Listful thinking

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Hanging out in Western Australia

It has been an inordinately long time since I have posted anything on this blog.  And I have been feeling guilty about it for a while now!  I can’t even claim that I’ve been too busy because those that are in the know while know that I blog almost every week.  Just not here.  I started a research blog as part of my new job in Melbourne to document the work that I do.  And then I started a Wildlife Wednesday tradition where every Wednesday I post a photograph of some interesting critter that I seen and write a little story about its ecology (mostly paraphrased from Wikipedia as they are often things I know nothing about).  Which means that I spend a lot of time writing blog posts.  Which means that I feel less inclined to post things over here.

But I thought I’d better at least let you know I’m alive and kicking and getting out and about.  So here is a slideshow of photos from my recent trip to Western Australia over Easter  It was largely spent camping and tramping and sitting at the top or bottom of crags watching people climb, along with some funky wildlife (read all about western spotted frogs and weird marsupials over at my research blog).

Hopefully I’ll be back again soon!

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Happy 2013

I’m sitting in our little hut out at Cape Bird seeing in the new year, watching minke and orca swim out the window and a leopard seal drifting past on the ice.  It’s a pretty good way to end what has been a spectacular year.  All the best for 2013 from the penguins and their wranglers at Cape Bird!

Happy 2013 big

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Everywhere but Melbourne

As usual I keep promising to post about my adventures in Melbourne to date but it hasn’t happened.  Mainly because I spend most of my days sitting in front of my computer in my office thinking about maths.  Not a highly exciting blogging topic.  I’ve taken a couple of photos of the garden but that’s about it.  I’ve made it to the museum and a lot of homeware shops but really not a lot else has happened that seems worthy of writing about.  Which doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun but it’s all been a bit on the domestic/work side thus far. Except for a couple of trips that have taken me further afield in the last week or so.

The work that I’m doing is related to conservation and development in around Perth in Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.  Which means that I need to visit these regions from time to time to meet with people and see the areas we are working with. Which is all rather convenient when the boy lives in the Perth and work pays for me to visit.

This was my third trip to Perth and with just four days and a meeting, there wasn’t a lot of time to be lazing by the pool.  So we set off on a short jaunt south to test out the new Hilux and see if we could get it dirty.

the new hilux

We took it for a spin around an easy 4WD route about an hour south of Perth, and while it didn’t really get put through its paces, it was fun.  And there was lots of fun wildlife, including


GIANT skinks


(the little guy is a normal sized skink!)






splendid fairy wrens,

DSC_0230    IMG_0526

and people pondering streams.

There were also trestle bridges in varying states of rickety-ness

DSC_0234A little bit rickety but safe to walk over

IMG_0517quite rickety but okay if you step carefully

IMG_0514Far too rickety to be standing this close to the edge

It was an entertaining drive.  The rest of the weekend was filled in watching films about climbing, having drinks with climbing people and pretending to be a climber myself by scaling a slabby wall at a local quarry of a terrifying grade 14!  Oh, and eating cherry tomatoes from in the pool (which has nothing to do with climbing but was a tasty treat).

Then it was off to Newcastle in the Hunter Valley for a couple of days of meetings and some tripping around the countryside checking out littoral rainforest and beaches.  And some very impressive phosphorescent algae causing the surf to glow blue!

 Next week is a conference and then it’s time to head south for another five weeks of penguin wrangling.  So stories of Melbourne may still be some time.  But they will come one day soon……

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Antarctic slackness

I just realised that it’s almost the end of March and haven’t even downloaded my Antarctic pictures off my camera, let alone written about my adventures.  Slack, I know! In fact, I just found a video from the first trip that I never posted.  Terrible!  So I’m going to work on last year’s slackness first but I promise there will be more to come soon!

Last year I diligently took my camera out to the toilet every day and took a picture of the view.  Looking out the door (I’m not that weird)!  I’ve linked these together to make a video to show just how much the sea ice changes both throughout the season, and on a day by day basis.  I was pretty amazed by how dynamic it was.

More pics soon, I promise!

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Sign of the Packhorse

Way back in 2007 I wrote a list of list of 27 things to do. I think I was having a rough time and was looking for some inspiring things to do to get me out of the rut. It seems to have been a good idea because I’m now on to a list of 32 things and I get the feeling that the lists will be around for a while yet.

But I’ve had quite a few repeat offenders on the lists over the years that have never been crossed off. One in particular was to spend a night at the Sign of the Packhorse. Now, for those that are not familiar with the Port Hills in Canterbury, there is a series of old stone lodges that were used back in the days when it took a long time to ride your horse from Akaroa to Christchurch. These days, Sign of the Takahe is a fancy restaurant (or was before it was closed with earthquake damage), Sign of the Kiwi is a café, Sign of the Bellbird is a cute ruin and Sign of the Packhorse is a Department of Conservation hut. Every year I’ve thought “I should really get around to spending a night at the Sign of the Packhorse” but it’s never eventuated. Until this year, when I was dragged out by two local Poms to escape the election craziness.

After doing our civic duty and voting, we set off into the sunshine.  Dropping a car at Diamond Harbour, we wound our way through the countryside to Kaituna Valley.  We then shouldered heavy packs and set off up the hill.  Now, one of the reasons I’ve never done this trip is that it really isn’t very far and there haven always been more exciting places to go.  I mean, a two hour stroll up a hill amongst the sheep in the paddocks doesn’t really inspire excitement when you live so close to the Southern Alps.  But it was a pleasant wander and we saw plenty of interesting things, even if the poms spent most of the time photographing weeds like foxgloves and gorse.  Given that we had such a short walk, we had loaded our packs up with ridiculous things and they were a lot heavy than was strictly necessary.  Which required a considerable number of stops.  Which resulted in a considerable number of photographs of somewhat random things. But they were pretty.

Tents had been loaded into our packs in anticipation of the eight bunk hut being full of children.  And sure enough, we were greeted by whoops of childish delight as we crested the ridge, so the tents were gratefully unpack and set up in the wind.  Luckily my list had stated Spend a night at Sign of the Packhorse not in.  

The cooker was unpacked for an obligatory cup of tea and then dinner of spicy noodles and wine soon followed.  Then the evening was wiled away beating Giles and Alex the Younger at cards.  And trying to ignore the obnoxious guy who knew everything about everything and insisted telling us about it.  More annoying were the constant updates about the election results which we had specifically gone bush to escape.  Sigh…..
A somewhat blustery night awoke to bring a glorious day, and after a full English breakfast, we set off up the hill towards Mount Herbertand beyond to Diamond Harbour.  After winding through some nice regenerating bush, we came out into the gorse and the heat and the steep.  But pleasant views out over Lyttelon Harbourand Banks Peninsula.  A quick lunch was had at the Mount Herbert Shelter and then it was downhill towards Diamond Harbour.
It was quite satisfying to catch up with and pass the annoying guy who had left the hut obnoxiously early to rush off and catch the ferry, which he distinctly missed by at least 5 hours.  And then onwards and downwards in the heat, across the hard grassy paddocks, towards the ice creams calling us from the Diamond Harbour dairy.  Those last few steps seemed to take hours out there in the baking Canterburyheat.  But the ice cream was definitely worked for. 

Did this expedition live up to the five years of anticipation?  I think so.  But I shouldn’t really let things linger on the list for that long unless there is a really good reason.  And laziness isn’t a good reason!  Hopefully that won’t happen again!

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Tramping with bikes

With the memory of a successful mountain bike mission to hotpools freshly in our minds, it was decreed that Labour weekend would be an excellent time for another expedition by bike.  More hotpools were high on the priority list, so we decided to venture one valley north and head up the Hope River in search of the hotpools above Top Hope hut.
Now, before you do a trip, you should always do some research, right?  Make sure you understand the lay of the land, how far it is and how long it might take.  So, being good young technologically-savvy folk, we googled the expedition.  And found Patrick’s blog.  Now the title of his blog post Mountain B-Walking to Hot Pools should perhaps have been a warning about the suitability of the track for biking.  But it was only 3 or so hours of pushing bikes.  How hard can it be?!  And besides, Steve assured us that is would be fine*.  So four intrepid adventurers set off for a long weekend of biking and hotpools.

The first challenge was taking the bikes across a swingbridge.  Now I’m quite happy to stroll across a swingbridge, pack on my back and admiring the scenery.  But taking a bike across a swingbridge is a completely different story! The easiest way is to flip the bike up on its back wheel and push it across while holding the handelbars.  Sounds all nice and happy, yeah?  In theory, this isn’t bad.  Except you now have no hands available for holding onto the bridge and, inevitably, your handlebars are wider than the supports on the bridge, which means that every metre or so you have to do a complicated wiggle of the bike to make it fit through the gap.  This leads to a greater swinging of the bridge than before, the back wheel of the bike ending up in some awkward position, and a terrible buckling of the knees as the whole thing becomes way to much for the brain to cope with.  This feeling of complete and utter terror intensifies with every step until you finally reach the far side and sink into the solid ground with great relief.  And then remember that, in order to get back to the car at the end of the trip, you’re going to have to do it all again!  Argh!

The grin is not happiness but more a terrified grimace and relief at almost being at the end of the bridge ordeal

After a few minutes to steady the nerves on the other side, we set off along a nice piece of 4WD road.  It climbed up a couple of steep-ish terraces out in the open and we made pretty good progress.  And then we got to the bush edge.  Now I guess that I should acknowledge that the track along the northern bank of the Hope River is a tramping track.  It was never designed for biking.  And it’s not really suitable for biking.  It started out okay.  A few tree roots here and there, the odd treefall, that sort of thing but you could easily go several hundred metres at a time before having to get off to get past an obstacle.  And then it slowly deteriorated.  A nice clear section of track would reveal a fallen tree 10m around the corner.  A rooty but bike-able section would end in a gnarled tangle of roots that were dificult to walk over, let alone ride.  A tinkling stream would be nestled in a steepy, slippery gorge that threatened to suck you and your bike into a dark abyss.  Now, we had done our homework and were mentally prepared for some sections that were unrideable.  You simply get off your bike and haul it up a bank, throw it over a tree or push it over the nasty, rooty, muddy bit.  A bit of a hassle but part of the fun of mountain biking.

This type of riding inevitably leads to some spills, with the best fall of the trip once again being awarded to Steve, who ended upside down still attached to his bike.  This had unfortunate consequences for the yogurt!

After MANY hours of pushing bikes interspersed with the odd bit of riding, we reached an excellent spot for a late lunch.  I think by this point we’d been going about 4 hours and were a little weary of the bike pushing.  But a quick consultation of the map suggested that we had another 1.5 km or so of nasty track before we hit the river flats and easy riding.

Well, I reckon that that was the longest 1.5km of my life!  There were giant river boulders, nasty gutty creeks, steep banks, enormous roots, tangled treefalls and much mud.  But it did eventually end and spit us out onto a nice grassy riverbank with only the odd matagouri bush and cow to contend with.  A couple of kms of sweet, beautiful uninterupted riding.  And then another swingbridge.  Thankfully this one was on the shorter side, so didn’t generate quite the same terrifying swing. But was still terrifying.  It was quickly over though and after a quick push up a nasty slimy cliff, it was back to nice riding along a 4WD track again.  Yay for nice riding.  A few kms on and we reached Saint Jacobs hut.  We stopped for a breather, were immediately mobbed by sandflies, and set about deciding what to do next.  The Top Hope hut, our intended destination, was another 7km of, theoretically, nice riding up the valley, with the hotpools another 40 mins walk beyond.  It was about 6pm and there was plenty enough light to get there but enthusiasm was on the thin side.  After much umming and ahhing and slapping of sandflies, it was decided to stay the night where we were and make a quick dash upstream in the morning to check out the hotpools.  Bikes were dropped, gear unpacked and de-yogurted, bodies washed and feet, aching much more than they should have been, put up.  A quick chat with a resident tramper confirmed that walking the track would have been far more sensible than biking it when it turned out that she had walked it an hour faster than we had “biked” it.

I had recently bought a new tent, so shunned the hut in favour of more salubrious accommodation outside under nylon.  Dinner was an extravagant affair of tomato (slightly yogurty) couscous, washed down with port.  And was followed by an excellent (if not slightly damp in my slightly condensatory tent) night’s sleep.

The morning dawned bright and clear but still with little enthusiasm for biking up to the hotpools.  Admittedly, there was little enthusiasm for “biking” home again as well. Now, there is a farm track along the southern bank of the river but, having not asked permission to use it, we were reluctant to take the easy route home.  But we were more reluctant to take the hard route home.  So we cheated.  And we got caught.  And were made to go back the way we came.  But, oh the glorious non-stop riding we did before we got caught.  The farmer was very courteous and we were very apologetic and he did say that we could ride the track when he didn’t have cows in the paddock but we had better ask permission first.  So, when there are no cows and we are allowed, we plan to bike this glorious piece of rideable farm track and zoom into the hotpools in a ridiculously short period of time.  It shall be fabulous.

But it was with heavy hearts that we crossed back across the river (by foot, not terrifying swingbridge) and set off back along the track.  There was more frustrating pushing of bikes but it did seem a little easier on the way out, perhaps because it was slightly downhill and therefore easier to ride.  It did still take forever and end in a swingbridge.  But wasn’t entirely an unpleasant day.

Now, it may seem that I have made this out to be a horrendous trip.   I must admit that it wasn’t an ideal place to take mountain bikes, particularly if this is your first mountain bike trip as it was for poor Elizabeth.  Luckily, she has yet to learn fear, so rode things that I was sceptical about.  But overall, it was a fun trip.  However, do not believe anyone who tells you it will be a nice ride.  It might be a nice tramp but is better if you leave your bike in the shed.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

Sunday night was spent consuming enormous burgers and watching NZ narrowly beat France to win the Rugby World Cup in a random pub in Hanmer.  That is, we were in a random pub, not the All Blacks.  And then a quick blat around the mountain bike tracks in Hanmer on Monday.  Oh what a novelty to be able to ride more than 100m before being forced off by some obstacle.  It was fabulous.  Then back to Christchurch for a superb dinner of experimental homemade pizza with Patrick and Maaike.

*We talked to the third member of Patrick and Steve’s trip and his response was “Why would you want to go there?  It was horrible!”. Interesting how different people remember trips.  

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Hurunui hotpools

This year we actually trained for the Spring Challenge which was a little bit of a novelty.  It also meant that we got out on some sweet trips, including a great overnight ride to the Hurunui hotpools.

I’d never been on any overnight mountain bike trips before, but after some careful packing to ensure that we all had matching bikes and packs, we three intrepid Mighty Midgets & a Mighty Midget’s Man set off into the sunshine.

It’s a relatively easy ride around the side of the lake and would have been quite pleasant if it hadn’t been for the strong headwind.   But it was good practise for drafting and we set up a pretty good paceline to keep us zooming along.  The track was a combination of gravel and 4WD road, with a pretty rideable surface.  There quite a few gates to throw bikes over though and during one of these brief interludes, I somehow managed to flick a tendon out from under my ankle bone.  Not really sure how – I didn’t actually do anything.  Got off my bike, lifted it over a gate, got back on my bike and it hurt.  Weird.  Luckliy doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage but was not particularly pleasant for riding.  Because of this, we decided to take a “shortcut” along the walking track to the hut rather than crossing the river and biking along the flat before crossing back again.  Shortcuts are never a good idea and this certainly wasn’t.  Very little of the track was actually rideable and there was a lot of swearing as we pushed and carried our bikes over particularly nasty sections of track (think treefalls on the side of a muddy hill scattered with possum carcasses).

The training plan was to try and do a 10 hour day: 3 hours or so of biking and then an expedition up the valley on foot, culminating in a soak in the Hurunui hotpools.  I decided to call it a day when we got to the hut but the others continued on up the valley like good little things.  I lazed around in what was left of the sunshine and read and reread the meagre pickings of reading material in the hut.  I may have closed my eyes for a second or too.  Maybe. 
Despite my injury, I was feeling pretty smug about our efforts.  We had biked about 20km offroad with relatively packs without much difficulty.  Then Jackson arrived.  On his bike.  Having come 150km from Christchurch.  With another 3-4 days of biking in the pipeline, including a fairly hefty pass over which he planned on carrying his bike.  That kinda put our efforts into perspective.  The rest of our intrepid bunch returned after soaking in the hotpools with a meteorological jellyfish to decorate the hut and we quickly demolished a hearty meal of blue cheese and mushroom pasta before retiring to bed.

The next day dawned in glorious sunshine and, with a relatively happy ankle, we set off.  After a short pleasant ride down the way we should have come up the day before, we were confronted with the first obstacle of the day: a river crossing.  Nothing like starting the day with cold, wet feet.  But it was quickly over and we were on our way again.  

Until we got to the next river crossing.  Michelle decided she didn’t want to cross the river again and had some fun fighting with the swingbridge. I was quite impressed that she actually got onto the bridge – it was mighty steep!

The ride home passed relatively quickly after that, with some amusing moments to pass the time. 

Steve was very helpful demonstrating riding techniques, particularly how NOT to ride through mud.

Poor Bike!  And then he cleaned it by riding into the lake  (You should watch this with sound to hear the cackling girls as he goes over the handlebars for the third time that day).

It was a shame not to actually make it to the hotpools but at least I have a reason to go again and perhaps achieve #?? on the list of 32 things.  I’m starting to like this mountain biking business, particularly long trips.  Which is probably lucky, considering #1 on the list.  But more about that some other time.

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Cross-country skiing

A few months ago one of our friends moved down to Cromwell, and it was decided before she left that we would have to have a girl’s weekend down there at some point in the future.  Now it should be noted, before you start conjuring up visions of us sitting round getting manicures and having pillowfights in our pyjamas, that we aren’t particularly girly girls.  No indeedy.  In fact, it was decreed that our girl’s weekend should consist of something adventurous, and so we set off on a cross-country skiing expedition.

After a pleasant Friday exploring the sights of Arrowtown and Cromwell and celebrating Clare’s birthday, we set off up the mountain to the Snow Farm.  After getting fitted out with skis and leaving our overnight gear in a pile for the skidoo, we ventured outside for a few pre-skiing photographs and a lesson.

Now cross-country skis aren’t anything like downhill skis.  For starters, your heel isn’t attached to the back of the ski.  And then, more scarily, you don’t have any edges on your skis.  Which means that everything you have ever learnt about stopping and turning instantly goes out the window.  When asked about how to stop, our helpful instructor offered the following wisdom: “Just keep going until you run out of hill.  Or failing that, fall over” Helpful!  Thankfully there are grooves along the tracks that your skis fit into which mostly takes care of the turning bit.  Except when the grooves randomly stop and your legs do their own thing, usually in different directions!

Here Rachel demonstrates a perfect racer’s tuck, and then the grooves run out… watched with the sound on for the full “chicken” effect.
After our lesson, we were let loose and it was on to the Bob Lee Hut – our overnight destination.  It was an absolutely amazing day.  Perfect weather and great company, interspersed with hilarious skiing moments.
Happily skiing along the trail in the glorious sunshine
Lunch stop at the Meadow Hut
Maaike demonstrating her seated stopping technique.
It might look like I’m in control
 but all goes wrong very shortly after this photograph!

The Bob Lee Hut was reached without too much drama and proved to be a cosy place to stay the night. Our gear had kindly been delivered by skidoo, so we had been able to pack some tasty treats.  We cooked up a storm (it turned out, quite literally) and were treated to a stunning sunset before retiring to bed to rest some weary (and newly-discovered) muscles.

Preparing a stunning dinner of green curry and mulled wine

Maaike proudly showing off her multitude of stripes (and sexy pink slippers)

The next day we woke to snow.  Of the falling variety.  In fact, of the blizzard variety.  We hastily packed our gear and set off into the gloom, trying to get out to the carpark before the storm really set in.  There was quite a bit of fresh snow on the tracks, making it difficult to find the grooves for your skis, let alone stay in them!  It was cold and windy and we were rugged up in all of the clothing we had with us.  I was even wearing my Antarctica balaclava that I never wore on the ice.  It was cold. But it was still great skiing and a lot of fun.  In fact, I think the contrast in the weather added a lot to the trip and gave us some stories of epic skiing missions to tell for years to come.

Check out these happy ladies (at least I think Michelle & I are happy – it’s a bit hard to tell!)
Now it turned out that this was not the end of our adventure.  The heavy snow meant that the roads were somewhat treachorous and we had an interesting drive down the mountain, followed by a mad dash to get to Queenstown before the road closed.  Even in a 4WD, the roads were nasty with almost 10cm on the ground and more falling rapidly.  Dave managed to get us to Queenstown, just.   And then get himself back home again.  Checked in to our accommodation to find that Rachel’s flight had been cancelled, so four hungry skiers headed into town for dinner.  The next morning woke to more snow and more cancelled flights, so it was off to book a bus and then explore the sights (or at least the open ones) of a very snowy Queenstown.  Having not seen any men for a few days, we built one of our own.

Tuesday bought us more snow, a cancelled bus, two trips to the wool shop, another cancelled bus and then, finally, a bus home to Christchurch.  Via Dunedin!  Let’s just say that this is not a very direct route and not one I would recommend (unless desperate).

So another epic adventure and one that I would totally recommend (maybe without the snow storm and getting stranded bits).  Cross-country skiing is definitely something i enjoyed crossing off my list and I’m keen to add it to another list sometime soon.

Speaking of lists, it’s time for new list of 32 things.  Check back soon!

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#13. Aussie Road Trip

It’s always time for a road trip. And this year, it was time for a road trip, Western Australia style. Hamish moved to Perth for work earlier this year, so it seemed like a good opportunity to check out some new places across the ditch and catch up with the boy at the same time. We didn’t have a plan, other than drive north and see what could be found along the way. (Warning: This post has a *high geological content*).

View Australia in a larger map

The first stop was The Pinnacles at Nambung National Park – weird and somewhat phallic-looking limestone formations.

And some big and impressive limestone cliffs.

And some weird fossilised corals.

And some more impressive cliffs along the edge of the river through Kalbarri National Park.

Fossilised ripples were common, as was this fossilised brain(-like) thing. We also saw some fossilised arthropod footprints which I neglected to photograph.

But I did snap this wedge-tailed eagle munching on some kangaroo roadkill while driving up to Shark Bay

where we set up camp in this amazing spot with stunning views.

No geological trip to Western Australia would be complete with a visit to the stromatolites at Shark Bay. These are basically living rocks and, to most people, are probably about exciting to look at as dead rocks. But to two geeks, this was pretty cool. In fact, it was the main reason we drove all that way to Shark Bay and was totally worth it!

We found more stromatolites and their thrombolite cousins at Lake Thetis.
No trip to Australia would be complete without seeing lots of weird wildlife. We definitely found our share (but thankfully no snakes – the benefit of going in the winter).
There was a sleepy lizard, complete with ticks in the corner of its mouth,
a very fuzzy emu running away at great speed,

a hawk on a grass tree,
a fuzzy kangaroo running away,
a yellow spoonbill,
and the elusive echidna that insisted on digging holes around our tent but not coming out to play in the daylight!
And of course, the resident geologist!
A fantastic holiday! Definitely a part of the world I’d like to visit again and a lad I’d like to see more of!

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Cannibal Gorge

The start of July saw a trip up to Cannibal Gorge Hut on the St James Walkway to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

in a larger map

The track starts at Lewis Pass and winds its way above the Maruia River. Not a particularly scenic walk but nice forest with some interesting wildlife encounters.

Including this kaka high up in the tree tops. And a stoat attacking a possum. That was a weird one.

The hut was surrounded by a nice dusting of snow, making for a pretty scene. But the chilly weather had created a new form of entertainment – the indoor ice skating rink. A pipe had burst, leaving about an inch of ice across the floor of the hut. Luckily we had a keen and innovative team and the ice was quickly cleaned out and the fire stoked up. This was followed by a game of rounders out the front of the hut, made more challenging by playing with a white ball in snow! Then a stunning dinner of venison curry, venison stew, fresh roti made on the fire. And topped off with chocolate pudding and home-made ice cream for dessert. Then the HHH entertainment band set up and the remainder of the evening was passed in a sing-along.

A leisurely stroll out in the morning ended another pleasant trip into the hills.