Happy Birthday!

In my haste to get this blog up-to-date, I quite forgot to mention my birthday celebrations! On 28 December I was sixty-five! I can’t imagine how I can possibly be sixty-five as I am still the same person I ever was and feel an indeterminate age – as long as I don’t look at the exterior me I could still be twenty-five!! Anyway, we had a celebratory lunch and then went to see the French film Priceless. The movie theatre is unique in that one takes one's wine and cheese platter into the theatre to watch the film. This probably enhanced the humour of the film and we came away feeling that we had had a very good evening! Unfortunately, Brian couldn’t be with us as he had to do his ‘postie’ round in Invercargill. (Brian has retired from being a headmaster and is currently cycling around Invercargill delivering the post – and enjoying his change of career!)

When Brian finally joined us again we decided that we just had to have another birthday dinner to include him, so we dined in style at the Postmaster Restaurant in Arrowtown. This is the same restaurant that Bill Gates’ family were seen in the following evening – they had obviously heard that it was the place to be once word got around that we had been there! I had a very happy birthday!

Invercargill, Wanaka and Queenstown, NZ

I had bronchitis all over the Christmas period so everything wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been. I am on the mend now, thanks to some antibiotics, and intend to enjoy the New Year celebrations! We spent Christmas Day at Avis’ sister Lexie’s house, she, and her husband Dave, cooked us a splendid Christmas lunch (see the photo) and the company was excellent, consisting of Dot (Avis' amazing mother who is still line-dancing in her eighties - seen on the right front of the photo), Lexie (front left), Dave, Oliver, Bron, Liam, Raewyn, David, Bernie (Brian's Dad), Brian, Daniel, Avis and me. Later that evening we visited Wayne and Raewyn who were entertaining their own family for Christmas. The next day we returned to Wanaka where I spent time recovering while David and Avis ran up and down the mountains and spent time in the sauna and spa.

We are now staying at the home of Avis’ daughter, Joelle, and her partner Matt, in Kelvin Heights, Queenstown, overlooking Lake Wakatipu. We have the most stunning view from our bedroom window and tend to sit gazing out over the lake, rather longer than we should, as we drink our early morning cup of tea. (See photo)

Now I am finally on the mend, I fully intend to walk along the lake-side to lose some of the weight that has surreptitiously insinuated itself about my person since I left England last September.

Yesterday, we visited Gary and Bernie on their farm in Dry Bread near Omakau.

We met Garyand Bernie when they visited Avis and Brian in Turkey, three years ago, so it was good to catch up with them again. We had lunch and then Gary took us on a tour of his 570 hectare farm. Gary has 2 600 breeding Ewes which usually give him 3 500 lambs each year to sell for meat; added to this are the 600 replacement Ewes kept to replenish his stock.

Gary also raises deer for market and he has 90 hinds and 3 breeding stags.
I tried to take a photo of the deer, but they are very shy creatures and kept running away. We spent a hilarious few minutes chasing after them around the field in the car, but the lead hind wasn’t having any of it and she led them off at a gallop every time we approached. This photo was the best I could do!

The farm is called Rankeillour, after one of the places in Scotland where Gary’s forebears came from near St Andrews. The landscape is beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

We especially liked the duck ponds with their Mai Mais (the hides for the hunters during the duck-hunting season). Unfortunately, this was only a brief visit, so we must definitely return to visit Gary and Bernie in order to experience more of their idyllic life!


Invercargill and Wanaka, New Zealand

We flew from Sydney to Christchurch and then on to Invercargill, where we were met by the friends we made in Turkey, Avis, Brian, Raewyn and Wayne. The next day we drove to Kelvin Heights in Queenstown to visit Brian and Avis’ daughter, Joelle, in her home overlooking Lake Wakatipu, before motoring on over the Crown Range to stay in their time-share by Lake Wanaka. The views over the mountains are stunning and although I expected to see lots of sheep, I was amazed to see just how many there are – they are everywhere! The photo shows the view from our patio - of Mount Alta, part of the Southern Alps range.

Unfortunately I have been laid low by some bug I picked up in Australia, but David has thoroughly enjoyed himself – beginning every day with a run along the side of the lake and relaxing in the sauna and spa afterwards, while I cough and splutter and generally feel sorry for myself!

On Christmas Eve, we returned to Invercargill to join in the celebrations with Avis’ family. We attended a beautifully traditional midnight church service and today, Christmas Day, we will all have a Christmas lunch at Avis’ sister Lexi’s house. So, to you all – as the day progresses and you all get to celebrate Christmas after us – Merry Christmas and may all your dreams come true!


Sydney, Australia

Sydney from the water

In Sydney we didn’t notice anyone waving and there were no flies (is this a co-incidence?) Darling Harbour is full of restaurants and has the Sydney Aquarium, the Sydney Wildlife World, the Maritime Museum and various exhibitions. If one wanted to do just the touristy things then this place has everything! On this our first evening, we contented ourselves with walking around the harbour and seeing all the things that were on offer.

The next day we took a bus to Circular Quay and from there took a ferry to Manly Beach where we had breakfast. David was able to enjoy a full Aussie breakfast, while I, virtuously, had the fresh fruit platter with yoghurt. The fruit was delicious and really fresh, so I didn’t feel in the least deprived! The weather was glorious and we walked along the promenade before catching the return ferry and then a train to Queen Victoria Building – a rather quaint shopping mall – from where we walked back to our hotel.

That evening, we caught the monorail from Paddy’s Market to Pyrman and browsed the restaurant menus on display around Darling Harbour before finally choosing, and dining royally at, the ‘Ice-Cube’.

On our last day in Sydney we walked all the way from our hotel to ‘The Rocks’. This was the
original settlement where 750 convicts and 400 settlers were first landed on Australia’s shores on January 26 1788; the old houses look strange nestled among the very modern buildings of Sydney today. It gave us a fascinating insight into how Australia came into being, and made us wish that our forebears had been rather more adventurous ,or rather less law-abiding!!! It is interesting to note that for some years the convicts outnumbered the settlers!

Next stop New Zealand.

Katoomba and the Blue Mountains, Australia

We stayed in ‘La Maison’ Guest House in Katoomba; which meant a 20 minute walk into the town centre, but the walk was a necessary addition to my new fitness campaign (I have put on rather too much weight recently!!!) We had 2 full days in Katoomba which gave us time to experience most of the activities on offer. We found all the people here so friendly. They were all waving to us all the time – although they looked a little puzzled when we waved back. David – the cynic – thought the waving might have something to do with the flies, but I am convinced that they were friendly gestures!

On the first day we bought tickets for the Blue Mountain Trolley Tours (a hop-on hop-off all day ticket.) This trolley bus continuously loops around 20 of the best tourist spots in Katoomba. Our first stop was the Scenic World Skyway. This is a cable car that crosses the edge of the Jamison Valley with the most spectacular views. Once on the other side, we descended into the valley by way of the Scenic Railway, This is the world’s steepest incline railway and was originally built to haul coal and shale out of the valley from the mines at the base of the escarpment. When the mine closed, the facility became a tourist attraction.

Once down in the valley, we walked along 2.5 km of elevated boardwalk in the temperate rain forest. As we strolled along, we could hear birds calling and sometimes the rustling of leaves on the forest floor, made by some animal or other (although we never actually saw anything, it was quite eerie!) The forest itself was very beautiful with massive gum trees soaring above us and strange Jurassic ferns sticking up between them. We eventually climbed up out of the valley in the cable car and caught the bus back to Katoomba and a very satisfying evening meal in the one of the town’s restaurants.

Echo Point was within walking distance of our hotel. This has spectacular views over the Jamison valley to the Blue Mountains beyond. We ventured down one of the walks that hug the steep sides of the valley until we reached the so-called giant steps. These steps (more than 800 of them descending approximately 300 metres) enable passage to the valley floor. I declined, fearing I would have to climb back up them again! David walked down more than 150 of them – he is the blue spot in the middle of the photo I took!

On Monday 17 December, we caught the train to Sydney, where we stayed at the City Gates Central Hotel near Darling Harbour and China Town.

Angullong, NSW, Australia

Thursday 13 December

Sue took us to meet Heidi and Ben whose family runs the Angullong vineyard, situated in the foothills of Mount Canobolas in the high altitude, cool climate of Orange. Heidi prepared a wonderful lunch accompanied by one of their own wines – a Verdelho.

This was our first introduction to this particular wine and one we will definitely look out for in the future. To quote from the notes on the bottle, “A delicious, aromatic Verdelho with wonderful aromas of honeydew and melon followed by an abundant fruit salad of pineapple and stone fruit flavours on the palate.” I couldn't have described it better myself!!

After lunch, Heidi took us on a tour of the vineyards. They have 560 acres of vines that provide a wide diversity of grape, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet. (The latter we had already drunk copious amounts of at Sue’s Ladies’ Luncheon!) Heidi also drove us down to their river, where the cattle were grazing and flocks of Cockatoos wheeled overhead; altogether an enchanting spot. Thank you Heidi, Ben, Angus, Sally and Camilla!

Friday 14 December
The indefatigable Sue drove us to Katoomba where we were to stay for the next 3 days. We had lunch together and then said our goodbyes. We will be forever grateful to Sue for her kindness and generous hospitality, which we hope to repay in the not-too-distant future.


Wellington and Scone

Saturday 8 December
Today we travelled to Wellington to stay with Jaimee’s parents, Mark and Liz. (Jaimee, their daughter, is currently in South Africa with Suzi and Laura.) They were tremendously kind and took us on tours of the surrounding area. Apparently, we are very lucky to see the Australian countryside so green and lush looking as they have had a seven-year drought, which has only been relieved by the recent rains. We spent a very happy two days and nights there, experiencing the life of a typical Australian farming family. Mark grows lucerne for fodder and Liz works with troubled teens in Wellington. We were also delighted to meet their other two children, Nick and Courtney. Nick has just left school and is going to work on a shrimp boat during his gap year before going to university; while Courtney is planning to become a world famous author.
Monday 10 December
Sue came to collect us and drive us to Ellerston in the Hunter valley near Scone. On the way we stopped at Merriwa and bought freshly-baked pies for lunch, which we ate in the local rest stop. The pies were delicious and we managed to avoid adding extra protein by practicing our ‘Aussie wave’ to keep the flies at bay. We have been amused by some of the names of places we have seen on our travels – such as Broken Axle Creek – and have wondered about their provenance, so you can imagine our thoughts when we passed through Murdering Hut Gulley on our way to Scone! Before reaching Ellerston, we stopped off at Sue’s sister’s house for a coffee. Sue’s sister, Jill and her family, live on a 10 000 acre property called Tinagroo. They rear horses, cattle and sheep in an idyllic spot, surrounded by mountains.
From Scone we followed the Hunter River, up the Hunter Valley, to Ellerston – the Mecca of the polo-playing elite! Ellerston’s 2 500 acres comprises the best polo fields in the world, two golf courses, a fully-equipped state-of-the art veterinary centre, a workers’ village, a club house and restaurant, a fully-equipped gymnasium, a swimming pool, a cinema, the most amazing barns for the horses and all the facilities for breeding and rearing the Ellerston polo pony; plus, of course, the Packers’ homestead. But even they are no match for the force of nature. On the previous Friday, Ellerston had been hit by a gale-force storm that had ripped up some of the trees by their roots and sent them crashing to the ground, creating devastation everywhere. However, gangs of workers were already at work clearing up the mess.
At Ellerston, we stayed with Mandy and Jeff, their children, Cassie and Joe, and Mandy’s amazing mother, Lee – who at 83 worked tirelessly in the kitchen while we were there. Australia certainly breeds some extraordinary women! We were welcomed with a splendid dinner that evening and the next day, Mandy took us on a tour of the property; the facilities at Ellerston really are amazing.


Orange, NSW, Australia

The wonderful lunch at Sue's

We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday 4th December then flew, immediately, in a small plane to Orange (population 53 000), arriving at nine o’clock at night. Where we were to stay with Laura’s lovely mum, Sue.

The next day was pretty hectic as Sue was hosting a lunch for 30+ friends and their daughters; both as an end-of-term celebration (Sue is a school teacher) and to say goodbye to Laura who was leaving for South Africa to join Suzi and Jaimee. This was to be an all female event – except for David – but he coped magnificently. Sue had planned an al fresco lunch, but the rain came down just as the first course was to be served. Nonetheless, the lunch was a great success and stretched far into the evening! You can see Sue on the left of the photo, while the ladies begin to tuck in!

On Thursday, Sue drove us to Mount Canobolas, an extinct volcano, covered in an indigenous gum tree forest. As we walked through the forest, it was strange for us to see gum trees in their natural state as we had only seen them as tall straight branch-less trunks grown for gum poles in Southern Africa. Our next stop was Cook Park, inaugurated in 1882 and named after Captain James Cook. The park is in the centre of Orange and planted with European trees, many of which are huge after more than a century of growth. We were amused to see that some of the trees had plastic sleeves on their trunks – to discourage the possums from eating the new buds and leaves!

We had another wonderful day on Friday when we visited Wansey, Sue’s family farm. The farm is set in rolling hills with lush pasture, ripe golden wheat and yellow canola (often called rape). They also have 1400 head of cattle, 1400 sheep, 20 horses and countless kangaroos, walleroos and wallabies. The farm is run jointly by Sue’s brother, Bruce and their mother, Jean – still farming at 75 years of age! Jean qualified as a vet in 1954 and is still actively engaged attending to all the livestock on the farm – an amazing woman!
This is Jean on the left, after she had given us lunch and before she went off to see to a bull that needed her attention. I have discovered that one way to ensure a fit and healthy long life is to continue working!

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