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.

Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Grand Finale: Wellington and Auckland


Wellington with a population of just over 400,000 people is the capital of New Zealand, neatly placed at the bottom end of the North Island across the Cook Straits from the South Island. Auckland with a population of over 1.5 million is the country's largest city but was its capital for a brief period of 24 years only, commencing in 1841. Although now both modern, outward looking cities, they are very different.
We were privileged to stay two nights in Wellington in  a harbourside hotel, within walking distance of all the main sights. The city has a reputation for being "edgy." That's a state that is hard to define but you do come away feeling that it lives up to the concept, regardless. Coffee shops and craft beers; sculptures and a redeveloped waterfront; the cable car/railway and botanical gardens; the wind that whistles through and makes you bend double; the historic buildings especially around the Parliamentary quarter. 
We visited the National Museum, Te Papa, with its floors devoted to Maori history and the natural world and geological phenomena of the country; perhaps that is somewhere that may be of more interest as an introduction to the country as, nearing the end of our time there, it served more as a reminder of what we had seen and learnt but was woefully incapable of reproducing fully the experiences within the confines of a museum's walls. We did, however, see an exhibition in the National Library which concluded our journey of discovery and included the original Declaration of Independence, Waitangi Treaty and the Women's Suffrage Petition (women were granted the right to vote in 1890, 38 years before their counterparts in Britain).

We flew back to Auckland for our last 3 nights in New Zealand, the longest consecutive stay
that we made anywhere during our trip. Although we had passed through Auckland on 3 previous occasions, we had not explored the centre and now did so including the waterfront and Viaduct Harbour,  Britomart, the Art Gallery and of course the Sky Tower. It's true, people really do pay to throw themselves off the tower (rope attached); an entertaining spectacle for those admiring the views from the revolving deck.

We also went by ferry to Waiheke where we made up for failing to visit a winery in either Matakana or Marlborough and sat out in the sun, surrounded by vines and a distant view of the Auckland skyline, to do the whole wine tasting experience.

Wellington may be edgy but Auckland seeks to be sophisticated; the only place in New Zealand that tries, some might say. Of course many deliberately distance themselves from it as a result, with countless numbers of people telling us how they hated the traffic, the crowds, the noise and the bustle. Globally Auckland is not an anomaly but in New Zealand it is unique.

Finally, we spent our last day experiencing a typical North Shore Sunday in the style of the eldest and his girlfriend as well as numerous locals: Takapuna Market then the beach. What isn't there to like about that?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

South Island in a Week

So many organised tours of New Zealand are conducted at whistle-stop pace. We were lucky to be able to take our trip around North Island at a much slower gait even if it did involve, for the most part, a different resting place every night. South Island, however, is renowned for its scenery and to appreciate that within a limited timescale of 8 days it was important that we avoided, so far as possible, mist and rain. Unfortunately most of our week was subject to a weather warning for the west coast with storms and heavy rain or snow depending on the altitude. When we planned our trip we had envisaged visiting the glaciers;  we adapted our route, however, to follow the sun and in so doing probably drove much further than we had initially intended.

Whilst New Zealand's public transport system outside of the main cities is nothing like we are accustomed to in Europe, internal flights to and from Auckland are plentiful and, if booked sufficently in advance, reasonably priced. So we flew to Queenstown and even before we landed were marvelling at the scenery from the air.

We picked up a hire car at the airport and headed immediately on the picturesque journey to Te Anau, positioning ourselves ready for a much shorter day trip to Milford Sound and in anticipation that we might even catch it in sunshine, a rare occurence for a place that endures rain on more than 260 days a year. It was glorious when we left Te Anau and it continued so right up to our entry into the Homer Tunnel where we  engaged with a Kea (prudently closing the car doors, it was so curious) whilst waiting for the green light to proceed. We emerged on the other side into a different climatic zone of low cloud and mist. It didn't rain but there was no blue sky; we still saw penguins and seals as well as the beautiful fjord scenery.

We retraced our steps to Queenstown which was no disappointment as the scenery really is marvellous; all those colours I've blogged about before with the addition of snow-capped mountains. Renowned as the adrenaline capital of New Zealand if not the World, we did pass some time watching bungee jumping from the top of the cable car ride but could not be enticed to participate. By the lake there was a real vibe of activity from sunseekers and musicians which continued into the evening when the former took to the restaurants and bars, many eating outdoors.

The next day we continued to Wanaka for more lakeside and mountain scenery, 

 via Arrowtown

and Cardrona with their goldmining heritages. 

On the South Island we passed through farming country where fields are irrigated to produce lush grass for the enormous herds of  cows and sheep and in some places deer too. Whereas we had been accustomed on North Island to the roadside verges being adorned with redhot pokers and altar lilies in Northland, Potukhawa trees in Coromandel and then bright yellow gorse bushes in the Waikato region, on South Island there were miles and miles of lupins, frequently the yellow tree lupins but between Wanaka and Christchurch in hues of pastel shades. The weather closing in on the West meant that we were denied a view of Aoraki Mount Cook but I still stepped into the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo to imagine that perfectly framed Alpine picture, through its altar window.

Christchurch was a reminder of the force of nature and the devastating after effects of earthquakes. Six years on the evidence of the strength of the quake that struck in 2011 is still in evidence and we were told that it is estimated that rebuilding is going to take another 14 years. The spirit of resilience showed in the quirky shopping area developed from shipping containers and the now famous "cardboard" cathedral. Fortunately both the Art Gallery and Museum survived
Although we were heading to Picton and a ferry to Wellington to connect with a flight back to Auckland, the most direct route through Kaikoura was still closed due  to the earthquake last year. Instead we drove over Lewis Pass to Nelson and spent a day visiting the Abel Tasman National Park where we hopped from beach to beach by water taxi, encountering several weka at one point. 
It was beautiful and, after  4 weeks travelling around New Zealand, we had truly reached the stage where the views had to be really astounding to impress, but they did.

Fortunately the drive to Picton along Queen Charlotte Drive following the sound rather than the inland route still lived up to scenic expectations, although our hope to repeat the experience from the water in the afternoon was dashed when our ferry sailing was cancelled and we travelled in the dark instead out of the Marlborough Sound and across the Cook Strait to Wellington.

We couldn't help but make comparisons with North Island as we travelled and were pleased that we had organised our trip in the order we had as it would have been a shame if the scenery on North Island appeared an anti-climax after the sheer enormity of that on the South. We were surprised to discover that the roads on South Island were on the whole better than those we used on the North, but disappointed to find the overwhelming friendliness and conversation of everyone on North Island reduced, by comparison, to tacit indifference on the South. 

There were distinct differences too in the flora and fauna, including even in the seagull population with the red-beaked gull inhabiting the North and the black-beaked gull the South. 

Fortunately and despite a 5 week trip we have still left much to explore on both islands, an inducement perhaps to undertake another trip in the future.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Volcanoes, Geysers, and Gardens

We organised the Labour Day holiday weekend to spend it with the eldest on the Coromandel Peninsula. Unfortunately the beauty of the scenery was marred by heavy rain impeding the view, but not our enjoyment. We stayed in a little wooden cabin for 2 nights, above a stream with a resident long fin eel directly beneath us.

During our travels we came across a number of eccentric New Zealanders, and Stu on Highway 309 in the Coromandel has to rank amongst them. He has over 100 wild pigs which roam amidst his collection of rusting vehicles as well as onto the road. Stu wanders amongst them, talking to the multitude of tourists who stop to fondle the pigs and take photographs.

 The Coromandel was also our introduction to the amazing geological phenomena that permeate New Zealand when we were able to soak our feet in the hot underground spring on the appropriately named Hot Water Beach.

When the eldest returned to Auckland, we headed southwards to Rotorua for more geothermal experiences. We briefly stopped in Tirau where idiosyncratic thinking has resulted in the town paying homage to that popular New Zealand building material: corrugated iron.


In Rotorua we were looked after by Vivien, the owner of The Redwoods Bed and Breakfast accommodation ,who superbly planned every minute of our two days in the area. As a result we enjoyed not only walking amongst the giant Redwood trees as a respite for the hydrogen sulphide overload but also comparing the Blue and Green Lakes (Lakes Tikitapu and Rotokakahi), both formed from ancient volcanic activity and the colour of the first being due to the pumice rock on the lake bed. 

The Maori village of Ohinemutu in Rotorua was an experience in itself. St Faith's Church surprisingly relied on pillars and beams with Maori carved art to support its roof, whilst there was  a large window overlooking the lake with an etching of Christ to all intent walking on water. Outside however, the extent of the geothermal activity was evident with hydrogen sulphide steaming from roadside vents and in nearby parkland. The stench of rotten eggs pervades.

Of course the main natural attractions were contained within fee paying parks and, on Vivien's instruction, we visited Te Puia and Wai-O-Tapu. The first had impressive geyser displays and bubbling mud pools whilst the second presented an awesome display of colour stained rock and lakes, in both cases the result of the active nature of the earth's crust and the mix of chemicals and minerals erupting to the surface (apologies I am neither scientist nor geologist).

Heading on to Taupo and the Tongariro National Park we came face to face with active, snow-topped volcanoes including Mount Ngauruhoe, the setting for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.

We escaped this area of  Mother Earth's potential menaces, interesting and scenic though it was, for the more humdrum Hamilton with its magnificent themed gardens. We stopped at the famous Waitomo GlowWorm Caves on the way and whilst they deserve their rave reviews, I am surprised that not more foreign tourists include Hamilton's Gardens on their must-see lists as they rank amongst the best I have ever seen although unfortunately it rained throughout our visit.

Perhaps we needed to expunge that bad air and barren rock from our lungs and vision because we completed our circuit of the middle part of North Island by visiting another garden the next day too when we met the eldest at Auckland's Botanical Gardens. It is a vast area where the native species are well explained and, in our opinion, it was superior in both content and layout to the other botanical gardens we subsequently visited at both Christchurch and Wellington.

Friday, 24 November 2017

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

Before continuing northwards, Mister E and I had unfinished business in Paihia with a trip to the Waitangi Treaty grounds where the fascinating story of the pact reached and history behind the treaty between the British and Maori is set out in a new and informative museum. This was followed by a visit to the site of the signing and the home of the original British Government Resident before a Maori cultural show which included a demonstration of the spine chilling Haka.

It was a relatively short drive from there to Kerikeri with its Rainbow Falls and the basin (again steeped in Maori history) including the oldest stone building in New Zealand; you definitely don't see much built in stone as you travel around.

From there ever northwards, this time as far as Doubtless Bay, reputedly so named because Captain Cook on charting New Zealand dismissesd it as "doubtless a bay" without exploring further. Well he missed a treat, although I concede that most of the buildings in beautiful Mangonui were erected at least 200 years after he failed to set foot.

Another overnight in a Bed and Breakfast and we were on the road for an epic trip to Cape Reinga. A little like John O'Groats in the UK, it's famed as the Northerly point but isn't really. As time did not allow the trek to the actual tip of North Island, Cape Reinga it was, although we did divert on route to look at an old gumdiggers' settlement which was fascinating (naively I'd never realised the origins of amber before), as too was the white sand at Rawawa beach (seriously white). 

Ninety Mile Beach, in reality almost thirty miles shorter, runs along the west side of the
peninsula but the highlight has to be driving over green hills and then suddenly spotting a large yellow one in their midst which is actually a sand dune although it towers out of the landscape like a pyramid. The Cape itself was wild. The offshore tidal race is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and for Maori represents the coming together of male and female and the creation of life. A direct contrast to the Cape itself where the spirits of the dead leap off the mainland to descend to the underworld and travel to the Maori homeland of Hawaiki.

Accommodation in the vicinity of Cape Reinga is limited, so for us it was another long drive back (this time southwards travelling the route we had come) to Kaitaia before setting out again the next morning through wood and farmland to the car-ferry to Rawene. What a setting and of course we lingered, taking in both a stroll and coffee on the verandah of the Boatshed above the water.

The colours were a feature of our travels that day. I don't know if it is the angle of the sun or perhaps because there is so much less air pollution than I am used to but the contrast in New Zealand between sea, sand, grass and sky is breathtakingly beautiful. We stopped frequently on our route alongside Hokianga Harbour, just to marvel at the allure of our surroundings.

Continuing southwards (along the west coast) we plunged into Waipoua Forest, stopping to gawp at the size of Tane Mahuta a giant kauri tree more than 50 metres high with a girth of some 14 metres and perhaps as much as 2,500 years old. It is so hard to imagine the extent of the Kauri forests that covered much of the North Island before commercial interests intervened.

 We caught up with more of that beautiful contrast of colour at Kai Iwi Lakes, very much deserted at the time of our visit, before continuing to a bach stay to the south of Dargaville. It was another of those places we wished we had arranged to spend more time in, just to enjoy the view from the property we were staying in which had begun life as a cricket pavilion but like many homes in New Zealand had the benefit of being transportable.

So sadly we moved on the next day, ticking off the Kauri Museum to shelter from the rain and making our way back to Auckland and an evening out with the eldest and his girlfriend before another change of scenery the next day.