A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ChrisMWilk

Final Few Days

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21 - 24 Feb

21 Feb
Uneventful drive to Te Anau from Queenstown, after we spent a very pleasant couple of hours swapping holiday tales over coffee with the Cresseys of Monkseaton. Small world eh? Oh, apart from passing what appeared to be a group of characters from a John Wayne western. Numerous cowboys on horseback, a stagecoach and a couple of covered wagons. And no, they weren't being chased by Apaches.

22 Feb
Trip to Doubtful Sound, a long deep sea inlet surrounded by mountains, think Norwegian fjord without the Vikings. By bus then boat then bus then boat and reversed for return. Stunning landscapes, loads of marine life (penguins, dolphins, fur seals, albatrosses, skuas, terns, kangaroos).  Ok, I made that last one up. Returned via a visit to a hydro power station  (no, I didn't make that one up). It's located deep inside a mountain and our coach passed through a 1 mile long access tunnel (think Tyne Tunnel without the tolls), to get to the turbine room - just skip this if you're bored already - where water drops 600 ft from Lake Manapouri to drive the turbines and generate electricity, before flowing down a 4 mile tunnel into Doubtful Sound. Simples!


23 Feb
Another quite long drive, our last of the trip, this time from Te Anau to Dunedin. It rained from the moment we got out of bed in the morning, until the moment we got back into bed that night. Well, we've been quite lucky all trip so we were due a wet day. And off course, it keeps the lakes filled and the countryside green. After we reached Dunedin, we spent the afternoon and evening in the city centre. Spent a bit of time in the city art gallery, saw a Turner depicting Dunstanburgh Castle. Like I said earlier, small world.

24 Feb
A better day for our last full one in NZ. The Otago peninsular just outside of Dunedin is famous for its albatross and penguin colonies, as well as beaches and a few hills so off we went. First call was Larnach Castle & gardens, claimed to be the only castle in NZ. More stately home than castle, it was built in the 19th centiry by a wealthy politician & banker who made his fortune in the days of the Australian gold rush, to impress his young wife of French descent. Pity she didn't like it. 
After a quick visit to Sandfly Bay (penguins here apparently but we didn't see any), we continued to an albatross breeding colony at the end of the peninsula.  Because of its protected status, a guide takes you to a hide to view the rare Royal Albatross close up. These birds are enormous, when something with a 10ft wingspan passes close overhead, you instinctively duck - and that's under a roof! We were lucky enough to see an adult sitting nearby with a 3 week old chick, even this was a big as a pigeon.
One more thing, there's an old fort here with a big gun dating back to the early 1900s. And it was made, yes, you guessed, at the Armstrong Works on Scotswood Road. It really is a riidiculously small world!


Posted by ChrisMWilk 16:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Forests, Glaciers and Icy Frolics

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17 - 18 Feb

17 Feb
Tantalising glimpses of Mount Cook this morning and after a hearty breakfast at the cafe (this is our only accommodation without breakfast), we set off on a 1.5 hour walk (or so I thought).  Instead, we spent the day trekking through rainforest to a number of Fox Glacier viewpoints, one of which was close to the terminal face of the glacier.  Views were excellent - the sheer size visible by watching the guided parties as dots walking up the glacier field, and we returned to enjoy a drink in the local 'saloon'. We'd have liked a helicopter trip to view the glacier and Mt Cook summit but the extensive cloud cover meant we'd missed our chance.


18 Feb
Yet more tantalising glimpses of Mount Cook this morning but cloud looks more widespread than yesterday morning. We started packing before the 5 hour drive to Queenstown when we noticed that more of the snowy mountain tops were visible. Could this be a last minute chance of a heli trip? One quick call from our motel manager & we were booked on the 10 am flight. And what a flight. Along with 4 other passengers, our pilot Sam took us straight up into clear the blue sky to the top of the Franz Josef Glacier for a landing and 10 minute frolic on the ice, then on to fly around the summit of Mts Cook & Tasman and down the full length of Fox Glacier before landing. And, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the next flight's waiting passengers that it was a waste of money and they should give us their tickets, we finally left for Queenstown. But what a start to the day! A truly unforgettable experience, especially after having written off the idea the day before.


Posted by ChrisMWilk 23:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Whales, Quakes and Glaciers

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14-16 Feb
14 Feb
Today we took in a trip to the sperm whale feeding grounds just off the coast at Kaikoura. Sperm whales spend long periods diving deep to hunt before returning to the surface for about 15 mins to purge their systems and refill their lungs before setting off again. Fortunately we managed to spend time alongside a floating whale on two occasions. Eventually it was time for them to leave us and up came the giant tail as they headed down for their next squid dinner.

15 Feb
Our next stop was Christchurch and, despite the extensive media coverage of the big quake in Feb 2011, it still came as a shock to see the extent of damage. Every street in the central area is blocked off as it approaches Cathedral Square. Within this area, many large hotels stand empty, including the Ibis, Novotel, Copthorne and Rydges. There are so many empty plots of land where buildings have had to be demolished. One sign of the local population's resilience however is the shopping area made up of glass fronted steel containers. Recovery by retail therapy! We also saw the plans for the new Christchurch and, although it won't happen overnight, this fantastic city should still have a great future. We met some wonderful people who have adapted to the situation and spent a lovely afternoon in the botanical gardens - so much to see and free admission. A modest but quality evening meal at the Pegasus Bar, washed down by a few beers and entertained by an excellent singer/guitarist, Olly, who belted out mainly 60s & 70s classics with some clever arrangements.
We had an excellent hotel, The Classic Villa, just to the west of the central area. At 4.15 the next morning we got a small taste of what the good people of Christchurch must experience regularly - a 4.1 quake. When everything starts swaying and the building & furniture start creaking, it's a bit disconcerting.

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16 Feb
Thursday and another early start for the TransAlpine train to Greymouth on the west coast. The 4.5 hour journey takes in the Cantebury plains before winding up into the Southern Alps.  Views are spectacular, especially from an outside viewing carriage if you don't mind the wind.

Our third hire car took us from Greymouth south to Fox Glacier.  We briefly stopped at the Franz Josef glacier for our first glimpse, but have yet to see the Fox, or NZ's highest mountain, Mount Cook, both covered with cloud.We took an evening drive to Lake Matheson, a photograper's dream, famed for its glassy surface giving reflected views of NZ's highest mountains, Mt Cook & Mt Tasman. Only two problems, a breeze rippling the lake's surface and cloud obscuring the mountain tops. Still, it could have been worse, I just haven't worked out how. Better luck tomorrow.

Posted by ChrisMWilk 11:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Wine wine and more wine please

overcast 19 °C

Sunday morning saw us leave Wellington and the North Island behind to make the ferry crossing to Picton on South Island. The ferry had to squeeze through several spectacularly narrow channels as we approached Picton, thankfully the captain wasn't Italian...(sorry Paola)

Another fabulous stay at the Marlborough Vintners Hotel near Blenheim, which, as the name suggests, is in the middle of the wine region.  In fact, we had rows of vines just yards from the door of the studio.  Taking advantage of the numerous vineyards on the doorstep, we joined a wine tasting trip.  We think it was a great afternoon but can't remember much beyond the third winery (hic).

Today we went to the other attraction that Blenheim is famous for: the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre (yes really). With original and replica WW1 planes, uniforms, memorabilia and stories from the period, this has been put together with the support of Peter Jackson (LoTR Director) who apparently provided some special effects  (Nail would love it). For those of you who are a bit nervous about flying in modern, hi tech planes, you should see what passed as an airplane 100 years ago!

Travelling down to Kaikoura this afternoon, we have seen fur seals along the coastline, and tried out a crayfish from a roadside caravan - think giant meaty prawns.  We've also had a long walk around the peninsula - the views are superb but the feet are aching now.

Finally, I just wanted to wish my sister Caroline a very happy birthday, and to wish my uncle Raymond a happy birthday and retirement, both on the 14th Feb.  X

Posted by ChrisMWilk 11:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Last day on North Island

sunny 22 °C

photo.jpgphoto-2.jpgphoto-8.jpgphoto-3.jpgphoto-6.jpgWe caught an early morning ferry out of Wellington to bring our short tour of North Island to an end. Saturday was a long drive from Rotorua to Wellington, including crossing the central plateau past three huge, and still active volcanoes. Of which two were cloud covered but the third was fully visible and looked just like it did in Lord of the Rings. Yes folks, we'd arrived at Mount Doom. No danger of my ring going in there though....

Would have liked to have spent more time in Wellington judged on what we saw last night, it looks like a great city. We did a whistle-stop tour of the sights, ending at Mac's brew pub just outside the Te Papa museum of NZ. The choice of food is overwhelming here and we settled for a Malaysian meal which didn't disappoint. With complete good luck after dinner, we arrived back at the harbour to find it chockablock with people, clearly waiting for something.  After a bit of eavesdropping, we discovered that it was Chinese New Year and a firework display was imminent. Sure enough, 5 mins later and we were treated to a fabulous display over the harbour. Our brilliant night out was completed by a loud American on a pogo stick showing us his tricks - I didn't know you could do so much with a pogo stick.

Toodle pip.

Posted by ChrisMWilk 10:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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