Friday, May 27, 2016

Where Sunny Days Are Rare

Te Anu makes a great jumping off point for exploring New Zealand's Fiordland National Park. Located on the South Western tip of the South Island, it is the largest national park in New Zealand and a World Heritage Area. It rains there on over 200 days of the year - so not that much for an Irish chick! The waterfalls are spectacular here.

By heading here first, I wanted to ensure 2 things - 1) that My husband got to see it and 2) we'd have better weather than waiting until we were three weeks later into the New Zealand autumn.

We stayed for two nights in a self contained cottage. The standard was high for the price we paid. We had a one bed-roomed cottage with a Jacuzzi spa tub! A fabulous way for us to gather our strength after jet lag and sickness.

The town is adorable, situated the Lake Te Anu, with a medley of places to buy all sorts of tours - Milford Sound being the big, most affordable draw.  I'd been to Milford sound before and had fully intended to take My Husband, but then things kind of got out of hand. The weather forecasted for a clear sunny day - like, no clouds at all - sunny. We began to explore the prices of helicopter flights to Milford sound and then Doubtful Sound caught our eye - more remote, harder to get to and less people (the Holy Grail on the tourist trail!)

But the prices were way too high to fly.

As we chatted to the helpful staff in the i-SITE visitor center, (the best place to buy your tours other than directly online - there's one in every town) we kept coming back to the Doubtful Sound option. Tours to Milford Sound were very full as there'd been a road closure the day before, but Doubtful Sound was pricey - NZ$250 per person for the day trip leaving from Te Anu. Or we could drive ourselves out to Milford Sound and get a cruise there for NZ$85 along with the throngs of other tourists. With all the back and forth trying to decide should we drop so much cash on one day, I began to wonder if this was how Doubtful Sound got its name!

It was a hard place to access. You had to cross a lake, then take a road over a pass in the mountains that was not connected to any other road. Then a boat would take you through the fjord.
All things considered - we concluded that it was value for money. Mind you, I'm the type that can spin that sort of rationale - My friend and I once went camping and ended up staying in a nice hotel because we reasoned it would save us cash!

We started out before sunup at silly o'clock, shivering at the side of the road waiting for our bus to pick us up and wondering if we'd been insane to spend all that money. The half hour bus ride to the lakeside thawed us out and as we crossed Lake Manapouri the sun rose.

The boat was very comfortable, with free coffee and spectacular views. We began to wake up and appreciate just where we were and how amazing it was.

A bus picked us up after we docked at the other side of the lake. There was a power station here. A random place to put it I thought, and for me, it was still to early to read all the info and educate myself about it. The old brain was still too foggy!

The bus ride over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove only took about a half hour and it stopped at the top for a view of the sound. Note the clear blue sky. We were told that happens about five times a year. How lucky were we?
The cruise through Doubtful Sound was a feast for the eyes (and camera!)
We journeyed out to were the sound (technically it's a Fjord) met the Tasman Sea. The huge breakers in the distance telling the story of how big the waves are out there and just how sheltered the Sound is. The sound got its name because in 1770 Captain Cook was not sure if it was navigable under sail.
As if we'd hadn't already had an amazing day, on our return journey - the cherry on the top - a visit from a pod of dolphins!
It felt like this guy wanted to speak to us!
A wonderful end to a trip I'm so glad we decided to go on.

Travel is such a precious part of my life. I do not take it for granted. I know I'm lucky to have these experiences. I'd like to dedicate this post to a friend of mine who I know has dreamed of visiting Doubtful Sound for a very long time. Her life has taken her in different directions and she has weathered the storms with valor. She recently decided to embark upon a career in nursing. She's the same age as me and I have so much respect for anyone going into nursing but especially those who go in later in life - She is my hero! This post is in your honor. May all your dreams come true.

Byddi Lee

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sick, No Sleep, No Food, but Still loving Life on the Road

We arrived in New Zealand feeling rotten. Not just because we were bidding farewell to our lovely friends in Singapore, but also because we'd both picked up a bug. Worried it might affect our admittance into the country - we both had fevers - the relief of getting through the airport at Auckland was short lived as we waited in misery for 4 hours for the connecting flight to Christchurch. At the time of booking it had seemed like a great idea to go straight through to the South Island, even after a long haul flight, but we hadn't banked on being ill - well, who does really?

By the time we reached Christchurch, we were a bedraggled pair, but oh, so ready for a soft bed and a long sleep. Being the least sick of the pair of us, I drove the hire car to our accommodation, a merciful short couple of miles from the airport. We'd had the foresight to pick up some sandwiches in the airport, so when we got to the Airport Birches Motel all we need to do was eat, shower and collapse - which is pretty much how it went. The accommodation was really comfortable and handy for the airport.

The cool New Zealand air helped us sleep well, as did being unconscious with fatigue, and drugged up on brufen! We woke the next day feeling a bit better. Our bug did travel with us for the next week or so, but that's all I'm going to say about it. It sucked to be sick and traveling, but I'd have to say, it would have sucked more to be home and sick. For me, traveling makes everything better - even the flu!

Next morning, we grabbed some supplies at a supermarket and hit the road. The plan was to begin our three weeks in New Zealand in the far south and work our way north to cash in on the last of the summer weather. Our first goal was to get to Milford Sound, the nearest town to it being Te Anu. We decided that we'd be happy to spend four hours a day in the car, so that meant we'd stop for the night in the middle of the  South Island a little south of Mount Cook.
The scenery was beautiful - as we'd expected from New Zealand. It still came a s pleasant surprise how alike it was in places to Ireland.
We stopped at Omarama. The hotel we stayed at was called The Countrytime Hotel. It was fairly basic, dated and not the cleanest, but it would do. The town, of you could call it that, was set in high hills that were approaching mountain status.
The views were gorgeous and despite being a tiny wee town, there was a variety of things to see - too many for a one night stop. This was our problem for most of our stay. We wanted to see everything, but didn't have enough time.

The claim to fame for the place is the Omarama Hot Tubs. You get a private wooden tub filled with filtered lake water and warmed with a wooden stove.
Here's the view from the tub!  It was simply wonderful. I could have sat there all night and watched the changing sky, but we were getting hungry...
Time had slipped away from us and we realized we needed to get back to the hotel before the restaurant closed at 9pm. We walked into the restaurant at 8.55pm. The hostess told us the kitchens were closed. There was nowhere else in town open either.

Earlier that day we'd bought precooked bacon. It was a middle cut, so we'd eaten the leaner "back" portion and thrown the fatty "streaky" portion in the bin. It was time to go "bin hoking!"

We washed the bacon in boiling water from the in-room kettle, (no microwave unfortunately) and did a stock-take of our emergency road trip food supplies.
Not exactly gourmet but we'd not starve.

I went to bed looking forward to breakfast.

Breakfast was a disaster - A really expensive breakfast buffet of cold sausages made from God-only-knows-what, congealed-yolk fried eggs and cardboard bacon. The DIY toaster set our toast on fire - no kidding! I was so disappointed.

The food in New Zealand didn't really improve much the whole time. I guess you just can't be good at everything, and so we concentrated on enjoying what New Zealand does do well - the scenery!

Before we left the town that morning, we took a drive out to see the Clay Cliffs. This was an interesting stop. It was like a little snippet of what we'd seen in Utah last September.
We were joking saying, "That's the problem with Utah - it spoiled you for the rest of the world!" But I must say I was still happy to be were I was, doing what I was doing.
With that box ticked, we decided to head onwards to the next town.

The rain started and made the scenery even more dramatic and even more like Ireland than before.
And despite being sick, jetlagged and hungry it was great to be on the open road, exploring. Our hearts were free and happy.

Byddi Lee

Monday, May 16, 2016

Port Report - Koh Samui, Thailand

Port ship actually docks at: Tenders near Nathon Town
Attraction/Town you are aiming to visit: The whole island has lots to offer
Distance from Port: You can walk off the tender and you are right there - beaches, town and taxis readily available
Mode of transport we used: local taxi
English spoken by locals: yes
Ships tour necessary? no
Hassle from merchants and taxi drivers: none

Our last port of call was to a beautiful island paradise off the coast of Thailand. Here we had the pleasure of sampling Thailand's famous hospitality and welcoming locals.

The tender docked in Nathon town and we walked to the Tourist Information center. Here's one last illustration of the comparison of what the ship is prepared to tell you about the port of call compared to the information that is freely available onsite.

The ship's vague map of the island, that we attempted to work from initially.
You'll see the tourist information office on the above map. We walked straight there after getting off the tender. They were really friendly and helpful - here's the free maps of the island they gave us.

While we were in the Tourist office, we met another couple from the ship. After a brief discussion of what are goals were for the day, we decided we were a good match to team up to hire a taxi for the day. For around US$40 (1500Bhat) per couple, we hired a taxi for 4 hours. Taxis are considered expensive here, but still far cheaper and more flexible than a ship's tour.

Armed with the kindle copy of the Lonely Planet and the maps, we set out to explore. Our first stop was a hike to a waterfall.

We'd gotten side-tracked at the beginning of the trail and had wandered up into a pretty little temple (photo at beginning of post) but then got our bearings and headed up river to find the waterfall.The taxi driver said it would take us 15 minutes, the guide book said 20 and people we met on the trail said 40 minutes. We walked for 20 minutes uphill, saw lovely scenes of water flowing over rocks but no evidence of a stunning waterfall. Having satisfied our itch to stretch our legs, we turned back aware there was lots more to see on this beautiful island.
Our next stop was at a collection of stone carvings that a man who had retired here had done. They really were amazing and we pottered about here taking pictures for a while.
I think our driver enjoyed the exploring too. We went to the highest point on the island and he claimed he'd never been there before. He joked that I was showing him around. At this view point we discovered these rather random statues of animals. They included ones of dinosaurs too. They had no apparent theme. Very bizarre!

Up here, we discovered a pool and you could pay to sit here by the hour. Good to know but we were in exploring mood, not relaxing mode.
There was also a restaurant, but the owner told us he was closing for a private function. We were cruise people - we knew we wouldn't starve too quickly. It gave us the opportunity to sample the packet of potato chips we'd purchased at the stone statue's "gift shop." Yummy!
We explored the whole island over the course of four hours and stopped for lunch on the beach - as ya do! The other couple went off and had a swim before our driver brought us all back to the tender. It was a pretty blissful day.

The line to the tender was enormous. We decided to have a look around the local market stall not far away while keeping an eye on the tender queue. These delicacies were on offer - bugs!
 If I'd had a little more time I might even have worked up the courage to try some.
 But a gal needs someone to guide her in bug-eating etiquette!
I mean, one wouldn't want to be spitting out wings if that was not the done thing. The red peppers might cause me more issues though!
I'm sure these grubs would taste just like prawns...or snails maybe!

But the tender line got short very quickly (honest, it did) and we had to dash back to catch our boat to the ship where we watched another glorious sunset after another fabulous day.

Byddi Lee

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Abandoned Garden - Before and After Shots

It is mildly insulting that my garden seems to do so much better when I'm not around to tend to it. To keep it seasonal, I'm taking a break from posting about our three-month-long travel stint to show you how the garden fared while we were gone.
The garden on May 12th
If I went chronologically, I'd probably not get to posting this until the autumn and in gardening terms that's just too out of whack.

So we left on February 5th to embark upon our South East Asia and New Zealand adventures  and returned 7 weeks later on March 29th. I didn't plant a winter veggie garden since I'd not be here to harvest it, but the native garden stole the show.  In the following couplets of photos the one on top was taken on February 3rd and the bottom one was taken on March 30th.





At the end of March we came back to California and stayed for two weeks - during which time I put in some summer seedlings and planted some summer vegetables. Here's what four weeks did to the veggie garden!

Lettuce seeded and protected with netting and seedlings planted for basil, cilantro, dill and kale.

 Zucchini and tomato seedlings.

The scallions are already reseeding themselves and pretty much growing wild. I pulled a few and made an "island" for lettuce hoping that the smell of the onions would disguise the lettuce from snails and squirrels. Seems to have done the job. I have beetroots from seed in the foreground.

I put these plastic tray up to protect the runner bean seeds from the birds and squirrels - I should have protected the lemon cucumber further back in the plot - they are struggling but you can't seem them past the beans today.

This bed all from seed, from left to right potatoes (four failed but hey were just left overs form the supermarket), parsnips (low germination rate - last years seeds) arugula aka rocket, and butternut squash.

Tomatoes behind and peppers in the foreground - the rosemary bush lives there all the time.

 Another view of the tomatoes.

I'll be back to reporting from our trip in the next post. So much to catch up on, now we're home!

Byddi Lee