UK, NW America and NZ - Friends and Relations

In Winnie the Pooh, Rabbit goes on an expedition with
his friends and relations; well, recently we
have been a bit like Rabbit, and a marvellous time it has been. Since no
sailing was involved (although we seem to manage to do watery things
wherever we go), this was largely a land and air
trip.  I have been manfully restraining myself from emailing to give you
a rest from intrepid emails, but here is a brief-ish...... account, if only to persuade you (and our insurers) that  we
have not all drowned at sea.

We spent Christmas 2005 with my mother who is 86 in Somerset, UK
with our son James, my brother and sister and their children, (12 in all) so
a real enjoyable family/cousins bonding/gathering, then Nicky and I rented a flat
in London for a week
and cultured on exhibitions, brilliant London Theatre, fantastic lunches and
dinners with good friends. London seems buoyant, the new pedestrian
bridges over the Thames are surprisingly useful, and it was luxury not to
travel for 1.5 hours each way in dreadfully overcrowded rush hour roads and
trains just to get there.

In early January we house sat for the Gunns in their lovely old Forge
Cottage in our home village West Peckham in Kent. It was a real treat to be in the
Swan pub and every 15 minutes another set of friends would come in and we
would all stagger home at 11. We had a great New Years Party at the Taylors,
Mark press-ganged me into the Swan's quiz team in exchange for his
Cheltenham racing tips (and we won - the pub quiz - Cheltenham yet to come), and Nicky had not
one but two birthday parties. Another Mark (from Shell) demonstrated his elegant 49 foot
Westerly in which he will cross the Atlantic end 2006, then we embarked on a grand tour of England to see more
far flung friends, a delight each time, even if we did completely lose track of where
we were after a week of one night stands. This included a delighttful psychology reunion with friends from Exeter University who I had last seen 30 years ago...Friends Reunited triumphs again, and I will do my best to stay in better touch in future.

Finally back to Bath with James and then Somerset, where my attempted
sculpture with the front end of our car nearly wrote it off (and I had
forgotten to upgrade the insurance to comprehensive). Oh well. Busy time.
With some exceptions people in UK seemed on
the whole better off,  more stressed and less healthy than before, it was
sad to leave but the NW of America called.

I have 2 cousins in Vancouver I hadn't seen for 40 years,
and Nicky had an even longer lost cousin in Portland Oregon who only made contact
very recently. We stayed with Elaine and Denis in Portland, (they were on
Intrepid for 5 weeks last year and are coming for
4 weeks in 2006). We all went to Blakely, one of the San Juan islands just
south of Vancouver where Denis has a cabin, for a SuperBowl Party as the
Seattle SeaHawks owned
by Paul Allen of Microsoft were playing for the first time. Great island
scene, but in a funny way the number of screens divided the party a bit - and the Seahawks lost.
Blakely was logged in the 1860's to provide the wood to build San Francisco,
booming at the time after the 49'ers, now its a private island, idyllic
views, I soaked with Denis in their outdoors wood-fired hot-tub, while he explained the
virtues of raising the body core temperature by 2 degrees to kill viruses.
Since he is a world expert on immune systems I listen to these things.

About this time I started to become aware that anywhere I went on a
weekend, something would break. Previous weekends had included a
boat engine that failed, clay shooting generator that blew up, my car,
this time it was Denis's water line, smashed by some tree felling, but
repaired just as light was falling.

My cousin Roger emigrated to Canada from UK in his 20's, moving west to
South Vancouver. His brother Alistair followed, and later still his parents,
as they found their main focus was in Canada. Roger seemed
completely at home in Canada, and it was easy to see why, grand
country, lots of business opportunities, and 'not the USA', although life is
not all plain
sailing, he has just retired from a senior position in a big fish
canning business and can now concentrate on racing his CandC 27
foot yacht. We had a great time trying to re-establish family relationships,
(and learning do's and don'ts of fish curing).

Ian, my cousin on my mother's side, has just 'downsized' his house to one
that has beautiful views over Vancouver from the north side. We spent an
idyllic time with his family - Vivien, Lynn and Tom, toured Vancouver
including stunning University of BC, cross country skied (not at Whistler which is 2 hours north, but
closer to the city) and snow-shoed. If you aren't that keen on skiing but
want to get out into wonderful scenery, try snow-shoeing - light frames
strap onto your boots with crampon type arrangements to stop you sliding
back. In many ways more liberating than either form of skiing. A weekend at
Ian's  'cabin' on an island in the sound - my influence continued - water
flooding the kitchen before diagnosed, but swiftly mopped up. Wonderful
walks through old forests.

Back in Oregon, we took Elaine to Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, built in
1930's as part of Roosevelt's programme to get America working again before
Japan completed the work. Denis brought some of the Pinot Noir's from their
lovely Yamhill Valley Vineyard, so we had a delicious but slightly woozy last dinner
Skiing in America is less crowded than elsewhere - on one day I
was one of only 10 skiers on the upper slopes (in new powder snow) while
Nicky saw just one other person cross country skiing, (but did acquire nasty
blisters which stopped her walking any distance for almost 2 weeks)  But we
had one more cousin to meet - Alec's father emigrated to USA some 40 years
ago, and somehow the families lost touch. Both Nicky's parents have died, so it was
moving to re-discover a near relation, and they just clicked
straightaway, Alec and Lesley were wonderfully hospitable. Having built his
own great house, Alec is now re-building a 32 foot yacht to sail the world,
so we spent ages admiring and discussing, then had an insider's tour of
American fire and rescue (Alec is deputy fire chief for a large area west of
Portland).

In the end we just ran out of time in NW America, I had thought February in
the NW might be too cold but the scenery was grand, and it was just
great fun to meet everyone. But we had the Pacific to cross, this time by
plane which I must say was faster than by sail but more boring, although Air NZ did their
best to add tension by failing one of the 2 engines after we had boarded, so
we had to wait while they repaired it.

Auckland is THE big NZ city and when we visited last in 1990 (when we were
working for Shell in Borneo) I remembered it as a significantly Mauri city.
NZ  is important to us because it was here that to celebrate Nicky's 40th
birthday we sailed in my first ever keelboat (ie big sailing boat) in
Auckland harbour, thereby setting in train a chain of events that would lead
to ........................well, to New Zealand I suppose.But I don't think
I even dreamt that I would one day sail across the Pacific PAST New Zealand.

The in thing to do in NZ is hire a campervan, but in a funny way this can
isolate you from the country, so we just rented a car (Ace -
NZ$45/day-18 pounds) and it worked out well. New Zealand prides itself on
eccentric extreme activities like rolling down
a hill in a gigantic hamster ball, flying round a pole in a home made plane,
abseiling down an underground waterfall in a 1 metre wide tunnel, canoeing
90kms along a remote river gorge through rapids in an open canoe and so on.
We did the last 2, the first 2 we still have
to experience. Haggas Honking Holes had me wet, shaking and trembling as I
abseiled down waterfalls 90metres underground, then crawled through caves
less than 0.5 metre diameter. Nicky wisely walked through a different cave,
but saw more glow-worms.

The Wanganui River flows south from the mountains
south of Auckland to the sea on the SW coast of North Island. This river was
THE route to the centre of New Zealand for almost a century before roads
were built, and there is still no road access for most of the route. The
Bridge to Nowhere for example spans a gorge - but has no road on either end.
The River still has Class 2 rapids, and we canoed down it for 90 kms in
3 days, staying at a DOC hut the first day, (basic) and the Bridge to
Nowhere Inn the 2nd night. We had booked with Canoe Safaris who are the
premier operation on the river (well, I negotiated a good price
(NZ400/person - about 160 pounds) and it seemed too good to miss given
that Nicky's blisters had not yet healed).

This was a 7 person, 2 guide de luxe operation, (well as de luxe as you can
get on a remote river) and we did not capsize once - unlike the other canoes
not guided who managed 3 capsizes out of 5 canoes. Sublime scenery in steep
gorges originally settled by returning WW1 veterans, the bush and lack of
access was so hard that many just abandoned the land afar 15 years of
backbreaking work. Then onto Wellington
which amazingly was full - we could not get into a motel, backpackers or
hotel. "The Riesling" the people we talked to explained when I asked why the city
was so full. Only later did we realise this was not a wine festival but the
NZ accent: 'e' is pronounced 'i' Wrestling - Yis, a night
of all star risling which (together with women's world cycling and the
arts festival) had occupied the city. Lanah came to our rescue,  she is a
very bright American who is developing public health and debt strategies for the NZ
Government. She stayed with us on Intrepid in Fiji last year, and this time we stayed with her high up on
Mount Victoria with a mind blowing view and even more wind blown location as
Windy Wellington excelled itself with hurricane force gusts of 150 kms/hour
(even the ferry was badly damaged by the storm force winds) . Lanah's house mates were
really chatty (to Lanah's surprise) and we experienced
Wellington which has a really great strip in centre city with a wildly
eclectic bunch of people in their 20's, went to burlesque, bars and breakfasts, toured Te
Papa the Museum of NZ and learned just how short the Treat of Waitingi
really is, BBQ'ed and well just had a really great time.

So now? We have just been rained off Mount Egmont, went to a stock auction
at Stratford with Gary a local farmer, (sheep are currently cheap at NZ$10-30/head,
cattle $800 or NZ$1.5/kg live-weight) and we are currently staying with Eric
and Sue (who we met while canoeing ) on their 1700 acre farm in central north
island. They were great hosts, I roared around on a quad bike through the 3 valleys that make up their farm - they
keep 250 pure bred Hereford cows, 9 magnificent bulls, 400 steers, deer and
2000 Romney ewes. The Herefords are well suited to the steep hillsides which
are so similar to Hereford England. The most frequent injury to the bulls is to their....well, penises......if they are put to young heifers, who are liable to be skittish, stand on awkward slopes, and move just when penetration is occurring, then the bulls get an occupational injury. Bulls are normally sold with one years insurance for this, but knowledgeable farmers put young bulls to older cows for the first year, and after that the bulls have learned. Amazing what you learn traveling.

Together we tramped the incredible
Tongariro (high level) crossing with Eric, Susanne and Roger in weather that
included all 4 seasons in 8 hours from sunshine to storm force winds and
traces of snow. Its almost a rite of passage for visitors to NZ - there were
perhaps 300 with us on the day. Then I helped with crutching 700 ewes
(cutting off the soiled wool round the backside), caught a trout in
their stream with my EBay $20 poacher rod,  and Roger demonstrated his
haylage machines - large hay bales
wrapped in 4 layers of plastic to create silage in a bale - very effective.
Then fishing on Lake Taupo - nil trout I am afraid, but classic scenery .
 

Whereas UK is paying farmers not to farm, NZ is advertising on TV for more
people to go into dairy farming  and in spite of NZ being World Rugby
Champions apparent, many of the rugby and other clubs are closing . Now we go north to see what the
promise of permanent summer in Northland north of Auckland means- weather to
date has been like a British summer ie patchy at best. Then to
Brisbane for some boat maintenance to get Intrepid ready for sea by  early
May 2006.

We hope spring has finally arrived in Northern latitudes, we may well be
back in UK in July 2006 for James graduation, then will decide when is the
best time to go through Indonesia (and the best defence against pirates who
are prevalent there).

We do love to hear from you, and if you do want to sail on Intrepid at any
time do let us know, we would love to have you on board, just pay your air
fare and share food costs and be a bit flexible on timing and you are on!

With all best wishes,

Andy and Nicky

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