Category Archives: Travel

Tigers

The Goddess Durga on her tiger mount

There used to be tigers on Bali. On Java, too. They’re gone now, extinct. The Sumatran tiger hangs on by the tips of its claws in the vanishing pockets of forest on Sumatra but they are critically endangered, with the numbers in the wild down to just a few hundred individuals. There are too many people on this planet, shouldering out any life that competes. All over the world wild places have become smaller and smaller as humanity takes over.

Apart from the ever-dwindling habitat, tigers and other iconic animals are the target of poachers, slaughtering animals for their body parts which are highly prized in Chinese medicine. It is astonishing to me that in the 21st century there are still people that believe a potion of ground-up tiger penis will give a man virility. I’m sure Viagra is cheaper – and it’s known to work.

The time will come when the animals we all saw in our nursery books – elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, koalas – will only be able to survive in parks and zoos. Maybe there’s still a little bit of time. The Indian Government has spent millions to help to preserve Bengal tigers. Villages have been closed and the people moved to provide space for the big carnivores to roam naturally with their prey animals. But all of this is only going to work if people care, if a living tiger is worth more than a dead one. I was delighted to learn that tiger numbers in India have actually risen for the first time in decades. People go the safari parks to see tigers in the wild there. Education works.

That’s why, with some misgivings, I went to Bali Safari to see the tiger show.

I’ve seen tigers before. Many years ago, armed with my very first, brand new, totally unused Canon EOS camera, I went to Singapore zoo. We arrived early, and the tigers were having their morning swim. Wow. Just wow. Three of them, interacting and playing in the pool. It was wonderful and I’ve never forgotten it. Often the big cats lie around, maybe flick a tail, because that’s what they do. To see them move, running, (from a safe distance) is an absolute joy.

The tiger show lasts for half an hour. Hundreds of people turned up to watch, most of them Asian, many of them children. Like the elephant show, the aim is to educate. First we were shown the importance of the tiger in Balinese culture (which is based on Indian culture). In Hinduism the tiger is the steed of Durga, the warrior aspect of the Moon Goddess who battles demons with the weapons carried in her many arms. Durga and her mount were paraded out into the arena and a couple of human ‘tigers’ danced. Then performers showed the impact of man’s encroachment on tiger territory and the effects of poaching. The poaching was stopped by the Goddess, which I thought was a great touch.

The tigers themselves (three young beasts) were only out there for maybe ten minutes in total, in two short bursts. They came out with their keepers but were free to run around the waterfall and the grass. One immediately lay down in the stream. Another curled around a keeper’s legs, asking for his bottle. The third trotted along the path by the waterfall, encouraged with treats.

It was simply wonderful to see them move, that long, loping, effortless run. I was almost brought to tears. One of them climbed a pole wrapped in thick rope for a treat dangled above. I don’t think people realise how high a tiger can climb, or jump.

Bali Safari also has white tigers. They were not in the show (I’m pleased to say) but people can watch them being fed in another very short ‘show’ (about 10 minutes).

White tigers are not albinos. They can occur naturally in the wild if there is a mating between two cats which both carry this recessive gene. The coat is very pale, almost white, with the usual black stipes and they have ice-blue eyes. Their striking appearance makes them showy and popular – but scratch the surface and you’ll find a few disturbing characteristics. All white tigers are cross-eyed, even if they don’t appear to be. They also suffer from other genetic defects, such as club feet and problems with internal organs, so they don’t tend to last in the wild. All the white tigers in captivity stem from a litter brought to the US by a hunter who shot their mother. In the pet trade in the US white tigers were popular so breeders crossed fathers with daughters or granddaughters, brothers with sisters, to be sure of getting at least one or two white cubs from the pairing. The rest would be the usual orange – and they were often excess to requirements. The result of all this is that white tigers are horribly inbred. Nobody should be breeding them at all. Please read this article from Big Cat Rescue in Florida for more detailed information about white tigers.

Unfortunately, while Bali Safari had a poster explaining the double recessive gene and how a white tiger can result from mating, it did not mention the other effects. I most sincerely hope the park is not breeding from these cats.

Nonetheless, I took a few nice pictures of the cats in their spacious enclosure.

I love tigers. As it happens, I was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. Chinese couples try to avoid having a girl in a tiger year. We grow up feisty and nasty. So it’s said.

You might have noticed a certain level of passion in this post. Without being an expert, I know a bit about the plight of the world’s tigers. I have written two books about them. They’re fantasy, starring a were-tiger (like a werewolf, a creature that can look like a human or an animal). The first, Black Tiger, is about the impact of poachers and the Chinese medicine trade on the tigers in India, with the fantasy and a touch of romance woven in.

The second, White Tiger, is about tigers in the USA where it is still legal in too many places for people to own great cats as pets. In fact, while the number of tigers in America is not precisely known, it is in excess of 6,000 – many, many more than the number of wild tigers in India – indeed, the world.

I wrote the books to try to educate people in an accessible way – read them for the fantasy and the romance and come away with a bit more knowledge about tigers in the modern world.  I suppose it’s my small attempt to make a difference. It’s not quite as good as letting people see the real thing, but it’s the best I can do.

picture of black tiger coverBlack Tiger

He haunts the jungle – and her dreams

When Dr. Sally Carter travels to India to regroup from a broken heart the last thing she wants is to fall in love. But Raja Asoka (Ash) Bhosle is entirely too attractive to ignore, even though she knows it can only end in tears. Hers.

Ash guards his forest and the precious creatures within it, protecting the rare tigers from mindless slaughter, and a secret that lives in legend. From the moment he sets eyes on the Australian doctor, he wants her, even over the objections of his mother and the unsuitability of her cultural heritage.

While Ash fights tiger poachers, Sally struggles against cultural prejudice. Can the Legend of the Black Tiger be the bond that brings them closer together, or will it be an impossible belief that rips them apart. The closer Sally comes to understanding what the legend means, the more frequent the nightmares become. Is she losing her sanity, or is there more to Sally than she herself knows? The answers lie buried in her past.

Buy the book from Amazon  Kobo iBooks B&N

  White Tiger

New York is no place for a tiger – not for weretiger Sally Carter or for the white tiger she finds in a Harlem basement, guarding an enormous stash of heroin. Sally’s daring rescue of the tiger attracts journalist Dave Gardner, who sniffs a story and a lead to a drug baron he’s been trying to nail for years.

While Sally is determined that the white tiger will find a home in a sanctuary, Gardner follows a tenuous trail from the tiger back to the drug cache – and a whole lot of trouble. Soon Sally and her weretiger husband find themselves mixed up in a drug baron’s plot for revenge where even their amazing weretiger talents may not be enough to save Gardner – or themselves.

Buy the book from Amazon  Kobo iBooks B&N

 

 

 

Bali Safari Park

The introductory show. The orang was only out there for a few minutes.

I was very much torn about whether to visit Bali’s safari park or not. On the one hand it’s a large safari park which takes visitors in a closed vehicle into closed habitat where animals do what wild animals do. On the other hand the park offers several animal shows. I don’t much like animal shows where the creatures are used to entertain humans. And I detest circus acts with lions and tigers forced to sit on boxes and jump through hoops, and elephants do head stands. But these animal shows weren’t acts in that sense. Bali Safari offers shows very much like Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, and other parks around the world. They’re meant to educate while they entertain. Years ago I’d been to an orang utan ‘show’ at Singapore zoo which was excellent. The keepers said that for the orangs it was something to alleviate boredom, a very real thing in zoos. The animals weren’t forced to do anything. One big male didn’t feel like opening a coconut, so after he refused, the job was given to another orang. I hoped this park would be similar.

So we went.

Our hotel’s shuttle bus took us over to a larger hotel where we transferred to a Safari Park bus for the trip to the park, meandering through heavy traffic out to the other side of town. I think you need a LOT of patience to live on Bali – something I’m not good at. The Safari park’s entrance is modern but the organisation is decidedly olde worlde. The best thing to do is book and pay at the hotel or via the park if you can. We were held up in a queue for a very bloody long some time. Even after we managed to pay it was unclear what we were supposed to do next, but we eventually found someone to ask.

A bus takes visitors from the entrance area to the start of the show. Our tickets entitled us to several animal shows, a ride through the large safari habitats, a boat ride, the aquarium, and of course we could wander around to look at the exhibits. The first performance was an introductory show. Guinea pigs, cats, dogs and some birds ran onto the stage, encouraged by treats. None of them were asked to perform. A female hornbill flew in and a member of the audience volunteered to allow the bird to land on her arm. But the bird declined so the show moved on.

Female hornbill. She didn’t want to sit on a visitor’s arm

No animal was on stage for more than a few minutes. One of the resident orang utans appeared and swung across the stage on a rope. The orang was given a coconut to tear apart to show the audience how powerful he was. This is where the education part becomes important. The commentator explained that orangs were on the verge of extinction because they were losing their habitat – the rainforests of Borneo. Most of the several hundred people watching were Asians – Chinese, Indian, Indonesian – and many of them were children. If animals are to survive in the wild, increasingly it will be because we humans ensure that it happens. These kids need to know what it is that will disappear if we don’t change our ways.

We moved on to the elephant show.

Elephant swims through the water

I had misgivings about this one and I still do. The park offers visitors the option of being taken around the park on elephants, something I think is wrong. Guests can feed an elephant (nuts or something sold to visitors) and have their picture taken with an elephant. I’m not sure about that, either. Here’s one eye-opening review of the elephant riding – please read the park’s response, too, to be fair. Oh – and patting lions? Don’t do that, either.

An elephant’s eye

In less enlightened times Perth zoo had a solitary elephant who used to take patrons on rides around the zoo. I partook more than once. In retrospect I feel awful for that poor ellie. No family, none at all of its kind. At least here there is a herd of elephants and the park has a breeding program.

The elephant show was in no way a circus act. But it was a performance, mainly by human actors who showed how humans had impacted on the lives of the elephants by building houses, cutting down forests and the like. The commentator explained the differences between African elephants and Asian elephants (hint: it’s not just the ears). These were Sumatran elephants, smallest of the family, and hanging on to life in pockets of Sumatra. They might survive if enough people care about their fate, if the animals are worth more to societies alive, than dead. Education, you see. The oldest elephant in the show grew up in harsher times when people didn’t really understand elephants. Although there was no obvious sign of mistreatment in the show, I had to wonder. It seemed to me she was doing her damndest not to put a foot wrong (so to speak). In contrast the younger elephants were relaxed, mainly swimming around the pool in front of the arena.

Yes, we saw a tiger show. I’ll talk about tigers in another blog.

Then we went off on our tour of the safari habitats. Herbivores were kept in very large enclosures (at least a hectare (2.5 acres) each), one for each of Africa, Asia, and South America. The carnivores have their own space where they did a lot of sleeping. From the bus we saw wildebeests, antelopes, giraffe, lions, tigers, sun bears, elands, zebras etc. They all look in great condition and are clearly well looked after.

A young zebra waves her tail

A lion doing what lions do

It was a long day. We boarded the bus to take us back to the pick-up hotel, where the promised shuttle back to our hotel was missing. They’d made a mistake with the pick-up time, coming for us at 4:30, which was when we boarded the bus at the Safari Park. We were asked to take a taxi, with the charge being paid by the hotel. A taxi duly arrived and we explained where we wanted to go. He didn’t know where our hotel (The Kayana) was but he knew the five-star resort, the W, which was right next door. I suppose the driver thought he’d picked up a bunch of gullible old farts. The trip in the morning had taken about ten minutes. By the time we’d driven for ten minutes, we all knew this was wrong, and said so. He mumbled something about one-way streets and heavy traffic, which we didn’t believe for a moment. Colin found the hotel on a map on his phone and showed the route to the driver, who assured us he knew where to go. In the end that ten-minute trip took thirty minutes and we made sure we told the clerk at our hotel how the driver had tried to rip us off.

Still, looking on the bright side, we got to see a woman walking her dog while riding her motorbike.

And here are some more photos. It was fun, but technically the pictures aren’t brilliant.

A piranha. They get very bad press which isn’t actually true

Nice to see the dye on the horn – makes it useless to poachers

A hippo doing what hippos do

This lioness was sleeping but she got up for a wee and a quick drink 🙂

Not too sure what these beasties are – but that’s a mean set of horns

Macaws. I suspect the park also does care work. A couple of the birds had damaged wings

A komodo dragon trying to look cute

Reptiles can be pretty. Not sure what it is

A Day of Rest

Swimming pool with the dining area on the right

After our Big Day Out yesterday Wednesday was a day of R&R. Our package included a one-hour massage each. Sandy and I opted for a facial, which was very nice, while the boys had an all-over rub (no hanky panky). Apart from that we didn’t do much at all.

Power lines and wires

One of the most enduring sights in many Asian countries is the power lines. One thinks of spiders with a cocaine habit. But apparently there is a reason for it. In most Western countries cables go to the house and are then used to feed the various devices. As far as we could understand lines here go to a given device. So if you buy an air conditioner, one of these lines is strung up to feed it. We were told it would be MUCH more expensive to do it our way. Whatever. It seems to work. We had internet speeds of 140MBS using the hotel’s free WIFI. We’d kill for that here in Australia.

Late in the afternoon, since Sandy and I are both keen photographers, we decided to go down to the beach to take pictures of the sunset. Looking at the map it appeared that several nearby streets would take us there so we set off. We were disabused when we got to the security guard. Asked where we were going, we said the beach. He shook his head. This road led to a hotel and there was no public access.

Bugger.

We went back to the main road. As it happens, a hotel shuttle had arrived, dropping guests there so they didn’t have to make the 300-metre walk. Pete went over to talk to the driver and came back grinning. “She said to take the next road and when we get to security, tell them we’re going to the W.” The W is a five-star resort.

We set off along a roadway of arched bamboo until we reached the security point. This was SERIOUS security. One fellow carried a semi-automatic firearm. Not only were vehicles searched, we had to walk through a scanner like they have at airports. No questions asked, they waved us on. A few minutes later one of the resort’s shuttles ranged up beside us and insisted on giving us a ride the rest of the way to the hotel. The W turned out to be pretty flash, with several swimming pools and paved seating areas all overlooking the beach, which was thronged with people.

Fancy living at the W resort

Unfortunately, while clouds often give character to a sunset, in this case they were too thick. The sun made a brief appearance under a heavy curtain, but the show lasted for a couple of minutes max.

Busy one way

Sunset

We wandered over to the rank of shuttles waiting to take people to the main road and caught a lift back. Tomorrow we would be visiting Bali’s new safari park.

A few shots of Bali streets

The lane next to our hotel. There’ll be people living down there

Seminyak market

He didn’t buy it

A roadside shrine

A hotel facade. Don’t know what the mannequins are about

Kerobokan jail – the admin block

Beautifully carved tree root. There are two Chinese dragons depcited here. This is the retaining wall for the footpath – but I do think it’s old tree roots.

 

Temples, monkeys and mountains

Mythology. That’s Garuda, Vishnu’s mount

We’d had a look at tour offerings in the hotel lobby and asked one of the clerks if prices were in US$. He said yes, US dollars – but he could organise for a car and driver for us who would cover the same attractions. Car and driver for eight hours would cost a million, and we’d have to pay for entrances and lunch.

A million???? Yep. The exchange rate worked out at roughly IDR10,000 to AUD$1. So that was $25 each for a car for eight hours. Sounded good, especially since the tour we’d seen in the brochure would have been $US69 each (about IDR960,000). I think it’s very likely the hotel clerk lined up the job with one of his relatives. I recall something similar happening on my last visit to Bali thirty years ago.

The driver picked us up in a clean, modern vehicle – but the backseat was only big enough for two of us, so one of us had to sit in the dicky seat in the rear. Our driver, Oka, was a pleasant enough young man and although, like most Balinese, he spoke some English, he was far from fluent and really only offered halting explanations if he was asked.

From Seminyak it took about two hours inching through the traffic to get to our first stop, a temple. On the way we were stopped for a police check. In Oz it would have been a random breathtest. Oka got out of the car to talk to the cops, and Colin, who was in the dicky seat, took out his phone. In seconds the cop was at the door, pointing and speaking in rapid Indonesian. Oka translated, was Colin taking pictures? No, he wasn’t. Okay. We went on our way, Oka explaining it had been a routine licence and rego check. But we discussed the incident the following day and agreed that our driver had to pay a bribe. Traffic enforcement is not a big deal here (we hardly saw a policeman), and we had been warned in Australia that the police are corrupt. Thinking back, the driver signaled the truth with a few comments he made. In fact, he said, “The police are corrupt, especially in Sanur”. We’d been in the Sanur area when we were stopped.

Two warriors stand guard at the entrance to ward off evil spirits

Temples are everywhere on Bali. I’ve mentioned the little shrines found in shops, cars (Oka had a little shrine on the car’s dashboard) and on the roadsides. That’s the bottom layer of a pyramid of spirituality. Every family has its own temple, some extremely elaborate. Every community has a temple, and then there are large public temples. The family temple is essentially ancestor worship, with the public temples more about the Gods. The Gods are those of the Hindu faith – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. As in India, the cow is sacred. Then there are the other deities such as the elephant-headed God, Ganesh. The Hindu epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are important stories. We passed a huge statue of Arjuna, hero of the Mahabharata, not too far from the airport, and the figure of the monkey general, Hanuman, who is a major figure in the Ramayana, also figures prominently.

High fashion

Temples are not like a church where everybody goes into one building. Groups of open buildings are scattered around large, walled areas. Non-believers are allowed into the area but are asked not to go inside the buildings. Visitors are asked to conform to the requirements of entering a temple. It’s all about purity and modesty. Pregnant women, and menstruating women are forbidden, as is anyone where a close family member has died within the last 11 days. Oka couldn’t enter the temple because his uncle had died a week ago. Visitors are also asked to dress modestly – which means no trousers or bare legs. Ladies at the temple took our IDR10,000 each to fit us with a sarong, then we went into the temple area.

Each building has its guardians, ferocious creatures who defend against evil. These figures are often draped with black and white checked cloth, a symbol of security. Yellow and white cloth is also common. I couldn’t find a simple explanation of the significance, except that colour is associated with the Gods (red for Brahma, gold for Vishnu, white for Shiva). It would have been nice to have someone to explain everything properly (the advantage of a properly-organised tour).

The world turtle

We saw several depictions of the World Turtle carrying the world on its back. This was the inspiration for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The Disc is carried on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of Great A’Tuin, the star turtle, who swims magestically through space. Should you be interested in finding out more about Terry Pratchett and his role in my life, click here.

The carvings are magnificent. In this tropical climate the soft stone ages very quickly. Apparently, the carvings are replaced over time, as funds permit.

Next stop was the Tegenungan waterfall. We had to pay an entrance fee of IDR15,000 each. It sounds such a lot, doesn’t it? But it’s $1.50, so $6 for our group. The driver parked the car while we wandered between the line of food and souvenir stalls leading to a vantage point with a view of the waterfall. A steep path led down into the ravine for a closer look and a swim. After a nanosecond’s discussion, we agreed to pass. We took some photos, then returned between the stalls. A common incentive to buy something in the shops was an opportunity to use their toilet – for free.

From there we went to the monkey forest near the town of Ubud. It was very well established, with decent toilets and good paths. We had to pay, of course – IDR50,000 each – but that was perfectly reasonable. The monkeys are semi-wild – that is, they’re wild but the keepers feed them, so they hang around. Visitors are asked to use common sense – no food or drinks to tempt the beasties, no teasing or attempts to touch etc. You really don’t want to annoy a big male – or a baby monkey.

Guidelines

One of the three temples in the forest

For her it’s just a vantage point

New baby with extended family

People are warned not to bring in food and drink, but there’s always an idiot. In this case a woman had an (empty) soft drink can. At least she had the sense to let the monkey take the can, which she had crushed. He took it down to the water flowing down a drain and filled the can, then had a drink. Smart.

By now it was about 1pm, and we’d started at 9am. We wanted a break for coffee or something, so the driver took us up to Kintamani, a village with an excellent view of Mt Batur and its crater lake. Once again, we had to pay a fee to go up the road – IDR32,000 each. It was actually supposed to be IDR30,000, but the tax gatherer person added 2,000 each for himself. This was starting to feel like being asked to pay to take a photo and we were beginning to be a tad resentful.

Mt Batur. Ugung (the restless one) is further away to the right

The driver parked and pointed us at the restaurant with a terrace facing the mountain while he went off to wherever drivers go. Lunch wasn’t included, and the buffet lunch would have cost us IDR200,000 ($20) each. We weren’t particularly hungry – a sandwich would have suited – but that wasn’t an option. We passed on lunch and asked the local security/tax collector where we’d find the driver. Down there in the markets, he told us, pointing down the hill. We walked for a ways, taking note of non-existent or broken foot paths, the surrounds covered in litter, pursued by small children thrusting postcards at us. You buy. Cheap. Yes. After a short distance we agreed this was silly and went to wait by the car, fending off hawkers with T shirts and the like. Turns out our driver was in the downstairs restaurant under the building we’d entered (locals only) enjoying his free lunch.

Up here in the mountains the climate is cooler and this is where the Balinese grow vegetables like cabbages and tomatoes, as well as citrus fruit. Little villages are scattered everywhere, each with its own temple. We noticed the roads were lined with decorated bamboo poles with baskets, which we were told were ceremonial offerings. There had been an important festival on the date of last month’s full moon when these pieces were erected. They would be burned soon. I tried to get him to explain what the household expected to get from the offering. He didn’t understand the question at all. It was something you did. And why were some poles so much more elaborate than others? I don’t think he understood that question, either. I think the answer is if you’ve got money you are expected to create a more elaborate pole – but I bet there’s a bit of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’.

Symbolic offerings in a village

The driver who took us from the hotel to the airport when we left explained more on that trip than we’d learned with our man Oka for the full day. He explained what those bamboo poles were all about. The pole symbolises the sacred mountain (the volcano Mt Agung, which caused disruption to air traffic late last year). It’s an example of bringing the mountain to you when you can’t go there. He said Denpasar was emptying fast as people went back to their home villages for the ceremony when the offerings were burned. He would be off to his home town of Singaraja as soon as he’d dropped us off.

We drove back down towards Ubud and stopped off at the Tegalalang rice terraces, sculpted hillsides planted with rice. Our driver told us to tell the local security man when we were ready to go and went off to park the car. As soon as we’d alighted the security fellow wanted to sell us a ticket. IDR40,000 each. There are walking paths down through the paddy fields and up the other side – a lot of people younger than us were down there. But we just wanted a photo from the road, so we refused to pay. I took a picture from the footpath and was scolded with ‘no photo’. This same roadside was packed with food shops, souvenir stalls etc. To us it seemed silly. Wouldn’t they be better off not offending us with ‘entrance’ tickets and hope we’d buy a drink or something from the shops?

The rice terraces from the road

Seems we weren’t the only ones. This is a quote from Things to do in Bali.

Which brings me to the one minor drawback Tegallalang has. Compared to some of the other rice fields in Bali, Tegallalang has become very touristy. The area is now complete with parking and entrance fees and stalls selling everything from food to souvenirs. You can book a tour with one of the many companies offering rice field tours or take a walk on your own. By wandering a bit further along the tracks after reaching the “top” of the valley you can reach the next valley, which has better views and fewer crowds. 

Our next stop was supposed to be the special coffee place which makes the most expensive coffee in the world – the beans have been through an animal’s body. By this time, we were all fed up with the ‘hand out’ mentality, so we asked the driver to take us back to the hotel. We arrived at about 5pm, tired and a bit pissed off.

In retrospect we may have been a bit unreasonable. After all, we’ve all voiced complaints about having to pay money to drive down a road in a national park in Australia, or to stand somewhere to take a photo. Entrance fees to National Trust properties in UK are expensive. They even charge you to stop in a layby with a view. Many places charge a fee to park the car. I think our gripe was that we didn’t know in advance – which is what you get when you don’t go on a properly organised tour. If I did it again I’d want to talk to the driver beforehand, sort out what we wanted to see and how much it would cost. That way, there are no surprises.

In more retrospect I think I would also have opted to look at spots closer to where we stayed in Seminyak. For instance, a couple of temples by the sea were not far away, including the famous Tanah Lot. Crossing the city took literally hours, with really nothing to see. Thirty years ago Sanur, Seminyak, Noosa Dua, and Kuta were villages, with Denpasar and its airport ‘over there’. Now it’s a classic conurbation.

However, on the way back we did pass by the infamous Korobokan jail. The administrative buildings look quite nice, actually. In contrast to the row of rusting barbed wire on the top of the prison wall.

A short stay on Bali

Bali is one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations – especially if you live in Western Australia. Bali is part of Java’s ‘tail’ – that line of little islands sitting in a line behind Java’s western extreme – and the one closest to Java. Lying in the same time zone as Perth, it’s a three-hour flight from there. Just up the road, really, and closer (and cheaper) than flying to Australia’s Eastern States. For that reason it’s a popular destination for West Aussies but despite the six-and-a-half-hour flight from Brisbane, the holiday package was still very cheap, so Pete and I and our friends Col and Sandy took up the offer of a five-night stay in Seminyak. I’d been to Bali about thirty years ago which left me with mixed feelings, but Pete, Sandy, and Col had never been. It was going to be interesting.

The first challenge is always getting there. Pete and I drove to Brisbane and stayed in a hotel overnight before the seven-thirty ay em flight to Bali. Only a couple of airlines fly direct to Bali these days. With some misgivings we opted for Jetstar, a budget airline which had started life as one of those cheap and nasty cattle transports but had upgraded itself and now offered business class. Sort of.

Jetstar is very much a pay-as-you-go airline. Buy a ticket and you get a seat on the plane, which you reach via the roped-off conga lines to the check-in counter. Everything else you pay for – food, baggage, entertainment ($10 to watch movies, TV etc), drinks. They also offer premium economy and two tiers of business class. This was the business class you have when you’re not quite having business class. You needed to pay an extra $200 for ‘business max’ to get lounge access, which is hardly worth it for a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, even if we had read the fine print and found out about it. So breakfast was a very expensive flat white and a toastie at a kiosk in the airport. Mind you, it cost a lot less than $200, and it filled a hole since the plane left an hour late. It seems the pilot was held up by an accident on the M1 between the Gold Coast and the airport.

For me, one of the biggest advantages of business class is avoiding the check-in queue. Apart from that we got larger seats with more leg room, in a 2-3-2 configuration, as opposed to the rest of the cabin, which was 3-3-3. I suspect there are restrictions on which seats tier-two business class travellers can select, although that’s not clear online. We didn’t get the seats we thought we’d selected, so I didn’t get a window seat and in fact we didn’t get to sit together. The woman that did get the window seat went to sleep as soon as she could, oblivious to the view as we banked over the Brisbane CBD with a wonderful view of the river meandering through the city. Yes, sour grapes. The camera would have been all ready to go. The seats didn’t descend into a bed so I wouldn’t want to fly on a real long haul. We were served breakfast, pretty decent scrambled eggs. We also got to use the usual entertainment of movies, TV shows and the like. I watched Black Panther to while away a few hours.

Jetstar will not be receiving our patronage again. For what it’s worth, Sandy and Col had a similar story to tell about their flight with Virgin. Air travel isn’t what it used to be.

Despite the new terminal building, immigration in Bali is third world. We waited for a good 45 minutes for our luggage to turn up – mine without its luggage strap. It could not have come undone by itself, so I’d say somebody souvenired it. Then it was off to the immigration queue with several hundred other people from several flights. No automation here. You shuffle along the roped-off maze (fending off attempts to pass) and eventually front up to the desk one at a time to get a stamp in your passport. We strolled through customs, I’m glad to say, and entered arrivals to a veritable sea of folks holding up placards with peoples’ names on them, as well as a few hopeful taxi drivers spruiking their services. We eventually saw our man holding his sign while checking his phone. When we finally got his attention, he led us to a waiting area and went off to collect the car. Organised chaos is the best way to describe it. After another fifteen or twenty minutes he reached us and we piled in for the hour-and-the-rest drive to the hotel

Traffic at one of the few traffic lights

The traffic is… very Asian. More motor bikes than cars, white lines that seem to be there for decoration and not much else, parking is wherever you can abandon your car or bike and road rules seem to consist of nothing more than more or less keep left. We saw very few pushbikes, so if I say ‘bike’ that’s a motor cycle or scooter. Helmets are mandatory, but many riders don’t seem to know or care. We saw several White idiots riding shirtless, helmetless and apparently senseless. Did I mention the traffic jams? Cars and bikes weave their way in and out. Bikes take to the footpaths or anywhere else they can get through. The basic approach to going around corners is ease your way into the traffic until the other cars have no choice but to let you in. But unlike Australia, where there would have been two-finger salutes and comments about ancestry, it’s all polite. Motorists use tiny honks on their horns to tell other drivers where they are, and that’s how the many taxis signal to the tourists that they’re free. Pavements are obstacle courses with unfinished work, exposed pipes and broken slabs, as well as the occasional motor cycle avoiding a snarl. Every hotel has a security guard who helps cars visiting a property back into the street by blowing his whistle and stopping the traffic. Somehow it all seems to work.

The Kayana hotel was pleasant, with lots of open space as you’d expect in this tropical climate. We had our own little walled in villa complete with plunge pool and outdoor pavilion. Floors are tiled, the room was large with walls separating the space. The only internal doors close off the shower and toilet area. A concrete path overhung by frangipanis meanders between the villa walls. Meals are in an open restaurant beside a swimming pool, but guests are encouraged to eat in an outside pavilion that’s part of their villas. That’s all very nice, but since all the courses are delivered at once, we only did that once.

The path between the villas

Inside the enclosure from the outdoor pavilion

Bedroom and plunge pool

Thatched roof, frangipani and sun lounges

After we’d unpacked we met our friends for dinner and worked out the plan for our stay.

Monday was an orientation day. Kayana, where we stayed, is close to the beach but has no beachfront access, so Pete and I took a walk down a nearby street to find the sea. On the way we came across a security checkpoint, where we were asked where we were going, and waved on through. This was the first time we noticed how much attention is given to security. All bikes and cars were stopped and checked. The guards looked into carry space on bikes and checked inside cars, as well as under cars using a mirror on a pole. Indonesia is a Muslim country which is becoming increasingly conservative. Bali is an enclave, hanging onto its Hindu past. But after the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Kuta which killed 202 people and two further attacks in 2005,  the threat of Islamic terrorism on this holiday island is always there.

As we walked along the road towards the beach, Pete and I saw a strange building in the distance. It seemed to be a curved, multi-coloured wall. Closer by we realised it had been built from discarded shutters and louvred windows, a piece of recycled art. Then we noticed the colourful mural, a confection of purples, blues, yellows, cascading down a slope. It was made up of rubber thongs – a testament to our penchant for throwing away man-made materials. I expect these items were salvaged from the beach.

Recycled art

A typical Balinese temple stood at the entrance to the beach itself. Temples are everywhere, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in a later post. Suffice to say Balinese are very spiritual and pray three times a day. You’ll see offerings – flowers and small items of food in small baskets – everywhere in the streets, shops, beach – even in taxis. It’s a part of who they are.

A beach temple

A glimpse inside. It would have been wrong to enter.

It’s a surf beach with dark sand typical of more volcanic places. Offerings lay on the sand amongst the more common litter.

Shadows on the sand

Later that day we visited the Seminyak markets, which are much like markets everywhere – lots of cheap clothes and local, mass-produced souvenirs. At the city market bartering was allowed at stalls, but not in the air-coditioned shops. We went on to the traditional market, conducted in tents lining alleys. Sandy bought a couple of pretty expensive T shirts for the grandkids but for the rest, we’ve got enough dust-gatherers. My souvenirs are my photos and these little blogs.

Still using those travel sites?

I guess most of us have used one or other of the travel aggregators to find a tour, or a hotel when planning a trip. I certainly have – Expedia, Booking.com, Trip Advisor. And I thought they were pretty good – until I learned about the problems associated with them.

As you all know, I went to New Zealand for a one-week trip not so long ago. My friend and I started planning some time ago – as in before Christmas. She’s a very, very busy lady, so she was happy enough to leave the details to me, being as how I’m not a very busy lady. So I looked up a few things and booked an apartment in Christchurch via Booking.com. We didn’t have to pay a deposit and if things changed, we could cancel for free up to a few days before the trip. We could make changes, too.

Time passed (as it does) and circumstances changed just a little. A couple of weeks before the trip we needed to change the dates for our accommodation. Instead of Saturday to the following Sunday, we would do the same Saturday, but check out on Thursday. I went into the website and chose the option to modify my booking. I left the ‘from’ date unchanged, and modified the ‘to’ date. The hamsters ran around for a second, and then I got a message telling me the property had no rooms on those dates. But (hang on a sec) they had these others which might suit. One of them was the room I’d already booked. But what the hey, I’ll play your silly game. I picked the room, and the hamsters started running… and running… and running…

I aborted and tried again, several times. Having been a programmer, I know that very often the cause of errors is sitting at the keyboard. But I couldn’t get the change of dates to happen. So I contacted the proprietory, explaining the change I needed to make. I received a prompt reply, stating that I HAD to make the change through Booking.com.

So I cancelled the booking. The hotel lost a 5 night stay.

Peter booked the new apartment for us via Expedia. To start, he booked two separate rooms at the same hotel, not realising the property offered two-room apartments. The apartment was cheaper than two rooms, and more convenient, so he changed the booking. Once again, the website was a crock. So Peter rang the help line, once again a call centre in the Phillipines. The person taking the call had little knowledge and no authority. He was told he would have to cancel the first booking and book the other room. The payment he’d already made would be credited to his credit card in 7-10 days. Pete was not happy. It had taken a nanosecond for Expedia to accept the payment, and yet it would take over a week to process a refund? Especially since he’d explained he was effectively just changing the booking to a different room. A clerk at the property would have said, sure, we can change that. It was a simple request.

When pushed, Expedia refunded the original payment promptly. But why should we have to push?

Next, I booked a tour to Arthur’s Pass via Viator, which is a part of Trip Advisor. There was an option to include a ride on a jetboat, but, knowing my friend’s not all that keen on boats, I went with the trip without the jetboat option. When I told my friend about it, she asked me to add the jetboat. No problem. I found my booking on the website and tried to include the option. My experience was much the same as I’d had with Booking.com. After a couple of tries, I rang the ‘help’ line.

I waited on the line for at least forty minutes before a pleasant (but not very bright) young man from the Phillipines picked up the call. After several goes at getting him to understand I just wanted to add the jetboat option, and yes, I would pay by credit card etc etc the booking was finally changed. I tried to tell him about my issues with the website but he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough.

I contacted the tour company when we arrived in New Zealand to confirm the booking, and confirm the change to pcickup location. Even that wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been, but never mind. All good.

We were duly picked up at the right time and place, and enjoyed our trip up to Arthur’s pass. But the jetboat ride didn’t happen. It was nobody’s fault, the river was too high to take the boat out. I received an email from Viator before we left New Zealand, acknowledging the jetboat had to be cancelled. A partial refund had been sent to my account.

Partial?

They’d refunded $55. What the hell? I’d paid rather more than that. So I sent an email stating that it wasn’t good enough. Why was this a partial refund?

A few days later, I received an update. They’d refunded another $15, making the refund $70. By this time I was livid. I’d paid $96 for the trip and I told them so, reiterating that we hadn’t cancelled, we’d showed up, and they had no right to retain any of the money. I have now received the full refund.

So… all these aggregators are great at taking your money, not so great at giving it back. I’m sure they use the excess funds on the short term money market (just like the banks). In the case of Viator, if I hadn’t complained, I’m sure they would have left the refund at $55. Quite a few people wouldn’t have noticed.

We have found that the aggregators are good at giving lists of properties. From there, take your pick and contact them direct. Hotels pay to be listed on these sites – you might find as Pete did recently that Booking.com offers a room at (say) $120 – but the hotel will ask for $110.

One thing’s for sure – I’ll never book anything through Booking.com, Expedia, or Viator ever again.

And on a positive vibe, here’s a couple more photos of lovely New Zealand.

 

A cruise on the harbour

Akaroa the town

B and I went for a walk around the town of Akaroa, which is a typical holiday town catering for tourists – lots of eateries, souvenir shops, and tour operators. There’s a lot of French influence here, with many French street and business names, but it has a very normal history – a Frenchman bought some land from the local Maori tribe. [1]

The town suffered damage in the 2010/11 earthquakes, but nothing like Christchurch. It’s a pretty little place, with cute cottages lining the streets.

Neither of us was impressed with the ‘beach’ – all dark sand and rocks, as you’d expect in a volcanic area. We had breakfast at Bully Hayes, which served great food and coffee on what turned out to be a lovely day. We’d had our worries, with cloud gathering over the higher peaks, and a forecast of rain later, but the weather held off and we enjoyed the sunshine, taking a leisurely stroll around the town.

B had been told to bring back a New Zealand delicacy called ‘pineapple lumps‘. I’d never heard of them, but apparently they’re a mixture of pineapple (duh) with chocolate. Sounds yucky to me, but hey ho. We found the desired item in the Four Square supermarket, a chain that has long since closed in Australia. The nice young lady at the shop said the packets on the shelf would be the last they’d be getting in. It seems Pascal will be releasing/manufacturing them in Australia. B also bought some hokey pokey, a chocolate lump with embedded honeycomb, another NZ specialty. We ambled off and ended up on the wharf.

A tour boat was moored alongside the jetty, and passengers were boarding to go on a harbour cruise. One lady was handed a glass of wine – or at least, a beverage in a wine glass. B and I looked at each other. A harbour cruise might be nice. Our host wasn’t due back until mid-afternoon. That boat went, but a larger boat (Black Cat) was going out at 11am. B isn’t the greatest sailor, but the water was smooth, with very little wind, so it sounded safe enough. So off we went with a good number of parents with small children (it being school holidays).

A cormorant rookery

The boat cruised along the coastline, with the female skipper giving commentary, explaining the geological origins of Akaroa. It’s spectacular coastline, displaying its volcanic origins, with caves and rookeries for cormorants and other sea birds.

The towering headland at the harbour entrance

All was well until we left the shelter of the harbour. The Pacific Ocean wasn’t rough, but there was a substantial swell and the boat began to bounce, rising and falling with each wave. Soon B wasn’t the only one feeling a bit green around the gills. Most of the kids were seasick. B bought a cup of sweet tea and sat down on the lower deck, watching the cliffs.

Best I could get – check the link to see what they look like

Out there in the ocean we were joined by a small pod of dolphins, which swam around and under the vessel for a few minutes. The endangered Hector’s dolphins are cute little guys, much smaller than the dolphins we see in most of Australia. Hump backs come to visit on their migration, and orcas and blue whales are around in Akaroa harbour all year, although from time to time they vanish. Unfortunately, this was one of those times.

Back in the harbour we journeyed along the cliffs and did some seal-spotting. At one place, baby seals gambolled about in shallow pools in the rocks. And then it was full steam ahead back to the wharf.

By the time our host returned, clouds had gathered on the hills and started to pour down into the valley. We drove back via the Summit Road and soon the car was enveloped in quite thick mist hanging around the upper slopes, so we couldn’t see the views except for occasional moments when the mist parted. I did manage to take a few photos.

Clouds rolling in over the harbour

A break in the clouds

Beautiful views

Elm trees line the road back to Christchurch

After a lovely dinner of mashed potatoes, herbed peas, and roasted salmon, it was time for me to go to a motel near the airport. I arranged for a 4:45 shuttle bus to the airport and tried to get some sleep. The motel room was excellent – clean, neat, with a great bathroom. But it’s a busy place, with people arriving late. I got 2 hours of actual sleep, and maybe a few minutes of doze, and woke up well before the alarm I’d set.

I wrote the later blogs on the plane flying above a thick cloud layer over the Ditch (that’s the Tasman Sea, that section of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand). It has been a wonderful few days, but I’ll be happy to be home in my own bed.

Akaroa

The town is just visible, right at the end of the harbour

B’s friend, S, picked us up from our Christchurch hotel and took us to her holiday home in Akaroa, about 90 minutes drive from the city.

Akaroa is at the bottom, Lyttleton at the top

The Banks Peninsula is the result of volcanic activity. Both Lyttelton and Akaroa are the remains of volcanic craters. Read more here.

It’s a very pretty drive from Christchurch, winding through countryside tinged with the colours of Autumn.

We did a couple of picture stops, the first at a ‘beach’ covered in water-worn stone. There was tonnes of the stuff, all smoothed by the action of wind, water, and abrasion. It’s all volcanic around here, and most of the rocks looked grey, but when they were wet patterns and colours appeared.

 

Lake Forsyth

We drove on past Lake Forsyth, a haven for water birds.

At Little River we stopped for lunch at a place S assured us did great food. She was right. I had fetta and spinach filo,  served with a fresh salad. From there it was on to Akaroa, a natural harbour set amongst rolling hills and rocky crags. The summit road gives glorious views.

 

Our hosts have a lovely home with a great view over the harbour. They also have a lovely garden where we enjoyed watching the birds picking at the pears in a prolific tree.

Sunset fire is reflected in Akaroa’s waters.

We enjoyed a lovely meal with W and S, drank good wines and listened to stories about Akaroa. The area was (of course) settled by a Maori tribe. I suppose I vaguely knew the Maori were cannibals, but W told us about how a warlord from the North came down to attack the local tribe. Te Rauparaha wanted to attack paramount chief Tamaiharanui, who lived in Akaroa and conducted trade with the Europeans. But he needed surprise. The appearance of war canoes in the harbour would signal his intent and warn the village. The warlord made an agreement with Captain Stewart, of the brig Elizabeth. The European ship would transport the Maori war party and their canoes in exchange for 50 tons of flax. The unsuspecting Tamaiharanui actually came on board the Elizabeth for what he thought would be trade talks. He and his wife were imprisoned below decks. That night the war party attacked, sacked the village and engaged in a cannibal feast. Eventually Captain Stewart handed Tamaiharanui and his wife over to the attackers, when they were tortured, killed and eaten. Captain Stewart only received 18 tons of flax and I expect he developed a few grey hairs with a blood-thirsty Maori war party on his ship. It seems another trader with more New Zealand experience had advised him against the deal. A wise man.If you’re at all interested in history, this is a fascinating story. Find the passage headed “The capture of Tamaiharanui”. History of Canterbury 

The following day S took us sight-seeing, starting with a quick visit to a Maori settlement and its tiny church. It had a lovely painting of Jesus steering a boat in a storm. I’d never seen him depicted in such a way before. Note the familiar Maori Tiki symbols on the gables.

 

That’s Akaroa’s head

Then we drove up into the hills above the harbour and down a narrow country track to Flea Bay. It’s all green, precipitous, and spectacular. It’s as if the sheep have velcro on their feet.

The track down to Flea Bay

Flea Bay

Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the town and the harbour.

 

Headed for the hills

The railway line from Springfield

Today we went up into the mountains. We were blessed with brilliant weather – blue skies and not much cloud, and the snow that had fallen the previous week had persisted. Transport was a little white van capable of seating 12. There were 11 adults and a child – 4 Americans, 2 other Australians and a young Indian couple with their daughter. The bus was quite cramped, but hey ho. You can’t always have a Volvo to yourself.

Our driver took us up to Springfield to catch the train up to Arthur’s Pass. It’s a new, comfortable train with large windows (and lots of reflection) although we could have walked up to the open carriage near the front to catch the view without windows. That struck me as a bit chilly. And I managed to get some good pics by bringing the camera close to the glass. The following 4 photos were all taken from the moving train.

An alpine lake and mountain peaks

Turquoise water an Autumn foliage

Meandering rivers

Just the sort of river to film the scenes as Frodo and co approach the Argonath

While I was busy with the camera B did some people watching. Three older-than-middle-aged, well-heeled American women (think designer jeans and botox) stood in a gaggle chatting together as the train passed through some amazing scenery. They compared nail polish designs and the best dental products for whiter teeth. As you do as the train passes by amazing scenery. It’s a spectacular trip, the train winding its way through the river valleys or climbing up the slopes.

We got off at Arthur’s Pass and drove on in the van after a minor drama at the station. B needed some food on the train trip, so we went up to the cafe car, where she bought a sandwich and coffee. Neither of us had cash with us, so she paid with a card. Unfortunately, up there in the mountains the signal to the internet is patchy, at best. The server took B’s card and assured her the transaction would be completed, and the card returned, by the time we got to Arthur’s Pass which is the only stop between Springfield and Greymouth, on the west coast. It’s very much a five-minute whistle stop so that people can alight. I got off the train and B went off to find somebody to get her card back. After a few minutes, the porter blew his whistle. No B. The train blew its whistle. No B. Any minute now she’d be off to Greymouth. I was starting to compose the phone call to B’s husband. “Um. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. B’s on her way to Greymouth. But she’ll get her credit card back…” But then she appeared, waving her card. Phew. Nobody had come looking for her (as promised), but she’d found somebody. Did I say phew?

The viaduct through the mountains

The original road before the viaduct was built. It was used until 1999!

We had a photo stop at a lookout with a view of the viaduct that has replaced part of the road through the mountains. While we were there we met New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the kea. They’re smart birds with the destructive habits of some of their Australian counterparts. Keas are known for picking the rubber out of windscreen wipers and door seals. Despite their fairly drab outer plumage, when they open their wings it’s a ‘wow’ moment. Check out the pictures on this page.

One of several keas. That plumage is great camouflage in the scrub

The kea popped into our van and nibbled the carpet

We stopped for lunch at Otira, a quaint little place that used to be much bigger in the days of steam, when many more people were needed to service the railway.  The rooms are full of sometimes interesting, sometimes just weird bits and pieces, such as a couple of stuffed possums, one posing with a toy rifle. Possums are introduced pests in NZ, so they’re not popular, but I thought they looked gross. Although some of the other pieces were genuine antiques, they all needed a dust, if not a clean. Otira used to be quite a large town when the steam locomotives made the trip through the mountains. They needed a lot more people than the modern diesels, so Otira dwindled into the past. Our driver told us that one person bought the whole town for $200,000. Stars in his eyes, he opened the town to disadvantaged people, who moved into the empty houses. But it only lasted until the first winter. This is a bleak spot.

Can’t get away from LOTR in NZ

Our driver had asked us to pick an item from the hotel’s lunch menu before we arrived – and he told us he thought the place – and the food –  was dead ordinary. He was right. B had a grey-looking beef burger, and I had whitebait patties (an Otira specialty). The patties are more like pancakes, pieces of fish mixed with egg and flour, and fried. Here’s a recipe. Two of them came served between two slices of bread (which I discarded) and some pretty revolting chips (fries). B made her revolting chips even more revolting by mistaking the sugar dispenser for the salt shaker. Oh well. She wasn’t going to eat them, anyway. I think the only person who appeared to enjoy lunch was the rather large young Aussie male who was there with his mum. He was the sort who’d eat anything.

The walk to Cave Stream

The entrance to Cave Stream

From Otira we headed on back down through the mountains towards Christchurch, stopping for photos where we could. One longer stop was at Cave Stream, where a stream flows through a 600m tunnel. Our driver told us five girls had died there, washed away by flood waters, but I couldn’t find any reference online to such an incident. Still, people have died attempting the walk through the cave – the water is cold, and chest deep. Here’s a story.

Back in the bus, next stop was the trip on a jet boat. That had to be cancelled because the river was too high from the recent rains. Seems the river brings down silt and rocks and as a result the place where the jet boat starts had only 3 inches of water. He couldn’t even launch it. Sad, but you can’t argue with Mother Nature. Having arrived home, Canterbury Leisure Tours has only refunded 75% of the fare. I’m not happy, and I am arguing with them.

We went off to a farm where farmer Kevin brought out working dog, Jeb, to bring the sheep over. He’s a cross between a NZ mover dog (like a cattle dog) and a rounder-upper (like a border collie). Kevin named NZ breeds in his pedigree but I don’t recall what they were, and I’d never heard of either. Suffice to say Jeb is an all-rounder who incidentally loves scratches and pats.

Jeb’s herded the sheep

Then Kevin sheared a sheep. The Yanks and the Indians were fascinated but B and I had seen it all before. I was interested in the pamphlet about a mix of merino wool with possum fur. Possums were brought to NZ to start a fur trade. Apparently they have hollow fur, a trait they share with polar bears. This makes the fur very light, and very warm. When mixed with wool it makes garments light, warm, and pill-resistant.

Kevin is shearing this six-month old lamb. It has never been shorn before.

The cup of tea and Kevin’s wife, Heather’s, home made bikkies and muffins was welcome.

It was a good day, but tiring. A little white van isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport, and on the way back the Americans were in conversation with each other and the Australians, all talking about different things from different directions. For us it was something of a dull roar.

Tomorrow we’re off to Akaroa. Meanwhile, here’s some more photos.

Gardens and vineyards

After a leisurely breakfast at the same cafe as yesterday we went to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a large park with the Avon River running through it. It’s Autumn in Christchurch and in this cooler climate the deciduous trees are a riot of colour.

We also went into an exhibition of whimsical dance costumes, all based on floral themes. Created by Jenny Gilllies, each costume takes three months to make. I don’t doubt it. The inspiration to create the design is amazing, and then each component piece must be sewn individually before it’s all put together. A screen at the back of the exhibition showed the costumes being worn in dance. That really brought the whole thing to life.

I loved the water garden with its strategically placed trees reflecting their Autumn splendour in the water.

We enjoyed a glass of wine in the gardens, and a simple wine and cheese meal at the apartment.

The following afternoon in brilliant Autumn weather we went on what turned out to be a private wine-tasting tour in the Waipara valley, just north of Christchurch. Our driver, Graham, picked us up in a Volvo SUV since we were the only people who’d booked. Touring in comfort – I’ll take that any day. He was much the same age as us, and he told us stories about the quake, as well as about the countryside we passed through.

We had lunch on the veranda

A simple platter full of variety

First stop was at Waipara Springs, where we enjoyed a wonderful, very welcome, lunch including fruit and salad. We sampled their wines, mainly whites with a final pinot noir. That was pretty much the pattern – whites, then maybe a light red and or a dessert wine. Our server here was an American.

Then we crossed the road to Greystoke/Muddy Waters. As the name suggests, two wineries were combined, one on limestone soil, the other on clay. Because of the soil differences, the wines from the two areas were quite different. The vintner here was Fergus, who is as Irish as his name suggests.

From there we went to Waipara Hills, dominated by a truly magnificent building. Graham explained it had been built by an American, using stone imported from the US. Unfortunately, the man’s wife became homesick, so they sold up and went back home. This winery also had vines in the Marlborough area, so one of their offerings was a Marlborough Sav Blanc, We tasted a couple of sub-varieties of Chardonnay, then we were offered a late picking riesling. I don’t normally like sweet wine, but I reluctantly gave it a whirl. It was absolutely delicious, a treat with cheese.

The last winery was Pegasus Bay. This property has a beautiful garden and would be lovely for picnics and concerts on the grassy slopes above the little waterway. Back in the main building our server was a lovely German lady. This property had its wines on tap, which apparently reduced waste and spoilage since the air didn’t get into the wine. After the usual sav blanc, chardonnay, and pinot, we were offered a drop of muscat. It was very, very nice.

After a slow drive back to town caught up in traffic after an accident somewhere, we rolled back to the apartment. Dinner was a delivery of pasta, followed by an early night.

Tomorrow we’re off to the mountains.