Step class up a mountain!

Day 17. Beautiful sunrise at our perfect freedom camp, we were sad to leave this peaceful spot.

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As we drove along the beautiful scenic road to Mount Cook, a young backpacker on the side of the road stuck his thumb out. Stopping suddenly, or doing a u turn quickly are not options in a motorhome, even one as nimble as ours. All I could think was if that was my son I would want someone to pick him up. Eventually half a mile on I managed to turn the van around and head back. He was still there, and was very happy to get a lift with us to Mount Cook Village where his hostel was based. A very nice young French man, his name was Vincent he told us, and was travelling around after finishing his degree. It made for interesting and diverting conversation and in a backhanded way he gave us a compliment we think! He asked if we had children, as we reeled off our children plus grandchildren….’Really I would not have thought you that old!!’

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It was a de ja vu moment driving the same road we had driven only three years previous. This time the snow was thicker and finished further down. Once again the views were breathtaking, the muse pulled over Aramoana to Long-sufferings order, two happy snappers got out as Vincent joined the party!

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Arriving at our camp the weather started to change for the worse as the wind picked up and the clouds moved in. To start we parked in the same spot as three years earlier, However, it was not summer now and we were in the open without trees or shrub as a windbreak. We moved a short distance in a slightly less exposed pitch.

By this time it was mid-morning, the snow capped mountains of Mount Cook were fast disappearing into the gloom. 

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Hooker Valley Track 3 hour return… An easy walk our second on this track. Layers on, sunshine, squally showers and strong winds. As we progressed the sun digressed, rain got heavier, gales stronger, we got wetter as we pressed forward against the onslaught. The first swing bridge was bad enough knocking us from side to side in a drunken sailor as we pushed on. There were none of the famed alpine views to be had even if we could have lifted our heads long enough to look! The second swing bridge just over halfway into the walk was just ridiculous, by now long suffering had walked into a rock and grazed his leg.

I was struggling to actually stay upright and almost got blown up and over the mesh side gusts now 70- 80 mph. Safely over Long-suffering already with cold suggested we turn back. The muse cold to her bones agreed.

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We spent the afternoon playing scrabble – 2-1 to me – and watching from the dry of Aramoana, bus loads of tourists attempt the same walk – with umbrellas! The same tourists a short time later walked back into view with inside out and broken umbrellas!

Much later the storm blew itself out and the sunset promised better things for tomorrow.

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Day 18. Sealy Tarns Track 3-4 hours return. Weather – beautiful clear blue skies and not a gale in sight, in fact calm was restored! This would be a tough walk, especially for my hip/leg. Straight up near vertical flights of over 2,200 steps, almost all the way. I was secretly worried as we started, my nerve/bursitis pain would return.

A short well marked gravel track from our base camp along open scrub eventually branched off and from here we started a gentle sloped assent. A resting seat marked the beginning of the steps. Winding, sharp zig-zagging ever upwards, flight after flight of steps.

 

Sweating man was back followed quickly by sweating woman who after yesterday had added too many layers. From the off the views out were incredible snow capped mountains and valleys below. Of course stopping at regular intervals to snap away was a must, if not to snap the views, to reduce our heart rate!

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Leaving by 7am meant we were the first ones to start the climb and hopefully first to reach the top for a solitary photo shoot. Hearing voices below almost all the way spurred us on when our legs…calves and glutes burning, booted feet….hot and aching, were ready to give up. Our early start meant ice hazards too as we neared the top!

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We did summit first that day and like teenagers – once the legs stopped burning – we hugged, high fived, laughed at our achievement. Especially, after ten minutes the voices we had heard below joined us. Four youngsters at that! Handy timing for our couple and their group shots.

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The head swivelling snowy scenes surrounding us and the reflective waters of the tarn – a pond on a mountain – were stunning. We were 4,265ft up amongst the snow line….still, quiet, with only a light breeze, breathtaking in its entirety as we drank it all in.

Further out from the summit a large picnic bench was positioned just back from the edge. A perfect place to sit quietly and sketch a small part of Mount Cook while long-suffering got behind the lens each in our own space and time on this magical mountain.

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Views down a long, long, way to the car park/freedom camp below….

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Forty five minutes later we faced our descent. Easier on the heart.. yes, not so the mind and knees as sheer drops were met head on, the thump of each step jarring as foot hit wood or rock. Without hand rail or strategic tree, one missed footing or trip could have sent either of us tumbling forwards over the edge. The steps were busy now as more walkers made their way up, comforting to see them all young and old looking as fatigued as we did!

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Back at base in one piece after 3 hours and almost 5 miles we were still on a high and the day was still young and the leg was good!

Hooker Valley Track 6.5 mile, 3 hour return take 2…. Quick reviving tea and biscuit, packed lunch made and we were off. Easy track, swing bridges, board walks, and glacier lakes.

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Long-sufferings rock was still there, same rock same backdrop just a bit more snow covering Mount Cook this time!

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Picnic Lunch by the glacial lake as the weather began to turn! spot the icebergs!

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7pm Evening Stroll out to Kea point 2.24 miles 1 hour return…. gently winding track through grasslands and scrub to a viewing platform giving us stunning views of Mueller Glacial Lake, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Sefton, Hooker Valley and The Footstool.

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Sunset return to Aramoana…..and bed after 31,921 steps covering 15.1 miles and my leg/hip did grand….another busy day indeed! zzzzzz

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Our Road to Paradise

Day 16 Sunrise at ‘That Wanaka Tree’

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Mount Iron Loop Walk…. A short 5km walk, popular with Wanaka residents as well as tourists. According to a local, one direction on this two way track was an easier climb than the other. Long-suffering glanced over hopeful but resigned, as his muse moved off in the direction of the steeper climb!

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Throughout this walk unlike any other so far, the steady hum of traffic from the main road below was nearly always in earshot.

As we made our assent, looking down Albert Town and Wanaka spread out below us.

The white flowers of some Hawthorn trees  – Crataegus monogyna lined some of our route. Step ladders instead of stiles!

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The track was steep and craggy in places making us breathless in the hot sun as we neared the top, discarding layers at intervals.

Reaching the top a 360 degree view greeted us, as well as a cold wind making us reach for our discarded layers.

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A group of well behaved dogs posing for the camera.

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Clay Cliffs of Omarama…. A 12 km detour seen from the highway on our way to Lake Pukaki….

The cliffs are reached via a gravel road, long stretches, of which most are incredibly bumpy – think driving over a washboard. But wow! Just when you think you have seen everything another landscape comes along to surprise you.

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These incredible cliffs are on private land, the owner charges 5 dollars per vehicle, believe me they are worth it.

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Reached by a 30 minute walk the cliffs command your attention with their towering presence. Rugged spires, pillars and arches separated by narrow ravines show stripes of yellow, orange and grey, made up of layers of gravel and silt.

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A narrow entrance led to what is known as the Cathedral, inside sky scraper walls of pipe like spires reached for the sky. We felt we had entered another world, lord of the rings comes to mind.

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The clay cliffs really are off the beaten track and not really advertised, hence we almost had the place to ourselves.

Lake Pukaki freedom camping …We stayed beside the Lake 3 years previous. Long-suffering was keen to stay again. Very keen it turns out, as once more I drove for miles and miles down gravel roads in search of the perfect ‘freedom’ spot by this vast lake. Every so often a track was found and out he got running out of sight only to come back shaking his head as the spot was either too small, too uneven, or in the case of most spots a barren logging destruction covered in dead chopped trees lying in funeral pyres.

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Approximately 45 minutes later we found – desperate by now – the PERFECT place. We were in the middle of nowhere by a beautiful turquoise lake completely and utterly on our own. We really had found our own slice of paradise!

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Wanaka

Day 14….instead of the heavy rain forecast, we awoke to clear blue skies and warmer temperatures outside. Eager to make the most of the unexpected dry weather we were out before breakfast to photograph and sketch the famous 100 year old willow tree more commonly known as That Wanaka Tree. This graceful little tree started its life as a fence post before deciding it would rather be a tree and rise out from Lake Wanaka.

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By 9am we were all finished. With the sun getting hotter, a walk into town and relaxed breakfast looking out onto the Lake seemed a sensible idea.

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Our choice of eatery was limited to those with outside seating in the sun, many were still in the shade. We ended up in a busy cafe/bar ‘Kai Whakapai’ ordering Bacon and egg on Turkish bread and tea for two. Our tea came in a proper teapot with a woollen tea cosy to keep the pot warm, just how we make it back home in Dorset. It was one of the tastiest breakfasts we had ever had the pleasure to eat.

Sustained by food, two hours became four hours, as we ambled in Wanaka town and then took a dry blustery 20 minute one way walk out to the marina and Eely Point.

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We walked in total almost 5 miles and got back to Aromoana just as the heavy rains came in, persistent until late evening. Some of our enforced down time was spent reading, writing, photo editing and relaxing in the lovely warm hot tubs – warm massaging jets doing wonders for our aching feet and legs.

Day 15. Glendhu Bay Lakefront Track 12km one way…. We chose to start this walk from the Wanaka Tree car park but first we drove up to Glendau Bay Lookout – our finish point – to park up Aramoana. A taxi drove us back down to our lakeside start.

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Early flowers of the many Lupins….

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Fungi growing fairy ring style….

We followed the edge of Lake Wanaka on undulating paths wide enough for two – with good reason – this is also a well used bike friendly trail. The path zig-zags steeply and narrows in parts and it is here where the odd speedy cyclist and walker may collide. Long-suffering almost had one such mishap, luckily the bike had good brakes!

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Fields of Grape Vines….

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We ascended along the bluffs above the lake providing us with panoramic views over hills, lake and mountains.

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The muse was once again left slapping any exposed body part – most was covered – from the biting sandflies while long-suffering took his time setting up the best image!

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The landscape changed dramatically as the track dropped down to lake level, the walking surface became pebbles surrounded with what looked like burnt rocks and tree debris some laying bleached white and some still rooted but black. We felt like we were walking through a disaster film set of devastation and carnage.

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A rock mimicking the shape of the mountain behind it looked snow capped as the lichen shone pale in the bright sun.

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At times a strenuous walk, the sun shone throughout, in exposed areas the wind was keen. Sweating man was back not only discarding his upper layers but the lower half of his trousers were zipped off too!

Bombay Palace Wanaka…. for a dinner date, the restaurant is reached via a set of stairs and affords fabulous views overlooking Lake Wanaka- we managed to get a window seat. Wonderful flavoursome food and great friendly service, if you like Indian food this is the place to go.

 

Arrowtown

Day 13…. Morning dawned and so did we, both stumbling about on less than perky legs after two days of uphill walks. Regardless, the muse was needed out by the lake before we left…

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Arrowtown…. was a must see for us, three years previous it was one we missed and regretted. A much needed down time day……

We arrived early, already the streets and car parks were busy with fellow tourists. This town attracts people like bees to a hive. It literally buzzed with life! Our visit started with the museum. Artefacts displayed in many rooms, some in part of the original BNZ Bank took us back to the 1860s when the rush for the Arrow Rivers gold  provided the means for this historic town to spring up. Other rooms shared Maori and early European history. The museum was a great place to start our tour, and one I would throughly recommend, a real Aladdin’s cave. No photos we were too busy enjoying this wonderful small museum.

Next up was the the famous heritage high street we browsed the stores up and down Buckingham street amongst the crowds. The old buildings really are charming, more so I’m sure when the hoards are gone, even so you still felt that you had gone back in time to the Wild West.

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Tea and carrot cake outside in the sun.

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On route to the Chinese Settlement by the river we passed lots of lovely looking bikes for hire. Remember this was our down day….

As long-suffering enquired about price, cycle route etc. I think my legs shook a little, I needn’t have worried for we ended up riding e-Bikes for the first time……

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Arrow Bridges Trail….26 km return – really!! A gravel trail way following and crossing the Arrow River to our turnaround point Kawarau Bridge Bungy set 141 feet over the Kawarau River.

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Definitely NOT on either of our must do list, but for some brave souls…..

although I was momentarily tempted by the zip wire ride!

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The E.Bikes once we – specifically me – got used to them were fantastic for some of the more challenging uphill parts of the terrain including zig-zag tracks to negotiate at the same time. Long-suffering came to my rescue on the approaches to the steep bits by reminding me loudly to ‘change down, change down, CHANGE DOWN’ in time to make a successful climb, after two false starts stopping mid-way up!

We cycled over the river via two suspension bridges, one extremely high causing Long-suffering to blanch a little, although most days now we have crossed one or two by foot, and at least on a bike I was unable to bounce it up and down to heighten his experience!

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We ate our packed lunch overlooking the Bungy gorge and stunning Turquoise River before our return cycle.

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A herd of deer along the route….

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Our e-Bikes would go for a distance of 80km before recharging. For us both less effort on hilly terrain would enable us to cycle further. For me alone, I could still maintain most of the effort, except on the really steep parts where my dodgy leg would normally mean dismounting before the top. A flick of the gears and my bike took off up the hill with minimum effort. On the return cycle my confidence improved and I was flying, with the wind in my hair back down the slopes not a squeaky brake was heard from long-sufferings ears!

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Cherry blossoms

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Back in town a Last stop at the Gelato…. Doubles = Mint Choc and Hokey Pokey ice cream on the village green, plus music from a couple of young buskers while we ate.

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Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park…. our base for the next three nights, a powered site. Hot, hot showers, hot tubs and sauna, kitchen, barbecues, lounge, laundry facilities  immaculate grounds, spring flowers and only a thirty minute downhill walk into town.

This year we will have seen two springs in six months!

Pasta meatballs for supper…..

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Glenorchy

Day 11. A distant Cockerel somewhere on the farm signalled the end of what was my best nights sleep so far.  I was refreshed ready for the drive to Glenorchy. We left with cloud and rain, on familiar roads we remembered from three years before. The closer we got to Queenstown, the brighter the skies above. With so much head swivelling beauty for Long-suffering to record and the muse as driver to enjoy, it was very much a stop/start drive!

Devils Staircase Lookout over Lake Wakatipu….

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Queenstown this time round was just a drive through for us on the way to the beautiful Tommy Thomson Scenic drive to Glenorchy opened in 1962. Previous to this Glenorchy residents relied on thrice weekly Wakatipu steamships. The mountain views were truly stunning.

Seven Mile Scenic Reserve Point….

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Mount Crichton Track 2 hour loop return…. From the car park we followed the track over bridges criss crossing the once gold filled 12 mile Creek through red beech forest on the lower tracks, my mini tree guide helping with identification.

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We passed by a large open space created by the sluicing and removing of rock from the canyon.

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Soon enough our ascent up to historic, Sam Summers Hut started – he and his brothers built this shelter in 1930 as protection against the extreme weather during his ten years living and prospecting along the creek. Sam died in 1997 at age 92.

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Inside we could only imagine the hardship of living day to day in this remote and at times unforgiving Forest as violent weather systems did their worst.

Branching off a short track led us to the Tailrace tunnel, dug out by hand using chisels and explosives. Here the water and rock cut from the mining face would flow into 12 mile Creek. I let Long-suffering explore alone, the muse is not happy in dark confined spaces.

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Back out on the main track, the steepest part of the climb was to come, but well worth the effort and sweat to get there for the viewpoints out over Lake Wakatipu, The Mountains beyond and Lake Dispute below nestled in woods.

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The descent, easier in terms of effort but harder on joints generally along with care to avoid slipping! The print out below was our actual time walking, an extra thirty five minutes was spent enjoying and recording our surroundings.

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Lake Sylvan D.O.C. freedom camp…. a beautiful, peaceful place to stay – resting tired legs – situated at the end of a long gravel road. A lot of new tree and shrub planting has gone on here and in time as it grows up the hardstanding pitches will become less conspicuous and more secluded. Grassy fields with ewes and their lambs entertained us while the sand flies munched us!

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Otago Peninsula

Day 2…. A bright start awake to the sound of the resident cockerel and clucking of his girls followed the heavy rain that drummed on our roof for most of the night. The bed was comfy enough to sleep – although I will update the last statement at the end of the trip! After porridge and lovely hot showers we were back out on the open road for our next stop….

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Moeraki Boulders…. are to be found on Koekohe Beach, these mostly perfect spheres, some two metres in diameter were originally formed sixty million years ago. We accessed the beach from the public carpark via the shop and cafe for a small voluntary fee. A Short walk from the boardwalk followed by a few steps took us down onto the beach, with low tide the boulders were perfectly visible in all their oddness, some spaced together others cast off alone embedded in the sand.

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The beach was busy, a popular attraction but long-suffering persevered to get his best shots, the muse took the time to explore the boulders up close and walk further along the shoreline and get her best shots!

Our next stop – the name we gave our motorhomes – Aramoana ‘Pathway to the sea’ – sits north of Dunedin. A small village without shop or streetlights our first freedom camp was situated down a quiet lane towards the beach set just back from the sea and sand dunes.

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The wind was blowing a hooli by the time we arrived late afternoon we needed as many layers as possible. After a quick hot cuppa we were away over the sand dunes to explore. We were not disappointed huge steep cliffs seem to rise up from the beach, a huge tall rock known as the keyhole due to its shaped hole at the top stood as a doorway to the beach the other side.

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Shells covered the beach some making interesting collages. Later as we walked back along the beach towards the dunes and Aramoana 2, a kite surfer was riding the rolling waves the wind whipping him along ever faster.

 

Snow & Ice… But This Time Last Year…

More of the white stuff has fallen and is still falling this weekend.

It is bitterly cold outside – and in – as we are both confined to the one room warmed by the wood-burner. The rest of the house is cold on account of our ’emergency level’ of low oil. Unfortunately the long-suffering forgot to check the oil gauge as red light and pump sign flashed frantically on and off warning of dangerously low levels.

 

In his defence it is situated behind the door, not always visible, and this is our first whole winter in our house, nevertheless his shoulders are slumped as it is his job in our house to check these things.

A quick phone call to our supplier would not relieve the current situation for at least 10 – 14 days! The recent Beast from the East has meant delivery times have been extended to cope with the backlog. The present ‘mini beast from the East’ will no doubt have the potential to extend delivery times further still.

As I leave the comfort of the wood-burner and add some warm layers to make a hot cup of tea in our freezing kitchen, my mind drifts off to warmer climes……..

This time last year we had no such worries as we relaxed at the end of nearly two months away on a warm beach.

GROUNDS-11Thailand was the last leg of our indulgent long holiday after four weeks touring New Zealand in a Motorhome, followed by two weeks in Australia.

We stayed at The Shore Katathani resort for a two-week relax and unwind from an amazing adventure packed six weeks of travelling. Our villa – expertly researched by the long-suffering was a dream. Set into steep lush hillside with beautiful sea views and its very own private infinity pool he and I were not disappointed with his choice.

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The steep walk up and down many steps/ramps gave us ample cardio in-between just lazing around and generally being waited on, and if the heat got too much and sweating man made an appearance we could always take the ever available golf buggy up instead. With high humidity outside and air-conditioning inside, drawing back the blinds in the morning revealed condensation covered glass doors out to the view. Luckily the Long-suffering duly obliged with his window cleaning skills!

Primarily Thailand was our down time however, we did do one all day excursion involving a ninety minute coach journey followed by a speed boat trip to the Phi Phi Islands archipelago in the Andaman Sea.

Maya Bay shoot location of the film ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio was one of a few islands our tour guide took us to.

This island has recently been in the news, reported to be temporarily closing from June this year due to the extremely high visitor numbers – 5000 or more people a day.

From our experience last year, controlling visitor numbers can only be a good thing for the conservation of these beautiful islands and reefs.  Nothing prepares you for the sheer volume of people on what is promoted to be an idyllic beach. The posters depict it almost devoid of people and boats. The reality is anything but!

Brochure Picture………

Reality……….

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There were quieter moments walking through the lush vegetation out to the lookout, a welcome retreat from the masses.

We also visited Monkey Island……

For our part we preferred to view the Macaques from the boat which was just as well as the shore was busy with other tour boats, although the monkeys from a distance seemed at ease with the attention!

Bamboo Island our first stop…….

and Ko Phi Phi Don………..

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Sadly all the islands on our visit were just parking lots for the many boats lined up along the shores or bobbing in the water. I am sure in the non tourist times when the masses have left they would once again resemble the idyllic Islands the Brochures suggest!

An encroaching storm meant a rough and wet ride back to Phuket as we sped accross the water, even the plastic ponchos we were kindly supplied with were in danger of being ripped from us by the strong winds whipping around the open to the elements boat. Exhilarating to say the least!

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Back in the vicinity of the wood-burner our time away from the british winter last year is but a distant, happy memory. Nevertheless spring is around even if it is currently under a blanket of snow!