2003 - New Zealand
Monday 17th April
When we arrived in Sydney, it was to find that we had missed the back-up flight which the staff in Singapore had worked so hard to get us on. We were given more vouchers for food and put onto a LAN Chile flight which would get us to Auckland almost four hours after our scheduled arrival time. A number of other passengers were in the same position.
Finally we touched down in Auckland having had to complete an entry card on the way. This asked us to declare whether we were bringing in any food or any plants. We weren't sure whether Adrian's health bars and Jill's orchid came into these categories so decided we had better ask at the airport. In the event our hold baggage did not show up and had got lost - so had that of several others on our two delayed flights. We explained everything to the people at the airport and then set off to find our transport to our hotel "City Life". This proved to be another big headache as we could not find anyone to take us and the Quantas staff sent us in the wrong direction. Finally some friendly airport staff took pity on us and one showed us where to wait outside. A shuttle driver suggested we wait in his minibus whilst he waited for more passengers. Finally he set off - with us, four American students, and another British couple. We were dropped off first and went up to our room - fervently hoping that our luggage would surface that evening. At around 10.00 p.m. Jill rang the airport authorities who said the cases had been despatched to us by taxi at 9.10 with a guaranteed delivery within 2 hours. We went to sit in the Lobby to wait for them and, at about 10.45 they duly turned up! We went to bed, totally exhausted (night of Monday 17th March). We had been up since 9.00 a.m. the previous day.
Tuesday 18th March
Adie went out to explore the shops after we had woken at about 7.30 a.m. Then, when we were both ready (10.30!), we went to do a little shopping and to use the internet before going to the Sky Tower. We went up to both viewing levels and then had an excellent lunch in the revolving restaurant there. By our proposed standards this was expensive but at £20 a head for 3 courses plus drinks and coffee (or delightful herbal tea for Adrian!) it certainly can't be described as exorbitant. A very leisurely start to the day as it was 3.00 p.m. before we set out again.
In the afternoon, we walked to the Victoria Park Market Shopping Centre where Jill found four tops to buy - 2 cheap ones and 2 with New Zealand motifs.
Then we returned to the city centre (via Hertz to check all was well for tomorrow) before spending a few hours in our hotel room relaxing, watching television news (mostly about the 48 hour warning delivered at lunch time by George Bush) and planning tomorrow's route to Russell, general plans and hotel possibilities.
Wednesday 19th March
After picking up the car we set off for Russell along the motorway. This ran out within a few miles and the road became a two way modest width winding road with passing lanes every 5km or so. The scenery was undulating and in places hilly but not terribly exciting. It was about 150 miles till we arrived at the last part including a small car ferry.
Our hotel was old for these parts being the oldest in NZ. Started in 1827 the building has 3 times been burnt to the ground, sometimes deliberately. It is still made of wood as are the other buildings, if they are not made of corrugated iron. They are mainly single storey and reminiscent of the occasional settlement in England such as Ifold and Headley Down.
Whilst walking along the strand onto which our hotel fronts, we saw rides in a motor cycle type rickshaw (a tuk tuk). Taking up the offer we had a half hour tour of the buildings and sights by a Londoner who had been here since 1971. This included a church of 1837 (timber of course).
This is the area where the English signed a treaty with the Maori in 1840 leading to trade and a degree of peace.
That evening a reasonable meal at the hotel.
Thursday 20th March
Was a boat trip worth just over £30 each? In the end we decided yes and it certainly was in several ways. The Bay of Islands is full of islands (!) and sea! It is a former volcanic area that has been flooded by an increase in water depth of 90m.
There were beautiful views, little sandy bays, and in due course a stretch of open sea leading to the Hole in the Rock. The sea was very rough. ZoŽ had been sick on her visit here and her mum nearly followed suit. The wind was apparently in excess of 25 knots and the authorities forbid seeking to go through the hole when the speed exceeded 20 knots. We were not really disappointed having regard to the roughness of the sea under the arch.
Whilst waiting to board we had got talking with a couple who turned out to be a teacher and a head from the Yorkshire Dales. Yvonne and Glynne Edwards provided good company for the trip and afterwards we went back to where they were staying and discussed our future route. They had been here 2 months and had spent a similar time here on another occasion. They were staying at a Top Ten Motel (or camp site). They had a detached cabin with a living room kitchen and a bedroom for $85 a night. As we were paying $220 for a small room in a hotel that provided no facilities other than a continental breakfast. We decided this was worth a try and booked 2 nights at the Rotorua site where I am writing this. We had to pay a bit more as they only had a 2 bed. In some ways it is a move downwards but it actually gives us much more accommodation and with my restricted diet makes it easier to do the odd bits of food on which I have to rely when I can't eat the restaurant food.
That night we had a good meal in a sea front restaurant - Sally's.
Friday 21st March
This was mainly spent on the 300 miles or so journey from Russell to Rotorua. I have decided that NZ roads are crummy! Apart from perhaps 40-50 miles of "motorway" (2 lane dual carriage way) everything is single carriage way and has the occasional passing place, no lay-bys and poor signposting. Despite this we arrived at about 4.15 and after an hour of e-mailing we had a fast food snack meal before doing some food shopping.
Radio reception is poor and erratic. When we could we listened to a chat show which gave a fascinating insight into NZ thinking. Clearly they feel the need to be friends with as many nations as possible so that they will have allies in the event of need. They also feel dominated by Australia. Everything was taken up with the outbreak of a US/British attack on Iraq which occurred yesterday. However, in the middle of questions relating to this an Auckland lady expressed concern that caterpillars were eating some of her plants. Fortunately 2 or 3 other listeners helped resolve this issue of international importance - it transpired that giving them pumpkin to eat would conquer this problem.
We arrived in Rotorua at 4.30 and were soon in a very reasonable Top Ten motel with a pleasant lounge area plus dining and kitchen areas. There were 2 small bedrooms.
After sending an e-mail we had a Chinese meal at the local Warehouse and spent the evening in our room.
Saturday was still overcast. We spent the morning at Wai-O-Tapu a strange world of geysers, mineral pools and unusual colours. We started with the geyser. I had been intrigued by the fact that it went off at 10.15 each day. We soon found that the answer to this mystery was soap -powder. This was used to prime it. It was soon shooting high in the air. The area was really weird with fumeroles and bubbling pools of mud or water.
We returned for the practicalities of washing clothes before a really great evening. It started with an introduction to Maori culture and then a guided tour of more geysers. Then a Maori welcome ceremony followed by a Maori concert. This was great fun. There is no doubt they are a funny lot! As part of their war dance ceremony the men enlarge their eyes so that white shows all round their eyeballs and stick out their tongues, downward to their chins. Add to that stamping feet, slapping of chests and thighs and it certainly is a spectacle!
Then the culmination was a "Hangi", a Maori feast. Whilst this included food cooked traditionally in covered pits, it was a large and impressive buffet of food that was largely familiar to us. It was most certainly a feast! The evening ended with the visitors from each country singing a traditional song from their country.
Sunday 23rd March: Leaving at about 9.45, we visited a village that had been buried in mud and ash when Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886. It was a sad but interesting written account with various recovered objects and then a look at the excavated village buildings. As part of this we walked through fairly dense vegetation to a 300 ft waterfall.
Another hour's journey brought us to Taupo where we found an attractive motel at the lake side in which we took a room. Having secured our first non-booked accommodation we felt safe to go back to a couple of sights we had passed a few miles earlier.
The first was a lake where a sluice controls the water flow for hydro electric power purposes, then about 5 times a day the sluices are opened and a great torrent is released down a narrow rocky gorge. It was highly impressive. However, even more so was the Craters of the Moon, a geothermal area a short distance away. This was the strangest sight that I think we have ever seen with clouds of steam drifting from scores of craters and vents. There was boiling water and boiling mud but above all this the drifting steam and the craters made for a really unique landscape.
A quick e-mail session, some shopping and then a buffet dinner completed the day.
Monday 24th March
We left our luxurious motel room at Taupo and went to the local emailing station where the "Boss" turned out to be a young English guy who had left his Brighton home some 14 months ago and is applying for residency. He sold us some stamps and post cards but could not manage to transfer the digital photos onto a CD. He was very impressed with the microdrive however.
After that, we began the long drive to Wellington and eventually found our motel at about 4.30 p.m.
Tuesday 25th March - clear blue skies. Despite that our plans are for indoors - the museum of New Zealand (Te Papa).
It is a very modern attractive museum with history of the Maoris, the geological/volcanic side of the country, its natural resources and a special exhibition of The Lord of the Rings. We spent most time in the last of these. It was really interesting dealing with a little of the locations, the making of various sets such as Hobbiton, but most of all the inter-relation of reality, computer graphics and models. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the museum restaurant which Lonely Planet had correctly described as up market. This was on a terrace looking out over the harbour. All very pleasant.
We had gone into Wellington by bus and had unlimited bus use with our tickets. We got on a City Circular bus and after some time going through shops got off near the Government Building with its "beehive" extension. Having taken the obligatory photo we walked back to the centre and sought out an internet office where we spent sometime including sending Keri an electronic birthday card. A quick shop and then the bus home.
Wednesday 26th March
- a big day, we emigrate to South Island. We knew the ferry was at 9.30 and that we should be there 1 hour before. We estimated a journey time of 30 minutes but left just over an hour. In fact the traffic jam was so bad that we arrived hot and bothered at about 8.50 a.m... The crossing was beautifully calm. At the end it was through the very attractive Marlborough Sound before landing at Picton.
Hertz were kind enough to again upgrade our car, this time to the top of the range Ford Falcon. The lady there reckoned we had ample time to travel the west coast which had been my original plan but which I had abandoned on the grounds of too much travelling and not enough rest. So tonight we must choose.
We then took Queen Charlotte Drive about 20 km along winding hilly roads adjacent to the sound. Really stunningly beautiful.
We attempted to find the historic settlement of Canvastown which was the centre of a gold rush in the 1860's but could find no sign other than a sleepy hotel with a restaurant that did not serve food, a church and community centre.
On to Nelson which was also sleepy but considerably bigger. Then the usual hunt for where the motel was sited - always a good sport especially at the end of a long drive!
Thursday 27th March
Today we had a long ride to Greymouth. Initially through undulating hills we ended up on the coast where we diverted to Cape Foulwind to see a seal colony. The weather was fabulous with clear blue skies and hot sun. The seals were a little distance away but it was an interesting experience. Later adjacent to the road was a path to Pancake Rocks and blowholes. These sedimentary rocks formed the cliffs and were eroding between the thin layers of rock. Pounded by the rough seas of the area it was easier to see how the erosion was undermining the cliffs and also creating blowholes.
The coastal ride was spectacular.
At about 5.30 we reached Greymouth, a sleepy half horse town which didn't even have an internet office so far as we could see! Again we had difficulty finding the Top 10 Motel site. It is adjacent to the beach. Not as good as some but adequate and only about £24 a night.
Friday 28th March
A shorter day today - only scheduled for 3 hr 10 min. We stopped and bought some food etc at a brilliant little store that stocked everything that a household might want. This was Hokitiki, another small town miles from anywhere. This made something of a living from working jade for the tourists and Jill! A little kiwi this time.
We were surprised at how little height we gained towards the mountains that bordered our left side as we very largely still followed the coast on our right. We wound up a long series of bends only to lose most of the height again. And then, there was Frans Joseph glacier - the settlement. A small cluster of motels and restaurants with the glacier somewhere up there in the snow covered mountains. We continued for a further 30 mins and reached Fox Glacier, an even smaller settlement of probably 8 or so small motels and a hotel.
We were a little disappointed by the motel we had booked the previous day for 2 nights. This combined with the lack of activities that we were likely to participate in made us feel that it had been a mistake to commit ourselves to 2 nights. Fortunately the owners did not seem to mind too much when we asked to be released the 2nd night.
We walked around nearby Murchison Lake through ancient forest with many types of trees and plants unknown to us and many of a sub-tropical nature. The lake is renowned not for its own beauty but for the views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman (each snow covered) and in particular for the reflections of those mountains on its surface. It was excellent but by this time the sun had gone from the peaks and there was cloud, mist and even some gentle rain. However, it was a good and interesting walk and the mountain views were beautiful.
After a quite good chicken with apricot sauce at the hotel we went out again to see a glow worm grotto. Once the eyes had become adjusted there were hundreds of glow worms to be seen, reminiscent of the innumerable stars I had seen in the sky the previous night with the bright stars and different constellations of the southern skies - truly remarkable.
Saturday 29th March
Sitting in a nice motel room looking out over the lake to the mountains and the low cloud hanging over the most distant of these, I recall the day...
We set off quite early (8.20) filled up with petrol and bought some fruit before we embarked on the journey scheduled for 5 and a half hours. The coastal scenery was reminiscent of parts of north Cornwall, undulating hills beside wide beaches with crashing waves. It differed in two other respects: the presence of tropical rainforest and also the mountains with snow! After about 80 miles with occasional houses and even more perhaps 2 or 3 small motels we came to Haarst, a settlement of 200 or so people that preluded the turn from the coastal plain to the river valley as we headed for Haarst Pass which would take us to Otago. Here there were no houses, just climbing twisty roads beside the river. Then suddenly we seemed to be losing height again
and the river was flowing in the other direction. The scenery opened out and soon we had reached Lake Wanaka, a lake of some 30 miles and a depth of 1000 ft. The floor of the lake is in fact below sea level and was formed by glaciation. Surrounded by mountains of some 7-9000 feet, it presented a truly beautiful sight.
We reached the township of Wanaka (4000 people), and looked for accommodation that would give us some of the benefit of the views. We found it!
Having had a quick lunch we set off for Puzzling World a small attraction based on a maze, holograms, sloping buildings and... puzzles. This proved a totally different and amusing way of spending a couple of hours. We eventually cracked the maze but only in "average" time.
Then a good meal in a very popular restaurant before a slightly disturbed night. Quality of motel is no guarantee of peace!
Sunday 30th March
We left early and had a superb mountain drive for perhaps 50 miles to Arrowtown, a gold mining settlement restored to its 19th century frontier town look. Then on to Queenstown beautifully situated by the lake and surrounded by mountains. For once modern development had been quite tasteful and the whole place looked attractive.
We found a very nice motel by the lakeside and took a 2 bed apartment with living at first floor and bedroom at ground - hopefully a quiet night. We arranged via the motel a light plane to Milford Sound combined with a cruise on the Sound. The flight was really great as there were still almost cloudless skies as we traversed the mountain ranges snow covered and with glaciers. In fact we thought it better than the Sound itself (!) although the sound had many interesting features and also dolphin that we saw and some fur seals. Then the flight back.
The evening was spent with Jo Helby from Jill's school who is now teaching in Queenstown.
Monday 31st March
- dawned rainy and cool so with very low cloud. We decided to move on to Dunedin as while Queenstown is nice it offered little in the rain. We travelled initially through more mountain scenery which is always welcome and then through endless grape and soft fruit growing areas. The journey was about 200 miles and there were really only villages and hamlets.
Dunedin seemed particularly uninviting. No doubt jaundiced by the hours of travelling and the rain this city of 110,000 seemed to offer little except industry - not even motels! We set off along the peninsula. The road ran alongside the sea, narrow and twisty. Still no motels, but seeing a sign for Larnach Castle we discovered NZ's only "castle". It was in fact a 1870s small country house designed in Scotland (but modified by the introduction of an Australian fashion - wrought iron balconies. We saw reference to check in and so we enquired about accommodation, but there was none. However they gave us a brochure of accommodation in the area and we ended up at a small motel where we took a three bedroom unit - very good but difficult to keep warm enough now temperatures are probably in the top 40's. The host referred us to the nearby yellow-eyed penguin colony for their last trip of the day. This involved a short ride across to the other side of the peninsula and then walking in covered trenches that provided hides which enabled us to get within perhaps 20 -30 feet of a number of these particularly rare penguins. Apparently they are unique to NZ and number 4-5,000. They mate and congregate together a little but not as much as other penguins.
We had been told that the nearby albatross colony had a restaurant in the visitor centre that should provide an evening meal. We found this at the end of the peninsula and battled strong winds and rain to reach the building only to find that it had closed. The staff told us that there was a restaurant at Portobello perhaps 13 kilometres away. To our surprise this presented us with a very good meal of honey soy chicken. Then back to our nice motel but found it rather cold - I write this wearing my fleece and boiling water on the hotplate to try to raise the temperature more.
Tuesday 1st April
- a cold and rainy start gradually gave way to some sunshine but a cold wind remained with us all day and the fleeces proved essential. We felt that we had exhausted the delights of Dunedin and made our way up the SH 1 taking a minor road as a coastal scenic route for a short distance.
We stopped at Shag Point where we saw some seals on a small rock off the coast and also some gannets. Then on to see strange ball like rocks at Moeraki. These form in a similar fashion to oysters in that they are an accretion around some lime crystals which then have attracted carbonate of lime, silica, alumina and iron peroxide to form large spherical boulders about 2 metres across. So they have not been formed by the sea but rather are gradually broken up by them.
We had a reasonable lunch there and arrived at Oamaru about 2.00 p.m... There was the now usual hunt for a motel that we judged would be quiet from neighbours, roads and the fridge - Best Western this time, and only $73 (£25.50) for a large living room with kitchen and then a separate bedroom.
Then off to check on the penguin visiting arrangements before a trip to the internet.
We gathered in the solitude and gloom of the onset of evening at the penguin colony, accompanied by probably no more than a hundred others. The excitement mounted as the guide described what would happen and how that sometimes over 100 blue penguins would come ashore after the whole day at sea catching fish. Suddenly it had begun. A penguin was out of the sea and making its way up the ram. Soon it had crossed into the grassy breeding area and stood.
Some 15-20 minutes later there were 3 others emerging. The wind was bitterly cold and we had already been there well over an hour but it was worth it (we think). As the time ticked away an increasing number of people felt that the burdens had outweighed the benefits and so they left but stalwarts like Adrian were rewarded within 5 minutes by the arrival of another dozen.
Wednesday 2nd April
- after a quiet night and good sleep we awoke to clear blue skies. We had decided to go back inland and headed for Lake Tekapo. The long straight road was relatively flat at first and without great interest, but the guide books had shown us that there were Maori rock paintings under overhanging limestone cliffs. We found two areas of these but found them a little disappointing. They were reported in the book as dating from 1000 - 1500 AD. Some in fact dated from as late as the 1890s. They were quite feint and with no clear purpose or subject matter.
Later the road climbed and we saw the first of three man-made lakes in the Waitaki valley that are used to generate from HEP one third of NZ's electricity. We stopped for a really good picnic in this lovely setting with snow covered mountains in the background - idyllic.
We had wondered whether to stay at Omarama but this hamlet of 350 people held no great attraction and we pushed on to Lake Tekapo. This glaciated lake shared with the earlier lakes an incredibly turquoise appearance that just seemed impossible to be real. Again the backdrop was snow -covered mountains of the Southern Alps and in particular including Mount Cook. It was a fabulous setting.
Having found that one motel of the 4 or so in the place was full we tried the Godley Hotel which was large and right on the lake front. I think that in practice they were quite empty and they quickly reduced the rate for a lake view room.
We had noticed some mountain bikes for hire at the hotel so at Jill's suggestion we hired these and had great fun trying to get used to them and their gears in particular. Adrian 3 times got the chain off, on one occasion on both the front and back cogs!
We cycled to nearby Church of the Good Shepherd and also a statue of a collie (in recognition of the dog's importance in the sheep farming of the Mackenzie area). We then returned the bikes and found a good place to sit in the sun (although the wind was still cold) and eventually watched the sun set behind the mountains with reflections in the lake.
We decided not to eat at the hotel but to go to a Chinese restaurant. A perfectly acceptable meal but unfortunately Adrian disgraced himself by knocking his glass of lemonade over the table and filling the nearly empty dish of chicken and cashew nuts! The only consoling feature was that the other 6 people dining in this large restaurant had by then left.
One thing we never like in hotels is the noise from other rooms. As I write this we are accompanied by snoring from the room next door - why when there is a group of 20 rooms in this block of which the other eighteen are empty do they put us next to each other?!!
Thursday 3rd April
- another long day in prospect and with unbroken blue skies. We planned to reach Kaikoura about 440 kilometres. The road was mountainous and still with views of snow-covered Southern Alps. We found a good site for a break after a couple of hours. Then onward with Jill doing some of the driving now we had reached the flat Canterbury plains. I think one stretch of straight road was 10 miles long. It was certainly quite different to home!
We arrived early afternoon well pleased with the progress made. On the occasions when views are available we have often opted for the view rather than price in selecting a motel. This was the case with the Anchor Inn motel which is on the sea front at the quieter and more attractive end of town. I type this with a picture window view of sea and mountains with only a very quiet road between us and the sea.
We thought we might visit the seal colony and set off walking. It proved to be nearly two miles each way, but that was good after so much sitting in a car. The seals were wisely but unhelpfully sitting on rocks about 75 yards off shore. However, one was asleep no more than 15 feet from the car park. He was on the grass and seemed unnoticed by the visitors. He stirred when we came within less than 10 feet and so we moved off again.
Friday 4th April
- again cloudless skies but Jill was not feeling well. We visited a house built pre- 1852 as a whaler's cottage. Fyffe House was the usual modest building but had some interest as it had largely been unaltered. We still wonder how two families each brought up 8 children in such a small house. Jill then felt a bit better so we rushed to try and get on a dolphin watching trip half an hour later. The conditions were perfect and soon we were in the midst of a large school of well over a hundred dolphins. It was amazing to see so many and the water was broken everywhere by fins and leaping and jumping dolphins. It was a really unique experience.
In the evening we went to a little restaurant in South Bay called Finz.
This had been recommended by the owners of the motel and Lonely Planet
commented that it was widely regarded by locals "as the best restaurant in
town and it's not hard to see why."
It has to be one of the best meals we have ever had.
Saturday 5th April
Jill was particularly keen to go on an Albatross trip. The weather was overcast but forecast as dry till the afternoon, so we went with the same company who had taken us the previous day. There were just a couple of older ladies and ourselves - obviously less popular with the young backpackers than swimming with dolphins.
We set out travelling at about 23 knots for probably 30 minutes. Then there was sight of a few birds. The skipper let loose a lot of fish liver and suddenly it was like a scene from the Hitchcock film! Birds of many descriptions swooped down from nowhere and the sea was thick with them. Amongst them were 2 or three albatrosses. Apparently having the largest wingspan of any bird (about 3 metres) it became clear that they were also number one in the pecking order. By the end we had 7 of them of three or so different species and also giant petrels and several other birds (we were given a list later). Again this was a really good and memorable trip. On the way back we had a close view of a large number of gannets and then several seals. All in all a great visit to Kaikoura.
Then on our way to Christchurch, using the road we had travelled 2 days earlier - the first duplicated section of road.
Christchurch was busy and wet. We had a very quick look at the centre before finding a Best Western motel called "Camelot" which was a very poor relation of the Las Vegas one but nevertheless quite satisfactory.
We occupy one of 4 octagonal turrets which comprises our lounge. We also have a separate bedroom.
After a good time to rest and read we had a reasonable meal at a nearby Thai restaurant.
Sunday 6th April
We were due to meet Tracey at noon at the cathedral and so we set out to see the botanical gardens that the girls had recommended. We found this very easily and walked through a large part of it to a museum that covered Maori, settlers, birds of New Zealand and a reconstruction Victorian shopping street in Christchurch.
It was a very good little museum and we spent a happy morning there until meeting Tracey. Jill had heard from Jo that she had to come to Christchurch this weekend and had suggested she join us. This duly happened and we all enjoyed a good and modest priced buffet lunch whilst much teaching news was exchanged.
We had planned to visit Banks Peninsula and were able to combine this with a brief stop at Tracey's home at Cass Bay - literally yards from the beach in an attractive little bay at the foot of attractive hills/mountains.
We wanted to reach Akaroa a small town with a French influence. By this time the rain that had started at lunch time had become heavy and blown by a fairly strong wind. The journey was about another 45 miles of which about one third was winding mountain road. Not a lot of fun in the teeming rain but we made it. Unfortunately the rain was if anything worse when we arrived at just after 5pm. We had been told of the attractive distant views but were unable to see them. The town appeared quaint with pretty clapboard buildings often brightly painted.
Adrian being keen to get the mountain road finished with whilst there was still some light, we set off again within half an hour back to Christchurch. Then packing for the next segment of this special holiday and goodbye to NZ.
Monday 7th April
A couple of rounds on the sightseeing tram largely concluded our visit to Christchurch. The driver, who provided the commentary, had a very good sense of humour and kept us amused as we went round in the cold and the wet. We got off to look at the old buildings of Canterbury University and peered into the courtyards of Christ's College school.
We returned the car and were soon on our flight to Australia.