Christmas at Gachet

Why is it that when you spend at least half an hour writing a superb post that you manage to delete it when discarding a not very good photo.

Home at last and an ecstatic welcome from the dogs when we fetched them from kennels, this however was not true of the cats as they have barely forgiven us now for abandoning them in the first place.

We loved San Francisco, it has a whole atmosphere of its own, car horns, people chatter, the clang clang of the cable cars, the rumble and whir of the underground cables and the steam coming up through the pavement vents into the cool air. Brilliant!

On the Saturday, hundreds of young people dressed up in Father Christmas outfits and came into the city centre by various means of public transport, singing carols all the way to join together in Union Square to sing yet more carols. According to our waitress in the hotel they then go round all the bars and hotels on a pub crawl. So, a lot of fun was had by all and us tourists and out of towners thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

The Chancellor Hotel where we stayed was an oasis in the hustle bustle of Christmas shopping, it is right on the square but is small, elegant and rather old fashioned in a delightful way, both staff and other clients, many of whom were on return visits were friendly and polite.

This is a place I hope to go back to.

San Francisco

Well it’s been the longest bit of time travel ever! We left Auckland at 14.15 pm thursday and arrived in Fiji at 17.15 we then had to wait for a connecting flight till 22.50. Fiji airport is small, you are not allowed to go outside, there are no smoking areas, and all who know us know that John would find this difficult!

Our flight to San Francisco was delayed by an hour and a half and eventually we arrived first in Los Angeles at 14.30 on Thursday (yes still Thursday!) to probably the most chaotic airport I have ever been in. The queues were horrendous through passport control and thank goodness we had opted for special assistance which meant we were short circuited through many of the queues, me in a wheelchair.

We had great concerns for our connecting flight as we were late and delayed by US customs but we made it and arrived in San Francisco at 19.15 still on Thursday! Wow what a relief it was calm and well organised and we easily took a taxi to our hotel in the city centre.

We were exhausted as you can imagine, but found an excellent restaurant next door to the hotel where John had roast turkey (Christmas must be coming) good food and find wine, and we soon collapsed in bed. Time travel is very tiring even when going backwards courtesy of the international date line.

This city has a great buzz, will fill you in tomorrow!

Zzzzzzzz

Auckland

We are staying in the centre of Auckland and its graduation week, so there are caps and gowns, people all dressed in their finery and proud parents everywhere you go.

Auckland is hilly and the main street, Queen street is full of tiny food outlets selling sushi, Chinese, Mediterranean and pretty well any cuisine you could mention. We realised why when we saw the proximity of the university, all very handy.

Today we both went to the museum with a taxi driver who talked our socks off and learned all about the maori culture, and then John went off for a trip on an Americas cup racing yacht, so he is a happy boy. The port and marina are great, yachts and cruisers a plenty, smart restaurants and lots of seating so that you can sit back and watch the posers go by, from joggers to businessmen in suits, fascinating!

Matamata to Te Kowhai

All around Matamata, Cambridge and Hamilton are post and rail paddocks filled with thoroughbreds and foals, it is spring here so they are all out and looking amazing.

Interestingly, many of the horses still have rugs on despite the sunshine and warm weather. I finally gave up guessing and called in to a saddlery shop to find out why it’s not too hot for rugs. My research was fruitful, it seems that in NZ all racing and show horses are kept rugged up either in fly sheets in hot weather or in outdoor rugs the rest of the time. They have also gone back to the original canvas rugs with either jute or wool linings as they find the modern synthetic fabrics too sweaty!! The canvas appears lighter weight than our old ones so it seems logical, not all new developments are better than the old ones.

Back to the trip, the countryside is lovely the towns look prosperous, tidy and clean and whenever you stop for a cup of coffee everyone is friendly and helpful. The big weaknesses here are pastry, pies and ice cream which are popular every where

We spent a night with John and Delia on their dairy farm, where they milk 300 cows twice a day. Delia is the daughter of a friend of my mothers and also went to the same school as me (though 10 years later). They are a lovely couple, generous and welcoming and we couldn’t have been better looked after – new friends I think.

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Matamata – hobbit country

Today on leaving the quest apartments we went to Matamata which is famous for 2 things, the site of the set for all The Lord of the Rings films and most recently the Hobbit, and thoroughbred horse breeding, training and racing.

We did a bus tour as it is the only way they let you go round. The site itself is a massive sheep and cattle farm about 15 minutes from Matamata, there are hundreds of hectares all very isolated from any roads except those purpose built by the NZ army for the movie. It has been constructed extremely well with massive attention to detail, fake lichen on garden fences, a fake tree above Bilbo Baggins house, and all but one of the cottages are a facade only. The only real building is the dragon pub where we were given a complimentary drink. It is very well done with pretty gardens, quaint pathways and very very clever.

It makes you realise how expensive is was to make these movies. Here are some pics you may recognise.

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Mount Maunganui

We have used this place as somewhere to explore the Bay of Plenty. This is a lovely section of coast with the remains of its gold mining history all around. The older houses are mainly single storey clapboard and some of the smaller farmsteads remind me of those white boarded cricket pavilions with the decking veranda circling it, quite often on the top of a small hill presumably in order to view the land and stock. It’s still all dairy cattle, sheep and horses and the land here is much gentler than in the South.
In the early stage of our trip we went through Judea, Bethlehem and swiftly on to a sign saying Heaven!

The beaches are amazing, gorgeous pale coloured fine sand in pretty bays with quite often small islands just offshore. They also have real estate to die for with stunning modern houses hustling for the best beach views.

Shocking though it may seem to us international tourist types there is also free parking at the resorts, and lots of it!! There are also plenty of cafes along the route with the occasional surf shops or local produce stalls selling avocado, kiwi fruit and mandarins. It really doesn’t feel like Xmas is approaching despite some of the decorations we see in the streets.

Today we had a beach day, I walked the beach (flat) whilst John walked the mountain trail (upwards) in glorious sunshine. We both arrived back at the car at the same time and wandered into town for lunch. This is certainly the life!

Taupo and around

This is a strange area of what feels like prehistoric activity. We visited Orakei-Korako which is an amazing volcanic landscape with what looks like molten lava sliding down the hill, steam rising, geysers blowing and mud pools plopping. We went to the area on a ferry driven by a huge Maori and walked on specially constructed wooden paths to avoid the heat of the ground and the hot water everywhere, it is mind blowing when you think it is all active! As we headed back to the ferry the heavens opened and it poured with rain so we were soaked but certainly not cold, in fact my feet have never been so toasty warm.

photos will be on Facebook when we get home it’s too difficult to upload while we are here.

Taupo to Mount Maunganui

Pretty awful weather again today with downpours at frequent intervals. Our original intention was to stop off and explore Rotorua especially the big geyser, when we arrived there it was teeming with rain and any outdoor activities were quickly shelved, especially as it was $96 to do the tour in the rain!!

We carried on to Mount Maunganui where the rain had become showers and the sun actually shone, our first impression was very favourable, loads of places to eat, good shopping, and quite smart. Our motel is great despite all the electricity in the area failing the minute we arrived. It was off for about an hour, but we checked in regardless ( I’m sure it wasn’t us causing the problem ). There is miles of beautiful sandy beach and some stunning beachfront houses here, it is obviously an expensive and popular area. The apartment is great, really big, clean and modern, though the view is of rooftops and in the distance a cruise liner in port.

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