Dec 2000/Jan 2001
We spent 18 days in New Zealand in early 2001, and the following pages all tell of our trip. As a brief overview, we spent time in Auckland, Houhoura Harbour, Taupo, Wellington, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Christchurch, Nelson, Rotorua and back into Auckland.
It was a fantastic trip, and we’re making plans to return for a longer time.
Feel free to browse through the sections of our trip, they are written in chronological order, but it shouldn’t make much difference if you just read the sections which are about places you’re interested in.
New Zealand had held some interest for me for a while, I’m not sure why. When a friend, Cayne, left the UK in October 2000 it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. We figured we would give him a chance to settle a bit before arriving and so January seemed like a good bet.
Early November saw us looking for flights. Initially we considered doing stop-overs but it added a lot more money to already expensive tickets, and more time to an already short trip. We settled on direct flights with Air New Zealand obtained using the Expedia service on the web. We spent a lot of time manipulating the start and end dates to keep the cost down.
We bought a copy of the Lonely Planet book and skim read some of the general information. I bought Rich the Insight guide for Christmas — mainly because of the photographs in it. I also did a lot of internet research, storing anything interesting on my handspring visor. I read a couple of travelogues from the rec.travel.library website and also got advice from a Kiwi friend at work. Over Christmas I caught up with some friends who’d been to New Zealand twice and jotted down their suggestions.
Initially we planned to book our first 3 nights in Auckland but Cayne offered us his spare room. Thanks Cayne!
Where to go:
Using the various information we’d collected — from books, the internet, friends — we had an idea of some of the places we wanted to go but we had no fixed itinerary. We pre-booked a car for 2 weeks with Omega, a company recommended by friends.
Day 01 — Sunday 31 Dec
A cab from Ealing Executive Cars arrived, as ordered, at 11am. It got us to Heathrow Terminal 3 in plenty of time and we joined the queue to check in. We got checked in, and got seats together — the first seats we were allocated weren’t. Next stop was to pick up our currency from Thomas Cook, we’d pre-booked this through the BAA which means no commission!
We went through into departures and did the usual shopping for films, video cassettes and batteries before having lunch at “Chez Gerard” which was very pleasant.
We boarded the plane and set off on the first (and shortest) leg at around 3pm — there was a slight delay due to the wintery conditions in London. The leg room on board flight NZ1 was pretty generous (for pacific class — that’s economy on most other airlines), and the meal was decent, with real crockery and a real wine glass rather than plastic stuff. I didn’t get much sleep, and so watched a couple of films and other programmes. We were presented with afternoon tea shortly before celebrating the British New Year. We landed at Los Angeles about an hour and a half later where it was around 5:30pm, still on the 31st!
We disembarked and were herded into the transit lounge, where there were some drinks, a very, very small shop, no more than a stall really, and queues for the toilets. We had to queue up again to get passes to allow us to board again and then got back on to the plane for the second leg.
The second leg was better for me than the first as I got a bit more sleep, and didn’t even attempt to watch any of the films. I set my watch to Auckland time, ate some dinner and alternated between reading my book and having a doze.
Day 02 — Monday 1 Jan
This was basically the day we lost due to crossing the international date line, I never worked out quite how much of the day we did see, but it can’t have been more than a couple of hours.
Day 03 — Tuesday 2 Jan
We had breakfast on the plane at around 3am, and landed in Auckland at 5:15am, about 10 minutes early. We cleared immigration, collected our baggage and went through customs really quickly. We rang Cayne from the airport at 6am to let him know we were on our way, and got a cab.
We arrived at Cayne’s place in Remuera 15 minutes or so later. We had a chat, a cup of tea, some juice and gave Cayne the kite we’d brought him. We had a much needed shower before deciding to head off to a beach — the 2nd is a public holiday in New Zealand. We thought we should take his kite with us, and so started to attach the cables to it. Big mistake! The diagram for the suggested knot was really hard to follow so we decided to knot it using the same method as we’d used on our kite. The first one worked okay, but the second was just a huge tangled mess and it took us the next 2 hours to sort it out.
After finally sorting the kite, we walked off to the local supermarket to get some picnic type food to take to the beach with us.
We set off and Cayne drove us the more touristy route, via Newmarket, Parnell and past the city before heading off to the coast. We took a wrong turn at some point and ended up in Huia which involved a drive through the Waitakere Ranges Regional park, and us stopping off a couple of times to admire the view. The Waitakere Ranges used to support kauri forests but they were logged almost to extinction in the 19th century. We retraced our steps and followed the correct road to get to Piha (pronounced pea-ha). Piha beach is a black, iron-sand beach. Apparently when Cayne was at school, they visited a similar black sand beach and discovered that the particles had the same properties as iron filings. Piha has roaring waves and is surrounded by bush covered hills. The Lion Rock sits just off the beach and many people were walking up it. Despite a strong breeze, the sun was warm and very welcome. We had our picnic lunch before unfurling Cayne’s kite and spending an hour or so playing with it, all of us getting wet legs as we walked backwards into the sea at one point or another.
Cayne drove us back to his place, and after attempting to wash the clinging sand off our feet and legs, Rich and I called it a day and went to sleep (at 7pm!).
Day 04 — Wednesday 3 Jan
The day started off gently. We both woke up feeling refreshed after our long sleep and slowly got the day going, with breakfast and showers. Once we were ready to face the day we walked to the bus stop and caught bus 625 to downtown.
Once in town we wandered up Queen Street until we got to the Tourist Information centre where we bought a road atlas, a where-to-stay guide and a couple of postcards, as well as picking up a few leaflets. We stopped for lunch in a cafe in the Civic building before making our way to New Zealand’s tallest structure — the Skytower.
We paid our admission and wandered through to the audio visual display about New Zealand and Auckland before catching a lift to the Main Observation levels. There are three main levels to be visited — the Main Observation level has glass panels on the floor in places so you can see the road a long way below you. We both walked across the glass slowly and carefully. There are notices stating that the 38mm thick glass is as strong as the concrete but it is still hard to trust it and walk across. We watched some kids jumping on it and thought how much more self-preservation/fear you get as you get older. We had paid the extra $3 to go the skydeck which offered really good views across the city. This was reached by a special lift. After spending quite a while there we went to the outdoor observation level which in some ways was my favourite as not only where the views as good, but there were benches to sit on and the sun was shining down. It was really relaxing. All of the levels have glass all the way around, so all photos have to be taken through that. We stopped at the cafe on the lower observation level before leaving the skytower.
One of the things we’d seen from the tower was a park, and so we headed off to find it. This was Albert Park and was very peaceful. We had also spotted another interesting looking building and so went to investigate. This turned out to be Auckland town hall which had a small park attached to it. There was a small bungy type thing for kids there, this involved a trampoline and 2 bungy cords attached, one at each side, to the harness. The participant could then bounce off the trampoline and get extra lift from the bungys.
Next stop was a walk down Queen street for a spot of retail therapy — we bought one item each, both clothing. We’d spotted a huge Father Christmas on the Whitcoullis building from the tower and had thought that he didn’t look very jolly, but closer up he looked positively evil, one eye kind of winked, whilst one finger kind of beckoned in a sinister “Come here little child” way — enough to give you nightmares.
We then wandered back along Queen Street to meet Cayne after his first day back at work. We decided to head to the waterfront and stopped for beers on one of the piers which was really pleasant. We had no real plans at this time, so we walked back up Queen street to the town hall (where I made Rich and Cayne stand in front of a well-lit Christmas tree so I could take a photo — Christmas decorations seem weird to me when the sun is shining and it’s a warm day).
Cayne proposed a plan. So, we walked off to the Auckland Domain, a big park which surrounds the Auckland War Memorial Museum. This domain is one of Auckland’s oldest parks and the museum is a really impressive looking building. We carried on walking through the domain and got to Newmarket where we hunted for a place to eat. After quite a bit of wandering around we settled on a turkish place which was good.
After our meal, we walked to the bus stop and waited for a bus to take us back to Remuera Road. By the time we got home it was 11:30pm and bedtime.
Day 05 — Thursday 4 Jan
Another relaxing day. We both slept well, and as yesterday took things easily over breakfast, showering etc.
We took the bus to downtown, and got another bus from the station to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.
When you enter Kelly Tarlton’s, you go through the Antarctic bit first which was my favourite bit. There is a penguin colony living in a -7 degree C area and it was great to be able to watch them. There is also a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut which was really interesting. Then there is a snow cat ride, supposedly to illustrate what it’s like in Antarctica with the penguins being one of the major attractions. The snow cat also goes past a simulated Orca attack as well as political information about the antarctic treaty. Once through the Antarctic Encounter, we moved on to the Underwater World — this is housed in old stormwater holding tanks and an acrylic tunnel runs through the centre. There are 2 main tanks, one holding mainly fish (these were being hand fed by a diver whilst we were there) and the other holding sharks and huge sting rays. I kept forgetting that the glass distorts the size, and these fish were a third as large again. There is a moving platform which you stand on to move around, although there is the option of stepping off the track to see more of something. Kelly Tarlton was a diver and he conceived the underwater world but unfortunately died 2 months after it opened.
On leaving Kelly Tarlton’s, after about a 2 hour visit, we stopped at “Jacques”, the cafe next door, for lunch overlooking the harbour.
After our lunch we decided to walk on a little further (out of Auckland) and ended up in Mission Bay. This is one of the town beaches and had lots of people around, some windsurfing, some swimming and some just sunbathing. We spent quite a while just relaxing before deciding to have a beer at “Bar Comida”, a nearby tapas bar and cafe.
Next we caught a bus back into town and, after a bit more clothes shopping, met Cayne at the bus station to head back to his flat. We relaxed at his for a while before heading off to Mount Eden, the highest volcanic cone in the area. The view was great, especially as it was approaching sunset. You can get down into the crater which we did, although getting back up again was a bit of a struggle. It was a lovely place to spend some time. At the summit there was a horizontal sign post to many major cities. According to that, London is 18339 kilometres away.
By now we were getting hungry again and so we went and got some takeaway chinese from Remuera which we took back to Cayne’s place and ate with a very tasty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Day 06 — Friday 5 Jan
We got up a little earlier today as we were collecting our hire car. We’d arranged with them that they would pick us at Cayne’s flat. They arrived at 10:45 and drove us to the Omega office. We filled in all the paperwork, collected the car, a white Toyoto Corolla, and headed off down Highway 1 towards the Coromandel peninsular.
Driving in NZ was okay and we arrived in Thames at 12:45 and so headed off to get some lunch at a cafe. The setting was good, and it had a nice courtyard. Unfortunately, they seemed to forget our order as after a 40 minute wait I had to ask where our food was. Within 5 minutes it arrived and was okay but wasn’t worth such a long wait.
Whilst we’d been waiting, we’d had an SMS from Cayne making plans for the drive north this evening. We arranged to get back to his place at around 4pm, so we didn’t have much time to explore the peninsular. We drove up past a few bays, Whakatete Bay, Ngarimu Bay and Te Puru, to get a feel for the place, and the bits we saw seemed really pleasant.
We drove back to Auckland and met up with Cayne. We’d packed a bag earlier in the day so we were more or less ready to head off on our way.
Cayne drove us in his car, and we headed off along highway 1 north through a load of rush-hour traffic before going over the Auckland harbour bridge. There are some great views to be seen further up the highway and we stopped at one spot to enjoy the view of the coast and some of the islands.
Cayne continued to drive and we stopped at Whangerai (pronounced fung-er-ay) for some food after having driven past the town basin to orientate ourselves. We ate at “Leks Tasty Thai” which was pretty good with some excellent fruit juice, really tasty. As we were walking back to the car we saw a load of water in the road side, and as we drove past about a minute later the pressure of the water had actually cracked the concrete. We continued our drive along, and I fell asleep when it got dark, and only woke up now and again.
We got to Cayne’s Dad’s place, at Houhora, near Kaitaia, at around 11:30, and had a cup of tea and a chat with Cayne’s Dad’s fiancee (Jo) whilst Jason and his Dad (Ross) rowed our bags to the boat. Apparently there have been some big fish caught off the North Cape this week and so the plan is for us to go out deep sea fishing tomorrow. Jason came back for us and we waded out to the rowing boat, got in and he rowed us all out to the boat. We had a look around the boat, which is made off kauri wood and is really smart and then headed off to bed. We had the master cabin, Cayne slept in one of the bunks and Jason slept in the main living area.
Day 07 — Saturday 6 Jan
We had a very early start to get off the boat, back to the house for breakfast and showers and on to the harbour jetty for 8:30am.
We all got on to the boat (named Attitude) and headed off to fish for some bait. We caught 3 little-ish fish (Rich and I caught one each) which were kept alive in the aft section of the boat. These were caught near some rocky islands with blow holes and great waves splashing against them. We sailed past a mussel farm and also caught sight of a couple of dolphins in the distance as well as a penguin. We had lunch at around 12:30ish from the food Jo had sent us off with. We went out past Henderson Bay and eventually around the North Cape which was great to see. By this point the main lines were out and they were trying to catch snapper, marlin or similar. Unfortunately, despite a good 3 hours of trying we caught no fish but we did have a good sleep. We got back to shore at around 7pm and walked back to the house. Cayne’s other brother, Scott, had arrived and so we had now met both of Cayne’s brothers.
Rich and I started to do some journey planning, but didn’t get very far before dinner was ready. We had a lovely barbecue dinner, with snapper, sausage and steak and lashings and lashings of salad.
After dinner Cayne, Jason, Rich and I headed off in Jason’s Lancer to 90 mile beach through the forest. We’d taken the Lancer because the road is gravel and really rough and the Lancer is a typical hooning car (to hoon is to burn rubber, drive quickly, show off). There were a few other cars/people on the beach, but there was certainly no shortage of space! We’d missed the sunset (as we were still eating at that point) but the sky was really beautiful with pinks and oranges and these colours reflected onto the sea as well. We played bat and ball on the beach until it got too dark to see the ball anymore.
We headed back to the house and got some advice on where to go on our journey for the next 10 days before Cayne rowed us out to the boat for the night.
Day 08 — Sunday 7 Jan
I had an excellent nights sleep, the mild rocking of the boat was really soothing. We got up and packed our bags and Cayne rowed us and our stuff back to the house.
Cayne had to wake poor Jason up so we could use his bathroom for showers before having a breakfast of freshly made scones (which were lovely).
Rich and I spread all the books, leaflets and maps over the floor and attempted some more planning, this time much more successfully. We now had a plan of sorts.
Cayne and Jo were telling us about the plans for the house. In 6 weeks time they’re going to have half the house knocked down and rebuilt to form a corporate home stay place. The idea is that Ross will take people out fishing on the boat, they’ll have a pool, lots of decking for relaxing on, and other water based activities. It sounds really well thought out.
We set off on our journey south to Auckland with plans to stop at interesting looking places.
Our first stop was at the “Ancient Kauri Kingdom” in Awanui, a shop which makes furniture, boxes etc out of reclaimed swamp kauri, somewhere in the region of 30,000 – 50,000 years old. There was a chain sawing competition going on. This involved contestants being given a lump of wood and then having to sculpt something out of it. The competition had started on Saturday and so there were some of the previous days entries displayed. Cayne bumped into an ex-girlfriend and so they were chatting whilst we were admiring the work.
Next stop for us was Cable Bay which is a really beautiful little spot, with rocks, sea and sand. We sat and watched the waves before continuing along the road a bit further, seeing some deer and an ostrich farm along the way before getting to Mangonui. This has a fish shop where we got some lunch — we got fried blue nose, 2 scallops, chips and a pot of mussels in seafood sauce. We took these back to the car and did a short drive to a reserve, overlooking the water, with a host of seagulls trying to scare us into feeding them — it didn’t work.
We headed back on the road and made a short detour to Whangarao harbour, a harbour which Cayne had first seen from the boat. We drove in and found a road to take us to a good viewpoint. This was close to St Paul’s rock which was technically the summit, and there was a 20 minute walk to it which we didn’t do. Instead we sat on the grass and enjoyed the really beautiful view.
Our next stop was at Lake Manuwai, a couple of kms off highway 10. This was a quiet little spot where people were sailing and some were snorkeling.
After this, we headed along the road a bit further and made a detour to Paihia, where found another nice beach to sit on, watching people playing in the sea, someone parascending and some people with a huge kite being pulled along and into the sea.
After this pleasant stop we hit the road again, catching up with loads of traffic around 50km out of Auckland. This was the evening before a lot of people’s first day back into work and so I guess a lot of the traffic was due to that.
We stopped off at Orewa, not far out of Auckland and attempted a bit of kite flying. Unfortunately the wind wasn’t very strong here so we went for a paddle in the lovely, warm sea after a few poor attempts to fly the kite. We headed back to Auckland and stayed at Cayne’s place again.
Day 09 — Monday 8 Jan
We had quite a slow start to the day, as we started calling various companies to reserve spaces on activities, at hotels and also at Orbit — the revolving restaurant at the top of the skytower — for the 18th when we’ll treat Cayne.
We packed our stuff up, leaving one small bag at Cayne’s place, and headed to the supermarket to get some nibbly food. We also picked up some muffins (the American cake type rather than the English bread type) for breakfast. These were a lot lighter than those I’ve had before and made a good breakfast.
We left Auckland and headed off on Highway 1 seeing some deer along the way. We took the 1B to bypass Hamilton but took a wrong turning somewhere along the way and ended up driving through it instead. We continued along Highway 1 going through a town with the oddest tourist information centre I’ve ever seen — in the shape of a dog’s head and a sheep’s head. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it. Eventually we arrived in Taupo. We drove through the town and along the lake edge looking at motels. The “Caboose” on Lake Terrace caught our eye. It is “a taste of africa” and has African pictures, decor etc. It’s a nice place with an outdoor pool and spa. We chose a “compartment” (all rooms are named as train related rooms) which is smallish but very pleasant.
After having checked in and got changed we headed off to the “Craters of the moon”, a Department of Conservation run thermal area which sprung up in the 1950s when the power station lowered underground water levels, reducing the pressure of the heated water, and causing more vigorous boiling and steam. The steam comes out of various holes in the area, and there are some craters too.
After this we headed off to the “Huka Jets” which we’d booked earlier. It’s a 25 minute trip in a jet boat, which can operate in very shallow water and travels down to the Aratiatia Dam and up to the Huka falls. The Aratiatia Rapids were a spectacular part of the Waikato river until a power house and dam was built shutting off the rapids. They now open the gates 4 times a day to give a display of what they used to look like — we didn’t get a chance to see them. The jet boat hoons along and can turn 360 degrees in it’s own length. We got very wet and it was great fun. After the trip we bought a copy of the photo they’d taken before getting back into the car.
We headed firstly to the lookout for the Huka falls, known as Hukanui in Maori which means “Great Body of Spray”, this is above and looks down on them and gives a lot of perspective. Next we went to a lower point and walked around the falls. They are really powerful and fall in a real milky/pale blue colour at the bottom. The amount of water which falls is regulated by a gate near Taupo. On this day it was at about 85% of capacity but sometimes it is as low as 15% and at this height it can be negotiated by canoe.
We headed off back to the hotel to get changed, and dried before heading off into Taupo for dinner. We walked past an aeroplane in McDonalds car park which formed part of the childrens playground! We ate at “Million Dollar View” which has a view over the lake. We both shared a scallop starter and had fish as our main course. All washed down with a really smooth bottle of red. We saw the sun set but unfortunately it started to rain and so it wasn’t exactly a million dollar view.
It was still raining when it was time to walk back to the hotel and so we both got soaked!
Day 10 — Tuesday 9 Jan
We went to the “Serengeti restaurant” at the hotel for a continental breakfast and we both ate lots of fresh fruit.
We checked out of the hotel and drove alongside the lake, stopping at one of the scenic lookouts. It was a good job we did as we discovered that when I’d changed the batteries in my visor, I’d forgotten to put the battery cover back on. We did an about turn and went back to the hotel. The cover was still on the bed, so I picked it up and we set off again.
We were still on Highway 1 which follows the lake around offering lovely views. We stopped at another viewpoint. This one had a few people around already, including a couple who were about to launch their canoes (or were they kayaks?)
We set off again, and continued to drive along Highway 1, past the lake, through a couple of towns and then through Tongariro national park. This park consists of 3 active volcanoes — Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Ruapehu is the highest and most active, it last erupted in September 1995 spraying volcanic rock and emitting massive clouds of ash. Tongariro’s red crater last erupted in 1926. Ngauruhoe is younger than the others and was the only one we could see clearly, the others being covered in cloud. There are loads of tramps that can be walked around the park, but time didn’t allow for us to do any this time.
We headed along Highway 1 for a bit longer before stopping at Bulls in the Rangitikei region for lunch at the New Zealand/Dutch windmill cafe.
Then we headed off again, still on highway 1. The last part of the drive into Wellington is right next to the sea, and offers some beautiful views.
On arrival into Wellington we first went to the Interislander and Lynx ferry terminal to collect our tickets for tomorrow’s crossing. This would save us time the following morning.
With the tickets safely tucked away, we drove into Wellington in search of a motel for the night. Wellington has a huge one way system which made our mission more difficult. Eventually, on our second trip around we found the “Marksman Motor Inn” and checked in.
After a quick cup of tea we headed off to the “Te Papa” museum — this is the national museum. We ony had an hour before it closed and so we concentrated on 2 areas, the awesome forces exhibition — all about earthquakes and volcanoes and quite a bit about the Taupo and Tongariro areas, and the Maori secton including a look at the Marae. A Marae is a set of buildings and open space designed to cater for and accomodate the community and it’s visitors. There were loads more exhibitions to see but we were out of time (again!).
We headed for a walk along the waterfront and decided that we were hungry and so looked at the waterfront restaurants. We chose “Shed 5” which was lovely, we shared thai fish cakes to start and then I had snapper and Rich had lamb. The good exchange rate from GBP to NZD makes the quality restaurants affordable. This meal cost us NZ$100 — about £33 which we could easily have spent on one person in a similar place in London. Our waiter was full of helpful advice for the rest of our journey and made some suggestions of where to go and what to see.
After our pleasant meal we walked to the cable car station in Lambton Quay. We took this to Kelburn at the top and looked down over the city. In the “Highlights” section for the Wellington region of the Lonely Planet it says “Take the exhilarating cable-car ride”. This wasn’t exactly exhilarating, it’s a very smooth, short ride up to the top — there are a couple of additional stops between Lambton and Kelburn.
We walked briefly into the botanical gardens and headed to the Carter Observatory. This has displays about stars and planets and also does shows in the planetarium. We had a talk about the New Zealand summer sky with the different constellations being highlighted, and then watched a film “Realm of the giants” about Saturn and Jupiter and their moons. We could have looked through the telescope which would have been great, but if we’d stayed we wouldn’t have made the last cable car back down at 10pm.
After getting the cable car back down, we walked through the city back to the motel. We set all the alarm clocks we could find for our early start and went to sleep.
Day 11 — Wednesday 10 Jan
An early start was necessary this morning as we were booked on the 8am Lynx to picton. The alarm went off and we got ourselves up and moving and left the motel at 6.45am. Someone had parked very closely behind us and so we had to negotiate our way out.
We drove out of town and, after a minor wrong turning (or scenic alternative route if you were to believe Rich), we joined the queues for vehicle check in and boarding for the Lynx.
Once we were aboard we got some breakfast and then settled down for the 2 hour 15 min crossing. We passed some beautiful scenery on the way and arrived on time.
We got off the sea cat and went South aiming to get to Franz Josef by the end of the day.
On our long (over 500km) trip we firstly went through wine country and very dry land. We did a driver change at St Arnoud. In the next stretch we spotted a swingbridge in a creek which made a really pleasant view. We continued on until Reefton where we stopped for lunch at Cee Cee’s Cafe on broadway. The portions were huge and helped us to keep going. Reefton’s claim to fame is that it had its own electricity supply and street lighting in 1888, beating all other towns in New Zealand. We headed off again, and had a quick stop at Greymouth to call our accommodation for the evening (which we’d booked on Monday) to let them know what time we’d arrive. Then off on the road again. During our trip we crossed many single lane traffic bridges and two which were single lane road traffic and train as well. We stopped again at Hokitika to fill up with petrol. Hoki was the first place in New Zealand to have a scheduled air service. Our final stage took us along some beautiful scenery, with the mountains of the Southern Alps in front of us, and at times the Tasman Sea to the right of us.
We took a slight detour to Okarito, which was marked on the road atlas as having a panoramic view of the Southern Alps. This turned out to be a 1.5 hour walk which, as usual, we didn’t have the time to do. There were some good views to be had anyhow.
We arrived at Franz Josef and found the Glow Worm Cottages fairly easily: Franz Josef only has 2 streets to choose from. We checked in and got our stuff into the room which is really nice. On the walls are photos of people on the Franz Josef glacier in the early part of the 20th century, with the ladies in full dresses with parasols/umbrellas. We took a walk into town to get some food from the grocery shop, and to find The Helicopter Line to check instructions for tomorrow’s flight.
We headed back to our room and cooked ourselves a very pleasant dinner of lamb and salad, all washed down with red wine.
Day 12 — Thursday 11 Jan
We had a lazy morning, and a quick breakfast before we wandered to The Helicopter Line to check in for our Mountain Scenic Spectacular trip. The flight had been delayed a bit so we hung around the office for a while until we were given our safety briefing.
We were taken close to the riverbed from where we boarded our helicopter — Rich and I were in the front. This was the first time I’d been in a helicopter and so I was a little apprehensive at first but the scenery soon put a stop to that. We firstly flew over the fox glacier, and then up to Mount Cook which was absolutely spectacular. Flying this close to mountains gives a really interesting and different perspective on them. We were lucky as the mountain stood out boldly against a blue sky. We continued over Mount Tasman and the Tasman glacier before heading on to Franz Josef glacier. We landed on the snowfields at the top of it, and took loads and loads of photos. The white of the snow looked fantastic against the still blue sky. It was really clear and surprisingly warm. Just before we headed back into the helicopter, we watched some low cloud move down over the glacier. We got back into the helicopter and flew over the glacier back into Franz Josef. It was a fantastic experience. Next time we think we’ll try the heli-hiking option — a helicopter flight up the glacier, then a landing and a 2 hour guided hike amongst glacial ice formations before a helicopter flight back to the village.
After landing, we were both hungry and so we went to a place called Beeches on the main strip for a quick lunch which was very pleasant and much needed.
For our helicopter flight we’d both worn trousers expecting it to be cold, but it wasn’t at all. Having come back down we were now both far too warm and so headed back to get changed into our shorts.
We got into the car and headed off to Fox Glacier and followed the access road, past the signs on the road stating “In 1750 the glacier was here”, and parked at the end. The first part of the walk is shared with the glacier view walk and there are lots of information boards around, about how a glacier moves, and how the Fox glacier has retreated over the last few centuries. We continued to walk towards the terminal face, across streams and rocks. At the terminal face there are yellow ropes beyond which you can only go with a tour guide. Looking up at the glacier was spectacular, and looking into the ice cave was interesting as we could see water dripping into the river below.
We walked back to the car and drove back along Highway 6 to the access road for the Franz Josef Glacier. Again we walked to the terminal face, across streams and rocks. There was less of a formal walkway here as the river had changed its flow. There were some beautiful waterfalls along the way, but it’s much the same as Fox. Franz Josef seems larger, but dirtier — some of the rocks on the top of it were pretty large, I guess that’s the power of a glacier. The rate of descent is amazing — at times descending up to 5 metres per day. Generally, though, it moves at about 70cm per day now.
After our walk we headed back to the Glow worm cottages for a bit of domesticity — Rich washed some clothes whilst I did some research into our next stop — Queenstown. There was a spa at the Glow worm so we thought we’d give it a go. Unfortunately it was cold water and so was refreshing rather than relaxing.
We walked back into the town and called to book some accommodation in Queenstown for the next day and Saturday. We also called Millford Sound Fly & Cruise to get some details about their trips as we still hadn’t worked out how to get to Milford Sounds — the coach and cruise option seems to take about 12 hours, and as we only have one full day in Queenstown this seems like too much time. (Time seems to be the thing we’ve been most short of so far.)
Our next stop was one of the tourist shops to get a few souvenirs. We seemed to do pretty well at this, loads of kiwis — magnets with kiwis on, fluffy kiwis, kiwi badges, wind-up kiwis, wooden kiwis… Then it was dinner time and we ended up in Beeches again, and again it was pleasant.
Day 13 — Friday 12 Jan
We made ourselves some breakfast before checking out and heading off on Highway 6. This was, in parts, really scenic and we drove through some quite thick rainforest, which was a really beautiful sight with all of the different greens.
Our first stop was at Bruce Bay, where we did our first driver changeover. This was a really wide bay with beautiful bluey green water washing up against a sandy beach.
We headed off again and drove along for a while before stopping at Knight’s Point lookout. Knight’s Point is where the Haast road was finally opened in 1965 — Knight was a surveyor’s dog. Apparently, there is no land to the South West of this point until Antarctica. We both got chased and landed on by some flying, biting creatures and so moved on.
We drove on past Haast, still on Highway 6 and did a couple of stops at 2 different waterfalls. The first was the Thunder Creek waterfall, about a 10 minute walk from the road. The second was Fantail Falls, only a couple of minutes walk from the roadside. Both of them were worth a visit.
We stopped at the visitor centre at Makarora to put some more fuel into the car and then continued on Highway 6, driving alongside the beautiful Lake Wanaka and took a stop at a lookout for Lake Hawea. Lake Hawea was raised 20 metres in 1958 to assist the power stations downriver.
From here we headed to Wanaka and had quite a long break here. Wanaka seems to have a lot going on, with many mountains providing snow sports during winter, and the lake providing many summer activities. We got some lunch at one of the cafes near the lake and then had a look in some of the clothing shops.
We left Wanaka and started on the last part of our journey, passing a few vineyards on the way. The landscape was a lot drier and browner here, especially after the greenness of the rainforest earlier. Our final stop before arriving in Queenstown was signposted as “Roaring Meg” but this actually turned out to be a power station and not as interesting as it sounded.
We arrived in Queenstown, after having driven past one of the bungy jump sites, and made our way to the Caples Court Motel which we’d booked by phone from Franz Josef. We were given our key and settled ourselves in — it’s a large but basic unit.
We walked into the main part of town and called to book a Millford Sounds trip — we’ve been debating what to do, the options being the coach and cruise trip, a 1.5 hour helicopter ride over the area or the airplane and cruise trip. This time we’ve decided on a fly/cruise/fly trip as the cruise sounds really good and lots of people have recommended we do it. So, weather permitting, we’re going with “Milford Sound Great Journeys” at 8 in the morning.
We wandered to the information centre and gathered a few more ideas before going to a bureau de change to cash a traveller’s cheque. One of the places we passed was showing film of the “fly by wire” experience — Jo had mentioned this to us on Sunday. This is a strange contraption, attached by a wire, with an engine which you use to control the speed at which you fly through the air, and handles to enable you to direct yourself. We next decided to take a wander to the gondola, but decided to leave that until tomorrow so we can do the luge too — the luge would still have been running until 9pm but we were both a bit too tired to appreciate it properly. Instead we went to the “Kiwi and nature park” and arrived in time to hear a 10 minute talk about kiwis as well as watching them being fed. We got to see a couple of North Island brown kiwis and found out about the other 5 varieties, and where they can be seen in the wild. The brown Kiwis are a lot bigger than I’d thought, and it was good to see them.
After taking a look at the other birds in the park, including a kea and some very large wood pigeons (they are the biggest flighted bird in New Zealand but how do they fly? ) we walked to the edge of the lake and started looking for likely looking spots for dinner. We ended up at a place called “Lagos”, overlooking the lake, which was a pleasant way to end the day.
Day 14 — Saturday 13 Jan
A dissapointing start. We woke up early and started to get ourselves ready. Rich rang “Milford Sound Great Journeys” to check about the flight and was told that the weather wasn’t good enough this morning and that we should call them at 1pm as the weather may get better. We were both fairly tired and so went back to sleep for a while.
We had some breakfast and then walked through town and to the Skyline gondola terminal. This is a cable car ride which travels through a gap in the trees and up to the top of one of the many hills in and around Queenstown. The view from the top is great — allowing views of most of the lake, and also of the Remarkables mountain range. At the top of the gondola there is a small complex with shops, cafe and restaurant. And also the Skyline luge — a luge in this case is a 3 wheel cart. This was excellent fun and we bought 5 tickets each. There are 2 tracks — scenic (the easier of the 2) and advanced — each lasting 800m. We both did the scenic twice, and the advanced 3 times. The advanced track has some fairly steep drops. After our fun we stopped off at the cafe for some juice before getting the gondola back down.
Once back in town we walked by the lake again, trying to avoid the huge number of people which seemed to be made up of a disproportional number of bikers. We wandered into Queenstown Gardens which jut out into the lake and we had a very nice stroll around them and stopped to watch the really lame skate boarders on the skate ramp.
As it was now 1pm we called “Milford Sound Great Journeys” to find out if the 2pm flight was on. It was, but was now full. So, despite them telling us to call back at 1pm they hadn’t allocated us any space on the flight. We were not impressed with this at all. We got ourselves some lunch and went back to the unit to get the phone numbers of the other operators. We called “Milford Sound Fly & Cruise” and were told that they had space on their 2pm flight, but we’d missed the pick-up and so would need to get to the airport ourselves.
It was now around 1:40 and so we quickly gathered our stuff together, got into the car and headed to the airport. We had a mix-up of directions and couldn’t find them. It was 2pm by now and Rich called them on the mobile and we got better directions — it was in the terminal building and not in the out buildings. We parked the car and ran into the terminal building. They’d waited for us. We paid our money and were taken to the plane — a 6 seater “Milford Sound flightseeing” aircraft.
We took off and flew out over Lake Wakatipu, and over some incredible mountains, one of these being Mount Christina. Again, flying over mountains was wonderful, with range after range being visible. We flew over the Milford Sound, heading out into the Tasman Sea to turn around before landing at the airfield.
We caught the shuttle bus to the wharf and just boarded the “Lady Bowen” — one of the Red Boat line boats. We got on, and the boat left. We sailed out, past Mitre Peak and out towards the sea. We were lucky enough to see some fur seals basking on the rocks and also to see some dolphins. Milford Sound is very beautiful, and not a sound at all, it’s actually a fjord as it was created by a glacier. We sailed out, beyond the point where the sound just looks like a bay — this is why it was undiscovered for such a long time. We came back on the other side, and got close enough to the stirling falls to be wet by them. Apparently during and after a big rain there are waterfalls everywhere. Rain is something that fjordland isn’t short of as it gets in the region of 8 metres per year. We came back past the Bowen falls before docking at the wharf.
We disembarked and caught the shuttle bus back to the air strip. We got on the plane and had a rougher return journey, with quite a few sudden drops. The views were still great, and we flew over the end of the Milford track. We also flew over, and past, the Sutherland falls which looked wonderful — they’re fed by a lake at the top (it’s not often you can see the lake that feeds a 630m waterfall).
We also got to see a lake high in the mountains which spends 6 months of the year frozen. We flew in over Queenstown and got a good view of the Gondola before landing.
Overall, we thought that the plane was better than the cruise. It’s possible that the cruise had been hyped up for us, as it was one of the things that a lot of people had told us to do, and the Lonely Planet said “A cruise on Milford Sound is a must”. We still like the idea of doing some sea kayaking around Milford Sound some time.
We got into the car and drove back to the unit for a bit of relaxation. We’d finally found a UK to NZ power adapter and so could charge up the video camera’s battery. The adapter we’d brought is one which has pins you can pull out and configure as required — the only problem was that there were 2 possible ways to configure it, and we weren’t sure which to do. Rich had also discovered that he’d left the lead for his rechargable shaver at Cayne’s, and there didn’t seem to be enough charge to get back there. The owner of the Caples Court motel, Wayne, kindly lent Rich his lead and so the shaver got re-charged.
We headed out for dinner and decided to eat in “Chico’s” — a sort of bar/restaurant. We had to wait for 20 minutes and so chatted to the chap at the bar about what we’d been upto. We had a pleasant evening but the food was covered in quite sweet sauces and so could have been better in that respect. There was a hen party in Chico’s, one of several we’d seen in Queenstown, so I guess that Queenstown is the equivalent of Brighton in that respect.
Day 15 — Sunday 14 Jan
We got our breakfast, settled up and headed out of Queenstown on Highway 6. As we were leaving we went past a couple of bouncy castles, one of which was a bouncy Titanic — depicting the ship sinking.
At Cromwell we turned onto Highway 8 and went past a selection of very big fruit (6ft or so) over the Cromwell name sign, this is apparently because Cromwell is the heart of stone fruit country. We continued on Highway 8, stopping at one of the state picnic spots to stretch our legs — we’d chosen well as there was a lovely babbling brook running by.
We were now driving along through the Southern Alps and beautiful turquoise lakes and rivers. We stopped at the Mount Cook lookout point for a while. The view of the mountain, and some of the other Southern Alps from this point was magnificent, especially over the clear turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki and with a beautiful blue sky behind.
We headed off again and stopped a little further along at Lake Tekapo. We found a cafe and had some lunch before exploring a little more. The turquoise colour is created by rock flour, finely ground particles of rock held in suspension in the glacial melt water. I guess the same is true off Lake Pukaki. We drove round to the “Church of the Good Shepherd” and spent a little time appreciating the views. There is a large clear window behind the altar which provides a beautiful backdrop. The church is used by many different faiths, and was being prepared for a wedding whilst we were there. There is also a statue of a collie dog nearby, this is a tribute to the sheepdogs which helped to develop the Mackenzie Country.
We headed off again and travelled along Highway 8, Highway 79 and onto Highway 1. As we got closer to Christchurch there were more and more English placenames, so we drove through Ealing, Chertsey, past signs for Lincoln, Huntingdon and many more — this is the area a lot of the British immigrants and Christchurch’s first settlers landed in the 1850s. We also passed what looked like a llama farm.
We arrived in Christchurch and found a motel with no problem at all — the “Southern Comfort Motel” on Bealey avenue. The owner gave us a choice of rooms and whilst showing them to us we got talking. He is originally from Halifax in Yorkshire and so we had a chat about what brought him and his family out here and what sort of immigration issues there had been.
We settled into our studio and then went for a wander into town. We passed some people punting on the river Avon, and then we headed into cathedral square where we sat for a while next to the Cathedral. We went for dinner at a cafe bar called “Azure” on Oxford Terrace which was really good before heading back to the motel for an early night.
Back at the motel we watched the film “Deep Impact” on channel 2 of the tv. We’d both seen the film before but thought we’d watch it anyway. There were a ridiculous number of commercial breaks in it making it almost unwatchable, and really frustrating.
Day 16 — Monday 15 Jan
We checked out of the “Southern Comfort Motel” and again the owner gave us some advice on what to do before leaving the area. He suggested driving up to Hanmer Springs on some of the unsealed roads. This sounded fun but we wanted to get to Nelson today and so didn’t have enough time to explore.
We left Christchurch on Highway 74 and soon joined Highway 1 again. We motored on until Cheviot where we put some more petrol into the car. We continued on the 1 until getting to the Kaikoura peninsular. We followed the signs to the lookout and got tremendous views over both coasts. We also stopped at the Nga Niho Pa, we didn’t manage to see anything there, but we also didn’t really know what the tell-tale signs to look for were. We headed into the town centre, passing lots of “Swim with fur seals” and “Swim with dolphins” centres. There are also opportunities for whale watching, even Whale watching flights which seemed kind of odd. I guess you get a better chance of seeing something as you can cover more of a distance, but I wouldn’t have thought you get as good a sense of scale. We decided to see what the bakery had for our lunch. We bought bagels and juice and went to sit on the pebble beach. No sooner had we unwrapped our lunch, than a group of seagulls started to hover over us. They were not afraid of us at all and no amount of shooing got rid of them. So, our relaxing picnic lunch turned into a bit of an intimidating time.
We survived and left Kaikoura, and the seagulls, and continued on Highway 1 driving past some beautiful scenery on our way up the coast. The most spectacular stretch was just south of Kekerengu where we stopped briefly to admire the greens of the sea meeting the blue of the sky. It was a really beautiful spot and it would have been great to have spent more time there.
We continued on Highway 1 until Blenheim when we changed onto Highway 6. The road wound through the Bryant Range of hills, with many logging trucks heading in both directions.
We arrived at Nelson and found a room in the second place we tried — the AA motel which gives a discount to members of any of the motoring agencies (AA, RAC etc). We sorted our stuff out before going exploring.
We headed off west out of Nelson, through the sea-side resort Tahunanui and on, down Highway 80 until we got to Rabbit Island — 13km of undeveloped beach with forest behind it. Rabbit Island is, as the name suggests, an island and the bridge to it closes at 9pm. It was only 6pm and so we were fine. The beach was lovely and we had no problem finding ourselves a deserted spot. We unfurled the kite and played with it for about an hour or so before the wind died down. We almost decided to go for a swim but sense got the better of us and we decided it really wasn’t warm enough and so headed back to Nelson instead.
Rabbit Island was a great place to spend some time, I’d like to spend some more time around there, and also around Golden Bay. Another place to add to the “next time” list.
We both had showers to wash the salt off us and then headed into Nelson. We walked up Trafalger Street and went for a look at the Art deco Christ Church cathedral. This started being built in 1925, to replace the previous one which had to be demolished because of an earthquake risk, but wasn’t completed until 1965 by which time the design had changed.
We had dinner at “Cafe Affair” where we had fantastic food. We shared a starter of local green mussels, which were excellent and then I moved onto a mixture of seafish which was also great. To accompany this we drank a bottle of local white wine — Tasman Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000 — which was again most pleasant. We chose well.
We returned to our unit and watched some of the news — the NZ president Helen Clark had spent her holiday time in Argentina attempting to climb the highest mountain in the Southern hemisphere. Somehow, I can’t see the British Parliament allowing our prime minister to do anything similar.
Nelson to Auckland
Day 17 — Tuesday 16 Jan
We got up early and headed out of Nelson on Highway 6 until we got to Blenheim. We then took the Queen Charlotte scenic drive route to Picton. This was indeed scenic, in between the raindrops landing on the windscreen. It was a very winding road, and took quite a while to drive along. When we finally got to Picton, we had a quick stop and Rich went to a bakery and picked up a couple of bread rolls.
We checked in for the 11am Lynx and waited in the car reading a local newspaper. There were a few announcements on the tannoy in the passenger terminal but all we could hear was “delay”, “Wellington”. It eventually transpired that there was a problem with the berth at Wellington and the Lynx couldn’t take any vehicles. We would have to take our chance on one of the later crossings. There was no need to stay with the car for a while and so we joined the queue of people waiting to get some food. There was very little information available about what would happen now — basically, they would try and squeeze as many cars as possible onto the next few crossings. We ate and then decided we ought to wait with the car. We watched the Interislander ferry arrive and all the trucks and cars disembark. We then watched all of the booked vehicles board the ferry. Some attendants started to walk up and down the line of cars and handing out boarding passes. We were fortunate and managed to get on this, the 1:30pm from Picton. We parked the car next to one of the train carriages and explored the ship.
It was almost full, not really a surprise, and we had to hunt around to find a couple of seats. Due to the loading of the extra cars, the ferry was now also running late and an announcement was made that we were now not due in Wellington until 5pm. Still, at least we were on it.
We sat in the Queen Charlotte lounge and watched as the ferry sailed through the Queen Charlotte sounds. There were a group of travellers sitting near by, they seemed to all be on one of the Kiwi Experience trips, and I was particularly amused by 2 English guys trying to explain “Only fools and horses” to a bemused Canadian girl. Rich and I grabbed some fish and chips on the boat as we thought it would keep us going during our long drive.
We arrived in Wellington and were off the ferry by around 5:15pm, we stopped at the ticket office to hand in our refund form — the Lynx costs more because the crossing time is less and (in our opinion) is a far pleasanter environment. We basically then re-traced our steps of last Tuesday, just in the opposite direction.
Our original plan for today was to get off the Lynx and drive straight through to Rotorua. This could no longer happen as we were 4 hours later setting off from Wellington and so we decided to head back to Taupo. We stopped a couple of times to swap drivers and once at Hunterville at around 7:45pm to call the helicopter company about a flight to White Island tomorrow — we’d booked this originally for 11am but it had been re-timed for 1pm, this suits us fine as it will give us a more relaxed morning tomorrow. Driving along, it became obvious how much more populated the North Island is than the South. On the South Island, only the area around Christchurch seemed to have lots of small towns.
The last hour or so was harder driving as it was dark by now. Fortunately, despite the hire car not being very good on hills, it’s lights were very good. I got annoyed with some drivers though as they didn’t shut their headlight beams off when passing me and so half-blinded me. Just outside Taupo we caught a glance at the vast number of stars that were visible — even star clusters. The light pollution in Taupo really made a difference and they were no longer visible.
We arrived in Taupo and checked into the “Caboose Taupo” again and had a room opposite the one we were in last time.
Day 18 — Wednesday 17 Jan
We started the day with a “hunter breakfast” at the hotel, before checking out and heading off on Highway 1.
We drove towards Rotorua and stopped at the Te Ngae shopping centre. It had a phone box which we used to call Vulcan — the helicopter company. We also called Rich’s folks as they’d left us a few messages on the Lonely Planet Ekno service.
We drove into Whakatane airport and located Vulcan. We had a very in-depth safety briefing with lots of information about what to do in an emergency, and what we should expect on the island. Vulcan was a very professional outfit and they were the first place to request a next of kin telephone number. This was a good thing in our opinion.
We had about a 10-15 minute wait while the helicopter was reconfigured for our group of 9 passengers. The aircraft had been out on a VIP trip in the morning.
We boarded the helicopter and started to fly to White Island (the Maori name is Whakaari, Captain Cook named it White Island because of the clouds of steam). The flight was much more stable than the one last week to the glaciers.
Our pilot, Robert, landed the helicopter in one of three main craters on White Island. White Island is about 324 hectares, about 50km off the coast and it is New Zealand’s most active volcano.
We were all issued with a hard hat and a gas mask. The gas mask was to clean the air up if any of us found it uncomfortable — I think we all did at some point. Robert proved to be very knowledgeable about the island and walked us around it. The island last erupted last year and we were shown what difference that had made to the island. In the 1880s and until at least 1914 there was some form of Sulphur mining going on. There are still a couple of huts visible which these miners would have lived in. There was a landslide in 1914 which killed the workers stationed there. It took 2 weeks before the landside was noted. The workers were never found.
We walked around the “safe” part of the island and stood looking into the main crater. At this point the smell of sulphur was very strong and many of us put our gas masks on to help us breathe. The most unexpected thing to me was the noise — the sound of escaping steam. The main crater today had a lake (apparently some times it does, sometimes it doesn’t), and watching the steam over the lake was really soothing. The lake is made up of acid, in a ph test it registers as ph -0.25 or thereabouts. There are yellow deposits all over, these are sulphates. The yellow funnels which steam came out of are sulphur.
After our walk around, we took our hard hats and gas masks off and prepared to get into the helicopter. We had to take our shoes off as apparently the acid on the shoes can damage the helicopter. We got in, and the helicopter started up, lifted off and flew us back to Whakatane after doing a couple of last fly’s around the island.
We arrived at Whakatane and then drove into Rotorua. We started looking for accommodation and chose the
“Ledwich Lodge Motel”. We both had a shower as we felt a bit sulphuric after our trip
We had a quick look at the footage we’d recorded on the video camera before heading out and both of us smelled sulphur whilst watching the film. We went and had a closer look at the lake before having a brief walk in the town looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up at “Mitas” an Indonesian restaurant. We had a shared platter and so we got to try many different dishes. After our meal we walked back to the unit via an ice cream parlour where we got a Hokey Pokey ice cream each — Hokey Pokey was another thing we’d been told we ought to try.
Day 19 — Thursday 18 Jan
We checked out of the motel and moved the car to a parking area before heading off in search of breakfast. We ended up at a place called “Zambique”, opposite where we ate last night. We both had a bowl of muesli and fruit with yoghurt and juice before heading off for a hunt around the souvenir shops. We bought a couple of books and then realised that we weren’t all that sure where we had left the car. We consulted the streetmap and worked out roughly where we needed to get to. This involved us walking past Government Gardens which looked quite pleasant, and seeing the people playing lawn bowls with thermal steam rising around them was funny.
Having found the car, we got a bit confused between Tarewa Road and Tarewara Road and realised that the Sport Luge idea at Extreme Limits wasn’t going to happen this trip as it was in the wrong direction. Instead we headed out to the Agrodome Leisure Park in Ngongotaha. This has two main parts, one is a farm type idea and the other is an activity idea. The first thing we did was Zorbing. This involves climbing into an inflated double plastic sphere into which you are strapped in (if you have a dry ride) before rolling downhill. We both had 2 dry rides (the alternative is the wash cycle where there is nothing strapping you in and so you stand up in it and they throw water in with you. If you can run down the hill then you get a free t-shirt). This was really cool. The Zorb was invented to get from the beach to the surf and back again. Apparently the inventor was at the Zorb site today. We watched a couple of people doing wash cycles which looked like good fun.
We then drove off and found the Agrojet site. This was a jet boat ride in the jet sprint mould. Instead of taking a jet boat around rivers and scenery, this goes around a man made course where the water level varies from being waist height to being ankle height. We’d first seen jet sprinting on tv on an “Extremes downunder” programme. This was a fantastic experience and was really, really good fun.
We got a drink each and sat and hoped someone else would do the jetboat so we could get some video footage. Unfortunately there weren’t that many people around so this didn’t happen. The other activities available where Swoop — a bungyesque thing, DirtThingz — a motorised skateboard and off road go karting.
We then had to head off and so drove along Highway’s 5 and 1. We stopped at Tirau to get some petrol. This was the place with the large dog and large sheep that we saw last Monday. We visited the big dog tourist centre and discovered why it was a dog. The owner of the sheep (a sheepskin shop) had the idea of the dog. When the South Waikato District Council were looking for somewhere to put the new public toilets the spot next to the sheep was ideal but the owers didn’t just want toilets there and so a compromise was reached involving a tourist centre, toilets, picnic area and car park. We had a pleasant lunch in a place opposite the sheep and dog. We walked back to the car via the Tirau shell and jade centre where Rich bought me a really lovely pendant.
We headed off again on Highway 1 and into Auckland arriving at Cayne’s place at 6pm ish. We chatted with Cayne for a while before heading off to “Orbit”, the restaurant at the Skytower. This revolves at one revolution per hour which was really cool. Our table was booked for 8pm and so our first revolution was in daylight and we watched the lights come on over the city. After our meal (which was really pleasant) we went to the various observation levels and looked out over the city. We got a taxi back to Cayne’s and the just sat around chatting for another hour or so.
Day 20 — Friday 19 Jan
We got up and started to pack our stuff up. We stopped off at foodtown and got some breakfast before heading into town. We dropped the car off at Omega having driven 2997km during our trip.
We took a walk down Queen street and continued until we got to the Auckland domain. It was very hot and was a longer walk than we remembered.
We went into the Auckland war memorial museum and started off by having lunch at the cafe. The museum has adopted a similar scheme to the Victoria and Albert museum in London in that there is a suggested amount of money to donate, with a lady at a till issuing tickets and taking your “donation”. We then wandered around the various collections — maori, pacific, colonial Auckland, nature, and we also took a look at the war memorial. The cenotaf is based on the London one but they couldn’t afford to buy the blueprints and so an artist went to the movies for a week and sketched it from the news reel!
We left the museum and found a different route back downtown from the domain. We again wandered along Queen street and did some CD and book shopping. We then went to Cayne’s office and met some of Cayne’s colleagues before getting the bus back to Cayne’s flat.
We finished our packing, got changed and Cayne drove us to the airport. We checked in and then tried to redeem our “Holiday Rewards” points at the Regency duty free shop. This turned out to be a bit of a mess as they made a mistake with the redemption so we got a $20 voucher instead of $60, their mistake but they wouldn’t believe me. I called the Holiday Rewards number and the chap I spoke to was really helpful and took my contact details.
We paid our departure tax of $22 each, filled in our departure card and headed through to departures where we bought a few presents for work — kiwi droppings and sheep droppings (some form of chocolate). We had a slice of pizza and a glass of L&P each (something Jono — a kiwi we know in London — had told us that we had to try) and then boarded the plane. For some reason we were sat in the middle 2 of 4 seats, this seemed like a really odd arrangement to us.
I finished reading my book, ate dinner — this wasn’t as good as the food coming out — and then managed to get around 5 hours of sleep before waking up yesterday — we’d crossed over the International date line.
I watched “Toy Story 2” whilst eating breakfast which was okay.
We arrived at Los Angeles at around 1pm LA time which is around 10am NZ time and 9pm UK time! I attempted to set my watch to UK time but the winder broke :-(. We queued to get our boarding card and then crashed in the transit lounge listening to “I love Lucy” being played on one of the televisions.
We got back onto the plane and set off on the second leg of the journey. The service was a little better on this leg, as was the food. We watched “Bedazzled” — which was rubbish!
Day 21 — Saturday 20 Jan
We were served breakfast a couple of hours before arriving at Heathrow. We arrived slightly early, disembarked, collected our luggage and met up with our mini cab which took us back to Ealing.
Thoughts and Reflections
Was it worth the 24+ hour flight?
Yes! The flight is long but it’s worth it. To adjust to NZ time we stayed awake as long as possible (until evening ish — 7pm) on our first day and this seemed to sort us out.
Was 18 days long enough?
No! 18 weeks might not have been enough. We definitely got a taste of both the North and the South islands but it was just that. We did a lot of driving, too much really but we saw a lot of things briefly. Some of the roads are really scenic (and winding) and so driving isn’t so bad.
Would we do the same again?
More or less — there isn’t anywhere I wouldn’t go back to. All our accommodation was good, as were most of the restaurants we ate in. I’d like to have more time to explore places a bit more thorougly, spend some time a bit more off the beaten track and spend more time with New Zealanders.
Where do we want to go next time?
Taupo again — to spend more time around the lake.
Napier — the idea of an art deco city sounds cool
Ninety Mile beach — playing in the sand dunes!
Abel Tasman national park — kayaking around what claim to be beautiful beaches
Heli-hiking on the glaciers
Sea kayaking at Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound
Did Holiday Rewards contact me?
Indeed they did. They discovered that Regency had indeed made a mistake and offered me their apologies. Also offered to extend the life of my card for another trip. They ended up crediting us for the NZ$40 on our credit card.
The Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand. This book was useful, but did overexagerate things sometimes… like calling the cable car in Wellington exhilarating. Useful to have around, and ours was definitely well used. (buy)
New Zealand Insight Guide. This book is a very good coffee table type book, it has all the facts and some wonderful pictures. We didn’t use it much on our travels, relying more on the Lonely Planet, but it has some good pre-trip reading about history, culture etc. (buy)
Pure NZ — the tourist information site
TravelPlanner.co.nz — a good informative site, with articles about regions, activities and culture
All obtained from rec.travel.library. The ones I read were (in no particular order) were: