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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2001 Christmas Newsletter

After 2000 being all about rain, floods and more rain, 2001 was a pleasant watery year - water, wine and food being at the heart of it. For our 2001 travels we focussed on canals, rivers, and the sea with good food, excellent wine and a bit of history thrown in.

Again we began the year by Escaping to New Zealand, but only North Island. We camped at some of our favourite quiet spots including Fantail Bay and Broken Hills in the Coromandel, Lake Tutira near Napier, Gentle Annie on the Napier-Taihape road, and Whangaruru. We visited the wineries of Matua, Morton, Esk Valley and Crab Farm. We spent several days in Rotorua, surrounded by steam, bubbling mud and thermal parks. This was followed by a visit to the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum, which had many of the engines in steam. We took time to find out more about Maori History and Culture throughout the trip.

We also explored the Whanganui River, 144 miles long with 239 rapids from Taumarunui down to the coast at Wanganui. The Whanganui River journey is one of the "Great Walks", taking 5 days by canoe for the part from Taumarunui to Pipiriki. The riverboats used to make the whole journey in three parts, including an overnight stop at a Houseboat, long since disappeared, as well as at a hotel specially built at Pipiriki. The history is explained at the Whanganui Riverboat Centre, and we had an excellent cruise on their restored steam paddlewheeler, the Waimarie. We have also seen river boats Ongarue (tunnel drive, on display at Pipiriki), Otunui (tunnel drive) moored near Huka Falls, and Waireka, now converted to paddlewheels, which we had a trip on a couple of years ago to the Huka falls.

The highlight of the trip - for Pete anyway - was 3 Weeks Sailing. We achieved a longstanding ambition in making the coastal passage from Auckland up to the Bay of Islands. The two are separated by 2 degrees of latitude making it about a 150 Nm trip overall of which 120 Nm are unprotected Pacific coast. The closest equivalent in the UK would be from Southampton Water to Plymouth Sound or for non sailors it is the same distance as London to Cardiff. We began with 4 days in the Auckland area, to get used to the Raven 31, "Latitude 55". We then picked up Kev for virtually his first sailing. Going up the coast from Auckland involved 3 overnight stops at Kawau, Whangarei and Whangaruru. Kev left us at Whangaruru, and except for a slight misjudgement, which resulted in Pete, and Kev being deposited in the surf on the edge of Oakura beach, under the dinghy, it all went well. We had been to Whangaruru before and knew the area, so it was an easy cruise around Cape Brett and past the famous Hole in the Rock into the Bay of Islands. We had been lucky with the weather, and arrived just 8 days into our charter. We continued north to Whangaroa to have dinner at Kingfish Lodge. It is a special place, accessible only by boat, and with excellent food and wine. There is good fishing in the area too.

We headed straight back to Auckland and flew to Singapore to meet up with QE2. We had a 3 day Stopover in Singapore at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel, which is near the Botanical Gardens and runs a shuttle bus into town. Singapore has a good MRT transport system, so we used that, combined with walking. We spent the first day exploring downtown and Chinatown, and the second day at the Botanical Gardens, Little India and a cruise to Kusu Island. We ate cheap lunches with the locals in Chinatown and in a Food Court; we ate dinner with tourists on Clarke Quay and Boat Quay.

Our Cruise on QE2 from Singapore to Southampton, via the Suez Canal took 29 days, and was the final stage of her World Cruise. We stopped at Phuket (Thailand), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mumbai (Bombay, India), Dubai (UAE), Aqaba (Jordan, to visit Petra), Port Suez (Egypt, to visit the Pyramids) before transiting the Suez Canal. We then stopped at Naples, Marseille and Lisbon before arriving home. It was an excellent trip, and gave the opportunity to make visit to places we had never visited, highlights being the Pyramids and Petra. And some of which we would not go back to ! QE2 was excellent, especially because we were given a cabin upgrade, and celebrated our 100 days with Cunard Line - mostly on board QE2, plus 6 weeks on the Cunard Countess in the Caribbean.

We arrived home at Easter, so could only join friends for the last few days of the traditional Easter "walking" holiday. This year it was well north, on the coast, near Budle. Foot and Mouth restrictions meant that footpaths were closed and walking was limited to roads and beaches. But we did visit the castles of Bamburgh and Alnwick, learned about the exploits of Grace Darling, and got across the causeway to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

The Foot and Mouth restrictions also affected our boating. It was May before we made our first trip of the year in Corinna to Windsor, just as the restrictions were clearing downstream on the Thames. To the north it was a different story. We had planned to meet with the rest of the DPOC for a cruise to Cambridge and the Fens, but they could not travel down to meet us. So we left on 1 June alone. We reached Gayton Junction on 6 June, in company of another boat also heading east. Locks to Northampton are single width, but then double width on the River Nene. We reached Peterborough together on 9 June, and went our separate ways - they continued to the Middle Levels whereas we came back. Conditions for boating were easing, with cows left to wander freely on the locksides, and dogs running off leash. We took the long route home, down the Grand Union through Milton Keynes and other places to the River Thames at Brentford. We had one excellent detour to Aylesbury. We stayed in the Basin for 3 nights, were made very welcome, and decided to join the Aylesbury Canal Society. Our second detour, to the River Wey, was more eventful with a serious engine problem at Godalming, which Pete fixed sufficient to get home. We were away for exactly one month, having completed 437 miles and 336 locks.

Our second trip was to the Anderton Lift, passing Red Bull Basin so we could get the bottom blacked and meet up with other Piper owners. We added side trips along the Caldon from Stoke-on-Trent, and along the Ashby from Coventry. Including a detour to Lechlade on the way home, this was another 574 miles and 316 locks - 1000 miles in the two trips.

We had planned to go to Australia for three weeks in the Autumn, but following the events of September 11th and the problems of various airlines we decided to run in our new car for an Autumn Holiday in France instead. Being nervous of using the Tunnel we booked with HoverSpeed. We still have French sand under the bonnet. The route was similar to our trip in 2000, going back to two favourite Relais and Chateaux Hotels : Chateau d'Ige near Macon and Chateau de Nieuil near Cognac. Our route took us through history (Romanesque churches and Chateaux of the Loire), vineyards (Macon, Beaujolais, Irouleguy and Bordeaux), beaches on both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, and canals (the Canal du Midi and the Canal lateral a la Garonne : locks, aqueduct and pentes d'eau). It coincided with the annual migration of the famous wild pigeon, la palombe, which we ate at the gourmet Hotel les Pyrenees in St Jean Pied de Port. Ten million leave Russia each year but many less survive to Spain

Since our return we have been trying to make sense of all our photos and videos from the last 25 years! All the flat surfaces are covered with packets of pictures and/or negatives, and we are searching our joint memories for what we did and when we did it. At least with slides you knew the month and year they were printed. Recently we have been using our web site to capture our activities, in particular Travel, more fully. The links here are all within our site and lead to over two hundred new pictures and 20 new web pages - the equivalent of 60 A4 sheets covering this year alone. Pete has also been experimenting with Digital Video Editing and putting moving pictures onto a web site for a friend's business (another hobby turning into a business of Support for Small Firms), so you never know what you will find next year ! Pauline also continues her 'Charity work' for the Open University teaching "Computing - an Object Oriented Approach.

In between trips we managed to pick a lot of fruit, and have over 50 demijohns in various stages of fermentation and maturation around the house, of which gooseberry, blackberry, cherry and blackcurrant are from fruit of 2001 . We discovered that Tigger, our Birman, adores our Homemade Wine so we have to be very careful not to leave used glasses out overnight. Sitting here at the keyboard there is the comforting regular glupping in the background, from the last batch. A wet if not watery end to our story this year.

Are we glad we left the rat race? Yes, yes and yes, and a few good reasons follow.

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