Day 9-12 What did we learn?

On the Sunday we drove across Nebraska and South Dakota and we learnt that, not taking the highways on the East coast is very different to doing that in the MidWest. Part of our route took us on 24 miles of gravel road and the part that was “done” had more ridges than a roller coaster! Our poor old RV was not happy. But we arrived at the campground in good time and have a nice quiet spot here for the next 4 nights. We are right on the edge of the Badlands National park and so a quick internet search told us (and everyone else) that the best spot for a sunset picture was the Pinnacle look out. It was not the best sunset, but we did get to see the prong horn sheep and also we took a diversion on the way back and came face to face with our first Bison. It was too dark for the picture to be much good but the moment was captured anyway.

The next day we drove through the park and out to Wall with the famous Wall Drug store. We had lunch in the drug store and walked through the town, it’s a bit touristy for us but we ticked the box and said we went there. The weather had changed on the way back and the top of the ridge was covered in mist. Driving back down via a different route took us onto Sage Creek rim road, where we were able to see quite a few Bison and also some Prairie dogs.

Tuesday – we drove out to a spot and walked a 4.5mile circular route called Medicine Loop and then the return was part of the Castle trail. The views and also the hiking were very different between the two parts of the trail. We were blessed with warm weather but a nice cool breeze to make it comfortable and probably got some of best photos. Rob drove back out that evening to see if he could get a better sunset but was out of luck.

Today the weather has not been that great and so we have pretty much stayed in the RV planning our next steps on the journey and also letting me catch up on my cross stitching.

Tomorrow we leave for Custer and will stay there for the next 4 nights.

Days 4-8 The Fun and the Flipping Heck!

After leaving Paducah our first port of call was the Point Labadie Brewery in Labadie MO. We arrived late afternoon, and got ourselves settled. Wandered over to the Brewery bar just after 7 and sat out in their garden, Wednesday was quiz night, so while Rob enjoyed the local beer we both just answered as many questions as we could between us.

Next morning we were on the road by 8.30 and drove across MO to Lathrop where we were booked to overnight at a small farm. It was right out in the country side and the last mile was down a gravel track that kicked up a huge amount of dust. The people were lovely and we enjoyed a very quiet night apart from the heavy rain that came in about 9 and the sheep bleating from about 5 in the morning. We knew we had a longer day of travel and so we left early again and travelled North.

When we stopped for lunch we hit our first “flipping heck” the generator that runs AC and other things for us when we are not either driving or hooked up to electricity would not start. When you are essentially driving in a tin can and with the outside temperature in the 90’s, it does not take very long to get uncomfortable. So back on the road and on to our destination, which was very nice camp ground in Sioux City – we were on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River although the City is mainly in Iowa. Rob tried again with the generator but no success. The main issue with this is that we will need to only stay at places with electricity, no more boon docking. Rob spent the evening on good old YouTube looking for suggestions and one of them suggested that if the oil level drops, it will not start. Hopefully this is the issue and we can resolve it tomorrow.

Well this is when the other shoe dropped!! our fridge freezer has stopped working. its getting power but not cooling. It’s a full size domestic appliance and so replacement is not an option and fixing is unlikely. So our trip to Walmart went from buying some oil to “what’s our plan B for keeping food cool.” We ended up buying a top model cool box that will keep things cool for up to 5 days, a giant bag of ice and an ice making machine.

Rob topped up the oil and let it settle while we took a walk along the River and into the City. It was quite a pleasant walk and we called in at the Lewis and Clark interpretive center . Because we have been avoiding all the highways, we have seen many signs along the way designating that the route we were on matched their original route. Town was not quite the cultural experience that we were expecting. The most interesting things that we saw were these faces carved on the top of one of the building and there was also a truckers exhibition and sales expo. On our walk back to the campsite we were blown away with the underneath of the bridge, it was a mass of swallow nests and the swallows were darting in and out of their nests.

Back at the RV at last some good news, the oil fixed the generator problem, so now we just need to see how well our plans for the replacement to the fridge freezer works !

Day 3 and 4 – Paducah KY

Our campsite is lovely, very quiet and close to the the things that we wanted to see. One of the things we missed was the fact that the campsite is right next to a drag racing track. That’s on our bucket list to go see live one day but clearly not this week as it is only at weekends.

We drove over to the Land Between the Lakes state park although I have to say, every time I say or hear that name, I imagine myself in some 1950’s B movie with a swamp monster coming to get me. It’s an interesting park, it has various things to do and also has a number of themed campsites. So there is one for off-roading, hunting, equestrian and water sports to name just a few. There are also places to stop and see different activities. We went to the Wild animal area, not a lot there but all are rescues and all are well kept. Rob took the Bobcat pictures.

Next we drove through the enclosed Elk and Bison prairie and we were warned that the better chance to see any animals would be early morning or late evening and so we were pleasantly surprised to see the Bison and to get really close to one of the Elk’s

We stopped at the Golden Pond visitor area which also has a planetarium but we were there to see the exhibition that talks about the history of the area. Then we drove down to the Homestead, all the buildings are original buildings moved into the area and they also have staff dressed in authentic clothing and demonstrating the various crafts at certain times of the week. Top to bottom of the park is probably about 50 miles and the bottom part runs back into Tennessee. One word of caution, is that the only food available is limited snacks at the various stops, so be prepared and take your lunch with you.

Tuesday we drove into the historic downtown area and walked around the Main Street and along the wall of Murals (for Brits of a certain age, you will understand the urge to call them Muriels!) I found a crafting store, oh ok I had already checked on line before coming here. It is the World of Crafting, and sometimes referred to as Global Artisans. it has a real mix of everything needle based from felting to embroidery. I was quite restrained and just bought a small piece of linen and some buttons to add to my cross stitch. After a very good lunch at the German Bakery, we went to the Quilt Museum. They were all modern quilts but the craftsmanship was amazing and it is well worth a visit.

We did a 5 mile walk on the Greenway there to counterbalance all the sitting we are doing while moving from location to location. Back to the RV and some gentle stitching for me. Tomorrow we are off to Labadie MO staying overnight at a Brewery.

Big trip to Big sky – Pre Prep alongside Day 1 and 2

The plan is to head towards the north and then west. But as those that have RV’s know, if you have not used them for a while then many things need doing. For us that was new step motor, new engine battery and new tap assembly for the main bathroom. All installed by Rob alongside a massive clean up operation.

There were things that we had to finish off around the property including Rob shortening my life expectancy by scaring me to death when I saw him roll the ATV down near the woods. Thank goodness to years of riding trials bikes, he jumped off in the opposite direction and apart from my scare, no harm was done.

Friday was a busy day as we carted everything out to stock the RV with everything we think we need. Saturday morning we were up early with a planned leave time of 9.30 but with all the usual last minute items and also trying to refresh our memory on hooking up the car and we were off at 11.

We like to avoid highways and understand this will take us much longer but it is fun to see all of the small towns and different countryside. First stop is going to be a Harvest Host location (its an on line membership where you can stay at over 5500 locations around the US) some are free and some like you to buy things at their site. We chose the Bean Creek Winery in Manchester TN. Given that there.was a road diversion that added 40 miles to the trip, we stopped at a Truck stop to top up the Rv and disconnect the car. For those that ask why we don’t use the RV for weekends, maybe this answers the question. We probably drove about 250 miles and the image below was the cost to top us back up

The Harvest Hosts generally do not have any facilities to hook up to RV (electric, water and sewer) but we can go between 3 and 5 days just on the RV’s own utilities. So as you can see the parking was pretty basic. Off we went into the winery, the intent was to have a single glass of red each and then dinner and an early night. But…………… the owner came to chat with us and had us try some other wines and also how much different they tasted in the right glasses. So two very inebriated people inhaled burgers (veg burger for me) and bought 2 bottles of wine to take with us and 2 expensive German wine glasses. Doh! As many people know, neither of us can hold our drink and so it did not take much and we both suffered during the night with a bad head and very thirsty. The wine and the winery was very nice and so if you are traveling north on the 24 I recommend you stop in.

Next morning we headed to Paducah where we intend to stop for the next few days, found a lovely RV park that is really nice and quiet. The plan is to visit “Land between the Lakes” and also downtown Paducah.

And now something for the crafting crew, as most of you know, I have been indulging in many cross stitch projects lately. In fact I have not picked up my knitting needles since November 2022 and the mystery shawl debacle (don’t ask!) Anyway, its always good to have something to keep me occupied while Rob is driving and letting me loose with a sewing needle while to RV rattles around is not going to work. So I packed a knitting project that I started sometime ago, no, not the infamous shawl, and it has worked out really well. The pattern is called the Beekeepers quilt and it was designed to use up all your sock yarn odds and ends. But I bought a box of Scheejps Catona cotton some time ago there are over a 100 of these mini balls in the box and each one can create 2 of these hexies. You knit them with sock needles, I like these flexi ones by Hiya Hiya and you are knitting the complete pouch as you go, just before you cast off, you stuff them and at some point I will join them together. As its all knit stitch I don’t need to look and you are casting on to the widest point and then casting off, so just enough concentration required to keep me engaged.

Florida, Family, Flora, Fauna and Fun

We flew to Miami on Sunday January 28th and met with my sister and brother-in-law the next morning. My sister drove us to Naples where we were booked to stay for the next 3 nights.

Took it easy the first night and strolled down to see what is left of Naples pier and wait for the sunset, it was a bit breezy but well worth the wait

On the way back we had dinner at a Thai restaurant that was excellent but as we walked further on, on our way back to the hotel, we saw an amazing looking Persian restaurant and promptly booked a table for the following night.

Lazy start the next day and a brunch at the local cafe before driving off to Corkscrew swamp sanctuary which belongs to the Audubon group.

It was perfect winter weather for Florida, warm enough to not need coats but not sweltering hot and humid. There are about 2.5 miles of walkways around the swamp and while we did not see loads of birds, those we did see were quite close and I was able to use my new camera and get some pretty decent shots.

Back to Naples and the most amazing dinner at Bha Bha the Persian restaurant on 5th avenue. It was so good, I ate it instead of taking pictures!

Next morning we drove to Sanibel Island and had a walk and drive around the Ding Darling reserve. We were treated to a lot more birds but other than this great Osprey, they were further away than my camera would have done justice too.

After a happy few hours at the reserve we carried on to Captiva and had lunch sat out in the sun and watched the world and a few more birds go by! Can you see the crab in the beak of the small heron

On the Thursday we drove back to Miami, ready to fly out the next morning, we were coming back to Atlanta and my family were on their way to Martinique to start a catamaran trip.

On the way back to Miami, my sister had booked an airboat tour of the Everglades, it was so much fun, we got up close and personal with a number of alligators and this delightful little bird called a Gallinule, first time we had seen them. They were obviously used to the boat pilot as one of them came and ate a small worm out of his hand. The Airboats are quite noisy but it’s amazing how they glide through the Everglades. Thank goodness we were spared from seeing any of the infamous Burmese pythons.

We took an Uber down to Ocean drive and sat outside for dinner and people watched, to say there were some interesting characters would be an under statement! After dinner we walked along the front, admiring the architecture and enjoying the views. I was particularly drawn to the Betsy Hotel, it had two very interesting additions, the Betsy Orb which the Google describes here “The Betsy Orb is a work of public art installed to connect two architecturally significant buildings: The Betsy Ross designed by L. Murray Dixon and The Carlton designed by Henry Hohauser. Once a month, we use The Orb’s surface to project artistic videos or photographs for the community to enjoy.” And the Betsy poetry rail, again curtesy of the Gooogle “The Betsy Poetry Rail is an homage to the poets who have shaped Miami literature by including their diverse, historic, and contemporary voices: Muhammad Ali, Richard Blanco, Adrian Castro, Chenjerai Hove, Langston Hughes, Donald Justice, Campbell McGrath, Geoffrey Philp, Carlos Pintado, Hyam Plutzik, Gerald Stern, and Julie Marie Wade.”

The Trip was rounded out by a cocktail or two in the hotel bar, their speciality was a whisky sour with peanut butter and yes it was delicious. Kat and Ian taught us a new card game and Rob was happy to win at least once and so is looking forward to playing it again.

All in all a great trip and good to see family !!

And the travels begin again – just a little!

I belong to a spinning guild, the type that spins fiber into yarn not the over active cycling kind. One of our members suggested a road tip to Florence Alabama to see the Alabama Chanin clothing factory. Florence is right next door to Muscle shoals and I knew from watching the music documentary “Muscle Shoals” which, by the way, is definitely worth watching, that Rob would also really like to visit. The plan was to arrive on the Thursday and we would visit Muscle Shoals sound studio together. And then separate on the Friday, Rob would go to the Fame Studio and I would do the factory tour.

Off we drove, avoiding as much of the motorways (Interstate) as we could and had a brief stop at a very local diner for lunch. We checked in to our hotel and were given a great room overlooking the Wilson Dam on the Tennessee river.

Off we went to meet our friend at the music studio. The tour was truly excellent and the list of stars that had produced their records there was awe inspiring. They still produce records there today, although the original backing band, The Swampers, are no longer involved. Back to the hotel for drinks and dinner in the hotel bar and being treated to live music.

Friday morning the weather was pretty bad so while Rob was off on his second studio tour, I went to meet the girls and have a look around the factory earlier than planned. Apart from getting a bit wet and wind blown the tour went really well. Natalie Chanin, the designer behind the brand, has built the business around a simple series of clothing pieces that are then elevated with a lot of hand stitching, appliqué and stenciled painted patterns. The completed pieces carry a hefty price ticket but you can also buy them in kit form and do the stitching yourself. Natalie also has a number of stitching and design books that she has produced and we were lucky enough to actually meet her. I bought her studio sewing and design book and she very kindly wrote on the inside cover for me.

We met back up with the boys and then drove into town to the famous local diner and ice cream parlor. Trowbridge has been in business at the same location since 1918 and it certainly lived up to its reputation, grilled cheese sandwich followed by ice cream with hot fudge sauce, YUM!

Back to the hotel for dinner and more live music and making plans for a detour on the way home on Saturday. We travelled back via Patches and Stitches in Huntsville, a delightful shop that caters for cross stitch, needlepoint, wool appliqué and quilting.

Day 59 to getting home

This one has been the hardest to write, I kept saying to myself, do it now while it’s still fresh in your mind. And before it does all start to blur into a mish mash of fantastic memories, so here goes.

Thursday we just enjoyed the company of our friends as the weather really did not want to play ball. Although the evening was rounded out by some fabulous New Zealand lamb for Rob and yummy chicken breasts for me and yes of course there was dessert!

Friday we went out in the boat with Toni, Denise and Jim. It was fantastic and we quickly went from the lake down through the river valley and out to the beach. Jim and Rob pulled the boat up onto the beach and then we all walked out to the sandbank. It was interesting to see the scenery change so dramatically over a reasonably short distance. The lake had lots of black swans most of them in family groups with all their cygnets in tow. It was a great chance to spend time on the water and also blow some cobwebs away.

Saturday we took a run in the car with Toni, over to Bulls Creek beach and Crystal beach. They are both very close to the house although once you are over the hill the roads become very quiet with nothing but sheep and forestry. At Bulls Creek, we had to maneuver the car through the sheep to get to the parking spot and then a quick walk over the headland to see the fabulous waves crashing on the shore and a solitary sea-lion having a rest.

At Crystal beach we thought we may get to see some of the very elusive penguins but alas it was not to be. But the crashing waves more than made up for it. I LOVE the smell of the ocean, especially when there is seaweed as well. And the sounds of the waves is just music to my soul.

Sunday morning was a bit of excitement as Denise and Jim were having an old walnut tree cut down. It was really interesting to watch him strip all the branches off first and then take the tree down from the top. The strapping young guy with the chain saw did a great job taking it down limb by limb to avoid damage to the building or fence. He left quite a large stump, but Jim says it makes it easier to pull the roots out once you have dug around them, and you have something you can really pull on.

Sunday afternoon we had to pack to make sure we were under the weight limits on our bags. After another great dinner, Rob and I used the hot tub and ad a chance to reflect on all our amazing adventures.

Monday was leaving day, it was pretty tough to say goodbye to Toni, Jim and Denise and the tension was only broken by Rob’s inability to start the car (see day 1 post) and realizing that it works better if you have not left the keys on the side in the house. Dunedin Airport is the complete antithesis of most airports in US and UK. It was only a 15 minute drive from the house and returning the car consisted of parking it and leaving the keys in a mailbox!

After an uneventful flight we arrived in Auckland and traveled to our hotel. We stayed at the Four Point Sheraton and had floor to ceiling windows on 2 sides of the room which gave us great views over the city, including the sky tower. We took a walk into town along Queen Street which is the main shopping street and went as far as the harbor ate dinner and then had wonderful gelato to round it out. I do have to say that Auckland City Center is my least favorite place in the whole of New Zealand, I thought it was dirty, run down and I feel sorry for all the cruise ship people who get that as their first taste of this amazing country.

Next morning we went for another walk into the harbour and then caught a train out to the largest craft shop in NZ. Parked Rob in the husband crèche and had a good look around although given our suitcase weights, I was very restrained and just bought a couple of fat qtr of linen. Back into town, an early lunch and then headed out to the airport to start the long journey home. Auckland airport is very nice, clean, tidy and plenty of places to sit. The food options were good and the prices were not the usual outrageous prices that you get at some airports. Air New Zealand has an option in economy class called “Sky Couch”. You get a row of three seats and each seat has a leg rest that comes up level with the seat and gives you basically a twin width bed. For two short people like us, it was great and I made the most of it. We had a long layover in Houston before the final journey back to Atlanta. Arriving home pretty close to midnight. We were knee deep in leaves and our water would not work till Rob was able to fix it the next day but that was our only issues.

And so the journey ended …………. But with fabulous memories and plans for more travel so watch this space!

Day 55-58 Otago

Sunday we had a lovely relaxing day, we took a run into Dunedin and saw the worlds steepest street, one of the early settlers monuments, note she has a spindle with wool wrapped around it. Off we went to photograph Dunedin’s train station, probably the most photographed building in Dunedin. Trip to see Port Chalmers, the working harbor and where the Cruise ships come in. Toni’s house is just amazing and we have well and truly made ourselves at home. There is a constant supply of good food and a lot of home baking by Denise (Toni’s mum and Toni) We had dinner up at Denise and Jim’s house and the most amazing cinnamon cakes, Ginger loaf and shortbread. Yes I have been busy scribbling down the recipes.

Monday we took a run up to Oamaru, a pretty coastal town that has kept a lot of its original buildings and warehouses intact and created a lovely area to walk around and browse at various crafts. There is also a Steampunk museum that has some very interesting creations, some of which will move if you add 2$ to the slot. We still get blown away by the amazing colors of the sea and sky over here. I assume its the lack of pollution.

On the way back we stopped in Moeraki and walked down onto the beach to see the famous boulders. It’s so hard to believe that they were created naturally and they really are a unique sight. Here is what the Google has to say, “Moeraki is now most famous for its boulders; mysteriously spherical stones scattered across a beach. Each boulder weighs several tonnes and is up to two metres high. Scientists explain the boulders as calcite concretions formed about 65 million years ago. According to Maori legend, the boulders are gourds washed ashore from the great voyaging canoe Araiteuru when it was wrecked upon landfall in New Zealand hundreds of years ago”

Tuesday we headed into Dunedin and Toni went into the office for a few hours and I visited the local needlework shop 🙂 As compensation for Rob’s patience we went to the Toitu Otago museum and don’t tell him, but it was really interesting with a really wide range of displays from cars to clothes. Nice lunch at the Thai and home to recuperate.

Wednesday – we waited for the weather to dry out but we also need the wind to pick up as we were going to the Albatross colony and they only fly if there is enough wind. We were really lucky and saw plenty of them flying, plus there were young baby Seagulls, Sea-lions and Rabbits running around. The trip both there and back was along different sides of the peninsula and the views were just striking. Plus we saw black swans and a baby Oystercatcher. Here is what the Google has to say about Albatross, “ They usually breed on remote offshore islands and spend at least 85% of their lives at sea, well away from land and humans. Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head is the only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony in the world. Renowned ocean wanderers, they travel vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed”

We met Denise and Jim in town and went to a local fish and chip cafe that is know for the quality of the food, they all had battered lemon sole but I wanted something that I had not had before, so went for the Elephant fish and it was really good texture and flavor and the Google says “ The elephant fish, also known as the Australian ghost shark, is a unique-looking fish with an elongated, protruding snout. It is commonly feeding on mollusks or other invertebrates on the ocean floor of the South Pacific ocean. The elephant fish has no bones; instead, its skeletal structure is entirely cartilage.These fish have a special reflective tissue in their eyes, so their eyes can appear to transition between shades of yellow and green.
It can be aggressive and fight back hard if threatened. These fish are very popular in cooking, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. They are common in fish n’ chips!”

Day 51 -54 Stewart Island

Nice drive from Te Anau to Bluff which is just south of the major town of Invercargill to catch the ferry. We were there early as usual and so a quick cuppa and a giant scone at the local cafe and a walk around the town passed the time till we caught the ferry. The ferry takes an hour and goes across the Foveaux Strait. It was far from a calm crossing but it was all good.

Checked into our lodge, which was part of the grounds for the local hotel. The town is called Oban and is pretty much the only part of the island that is occupied as at least 80% of the Island is the Rakiura reserve and there is a hut to hut walk that takes 3-4 days but I think we have done our share of those. Dinner in the hotel was good, it was also the local pub for the residents so there was a good atmosphere and a lot of interesting characters.

Next morning we caught the water taxi to Ulva – only a 10 minute journey but once out of the bay…….. very bouncy. Ulva is not lived on and is a sanctuary for the local bird life. We were there by 9 so a bit late really for any substantial sightings but the guide was able to point out some of them, one of which was a Robin only found on Ulva and Stewart Island. We walked through some really old forestry and onto a few little bays and altogether it was a pleasant way to spend the morning. Stopped for some local fish and chips for lunch and then had a relaxing afternoon. Dinner was at a food truck called Fin and Feather and it was amazing. Rob had Elk and I had mushroom, you could have them as a burger or in a salad and the salad was all sorts of yummy flavors. It was followed by a pannacotta that had popcorn, cardamom and other things added which was also very delicious.

Next day we took a water taxi to Port William and hiked back to Oban, the walk went up and down the various headlands and across the little bays and it really was beautiful scenery. Being the overachievers (idiots) that we are there is a decision point at the 9 mile mark, you can either walk a mile back into town or add on the last headland and you can all guess what we chose. Not realizing that this added another 4 miles and made the ups and downs of the previous trail look flat by comparison. Still we were happy to complete it and felt that we earned our pizza in the hotel bar that evening. As it was a Friday, some of the local were singing sea shanties in the bar so it was a good time to be there..

Saturday morning arrived and we were very grateful that we had changed our Ferry to the 8am and not the noon one, we had done it to make sure we were in Waihola early enough for the BBQ that was being cooked as Jim, Toni’s dad, was 82 and we were having a celebration for him. The reason we were so grateful was that the crossing was the bumpiest so far and the weather forecast was for gale force winds to come in at 11am and I can’t even imagine what that crossing would have been like. Anyway, we arrived at Toni’s by early afternoon and enjoyed a warm welcome from Toni, Denise and Jim plus an amazing array of food that evening. We have decided that we probably need to stop eating when we get back to Georgia until the New Year!

Day 46 to 50 The Big One !

So let’s start with a little of the how and why for these days, when we originally booked the flights to New Zealand, there were 2 things that were really important. Seeing our friend Toni and doing the Milford Track, everything thing we read and saw on YouTube talked about this being one of the best Great Walks in the world. I have to say, that’s only because they don’t all know Toni!

Our first thought was to do it the cheaper way which is backpacking all of your clothes food etc for the full 4 days and staying at the DOC huts along the track. But much to our good luck, the whole season was booked out within 7 minutes of it going up for sale this year, and there are very tight restrictions on the numbers of people allowed on the trail. The good luck part was, the fact that I think we woefully underestimated my ability to lug that much stuff over a mountain. Anyway there was a plan B, there is one private company that is allowed to take people on the walk and so a quick visit to the Ultimate Hikes website and I was able to secure the last double room available that fit in with our dates.

We have trained since August, building up the distance, number of consecutive days and carrying back packs and as you have all been reading, we continued that since we arrived in NZ, with some of the other notable walks here, Alpine Crossing, Roy’s Peak, Abel Tasman and many others. So with full packs (you still need to carry all your clothes and personal items for the 5 days) we were excited to meet the rest of our group at the Alpine Center in Te Anau.

After a short coach ride and some early introductions to the people that we were going to spend the most time with, we arrived at the end of Lake Te Anau for the boat crossing to the start of the track. A short trek to the Clinton Lodge for our first night where we were greeted with snacks and soft drinks. Our room was basic but clean and tidy with our own bathroom and shower. The power is only on between 6am and 10pm so an early night is your only option. We met our guides and had a team photo taken before going for a 90 minute nature walk, which I think was really intended to see how people handled very uneven rocky ground with lots of tree roots. The bar opened at 5pm (well I did say we were doing it the fancy way) and at 6.30 we sat down for dinner. Which was another really pleasant surprise, our dinner every night was a full 3 course meal with choices the day before on the main course and the standard was really high, it would have given most restaurants a run for their money. After dinner we had a briefing from the guides on what to expect the next day.

Breakfast was at 7 and you also made your own sandwiches for lunch from and extensive array of options and at 8.30 off we went. The standard format was a guide at the front, one around the middle and one at the end to act as sweeper. There were a few side walks as optional extras and those that know me, know that I am not one to hang around! We were up the front with just the lead guide in front of us and no one to be seen behind us, at some point Susan, the senior guide started to speed up and we thought, oh well, we better walk faster but after about 10 minutes, she said, very tactfully, could we wait and slow the rest of the group down as she need to get to the first hut to get the water on to boil for the tea to go with our lunch! We stopped for lunch and then set off to complete that days walk, we were warned that the last 3/4 of a mile was uphill and the last 1/4 was uphill and over boulders. It had just started to rain a little but so close to the next hut that we just kept going. The Senior guide was at the top of the boulder field watching as everyone hiked up and I asked her later that evening if that was to assess who would be able to make it over the pass and who was not really capable and she confirmed it. Luckily all of our group were allowed to continue. One additional feature of all on the lodges was they had a place to hand wash anything you needed and then there were 2 drying rooms, one at a cooler temperature to dry out boots backpacks and waterproofs and a really hot one to dry your clothes. It rained really heavily all night but was just misty and cloudy in the morning ready for the big one.

Although today was less miles, this was going to be the hike up and over the McKinnon Pass and so we had a 6am breakfast and a 7.30 am start for the hike. The climb up the pass was ok and in fact I found it easier than Roy’s peak over a distance of about 4.5 miles we ascended 500 mt the top was shrouded in cloud so no views from the top other than this Kea making sure we did not miss the warning sign.

We had an additional 1.5 miles to walk along the ridge before a stop at the lodge to eat our lunch. Our trip down the mountain was really REALLY hard it was only 3.5 miles but we had to hike the emergency route as the regular one was under avalanche warning and it dropped 900 mt over that distance, most of it boulders with water running through it. I think that’s the longest I have ever taken to cover such a short distance. But we made it and were amongst the second group down. Hot shower, get clothes sorted and relax with a glass or two of wine and another great dinner.

The final day of hiking was another early start and over 13.5 miles, the weather was perfect, crisp with no wind and not too much sun. We passed some spectacular waterfalls that had been enhanced by the overnight rains. There was a little scrambling over rocks and trees but it was generally an easy walk. Not that we (read me) are competitive but we were the first of the group to make the aptly named Sandfly point. So quickly got into the hut to wait for the water taxi over to the Mitre Lodge. We checked into the lodge and we had the most amazing view out of our window! And it had a bath!!!! Long soak to ease those muscles and down to meet our friends for a celebratory drink and dinner.

The weather was dry and sunny the next day ( a rare occurrence in the Sound) and part of the package with Ultimate is a trip up the Sound almost to the Tasmin sea. The views were great given that we had such a clear day. Back to the harbor and a coach ride over to Te Anau, even that was an interesting ride as the road is pretty narrow and it twists and turns up and over the mountain – including a trip through a pretty long tunnel that only had room for single direction traffic, controlled by traffic lights.

We were sad to say goodbye to our friends but there were many promises to keep in touch. we decided to just stretch our legs a little and walked over to the Te Anau bird sanctuary by the side of the lake. We were able to see some of the rarities that the Department of Conservation are keeping under a watch.