Dunedin, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Blenheim

In Dunedin we were back on the East coast ready to start working our way back towards the North Island.

Dunedin is a fine city with grand buildings in the style of the Scottish capital it was named after. Of these the most impressive is the railway station where we met Beryl, our Servas host for the next two nights.

We took it very easy in Dunedin, recovering from the rail trail while we enjoyed good conversation and Beryl’s excellent cooking. As it rained all day, we were relieved not to have been cycling, but couldn’t do our washing! After touring the city by car we went down the peninsula as far as the Royal Albatross Centre in the hope seeing the fabulous birds, but no luck.

On Monday morning we said goodbye to Beryl, picked up a car and drove to Christchurch where we spent a night with Poonam’s brother, Ketan, his wife Catherine and daughter, Riya. On the way we examined the boulders on the beach at Moeraki and had a lunch stop and walk at Oamaru, another fine town of impressive victorian buildings and wharves – the largest collection of protected heritage buildings in New Zealand.

From Christchurch we went up the coast to Kaikoura for whale watching. Sadly although we tried 3 times the weather off shore was so bad that no tours were running. So no whales for us.

There’s not much else to do in Kaikoura but we sampled the recommended local delicacies – freshly cooked crayfish from a roadside stall and fish and chips (the ‘best in New Zealand’?). We also visited the excellent Kaikoura museum, located in the library. There we learned more about the whale hunting history of the place and also the more recent history of the devastating earthquake that rocked this coast in November 2016. This was a different earthquake from the one that destroyed a lot of Christchurch 5 years earlier. A walk along the Kaikoura Peninsula gave an insight into how much the coastline and seabed were reshaped as a result.

Restoration work is still in progress all along the coast road and railway – the road was closed for a year and passenger trains have just started running.

The drive along the coast to the Marlborough area was gorgeous. We stopped to watch a particularly active fur seal colony at Oahu.

Marlborough is New Zealand’s main wine producing area, famous for it’s Sauvignon Blanc but producing many other varieties. Vines were first planted in the 1970’s in what was previously a farming area. Now all you can see is vineyards in every direction making us wonder about the sustainability of such a monoculture – a few days later we met a student writing a thesis on exactly this topic!

We stopped at Peter Yealand’s winery for a quick tasting and to pick up a couple of bottles to take with us to Pauline and Roger, our hosts for the next two nights in Blenheim. Pauline and Roger are the parents of Poonam’s sister-in-law, Catherine, who we stayed with in Christchurch. They have lemons growing in their front garden!

At last we were able to do the rail trail laundry! A big attraction in Blenheim is the Omaha Aviation Heritage Centre. We visited the World War One display to be impressed by the convincing, lifelike dioramas of historical events created by Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings films). There is also a huge display of memorabilia featuring New Zealand, Australian and German airmen including the notorious Red Baron.

We were very impressed with the planting in the park!

We had a walk in the Wither Hills which form the backdrop to Blenheim and tried to convince ourselves that would be sufficient training for our expedition along the Queen Charlotte Track that was about to begin.

In the next post Alan will tell you how that went.

Wanaka, Arrowtown, Queenstown and Milford Sound

There comes a point in every trip when we start to fall behind on the blog. It may be that we’re enjoying ourselves too much, energy levels are dropping or just bad Wi-fi connections. We seem to have reached that point around New Year, so here’s a very quick summary of what happened next.

Wanaka is a lovely town on a lake. We stayed in the youth hostel there and cooked our own dinner two nights running. It’s a place people go for activity holidays in summer and to ski in winter. We avoided all these things but did walk up a hill named Mount Iron to admire the view.

From Wanaka it was a short but lovely drive to Arrowtown with more amazing views and the lupins were beautiful even though they are invasive weeds here.

Arrowtown was developed by gold prospectors in the 1860’s gold rush. The gold didn’t last long and many mining settlements were soon deserted but Arrowtown survived and is now a considerable tourist attraction with it’s picturesque Victorian streets and fascinating museum. Nearby are the deserted remains of a township built by a community of around 60 Chinese miners who also came seeking their fortune. It was particularly interesting to learn how attitudes towards them developed and see the similarities to responses to immigration today

Arrowtown is close to Queenstown, another city on a lake and the tourist hub of the Otago region. We arrived on Saturday lunchtime and found it hot and overcrowded with nowhere to park. We quickly retreated to the calm of the botanic gardens where the roses were lovely. It’s also the home of a strange game called Discgolf, the rules are in the photo. People of all ages were playing the course.

As soon as we could, headed out to our New Year apartment in a remote location outside town.

Our four quiet days there were only disturbed by a full day trip to Milford Sound on the South West Coast by the BBQ Bus. Milford Sound is on the New Zealand ‘must do’ list, it’s a deep fiord surrounded by high mountains, home to rare marine wildlife.

The drive there was long but scenic including rainforest and waterfalls. We even had an actual barbecue at a very pleasant nature reserve. After that the weather changed a bit so that by the time we boarded our boat the view was best described as ‘atmospheric’ but we did see a group of seals.

Milford Sound is the furthest South we’re going – our next journey took us back to the East Coast by bike and train. That’s the next post…..

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everybody from both of us.

We’re spending it quietly on our own, a complete contrast to the hectic last few weeks!

Thank you for following the blog. We appreciate all the comments, sorry if we seldom reply – it’s generally as much as we can do to keep the posts coming!

We’ll be back next year with more updates. When we get home we have a lovely wedding slideshow to show you.

Here’s the view from our bedroom this morning.

The Living Maori Village

After the wedding we took a trip South of Hamilton to Rotorua, the town with the greatest concentration of Maori residents in New Zealand. It is situated on the volcanic rift which runs for 200 miles across the North Island in an area of thermal pools, hot springs, bubbling mud and geysers amongst which the Maori continue to live and maintain the traditional practices of previous generations.

All of the family from UK met up to visit one of the famous Rotorua villages. Whakarewarewa is the shortened version of it’s name.

We explored the village and marvelled at the way in which the residents continue to make use of the heat from the ground in their daily life, including bathing and cooking. The geysers and mud pools are amazing, we couldn’t imagine living so close to them. You can hear Grumpy Old Man, Korotiotio, grumbling away to himself in the video.

Men from the village served in both world wars and the archway at the village entrance is a memorial to the very many who lost their lives.

Before lunch we enjoyed a performance of traditional and modern Maori song and dance, including the ferocious Haka war dance.

Then we sampled chicken, vegetables, corn and pies, all cooked in boxes set in the ground.

At the end of the visit we said goodbye to Claire, Jen, Tilia and Linnea who were returning to Auckland before the next leg of their travels in Tonga.

We continued South with Steve, Poonam and Linda to the Tongariro National Park where some of us had a plan to undertake the notorious Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Great Circles

We’re back on the blog and off to New Zealand tomorrow  to celebrate the wedding of Steve and Poonam in Hamilton.  Then we’ll explore.

New Zealand seems to be far away, indeed over 18500 kms away. Did you know that the quickest route is north of Russia via the Great Circle?  Do you remember them from school?


Jan had never heard of them but then she did give up geography at age 14.

I like maps but they do distort the appearance of the Earth, a globe.  A straight line on a flat map is not the shortest distance between two points on the Earth.

I have taken advice from Anne, the best geography teacher ever, who has given the simple mathematical proof:-

Consider the class of all regular paths from a point p to another point q. Introduce spherical coordinates so that p coincides with the north pole.

Any curve on the sphere that does not intersect either pole, except possibly at the endpoints, can be parametrized by\theta=\theta(t),   \phi=\phi(t),   a\let\leb provided we allow \phi to take on arbitrary real values.

The infinitesimal arc length in these coordinates isds=r\sqrt{\theta’2+\phi’2\sin2\theta}dt.

So the length of a curve\5gamma from p to q is a functional of the curve given byb\sqrt{\theta’S[\gamma]=r\int a2+\phi’2\sin2\theta}dt.

According to the Euler-Lagrange equation,S[\gamma] is minimised if and only if\sin2\theta\phi’\sqrt{\theta’2+\phi’2\sin2\theta}=C,where C is a t -independent constant, and\sin\theta\cos\theta\phi’2


Simple isn’t it?

We are not going that way but via Hong Kong.

Next time we’ll report how the journey went.

La Bastilla Ecolodge

Finca La Bastilla is a huge coffee growing estate in the Datani el Diablo Nature Reserve.  Twenty kilometres from the town of Jinotega it took about an hour to drive from Estelí to reach the entrance to the coffee estate. The Ecolodge was 5km further on up a steep, bumpy road – thank goodness we were in a four-wheel drive!

The Ecolodge is owned by the La Bastilla Technical Centre for Agriculture and tourism. It was set up by the coffee estate in 2009 to teach practical and business skills. According to the website 100% of the profits are reinvested back into the education of the students all of whom come from local low-income families.

The accommodation is in pleasant, spacious timber cabins  constructed in pairs with wide balconies overlooking the cloud forest and the coffee plantation.  They have ensuite bathrooms with solar- heated showers.There are also camping platforms and a dormitory.

We hoped to enjoy the views, see lots of birds and enjoy the diverse menu of  international dishes and traditional Nicaraguan food in the restaurant, as suggested by the website.

Not all our hopes were realised!  It was lovely sitting on the balcony admiring the view but we were disappointed to see how many trees had been felled to make space for coffee. Although the coffee is shade grown, we were offered a printed explanation of how much clearance is necessary to secure growth on the very steep slopes.  It’s a shame even so to see so much deforestation immediately adjacent to a national Nature Reserve.

There were fewer birds than we expected and far less than we saw at Finca Esperanza Verde at the same time last year.But we did see the Emerald Toucanet – no picture how ever.

The food was disappointing and monotonous with very little choice for anyone. No fish although as we drove to Jinotega to get the bus we drove alongside the massive Lake Apaña where everyone beside the road had fresh fish for sale! A typical Nicaraguan breakfast of gallopinto (rice and beans) with eggs, cheese and fired plantain is nice, but not every day!

We have to try new places or how do we know what they’re like?  But on this occasion we won’t be recommending La Bastilla to anyone!

Here’s some photos anyway.

The next (and last) post of this trip will tell you all about the last 10 days at La Mariposa and what fun we had with Janie and las chicas when they visited for the weekend.


The artists of Coyoacan

Freda Kahlo is probably Latin America’s most celebrated woman artist. Born in 1907, she became disabled as a result of childhood polio and again following a tram accident as a teenager. Bedridden for months following the accident she took up painting.
Despite her physical sufferings and numerous operations, Frida went on to have an extremely successful life both artistically and socially.
She married Diego Rivera, the foremost Mexican muralist of of the early twentieth century. Together they met and entertained many outstanding cultural figures and artists from all over the world.
They made their home at Casa Azul (blue house), Frida’s childhood home. The house was transformed to reflect their shared passion for all things Mexican including traditional folk art and Diego’s growing collection of pre-Hispanic antiquities.
The house was modified further in 1937 when the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his wife, came to stay as exiles from Stalin’s Russia. Land was purchased to enable a wall to be built to shelter them from Stalin’s spies.
In due course Frida and Leon embarked on an affair which made shared living impossible for the two couples. The Trotskys moved to a house nearby where he was assassinated by an artist bearing an ice axe. That house is also open for visits – you can read about it in our blog from 2010.
Frida and Diego’s relationship remained tumultuous and at times he left Casa Azul. In 1940 he started planning a new property, Anahuacali. Using local materials including volcanic stone Anahuacali was designed as a showplace for Diego’s collection of items from Mexico’s ancient cultures. It was built in a style reminiscent of the monumental buildings the ancient past. Frida is said to have commented that the building of Anahuacali dealt with Diego’s desire to sleep surrounded by his idols! The part we were able to visit was more like a museum than house but possibly there are other, more domestic sections.
Sketches are on display for some of the murals Diego painted in Mexico and the United States. A mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to depict the television industry was destroyed following misunderstandings over the inclusion of the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. The American capitalist entrepreneur and the Mexican communist were unable to resolve their conflict!
Diego and Frida married twice and, despite various affairs, remained together until her death in 1954.
Dolores Olmedo Pinto, a Mexican businesswoman, was Diego’s friend and patron. She must have been fabulously rich. After Diego’s death she both funded completion of Anahuacali and ensured that Casa Azul was preserved as a memorial to Frida. It opened as a museum in 1958 and is now the most popular destination in Mexico City. As the guide states ‘every object in the Blue House tells us something about the painter….’
Dolores Pinto’s extensive home, set in beautiful grounds, is now a museum too. It houses a large collection of works by Frida, Diego and their contemporaries. When we visited the 25 works by Frida were on loan to another gallery but in their place was a fascinating collection of photographs from her life – Freda’s father was an important photographer of the early twentieth century.
In their lifetimes Diego was by far the most famous but in recent years his fame has been overtaken by his wife’s celebrity. This may be as much due to her life story as the quality of her art.

The last two pictures are by Diego, including a self portrait as a young man.

Now we’ve moved South to Nicaragua. The next post will be about animals and birds at La Mariposa Spanish School