Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Big Adventure - Reflection

We have both recently retired and of course were married in early November.    We had decided that we wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand and that we should take our time over the journey - hence the 11 weeks.  It was an amazing honeymoon.
The timescale allowed us to take things gently and to immerse ourselves in our landscape.   It has been a fantastic adventure.  Inevitably some places were less spectacular that we had expected;   other places were much more impressive than we were anticipating.
The adventure started with 4 weeks in Sydney, staying in an airbnb apartment.  That was great.   Yes we saw the normal sights, but also spent some days just wandering around, or going to the beach or enjoying the museums and culture.   I had spent a year in Sydney in 1979, so I loved revisiting places I remember from all those years ago.
The red centre is an amazing landscape - breath-taking at times.  It was just a pity the weather was not good and therefore we did not see the sunrise or sunset on Uluru.
Equally the weather was disappointing in the Barrier Reef .  The coral was grey rather than the bright colours we had been lad to expect. 
Daintree and the rainforest was a unique environment that we loved.   We also both enjoyed Airlie Beach and area.  There are some amazing islands, pristine beaches and just a very laid-back atmosphere.
Agnes Water was not quite so enjoyable  - possibly because it was school holiday time and there were huge numbers of families and children taking over the hotel pool and the local beach.
The cruise to Auckland was fine.   It allowed us to visit cities such as Dunedin and Christchurch in a hassle-free way.   The scenery at Milford Sound was breath-taking. 
We enjoyed Auckland and its beaches.  And then Hong Kong was an amazing place.
And we met some friends and relatives that we had not seen for many years - always a good thing to do.

So the adventure is over, but the many memories will stay with us forever.

The Big Adventure - Week Eleven: Hong Kong

Monday January 25th
It was still a very cold day.   We went over to Kowloon in the morning and took a walk around, in particular trying to get to the new Hong Kong Cultural Centre of which Michael was CEO until recently.   However we encountered a building site, and turned back.
We had lunch with Nick close to his office which was very pleasant.   Then we took the bus up to the peak, which gave a great view of Hong Kong, despite the cloud and rain. 

Tuesday January 26th
Today we took the train and then cable car up to the Big Buddha and Lin Po temple on Lantai.   I loved the whole area around there.   Very calm and relaxing.   In the evening we cooked dinner in the apartment.

Wednesday January 27th
This morning we headed back to Kowloon for a visit to Hong Kong museum, which gave a comprehensive story of Hong Kong from prehistoric time right up to the handover to the Chinese.   We had time for lunch then it was off to the airport for the flight home.

Thursday January 28th
We landed at London Heathrow at 4.30 am.   It had been 11 weeks since we started the adventure.  We really enjoyed the whole trip but were also in some ways glad to be heading home.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Big Adventure - Week Ten : Cruise and Auckland

Monday January 18th:   Bay of Islands
I am sure that this is an idyllic place.    That did not seem to be the case this morning as we awoke to heavy rain and strong winds   And we had to tender ashore, which was an added complication in rough seas.   After a delay, we did go ashore at Wairaga and headed by local ferry to Russell   The weather had improved and I thought that Russell,  the very first capital of New Zealand, was a charming, pretty, historical town.   It was the final day of our cruise, and a fitting place to end a tour of some of New Zealand's top places to see.
We spend the evening saying goodbye to the guys in our group.  Always a slightly artificial event.  We said how great their company had been, promised to keep in touch, yet all knew that we wouldn't.   Such is life.

Tuesday January 19th: Auckland
We disembarked early and because our room was not ready, we spent the morning in an Auckland laundrette getting our dirty clothes washed.
We then had a quiet afternoon in the hotel followed by an enjoyable meal down by Auckland harbour.

Wednesday January 20th:Auckland
It is a standard thing to do - the hop-on-hop-off bus, but it worked well.   The journey gave us a good impression of Auckland and we had interesting stops at the Technology Museum, the main Auckland Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery.

Thursday January 21st:  Auckland
We booked a ticket to go to Waiheke Island and have a wine tasting plus lunch at a local winery.    It was a lovely day.   The boat across to Waiheke, weaving through the islands, was enjoyable, the wine tasting was informative, lunch was good and we were then able to just sit in the winery garden enjoying a glass of the local produce and taking in the amazing view back to Auckland in the distance.    Once we got some energy back, we walked for about a mile down to a local beach where we went for a swim.   A great day.

Friday January 22nd:   Auckland
Another boat journey.  A shorted one this time to the suburb of Devonport.   We walked around the coast to Cheltenham beach and spent a few hours there relaxing and swimming.   This would be our last day in the sun for some time.

Saturday January 23rd
A long travel day.    Auckland to Hong Kong.   We had booked an apartment in Sheung Wan for 4 nights.   On arrival at 9pm, we were delighted to see Sue and John, the apartment owners waiting for us.   They drove us to the apartment, which saved a lot of hassle, and gave us the keys.    It is a tiny, unpretentious flat in an unpretentious area,  but it is home for the next four days.

Sunday January 24th
We met up with Nick and his partner who had been invited to lunch with friends on the island of Cheung Chau.   We joined the group and had a fun lunch in a local beachside restaurant.    The main talking point of today was that is was the coldest day in Hong Kong for 59 years.   3C and wet and windy.   I won't say it was cold, but the waiting staff at the restaurant were all dressed in coats and woolly hats!   It turned out that over 160 locals had been taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.   Certainly we were seriously cold by the time we returned to our apartment.    Out weather during this trip had not been good, but today was by far the worst.    We have not been lucky in that regard.

The Big Adventure - Week Nine :The Cruise

Monday January 11th – at sea
Another sea day and again little to do.   Will Martin did another concert, which was equally good.  

Tuesday January 12th – The Sounds
Amazing scenery and we were fortunate to be up and close to it.    Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.   The weather was not great, but it was great to see these amazing examples of New Zealand scenery.

Wednesday January 13th – Dunedin
We went into town and found a walking tour of the city in the morning and then a coach tour of the surrounding countryside in the afternoon.   Dunedin is a historical city with new contemporary additions.  And very Scottish of course – Scottish street names, Scottish cathedrals,  and a very large statue of Robert Burns in the city centre.   Indeed it was Burns’ nephew who founded much of the city.    And Dunedin is in a beautiful natural bay with some wonderful beaches.    A lovely city.

Thursday January 14th – Akaroa and Christchurch
The Christchurch docks have still not been rebuilt post-earthquake, so we had a tendered arrival at nearby Akaroa.   The earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 were devastating for Christchurch, both in terms of loss of life and loss of so many buildings.    But there is an opportunity, being grasped, to rebuild the city in a modern and planned way.    So it was fascinating to see a city in process of being rebuilt.   And it would be interesting to see the city in maybe five years time after all of that rebuilding is complete.

Friday January 15th – Wellington

This is  a typical capital city – rather full of tall modern buildings obstructing the older architecture.  We went on a guided tour of the Parliament Building, the Beehive, which was quite interesting.   Not a city to which I am desperate to return.

Saturday January 16th – at sea
I am pleased to have a sea day to relax after the three shore days.   However nothing much in the daily programme excites me.

Sunday January 17th - Tauranga
This is basically a stop for excursion buses to go to Rotorua.  But we have been there and decided to explore the small seaside town of Tauranga.   Good decision.   It is a very pleasant town sandwiched between two beaches.    In fact we took a local boat trip to a beach on a local island where we stayed for an hour before returning.    I had been wrestling with a bit of an issue which came to the fore today, and I didn't handle it particularly well.   Apart from that, I enjoyed Tauranga.

The Big Adventure - Week Eight : The Cruise

Sunday January 3rd:
We spent a quiet day around Noosa and Peregian.   It was somewhat cloudy, so we just spent the afternoon by the pool reading our Kindles.   Tomorrow we head back to Sydney and onward to the cruise part of the holiday.

Tuesday January 5th:
Today the cruise started.    It was pouring with rain as we departed Sydney, so our last image of the city was not as good as it might have been.  I am always rather ambivalent about cruising, but I hope I’ll enjoy the next two weeks.

This evening we had a drinks reception with our fellow Pied Piper travellers.   I was pleased that there were only 20 in the group.   Perhaps I will not be too intimidated by them and perhaps I will remember their names as the cruise progresses.   Dinner was okay.   We are settled into our cabin and quite relaxed.

Wednesday January 6th:
A sea day.  The ship is huge and completely full – over 2500 passengers.   Queues for everything.   To be honest, the list of activities was not inspiring – art auctions, quizzes, bingo,  dance classes etc.   This evening’s show was a bit bland.    And we have not been given the free drinks package that came as part of our booking – which has necessitated a lot of correspondence with Celebrity Head Office.    So it is a bit of a disappointing start to the cruise.

Thursday January 7th – Melbourne:
We met up with my cousins Yasmin and Gina in central Melbourne.  It was good to see them after so many years, even though they had a few tales of woe about illnesses within their family.   We also had time to stroll around central Melbourne and take a tram to St Kilda beach.   Back on board, the show, the Aussie boys, was excellent and we have finally been given our drinks package.   So things are looking up.

Friday January 8th – at sea:
A very quiet day reading and sorting out computer files.

Saturday January 9th – Hobart:
We took a tour to Port Arthur.  This is a couple of hours from Hobart.    It was good that this allowed us to see some of Tasmanian scenery, but unfortunately we did not return in time to see anything of Hobart.     Post Arthur was fascinating.    In 1830, this penal colony was formed to deal with the worst convicts from Sydney and Melbourne – particularly multiple offenders.    It was a tough and harsh environment, with floggings, long-term solitary confinement and some degree of violence.

Sunday January 10th – at sea
To be honest, I am not impressed by Celebrity Cruises.   The accommodation and food are fine.  The programme of events is large, but bland.   There is nothing to stimulate the mind.  The lectures are of marginal interest, many activities are chargeable and a lot of those lead to a hard sell.  So today I did very little.  The show this evening, a new Zealand singer called Will Martin, was very good.