Wandering in transit around Sydney Airport after a long haul from Heathrow (to be closed a few days later... thank you for my passage, weathergods!), I was buoyant to see Mei appear, looking as tanned as a Welsh boy can be. Brief reunion enjoyed by both, but the joy was acorn-sized in comparison to the oak tree of excitement when Mei said “There’s someone famous behind you.” Looked around to see Martin Johnson – hero to all English rugby fans but arch-enemy of the likes of Mei - also in transit with us. Tried to get surreptitious photo to send to Hello! but Johnson’s brow furrowed in a menacing way. Photo untaken.
A couple of flights later and after numerous comparisons of arm colour that confirmed I was a few tones bluer than milk, we arrived in Wellington. Fantastic Christmas hosted by the Spicer clan in the warmth of summer. If I felt any initial bemusement by the lack of snow, trees and general rigmarole of British Christmas, this was soon dispelled by a gert big three-meat Christmas spread and the regular appearance of the sun.
From here, we went en masse with handfuls of Spicers, Attenboroughs, and a Waesenbach, down to Kaiteriteri, in the Abel Tasman National Park. Even the photos taken on my pink Argos camera manage to capture how beautiful this area is. Most of the park is only accessible by foot or boat, hence on our walks we had our pick of pristine white beaches with turquoise waters and next to no-one there. Another afternoon we went horseriding along the beach, mentored by the wise words of the guide,Harmony (that’s him - far left- on the phone, dispensing some advice to another punter). New Year was seen in with my bro and my sis (a first since the days when we were too young to know better, I think?!) watching Fat Freddy do his Drop in nearby Riwaka. Good drunken revelry.
There’s a lot of water in New Zealand, so we had lots of fun on boats here, and back in Picton, where we began our venture as a duo. We went on a dolphin watching expedition with a 98% success rate. Suffice it to say we were in the 2% of failures. The sales pitch that day was that orcas (“killer whales”) had been spotted that morning. What they didn’t tell us until we were already on board was that if we didn’t see the orcas, then we’d see no dolphins cos the killers scare them all off. A consolation prize was that we did see king shags (stop sniggering at the back!) which, according to the skipper, are some of the rarest birds in the world (or New Zealand, or somewhere). To us they just looked like big seagulls, but maybe some ornithologist somewhere will be impressed when we tell them. Despite a lack of sea mammals, the boat trip gave us beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds, a visit to an island bird sanctuary where we saw little blue penguins nesting and plenty of sunburn.
A bus took us down the East coast to Kaikoura, where I got back in the water, encased in wetsuit, to swim with seals. They are brilliant! Really inquisitive. The guide told the swimmers to mimic what the seal pups were doing, as they like to interact with you, so I did try to duck and dive, but....if they look rotund and beached on land, they move like the dickens in water! I really loved this morning trip though and got really burnt on my face. Again.
From here we spent a couple of aimless but pleasant days in the garden city of Christchurch before picking up our hideous transport, which garners us plenty of tutting and narrowing of eyes from more well-heeled campers. If you can’t quite read the sign, know that it’s part of the Wicked ‘philosophy’, which seems to be plastered all over (and inside) the van. Still, it’s cheap and relatively cheerful, and has powered us slowly to the Banks Peninsula, where we’ve spent a brilliant and varied few days, stopping at an old friend of Mei’s for the night in Little River.
Nuff blathering. We’re southward bound now and it’s raining, much like a British summer. Four seasons in one day and all that.