Christmas 2012 passed without any flood incidents and we were soon into packing for our New Zealand South Island holiday.
Our first stop was Christchurch, which we had visited before in 2009 before the earthquake. We went down to see the devastated Central Business District and the ruined cathedral. It was a very sad sight but the New Zealanders are hard at work rebuilding it all, some paid for by insurance and a large part covered by a fund the government set up back in the 30s following the destruction of Napier.
From Christchurch we motored down to Mount Cook where the weather was brilliant for our three days which included a trip out on a glacier lake, a flight around the mountain and a long walk up to another glacier lake during which we heard the thunder of avalanches. The only disappointment was that the weather changed at the end our last day there and we couldn't go out to see the stars. On the morning we left, the mountain had disappeared under a thick blanket of cloud. Wanaka was our next stop, including a jet boat trip up a river to a beautiful alpine forest. So peaceful once the jet boat engine had been switched off! On our last day in Wanaka, our hosts drove us to a spot by the river from where we walked back to town along the river, about 8 miles in all. Next stop was Te Anau. This time we had long enough to make the trip to Milford Sound. It was pretty stunning though we both felt that Doubtful Sound better, but the Homer tunnel is a bonus feature. Our homestay in Te Anau was in a building which had once been a convent in a different location altogether. Our host, George, had bought it and moved it to Te Anau. He had also bought a little church building and moved that onto his fairly large expanse of land. Moving house has a quite different connotation in NZ! I did manage a good night of star gazing on our first night in Te Annau, courtesy of George's binoculars. We headed south from Te Anau to the Catlins. South Island is pretty sparsely populated at the best of times but the Catlins really is the back of beyond. This is where we saw our first lot of penguins, at last!. More penguins were seen in Dunedin on a tour organised by Hildegard, our host. For this we had to rise before the sun (at 4.30) to get to the hide in time for our penguin viewing, watching them waddle down a steep hill from their nesting site and then plunging into the sea to feed and gather food for the chicks, which stay back in the nest all day. If you arrive too late, they are gone!
From Dunedin, we flew to Nelson, in the north of South Island. This leg of our trip included a catamaran cruise on the Abel Tasmin sea and a trip out to Farewell Spit. This is a sand bar, about 30 miles long, created by the ocean currents which wash up the west coast of the island and round the top, dropping off all the sand picked up on the way. There's a lighthouse which was once at the end of the spit but it is now more than 2 miles from the end. I reckon this was the highlight of the trip, it was stunning.
Our final stop was in a hotel on a peninsula which required a journey involving two ferries and a minibus ride (or a 4 hour journey on rough tracks) A lovely place to wind down from our pretty hectic tour, before retuning, on the scenic coastal railway, to Christchurch for one night before our flight home.
Back to home near the end of February and the hope that spring would soon be with us, only it failed to happen. Temperatures stubbornly failed to rise and lots of early flowering fruit didn't get pollinated. We didn't get any frogspawn in the pond – maybe because they decided not to bother after it all got eaten last year by the newts. Eventually though summer did arrive and we actually enjoyed a really good summer, one of the best for years. The garden did well and we had a good crop of veg, which we are still enjoying.
We had a trip with Sandy's choir to Fontainebleau which included a concert to celebrate an EU anniversary, can't really remember what it was. There were several other choirs, of distinctly variable quality and the whole event went on for a rather long time. But we did make friends with a Czech choir who invited us to visit them on our next outing. The trip also included visits to Chateaux and some very good restaurants. We do enjoy these trips because we don't have to organise anything, we just get on the coach and it all happens.
In June we had a week down in Cornwall to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. The main destinations were the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and Rosemoor. The summer had not quite arrived so we had some good days and some not so good days. The day at the Lost Garden we brilliant, and after we had seen it all, we went down to a nearby beach where we were amazed to find a free car park! It was a bit grey for our visit to the Eden Project, though a lot of that is indoors so it doesn't matter so much. It was also a bit damp at Rosemoor, where the poor weather in Spring had delayed growth so much that the big event of the following week, the rose show, was due to take place without any roses flowering.
On our return, we had a meal out organised by the kids. They didn't tell us in advance where they had booked and we ended up in a really good Indian Restaurant for a Ruby (Cockney rhyming slang – Ruby Murray, Curry) for our Ruby anniversary. Well done kids!
I finished my wall building in the garden and also managed to find, at last, the perfect stones for the edge of the pond – Sandy was beginning to wonder if such things existed. I knew exactly what I wanted but it's not the kind of thing you can just Google and up comes the answer. We finally found what I hand in mind at about the fourth time of looking. So there isn't much left to do in terms of the overall layout, just a couple of paths and a bit of earth moving. Then it is down to finding the right plants to put in. We usually get this bit wrong, and we often have to dig plants up and re-site them as they outgrow the original chosen spot.
We had a couple of sad events during the year. My cousin Marjorie died in Spring and then in Autumn, my brother-in-law Keith died after being ill for quite a long time. My sister Thelma is well though and she has lots of family close by for support.
Maria continues to grow, we notice changes even over a few weeks between visits. She has just done her first ballet exam. We seem to have seen them quite few times over the last couple of months, either with T,J & M coming over to us or us going to Reading. We managed a few trips by train this year, which works well, provided we don't have to carry much. We've had some miserable journeys on the M25 – you just don't know how long it is going to take when you set off.
Our Christmas preparations have gone well this year, thanks to the internet. Joe and Eugenie are off to Hong Kong for Christmas, but we will have Tessa, Joel and Maria, and Joel's dad for Christmas day with a full family meal in January when the travellers return. Alex and Tamara haven't left for Mexico yet as our niece Lily is due to have her baby just before Christmas. They now expect to be off in February.
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014. Maybe Burnley will be in the Premiership this time next year.
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