Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: The great adventure (page 1 of 2)

A little slice of Welsh heaven

This is the view from our front door, forget the rest of the house this view alone had us sold before we even set foot inside. Even now I have to pinch myself a little bit that I get to look at this as I get dressed in the morning and as I shut the curtains at night. Whilst we don’t live in the Brecon Beacons National Park itself those hills opposite are inside the boundaries and we pass that lovely burning beacon sign every time we drive somewhere. 

The area

The Western side of the Brecon Beacons is definitely less well known than the Eastern side with Abergavenny, Crickhowell and Brecon to name a few towns that are firmly on the tourist and outdoor enthusiast paths. But I encourage you to drive a little further and explore this quieter side and the area towards mid Wales. Simply stunning and you’ll find some fabulous small towns with independent shops and quiet forests where you can go for miles without seeing another person.

Not that we knew much about this area when we started looking, but the more we saw the more we realised we’d discovered some wonderful. The search brought us this direction purely from a monetary point of view, as we widened our search area North from where my job is we discovered our budget went that little further and ticked a few more boxes on the wish list. (if we could have stretched another 100k it could have bought the perfect house, always the way of course). For us the location also worked for my commute towards Swansea, about 50 minutes door to door, which isn’t perfect but is doable. However coming home and slotting back into countrylife soon makes it ok. 

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10 things I learned in New Zealand

I know, I know another bloody blog post about New Zealand, well I’d forgotten that I had started this one so you’re having it whether you like it or not. Here are my 10 top things that I learned in New Zealand.

  1. New Zealand drivers are in no hurry; the speed limit in New Zealand is 100 kmh on everywhere outside towns, this is pretty slow on a quiet open highway but no matter the Kiwi drivers on the whole went much slower. Apart from the lorry drivers who steam around like they’re formula 1 drivers. Not only do the locals drive slowly they will also pull out in front of you on a highway and then ever so slowly get up speed. It’s not as though the roads are busy and they need to grab their chance, but they seem determined to join the road when THEY want.
  2. You soon learn how to manage your activities on a 3 hour cycle; that is Matilda’s time clock and woe betide anyone who tries to change it. Any time we wanted to drive somewhere or do an activity it was finish her feed and then go go go! Maximise the time before her next feed was needed.
  3. How to cook the best 1 pot meal; when you are cooking in a camper van with a small hob and small sink to wash up you soon learn how to minimise the use of pans. I am now a master at making pasta with a tomato sauce and bacon, with just a frying pan and a fork.
  4. Matilda is fascinated with eyes and if you’re not careful will poke you in them; there we were having some quality time at the campsite, rubbing noses, smiling and laughing when WHAM finger in the eye.
  5. How to eat dinner in the dark; Matilda goes to bed at 6.30pm, the van was our home and transport, so once in bed torchlight was our only option. Certainly heightens your sense of taste, although sleeping in sheets covered in pasta sauce isn’t so glamorous.
  6. New Zealand is where old brands go to die; if you’ve ever wondered where companies take old brands to die wonder no more, I have found the place and it is Pack and Save in New Zealand. I’m sure this branding was in the UK in the early 90’s?tea 2Tea 1
  7. Nowhere is open for dinner at 4.30pm; as above having to have Matilda asleep in the van by 6.30pm means if you want to have dinner out it needs to be early. But have you ever tried to find somewhere serving dinner at this time? And no, bar snacks or ‘just starters’ doesn’t constitute dinner. We soon learned to have lunch out and a light dinner in the van.
  8. You realise how much water you use when you have to fill up each day; seriously, all we used it for was drinking and a little bit of washing up, yet we got through GALLONS. It was pretty bloody scary, imagine what it would be like if we had a toilet and a shower in there also? Really makes you think about what you use at home when you have a dishwasher and a washing machine also. No wonder there is a water shortage.
  9. Don’t lean forward on an automatic flush toilet; I learned this very valuable lesson in Singapore airport, if you are sitting for the performance as it were and lean forward for say extra leverage then there is a chance the toilet may flush all by itself. Then really it becomes a bidet doesn’t it? It is also a mighty shock to the system when you have been on a plane for 13 hours with a baby and are knackered I can tell you.
  10. Kiwi’s LOVE venison; or at least I assume they do given that there were miles and miles of deer farms throughout the country. A very odd sight, seeing so many massive deer penned it by big wire fences. My only encounter with deer on the trip was a rather tasty ‘Bambi’ burger in Queenstown.

The great new zealand adventure – the last night

The last night, it feels like such a long time ago that we left the UK. We’ve seen and done some amazing things, had an awful lot of laughs and best of all simple quality time with the wee girl. No doubt I’ll reflect more on the flight home but for now I am basking in the joy of england sending the Scots home in the last game we’re watching here. I took my little brother with me and what a fabulous atmosphere. A capacity crowd and a make or break game for both teams.
IMAG0255Today was also the first time that I’ve really felt an electric atmosphere at a game. The national anthems sent shivers up my spine. Such passion on both sides and what is great about rugby you can sit next to the opposition fans and have good banter.
But now alas we must go home, it’s probably about time and I think we’re done being in a van. Fingers crossed now for the flights home.

Home we did come, flights went amazingly well, Matilda is a true superstar baby. Now reality has hit home, we have a jet lagged baby, are pretty knackered ourselves and I had the small matter of 1200 emails to welcome me back to work. But we cling to the memories, remind ourselves of what we did and where we went. We also of course have 100’s of photos that I’m slowly editing.  It was an amazing holiday and one I would do again in a heartbeat, baby and all.

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The great New Zealand adventure – warm streams and stinky mud

DSC_0139Yes that’s right this title can describe only one place in New Zealand – Rotorua, or as the locals like to call it Roto-vegas, in a very ironic way of course. This is a town that smells of rotten eggs all day every day, but people come because everywhere you look there are plumes of steam coming out of the ground from the thermal mud pools and streams.

Many of the streams have been commercialised, I think there may even be one with a grandstand around it so you can watch it bubble and spit. Thankfully we had some inside knowledge from my brothers Kiwi girlfriend and headed 100m past the main car park at Waikite hot pools, parked on the side of the road and climbed down the bank to a little stream. This is no ordinary stream though, it’s as hot as your bath, quite a bizarre feeling when you expect it to be freezing cold. We took Matilda down with us and as you may have started to gather she loves water and was suitably thrilled to splash her feet in this stream. So glad we didn’t pay someone $40 for a similar experience.

DSC_0195Rotorua is also home to Rainbow springs which is a nature park who have a big Kiwi conservation project. That’s the birds and not the people. The place is very well done and didn’t feel too much like a zoo even though effectively that’s what it is. We had fish food but decided that actually the baby ducks were cuter so we gave them the food instead. Besides when the trout are this bigthey’re clearly getting enough food already. 

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After being in the country for over 2 weeks it was interesting to learn about some of the wildlife that we had been seeing. The behind the scenes Kiwi experience was well worth the extra money, we got to see how they incubate the eggs and then hatch them. Then we got to go into a dark enclosure where they had 3 Kiwi’s, there is no way we would see one in the wild and with such an iconic bird it would have been strange to leave the country without seeing one.

Rotorua was our last night in the camper van, a slightly bittersweet feeling. As much as we were looking forward to being in a ‘proper’ bedroom again and not having to go outside in the freezing cold to use the bathroom we had really enjoyed our time in the van. It was the perfect size for the 3 of us, it was surprisingly comfortable to sleep in and also was the place we had spent the last 2 weeks DSC_0012relaxing in with Matilda. We’d loved the evenings just chilling out once Matilda was asleep reading, surfing the internet, drinking wine and snuggled under the duvet to keep warm. We’d woken to some spectacular views, watched many miles of scenery pass by the window, laughed until we cried, made grand plans for the next few years and had some moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel like I have really got to know Matilda in these past few weeks, I know what her different cries mean, I can make her laugh out loud, I’ve had my eyes and face poked and watched as she learned to sit. I’ve taken hundreds of photo’s and lots of videos to record those moments and memories for ever. This has been the best holiday. EVER. Me and my girls, who could ask for more?

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The great New Zealand adventure – the only way is up

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After 2 weeks cruising around the south island it was time to see what the north island had to offer, we were warned that ‘it’s a little busier up there’, but then that is kind of like saying that Venice is a bit wetter than the Sahara desert.

We arrived in Wellington early afternoon so headed for the city centre and had a wander around. We didn’t have much time but what we did see suggested

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that this would be pretty cool place to live, if bloody windy. I loved all the sculptures and art that was dotted around the place. I wish we’d had time to go in the cable car also, you always get an interesting perspective on a city when you view it from a high vantage point.

Our campsite in Wellington on the other hand was not so pretty, in fact it was basically a car park behind a motel. We also failed to find anywhere in thecentre to eat (have you ever tried finding a restaurant for dinner at 5pm?) which meant trying to get something when back at the camp site. We couldn’t face cooking for ourselves so decided to chance take out from the motel

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restaurant. Not expecting much I was amazed when I was handed a tray with 2 plates on it! So off I tottered back to the camper van where revealed under the foil was some of the best food we have had on this trip. A duo of curries for me and lamb chops for the lady of the manor. Slightly surreal sitting in silence in a dark camper van in a car park eating it has to be said. Such a refreshing change and no way you would get food of this quality in a motel in England. Perhaps even sufficient compensation for the depressing site?

Tuesday was a big day for our New Zealand trip, my younger brother who lives in Auckland was driving down to meet us at DSC_0114Napier, we haven’t seen him for 18 months and he hadn’t of course met Matilda so all in all an exciting day. The drive from Wellington to Napier is classic New Zealand, that is a shortish drive that takes way longer than you expect. Our one stop on the way was in Norsetown where on entering the cafe to buy coffee I had the type of encounter that has been typical on this trip. The guy running the cafe had a couple of big sheets of black paper on the wall and was getting everyone who passed through and was visiting for the world cup to sign. Quite fascinating seeing all the nationalities and locations of people driving around just like us chasing after men who chase an egg shaped ball. The local people have really made the trip, always interested to find our where you’re travelling, what you think of the rugby and engage in some banter about how the All Blacks will choke again. Unfortunately I failed in my photographer duties and didn’t get a photo of the cafe.

DSC_0112Napier was a surprise, it felt more like Miami than New Zealand, mainly down to the prominence of Art Deco buildings. These were constructed when a big chunk of the town was destroyed by an earthquake back in the 1930’s. The clear blue skies and carnival atmosphere (the rugby was in town) further added to the allure. We however avoided the rugby crowds and headed out to sample some wine in the Hawkes Bay vineyard. Given the time it had taken to drive from Wellington we only fitted in a couple, great fun to be drinking with my brother again. Just like old times, including the banter DSC_0103(he’s definitely balder than me now!). Esk Valley was the pick of the bunch and apparently available in the UK which I shall be checking out on my return (Currently sat on the plane from Singapore so not long!). The rose they did was the most interesting for me, I’m really not a fan of rose, especially sickly sweet Californian stuff, but this was anything but. A blend of Malbec and Merlot grapes it smelled of fresh strawberries and had a wonderfully subtle flavour.

Also intriguing to compare the wines we tasted in Blenheim to those in Hawkes Bay, very different growing environment which in theory should produce different tastes from the same grapes. I think my taste buds let me down a little here so I’ll have to trust the expert opinions on the differences.

Our campsite for the night was right on the beach but other than that not that significant, it had grass though which was a step up from Wellington and the stars that night were spectacular with very few street lights spoiling the view. It was however the first and last time that we had to pay to take a shower, a slight piss take really when you’ve already paid £30 to park your van on a piece of grass.

 Next stop; Rotorua and smelly pools of hot mud

P.S. having checked out the wine we tried to see if it was available in the UK it’s interesting to note that it’s cheaper here than directly from the winery. Bonkers.

The great New Zealand adventure – the long and winding road

Well hellooooooo lovely people I know you have been all hanging out waiting for the latest update so here it is. We are now officially on the North Island and on the final stretch before flying home at the weekend. On Friday we said good riddance to Queenstown (one of our least favourite places so far) and headed for Dunedin and the prospect of some live rugby.

Arriving in Dunedin we were greeted by a campsite looking like a St. Georges flag bomb had gone off and was almost at bursting point. They were that full they had even filled the rugby pitch next door. Which essentially meant very strained facilities and a big change from the peaceful quiet sites we’d become accustomed to. It was also, grey, wet and cold so felt even less inviting.

Friday afternoon also saw us fail spectacularly in our attempts to see penguins in the wild. There are a few beaches where they land here, but you can only see them at dusk, we arrived at 2pm and saw diddly squat. When they were arriving we were probably giving the wee girl a bath. Wild penguins is something I’ve always wanted to see and this could be my biggest regret of the trip.

The next day was saturday which meant that there was a farmers market on at the station during the morning so we go out early and walked into town (it was a 45 min walk but so nice to be out of the van for a change). The market was pretty cool, it wa in the car park of a very grand victorian train station that was in immaculate condition.

The market also gave me an opportunity to try a whitebait fritter, something we’d heard about and at this time of year is in season. A slightly odd thing eating very small fish that have been mixed whole with cream and then fried, 9am was also perhaps a little early for it. But I’ve been on a few rugby tours so my stomach is made of sterner stuff, the lady of the manor’s on the other hand….

The original plan was for the lady of the manor and Matilda to join me at the rugby in the evening but given the weather they stayed put in the warm (ish) van and I went alone. The stadium in Dunedin is quite unique in that it’s fully enclosed with a see through plastic roof and plastic grass. Impressive place and a nice environment to watch a match which we won convincingly of course. I also have to give a mention to the New Zealand army band who were the pre match entertainment. They were AWESOME, rather than the usual stuffy performance there was ballet dancing, the YMCA, a haka and even a maul all performed by smart musicians in red uniforms. A breath of fresh air.

I may also have headed for a bar after the game in the hope of cheering on the frogs as they beat the all blacks. For the first 10 minutes it was looking good and the potential to be the perfect night. But alas it was not to be.

The next morning was one we had been dreading, we had to drive virtually the full length of the South Island to catch our ferry to the North Island. Conveniently this was also the night that the clocks changed so we lost an hours sleep as well. We left Dunedin at 6am and headed north for Picton a journey of 714km that took us 10 hours in total with 2 hours + of stopping. A mighty trip but one that was actually pretty easy. The roads are so quiet and you never get traffic so apart from when you go through towns you are just cruising along. (some of the cruising ‘may’ have been a little too fast, a fact confirmed by the polite, apologetic policeman who gave me a speeding ticket and hoped it wouldn’t ruin our holiday).

Some amazing scenery along the way helps, plus having done the trip north of Christchurch once already we had earmarked a couple of places for stops. A cafe in Cheviot was particularly good, great food and a log burner going! Matilda was her usual cool self and amazingly remained happy for the whole trip, it can’t have been fun for her sitting in a car seat for so long.

Despite the vast majority of the journey being in sunshine we arrived into Picton at 5pm in a hail storm that turned into torrential rain. Always fun getting  camper van set up for sleeping in that sort of weather. As often happens with the weather here within an hour it was clear sky and the night was absolutely freezing.

Finally on Monday morning we caught the ferry from Picton to Wellington which is a great journey in itself winding through the various islands AND we saw a dolphin which caused much excitement on the boat. We spent most of the trip up on deck getting some fresh air as the lady of the manor isn’t the biggest fan of boats.With Matilda wrapped up in her one piece snow suit it was a very pleasant trip.

We are now getting very excited because on Tuesday we are meeting up with my little bro who lives in Auckland. He’s driving down to meet us in Napier and we haven’t seen him for 18 months so will be awesome catching up.

Stay tuned for the next update in a couple of days. Napier, vineyards, hot pools and some sunshine on the menu we hope.

An ode to the communal shower

Oh communal shower how I love thee

With your freezing cold air and slight smell of wee

With your dribbling showers and temperature fluctuations,

Slightly too small cubicles and lighting that belongs to prior generations.

Those shared hand basins that make shaving like the krypton factor

and piped in local radio to act as a distractor

Floors as cold as the Arctic and windows that don’t quite fit,

make us wonder if we are brave enough to go for a no. 2

But use them we must, because we otherwise we’ll get all pongy

Besides I’m running out of words for this little song-y.

However when they look like this, who cares?

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(Showers at the Top 10 camp site in Queenstown)

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