There seems to be a scarcity of UK retirement blogs out there (other than those proffering financial advice) and in the absence of my being able to read about other people's experiences, I instead offer you my own "Great Big Retirement Adventure."

My husband (Mister E) and I have moved from the initial concept through the planning stages to implementation and this site is intended to record the whole process. What I am seeking from retirement is now very different to what I thought I was planning and has gradually developed into a quest for fitness and a desire for simplification, with a transition away from both a highly organised lifestyle and the personality traits reflecting a pedantic professional career. Indeed I recently described myself as "a goofy idiot" who enjoys smiling at sunflowers; a far cry from the pre-retirement professional and an indication of just how far I have travelled.

Please visit from time to time and do add your comments. The blog is in reverse chronological order but popular posts and those highlighting our journey are specifically pinpointed below on the right hand side together with a list of topics covered. Alternatively you may prefer to look at the summary or wisdom we have acquired or even our have done list with its retirement atlas and dip in and out of the blog using the links given.

Monday, 20 November 2017

It's Definitely Not Grim Up North - 1 of 2

Mister E had a desire to visit the Northern tip of New Zealand, so we headed North in a small Toyota Yaris. I'm not too sure why we failed to upgrade the rental car as we subsequently did on South Island, but it felt somewhat Bohemian setting out with the bootspace fully laden in such a small vehicle especially when we bounced over every pothole, crawled uphill and proceeded gingerly over gravel roads. There was even one point where we were stopped by a Police Officer who suggested we were going a little slowly (80kph when the speed limit was 100kph) but it all added to the sense of adventure.

We had decided in advance to proceed in a leisurely fashion towards Cape Reinga. Even so we still moved on every night, except in Pahia. It did detract from a sense of leisure and relaxation as we repeatedly packed and unpacked but then this was no beach vacation.

Our first stop was Puhoi, a small village settled by Catholics from what is now the Czech Republic, beautifully preserved and worth the coffee stop and exploration which we paid it. 


We proceeded onwards exploring Leigh and the empty sands on the wonderful  beach at Pakiri after lunching in style overlooking a pond of water lilies at the Brick Bay Sculpture Park. There the menu proved that New Zealand can serve up superb salad even if there were days when we struggled to find an alternative option to fish and chips or pies. 

We  discovered that a harbour in New Zealand is very much a natural sheltered entity with no added protection from a breakwater or other construction. We also learnt that when people say the country's weather is changeable, they mean by the hour and not by the day; we quickly got into the hang of layering up and then shedding.

  Our first night on the road was spent at a little bed and breakfast in Warkworth. So many places in New Zealand have English namesakes but bear very little resemblance to them. During our trip we found bed and breakfast to be of an extremely high standard although we were curious as to the reason for electric blankets on the beds; perhaps they have been unused over the winter and need airing, we mused. One cold night later and we understood!

Our room had a patio overlooking lemon trees laden with fruit. Nearby there were daffodils and other spring bulbs in flower. Roses were blooming, together with lavender and a magnolia tree; strawberry plants were fruiting whilst fuschia plants hung heavy with clusters of red bells. On the verges there were masses of white altar lilies and red hot pokers, growing completely wild. Cherry blossom, however, was only just beginning to flourish. With the sun passing through the Northern sky too, the brain begins to ache trying to understand how all of this can be "normal."

Meeting up with the eldest and his girlfriend again the next day we took in  a Farmers' Market (quite a musical affair with bands and singers competing to entertain) and then later a coastal walk over stacked limestone formations or "pancake rocks."

We all stayed that night near Waipu settled by Scottish immigrants with an interesting history outlined on boards in the square as well as in a local museum. One of the advantages of jetlag however was that we were up early to catch a magnificent sunrise over Bream Bay (so called because Captain Cook caught caught fish of that species there).

That set us up well for a magnificent day which we spent together in and around Whangarei, enjoying the waterfall, sculptures around the harbour, and the scenery at Whangarei Heads. We parted mid afternoon when they returned to Auckland for work and Mister E and I headed ever Northwards.

We stopped at Kawakawa. Everyone raves about the Hundertwasser toilets there but forgets to tell you that the main street too shows the hallmarks of his modern art. He was the pioneer of what he called transautomatism, where art focuses on the fantasy of the viewer rather than of the artist. The town and toilets were certainly colourful.


We finished our day at Paihia where even the oyster catchers failed to shy away from us, just like a kingfisher earlier in the day. Ultimately we checked into another excellent Bed and Breakfast, Morepork Riverside Lodge approximately 8 km out of the town.

Fortunately we had made the excellent decision to stay there 2 nights (we ought to have made it 3) and the owners, Paul and Barbara, who went out of  their way to make us welcome, recommended and organised for us a day out on the Bay of Islands. It meant an early start the next day (easy with jetlag) and, if you ever visit, then getting out onto the water is a must. 

We saw fur seals and dolphins which entertained with their playful antics especially racing the boat when it finally sped away, leaping higher and higher in their effort to keep up. I managed to film a fantail which was almost mobbing me and then we spotted our first Tui when exploring Russell where we disembarked; poor Russell, once decried as the hell hole of the South Pacific, is now a genteel and charming settlement across the bay from Paihia.

You might think that day had turned into a bit of a wildlife safari and it ended in the same way because, when we returned to Morepork Riverside, Paul was about to feed his alpacas and chickens, so yours truly could not resist going to help.

To be continued.............

Saturday, 18 November 2017

New Zealand - First Impressions

 Arriving at Auckland airport late morning, we immediately transferred into our waiting taxi to head to Takapuna on North Shore where we had arranged to stay so as to be close to the eldest. Our drive across Auckland revealed a city of little wooden houses nestling amongst volcanic upthrusts of earth until we bypassed the Central Business District where multi-storey buildings vied with the iconic Sky Tower to dominate the Haruki Gulf. The water itself was awash with marinas and sailing yachts giving credence to Auckland's reputation as the City of Sails.

We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel. So, leaving our bags in the lobby, we went to avail ourselves of coffee in a neighbouring bar. Tuning in to the Kiwi version of English required a little adjustment and sadly it was probably the worst coffee that we tasted all trip (we were later advised to stick to flat whites), but of greater surprise was the politically incorrect poster on the wall indicating a fancy dress event where "the tradies would get the ladies." Somebody had told us that travelling to New Zealand was like turning the clock back several decades but we had not expected to encounter such outmoded sexist attitude from a country that heralded in the vote for women as far back as 1890. 

Our motel room although scrupulously clean was very simply furnished with decor and a desk and chairs that would not have looked out of place in an office; something that we would find repeated in many places. The bed was comfortable and so much so that we forgave the establishment the view of the dustbins from the bedroom window. Indeed superb mattresses and electric blankets seemed to be a feature of many of the places in which we stayed.

We forced ourselves to stay awake although the eldest did come straight from work to take us out for dinner. New Zealanders seem to eat significantly earlier than we generally do in the UK, going to bed and rising earlier too. Fortunately when you are still adjusting to the enormous time difference, that suited us well. Our first encounter with New Zealand food was a little surprising too when we discovered the British love affair with fish and chips holds fast at the Kiwi seaside too. There's none  of our traditional cod and haddock though, and whilst the fish is beer battered it was, to us, the unfamiliar hoki or tarahiki. 

That time difference played a part in waking us early the next morning and we were out with the morning commuters to walk to Milford and then back to Takapuna along the coastal walk with magnificent views across to Rangitoto a volcanic island that is now a nature reserve. Indeed lava flow intercepted the beach from time to time including petrified tree stumps from an ancient forest. The local birdlife was extremely friendly and curious and whilst some of the flora was familiar, other species were a complete novelty including the pohutukawa and rata trees some of which were beginning to flower.

We took a local bus (always a novelty) to Devonport where the Naval base is situated, with magnificent views of the city skyline and with its own elegant wharf and main street, before ascending Mount Victoria and North Head. Old charm elegance sandwiched between volcanoes. No litter, no grafitti and everyone friendly and talkative, oh and we also found some good coffee after all.

We were already certain that we were going to enjoy the rest of our trip.

Friday, 17 November 2017

My Circadian Rhythms Need a Reset

Exhausted and bog-eyed, stuck in an alien timezone, my circadian rhythms are apparently adjusting only very slowly.  I'm suffering from jet-lag after returning from a trip to the other side of the world. I did mean to blog whilst I was there, but was distracted by a hectic itinerary.

After 5 weeks of living out of a suitcase (or to be absolutely correct 2 wheeled holdalls), I am now seeking to make sense of a fascinating experience and wondering how best to describe it to you. This blog was never of course intended as a travel log but there is so much that I want to share from our trip that it's simply a question of how to  begin. Unfortunately that beginning has been hampered since our return 4 days ago, by constantly waking at 4am and falling asleep by 9pm, with muddled thinking in between times. If that wasn't bad enough, I can hardly walk after returning to the gym to do 3 fitness classes yesterday. Zombie-like, both physically and mentally, you have to have a certain level of fitness for long haul travel.

I have discovered that retirement offers time to travel surpassing that of any other period of life. The problem is that it is not necessarily as easy to mobilise as in our backpacking youth when there was a total lack of both responsibilites and neuroses. Much as I might love to fling a few possessions into a rucsack, sling it over my sholder and head off into the blue yonder of cultural experiences, age has brought awareness, wisdom and with it consequential limitations.

I now have a greater understanding of the spectrum between enjoyment and endurance, input and return, satisfaction and reward. Travel is planned accordingly and whilst there is no easy answer to the disorientation that follows a 30 hour journey from take off to landing with a 13 hour time difference between each, at least neither Mister E nor I had work to contend with and return to the following day. No wonder extended vacations in far flung destinations are very much the preserve of only the young and the retired. 

I know that there are many who are propelled to relinquish both home and lifestyle for a life on the road or water in order to fulfil longheld ambitions that have often fuelled an early retirement. There are also others who are content to settle down with their cottage gardens, log fires and the constancy of family, friends and familiarity on the doorstep. I doubt that I am unusual in imagining myself ardently pursuing either option but in reality keep dipping only my toes in the sea of discovery whilst simultaneously failing to create a proper haven of tranquility in which to rest and replenish. To my way of thinking, waves of adrenaline and excitement feel higher when they rise from the plains of contentment. Get too comfortable though and extraction can seem daunting.

Our latest trip was planned on the back of the eldest relocating to New Zealand earlier this year, offering an opportunity to see him again after a lapse of 7 months since his departure. With a distance of over 11,000 miles to get there we realised that the end had to justify the journey, so as you can imagine there was significant deliberation in looking to ensure a "perfect" trip.

So we considered:

1) Means of transport, of which the only obvious one (unless we wanted to make a 6 month trip out of our little adventure and go by ship) was air, which led us to consider a variety of carriers eventually plumping for Emirates which provided taxi transfers to and from the airports at the beginning and end of our journeys there and back, as part of the airline service.

2) The route to get there, especially as we initially discussed undertaking a number of stopovers until we realised that we still couldn't eliminate all overnight flights and would be continuously to-ing and fro-ing from airports. In the end we concluded flying directly with a 2 hour change-over at Dubai (and Brisbane too on our return) was the better option, although we opted for the luxury of business class; theoretically if you are going to be in the air for 26 hours you might as well be horizontal on a flat bed seat with an unlimited supply of champagne.

3) The length of our stay taking into account that the eldest's accomodation is unsuitable for staying guests. How long does anyone want to live out of a suitcase for? We settled on 5 weeks.

4) Our itinerary; unsure whether or not this will be the only trip we ever make to New Zealand, we wanted to see as much as possible and, therefore, consulted with everybody we knew who had travelled there. We picked up some tremendous tips and ideas which I was then able to work into a journey around both islands which afforded oppportunities to rendezvous with our son.

5) Our accommodation where there seemed to be a choice of hotels, motels, homestays, bachs, B&Bs, and motorhomes. In the end we opted for a mix of everything except the motorhome experience, which we though might be a little snail-like crawling around  with our home on our backs, unable to separate from it. 

6) What to book in advance, but ultimately it was very little except for the first two nights' accommodation and the car hire. We really wanted the flexibility to change our plans to  fit in with the weather.

7) Which clothes to take as New Zealand is notoriously changeable weatherwise and was just emerging into Spring as we arrived, and finally packing something for all weathers and seasons.

8) Funding our stay as 5 weeks is too long to carry sufficient wads of notes for but, conscious that some of the places we would stay might require us to pay in cash and, as it is never wise to rely entirely on one credit card, we obtained a second that permits cash withdrawals free of interest and transaction fees.

9) The administrative burden of home in which respect we made sure that bills scheduled for payment were set up in advance, carried iPad and laptop to access records and e-mails as needed, relied on our neighbours to keep an eye on our property.

Was it a successful trip? Yes.

Would we recommend it? Definitely but more of that when I bore you with further blog entries.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A Shout Out

I just wanted to give a shout out for Lakeland (formerly known as Lakeland Plastics). Yes that's right the company that has specialised in all kinds of useful plastic scoops and pegs. The kind of shop where, when you get to an age where kitchen gadgets excite you more than clothes shopping, you go to browse.

I know that I now have to be wary of buying plastic, but it never stops me browsing. Imagine therefore my delight to find that they have reinvented the good old paper bag. Forget those packs of cellophane, you can now have brown paper!

Funny how the old idea are always the best and even better that they still have the capacity to excite.  I did tell you, of course, that in retirement I seem to derive a great deal of pleasure from the simple things in life, but paper bags? Who'd have thought it!