Rotorua

Our last tourist stop on our New Zealand drive is Rotorua.  One could almost believe it’s the last stop in any tourist area in NZ as the visitors are disappearing and the country is going into severe lock down mode.

When we arrived it was raining.  Consequently we planned an indoor visit at the Museum of Art and History, but sorry, it was closed.  What to do next? John suggested ‘let’s just do it’ and visit Whakarewarewa Thermal Village! Even if it’s raining.

We arrived in time for a cultural performance followed by a guided walk around the village including the hot pools, geysers and mud baths.

We enjoyed the cultural performance as much for the Maori singing, acting, dancing and poi performance as for the enjoyment shown on the performers’ faces.  All the performers are related to the village. There are currently around 20 families still living in the village and 800 people in the area who have a connection to the village.

While our walk was conducted in rain, it was helpful to have explained to us the purposes of the Meeting House (weddings, funerals, actual meetings), the cooking pools (good for steaming vegetables or making steamed pudding), the baths (for all members of the family and great for catching up on gossip)

and finishing with waiting for Pohutu and two other geysers to perform. They did, but with the rain causing so much water vapour it was a bit hard to see them.

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We stopped in a shop in the village for Ros to buy a few presents just as the owner was closing up, closing up she said for probably a couple of months.  An emergency meeting was taking place that afternoon and the next day the whole village was closed.  The shop owner was quite distraught as you can imagine and took great relief in loading Ros up with extra products for no cost. She was very generous even though I guess she was not going to sell them in the near future.

Onwards to our digs for the night, about 15 minutes north and in the countryside (the town has its fair share of less attractive hotels so this was a great find) where we were enthusiastically welcomed by the manager – I think we made her day by turning up as, other than one other couple, we were the entire guest list.  Also as she was from Beijing the map on the side of the car from our Silk Road trip was of interest. One small problem, no dinner provided, so back into Rotorua for dinner, which we might add was excellent.

John was getting anxious about returning to OZ so he called Qantas – a mere 1 hour 40 minute wait to get through, but we were both glad to be told that, ‘yes our flight was definitely going, indeed it is quite a full plane’. I guess the last of the Australians flying home before flights stop altogether.  It is one of the last Qantas planes to fly: feels a bit like getting onto a helicopter in Saigon in the 1970s!

Next day was a bit of a nothing day. Rotorua is shutting down. We headed into Rotorua in case there was something else to see, but too late as every attraction had closed.

We visited a couple of chemists to try to buy face masks for the drive home from the airport, as instructed by the government, but no luck. They are all sold  out. Not sure where they have all gone to as we did not see anyone wearing one. Chemists are open but with lots of cautionary notices and customers kept at a distance. We noticed that had medical clinics the receptionist was in the carpark and patients were told to remain in their car until called one at a time into the surgery.  Unprecedented times.

We did go to one supermarket to buy some toilet paper (just in case!) to find sanity prevails in NZ with people pretty much shopping normally. Plenty of toilet paper to choose from. There have been sensible limits on items to stop panic buying and stockpiling such as has been going on in Oz, but apart from this it was life as per the usual in the supermarket itself.

We did wander around the Government gardens and found an open café for coffee overlooking the lake. Here we had to sign in: name phone and email so, we assume, if there is an outbreak traced to the café we can be contacted.  Mind you, it was quite hard to find a café open.

As well, we drove around the lake shore and the city. Then it was back to our accommodation and with a free afternoon we did lots of blogging and to empty the car and pack the bags.  On these trips we can secret around 2 cases of items in corners of the car, under the seat, across the back so it’s quite a big exercise to empty the car to avoid too much attention by Australian customs and quarantine when it returns.  And we packed the essentials for Australia.

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Tongariro – part 2

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I knew my current fitness levels were no up to a 7-8 hour walk and I was not prepared to risk a jarring fall on a loose scree slope so I decided the Tongariro Crossing was not for me, unfortunately.

Instead I drove from our accommodation across to Whakapapa Village where you will find Chateau Tongariro, the National Park information centre, much accommodation servicing the ski fields and summer visitors and the beginning of many walks of various lengths.

I spent a really interesting hour in the information centre reading about volcanos in general, the various volcanos in the area, the various eruptions of these over time and of course lots of information about native flora, trees and birds. There was also more information about trapping introduced species to ensure the survival of native flora and birds with the interesting added information that the NZ government has set a target of 2050 to eradicate all stoats, weasels, rats and possums. (Poor possums, protected in Australia but here doing immense damage to native flora.)

Our kayaking guide in Kaiteriteri had recommended the Taranaki Falls walk to me, a two hour loop walk from the village and back, so armed with a bottle of water and chocolate bar (a two hour walk being a good excuse to indulge) off I set.

This was a truly beautiful walk! It starts by heading across a grassy plain with views of Ngaurughoe, Rhuapehu and Tongariro mountains in the distance. Some early cloud was lifting as I walked, affording a better view of the mountains as I walked.

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Very abruptly the track disappeared into a stand of trees with lichens and ferns all around. The transition was completely abrupt and quite amazing.

Emerging on the other side of this copse you were back into open ground with bridges over small creeks.

The walk then disappears once again into a forested area with small dense vegetation as well as small waterfalls through rapids.

About half way you come to the Taranaki Falls with a ribbon of water plunging about 100 metres from the top of the cliff to the pool below. A very pretty place to stop and eat said chocolate bar and watch other walkers go by. I was fascinated by the behaviour of all other walkers I saw pass. They arrived at the falls and took a selfie, some scrambled down to the pool for another selfie, then it was off again. No one else simply sat and took time out to enjoy the falls themselves, the sounds of water plunging into the pool and then running off through stones and down the creek, or watching the small birds flit in and out of the bushes and dip down to drink. So peaceful and beautiful, only interrupted by selfies!!

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The track back to the village ran  mostly along the stream fed by the waterfall. This track ran through quite dense foliage with, again, lichens growing on tree trunks and forming part of the undergrowth.

At one stage the track plunged down about a hundred stairs before meandering along the stream bank.

It then climbed back out of the river gorge to emerge once again in open grasslands and within sight of the Chateau.

I then visited the Chateau and treated myself to coffee, scone jam and cream for lunch! Absolutely delicious with an awe inspiring view of Ngaurughoe through the window.

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I then drove up to the adjacent ski fields. Here the old lava flows are very evident and this is a desolate landscape in summer. It was a must to imagine the whole area covered in pristine, white snow!

A quick drive back to the beginning of a second shorter walk to other falls and then back to our accommodation.

On this second walk I came across a number of hebe plants. I have grown hebes at home but had no idea they are a native plant of NZ! It is always good to learn something new.

 

John’s walk was almost cancelled due to the closing down of NZ.  It has been 10 days since the imposed 14 day self isolation rule came in and, as a result, the tourists are diminishing.  Those that were booked have cancelled and those that were already here are leaving or cutting their holiday short.  On our last night in Tongariro we went to the Snapps Bar for dinner and were greeted at the door by the owner – wait a minute please, we are limited to 100 guests and so we need these two people to leave and then we must sit you at a table distant from any other diners.  Quite creepy actually! I would say that the Crossing will be abandoned shortly.  The guiding group I went with usually has 6 guides and they are now down to one, and he is pessimistic.

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Departing Kapiti we headed north to National Park, an actual village on the edge of the Tongariro National Park, the first National Park in NZ and the sixth in the world.  The attraction is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – more on that.

Firstly, however, we must mention that NZ is the land of the road works.  Every day we were slowed down to 30 to pass some section of road being resurfaced or rerouted or just a few pot holes repaired.  We both commented that to be the supplier of witches hats in NZ would be a fantastic business.

Through contacts of Ros’ we were recommended a side trip, avoiding the highway and driving along the Whanganui River valley.

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A sublime road winding along the river with many tight turns, one way stretches and fantastic views over the river and hills.

Along the way we passed towns, often with two name, Matahiwi, Ranana and Pipiriki however sometimes the name post also subtitled these with Athens, Jerusalem and London!  Not to worry, the trip was great as these photos show.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the great one day walks and on Luke’s recommendation, John was keen.  It was here that we separated for the day with Ros looking for some more leisurely walks.

There was some concern the night before as to whether or not my walk would go ahead: of the eight people booked, five had cancelled and two did not reconfirm.  However at 6pm it was agreed we would go, even if the others did not turn up. They didn’t, and so the next morning I had my own guide for the day, Hiro, from Japan, who has made the crossing 110 times since he started in August last year!  Hiro was very helpful, it meant that I did not need to think as I was told when to take my jumper off (before the big climb up the hill) when to out it on (when we were on an exposed ridge) and when to have lunch (by the Emerald lakes).  We left town at 8am, with the sun just behind the peaks

The walk is 19.4 km in length, starts at 1,000 m, goes up to 1,800 and finishes at 700 m: hence everyone walks one way. The first part of the walk goes through low scrub and rises slowly towards the volcanic scree from Mt Ngauruhoe which erupted in 1954 when the lava swept down the side of the mountain. We covered 4km in an hour.

We then turned towards the giant staircase: not too sure how many stairs but I’d guess 800, and up we climbed. These two kilometres took an hour!

Then over the ridge and we were in the crater of a volcano, very flat and so enjoyable to walk along at a good pace.

But there was a steep climb to come: up the ridge line to the highest point on the walk, between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. From here we had a fabulous view of red crater, an old volcano which the iron has weathered red.

From here is was down a terrible slope of loose rocks, scree and dirt to the shores of the Emerald Lakes (3 in all) which really are emerald/green.

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At last lunch, even if it was only 11:45, but I was ready.  At this point we were only 8 km into the walk, but Hiro indicated half way in terms of exertion. Thanks heavens.

I guess one advantage of being only one person was that we made quite good time.  Hiro said we were about one hour ahead of the usual.  He also told me that they often send people back.  There are lots of signs up to this point reminding walkers that it’s not an easy walk: go back if you are fatigued or cold. On walks with a lot of people they will often have an extra guide in order to accompany less strong walkers back to the start.

We then walked across a plain for 1 km and up onto the edge of Blue Lake.

After that is was then the long trip to the end: 10 km slowly descending, at times along rock strewn tracks,

at other times zigzagging across the slope or just walking along never ending raised tracks across heather with steam venting in places.

At one point I got a cramp in the hamy, but lots of water and 5 jelly frogs seemed to fix it.  However, I was now on a mission not to stop and get cold for fear of more cramps.

Then into a treed area (I estimate that the trees only grow to around 1,000 m in this part of NZ).

Finally the end is in sight.

We finished around an hour and a half earlier than Hiro would normally expect – not sure if it’s because I am a great sportsman or if the lack of stragglers helped.

(Lucky John booked for Saturday because bad weather on Sunday resulted in the Parks advising walkers not to go).

And now over to Ros for her day….

Kapiti

After arriving in Wellington on the ferry we headed north to Poirura for dinner with the Wellington MG Car Club. One of the fantastic aspects of travelling in Goldie is that we have met members of the MG family all over the world. We were given a very warm welcome and made to feel right at home amongst talk of all things MG.

The next day we spent in Kapiti prior to heading north for the final leg of our NZ journey.

First stop was the Southward Classic Car museum at Paraparaumu, pronounced Paraparam!

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This museum is a result of Sir Ian Southward’s passion for old cars. He began the collection   when he bought a 1915 Model T Ford £40. The car is today displayed in the condition in which it was bought (a bit like an old rust bucket!) and it will always remain like this. Sitting next to it is a similar car which has been completely restored.

There were some fantastically interesting cars in this collection, you could simply write about it forever! However, I will confine myself to a few and then put in lots of pictures of others! As usual in a car museum I took way too many photographs.

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I did love this old Maudslay Phaeton from 1913. The huge number of early car manufacturers has always fascinated me. Where did they all go to? The Maudslay was a British Car manufacturer and this model, as were all their cars, was among the most expensive on the British market. Maudslay produced, in 1905, the first double decker bus.

The next car is bizarre. The body work is hand beaten copper! It was created by a Philip Lewis of Auckland in 1921. The body work took 1,000 hours to produce. Was it worth the effort?

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I can never pass up a MG or two. This 1936 PA looks very similar o n the outside to my 1937 TA, however the dash and pedals look very different.

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Then there was this beautifully restored 1935 R Type, the last of MGs pre war race cars.

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And then there was this little coin operated replica for the littlies to enjoy! Nothing like getting them interested in old cars at an early age.

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This 1952 Hillman Minx brought back many memories as this was the first car my Dad bought. However, he really did not like this beige colour so hand painted it a beautiful turquoise. Three kids across the back, two adults in the front and our Kelpie cross Fox Terrier in a specially built travelling box, with windows, on the roof!

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This little car is interesting. This is a 1985 Sinclair CS. English millionaire home computer inventor, Sir Clive Sinclair had a vision of personal transport in the 80s; the CS was the result. It had a motor adapted from an electrical appliance. Of the 14,000 produced only 5,000 were sold before the company went into receivership. Surprised?

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On the other end of the scale is this beautiful 1923 Bentley 3 Litre Tourer. This 3 litre car was the sports car which put Bentley on the automotive map.

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Anyway, enough details, here are some more pictures from the museum. A well worthwhile visit if you are interested in old cars and there is very informative signage everywhere. If you visit, look out for the fantastic and fantastical collection of china salt and pepper shakers!!

 

After visiting the car museum we headed off to the Nga Manu nature reserve just up the road at Waikanae. Covering approximately 15 hectares. Established in the 1970s to ensure the preservation and restoration of a precious lowland swamp forest remnant. There is a beautiful forest walk, birds abound and there are a number of aviaries and other exhibits to wander through and around.

One really interesting aspect of the reserve are the resident eels, which are in abundance and they are fed each day. They turn up for feeding on cue and thrash about. They even come partly out of the water in their desire to get at the food. I really know nothing about eels and so the short informative talk which goes with the feeding was most interesting. Although they live in fresh water, they migrate through and breed in salt water. They are generally 90 – 100 years old when they leave their freshwater home and head to Tonga to breed. The shortfin eel will lay 1.5 – 3 million eggs, while the longfin will lay between 1 and 20 million eggs. The male then fertilises the eggs. After spawning the adults die. It is not known whether the eels return to where the parents came from or end up somewhere else entirely. However, young eels do arrive at the reserve on a regular basis to live out their life there. At present it is though that the oldest eel at the reserve is approximately 40 years old.

Another highlight of our visit was the emergence of the kiwi from his nest to wander down the enclosure and feed. Kiwis are nocturnal, so this is a nocturnal exhibit, hence the red colour!

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We did see a number of other birds including a beautiful fantail, a tui, kaka and a wood pigeon. Others got away before the shutter could capture them!

All in all, a very enjoyable day with dinner at the Waterman over looking the beach as the sun set.

Marlborough

Reluctantly leaving the views and beach front of Kaiterteri , F&L arranged a delightful drive across the top of the south island with the particular objective of stopping in the mussel capital of NZ, Havelock.  Lindsay had targeted the Mussel Pot for lunch, however no such luck as it was closed. Instead we found a delightful sun filled balcony at the Captains Daughter for our special lunch.  Giant sized mussels made for a big lunch.

After lunch we took the scenic route across to Blenheim for our Marlborough wine experience. Along the way we passed beautiful sandy bays and headlands with fabulous views across Queen Charlotte Sound to mountains in the distance.

It was a bit windy

And then we turned a corner and were in Picton, just like that, a port for exporting logs and the ferry to Wellington

Our digs for the next few days is a cottage on a farm: vines on either side, cows outside the window, sheep bleating in the next paddock, olive trees behind and hazelnut trees on the driveway.  And to top it all off, a cricket pitch outside the back door!  Ideal being isolated and peaceful, although only a mile or two to the shops and wineries.

The first stop the next day was at Hans Herzog where we were impressed with the red wines particularly. Marlborough is noted for its white wines and lighter style pinot noir, Hanz Herzog surprised us with its full bodied reds.

Next stop was Wairu winery for a tasting and then on to Jan Hunter’s winery where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch and tasting served to us by the delightful Helen.

The area is especially known for the sauvignon blanc and pinot noir varieties, however we were surprised to see numerous other wine varieties available throughout the area. Hans Herzog had an impressive collection of varietals including some of Italian origin such as a Barbera and Tempranillo, and Montepulciano and a Sweigelt from Austria. This was a very interesting visit and tasting.

We are getting better at distinguishing regional differences in, particularly, pinot noir, with Central Otago wines being bigger and more flavoursome and the Marlborough more delicate.  Despite having been brought up on Hunter Shiraz, we can now, after our 10 week immersion in NZ wines, appreciate better these delightful NZ wines and their regional differences!

We have noticed how the vines are trimmed, even during the bud burst and bunch ripening season. We are told this is to ensure the maximum sunlight does to the bunches.

Our last dinner together (F&L are returning to Oz early for the birth of their second grandchild) was at Scotch Bar, a restaurant in town with a menu that focused on sharing plates using freshly sourced local ingredients.  We opted for the chef’s selection including walnut and chive dip with multi gain sourdough, super fresh (the carrot and radish snapped crisply in the mouth) lightly pickled vegetables with an avocado dip, sashimi cod with daikon and cucumber jus, slow cooked rib eye with whipped duck fat and the finale was chocolate mousse piped over whipped  buttermilk with pepper on top!

The waiter very helpfully suggested a local pinot that suited the meal especially well and then recommended two further wineries for us to visit the next day!

So, the next day we did visit a couple more wineries as well as enjoying a very delicious lunch at the restaurant at Wairu winery.  We should have rented a bicycle as they come equipped with a very important carry bag!

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It now feels a bit like we are moving towards home.  Certainly we will be travelling north (tomorrow on the ferry to Wellington and after that driving up the North Island) to drop off Goldie and catch a plane back to Oz from Auckland.  The Coronavirus is a growing concern, although NZ seems to be relatively free of the anxiety we are reading about in Australia.  Restaurants are full, campers everywhere and supermarkets fully stocked.  We will need to self-isolate when we arrive in Sydney so that will slow us down.  A lunch John was looking forward to has been cancelled, the MG National Meeting over Easter cancelled and a golf weekend John was especially excited about has gone. Looks pretty grim from here. But we do have a very good supply of toilet paper at home! Australia seems to have gone mad with panic buying during our absence! New Zealanders are behaving in a much more sane and restrained fashion.

 

Kaiteriteri

Kai_40Finally, having been given the green light by the surgeon to resume kayaking, we were all set to do what I have been waiting for all trip, spend the day out kayaking and walking. New Zealand has always seemed to me to be a place where you get out and experience the landscape and enjoy, to coin a phrase, ‘the great outdoors’.

We have certainly seen a great deal of New Zealand on this trip, which was of course its primary purpose, and we have loved every minute of the trip and everything we have seen. The landscape, wherever you go, is magnificent, awe-inspiring, misty and magical or simply stunning. Kaiteriteri, sitting on the edge of Able Tasman National Park with its beautiful waterways, offered us the perfect opportunity to get  out onto the water with a two hour walk thrown in.

When we arrived in Kaiteriteri the previous day, we found the cottage we had booked was high up on the hill behind the beach and overlooking the bay.  This was a great location, inviting us to sit on the veranda with a glass of wine while watching the sun set.  And, as we arrived early in the afternoon, we managed a few hours relaxing on the beach in the warm sunshine – something we had missed for the last 2 weeks!

Kaiteriteri is in the Malborough Sounds and has a tidal range of up to 5 metres.  While we were there John looked up and found that at this time of the year there was over 4.8 metres difference from high to low tide.  As we arrived on the beach just after high tide we could almost see the tide recede: a tractor arrived with a boat trailer and initially dipped its wheels in the water. However, by the time the boat returned to be loaded the wheels were high and dry.

We signed up for a day’s kayaking and walking with a local company, Wilsons, which runs a commuter/tourist boat service up the coast of the national park. We boarded the boat off the beach at Kaiteriteri. The boat has a long gangway projecting from the bow which is lowered onto the sand to allow people to board. The boat travels with this raised but in place, making for a very striking prow arrangement.

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Having boarded, we set off up the coast. An excellent on board commentary is provided as well as a detailed map showing the various route highlights with accompanying explanations. The coast consists of a series of beaches, bays and headlands and some interesting rock and land formations just off the coast including Split Apple Rock. The dominant rock of the area is granite which splits along natural fault lines. When the granite breaks up and wears down completely it forms the golden quartz sand beaches of the area.

The boat dropped us off at Torrent Bay where we joined up with a group for a three and a half hour kayaking expedition. The kayaking was led by a young man from the Coromandel named Braedon, and what a terrific guide he proved to be.  With a very precise and comprehensive safety briefing and some tips for the non-kayakers on technique, we were into the water and on our way.

The paddle took us past interesting rocky outcrops, some with hardy trees clinging to the tops or slopes, a seal colony, other sandy bays and finally, after a fairly challenging paddle into the wind across a long and open stretch of water, we landed at Frenchman’s Bay for lunch where we were joined by a weka who was looking for a handout. The weka is a very inquisitive ground bird and will quickly get into your lunch or bag if you do not keep a keen eye on it. Also during lunch a large stingray cruised the shallows in front of us.

After lunch we paddled into the lagoon, only accessible at high tide, at the northern end of the bay. This lagoon was very extensive with two distinct arms which went quite a long way inland. We only had time to explore a short way up both arms but along the way we did see a cormorant fishing in very shallow water. No diving from a height here, rather the bird ducked under the surface and skimmed along the shallow flats at a remarkable speed emerging after some 10 – 20 seconds with a small fish in its beak. The lagoon was very protected, with calm, clear blue water and it was a pleasure to cruise around in here for about twenty minutes.

It was then back to the beach from where we had set off in the morning to don shoes for the walk from the northern end of Torrent Bay back to Anchorage Beach where we would be picked up by the boat in a couple of hour’s time for the trip back to Kaiteriteri. If we had done this walk at low tide we could have walked across the bed of the large lagoon and it would have taken about 45 minutes. However, as it was high tide we had to go inland right around the back of the bay and then inland around a very extensive lagoon which ran inland again for some considerable distance.

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This was an exceptionally pretty walk through dense vegetation but always with the crystal blue lagoon on our left.

A measure of the success pf the Department of Conservation’s pest trapping program could be seen in the national park. The number of weka strolling along the track and hanging pout on the beaches and at Cleopatra’s pool is testament to this. And they have no fear of people, rather they are. inclined to walk straight up to you and peck at your footwear.

Half way along there is a side track to Cleopatra’s Pool. Here, a sparklingly clear stream tumbles through huge boulders and forms pools along its path. At one place the rocks have left a ‘raceway’ for the water to stream through and people jump in at the top and are spat out at the bottom, landing in one of the deeper pools. A very beautiful spot and well worth the 20 minute detour to get there and back.

The last section of the track was a well graded but very long climb to the top of a ridge before a quick descent to the beach below for pick up.

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Both of us were pretty tired by the time we got back onto the boat for the trip back to Kaiteriteri. However, back at the house a restorative glass of wine awaited us on the veranda, to be followed by a delicious BBQ dinner cooked by Frances and Lindsay and an early night!

 

Heading north

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We are leaving behind the snow capped mountains of the south and the magnificent turquoise lakes and heading north once again. Hopefully back into some warmer weather!

We set out from Tekapo on a very misty morning. How very glad we were that the previous day had cleared and allowed for our helicopter flight. No helicopter would be flying in this peasouper – in fact it was even difficult driving as the mist and fog were so thick you could only see about 50 metres in front of you. Everywhere else was a white, misty world.

Finally, the mist lifted and we found ourselves travelling through rolling plains before descending into the Rakaia Gorge with its steep sides and turquoise waters.

Once past the gorge the river valley became broad and the river sluggish, running between rounded river stones. The breadth of the river when in full flow would be impressive.

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The road then ran into a more rugged region with twisting roads and some beautiful scenery. Is there anywhere in NZ which is not scenic? Not that we have so far seen.

We broke our journey north at Murchison, a small rural town but one which is the centre of outdoor adventure style activities. Fishing, white water rafting, kayaking, cycling, jet boating, heli tours, comet line rides, gold panning, bush and earthquake fault-line walks: you name it, you can do it!

We went for a short walk through the town, passing a pretty old church and a fabulously creative and eco-friendly letterbox, before wandering along the Murchison River (it had been a long day’s drive and we needed to stretch the legs).

Then it was off to the local pub for a whisky and beer sitting outside and watching the motorhomes go by. Having finished our drinks and thinking about heading back to the accommodation, we discovered that Frances and Lindsay, having had the same idea about having a quick drink before dinner, were, in fact, sitting at a table at the same pub but just around the corner!  So, a quick decision was made: off to the local restaurant for the recommended pizza for dinner. And yes, the pizzas were very good (sorry, the food went too quickly to take a picture of the actual pizzas) and the ambience, dining in the garden surrounded by fruit trees heavily laden with various types of fruit, was terrific. Just a very relaxing and enjoyable end to a beautiful day’s drive.

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The next day was a much shorter drive out to the coast to Kaiteriteri. The landscape altered again on this drive but for much of it we were aware of the extent of the forestry industry in New Zealand. It is one of the top three industries here and we travelled through extensive pine forests in various stages of being logged or regrowing.

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Then it was onto the coast where we were greeted by the sandy beaches of Kaiteriteri which is a very popular summer beach resort in the Marlborough Sound. We located our accommodation, a rather charming cottage high on the hill overlooking the town, and settled in for the next couple of nights.

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Mt Cook

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The big day has arrived, we are going on a helicopter flight over Mt Cook and the four glaciers: Hooker, Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef.  Looking out the window it was overcast!  Will we fly?  Certainly not at 10am as originally planned, but call later, maybe noon.

So with that we toddled off and looked at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, a small stone church looking out over Lake Tekapo with a view from behind the alter to ensure you return each Sunday.  No photos inside please. Nearby was a statue of a Collie dog, credited with ensuring the success of sheep breeding in the Mackenzie district.

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We then set off for the hour’s drive to Mt Cook Village near to the heliport where we received an update, maybe 1:30.  A coffee and cake at the Hermitage overlooking the clouds (but they were rising) and then we set off for a walk along the Tasman Glacier Track.  You could imagine being all on one’s own…but not to be with a car park crammed with campers (and the rare car) and numerous people along the track.

We stopped at a memorial to those, particularly climbers, who had lost their lives on the slopes of Mt Cook.

Finally the call came: yes we are flying at 2:30. And what a flight!

Up over the glaciers and along side Mt Cook (3,754 m or over 10,000 ft) plus Mt Tasman and 17 other mountains over 3,000 m.

We flew up the Tasman Glacier valley (the glacier has receded and now there are many miles of moraine and then a large lake before you reach the face of the glacier) on the east side.

We then flew over the saddle and onto the west side of the mountains to the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers where we landed for some fun in the snow and ice.

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The glaciers were covered with a reddish pink tinge which the locals blamed on the Australian bushfires for sending over smoke and fine ash that then settled on their nice white glaciers.

We then returned over the saddle and flew down the Hooker Glacier with Mt Cook right there outside the window.  Interesting to see Muller Hut down below (1,800m), the starting point for ascents of both Mt Cook and Tasman.

Back over Mt Cook Village and then to the heliport.  Wow, what a trip.  Well worth doing.

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With all that excitement over we just needed there classic car picture and then returned to Tekapo for a dip in the hot springs and out to dinner overlooking the lake.

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Manapouri and a drive

It’s great to have a ‘not much’ day every so often on our trips and Monday proved to be it.

While our travelling companions did car things (nail in tyre, electric window failure) Ros and I went for a couple of hours walk along the edge of Lake Te Arnau to Brod Bay.

The walk started in reasonably dry forest, which then changed to taller trees with many ferns and then still more canopy with mosses at ground level.  There were numerous streams running into the lake and pleasant pebble beaches around the shore line.

All along the walk were traps for non native animals that have devastated the native bird population. Stay with me a moment here: NZ only has 2 land based native mammals, being the short tailed and long tailed bats, each only less than a hand in size. Otherwise the land based population is only birds whose only real predator is larger birds. Over the years many of the birds no longer needed to fly and used as their defence from these predator birds complete stillness:  if you are not moving you cannot be seen because of the camouflaging colours of your feathers.  Moving forward, Europeans introduced rabbits that overran the place so they introduced weasels (called stoats here) to catch the rabbits.  However, why chase a fast moving rabbit when a plump bird is standing still in front of you!

A major eradication program is now in place, with numerous islands having been cleared of rabbits, stoats, mice and rats and the native birds reintroduced.  In the parks there is a trapping program in place: wooden boxes baited with a hen’s egg with a trap to catch the unwanted invader.  And the country is having some success with this as native bird species repopulate.

John then washed the car (unfortunately the next day we drove through rain).

We enjoyed the ambiance of the local pub for dinner where the meals were huge and Ros enjoyed trying numerous wines to select the night’s pinot!

Next day was a reasonably long drive up into the alps for a night at Tekapo on Lake Tekapo.

Not  many pictures of the scenery, except when we arrived at Lake Pukaki where one takes ‘the picture’ of Mt Cook and the very blue waters of the lake.  Unfortunately the mountain was initially shrouded in cloud, but did lift allowing for a reasonable picture.

Here we found a monument to an unusual item, the introduction of tahr into NZ!  In 1904 the Duke of Bedford gifted 6 tahr to the government because he thought they might like the alpine hills.  They did and eventually over 40,000 were eating away the alpine grasses!  It continues to amaze us what animals and plants have been introduced into NZ (and Australia too for that matter) with subsequent significant and devastating effects.

On to Tekapo for the night.

 

 

Fiordland 2 – Doubtful Sound

After spending the night in Manapouri we headed off to the wharf to catch the boat for the cruise up Lake Manapouri. Whereas you can drive into Milford Sound (usually), to get to Doubtful Sound you have to take a boat up Lake Manapouri to where the power station is located and then catch a bus across the Wilmot Pass to then descend to Deep Cove where the boat departs for the cruise up the sound.

It is raining as we leave the wharf to cruise up Lake Manapouri. Everywhere is shrouded in mist. Lake Manapouri has a most interesting story as it was the focus of the beginning of the conservation movement in NZ. The original plans for the power station included raising the level of Lake Manapouri by 30 metres. This would have effectively destroyed the foreshore and much of the unique vegetation and habitat along the foreshore. Public outrage at this possible destruction was nationwide and in the 60s more than two million people from across both islands signed a petition protesting at this possibility. One of New Zealand’s popular singers of the period, John Hanlon, wrote Damn the Dam, a protest song to support the call for the abandonment of the scheme. The power station was eventually built but with no alteration to the water levels in the lake. Beautiful Lake Manapouri was saved.

It is still raining when we reach the wharf near Manapouri power station where we board the coach for the trip across to Doubtful Sound. The road to Doubtful Sound was built in order to bring in materials for building the power station. It took two years to build the road and, at approximately $80 per square metre, is NZ’s most expensive road. It is now primarily used for tourism.

This is a very scenic trip through mostly silver beech forest. Because of the very high rainfall in the area, the trees are hung with lichen and moss. Waterfalls cascade down the sides of the sheer cliffs which line sections of the road. Our coach driver talked non stop for forty minutes giving us an insight into the vegetation and flora, the history of the road, the history of the area, the building of the power station and the sights along the way. Most entertaining, as well as interesting.  Unfortunately impossible to take any photos at all through the steaming windows and rain.

One fascinating explanation was of the scarring on the cliff faces both along the road and all through the sound. The cliffs are steep and the trees have shallow intertwined roots to try to provide stability on these sheer slopes. However, it does not take much for a landslide to occur and when this happens a section of the cliff face is stripped bare as one tree pulls the next and so forth. First to regenerate are the mosses and lichens, particularly sphagnum moss which can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. This then provides the perfect germinating material for the next layer of vegetation and for young saplings. This whole process is particularly evident when cruising the sound as you can see the bare scars, the moss covered scars, the young vegetation adorning the disappearing scars and then the areas which have regenerated almost fully.

Reaching Doubtful Sound (another fjord) we boarded a fabulous boat (built in Tasmania) with huge windows just made for sight seeing. It is still raining slightly, but clearing slowly.

Misty, mystical and magical are the words which spring to mind when trying to describe Doubtful Sound on this particular morning. Luckily the clouds and mist lift sufficiently for us to see the tops of the mountains, but the low lying clouds and mist give the scene an eerie quality, but one still ethereally beautiful.

The rain means there are small waterfalls everywhere you look.

The scene itself, wherever you look or point the camera, is like looking at an exquisite black and white photograph. There may be no sun, however this beautiful Sound is still intensely photogenic.

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Along the way we got up close to seals basking on rocks as well as penguins frolicking in the water. These were very difficult to photograph as they kept diving under the water just as you thought you had them in frame!

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We were also treated to a display of arial acrobatics by an albatross which was using the currents above us to great effect.

The rain stopped which allowed for time out on the decks to admire the view. It also allowed for a marriage proposal to take place, including the giving of the ring, which was accepted! The crew then produced two glasses of sparkling for the absolutely joyous couple. What an unexpected yet fabulous addition to our trip on Doubtful Sound.

Back to Manapouri for a short drive around the lake edge where we watched a bus load of crazily enthusiastic youths swimming in the freezing water! Dinner in the Church Restaurant, very laid back but friendly service with good food. Definitely to be recommended.

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Fiordland – Milford Sound

m 8Before we even start to rave about the beauty of Milford Sound, let’s talk about the journey in.

About a month ago a major ‘rain event’ occurred which washed out numerous points along the (only) road into Milford.  Such was the damage that tourists had to be helicoptered out!

After a few days the road was opened to busses only and then only in 3 convoys per day.  No doubt the tourist industry was on to this very early: Milford only exists because of tourism and if you cannot get tourists in, then there is no activity; no bus or boat trips and no income for the many people involved. Still no private vehicles. Our accommodation hired a bus and offered guests a trip in from Te Anau, one and a half hours from Milford, at 11:45am. As we were driving from Dunedin, four hours away, this was going to be a very early start!

Then about a week ago we received the message that guests with booked accommodation could now drive their private vehicles in on one of the three convoys per day.  We needed to book in advance and, as we arrived at the convoy meeting point, we were checked off by the NZ Transport Agency controlling the access.

We were allocated to the 2:45 convoy with the caution, ‘don’t be late as we don’t wait’.

Now this raised the interesting question of ‘what time should we leave’ Dunedin, some 300 kms away?  Having driven for a few weeks in NZ we realise that what the GPS suggests as timing is not always possible. And then there was the issue of determining exactly where the convoy started – how far along the 120 km road into Milford Sound was the convoy check point?

So, working backwards from the GPS estimate and adding coffee and petrol stop time and also a fudge factor, it became an early start – getting up before sunrise, something we have not had to do for a long time on our trips.

A beautiful run across the south of the South Island, the GPS estimate was pretty good, the coffee at the coffee stop acceptable and the supply stop achieved, we then had over two hours to drive the 80 kms to the convoy check point.

This was fortunate, as along State Highway 94 to Milford there were numerous sight seeing points: Lake Mistletoe with views across the water, Mirror Lakes where the water is a mirror (!), Cascade Creek, the actual crossing of the divide and then the last stop before the check point, Key Summit. Despite doodling along and stopping everywhere we still arrived at the check point 45 minutes early, but that was ok, as we back tracked to Key Summit and enjoyed a picnic lunch with a great view.

We returned to checkin (pronounced chicken in Kiwi language) in time to join the queue.

Now we do need to remember that our car has stuff all over it: a map of the Bangkok to London trip plus the list of countries, a list of all the trips we have made on the front guard, the AUS decal and finally the stickers on the bonnet from various trips.  It does stand out and hence we do attract crowds wherever we stop. Especially waiting at the check in on the way in and on the way out!  Ros, when we stopped, stayed in the car but then jumped out and commented that, ‘I feel like a goldfish in a bowl’. Interestingly, quite often only a few people actually come up and talk to us, many just stand and gap. Many more just take a photograph. So we took photos of the photographers taking a photos!

                                                On the way in……….and on the way out!

Trip in was slow as, in places, the road was down to one very narrow lane or partly washed away.

By the way we are now at 45o South, well below the bottom on Tassie (South East Cape 43.3o), so we can expect the weather to be a little chilly.

So much for the travel to Milford, now to Milford Sound.

We stayed in the Milford Sound Lodge, but unfortunately no views from the 2 bedroom suite we had booked. Only the single/double rooms had views and these were over the river. Just a thought if you ever go there! A reasonable dinner (choice: venison, salmon or vegan!) at the Lodge that night after a little explore of the area around the lodge and a short walk along the river.

The next morning it was off to the wharf to board the boat for the cruise up Milford Sound, which is of course actually a fjord as it was carved out of the rocks by a glacier. Milford Sound is actually one of the wettest places on earth, with an average 182 rainy days a year and an average 10+ metres of rain. As the guide said, ‘we don’t bother with millimetres or centimetres over here’! We scored an overcast but not rainy day for our cruise on the fjord.

Setting out we were confronted by the iconic view of Mitre Peak, at a height of 1,692 metres this is one of the highest mountains in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor. It gets its name because it resembles the shape of Bishop’s mitre or headdress.

There are two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, Stirling and Bowen falls, but also a number of ones which only run during rain. As it had been raining overnight we did see some of the non-permanent falls. The leisurely cruise up the fjord was spectacular for the scenery which simply unfolds in front of you, in particular the sheer cliffs that drop 100s of feet vertically into the fiord.

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At the head of the sound is Seal Rock, one of the few areas in the fjord where the Southern fur seal is able to climb out of the water and onto the rocks. These seals inhabit the fiord all year round. We were luck enough, as we sat watching the seals, to see an albatross cresting the air waves around the boat.

On the way back to the jetty the captain nosed the boat right up under the Bowen Falls. We were given ample warning that we might get wet, we were encouraged to don wet weather gear, which we did. What we were not expecting, thought the crew obviously were, was that the falls often give a great spurt and drench the prow of the ship and all who are standing there taking photographs!

The crew must get a laugh out of this every trip, as just about everyone on board is out on the prow! Top half of body protected by wet weather gear, legs and shoes drenched!

                                            Before………….during……………..and after

It was then back to the lodge for lunch before driving to Manapouri, again joining a convoy, this time of 7 cars and over 20 busses, it being the last convoy out and hence all the day trippers need to leave.

We noted that one effect of the partial road closure was that private vehicles cannot enter for the day.  Hence in Milford the numerous car parks were empty, the camp grounds abandoned and it felt like a ghost town for most of the time we were there.  Very much like a ski resort out of season, yet this is the high season.

Dunedin – Day 2

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Our second day in Dunedin saw us venture out onto the Otago peninsular. We took the scenic route along the harbour foreshore, stopping at Portobello for lunch overlooking one of the harbour’s many bays.

Prior to lunch we visited Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only Castle, built 1871 by William Larnach, merchant baron and politician, for his beloved first wife Eliza. It took more than 200 workmen three years to build the Castle shell and master European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior. Larnach spared no expense on his dream home, which features the finest materials from around the world.

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Unfortunately she died, as did his next two wives and finally he committed suicide in the NZ parliament!

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The castle went onto decline until the Barker family purchased it, in a very run down state, as their home in 1967. Decades have been spent on the Castle’s restoration, with the family having restored empty buildings from ruin and assembled a large collection of original New Zealand period furniture and antiques. This living collection showcases the craftsmanship and spirt of New Zealand.

The grounds and gardens of the castle are beautiful, with views over the harbour from many vantage points, including the turret.

The restoration of this building is testament to the dedication of the barker’s who were extremely young when they first embarked on this historic restoration project.

The gardens are extensive, with views back towards Dunedin and out to sea.

Then it was off to visit The Royal Albatross Centre, at Pukekura nestled at the foot of Taiaroa Head. This was a fascinating visit as we learnt a great deal about these magnificent birds and were able to view parents and their chicks in nests on the headland.

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Albatross are the world’s largest seabirds. They normally breed on remote islands and spend at least 85 percent of their lives at sea, well away from land and human view. Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head is the only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony in the world. This site was selected by a bird in 1920 and one man (Richdale) guarded the egg from animals and people to see the chick grow.  Consequently further birds have landed on the site and today it can have up to 50 nesting pairs in residence.

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Renowned ocean wanderers, they travel vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed. The royal albatross, with its massive three metre wingspan, flies an estimated 190,000 kilometres a year.

The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. They nest during early November and within the following three weeks an egg is laid – one only per pair, each two years.

The parents share incubation duty as it lasts for a period of 80 days! The chicks hatch from late January to early February. The parents then take turns at guarding the chick for the first 35 days to protect it from predators while the other goes to sea in search of food to regurgitate to the chick. After that the chick is by itself, with parents only returning with food every few days. It takes eight months for the little balls of fluff to become not so little juveniles, and they will finally take their first ever flight in September! Extraordinarily, there are no ‘training’ flights. Once these young birds take to the air they are airborne or resting on water for most of the rest of their lives. Only when searching for a mate, and they mate for life, or breeding do they return to land. Twelve months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, the chicks’ parents finally leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again.

The young Royal Albatross will spend the next three to five years at sea, never touching land during that time. Many then return to this unique headland to find a mate and start another generation of Royals of Dunedin’s Taiaroa Head.

Following the visit to the albatross colony we visited the old wartime gun emplacements and facilities of Fort Taiaroa. These were first erected in the 1880s when Britain abandoned protection of the colonies and the Russian threat arose. Subsequently for WW1 and WW11 there have been further gun emplacements erected to protect NZ from the sea.

Sited atop Taiaroa Head in an underground circular gun pit, the ‘disappearing gun’ was aimed while below ground, then raised, fired and returned back into the pit by the recoil for reloading. The gun was manufactured by W G Armstrong & Co at Elswick, near Newcastle on Tyne, England, and was tested in its present gun site in June 1889. The gun has fired over 200 times, but never in anger. We also visited the observation post here as well as the small but interesting underground museum, housed in the original wartime tunnels.

On our way back to Dunedin we dropped in at the Glenfallon Gardens and had a twenty minute explore of what are rather wild gardens wandering up a hillside. Definitely did not compare with the gardens at Larnach Castle but were nevertheless an enjoyable break in the middle of the return drive to the city.

 

Dunedin – Day 1

Arriving in Dunedin and finding our accommodation, a pleasant house in the suburbs with a great outlook, we decided to eat in. Provisions had been bought en route and so a leisurely meal was had looking out over the valley below the house.

The next day saw us head into the city centre and the famous Octagon, an eight sided ‘square’, the central location of the city. At the moment the city is trialling making the Octagon a pedestrian precinct and there is a variety of interesting seating also being trailed in the area. The more comfortable options (poofs, lounge chairs, bean bags) were being put to good use! It seemed to us that turning this area into a pedestrian precinct was a win, win idea.

However, one of the retailers we spoke to said it had cut their business by 50% as the tourists in buses were now being dropped in four different locations around the city, when they used to be dropped in the Octagon itself, and many tourists were no longer making it to the stores in this area.

We did get a bit carried away with the shopping here as one of the merino shops had a good sale going! The sweaters, cardigans, ponchos etc were a bit hard to resist, especially as it was on 13°C in Dunedin this day! And this is summer!

The Octagon is overlooked by both the Anglian Cathedral and Robert Burns.

The Cathedral was not finished until about 20 years ago when a new Apse was added, using the same local stone, but in a completely modern design.  Robert Burns is part of the Scottish heritage of Dunedin, being settled by Scots who named the city after the old name for Edinburgh.

Down from the Octagon is the railway station, built in 1903-6 with blue stone and mosaic floors and stained glass windows.

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Very photogenic. Once an important transport location, the station is now the starting point for two tourist scenic train trips: Taieri gorge and the Seasider.

Next door is the Toitu´ Otago Settlers Museum, taking us on a journey through the development of Dunedin from Maori times, through the gold rush era as New Zealand’s biggest city and on to the 1950s and 1960s (with too much on display that we could recognise!).

We were not finished yet, two more highlights to go: Baldwin Street and Olveston House.  Baldwin Street’s claim to fame is as ‘the world’s steepest residential street’ with a gradient of 19o .

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The photos flattens the picture out – it was quite steep, even going a little way up made the clutch smell!

Olveston is a house built in 1913 and lived in by one family until gifted to the city by the last descendent in 1966. The house was built by a wealthy businessman, David Theomin, who took advantage of many modern concepts when building the house: central heating, flushing toilets, overhead showers and motor vehicles.  He also travelled extensively so there are many paintings and decorative items from around the world and from that period on display. After the father and mother died (1923 and 1930s) the unmarried daughter continued to live in the house.  The house was originally run with nine staff but eventually Dorothy lived there with only day help. Little or no changes were made to the house in the 40 years of her solo occupancy. The original refrigerator is still there along the fuel stove and a working butlers call system.  When left to the city (along with a good trust fund) she requested that the house be kept ‘as is’ and the city has honoured this wish with the result that the house is a time capsule and provides an outstanding example of houses of that period unsullied by modern additions and ‘improvements’.

Sorry no photos inside so a few off the internet!

Outside in the (glassed in and heated) carport is the owners original 1921 Fiat 510 tourer, now restored after been found in a barn!

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Dinner that night was in a suburban restaurant recommended on Culture Trip. We decided, rather than pick somewhere in town, to try a restaurant were the locals eat.  It was great with an interesting and  innovative menu and delicious food.

Cromwell

Continuing our New Zealand travels we returned to Queenstown and collected the cars, plus visited our friends and enjoyed some glasses of NZ wine.  How delightful.

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After picking up Goldie we headed off to Cromwell, an old gold mining town but now the centre of the fruit growing industry in Central Otago. And, of course, the vineyards and wineries now abound in this area and have gained an enviable international reputation in a very short space of time. The vineyards in this area were only planted in the 1980s, so we are looking at an industry only forty years old.

We drove the short route of about an hour to Cromwell and went looking for our BnB in daylight – we certainly would not have found it at night as it was on the main road with no street number sight at all.  A quick call when near-by helped us secure two great rooms over looking over Lake Dunstan.

Back into town for dinner at the Stoaker restaurant, part of Wild Earth Winery, where we all selected the 5 courses with 5 matching wines.  First up lamb with a young pinot noir, then duck with an old pinot, pork with a pinot gris, hare with an old Riesling and finishing with salmon with a rose´.  Yummy and filling!!

Cromwell is an interesting town as much of the old section of the town has been moved when the river was dammed, creating Lake Dunstan (in the 1990s), for the production of hydroelectricity. Some parts of the town were flooded and many of the old buildings were raised, moved to higher ground and restored. This section of the town is now an Historic precinct reflecting life as it was during the gold rush era. This area has also become home to artisans, galleries and, of course, cafes and restaurants catering to the tourists. The town does not attract bus loads of tourists, however, much to the delight of one local gallery owner who lives here for the ‘peace and tranquillity’.

We spent some time wandering the old section and it was very difficult not to indulge in buying some interesting artworks. I found these sea urchin sculptures particularly fascinating. They are made completely from painted and dyed cable ties!

A visit then to Highlands Motorsport Park where you can be driven in a Porsche around the track, drive a mustang or even drive your own car.  Our only activity was John going around the go-cart track egged on by one of the young employees so that he was not just racing against himself.

We visited a couple of wineries in the area, including Black Ridge. We had ordered and gladly drunk one of their old Pinot Noirs in a restaurant in Queenstown and were eager to buy some more. Unfortunately, having found the winery and spent an enjoyable half hour here chatting, tasting and learning about the winery and wine growing in the area we had to forgo buying any Pinot. No old ones to buy and the latest release demanded cellaring. We did buy a couple of bottles of a very enjoyable Riesling to ‘drink now’!

Then it was off to  Clyde, an old gold mining town and then to Dunedin where we will spend three days.

We’re Back

Just in case in case you missed it, here are some more pictures of the great dive:

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And what followed:

Yes I was a little nervous to begin with at the top:

But once underway it was 3 seconds of excitement!

And then I just hung around for a while bouncing up and down!

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There has been a brief lull in our posts as we had to return to Sydney for a week to help with and attend our beautiful daughter’s wedding. We are now back in New Zealand, having spent a wonderful time on Saturday at a very special wedding.

 

Queenstown: Do Stuff

Out of the rain and into Queenstown, the excitement town in the excitement country.  Why is it that New Zealanders have felt the need to discover multiple ways to scare you even more than just driving on their roads: jumping off bridges, roaring up narrow gorges, flying down a mountain side.

But there is also the quiet side of Queenstown as well: sitting on the deck admiring the world’s best view, catching a coal burning steamer to a lunch in the sunshine or watching (more) rugby.

We are very fortunate that a golfing buddy has let us stay in his penthouse on the hill in Fernhill, looking east out over Lake Wakatipu to the Remarkables. Every hour the view is different, from cloudy in the morning with snow on the mountain tops one day, to high profile as the sun shines directly onto their high peaks and then dark and coloured as the sun sets. The lake changes colour from bright blue to turquoise and, also, green at times. We had three days here and got out and about each day and spent time on goofing off.

Day one began with a jet boat ride on the Shotover River.  Ros and I remember taking this ride in 1974 while over here skiing so it has been going for a long time.  Aquaplaning boats, driven by 2 Mercruiser V8s, in water as shallow as 10cm at 90 kph between cliffs so close you can reach out and touch them if you are mad enough. A great ride and scary and invigorating and all else.

When we returned to Goldie we found a note on the windscreen: the mechanics had seen our car and were wondering if we would mind them taking a photo of the car alongside a jet boat.  Well yes, we readily agreed.  We now have the quintessential NZ picture (along with the African photo: in front of the pyramids; the UK photo: in front of Buckingham place; the Central Asia photo in from of a Madras; the South American at 5,000 metres with a lama and so on).

We must have spent an hour with these guys as they arranged for the boats on the water to spin at the right spot as well as towing one boat over next to the car for a static shot.

Back into Queenstown for a ride up the gondola, coffee with a great view and a couple of runs down the luge at the top of the mountain.

 

With a view like we had from the apartment we opted for a BBQ on the deck and dinner outside watching the lake and mountains change colour as the sun set.

Day two and off to Arrowtown for a wander through the ‘old town’.  Originally a gold mining town (1860s) and then deserted, which resulting in many of the building decaying, but now restored and today it is a classic tourist town.

Then on to A J Hackett Bungy Jump off the Kawarau Bridge. Only one taker, and John just thought it was fantastic.  Ros thought he was an idiot and mad.

He was a little concerned standing 43 metres above the river on a small platform but finally followed instructions and on the count of 5, dived into the wide open yonder!

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Bouncing up and down 5 or 6 times was less exciting and then being collected by a raft on the river below was a relief.

 

With the adrenalin still pumping through his system, Lindsay was concerned enough to buy him a Jägermeister to help the calming process!

I enjoyed myself!

[I have just downloaded the photos and managed to delete the rest of today – so just the occasional I-phone photo from here on].

On then to two wineries recommended to us: Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley Wineries.  Getting to Chard Farm was half the fun, 2 kilometres along a narrow cliff side dirt road with no side barriers and cars in both directions.  It was even worse on the way back as we were now on the outside of the road and the passenger could see right down the cliff face.

Good Pinot Gris and Riesling at Chard, however we found the combined tasting and lunch platter at Gibbston meant the wines were a little lost against pickled onion and salami!

Another dinner at the digs (sounds like we are a bit stay at home, but why leave such a view and anyway we have eaten out a fair bit over the last few weeks). This time salmon: NZ makes good salmon!

Day three was the lake cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, a 51 metre coal powered steam boat across to Walter Peak Farm.

Earnslaw was built, in Otago, in 1912 for use by NZ Railways, but then dismantled and railed up to Lake Wakatipu to be rebuilt and used as a transport vessel. She carried everything  everything from sheep and cattle to trucks and wool, plus building material to the outlying farms around the lake edge. In the 1970s it was very nearly scrapped, but survived and in 1983 was upgraded with an enclosed upper deck for cruising and continues in that role to this day.

The Earnslaw makes 6 trips a day across to the farm and consequently it operates for around 14 hours a day, using a tonne of coal each hour while moving. As well as captain, deckhand and engineer, there a two stokers who keep coal up to the two boilers in the bilge of the ship.

Our ticket included a stop at Walter Peak Farm for a sheep shearing and sheep dog presentation.  Yes, it might sound a little passé, but we found both to be interesting. The laconic young lad (and his dog) explained a few things about shearing sheep that were new to me, eg that sheep adapt to being sheared by thickening their skin and adding more lanolin to their coats within two days of being sheared.

The sheep dog demonstration reminded us of the sheep dog trials we saw in Scotland a few years ago, both using collies and demonstrating great skill by the handler, with the dog collecting sheep from the far corners of the paddock and bringing them down to the handler for penning.  The dog clearly felt that he could do the job much more quickly than the handler asked, as the handler demonstrated how he instructs the dog to move the sheep from one side to the other: the dog would have had them in the pen in half the time!

Lunch was on the sun soaked deck overlooking (yes again) the beautiful lake!

This must be a great business: there are two lunch sittings and two dinner sittings and, when full, the Earnslaw can carry 400 people to each of these sittings!

So farewell to the excitement town in the excitement country as Ros and I have a short break for the next week.

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Wanaka

The next day saw us leave the We(s)t Coast and head off to Wanaka. It was a great relief that, as soon as we left the coast and approached the mountains the sky started to clear.  We even had a picnic lunch overlooking the Haast and Landsborough Rivers.

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Again some stops along the way including a walk out to the Blue Pools, so named because of the colour of the water. This afternoon, however, the water was distinctly green but many people were still enjoying the crystal clear water.

It was noticeable as we crossed the mountains via Haast Pass that the rain disappeared and the sun reappeared.

Arriving in Wanaka and with an apartment overlooking the lake we decided to ‘dine in’ sitting on the deck with a beautiful view spread out before us.

A slow start the next day saw John hiring a bike to ride around the lake shore while Ros walked, though not so far! One interesting aspect of NZ which is very apparent in areas such as this is the profusion of ‘free campers’. Many areas of NZ allow campers to just pull up anywhere and camp for the night. Many people take advantage of this including large motor homes, smaller vans and tent campers. The lake edge in Wanaka, particularly close to the town centre is a ‘free camper’ haven. I forgot to count, but at a guess there would have been around 50 vehicles in the space of a couple of kilometres.

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A coffee and then we were on the way again.

Three stops along the way saw us visit the Cardrona Distillery to sample their single malt whisky, gin, vodka and two flavoured spirits, orange and elderberry. Kenny, who welcomed us and took us through a tasting, was highly entertaining and a very good salesman. The visit was interesting not only for the tasting but also because we were taken into the private cask barrel room where Lindsay’s sister and brother-in-law have a whisky cask stored. Storage time is 10 years, so they need to be patient! Ros, of course, bought some whisky!

At the entrance to the distillery is Bradona, a fence lined with bras. You are invited to add one to the display when you visit. There is definitely one of every colour shape and size! John was a hugely amazed by the variety and could not quite believe the variety. I suggested he probably had not visited DJs bra section recently or he would no longer be so stupefied! The site is there to help raise money for breast cancer research and provides details of how you can donate.

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Then we stopped for lunch at the Cardrona pub, a very old building left over from the gold mining days where the speciality is frickles, deep fried pickles!  A must have. Once. There is a lovely garden behind the pub where you can sit in the sun and enjoy the surrounds as you have your lunch.

Our final stop was at the Wet Jacket winery where we tasted and bought some local cheese as well as tasted and bought their Pinot Noir. This again was a very attractive old building with a lovely outdoor seating area for dining. We could have, had we wished to, lunched all over again!

Then on to Queenstown for our final stop and a stay of four nights.

 

The Glaciers

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The following day we set out south towards Franz Joeph and Fox glaciers.  Our first stop was in the delightful town of Hokitika: an old gold mining town on the coast but now a tourist stop with numerous shops that even John found interesting!  He especially found the outdoors shop of interest with its display of guns, bows and arrows and women’s wear labelled ‘Girls with Guns’!  The main item for sale was greenstone or jade, a local stone that Lindsay remembers collecting off the beach: think NZ tiki, and there were many of them! Also, the beach was covered in driftwood from which the above sign was made. Many people had put together driftwood ‘sculptures’ from what was lying on the beach.

 

From there we ventured up to Hokitika Gorge to see the blue/grey waters tumbling thru the gorge: the colour is from the snow melt plus the gradual wearing away of the limestone banks of the river.  Not so blue today, more towards the grey because of the recent heavy rains! But a pleasant and enjoyable walk to get there, nevertheless.

One stop that John suggested was a wetlands walk to see some of the local birds. A great idea, but perhaps a Lonely Planet exaggeration as the walk through the wetlands was only about 100 metres long and then it was up and up a hill. Not to worry, an interesting side excursion with a quaint small town at the end of a dead end road!

Onwards then to the BIG attraction, Fox Glacier, with the single objective of a helicopter flight up over the glacier including a landing on the ice and a walk. Unfortunately, the weather defeated us, we knew before we left Greymouth that the choppers were grounded for the day. So, instead, we had a more leisurely drive to Fox Glacier and, when the rain let up, did a couple of short walks to waterfalls, again along some beautiful forest walks.

We were hopeful that the weather would lift overnight and we could fly the next morning, but again, the choppers were grounded. We drove out to a glacier viewing point and did a short walk on the track out towards Lake Matherson.

A few months ago the road into the glacier region from extensive storm damage and was closed for some time.  Even now, it is still being repaired with numerous sections one way and with the rock falls still very visible as we drove along.

Although all the walking tracks and roads up to the face of Fox Glacier are currently closed due to land slips we did find a viewing spot where the glacier could be clearly seen and photographed, even if we did have to get Loe to the ground to get a good shot.

The West (Wet) Coast

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Travelling down from the alps we were still in wet weather, however now at sea level.  The landscape has changed dramatically. From dry summer fields and yellowish hills we were now driving through lush green semi tropical vegetation with tall trees and a myriad of ferns. And misting rain, of course! This is after all the we(s)t coast.

We met the first of many intimidating roundabouts where the train line runs through the middle of the roundabout or crosses two of the arms of the roundabout thus providing the train with the opportunity to have a couple of goes at collecting cars as it passes through.

On the west coast we were lucky to stay again with family of Lindsay and Frances, this time Lindsay’s sister and brother-in-law who live in Greymouth.  They live in a rustic house set in its own glade of delightful rain forest where they have carved out a garden (and huge vegi patch) from the surrounding tall trees and palms.

A delight for me was to be welcomed by Tika, a chocolate retriever who is so loveable and pattable. She lies on her bed inside stares at you with big brown eyes inviting waving hands to descend on her and give her a long, long pat or tummy rub!  Rob is training her as a gun dog: he is an outdoorsman who fishes, hunts and shoots.  For dinner on the first night we were treated to whitebait fritters with whitebait caught by Rob, home grown vegetables and venison that Rob had shot recently. He was disappointed not to have some duck or salmon as well!

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About Greymouth: Lindsay was born here and his Dad still lives here, so it was of significant interest to us. Also Greymouth is the major town on the West Coast with a population around 10,000 with hospital and council headquarters. It was also once a major port, but now the river mouth is too dangerous for all but the fishing fleet to cross.

The West Coast is noted for being wet, and it did live up to its name. It rained most of the time we were there: not that it mattered too much as rain is not unusual and it was not heavy, just the occasional shower which means you always need to have a coat/umbrella nearby.

While in Greymouth we drove north to Punakaiki to visit Dolomite Point and look at the Pancake Rocks. These rocks are a very distinctive as a layering/weathering process has carved the limestone into what looks like piles of thick pancakes. The pancake rocks are quite fantastic.

This is a rugged coast line and the relentless pounding of the sea has carved the rocks along the shore into many fantastical shapes. One has the nickname of ‘the gumboot’.

On this point there are also a number of blowholes through which the tide surges and blows. Unfortunately, the surf was quite tame this day so blowholes only huffing and puffing but still interesting to see.

We walked along the Truman track, a short half hour walk out to the beach. The fascinating aspect of this track is that it passes through three distinct zones of vegetation where the trees and flora change quite obviously: big mossy trees with little ground cover and epiphytes and ferns growing high in the branches, more scrubby lower trees with dense vegetation under the trees, then flax and low ground cover. The track was very well signed with information relating to the geological features and the zones of vegetation. A beautiful and interesting walk.

Although we set out in misty and misting rain weather, nevertheless it did clear during the day and became quite pleasant.

Returning to Greymouth we visited Monteith Brewery, originally Western Brewery and very much a landmark in Greymouth. It was taken over by DB Brewing who proposed closing the Greymouth facility. This caused a boycott of DB beers across NZ with such success that the Greymouth facility was saved. Now owned by Heineken, who invested in upgrading the facility, and produces batch produced craft beers. The tour of the brewery was short on technical information but long on history and entertainment. We were then taught how to ‘pour’ a beer from a tap. Some serious tasting of beer by John and Lindsay then followed.

The night out with Lindsay’s family and Dad with local fish and salad was a treat.

Across the Alps

Sunday morning and the Canterbury MG Car Club has arranged a brunch for us on the outskirts of Christchurch.  Twenty or so members of the Club arrived to greet us in their MGs plus a 1952 Lea Francis!

As usual for a MG event there was time in the car park viewing cars: men looking under bonnets and even the ladies admiring Goldie!

Ros and I gave a short presentation before we headed off towards the alps and in particular Arthur’s Pass.

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At first the longest straight road we have driven in NZ (Say 5 kms!) up towards the mountains.  Bad luck however settled in as we approached: rain, mist and sideways wind!

A few walks planned cancelled and just enjoy what we could of the scenery.  A relaxed drive then down to Greymouth for the start of our west coast touring and sightseeing.