Monday, 5 January 2009

Visitors and our first NZ Christmas

So, Christmas in the sun was weird, in a very unfamiliar way. We weren’t expecting to feel Christmassy at all, but when the day arrived and it felt like just any other day, then that was a bit strange. Playing tennis and going for a swim did little to change the surrealism.

The lead up to Christmas was great, travelling around with Iain and Donna who arrived from blighty on holiday on the 17th. We spent a few days showing them the local area, mountain biking and surfing before setting off on a mini camping expedition down the north island, en route to Wellington for them to catch their flight to Melbourne on Xmas eve. First stop was Rotorua, via a scheduled tea stop at Kieran and Nic’s in Cambridge. First on the itinerary in Roto-vegas (as the Kiwi’s like to call it) was luging. This involved riding a cable car to the top of a big hill overlooking the lake, and riding down it on a go-kart, powered only by gravity, over and over again. Speed was experienced, stinky helmets were worn, and much fun was had. We then made our way to the campsite to erect our tent for the first nights camping.

Priorities - straight into the hot tub, no messing about.

Suitably nerdy head gear for a couple of extreme nerds!

Iain, doing his thing

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Rotorua is a highly thermal area as the earths crust is relatively thin there. We therefore had the option of pitching our tent on a ‘warm’ section of the site, which we obviously did! We also partook in the complimentary hot pools on site, giving Iain the opportunity to parade his skimpy bathing trunks (which turned slightly transparent when wetted!). We walked in to town, passing on the way some thermal ponds which allowed for some cool photos to be taken with the setting sun as backdrop. The faint smell of sulphur is never far away in thermal areas such as these. So the temptation to ask 'have you farted' every few minutes never grows tiresome, well not for me and Iain anyway!

You can stick them 'Gorillas In The Mist' comments right up your jacksy!

"Have you farted?"

A steamy thermal pond in Rotorua, and the sun

Upon waking the next morning we realized our air bed had decided to lose most of its air, placing me and Jody on the hot ground, slowly baking us in our sleep. A pretty strange start to the day. So, it was onwards to Napier, via Taupo for breakfast by the lake, for the next stage. We’d arranged to do a cycling winery tour in Napier that afternoon, so were quite excited at the prospect of getting some free wine. On getting to the cycle hire place we were offered tandems, which we obviously accepted, again! The tour itself was brilliant, using a map provided by the hire place we navigated our way to three vineyards and one chocolate makers. We could have done more, but we’d arrived late and the vineyards closed at 5:30pm for tasting (booo!). The scenery and the wineries were amazing, like something out of Tuscany, and the wines we even better (we returned the next morning to buy several bottles from two of the vineyards).

Stopped off at Huka Falls (, just outside Taupo, for the view of the bottom of the falls (over my shoulder)

Leaving one winery, ready for the next one!

Extreme wine tasting!!

Another interesting fact for those not in the know, Napier was flatten by and earthquake and the resultant fires in 1931. The rebuilding of the city was undertaken during the international Art Deco movement, and many of the architects and town planners used this influence to design the new city (,_New_Zealand). So, we spent the warm evening wandering around the centre, and eating burgers at an American surf style restaurant.

Walking from our campsite to Napier centre, in search of food and fine beverages, along the palm tree lined road

A fine example of the art deco buildings - is it better than the Wakefield Express Building? Only just!

A cool colourful, colour changing, fountain

The Church

Even the pharmacy got in on the act

The next day was the long leg to Wellington (about a 4 hour drive). The drive itself was very picturesque and we passed several sites where they filmed Lord of the Rings (Isenard, Rivendale, etc) ( Once we arrived in Wellington we pitched our tent, again, then caught the bus in to the city as we all fancied a drink. We’d been recommended a good bar called the ‘Tasting Room’ for good grub and beer. We weren’t disappointed. It was a Montieths (our new favourite brewers - establishment, and we sampled their ales to our delight. We also had one of the best starter platters any of us have ever had, followed up by good hearty food. The bar had a nice location in a vibrant yet relaxed area of town. Basically, if any of you find yourself in Wellington, get yourselves to this place. Afterwards we had a walk around the Wellington harbour front (which has some nice buildings and the national museum, Te Papa), and tried the climbing wall.

Pathetic attempts

Yes, I was the only one to reach the top, of course

I'm gonna touch it, just watch me!

She had to look didn't she?!

I liked this hotel on the harbour front, another art deco piece

The next day (Xmas eve) we woke to rain, the first time it had rained in about 10 days. We then remembered why camping in England is rubbish most of the time. Today was Iain and Donna’s flight to Melbourne, and also our 7 hour drive to Cambridge back to Kieran’s. So, we dropped I and D at Te Papa to pass the time before their flight to Melbourne, and set off on the 7 hour drive to Cambridge.

Jody's going to write the next bit, see if you can tell the difference!?




Ok it's up to me to take it from here.

James and and me have only ever had one Christmas together before- our first in the french Alps (due to our parents living so far apart and neither wanting to miss out being with our own parents when we were back in England) so this was to be a new experience together. Very kindly without ever meeting us, Nics family had asked us to join them for their family get together on Christmas day in Cambridge. So after our journey from Wellington we arrived at Ki and Nic's in the evening and went to the big house to meet Nic's family. We had a lovely evening, seafood and all.

We woke up on Christmas morning and exchanged presents together in bed, that was about as Christmassy as i felt all day. The weather was light, it just didn't feel right, and was very warm - and not in a 'cosy open fire and lots of cooking' kind of way. It felt quite alien, which was positive really as it felt so unchristmassy that I didn't feel many bangs of homesickness that I was worried I would feel at the time of year which I always spent with my family. As James said we played tennis (I played surprising well for me) and went swimming. Then we spent lunch and the rest of the day with Nic's family, which was very strange. They were very welcoming and friendly but it did feel weird to watch other people opening their presents and have no presents at all, just being an onlooker of someone else's Christmas.
The dinner was delicious - a proper turkey dinner with some wonderful desserts and though the whole day had been strange we did enjoy ourselves and met some real characters.

Two days after Christmas I skyped home, when Mum and Dad were holding a Birthday party for my Grandad and they all passed me round on the laptop and I got to speak to all my aunt's, uncle's and cousins as well as my parents and grandparents. Being passed around and seeing the open fire and the Christmas tree, and with the darkness in the windows outside, I felt more Christmas spirit than before, and had that warm feeling inside that had been missing up until then, and I spent a lovely few hours with them.

All I can say I'm really glad that I have skype. It has made a big difference, the distance seems so much smaller and I'm sure I'm talking to my parents more than when I lived in England and we're 'seeing' each other more regulary. So anyone who hasn't got it yet - go on and get it.



Those poor dogs, like they get to choose to look like that!

Iain and Donna's return to NZ and New Year to come..................

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