We’re back!

Got back from Auckland last night. I’m seriously shattered (despite the fact that MrPloppy and I piked out of the West Coast leg of the trip, staying at home for a few days instead), and I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow :-(

I haven’t even managed to make release notes on all my books yet, so diary entries are probably a wee way off yet (especially given the number of photos I need to upload), but they will happen eventually (at this point, all my loyal readers are saying “Yeah right, just like the diary entries on the Dunedin Convention, and the Brisbane Convention, and the Sydney Convention…”)

Anyway, we had a great time, managed to avoid the worst of the weather, and the cats have almost forgiven us for abandoning them for so long.

The Big Trip (Northern Leg) Day 1: Christchurch to Wellington

You know that saying “Red sky at night…”? Well, it’s not true. The night before we left for Wellington there was the most glorious sunset, yet the next morning dawned grey and drizzly.

The Outlaws had returned the campervan when they got back from the West Coast, so we were taking the train and ferry to get to Wellington, where we’d hire a car. The original plan had been to keep the campervan for the whole trip, but taking it across on the ferry was going to be so expensive that even taking train and plane fares into account, and even though we’d be staying in backpackers in the North Island rather than at camping grounds (because the tent would be too big to carry coming back by plane) this way would work out cheaper.

The only trouble with taking the train to Picton is that it leaves Christchurch at 7 am. Which means that you have to check in at 6.30. Which means leaving home at about 6. Which means getting up at about 5. Whose stupid idea was this anyway??? Somehow we made it to the station on time, and caught the train. It’s normally a spectacular trip up to Picton, with wonderful views along the Kaikoura coast (which is why I’d suggested (oh yeah, it was my idea, wasn’t it) the train and ferry rather than just flying to Wellington), but our good luck with the weather had well and truly run out, and the rain didn’t let up the whole way, so there wasn’t a lot to see.

We got to Picton and transferred to the ferry (which, as a foot passenger, means a walk of a few blocks, following the arrows painted on the footpaths – we didn’t have to carry our luggage, luckily (the train company transfer it to the ferry for you), but the line of passengers trudging along through the rain still looked (and felt) depressingly like a line of refugees fleeing the country (it’s funny, no matter how Tranz-whatevertheyare try to modernise their image, there’s still a touch of the old state railways about their operation – I mean, how much would it cost them to run a shuttle service from the station to the ferry terminal?)). We were supposed to have an hour or two in Picton to look around a bit, but the train had arrived late so we only just had time to get to the terminal and check in for the ferry. Which was probably a good thing, given the weather – it wasn’t exactly conducive to wandering around admiring the town.


Picton in the rain

The other reason for taking the ferry rather than flying was because of the Marlborough Sounds, which the ferry sails through for the first hour or so of the trip to Wellington. More spectacular scenery, totally hidden behind a curtain of rain.


Trust me, it really is spectacular on a nice day.

After braving the outdoor viewing deck for long enough to realise we weren’t going to see much scenery today, we retreated back inside and had lunch in the food court. After that, we went our separate ways for the rest of the trip – the Outlaws to find somewhere warm and comfortable to sit, and me and MrPloppy back outside to find a slightly more sheltered viewing deck (despite my family history, I have no sea legs whatsoever, and being outside in the fresh air (no matter how cold) is the only reliable deterrent for sea-sickness I know of). Once we’d left the shelter of the Sounds, the wind got stronger and colder, so we retreated back inside, but although the sea wasn’t too rough the wind was blowing at a right angle to the ship and making it pitch enough that within a few minutes I was feeling ill again. So I left MrPloppy happily reading his book in one of the lounges, and spent the rest of the trip out on deck. By this time the rain had eased off, but the wind was throwing up a lot of spray, and the relatively sheltered spot we’d found before was full of people smoking (and if anything’s guaranteed to make me throw up, it’s the smell of tobacco smoke), but eventually I found another spot at the stern that was sheltered from the worst of the wind, and spent the remainder of the trip watching the wake and practicing the one seamanship skill I did pick up from Dad, which is the ability to stand upright on a pitching boat without having to hang on to the railing (it’s really fun to do that when other people are staggering along having to hold on to something so they don’t fall over, and they can’t figure out how you are staying upright (it’s really easy, actually, and pretty obvious – you just sway your body in the opposite direction to the boat, in rhythm with its movement – but it’s amazing how many people don’t figure that out)).

Once the ferry arrived in Wellington we regrouped and caught a shuttle to the railway station, which was conveniently across the road from the backpackers’ we were staying at. At reception there was a book (Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith) waiting for me from Sherlockfan. I’d contacted her and discoverylover earlier in the week to let them know I’d be visiting Wellington, and to suggest a meetup. Unfortunately, Sherlockfan was going to be out of town, but discoverylover was keen on meeting up and suggested Olive Cafe. Once we’d got settled in (and taken a few photos of the backpackers’ to send to Sherlockfan when we got home, because she is looking at it as a potential accommodation recommendation for next year’s BCNZ convention), it was nearly 7 pm, so MrPloppy and I set out for Cuba Street to find the cafe.

When we got there I couldn’t see anyone who looked familiar, but I’d only met discoverylover once before and wasn’t confident I’d recognise her, plus I didn’t know who else would be turning up, so I asked one of the staff if they had a booking for a bookcrossing group. “We did have some sort of book group booked in, but I think they cancelled.” She checked the bookings book, and yes, the book group had cancelled. We discussed that it seemed odd that they would have cancelled without letting me know, so she very kindly gave me the name and telephone number of the person who’d cancelled the booking. I didn’t recognise the name, but that of course isn’t unusual with bookcrossers, where half of us don’t use our real names even when we meet in real life. I rang the number, and got through to a switchboard for a company, who told me that yes, X did work there, but had finished for the day hours ago.

I’ve worked on switchboards myself, and know most have a policy of never giving out personal numbers, so I explained the situation and asked the operator if she could contact X and ask her to ring me back. There was a bit of confusion about why I didn’t know whether X was actually the person I wanted to talk to or not, why I didn’t know anything about her or even her full name, and what this whole bookcrossing thing was anyway, and then the operator said “This is going to get too confusing. I’m not supposed to do this, but how about I just give you her phone number and you ring her yourself”.

So I rang X. An elderly woman answered – obviously not discoverylover, but perhaps one of the other Wellington bookcrossers had made the booking.
“Hello, is this X? This might sound like a strange question, but are you a bookcrosser?”
“A what? I’m in a book club, is that what you mean?”
“Well, sort of, bookcrossing is kind of an internet book club.”
“Oh, I never go on the internet.”
Eventually we established that her book club was nothing to do with bookcrossing, and it was sheer coincidence that they’d booked a table in the same cafe at the same time. I, of course was very apologetic for having disturbed her with such a strange phone call, but she was really sweet about it, saying “I thought at first it was going to be a dirty phone call… pity it wasn’t, really.”

One mystery had been cleared up, but there was still no sign of the bookcrossers. MrPloppy and I decided to just order some food anyway, and see if they turned up. They didn’t, but we had a really nice meal – I can highly recommend the Olive Cafe if you’re ever in Wellington. They have a fantastic little back room with walls completely covered with artwork, hung literally everywhere there’s a space (you can hardly see the colour of the wall between the pictures!), so I released Cat Portraits by Jill and Martin Leman there.

(We did eventually find out what had happened to discoverylover – when we got back to Christchurch I contacted her, and we worked out my PM confirming the arrangements had gone astray (as PMs are wont to do), so as she hadn’t heard back from me she thought we weren’t coming…)

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 7: Dunedin to Christchurch

Easter Saturday, and (as mentioned above) the last day of the first half of our big trip.

Before leaving Dunedin we had a quick look around the city (and, as I said above, released The Iceberg Hermit at the railway station, where it was very quickly caught) because the shops had of course all been shut the day before for Good Friday, and then had a pretty uneventful trip back up to Christchurch, with just a few stops along the way, to look at the Moeraki boulders:

and for lunch in Timaru, where I released the last of the books I’d brought with me, The Disappearing TV Star by Emily Rodda.

When we got back to Christchurch we were all suitably exhausted. Dad and Stepmother were due up the next day for a visit, and to meet the Outlaws (and brought a leg of lamb and a slab of venison with them, to give the Outlaws a taste of real NZ food – it gave us a taste of real NZ food too, because we can’t often afford to buy really good meat, and anyway, the opportunities to get real farm-killed meat aren’t that frequent in the city – we had a couple of very nice meals!).

The original plan had been that we’d go over to the West Coast for a few days after Dad and Stepmother had left, before heading for the North Island. But after a week of sleeping in a tent, and with rain forecast for the Coast (and the chances of the forecast being wrong in our favour yet again seemed pretty remote), MrPloppy and I decided to stay at home for a couple of days of peace and quiet while the Outlaws explored the West Coast on their own.

So the story of our trip will pick up again on ANZAC Day, when we headed north…

Home again (briefly)

They say the best thing about travelling is coming home – I reckon it’s coming home to find that one of the books you’ve released on the trip has already been caught: I left The Iceberg Hermit in the railway station in Dunedin this morning, and it was caught and journalled by lunchtime.

Plus I got catches from a couple of older releases: City of the Dead which I released in the cemetery in Palmerston after the Dunedin convention (and which by the sounds of it has been sitting there ever since); and SSN, which I released in Christchurch in December 2003, and made its way via a church sale in Greymouth to end up in Auckland!

A full trip report (for this leg, anyway) will follow shortly, but the short version is we had a great time, the weather was very cooperative, FatherOutlaw can’t believe how many miles he’s driven in such a short time (well, I did warn him that things are a long way apart in New Zealand), and we came back to three cats who were well-fed (thanks to MrsGwilk, who was cat-sitting for us) but still very glad to see us, and, huge surprise, a new fence! The letter we sent to the insurance company must have worked!

Right, must go and finish making release notes, and then sort out my photos…

Currently reading: Reading? Who has time for reading?

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 6: The Catlins to Dunedin

The next morning we packed up the tent again (“assisted” by the campsite’s resident cat which came to check us out and beg for breakfast) and headed for Dunedin.

We were booked into a campsite in Portobello, so once we got down the bay we put up the tent and then headed down to Tairoa Heads to visit the albatross colony. At the visitor centre they told us we probably wouldn’t see any adults because there was hardly any wind (albatrosses need strong winds to land and take off, so they stay out at sea on calm days), but there were chicks on the nests, so we decided to pay to go up to the viewing area (you can often see adult albatross flying overhead just by standing in the carpark, but the nests are all on the other side of the Heads, so to see the chicks you have to pay for a guide to take you up to a special viewing area).

We walked up the hill with our guide, who seemed very disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to show us any flying albatrosses. We did get a very good view of the chicks, though, and she pointed out the different types of shags nesting on the rocks below, and a seal swimming down in the harbour (I grew up in this area, and my father’s family were commercial fishermen, so none of this was particularly new to me, but just like I’d been seeing the countryside through foreigners’ eyes, I got to see shags through the eyes of someone who found them interesting, instead of just dismissing them as a boringly common bird that just sits around on telegraph poles. And when I mentioned to the guide what my family background was we had an interesting conversation about the “quota” of seals that fishermen are allowed to accidentally kill before they have to stop fishing in an area, and some of the other things that have changed in the area since the days when Granddad was fishing).

Finally the guide got a signal that the next tour group was on its way up, so we had to leave the viewing area. She apologised again that we had only seen the two albatross chicks, and commented that the wind seemed to be coming up so if we stayed down in the visitor centre for a while we might be lucky and see an adult. And we were lucky – a couple of minutes later, an albatross flew overhead, closely followed by two more! They flew around the Heads a few times before they came in to land, so we got a really good view of them. A pity they hadn’t arrived just a little bit earlier when we were still in the viewing area so we could actually watch them landing, but at least we got to see them in flight, which is pretty spectacular.


Tairoa Heads. (No albatrosses in this photo, sorry – I was too busy watching them to remember to get my camera out!)

And of course, I released a book at the visitor centre: Archie – Young Detective by Robert Bateman

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 5: Te Anau to the Catlins

The next morning we left Te Anau and headed for the Catlins. We took the scenic route along the southern coast to Invercargill, stopping for a break at Clifden to look at the old suspension bridge (and for me to release a book: White Ruff by Glenn Balch), where we discovered a pair of German tourists cooking their breakfast on a tiny camp stove in the middle of the bridge. A bit of a strange place to have your breakfast, but the view was nice, so it kind of made sense I suppose. (Incidentally, the book was caught a couple of days later, but not, I think, by the Germans).

We had our own late breakfast in Invercargill (and I released The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth in the cafe where we ate), and I redeemed my navigational failure in Te Anau (no, Kimi, we didn’t end up in the lake – anyway, you try navigating when you’re sitting in the back of a camper van and can’t really see where you’re going!) by managing to get us out of Invercargill and onto the right road for the Catlins without a proper map (the map we had of Invercargill only covered the city centre, and the only road out of town it showed was to Dunedin, so I had to do a bit of wild guessing).

As we left Invercargill, we could see rain clouds up ahead, so we thought our run of good luck with the weather must be over. But somehow they managed to stay just ahead of us all day, and the sun shone over our campervan.

In the Catlins we braved a series of dirt roads (actually, most of them were sealed this time, but there were still enough unsealed bits to annoy Father Outlaw, who comes from a civilized country with real roads) to see a few of the highlights. Of course, Niagara Falls had to be on the list:


(I’ve been there often enough now that the joke’s starting to get boring, but Mother Outlaw loved it, and took a picture of us all standing in front of the sign to send home to her friends)

The tide was coming in at Curio Bay, but there was still enough of the petrified forest above water to be interesting.

I released A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz in the Curio Bay carpark, having had such good catches from there on the last trip, but no such luck this time.

And of course we had to take the Outlaws out to Slope Point, which as the southernmost point of the South Island is also the furthest south either of them had ever been.


Windswept trees at Slope Point.


Stopped somewhere on the side of the road to admire the view.

That night we camped at Kaka Point, and MrPloppy and I took the Outlaws out for dinner at the restaurant we’d had such bad service at last time we were there (if there’d been any other choices we would have gone elsewhere, but it was that or fish and chips). Luckily the service had improved greatly, our food actualy arrived promptly, and the Outlaws were able to try some freshly caught blue cod (which I’d been raving about ever since we’d started planning the trip south).

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 4: Milford Sound (warning: high graphics)

So much for weather forecasts. The promised rain didn’t arrive the next morning, and in fact the clouds were beginning to clear as we set off to Milford. By the time we reached the edge of the bush the sky was almost completely blue, just the odd wispy cloud to make the scenery look even more beautiful. Our first stop for the day was at the Mirror Lakes (so-called for their reflections of the surrounding mountains), where a ground fog was making everything look otherworldly:

A bit further down the road at we stopped and followed a walking track through the bush to Lake Gunn:

I don’t need to be with foreign tourists to appreciate the mountains of Fiordland – they totally blow me away every time I see them. The only trouble is, they’re so huge it’s impossible to really capture them in a photo. But I tried:


The montage isn’t perfect, because I wasn’t using a tripod, but it gives you a rough impression of what it’s like standing among those mountains. (Click on the picture to see it full size – be warned though, it’s big!)

Mother Outlaw is scared of heights, so wasn’t very happy about the road up to the Homer Tunnel. I felt awful when I had to tell her it was going to be even worse going back down the other side (we decided to swap seats for that bit, so she could sit in the back with her eyes closed!). Before we went through the tunnel we stopped to make a cup of tea (the wonders of travelling by campervan), and while the kettle was boiling I followed a walking track up above the snowline (not as impressive as it sounds, because the snowline was only about a couple of metres higher than where we were parked) to take some photos (well, to try to anyway, because my camera decided it didn’t like the cold up in the mountains, and kept switching itself off just when I went to take a photo. Eventually I figured out a technique where I kept it tucked under my jersey in the warm until I had worked out exactly what I wanted a photo of, when I would whip it out and take the photo before it got a chance to get too cold).


This is the mountain the Homer Tunnel goes under. A serious feat of engineering!


Alpine plants


Looking back down the valley


Looking back down at the carpark gives a good sense of scale of the mountains!

Through the tunnel, we could look back and see the other side of the mountains I’d been photographing earlier:

Next stop was the Cleddau River. When I brought MrPloppy back to NZ with me when I came home, Dad wanted to show him around the country a bit and took us down to Fiordland. All the way down there he’d been telling MrPloppy about this amazing waterfall he’d take him to see on the Cleddau River. Dad of course pronounced it in the Kiwi way: “Cled-ow”. It wasn’t until we reached the river and saw a signpost that MrPloppy said “Oh, the Cleddau!” (pronouncing it “Cleth-aye” in the Welsh way). Up until then, Dad hadn’t even realised it was named after a Welsh river, and certainly had no idea he wasn’t saying it right – everyone he’d ever known had called it the “Cled-ow”. After that, the Cled-ow/Cleth-aye became a bit of a family joke, so we had to take the Outlaws to see it and tell them about MrPloppy’s introduction to ignorant Kiwis :-)

Not that the waterfall wasn’t worth taking them to see anyway: a little mountain stream suddenly plummets into a deep chasm, where it has carved the rocks into fantastic shapes (it’s another place that’s difficult to photograph well, because there’s nowhere you can see the falls in their entirety, as they drop down several levels into the chasm below you).

The walk through the bush to the falls wasn’t bad either:

Finally we reached Milford Sound. Here the mountains look even bigger, because instead of being surrounded by foothills like mountains usually are, they come straight down to sea-level. So you have mountains like this at your back:

and the sea at your feet:

We didn’t have time (or the money!) to take a cruise out into the Sound, but even just sitting on the shore in front of the cafe (where I released a book, of course: Malibu and Beverly Hills by Pat Booth), the views were spectacular.

All too soon we had to turn round and head back to Te Anau (Mother Outlaw was dismayed to hear there was no other road out of Milford, so she had no choice but to brave the steep road up to the tunnel again), but I was so glad we’d ignored the weather forecasts – we’d had such an incredible day.

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 3: Alexandra to Te Anau

(Yes, I’m finally getting round to writing up the rest of the trip…)

The weather hadn’t improved greatly the next day, and the forecast wasn’t looking good for the southern part of the island, so Stepfather suggested we give Fiordland a miss and just head straight for Dunedin. But I argued that Fiordland is probably the most spectacular part of New Zealand, so it seemed crazy for the Outlaws to miss it on what might be their only trip over here, and anyway, like the West Coast, Milford is one of those places that looks just as good in the rain. So we packed the tent into the campervan, along with a big tin of biscuits that Mum had baked for us while we were off exploring the day before, and set off back up the road towards Queenstown.

We didn’t bother going back into Queenstown itself, but turned off at Frankton to follow the edge of Lake Wakitipu down to Kingston. After Kingston, the landscape stops being dramatic and quietens down to the rolling green hills and farmland of Southland. I found that leg of the trip pretty boring, but Father Outlaw, having grown up on a farm, was fascinated by the differences between New Zealand and Welsh farming techniques, and kept slowing down to look more closely at how they’d built a fence or shorn the sheep, and kept asking me complicated questions about the breeds of sheep etc that I was completely unqualified to answer.

We eventually reached Te Anau early in the evening, and after getting lost a few times driving round the town centre (a difficult feat, given what a small town it is, but we managed somehow!) finally located the DOC information centre, where we could check the forecast for tomorrow (still not looking good, but we decided to risk Milford anyway, having come this far), and our camping ground (which it turned out we’d driven past twice while we were lost!). We set up camp, and then went and found a fish and chip shop for our tea (Mother Outlaw was very impressed because they actually offerred her vinegar on her chips – they must get a lot of British tourists coming in). I released a book outside one of the cafes – Malibu and Beverly Hills by Pat Booth.


Our new home – campervan plus tent.

Reporting in from Alexandra

Well, we’ve made it safely as far as Alexandra – we drove down from Christchurch yesterday, and spent today exploring Queenstown, Wanaka and the surrounding area. Tomorrow we’re off to Te Anau and then on to Milford. So far I haven’t managed to get us lost :-)

Photos and a full report when I get home…

The Big Trip (Southern Leg) Day 2: Central Otago and the Lakes

We had a slow start the next morning (thank goodness!), while we organised vehicles. Mum had offered Father-Outlaw her car for the day, rather than having to take the campervan everywhere, but first we had to wait for it to be returned by someone who’d borrowed it the day before or something (it was all very complicated, and I never quite figured out exactly why they had it). That gave us time to dig our old family tent out from the back of the garage and see if I could remember putting it up.

The memory-enhancing power of smell is amazing: it’s probably more than 20 years since I last put that tent up, and before we took it out I had only a vague memory of how it went together. But when I opened the bag, the smell of the canvas took me straight back to family holidays by the river, and I quickly remembered which bit went where. Or at least I would have, if all the bits were actually there… there was a distinct shortage of tent-pegs and guy ropes in the bag. The guy ropes weren’t such a problem, because it’s a free-standing tent and only needs ropes in high winds, but tent pegs to secure the groundsheet are kind of essential (because the tension in the groundsheet is what keeps all the poles correctly tensioned, which is what keeps it standing up without ropes). This is when having a father with a sports shop comes in handy: I raced down into town and paid a quick visit to Dad in the shop to beg a few pegs (it also helps having a very understanding father who isn’t insulted by the fact I was only visiting to ask for something!).

By the time I got back and had a practice run at putting up and taking down the tent, Mum’s car had arrived back, so we (the Outlaws, MrPloppy and I) set off for Wanaka.


The Outlaws at Lake Wanaka

We had lunch in Wanaka (and I released Elizabeth and Philip: The Untold Story in the cafe), and then we headed over the Crown Range to Arrowtown. Mother-Outlaw hates heights, so she kept her hands over her eyes the whole way down the Arrowtown side of the mountain (the Crown Range road is the highest road in New Zealand, and on the Arrowtown side of the range zig-zags a long way down a very very steep mountain), but the rest of us enjoyed the fantastic view (and I enjoyed the fact that it was a sealed road – last time I went over the Crown Range, many many years ago, it was just a gravel road, which was incredibly scary!!!)


The view from the rest area at the highest point of the road. Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu are just visible in the distance.


The beginning of the road down the mountain – where the road goes out of sight around the corner is where it starts getting interestingly steep.

The autumn colours in Arrowtown can be stunning, but unfortunately we were there about a week too early – a lot of the trees were turning, and the colours were pretty, but not as spectacular as I know they can be. Still, we had a nice wander through the town (which is an old gold-mining town, and which has been preserved pretty much as it was in the 1880s, except that all the shops are full of tourist stuff now – click on the link for the book I released below to see a photo), and bought a few goodies from the old-fashioned sweet shop. I released Celebrations at the base of a lamp-post, and when we came back along the street we saw it being picked up. No journal entry yet, but I live in hope.

It had been a pretty grey day, and by the time we got to Queenstown it had started to rain, so we only had a quick look at the lake and then went and found a cafe for afternoon tea before heading back to Alexandra. Yet again, it was strange seeing the country through strangers’ eyes. I’ve spent so much time in Queenstown that I don’t notice the spectacular scenery any more – I just get irritated by the crowds of “loopies” (the insulting local slang for tourists) and by the blatant commercialisation of the town. But the Outlaws were oohing and ahhing over the lake, and the mountains (even though the tops of the Remarkables were lost in the clouds), and even liked looking in the souvineer shops. I think every New Zealander should be forced to spend some time every few years travelling around with visitors to get a new appreciation of just what a fantastic country we have the priviledge of living in.

Back to Alexandra that night, to make the most of another night in a real bed before the camping part of our holiday.