Thursday, 9 April 2009


No metal scaffolding to be seen in Macau or Hong's all bamboo, tied together with bits of plastic string!

Even on skyscrapers, that's what they use, talk about scary!


An hour's boat trip, 65 kilometres away from Hong Kong, you arrive at Macau, an old Portuguese territory which has now got special status with the Chinese as has Hong Kong.

It's a casino city, trying to rival Las Vegas, with large models of a volcano, the Forbidden City, New Orleans, and a host of others.

It's very similar to Hong Kong, built on a hillside and surrounded by sea; there's a lot of development going on, mainly around the Fishermen's Quarter which is the main tourist area around the ferry terminal and the heliport. There are lots of restaurants from loads of different countries, serving good food at reasonable prices. We walked into the main city area, which is full of skyscrapers with people's laundry hanging from their flat windows; again the quantity of steps to be negotiated is incredible.

Hong Kong 1

Arrived here before 6am in the morning! We had a reasonable flight despite the disgusting sniffings and snortings of the man seated between us!! Why do some men think it is acceptable to make those sort of noises? He's lucky I didn't throw up all over him! We got to our hotel to find that, from the bus, we had two flights of stairs to carry our bags down and then three flights to carry them up to get into the hotel door, lovely. It's a pleasant hotel, very firm beds, but still comfortable, much to my surprise. The staff are very efficient and friendly too. Apparently if you have a room at the back, they have frosted out all the windows so you can't see the HUGE cemetery there, seems a little bizarre, after all, no-one in there's going to hurt you. It's a mixed Muslim, Catholic and Protestant cemetery, so quite interesting to look round. Our room overlooks the Happy Valley Racecourse, but we shall miss the racing which is on Wednesday, the night we leave; I can imagine it will be heaving as the Chinese love to bet.

It's much warmer here but not as humid as I dreaded, thankfully. We got ourselves organised in our room and then set out to explore; we bought a couple of octupi to make it easier to get around.....that's a type of travel card! We went down to the Star Ferry to catch a boat to Kowloon as we're staying on Hong Kong Island and when we arrived there, we had to run the gauntlet of thousands of Filipino maids who gather there over lunchtimes at a weekend for a chat; the numbers of them were incredible and they were just sitting anywhere there was a space, on staircases, bridges, pavements, groups of about 20 all chattering non-stop, the noise was unbelievable. There were huge bags and boxes everywhere too that a courier firm were packing up ready to send back to their homes, so all in all, an experience!

The Star Ferry is an institution in Hong Kong, it's been here since forever

Steps, steps and more wonder they're all so thin here; I wanted to find a loo, 57 steps up to it and no alternative either! I cannot imagine how anyone who is disabled lives here, every shop has at least 3 steps into it and often many more; quite often it's impossible to cross the road without negotiating two or three flights of stairs. We travelled on the mid-levels escalator, it's supposed to be the longest in the world but is actually made up of lots of small ones taking you right up to the top of Hong Kong and then you have to get back down again...not so funny!

We visited a market near our hotel; there were whole, deep-fried birds, and when I say whole, that's what I mean. I have no idea what they were but about blackbird-sized. They were selling dead cockroaches and ants, I didn't like to ask what they did with them, the mind boggles. The fish market was interesting until I realised that the fish were not dead but had been recently pulled out of tanks and laid on the stalls; there was one which was just the head and gills and it was still trying to breathe and another which had been cut in half lengthways and you could see a sort of pulse still beating as it was trying to breathe, I had to stop looking at that point and fish is off the menu for now. There were also lots of dried products, I have no idea what although some of them must have been herbs or fish. I saw in a restaurant menu a picture of a dish which was goose web and pork, I couldn't imagine what goose web was until I saw another picture and realised it was goose feet, I'll try most things but I couldn't face that!

Chopsticks are definitely the thing here, no knives and forks in the restaurants we have been in; I'm sure we could have asked for them but we have managed fairly well most of the time, if getting a little messy on occasions; mind you, that seems to be totally acceptable. Just hold your plate right under your chin and shovel it all in! Tim said he could see where Hoover had got their original idea from having watched someone eating some noodles and literally just sucking them in.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Plants and birds

I suppose it wouldn't be me writing if there was no mention of the plants, there are hedges of agapanthus, huge hedges of phormium, hydrangeas and of pampas grass, it seems so natural here in its normal habitat, rather than an English garden. The tree ferns are to die for, up to 30' tall and between 6' and 15' across the top, enormous pohukatawa trees that are maybe 50' wide with lots of their branches resting on the floor and which are covered in red bottlebrush blossoms in spring; big and small kawakawa (Aussie Bush Basil) shrubs, japanese anemones, erigeron, cannas, even the occasional montbretia. They have rimu trees which are a sort of spruce, but with long hanging leaves around 8" long and miro trees, a bit like an English yew; then there are the kauri trees,

they are a form of pine but grow straight up without varying in diameter, much prized by carpenters and boatbuilders in years gone by and so now they are cherished as there were few left and they are trying to regenarate their kauri forests. The growth is so luxuriant everywhere, it's fabulous to see.

The birds are exotic as well, green and red crowned parakeets, eastern rosellas, tuis, silvereyes, pukekos, (a bit like our moorhens),

kingfishers by the hundreds, bigger than the UK version and not so flashy turquoise, but a beautiful blue instead; harriers everywhere you look, saddlebacks, wild turkeys, hihis, bellbirds and I could go on; oh yes, I forgot the magpies, they used to have white magpies and black magpies but after much fraternisation they now just have black and white ones! The oystercatchers are the same, they have variable ones now, although some black ones still survive. Gulls and terns abound all over the place as you're never far from the sea. Paradise shelducks are in every field and we have seen so many charms of goldfinches too, huge flocks of maybe 300-400 at a time, just stunning to watch.

Mailboxes and strange cattle

One of the things I have noticed whilst we have been driving asround is the vast variation in mailboxes, the personal ones not the official ones. They range from halves of old oil drums to beautiful birdhouses, bits of boxes, a milk churn etc etc, some covered with bits of driftwood, some beautifully painted; there's no end to the variety of them. The Rural Post delivers the mail along with the newspaper to even the most isolated spots.

As to cattle, we have seen every variety going and then some....cows that look like saddleback pigs, black with a white central stripe; cows with black eyepatches like spectacles, Highland cattle, black cows, black and white cows, brown cows, brown and white cows, black cows with gold backs, cows with white manes, Jersey cows, Guernsey cows, cows that are a sort of taupe colour, reddish cows, you name it, we've seen it! Strange when you consider that most cattle originated in UK and were shipped to NZ, but yet, we have nothing like some of them there!

Rotorua and around

Well, we arrived here after continuing on the Pacific Coast Highway, which was certainly scenic, some beautiful beaches and headlands, we even made time for a paddle and a lie on the beach at last! We passed the 2000kms mark today; h'mm, no champagne appeared!

The smell found us first, it was clear we were getting near to Roturoa but it wasn't as bad as I had heard it was and you soon failed to notice it at all.

We had a good wander around the town, hunting out a restaurant for later on; walked through the Government Gardens, with mud pools gurgling and splashing away and then went to find the Polynesian Spa where we thought we might spend some time the following day.

We wandered back to our motel and jumped in the pool at a cool 35C for a while and then went out for dinner at the Pig and Whistle, which was quite raucous; some poor guy celebrating his birthday with a loads of women who were determined to embarrass him by singing to him. The food was good and the beer better!

We woke up next monring to RAIN, just pouring down, so turned over and went back to sleep for a while; it cleared up eventually and we set off for breakfast and the Polynesian Spa. We called into 'The Mad Dog' for food and chose to have chunky toast....oh yes, it was chunky all right, over an inch thick and we could have shared a plate of it, there was loads, but we made a heroic effort and ate it all; we also discovered why The Hatton Estate were making wine in bottles labelled 'Mad Dog', clearly just to sell it at that restaurant...there were poems and ditties all over the place there, on the walls and backs of chairs but my favourite was....'The boy stood on the burning duck, which was a shame as it was on the BBQ'!

Oh what a hard day we had after that; several hours lazing at the Spa, in pools of 36C, 38C, 40C and 42C; it drizzled periodically but it didn't worry us, I don't think I've ever been so clean! We managed to stagger out of the pools after a few hours to replenish our fluid levels and sat and read in their very comfy lounge for a while and then, oh what hardship, back to the water, just to be certain we got our money's worth, you understand! Off back to the hotel later, getting very wet en route as the drizzle turned to pouring rain, but I guess we won't shrink, so never mind.

A quick trip out for dinner to a pizza restaurant and the end of a really busy day!

Moving on tomorrow to Lake Taupo, although the weather forecast is not good, so we shall see what happens.

Napier to Hicks Bay

We took the Pacific Coast Highway from Napier after two days pottering around there; it's a pretty town, devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931 and completely rebuilt in Art Deco style, some beautiful buildings, pedestrianised streets and friendly people. It's right beside the beach and the main road into the town is an avenue of Norfolk Island pines, simply stunning.

We took the opportunity to do some wine-tasting here and went off with Vince's World of Wine tours to four wineries; Askerne, Salvare, Hatton Estates and Moana Park, where we got to taste about 40 wines in four hours!! Lots of spitting was in order or we'd not have made it past the first one, where there were twelve wines to taste. We tried Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Viogniers, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, some wines called 'stickies' which are dessert wines, some of which were like ports. None of these wines are we likely to find in UK unless we go to Gordon Ramsey's restaurants, so it was fun to try ones that we'll never see again. The Moana Park Viognier is to die for, crisp and delicious; I'll be looking out for other versions of that one.

What on earth are the strange string tents for, we wondered; ah kiwi fruit, we eventually realised. Surrounded by tall poplars or man-made windbreaks, there were these tall poles with string attached to them, looking a bit like the umbrellas we used to have in kids' playgrounds; they train the kiwi plants tendrils around them so the kiwi fruit hang down and are easier to harvest. There must be millions of plants in the East Cape.