Sheep-shearing, sheep dogs and sheep

Having been brought up in the 70s/80s with only 3 TV channels, “One man and his dog” was compulsive viewing. For those uneducated here, this involved sheep dog trials hosted in beautiful British countryside where the biggest event involved a rogue sheep running off from their colleagues with the TV commentators describing the drama of it all. Hosted by the wonderfully named Phil Drabble, it was almost the highlight of the week – ah, the days before the Internet…

Therefore, next up for us in the adventure playground that is Rotorua was a visit to the Agrodome. Sounds flash, but essentially it is a working sheep farm with a couple of gift shops plus a “farm show” in a small indoor arena. The show consisted of being shown the 19 types of sheep at the farm, being given a history lesson for each breed plus a sheep shearing demonstration and a couple of short sessions showing how sheep dogs manage to direct sheep, and even ducks at one point, around the arena. A short video is available here.

It was all very touristy, but our guide/shepherd/part-time comedian was good fun and we feel suitably educated and entertained. We didn’t have any problems sleeping that night.

South to Rotorua

A four hour bus ride takes Hardcow to Rotorua. We have now broken our record of the furthest south we have ever been on the planet, beating Concepcion in Chile.

Summer continues and another lovely sunny day of 26c greets us for our first day out. The sulphur smell is in the air, so it must be a visit to Rotorua’s main geothermal attractions. The drama start in town when we pass a few blocks and we see steam rising up.

First up was a visit to a bubbling and gargling mud pond. The sight and sounds are hypnotic and we need to drag ourselves back to the bus. A quick video is available here.

Next was the Lady Knox geyser. A pretty big crowd gathered in front of the geyser waiting for it to erupt and although it is induced – by dropping a surfactant into the opening – it does not disappoint. A video is available here – you can even hear Chloe expressing her annoyance with the person in front getting in the way.

A short drive later, we get dropped off at the Wai-O-Tapu thermal park. We wander around for a couple of hours, where nature is at its most colourful. This includes reds, rust reds, yellows, lime greens, snot greens, blue and many other colours of lakes, rocks and flora.

All the attractions were a little crowded in places, it was very hot, it was bloody stinky but, wow, it so worth it and totally incredible. I just wish our photos and videos came with smell and make no apologies for including 10 photos.

Getting back to town, a five minute walk took us to Rotorua Lake that looks like Lake Windermere only with blazing sun and sea-planes. And to finish the day, we spot a touring Leonardo da Vinci exhibition that has replicas of all sorts of his inventions including wings, bicycle, cogs and all sorts of other science.

A day of history, culture and hats

A bit of a yomp around Auckland today. We started by getting Chloe a hat (on Meredith’s strict instructions!) from Hattitude – a fantastic hat shop in Parnell that could have easily tested our entire budget. Chloe fell in love with the felt topper but practicality dictated the rather more frumpy sunhat. Oh well.

The afternoon was spent at the magnificent Auckland museum, which is a war museum, a natural history museum and a cultural museum all rolled into one.

The war section commemorated the Boer War, both World Wars and Vietnam. Both of our family names were painfully represented in the WW1 roll of honour. We discovered lots of new information, including finding out that the NZ navy had “Q ships” that were battleships disguised as sailing boats.

Moving on to the cultural history, we were surprised to discover that the Maori only settled New Zealand 700 years ago, sailing thousands of miles from SE Asia in robust but frankly tiny canoes.

We were wowed by the fact that Auckland is always on high alert for volcano eruptions and found out more about the huge Chinese influence in this country’s culture and history.

Simply one of the best museums either of us have ever been to.

Later on, we reverted to type and had a late siesta, watched Dirk Gently on Netflix and, with the sound of some Pride revellers starting early, we did some late night packing ready for our departure tomorrow.

Thanks Auckland. You’ve been genuinely interesting place and a great cure for our jet-lag.

Conquering Mount Victoria

We woke up at 5am, so looks like the time difference is still hitting us, but it meant we could get cracking exploring a small part of Auckland. Get ready for Allan’s love of facts, people!

We chose Devonport, having been recommended the views from the top of the hill (Mt Victoria), which soars a massive 87m. A short 12 minute ferry ride, fighting past the cruise ship passengers who seemed in an even bigger daze than we were, and we landed in Devonport ‘village’. Think a sub-tropical Torquay.

The walk to the top of the hill in the 27c heat took half an hour and we were rewarded with a 360 degree view of downtown Auckland and surrounding islands. It really is a beautiful, but very sprawling city – the size of greater London, but less than a tenth of the population.

Devonport is clearly a well-to-do part of Auckland and geared up for day-trippers, though more cosmopolitan than your average English seaside town. Traditional ice cream and fish ‘n chips sit alongside Greek, Japanese, Malaysian and Vietnamese restaurants. But something that never changes in these places is the aggressive gang of seagulls homing in on any tourist foolish enough to unwrap a sandwich…

As we were in Devonport, it was very appropriate that our first video was sent back to friends in Devon, teaching our goddaughter some Maori words and how far we are away from home.

Good luck to all in the UK with Storm Doris.

Hello, Auckland!

The time difference and the 12 hour flight has hit us a little. Today consisted of a trip to the supermarket, the discovery of Netflix and a morning siesta.

Fortunately, we’ve got a nice flat right in the centre of town that has a supermarket just five minutes walk away, withthe Auckland tower (Sky Tower) on the way. This is the tower that you can do a skywalk around the edge of or even a base jump from the top to ground level. We won’t be doing those!

Tomorrow will hopefully bring more interesting news rather than us just complaining about how expensive everything is here, even in supermarkets.

Our longest day and the lost Monday

Possibly the longest day of our lives. We woke at dawn on Sunday to pack and dragged our bags to the Marriott in time to enjoy the final full day of Gallifrey One.

We both agreed that our highlight was a live commentary to Waters of Mars by two bona fide NASA Mars scientists. They both love Doctor Who but can’t help spotting huge scientific inconsistencies. Bowie Base One is supposed to be situated in a crater that, in reality, is about 100 miles across. Remember the episode? Lots of running up and down the corridors of the base that stretch the radius of the crater – about 40 miles each. Queue much snorting in disbelief!

At 9pm on Sunday we began a bumpy 12.5 hour flight (but the longest of the trip over with) and finally arrived in Auckland at 7am on Tuesday.

We missed Monday completely, having crossed the International Date Line somewhere over the Pacific. However, Allan’s bid for a premium economy upgrade was accepted, rendering the almost constant turbulence borderline acceptable. Chloe may have spent 12 hours on a rollercoaster of terror but at least there was mint and cinnamon tea!

Now we just need to wait two hours for the bus into Auckland itself…

Lost Boys and Gallifrey found

Thursday brought another sunny day, so Hardcow went to the beach and the world famous Santa Monica Pier – well, it’s famous for those who have seen The Lost Boys (Chloe…13 times when she was 15!) Our impression of Santa Monica on our very brief visit is that it is obviously well-heeled, has a lovely beach, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness with many desperate homeless people and addicts. We finished the day on a more positive note by registering for Gallifrey One – the Doctor Who convention and the main reason we are in Los Angeles.

For those who aren’t aware, we’ve been coming to Gally for the past five years, sometimes just for a long weekend. This year, it is half way to our next stop, New Zealand, so we feel even more justified to enter the geek heaven that is Gally.

Highlights of today included:

– Finding out Tom Baker broke his collarbone filming his first Doctor Who episode
– Hattie Hayridge confirming that there was no CGI for her character (Holly) in Red Dwarf, it really was just her wearing a black polo neck with a black background
– The Mars Rover’s tyre-tracks spell out JPL in morse code (JPL – Jet Propulsion Laboratory – NASA’s R&D arm)
– Seeing Paul McGann in the morning
– A panel discussing whether gender swapping characters is healthy dose of cultural disruption or just a gimmick and why Olivia Coleman should be the next Doctor Who
– Sitting next to the person who has the best costume of the day, the Gel Guard.

Lowlight was definitely the Doctor Who Deathmatch panel. It was laugh out loud funny, well paced, and full of surprises but concluded that John Pertwee was the best Doctor. What the…?!

Posted in USA

Hardcow goes to Hollywood

After a mammoth 10 hour flight from the UK and an even more mammoth 15 hours sleep, we were ready for our first trip into LA. A visit to Griffith Park was in order, as the sun was shining and it was a pleasant 20c.

On the map of LA it didn’t seem very far, but it was still a one hour taxi ride to the top of Griffith Park hilltop next to the observatory. Our taxi driver enjoyed coming here as he’d never been either.

Griffith Park is vast. It covers 4,310 acres of prime real estate in a very posh part of town. We walked around the observatory taking in views of the mountains, downtown and towards the sea – absolutely stunning. Then was the observatory itself; full of school kids taking in description of the planets, stars and many other Brian Cox-esque wonders of the Universe. We touched meteorites from the Moon and Mars, we saw a demo of a huge Tesla Coil and went to the very expensive café.

We wandered down the trail from the observatory to the Greek Theatre. Quiet, green and not a road in sight. Unfortunately when we got there the theatre wasn’t open, but a very pleasant walk fixed the jet-lag.

It’s a lovely part of LA and a total escape from concrete jungle of six-lane freeways, the permanent haze (smog) and general noise of a big city.

Posted in USA