Wednesday, 27 February 2013

New Zealand Life - Part 4: Sandflies

Sandflies are to New Zealand what midges are to Scotland. The fly in the ointment of visiting such beautiful places is pesky insects which have a particular taste for the blood of non-natives.

I read somewhere that there was some scientific (or at least decent anecdotal) evidence that midges prefer to feast on blond women - my personal encounters with midges in the past have generally proven this theory. Either that, or I have very tasty blood and should probably avoid holidays to Transylvania.

We had planned to pick up some insect repellent in New Zealand to save carrying it over from the UK and it was top of our supermarket shopping list. The only trouble was, our first encounter with sandflies happened enroute to said supermarket. When driving from Picton to Nelson we stopped at a beautiful river got lunch and a quick swim. The spot was so beautiful and inviting, and completely deserted - we should probably have taken this as a sign. As soon as we sat down to eat, the sandflies landed. A nice leisurely lunch turned into stuffing our faces whilst frantically doing the 'sandfly dance' (a form of dance that involves trying to keep moving as much as possible whilst swatting at any flies that have dared to land on you), followed by jumping into the river - I have never got into cold water so fast.

Naively, we thought initially we had got off unscathed. It was only when I woke early the next morning, desperate to scratch my feet to shreds that the damage became clear. Thank goodness for bite relief. My feet and ankles were swollen and covered in bites for the next few days, but liberal application of insect repellent and covering up has helped reduce the number of further bites (though MizHB has not been so lucky and currently looks like her legs have developed chicken pox).

So to me at least, the evidence is clear - sandflies also prefer blonds...

The Routeburn - a very big day out

The Routeburn, is a 32km 'tramp' (translation: walk) - one of New Zealand's Great Walks, and rated by someone, somewhere as number 10 in the Top 10 walks in the world. Fame indeed! I had also seen some photos of the amazing scenery the walk passes through so was keen to get in on the action. Most people take 2-3 days to complete the tramp, getting a bus to and from the trail ends and staying in the excellent huts en-route. I had a day, and had to start and end from the same point, so some prioritisation was called for.

Heading up from the Routeburn Shelter, on the Glenorchy side of the trail, I figured I should be able to get up to the Routeburn Falls viewpoint, and possibly up to the Harris Saddle, the high point of the route. Fortunately, speed when walking was trained into me from a young age. My Dad has a rather insane competitive instinct when it comes to hiking - if there is someone ahead, then we have to catch up and overtake them. This involved some serious ice cream and sweet related bribery when my sister and I were kids, and a genetic trait to have to try and beat guidebook time. So despite being very out of practice on the hill walking front (London doesn't have many hills, and my 'hill training' in Greenwich Park never really got off the ground), determination to get to the top of the hill saw me set out at a pretty good pace from the start of the track.

The first section of the track winds up through beech forest, gentle at first, then a bit steeper, following the Burn river up the valley. The track was excellent - a guy in the information centre described it as an 'autobahn', and he wasn't far wrong. Some fun, and very bouncy, swing bridges were in place for river crossings and even a solitary toilet half way up!

The track levels out as you get up the Routeburn flats - an area of lush meadow with the river running through, and surrounded by steep, forrested slopes. I carried on up the track to the Routeburn Falls - a steeper climb, passing a few great viewpoints where a landslide had created a gap in the forest canopy. I reached the hut at the falls about 2hrs after setting out, and ahead of time, so stopped to admire the fantastic view from the DOC hut.

Above the hut, you leave the forest behind and enter a more alpine, mountain environment. The track climbs steadily until you reach Harris lake, a beautiful blue mountain lake, and then up to the Harris saddle - the high point of the track - and beautiful views to snow-capped mountains. After a bit of lunch, I decided to do the extra hike up to Conical Hill - this was much steeper than the rest of the track and felt hard work but the breathtaking panoramic views from the top were worth it.

After many photos I decided it was time to head back down and begin the long walk home. My legs were definitely feeling more tired on the way down and feet were hurting by the time I hobbled into the car park, 8 hrs and 27.5km after setting out. A really great day out!

Monday, 25 February 2013


We've spent the last two days travelling down the west coast of New Zealand - a spectacular journey which necessitated many photo stops. Although glaciers aren't new to me, having seen many (and slept on a few) I still love seeing the different characteristics each river of ice possesses. So Franz Josef and Fox glaciers were definitely on my New Zealand hit list.

We arrived at Franz Josef in the evening and raced to get to the glacier viewpoint before dark. We were rewarded with beautiful views of the glacier snout, with the upper part shrouded in a strange, blue cloud which contrasted with the sunlit cloud on the surrounding mountains.

After staying overnight in Franz Josef, we got up early to walk up to Fox glacier before our long drive south to Queenstown. Again, the early bird card paid off and we reached the glacier just as the sun started spilling over the surrounding hills. Spectacular lighting and managed to get a few photos in before the light became too bright. We were also treated to a rather close up experience with the local Kea, who are altogether too tame for wild birds! Around 700 photos taken so far - I'm going to have some serious editing to do when I get home!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

An underworld adventure

The early bird catches the worm, as they say. Getting up early certainly paid off for us as not only did we get amazing early morning views of the coast, but we were the only two on our Underworld Rafting tour. We'd wanted to see glow worms at some point during the trip, and this experienced combined that with some caving and floating down rivers on a rubber ring.

Once we'd wetsuited and booted up, and grabbed our webbed gloves, we had a short drive in a minibus to the start of the tour. What we didn't expect to find at the end of the road was a small railway station complete with wooden platform and benches, with a tiny railway leading off into the forest. All became clear when a metal container was opened up and 'Dorothy', a small diesel engine emerged, pulling some rudimentary carriages behind her. We got on and were driven for 2km through the temperate rainforest, with a running commentary on the gold mining history of the area and that it featured in the Lost World documentary series.

At the end of the railway, there was another mini-station where we disembarked, and our guide Maria, led us on a short walk through the forest to a swingbridge, picking up our rubber rings on the way. Once over the bridge some steps led steeply up to the cave entrance. The caves are not open to the public, and you have to get a permit from the Department of Conservation to enter them, to protect the fragile environment. They were only discovered 50 years ago, by a local man and his dog - the dog's footprints are still preserved in the sand in part of the cave.

The caves were fairly low - you often had to stoop to avoid hitting your head on the low roof - but wide, so you never felt particularly claustrophobic. Once deep inside it was totally dark (Maria made is turn off our torches to prove this) with absolutely no slivers of light. I don't think I have been anywhere before where you couldn't see the slightest thing, not even your hand in front of your face.

The stalactites were beautiful and varied in size from tiny 'straws', to thick pillars. In the light of your torch the water droplets on the end of the stalactites and roof of the cave twinkled, looking almost like glow worms. The formations varied in colour from brown to pure white - there was a particularly beautiful section where the water had formed thin 'sails' of calcium carbonate, which hung down from the ceiling. It was great to have the caves to ourselves, and as we were a small group we got to explore some of the side paths to the main route through.

As we got nearer the end of the cave system, Maria got us to turn off our torches again and this time tiny lights twinkled above us - just a few at first, then more joined them - we had reached the glow worms. This was a warm up for the main event and we turned our torches back on to have a close up look at the glow worms and the tendrils of sticky thread they use to catch any insects that venture into the caves.

We walked a bit further on until water covered the floor of the cave - this was where the rubber rings came in handy. Lying back in them, we joined in a line and floated through a tunnel in the dark. Suddenly we emerged to glow worms - millions of them covering the roof of the cave. Floating through the cave in the dark with the glow worms above was a truly peaceful, amazing moment. It ended all too soon as we reached the entrance to the cave, the glow worms faded and we emerged into the light.

But the fun wasn't over - once out of the cave we had to get back down the river. More floating in the rubber rings and even a couple of mini-rapids! Eventually it was time to get out and get back on Dorothy to rattle through the jungle and back to the start.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Golden Bay

If you take the SH60 north from Motueka, you drive steeply up a twisty road over Takaka Hill and down to Golden Bay. Although it's only a few hours drive from Abel Tasman, Golden Bay feels somewhat more remote. The backpacker tour buses only go as far as Abel Tasman, so you need your own wheels to explore further north.

When researching where to visit in New Zealand, I had originally missed Golden Bay off the itinerary. Then I came across a photo of Wharariki Beach - beautiful, windswept white sands with pounding waves - and Golden Bay was firmly on the list.

The trouble with driving in New Zealand, is that you want to stop all the time to admire the incredible scenery. We made it over Takaka Hill with only about four photo stops and popped into Payne's Ford so I could drool over some beautiful limestone sport routes and play at bouldering in sandals - somewhere to return to with climbing gear in tow.

Next stop was the Grove Scenic reserve, which felt straight out of a Tolkein book, with weird limestone formations and ancient, lichen and fern covered trees. After a bit of an explore, we drove to the Rawhiti cave. Actually getting to the cave involved a gentle walk by a dried up riverbed and a steep pull up to the cave entrance. Supposedly an hours walk - but we made it in 30 out-of-breath minutes. As you wheeze up the final stages of the track you suddenly spy the yawning mouth of the cave itself - a mouth full of teeth...

The stalactites here have developed through a combination of calcite deposit and plant growth, leading to the phytokarst phenomenon, where the stalactites 'grow' towards the sun. There are some nice warning signs suggesting you don't linger too long at the cave mouth, and the presence of thousands of daggers of rock above you does lend a rather ominous air.

We then headed further north, way up to the base of Farewell Spit, where 6km of dirt track landed us a short walk from Wharariki Beach. We donned flip flops and headed for the sea. The golden sands and calm blue seas of Abel Tasman were beautiful, but I loved this wild, untamed beach of endless sand and crashing waves. Sadly we only had a few hours, but you could spend days exploring it.

But we weren't the only inhabitants of the beach. New Zealand fur seals also use it as a playground and we were fortunate enough to see a group of baby seals playing in a rock pool. Tiny compared to the grey seals you get in the UK, they were playful and curious and very happy to be photographed. Eventually an adult came along to supervise the nursery, and the tide started coming in. Rather faster than anticipated as it turned out, and my camera bag nearly joined the seals in playtime.

After breathing in our fill of sea air, we headed back to the car and drove to our accommodation for the night - a beautiful eco-hostel with gardens leading down to a long stretch of private beach.  It was the sort of place we could have quite happily stayed a week, but sadly we were moving on the next day.  After a good meal and some proper ale at the Mussel Inn, we were lulled to sleep by the gentle sound of the sea.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A day in Paradise

Our current accommodation, situated at the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park in Marahau, is advertising for 'Woofers' to work for a few hours a day in exchange for living in 'paradise'.  On arrival at the hostel in question last night, I thought this rather an exaggeration.  Having spent a day in and around a park, I think it is possibly an understatement.  Due to the high cost of wifi at the hostel here, I have no photos for you yet, so you will have to google to see how beautiful this place is!

Abel Tasman is New Zealand's smallest National Park, but as they say, good things come in small packages.  We started off the day with a couple of hours sea kayaking out from Kaiteriteri to Split Apple Rock - a unique rock formation, which looks like someone has taken a giant chisel to a large sphere of rock.  Paddling gently under the morning sun, on a calm blue sea takes some beating.

So in the afternoon we got a water taxi along the coast to the north of the park, up to the seal colony at Tonga island.  Unfortunately for us, the seals had better things to do than wait around on the rocks to be snapped by tourist paparazzi, and the best we got were a few cute little pups at a distance - they really looked rather like black slugs...  We got dropped off on a beautiful beach at Tonga Quarry, for a 'two hour' hike to Medlands Beach.  The track was really good, and wound its way up and down through the forest.  There are so many different types of vegetation, it is overwhelming - every shade of green imaginable, with the tall, native ferns dominating.  We dropped down into Bark Bay and took the longer, high tide route round the back of the bay, for fantastic views of the expanse of the bay and river which runs into it.

As the 'two hour' walk took us an hour and ten minutes, MizHB decided to take the opportunity to have a good swim whilst waiting for the return boat.  I walked further along the path, and took a side road off to South Head for expansive views of the Abel Tasman coastline - a truly beautiful spot.  I was then tempted to head on further and took another side turning down to Sandfly Bay.  Fortunately due to a slight breeze this did not live up to its name (more on Sandflys later...) but gave another beautiful beach with some great, granite boulders.  After a few photos, I sped back to Medlands Beach and ran into the sea for a short swim and cool off before we got the boat back along the coast.

The day finished with a good dinner and bottle of the Torrent Bay Riesling - truly a perfect day.

Wine country

As the guidebook states - there isn't much in Blenheim.  There also isn't much in its sister village of Renwick, a small community with single storey houses, a small supermarket and an old English pub (random, I know).  But you don't come to this part of New Zealand for the towns - you come for the wine.  Blenheim and Renwick lie on a flat, fertile plain, protected from the cold southerly winds by a range of dry, arid hills.  To the north are the green, fertile hills which stretch up to the Marlborough Sounds, and let through the soft, warm, northerly winds.

So what you remember from Blenheim is not the nondescript buildings, or even the friendly local people, but the views of row upon row of flourishing vines, with the backdrop of hills which vary in colour from orange, to green, to blue.

Local info courtesy of our friendly taxi driver, Duncan!

Monday, 18 February 2013

New Zealand Life - Part 3: Wine

As both MizHB and I are rather partial to a glass (or bottle) of nice wine, we could hardly travel round New Zealand and not visit a vineyard. So, just to be ultra-sure we didn't miss out, we made the village of Renwick, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, our first stop on the South Island. This is an area that over the last decade has transformed from an economy based on sheep farming to become one of New Zealand's most prosperous wine districts.

We arrived a bit later than planned, due to a few delays on the ferry across, so ate lunch whilst walking to our first vineyard stop - lining the stomach is so important. At Forest Wines we went for the six tasting option - each. So twelve different wines between us - my Dad would approve. We then put on our best wine connoisseur expressions, with lots of sniffing and umming and ahhing, but most importantly lots of tasting! None of this spitting out nonsense - we were looking for maximum wine for our money! The Gruner Veltliner was approved of, as was the Chenin Blanc (despite MizHB's protestations that it smelt of sileage) but our favourites came out as a 2008 Riesling and a rather yummy late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Though my top choice was a very rich, dark red blend which also came at a top price ($60 a bottle) - I obviously have expensive tastes...

We then walked to the much smaller, family run vineyard, Gibson Bridge, who specialise in Pinot Gris. Here we tasted ten wines, mainly whites, our definite favourite being a beautiful, sweet desert wine which tasted like liquid honey. At $65 a bottle it was slightly out of our price range, so we settled for a 2009 Pinot Gris and a 2011 Gew├╝rztraminer. Happy with our purchases we wandered back to our hostel- perhaps weaving ever so slightly - for some much needed dinner!

New Zealand Life - Part 2: Coffee

Coffee is a national institution in New Zealand. Along with cake - always a pleasing combination, particularly around 11am. New Zealanders take their coffee very seriously and you can get it more ways than MizHB has shoes - ristretto, piccolo, macciato, vienna, long black, short black - the list goes on. Having always been a bog standard latte girl, I am boggled by the coffee decisions facing me. Fortunately, there is no such thing as a bad coffee (unless you defect to Starbucks). Usually I need milk in my coffee to make it drinkable, but out here I have braved black coffee for the first time, and I have to say, it's pretty good.

The windy city of Wellington

Wellington supposedly has 167 days of gale force winds each year. Luckily for us, we have had beautiful sunny weather for our stay - Lucy seems to have taken it as a personal affront that we haven't experienced at least a minor squall since we've been here. But I'm not complaining, and long may the good weather last!

Coming from London - a sprawling metropolis of 8 million people - I love the fact that Wellington is a small city (population 250,000), hemmed in by green hills. These lush, forested, designated Town Belt areas, put the British 'green belt' concept to shame.

First stop on the Wellington tourist trail was the cable car. This is not technically a cable car, but a funicular, with wooden seats that smell of history (if you could smell history...), that grinds its way up from the centre of town to a fantastic view point on one of the surrounding hills. After admiring the view, we wandered leisurely back down through the Botanic Gardens, where you can lose yourself in flowers, trees and cacti - feeling a million miles away from the bustling city.

The trendy, alternative Cuba Street was next, with a compulsory coffee and cake stop at Fidel's (good coffee, better cake). Thinking it was time to move onto something a bit stronger, we went to an Irish bar (yes, I know this is a travesty when in another country, but they had a balcony in the sun) where I had the most appalling G & T I have ever tasted - paint stripper comes to mind... Which will teach me to turn my back on the beautiful wines.

Next day, with poor Lucy back at work, MizHB and I headed to Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum. This unique building, on Wellington's waterfront has fantastic exhibitions on New Zealand history, geography and Maori culture. With due professional interest, MizHB and I spent a good amount of time in the earthquake and volcano section, where I failed miserably at the 'protect your home' quiz - it's a good thing earthquakes don't feature highly on the London Risk Register!

MizHB was desperate to get her toes wet, so we got the bus out to Scorching Bay on the Miramar peninsula for a quick swim and coffee. It was a beautiful walk along the coast down to Seatoun, past small, rocky bays and luxury houses. The land rises steeply behind the coast road, and houses perched on top of the escarpment have souped up Stannah stairlifts to transport people (and shopping!) up the hill.

Seatoun (aka Celebrityville) is a lovely, small coastal village. We popped in to see some friends of my Gran's, who have lived here for years and are well used to bumping into Peter (Jackson - film director and local hero) and whatever other A listers happen to be staying in the local area for filming of the latest Tolkein blockbuster.

Our time in Wellington has come to an end, and we're off to the South Island to continue our New Zealand adventure. The sun is shining and the Marlborough vineyards are beckoning - life is good.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Oh, I do like to be beside the sea side...

Being by the sea always makes me think of holidays. So what better way to get in the holiday spirit than with a quick sea swim! We headed out to the Miramar Peninsular, to the small (but perfectly formed) Scorching Bay. On a similar sunny, calm day on Brighton beach, you would have been crammed in like sardines with Brits travelling for hours to top up their lobster-style tans - here, we shared the beach with just a few local families.  Before it starts to sound like I'm selling Wellington as the new beach holiday destination, I have been repeatedly assured that calm, sunny days like this are actually extremely rare in Wellington, aka The Windy City.

The water was not too cold, despite my tip-toed, advance-and-retreat style of entry (accompanied by much squealing), and it was lovely to splash around in the clear water. After we'd been in long enough to justifiably feel like we'd earned some food, we dried off and headed to Scorch-a-Rama (the local cafe) for coffee and brunch.

MizHB was due in the airport so we wandered over (where else can you walk to the airport?!) to wait for her to arrive. In the airport terminal an enormous Gollum looms over you-suspended from the ceiling. You almost expect the tannoy announcements to start with "So, my precious....".   We picked up MizHB, whose layover in Sydney had consisted of rather more champagne and rather less sleep than she had anticipated, and bundled her in a car home.   Figuring that exercise was supposedly a sure cure for jet lag (and hangovers) we took a walk up Mt Victoria, one of the green, hilly areas that surrounds Wellington.

It was lovely to escape the heat of the afternoon and wander amongst the tall, stately podocarps (trees for the non-botanical amoung us). The noise of cicadas provided a deafening backdrop, drowning out the noises of the city below. For those Lord of the Rings buffs, we passed the spot where the hobbits hid in the tree roots from the Black Rider (though the massive tree roots they hid in were not actually there - cinematography is so disappointing).  The view from the top of Mt Victoria was spectacular:

After a hot day and with the (now rather choppy) waters of Wellington harbour in front of us, what else could we have for dinner but fish and chips?!

Friday, 15 February 2013

New Zealand life - Part 1: Upside down

The tumble dryer in Lucy's flat is upside down. Apparently this is normal in New Zealand - I would say this is a sign that Kiwi's are short, except they're not! Or perhaps it's just confirmation that we are definitely in the southern hemisphere now...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hello New Zealand!

Paddling on the beach on a lovely sunny afternoon, followed by a nice, chilled glass of sauvignon blanc - I love Wellington already. Not to mention the great views from the lovely Lucy's flat - amazing! Four hours sleep in the last two days is starting to catch up with me though - must stay awake for dinner...

Baggage and butterflies

Having not flown long-haul for a while, I wasn't sure how good I was going to be at sleeping in plane seats.  Well, now I know the answer - pretty poor.  I tried the sitting up position, the slouched with knees up position (inadvertently turning on the overly bright reading light as I did) and the half turn position (quickly abandoned due to numb bum).  No position was comfortable, though at some point I must have dozed for a bit as I remember not looking at my watch for a whole hour...

On a brighter note, Changi airport is pretty cool.  There is a lot more greenery than typically found in airports, and a series of small gardens, including the beautiful orchid garden (which fortunately doesn't look quite so fluorescent in reality):

My flight into Singapore was slightly late landing, so unfortunately I missed the last of the free bus tours of Singapore tour for transit passengers.  But this did give me plenty of time to explore the airport.  First stop was the information point to pick up my free S$40 spending vouchers - this perk wasn't well advertised, but just goes to show what benefits you can get from reading the entire in-flight magazine from cover to cover.  Then had a bit of an explore around the orchid and sunflower gardens (sadly it was dull and raining so the sunflowers didn't look their best), and settled down for some dinner.  Feeling rather sleepy, I managed to grab a bed in the snooze lounge, which proved to be much more comfortable than a plane seat, and had a bit of a nap.  I then headed to the Ambassador Transit Lounge for a fantastic shower and some free drinks, before going for a wander round the Butterfly Garden.  The butterflies were rather hard to spot, being asleep and often disguised as dead leaves, but I reckon I counted about 6 or 7 different species.

So not a bad stopover, and all for free - thank you Singapore Airlines!  Next stage is Singapore to Brisbane, then I have a super-quick change to a different airline for the last leg to Wellington.  I am slightly concerned that whilst I may make it, my bag might not.  I seemed to cause great confusion to the lady at the check-in desk, who started off insisting that I would have to buy a visa for Australia, just to go out from my flight, pick my bag up and check it in again for the next flight!  Fortunately after a few enquiries and system over-rides it is apparently sorted - so I am just keeping my fingers crossed my bag appears on that conveyor belt...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Packing for New Zealand

I am a woman who likes lists - this is generally because, if I don't have a list, I will forgot something.  The first packing list I made for my New Zealand trip was about two months ago, when I was planning a trip on my own, involving a fair amount of walking.  I made a second list a few weeks ago, when I succeeded in pursuading my friend, the delectable MizHB (she is truly 'down wit der kidz') to join me, and we spent a long evening over a bottle of wine planning and booking our trip.  I then made a third list, once MizHB had announced she was bringing half of her extremely comprehensive wardrobe, and most of the contents of the local Superdrug.  Having read many warnings about packing for all four seasons in New Zealand (despite the fact we're going in summer), and being determined not to end up cold/wet/hot, I had a fair amount I wanted to fit in.  And this is what it looked like this morning:

But somehow, after a bit of ordering and packing into the tardis that is my beloved Macpac rucksack, it all fitted!  With space to spare!  This is a new concept in packing for me - I suspect it may be to do with the fact that I am normally trying to fit a rope and half a ton of climbing gear into my holiday bag along with everything else!  I even managed to fit in four - yes four - pairs of shoes.

Bags are packed, I'm ready to go - New Zealand here I come!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Time to relax

I lead a busy life.  I figure there are only so many hours in the day, so best to make the most of them.  To me this seems normal, but I am frequently informed by my friends and family (generally when slumped over a glass of wine at 9pm) that sometimes, just sometimes, I should slow down and relax.  In fact Amy Macdonald's catchy tune 'Slow it Down' is starting to become my anthem - if you haven't heard it, download it - it's a great tune.

But soon, very soon, it will be time to relax.  In just two days I will be on the first of several planes which (if all goes to plan) should land me into Wellington, New Zealand for the start of a three week road trip.  Of course, most people's idea of a relaxing holiday is a week or two soaking up the sun on a beach with the occasional foray to a nearby cocktail bar.  Frankly, I start twitching after an hour lying in the sun, and a day of lying around doing nothing leaves me frantically searching for my running shoes.  And anyway, who would travel half way around the world to sit on a beach?

So, this would possibly not be classified as the most relaxing of holidays - 20 days of driving, walking, wine-drinking, swimming and kayaking is probably going to leave me looking forward to the sleep on the plane home.  But it will be a fantastic trip, and once I am on the plane I can sit back, forget about cold, rainy England and relax into holiday mode.

Of course, there are a few hurdles to cross first - I mean, this is the women who not only lost her passport two weeks before her last holiday, but has, on past holidays, turned up at the airport on the wrong day. Twice.  But in between making various 'to-do' lists and trying to remember what I have forgotten to add to the pile of things to pack, I am getting rather excited about this trip of a lifetime.  Rather like a kid in the run up to Christmas, I have already started to count the hours...