Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

Wishing you a year that brings you prosperity, peace, love, health, and happiness.

Robin and Christina
and family

Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Christmas Day 2014

We almost always have our Christmas Day activities at home. On one occasion years ago we went to the Crown Plaza Hotel for Christmas lunch, but it's usually at our house.

Unfortunately, having Christmas at home means that Christina does most of the food preparation. I clean the covered area outside the family room and kitchen and do most of the dish washing. But, it's still a lot of work getting ready and Christina has vowed that next year for Christmas we will be on a cruise somewhere. I agreed ... I think that's a great idea.

We'll sit back like Sir and Lady Muck and have someone else do all the work. After eating, drinking and conversing with our fellow travellers, we'll be able to totter off to bed and leave someone else to do the cleaning up. Wonderful idea ... gets my vote!

Now, I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to Christmas 2014.

Christina had to work from 2 pm Christmas Day, so we modified our Christmas arrangements to suit. We arranged a "brunch", you know, the lunch you have between the normal times for breakfast and lunch, about 9:30-10:00 am. Christina and daughter Meredith knocked up a couple of plates of waffles and pancakes which everyone tucked into with syrup, jam and other condiments of which there was quite a variety.

Our whole family consisting of Christina, me, son Dale and his wife Yen (pronounced Ian), daughter Meredith and grandson Tory was present. Our friend Pam who was on her own for this Christmas also joined us.

This time of year in Central Australia is usually hot and dry. Thanks to Mother Nature, we had had a couple of days of rain beforehand and it was lovely and cool, maxing out at about 24 degrees Celsius. How good's that?

We sat, ate and chatted until about 11 am and then called it a day.

Before Pam arrived we had opened our presents which you can see in the photo above. Everyone got something they wanted and perhaps a few other things they could have done without. I'd hinted earlier that I wanted to try bourbon and lo and behold, I received a bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey bourbon from my daughter.

Earlier in the year I had visited a Dan Murphys Liquor Barn and picked up a free booklet about whiskies and how to drink them. Although I have always been a beer and red wine man, I decided it would be nice at my late stage of life to give whisky a go. Bourbon, the book said was the nicest to drink.

Although I don't usually drink alcohol during the day, (well, never before lunch) I just had to try a drop, so I got a small port glass out of the glass cabinet and did a taste test. Absolutely lovely stuff. The taste just rolls off one's tongue.

It's pretty potent stuff, so I still have to experiment with how to drink it. That is, will I sip it straight like a port or sherry, or place 30 ml in a glass and add a bit of water. Watering it down seems like such a waste. More research is needed.

Christina toddled off to work at the Midwifery Unit of the Alice Springs Hospital, Meredith, Tory and Pam went home and Dale and Yen went to visit Yen's auntie and grandmother and family. I spent the rest of the afternoon alone.

I did a little surfing on the laptop, watched the local news on the television and had a half hour snooze. Sometimes it's nice to be alone to do your own thing ... or not do it as the case might be. In the evening I watched a couple of editions of Covert Affairs with the lovely Piper Perado.

Today is Boxing Day. Christina is not working today, so we are having our roast port and vegetables for lunch and have invited a few friends over. It promises to be another lovely day too, with unusually low temperatures and a coolish breeze coming through the house.

If this is climate change, give me more.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate Christmas. I hope you have a pleasant, safe and relaxing Christmas with your loved ones and friends.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Paronella Park - One Man's Dream Come True

Entry to Paronella Park
South of Innisfail along the Canecutter Way and a few hundred metres north of Mena Creek is the delightful Paronella Park

Not just any park, Paronella is named after it's creator, Jose Paronella, a Spaniard who immigrated to Innisfail in 1913. In the years after his arrival, he became wealthy enough to build his own dream park. Complete with tennis courts, a dance hall, his castle, bridges, tunnels, a variety of trees and plants, capped off with a hydro-electric generating plant that beavered away under his Mena Creek Falls. And it still provides electricity for the park today.

Christina and the Kauri
Paronella was not only a visionary, but he worked tirelessly for years building his dream, mostly with his bare hands.  Today, unfortunately, most of the buildings have deteriorated, but the many trees, including a lovely walkway of kauri, stand strong and provide a testament to his vision.

We had been to Petronella Park years ago, but decided to visit again while in the area. To our surprise, the owners, Mark and Judy Evans provide free overnight caravan and camping accommodation for those who pay an entrance fee, which we did.

Lake from bridge
Everyone who pays the entrance fee also gets a free entry card valid for two years, handy for people living locally who wish to revisit for an invigorating weekend walk, or to show their visitors the sights.

Suspension bridge
If you love nature, you'll love Paronella Park. We did a night tour with a lovely lady who showed us some of the best views during a 45 minute tour. In the morning we moved our caravan to a parking spot at nearby Mena Creek and walked back over a suspension bridge that joins a very pleasant public park on the south side of Mena Creek with Paronella.  We walked for several hours the following day taking in the waterfalls, buildings, Kauri Avenue (see photo), Teresa Falls and Mena Creek Falls, Jose's tunnel, the forest trail and bamboo walks, and finished it off with a nice cup of coffee at the deck inside the entrance.

In the creek we saw numerous turtles and dozens of fish and eels, many of which came to the waters edge at feeding time to fight for their share of the spoils. The eels are large and there were at least three varieties of fish, although I can't recall what types.

We even saw a few common scrub turkeys.

Paronella Park was a stopover worth making and a great opportunity to get some of our daily steps in while communing with nature and Jose's dream. If you are in the area and have a day to spare, you really must visit Paronella Park.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Relaxing at Hydeaway Bay

Our car, caravan and McAllisters house overlooking Hydeaway Bay
Ever thought you needed to hide away? I know just the place and it's aptly named ... Hydeaway Bay.

Hydeaway Bay is 60 km north west of Airlie Beach which is a more well-known tourism hub. Proserpine and Bowen are also nearby if you need to get a mental picture of the location (and you know something of Queensland, Australia).

If you know nothing of Queensland or Australia, all you really need to know is that it is a location of incredible beauty with seaside views, beautiful blue water as far as the eye can see to the east, and hardly any people. Quiet, quiet, quiet.

We are fortunate enough to know Sue and Warwick McAllister who have lived here for years and who invited us to stop over for a few days. Well, we've been here a week and unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for Sue and Warwick), we leave tomorrow and head for Mackay a but further south.

Hydeaway Bay was apparently named after someone called Hyde, thus the spelling, however, I understand that both Hideaway and Hydeaway are used. Confused? Well, it's probably a war of words between government and the people who live here. 

Who cares how it's spelled? It's still a beautiful spot isolated from the frenetic hum of city life. And the small township has around 300 people, many of whom only appear during holiday season and summer. There are no shops here and you need to drive to Canonvale, Airlie Beach or elsewhere for supplies or services.

Many of the houses are built on sloping sites and set so as to view the bay and surrounding countryside. A large number of houses is for sale which is a mystery, but it could indicate that the owners are aging and need to live closer to services. 

Whatever, Hydeaway Bay is a delightful place and a much appreciated stop over on our trek through Queensland.

While here, we've managed some kayaking, revisited Airlie Beach and hung about doing nothing. How good is that?


Monday, September 01, 2014

Town Councils that go the Extra Mile

The author's car and caravan at front

Like any organisation, town and city councils are only as good as the people who work there and members of the public who contribute. Burdekin Shire Council obviously has staff who dreamed up a unique idea that appealed to us and dozens of other grey nomad travellers and was probably done with a view to helping local shopkeepers, publicans etc increase their sales.

Caravans as far as the eye can see
You see, caravanners like to free camp occasionally. That is, instead of paying $30-$45 or more per night to stay in a caravan park, we like to pull up somewhere near a toilet block where we can stay for one or two nights at no cost. Across the country there are probably thousands of such places, but I haven't seen one as well planned as that at Home Hill, Queensland.

Home Hill's main street is on the Bruce Highway, the main highway servicing Queensland between Brisbane and Cairns and perhaps farther north. Running parallel with the Bruce Highway, two streets west is a long, wide, nicely bitumenised road along which the council encourages travellers to park and stay for up to two nights. The encouragement comes in the shape of a well designed, attractive, comfort stop building with toilets, showers, a free electric barbecue and tables and bench seats. It's all very well done and immaculately clean and maintained.

Caravans and RVs line half the street
The only undesirable feature is that a railway line also runs parallel with the free camping street and while we were there, a few trains rumbled by late at night, making a great noise ... one with sparks flying out from the wheels, which was entertaining. However, when you sleep at free camp spots they are often near main roads and other places where there is traffic, so you become accustomed to not taking much notice. You can't really complain when it's free eh?

We contributed to the town shopkeepers' wealth by having a couple of beers at an hotel and buying some groceries from the local supermarket. No doubt the dozens of other free campers would also have contributed to some extent buying fuel or other goods.

The Burdekin Shire Council is to be congratulated for having the initiative to dream up such a scheme that helps thousands of travellers per year and also brings sales for local shopkeepers. I've emailed them to congratulate them on such an innovative and excellent effort.

Many other town councils should follow this example, perhaps even the Alice Springs Town Council, where I live.


Barron Falls, Kuranda and the Scenic Railway

Far North Queensland, as the locals call it, is a tourist magnet with dozens of beautiful, sunny places to visit. One of the most popular is Kuranda in the Barron Falls National Park which I believe is on the tail end of the Great Dividing Range. (I stand corrected).

Kuranda is accessible by road, but many tourists prefer to use the Scenic Railway and Skyway, the latter of which provides a gondola trip through the top of the rain forest. Tickets provide for a return trip using both media either up or down ie, take the Skyway up to Kuranda and return via Kuranda Scenic Railway or vice versa.

Barron Falls
Preying Mantis Statue
Enroute to Kuranda is the Barron Falls which at the time of year we visited (late Winter) was down to a trickle, but still looked outstanding. Barron Falls has a railway station to which one can walk via a well designed and constructed walkway with several lookouts into the falls and local rain forest. Along parts of the walkway are bronze statues of some of the wildlife found in the national park.

Train Entering Station
When the scenic train winds its way to Barron Falls station, people properly situated can see both the train engine and the tail end carriages. Always a novelty.

Kuranda is a smaller township with a moderately "Hippy" marketplace built into the side of a hill on several benches. Shops sell the usual multi-coloured clothing, cheap jewellery, ice cream, other foodstuffs and from memory, I think you can have your chakra balanced, get a Thai massage or have your palms read if you are so inclined. The people at the market, and indeed, all over Kuranda are friendly and accommodating.

In the town itself is a police station (it must be the most comfortable posting in Queensland, if not the prettiest) and numerous shops selling clothing, pharmaceutical supplies, various massage therapies, and art and trinkets to tourists. There are only so many fridge magnets, caps or pens you can have in one lifetime, so we never bought any of the branded tourist wares.

We'd been on the scenic railroad and skyway previously, so this trip decided to drive up and back and take in some of the sites not usually seen from either of the previous eg, those from the walk to Barron Falls. The walk is pleasant and not too demanding and as with many of these type public facilities, seems to have been designed to include people in wheel chairs or who can not traverse stairs.

There's nothing much at the Barron Falls railway station but a few bench seats. At the time we were there the downwards train just happened to pass, so I managed to get a few photographs of it before we headed back to Kuranda along the return walkway.

The trips and visit to Kuranda are well worth doing if at any time you are visiting nearby Cairns.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Amazing Daintree Discovery Centre

Christina outside the Daintree Discovery Centre
 As a young boy living at Tennant Creek in Central Australia, I was an habitual and invariable fossil collector. Most of the fossils I found were those of trilobites, one of the earliest creatures that had lived in the oceans 600 million years ago. It always enthralled me to know that at age 11 I was holding the fossilised image of something that had lived so much longer ago than I could imagine. And there were thousands of them spread from one end of the outback to the other, many fragmented, others whole.

Christina on the aerial walk
When I visited the Daintree Discovery Centre, I was astonished to know that the rain forest is estimated at 110 million years old, 40 million years older than the Amazon. Trees I touched and photographed had ancestors that evolved all that long ago - before we animals arrived - and lived inordinately long lives before dying, degrading and eventually returning to Mother Earth as is the destiny of all living things.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is a privately owned business that consists of a coffee, food and souvenirs shop with a ticket-selling desk included. It's just a short distance from parking near the main road.  After you buy your entrance ticket, you walk onto an above ground footway (the Daintree  Aerial Walk) that leads to a large interpretive centre and a huge Canopy Tower with several platforms on which you can sit and soak your senses in the peace, tranquillity and greenness of the forest

Tickets, even without a senior's concession are reasonably priced and come with a nicely produced A5 booklet with extensive information about the forest, it's trees, plants and vines, animal life including birds and the elusive cassowary. It has a special section with photos and explanatory text about those fruits, roots etc that the first Australians used before Caucasian, Asian and other African settlers arrived.

The ticket cost includes use of an audio device to listen to descriptions of the different aspects of the forest as you wander around. Each point of interest is numbered and you simply press the number on the audio device and hold it near your ear for the description. The devices have six or seven different language options.

Just the forest
There were far more tourists than birds and hardly any other animal life at all excluding two small skink lizards that scurried across the pathway in front us. Many of the forest inhabitants are, of course, nocturnal and hide during the day, but the absence of birds was disappointing . The most obvious creatures we spotted were butterflies while we were at the top of the tower in the canopy where they can find sunlight. They flitted about but didn't sit long enough to identify their type or to get a decent photo of them.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is only 20-30 km from the Pinnacle Village Caravan Park, Wonga Beach where we stayed. The drive through rain forest is very pleasant and one needs to take a short ferry ride across the Daintree River that costs $13 AUD each way. We returned late afternoon. I don't know about you, but I can only take in so much awe inspiring beauty in a day, so I was pleased to return to the Pinnacles to shower, have dinner and take it easy for the rest of the evening.

The Daintree Discovery Centre, Aerial Walk and Canopy Tower should have a place on everyone's Bucket List. I've added it to mine and ticked it off.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Discovering Mossman Gorge - A Refreshing Interlude

Chris took this photo of me in a strangler fig

Well, there are gorges and gorges. Most times I have seen a sign saying "This or That Gorge", I drive in the direction and there's a fence and lookout overseeing a lovely bit of scenery that takes five minutes to see and photograph.

Mossman Gorge is a whole different ball game.

Mossman Gorge isn't just a fence overlooking something wonderful. It is a whole establishment and national park consisting of the usual main building with coffee shop, clothing, tourist pens, mugs, post cards etc and for a very reasonable fee, you can do a walk alone or pay a bit more and do a guided tour with a genuine part-Aboriginal person.

The whole establishment is an Aboriginal venture, no doubt funded by the Federal and Queensland State Government to provide an employment and income source for local indigenes. Everyone working at Mossman Gorge was an Aboriginal or at least part-Aboriginal. It was good to see so many indigenous people employed and apparently contributing to the tax system instead of sitting around on welfare as so many unfortunately do.

This is one government project that seems to have been highly successful thanks to the high levels of tourism in this region.

Chris and I spent a good three hours walking around the tracks and communing with Mother Nature in her natural, pleasant surrounds. Most noticeable were the huge fig trees known as "strangler figs" because they seed from the branches of other trees, dropping long roots into the ground and eventually taking over the host tree.

If you get to Cairns at some time, do the short trip to Mossman and visit Mossman Gorge.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Memories of High School - Charters Towers, Queensland

My high school days were spent at Thornburgh College, Charters Towers. I'd travel to and from home at Peko Mine outside Tennant Creek (Northern Territory) and spend my school terms beavering away with eight subjects intended to make me marketable and useful to society.

Fortunately, despite my high school education, I managed to do okay in both areas ie, being marketable and useful. (Some would probably say otherwise, but don't listen to them).

Charters Towers was, as most Australians would know (or should know), a roaring city full of gold mines and the only stock exchange outside a capital city in Australia. By the time I went to school, mining had stopped and all that was left of it were dozens of mine shafts and piles of mullock. Mullock is the stuff miners dig out of the ground to get to the ore. It's left in piles here and there across the landscape and serves no useful purpose other than by its absence.

Charters Towers also had the distinction of being a huge repository for ammunition and bombs during World War II. Numerous magazines cut into the sides of the local Tower Hill retained supplies for use by our military. Magazines were hidden underground so that, if the Japanese attacked, they would not be able to identify any of the magazines as targets.

Apart from the education I received at Thornburgh, I also saw a memorial provided by past Thornburgh College students for other past students killed in World War II and Korea. One of two people killed in the Korean War whose name appeared on the memorial plaque was "LT Spence, DFC."

As a 12-14 year-old whose father had been in the RAAF (Australian Air Force), this memorial intrigued me and I wondered who LT Spence was, where he came from and how he had died. It seemed to my young mind then that if my father had died during his WWII service in England, I wouldn't have been reading about our fallen ... I would never have been the spermatazoon that won the conception race.

Having visited the memorial on many occasions, I remembered the name LT Spence.

Almost a lifetime later, In 2012 when I visited Busan in Korea, I visited the United Nations War Memorial in Korea and while strolling among the Australian graves, I came across the grave of "Wing Commander Louis Thomas Spence, DFC and Bar" who had died aged 33. Here was the final resting place of one of Australia's heroes, one of the hundreds of thousands of young Australians who gave their lives so that I and other Australians can live free in a decent country with democracy and all that entails.

Here was the grave of a man whose memorial I had visited on dozens of occasions and whose contribution had been tucked away in my mind for over 50 years. I determined then and there that I would find out more about Louis Spence and do everything to make sure he is remembered.
Wing Commander SPENCE has served his country with honour and distinction and has further enhanced the prestige of the Royal Australian Air Force and in particular No 77 Squadron
- Citation on Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Spence.
Wing Commander Louis Spence was born at Bundaberg, Queensland on 4 April 1917 and died in Korea on 9 September 1950 just 33 years later. More information is provided about him here in the RAAF database. Every year on 9 September, I will remember Louis Spence, lest we forget.

If you are an Australian, you could remember someone who has made the sacrifice also so that none of our people is every forgotten. I'm setting up a Facebook group called, "Remember Australia's Heroes" and encouraging people to remember one or more of our fallen servicemen and women.

From Charters Towers we headed to Townsville where we stayed several days.


PS: The above memorial has been updated to include two past-students killed in Vietnam. One, Malcolm McConachy was my friend, so I will also include him in my memorial site.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

From Mount Isa to Richmond in Sheep, Cattle and Fossil Country

Christina at entrance to Kronosaurus Korner

Welcome to Australia's Dinosaur Trail

Hundreds of millions of years ago, dinosaurs, fish, turtles, and other sea creatures lived in the western region of Queensland. Ever since humans inhabited the area, they have been finding fossilised evidence to prove it; tiny fossilised teeth from small fish species and huge heads, backbones, tails and limbs that once propelled gigantic sea-dwelling swimmers through the ancient waterways.

Most of the ancient species have become extinct, but a handful has evolved into more modern animals. 

This cornucopia of ancient plant and animal life has sprung into a much needed tourist attraction in numerous regional towns included within a triangular dinosaur trail between Richmond, Hughenden and Winton. Traditionally sheep and cattle country, these regions have undergone a lengthy drought and rely on alternative forms of income to survive ... enter fossil tourism.

Our interest in staying overnight at Richmond was to visit the local dinosaur display called, Kronosauras Korner, a museum of fossil remains. At Kronosaurus we saw the complete fossilised bone remains of several different dinosaurs and various other smaller creatures.

Overhead projection of dinosaur
The road between Mount Isa and Richmond is bituminised (asphalt for Canadians), but isn’t in good repair so our caravan bobbed up and down for much of the journey and I had to travel slowly quite often to make sure our foodstuffs and cupboard contents didn’t get scrambled or worse still, spread all throughout the caravan.

Richmond has a large caravan parking area for overnight stayers. The photo herein shows how popular it is at this time of year because it’s free. It just needs a toilet block to be perfect.
Richmond's free caravan park

After spending some time at Richmond, we headed east towards Charters Towers and 60 km short of our destination decided to do another free camp at a roadside stop (this one with a toilet) called Reid River rest area. 

As it was Sunday, we couldn’t see any reason to continue to Charters Towers when nothing would be open. 

We pulled out our camp chairs and sat around reading until dinner time, watched television for an hour or two and went to bed.

Ah, the life of a frequent traveller.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Driving East from Central Australia to Mount Isa

Underground Hospital at Mt Isa
After a late departure we headed north along the Stuart Highway towards Tennant Creek which is 500 km from The Alice. Named after explorer, John McDowell Stuart, the highway runs south to Adelaide, South Australia and north to what we call The Top End of the Territory … Darwin.

It was on the Stuart Highway outside Barrow Creek that my brother was born on 13 December 1961. It was a hot and uncomfortable summer event for my mother and the midwife assisting and led to my brother’s name, Kendall Stuart; Kendall after the midwife and Stuart after the highway near which he was born. Unfortunately, my brother died in 1976 and never got to revisit his birthplace. Every time I drive past Barrow Creek, I think of my mother and Kendall as I did on this occasion.

We hadn’t intended to travel as far as Tennant Creek, but wanted to free camp overnight at the Devil’s Marbles. But, times change and now while camping is allowed, caravan parking overnight isn’t allowed. On we drove to a nicely presented road-side stop at Bonney Well where we stayed overnight before heading to Tennant Creek to the north and then branching east towards Mount Isa on day two.

The trip across the Barkly Highway is long and tedious, but we cruised along at 90 km/hr seeing dozens of other caravaners heading in both directions. At this time of year, many people from southern states head north to warmer climates.

Near Camooweal, about 180 km from Mount Isa, we stopped at the edge of the Georgina River where there were large numbers of birds including brolgas, living in proximity to a few pools of water left over from the last rain. The next morning, we drove the final leg to the Silver City, Mount Isa. As we had lived at Mount Isa for four years from July, 1984, it’s a little like coming home when we visit.

We stayed for two nights giving us time to visit some friends, have dinner at the local Irish Club, and check out some of the changes eg, the underground hospital, is now open to the public (see photos).

Towards the entrance door
When I visited Mount Isa enroute to Charters Towers during my high school years, I had heard of the underground hospital that was built during WWII in anticipation of the Japanese advancing south from Darwin. As Mount Isa is a lead and copper producer and produced raw material for ammunition, military planners had considered it may have been a target had our enemy been able to get so far south. As history tells us, this didn’t happen and patients from the Mount Isa hospital never had to be moved into the underground hospital to keep safe during a Japanese aerial bombardment.

We departed on the second morning and headed east to Richmond.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

White-water Rafting - A New Experience

White-water rafting is something we've seen on television, but never dreamed we'd be doing. 

While at Turangi we heard about the water rafting opportunity through an employee who attended an information session at our timeshare resort. We decided to try it out.

You can't afford to attend every attraction in an area, but the idea of water and a lovely river appealed to us.

Both Christina and I have had extensive canoeing experience at Mount Isa and the Gregory River a couple of hundred kilometres from The Isa.  We'd canoed in small rapids and large lagoons and were fairly adept at keeping the canoe upright and heading in the direction we wanted ... most of the time. White-water rafting seemed to be an extension of our existing experience.

A bus from the Tongariro River Rafting company picked us up from our accommodation early morning and we headed off to their workshop. At the workshop we pulled on a full-body wet suit, a pair of rubber boots, flotation vest, and a helmet. We were given a safety induction and then back on the bus to the Tongariro River.

Getting the wet suit on was a challenge. Two of us, one guy who claimed to be an experienced diver, pulled the suits on inside out and had to then pull them off and redress. He was 30 years younger than me and seemed to cope much easier, but just getting dressed gave me a good workout. I was almost stuffed before we started.

At the river we carried the raft to the waters edge, hopped in and off we went for a three hour trip down the Tongariro. It was fantastic.

Half way we pulled up at a large rock ledge jutting out from the river and were invited to jump into the water. Being a strong swimmer and not having been into a river for a few years, Robin decided to take the jump. Not only was the water wet, it was absolutely freezing.

We got back into the raft and completed our journey.

Back at the workshop, the team provided us with a great lunch of sandwiches with meat and salad which was most welcome after having burnt up so many calories paddling.

We both enjoyed the experience immensely. It was a professional operation done very well by a dedicated team. I think it cost us about $100 per head ... money well spent.

If you ever get to Turangi, you must try the white-water rafting experience. Trust me, you'll love it.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Turangi Tongarira

Most time share resorts run a similar program; you arrive as you do at any motel and are given keys and told where to find your accommodation. Some time during the week, the hosts run a get-together where you meet the other occupants and get the low-down on local sights, events and discounts they can provide for various activities. The hosts hand out brochures and maps and no doubt get a benefit from sending you to various venues. That's business.

Some offer a discounted "resort meal" for guests during the week and "happy hours" once or more during the week. Usually the resort has a stack of different games, books, videos, bikes, rafts and other things you can use while you are there. What you can do of course reflects what is available in house and locally. Kaimanawa Resort at Turangi was no different, but the buildings were all pine, with lovely polished pine walls and ceilings throughout. It reminded us of the timber cabins in which we had stayed in Canada. Hosts Rae and Jim were lovely people too, which made staying there all the better.

Turangi is another lovely NZ town with nice wide roads, well defined shops, roundabouts, clean streets and plenty of trees and greenery. There are many more Moari visible there than say at Queenstown and one New Zealander told me that the Moari had moved to the far northern parts of NZ to avoid the cold. It made sense why we saw few Moari in Queenstown, although there are no doubt more living there.

Turangi is near Taupo and the region is, among other things, famous for having a large number of prisons and hydro-electric power stations. Apparently at Turangi large numbers of the people work for the prisons department. The others are family members of those imprisoned. It must make for an interesting social mix within the town.

We nearly wore ourselves out walking around the lake at Turangi. We set out intending to do three or four kilometres and finished up doing eight, a fair portion of which was uphill. There is a maze of walking trails, a suspension bridge that wobbles when you cross it, and some great views of the township from the top of a nearby hill which descends onto a traffic bridge at the edge of Turangi. Walking through the lines of ferns, trees and other shrubbery is invigorating.

Both Christina and I have Fitbits, little electronic gadgets that track our daily walking, stairs climbed, calories burned, and more, so we record our activities and intend to incrementally improve our fitness.

The day after our Great Walk, we rocked up at the Turangi Tongarira Rafting Company for a white water rafting experience. I'll tell you about that in my next post and show you some action photos of we two tackling the waves.


Aussie Soles for comfort

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where in Hell is Cape Reinga Light House?

500+ years old kauri tree
At Cape Reinga of course, right at the most northern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. And, we've been there! Hoorah!

It's a 400 km odd round trip from Paihia where we were staying at the Paihia Lodge Resort to Cape Reinga, so we decided to let someone else do the driving and signed up for a bus tour which began at the unholy hour of 7:15 am which meant we had to get out of bed at 6:30 am ... not all that impressed.

Our bus driver picked us up at our resort and away we drove with about 30 other tourists, even an older couple (yes, older than us) who are New Zealanders.

We drove for an hour to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom site with restaurant, kauri carving shop and something the driver called "fuddy duddly" which to New Zealanders apparently means toilets. Here we, yes, you guessed it, visited the fuddy duddly and picked up a cup of coffee for breakfast. We spent 20 minutes looking at the carvings which included a vertical staircase carved by chain saw out of a 3 metre kauri log.

When I see these things I am always amazed at what skills people have; to conceptualise a vertical , helical staircase and then cut it as well as it was takes real skill ... or perhaps a lot of trees.

From there, we drove farther north and after travelling 20 km or so through a forestry plantation of beautiful pine trees (there are literally millions here), we entered 90 Mile Beach. After a short delay with some tourists in a camper van who had become bogged getting off the beach, we drove onto the beach and headed north again. It reminded me of Frasers Island off the Queensland Coast. Flat and straight.

Our bus
The driver told us that going up the beach cut 25 minutes off the journey and that it was possible to travel at the max allowable 100 km/hr, which he did, driving through numerous areas of fresh water flowing from the nearby hills into the Tasman Sea to our left. We stopped for a short while at a spot along the beach and although the driver offered sufficient time for anyone wanting to swim, the opportunity, nobody braved the cold waters, even the young and hardy.

But, the young and hardy and a couple of older people did brave the sand dune boarding a few kilometres farther up the beach and into the hills. We declined. The thought of having sand in our clothes for another few hours didn't appeal, although I had given it serious thought with a view to retaining my Putin like "action man" image after white water rafting at Turangi. Not today.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Next stop was at Cape Reinga where we debussed and walked a couple of kilometres down a declining walkway to reach the light house. After taking a few snaps and reading the information boards, we walked up the incline which was excellent exercise for our hearts, minds and bodies generally. We've walked 5-8 km per day since arriving in NZ which is excellent for our health and fitness program.

From Cape Reinga, we drove for about 30 minutes to a lovely little cafe/service station where we had lunch that was provided as part of the tour cost. While there, suddenly eight police vehicles and as many police officers arrived and while the driver assured us they weren't after him, one of the officers revealed that they had been doing marihuana raids. This explained the helicopter we had seen near the forestry reserve carrying camera equipment (or perhaps sensing equipment?) hanging 20 metres below. Casting my mind back to the days when I was a police officer, I reminded myself that police have to eat too, they were simply there for lunch.

After a short stop during our return to allow people to attend to their fuddy duddly needs, we continued home along the winding road that runs through numerous small towns, all of which are beautiful as is the rest of New Zealand. At around 5:30 pm we arrived back at the Paihia Lodge ready for a shower, a glass of red and dinner.


PS: We are yet to visit Cape York Peninsula, the most northern part of Australia.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mt Hutt Lodge and Region, New Zealand

Mt Hutt is both a mountain and a region. We stayed at Mt Hutt Lodge which is near Rakaia Gorge where a jet boat operates, there is a caravan park and people seem to spend time dipping their fishing lines into the fast flowing, grey-blue waters.
 Sitting with the curtains of our room pulled aside, I can see Mt Hutt in all its majesty standing tall with a line of white snow on top, reminding us that it has been here forever and will be here long after we have gone. Clouds cover all but the top of the mountain and seem to be lingering today as there is little wind.

As I write, I can hear the jet boat powering up with the gutterell sound typical of such engines. Speed has always been an attraction to we bipedal land lovers and I guess it's the speed that attracts people to want to travel aimlessly up and down the river with the boat's hull bumping up and down and the too cool wind blowing through their hair. There doesn't seem to be anything else going for it. At least at an aviation show, you get to smell the aviation fuel and see much more sophisticated maneouvering.

The Lodge is older, as can be seen from the photograph above and consists of both hotel style, short-term rooms and four timeshare apartments that are fully self-contained. Ours is comfortable for two people but has sufficient table, chair and movement space for perhaps four or five.

Yesterday we drove via Arthur's Pass to Springfield. There is a train journey you can take from Christchurch to Greymouth, but it's expensive so we decided to drive so we could see more of the sights and have the freedom to come and go as we pleased, which we did. We stopped at several lookouts, went for a long walk about the Castle Hill rocks (see entrance photo) and had lunch at a quaint cafe at Arthur's Pass with free entertainment from a friendly kea bird that landed on our table and without waiting for an invitation began helping itself to the scraps left on our plates. Chris took some video footage of the kea, which is a mountain parrott only found in the south island of NZ. Unfortunately, it's too large to upload. The photo here of the kea sign below tells a little about them.

Arthur's Pass is spectacular with a viaduct, a concrete, overhead structure on part of the road to safeguard drivers from rock falls, and several lookouts. We'd love to see it in winter full of snow although I don't know that I'd want to be driving on wet roads up and down the pass. Also, I expect there would be many more people here making driving and parking etc a little more hazardous.

Talking of people, I'd like a $10 note for every Recreational Vehicle I've seen ... there are literally thousands of them ... and I haven't seen the lot. It's obviously the way to see NZ; rent an RV and drive all over the place.

The adventure continues.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Christchurch's Container City

Container Coffee Shop
After the earthquake that devastated Christchurch in 2010, the shopkeepers whose livelihood had been taken away within a matter of hours, quickly devised a cost-effective and timely way to recover. They set up a container city within Christchurch.

When we visited Christchurch we were greatly impressed by the design, style and colours that people had used to re-enable their businesses. Everything from coffee shops to dress shops to a Westpac Bank were housed in nicely designed and outfitted cargo containers.

They stood near the buildings that had either withstood the event or that were vacant, pending dismantling. "Life goes on" was the order of the day.

When I saw the Christchurch church crumbled and lying in pieces on the ground, the thought passed my mind that the all powerful god people speak of and pray to couldn't save his church, but a less significant premises nearby was untouched. I already knew the answer to the question posed by that supposed dilemma.

We stopped at the coffee shop shown on the left for a cup of coffee and watched as our fellow tourists (obvious by their dress, backpacks and cameras) walked to and fro.

Others who appeared to be locals went about their business as normal, this one to the bank with a hessian bag full of something, perhaps the day's takings. 
That one, all decked out in suit and tie perhaps heading to the pub after a long and boring business meeting.

After finishing our coffee, it was late afternoon and we had a way to drive to get back to Mt Hutt, so we spent about half hour walking around the shops to see what they sold and headed for our car which we'd parked nearby.

Sadly, the containers will be removed in the next few years as the buildings are rebuilt or demolished and replaced with something grander, hopefully stronger and less prone to acts of nature.

When that happens and the last container is removed, we will only have the photographs and memories of the container city, evidence of humankind's resilience and ability to survive even the greatest odds.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Antarctic Comes to Christchurch, NZ

International Antarctic Centre Hoaglund Vehicles
Hagglund Vehicle and Trailer

The next best thing to a trip to the Antarctic is a visit to the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch, New Zealand. The Centre is situated next door to buildings that house the staff that work for the New Zealand Government's Antarctic program and strategically positioned near the Christchurch Airport from where field staffs in Antarctica are resupplied.

Unfortunately, costs and time determine that you can never see everything you want when you visit another country or, for that matter, another city within your own country.

One of the places on our "preferred visits list" during our holiday in New Zealand was the Antarctic Centre which we had read about previously. So, we set off from our time share accommodation at Mt Hutt and arrived at the Antarctic Centre shortly after opening time.

Christina at a static display
It was a pleasant day and we decided as we'd probably never get to Christchurch again, we'd buy the ticket that included everything. We received a senior's discount too, which made it quite less expensive.

After touring the static displays and reading about New Zealand's Antarctic history, we visited a penguin nursery and a pool where we could see numerous penguins while they were being fed. Several were disabled in some way eg, one had a wing/fin that'd didn't articulate as it should and had difficulty not swimming in circles.

Probably the best event of our visit was the Hagglund vehicle ride which bumped along on its steel and rubber tracks, went up and over a few steep hills and through a deep pool of water. Grandson Tory would have loved it. We loved it!

Robin has an Antarctic freeze
Another event allows those silly enough to experience very low minus temperatures as in a windstorm in Antarctica. We were silly enough and it reminded us that some of our friends in Canada live in places where it gets just as cold. And they have to shovel snow from their driveway every day.

We were provided with thick overcoats and rubber booties and walked into what was really a deep freezer with several huge fans designed to rain down truck loads of snow at high speed.

Yes, it was cold ... very cold, but we weren't in the freezer long enough for the cold to really soak in. Both of us were wearing jeans and a shirt with a light pullover, so I've no doubt we would have become unbearably cold within 20 minutes or so.

As would be expected, the Centre has a nice little coffee shop where we finished up with a nice hot coffee and cake. We also bought a waterproof jacket each and then headed back to Mt Hutt having had another lovely day in New Zealand.


PS: This post has been posted well after the visit date, but to maintain blog order, I've changed to post date to ensure proper ordering

Monday, March 10, 2014

Edgewater Resort at Wanaka, New Zealand

Many years ago we bought a timeshare week at Beachhouse Resort on the Gold Coast. We have never stayed there, but it has allowed us to stay at other timeshares all over the world ... literally. Edgewater Resort is the first of four timeshare resorts in which we will stay while in New Zealand.

Every year we accrue a number of timeshare points based on the original six people timeshare at the Gold Coast. But, as there are only Christina and I, we book venues with lower capacity and thus get more bang for our buck. Essentially, although staying in timeshares is not free, the costs are considerably lower than one would pay in a motel, backpacker's lodge or other accommodation venue. We have paid for our accommodation in advance and know what standard we will get.

Timeshares like Edgewater are fully equipped with cooking, sporting, washing, and other living requirements. You could live in a timeshare forever and only need to buy your food and consumables. There is nothing to pay unless you use the telephone or decide to have a massage or other service that is optional and not included in the timeshare deal. They are, of course, much larger than motel rooms and better furnished. Much more a home away from home than other types of accommodation.

Before leaving Queenstown, we picked up a Toyota sedan hire car and visited a shopping centre where we bought $170 NZD worth of food and drinks. We do most of our own cooking which means that our expenses are minimised and after all, we'd be paying for food and drinks etc if we were living at home. Unless you are specifically into restaurant and cafe food, it tends to get monotonous eating out when you can simply knock up a nice sandwich yourself.

Edgewater Resort is integrated with a hotel and spread across quite a large property with beautiful greenery. Judging by the list of activities visible on foyer notice boards, it's a common venue for people to get married. Some lucky couple was being married when we arrived.

After taking a day to rewind and wash our clothes, we spent most of the rest of the week hitting a tennis ball, walking around the many pathways, and visiting the sites within a day's reach.

It's a hard life, but someone has to live it.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Wanaka's The Puzzling World

It's certainly puzzling ...

After a few days at Queenstown, we headed for Wanaka which is only a short hop from Queenstown. As would be expected, the sights are similar and the lake large and beautiful as the photo of part of Wanaka from the town lookout suggests.

Here, we attended a social get-together for timeshare guests where we had sausages in bread and coffee etc for lunch and chatted with our fellow travellers, most of whom were New Zealanders from the north visiting the south island. The barbecue setting is underneath a glorious old tree in an idyllic setting as shown in another photo I just had to take that also shows a water wheel in the foreground.

NZ has plenty of opportunities to get outdoors, despite the cold, and walk, so we have done a fair bit of that walking around the edge of the lake and within the nearby national park area. We also had a 45 minute game of tennis which got the pulse moving, which was part of our plan, to get some exercise while on holidays.

Most interesting was Wanaka's The Puzzling World which is designed to challenge your spatial, abstract and conceptual skills through working a variety of puzzles and entering rooms that are built at an angle sufficient to challenge your balance and perception. Very interesting indeed. I fiddled with a wooden, four piece puzzle for maybe 20 minutes managing to form two of the four shapes possible and then lost interest. It's demeaning to be beaten by a few pieces of wood!

Christina and I entered the reality-changing building which initially was like walking up a ramp while fighting against our old friend and foe, gravity. In this building, water appears to run uphill, a chair ride takes one uphill on its own accord when you press the release button, and various things you see aren't really what you see. As one of the great philosophers suggested, "we should be more interested in not what we see, but why we see it."

A couple of additional photos from the Puzzling House show part of the experience. The first is Robin with his arms through two nuts that look flat until photographed. The second is the water running uphill.