Underground and Overground Adventures in the Sun

Our two final days before packing up ready to head home. We drove three hours south to Waitomo Caves to explore the Stalagmites, Stalactites, Columns, Weta and Glowworms before heading over to Matamata for the night ready for Hobbiton today.

On the way to Waitomo we took a slightly longer, more emotional, route to go through the city I was supposed to be working in (Hamilton), and the small down South of there that we had planned to live in (Te Awamutu). I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t have a look at them, I couldn’t quite manage to stop and explore properly though :/

At Waitomo there were three caves we toured, we did them in reverse order as we arrived at lunchtime. The first was a dry cave with Cave Weta, the second and third caves had flowing water and glow worms inside – no photographs were permitted in the third cave, the main one of the three. All three had stalagmites, stalactites and limestone, together with very knowledgeable guides who gave us lots of information.

After a quick overnight stay we headed over to the Hobbiton Film Set for a guided tour there. It was incredibly busy here, lots of tours going on alongside each other. I must confess I am not a LOTR or Hobbit fan in the slightest, I’ve only seen bits of some of the films by way of osmosis when the boys have been watching them. However, it was a beautiful setting and thoroughly enjoyable experience in its own right. There were only two downsides: 1 – time, because it was busy there was no opportunity to spend longer in the Green Dragon Inn and have lunch, we had to stay with our group and get the same bus back to meeting point. 2 – there were stoneware drinking cups in the Inn that they were serving the complimentary drinks in, I wanted to buy some, the gift shop did not sell them!

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To the North!

Our journey continues up onto the North Island of New Zealand. In Wellington we took a tour to Zealandia, an amazing urban wildlife reserve where they have worked tirelessly to fence in the native species and remove as many introduced species as possible. Birds with flight are free to come and go, flightless birds are protected from the predators that were introduced by both the Maori and European settlers all those years ago. The result has been species close to extinction becoming reestablished, and a species thought to be extinct brought back after a few were found in the mountains.

The tour also took a drive around Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, with a very knowledgeable coach driver giving us detailed information on various buildings of interest and the damage caused by a very recent earthquake. He also took us to the Old St Paul’s Cathedral for a look around, a wooden structure built by shipmakers, something giving the building real character when looking at the roof structure from inside which closely resembles an upturned boat.

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Between Christchurch and Wellington, it really is quite humbling to see the damage caused by earthquakes. Lots of empty spaces in Christchurch, fewer spaces in Wellington, but being more recent there are still cracks evident across the roads. Since our visit, we have heard news of devastating wild fires in Christchurch, truly saddening especially for a beautiful city that was still recovering from the 2011 earthquake.

After Wellington came the small harbour of Tauranga. We took an excursion to Rotarua from here to see the truly amazing hot springs and mud pools at the thermal reserve. Wow is the only way to describe it. If you’re lucky enough to get to NZ you must try and get to Waiotapu in Rotarua – this has got to be the best of the excursions by far. We learnt that the reason for the hot springs is the active volcanoes around the area causing hot magma to lie below the surface and heat the water. The extreme heat also draws mineral out of the rocks to dissolve in the water, causing the bright colours. There are hot springs, bubbling mud pools and geysers aplenty in this area. The Maori tribe that settled here used, and still use, the heat provided by nature to cook their food.

Our final day on board was in the Bay of Islands, just north of Auckland. We had booked a tall ship experience here, a day spent on an authentic schooner, sailing in the sunshine around the bays, finding a secluded beach for some swimming in the sea and relaxing with a BBQ lunch on board. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, for the first time, so the trip was cancelled – I had a spa treatment on board the cruise ship, with a sauna and full body massage with hot stones, instead 😉

The final leg of our adventure is already underway in Auckland, I will post a summary of that in a few days.

Damn that’s quite a dam! Plus our next leg begins.

The last thing we did in Sydney before moving on was go and see the city’s largest dam. It was hot day, but well worth the visit. The area that had been flooded is huge, and it was all planned in advance even down to building a settlement for the workers to come out of the city to live in with their families. When the levels are low there are old roads visible from the viewing platform.

The dam has a visitors’ centre which is free to enter and has loads of information on the history of the dam area including a video about the settlement and building process. The settlement is still there today, and still inhabited, although obviously the building work was finished many years ago. The area around the lake is a nature reserve, so the wildlife around the dam is left to its own devices which is evident in the size of some of the fish in the lake.

The next part of our epic adventure was boarding our cruise ship for the middle portion, and main event… A cruise round New Zealand! We boarded our ship at Sydney Harbour and sailed around the coastline to Melbourne before heading onwards to New Zealand.

In Melbourne we wandered the city and checked out the Old Melbourne Gaol which is a preserved building showing the history of hanging, imprisonment and the stories of some more infamous convicts that have been held there. We also took a walk along the beach on the way back to the ship, avoiding the water and burning hot sand. There is a lido there that used to have a defence wall to prevent carnivorous sea creatures entering – we couldn’t quite understand why it’s not there any longer 😉

Journey to the Other Side

So, three or so years ago I made the decision to emigrate with the children. I started saving up money and secured a job. Then, two years ago, just as I was going through the Visa process, and transferring my Midwifery registration over, there was a query about a hereditary health issue. The issue meant I would not get the permanent residence family visa that we needed, not with my existing health history as well. So, I had to turn down the job I had been offered.

Now I had around £8,000 in the bank which I’d saved to go towards funding the big move. It seemed only right to use the money for a once in a lifetime experience that included the country we had been planning to relocate to. Sixteen months ago I booked a cruise to do just that. The cruise sets sail in four days.

Where were we going to move to? New Zealand!

Now, I have family in Sydney, Australia, which is where the cruise happens to sail from, so we decided to arrive a week early and stay with them. I also tagged a week in Auckland, New Zealand onto the end of the cruise before we make the epic journey home. And epic it certainly was to get here:

To get to Sydney we began our journey from Cornwall, England, at 5am on Thursday 26th January (Sydney are 11 hours ahead, so that makes it 4pm down under). We boarded a coach that then took over six hours to get to Heathrow Airport. At Heathrow we had a nine hour wait for our first (!) flight departure. I had already prebooked a lounge for comfortable seating, electricity and food and drink.

Our first flight left Heathrow at 8.30pm that same day (7.30am on 27th January is Oz), arriving in Singapore nearly 13 hours later (9.20am GMT, 5.20pm local time, 8.20pm in Oz). Then followed an almost six hour wait for the 2nd flight. We were able to obtain transit vouchers which we exchanged for the transit lounge, which again had power, comfortable seats, food and drink and SHOWERS! We also explored a butterfly garden (although being the vening all the butterflies were fast asleep!), a Koi pond and the Pikachu Skytrain (monorail).

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The second flight was ‘just’ 8 hours long, landing in Sydney at 10.30am on Saturday 28th January, local time (11.30pm on 27th January back home). There we were met by my uncle and taken to our accommodation (their house 😉 ).

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It was a very long and very tiring journey. Not much sleep was had by any of us; aeroplane seats are incredibly uncomfortable. Also there were moments when I dreaded the neighbouring passengers. Flight one: just before we prepared for landing (descent had not yet begun) a small child in front of us started vomiting, clearly he was unwell – I am dreading that one of us may have caught his bug during the long flight. Flight two: stranger sat next to me spent the whole flight sniffing, coughing and wiping his nose on his sleeve – again I dread catching his cold. Thankfully we’re all still well – phew!