Hello campers!

Visitors to New Zealand are promised “the open road”, in other words lots of tarmac and not much traffic driving on it. And in places it’s true that other vehicles are thin on the ground, just the occasional logging truck hurtling towards you recklessly, or the odd 4×4 overtaking with scant regard for either the speed limit or basic common sense.

However, as we’ve headed into the tourist hotspots of the south-west, we’ve encountered busier roads. The buses taking tourists to and from their Milford Sound cruises seemed to come along every minute or two, and down at the harbour they had a whole car park to themselves. Definitely not what we expected, or wanted to come across in a remote corner of New Zealand’s South Island..

More common and more annoying still are the motor homes, and their irritating little cousins, the camper vans. They’re all over the place down here, buzzing around frantically like wasps round a jam sandwich. Whole sections of car parks are made over to these monsters, but that doesn’t stop them encroaching on to the space set aside for ordinary car drivers like me.

However I will admit we have fallen slightly in love with the Jucy camper vans. Their lime green livery and cheeky decals of a mini-skirted young lady blowing a kiss stand out amongst the white vehicles that dominate New Zealand’s roads (I would guess that at least 80% of cars and vans here are white, including ours – BORING!).

As well as the image of the flirtatious young lady, Jucy camper vans are emblazoned with pithy aphorisms and slogans, like “The glass is half full … and the other half was delicious” and “Always take the scenic route … especially if you’re lost.”

Not exactly worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, and it makes you think doesn’t it – locked away in an office somewhere is a young marketing executive who’s getting paid to think up stuff like that. But never mind, it’s simple, harmless fun, and god knows we could all do with some of that right now.

Jucy camper vans (or Jucy Lucy vans as we call them) are plainly targeted at a specific demographic: young, hip and adventurous, so you’ll never see me and Mrs P inside one. And anyway, at my time of life I relish sleeping in a bed with a decent mattress located within stumbling distance of a sanitary, flushing toilet. If only we were 40 years younger!

Waterfall wonders and hairpin horrors

We’ve enjoyed our stay at Wilderness Lodge, and were thrilled to get within a few metres of the amazing Fiordland Crested Penguin. But this place is horrendously wet. Hereabouts they get 3.5 metres of rain every year; that’s around 10 feet for Brits and Americans who haven’t got to grips with the metric system yet! So, as we continue our journey south, the waterfalls along the Haast River are working overtime.

Roaring Billy Falls

New Zealanders have named their waterfalls thoughtfully, so you’re left in absolutely no doubt what to expect if you visit one. Take the Roaring Billy Falls, for example. Now I haven’t got a clue who Billy was, but “roaring” tells you all you need to know. Even viewed from a distance through the mist and rain it’s a spectacular sight.

Thundercreek Falls

And what about Thundercreek Falls, just a few miles down the road? Again the name leaves little to the imagination, and at 28 metres high it’s hugely impressive.

Fantail Falls

The name Fantail Falls alludes to shape, rather than the volume of water that cascades down into the Haast River. Again, a magnificent sight after all this rain.

To be honest we’re getting a bit fed up with the rain, and would be glad of a couple of days of dry, sunny weather. But Mrs P phoned home this morning and learned that our area of the UK has been hit by unprecedented floods, so we’re probably better off here … after all you don’t see too many penguins in the English Midlands.

We’ve turned our backs on the coast and are heading inland in the direction of Queenstown. On the way we pass the historic Cardrona Hotel. Dating from 1863 it’s one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels.

This area’s heyday was during the mid-nineteenth century goldrush, when Cardrona town was a prosperous settlement and a significant commercial hub for the area. How things have changed … the town has since all but vanished, and only the historic hotel facade remains to remind visitors like us of the glory days.

We’ve chosen to take the scenic, more challenging route towards Queenstown, along the Crown Range Road. It’s the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude on 1,121 metres. The road is steep and twisty, with a series of eye-watering hairpin bends. At times it’s a bit of a white-knuckle ride, but the landscape is adequate compensation for the stress of the journey. The landscape is simply stunning, and at times reminds us of the Scottish Highlands.

We’ve seen a few vintage cars on the road today, and as we pull into a scenic overlook we find ourselves confronted by a splendid Austin 8. The driver tells us that there’s a vintage rally in progress to celebrate the opening of the Haast Pass in 1965, when the first car to travel the newly opened road was a 1930 Austin 7.

The pass was the final stretch of State Highway 6 – one of New Zealand’s major roads – to be built, and was not fully sealed with tarmac until 1995. A salutary reminder, I think, that much of New Zealand’s infrastructure was built relatively recently.

Having admired the Austin 8, and the dusting of snow on the mountains behind, we set off on the final stretch of our journey. Gibbston, our final destination, lies on the outskirts of Queenstown. For the next two nights we’ll be staying at a winery, which sounds like the perfect way to wind down after the challenge of all those horrible hairpin bends!

The long and winding road to Golden Bay

It’s time to leave Picton and head way out west.  Before long we arrive at the tiny town of Havelock, on the outskirts of which lies an area of wetland that looks perfect for birds.  We’re not wrong, and are pleased to see a gang of Royal Spoonbills sunning themselves on the branches of some dead trees. 

Suddenly a flash of blue and white catches our eye as a New Zealand Kingfisher whizzes past.  Like others of his species he’s prone to vanity and lands on a distant, fallen tree trunk so we can admire him in all his multi-coloured glory.

But there’s no time to waste, we have to move on and start driving the long and winding mountain road that will take us to our destination in Golden Bay.  From time to time there are good views of the coastline, but I rarely have time to admire it as I’m focussing all my attention on the road.

This road is steep, quite narrow, and twists and turns alarmingly in places.  It’s not what I’m used to, and is therefore a bit of a challenge. And just to remind me that this isn’t a playground, we pass a couple of smashed up vehicles whose drivers obviously weren’t up to it.

Or maybe they were just playing silly buggers?  Although the standard of driving here in New Zealand generally seems reasonable, there are some local motorists who seem to have a qualification in advanced recklessness.  One of these miserable bastards tries to run me off the road, horn blaring and lights flashing, apparently because I’m not driving down a precipitous slope towards a 90 degrees bend – with no crash barriers, I might add – at quite the break-neck speed he thinks is desirable. 

I pull over and let him go, sharing with him my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon curses as he passes.   If he carries on like that he’ll be dead before too long and, although it sounds callous to say it, the rest of us road users will be a damn sight safer for his passing.  Sad, but undoubtedly true.

The journey continues through the mountains, past conifer plantations, livestock farms and occasional sea views until we’re brought to a halt by traffic lights.  A helpful piece of digital technology tells us the light will turn green in 12 minutes. After 60 seconds it changes its mind and tells us the road will be ours in 11 minutes.  We’re getting the hang of this now, so it therefore comes as no surprise to learn a minute later that it’s only 10 minutes until we’ll be on our way.

My god, time passes slowly here.

We learn later that Takaka Hill was devastated two years ago by violent storms dragged into this part of New Zealand by the tail-end of a typhoon.  Several sections of road were washed away, at points where seams of “rotten granite” were unable to resist the extraordinary amount of water cascading down the mountainside.

This is the only road into the north-western tip of South Island, and for several days that area was totally cut off by land.  Ultimately the road re-opened, but with alternating single lane at a number of places where damage was most severe. Two years and $2m dollars later, there are still three major sections of road to be repaired, at a cost estimated at a further $20m.

Finally we ease our way through the last set of roadworks and make it to our destination.  In all sorts of ways the drive here has been more challenging than I’d anticipated, but I’m not complaining.  Since arriving in New Zealand we’ve developed a taste for Tui beer, and we’ve invested in a dozen bottles for moments just like this! With a view like the one from our cottage, and beer in hand, I’ll soon wind down.

But I do hope we remembered to pack a bottle opener.

It’s a washout

Shortly after checking out of our accommodation we stop for petrol. “Where are you folks off to today?” asks the friendly Maori lady at the filling station.

“We’re going to drive the Forgotten Highway down to Stratford. We might even get our passports stamped in the Republic of Whangamomona, where goats get to be president” says Mrs P proudly.

“Forget it,” she comes back, shaking her head sadly, “the road’s been washed out.”

So, not for the first time on this trip we must revert to Plan B. On this occasion Plan B is a detour via the coast road, which adds around 100km and more than an hour to our journey. Not ideal, but we have no choice, so we grit our teeth and set out on a different long and winding road.

As it happens the Plan B route isn’t at all bad, particularly once we hit the coast and start travelling south along the Tasman Sea. The black sand littered with driftwood is more appealing than it sounds, and we have a birdie treat when a Royal Spoonbill puts in an appearance.

At last we arrive at our accommodation for the next two nights. Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge sits on the slopes of Mount Taranaki, 905 metres above sea level. Mount Taranaki is a must-see volcano which, at 2,514 metres, dominates the surrounding landscape.

However, must-see isn’t the same as can-see, and we are denied a proper sighting by the low cloud that clings to the summit. But never mind, the Lodge has a piece of modern stained glass that bears an image of the volcano, as well and a waterfall and a native bird, so at least we know what we’re missing.

New Zealand is a young country and historic buildings are a bit thin on the ground, so it’s a rare pleasure to stay somewhere originally built in the nineteenth century – 1896 to be precise – in the style of a traditional European mountain lodge.

It’s a quirky place, but cosy and full of character, with staff to match. And, for reasons that are none too clear, we get to stay in the Honeymoon Suite. Now Mrs P and I have been married for 35 years, but in a place like this who can possibly believe that romance is dead?

A Kiwi bloke called Barry

We pick up our rental car from Auckland airport and hit the open road.   The greater Auckland area is busier than I’d anticipated, but as we press on things quieten down. 

In many ways the driving experience is very familiar.  Although New Zealand works in kilometres rather than miles, most of the road signs are pretty much the same as back in the UK.  Also New Zealanders drive on the right side of the road, by which I mean the left side … one of the few positive legacies of the late, not-at-all-great and totally unlamented British empire.

And there are roadworks all over the place, so it really does feel like home from home.

The highway is a possum’s graveyard.  Introduced from Australia many decades ago to be farmed for their fur, some inevitably escaped and bred like crazy.  They are now regarded as an invasive pest species that has murderous intent with regard to native birds.  The New Zealand government has vowed to eradicate them, but judging by the number of squashed possums on the road there’s a hell of a lot of eradicating still to be done.

The landscape is verdant, green and lumpy-bumpy, with plenty of evidence of volcanic activity in times past.  In the fields there are more cattle and fewer sheep than I’d anticipated.  There’s no apparent cereal or vegetable production – too early in the growing season maybe? – but plenty of evidence for wine production and the cultivation of kiwi fruit.

*

Our first stop is at Katikati (which, bizarrely, is pronounced kitty-kitty).  It’s a town that has used public art to help build communities and attract visitors, a bit like Sheffield in Tasmania which we visited about three years ago.

Katikati describes itself as a town of murals. The murals represent aspects of local and natural history, and the New Zealand landscape.  It may not be great art but it brightens the place up, and attracts people like us to spend a few dollars in local shops when we visit.

As well as dozens of murals Katikati also has a sculpture trail.  We don’t have time to explore much of this, but one sculpture in particular catches our imagination.  Barry – a Kiwi Bloke was fashioned from resin, fibre glass and copper in 1999. He sits on a bench seat outside the Art Centre.  A dog lies on the ground to Barry’s right, and at hound’s feet is a ball.  The dog looks up at Barry, hoping he’ll play, but Barry is engrossed in his newspaper and having none of it.

Again, this is not high art, but who cares?  It’s humorous and well crafted, and lifts the spirit.  Isn’t that what public art should be all about?

*

Our final stop of the day is at Okere Falls. The power and roar of the water is stunning, and the ground seems to tremble beneath our feet as we admire the view. Put a foot wrong and slip into the water here, and you’d be dead inside five seconds.

And of course, this being New Zealand, wherever there’s a chance of imminent death, a few mad fools are prepared to take the risk. We watch as a canary yellow inflatable full of thrill seekers tumbles down the white water, its occupants screaming inanely. Nobody died.

And while there are notices everywhere proclaiming the dangers of falling into the raging torrent, there’s a rope suspended above it that positively invites people to launch themselves into the thundering waters.

Based on my limited experience to date the Kiwis seem like decent folk, warm, friendly, interested and interesting. But clearly as mad as a box of frogs.

Good morning Singapore

After a 13 hours flight from London we stumble out of the airport terminal into the manicured madness that is Singapore.

“Stumble” sums it up nicely. The terminal is air-conditioned to within an inch of its life, as cool as a winter igloo. But as we pass through the sliding doors Singapore slaps us round the face. The air is steaming hot, so thick with moisture you could cut it with a butter knife. Within seconds our glasses are coated with a thick layer of condensation, and we blunder around blindly for a minute or two, waiting for the fog to clear.

At last we catch a glimpse of the Singapore we know and love: colourful, efficient and welcoming. And we spot the cameras too, watching me, watching you, watching everyone and everything.

singapore-peranakan-place-1-2016

Singapore is the cleanest, safest city I’ve ever visited, and also one of the most characterful. I’m pleased to be back. But it’s also a bit of a basket case, where the most apparently innocent of activities – like eating certain tropical fruits in public places – can get you arrested.

However this place is an economic miracle, and I guess a ban on eating durian fruit in public is a small price to pay for Singapore’s prosperity. Fifty years ago it was all but invisible on the world stage, Asia’s mad woman locked in the attic.

But today Singapore is a financial and trading superstar, the poster boy for Asian capitalism. This place may have been a bit of a joke in the years immediately after World War 2, but nobody’s laughing now. And, on top of all its other successes, Singapore has transformed itself into a must-see stop-off point for visitors to south-east Asia and Australasia.

Our plan of campaign for this visit is to pick up some of the key sights that we missed out on last time. That will have to wait for another post, but for now it’s worth saying that Mrs P has taken 426 photos in her first 36 hours here!

I am not a number, I am a human being

In recent years Economy Class air travel has become a nightmare, more like Cattle Class. It feels like the airline industry regards me not as a human being but simply as a number, albeit a number that never comes up on the Lottery. Small wonder therefore, that with our personal finances currently in good order, we have decided to fly Business Class on our current trip Down Under.

We’ve paid handsomely for the privilege and expect to be pampered. The fun begins with priority check-in, conducted by a friendly lady who chats amiably while she does the business. When she’s done she directs us to a fast-track security line where our documents and luggage are checked swiftly and efficiently. We Brits are the queuing champions of the world, but it looks like today Mrs P and I won’t have the opportunity to show off our prowess.

Then it’s off to the secret pleasure garden that is Singapore Airlines’ executive lounge. Here comfy seats, free food and drink, and even the chance to take a relaxing shower all await us. Above all, the joy is in the calm atmosphere that pervades the lounge, in stark contrast to the frenetic mayhem that is the lot of the poor sods in Cattle.

Finally our flight is called, but by the time we get to our gate there are at least 50 people ahead of us in the line to board the plane. We’re disappointed as it looks like we’ll have to queue this time, but out of the mist our guardian angel appears, a sparkling steward from Singapore Airlines asking if anyone in line is travelling First or Business Class.

I raise my hand and we are immediately whisked to the front of the queue. We know the Cattle Class mob are staring at us malevolently as we pass, hissing quietly, which only serves to increase the pleasure of the experience.

I make my way to my seat, acknowledging the polite and fulsome greetings of the cabin crew as I pass. Yes, in name it’s a seat, but in reality it’s more like an adjustable throne, snug in its own spacious pod designed to ensure my privacy, and surrounded by a plethora of buttons and gizmos all intended to make my journey more comfortable.

I’m standing there, taking in the magnificence of my pod and admiring the enormous seat-back screen in front of my throne, when a steward appears at my elbow and offers me champagne. He is young and beautiful, and it would be rude to deny him… so I don’t.

Shortly afterwards, as I’m settling into my domain a stewardess greets me and asks if I would care for a second glass of champagne when we take off. She too is young and beautiful, and to avoid causing offence or any awkwardness between her and her male colleague, I graciously accept her kind offer.

And anyway, who wouldn’t want to celebrate getting out of the UK for a while, considering the mess we’re in?

Not long after take-off the food begins to appear, This is not one of those frantic feeding frenzies you get in Cattle, but rather a gentile dining experience that lasts over two hours. The courses just keep on coming, and damned good they are too, particularly when washed down with a glass or two of Shiraz.

But even before the first course is served there’s the small matter of the table cloth, snow white and immaculately starched, which the attendant spreads oh-so-carefully across my ample foldaway table. Bloody hell, is this some parallel universe in which I find myself? I mean, at home the only time the table cloth ever sees the light is Christmas Day.

I can honestly say that this Business Class travel is extraordinary. OK, I confess, I’ve spent the last 40 years silently cursing as I’ve trekked through Business Class to the hell-hole that is Cattle. All the time, I will cheerfully admit, I was dreaming of a socialist utopia in which everyone would fly First Class, which would – logic tells me – ensure that all classes would henceforth cease to exist.

Age does, of course, lend a new perspective to the dreams of youth, and while I still look forward to a classless society, for now I’m content to park my principles in pursuit of some harmless pampering.

I mean, the premium price I’m paying for Business Class bliss is helping to keep those wonderful, beautiful flight attendants in a job. And I never claimed not to be a hypocrite, did I?

But most important of all, I am not a number, I am a human being.

Where goats get to be President

It can happen anywhere, I suppose. Ordinary citizens who are quietly minding their own business, living decent lives and doing no harm to man nor beast, go to bed one evening and when they get up next day discover they’re being ruled by a goat.

As I sit at my laptop writing this I can think of at least two great nations with proud histories that are currently each led by someone whose demeanour and behaviour compare unfavourably with your average goat. I’ll leave the identity of the nations and individuals in question to your imagination!

But it’s not just the big boys that make unconventional political choices. Mrs P was telling me the other day that while we’re in New Zealand we’ll be passing close to the tiny Republic of Whangamomona.

Heard of it? Probably not. You could check it out on a BIG map of New Zealand, but take care not to drop any biscuit crumbs or you’ll never find it.

In 1988 the citizens of this unremarkable little town on New Zealand’s North Island showed their contempt for the local council by declaring Whangamomona a republic. Eleven years later, Whangamomonans plainly decided that a further protest was required, at which point local goat Billy the Kid was elected the town’s first non-human president.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

Billy was followed in office by Tai the Poodle and Murtle the Turtle, although when the latter died in 2015 Whangamomona seemed to suffer a crisis of confidence and elected one Vicki Pratt as president, albeit against her will.

I can’t help admiring free spirits, individuals and communities that don’t take themselves – or life in general – too seriously. For this reason we’ll be sure to take a side-trip to Whangamomona in a couple of weeks, and drop in at the local hotel for lunch and to get our passports stamped.

Stunts like this are harmless fun, and also good for business if they encourage people like us to visit and spend money there. Across the world communities are always on the look out for the big idea, something that will make them stand out from the crowd and get them on tourists’ itineraries. In Whangamomona it’s all about republicanism in general, and goats in particular.

By way of contrast, as we discovered to our amusement a couple of years ago, one small town in Newfoundland, Canada, has banked everything on calling itself Dildo to bring in crowds of curious punters all hoping to feel earth move.

Makes Whangamomona seem almost normal, doesn’t it?

Sandflies: A notorious New Zealand nightmare

When you decide to venture out on a road trip it’s important to pick the right travelling companion, and they don’t come any better than Mrs P. She’s a meticulous planner and an excellent navigator, the latter being essential given that I have no sense of direction and have barely mastered the difference between left and right.

Mrs P is also a wizard in the suitcase packing and car loading departments. Her skill in this regard often appears to defy the laws of physics, and leaves me scratching my head in puzzled admiration.

PHOTO CREDIT: By rawpixel.com via Pexels

But her most important qualification for the role of being my travelling companion – other than, of course, the fact that I’m married to her – is that she’s a magnet for biting bugs.

For reasons that neither of us can explain, insects all over the world make a bee-line (ha ha!) for Mrs P, while leaving me alone. She’s been eaten alive in various parts of the world – Alaska, Canada and Tokyo to name just three – while I’ve escaped virtually unscathed.

To use the modern idiom, Mrs P’s always ready to take one – or, on a bad day, one hundred – for the team.

However this is no laughing matter. At its worst, a swarm of biting insects can leave her sick, sore, dispirited and covered with angry red rashes and welts. Mrs P was, therefore, alarmed to read about the notorious New Zealand sandfly.

DSCN7760.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: “DSCN7760.jpg” by NelC is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Captain James Cook, the first European to set foot in New Zealand, had the measure of the sandfly. Here’s what he wrote in his journal in May 1773:

The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous … wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small Pox.

Quoted in Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, retrieved 23/09/19
Embed from Getty Images

So what do we know about New Zealand’s notorious nightmare, the cause of so much abject misery?

  • New Zealand’s sandflies are known as namu by the Maori. Similar species in other parts of the world are called blackflies.
  • Sandflies are tiny – just two to three millimetres in length – and they all look the same to the naked eye. But as we know size isn’t everything, all that really counts is what you do with what you’ve got.
  • The males are vegetarians, so it’s only the females that bite. I’m absolutely not going to comment on this.
  • There are 13 species of sandfly in New Zealand. Fortunately for locals and tourists alike, only two of these [or possibly three, depending on which source you look at] actually bite. However I find little comfort in the fact that a bad situation could be even worse if the other 10 or 11 species were also biters.
  • The worst biters are found on South Island, which is bad news for us as we’re due to spend most of our time there. And on South Island they’re a particular problem on the west coast … guess which part of the island features most heavily in our itinerary? Yep, you got it in one!
  • They don’t bite at night; peak biting times are in the morning and as dusk approaches. In other words they are active when we, as tourists, are most likely to be out and about. Great!
  • Sandflies breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, and adults can be found wherever there is water, also including beaches and the edges of lakes and swamps. And yes, you’ve guessed it, as keen bird watchers we’re certain to spend lots of time next to streams, rivers, lakes and swamps.

I bet you’re reading this and thinking I’m exaggerating, that sandflies aren’t really that bad, just badly misunderstood. Well don’t take my word for it, here’s what the New Zealand-based news website Stuff has to say on the subject:

On occasion, the bites cause nasty swelling, itching, hives, and a general desire to scream.

At their worst, in the most intense sandfly-ridden spots of the West Coast, entomologists have recorded a bite rate of up to 1000-an-hour. In a couple of minutes, that could be hundreds of little bites, on your arms, neck, face, feet.

Source: Stuff website, retrieved 25/09/19.

Stuff also reveals one particularly fascinating fact, that although sandflies enjoy snacking on human blood they’d much rather dine out on penguins. Strange, but apparently true.

Yellow-eyed Penguins

PHOTO CREDIT: “Yellow-eyed Penguins” by Chris Gin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Also possibly true – but then again, possibly not – are the rumours that sandflies can be deterred by garlic, or a mixture of baby oil and Dettol. So, as Stuff points out:

Theoretically then, one way to deter sandflies is to walk around carrying a penguin as bait, while eating garlic, covered in Dettol and baby oil. That might raise eyebrows as penguins are protected, so best not.

Source: Stuff website, retrieved 25/09/19.

If penguins are off-limits what is Mrs P to do to protect herself from New Zealand’s notorious nightmare? Well, it’s said that early European settlers would cover their bodies in rancid pork fat to deter sandflies, so I’ve suggested that my good lady purchases and packs a kilo or two of the disgusting grease before we leave the UK.

So it sounds like Mrs P has the sandfly problem licked, though I shall definitely avoid standing next to her in confined spaces for the duration of trip.

And lets hope the wretched sandflies don’t decide to take it out on me instead.

Walking on the wild side

We’re beginning to get our heads around the itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. And what a big, impressive beast it is!

We’ll drive down to Heathrow, where our first novel experience awaits us: the priority check-in and all-round pampering that is – I sincerely hope – the lot of the business class traveller.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

We’ve never flown business before, and probably never will again, so we plan to make the most of it. I hope they load plenty of champagne to keep us suitably mellow during the flight to Singapore, where we’ll spend a couple of nights before flying on to Auckland.

Sultan Mosque, Singapore (2016)

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest metropolitan centre, being home to around a third of the country’s entire population of a little under five million. After spending four nights in and around the city, acclimatizing and recovering from the inevitable jet lag, we’ll pick up a rental car and spend a further ten nights visiting some of the highlights of North Island.

Then it’s a short internal flight from Palmerston North, across the Cook Strait to Christchurch where a second rental car awaits us. We’ll spend the next 32 nights touring the length and breadth of South Island, before returning to Christchurch for the flight back to the UK.

Embed from Getty Images

That’s if we make it to South Island, of course. Before we get there, we’re due to visit White Island on the east coast of the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. It’s New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. Active it surely is, as our itinerary advises us that we’ll be issued with hard hats and gas masks before we arrive.

White Island, New Zealand - 2 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 2 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

GAS MASKS! For heaven’s sake, what sort of trip is this going to be? I’m feeling my age a bit these days and was rather hoping New Zealand would be a walk in the park. But instead it looks like we’ll be walking on the wild side.

White Island, New Zealand - 4 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 4 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On the other hand, why not? After all, you only live once. It could even be fun, and if the volcano blows its top while we’re there at least I’ll leave this life with an impressive bang.

Hard hats, gas masks, random unpredictable volcanic eruptions and accompanying earth tremors? Bring ’em on I say, bring ’em on!