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May 12th 2011 - Cambridge

Sincere apologies for the very long delay in posting this blog!  You will have guessed by now that we are finally back home in good old Blighty and since we got back there just hasn’t been time to sit down and blog, till now! So here goes!!


May 1st 2011 – Vicki and Ben arrived in New Zealand and Clive went and picked them up from the airport in the campervan.  I waited back at Lindsey’s cos there wasn’t really room for me in the van as well!  It was wonderful to see them both, there were lots of hugs and a few happy tears from me!! We managed to keep them awake most of the day, apart from a short nap in the afternoon then we all went out to dinner at a wonderful Thai restaurant.  There were 8 of us, Philly, Ann, Lindsey, Mary, Vicki, Ben, Clive and I.  We had a wonderful evening but didn’t stay out too late as the weary, jet-lagged travellers needed their beauty sleep!


May 2nd 2011 – Lindsey went off to work and the four of us drove to Pine Harbour in the campervan.  I was actually in the back of the van,sitting at the table on the journey – totally illegal as there are no seatbelts in the back!  However I survived!  We arrived at Pine Harbour and got the ferry to Auckland, much easier than trying to park in the city and actually quite an adventure in itself as it was a very windy, rainy day and the sea was really choppy, it was quite an exciting trip, a bit like white water rafting!!! 


Auckland with the Sky Tower in the centre


We decided to go up the Auckland Sky Tower but it was a bit of a damp squib (or more like a wet spark plug!) really as it was so cloudy and when we reached the observation deck at the top we could hardly see a thing!  Still it was fun.  After that we headed down to the harbour and had lunch in one of the harbour-side restaurants.


May 3rd 2011 – We said goodbye to Vicki and Ben at about 10.15am as they set off in the campervan for their whistle-stop tour of North Island.  Later that day Clive put the news on and we were absolutely horrified to discover that a tornado had hit the outskirts of Auckland at a place called Albany and caused untold damage, lots of injuries and sadly one person had died.  However we were really concerned as the tornado had hit right by the elevated highway that Vicki and Ben would have had to cross on their journey North!  However it turned out that the tornado had struck at about 2.00pm several hours after Vicki and Ben passed that way – phew!


May 4th 2011 – I desperately needed a haircut so Clive and I headed into Manukau to the shopping mall where I had my hair cut before.  Unfortunately the young Maori lady who cut it last time wasn’t on duty so I had to settle for another lady.  She did a pretty good job but Idon’t think it was as good as the previous cut, which was all done with a cut-throat razor!  Still I looked quite respectable when it was done!  That evening we went to the Pub Quiz for the very last time, we still didn’t win but as always thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 


We had a phonecall from Vicki the next day, just to catch up,  tell us what they were up to and also to give us some news – whilst they were in Russell, Bay of Islands on their first day of travelling Ben proposed to her and she said yes!  We were absolutely delighted.  At that stage they didn’t have a ring but a couple of days later they stopped off in a little town called Bethlehem and Vicki chose this beautiful solitaire diamond ring.


Vicki's beautiful engagement ring


We didn’t do much over the next couple of days other than mooch around at Lindsey’s. 


May 8th 2011 - Lindsey, Clive and I decided to go to Auckland Zoo!  On our visit to the Sky Tower with Vicki and Ben we were given BOGOF (buy one get one free!) vouchers for the zoo, excellent!  Trouble was there were three of us!  I got in free with Clive but Lindsey was on her own, so she accosted a guy in the queue and asked if they could go in together to use the voucher – nice one!


We had a lovely time, it is a really wonderful zoo and they have some amazing animals there, some that I have never seen before.  However I think the highlight of the visit had to be the performance put on by the Samian Monkeys in the afternoon, they were awesome!  Swinging from branches, hanging onto the fences and howling at the top of their lungs.  They have a sort of throat flap which inflates like a balloon and creates a soundbox to amplify their howls, it was incredible.  Wish I had sound on this blog!!


Samian Monkey


That evening we had all been invited to Mary’s for a final meal together.  I said I would make the starter – carrot and coriander soup!  We had a lovely evening, my soup was well received and Mary had done a fantastic roast dinner finished off with the most glorious pudding I have ever eaten!  It had the most unusual name: Sussex Pond Pudding!  It was basically a suet pudding (except suet is very hard to come by in NZ so she used butter!) and the filling consists of butter, sugar and lemons – it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as it tasted, it was truly awesome – we all had seconds and I now have the recipe!!  Sadly it was then time to say goodbye to Philly and Ann as we wouldn’t be seeing them again before our departure. 


May 9th 2011 – As it was our last day Lindsey decided to take the day off work so that she could spend it with us.  We managed to get just about everything squirreled away into our suitcases, which felt very heavy indeed!!  It had always been the intention that Lindsey would take us to the airport however a few days earlier Mary had very kindly offered to take us.  As it turned out this was quite fortuitous as Lindsey had completely forgotten she had a Forest and Bird AGM to attend on the evening of the 9th!  Because our flight was actually in the early hours of the 10th that was the date she thought we were leaving! So it was decided that Lindsey would go off to her meeting in the evening, Mary would come and pick us up from Lindsey’s and drive back into Clevedon where Lindsey would meet us on her way back – excellent!  So we were all packed and ready to roll with the suitcases in the hall.  Mary duly arrived and we managed to stuff all our belongings into her boot.  We said goodbye to Radar and Buzzy Bee then we were off.  On the way to Clevedon I noticed a rather odd sound and assumed it was the mud flaps touching the road as the car was so heavily laden, however just as we were pulling into the village Mary commented that the car seemed to be pulling to the left – oh dear!  Sure enough we pulled into the kerb and I got out to look – yep, we had a flat tyre!!!


The Flat!


I couldn’t believe it! Having never actually experienced a flat tyre in a car ever in my life, since arriving in New Zealand I had experienced two!  The first one was on the campervan on Christmas Day on the way back from the beach and now this one on the way to the airport!!


Mary managed to get the car onto the gas station forecourt, which was only a short distance along. Lindsey was already waiting for us so she came to see what was happening.  Needless to say we had to unload all the luggage from the boot to get at the jack and the spare tyre then with Lindsey, Mary and Clive working as a team they got the tyre changed in record time.  Mary read the instructions, Clive jacked up the car, loosened the wheelnuts and removed the offending wheel, Lindsey got the spare out of the boot and I was the official photographer!!




We finally made it to the airport after yet another delay when we ended up behind a very slow works vehicle on the slip road putting cones out!!  At last we got to the check in desk and watched the scales with trepidation as Clive put our suitcases on the belt!  We were over the weight limit by about 6Kgs but we needn’t have worried, the girl on the desk never batted an eyelid, stuck the labels on, handed us our boarding passes and wished us a nice flight!  Brilliant!  After that we met up with Lindsey and Mary again and went for a well earned coffee!


Over the last few weeks whilst we have been living at Lindsey’s house, I have been doing all the cooking and keeping her kitchen clean and tidy and generally looking after Lindsey, because of this she kept referring to me as her “house elf” which of course reminded us of the Harry Potter books and films and finally I became "Dobby"!! In the books the only way a house elf can become free is if his master voluntarily gives him a sock!  Standing in Departures at Auckland Airport Lindsey and I had a final hug and quite a few tears, then I turned to Mary to give her a hug too, when I turned back Lindsey had removed her shoe and her sock which she handed to me!  That of course brought peals of laughter from all of us and even more tears!  I gave it back to her and said she must keep it because one day I would be back to carry out my duties once more, if she’ll have us that is!!


So still sniffling and wiping away tears I followed Clive through the security checks and into the Departure Lounge to await our flight,which was scheduled for 2.15am!!


May 10th 2011 – At last we boarded the plane and took our leave of New Zealand heading over the Tasman Sea and Australia for the first leg of our journey to Brunei, which is a small Sultanate on the island of Borneo.  We settled down under our blankets and tried to get some sleep!


We did managed to get a bit of shut-eye before landing in Bandar-Seri-Begawan at 8.15am the same day!  We stepped out of the airport and the heat was tremendous, it was just like opening an oven door!  We had planned all along to have a stopover in Brunei and as our flight arrived early in the morning and our onward flight wasn’t until 8.45pm the following evening that gave us almost two full days.  We managed to get a taxi and were soon on our way to The Empire Hotel.  At about 10.00am we pulled up outside the most magnificent, palatial hotel I think I have ever seen – wow! Our bags were removed from the taxi by a bell boy and put on a very ornate trolley and wheeled into the foyer, we headed for reception to check in.  The lady behind the desk took our booking reference and disappeared.  She soon returned and informed us that we had been given a complementary upgrade, courtesy of the hotel and handed us a keycard for our room!  The bellboy with our luggage guided us to a lift and then to a large, stately door with a huge gold knob in the middle – Clive put the card in the lock and the door opened onto the most magnificent suite!  There was a huge Sultan-sized bed, a lounge with two couches and a large TV in a cabinet, amazing marble bathroom with a huge corner bath, enormous separate shower and also a separate loo and bidet – it was incredible!  I opened the curtains in the lounge and there were patio doors leading out onto our own private terrace with the most fabulous view over the grounds and the Indian Ocean – awesome!  Fortunately the room was air conditioned and there was a console by the bed which was had a clock, a button which turned the lights on and off, several buttons to control the air conditioning and best of all a button which opened and shut the curtains – sheer decadence!


The Empire Hotel, Bandar-Seri-Begawan


Before we arrived in Bandar-Seri-Begawan we had all sorts of plans to go on excursions and visit this, that and the other but the hotel was so fantastic we just didn’t want to leave it at all!  We strolled around the grounds in the very hot sunshine, looking out over the Indian Ocean and Clive actually spotted a turtle!  We also explored the hotel itself, which was vast, it even had its own shopping mall!  There was a photo gallery showing some of the famous people who have stayed in the hotel including Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods (there is a fantastic golf course attached to the hotel complex), Ronan Keating, Prince Charles and so on and so forth. We were not surprised really as the hotel was just like a palace, definitely fit for a king!  The amazing thing is it wasn’t really expensive considering it has a Five Star rating!! 


At lunch time we went to one of the five restaurants in the hotel and the Maitre D’ a lovely Philippino gentleman called Anthony, asked if we would like to see the buffet.  It took him ten minutes to show us all there was on offer, it was absolutely incredible!  There was a huge, long table groaning with every kind of food you can imagine, both European and Asian and that was only the starters!  Then he took us to see all the hot dishes that were on offer, including some that were cooked on the spot at your request!  Then he took us to another table where there were huge prawns, mussels, clams and other seafood all displayed on ice – awesome! He then directed us over to yet another area where there were dozens of delightfully pretty deserts, plus two big hot pots, one containing an unusual grey/brown concoction which Anthony assured us was a lovely desert made from a kind of bean and in the other one was Bread and Butter Pudding with Crème Anglais!  Needless to say we stuffed ourselves stupid!  The food was so varied and so delicious that we just had to keep trying something else.  We only had small quantities of everything but we were still absolutely stuffed, so much so that we didn’t bother having a meal that evening, we just weren’t hungry! The other thing to mention is that Brunei is a Muslim country and therefore there is no alcohol.  We didn’t miss it at all, there were lots of lovely juices to try and with our buffet we had a wonderful cocktail called a Mango and Coconut Bomb – it was divine!  Mango nectar in the bottom topped with frothy coconut milk – awesome!!


We were wondering what to do with ourselves that evening and were delighted to discover that the hotel actually had its own cinema!  So we strolled out into the hot tropical night, walked across the car park and into the air conditioned cinema to see the film Thor, it was great!


We spent a very peaceful and cool night in our gorgeous suite and the following morning we went down to an amazing breakfast that was almost as sumptuous as yesterday’s buffet! We let that settle and then decided to go for a swim in the pool.  It was really hot outside and the pool was absolutely wonderful.  We had a great swim and also treated ourselves to a green coconut from the pool bar, which was very refreshing indeed! 

Sharing a coconut!


A while later we went and indulged ourselves in the luncheon buffet once more knowing that as we had to be at the airport by 6pm for our flight at 8.30pm we wouldn’t have much chance to eat again. 


Finally we dragged ourselves away from The Empire Hotel for the next leg of our journey home.  I wouldn’t mind spending a week there I can tell you!  We caught our flight with no problems and were soon up in the air again heading for Dubai this time where we had to stop for refuelling.  As with our outward journey we all disembarked, walked the full length of the airport lounge and back again then boarded our plane again for the last leg of the journey to Heathrow.


We were only very slightly late arriving at Heathrow and were absolutely delighted to see our friend Stevie Gilson waiting for us in Arrivals.  We piled all our belongings into his car and set off on the journey up the motorway to Cambridge.  We did stop off at a Tesco store on the way to have a spot of breakfast and a cuppa! Our grateful thanks to Stevie for getting up at some ungodly hour to come and fetch us whilst still jet-lagged himself following a trip to the States!  Finally we arrived at Vicki and Ben’s house where we were staying.  Our Antipodean Odyssey finally over! 

We will continue to update the blog as we resume our life afloat on board Lady Arwen - I'll give you a bit of time to absorb this latest blog before posting the next one!


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