Well, we are now in Chile, but let me get you all up to date by telling you about our last week or so in NZ. We had planned to drop off our campervan in Christchurch and then live there for a week, but of course after the earthquake we changed our plans and avoided the area. We found a place to stay on a farm in Ashburton, south of Christchurch, with Ruth, Wayne and their family. They have a lovely self-contained cottage on the farm called 'At Violinos' which we rented with Dan and Sarah for a week, and it was a really lovely and relaxing place to be. In the mornings we could go and feed the chickens and get some eggs. The family really included us, and had us over for dinner with them three times! Ruth is a very accomplished violinist, and she has given the farm a musical theme, decorated with musical notes and clefs. On our first night we had an impromptu concert from Stephan, Ruth's youngest, who played some excellent alto saxophone!
Stu had use of a guitar while we were there, which he enjoyed. Here he is serenading the sheep:
Dinner with the family! Ruth is Swiss, so here she treated us to a meal of 'raclette':
One of the days we were in Ashburton, Ruth took us out for a hike in the nearby Mt Hutt area. Ruth obviously does this all the time, and she put us to shame racing off up the steep track while we panted behind her! It was a very pretty hike through forest, past waterfalls, and with some gorgeous views of the flat plains below.
A short detour, climbing up beside a waterfall:
The views from the walk:
Later, Ruth drove us to Rakaia Gorge, to see these amazing views:
It was a very relaxing week, and just the tonic after a month of living in a van!
Stu and I then said our goodbyes to Dan and Sarah, who were staying on in Ashburton, and we caught a flight back to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. We stayed in the same hostel as before, City Garden Lodge, in lovely Parnell. Parnell is a bit posh, full of lovely little eateries and walkable to the city centre. Here I am in one of Parnell's little cobbled alleys:
Relaxing at our hostel:While in Auckland, we visited the huge Auckland Museum, which has an extensive exhibition of Maori articfacts and a cultural performance where we saw traditional Maori dances, poi and the haka (war dance, designed to intimidate the enemy, and made famous by the All Blacks rugby team).
The next day we took the ferry to the nearby island of Rangitoto. Auckland is in a volcanic region, and Rangitoto is the most recently active volcano, formed by a series of eruptions between 600 and 700 years ago. We trekked up the cone to the top, and walked around the crater at the top (now full of forest). The island is still surprisingly volcano-like, covered in black lava rock which still hasn't been completely grown over since the last eruption.
Looking back at the Auckland skyline from the ferry:
Views of the Hauraki Gulf from the top of Rangitoto:
There are also some pretty cool lava caves on Rangitoto, which were formed by lava and then left as underground tunnels when the lava receded. Here is Stu emerging from one of the caves:
On our last full day in NZ, we took another ferry to the island of Waiheke, which (unlike Rangitoto) is properly inhabited with towns and lots of vineyards. So, of course, we did some wine-tasting! Waiheke also grows lots of olives, so we learned about olive harvesting and olive oil production too. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely way to spend our last day - looking at Auckland city across the water with a glass of wine in hand.
Vines on the left, olive trees on the right: