Monday, 29 November 2010

Port Dixon - points north 13/11

We woke up this morning looking out over the Malacca Straights and the continuing procession of ships. Still amazed at the coincidence of meeting Robbie yesterday.
After a good buffet breakfast (all included!) we bravely sallied forth once more.  Our abiding feeling on leaving any place is one of regret that we haven't more time to explore but our time is limited and we wanted to spend the most time up north in Penang and Langkawi.
The roads in Malaysia are generally of a high standard being mostly concrete paved. And they have a concrete motorway the full length of the country from Johore to the Thai border. 2 lanes each way - sometimes 3. It's a toll road but the charges are very reasonable and you don't mind if it's a good road. Unlike here with our goat tracks! The other welcome contrast from NZ was the price of fuel. 95 octane (they don't have 91!) worked out at around 80 cents Kiwi per litre.Obviously subsidised and/or no tax. While on the subject of motoring, cars are very expensive. They have a local car manufacturing industry where they make the Proton is several model guises. These are made in collaboration with Mitsubishi. They seem to be of reasonable quality (we hired a small one on Langkawi Is. for a day) but don't altogether match the imports. But there are heaps of them on the roads. Anyway the duty on any imported car is high in order to protect the local industry.
We had a pleasant drive north with Jean navigating - sometimes with difficulty as signs are difficult to interpret and highway numbers not always as logical as the map would suggest! Still, that's all part of the fun - so they say. All went swimmingly passing through several towns about Whangarei size until we approached Klang. Klang and its port, Port Klang is Malaysia's biggest port and quite close to Kuala Lumpur. So there is an abslolute tangle of motorways and interchanges and if you make a mistake which is very easy you're committed for some distance. This is what happened to us and we found ourselves on the motorway to KL! We didn't want to go there - at least not in the car. We managed to find an exit, then had to pay a small toll and headed back to Klang. Then decided to get off the motorway and ask directions to Kuala Selangore up the coast. Fortunately we struck a young woman wearing a Moslem head scarf in a service station who spoke very good English and we were able to get onto the right road - apart from taking a wrong turn a bit further on and we had to barge through the unforgiving traffic to get turned around and on our way.
Remaining drive fairly uneventful and arrived at Kuala Selangore which was fairly nondescript place. Had a mediocre lunch in a Malaysian cafe as we were ravenous by then (about 2.30) and then drove a short distance out of town to a resort we had heard about. Not somewhere we would recommend!! It was the La Palma Resort and had cabins in a lacklustre garden. Took us 3 goes to find a cabin where the air conditioning worked and the staff singularly unhelpful. But there wasn't anywhere else and it wasn't expensive.
We had heard about a fishing village on the banks of a nearby river which had good seafood so off we went. Met a young Dutch girl who works in KL so had a drink with her and then ordered some food. Well, it was revolting. Jim had squid which was uneatable with a very strong unpleasant odour!! Jean had a whole fish which, although not looking particularly appetising, was at least eatable. The village itself was a collection of rusty roofed hovels on the muddy banks of the river. It evoked memories of stories of the ferocious pirates who used to inhabit this coast and no doubt operated from lairs such as this. Arrived back in town in a disgruntled state and found some fried chicken to assuage the hunger pangs!
All in all not a great experience in Kuala Selangore but all part of the experience.


at Melaka 11/11

This morning we walked the ancient streets of Melaka and saw various old buildings including the Statdhuys which had been the centre of Dutch administration. There had been a tropical downpour when we woke this morning and it continued drizzling for most of the morning. Unfortunately the Maritime Museum was closed which was a disappointment but we saw the Portuguese caravelle outside which looked so ungainly in boggles the mind to imagine how they sailed these vessels from Europe.
We took delivery of our rental car this morning (a Suzuki SX4) and simply parked it in the hotel carpark! Walked the streets incessantly for most of the day including the old Dutch street (Jonkers St.) Jim saw a sign advertising massages and thought that a nice shoulder and head massage would be just the thing! However, it was anything but relaxing. She straddled him and pummelled him and then almost took his head off!! Still, there was surprisingly no damage and all was well - although no better than had it not happened in the first place! Jean thought it was hilarious. Had a Portuguese dinner tonight (seafood with malt flakes). On the way back to the Puri feeling very mellow in the silky tropic night air we met a very interesting couple (also staying at the Puri). He was Korean/American and she was American and they had been involved in the American aerospace industry for many years - now retired.  Had a pleasant long chat and swapped addresses - as you do! Then early to bed in preparation for our first experience of Malaysian roads!
12/11 - on the road. Took our leave of the Puri very reluctantly; the place was beautiful and everyone so friendly and helpful. But you have to be a bit careful of Malaysian directions. They are inclined to mix up left and right and tell you anything to get rid of you - very much like the classic Irish directions!! We had decided to only go as far as Port Dixon which would be an easy drive and we wanted to check out the marina there. Also Jean had been there 40 years ago so was keen to see it again. We had a pleasant drive on windy rural roads and bought some fruit from a roadside stall. Oil palms everywhere again. Weather was overcast but had stopped raining. We arrived at Port Dixon early in the afternoon and checked into a resort which overlooked the marina. Very upmarket but NOT expensive which characterises everything in Malaysia. Introduced ourselves to the marina manager. When you look out to sea from here you are looking at the Malacca Straights which is one of the busiest waterways in the world and it had to be seen to be believed - just a procession of ships - some very large. Our conclusion was that the best defence on a small yacht would be to stay well inshore of the main shipping lanes. The inshore one is northbound.
Then began a series of coincidental events which led to the most incredible meeting for Jean. We decided to drive up the coast into PD proper to see how it had changed and it was a typical Malaysian coastal town - bustling and retail everywhere. But quite attractive. Nothing like Jean remembered of course. Then on the way back to the marina we began discussing where to eat tonight and Jean said she had noticed a sign saying "Coconut Grove" which was right on the beach  and looked promising. Jim said we should stop in and check it out which we did. The restaurant was closed just then (about 1600) but Jean spied a guy sitting at a table working on his laptop. Jim didn't immediately pay much attention but Jean thought she recognised him. She went up to him and said "Robbie?" He said "that's me" and it turned out that he had been a Cathay Pacific captain who lived next door to Jean and her ex husband (also a Cathay captain) in Hong Kong. She hadn't seen him for 20 + years!! It was a real long lost reunion and made all the more poignant by all the seemingly unrelated random events that brought us all there at that moment. He was retired now and lives mainly on Bribie Is., Queensland with his wife Jeya who is of Malay/Tamil Indian descent. Her parents live in Port Dixon and they keep an apartment there for when they are there visiting her family. We then had a great evening with Robbie and Jeya and had dinner with them almost sitting on the beach - very memorable and very nostalgic for Jean.
Much more to come...........................!!!!!


Sunday, 28 November 2010

crossing the border - by train

Hi again,
We arrived all bushy tailed to catch the train to Tampin, Malaysia. We were at the station at 0700 which of course was far too early but we bought a Malaysian breakfast in the station cafeteria and the abiding memory of that was that the floor seemed to have had some sort of oil spilt on it because it was like a skating rink - particularly with our new orthotically designed sandals!! However, it was a very pleasant filling breakfast and we didn't break any old bones!
We left on time at 0800 and headed for Woodlands on the Singapore side of the border. Slowish trip but we saw another side of Singapore - more the everyday life of Singaporeans with a variety of houses - but certainly no slums. Some very upmarket and many high rise apartment buildings. We eventually arrived at the Causeway across the narrow straight to Johore Bahru, Malaysia. From the train we had an excellent view and it was difficult not to imagine the scene when the troops of the Japanese Imperial Army crossed the so-called impregnable barrier in amphibious boats into Singapore in early 1942. Reading of the atrocities committed by the Japanese at that time including the massacre (mainly by bayoneting) of over 300 staff and patients (including patients lying on operating tables) at the British Military Hospital makes grim reading. This was only a small part of the loss of life perpetrated by the Japs after Singapore had surrendered. That all this happened only 68 years ago is sobering and one wonders whether some similar occurrence could not happen somewhere else in similar circumstances again.
Anyway, enough of all this; we're supposed to be on holiday!! We stopped at Johore Central for Customs and Immigration which was typically bureaucratically inefficient and then we were on our way. We were in a  1st. class air conditioned carriage which was extremely comfortable but the quality of food on board left a lot to be desired. We felt grateful for that breakfast at Singapore station! We began to see what was to become a repetitive feature of our journey north over the next few days - oil palms. This is obviously a very major industry for Malaysia and has been responsible for massive deforestation over the years. The oil palm is a native of west Africa but has been planted extensively throughout SE Asia and among other things is a source of stock food. NZ is a major importer of this commodity which is used in great quantities in our dairy industry. One wonders what we are doing to the planet - here we are polluting our own country in the pursuit of ever more dairy production and using oil palm stock food to acheive this production which in turn is being exported in rapidly rising quantities to countries like Malaysia in order to feed the seemingly insatiable demand from Asia generally. Jean makes the comment that she remembers travels throughout southern Malaysia in the early 1970's when the predominant crop was rubber trees. Oil palms have now largely supplanted rubber but ironically the price of rubber is rising at the
moment and rubber planting is apparently seeing a resurgence.
We stopped at a few larger centres on our way north and began to notice another phenomenon which we would see time and again and that was the number of buildings which had been started (some of them apparently some years before judging by the state of deterioration) and then just abandoned. We never did find out the reason. The other thing we saw was the Eastern and Oriental passenger train parked on a siding. This is a very luxurious train which for up to approx. 6 thousand Australian dollars can take one in absolute luxury from Singapore, through Thailand and on into Laos. The carriages had originally been purchased new by NZ Railways as the Silver Star passenger service between Auckland and Wellington. It is yet another example of a great loss to NZ that they were sold at a knockdown price to the operators of the E & O for luxury conversion into one of the world's great train trips. It could have all been done in NZ and once again represents a lost opportunity for this country. 
After an uneventful trip we arrived in Tampin about an hour late about 2 pm. Managed to find a clapped out taxi and headed for Melaka (Malacca) 45 minutes and 80 Ringitts (NZD33) later. Got our first sight of driving Malaysian style and the antics of motorcycle riders are the main problem. Something to look forward to when we are to have our rental car delivered on the morrow! 
We eventually arrived in the old historic part of Melaka and our hotel, The Puri. This hotel had been a Peranakan merchant's house built in 1822. It has been delightfully restored and is built round a cooling plant filled courtyard. Peranakan refers to the original Chinese settlors who intermarried with Malays and in the main started successful merchant/trading businesses. The male descendants of these marriages are known as Babas and the females, Nyonyas. There is a whole culture built around the Babas and Nyonyas including their particular delicious cuisine. Chinese history in the region had begun many hundreds of years before European settlement with Chinese trading vessels having reached as far as East Africa across the Indian Ocean. The history of Melaka is fascinating with European settlement beginning with the Portugese in the 16th-17th. centuries followed by the Dutch as part of their spice empire of the Dutch East Indies. The British arrived in the early 1800's as part of the British East India Company's expansion. Stamford Raffles was probably the best known of the early British entrepreneurs and Raffles Hotel in Singapore is named after him. You can walk around the historic precinct of old Melaka of which the Puri is a part and easily imagine that you are back in those days were it not for the incessant motorised vehicles of today.
After a ravenous lunch we wandered the streets admiring the old buildings but it had been a long day so fairly early to bed tonight.    


Friday, 26 November 2010


Well, this is the start of the long awaited chronicle of the travels and musings of your two intrepid travellers! The stories of wild adventures should all be treated with the proverbial grain of salt!
We drove down to Auckland on Nov. 7th. and stayed with Jean's sister Heather and her husband, Magan. They have always been so hospitable whenever we have needed a place to lay our heads and we thank them very much for that. The next day we were due to take off at 1335 on SQ 286 and arrived at the airport 3 and a half hours early so we could get some good seats. We found the exit row seats were already taken but we managed to get just 2 seats by themselves right at the back of the aircraft.
The flight was generally good with fine weather but we struck some severe turbulence over the middle of Australia and, being down the back, the movement was intensified. Probably something to do with the hot air rising from the ground - whether that has anything to do with the population at large on the West Island we couldn't possibly comment! Saw many of the islands of Indonesia with prominent extinct (hopefully) volcanoes on many. It all gave a sense of what it could be like when we are up here on the boat next year. Dusk was falling and there was a lot of cloud as we came into Changi but it was a smooth landing and we were glad to get ashore after nearly 10 and a half hours.
Had a very friendly taxi driver who gave us all the latest lowdown with new buildings etc. It was fascinating and very nostalgic for Jean (Gina)as she had lived on what was in the early 1970's Changi Air Force Base with her then husband who was in the RNZAF. Apparently it was very beautiful with lots of old trees and bungalows to live in on base. There was also the interraction with the local people in the Kampongs but all of that has gone and Changi now is one of the busiest, largest and most modern airports in the world. The same sort of thing has happened throughout Singapore and it was unrecognisable for Jean(Gina). However, through Wotif we had booked a room at the Inn at Temple St. and the hotel was situated in the old Chinatown which is largely as it always was, albeit somewhat sanitised for the tourists. It was a very old authentic building with a tastefully modernised interior. It was spotlessly clean but the rooms were a bit like shoeboxes; however, it didn't worry us as accomodation generally is very expensive in Singapore and the Temple St. Inn was reasonable at $S108 per night.
As an aside, in the 1970's 1 Kiwi dollar bought approximately 4 Singapore dollars; now we are at par. A measure of how far Singapore has come and how far we have declined.
At least the air conditioning worked fiercely and we slept well!
The next day we had an early start and we optimistically set off in intermittent rain to find the station in order to buy our tickets on the train to Tampin, Malaysia. We had been unable to buy them on the internet. It had been our intention to walk but everyone we asked directions from misunderstood and thought we were asking about the local Singapore underground! So, after a frustrating half hour or so we took a taxi (they were hard to find too) and finally arrived at the station. It's a relic of old Singapore having been built in the British colonial days and is a very grand old building. However, before the end of this year the rail terminus is being moved to Johore Bahru in Malaysia and so it will no longer be possible to catch a train which originates in Singapore and which ultimately ends up in Bangkok. We therefore felt privileged to have experienced the last of old colonial travel from Singapore. After we got the tickets we were dropped off in Orchard Rd. and found a Swiss Restaurant (of all things) which was very good. We then walked along until we came to the old Raffles Hotel - one of Singapore's iconic landmarks. We felt the need for an obligatory drink in the famous Long Bar but two drinks cost us in excess of $S30 and not only did we not spy Somerset Maugham sitting in a corner, but we also discovered that the present Long Bar is not situated in its original location. Typical of Singapore where they do an excellent job of preserving important and iconic items of history, but they do it in a way that is almost better than new!! Apart from that the new buildings and the infrastructure are breathtaking. One development that especially caught our eyes was one of three towers which was joined across the tops by a boat hull easily the size of a medium size ship. Apparently it contains restaurants among other things and one can go up there but we didn't have time unfortunately. One can stand and look at that amazing building and then turn around and there is the old Fullerton Hotel dating from the same era as Raffles and arguably a better example of the period. We also paid a visit to the SE Asia Museum which has fascinating displays of the various cultures that make up modern Singapore. One could spend hours. We had an early dinner in Chinatown that evening as we had to be at the station by 0700 the next morning for an 0800 departure.
More coming!!!!!


Saturday, 20 November 2010


Another short note - we are now on Langkawi Is. which is approx. 50 miles NW of Penang Is. It is about 20 x 10 miles in size and has a population of 70,000. Yesterday we hired a car for the day and drove round the island which was a very pleasant experience. Lots to see and beaches and resorts galore. Have had 2 dinners at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club and have taken liberal advantage of their "happy hour" where bar prices are unbelievably cheap. Not so cheap to berth the boat here though - about the same price as Whangarei!! We stopped at a boatyard and they could handle our deck recaulking requirements at about half the labour cost than that of NZ. Also they can put the boat in a modern shed with the mast still in place!! Looks like that is what we will do. In the meantime will just put up with a few minor leaks in the foredeck area and then she will be just like a new boat!!
Bought some Malaysian and Indonesian charts during our visit here as well!
Hard to believe that we will be home again in just a few days now - it's been a fascinating experience and will all be chronicled on this website after our return.
It is now 1220 and we are about to go in search of a meal. We catch the ferry back to Georgetown, Penang at 1715 and then fly from there to Auckland via Singapore on Tuesday.
J & J


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Just a short blog,
We are now on the island of Penang after a fascinating trip by car up the west coast of Malaysia. We are going by ferry to Langkawi the day after tomorrow and then back to Penang before flying home to NZ on the 24th. Hope all is well with everyone
Jim and Jean (Gina)


Friday, 12 November 2010

Spray Tanning

Spray Tanning


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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Continuation of southern odyssey

Hi again,
More riveting accounts of our motoring progress follow!!
First thing to say is that in the previous enthralling blog we got some dates wrong. We didn't leave Tuakau on Monday as that was Labour Day; we left on Tuesday and spent Tues and Wed nights in New Plymouth - then Thurs night in Wanganui.
We now take up the tale once more.................We were very lucky with the weather all the way and the trip up the ParaPara was no exception. Very scenic and the country looked great, helped no doubt by the fact that it is Spring. All the rural areas that we have passed through have looked equally as good in their own unique ways. We have already mentioned the lush bright green of Taranaki.
It was getting close to lunchtime by the time we arrived at Raetihi and we were somewhat disconcerted when we drove down the main street. At least 75% of the retail shops were shut and empty. Obviously nearby Ohakune has stolen the local limelight and one would have to say that Raetihi's future looks fairly bleak. However, we did find a cafe that claimed home made pies as its specialty. As we were fairly hungry after the arduous progression "up the ParaPara", we decided to risk it. Well, what an unlikely find. The pies were absolutely the best we had ever eaten anywhere, although pies aren't normally a regular part of our diet. But they were certainly good and very good value, unlike most of the meals we had had so far. Repleted we started the final part of today's journey to National Park - or thought we did! In fact we had inadvertantly (due to a very confusing road sign) taken the road to Pipiriki on the banks of the Wanganui River! We only realised this when the road started narrowing and steeply descending at the same time. Our nautical navigation skills certainly deserted us that time! As we were running short of time we reluctantly turned around as it would have been interesting to see the Wanganui in these remote parts. In fact the Wanganui follows an intriguing path. It begins as a snow fed stream on the northern flanks of the Volcanic Plateau mountains then flows north to Taumarunui and then changes its course to flow south to the sea at Wanganui.
We eventually made it back to the road north and after about 35 kms arrived at National Park - just over 800 metres above sea level. This is the site of several accomodation venues which service the Whakapapa skifield on the slopes of Mt. Ruapehu. Included in this is the venerable old National Park Hotel which is now owned by Jean's nephew, Darren. He and his wife Joeline bought the old place about 2 years ago and really have their work cut out knocking it into acceptable shape to attract their share of the ski crowds. However, it was very comfortable in a homely way and we were accorded a very warm welcome. They have a collection of woofers (young foreign backpackers who earn their accomodation costs by working a set number of hours each day). Malaysia, the U.K. and Germany were some of the countries represented. While there was still some of the day left, we decided to take a quick trip up the mountain to the Top o' the Bruce. More nostalgia for Jim who recalled the stays at Tongariro Ski Club with his family of 3 girls who are all accomplished skiers with Rozanne having been a member of the Ruapehu Ski Patrol. On one memorable occasion when the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark visited the mountain she was taken to the summit and then elected to ski down. Rozanne was given the task of escorting her down and on the steep bits was literally hanging onto her by her waist band. Not many people can claim to have had the Prime Minister by the seat of the pants!! Then there was the 50th. Jubilee of TSC in 1981 when another Prime Minister, R.D. Muldoon, attended in his past capacity as the first Treasurer of the club. God knows how they got him up what was colloquially known as Heart Attack Hill to the lodge! In those far off days in the early 1930's (and before the lodge building had been built) the members used to travel down from Auckland by train disembarking at National Park in the middle of the night. Then they would be taken to the Chateau Tongariro where they stayed. The skiing consisted of walking up the mountain road for approximately half its present length carrying heavy long wooden skis on their backs. As the snowline was generally lower in those days they would then be able to ski, albeit gently by today's standards and would have been lucky to get more than 2 runs per day as initially there were no chair lifts, Pomas or even rope tows either! That was definitely doing it the hard way.
Then after a quick drink and a snack in the downstairs bar of the Chateau it was back to the pub at National Park. A very convivial time then followed with a BBQ involving all the woofers as well as Darren's family. Us old codgers went to bed fairly early as it had been a long day but the party, which was also a farewell for some of the woofers, went into the early hours.
There were some fairly quiet individuals the next morning (!) but we spritely old whatsits went for an early walk down to the railway station where Jim indulged his railway fantasies! A quick cup of coffee at another venue and then back to the pub for breakfast. The mountains looked grand with their snowcaps and a pristine blue sky. Then it was off to Ohakune to stay with Perry (Jean's son) and Tracie in Tracie's house which is a modern and very well equipped bach almost at the base of the Turoa road which leads up to the Turoa Skifield. Ohakune has evolved into a delightful village with a proliferation of more accomodation venues (some very swept up) and other ski related businesses.
More nostalgia for Jim who recalled the old Produce Markets Ltd. days in the 1960's before the Turoa Skifield even existed. Trips down there on the overnight train and being woken by the Guard 15 minutes out of Ohakune in the middle of the night; then out of a warm sleeper into the freezing winter night air and being met by PM's agent and delivered to the Ohakune Hotel. The next 2 days or so visiting the local growers, many of whom were Chinese whose forebears had come to NZ in the 1930's from the Canton area and cleared the native bush by hand. The Chans were a well known local family and some years later Jim remembered arriving in Ohakune by car about 9 one Sunday night a few years later and they were out digging carrots and parsnips under floodlights to catch the Auckland and Wellington markets before the next snowfall which had been forecast. Very industrious and friendly people. There were more than a couple of local Chinese weddings which were attended in various years. One of the elder Chans (Wai Chan) told Jim he remembered being in Canton in 1937 when the Japanese were bombing the city. He was lucky to get out and live in NZ for the rest of his life. 
We drove up the mountain road to Turoa and admired the views! Certainly the installations there are more impressive than Whakapapa which is older and has grown more like topsy. But like Whakapapa the snowline had receded and there was no snow at the base of the main chair lift. We drove about halfway down the road nursing the brakes as it is very steep near the top and the previous day they had become very hot on the descent from the Top o' the Bruce! We stopped at the start of a walk into some falls and had a very scenic walk for a couple of hours including a boardwalk over an alpine swamp. As it was then getting late we returned to the car and carried on down the road into Ohakune again. By then Perry and Tracie had returned from their snow boarding and we all enjoyed one or two vodka and ginger beers!! Had a great catchup with them and a very enjoyable BBQ.
The next morning (Sunday) a leisurely breakfast and then took our leave of P & T and headed back to National Park to pick up Kayne who is Darren's son. He is 17 and was trying to get to Kerikeri to attend a selection interview at the Culinary Institute just out of Kerikeri to gain admittance to their 2 year course to train to be a chef. There was a tearful farewell with some of the woofers (!) and then we were heading north. Another good day and we stopped at a cafe at the northern end of Taumarunui. Enjoyed the company of a number of aged bikers on their highly polished Harleys. Then an uneventful trip to Huntly where we bought some food for dinner and on to Heather and Magan's at Tuakau again. They were there when we arrived and we had a chat with them before they left for Auckland. We stayed the night, then left the next morning for Whangarei. We took Kayne as far as that and he was catching a bus the next day for Kerikeri. We have heard from him since and he reckoned the interview went well although he won't know the result for a few days.
We had an important mission in Auckland on the way through. We had taken the old tiller originally from Jim's Dad's old 18' launch "Jado" (built in 1958) on our travels and intended to give it to Kerrin Worsfold (by great coincidence a relative of Jean's) who is restoring the old boat and is fanatical about keeping her as original as possible. So we stopped in Westharbour and presented him with the tiller. He had also just in the last few days been presented with their 3rd. child - another boy. Not sure which he was more excited about!!! Then continued on up SH16 and stopped on the outskirts of Wellsford and had some homebrew with Keith and Eileen at their small farm where they are raising some 50 calves. As always a fairly hilarious interlude!
It's good to be back on the boat again and she was fine. We are now getting ready for our next adventure. We leave on Nov. 8th. for Singapore and Malaysia and will return on the 23rd. We fly to Singapore and after 2 nights there we are catching the train to Tampin which is near Malacca and is where we are picking up a rental car. Then we are winging it to Penang and Langkawi to have a good look around in preparation for when we will eventually arrive there on the Tiare Taporo III. We don't know exactly when that will be be but hopefully not too far in the future - at our age we tend to get a bit obsessed with "the future"!!
Well, that's it for now. We'll try and keep in touch from Malaysia but won't have lots of time so it may have to wait for our return and another book sized blog!
Cheers for now,
J & J(G)


Taranaki and the Central Plateau

This is the blow by blow account of our recent land peregrination to see how the other half lives. Actually it's more than half; only a very small minority of lunatics actually live on boats - oh well.
We left Whangarei in the trusty Hyundai on Saturday the 23rd. of October and had an uneventful trip to Magan and Heather's farm at Tuakau on the Port Waikato road. We had to get our land fix so Gina bathed the eyes of the albino donkey and put sunblock on her ears. As well as that she washed the tails of some of the miniature horses and clipped daggs which had accumulated. Jim in the meantime got excited about weeds as he is wont to do and weeded gardens of oxaylis and thistles. Magan and Heather left for home and their Montessori School on Sunday afternoon and left the menagerie in our tender care! We do thank Heather and Magan for giving us the opportunity to get the rural fix out of our systems!!
Then on Monday morning we set out on our southern odyssey. It was a beautiful morning and we got completely carried away with the rural scenes we were passing through - so much so that we finished up in the wilds of Glen Murray and Rotowaro before rejoining civilisation in the form of SH1 at Huntly. We bypassed Hamilton (who would want to go there?!!) on SH39 and had lunch at Otorohanga at the Thirsty Weta Cafe. We then continued south through Te Kuiti and instead of taking the familiar road to National Park, we carried on towards New Plymouth. A long drive but very picturesque through the Awakino Gorge and out to the west coast. We walked on the black sand at Awakino Beach and carried on south. Stopped at a boutique brewery north of Bell Block and sampled the local ale which was pronounced very good indeed. It was getting late in the afternoon by now so we headed into New Plymouth in the rush hour. First stop was the Information Centre where we established that the Cottage Mews Motel and Backpackers was the ticket. Indeed it was and we spent 2 nights and a day there.
The following day we decided to walk as much as possible to see the city and have to say we were very impressed with the cleanliness and general air of prosperity. We walked along a waterfront walkway which stretches some 10 kms north and south along the wild Tasman Sea waterfront - although it was anything but wild this day. We entered the walkway at a point roughly along half its length and headed south to Port Taranaki where 2 ships were berthed with another 2 anchored off and waiting. Certainly lots of activity. And of course there's the offshore oil and gas extraction and exploration. We had lunch at a cafe near the Port but couldn't see much evidence of pleasure boating although inside the breakwaters of the Port there was a small mooring area so definitely a place where one could enter for a time. However, it's unlikely that we'll be down that way in Tiare. We walked back into town and rested up for a while after our 7-8 km walk!! Had dinner that night at an Italian Restaurant which was very good but expensive with small servings. This was an aspect we noticed time and again during our travels and certainly adds weight to the feeling that NZ is a very expensive country to live in. It will be interesting to see how Malaysia compares when we visit in a week's time - we have a feeling that it will be much better value.
The next morning (Wed.) we set off again for Wanganui. We drove along the coast through lush Taranaki dairy country and soon spotted a very insignificant sign indicating Cape Egmont. Being nautical at heart, we headed down a narrow road and soon came to the lighthouse at the westernmost extremity of Godszone. As a cape it seemed quite unimpressive as the country is all flat dairy farms with a fringe of boulder strewn coast. Certainly nothing like the majestic grandeur of Cape Brett. But we saw it and took a photo of the lighthouse.
Soon after that we came to the surfing capital of Opunake (all black sand beaches) and then turned inland towards Stratford on the way to Dawson Falls on the slopes of Mt. Egmont. More lush farmland and then thick bush giving way to more alpine bush as we gained altitude. We walked briefly through the bush at the Falls and it really seemed very Hobbit - like country. We almost expected to meet Frodo at every turn but he must have been feeling shy that day!
We descended the mountain slopes again and headed towards Stratford where we had lunch. Then south to Hawera (much bigger than Stratford) where we replenished the Hyundai's meagre thirst. Certainly different from driving a V8 Mercedes in Jim's previous life - in more ways than one!! Along the coast again to Wanganui (note no "H"!) where as usual our first port of call was the information centre. We looked at the old Grand Hotel for nostalgia's sake as Jim remembered staying there with his parents when still at school but unfortunately, as is so often the case, it had lost much of its original grandeur so we looked around for something different and found it in the form of  Tamara Lodge - a lovely old house originally built in 1904 and commanding an excellent view of the river. We had a large room upstairs and the old place was still largely original. Apparently it had been a nursing home for 30 years of its life. Backpackers these days are great places to stay and relatively inexpensive. The following day paid a visit to Wanganui Collegiate where Jim's father went back in 1928. We then left Wanganui and  headed north "up the Para Para"! Lovely scenic drive and next stop Raetihi. That's all for this installment - it's 1 in the morning and time for some sleep! Keep tuned in to this space.
J & J