Saturday 9 February
Up at 6am, load car and ………(swear words deleted) car won’t start. AA promptly attend but there was never enough time to get to today’s ferry so have to postpone ferry journey and delivery of car to Nick & Andrea until tomorrow with a new battery required.
What do you for 24 hours when your bags are packed, the house is tidy and there is no food in the house? Let us just say that there is now considerably more room on the Sky planner than there was before but we did watch loads of seals at the Sound – never seen so many.
Sunday 10 February
Deja vous. This time we get on ferry for a 5 (yes 5!) hour crossing to Birkenhead with some lovely hot oven-warmed croissants to assist the passage!
It rains all way to Andrea & Nick’s which we manage to find without the aid of the sat nav. Bye bye green Modus, apart from yesterday morning you were a faithful servant and no doubt we will see you again sometime.
Nick drives us to Buckingham and John picks us up and takes us to Bedford. Snow settles on road sides but is worse between Chipping and Buckingham. Flic had bad snow as well but tomorrow is a duvet day for her.
Monday 11 February
Still snowing but not hard and roads perfectly clear. Jill calls in before we leave which is nice. Emirates chauffeur service arrives 15 minutes early and we are checked in within an hour relaxing in the business lounge with a full cooked meal – this is the way to prepare to fly! Our plane is the Airbus 380 double decker which is a new experience for all.
Wow, this is the way to travel, upstairs in Business with ample legroom and comfortable seats. This plane may not even be a year old. Large seatback screens as big as a home TV with a tablet to aid programme change and over 2500 different things to choose from: food isn’t bad either!
Could even have sent e-mails from 38,000 ft but at a cost!
Tuesday 12 February
Arrive in Dubai at breakfast time their time although of course it is still only 3am our time. No breakfast on plane before we get off and 2 hours later on the next leg to Bangkok on a smaller plane, no breakfast only lunch as soon as we take off at about 10am! so just as well we had breakfast in lounge. Manage to send an e-mail from lounge re Homestay, hope they get it as it was about a visit this afternoon. Obviously didn’t see anything of Dubai other than from the plane. Desert landscape interspersed with the occasional hamlet was the scene as we left the city behind but you could see the tall skyscrapers in the distance in the early morning mist although the Palm wasn’t spotted.
En-route to Bangkok, we cross Southern India which seems to have lots of little fields in the countryside. Why are they all so little? Arrive in Bangkok with yet more toiletries and have to get off, go through transit, security twice and board same plane, on the same seat having carted all our hand luggage probably about a mile – well at least it keeps us fit – and apparently is because of Aussie customs (our next stop is Sydney).
It is weird, but we originally wanted to stop off at Sydney but Audley said it would be too expensive to add it in, but that was before they told us we would be stopping there on the way to NZ. Surely we could have broken the journey for 5 or so days, there is plenty of spare time before our commitments back home at end of our journey. Dark now so today’s light really only lasted about 8 hours with today only lasting about 15 hours in total: weird.
Wednesday 13 February
Another day, the same aircraft, another country! Arrive in Sydney in the morning and manage to get a glimpse of the bridge and the opera house from our side of the plane. Again have to get off plane but this time there is a comfortable lounge to rest, eat, drink and freshen up before re-boarding and heading to NZ for arrival at abut 3pm their time. We had wanted to do a stop over at Sydney but longer than 2 hours would have been nice.
Customs at Christchurch decide that my trainers are worthy of greater inspection but pass them as fit for entry. Dierdre’s trainers however need washing but Customs do it politely and without fuss, learn a lesson US Customs!
Met by representative and leave the cocoon that has been aircraft and airports for first time since Heathrow at about 4pm Monday. Cloudy and only about 14C, driven to Motel which is small. Door to door, it has been 35 hours, a gruelling start to the experience.
Dinner tonight at The Old Vicarage with Viv from Fleet, her friend Helen (Viv and Helen are in a camper van and arrived from Sydney within about an hour of us) and a couple whom Helen knew from the UK (Isabelle and Steve) who were fantastic hosts. Lovely evening, good food, and local beer. Off to bed for a well earned rest.
Thursday 14 February
A lovely day in store with temperatures into the mid 20sC. We had ordered what we want for breakfast the previous evening, have this and are ready to go out by 9am after a good night’s rest. Walk to double deck bus tour stop – an ex London Routemaster, and have a 3 hour tour around the city and some surrounding areas.
The February 2011 earthquake has completely devastated the city centre two parts of which remain cordoned off as surrounding buildings are still unsafe. This includes the Anglican Cathedral, maybe the most iconic image of Christchurch pre quake and in the immediate aftermath.
There were over 6000 hotel beds available pre quake but that has been reduced to 1000.
Some locals still live in motels whilst insurance etc is resolved and some local communities had to have portaloos as the sewage system failed. This must have brought the communities closer together me thinks. There are demolition squads everywhere with over 90 buildings still to be demolished.
The 2011 quake was a vertical one which caused so much damage and not a lateral one which is more common in earthquakes. It appears that the damage was restricted to areas that were above some former water courses built on by the city founders back in the 19th C.
The devastation is immense and it is estimated that it will take 15 years to finish the re-building. Some “artwork” is in place in the form of a plastic garden type chair for every death, 185 of them (most from the local TV station building which imploded).
Everywhere you look there is evidence of damage, Rugby ground, Cathedrals, clock tower, empty areas where buildings once stood.
On our coach tour we go to a suburb, Sumner, which is near Mt Pleasant, the epi centre of the quake. Most houses on the hillside are now empty and will be demolished with the Government buying the land at, from all accounts, a very competitive price. With the insurance companies paying up for the buildings and contents, the owners will be able to re-start.
It is even sadder as the houses may be sound but the ground under them may no longer be sound and will never be built on again being turned into parkland by the Government. We were told so many stories but the locals are resilient and are coping.
One social side is the absence of young women as the rebuilding workforce of men has increased, the young women are no longer there, not being able to return to jobs as many firms “went under”. Very few houses are for sale and there is now a shortage of accommodation locally.
After lunch, walk around the Botanical Gardens (very tranquil) where a flower show is being prepared. Some enterprising gardeners have used some of the now redundant Portaloos for their displays, very enterprising.
With many shops now demolished, a makeshift “centre” has been developed. Re:Start is a makeshift area which some local shop owners have put together using old containers to convert to shops. Very atmospheric.
Pizza takeaway for dinner and watch Coronation Street, which I am told is over 2 years old. It has been sunny, we even have sun tans. Sal not well all day but does well.
Friday 15 February
Not such a good night but ready to go by 9 am on the shared shuttle to the airport to collect our car for the next 17 or so days, a Toyota Highlander. Surely the transfer could have been included by Audley as well as the Hertz exit fee of $46. Strangely, the add on insurance will be taken off my cc when we drop the car at Picton.
After leaving Christchurch, we head south on uncomplicated roads and quiet bordering on sparse traffic, stopping at Ashburton for coffee.
Onwards on spartenly populated roads and get to Lake Tekapo where the church on the lake has magnificent views if you can fight the Orientals and their cameras.
On to Lake Pukaki and the drive up to Mt Cook Village.
The nearer we get to Mount Cook, the grander it looked with the view embellished by the hogsback cloud formation although no storms were forecast.
Still very sparse traffic and we reach The Hermitage at Mount Cook Village by 5pm.
The village is a purpose built area just for visitors, very modern looking and comfortable with a partial view of the mountains from our room although it would have been nice to have been a floor or two up or on one of the Mt Cook facing rooms in the main building with a better view.
Meals Ok although a bit pricey (probably to be expected being so remote) but definitely geared to the tourists from China, Japan, Hong Kong etc on coach tours.
First meal Sal has wanted in ages and she is slowly getting better.
Saturday 16 February
Still not over jet lag so an hour or so awake at night. Set off for lake ride on Tasman Lake in amongst the glaciers and to within 600m of the glacier face but a long 20 minute walk to get there which is often up hill, not Sal’s favourite pastime!
The ice in the little icebergs was formed about 700-1000 years ago and was very solid, albeit melting in the lake.
Thankful of overcast skies which shield us from the sun in the open top boat. 7 English speaking people in our boat “driven” by our guide, a Swedish guy with a girlfriend in Devon!
Lake a cloudy colour which is explained as being “flour” caused by the rubbing of the soft rocks.
By the time the exit stream reaches Lake Pukaki it is blue with the “flour” dissolving.
There is no greenery to look at, unlike the lakes in Switzerland and Canada as this lake was only formed some 40 years ago. The glacier front is receding at a rate of 300m a year and will have disappeared within 100 years. Oh the strangeness of nature!
Restful afternoon including visit to climbing museum where I see walking boots identical to the ones that I am still using – I must be getting old –
before evening stargazing with Lee (just as well all the clouds have gone) standing on the airport runway with thick overjackets on for a good two hours seeing shooting stars, using a fabulous telescope which allowed us to see 4 moons of Jupiter as well as the Milky Way and the Southern Cross amongst others. Back at hotel by 12:15 am, 30 minutes later than scheduled!!
Sunday 17 February
Off to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world (so say the Kiwis) and as blue sky gives way to dullness, we are fearful of the weather that awaits us – we needn’t have worried. Stop for a drink at a typical cafe, Wrinkly Rams, but the sheep shearing suggested doesn’t occur on a Sunday, shame but why was it suggested. Lunch at Cromwell was fresh fruit blended into an ice cream and whipped up, naughty but nice.
Now full wall to wall sunshine and check in to the Rees Apartment Hotel, Queenstown and catch free hotel shuttle into town as we are about 2km outside Queenstown. What a bubbly lively town, with us amongst the 20% who appear to be over 40.
Lots of sun bathers, water activities and outdoor clothing shops. Dinner at Prime in their “happy hour” was good and retired to bed somewhat early.
Monday 18 February
Another cloudless sky and we set out early to the Shotover Jet site, managing to get on an earlier than planned ride. Mike, our driver, was excellent and we soon wizzed off with all four of us on the back row, the wettest place but the most scary and with the best views. The river changes height regularly, is today quite low but we still pass perilously close to the rock walls carved out by an earthquake 12,000(?) years ago. The twisting and turning ride takes about 25 minutes with many 360 degree spins, splits in the river and high walls rushing by at about 50 mph. We end up at the northern limit of operations and see some mining remnants from the gold rush. Everyone comes out smiling at the end and it was so good we went again at a vastly discounted price and although the driver wasn’t as good as Mike, it was still worth every dollar!
After coffee we went to find the Segway ride.
Difficult to find the start point in a car especially as the lady at the Information Kiosk says it is just past the roundabout whereas it is in fact a track off the roundabout. All of us are virgin Segway riders but after a few wobbles most of us took to it like ducks on water although this was Dierdre’s least favourite activity probably explained by the fact that she doesn`t drive.
After initial instruction we terrorised the pedestrians of Queenstown and had some good views of the gardens on the way back. Through the small shopping arcade and we stop to double our speed limit to 12mph. Another mode of transport ticked off and a very enjoyable one at that.
Now for the gondola, perhaps not the luge as well, but maybe the parascending for tomorrow.
Views of Queenstown spectacular from top of gondola and see a few parascenders start their descent.
Back via a supermarket for a salad dinner whilst John & Dierdre stay in town for dinner and walk back.
Tuesday 19 February
Another cloudless sky and John & Deirdre go off in search of bikes to ride to Arrowtown, whilst we take car around windy road to Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu. Very quiet road, it is a dead end 45km long, with spectacular scenery but not a lot there. The information in the “shed” by the pier is good though.
Sal drives most of the way back and we head through Queenstown and onto Arrowtown which is a quaint bustling town, mostly tourists I guess, having a mining history with some Chinese settlers in the past.
The Chinese settlement area still contained some very primitive houses and the Main Street could have doubled up as a town from a Western in the USA.
Back to The Rees and go out to collect John & Deirdre whose bike ride was not as planned. Catch later shuttle, grab some fish and chips from PJ’s and sit in park eating them from the paper wrapping much to the amusement of some locals.
John and Deirdre walk back to the Rees, there being not enough space on the first shuttle – we catch the 2nd one. Oh dear, the sand flies seem to have found me and I have some bite marks already. Nobody mentioned sand flies and bites!
Wednesday 20 February
No towels for shower so manage with dressing gowns and dry flannels. Bad mark for an otherwise lovely appartment with a fantastic view. Drive towards Te Anau for next night under high clouds. Stop at Kingston Heritage train station but timing prevented a train ride.
Saw train arrival and viewed inside ancient coaches which were fantastically sumptuous – full marks to the restoration teams.
On to Te Anau which is almost a ghost town although it has about 3000 permanent residents. Lots of houses up for sale and still a few being built with lots of variation in styles as we walk to town from our Lodge, which is a former nunnery that was moved in toto along with a chapel and owner’s house.
Given very warm welcome by George and even the wine and cake in the evening is free. Drive to town for dinner at The Fat Duck, a popular eatery and we have to wait 15 minutes for table. At least I can now say without fear of contradiction that I have eaten at the Fat Duck. There are plans afoot to build a monorail to Te Anau but as often is the case, it is contraversial
Thursday 21 February
An early morning pick up for our visit to Doubtful Sound and it is freezing cold and overcast, somewhat of a surprise.
A coach ride, followed by a cruise on lake Manapouri (NZ’s 2nd depest lake) to it’s power station at the other end. Before the drive over the Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound we get into a full size coach driven by our guide, Eve and descend to the large man made cavern that is the Manapouri Power Station which can now produce enough electricity to power the whole of the South Island. Interesting interlude which we didn’t know was on the agenda to see. Some very skilful driving here but she has done it before I am assuming despite her young years.
The pass is the most expensive road in NZ at something like $2 per 10cm! , is not connected to any other road and is not fully maccadamed. Our journey takes about 20 minutes and we arrive at the jetty onto Doubtful Sound and are off into the Sound in our modern boat under decreasing cloud cover. At the jetty area there is a resident population of 2! School children from all over Southlands go there for a week’s residential and one of the residents is the centre’s manager.
As we travel Westwards, there are no other buildings or roads with all visible land, tree covered. Trees as far as the eye can see interrupted occasionally by waterfalls and we start on the “Luxury” lunch ordered for us.
We get out to the open sea and the vessel is now subject to the rises and falls of the sea. An Albatross follows us for some way on our way to some rocks upon which many seal pups are basking. Turning back, there is now virtually no clouds in the sky and we turn into one of the Sound’s arms and discover a pod of bottle nose dolphins who totally ignore us, and we return to the jetty, our coach, driven by Eve again, our 2nd journey on Lake Manapouri and our final coach back to Te Anau Lodge.
Dinner at LaDolce Vita having been enticed inside by a very persuasive Maitre d’.
Friday 22 November
An early start, a cloudless sky and a visit to the Glowworm caves. Boat crossing on Lake Te Anau only about a quarter full, guide a young Brit girl who probably needs some tuition on speaking to people although she is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. No cameras allowed in the caves which is probably the right decision.
After ubiquitous tour operator photo outside caves, crouch down and walk into caves on steel walkway well built and over many waterfalls carving their way through the sandstone and limestone rocks deep underground. The noise of the waterfalls in such closed environments was immense and our guide had to shout and speak slowly to make herself heard.
A short boat ride later and we enter a cavern and turn around. No lighting but thousands and thousands of little blue/green lights clinging to the rock face above our heads. Out we come and are given a brief talk on them. Simple life they lead, dangling their fishing lines from their bodies and turning to cannibalism if other glow worms get in their way!
Back to Te Anau lodge, check out and on our way to Wanaka. Audley recommends a stop for a coffee in Athol but doesn’t say which cafe. We probably choose the better of the two and then onwards, passing even more fantastic scenery around The Remakrkables, stopping for petrol and then Arrowtown for ice creams. Sadly, this was an ice cream too far for John who managed to break a tooth and might have to find a dentist before our return to the UK (thankfully he didn’t need to find a dentist whilst we were there).
The drive over the Crown Range Road from Arrowtown to Wanaka is well worth it, especially in the continued completely blue sky.
Our apartment at Wanaka is modern, being opened in 2005, spotlessly clean and huge with a view over the lake and the slowly setting sun. Audley suggests it is a quiet town but from what we have seen so far, it is quite a hive of activity albeit a very small town. Leaflets in abundance on activities available but sadly not enough time.
Saturday 23 February
How many more times do we look out in the morning onto Blue Sky on this holiday? John and Dierdre are off on a Siberian Experience today that means they leave early for their drive to the centre where they go on a small plane ride followed by a walk in boggy terrain and long grass to a jet boat back. We decide to explore town which doesn’t take long but fail to find the Botswana Butchery restaurant. (Understand later it closed down two months ago).
Find larger supermarket which we go to later to buy steak for BBQ (cooked by yours truly) for tonight after a short lakeside walk.
Sunday 24 February
Skype Sarah and Ali but still unable to see much at their end, something to do with their internet we understand. Harry now learning to get up on his own and walking from room to room.
Leave Wanaka apartment and off to W coast where it rains 300 days a year. Again, blue sky in the morning but as we venture westwards cloud cover is spotted and by Haast there is almost total cloud cover but no rain. Stop off on way at a couple of landmarks including Thunder Creek falls where an American girl is defeated in trying to cross the cold water.
Reach sea after a coffee stop at Haast (blink and you miss it) and stop near shingle beach full of driftwood and stones upon which people have written messages.
Complete contrast with central and Eastern landscape; lots of varied vegetation. Still not much traffic, the most common of which are now camper vans many of which are supplied by Jucy in their distinctive colours.
Loads of sand flies around us and in car now so god knows how bitten we all are!
Stock up on provisions for evening meal at Franz Joseph, check in to Glenfern Villas before short walk in Okarito in the “forest” looking for Kiwi; didn’t find any but saw lots of thick vegetation and heard lots of bird song and crickets.
Glenfern Villas should really be named Cabins as they are just like log cabins of Europe only made out of metal. We get the disabled one that has just one bathroom between us! This one is not liked at all, our bedroom is downstairs, John & Dierdre’s is a strange configuration upstairs and the internet soon runs out although after our meal in tonight, Skype Flic to find out about her Edinburgh trip.
Monday 25 February
Another WOW day for new experiences and fantastic weather with almost wall to wall blue sky again.
Whilst the whole experience only lasted about 30 minutes, it was something that we will remember for some time to come. Lots of crevices in the glaciers which are receding rapidly with the warming temperatures.
Back down again and we are off to Franz Josef valley for some short walks, us towards Douglas bridge via Peter’s pool, Sal not able to make the wobbly suspension bridge though.
John and Dierdre off on a more adventurous route towards the base of the glacier.
We talk to a Dutch guy, about our age from Den Haag, who is on his own for 6 weeks in NZ and Aus, travelling on public transport and staying in youth hostels: that could be us in a couple of years time. He says N Island too touristy. Back at chalet for lunch and off over Stinky creek to Fox Glacier. A couple of walks later including one half way up to glacier, very touristy, and we go back to locate Lake Matheson, a delightful tranquil place but as with many lakes, prone to insects. Boy are my bites hurting now, I have 11 on each arm with many leg ones and a couple on my neck. I HAVE BEEN WEARING LONG TROUSERS AND A LONG SLEEVED TOP SINCE YESTERDAY. HOW COME THEY LIKE ME SO MUCH? I have had more midgy bites here than in S E Asia!
The cafe at the car park is obviously new and serves good coffee and cake before our walk to Lake Mathesson.
Dinner in Alice Mae’s (venison bangers and mash) was good value at under £20 a head including a drink and two deserts but cinema guy in town was rude in the way he told us we had missed the last showing of the information film for the day.
Tuesday 26 February
Boy are we glad we did the helicopter ride yesterday as it is cloudy all over today. Anyway, we are setting off northwards and across to Kaikouri via Greymouth. Long drive of over 8 hours today starting off in the W coast jungle interspersed with some open fields, a scattering of farm buildings but few villages of note. Greymouth lives up to it’s name and is quickly passed through only stopping for fuel. No decent looking coffee shops here that we pass and onwards to Reefton where we stop for lunch. There have been no cafes between Greymouth and Reefton, only some dingy looking hotels that look as if they are out of the Wild West but although Reefton is also a bit out of the Wild West it does have a decent place for lunch and an old British built Fairlie steam engine to view.
Temperatures are increasing now with the cloud cover leaving us behind shortly after Grangemouth. Car temperature peaks at 33C and we stop at a one horse town, Rotherham, for an ice cream and a leg stretch.
Audley’s directions to Kaikouri leave a bit to be desired, telling us to turn left where we should turn right and not really giving us sufficient instructions in town itself. The appartment itself is modern, has a sea view at an angle from the living area and is two houses away from our base for tomorrow’s activities. Jovial host who helps us up to our room (2nd floor, no lift!) but poor Internet access just like the last place.
Dinner in White Morph, good food, popular but pricey, followed by walk around town and earlyish night after watching full moon. Very sleepy town, not much happening.
Wednesday 27 February
Lovely sun rise but clouds soon come over which is probably just as well: still dry though. Out on the sea today on the Pacific Ocean dolphin watching. A fantastic 3 hours on the sea, watching up to 450 dusky dolphins go backwards and forwards across the bay, some jumping and performing aerobatics that Beth Tweddle would have been proud of.
Some of the party were swimming with the dolphins which must have been a fantastic experience. Shame we had not opted for this or had been given the opportunity by Audley.
Under local environmental regulations, the snorkelers are only allowed five dives per trip with the trip organisers only allowed a set number of trips per day. We were the second of the day and from all accounts, the 05:30 trip was “magical” although it was for snorkelers only.
The 4 of us drinking hot chocolate on the way back was a case of all of us moving our hands up and down with the waves which would have made a good You tube entry had we been able to get to the camera in time. Overall, one of the best experiences of the holiday so far.
Lunch in Why Not cafe and a brief look at shops in town and an afternoon walk to the seal colony at the end of the prom and a walk by John and Dierdre to South Bay where we met them. Dinner at Tuti’s Indian Restaurant just out of town, excellent.
Thursday 28 February
Another cloudless sky. A drive to Nelson should have taken 4 hours but by taking the scenic route after Picton and stopping for a delicious smoothie at Cafe Home in Blenheim actually took over 6 hours. Note to Audley, the routing instructions need updating.
The scenic route from Picton towards Nelson is certainly a worthwhile deviation with good views of coastal inlets and little villages.
Another great find is the villa / apartment for tonight (the gatehouse at Applewood)
and our hostess, Sarah from Chichester who came out here 6 years ago with her NZ husband has provided us with some goodies. Steak on a BBQ cooked by me but not as well as the one at Wanaka. Good e-mail from Flic about her ongoing back problem.
Friday 1 March
A day’s sailing on the sea at the Abel Tasman National Park and we join our boat at 10am along with 14 others who were all probably aged about 25! The weather is again good with virtually no clouds. This part of S Island is virtually in drought as it has been their best summer for a long time. No wind at all means engines on for run northwards towards our lunch stop at Anchorage.
Our captain today is obviously a good sailor but tells us little about the area which is disappointing. Some of the 18-30 club are more intent on kissing each other, sunbathing or beer than the scenery and wildlife which is disappointing. However we do get to see seals and a couple of penguins on the water, which we are told are some of the smallest penguins around, and get into a couple of river outlets as it is high tide. Lots of canoeists exploring the bays some of whom get together with a sail to glide back south. Later we see the island colony where the penguins settle overnight.
The land area up here is only served by roads up to 55k from the end of the peninsular with the rest only accessible by water or track. Water taxis will take your kayak to a bay, drop you (and kayak) off and pick you up later from a different bay. Otherwise, it could be a couple days walk using the huts or campgrounds on the routes.
Get into a few bays under motor as there was still no wind. Lunch on the beach at Anchorage and watch a greedy seagull pinch a couple’s baguette whilst they are swimming. A brief swim, but it is very cold so only in for a very small amount of time. After an hour, no guided walk offered, we are back on board accompanied by two additional passengers who managed to take “our” seats meaning we have to sit in cramped positions.
Wind has increased and we are now under sail. Captain is busy most times with jib and mainsail but does find time to catch a fish for his dinner. Most of Club 18-30 fellow passengers are either cold, or asleep or both and do not take in any of the environment or the thrill of sailing. Two German girls move away from the front to avoid getting wet only to get absolutely soaked on the other side from the biggest wave to hit us!
Still very little commentary so overall not a particularly good experience.
Back at villa, Sarah says she shares our thoughts that the trip was boring and says she would have recommended Abel Tasman Charters with Rod Stewart as the captain whilst not being a sailing experience, does only hold 9 passengers, can be tailored to individual needs but covers more about the area.
She tells us about Nelson market on Saturday morning but not sure we will be able to get there for the market tomorrow as a duvet day is planned. Winter temperatures we are told are no lower than about 3C. Mel passes her probation, Yippee.
Saturday 2 March
A cloud covered sky today which is OK for our planned duvet morning with no set itinerary to follow so breakfast at half nine ish. Lunch on the patio after catching up with e-mails and photos then off to Nelson, a half hour’s drive away. The recommended place for dinner, the boat shed, is booked up every night this week with the exception of something tomorrow night around 9pm. Popular or what!
In town and eventually find our way to Cathedral despite attempts by the map makers to confuse us. Cathedral is modernist looking although had been started some time ago, with finishing touches added in the mid 20th C. It appears to have a free standing organ with no visible means of access for the organist. Maybe some remote controlled stairs?
Find our way to the Queen’s Park Gardens and back to car. All shops appear to have shut at 3:30 at the latest and the place is dead!
Drive to nearby centre of NZ at Botanical Hill and John & I climb up to the top and back (35 minutes) whilst Sally and Deirdre stay in the car.
Nelson lays claim to hosting the first game of Rugby in NZ as well although only a notice exists to explain this! View from the top not bad, but we have been fortunate to see much better views this holiday.
Our meal tonight is at the Cafe Affair and whilst we all opt for the lite courses are surprised to find that the food is presented on a hot brick for us to cook to our liking. Very different and a new experience.
Sunday 3 March
A cloudless sky to start with and we are very sad to leave. Say goodby to Ian, Sarah’s husband, as Sarah is busy cooking breakfast for the other B & B guests and set off only just remembering the wet washing of John & Deirdre’s left in the washing machine!
The journey to the ferry is supposed to take 1 and a half hours from Nelson according to Audley but we have to add on at least 30 minutes to get to Nelson from Applewood. Overall, the journey time is 2 hours 15 minutes but we are in plenty of time, or so we thought!
Fill up with fuel, bags out of the car before returning it to Hertz after our 2885km journey around South Island and ….. (more swear words deleted!) …. John’s rucksack is nowhere to be seen! As we hadn’t stopped on the way, he must have left it behind so we have decisions to make as it has his camera, his phone and his I-pad in it!
- Hertz can allow us to keep the car until this evening at no extra cost.
- We can delay our or John & Deirdre’s sailing or both, there is room on the ferry and the change is free.
- The bag can be sent by courier to one of our N Island destinations but that would be costly.
- Applewood have not yet been down to the Gatehouse so can’t confirm they have the bag.
- Audley rep can change the meeting time for us at Wellington.
In the end we split and Deirdre & John return to Atholwood (a 5 hour round trip) whilst we sail on our own having transferred their reservation. We will sort collection at Wellington out when we get there.
Vessel is ex Pride of Cherbourg and whilst seats are OK, certain foods run out very quickly so no Paninis and only one Ham & Cheese toastie.
Met at Wellington and off to hotel.
Go outside and walk to Fisherman’s Table for dinner but no tables for 30 minutes. Walk back via Matin Bosley’s Restaurant which is also fully booked so fish and chips bought from supermarket + a bottle of cider and apple strudel instead. Bookings are possibly necessary everywhere.
The Museum Art Hotel appears from the outside and in the public areas to be a sumptuous establishment but it is only when you get to the “family” rooms that you discover the reality. Yes, we had two double bedrooms but the bathroom doubled up as an en- suite for one of them, there was only comfortable seating for two and one of those had no back rest on the end of a chaise long.
The cooker was not particularly clean, the fridge was full up with drinks that were not complimentary leaving little room to store food for cooking, the light over the oven didn’t work nor did one over the dining room table and we looked out on a crossroads and not a particularly decent set of commercial buildings.
Very poor Internet connection and only in lobby so no chance of Skyping. Audley seem to think we have a car from the itinerary suggesting places to go to by car and mentions “if you are arriving by car”. Tomorrow we have to get a taxi to the evening’s booked visit. Clearly an off the peg itinery and not tailor made.
John & Deirdre arrive about 10pm utterly exhausted but with the correct number of bags! The taxi company did wonders as well, arranging for their collection from the ferry.
Monday 4 March
Nice and sunny for a walk around Wellington. The concierge has suggested a walk to the cable car through town and back via the harbour front. Lots of outdoor shops around and as we get nearer to the cable car, some more trendy clothes shops.
Cable car up to top with good views and John & I go to the museum whilst the girls start looking at the botanical gardens.
One of the films at the museum shows several instances of personal cable cars being installed for people with houses high on the hills. Ingenious.
Down the hill through the botanical gardens past many variety of plants all neatly separated into areas. Not a patch on the gardens in Victoria island (Canada) but good nonetheless. Some bird-life chirping away from a Tui.
Walk back to hotel via Cathedrals new and old, the waterfront and a rest before an in room cooked dinner and a taxi (arrived 10 minutes late: had the concierge actually booked it?) ride to Zealandia for a night guided tour.
Both cathedrals are imposing in their own rights, the old one being over 100 years old and still used although now as an inter denominational place of gathering. Work is being undertaken to keep it waterproof and we were treated to an informative talk from a volunteer.
Whilst it started fair for our Zealandia walk, rain soon set in for our first soaking since we had arrived in NZ. Yes, we saw a Kiwi, and many other animals whose names now escape me.
Fortunately they could not escape as the whole area is fenced and rodent free but this however did not stop Sal trying to leave with one of their resident Cave Weta, which looked like a cross between a scorpion and a large spider, taking a fancy to her and sticking to her jumper. A helpful young lad also on the tour removed it and with the guide’s assistance, took it back inside the compound.
A fascinating evening’s entertainment given by a guide who was both well informed, personable and obviously dedicated to her work.
Had earlier rang Mum’s friend, Rosalind Russell as I don’t think we can get to see her tomorrow, as although we will be passing Palmerston North by about 20 km, we have to be at our next destination by about 5pm and it is a 5.5 hour drive as well as having to stop to buy food for the next day.
Tuesday 5 March
A walk to Hertz to collect car is about 15 minutes (concierge said a few minutes!) but we all go, collect another Highlander, load up car, check out of hotel and head for SH1. Suburbs passed on Motorway and dual carriageway and we are soon out into some uninspiring landscape quite flat, like Cambridgeshire.
Stop for a coffee break at Foxton: fabulous muffin but let down by poor coffee. Heading on towards the centre of N Island we soon get to some mountainous areas although they are more like hills to start with reminiscent of a fully vegetated mining slag heap, quite picturesque though.
Reach our destination with an hour to go so viewing the Rangipo Desert in the morning as suggested by Audley would not have been possible. (even calling on Palmerston North for an hour would have meant not getting to Omori in time to collect keys.)
Living room and bedrooms have wonderful views but accomodation is let down by poor breakfast supplies: tinned peaches and only one butter. No Internet access (unless you pay for it at $4 for 30 minutes or $20 for 6 hours).
Go back to Tokaanu and walk around the trail adjacent to the Thermal Pools, a free attraction! There are loads of bubbling spluttering mud pots and steaming hot mineral pools to see and
walk past. Absolutely amazing, there are loads of them often sulphur smelling but always bubbling and hot.
Complete NZ census form but we only have to complete 11 out of the 48 questions as a visitor. A bit rich, having to complete a NZ Census form, me thinks, we are on holiday.
Wednesday 6 March
A tin of peaches for breakfast! Poor supplies generally, they made no effort and even the bread was hard, bordering on stale. No tin opener provided but they do source another within 5 minutes. After breakfast we decide to go up to Iwikau Village where some all year ski lifts should take you up Mt Ruapehi.
Sadly, high winds prevent a gondola ride so we have coffee instead. The area is littered with volcanic rock spewed out possibly millions of years ago and now has a few ski chalets scattered around. Not a very picturesque environment.
Back down to Whakapapa village and go around the information centre which is, as seems to be the case in NZ, filled with useful information abut the area including a book on the history of volcanic activity in the area. Stop for photos on way back several times for pictures of Mt Tongario’s volcanic eruptions.
A short walk was then scheduled around Lake Rotopounamu which we were told was not hilly and nicknamed the emerald lake. In fact the walk was certainly not flat, took us up to a junction and then down to the lakeside. Far from being like an emerald lake, it was quite a disappointment with sand flies on the beach (we were not bitten this time) and too hilly for Sal.
After a petrol stop we returned to the chalet, changed and headed back for the hot springs at Tokaanu. A private room for three (John didn’t come) might have sounded strange but they have probably heard it all before. The room was no bigger than a double bedroom but had just a hot bath in it and a small walkway around the outside. High brick walls on all sides and a door that locked from the inside, what more could you want, if you were that way inclined! The water was decidedly hot, we had just 20 minutes at a cost of $10 per person – bargain.
Dinner tonight in the in house restaurant, Oreti. We were absolutely stuffed afterwards but did manage a game of shithead although not sure we were playing the right rules. How come the food here was probably one of the best we encountered in NZ but the breakfast one of the worst.
Thursday 7 March
Off to Rotorua via the Hakka falls
and a strange backwards cafe/walk area to see some more hot springs. The owner was a TT fan with some crash photos and pictures of Creg ny baa.
The area is a bit run down but he did lend us a thermometer and you can see the temperature we recorded!
An interesting character was the cafe owner and you could probably describe the attraction as “has potential”!
Onwards to Rotorua via Waiotapu Thermal Area which houses the Lady Knox Geyser although as this only blows at 10:15am we will not be able to see it as we missed today, too early for tomorrow and off on Saturday!
Our next stop is Koura Lodge which is north of Rotorua, located easily and is right on the lake front.
The Lodge has a canoe so I take the opportunity to try the water whilst John tries the snooker table in the living room!
This accommodation is impressive although the internal wood ceiling could put some people off and there wasn’t much internet connection!
There is a night market in town tonight but it is not a patch on the ones in Cambodia or Laos but is nevertheless, fascinating. Wander around town looking for food for an evening meal and settle for Nando’s but afterwards find loads of other restaurants we could have tried.
Back to Lodge with bottle of wine, a proper game of shithead and a game of snooker – I got an 18 break, the last three balls potted!
Friday 8 March
Another hot day in store and after breakfast at lakeside we opt for a jet boat tour which picks us up at the Lodge’s own jetty – another James Bond moment! We are the only passengers although another 6 could have travelled.
Our captain tells us about the lake’s history, it is a volcanic crater, not deep and quite young geologically speaking but does have 3 metre waves on occasions due to the wind. There are plenty of “jokes” about Aussies as well some of which include placing them in hot spring lakes nearby.
He takes us accross Lake Rotorua over to Mokoia Island, tells us about the island’s history, how it was inhabited, fought over and is now a nature reserve. A few 360 degree spins later and we are over the other side near the sulphur area which absolutely stinks. Too soon, the ride is over and we are whisked back to our private jetty, another James Bond moment.
Drive to skyline sky ride area and have lunch up top. Wonderful views but you have to remember that they have not had rain for some time and are now officially in drought. Not a lot to do up there though unless you want to go down on the luge.
A fascinating evening put on every night of the week and has been for many years. The event can seat about 230 people and tonight it is about 200 full.
We see the cooking traditional way, hear some of the stories, the songs and see some of the movements of battle. The dancers included a rather chubby lad who may not have been a Maori and a girl who looked the spitting image of Claire Betteridge!
What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Well the same question could be put to Moari men except substitute loin cloth for kilt! Answer: nothing! That got a few ladies fiddling with their cameras.
The food served was quite something for such a large group although one person insisted on eating his food very slowly much to the rest of the group’s annoyance. Eventually our guide gave up on him and we went outside to see the cold springs and more glow worms.
Saturday 9 March
Off early after paying for the jet boat trip (a 3% surcharge even for debit card) towards Auckland on another 8 hour car journey. John first, then Richard through Auckland and Sal afterwards until Richard again nearer Paihi.
Not exactly interesting scenery, some of flat land, some undulating small hills, most of it agricultural but more traffic than S Island. My Internet had run out so was thankful of stop at “Cafe on 2” to catch up with e-mails, nothing exciting, but a good place to stop.
Route instructions from Audley wrong as you turn right onto SH1 and then right onto SH27 at Tirau instead of their instructions (turn left on to SH27) so just as well we are good at map reading.
As we got to the overbridge on the SH2 junction with the SH1 Expressway, we hit a traffic jam! An accident and a broken down car in the middle lane at the same site delayed us for over 45 minutes as we crawled less than a kilometre. Lots of slow moving traffic followed as we passed through Auckland on the motorway, catching a glimpse only of the city and it’s waterfront as we left the city’s environs on the way up north.
Auckland left behind we take the non toll road which is more scenic although the toll road cost of $2.20 was not really prohibitive! Stop for another driver change at a honey cafe, lots of bees and some educational info for kids and we reach Allegra House at Paihia inside the 8 hours suggested by Audley.
Allegra house is perched on a hill at a dead end overlooking Paihai and the sea channel to Russell with fantastic views overlooking Russell and the bay. Absolutely loads of pleasure boats darting here there and everywhere and, reputedly, the highest Parasailing (up to 19,000 ft!). Queen Mary is in tomorrow so town will be busy but a bonus is that there will be a market on the village green. The last but one of the 38 cruise ships this season will disgorge loads of passengers who will spend lots of money, no doubt.
Evening meal at Alfresco’s with loads of food and yet another Brit as a waitress, from Newtown, Wales.
Sunday 10 March
John not well and misses a sumptuous breakfast where we talk to two other couples before setting off to the craft fair/market without John and Dierdre. Back an hour or so later and John now well so we re-trace our steps around the market and then settle on lunch at the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club where we were signed in by an elderly lady out to drum up business. Someone younger might have got more custom!
Afternoon walk around Haruru falls whilst John and Deirdre walked from the car park at Waitangi, the place where the peace treaty between the Brits and the Maoris was signed. Hopefully go there later.
Some Cruise passengers have opted for an excursion to sample rowing in a Maori canoe. Two of these boats show up at the falls having been rowed the 5km or so from Waitangi.
Good photo opportunities, especially for the women as the Maori warriors had gone commando again!
Dinner in town at Jimmy Jack’s with the crooked pictures, which amused John and back to look at the snowy pictures from Jersey. At least the worst in 30 years they tell us.
Monday 11 March
Mother’s Day messages filter through from girls albeit a day late (our time) but appreciated all the same. John misses breakfast again with a migraine and stays in all morning.
Sal, Deirdre and I go off to Kerikeri and walk around the Stone Store house, the country’s oldest stone building built in 1832 and where the Maori welcomed the missionaries, which led to the establishment of a framework for NZ’s bi-cultural society.
Adjacent river is low enough to allow walking over to Rewas village, a reconstruction of a typical Maori village.
Some lovely sights inside and worth the $5 entrance fee although some of the dates mentioned on some of the boards were a little suspect.
Lunch in the cafe and then a drive to Rainbow falls although not many people will be going there as there are no signposts. Again, low water but enough to be quite a splash and allow some youngsters to jump in and swim.
(Another popular Camper van hire Company is “Wicked” one of whose vans managed to find Rainbow falls. Each van has a different message, the other best one being: “How do you know when Sour cream is off?”)
Then off around Puketi forest track although most of it was an unmade road which meant, for the driver, me, not much time to look around. Heinz, our host at Allegra House, had suggested this but I am not sure it was worth the extra effort.
Te Matauri Bay circuit also didn’t reveal much of the headland or sea and had to be cut short due to a rather low fuel tank.
Back by 4pm and collected John with the aim of going around the Treaty House complex at Waitangi.
Sadly, it takes at least an hour to cover this and the complex closes at 5 so we go to look at Opua instead.
The ferry we will catch to Russell tomorrow will go from here and costs $28 return for all of us and although it only takes about 10 minutes to cross it is remarkably cheap even though Audley advise the cost as being $10.
Not much else to see there though so we head back to Paihia, book 35 degrees for dinner and watch some enterprising Maori’s perform a Hukka.
Tuesday 12 March
Our last full day and it is cloudy with mizzle – how cruel after 4 weeks of dry weather and many days of unbroken sunshine. Stay at breakfast talking to Heinz and his wife for longer than we anticipated but it was a good talk, they are good company and good hosts.
Drive to Russell via the car ferry and venture up to the signal hill for a view but are disappointed because of the mist and rain. Wander around Russell including it’s church, the oldest in New Zealand – still made of clapperboard and looks like an IKEA build!
Lunch in Sally’s, we didn’t get a discount or a job offer, by which time the mist and rain are beginning to clear in time for our boat ride to the Hole in the Rock. Manage to get seat up top and Sal shelters behind a particularly large Dutch woman out of the wind.
Out of the bay, we encounter a few dolphins, but not as much as we had seen in Kaikouri. The swimmers off two boats outnumbered the dolphins by abut a massive 15 to one, did not have wet suits on but had what must have been a fantastic swim although were the dolphins intimidated by them.
Off to the hole in the rock but not through it as the swell was too great.
We were one of the 30% of the trips that do not get to go through the hole due to bad weather – another excuse to come back. Even the mac attack jet boat did not try. An adjacent cave was a break from the swell and it appears that there is another exit to that as well.
On way back, stop at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island for a walk on the beach with the massive amount of shells, a few oyster catchers and a floundering fish.
By the time we arrive, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and our sunscreen application is, I fear, a little late.
Back at Russell and as we have clear weather we re-trace our steps to signal hill.
This time, the views were good and we were also rewarded with sight of a Weka, an unusual sight during the daytime we have been told.
Decide not to eat in Russell at Duke of Marlborough pub as suggested by Heinz as it is too early so head back and go again to Alfresco’s for our last evening meal in NZ.
Only time for one game of shithead before packing beckons. 😦
Wednesday 13 March
Up early and off to Waitingi which does take over an hour to go around and we didn’t do it justice even given the time we spent there with the houses, boat and grounds to look at.
The site is where the Treaty of 1840 was signed between the Maori’s and the British.
Although there were a few dissenters, everyone of note signed but it is surprising that even now there are still some Governmental payments to the tribes to be settled.
Back to Allegra House to pack the car for the last time and off to Kerkeri to walk again by the Stone Store, fill up the car and drive to the airport.
I had originally queried with Audley whether we should drive back to Auckland rather than flying and the hour + we waited in the deserted (yes absolutely deserted) Kerikeri airport made me begin to think my earlier option was the better one.
The car had to be dropped off at 1 and the check-in opened at 1:30 although we arrived earlier.
The cafe was unmanned with lots of goodies on offer and no one to serve us. The only person I eventually found was a young lad in an adjacent hanger having his lunch next to a restoration project of a Widgeon Plane.
A “Jobsworth” on the check in desk when it opened made John and Dierdre take a few kilos out of one bag and put it in the other as one was over 23kg!
Talking to a fellow passenger about the snow in Jersey (the schools have been closed for 3 days and Sarah has been out sledging with Harry instead of work) and we are approached by a, now appeared, 2nd staff member who used to live in Jersey, left 12 years ago after he retired from the States Police and emigrated to NZ.
No security on departure, liquids in the bags and absolutely no checks. The plane, a 19 seater Beech, had no cockpit door and (unlucky for us) had no window seats for rows 1 & 2 so no view. Flight short and Auckland reached in by now the customary hot temperatures.
Transfer to International terminal, and sadly leave NZ, on time after our farewell drink of champagne.
Stopover in Brisbane on way back but it is just dark so not a lot to see here.
Thursday 14 March
A long day, 28 hours, with a four hour stopover in Dubai. The return from Dubai on an Emirates A380 upstairs in Business class, was well appreciated, as was the chauffeur driven transfer to London City Airport (eventually as Emirates had no record of the required transfer) but the downside was the 90 minute wait there to check in for our last flight back home with BA.
In an e-mail after she returned, VIV had asked us what our favourite bit of NZ was and we both found this difficult to answer, there are so many highlights and we have been lucky to do so much.
The views in S Island, especially Mt Cook area
Glacier boat ride (once we had got there after a long walk)
Star gazing at Mt Cook
The accommodation at Queenstown
Queenstown for it’s vibrant atmosphere and it’s activities.
Fish and chips sitting on a bench overlooking Queenstown’s lake much to the amusement of many
The Shotover jet boat, twice.
Segway although this was not Deirdre’s favourite!
Fjord cruise on Doubtful Sound
Glow worm cave tour atTe Anau
George’s B & B at Te Anau
The accommodation and the BBQ at Wanaka
The boat ride to see the 450+ dolphins at Kaikouri
The accommodation and breakfast at Atholwood
Seeing a Kiwi at Zealandia
The volcanic region at Mt Tongario
The walk and baths at the thermal springs at Tokaanu.
The accomodation (but not breakfast) at Okati
The evening meal at Okati
Kayaking (me only) on lake Rotorua
Jet boat on Lake Rotorua
Maori evening at Rotorua
The boat trip in the Bay of Islands
The accommodation and breakfasts at Paihai
The downsides were few, fortunately,
The accommodation at Christchurch, Franz Josef but especially Wellington.
The sailing in Abel Tasman bay and the breakfast supplies at Oreti Village
The speeding ticket that arrived at my home address after we got back (11kmph over the limit!)
The best accomodation? Probably it has to be the last one (Allegra at Paihia) for us but I’m not sure John and Deirdre would agree as their room was somewhat small. However this was probably partially compensated for by the breakfast which was the best, even (just) beating Sarah’s at Atholwood (Nelson).
And of course we mustn’t forget the fabulous weather, the good food everywhere, the (mostly) open roads, the fantastically good road surfaces, the ever present re-surfacing, the comfortable Toyota Highlanders in both islands which served us well for the 4600km and last but by no means least, the friendly welcome we received everywhere from everyone.
We will go back!