carriage which should have allowed us to stand and look at the panoramic views without seats or windows obscuring the views. In the last few days, they've had to close this carriage because, despite all the instructions and warnings, some people were hanging out over the edge taking selfies and risking serious injury, or worse, blurry selfies. So unfortunately, the actions of a few idiots had now spoiled it for everyone.

The train journey was still interesting and we saw seals and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean accompanied with occasional commentary on the headphones provided.

We arrived at Kaikoura and thankfully so had our luggage, so it was now the small matter of a 20 minute walk along the coast, Justine adding to the sound of ocean waves lapping on the beach by dragging her suitcase with both wheels now broken, noisily behind her.

It was a relief to the ears of everyone in the region when we made it to our B&B, The Hamptons, a very cool house overlooking the ocean.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Wombling Around Wellington

We've only got one full day in Wellington so from the couple who brought you "24 Hours in LA", "An afternoon in Palma, Majorca" and our masterpiece, "A Bit Of A Look Round Toronto, On A 90 Minute Pay And Display Ticket", we bring you "Wellington, SpeedTourism Style".

To maximise our time we joined a walking tour to get the benefit of local knowledge and avoid the risk of exploring the city's various construction sites, car parks and dirty alleyways.

The tour started in a square containing a number of buildings surrounded by safety fencing.  One looked quite old and impressive, others were more modern and they were all closed. One of the buildings was the town hall and no one had been allowed in it for 6 years as, despite various bits of ornamentation being removed over the years, it no longer met the standards required for earthquake resistance. This was a common theme on the tour. Following an earthquake in 2016 and the devastation wrought by the quakes in Christchurch, this had become a big issue to Wellingtonians.

Many buildings no longer met the building standards and not just old ones - some new buildings were also closed until it could be decided whether to retrofit them with features designed to allow them to survive another quake, or to simply demolish them. The library opposite the town hall had been closed 3 days ago due to concerns from engineers that it "may not perform well in the event of a significant earthquake" - it was built in the early 1990s. There was a big hole on the corner of one street where a new building had been constructed by the Ministry of Defence less than a decade ago, only to be torn down again last year.

We walked across a road bridge towards the harbour. We'd seen the bridge as we drove in the night before - it was covered in elaborately carved wood in an assortment of Maori designs.

It was baking hot and the harbour was full of (mainly young) festival goers in Doc Martens and short shorts and the air was full of the kind of frequencies that made me wonder if anyone would notice an earthquake if it started right now.

Our guide kept us moving and at 11:00 we found ourselves in the former HQ of the New Zealand Bank, now reimagined as a boutique shopping arcade. We headed upstairs and watched a potted 5 minute history of Wellington on an animated musical clock.

As well has having this horological novelty, the bank itself had been built over the remains of the boat Plimmer's Ark which was grounded by an earthquake in 1855.

Next on the list was the parliament building known as The Beehive. It reminded us of the Bradford and Bingley Head Office building in its ugly brutal concrete skin. It was next to 2 older much more attractive buildings but the planning laws are all about building in the contemporary style of the day and the 70s were not a great era for building design.

Despite what had happened in Christchurch last week, it was still possible to walk right up to the front door of the parliament building, and security consisted of a couple of policemen, hanging around a discrete distance away.

New Zealand was (as all good quiz teams will know) the first country in the world to give women the vote, in 1893. One thing we might not have noticed if we weren't being shown round by a local was that the little green "man" on some pedestrian crossings was actually a silhouette of Kate Sheppard, the woman who led the suffrage movement here - she was originally from Liverpool, but we won't hold that against her.

Other crossings had figures of Maoris doing the haka, or Carmen Rupe, a transexual stripper who ran as a mayoral candidate. Quite a broad church there!

The tour finished and we were left to our own devices. One thing Jus had spotted was another funicular tramline going up the side of a big hill. This triggered memories of a childhood spent doing a jigsaw of New Zealand, which had various key pieces representing the major landmarks. The one for Wellington was this little red tram.

She had to see the tram - this had become a pilgrimage. Given that we had to queue for 2 hours to get on our last little red tram in Hong Kong, I was dubious, but you can't argue with someone who has whipped herself up into an almost religious frenzy, so I shuffled along obediently. Amazingly, there was no queue for this one. We bought tickets, got in to the carriage and were hauled up past little suburban stations (this was built to provide commuter access to the central business district) until we terminated at the top in the botanical gardens. Jus was very pleased that she'd sat on this iconic jigsaw piece of the past - there may have been tears in her eyes, or maybe it was botanical garden pollen?

We finished our day in the capital at the Te Papa museum. The top floor had a modern art exhibition where on entry we had to pick a confusing card from the confusing card producing machine in the wall - this would challenge you to achieve some task while looking round the exhibition. I think mine asked me to pick a wall and identify all the shades of blue in the art there. Justine had to find her favourite colour and come up with a new name for it... for some reason.

Some of the works on display were really cool, and I successfully identified a lot of blues.

Jus named her colour "Grue", which didn't take much imagination (but don't tell her I said that).

The last part of our museum tour was the Gallipoli exhibition created by Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop. This tells the story of the New Zealand men and women who went half way round the world in 1915 to the Gallipoli peninsula (now part of Turkey) to fight what turned out to be a losing battle. The most striking part of this exhibition was the 2.4 times life-sized models, incredibly detailed and realistic - these made a huge impact.

On leaving the museum you can go down some steps and see through a glass panel underneath the building the key to making this huge building earthquake resistant. The building is sitting on base isolators - foundation blocks made from a combination of lead, steel and rubber - these act as shock absorbers. This particular design was invented here in New Zealand and now is used in other quake-prone regions around the world.

We've crammed a lot in to our day, but tomorrow we're off to the South Island, so it's almost time to give Wellington the boot (sorry).

Friday, 22 March 2019

Highway To Well(ington)

The Kim Wilson Napier Tours™ itinerary (thanks Kim by the way) recommended various wineries, but we were unable to get to them all on our bikes, due to us not being Team Sky. But the next morning we're back in the car and though we're leaving Napier today, we could still tick off some of the KWNT™ sights. So first thing this morning (well 10 ish) we're going to the next destination recommended by Kim. No not a winery - we're not animals! We're off to find Lick This.

Breakfast ice creams finished... Now we can hit the wineries!

I'm driving so obviously I'm not going to be glugging back the vino, but Jus gets off to a good start at Elephant Hill, and we buy a couple of bottles based on her increasingly educated palate.

Having ticked off the KWNT™ must do sights, we now start the long journey down North Island towards the capital. There's not much to see on the way and the most direct route looked very boring, so we opted for a more scenic (and convoluted) journey down the east coast. We stopped at various small, remote beaches but even the smallest, most remote had good public facilities, toilets, changing rooms, drinking water fountains. It's something we've seen everywhere in NZ.

We drove through the place which, allegedly, has the longest name in the world.

And for hours we drove whilst seeing almost no one else, just small towns consisting of one or two houses, and lots of sheep. It made it feel like we were in a huge country though it's a similar size to ours, just with less than 10 percent of our population.

We finally arrived in Wellington at dusk, and dropped the rental car off at Thrifty (might get some sponsorship if I mention them) and then found our hotel. We'd arrived on the weekend when what seemed to be a mini Glastonbury was taking place in the city centre. Our hotel room was very funky, full of 1950s furniture, a slick modern bathroom suite and an old record player with a pile of vinyl.

Our window overlooked the Roots And Dance stage of "Glastington" and the walls were vibrating in sympathy with the event's huge sub-bass. We thought we'd drown it out with some old LPs, but on flicking through them we didn't appear to have been provided with the best choice in the world. It felt a bit like the selection you might find in an Age Concern charity shop.

I dug out my selection of the least worst - a George Benson album, Manhattan Transfer Live In Somewhere Or Other, and Kim Wilde's lesser-known 3rd LP (which presumably was the catalyst to her deciding to stop being a pop star and become a landscape gardener). Kim's album was actually pretty good in a mid-eighties kind of way, and we ate cheese, drank Elephant Hill wine, listened to Kim, and tried to ignore the mirror which was dancing on the wall to a different beat.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Wine Bores And Saddle Sores

I like wine. Jus likes wine. We both like wine. So, given we're in Hawkes Bay (famous for its vineyards) "wine-not" do a tasting tour? We had our hire car, but neither of us wanted to volunteer to be the designated driver, and we're obviously not going to drink and drive... that would be irresponsible. There were tours on offer where someone would chauffeur you around from winery to winery, but (as mentioned in an earlier post) we're too tight to pay that sort of money. So we hired a couple of bicycles. Jus had worked out a route which took us on a scenic ride around some of the most popular wineries. It was a round trip of about 45 miles. She'd already decided to rent an electric bike, but I've done 100 mile rides (one with Bradley Wiggins) around some of the most gruelling roads the north of England can throw at you, so I'm not going to wimp out and get a bike with a battery. The guy at the bike shop suggested we amend our route to make it a bit more scenic. This rounded it up to the 50 mile mark, but I still reckon that's a piece of cake for someone with my pedigree. Off we go on our epic winecycle.

The detour took us around the coast but meant that we didn't get to our first wine tasting until 11am (Jus had scheduled us to be tippling-off at 10). Never mind, the Church Road Winery were still happy to serve us even at the relatively late time of eleven o'clock in the morning!

We joined a Canadian couple at the tasting bar and we sniffed, sipped and slurped a number of the wines produced here. I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as it became clear that the Canadians were real wine experts (they were even spitting wine out once they'd tasted it - unbelievable, what a waste!). Meanwhile I was being asked questions by the lady leading the tasting such as "what sort of wine do you drink normally?". I suspect the answer "any wine" was not what she was used to receiving. Whilst I was tasting wine and thinking "Yes, that's wine... and it's perfectly drinkable", the Canadians were feverishly scribbling their opinions about the bouquet, flavour, finish and other stuff I don't really understand, into a large notebook. This was proper research - they told us they were currently writing their next wine-based mystery thriller, a follow up to their first which is due to be published soon. It seems that wine thriller novels are a thing and I promised we'd look out for their book as soon as it hit the shelves, though I suspect I wouldn't understand a lot of it. We left feeling slightly squiffy, and wholly inadequate.

We now had to cycle 17 miles to our next stop, Te Awanga winery. It started to rain a bit, but our £7 lightweight pac-a-macs were pulled out of our rucksacks and we battled on bravely. The rain soon stopped, the scenery was stunning and the only slight fly in the ointment was a bit of a headwind along the coast.

By the time we got to Te Awanga I was starting to get a bit tired, and I suspected that Jus had been using her battery power every now and then. They offered freshly baked pizzas as well as wine here, and it was the perfect place to recover from the cycling. We ate smoked almonds, lamb and hummous, a superb pizza and made a fair dent in the bottle of rose we'd just purchased after our tasting. It was all a bit more chilled out and (as a wine thicko) I felt less intimidated here! The sun was shining and we could have sat on the terrace overlooking their vines all day.

It was now well past 3pm and we had to be back before the bike shop closed at six, so we decided we were going to have forego the other wineries and start heading back. Annoyingly, the headwind I'd experienced on the way out was now a headwind the other way too and it was turning in to a real slog. I told Jus we needed to up the pace if we were going to make it back in time. The problem was that she could actually go faster easily and was doing a steady 23 kmph into the headwind without difficulty (did I mention that she had an electric bike?). I found myself in the humiliating position of trying to catch up with her and stay in her slipstream, desperately trying to keep our mini peleton in with a chance of the prize. It occurred to me a number of times that afternoon that it was 10 years since I last did a major cycle ride, and I've not got any younger in that time - plus I would have had had energy drinks in my water bottles, not wine!

As I struggled in to Napier's magnificent promenade, Jus graciously offered to swap bikes for the last half mile or so. I could barely walk, but once the electric bike's motor kicked in I realised that perhaps I should have swallowed my pride and paid the bike shop the extra for one of these babies. Either that, or bought some of their Lance Armstrong "energy sweets".

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Flipping Heck-o, it's All Art Deco

Napier suffered a large earthquake in 1931 which destroyed most of the town and created a whole new piece of land as the rocks were pushed up out of the sea. The town had to be rebuilt from scratch and it was all done in the style of the time - Art Deco.

This makes it quite different to the places we've seen so far - Devonport had some pretty Edwardian villas and the Sky tower in Auckland was interesting to look at but the rest of what we've seen up until now has been bland mid 20th century bungalows - none of that here.

One of the first things we saw when we drove in to Napier was an arch on the promenade. It turned out to be the Harold Latham arch, which got our Justine Latham very excited.

Apparently Harold was one of the men who was instrumental in rebuilding Art Deco Napier. Not sure if she's a distant relation - maybe she's 17th in line to being lady mayoress or something. That'd be nice. Jus developed a real soft spot for this town - maybe it's the potential Latham connection, the interesting architecture,  or maybe it's really about the fact that Napier is in the Hawkes Bay area - famous for it's wine.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Maori Had A Little Lamb

The Maori travelled to New Zealand from Polynesia, crossing the Pacific Ocean in their Wakas, long canoe things a bit like they use in the Boat Race (but the Maori guys had better tattoos). They were the original settlers here, arriving in 1250 (ish). It wasn't until 1642 that Europeans appeared on the scene. If you're Dutch, you'll like the fact that Abel Tasman stumbled across these islands and named them New Sealand. If you're British (and like the idea that we discovered or invented everything) then it's Captain Cook's journey in the Endeavour that put New Zealand on the map.

After a few initial skirmishes the treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between Britain and the local Maori leaders. We've learned during our travels that there were issues with the treaty that are still being rectified to this day but it is clear that Maori culture is significantly more integrated here than we saw with the Aborigines in Australia.  Loads of places have Maori names, you hear non-Maoris using Maori words all the time, Kia Ora being used everywhere, it just feels more harmonious. Perhaps it's because both the Maori and European settlers migrated here - there is no indigenous population.

As our thirst for knowledge knows no bounds, we went to a Maori cultural evening, hosted on a piece of their ancestral land. Initially, this had the feel of a large wedding in a big marquee with lots of tables and many tourists. Our host for the evening was John, one of the heads of a large Maori iwi (tribe), and he walked out to the front with the confidence of a standup comedian, and a very good one at that. John explained to us the traditions of the Maori, from face tattoos to the haka and everything in between, whilst cracking jokes and working his audience. We all then left the marquee to see some Maori paddle their wakas along the stream, atmospherically lit with burning torches.

As night fell, we saw glow worms in the forest, before watching 30 minutes of song and dance from the tribe. This culminated in a haka which was powerful, impressive, slightly scary and well worth experiencing. I've only ever seen this on telly before the rugby and to be honest I've always thought it was a bit silly. But I now understand what a big part of their culture this is. There isn't just one haka and it's not just a war dance intended to intimidate rugby teams, it's also used at weddings and other celebratory events. Not sure I'd like to see it performed at a christening though - a bit much.

This was all well and good, but by now we were hungry. So it was a relief to be taken to see "The Hangi"

They've cooked our food in an underground pit using hot stones just as  those first Polynesian settlers would have done. They would have cooked fish, chicken, moa (a large flightless bird, a bit like the ostrich, which the Maori hunted to extinction) and vegetables like the kumara (a very red sweet potato). Now, instead of the extinct moa bird, they'll throw in some things the original Maori wouldn't have had, such as New Zealand lamb, a bit of garlic bread and some coleslaw to create a buffet that keeps the tourists happy.

Our advice if you ever come over here - Eat, drink and be Maori.

Monday, 18 March 2019


Rotorua smells. It's the most obvious thing we noticed as we entered this city. It smells of sulphur due to the huge amount of geothermal activity. There is steam coming out of all sorts of unexpected places - our motel had two hot tubs filled with pungent water which we sat in for a while until I could no longer deal with the rotten egg perfume.

Out of the city there is a park where mud pools bubble and burp like grey porridge, and bright blue or green ponds are outlined with orange or yellow. The chemistry here is pretty extreme.

Even in the park in the middle of the city, just by the swings, we walked through some of the most incredible naturally occurring sights we've ever seen, though at times we couldn't actually see anything as the warm clouds of steam wafted over the beds of begonias and the bowling green.

We also had one of the best meals we've had in a long time at the Atticus Finch restaurant, including bread and oil, which doesn't sound that exciting, but the oil flavoured with chilli, garlic and herbs was so nice I ended up scraping the bowl dry. They also managed to make cauliflower taste amazing, no mean feat.

So, Rotorua - fascinating place, great scenery, great food, still not sure I could ever get used to the eggy smell though!

Natural Hobbitat

There are quicker ways to get from Thames to our next stop, Rotorua, but we're not going to take them because we want to visit a special, mystical, some may say magical place, inhabited by small creatures with strange furry feet. Not kiwis, or possum... but Hobbits.

We're not massive nerds, though in the interests of openness I do have to disclose that I belonged to the Dungeons And Dragons Club at school, but I was only 12 and it's better than trainspotting or brass-rubbing*. Anyway, we're definitely not sci-fi/fantasy geeks, but we have seen The Lord Of The Rings films and thought it might be worth a trip to the film set. When Peter Jackson was looking for a location for his Hobbits to live in, he was shown a sheep farm inland on the North Island and decided it was perfect. 20 years and 4 films later, Hobbiton is now a major tourist attraction.

We boarded a coach next to the souvenir shop, having opted not to buy a couple of Magic Elf Cloaks at £450 each...

...and we're driven a short distance before dis-embarking at the gates to the village. A short walk took us to one of the cutest scenes we'd ever seen.

Lots of brightly painted hobbit hole doors, little front gardens, some with fishing gear, or bread stalls, clothes lines with little hobbit shirts and trousers drying, apple trees with plums attached to them (because Tolkien's books demanded plum trees, but they were too big, so some creativity was needed) and even an entirely fake tree on top of one of the hobbit holes which had thousands of silk leaves attached to it (which had been sprayed the exact colour Jackson needed for his films). It looked as real as the natural trees - the attention to detail was mind-boggling. There were small doors which Gandalf would have been filmed in front of to make him look really tall and large doors to make the Hobbits look small. I enjoyed standing in front of small doors so I looked like some of my weird freakishly tall mates, rather than the "normal" height I actually am!

Our tour finished in The Green Dragon Pub, where we enjoyed a nice amber ale - this was, disappointingly, not called "Beer-bo Baggins" - missed opportunity there I think. Then it was back to the souvenir shop and another chance to buy Eye Of Sauron Oven Gloves, Gary Lineker Comedy Ears, or Furry Feet.

* Another disclaimer - I may actually have tried both trainspotting and brass rubbing as a kid too.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

We're In Hot Water

It's Sunday morning and we pick up our first hire car and say goodbye to Auckland. We're heading for the Coromandel Peninsula. Our first stop is Hot Water Beach, where we get to experience the geothermal activity occurring beneath this whole area of New Zealand. At the beach you can hire a small shovel (for £5) and dig down, possibly quite deep, until (if you're lucky) you find a hot spring.

We are a bit tight (careful as they might say in Yorkshire), a bit lazy and not always lucky - so we took the more sensible option of walking along the beach, past a few digging enthusiasts until we found a hole which someone else had dug for us. The hole was over a metre deep and wisps of steam were coming off the surface of the little pool of water which had bubbled up in to it. We carefully tested the temperature, literally dipped our toes in, and it was lovely, like a hot bath.

We alternated between sitting in the hot water, then climbing out and paddling in the cold sea waves breaking on the beach. It was like visiting a health spa but without the dressing gowns or carrot juice.

From here we drove through the rain-forest, up in to the mountains, where the road surface quickly became a dusty gravel track with more hairpins than a branch of Claire's Accessories. I started to feel like we'd joined the Paris-Dakar Rally. Eventually the road dropped back down towards sea level and became easier to drive on and we arrived at our next stop for the night, a town called Thames. Driving down the main street it seemed as if we'd entered a frontier town in the American Wild West.

Essentially that's exactly what Thames was, a frontier town which grew when gold was discovered in the area. We were staying in a motel next to the former goldmine manager's house in which the owners (of the motel, not the goldmine) now lived, and they recommended a place to go and get fish and chips.

This was the most picturesque chippy we've ever seen. It used to be a fish wholesalers, had its own pier, and there were flying fish jumping out of the water which we could watch while waiting for our battered gurnard (whatever that is).

Back in our motel room, having finished the fish and chips, but still working our way through our bottle of Graham Norton...

...we were alarmed when, at around 11pm, an air raid siren suddenly broke the silence. We both briefly thought "four minute warning - impending nuclear attack". After a few moments we dismissed that in favour of the rather more plausible, but no less frightening "it's a tsunami warning". Jus looked out of the window, but there seemed to be no panic, no running around, nothing whatsoever which would suggest that either nuclear or oceanic armageddon was about to happen. So I did what we all now do when we're confused or ignorant - Googled. Very quickly we were reassured to read that the siren was to summon the volunteer fire brigade - it turns out that this is quite common in New Zealand's smaller towns and we've heard it in other places since. I felt a bit stupid the next morning when I noticed a very obvious sign on the wall explaining that we needn't worry if we hear the "Nuclear Tsunami Siren"!