Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Here’s a Clue to Where We’ve Been - As seen on Every All Blacks Rugby Jersey

Marigold Says...

This is supposed to be a travel blog, but travel has been more or less banned for a year. I told G we should write about some of the places we’ve been to that haven’t been mentioned much so far and there’s only one possible place to start. My absolute favourite place on the globe, although I haven’t yet travelled all over the world, was New Zealand. Loved, loved, loved it.

We hired a crazy van, which broke down several times. I remember saying to G every corner we go round there is something even better to look at. The food was great and we found converted chapels and food sheds serving our sort of food. One of them was run by some sort of religious sect who cooked hearty food with big bowls of this and that and fantastic puddings.It couldn’t have been fresher or more tasty. We bought loads to take away and to last us a few days. Good plan but it all went in a day!

Yes, greedy.

I suppose the women, as there were only women cooking, were dressed a bit like Amish, very simply with long aprons. They sold hand made knitted things and there were crafted toys for kids. Brilliant.

We never ate posh while we were there as these places suited us. A favourite place was on a beach in a shack where I had crayfish. It was magical and the owner picked up his guitar and played Simon and Garfunkel songs.

We loved Rotorua. The smell of rotten eggs followed you around and the hot pools bubbled and spat. The Maori were actually cooking in some of them.

The only problem with New Zealand is having to spend what seems like weeks on a plane to get there. You can encounter problems on flights, one of which is who you sit next to. Sometimes it can be entertaining, other times not. On our flight back from New Zealand we noticed a huge woman getting on the plane and were relieved she wasn’t sitting by us as she went past looking for her seat number. Then she backed up and was sitting in our window seat of a row of three. It was impossible to keep my seat to myself and what made it worse when she sat down she overflowed onto my seat.

She introduced herself with a name I can’t remember. As soon as we were in the air we had to get out into the aisle as she wanted to go to the toilet. There was a huge performance as she had got stuck between the toilet door and the toilet itself. The stewardess had to stand outside on guard as they couldn’t close the door. With all the prodding and pulling she had partly wet herself and the stewardess gave me the unwelcome task of searching in the woman’s overhead luggage for a pair of knickers. I think a parachute would have worked well.

She arrived back and went to sleep. As did my leg as she was lying on it. The stewardess let G sit in one of their seats so I could have my own space. There were no spare seats. She wasn’t a quiet sleeper!

Our Van. Just like every other camper van on the road. NOT.

What, you thought the other side would be boring? Think again

G Says...

Where’s the best country you’ve been on your travels? We get asked this question quite often, but it’s virtually impossible to answer. We’ve visited so many.

The UN recognises 48 separate countries in Europe alone and we’ve only missed out on 3 of them: Russia, Belarus and Albania. We did get as far as the borders of both Russia and Belarus, only to be turned away – visa issues. As in not having one. Albania? No excuse, just missed it off our itinerary. Mainly because we have never had an itinerary when travelling, aimless wandering is a far better description.

As for the rest of the world, well we’ve been to loads of countries and revelled in experiencing different cultures. We enjoy unfamiliar, regions of the world that assault the senses - instant culture shock - so North Africa, especially Algeria, Tunisia and in particular Morocco which we have visited extensively, journeyed through, explored and even lived in while renovating houses remain at the forefront of our memories.

There’s no need to travel to the other side of the world - reef diving in the Red Sea, in my view, was better than the Great Barrier Reef and there are beaches in England that topped any we walked across in Australia.

Our last long trip, away from the camper van life for a bit, was a road trip through the Western United States. California comes close to perfection, but I loved the arid wastes of Nevada, the rugged beauty of Utah and the vastness of Montana just as much. On another trip we twinned the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies with a voyage to Alaska, so very different and yet with an equal facility to reduce us to open mouthed wonderment.

We’re trying to pick a favourite from a rarified list. Impossible. How about restricting the choice to where we could happily live, as permanent residents? That’s slightly easier.

We’ve lived, owned property and set down roots in a few countries over the past thirty years. If I had to pick one of the ones from that list it would be France. Maybe a Provençal Mas surrounded by our own vines and lavender fields affording shelter from the Mistral with views of the sparkling Mediterranean? Yes, that would do nicely.

Even so, there’s a hint of been there, done that about France (we lived there for ten years) if I am tasked with complete freedom of choice. After much reflection, therefore, one country stands out for both of us.

New Zealand.

Like everybody else, we can’t go travelling for a while, maybe not for quite a while, but here’s a few recollections of that country, hopefully expanding on the reasons New Zealand tops our list. Let’s start with the downsides. New Zealand is a long way away. It’s also a long way away from anywhere else. Not always a boon to inveterate travellers, especially those who prefer ‘travelling under our own steam’ to meticulously planned itineraries and the wretchedness of long haul flights.

Our best and most lasting recollections come from setting off in one or other of the various old vans we have owned for a few months at a time, or even for several years, to wander throughout Europe, moving on as the mood takes us. We did exactly that sort of trip in New Zealand, from the far tip of Cape Reinga in North Island to Curio Bay in the Deep South, travelling in a small camper van, without any plan in mind other than a determination to explore as much of the country as possible in the space of a couple of months or so.

What else? New Zealand isn’t ‘cutting edge,’ it’s more a reflection of the previous century. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it certainly isn’t, but it’s never going to rival Silicone Valley as a home for trendsetting young thrusters of the Information Age. Fortunately that description doesn't apply to us. Also, the climate isn’t remotely comparable to Australia, California or Southern Spain especially in (our favourite) South Island. One of the many reasons Australia looks down on its closest neighbour. No matter, we loved it.

Our Kiwi Road Trip was January, February and a bit of March in 2008. I am certain of the date as we were in Auckland on the day the QE2 made its last ever visit. We watched it arrive in Princes Wharf in the morning and came back in time to see it leave, accompanied by much blowing of foghorns and an armada of smaller boats, late in the evening.

We chatted to a shopkeeper, his shop offering what’s best described as ‘tourist tat,’ in the afternoon and he was both overjoyed at his takings and worried about the prospect of this being his last big payday. The QE2 had been coming to Auckland since 1967 and he’d been offering a warm welcome every single time.

‘They always come in wanting something for the grandkids,’ he said, ‘but I always sell out of knives which is a bit of a worry.’

He went into the shop and came out waving a ferocious knife, the sort of thing you’d cut away jungle undergrowth with at Marigold who remained remarkably composed in the circumstances. Knife wielding men wearing grubby vests and sporting facial tattoos don’t bother Marigold.

‘This is the last one I’ve got left,’ he said. ‘I reckon I sold nigh on fifty knives today to pensioners with blue hair. You Brits are weird. The boats off to Sydney tomorrow, suppose they’ll be after buying shotguns there.’

We agreed, Brits are a bit weird and blue rinse pensioners are the worst of all.

We stayed in a hotel for two nights after the flight from England as our hired van wasn’t quite ready to collect. I forget the name of the hotel, but our room on about the tenth floor had a view of the sky, interrupted every now and again by a screaming teenager.

Opposite the hotel was a Slingshot Ride, a kind of bungee jump in reverse which starts on the ground and strong elastic ropes fire you a few hundred feet or so into the air, it has the same G-Force effect of a rocket taking off according to the poster outside.

No, we didn’t do that. When we went to look at it in daylight, we watched the first ‘thrill seekers’ of the day, two giggling, raucous teenage girls were fired up into the sky, bounced up and down repeatedly and then returned to the starting point. At which time they were both violently sick. Marigold didn’t fancy it for some reason. I was very relieved at her lack of interest.

We weren’t tempted to bungee jump off the Sky Tower, the impressive telecommunications tower that dominates the city either. There would be other opportunities.

We went for a walk through the CBD, the Central Business District, which sounds stuffy but was full of smart ‘eateries.’ (Like ‘wineries’ the term ‘eateries’ grates with me, but when in Rome…) and then headed out to Ponsonby which is very far removed from bustling, cosmopolitan Auckland but only a short bus ride away. Ponsonby is ‘old’ by Auckland standards, yet full of personality in its own right. Smart boutiques mingled with café culture hang outs, all very much to our liking. After glancing in an estate agents window – we do this wherever we go, regardless of any intention to actually buy property – we realised Ponsonby is very much more expensive than we'd expected.

On the following day we went to collect our van and discovered Parnell Village on Auckland’s shoreline was pretty expensive as well. A couple of months later, after studying numerous estate agent windows, we realised house buying almost everywhere else we visited was significantly cheaper.

I’m only going to focus on a few places we visited, otherwise it would be an entire blog of NZ in itself, but if the same numbers of people who begged for some info on New Zealand return I will add some more.

I won’t even think of writing about South Island which Marigold referred to as ‘Wow Island’ as that was our reaction to what was revealed as we rounded almost every corner. Wow Island will get the blog post it deserves eventually.

We collected our ‘home’ for the next two months or so from the Home Depot of Wicked Campers, actually a fairly scruffy garage, and our first reaction was laughter. I’d seen pictures of the Wicked range, but seeing three or four of them in one place was a riot. They started up in Australia and New Zealand, but we’ve seen a fair few in Europe now and even in the U.K. There’s no mistaking them, festooned in graffiti style cartoon figures and wacky comments.

The artist who’d painted our van was there. He looked more like a bloke who sprinkled iron filings on his breakfast cereal than a smock wearing artist and appeared to be still coming down from a three day session on ‘the grog.’ The van was riotously decorated, but beneath the décor there was no getting away from it; this was a pretty old vehicle.

Creature comforts were practically zero. There was a ‘kitchen’ area accessed from the back door and the bed, once assembled, filled the entire interior. After the first bed assembly we decided to leave it in situ and do without the rear bench seating. The van broke down three times in the first week, each time in incredibly inaccessible and remote places, but I had experience of ‘bodge up job’ repairs on old vans and we coped. The flattened out tin can and rusty wire I used to pitch and reattach the silencer when it fell off was still doing its job two months later after several thousand more miles.

We drove North, heading for the Bay of Islands, but a tropical storm hit us in Whangarei and we suffered a dismal night with the rain pelting down on the tin roof six inches above our heads and the van rocking and swaying.’ *

*Oh, come on, it’s a reference to a gale blowing, not unbridled passion.

Marigold decided, at the height of the gale, she needed to go for a pee. There was a monsoon outside, but when you have to go, you have to go. She slid the side door open and disappeared into the darkness. My offer to accompany her was thankfully declined. Five minutes later a bedraggled mermaid reappeared, drenched to the skin and was asleep again within moments.

In the morning Marigold noticed her side of the bed was awash and insisted the van was leaking. The rain had stopped so it didn’t take long to find the culprit was not a leaking roof, but a sliding door left three inches ajar through which gallons of rainwater had gained admittance. Once it had been established the fault lay with me for not checking the door after she returned in the middle of the night we set off again.

The Bay of Islands didn’t look very inviting under leaden skies, so we thought, ‘let’s go on a bit and check it out on the way back.’ Never a bad idea when you’re master and mistress of your own destiny. We drove as far as Kaitaia before it started to rain again. In torrents. We’d had no chance to dry out Marigold’s side of the bed and by the looks of it, we weren’t going to manage it today. We waited until the storm passed, only four hours or so sitting forlornly in the cab watching rain cascade off the bonnet, then set off again.

There's much more to come...

QE2 in Auckland Harbour for the Last Time

Auckland by Day. It looks much better at night, but none of my 'night pics' survived

A Bit More...

'We’ll find the most Northerly point of New Zealand,’ we decided, well, why not. This turned out to be Cape Reinga. We’ve been to John O’Groats and Lands End, as far north and south as possible on mainland U.K., been to Europe’s most Northerly point, Cape Nordkin in Norway, a wild and desolate place although the North Cape does have a sort of rugged charm.# Having been as far as it’s possible to go in New Zealand, it would now be necessary to go the extreme South. I could write an entire blog on Curio Bay at the bottom of South Island, but for now, just be reassured that we went there as well.

# It’s not a quest as such, but after the far northernmost tip of Europe we just had to join the dots and eventually stand on the furthest points of the compass of Europe.

Southerly, that’s the Punta de Tarifa, we've been there many times. To the West, not too far from the Punta de Tarifa in fact, the closest point to North America in Europe is Cabo da Roca in Portugal with a lighthouse perched on towering cliffs. We were amazed to find men fishing off the cliff edge, their baited line in the ocean hundreds of feet below.

That still leaves the most Easterly point of Europe and here I must admit failure. It depends what borders are in place at the time and although we’ve explored vast tracts of Eastern Europe, there were still options to go further. Somewhere in the Urals, I reckon, but who knows? I don’t.

Without appearing too anal, or straying much further away from the subject of New Zealand, without ever threatening to be actual ‘mountaineers’ we’ve also been to Europe’s (attainable without actual climbing) highest peaks, the Matterhorn and also enjoyed the (expensive but worth it) little train ride to the top of the Jungfrau.

Our various camper vans have climbed to 3,300 metres in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains, over the Col de L’Iseran in France and well into the clouds in Morocco’s High atlas. This little old Wicked van, however, was already showing signs of weakness. We’ll just settled for finding the North and South of New Zealand and forget about mountain passes.

The Bay of Islands is fabulous. Everybody we met in New Zealand told us so. Our second viewing, through a drizzle covered windscreen was no better than our first. Oh well, can’t have perfection every time.

We went to find 90 Mile Beach, the name confused us a bit as we’d already been to 90 Mile Beach quite recently, but that one was in Australia. Some of the little towns we went through on the way were really charming and were our first confirmation that much of New Zealand is like the England of our youth. Which can’t be bad. They wouldn’t allow our van to drive onto the beach, which is ‘only’ about fifty five miles long, not ninety, but 55 miles in length makes it still a very big beach. The Australian version really was 90 miles long, we walked on about five percent of it and it appeared endless.

Today wasn’t a day for beach walking or romping in sand dunes – both options were only briefly considered – so we moved on.

This trip wasn’t going very well so far. We got talking to a young couple from Hamilton who told us their home city was not to be missed. We’re easily swayed, so off we went to Hamilton, or Kirikiriroa if you need to know its Maori name. Somewhat disappointingly as Maori names are usually quite poetic Kirikiriroa just means ‘long stretch of gravel.’

Hmm!

A prominent notice board told us Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city, situated on New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato, and it’s a young, vibrant city with over 50% of residents under the age of thirty. Nothing wrong with Hamilton at all, a perfectly pleasant place. Would we go there again? Probably not.

Missing out numerous stops along the way and a random selection of free camp sites – well, there are honesty boxes if you want to contribute, but we never saw anyone go near them – we encountered the first hint of our next destination on the approach to Rotorua. It’s one of those places you can smell from ten miles away. (I know this as I was blamed for the rotten eggs smell of sulphur circulating around the van, unfairly on this occasion if not on others).

We stayed overnight at the campsite alongside the Blue Lake. There’s a Green Lake as well, next door, but the Blue Lake boasted a Top Ten camp site and we’d been told how good they were on several occasions already.

Next morning, fairly early, Marigold showed a certain reluctance to join me when I suggested going for a swim as the sun was already showing promise and the water was sparkling. There were a few swimmers out there already, wearing wetsuits! In this weather? Kiwis are wimps I decided.

I stayed in the water for about three minutes, came out chilled to the bone. I once swam in Loch Awe in Scotland in early May and thought I’d immersed myself in an ice bath. The Blue Lake ran it a close second. Marigold wasn’t impressed when I jumped back into bed in search of body warmth.

We found a viewpoint between the Blue Lake, Titikapu and the Green Lake, Rotokakahi. Titikapu is a base for water sports, but Rotokakahi is on private Maori land and entry is prohibited. They’re pretty close, but I found a noticeboard next to a Maori statue – always want to say ‘totem pole,’ but I’m pretty certain that’s neither accurate nor appropriate, but never did find the correct term – telling us the Green Lake is 21 Metres below the Blue Lake and it’s green because it’s shallower than the blue lake and has a sandy bottom.*

*Marigold reverts to sniggering infancy at any mention of bottoms, sandy or otherwise, and this occasion was no exception.

We reckoned the praise for Top Ten Camp Sites was fully justified and booked ourselves in for another night before heading off to explore the area. Everybody kept telling us the rotten eggs smell wouldn’t be noticeable after a while. Obviously two days isn’t long enough.

Holding our noses we went off to Hell’s Gate to find the source of the smell. This garishly signposted attraction boasted the highest thermal waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. ‘Wow,’ we exclaimed. Or maybe we didn’t.

We can blame an Irishman for the name. George Bernard Shaw visited here in 1934 and said, ‘this could be the very gates of hell.’ Quite impressive for a renowned agnostic like Shaw. The local Maori chiefs had almost certainly never heard of George Bernard Shaw, but understood a marketing opportunity when they heard it and the English name from then on became Hell’s Gate.

It’s a fascinating place, wreathed in steam and mists with superheated mud pools bubbling away. The surroundings were spectacular with lush foliage and we found many large examples of the New Zealand rugby team’s shirt emblem, the silver fern.

The promised thermal waterfall, the Karachi Falls, was pretty impressive too. The water is about 40 degrees, a hot shower without risk of scalding, and was ideal for Maori warriors returning from battles as a means of washing off the blood of their vanquished enemies. We didn’t see any blood soaked warriors, but maybe it was still early in the day.

Hells Gate is 10,000 years old, give or take, and was once underground until one of the many eruptions that this area has had brought it to the surface. We were standing on one of the thinnest sections of the Earth’s Crust anywhere, the molten magma isn’t far below our feet. I read this on a noticeboard with considerable trepidation.

Later, after yet another café visit, coffee and a slice of carrot cake – this has been a common theme of this trip after discovering New Zealanders make brilliant carrot cake - we went for a stroll around the camp site to check out the other vans. Certainly our own 'Wicked' attracted attention wherever we went, but campsites are great for checking out the competition and we’ve also found fellow camper van folk to be among the most gregarious and friendly people wherever we’ve been.

A strolling couple, a fair few years younger than us, had asked us back to their van for drinks and returned five minutes later to extend the offer to include food as well. Of course we accepted. They could have been potential serial killers, but they were offering food and drink.

We’d noticed their van instantly on our previous wanderings: a vast behemoth bigger than some bungalows. When we turned up a couple of hours later at the appointed time, I was slightly disappointed at the absence of a butler, but the interior of the van reflected the opulence of the outside.

We realised at once that our hosts had spent the intervening hours demolishing a crate of beer, the evidence was under the table, and were both rather the worse for wear. As the beers had long gone, the bottle of wine we supplied became the first of many sourced from a larder almost as big as our van.

Terry and June, yes really, were from Otago and had been on the road, criss crossing both islands of New Zealand for 18 months. Terry said he was an ex-copper from the Drug Squad.

‘Put my papers in early, went on the road,’ he said, ‘have a few beers, smoke a bit of dope and throw myself into my music.’

‘It was that or prison,’ added the somewhat disloyal June, earning herself a drunken scowl. ‘Better not ask where he got the money to buy this thing.’

The evening went from bad to worse as the alcohol continued to flow.Terry’s claim to be a singer/songwriter, we soon realised, was somewhat spurious after he’d offered up his ‘latest ditty.’ His guitar playing talent was on the same level as mine (zero) and his singing voice made Tom Waits sound like Caruso.

Fortunately, we only suffered through one ‘ditty,’ the songwriting aspect being a match for his musical talents. We passed the point of no return quite early on when a glance at Marigold revealed she was enjoying herself. Other people behaving badly can be entertaining.

We ate charred but acceptable steaks cooked on a stove better than anything we’d ever seen in a house let alone a motorhome served with a brilliant salad and crunchy bread. As far as the food went, no complaints at all, but as yet another bottle of wine arrived, we’d long since reached the ‘enough’ stage.

‘No worries, more for us,’ announced Terry. ‘Anyone fancy a few mussels?’

Marigold shook her head firmly and I could plead a (genuine) seafood allergy while even June refused emphatically. Undeterred, Terry nipped outside and returned with a hessian sack of clanking mussels.

‘They’re not opening, Terry,’ June cautioned more than once as the great mussel cooking feast got under way. Marigold went for a look, they certainly weren’t, but Terry announced, ‘they’ll be fine’ and prised a huge number from their shells with a clasp knife before chomping them down.

‘Sure I can’t tempt you?’ He said. We declined in increasingly vehement fashion as the question continued to be asked while the level of conversation between Terry and June escalated from ‘tiff’ to full on warfare. We’ve come across many ‘bickering’ couples in the past, but nothing like this pair.

‘Why did I ever marry you?’ June asked. A very good question, I thought, but her follow up suggested there may be faults on both sides. ‘I’m still in touch with most of your family and some of your old mates and we always laugh at how pathetic you are.’

‘I thought my mates had better taste than to go talking to you.’

‘Why don’t you go off and write another rubbish song, Mister Shakespeare?’

You get the gist? Oh and Shakespeare a songwriter? Well, discounting the odd sonnet, that’s not the first name I’d think of when listing great song lyricists. He was a good source of insults though. If only June could offer up ‘more of your conversation would infect my brain,’ a line from Coriolanus which is virtually all I remember from one of the set books I supposedly studied at A Level.

‘Out of my sight, thou dost infect mine eyes,’ from Richard the Third is even better and was a phrase often used by one of my alleged superiors when I first started ‘proper’ work. Line Managers who can quote from Shakespeare are all very well, but when that’s just about the only talent they have the novelty soon fades away.

We left shortly after Terry dropped an almost full bottle of red wine on the cream carpet. Most of the insults had died away by now and the ill suited pair joined forces to mop up a vast spillage with dishcloths, making the damage ten times worse in the process. Our departure was virtually unnoticed.

Our van appeared ridiculously tiny on our return, yet hugely welcome as a means of escape from the evening’s madness. The next day we drove past Terry and June’s van on our way out. The windows and door were wide open and there were four red stained cloths on the grass outside the door. We assumed red wine, could easily have been blood, but we didn’t stop to check.

Our destination was Whakarewarewa Village, the ancestral home of the Tuhourangi, Ngati Wahiao Māori people – yes, of course I looked up how to spell that – and a real rarity for us as we usually avoid ‘ethnic village experiences.’ Yes, it’s tourist orientated, but as the blurb on the entrance noticeboard said, ‘an opportunity for unlimited access to an untouched geothermal landscape and experience the raw nature of Papatuanuku, Mother Earth.’

Quite a claim. Despite our misgivings, we loved it.

Cooking in boiling rock pools sounds scary and it’s perhaps not a task lightly undertaken, but at the time of our visit Health and Safety measures were in their infancy and we saw quite young children playing on the very edge of boiling lakes. A few of the local boys were diving from a bridge for coins thrown by tourists and we were relieved to see the water below the bridge was merely warm and not boiling.

This ‘attraction’ differs from the usual ‘enjoy a Bedouin meal’ or ‘dance with a nomadic tribe’ nonsense that’s basically exploitation for gain where bank clerks and shop assistants don the tribal costumes of their distant ancestors as an extra little earner. The Tuhourangi people have lived here for hundreds of years, this village is their home and their living conditions have genuine authenticity.

We liked the erupting geysers, more bubbling mud pools dried into fantastic shapes and even the singing and dancing show, which was a real surprise. We couldn’t fault them for effort, although Marigold reckoned she’d seen more than enough bare chested men sticking out their tongues at her for one day.

Try to stay with me, there's more to come yet.

Diving for Coins. No, not me.

The Blue Lake

Green Lake and Blue Lake.

Between the two Lakes

Final Part

I could have written an entire blog post about the time we spent knocking about Hawkes Bay. It’s one of many wine regions and after living in France for ten years that’s a subject we know a bit about so there were a few vineyard visits.

Still can’t bring myself to say wineries, just seems ‘wrong.’

Lots of roadside fruit stalls to savour and we also called at more than a few examples of our favourite sort of café; independent ‘one offs’ with character with which New Zealand is blessed. It’s all about the experience, we can get coffee anywhere.

One town with an eclectic mix of cafes was Taihape, the gloriously named Gumboot Capital of the World. They have an annual gumboot throwing competition, well of course they do, but it’s not for a few weeks yet so getting into training would be pointless.

We’d been ‘rough camping’ for the last week and with the puny dimensions of our van that hadn’t always been easy. Marigold had the bright idea of attaching a length of rope between the radio aerial and any nearby objects for drying our clothes in the sun. We arrived in Taihape trailing a length of rope to which were pinned a couple of pairs of my underpants and Marigold’s knickers. The local gumboot fetishists never batted an eyelid.

I’ve written elsewhere, in a much earlier blog post, about our visit to Cape Kidnapping, a visit to its gannet colony being one of the highlights of the whole trip, but the nearby ‘Bay Cities’ of Napia and Hastings were truly spectacular. Born out of tragedy when a massive earthquake in 1931 devastated both cities with considerable loss of life and razed most of the buildings to the ground.

A huge rebuilding project was needed and in 1931 one architectural style dominated. As a result, both Napier and Hastings have the finest collection of Art Deco buildings we’ve ever seen. We’d just missed the Napier Art Deco Festival celebrating the 1930s, cars, fashion and music which we’d have loved. We settled for a swim at Waimarara Beach instead.

The capital city of New Zealand is Wellington. It takes its name from Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington who masterminded victory at the Battle of Waterloo. It was a bit of a shock, after our recent visit to Taihape to find its name hadn’t yet been changed to Gumboot.

Due to its proximity to the narrow Cook Strait Wellington is windy, very windy, almost every day and the day of our arrival was no exception. That didn’t bother us as we’ve experienced exactly the same phenomenon at Tarifa alongside the Straits of Gibraltar.

People often mentioned the frequency of earthquakes in much of New Zealand and as I woke up on a beach road on the morning we arrived in Wellington Marigold announced that the earth had moved for her. In different circumstances I’d have taken that as a compliment, but there was certainly something going on.

Advice was sought, in a café - where else - and revealed this year, 2008, would have numerous quakes as they arrive every five years. Lucky us, we thought, but our waitress said ‘you’ll not even notice them after a while.’ Well, they said that about the rotten egg pong of Rotorua and that was still lodged in my sinuses more than a week later.

We went for a wander round. As well as being the nation’s capital, Wellington is also the undisputed ‘café capital’ of New Zealand and we soon found ourselves saying we could put up with a few earthquakes and gales to live here. One café I remember well, we had a superb breakfast there, was Caffe L’Affaire, and no the spelling isn’t a typo.

We were in Wellington to catch the ferry to South Island. One of the joys of travelling around this country by camper van was seeing so many other people doing exactly the same. From plush motorhomes to unique and occasionally bizarre conversions of ambulances, lorries and buses, we’d seen everything.

As we parked up in Wellington we found ourselves next to a family of five living in a huge green vehicle with an old mangle attached to the rear. They certainly took everything with them when they left home. Lovely people, three kids under five and had been on the road for over two years.

‘This is home,’ the eldest child told us, ‘we love it.’

As we sat on the ferry tarmac, watching 89 old buses now converted to ‘campers/mobile homes’ boarding the ferry from North to South Island - yes, I did count them, nothing else to do while we waited our turn in our farty little camper – we chatted about all North Island had offered us and wondered what was waiting across the narrow strip of sea between the two islands.

It turned out the very best was yet to come, but this blog post is done. South Island will have to wait its turn.

About a million gannets at Cape Kidnappers. Give or take

Where did you say you were from again? Ah, that's what I thought you said...

The Van that had Everything

Another Wicked Van

There were quite a few knocking about

One More

Art Deco Napier

Marigold in cafe mode

Boring carrot cake? You be the judge.

Crayfish salad anyone?

We Suspected Crayfish was on the menu

Good size portions here

Behind you...

That sea is definitely BLUE.