Monday 20 December 2010


Emerging. From. Fog. Of. Jetlag. Posting will recommence SOON.

As this Lady Traveller made it safely home for Christmas (ducking and dodging blizzards and airport closures from LA to London) my thoughts are with anyone who's stuck in the snow. Fingers crossed you get to your loved ones soon.

Friday 10 December 2010

Advent Project 2010 – Door 10

Hey! What are you doing here? You should be in the North Pole.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Advent Project 2010 – Door 9

Christmas tree decorated with old photos (I like this decorating idea very much) at Casa Loma.

Advent Project 2010 – Door 8

Can I blame jet lag for the delay in posting this? It was taken on the 8th of December: some skaters who actually know what they're doing, in Toronto.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Advent Project 2010 – Door 7

Keeping with the African theme ... here's Santa arriving by boat in Zimbabwe.

Advent Project 2010 – Door 6

You may have picked up on the theme for this year's Advent Calendar: Christmas in a range of (surprising, amusing, original or otherwise appealing) settings. This is a photograph I took last year in Cape Town - at the Neighbourgoods Christmas market.

Advent Project 2010 – Door 5

Do Christmas decorations actually look better against a summer backdrop?

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Advent Project 2010 – Door 4

Wanaka, New Zealand. I like that they didn't bother getting in a tree - they just put decorations on one that was already there.

Advent Project 2010 – Door 3

Santa hats at Franz Josef Glacier.

Advent Project 2010 – Door 2

One year, when I was about nine, I saved (with supernatural self-restraint) the chocolates from my Advent Calendar and ate them all at once on Christmas Eve (less self-restraint at that point). In a similar spirit, I'm going to post Days 2 - 7 at intervals over the next 24 hours. You can either enjoy them individually, or wait and scoff them all at once.

This is the Hokitika marching band, who passed me by (on a balmy summer's evening) playing 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland.' Love it.


After a day in the car, I was a little bit dazed and confused when I reached Christchurch. So much so that it took a little while for my brain to process the significance of all the barriers, ‘No Entry’ signs and evidence of construction. My first thought was ‘oh, they must be doing some major roadworks.’ And then I remembered … ‘oh yes, because they had that huge earthquake.’ That’s right.

I will say though (and this was particularly on my mind because I saw footage of Haiti on the news last night) that – and not to belittle the suffering the Cantabrians (for that is what the locals are called) have unquestionably endured – that Christchurch and Haiti are an object lesson in the different effects of natural disasters in the developed and developing world. Yes, several roads in the cty centre are closed to traffic and many buildings have scaffolding around them. But for all that, the city remains a charming place to walk around on a summer’s evening.

Before I went, someone told me that Christchurch reminds them of Cambridge (the one in England). Yes, there’s something to this, given that the local university appears to have been modelled on Oxbridge and punting is a popular pasttime. For me, though, it was more like the city founders had taken their favourite elements of England, dropped them in a blender and announced that the result would be known as Christchurch.

At the centre of the city is the Anglican cathedral and I happened to be passing by as the bells were ringing for evensong. And, you know, going to evensong was just exactly what I felt like doing at that moment so I went in. The choir was good (men and boys) and they sang some lovely Byrd and also an anthem by someone called Adrian Batten, a Jacobean composer. I love evensong because its form seems so perfectly fitted to its function: its all about closing the day, asking for rest and peace. And while the last week has been stimulating and interesting, I can’t say it’s been particularly restful. So I did ask for peace and felt very rested afterwards.

(The clergy at the cathedral were headsets/microphones a la Britney Spears. I found this somewhat disconcerting.)

After the service I walked to the river Avon and hoped fervently to see some punters but alas there were none.

I did see Captain Cook, though, and Queen Victoria who stands with her back turned firmly to him.

And that’s about all I had time for. Lovely way to spend a Sunday evening, though.

Monday 6 December 2010

Road Trup

Brace yourselves: this (as advertised) is going to be epic. Four days, 1000 km, many hair-raising roads.

Among other things I did after visiting the glacier on Wednesday was to make a couple of cds for the rest of the trip. So you can enter into the spirit of things, here’s the playlist I dubbed Road Trup.

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might be Giants

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – Vampire Weekend

Cruel to be Kind – Letters to Cleo

Dela – Johnny Clegg

Devil Town – Tony Lucca

Distant Sun – Crowded House

For Me, Formidable – Charles Aznavour

Galway Girl – Sharon Shannon & Mundy

Here’s Where the Story Ends – Tin Tin Out

Iko Iko – Cyndi Lauper

Ma’ Cheri – Freshlyground

My Baby Just Cares for Me – Nina Simone

Never Forget You – Noisettes

Stay (Faraway, So Close) – U2

This Kiss – Faith Hill

Tiny Dancer – Elton John

Let the River Run – Carly Simon

10,000 Miles – Mary Chapin Carpenter

This playlist is my uber-road trip soundtrack. Every song on it reminds me of another trip, somewhere else. For example, Distant Sun (besides the fact that I couldn’t have an NZ road trip without Crowded House) reminds me of a trip to France with university friends, driving along the autoroutes in the Bus of Dreams. This Kiss and Here’s Where the Story Ends are both from the Great Australian Adventure of 2001. For Me, Formidable is Greece last year and 10,000 Miles is the song I always think of when I’m on my way home.

So with my playlists ready to go, I got in the little car and headed south. Forests, ferns, palm trees and occasional glimpses of dramatic cliffs and sea, as far as Haast. Filled up with petrol (last petrol station for 100km) and then turned east along the Haast Pass. This is an alpine pass cutting through the Southern Alps south of Mount Cook. Stunning snow-topped mountains and turquoise lakes. Also many cows. Also many twisty-turny ups and downs limiting my ability to take in the views. Also many tour buses defying laws of gravity – how do they get round those roads? How? I pulled over at a place called Cameron Flats to eat my lunch picnic and enjoy the mountains.

Got to beautiful Wanaka at about 2 and had a restorative coffee and a cookie and a little walk around before going a little further south to Cardrona. The boutique B&B where I stayed (I (and my budget) like to mix things up: youth hostel one night, 1000 thread count sheets the next) was in the middle of nowhere, with a pine forest on one side and a paddock full of sheep on the other.

I can recommend Waiorau Homestead unreservedly – friendly hosts who served me afternoon tea in the garden and cracked open a bottle of pinot noir in the evening. They suggested I take the Cardrona road to Queenstown – the highest public road in New Zealand, they announced proudly.

On Friday I discovered what, exactly, this entailed. High, yes. And narrow. And with two types of turn: right angle turns where the ground dropped away to nothing on either side or the hairiest of hair-pin bends. For someone who struggles a bit with a fear of heights (call it discomfort rather than acute fear) and was also trying to work out how best to tackle this kind of road with an automatic transmission the experience was … well, I was very glad when I was safely down the other side, put it that way.

When I saw the sign for Historic Arrowtown I decided it would be a good idea to park the car and explore a little while my nerves calmed down. And look how pretty it is!

I then went on to Queenstown, mostly due to several people having told me I shouldn’t miss it … honestly, I think I could have missed it. It’s very touristy so I didn’t stay long, just to have a coffee. I will admit it was amusing to see (as I sat in the 3rd floor café) a paraglider swooping past the window.

Back on the road, this time to a soundtrack of Christmas songs. Loving the surrealism of belting Baby, It’s Cold Outside while driving in hot sunshine. Stopped at Clyde for lunch. This was a Lonely Planet recommendation, and it was a good one. Clyde is perfectly charming and was extremely quiet …

... until the air-raid siren went off. Apparently several fire stations in New Zealand employ WWII sirens because the volunteer firefighters are off-site and need something particularly loud to muster them.

Next leg: Clyde to Milton, where I stopped to buy a coke. Milton is an unremarkable (even ugly) town, but it is notable for one thing: at 46 degrees south, it marks the farthest point south I’ve ever been in my life.

At Milton, the road (Route 1) bends back north to Dunedin. I was staying on the Otago Peninsula, which is beautiful. Though the roads are like roads in Donegal. Steep, narrow, winding. But the views - !

I stayed for two nights at Larnach Castle (more precisely, in the former stables of the castle) a Victorian castle/folly. Try to imagine a Victorian baronial pile transplanted to the South Seas. Have you got a picture in your head? Does it look like this? Castle with verandah and palm trees.

(This is the view from the roof of the castle.)

On Friday evening I went to Portobello, heading towards the tip of the Peninsula and had excellent fish and chips sitting on a bench looking out at the bay. On Saturday, after a tour of the castle (incredible, has to be seen to be believed) I went into Dunedin. The most Scottishest city outside Scotland, though not the most thrilling. After a poke into Octagon Books (voted one of the best ten bookshops in the world) and a great coffee at Mazagran Espresso on Moray Place and a quick chat with Robert Burns, I decided to go back to Larnach and have an afternoon siesta.

In the late afternoon I went to Sandfly Bay to see if I could see some golden eyed penguins but they’re shy and I didn’t.

I did see this guy, though, who gave me quite a shock since I thought he was a pile of smelly driftwood. (My mind was elsewhere.)

Sunday was another long drive – Dunedin to Christchurch. 400km of pleasant but undistinguished scenery, some impressively bad driving (I’m looking at you Miss Black Audi overtaking me and the truck in front of me, blithely disregarding the single yellow DO NOT OVERTAKE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES line and the fact that you were on the incline of a humpback bridge and clearly hadn’t realised that there was a slow moving vintage car in front of the truck) and many cows.

Got to Christchurch in the late afternoon and dropped the car off at the airport. Goodbye little Hyundai. You held up for me, despite the fact that you hated hills and made your protest known by refusing to go faster than 70km when they presented themselves.

So there you have it: my New Zealand odyssey. I will post some Christchurch pictures tomorrow … it’s a very pretty place and I think it deserves it own entry.

Yours full of contrition for prolonged absence,


Sunday 5 December 2010




(Robert Burns)



She said to him:

'Oh Robert, I had such good intentions to post about my New Zealand adventures and, you know, do this whole Advent thing ... but I haven't had internet access for days plus I'm so sleepy from driving all over New Zealand.'

He said to her:

'But did it never occur to you Eithne that undertaking this Advent project while you were running all over New Zealand might be biting off a little more than you could chew?'

She said to him:

'Well, okay, in HINDSIGHT, yes, but I've always been about the triumph of optimism over experience.'

He said to her:

'Hey! This reminds me of a poem. 'The best laid plans o' mice an' men gang oft agley, And leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.'

She said to him:

The Consequences were:

Eithne realised she might have to scale back on this Advent project and also that she might not be posting as often as she should because it turns out it's not that easy to manage in the wilds of New Zealand. On the other hand, she has been taking LOTS of photos of her trip and undertakes to post an EPIC road trip story before she leaves the country (Tuesday evening, local time.)


Robbie: Will we no' have a wee shag, for auld lang syne?
Eithne: Robert, my mother reads this blog.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Advent Project 2010 – Door 1

Anyone who was reading Hints to Lady Travellers this time last year may remember The Advent Project. The idea was that since I was so far away from home, I would post a virtual Advent calendar in lieu of sending Christmas cards. A year later and I’m still travelling so there’s really no excuse not to instigate the Advent Project Mark 2.

Happy Advent!

Strange things are to be found in New Zealand rainforests ...

Franz Josef

When I got to Franz Josef yesterday I confess to feeling scenery-ed out. Oh look, more stunning New Zealand landscape. Plus, my first view of the glacier (the village is named for the glacier, named for the Austrian emperor) was through the cloud on a distinctly grey day:

Fast forward to this morning and there was a promising hint of blue sky ...

... that got bigger closer to the glacier.

Why, who’s this strapping man made of cardboard?

He was telling me not to go any further for fear of falling ice, rocks etc.

On a whim, I took my lunch with me to Peter’s Pool, 45 minutes in the other direction. So glad I did – it turned out to be a beautiful, quiet spot (most of the tourists don’t bother going) with an ideally placed bench.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Hunts to Lady Travellers

Henry Higgins observes in My Fair Lady that ‘an Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him / The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him’ (my autobiography will be entitled: ‘Everything I Learned in Life, I Learned From the Musicals’). In my travels I have noted that this is also true of English-speakers around the globe.

English people take the piss out of the Irish, Welsh and Scottish accents. Americans make fun of the English. Many people make fun of South Africans (though in my experience very few can pull off a convincing SA accent). On several occasions Australians (who, to my ear have a discernibly Australian accent) have told me very seriously that Australians don’t have accents, ‘not like Americans’.

I have had my (Irish) English corrected by English people – but, conversely, have also frequently been asked if I really were Irish because ‘you don’t have an Irish accent’. Thanks for asking. And yes, I am sure.

Then there’s the Kiwi accent. My first true exposure was last week in Auckland. I had the tv on as background noise while I was packing and I heard a lady offering ‘hunts and tups’ for Christmas cake decorating. But what I like is that people here take the mickey out of themselves. Another ad (for timber decking) has a woman shaking her head mournfully at ‘boys and their decks’. Except with a Kiwi accent it’s much funnier …

Personally I like the fact that people in different parts of the world have taken the basic medium of English and added their own local flavour to it and I don’t see why any one version is any better (or worse) than any other. Because when it comes down to it, thinking your accent is superior to someone else’s is just another form of snobbery.

So here’s the deal: I won’t make fun of your accent and you won’t say, ‘Irish? Tirty tree and a turd! Top of the mornin’! Begorrah!’ Oh, and while I think of it, journalists and travel writers please try to resist the temptation to refer to Irish people and their brogue (charming, thick or other).

Super, thanks!