Monday 31 December 2012

2012, wrapped up

The most remarkable thing about this year is that I didn't go to Australia. (I'm still feeling that I've used Oz up - although I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Anyone listening? Kimberley cruise, Kakadu, Maria Island, WA for the wildflower season...?) 

I did pass through, though, a number of times, on my way to more distant destinations; but my first travels this year were domestic, first to old favourite Waiheke Island, just across the harbour but in another zone entirely, ambience-wise. Beautiful, relaxing and laid-back, it never fails to please - even when the weather disappoints.

The weather gave us the runaround for the next trip, too: doing the Crater Lake walk on Ruapehu with the daughters - but after driving down there through thunder, lightning and torrential rain, the day of our ascent to and traverse along that precipitous crater rim was one of glorious sunshine that showed off the turquoise of the lake to great effect, while the cloud that came to swirl around beneath us made us feel like gods, on top of the world in both senses.

My Pavlovian addiction to checking my emails dozens of times a day was reinforced by an invitation popping up there in February to go on a LAN tour of South America. It was a wonderful circuit in a small but jolly group through Santiago to Buenos Aires, to the literally over-the-top spectacle of Iguassu Falls, to Lima where the food was a revelation, and then to Easter Island, which was very special and totally worth foregoing the Travcom/Cathay Pacific Media Awards (in which I was only Runner-Up, so, pft).

In April I began my longest trip yet, flying Etihad to Abu Dhabi, where the Grand Mosque was astonishing, though I could really have done without the sweaty nylon robe I had to wear. Next stop was France, for a glorious, fabulous cruise up the Rhone from Arles to Lyon and finishing at Chalon-sur-Saone. I do so love a river cruise, and Uniworld's River Royale was just perfect, with the best staff ever.

Then it was England for a wedding and old friends, and another cruise that didn't go so well, when I managed to dislocate my shoulder leaping off a boat in the Norfolk Broads. Ouch. But I soldiered on, fortunately joining an Insight coach tour of Eastern Europe for the next 3 weeks where I was very well looked after. It was all about history, war and architecture, subjects which would have bored me rigid in my youth, but which now I find deeply interesting. It helped too that on the way to starting the tour in Budapest, we'd called in at Zagan in Poland to visit the site of Stalag Luft III where my father had been a prisoner, which was a moving experience as well as being fascinating.

Home again after 5 weeks away, I was anchored to the sofa for the next three months, writing, writing, writing with a cat at each side and a dog at my feet. I popped down to Christchurch for a look at my sadly shaken hometown, and was both horrified and inspired by what I saw - the vast empty spaces, blowing with dust, and the cracks in everything; but also the optimistic spirit of the people I met, and their bright plans for the future.

September saw the start of another flurry of travel, beginning with flying with Emirates to Dubai again, where I went up to the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, and on to Portugal for a scant 5 days mostly in the province of Alentejo where I loved the fortified hilltop villages, the gnarled olive trees, the sheep with bells on and the friendly people; but hated the food-focused itinerary and unprofessional behaviour of one of the small party.

Back home for one night, I was away again next day for a week of glorious relaxation in the Cook Islands, purely a holiday of lying about, sleeping in the sun (not recommended: the sunburn was epic and I still bear the unsightly tan-marks) and doing very little of anything. Stand-out was the day spent cruising on and wallowing in the WMBL (world's most beautiful lagoon) at Aitutaki - just perfect, in every way.

Then, four days later, I was off to North Viet Nam in another group which was lots of fun. We had a brilliant guide, Duke, who took us from Hanoi up into Ha Giang province for a homestay, a day's trekking through the paddy fields and villages, and a long drive into the Dong Van Karst Geopark, which was just brilliant: spectacular peaks, cute kids, colourful villages and a mind-blowing road. The traffic throughout was fascinating - even in Ha Long Bay out on the water amongst those absurdly picturesque islands.

After a fun day out on the train down to Matamata for a look at the obsessive detail of Hobbiton, the year finished back on the sofa with, sadly, just the one cat now at my side. I've had 49 stories accepted for publication, about half of those in the NZ Herald, as well as writing around 30 blog entries for Air France and others for the Yahoo! website. I've been to lunches and dinners and a cooking class, learned how to take the top off a champagne bottle with a sabre, had massages, ridden a camel and a Segway, eaten insects as well as fabulous meals, and been given a huge and beautiful bouquet for my services to Australian tourism, having had over 100 stories published about that immense country. Ironic, or what?

It's been a good year and I've been to some amazing places, met lots of lovely people and written masses of stories (if you're interested in reading some of them, click on the links over there to the right). It's been busy, and tiring sometimes, but I've loved it and am looking forward to more of the, er, different: Alaska, maybe? Africa? Who knows - can't wait to find out. Watch this space!

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