The Classic

Milford and Routeburn tracks (part two)

The image above shows a very small tree fern:

The leaves of ferns are called fronds and when they are young they are tightly coiled into a tight spiral. This shape, called a ‘koru’ in Māori, is a popular motif in many New Zealand designs.

The Milford track ends at ‘ Sandfly Point’. Sandflies are nasty flies and their bites itch for days.

From Sandfly point we got transferred by boat to the Milford Sound, which is a drowned glacial valley open to the sea surrounded by the most spectacular mountains. It is part of the NZ Fiordland National Park.

On our final night we celebrated the end of our walk in another nice lodge, followed by a cruise on the Milford sound the next morning. As it had rained all night the waterfalls were amazing,

The seals were out

and the scenery was spectacular

A bus transferred us to Te Anau for 24 hours rest before we started the Routeburn track. I had a much needed massage in Te Anau and we enjoyed dinner with Kevin and Tony, two doctors from Brisbane and Megan from the US who is Sophie’s age. She put on a very brave face considering we were all at least double her age! All five of us and a Polish couple Maggie and Alex from Chicago were doing the Routeburn track as well.

The Classic

The Milford and Routeburn Tracks (part one)

Tony last did the Routeburn Track in 1971, possibly in Flipflops over 2 days. So it seemed timely to repeat the experience.

This time we chose the slightly more upmarket option of a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes and added the famous Milford to the Routeburn.

The initial Milford track group comprised of 48 fellow walkers (including a group of Japanese, South Koreans, Americans, New Zealanders and Australians) and 4 guides. Most remarkable was the 82 South Korean man who was walking with his teenage grandson. Seven of us continued to do the Routeburn Track and not surprisingly we became quite close during our week of walking.

We stayed in wonderfully comfortable huts with double beds and showers and 3 course meals in the evening. We had to carry our own clothes and lunch in our backpacks.

After a boat transfer across lake Te Anau

we started the Milford track from Glade House, where we had a briefing from our guides.

On 17 October 1888 the route from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound now famous as the Milford Track was discovered by Quintin McKinnon and Ernest Mitchell.

Here a bit of background to the Fiordland National Park.

The view from our bedroom window was stunning.

That afternoon we did a short walk to a waterfall accompanied by robins.

On Saturday the 10th we walked for 10 miles gently uphill towards the Mackinnon Pass along the Clinton river valley.

We saw native eels and rainbow trout.

The next day we crossed the Mackinnon Pass in pouring rain and walked 700m uphill.

But we were rewarded by beautiful alpine flowers and a great sense of achievement.

After a hearty lunch on top of the mountain and a change of clothes the skies cleared.

and we got a glimpse of the mountains, Mount Hart in the background.

The descent of 900m over rocky terrain was hard and very steep, but stunning

The rainforest was magical

As if walking 9 miles up and down was not enough we did a 3 mile side trip to the Sutherland falls which drop down 580m and are truly spectacular!

We also saw the famous and rare blue duck.

On the last day of the Milford track we walked 13 miles thankfully mostly on flat terrain along the Arthur River valley.

The tree ferns created a wonderful cathedral effect along the track

The track ends at ‘ Sandfly Point’. Sandflies are nasty flies and their bites itch for days.

From Sandfly point we got transferred by boat to the Milford Sound, which is a drowned glacial valley open to the sea surrounded by the most spectacular mountains.

On our final night we celebrated the end of our walk in another nice lodge, followed by a cruise on the Milford sound the next morning and a bus transfer to Te Anau for 24 hours rest before we started the Routeburn track

To be continued and more pictures when I have better internet connection

Coromandel Peninsula

The peninsula lies 2hrs east of Auckland and many Aucklanders have a holiday home somewhere along its beautiful coast.

We spend 4 magical days there. Susan, who rented us the yurt lives with her husband Rod in a house overlooking the Purangi river estuary,. She walks with secateurs in a Holster around her waist and is quite clearly a very gifted gardener and fruit grower. She is also a fountain of information on what to do locally.

On Susan’s recommendations we took route 309 a non sealed road which crosses the peninsula from east to west. Along the way we left money in a box and bought the most delicious Manuka honey and walked through a magical 600 year old Kauri tree grove.

Kauri tress are extraordinarily big and straight. They make good timber so unfortunately few have escaped logging in the early 20th Century.

We sampled Coromandel oysters and those very big green NZ mussels in Coramandel town. It’s a sweet little town which had its day during the gold rush in the late 19th century.

The way back along the NR 25 allows for stunning views of bays and pristine beaches for which the peninsula is famous.

The following day was Waitangi day, beautifully sunny and warm. It commemorates the signing of the treaty of Waitangi, regarded as the nation’s founding document.

We started with a 2hr kayak ride down the Purangi river with the tide, followed by visiting the famous Cathedral Cove beach.

Afterwards we took shovels and dug a hole on Hot Sands Beach where hot water springs lie beneath the sand. We found them almost too hot to enjoy.

A school of dolphins passed by the beach putting on a wonderful display of jumping out of the water up to 3-4m.

On our last day in the Coromandel peninsula we went for a big walk along the coast to Ferry Landing training for the big walk with with beautiful wild gigantic Agapanthus flowers along the way. We soaked in more hot springs, this time ‘man made’ in Whitianga and ate as many of the wonderful ripe avocados from our orchard as possible.

On the 8th of February we took a plane from Auckland to Queenstown (pictures below) New Zealand’s adventure capital in the South Island. From there we started our Ultimate hikes walks through NZ Fjord-lands.

New Zealand February 2018

London-Tokyo-Auckland, an adventure already

We left London on the 2nd of February, below Tony enjoying the new Comic Relief BA safety video and me the camera on my new iPhone!!


On arrival in Tokyo, where we had a 8hr stopover, we headed as quickly possible out to the famous Tsukiji fish market, which we had missed on our last stay in Tokyo.

Tony had done as much research as possible on the quickest journey there and the opening times. As always taking a train in Japan was efficient and pleasurable. When we got to the market around midday the premises were open but the market had finished and we were met by endless massive polystyrene boxes. We could only imagine the big tuna they might have housed.

However we were more than compensated by finding a tiny restaurant next to the market which served the most deliciously fresh and sweet sea urchin, tuna, scallops and prawns on rice. The food in Japan is so good!!

Back at the airport trying to check in with Air NZ to Auckland-we hit a major stumbling block, and soon felt like very stupid oldies.

To travel on to Australia at the end of our stay in NZ I need an electronic visa and Tony’s Australian passport has run out in October 2017!

Thank god for new technology. I applied immediately for a visa on line but did not get approval confirmation. Re Tony it took several phone calls to the Australian and NZ embassies. Eventually the very nice rule bound Japanese woman at check-in bent the rules and let us through. By then it was 1/2 hr before departure of the plane.

Once she and her supervisor had decided in our favour we and our luggage were whisked through security in no time like VIP’s and we made it! Phew- a lesson learned!!

The stresses of our departure from Tokyo seemed very far away once we settled into our yurt on the Coromandel peninsula. We were surrounded by an orchard in Purangi Garden accommodation with passion fruit dropping onto our patio and ripe wonderful avocado trees.

On our first day Sunday the 4th of Feb we dropped our stuff and went to the local car racing festival aptly named ” the Leadfoot festival” great fun. My brothers would have enjoyed the cars and we tasted our first NZ mussel fritters.

More from the Coromandel peninsula in the next blog.

Japan 2017, Tokyo

Finally in Tokyo the cherry blossom ( Sakura) had arrived and was in in full bloom! What a joyous occasion in Japan, everyone is out and about, wandering the streets and having picnics in the middle of the week.

There are almost too many things to do in Tokyo. We started with an exhibition by Yayio Kusama, whose pumpkin we had seen in Naoshima Island. It shows work from the beginning of her career to now. Her most recent paintings are extraordinary considering she is 80 years old.

Other excursions that stood out in Tokyo were-

a visit to the OTA woodblock museum where I finally succumbed and bought a woodblock print.

a stroll through Yanaka, recommended by Tony’s friend Magnus and Jasper, where we waited an hour to eat our last sashimi and caught up with another Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima whose number work we had seen already in Naoshima.

We also tried again to see Mt. Fuji on a clear morning from a skyscraper in Tokyo  but the smoke  foiled our attempts.

However two shopping trips on behalf of Jasper and Sebastian were fun and educational. In Kappabashi St. we bought amazing Japanese knives for Sebastian and a wonderful ” fake sushi clock”  for Tony, which now proudly decorates our kitchen!

Jasper needed a briefcase and sent us to this very swanky shopping area called  Nakameguro. It features little shops, cafes and the Meguro river which was lined by lovely cherry blossoms.

Having done our shopping, the Kabuki-Za theatre performance was a great way to finish the day.

All roles are played by adult men after the Shogunate by the mid seventeenth century forbid women and later young men to appear on stage. They were thought to pose a threat to public order. Information provided by the theatre-“In the constrained social circumstances of the Edo period, the Kabuki theatre was one of the only officially sanctioned forms of entertainment for the general public, and in particular for the grass roots of society. As such Kabuki became a vital channel of expression against government repression. Although strict censorship ensured that nothing negative could be stated openly, nevertheless the subjects of many plays were subversive in content, often criticizing the contemporary social system under ancient historical guise. The real intentions and subjects of such stories, however, were perfectly obvious to the audiences of the time.”

We saw two plays:

This is a sewamono play, a play portraying the lives of ordinary people in the Edo period.
One of the most famous love stories in kabuki and bunraku is the love of the young maiden Ohan for her middle-aged neighbor Chōemon, finally culminating in a double suicide.

This dance is a parody of the famous work ‘The Maiden at Dōjōji’.
‘Musume Dōjōji’ is based on a legend about a woman who transformed herself into a serpent out of jealousy and who destroyed a temple bell that was keeping her from the object of her love.

You are not allowed to take pictures during the performance but the pictures below give you an idea.

On our last day in Japan/Tokyo the 4th of April we enjoyed the Cherry blossom and that night went to an extraordinary restaurant called Inakaya recommended by Mark’s sister Anne and Marcelo ( the owner of Rio Ancho in Uruguay). All the food was barbecued in front of us and we shared our meal with very entertaining guests from London, LA and India.

Afterwards we went to a Korean bathhouse for a massage and a scrub. The plan was not to go to bed at all and end up at the famous Tokyo fish market at 4am. Well, we sneaked in 2 hours sleep and when we got to the fish market it was closed as they had one of their annual holidays!!!

So there are reasons to come back to Japan, maybe to experience autumn and the change of colour in the maple trees, see the cranes in Hokkaido, do more skiing, take a flat in Kyoto for a month, do more walking, eat more wonderful food -I could go on.

Finally a selection of stamps I collected from all over Japan.

Thank you to everyone who gave us their recommendations on Japan. These contributed immensely to our enjoyment and fun in Japan.

Until our next holiday xxF

Japan 2017, Kyoto(2)

The 31st of March was a seriously rainy day but this did not stop us from seeing more stunning dry rock gardens in particular Daisen-in and Zuiho-in, both part of the enormous Daitokuji-Monastery. Daisen-in is different, every stone has a name and a meaning and Zuiho-in is interesting because the main garden was created only in  the 1960’s.

Our last day in Kyoto started with a marvellous spring dance and music performance of the Kyoto Geishas. The Miyako Odori performance runs for three weeks every spring and is preceded by a Japanese tea ceremony (see picture above).

Afterwards we strolled through the gardens of the Siver Pavillon (not silver but wooden), along the Philosopher’s Way, and in the gardens of Nanzen-ji temple complex in beautiful sunshine.

The cherry blossom was really only just beginning in Kyoto but people were out and about in anticipation. That night we took our last and fastest bullet train the Nazomi back to Tokyo. The ride of 452km takes around 2 and 1/2 hrs!

Japan 2017, Kyoto (1)


Kiyo took us from Koya-San to Kyoto via Osaka where we had a quick browse of ceramic shops and ate blowfish ( pufferfish). You may have seen the memorial to the blowfish in the last blog.

Tony’s take on our meal: “Octopus and puffer fish are more than life size looming over Osaka’s eating quarter. We had the latter for lunch, and survived! (Although I did feel odd for a minute or two.) Puffer fish (fugu) contain one of nature’s most lethal toxins, and fugu sashimi or soup can only be prepared by specially trained chefs. Wasn’t worth the bother, or the risk, imho”.



Each year around 50 people die in Japan after eating pufferfish.

We approached Kyoto from the south and stopped off at Fushimi-Imari Takisha- a Shinto Shrine complex built into Mt. Inari. Initially it was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. It is lined with  rows and rows of vermilion red Torii gates which have all been donated to the gods. One can still buy them, price depends on size! There are also hundreds of stone foxes,  as the fox is considered the messenger of the god of cereals (Inari).


We finished the day with a stroll around the Geiko (Geisha) district, which was full of tourists trying to get a glimpse of a geisha but none were to be seen.

The 29th of March was our last day with Kiyo our Oku Travel guide and she took us on a wonderful trip around the west and north of Kyoto. She showed us some beautiful gardens and we finished off with a great spring meal that night. Below pictures of Tenruji-ji Temple gardens, the famous Bamboo grove, the Golden temple and one of the most well known Zen rock garden at Ryoanji Temple (see also above). There are 15 stones in this garden and you are meant to only ever be able to see 14 stones, except there is of course a vantage point from where you can see all the stones!


Tony had been to Kyoto 28 years ago and stayed in a temple called Myoren-Ji and whilst they don’t offer accommodation anymore the temple still exists. It appears to have been done up recently and has some stunning gardens and  painted silk screens.

We continued on to Chishakuin temple and the 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity at Sanjusange-do followed by a special dinner where you sat in front of the chef. Tony liked the minimalist approach and that night we finally saw or first weeping cherry tree blossom.