From Australia to New Zealand…and back

Sydney was our first destination after leaving Singapore. When we arrived at the airport we decided to get a taxi to our hotel for convenience and the taxi driver was less than happy with the recent weather, it’d been wet, very wet. The sun was shining then so we were happy, after booking into our hotel and grabbing a map we headed out through the botanical gardens to the harbour.

Sydney is full of slim, beautiful, young people. I began to feel quite old. No matter this wasn’t a beauty contest and we soon were seduced by the iconic views of Sydney. The sun was beating down as we strolled around the harbour, choosing a harbour side restaurant at random we enjoyed a fabulous late lunch watching the glamorous folk stroll past. Queen Mary 2 was in dock and the views were amazing.

After our snack we headed round to the Rocks area then to the bridge and watched a glorious sunset. Heading back to the hotel, with the botanical gardens closed we inevitably got lost and ended up walking miles further than necessary but we found a fabulous pizza restaurant and rested our feet whilst we ate the best pizza I’ve had since our honeymoon in Italy.

Then the rain started.

And it barely stopped for the next 3 days we were in Sydney.

This didn’t stop us enjoying the area, getting our first taste of antipodian pies (pies then became our go to snack), going on a free walking tour, exploring on our own, seeing the biggest scariest bats we’d ever seen, loving the wildlife in the botanical gardens and finally celebrating Js birthday with a lovely lunchtime meal before heading to the airport for our flight to New Zealand.

We arrived at Christchurch airport in the early hours of the morning and were glad we’d booked a room in a hotel only a few minutes stroll away.

After picking up the hire car we headed to our first destination Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch. It was a hot day and this pretty seaside village was alive with flocks of people enjoying the sandy beaches. Our b&b was a converted space in a garage and was really delightful. A huge bed, pretty decor, a great bathroom and the best home made granola I’ve ever tasted.

NZ - Sumner beach

The next day we headed for Akaroa, with its French history it seemed like a great location. Using the car sat nav we set off only to find the road closed as a result of last years devastating earthquake. After a faff we found an alternative route and delighted in the amazing scenery en route but also loving all that this tiny, pretty village had to offer.

The following day we left Sumner and headed across country to Hokitika, it was a wet day so we missed seeing Arthur’s Pass at its best but we did have our first NZ pie from the village of Sheffield and boy was that an amazing pie.

Arriving at Hokitika the sun came out and we were so pleased with the views from our accommodation (again it was part of the garage, there seemed to be a theme here). We overlooked the river and we had our first view of Mt Cook. Hokitika also gave us the best sunsets of our entire trip and the 50+ photos I have of them are testament to their beauty.

NZ - Hokitika sunset (8)In Hokitika we had fish (blue cod) and chips wrapped in newspaper and discovered Hokey Pokey ice cream, which then became my 2nd obsession after pies and the cause of the expanding waistline.

Whilst here we visited the Pancake rocks, Hokitika Gorge and Lake Kaniere. All amazing sights and we ran out of words to describe the beauty each place offered.

One of the peculiarities of this particular area was the single track bridges, some quite large span bridges only wide enough for one carriageway, sometimes it was with a bit ofNZ - Greymouth single track road and railway line (1) a wish and a prayer that you headed onto the bridge hoping that nothing was coming the other way. And one particularly weird bridge the road was shared by the railway track.

We loved the west coast and Hokitika and in an ideal world we would have loved to spend longer here as it was oozing with spectacular sights but with another destination booked we left this lovely place and headed along the west coast. First stop was Franz Joseph Glacier. We took the walking route to the glacier on the basis of cost plus neither of us particularly fancy helicopters as a mode of transport. It was a lovely walk, reasonably busy and if I’m being really honest the final view was not much more impressive than the first view we’d had about an hour previously but the exercise was a good way of burning off those pies and ice cream.

NZ - Franz Joseph Glacier (26)Next was the mirror lake or Lake Matheson to give it its proper name. Here the views of Mt Cook were spectacular and hoping for a calm lake we took the walk to the lake. Unfortunately it wasn’t calm enough to give the mirror reflection but still it was awesome. We met a young German man who said that he’d visited previously and had still not experienced the mirror effect so I guess you just have to be very fortunate to see it in all its glory.NZ - Lake Matheson (21)

A very long drive later we finally arrived very late at our next two night accommodation, not quite a garage conversion this time but not far off.

Hawea Flat was another good base to explore the ‘middle’ of South Island. We took a circular route the next day to Arrowtown, going over the mountains through Cardrona with more stunning views. Arrowtown Arnold gold mining village has been restored (possibly a little too shiny) to its former glory and now its pavements are teeming with tourists. I found the town too hectic to fully enjoy but once we headed down to the river it was much more pleasant and we spent some time watching hopeful souls panning for gold in the river.

Leaving Arrowtown we drove back to our accommodation via the Gibbston Valley a stunning wine growing region with vineyards enticing you in to taste and buy their excellent wines. New Zealand wine really is quite lovely and nothing like some of the stuff found on the shelves of the supermarkets in the UK.

Our next stop was Te Anau the base to explore Milford Sound. Te Anau seemed to have little purpose other than to be a ‘holding area’ for visiting the Sounds. It’s a busy place, not terribly attractive and mainly filled with restaurants and travel companies.

After a bit of research we decided to visit both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. We drove to Milford Sound as that was the most economical way of doing the trip, it was an early start but was much better than taking the long drive following lots of coaches. At one point we stopped the car to swap over driving, as we passed by the back of the car I glanced over Js shoulder to see three HUGE birds sitting on the ground watching us. In the gloom of the very early light I thought they were eagles of some sort and quickly leapt into the car. They came very close to the car and when I started to open the window to get a photo they got very excited and started moving even closer. We quickly departed. I later found out they are Kea Birds who after being fed frequently by tourists they have turned into ‘muggers’ following anyone in the area and trying to steal their food. It is a shame that tourism has had this effect on these inquisitive birds.

NZ - Kea birds

Milford Sound is a beautiful trip and even though it was cold and wet the views were very impressive.NZ - Milford Sound (8)NZ - Milford Sound (27)

The next day another early start but this time we were taken by coach to Doubtful Sound, the trip is very well organised with a boat across Lake Manapouri, another coach over Wilmot Pass and finally a cruise through Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea. If we were impressed by Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound was spectacular. Again it was cold and wet but this didn’t detract from the beauty.

Heading back north the next day to Fairlie for our next two nights we saw more amazing sights but the one that kept the camera busy the most was Lake Tekapo, the bluest of blues and with a clear view of the snow capped Mt Cook it was a sight to behold. I’m not sure that the photos do it justice but here’s a taster.NZ - Lake Tekapo (4)

Our accommodation in Fairlie came complete with a West Highland Terrier, which coincidently was the spitting image of my late Mothers dog. He assumed all rights to come and go in our apartment and was a cheeky little fella, we fell in love with him but soon realised he shared his love with anyone who gave him a bit of attention.

A circular drive from Fairlie took us to the coast and I was on a mission to see penguins. After an amazing brunch en route we stopped at a Penguin viewing area, however they were apparently out for the day doing what penguins do and were expected back later that evening. Unable to wait that long we took a walk around and lounging on the jetty were basking seals, just a couple of feet away from us.NZ - Oamaru seal

Delightful as they were they weren’t penguins, so off we went again and I spotted a small sign saying there was a beach where penguins were. After scouring the beach, and getting chased by an irate seal (he obviously knew I preferred penguins) a woman beckoned us over. They were researching the penguins and weighing any they found and they’d just found one hiding in the bushes. I was so excited. My photo isn’t great they didn’t want me to get any closer so I just had to zoom in with the camera and hope for the best.

As happy as Larry I skipped off the beach and we continued our route.

A final trip to this place, Burkes Pass, before we headed back to Christchurch. It was a haven for anyone who loves old cars and Americana.

Our flight to Melbourne the next day ended up being cancelled and we were booked onto a flight the next day, but with not enough time to explore Christchurch we settled for getting lost (for a change) and then having a lovely dinner at our hotel.

We only had one day in Melbourne and how we wished we’d had longer. Melbourne was hot, beautiful, chilled and friendly. We loved it. We ended up walking FIFTEEN MILES that day; we heard Adele sound check for her gig that night, we walked through the botanical gardens, we saw Melbourne Cricket Club, we rode a tram, we took a bus tour and walked and walked and walked, finally getting back to the hotel with blisters on feet and sleeping like logs before heading off to the airport for our flight to Singapore and one last night with the family.

It was an incredible month away; I personally achieved so much by taking so many flights and also travelling on boats (another fear of mine) and we both had an experience we never dreamed we would have. We are even considering going back to New Zealand to see the northern part of South Island which we couldn’t get to this time.


Slinging in Singapore 

Singapore was our original (and first) destination of our holiday. The first thing that strikes you once you’re out of the airport is the heat and humidity, it’s overpowering. Air conditioning is an absolute must but even that barely touches the heat at times, everywhere you go you’re looking forward to the next air conditioned area just for a brief respite. My nicely coiffed hair went from sleek and shiny to a frizzy mess within hours, no amount of hair conditioner or coconut oil could tame the suddenly wild locks, any attempt to look chic and sophisticated disappeared immediately. But enough of my hair issues what is Singapore like?

It’s clean, bright, full of modern architectural wonders and busy, very busy. It’s a place that awakens and overpowers your senses, there isn’t a journey that doesn’t involve constant head turning and exclamations of ‘look at that’. We were only there a week but I cannot imagine that you’d ever get blasé about the sights. The incredible Marina Bay Sands complex Singapore - Marina Bay Sandswith a giant surfboard atop which has an elegant and expensive bar, as well as an infinity pool and goodness knows what else was the first place we visited and even on a hot and very rainy day (note photo is not of the rainy day) it didn’t fail to impress.

I didn’t mention the rain did I? Oh my goodness can it rain. It was like standing with someone pouring bucket after bucket of water over you for up to an hour and longer. One day when we decided to go out on our own exploring we rejected the offer of an umbrella. Big mistake. On our way back our 10 minute walk left us wetter than if we’d just jumped in the river fully clothed.

Aside from all the glitz of the gleaming new buildings there is some character, Chinatown was especially exciting, full of shops and stalls, brightly coloured and selling everything you could imagine and crucially at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. As a bargain lover I was in my element. Yes of course there’s tat but there’s also plenty of beautiful things to buy too, plus I got my supply of Tiger Balm (the best thing for all aches and pains, coughs and snuffles).

Yes Singapore is expensive, there’s no denying it. Alcohol is almost(!) prohibitively expensive. One of the exceptions to this is public transport, that is good value and as you would expect very efficient. The other exception is the Hawker stalls selling glorious food at silly prices. As lovers of good food we went to the only Michelin recognised hawker stall for lunch, we queued for nearly an hour (this was the only stall where there was a queue) and watched as the food was freshly cooked, then expertly chopped up to be served on paper plates when you finally got to the front of the queue. Some customers waved their arms in celebration as they finally got served their meal that they had been patiently waiting for. Was it Michelin quality food? I’m not sure, it was excellent that is certain, it was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully cooked so if that’s the criteria that Michelin looks for then yes it is. We loved our meal, that was what was important and we can certainly tick off that as one of the Michelin restaurants we’ve visited and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. And best of all the total cost for both our meals….$4.50 the equivalent of about £2.50.

Of course no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel for cocktails. We loved it. It’s a beautiful colonial building, with friendly and efficient staff and it delivers what you expect, a tasty drink, in classy surroundings with a touch of authenticity.

Aside from the food and of course the joy of spending time with the family other things that were amazing were the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, both these places were stunning. Filled with plants, animals, sculptures and of course lots of people. We took the most photos in these places, everywhere we looked there was something exciting to see and the grandchildren clearly loved visiting them even though it was probably the umpteenth time they’d done so in the short time they’ve lived there.

Would we visit Singapore again? Whilst we’ve got family there definitely yes, otherwise no. It’s a striking place and we’re glad we’ve been but it lacks a soul. It is a large business district essentially that has areas, beautifully designed and executed areas, for pleasure but it isn’t a holiday destination in my view.

Where was Wendy?


For at least the past 25 years I’ve been terrified of flying. I’ve been on planes in that time but very infrequently and always absolutely rigid with fear, any movement due to turbulence had me practically weeping.

When my step-daughter, son-in-law and our 3 youngest grandchildren moved to Singapore last summer we felt that we should visit them in their new home.

Cue anxiety.

Then I thought I could get help with this fear in the form of medication from my GP and at that point we decided if we were going to travel as far as Singapore then why not continue on and visit a few other places? Where to was the next decision.

I’ve had a bit of an interest in seeing a bit of Australia and Mr D has an interest in New Zealand, so it seemed that perhaps we could try to fit those in to the trip.

A visit to my GP to confirm he could prescribe medication to get me through the anxiety and at Christmas the research of routes and fares began.

Now I’m pretty damned good at looking for bargains, within a short time of moving to France I’d already sussed best (cheapest) places to buy petrol, best supermarkets and restaurants so I was confident in my abilities of scouring the internet for air fares.

First piece of research was best online travel companies. I chose Kayak initially as I liked their search engine, I could create ‘trips’ and save routes. I ended up creating at least nine different trips with various dates, cities and lengths of stays.

Second research was best way to get to New Zealand, was it via Singapore or Australia or was it best to ‘do’ NZ first? So many options. Then of course which part(s) of Australia to see.

My head hurt with all the possible configurations.

The final route we decided on was Singapore, Sydney, Christchurch, Melbourne, Singapore then home. Best prices for flights was the next headache. It may be the holiday of a lifetime but I had no intention of paying over the odds for flights. Daily monitoring of prices became the thing.  I was driving everyone crazy and was persuaded to just go for it and book, there were no guarantees the prices were going to drop further so I went ahead and bought the return flights to Singapore for a very good price with Emirates, however only for a couple of days later a different airline was offering flights at £100 less per person. I wasn’t happy but our flight times were better and shorter in duration so I consoled myself with that. (The decision to go with Emirates actually was an excellent choice, they were amazing, we cannot fault them at all. Courteous staff, great food, comfortable seats and on our return flight they even took a photo of me and Mr D and presented it to us as a memento of our flight).

The flights from Singapore to Australia and New Zealand were far more complex, there were so many options and by this time I wanted to be able to do the entire booking process in one go. I found that Opodo offered multi-trip bookings, which meant I could choose the flights but essentially make one booking, it was also going to be easier to track and manage whilst we were en-route. After a couple of false starts I finally got the flights we wanted with the times that suited us and paid the money.

All good so far.

The headache really began then. Accommodation. Hotels in Australia ended up being the best option and we chose well, the delightful Simpsons Hotel in Sydney served up delicious breakfasts to set us up well on our days out exploring. Then in Melbourne we plumped for the ParkView Hotel another lovely hotel with those all important excellent breakfasts.

Accommodation in New Zealand involved us deciding on a route to drive around with accurate timings for lengths of stay in each area. Luckily a Christmas present from my daughter of the Lonely Planet guide for New Zealand was a godsend, they gave recommended routes plus full info on towns and attractions. Once we decided on route I then scoured Airbnb and BookaBach for suitable places that met certain important needs for us (wifi, own bathroom etc). Some places we stayed were amazing some not quite so but we had a great time (more on that in next blog).

Finally and most importantly a trip back to the GP who provided me with enough tranquilising medication to soothe an angry elephant and we were ready for the off, a month of travel which involved 9 flights.

Pics and more information on that holiday of a lifetime to follow.

Please note all recommendations are entirely my own and I have not been given anything for mentioning the companies within this article.

Money, money, money

As I read yet another headline how someone thinks they know how to save the NHS, my usually excellent blood pressure soars. 

This time it was a Chief Nurse helpfully suggesting that caring for older people who no longer required the type of medical support provided by hospitals would be better done in the home rather than in hospital beds. No shit Sherlock. There used to be a properly funded Home Care service (I used to coordinate a group of Home Carers) and prior to that convalescence hospitals, all of which gave much needed support to those in real need and prevented a burden on medical beds. Some ‘wise’ soul thought that getting rid of these services would save money (in their budget) without actually understanding the long-term health of a patient or looking at the end to end cost of health provision. The cycle of illness, partial recovery, illness, partial recovery ad infinitum is halted for many and the recurring need for support services is reduced.

I don’t know this Chief Nurse and I’m sure she’s a caring person who has risen through the ranks of her profession and her comments are based on insight from her knowledge and frustrations as she’s watched successive governments destroy the basis of the NHS and Social Services of the UK. Or just maybe her comments are based on work done by some recent graduate to a consultancy firm which has been paid shed loads of money (trust me they pitch they’ll do the work with their best most qualified staff then bugger off leaving you with a spotty graduate who has no idea of the real world) will have spent hours pouring over data that they’ve acquired from over-worked staff in hospitals and come up with the scenario that their predecessors changed a few years ago and drawn up a press release that is then fed to the media. 

Take your pick, I’m hoping it’s the former.

So to be clear, yes I do have a beef with consultancy firms. I’ve seen them in action, all too frequently. They come in, promise the world then deliver something that’s a shadow of their promise and blame the organisation they’re working for for not embracing the process. Oh and they charge astonishingly high rates for the pleasure, promise their top experts will be on-site during the work (see above), and not meet the timeline agreed and yes you’ve guessed it they’ll blame the organisation for that too. Oh and don’t get me started on the latest buzzwords and acronyms that they’ll come up with as a way to woo the chief execs and senior managers who might not have already been swayed by the handshake and presentation.

Now of course that’s a generalisation and yes I have worked with some honourable and hard working consultants but in my experience they are very thin on the ground.

But back to the main point of this post. Organisations, local and central government departments are wasting so much money on reinventing the wheel, or implementing change for change sake. They have staff. Competent, qualified staff who THEY employed to do a job but they don’t trust them to know how to manage their work because……..well I don’t know. Are they saying they employed the wrong people? That their recruitment process is flawed? Yes there will be incompetent staff in organisations but deal with them, don’t ignore it because it’s easy or worse still promote them (therein lies another bug bear).

None of this is rocket science. Remember what works, what you’re there to provide and fund it and stop funding management structures and vanities.

Oh and I know some will respond with the oft-used ‘but there isn’t a bottomless pit of funding available’. But just ask the question where, with a larger working population contributing taxes, is that money and what is it being used for? And re-read this post or if you’re in the lucky position of being able to scrutinise organisations accounts look where the money is really spent, drill right down and see what small percentage is actually used to fund the staff who deliver the service or that they pay to outsource the service. Believe me it will be very scary.

It’s not alright to be Right

I’ve pondered long and hard about writing a political post, but on reflection I need the thoughts I have to be out there. My thoughts may not meet with everyone’s approval.

The past couple of years or so have been frightening politically, the legitimisation of right wing, fascist so-called politicians being given an increasing platform to peddle their views has had the effect of normalising these extreme views. So much so that we have seen not only a disastrous (in mine and 48% of voters view) referendum result for the UK, a disastrous (in mine and the majority of American voters views) election result in the US and to cap it all the BBC decides it’s ok to give publicity to the Leader of the Front National of France in the form of, what I have heard, what was a very soft, unchallenging interview on the Andrew Marr show on Remembrance Sunday.

There was a time, not so long ago that giving a legitimised voice to the National Front (UK), the BNP and any other form of extreme right wing ‘party’ would have struck horror in the minds of the majority of the UK population. I remember disgust that they were allowed to have a slot on the Party Political broadcasts. To the credit of TV companies during the 70s-90s we were generally spared these people appearing on respected tv and radio programmes. Where they did appear it was often to highlight their extremism and to have a balanced view represented. 

Then along came UKIP who hid their extremism by putting on a PR face, suits and ties replaced shaven heads, bomber jackets and bovver boots. The voice and face of UKIP was someone from a very privileged background who had the contacts to lever him into the public eye. He adopted the ‘common’ man image being pictured with a pint in his hand down the local. TV, radio and newspaper companies and undoubtedly ‘smart(?)’ young things in management roles thought that giving this person some time in the spotlight would raise their profile in the world of media; they could add to their CV that they increased the viewing share of their particular area. But all they have done is legitimise this vile mans views. After all aren’t the public clever enough to see through his rhetoric? Well actually No they’re not. Many people see the likes of this person on prime time slots and front pages as a way of saying actually he’s ok, he’s not scary, he’s not like the BNP/NF/Nazi party because if he was the media wouldn’t be seeking his views on day to day matters, would they? 

Apparently this vile privileged man represents the views of the downtrodden working class (just like his mate in the USA). Well as someone who comes from a working class background of centuries standing, I’ve never felt that someone of privilege could ever understand, let alone represent, me (the lack of choice for representation in mainstream political parties is another subject for another day).

Blaming the working class for the rise of these people is wrong. It wasn’t the working class who booked them to appear on the BBC virtually every week for the last few years, it wasn’t the working class but the newspaper magnates that gave this man front page headlines for the past few years. And those people that booked this person or wrote about this person weren’t doing it for the good of the working class, they were doing it to increase audiences or sell newspapers to put more money into the hands of the executives and magnates. 

Yes understanding that people have these views is important but reporting on their presence is very different to legitimising their views by giving them prime spots in the media which has been at the expense of our mainstream parties and politicians. That man should be treated the same way as the leaders of the BNP, NF etc were treated as they share the same views. 

Some blame also lies in the hands of the mainstream parties for not using their voices, loudly, frequently and united across parties, to denounce and debunk the rhetoric of UKIP. The silence has, at times, been deafening, and during the referendum astonishing that the brexiters happily allowed UKIP to assist them in getting the outcome they wanted, again legitimising and normalising their policies.

I’ve seen comments on social media saying we need to respect these people’s views. Well I’m sorry, I’ll say it again and again, I cannot and will not respect their views. I respect their right to have alternative views, but in the same way I would never respect Hitler’s views I will not respect any other extreme right wing views. We are in grave danger of  seeing the 1930s happen again. Are we asked to respect the views of terrorists? Are terrorists given a media platform to express their views and comment on government policies? That ‘respectable’ view being given to UKIP masks some very nasty policies, that will destroy all the decency that was fought for in WWII. 

Normalising extremism leads to more extremism.

Bunions Oignons

I have bunions. Not grossly gnarled toes yet but they’re definitely beginning to wander in the wrong direction. A trip to the GP confirmed it and he gave me a letter to give to the specialist and I was to phone and make my own appointment with him. All very simple. 

Appointment made but was told to bring a recent X-ray with me. Back to GP for X-ray referral note. We chose to drive to the clinic to arrange an appointment. We arrived at the clinic at 4:30 on Friday afternoon.

Me: I’d like to make an appointment for a foot X-ray please

Receptionist: Do you want it done now?

Me: Yes please

Receptionist to Radiographer sitting next to her: That’s ok isn’t it, you can do it now?

Radiographer to me: Yes but only if you’ve got me a box of chocolates 😂

15 minutes later I walk out of the clinic clutching my X-rays (honestly if I thought my feet were awful with skin on, the bone view is disgusting) and without having to hand over any chocolates.

Oh and I get to choose which specialist I see.  At the 2nd visit to the GP to get the X-ray referral I asked him if the specialist he’d first suggested was the best one. He said he was very good but his specialism included knees and thighs as well as feet but if I just wanted a specialist who only dealt with feet he would give me the details and it was entirely my choice who I saw.

All this done without managers setting targets, monitoring workloads, producing meaningless reports, interfering in medical staff time-management……..

Quite refreshing.