Logo: Lobster cartoon
1 January 2005 :
Image: Auckland - Fireworks at SkyTower
I hadn't been able to update the website over the past few days ... hard to believe, but I'd reached the normal limit of memory. (Ironic, as I'd forgotten how much memory I was allowed).
Turns out that the 'lobster' site is now the biggest on the books of '2-minute-website.com'.
A few e-mails passed between USA and NZ, (and allowing for time-zone delays), the extra capacity has now been secured ... so I'm afraid there's going to be lots more on the site in the weeks and months ahead !
Finished off the day spending a few hours at the Sky City Casino. Manic. A huge floor area mingling with thousands of people. Many people were playing the Pokie machines, and the rest (primarily Japanese) round the various gaming tables. This was a good rehearsal for my trip to Las Vegas ! I was down about NZ$10 at the end of the session - about £3, which I didn't think was too bad !
2 January 2005 :
A morning of culture, as Jill and I went on a visit to the Auckland Art Gallery, which (according to the leaflet) holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of New Zealand and international art in the country.
A good mix of different styles, from the traditional (eg. colonial landscapes) to the more 'oblique'. (I explained to Jill how I had visited the Tate Modern, and could only understand a small proportion of the modern stuff ... to my untrained eye, a lot of modern art just seems to be plain wierd !).
I have to say though that there were only 1 or 2 paintings that didn't work for me in the Gallery, and I now will know if I see a 'Gordon Walters', a 'Gottfried Lindauer' or a 'Rhona Haszard' in the future.
We moved onto brunch/lunch at 'Mecca' (not sure if I sat facing east?) - popular for its european menu, so I opted for the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. Great.
Jill and I got our genealogical heads together during the afternoon, swapping information, and trying to solve some of the unsolved queries we both currently have with our Family Trees.
Dinner (joined by Wendy, who cooked) rounded off a very pleasant Sunday.
3 January 2005 :
Today is the first of two public holidays, since the New Year fell on a weekend.
I decided to take a trip across to Waiheke Island, involving a 40-minute trip out of the harbour by fast ferry.
On the boat, I was beginning to regret not bringing a jacket or jumper, as it got quite breezy. (I must've looked out of place, since everyone else I saw was well wrapped up). Still, by the time the boat docked at the Matiatia harbour, the sun was beginning to break through the mass of cloud, and it turned out quite warm.
You can hire cars and bikes (for 1 hour, 2 hours or all day) to get you round the island. It's not a big island, so the 1 hour hire is probably ample ! I jumped aboard the Route 1 bus and enjoyed the journey over the island, via Blackpool and Ostend (how cosmopolitan) to Onetangi.
Great place to chill out for a bit - for me, a good walk along the beach, back along 'The Strand', and then some quality rest time with my latest book at the (only) cafe.
Image: Onetangi Beach - you can be sure of Shells
Later on, I stopped off at Oneroa (the main town/village before the harbour, consisting of three restaurants and ten shops, and three estate agents). It's a place where everyone is totally relaxed. A popular getaway for all, whether for a day-trip or for a longer break.
Then it was a quick hop back on the bus for the return down to the harbour, timed perfectly to board the boat for the journey back to Auckland.
I walked back up Queens Street, only to find and hear a bagpiper playing 'Highland Cathedral'. Happy Hogmannay.
4 January 2005 :
Today is the second of two public holidays, since the New Year fell on a weekend. Unfortunately, I forgot, and felt a bit stupid walking all the way to the Post Office with a number of cards and packages to post only to find the place all shut up ! Oh well, I'll go back tomorrow.
A day to finalise my next travel plans, and to catch up again with e-mails etc.
5 January 2005 :
I needed to update my flight ticket, to allow more time in New Zealand (I had underestimated the amount of time I would need, exactly as I did with Australia).
So a quick visit to the QANTAS office was in order. Perhaps it was too soon after the festive break, as although ample staff were available to serve the large number of customers in the office, most of them had their heads buried in their computer monitors. Perhaps they were catching up on their unread e-mails ?
With the queue I was facing, anyone would think I was in a Bank.
So, my quick visit turned into a long visit prolonged when I had to be handed over to a different assistant in order to update the American leg of my trip. Fortunately, due to the delays in being served, they decided not to charge me the admin fee.
Now I knew I definitely wasnt in a Bank.
A great way to get around the centre of the city is, as I did today, to hop onto the City Circuit bus bright red in colour so you definitely cant miss it, the bus runs every 10 minutes, stops off at 9 different places, and best of all, its free of charge.
Spent my final evening in Auckland with Jill and Wendy at the Dolce Vita an Italian restaurant in the central business district. A great way to round off my time in the city.
6 January 2005 :
So, with bags packed and car collected, I was off back on the tourist trail again.
South out of Auckland, it was easy to escape on the Route 1 freeway, and within 45 minutes via Bombay and Mangatarata, I had arrived at the Coromandel Peninsula. The peninsula has its west coast on the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames, and its east coast on the Pacific Ocean.
Yesterdays queuing in the QANTAS office was a good rehearsal for the queue of traffic waiting to cross the single-lane bridge at Kopu (just before the town of Thames). It seems odd that the bridge hasnt been widened, especially as the road is the main artery between the Coromandel Peninsula and Auckland. Oh well, the time passed relatively quickly, especially as I had managed to find the latest local radio station there doesnt seem to be any national channels, so youre forever having to re-tune. Strange really, as most of them seem to have an identical play-list of the same classic hits.
Now heading north, the winding road hugged the coastline, often just metres away from the shore. Great views (despite the mist and rain). Concentration was vital, especially where the road narrowed. Up through Tapu and Kareta, I finally arrived at Coromandel town, to find crowds of people (perhaps this is the place where all the non-Aucklanders live?) it certainly is a place that attracts a great deal of people. Shame there doesnt seem to be a great deal of parking.
After admiring the various gold-rush-looking buildings, I headed out of the town to the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries. The main attraction is the narrow-gauge railway, which (having taken 25 years to build) twists and turns its way for 3kms around the hill and forest.
Image: Train at Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel
Finishing at the top of the hill at the amusingly named Eyefull Tower, you have 10 minutes to look at the panoramic view, not just down to Coromandel Town, but also across the Gulf towards Waiheke Island. You can also see below to the replanted Kauri trees the owners personal crusade to replace the forest that was destroyed during the colonial period.
A real branch line.
Once back in the car, I re-joined the road which continued to wend its way round the coast a bizarre moment at the brow of one hill, when I spotted a whole fish sitting in the middle of the road. Not sure how it got right up there maybe a big bird dropped its lunch out of its beak or maybe a passing angler was having a joke ?!
Having passed through Whangamata, Waihi, Katikati and Bethlehem, I decided to stop for the night at Tauranga, and booked into the Durham Motor Inn. Comfortable room, but the manager couldve done with some customer-focused training !
7 January 2005 :
After a quick look at Mount Maunganui down by the coast, it was a fairly easy (albeit long) drive along the Thermal Discovery Highway.
The roadsigns in New Zealand arent the best that Ive seen in the world, but I guessed I was near Rotorua, as the smell of bad eggs had permeated the car - I just hoped that it wasnt the after-effects of last nights curry.
There are a large number of visitor attractions in the area, all aimed to capture the tourist dollar my choice was the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve (also home to the New Zealand Arts & Crafts Institute).
Once through the entrance, and past the smell of frying bacon at the café (I dont expect anyone fancied the eggs), I started my visit at the Maori meeting house (Te Aronui a Rua), the Rotowhio Marae, and the Te Rito weaving house. All very interesting, as was the reconstructed Maori village.
The Kiwi Bird House gave me my first (and rare) opportunity of seeing New Zealands national bird, which normally only makes an appearance after dusk. The house is in virtual darkness to trick the kiwi into thinking its night, but there was sufficient light to see the tail-less bird prodding around in the ground. Fascinating.
Unfortunately, all photography is forbidden in the Kiwi house, so I wasnt able to take any pictures. You wouldve needed a flash in any case, as it was so dark. Thankfully though, there were no restrictions at the rest of the site.
Lots of bubbling mud pools.
Lots of silica terraces.
Lots of geysers, including the big Pohutu, with plenty of steam rising into the air.
I finished the visit with a look around Te Wananga Whakairo the carving school, where young trainees learn all there is to know about the traditional woodwork. The favoured timber used for Maori wood carving is the native totara and the intricate patterns carved are all derived from aspects of the living, natural world.
Back in the car and with keys in the ignition, I then made my way to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley for a walk. Good job I had a spring in my step.
This was a pleasant surprise, especially as it was a bit off the beaten track. A path wound its way down through thick trees, until you reached various pools again with the now-customary plumes of steam. It was even possible to put your hand into the stream it was pleasantly hot.
The highlight was the Inferno Crater Lake, which was remarkably blue.
Water, water, everywhere.
Rain continued. I dont care.
Another tourist venue calls
So, off I drive to Huka Falls.
Image: Huka Falls
A quick drive across the junction (sorry, I mean intersection) and I was at my final visitor attraction of the day - the oddly-named Craters of the Moon Scenic Reserve. One of the strangest places Ive ever been to, with a long path weaving its way around the various holes and mounds, all with steam rising into the air. Weird.
Image: Craters of the Moon
Yet more rain, but at least it wasnt cold so, no need for thermals.
8 January 2005 :
Although I was now at Taupo (right on the edge of Lake Taupo, the largest inland water in New Zealand), I decided to take the long drive across country to Waitomo, to see the caves. I had seen a lot of publicity advertising the caves whilst I was in Auckland, so was curious to see what it was all about.
It took about 2 hours to get there, along very quiet roads for most of the time (I passed just five cars in one 40km stretch). Once parked, and with ticket bought, I had to queue for the next general tour (pre-booked coach tours got priority). The place is certainly popular with the Japanese contingent, though I dont think they were too keen on the place once they heard that all photography was banned. There were lots of unused Nikons hanging round necks.
The highlight of the visit was the boat trip to see the glow-worms tens of thousands of them hanging from the ceiling of the caves. I was disappointed that the boat trip only lasted 5 minutes, but then again, the glow-worms dont do too much, apart from glow ! Still, it was an amazing sight.
I had bought a combined ticket to include the Caves Museum unfortunately, it ranks amongst the worst Ive visited (on a par with the official Loch Ness Visitor Centre!), and took just 10 minutes to see everything.
My tip for prospective visitors is not to do the whole trip, but just the hole trip.
9 January 2005 :
I enjoyed the long drive this morning from Taupo to Napier. This was the first time in New Zealand that I had felt that I was out in the BIG country.
Image: A view from Taupo to Napier road
Napier is a great little city, full of art deco architecture. A major earthquake hit the region in 1931, and the city was rebuilt in the style of the time. There was a good exhibition about the earthquake in the Hawkes Bay Museum, including a half-hour video of survivors and their memories.
Very poignant at times.
There were a lot of other non-earthquake items on display, especially through each of the decades of the 20th century. Lots of things I recognised from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Very frightening at times !
Later on, I managed to time my visit to the National Aquarium with feeding-time. Good view from the moving walkway, with the various marine life swimming all around.
Image: Feeding time at the Aquarium, Napier
Image: Swimming fish at National Aquarium, Napier
Great to see the different fish, sharks and seahorses.
And another opportunity to see a kiwi. Strange really, as I didnt think they lived in water !
Click here for more info on National Aquarium of New Zealand
10 January 2005 :
Rain . yet more rain. There was a promise of fining up, but it never materialised.
I battled my way across to the town of Hastings, where I would be based for the next two days. I have an appointment to keep tomorrow.
With umbrella in hand, I had a walk round the town, including a trip to the library to find out more about the 1931 earthquake. I passed a television shop, and noticed that Monarch of the Glen was being shown (makes a change from Mr.Bean that seemed to be everywhere in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia) thats amongst all the various Christmas Hamper adverts that are still being played at every commercial break !
11 January 2005 :
Met up today with Clint Astridge, one of twin-brother Nicks mates, and former overseas player with Pulborough Cricket Club. Clint lives in Hastings, and kindly agreed to show me around the place.
We headed first for the Te Mata Peak, probably the best vantage point in the region. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, on a clear day you can see all of Hawkes Bay across to the Mahia Peninsula and to Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park. Shame it wasnt a clear day ! However, ignoring the mist and drizzle I was able to make out Hastings and Napier in the distance, and quite a lot of the coastline.
Image: Hawke's Bay from Te Mata Peak
Next stop was Ocean Beach miraculously, it had cleared up, and we were able to walk for a bit down on the sand. Quite a narrow road down to the beach, home of many baches. It was also possible to see Bare Island named for its lack of population, rather than any nudist connotations.
Image: Ocean Beach and Bare Island
For lunch, we went to the Sileni Estate, one of the many wineries in the Hawkes Bay region. Very good meal soup followed by the lamb, accompanied by a glass of the local grape juice. Suitably stuffed (blame the desserts), we then moved onto Napier, and after a few wrong turns, we arrived at the Bluff Hill lookout - good view out to the bay, and down to the port, but no real view of Napier itself.
Wine tasting was next on the agenda, so we stopped off at Park Estate winery on the way back to Hastings. We sampled four wines Sauvignon Blanc; Cabernet Franc; Pinotage; Pinot Noir. All very good, but I preferred the Pinotage, and came away with two bottles of it.
Clint went off to his cricket practice, then met up later in the evening for a curry (at the Bollywood Stars). Final venue for the day was the Breakers bar, where we supplemented the pool games with a few bevvies. We were challenged to a doubles match by a couple of the local oiks, and we unfortunately lost 2-1.
Image: Clint and Jeremy at Breaker's, Hastings
But I am pleased to confirm that the England v New Zealand singles match finished in favour of the mother country, with a 2-1 victory.
12 January 2005 :
Woke up this morning with a muzzy head . I cant imagine it had anything to do with yesterdays wine and beer consumption. At least (and at last) the sky was clear, even if my head wasnt.
Objective for today was to get to the city of Palmerston North, a halfway stop on my way to the capital Wellington which Im aiming to reach by tomorrow, 13th.
Decided that I would stop on the way at the brow of a hill where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed, and swallowed mountains, known as the Land Eater, played his flute in memory to his brother who died in battle.
Fortunately, this place name has been abbreviated to
Claimed by the locals as the longest place name in the world, it is to my knowledge beaten into second place by the full proper name of Bangkok, in Thailand : Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnopparatrajathani-buriromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit
(which means : The great city of angels, the supreme unconquerable land of the great immortal divinity (Indra), the royal capital of nine noble gems, the pleasant city, with plenty of grand royal palaces, and divine paradises for the reincarnated deity (Vishnu), given by Indra and created by the god of crafting (Visnukarma)).
I've only used a hyphen to ensure it fits on the webpage !
Many of the places Ive been to (or through) in New Zealand appear to lay claim to some sort of record (the first/best/biggest/longest etc) on this occasion theyve definitely been caught out.
Saying that, its definitely longer than the Welsh place name of Llanfair PG known in full to one and all as Llanfairpwllgwyngllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch !
I enjoyed the rest of the drive to Palmerston North - passing through the Viking 'enclave' of Dannevirke (you're greeted with the sight of a viking longboat at the entrance of the town, seemingly in honour of the first European settlers in the area), to Woodville (where a new Wind Farm - Te Apiti - has been constructed on top of the nearby hills), and on through a very steep gorge (the Manawatu Gorge) with its sheer drop off the edges of the road. I had to keep watching out for the bits of road that had suffered the effects of subsidence ! A railway winds its way along the edge of the cliff on the other side of the river - no doubt giving passengers a few similar hairy moments.
Palmerston North has the feeling of a large town (although technically it's a city), but it's nothing much to write home about. So, therefore, I won't write much about it! There's a big square in the centre, with a large concrete building (council offices) straddled across the road. Lots of shops, and lots of accommodation options.
13 January 2005 :
Set off early today, heading down south on the last bit of the North Island, to reach the capital city of Wellington.
However, I promised Ross (E) back in Scotland that I would try and get to the Gladstone Vineyard - run by parents of someone who worked briefly at Scottish Widows.
I'm glad I took the detour, even though it was over 120kms (!), as the road between Upper Hutt and Featherston must rank as one of the most 'Italian Job-esque' drives in the world. With more hairpins than a Toni&Guy salon, the road weaves its way round many huge hills - all the more exciting when you have a logging truck heading straight for the front of your car !
Halfway along, you reach the summit - I got out to take a picture, but didn't stay long - although deceived by the blue sky above, the strength of the wind was like being right in the middle of a wind tunnel. (Not surprising really, bearing in mind how the wind must get funnelled right through the valley). It was one of those "nearly lost the door off the car" moments.
Image: View at the Summit on the Upper Hutt to Featherston road
Once through Featherston and Greytown (it must've been a miserable day when they named that place?), it was a short trip to find the Gladstone Vineyard, a few kilometres outside the town of Carterton.
Although Gail Kernohan (who worked at SW) wasn't there, I was pleased to meet her parents, David and Christine. They emigrated from Glasgow over 25 years ago, and now proudly manage over 11 acres of vines. Oh, and I took the chance to sample a few of the wines (it would've been rude not to).
CLICK HERE for more info on the Gladstone Vineyard (www.gladstone.co.nz)
Disappointed to find out that the Kernohans met up a few days earlier at Taupo with Paula Sutherland, another colleague from my Scottish Widows days, who was out in New Zealand on hols. By my calculation, I must've been just a few miles apart. Small world. Shame that our paths didn't cross - finding out about this must be something to do with the fact that today is the 13th!
Oh, and I heard today about Prince Henry (more usually known as Harry) and his unlucky choice of an 'NZ' costume (a fluffy kiwi ? an all-black rugby player ?) for a party. Of course, I may have some of the facts wrong.
And to think I nearly ran over the third in line to the British throne a couple of years ago in Eton when driving back to Chatham from a meeting in Bristol with colleague Karen. He really shouldn't have stepped out in front of a moving vehicle.
Luck won't always be on his side.
(Oh, and all the hullabaloo in the media about Prince Harry kept the fact that there were no WMDs found in Iraq out of the headlines - I can imagine Messrs Bush and Blair were probably happy about that .... one of those "it's a good day to bury bad news" scenarios). My name's (not) Ben Elton ... goodnight!
To get to Wellington, I had to back-track through the valley (no stopping at the summit this time) - why does the same journey always seem quicker on the way back ?
Anyhow, I got checked into the accommodation, dumped my bags, and dropped off the car.
I had reserved the studio apartment at a huge discount using www.wotif.com. In fact, it worked out less than £20 per night. Great tip for anyone staying in cities - check out serviced apartment options rather than hotels. You'll be amazed at how much money you can save, especially doing late-minute bookings on websites such as "wotif".
The room I was allocated was clearly not ready. I complained (politely, of course). Went for a walk in the city. Got back. The room was still in an unready state. I complained again (giving another opportunity for everything to be put right). So, I went for another walk. After five hours in total had elapsed since originally checking-in, the room still remained un-ready. Jeremy remained displeased ! It was time for a meeting with the manager.
Apologies were forthcoming.
An alternative room would be found.
"Would you be happy with a 2-bed apartment?".
"It's on the 8th floor, and it's got a balcony".
"Fully fitted kitchen, laundry facilities".
"... and Mr.Cousins, there would be no extra charge due to the inconvenience suffered".
(I should hope not!)
Perhaps the 13th wasn't so unlucky after all ?
"And you can stay in the new room for the four nights of your booking. Alright ?"
Go on then ... twist my arm !
13 is DEFINITELY now my lucky number.
14 January 2005 :
Having spent quite a bit of time yesterday afternoon wandering round Wellington, I felt that I had a good grasp of where most things would be found. Well, it couldnt be easier to locate the famous Cable Car in fact, the track for it passed by eight floors below my room. I just had to find where the track actually started. Fortunately, it wasnt too far away, and was reasonably well signposted.
Image: Cable Car at Kilburn stop, Wellington
With only three stops, its just a five-minute trip to the top. Youre greeted at the stop at the top (Kilburn) with arguably one of the best views of the city, especially if its a clear day, which fortunately it was when I was there. Im still slightly disappointed that it wasnt a clear day when I went on a similar journey in Hong Kong.
In fact, the sun today was turned to the roast setting (time for the slip, slap, slop routine), and the strong winds of yesterday had kindly disappeared.
Apart from the view, I was also greeted by a couple of the local tourist guides, who were there simply to give out leaflets and point people in the right direction. I was pointed in the direction of the Cable Car museum a small but well organised display of the history of the Wellington cable car, housed in and above the existing wheel room.
One of the entrances to the Botanic Gardens can also be found at the Kilburn stop, and just inside is the Carter Observatory, ideal for any stargazers. I decided not to do the tour around the observatory - well, it was sunny outside, and I didnt think I would see any stars ! I did, however, get involved in the modern sundial situated outside the main building. Its been constructed so that you stand in the centre, on the appropriately marked date, hold your arms up high, and the shadow created points to the actual time. It was a quarter past eleven in the morning. (Yes, I did check by looking at my watch). Perhaps not surprisingly, the sundial has the grand title of The Sundial of Human Involvement.
After a spot of lunch, I made my way to Te Papa the national museum of New Zealand. Opened in new waterfront premises in 1998, Te Papa (also known as Our Place) has an excellent mix of exhibits, many of which are interactive. Permanent displays (such as the Maori section) are set alongside temporary items in large open-plan areas on five different floors. All very well presented.
Image: Corned Beef bull at Te Papa, Wellington
Theres a brilliant section on earthquakes, which includes an interactive shaking house. Hold on tight. Free leaflets are available so that you can Quake safe your house. Tips include not forgetting to place your goldfish bowl on a non-slip mat ! If you need to find out how to protect your house, just log onto the NZ Earthquake Commissions website at www.eqc.govt.nz
Fix, fasten, forget.
Theres also one other section of the museum I particularly liked, which explored the different ways of securing NZ immigration rights.
So, I completed all the questions.
Various lights then illuminated on the electronic scoreboard.
I failed on all counts.
15 January 2005 :
Started the day in Cuba Street with a breakfast at Fidels. This is one of the more trendy parts of Wellington a contrast to the office block zones of the central business district.
Took the cable car up to Kilburn again, but then enjoyed the pleasant walk back down to the city via the Botanic Gardens. The well-signposted trail goes through several different parks (as well as a small section along the main road) perhaps the most interesting part was walking through the Bolton Street Memorial Park. Its a cemetery that dates back to the earliest days of Wellington (used between 1840 and 1892). Its a place that didnt get in the way of modern development its now split into two, with a motorway carved right through the middle (3700 bodies had to be re-interred) so much for a safe resting place !
The trail finally ends at The Terrace, one of the main streets of Wellington, and right by the seat of Government. The most prominent of the parliament buildings is called The Beehive, as thats exactly what its shaped like.
Image: The Beehive, Wellington
It was designed by a British architect (Sir Basil Spence) and took eleven years to build. Another one of Basil's marvels is the Scottish Widows building in Dalkeith Road. Enough said !
Spent the rest of the day along by the waterfront (where several of the Global Challenge boats were on dry land for repairs, having survived the latest portion of the race, all the way from Buenos Aires).
I also caught up with the latest batch of e-mails, including one from another distant relative (one I wasnt previously aware of) who turned out to live in New South Wales.
16 January 2005 :
A quiet day today.
And particularly quiet at 1.59pm local time, when New Zealand and Australia joined together in one minutes silence for the victims of the recent Asian tsunami.
17 January 2005 :
Bit of an early morning panic. On Saturday, I went online to book my Interisland ferry ticket and the boat was due to leave at 9.30 this morning. Unfortunately, I hadnt received confirmation of the booking, and there was no record of my booking when I checked-in at the Ferry Terminal. I had to buy another ticket, much to my annoyance.
Turns out that I was sent an e-mail yesterday telling me to buy a ticket at the check-in, as there was a problem with the online facilities. I eventually found the e-mail (written by a Glenn Campbell) in the Auto-Spam folder that AOL had set up. Moral of the story if youre expecting an e-mail that hasnt arrived, always check the Spam folder before losing your rag with the originator !
Its a 3-hour trip across the Cook Strait, between the North Island (from Wellington) and the South Island (to Picton). With the shape/location of the two islands, you actually finish up further north at the end of the journey. Whilst the open-sea part of the journey was quite choppy, the last part is much smoother, at a lower speed, through the Marlborough Sound. Beautiful scenery.
Image: Marlborough Sound, New Zealand
Picked up my latest hire car once I had picked up my bag off the carousel. Déjà vu, as the car was identical (make and colour) to the one I had dropped off in Wellington just a few days earlier. This one, though, had a dent in the door, which (typically?) hadnt been recorded by the hire car company on the documentation. I set off down State Highway 1 once the papers were put in order.
About 50 kilometres past Blenheim, the road becomes coastal, and you drive with the Pacific Ocean on your left-hand side. The railway also weaves its way down the coast.
Once I had watched the seals at the Ohau Point Lookout, I ended up at the town of Kaikoura, where I would stay for the next two nights at (of course) the Lobster Inn.
Image: Lobster Inn, Kaikoura
Theres a lot of wildlife to watch in Kaikoura I ended up watching Billy Connolly (and his world trip of Australia).
18 January 2005 :
It was a short trip round the Kaikoura Peninsula to watch the seal colony. It was then a short walk up the hill to the Viewpoint, where a sign confronted me with the question Is this the best view in New Zealand? I didnt feel I could answer at this stage, especially with so much more yet to see, but I would bear it in mind ! Its fair to say that the view across the bay to Kaikoura, with the mountain ranges behind, certainly provides a truly impressive sight.
I booked myself onto an afternoon Whale Watching trip although there is no guarantee of sightings, the chances of spotting whales are high due to the specific marine environment off the Kaikoura coast.
The trip started at the old railway station, re-named (by Elma Fudd ?) as the Whaleway Station. After a short bus ride, it was all aboard the boat, and once all seated we were off ! The previous trip had been successful with a sperm whale being spotted about 8 miles off the coast, so thats where we were headed to first. Very choppy out in the Pacific Ocean we were all warned before the trip started that we might encounter a few bumps. I was happy to encounter the bumps, so long as I could encounter the whales.
We slowed right down once we reached the designated area. Fortunately the swell had reduced, so we were able to step outside to start our search. Well, we didnt have to wait long before the first whale was spotted in the distance.
Image: Sperm Whale Pic#1
Image: Sperm Whale Pic#2
Its fair to say that you dont see much of the whale, bearing in mind that most of its body remains under water. What you do see is the spray coming out of its blowhole, as well as a small amount of the top of its body. Nevertheless, I felt extremely privileged that I was so close to such a magnificent creature. Jaw-dropping stuff.
It was identified as a sperm whale, about 20 metres in length. We kept our distance so that it didnt feel threatened by our presence. The whale stayed on the surface for about 10 minutes, before starting to descend. You get to see the tail for just a few seconds, and then its gone.
Image: Sperm Whale - Dive Pic#1
About half an hour later, we were extremely lucky to spot another whale in the distance. As before, we approached very slowly, and only from the side - never head-on. The engines were cut. We then just floated on the surface, all with cameras at the ready, marvelling at the sight in front of us.
Image: Sperm Whale Pic#3
Image: Sperm Whale Pic#4
For a moment, I did just question whether we should all be here, so close, and invading its territory but I decided this organised sightseeing trip was infinitely better than the whaling activities that used to take place. (Of course, some so-called developed countries still undertake commercial whaling, although they claim its for scientific research. I still havent worked out how they can keep justifying the culling that takes place after all, how much research do you need to repeat to understand the whales body, metabolism, diet etc ?!)
Every so often, an albatross would fly by another impressive sight with its massive wingspan.
Eventually, the whale decided that the photo session was at an end, and disappeared but not before giving us one more flick of the tail.
Image: Sperm Whale - Dive Pic#2
In our final half-hour, four beaked whales were spotted about one mile away from the boat unfortunately, they disappeared under the surface just as we were approaching. We hung around for about 15 minutes to see if they would make a re-appearance, but it wasnt to be. Sadly, the allocated time was at an end, and we all had to return to shore.
Never mind, we were fortunate (and very lucky) to see the two sperm whales. Everyone was extremely happy to have shared these special moments.
CLICK HERE for more info on WhaleWatch® Kaikoura Ltd.
19 January 2005 :
Time to move on. Continuing south down State Highway 1, the first part of todays drive was along very dramatic coastline. Sharing the edge of the ocean with the railway, the road subsequently moved inland into farming country. Sheep, sheep, and yet more sheep. I decided that it was best not to start counting them, especially whilst driving.
Through Cheviot, and onwards to Amberley (a bit bigger than its namesake beneath the South Downs in West Sussex), I was now in the Canterbury Region. Once past Pegasus Bay, I eventually reached Christchurch, although I did have to drive through Belfast first.
I booked into a motel for the next 3 nights it was quite comfortable, and had an excellent 88-dish buffet in the restaurant, so I was spoilt for choice just a shame that their selection of background music wasnt as good.
20 January 2005 :
Christchurch is called the Garden City. Well, there are certainly a lot of green spaces. Its also said to be the most English of the New Zealand cities. I can see why when looking at a lot of the architecture. Many of the street names would also not look out of place back in the UK.
The restored trams that run in a loop round the city centre are from a bygone era (not one I remember, Im not THAT old !) a 2-day ticket costs NZ$12.50, enabling you to get on and off at any of the 11 stops.
Image: Tram at Christchurch
The main hub of the city is Cathedral Square, dominated as you would probably guess by the Christ Church cathedral. It was completed in 1881, having taken 23 years to plan and build, and was named after the Oxford University college in the UK. Inside, its an interesting mix between Anglican (Pakeha) and Pacific (Maori and Polynesian), with the various artworks around the walls and in the chapels expressing the different cultures.
Image: Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch
I had to pay extra for a camera permit, as well as for entry to the Tower Climb. A total of 134 narrow and winding steps gave access to the four small viewing platforms. Vertigo included at no extra charge.
A new addition to the Square is The Chalice a modern and very striking blue-painted steel millennium monument.
There are, as you would expect, many souvenir shops in the centre of Christchurch, punctuated by cafés, restaurants and tourist information offices. The Square itself is pedestrianised, so theres quite a few kiosks, as well as open spaces for buskers and performers. Good job too, as the World Busking Festival was just kicking off. Some were very good, others need to find proper work !
Taking the tram, I stopped off at the Canterbury Museum, and it was also the same stop for the Botanic Gardens. Christchurch is hardly a Hustle and Bustle city, but the Gardens do provide a welcome breathing space, especially down by the river to watch the punts go by.
21 January 2005 :
I turned on the breakfast news this morning to hear reports of an earthquake (5.5 on the Richter scale) in Wellington just before 8am.
By 8.30am, the only thing that could be fully reported on was that one resident saw her fridge move right across her kitchen. Thinking back to my visit to Te Papa, I just hoped all the people in Wellington had read their Fix, fasten, forget brochure, secured their homes in time, and remembered to place their goldfish bowls on non-slip mats.
I didnt get to see any goldfish at the Southern Encounter Aquarium & Kiwi House (situated in one corner of Cathedral Square), but they did have a couple of Spiny Rock Lobsters, as well as a much bigger specimen a Packhorse Lobster.
Image: Packhorse Lobster, Christchurch
The kiwi section was closed off, and is only opened to the public when the bird wakes up. It stayed asleep, so we stayed out.
Te Puna O Waiwhetu (also known as the Christchurch Art Gallery) was well worth the visit brand new premises housing a plethora of New Zealand items not only permanent exhibits (such as the ubiquitous Gordon Walters), but travelling displays as well. One example was Boom : Banking on Art in the 80s, which I had only recently seen at Auckland (or maybe it was Wellington ? I forget). I still think it may be following me around the country. This collection was accumulated by the Bank of New Zealand during the 1980s, hence the name.
Christchurch is a good place for culture.
I noticed a poster advertising a forthcoming concert by Kiri Te Kanawa, in a piano recital with Brian Castles-Onion. I imagine there wont be a dry eye in the house. (Oh, if anyone is possibly wondering what Val Doonican is up to these days, hes also touring New Zealand in the near future).
Although I had only been here for a couple of days, I decided I liked the place.
Christchurch. Endorse it.
22 January 2005 :
It was a long drive today down half of the South Islands east coast, from Christchurch all the way down to Dunedin. The highway takes you through the Canterbury Plains (very flat), passing places such as Chertsey, Hinds, Geraldine (where I stopped for a coffee) and Winchester. A mix of rolling countryside and ocean views.
The oddest sign was for Waimate Region, known as Wallaby Country funny, as I hadnt realised New Zealand had any.
Onwards, through St.Andrews and Herbert, into the Otago Region.
Palmerston (much smaller than Palmerston North, and with hardly any concrete) was one of the last places before finally arriving at the Edinburgh of the South.
Image: Statue of Robert Burns, Dunedin
At the Octagon (geometrically beating the Square in Christchurch), Robert Burns sits prominently just in front of the cathedrals steps. Many writers make a great deal about the fact that hes facing the pub, and has his back to the church. Great observation ! But, how many statues do you know in front of churches and cathedrals that face inwards ? Not many, I bet.
I went to the Tourist Information office to arrange a couple of trips for tomorrow, and I then bought a copy of the local newspaper the Otago Daily Times. The main story ? Well, there was major consternation that jobs were being lost at a local fish processing plant. An award must surely follow for the papers front-page headline of Job losses announced workers are gutted.
23 January 2005 :
My first trip of the day was out right to the end of the Otago Peninsula, to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head. Its the only place in the world where an Albatross colony can be found on the mainland and more remarkable bearing in mind how close its situated to a city.
This particular conservation project has won numerous awards, and the entry fee goes towards future developments.
The escorted tour starts with a video, and then you walk up a steep hill to the observatory. It was just possible to make out a couple of birds sitting in the long grass about 30 metres away.
Image: Albatross, Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula
The albatross is definitely a big bird, with a wingspan of up to 3 metres. I only got to see one fly, and I was looking through my binoculars at the time, so unfortunately there is no picture of the event. It soared in a way that LloydsTSB shares haven't done for years ! A calm day in January is not the best time to see them. Theres not much flying going on due to the lack of wind, and incubation of the eggs means a lot of sitting around (for the birds, as well as the visitors). The parents share the incubation, which lasts for eleven weeks, during which the non-sitting parent can be away for up to eight days at a time collecting food.
The Guide shared lots of information, including the fact that the Royal Albatrosss other home is to be found on the Chatham Islands, a few hundred miles east (the Islands being a part of New Zealand). Well it was certainly a change to see THESE Chatham birds not wearing shell-suits, white stilettos, and cigarettes hanging out the corner of their mouths !!
CLICK HERE for more information on the Royal Albatross Centre
The site of the Observatory was also home to a military fort, built in the nineteenth century on fears of invasion by (would you believe?) the Russians. A few parts of the fort remain, most of it being built underground, including the main attraction of an Armstrong Disappearing Gun. Best to see it in person rather than trying to explain it here !
Oh, and you probably know that the Russians never invaded.
Later on, I went to visit Larnach Castle, proudly advertised as New Zealands only castle. From a UK perspective, its really just a big house built between 1871 and 1887. Designed by William Larnach (who had emigrated from England), it was to rival the home of his uncle and mentor Sir Donald Larnach, that of Brambletye in Sussex.
William Larnach was a successful landowner, Minister of the Crown, banker, financier and merchant.
Image: Larnach Castle, Otago Peninsula
Photography is not permitted inside the building, but it was possible to take some snaps once you reached the roof, which was accessed via a very narrow spiral staircase. Good views across the Otago Peninsula, as well as down to the neat gardens below.
The castle had fallen into disrepair during the 20th Century, and its thanks to the current owners who bought the place in 1967 that Larnach Castle is only now returning to some semblance of its former glory.
And what happened to William Larnach ? He shot himself.
CLICK HERE for more info on Larnach Castle
24 January 2005 :
Woke up to the smell of chocolate, only to find that Cadburys had a factory just around the corner. So I went into the Visitors Centre, and booked onto one of their factory tours.
I was disappointed to find no sign of Willy Wonka, the Oompa Loompas, or characters such as Augustus Gloop. And the closest I got to golden tickets was the wall of Crunchie® bars at the entrance. (They have hokey pokey inside their Crunchies here, and it tastes exactly the same as the honeycomb back home. I wonder if the UK version actually has honey or honeycomb in it ? If not, one for misleading labelling perhaps ? Then again, what the heck is hokey pokey ?!)
After a quick video, looking at the history of chocolate and the various producers (originally, the three main ones being Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree, all Quaker families) we were taken round the different areas of the factory and the distribution warehouse and at various stages, given free bars of chocolate.
This was another tour where cameras were not permitted, so there are no shots of the Cadbury buttons machine, the CurlyWurly machine, or the Moro machine (Moro is very popular in New Zealand, and I would say that it's a bit like a Mars bar). I couldnt even take a picture of the ton of liquid chocolate cascading just a few feet in front of me. So youll have to make do with an old chocolate vehicle that was parked outside.
Image: Cadbury vehicle, Dunedin
I believe that Tim Burton is about to re-make the film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I dont think hell be using the Dunedin factory for any location work its all quite clinical (thanks no doubt to the Health and Safety regulations). That being said, it was very interesting to see how the various products are made and marketed. But I still prefer Belgian chocolates !
Later on, I went to look at the Cathedral (St.Pauls) and then went to the cinema to see the film Alexander, which was Great.
I went from Alexander in the afternoon to an Ale Wander in the evening, as I went on the 7pm tour of the Speights Brewery. As with the Cadbury tour, you had to watch a short video, and hear about the history of Speights, founded in 1876. Interesting background information. And the Guide shared interesting facts as we walked round the different levels of the Brewery.
Having worked up a thirst, we ended up in the bar, sampling six different beers, with an opportunity to see their latest Pride of the South television adverts and no rush, as we were the last tour of the day.
We learned that one of the main factors for the beers taste is the spring water they use a spring with high quality water is located right beneath the brewery. Locals protested a few years ago, so theres now a water tap right outside the brewery door. People apparently come from miles around to fill up on Speights Water and they queued up a few years ago on April Fools Day when it was announced that beer would be coming out of the tap.
As I was leaving, I noticed a Liquor Restriction sign right outside their front door well, I dont think I imagined it ?!
25 January 2005 :
Image: View near Oyster Bay, Otago Peninsula
I set out this morning back along the Otago Peninsula, past the many small bays and inlets, sandy beaches and rugged hills, all the way to the end at Taiaroa Head. I wasnt going there to watch the albatross colony again, but instead I was booked onto the Natures Wonders tour, arranged yesterday when I popped into the Dunedin i-Site Visitor Centre. I was aiming to watch the famous (but rare) yellow-eyed penguins. Situated on a working farm, this privately run conservation trip gives you the chance not only to see the penguins, but also seals, sea lions, and other local wildlife. The hour and a half drive round the farm was on an 8-wheeled buggy perfect for when we needed to go up and down very steep inclines. At various stages, we got fantastic 360° panoramic views, including out towards Cape Saunders, one of the so-called Four Corners of the earth, being the most south-easterly point in New Zealand.
Theres no guarantee of what we were going to see after all, its a visit to natural habitat rather than a zoo. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we were all searching with our binoculars, the yellow-eyed penguins didnt make an appearance. They clearly ARE rare ! We couldnt even spot one on Penguin Beach but at least I got to see one of their Blue Penguin cousins, which was huddled up underneath the base of one of the hides.
The highlight was seeing Fur Seal pups, visible just a few feet in front of us. They were only a few months old their older relatives, of which we could see loads, were basking in the sun down by the edge of the water.
Image: Seal Pups at 'Natures Wonders' Tour
Once I had got back to Dunedin, I was able to head off down State Highway 1, and onto the Scenic Coastal Route. This is a well-signposted 321-kilometre drive to the lake resort of Te Anau, via the southern city of Invercargill. Unsealed in many places, the route winds its way round the picturesque coastline, and through fairly remote countryside.
I was really glad for taking the detour down to Nugget Point. A 20-minute walk along a narrow and winding cliff path was rewarded with fantastic views from the lighthouse, with the sound of the crashing waves competing with the sound of seals barking at the base of the cliffs below. I was looking out at the South Pacific, and it was "Bali Ha'i" !
Image: View at Nugget Point
The Scenic Route cannot be hurried, especially when you reach stages of the road that have not been sealed. I eventually arrived in Invercargill late in the afternoon as with Dunedin, Scottish immigrants had heavily impacted its growth, and many of the street names (such as Tay St., Dee St., Clyde St., and Balmoral Drive) reflected this influence. However, unlike Dunedin, the shops I saw in Invercargill werent dressed up in tartan, called Ye Olde Scottish Shoppe or something similar, and didnt have bagpipe music playing through their speakers.
26 January 2005 :
There was one further bit of road to go in order to reach the most southerly point of mainland New Zealand so off I drove the 27kms down to the town of Bluff. Above the town, there is a viewpoint (the Bluff Hill Lookout), which I visited, but most people head for the Lands End international signpost. I knew I was a long way from home, but confirmation that I was nearly 19,000 kilometres (12,000 miles) away from London really put my journey and current location into perspective.
Image: International Signpost at Bluff
The harbour at Bluff is where you can catch ferries across to the national park of Stewart Island (Rakiura māori for land of the glowing skies), which is about an hour away across the Foveaux Strait. I caught the 11am ferry, and it arrived on time exactly one hour later at Half Moon Bay at the township of Oban.
The island reminds me very much of the two small Channel Islands of Herm and Sark very peaceful - there are a number of cars, but its the sort of place where two cars meeting at an intersection constitutes a rush hour. Its not the Land that Time Forgot, but its certainly a place where you can forget all about the rat race.
Image: Oban, Stewart Island, NZ
After a spot of lunch at the Church Hill café, a look round the Visitors Centre, and a good walk round the town, I was able to sit on the green in front of the harbour, relaxing in the sunshine, looking at a clear blue cloudless sky, and watching the boats bobbing around in the water. It was idyllic. The only noises were the odd car passing, the infrequent bird song (if you ignore the frequent screeching of the seagulls), and every so often the creaking of a playground swing in the distance.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had reached the farthest position south on my trip. I had, after all, decided long ago that I would not be visiting Antarctica. It would have to wait for another time
27 January 2005 :
A shorter drive today compared to that of yesterday, and early morning mist did shroud a lot of the countryside, until the sun broke through just before mid-day. I could still see fields and fields of sheep, although there would be times when Id be driving along and have to double-take when I suddenly spotted farms specialising in alpaca, deer, or (on one occasion) elk. A lot of farms are clearly diversifying from traditional lamb production.
I did stop briefly at the hamlet of Nightcaps to buy a drink and a pack of biscuits I was taken aback when a customer started talking to me thinking I was one of the shop assistants, and did I know where the bin bags were ? Strange place.
Before reaching Te Anau, I suddenly found myself driving along the edge of Lake Manapouri a wide expanse of water, and (according to the memorial plaque in one of the car parks) sight of New Zealands greatest environmental battle. The Save Manapouri campaign 1959-1972 involved thousands of New Zealanders from all walks of life, saving Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau from being raised for the purposes of hydro-electric generation.
Well, Lake Manapouri looked great at its current level, as did Lake Te Anau at the town of Te Anau a place where I would stay for the next two nights, and where the Southern Scenic Route finished (or started).
Image: Lake Te Anau
I had arrived in the Fiordland region, and it was the first time I had felt that I was in Lord of the Rings territory. Sure, I had seen a lot of promotional items and guidebooks being sold in shops, particularly in the South Island, and I had encountered many German tourists, who as fans of the film trilogy are now flocking to New Zealand in droves. However, the amazing scenery which I recalled seeing in the film was now starting to be visible to me. I had been to Auckland maybe I was now in Ork-Land ?
28 January 2005 :
Set out early this morning, as I needed two and a half hours to cover the 120kms up to Milford Sound where I had booked a place on a boat trip. Relatively slow progress on the drive up, not only because of all the twists and turns in the mountain roads, especially as you get closer to the Sound, but also because of the early morning mist. You also have to queue up at the Homer Tunnel, where the lights only change every 15 minutes. The tunnel was opened in 1954, is over 1200 metres long, and descends in a 1 in 10 gradient. You can still see where all the rock was hewn away in the tunnel, and there are quite a few places where water drips onto the car. Theres no lighting, so car headlights are a must.
Once parked, and checked-in, I had about half an hour before the boat departed. Milford Sound is breathtaking, and the world-famous Mitre Peak certainly makes for a good picture. The peak is 1682 metres high, so named because of its resemblance to a Bishops mitre.
Image: Mitre Peak, Milford Sound
The boat takes a route round the edge of the Sound out to the entrance of the Tasman Sea and back, and you get really close to many of the features, especially the waterfalls. Its all very impressive.
Image: Milford Sound, NZ
Image: Milford Sound, NZ
Image: Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, NZ
Throughout the trip, theres an informative commentary, so youre able to hear all about the area and its history. Fiordland National Park is one of the wettest places in the world, with Milford Sound getting 6 metres of rainfall on average each year. Fortunately for me, it was a perfectly clear day.
Although there is only one route between Te Anau and Milford Sound, the return journey felt completely different, as the mist had lifted, revealing so many mountains and features that I didnt know were there earlier on.
Beneath the mountains, and through dense forest areas, you suddenly encounter huge Valleys, many of which are totally flat, such as the Eglinton Valley.
Image: Eglinton Valley, Fiordland, NZ
After a fuel stop back at Te Anau, I then had another 177kms to go before reaching Queenstown. The first part of this journey works its way round the base of the Eyre Mountains. The road then goes along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, beneath other mountains appropriately named as The Remarkables.
29 January 2005 :
A day in Queenstown a very commercialised (and therefore) expensive resort town. Its probably one of the few places in New Zealand where its difficult to park.
Queenstown is the bungee-jumping capital of the world, and theres also lots of opportunities for tandem parachuting and paragliding trips - but I didnt jump at the chance.
I did visit a place called Deer Park Heights, 12kms out from Queenstown, not only to see the various wildlife (deer, mountain goats, llamas, horses etc), but also to visit the areas used as some of the locations for the Lord of the Rings movies. I didnt encounter any hobbits, Wargs or Orks, but it was interesting to see where parts of the films were made. All I need to do now is watch the films again, and see if I can spot the areas, bearing in mind that a lot of computer trickery will have disguised some of the features.
The Heights command a fantastic position in the hills, with impressive 360° views.
30 January 2005 :
Yet another long drive today, as I made my way from Queenstown, along the Glacier Highway to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Initially, I took the scenic route through the Crown Range stunning scenery yet again, but a VERY twisty road.
I made a stop in lakeside Wanaka, as I spotted a photo shop that developed digital prints at half the normal price. Unfortunately, the digital card reader wasnt working properly. The trouble was, I didnt find this out until after I had spent over an hour at the digital media machine, inputting my requirements, and dealing with all the crops/zooms etc. Aargh ! Still, Wanaka looks like a good place, and I would be back in a couple of days to stay for a night.
The journey took me alongside Lakes Hawea and Wanaka, up through to the Haast Pass, to Haast township, and then past Lakes Moeraki and Paringa, before finally reaching the Glacier area, situated beneath the towering Mount Cook (aka Aoraki) and Mount Tasman.
Image: Franz Josef Glacier, NZ
Nearly six years ago, I was fortunate enough to go and see the Atherbasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies, and I have to say that in my opinion its far more impressive that either the Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers. That being said, Im glad I made the trip to see these New Zealand versions.
31 January 2005 :
I went on two good walks today, the first being at Lake Matheson, about 5kms from the Fox Glacier township. It was a long path through forest I wasnt alone for long as every so often I would pass a German tourist I knew they were German, as I would hear their voices long before they came into view.
The view at Lake Matheson was pretty impressive, with the snow-capped Mounts Tasman and Cook in the distance. However, despite arriving fairly early in the morning, the breeze was already blowing across the surface of the lake, so I didnt get the famous mirror effect for my photos.
My second walk was at Gillespies Beach, on the edge of the Tasman Sea but this first required a drive of 10kms on an unsealed, deserted and VERY dusty road. It would definitely not be a good place for your car to break down, and I wouldnt want to do that drive at night.
To be unfair for a moment, I have to say that unless youre going on a guided Glacier walk, or taking in an aerial view from a helicopter, there really isnt anything else to do in the two Glacier towns. For most of the day, I could hear the helicopters buzzing around. They only have about 100 good flying days each year, so no doubt they were making the best of the good weather.
Still, being here was a good opportunity to relax after doing so much driving over the past few days, and there cant be too many places as good as Fox Glacier to chill out.
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