Christmas Eve – French style in Auckland

What a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve! We went shopping in the French Market in Auckland. As well as an outdoor area full of fascinating stalls (Sicilian liqueurs, Italian pasta and, of course, various patisseries) there is an indoor food area. We had the best coffee along with a chocolate tart that was just to die for. To add to the ambience a French family were chatting at the next table. The main speaker looked very French. As you know, I am getting more and more intrusive with my camera but, even with my bad manners, this was the best image I could capture. He wore a striped top and a flat cap – deliciously French.

Laden with goodies to top up our already-full fridge and cupboards, we then had lunch on the Auckland waterfront, which is such a lovely public space, shared by diners, families and just people enjoying the start of the holidays.


Great bus services in New Zealand

West Coast view

I must give a ‘shout-out’ for Intercity buses in New Zealand. I know that there are other companies and I am sure they are great but the Intercity ones really do go that extra mile … or two.

In my experience over two weeks of travel, the drivers introduce themselves and give a bit of chat about the areas we are passing through. They make sure that they have the correct number of passengers before moving off from all of the numerous comfort or food stops. But, to cap it all, if it is raining, the driver will take you home. When I arrived at Franz Josef it was raining cats and dogs. At the penultimate stop, the driver asked each person where they were staying. He then mapped out a route around the town and dropped everyone to the door of their hostel, motel or hotel. I gather that this is not an isolated incident.

Another driver, on arrival in Nelson, where it was not raining, stood by the bus directing everyone to where they were staying. This was after a 12 hour working day for him. Bravo these drivers! Go Intercity!


Orange is the new Black

Coordination in orange

It seems that orange is now the colour of choice of young backpackers – well the ‘parents’ money’ group anyway. I have no problem with the colour – it’s fine. My attention was drawn to it, however, by a petulant young ‘miss’ on one of my long-distance buses here in New Zealand. Apart from her entertaining (if you were not the driver) behaviour, I was mesmerised by her coordinating flip-flops, rucksack and laptop. It was a bit rude to take photos of her but I hope you get the idea from this image. Whoever heard of coordinating your laptop with your shoes? Maybe I have just lived too sheltered a life.

When joining the bus she seemed alarmed that there would not be a food stop for four hours. She complained that she hadn’t eaten today (it was 2 pm). When the driver asked why, she explained that she hadn’t had time. He was a gentleman so did not comment that she’d obviously had time to do her make-up, though dressing wouldn’t have taken her very long. When she was given 10 minutes to go to a shop, she returned with the complaint that they had no ‘normal’ food. She then ate her purchase, which was a sandwich. At the next (toilet) stop, she found a supermarket and seemed pleased to have ‘won’ some kind of battle with the bus driver – the most patient man you could meet. From her shopping bag she produced and ate a punnet of strawberries – this is, presumably, her ‘normal’ food. I am sure her parents feel that their money is being well spent on her travelling experiences.


No bike locks

otago_mini_collageI just finished the Central Otago Rail Trail – a great New Zealand cycle trip of 150 Kms. It’s flat, easy and magical – especially when completed over five leisurely days. There were many amazing things about it – the landscape, the skies, the rurality

Perfect lunch spot

but perhaps the most unusual was the lack of bike locks or any need of them. We could just park the bikes anywhere and they were perfectly safe.

Lunch was always a lovely mini picnic. Coffee stops were often had before we had biked very far – a record low was 100 metres. I was so sad when the trip was finished but other adventures beckon.


Te Anau – a well-hidden secret

Icabbagetree_snow_laketeanau can’t resist a post about this gorgeous town between Queenstown and Milford Sound – both of which are well-written-about. This is a great town and I stayed in the recommendable YHA hostel. It’s not clear that it is so easy to pick up a Milford Sound tour from here – the buses all stop for a break and you can book it from here, rather than Queenstown. That was hard information for me to find but I got there.

Lunch spot

I took a guided bike tour of the lake area this morning and was the only client. Apart from a wild wind, which would not have been out of place in the Outer Hebrides, it was a glorious morning. There’s been snow in the past few days so the mountains are delicious (that is when you are not trying to walk them). Cycling at lake level was a wise choice.

Quintin McKinnon

The Scots have been here, of course. There is a statue to Quintin McKinnon who was paid to explore routes here in the 1880s. In an unusually honest account of him in the little museum, he is described as having a fondness for a drop and having abandoned his wife and family. He had a colourful but short life (1851-1892). On a cheerier note we were lucky to see a Takeha couple and chick. This endangered flightless (there’s a clue right there) bird was thought to be extinct but survives up here and is being protected. Magic to see the mum feeding the chick. There is a long story about this but I will spare you as I favour short postings on this blog!


A giant Scotland

Lake Wakatipu

I flew into Queenstown today – very far south in New Zealand. What stunning scenery!  The light feels very bright, even when cloudy and then raining. Other than that it feels very like Scotland, though a very large-scale Scotland, but the air feels like the European Alps. So I am all confused. Then it rained and I felt instantly at home and glad of my decision to eat in.

chilly_weddingFor a town that really is very far away from most other places, let’s be real about this, it’s a ‘happening’ place. It has become a centre for outdoor extreme stuff and also for a place to hang out and party (if you are a lot younger than me). This brave couple were cold but the bride’s warm coat was waiting for her just out of shot.

I am delighted with my hostel which has a free spa pool – just hop in and chat to the others …. er … I went for the free soup instead, though you could have both, though not really at the same time.  My dorm has its own kitchenette – all very convenient, specially when it is raining hard out there. I can see how the Scots of old felt quite at home here.

Milford Sound tomorrow. Chilly too.


Prep for the Otago Rail Trail

Planning meeting venue

Oooh – I love planning! The prep for this trip has been going on for about a year so it’s very exciting that it’s really close now – we start next week. The planning, of course, had to include maps, food and wine. Of course!


The final planning meeting was in this lovely ‘colonial’ house in Auckland. As well as the food and wine and maps, I must get back into bike-shape. So I did a bit of that today with Auckland Nextbikes. I saw my first pohutukaka flowers. No – I did not take a photo of them – what am I? A tourist?

This is all about the famous Otago Rail Trail – the first (?) and most famous of the newish bike trips in New Zealand. It seems fab and will take us a leisurely five days. It’s 150 km in all but it won’t feel like that as we’ll have a grand time exploring the little towns on the way and trying to keep warm and dry. Just like home!



World Toilet Day coming up

toiletqSome of you will know that I often write about toilets on here – the good, the bad and the funny. Accessible toilets are a particular hobby horse of mine and some of you will remember the flight of stairs down to the ‘accessible’ toilet in Hyde Park Corner.

I am pleased to see a guide on ‘Euan’s Guide‘ today about reviewing a toilet. This site is a really useful one in terms of accessibility. Do consider reviewing for it if you have any comments about the accessibility of places you’ve visited – not just toilets! Maybe add a comment about your dream toilet for World Toilet Day on the 19th!