Big Sur

We've had a very busy day today. There are so many things to see in the short drive up the coast to Mitre. We started by checking out Morro Rock, a huge volcanic rock which in the end was nothing compared to the rest of the coast up North.

We then stopped at Nitt Wit Ridge, a house built out of rubbish by an eccentric town garbage collector called Arthur Harold Beal who, instead of taking the garbage to the dump, built a house with it over the course of 50 years. Some residents see it as an eyesore, others (and us) as a great piece of urban folk-art. Arthur was eventually evicted and put in a home against his will. After his death his creation was ransacked slightly, but not damaged too much. Eventually it was bought by a couple who repaired some of the worse parts and cleaned up the gardens and who now show you round on a short half-hour tour.

Nitt Wit Ridge is the antithesis to Hearst Castle, the huge mansion built by William Randolph Hearst (the newspaper magnate). Forever the champions of the common people, and to avoid spending nearly 2 hours (with kids) tramping around all that opulence, we gave it a miss. We'd rather see a humble pile of junk house than a "monument to wealth and ambition".

A bit further down the road is California's biggest elephant seal colony. Even though the sun was shining there was a nasty cold wind so we only saw them briefly, but they were a magnificent sight. There must have been a few hundred of the beasts down on the beach. Not good lookers at the best of times, as they were moulting they weren't going to win any pretty animal awards.

Now we were really in Deep Sur territory. The whole coast down here is pretty spectacular, and we stopped at quite a few of the carparks along the way for a quick photo (and back to the nice warm car). As a future famous photographer I must say the light here is pretty bad - it always seems to be pretty hazy. I have no idea why they chose this area to make movies, maybe it isn't always like this, maybe near Hollywood it isn't hazy, or maybe this makes good light for film shooting, I don't know.

Another remarkable stop was to see the McWay Falls, California's only coastal waterfall. The falls themselves are nothing special, but the beach and the sea and the rocks make for an amazing setting. By now Aisha had fallen asleep so we took turns to do the short walk by the cliff. Lucas went both times as he liked scrambling down the dirt track to the main path.

From here we drove straight on to Monterey. We had wanted to stop at Pfeiffer Beach but missed the signpost. Drove through Carmel without stopping as it was getting late but we will retrace our steps tomorrow to visit the mission and, if we have time, some sea lions. We are meeting up with friends on Sunday so we probably won't have time to visit the Steinbeck Centre in Salinas. Though, much as we both love Steinbeck (I'm reading The Winter of Our Discontent at the moment), there probably isn't much in it for the kids.

Beckmen Vineyards Estate Syrah 2011

Not tasted in a proper wine glass.

Dark fruits, blackcurrant, earth, a touch of sweet spices. Strong tannins, plenty of body, fruity, decent acidity and aftertaste. 92/100. 23 USD.

Solvang and San Luis Obispo

Yesterday we didn't have enough time, so this morning we visited Mission Santa Barbara, one of the many Franciscan missions in California, built to convert the local Chumash Indians. It's had a colourful history, suffering various earthquakes as well as the secularisation act by the Mexican government shortly after independence from Spain. It has some lovely courtyard gardens and a few rooms with period artifacts, including some old Chumash stone weapons and day-to-day objects.

Drove on to Solvang, a town started in 1911 by some Danish immigrants which has turned into a Disney-like collection of Hansel and Gretel type buildings housing viking restaurants, Danish bakeries and shops filled with all sorts of highly useful Scandinavian-themed souvenirs.

Back on the coast we paid a quick visit to the Guadalupe dunes. I wish we could have seen more, but it is mostly cordoned off. There are some hiking trails, but they are a bit too hard for the kids.

We had planned a stop at San Luis Obispo to coincide with the farmers market. Had a great time there listening to the music, eating from the barbecue stalls, and (kids only) jumping on the bouncy castle, doing a bit of rock climbing, and getting faces painted. One of the highlights was chatting to to firemen (and hugging Sparky the "dog"). The evening was rounded off with free balloons from the balloon guy shutting shop.

Hola California!

Adios Nueva Zelanda, hola California!

Ya estamos aquí. Otra vez a conducir en la derecha, a ver mas de dos personas al dia y a dejar a un lado paisajes de película. Pero bienvenidos los largos dias de luz, el buen tiempo, los moteles de carretera y el American life!

Llegamos a L.A. al mediodia con la cabeza más o menos en su sitio, después de 11 hoiras de vuelo, como para conducir hasta Ventura y empezar nuestro road trip hasta Seattle y vuelta. No prometo que lleguemos tan lejos pero vamos a intentarlo.

En Ventura no hay mucho que hacer y con el jet lag nos acostamos tarde y nos levantamos más tarde todavia, después de cenar en Pollo Loco, aquí todo tiene nombre espanol, y dar vueltas por el centro comercial buscando una sim card para la tablet. Así que dedicamos el segundo dia a vaguear en la playa y quemarnos como principiantes.

Por la tarde seguimos la ruta hasta Santa Barbara, una bonita ciudad donde se respira el dinero, con una misión franciscana y unos antiguos juzgados de finales del 1800, todavia operativos, que merecen la pena visitar. En los juzgados vimos a "un malote" y Lucas se quedó impresionado.

El dia dio de mucho de si y tuvimos tiempo para ir al paseo marítimo con los patinetes, bajar a la playa y ver el famoso embarcadero de madera, aunque no lo recorrimos entero.

Santa Barbara

Ventured down to the Ventura Port for a wander round. This is where boats depart to Channel Islands National Park, which we had already decided not to visit as some Islands are closed due to recent storms. Seeing how cheap prices were for a day tour we might have gone if it weren't so hazy (plus it would have mucked up our schedule, already pretty mangled now we had decided to go up the coast much more slowly than originally planned). We played around on the beach for a good couple of hours and then jumped into the car to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is a lovely historic town. So much for the myth that the USA has no history. OK, there are no medieval castles, but there are plenty of 18th-century colonial Spanish and Mexican buildings. One example is the magnificent courthouse. Possibly the prettiest place to get tried (in fact Lucas was really excited to see a real criminal - a "malote", being escorted by two policemen), you can climb up to the clock tower to see good views of the town. Down below they has a graduation ceremony for kids who had got scholarships for college and were saying thanks to their benefactors. Lucas and Aisha found it most entertaining, especially after getting a couple of free balloons each.

Visited the beach at Stearns Wharf which was quite nice. Didn't really make in onto the pier as we were very busy throwing stones and running around. Found a skater park on the way back but they aren't like in NZ - much more crowded with serious skaters and little kids not welcome.

After two days of paranoia making sure we didn't go over the speed limit (something Californians don't seem to worry about too much, though I'm sure they know when to do it and when not) we discovered a parking ticket on our wiper. By the time on the ticket we must have been badly parked outside the courthouse (ironic, huh?). Turns out the white line in the road is to trick you - you have to make sure you avoid the red line on the pavement.

Lesson learnt today: even in May the California sun will burn you.

Time travel

Left Auckland 27th of May 2014 at 21:30. Arrived at Los Angeles 27th of May 2014 at 14:45. How cool is that!? I hadn't ever given it much thought, but always assumed the date changed simply wherever it happened to be midnight. Of course if you do that then if you go round the world again and again you end up a few days out of synch compared to those who stay put. Since that can't happen you need another place where you change the date in the opposite direction, and that is the international date line. The fact that it didn't officially exist until the 20th century enabled Jules Verne to create the plot twist in Around the World in 80 Days.

Picked up our car from the rental offices and drove off into the sunset. It's nice being in a car-sized vehicle gain after 7 weeks of cmpervan. We drove up to Ventura, about an hour North of LA (LA wasn't really on the itinerary, just a convenient airport).

New country, even if it is English-speaking, means new problems, until you get to work things out. So far we can't really work out the rules for cars at a junction - they seem to take turns or something. Getting a SIM card to have internet on the tablet is also a mission, especially if you are half asleep from jetlag. And long-life milk doesn't seem to exist, at least not with that name.

Last day in New Zealand

Last day in NZ,. Today was just packing, cleaning and driving. Dropped off the camper as late as possible (4pm) as our flight doesn't leave until 9:30pm. Spent hours and hours in the airport. Finally we got called to board.

Matua Merlot 2012

Blackberry, plum, flowers, spices. Nice acidity, light but tannic. 87/100. 13 NZD.

Square Kauri

We wanted to stretch out legs a bit today, but all we could find nearby was a 20-minute walk to see the Square Kauri (a tree). So we took a 40-minute detour up to what, in the end, was really a 10-minute walk. Still, it was a big and nice and pretty tree.

In town (Thames) the boys had a haircut while the girls went shopping for party stuff - we are having a party tonight to say goodbye to the camper. Saw the brightest rainbow I have ever seen in the carpark.

The party was a great success. Music, olives, balloons and sweeties. And wine for the adults.

Coromandel Town

Not much to report today. Just lazed about walking round Coromandel Town and down to the stony beach. Tried some local delicacies: smoked mussels, very nice. After a fish and chips lunch we just hung out at the playground and after that in the campsite TV room.

Last days down under. We have everything pretty tied up for the US now: route (though no plan survives contact with reality), flights, car rental, first night's accommodation, and subscription to online wine review site that covers California.

Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Passionfruit, pineapple, white flowers, a touch of honey. Very crisp, acidy, citric, wakes you up. 92/100. 21 NZD.

Hot water beach and Cathedral Cove

Weather held out today. We left the campsite earlier than usual so as not to miss the low tide. The kids were still asleep and slowly woke up on the 10 minute journey. The reason the tide was important was because we had to dig a hole at a specific place on Hot Water Beach. If you get it right you can enjoy a nice hot pool right next to the sea. Get it wrong and you either get scalded or frozen.

Finding the middle ground is hard. We got there about an hour after low tide and there were quite a few people already. Started digging on the edge of all the other pools - pretty cold. Then dug in the middle. There is a reason nobody was there - burned my toes. Man, that water is hot! In the end there were so many people you really didn't need to dig, you just jumped into an abandoned pool, or got invited to join others in theirs. Great fun.

From there we continued up the road a bit to Cathedral Cove. It's 45 minute walk from the car park but both kids made it without being carried and with only minor moaning. Once there we explored the beach (carefully, as there are warnings of rockfall all over the place) and rock arch and played about in he sand a bit. We were pretty lucky as it was nearly empty, until a busload of 20-somethings invaded the place just before we were getting ready to leave. Kids walked all the way back as well.

Gorges, valleys and gold

Drove through Karangahake Gorge, though the overcast weather spoiled the views a bit. Passed the walk through the tunnels of the old gold mine train near Waihi before we realised it but, instead of turning back, we saw some ruins that looked interesting. Turned out they were from some gold processing plant - there was a bit of a gold rush in Coromandel and a few other places round New Zealand in the 19th century. The ruins were pretty cool, especially the cyanide-making facilities (presumably cleaned up by now, I hope).

Did a bit more driving round the countryside, but the supposedly great views of the Pinnacles and Kaueranga Valley were a washout in the low cloud. Looks like more rain tomorrow.

Villa Maria Privare Bin Merlot 2012

Rapberry, peach, vanilla, a touch of chocolate. Young, smooth, decent acidity but medium aftertaste. 90/100. 14 NZD.

Second Luge

Rotorua also has a Luge (gravity assisted go-carts), and since we had such a fun time at Queenstown we decided to do it again here. We all thought the Rotorua Luge was better (longer and faster), though the views from Queenstown are much more amazing. Had great fun down the Luge and then headed off towards our last stop in NZ: the Coromandel Peninsula.

Lesson learnt today: don't buy any Merino wool mountain gear in NZ, even local brands like Icebreaker are cheaper in the US (and probably Europe).

Maori show

There is a giant Californian redwood forest on the outskirts of Rotorua called Whakarewarewa Forest. It is ideal for biking, horse riding and, our favourite activity, hiking. We took the short 1-hour route but even there you get to see the forest good and proper. The redwoods are massive, Lucas was dwarfed by them when he took to hugging them. Had a great morning amble, just long enough to tire the kids out but not too long so they managed to do it all themselves without any carrying (except Aisha for a bit after a nasty trip over a root).

Headed back to the campground for another dip in the pools, waiting around for our 5pm pickup; after yesterday we had decided the family should see a Maori show - we thought it would be good for the kids to see the Maori culture up close. We are not fans of ethnotourism but here they are billed as "shows", which is OK by us. It's the "come visit a real tribe" type of tours we don't like because of the sensation of human zoo.

Apart from the group size, much larger than expected, the show was really good. After an introduction in the main dining area were we chose our "chief" and singers (or rather, had them chosen for us by our host) we headed off to see how dinner was being cooked in the traditional manner (4 hours in a big hole in the ground). Then we continued down to the river to catch a glimpse of some warriors in a canoe (waka). From there we were taken to where the main show takes place.

The "stage" was a recreation of a typical Maori village. The show started off with the traditional greeting (hongi) between the local tribe and our chief (the visiting tribe). We came in peace so we exchanged speeches, leaves and songs (our chosen singers must have sung in a choir or something) and then came the dances. Some were pretty violent and warlike, others (much preferred by Aisha) were more melodic, slightly reminiscent of Hawaiian music. We had examples of warrior training, weapon demonstrations, and the facial tattoos explained to us. The grand finale was, of course, the haka. This terrified Aisha, and Lucas wasn't too chirpy either, but when it was over they were clapping as enthusiastically as everybody else. Lucas even went up to shake the chief's hand.

Dinner (hangi, not to be confused with hongi) was plentiful and delicious. Slow cooked chicken and lamb with kumara and potatoes, with less traditional fare like stuffing and mint sauce. Lucas stuffed himself with chocolate log. Then one last bit, a visit to see glowworms at the sacred stream. We have seen quite a few glowworms so that wasn't so exotic, but I was amazed with the stream's pool: the water was so clear it looked like it was 50cm deep when in fact it was 2m.

On the way back our bus driver sung us a few Maori songs and explained his role (as an old 'un) in passing on the Maori traditions and songs to the young 'uns. A great ending.

Geothermal day

Visited Te Puia today. We just wanted to see a geyser and some boiling mud, but the have a lot more there than that. We hadn't realised it but it was an important Maori cultural centre, hosting a wood carving school and a weaving school. They also had a full-on Maori show with traditional greetings and dances which we decided to skip (thought the kids wouldn't be interested).

Our guide was a bit "too Maori", speaking like native speak to white man who travel many moon to visit. Maybe he really spoke like that, or maybe he assumed that, being from Spain, we would understand him better that way. He also banged his chest every time he uttered the word Maori. Still, he took us around and showed us the sights and explained everything just fine. We saw the greeting ceremony they were doing to the people who has paid for the cultural show and the kids were most impressed. Whoops, methinks they would have enjoyed it, too late we remembered how much Aisha likes dances (she loved the ones in Southeast Asia) and Lucas' bellic little heart was a'flutter with all the spears and face tattoos.

Checked out the wood and weaving workshops briefly and then we were on our way to see some kiwi birds when our guide noticed the geyser at it's best and took us there instead. Quite an impressive display. The mud pools were also received with enthusiasm by the kids as we told them it looked like farting mud. On our way out we popped in to see the kiwis, though not much luck: only saw one and he was half hidden away.

Our Rotorua campsite also has hot pools. These are hotter and smaller than at Taupo, more what you expect from a thermal pool. Had a nice soak in them this evening.

Huka Falls and prawn fishing

The Huka Falls get their name from the Maori word for foam. The Waikato river gets funnelled into a narrow canyon which results in a huge amount of water in a tight spot. This can only mean one thing: faster water. In the canyon it looks frighteningly violent, then is goes down the falls (which are actually not very high) and churns the water so that it appears all frothy and bubbly in the downriver pool. The water is so strong here that trout are unable to migrate upriver, though some insanely good kayakers have gone through the canyon and down the falls and lived to tell the tale. Looking at the river from the path just above gives you a good sense of how powerful water really is.

A bit further down you can enjoy the more relaxing pursuit of prawn fishing. Way too relaxing by my book but we had promised it to the kids. After a whole hour with 4 fishing rods we came up with 2 prawns. I'm glad I don't rely on this for my survival. Apart from the fishing they have a nice walk with loads of activities on the way: pulleys, weight scales, trout feeding, a treasure hunt... Shame we arrived so late, we would have stayed longer.

Replanned our next leg. We hadn't realised Jasper/Banff were so far from Vancouver/Seattle, plus dropping a LA car in Seattle costs a pretty penny, so we are doing a circular loop in the West coast. We may not visit Canada at all, though we'll try (Tofino beckons). Luckily it makes sense: there are spots we want to see on the coast as well as in the interior. Now we have to decide which direction. We had also changed the East coast: instead of starting in Canada we will start in New York and then move North.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2011

Violets, red berries, vanilla. Smooth, touch of wood, good acidity and tannins, nice aftertaste. 92+/100. 15 NZD.


After a morning for another dip in the hot pool we went into town for a lazy day ambling round Taupo. Aisha's shoes are on the verge of disintegrating so we went to a few shops looking for something suitably pink and waterproof. Drew a blank so we had a picnic at the local park and then gave the leftover bread to the ducks. Not much else really.

When the kids were asleep we started to do a bit of research for our first month in North America. Looks like our plan of picking up a car in LA and leaving it in Seattle is going to be a bit expensive.

Family rafting

Since we are at a lovely campsite in the national park I got up early to try and catch a nice dawn shot of the volcanoes. No such luck, it was a case of not seeing the wood for the trees - the campsite is in the wrong place for proper views, there are either trees or hills in the way for at least a kilometre in every direction. Tramped around for an hour looking for a decent spot but didn't take the camera out in all that time.

On the way back into town we stopped to check out a couple of Maori huts. It's a shame they were covered with corrugated iron roofs (to protect the wood I suppose).

Today was our rafting day. Grade II rapids are a bit wilder than I thought, and proved too much for Aisha, who burst out in tears after the first fast bit. Lucas loved it, but he was worried a bit for Aisha. He's such a sweety. If only he could have snapped out of older brother mode he would have enjoyed it even more.

Slowly Aisha got used to it. Very slowly. She was clinging on to mummy all the way. Then, at one of the last rapids (where now you have to go a different way because of a fallen tree), we got stuck and both Aisha and Esther fell in. After a bit of a panic both were rescued and were back in the boat, trembling from the freezing cold water. Lucas had to sit next to his little sister and comfort her, I couldn't get him back to the front even for the last rapid. By the end Aisha was fine. She even said she would do rafting again, but not for a while. First climbing, she preferred climbing.

Our new campsite, in the next town up North (Taupo), has a hot pool (we are in geothermal central). Rounded off the day with a nice evening dip.

Selaks Reserve Pinot Gris 2013

Pear, apple, melon. Slightly greasy, a bit boring. 88/100. 13 NZD.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is the oldest park in New Zealand and fourth oldest in the world. There are three active volcanoes: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Ngauruhoe has the most classical "volcano looking" cone and was featured as Mount Doom (where the ring was forged) in the Lord of the Rings. A lot of Mordor was shot in the area.

Even though I'm a computer geek I'm not a fan of Lord of the Rings, but I am a fan of nice mountains so Ngauruhoe really impressed me. You can see it at various points on the road up to Whakapapa village, the main village in the park. The whole area is pretty bleak and windswept with just a smattering of hardy plants, like most volcanic areas, a type of landscape I love. Forests and jungles are good for a while, but I prefer deserts and tundras where you can see for miles.

We continued past the village to the end of the road, and the skiing centre. A short walk from the carpark there takes you to some great views of Ngauruhoe. There was a dusting of snow so we managed to make the world's smallest snowman.

Headed down for another walk to see a small waterfall. Then, instead of the campsite in the village (no great views from there) we went to the one on the main road.

Indoor climbing in Turangi

It is a cold and blustery day today. Checked into the information office and they told us the windchill up at the park would be around -10. Tomorrow, which is when we planned on going, looks the same. Also arranged a family rafting trip for the day after (half price what we had seen at Queenstown).

There is an indoor climbing wall and we had promised it to the kids so after the information office we headed there. It's small but high, with plenty of climbs for all levels, and loads of easy climbs for kids. Aisha would need a lot of help from me, then get a bit scared halfway up and dangle back down on the rope. Lucas was determined to get to the top on all his climbs and he did really well. On a few climbs he didn't get to the top and got really frustrated. Good to see he's got drive and ambition for climbing. My favourite climb for him was in one of the corners because it really taught him the mechanics of using your legs. His favourite was one marked level 16 (they have a different grading system in Australia/NZ) which we told him was for 16 year-olds.

Had lunch in the camper and went back for more - the entrance fee was valid for the whole day. Had the whole wall to ourselves all the way til closing time, when we headed for the campsite. Looks like last night was our last freedom camping for a while - with this cold spell we will be paying for the luxury of electricity and proper showers at the campsites. We are doing pretty well on the budget and can afford not to suffer.

Caravaneando en Nueva Zelanda

Ya llevamos mas de un mes recorriendo Nueva Zelanda en autocaravana y la cosa va muy bien. Reconozco que no las tenia todas conmigo y dudaba de si sobreviriamos mas de 8 semanas los cuatro "encerrados" en 15 metros cuadrados. Pero aqui seguimos!

Por supuesto no son todo maravillas, y la caravana tiene sus pros y su contras, aunque en un pais como Nueva Zelanda es uno de los mejores medios de transporte para viajar. El inexistente trafico, sobre todo en la isla sur, las muchas opciones de acampada, desde lujosos campings hasta acampada libre, o la libertad de llevar la cocina y el bano incorporado, sobretodo cuando viajas con ninos, hacen todo muy facil y llevadero. Pero no todo son ventajas, el espacio es reducido y cuando vas de acampada libre, como solemos hacer nosotros, sin salones o cocinas comunitarias, estas restringido a tus queridos 15 metros cuadrados. Si a esto le sumas que a las 18 se hace de noche, y aqui las noches son profundas, oscuras y frias, las rutinas diarias son clave para superar el final del dia.

Lucas y Aisha estan felices en su casa con ruedas. La verdad es que todo les vale porque saben que cada dia son nuevas aventuras y punto. A Lucas le encanta el ritual de ir al bano solo, abrir y cerrar la compuerta, tirar de la cadena y lavarse las manos en el lavabo plegable. Tienen su propio cajon con juguetes y libros, lo cual les da mucha autonomia, y cuando tienen ganas de fiesta se van al frente y ponen su cd en la radio del coche.

Solo nos quedan 12 dias antes de emprender rumbo a USA. El otono se esta acabando y cada vez hace mas frio, asi que ultimamente estamos invertiendo en campings con electricidad para poder conectar el calentador electrico. La calefaccion de gas no funciona muy bien y en cualquier caso no nos gusta dejarla encendida toda la noche.

Asi que a disfrutar de la autocaravana que seguro que en unos meses la echamos de menos.

Selaks Winemaker's Favourite Reserve Merlot Cabernet 2010

Red berries, vanilla, violets, earth. Light but woody, nice aftertaste. 92+/100. 13 NZD (special offer).

At last a bit of decent Spanish style wood, 15 months in oak barrels is much appreciated.

Rain and travel

Full-on rain for the whole day for miles around, so it was the perfect day for a long drive to a new area. We avoided the "forgotten highway" as it looked like it was full of mountainous curves, and 11km of it are unpaved (it is a scenic route, but with this cloud there isn't much to see). In the end we seemed to end up on the "even more forgotten highway" which was just as curvy and had 30km of unpaved road, as well as 3000 sheep at one point. Stopped for lunch outside a small village school and the kids chatted and played with the kids there (12 in the whole school!). We are now at Turangi, on the shore of New Zealand's largest lake (Taupo). To the South we have 3 more volcanoes to explore in Tongariro National Park. Apparently part of Mordor was filmed there.

Taranaki washout

We had decided to go up to see Mt Taranaki knowing the weather was probably going to be pants, just in case the weatherman got it wrong. It's not like we were in a hurry to go anywhere else. Weatherman was right, the volcano was completely hidden by cloud. At least we had fun at the information centre and then braved the drizzle and went for the short botanical walk. Hoped for a break in the clouds but no such luck.

Weather got worse so we went to an indoor playground in New Plymouth. While the kids jumped around we started planning the USA/Canada route. We have also finished buying all our tickets to get back home. We arrive in London on August 15th, then Fuengirola on the 22nd and finally Madrid on the 29th.

Into Egmont National Park

Continuing with the theme of not doing very much in a given day all we achieved today was to enter Egmont National Park (about 30km from last night's campsite), the park round Mount Taranaki, the dormant volcano which dominates the skyline round the whole New Plymouth area. On the way we had our camper looked at. The water heater wasn't working because a gas valve was closed, so that was pretty easy. The sink also looks OK after a bit of tinkering. Finally we bought a new heater and kept the ticket.

Went to the top carpark next to the main visitor centre but it's pretty cold and windy up there so we are spending the night at a carpark a bit lower down. Lovely views of the volcano though, can't wait to go up again tomorrow morning.

Brancott Estate Special Reserve Pinot Noir 2013

Blackberry, mineral, spices. Easy to drink, low on body, decent aftertaste. 90+/100. 15 NZD.

Sunday day of rest

We've been doing it again, speeding around too fast lately to not miss any of the sights and not slowing down enough to enjoy the trip. So today, since we had such a nice campsite right in front of the beach, we just chilled and did nothing. Well, we played on the beach, lazed around the garden and scooted round the playground. But we just stayed put in out little patch of New Zealand and chilled. It's Sunday after all.

Just before sundown we caught the sight of some orcas surfacing near the shore. Apparently it's a pretty rare occurrence, the owner of the campsite has been here for 12 years and only seen them a handful of times.

Called the camper company. Tomorrow we will drop by a nearby repair supplier of theirs to check the water heater and sink. Had a bit of a scare with the electric fan heater as well - it went from noisy to shortcircuit and burnout. Good thing we were awake to pull out the plug.

Sydney, toma de contacto con Australia

De camino a Nueva Zelanda hicimos una parada tecnica en Australia. Siete dias para visitar Sydney y las Blue Mountains.

Despues de 3 meses en el sudeste asiatico aterrizar en Australia fue como llegar a otro planeta. Para los ninos el gran cambio fueron las nuevas normas para cruzar la calle, las aceras por donde correr sin peligro de ser atropellado, y la comida casera de mama que cocinabamos en los hostales. Para nosotros fue un triste adios a la comida, a la cultura y a ese "algo" que hace tan especial el sudeste asitatico.

En cualquier caso todos nos acostumbramos rapido al cambio y disfrutamos un monton nuestra breve estancia en Australia. Sydney, a pesar de ser una gran ciudad es muy manejable en transporte publico y conseguimos conocer bastantes lugares incluida Bondai Beach.

Las "montanas azules" le deben su nombre al brillo azulado de los miles de eucaliptos que habitan la zona. Estan a dos horas de Sydney en tren y nos fuimos para alla un par de dias. Ibamos a alquilar un coche para recorrer la zona pero al final usamos la ruta del autobus turistico. Han mapeado la zona en veintitantas paradas para que te subas y bajes cuando quieras, y con un poco de organizacion puedes ver mucho en dos dias.

Lava beaches

At the first sight of sea we had to stop and hit the beach. Life's a beach and all that. We are in volcano  country so we told the kids we were going to see sand made of lava. But no, it no longer burnt. They loved the black sand and soon set up a shop to sell lava sand. Esther started doing yoga routines and I whipped out the camera. To each his own. I am a man of the world (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more) so I have been on a few volcanic beaches before but have never seen one with such fine sand. It is a bit like soot dust, with a psychedelic iridescence to boot.

A bit further down the road we stopped to look at the Three Sisters, some rock columns by the sea. They are actually the Two-and-a-quarter Sisters now since one toppled over about ten years ago (though it looks like erosion on the cliff is in the midst of creating a new sister). There are a few more rocks accompanying them, a few with stone arches. We were lucky with the tide so everything was laid out perfectly for us. Again we had the beach virtually to ourselves. More black sand castles and splashing around and back to the camper before the tide came up to trap us.

There are more stops off the highway but we needed to fill up the camper on water so we headed into New Plymouth. Had a bit of trouble at the petrol station, the tap and our hose couldn't see eye to eye. In the end we managed it, with a bit of help from the attendant, a passing plumber, and a visit to a shop to get a hose clamp. This camper is showing a few flaws. Apart from the hose leaking and the electric heater making a racket it looks like the gas water heater doesn't work (had to heat water in pans to do Lucas' hair yesterday) and the sink doesn't drain. Got some Mr Muscle on the way out of town but now it's well and truly blocked. Will have to call the company tomorrow.

Villa Maria Private Bin Gewurtztraminer 2013

Litchi (what else?), apple, pear, a touch of pineapple. Sweet and fruity, good acidity and aftertaste. 92/100. 14 NZD.

Waitomo glowworm caves

When it rains... go visit a cave. Drove down to the most famous ones in NZ, Waitomo Caves. They have been a tourist attraction since soon after their discovery in the 1880s. Of course in those days there were no steps, handrails or electrical lighting, just a set of placed ropes and a handful of candles. Pretty hard absailing, especially for the women in their uncomfortable Victorian dresses.

To make a cave their home glowworms require a river to run through it, but in 2004 the river rose so high it reached the ceiling and killed off the entire population. So new glowworms were drafted in and their numbers are nearly back to normal. They surround themselves in silky strings like a spider web and glow to attract insects, which they kill with poison they have on their skin. The two times I've seen them I hadn't noticed the strings, but this time we got a great view of them, most impressive.

After a bit of history and geology of the cave and a short explanation of the glowworm's lifecycle we all got on a boat and headed into the darkness. The sight of thousands of glowworms above you with their eerie blue-green light is spellbinding. We were all mesmerised for a few minutes looking at the constellations of bioluminescence as the boat slowly followed the river out to the daylight. A real shame you can't take photos - cynically I'd say to protect their intellectual copyright, though mostly I guess it's because you can't expect everybody to know how (or remember) to turn the flash off their camera. The light would disturb the glowworms.

Spanking new camper

A bit of a panic when the alarm didn't go off for some reason. Then we couldn't find a petrol station with LPG (gas) facilities and finally hit a spot of rush hour traffic. In the end we arrived only half an hour later than planned, minus the gas, at the camper dropoff. Paid our gas, diesel tax and got our deposit back and were at the airport with time to spare for a quick coffee.

Arrived in Auckland and picked up our second camper. Credit cards gave us a bit of a hassle again for the deposit, but in the end we got everything sorted. After our lesson in Queenstown it took only 45 minutes of farting around trying to process the payment (last time it took an hour and a half).

So now we have a spanking new camper. It is virtually the same as the other, with a few improvements. The gas heater is in a better place, there is more luggage space outside, the fridge lock is better, and there is a holder for the toilet paper. No improvement on the wine glasses though - they still escape from their cupboard and start rattling all over the place.

But the important thing is that it is nice, new and clean. Drove out of Auckland and headed South. After all the ho-ha with the deposit and a stop at the supermarket we didn't reach far: we are about a couple of hours away, in Cambridge.

Greystone Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Apricot, apple, kiwi, flowers, mineral, and a touch of orange. Fruity and sweet, but not too much, nice low-key acidity, decent aftertaste. 92/100. 22 NZD.

Christchurch museum

Two nights in the same campsite for the first time. It's great not to have to rush in the morning to meet the ridiculous 10 o'clock checkout.

Caught the bus into town again and gawped at the reconstruction again. Apparently there is a cardboard cathedral (the original suffered heavy damage) somewhere but we didn't see it. Instead we ended up at the museum, which is very impressive for such a small city. Plenty of stuff for the kids so we were entertained for a good couple of hours.

Last day in the South Island. Tomorrow we get a flight to Auckland, which means one thing: packing (and cleaning up the camper a bit). It's been great not having to live out of a suitcase or pack for a month but finally the time has come. In the end it wasn't too bad; we haven't lost out finely-honed skills.


In September 2010 there was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near Christchurch which caused some damage but luckily no fatalities. A few months later, in February 2011, a "smaller" 6.3 magnitude (which goes to show we should probably be using the Mercalli scale instead of the Richter one) struck, this time closer. This caused widespread damage and 185 deaths. The city centre was devastated, with buildings already weakened by the previous tremor. Serious aftershocks continued until January 2012, finally the small tremors ceased in September.

Central Christchurch is still a massive building site now. I guess to get regeneration right takes time: initial emergency response, basic services, damage evaluations, demolitions, planning, funding and construction don't happen overnight. Plus the aftershocks can't have helped. Christchurch's residents stoically continued in business as usual mode, and the vacuum is slowly being filled not only by contractors but also by the citizens themselves, artists, and heaps of imaginative improvisation. A great example is the new shopping area built out of freight containers which have everything from designer shops to restaurants to banks.

We didn't spend much time here to admire a city getting back to it's feet. After coming in from the campsite on the bus we had bought the kids a pair of scooters (and helmets) and were busy chasing after them as they sped through the rubbled streets. Ended up in the park and from there walking all the way back to the camper. Didn't like our campsite very much so this evening we have changed to a different one.

Muddy Waters Chardonnay 2011

Mandarins, peach, apricot, pineapple. Complex, sweet, woody, good acidity, great aftertaste. 93/100. 36 NZD.

Banks Peninsula

Nasty and rainy this morning, so no nice walks round Akaroa as planned. Soon we got a rainbow though and it started clearing up. Very windy though. We decided to go up on the high road to see if it stayed clear for long enough to see the views of the Peninsula from above.

The view from up above was amazing, while it lasted. Soon we were surrounded by cloud and at times only had 10 metres visibility. The wind was a bit too strong for my liking - the last thing we want it to topple over, this beast is 3.5m high. Also I remember being told it was one of the specific things we aren't insured for. Apparently after the storm a couple of weeks ago there were overturned campers strewn all down the west coast road.

We got a few decent peeks at the land below every now and again as we slowly made our way back to the main road and back towards Christchurch. Arrived quite early so we got a bit of shopping done - some of the kids clothes have gone straight into the bin. Also got a new suitcase. In Southeast Asia we were travelling "light" but now we have our own vehicle we have acquired a few new (big) toys for the kids which we want to keep. Also it looks like tomorrow we will be getting them a pair of scooters.

To Banks

Drove down from Cheviot to Akaroa on the Banks peninsula. On the way we stopped for a morning wine tasting and bought a couple of whites. The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa through the Banks Peninsula looked promising - reminded us a bit of Asturias - though we couldn't see much due to low cloud. Had another gourmet stop to pick up some "award winning" cheeses. Mostly cheddar and cheddar-like in the shop, so not that like Asturias (known for it's cheese variety), but we managed to find an interesting blue.

Saints Vineyard Selection Barossa Shiraz 2011

Violets, balsamic, red berries jam, liquorice, spices, earth, metal. Sweetish, decent tannins but reminds me of medical syrup. 89/100. 22 NZD.

Oops, bought and Australian wine by mistake.

Having a whale of a time

Sorry about that title, couldn't resist it.

Quite a day today. First off we had a whale-watching tour, which is the thing to do in Kaikoura. You can do it by boat, plane or helicopter but if the budget is tight you do it by boat, and even then think twice about it. Luckily there was a special deal where the kids went free so it wasn't too painful. In the end, for all the joy she got out of it, thank goodness Aisha was free.

We started off speeding away from the coast. As we were the first tour of the day there hadn't been any sightings yet, so finding the whales involved going towards where they were the day before and crossing fingers. We'd stop every now and then to put in a hydrophone to try and listen out for the clicks they make when hunting (sperm whales, which are the main type round here, chase squid and large fish deep underwater and mostly go by sonar). Not much luck. We did see some fishing seals (actually more lazing about seals), a fair amount of sticks, and a bunch of dolphins in the distance. Then Aisha finally gave in to her seasickness and decided to test the sick bags for watertightness and soon after fell asleep. Esther wasn't feeling too chirpy either.

Saw some albatross, dipped the hydrophone in a bit more but still no joy. Finally we got a call from another tour ship who had heard something so we rushed over to where they were. Just in time to see the big giant do a spot of breathing and digesting. Had a great few minutes with him. Just as Lucas was getting a bit bored (as the whale didn't do any somersaults or breathe fire in all this time) the beast dove back to the bottom and gave us the classic whale tail farewell. Even Lucas was visibly impressed and very excited.

The day wasn't over. Kaikoura is famous for it's "crayfish". From what I've read crayfish is a river creature and these were from the sea, so this must be some sort of local name for the local lobster. It's quite similar to the European lobster, much loved back in Spain. Whatever it is it's delicious. The kids had chicken as they still don't know what's good for them and, at these prices, we don't want them to. Finished lunch off by building a quick fire on the beach and roasting some marshmallows (marchmallows Lucas calls them).

Had time to head a bit closer to Christchurch, so we sped down South. To speedy it seems, as we got pulled over by the cops for doing 64 in a 50 zone. 80 bucks, whoops, could have been worse though. All this time worrying about speeding in the US and we get done in New Zealand.

Feeling a bit dizzy now, and it isn't the wine or the lobster. I always seem to get a bit "landsick" a few hours after being on a boat. I think it's psychosomatic.

Driving through wine country

Long drive today. Long drives make me thirsty, even if I am in the passenger seat. Long drives through acres and acres of vines makes me very very thirsty. However we were on a mission and didn't stop at a single Marlborough vineyard. We also skipped the Aviation Heritage Centre near Blenheim. Planes don't really interest any of us but it seems they have quite a fetish for them here in New Zealand. Not quite sure why, perhaps because they are so far away from anything aviation plays a big part in their lives.

We did make one stop though. Near our campsite there is the Ohau Waterfall and, just at the seaside rocks in front are loads of seal pups. Their parents leave them at the rock pools there all day while they go out hunting for fish. It was evening by the time we got there so a few parents seem to have got back from foraging. This is the closest we've seen "proper" animals to date, until now we always seemed to be on a cliff looking down.

Nice free campsite but, as in Golden Bay, seeping next to the sea always gives us the willies. The memories from the tsunami still ring strong. Also it was bloody cold, I think tomorrow we'll pay for a bit of electricity.

Abel Tasman National Park

Got up and left the sleeping beauties in the camper just in time to catch the dawn braking over Totaranui Beach. Chased the birds for a while, especially the pukekos (the kids have fluffy toy pukekos and they have become a family favourite) but it's impossible to get any decent shots without a telephoto - they are just too shy. Pukekos have long spindly legs, bright red beaks, dark blue chests, white undertail and the rest is black. They like grassland and can be often found on farmland.

Spoke to the camp manager and he recommended he take the coastal path North instead of South as we had planned - the way South starts off with a bit of an uphill section, made harder by rerouting due to slippage after the storm. It could be a bit of a struggle for the kids. Plus there are less people going North and no boat engines from the sea taxis. Apparently it is just as beautiful in either direction.

So we heeded his advice and headed North. The kids did quite well but we didn't reach Anapai Beach. This meant that all we really saw was forest - unless you reach a beach you don't see the coast from the coastal path. It was quite late by the time we got back so we decided to skip Wainui falls (which also entailed a long walk) and headed straight back to civilisation. In hindsight I think we should have gone for the water taxi or tour option but we really wanted to walk for a bit and the little we saw of the park was enough.

We are now running out of time in the South Island so we are skipping the Marlborough region and heading straight to Kaikoura and from there to Christchurch.