Christchurch, South Island

We spent the 24th-27th in the city of Christchurch, in the pricey, but beautiful Hadleigh B&B.

Punting on the AvonChristchurch is a gorgeous city, often said to be the “most English” of NZ towns, and indeed it is.  Pretty much all the suburbs, streets and areas are named after British towns/people.  So on our drive into the city from SH1, we drove through Belfast, past Brighton, skimmed around Scarbourough to find Durham Road.. you get the idea.  The city has the very pretty River Avon meandering through the centre, which is is flanked by Oxford Terrace on one side and Cambridge on the other.  The river even has punting trips running… complete with men in waistcoats and straw-boaters… all very odd!

On Christmas Day most of the city was closed as expected, one thing that was open and running was the cable car that takes you to the top of Port Hill for great views over the city, and the port/harbour of Lyttleton… or it would of done.. if a great big bloody raincloud hadn’t appeared right on top of us.   Recently the ruling parties of New Zealand have tended to be rather to the left of socialist, so one rule is that if youChristchrch want people to work on public holidays (ie Xmas), you have to pay them at least time and half, and give them a day off… and you then charge an extra 15% on everything on public holidays, about 3 or 4 weeks ago the NZ National Party (Centre-Right) took over (as a minority government with a coalition with 3 others), so things appear to be changing to be slightly more friendly to businesses ;)

After the gloom of the view from the top, we descended, and headed off East.. winding our way slowly (you don’t really go anywhere fast on roads in NZ… 100KM is more of a theoretical limit on most roads), to Akaroa, where we had our picnic looking over the bay.

Boxing Day, Christchurch came back to life.. sort of.. in a rather laid back NZ style.. we saw at least ooh 20 people in Cathedral Square.  We explored the museum, to get the story of how the settlers back in 1860ish got started, wandered around the botanical gardens, and had a nice lunch in the art centre (a former private school).  We then caught a movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still.. which was as poor as expected.. it had Keanu Reeves as the saviour of the world.. say no more!  I kept waiting for him to call someone “Dude”.  In cinemas here.. you can still buy beer… which helped with this particular movie!

TranzAlpineOn the 27th, we got up at the crack of dawn (well 6ish), to catch the Tranz Scenic. TranzAlpine from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the West.  The train takes about 4ish hours each way, with an hour stop on Greymouth (which believe me is more than enough).  Really worth doing, as you just soak up the scenery all the way along, through Arthur’s Pass.  I think Brod took about 200 photos or so.. so will try and get a wodge of the up on Flickr later on.

After checking Omaruout from the Hadleigh on Sunday morning (28th), we headed south again towards our next stop of Moereki.  On route we stopped in the large town of Omaru, famous for erm.. its rather grand stone buildings, and a penguin colony.  We took yet another odd little tourist train thing to reach the penguin colony, and the promise of a restaurant and a cafe (both bloody closed).  Rather naffly some enterprising twerp has built a “environmentally friendly, eco-tourist, safety viewing centre” all the way around where the penguins sleep (at night… during the day they bugger off elsewhere).. and try and charge people some rip-off amount to go and see where a penguin may or may not be (if perchance one of the penguins decided not to head off to sea with all the others).. we gave it a miss and waited for the train to return and take us back for an ice-cream.

Onwards to our accommodation for the night in Moereki.. the very.. very odd *boutique* accommodation at “Noah’s”.  These are 4 or 5 self contained units, and a shared kitchen.  If you’ve ever been on a caravan holiday, you’d probably call the units a bit cramped.  Great views from our broom-cupboard and only $100 a night (bout erm £40 or so) though, ;)  Moereki is very small fishing port/village famous for two things, it’s boulders, and Fleur’s Place.  Moereki BouldersThe former are great big stones on the beach, the latter is a seafood restaurant ranked by Rick Stein as one of the best in the world.  Alas.. Fleur thought it was still Christmas and was therefore closed.. we went to the Moereki Tavern instead.. which is next to the Moereki Motor Camp (think campervans, caravans and tents), so you can probably guess the standard there… ;)

This morning (29th), we managed to grab breakfast at Fleurs, overlooking the bay, watching a huge stream of people put their trailer-boats into the water from the slipway.

Onwards then the Dunedin.

Kaikoura

Seals just off SH1On the morning of the 22nd, we left our vineyard home, and headed south to the whale watching town of Kaikoura.  It was a short, easy drive down SH1, which took us about an hour and three-quarters or so.  The drive was stunning, with the views of the hills (becoming true mountains later on), weird sci-fi like salt lakes, and seal colonies along the route.

Kaikoura itself is a nice little tourist town.  Our motel was the Anchor Inn, which was right on the sea (and the road).  We arrived pretty early, around 12.30 or so, and our motellier Craig, recommended that we pop over the road, onto the beach where there was a Kaikoura Ocean Linksmall foody caravan (think dodgy Glastonbury type thing), which was serving up fresh fish.  With more than a little trepidation, and fear for our internal organs, we ventured over and ordered up what turned out to be some stunning fish.  Brod had the “Whitebait Roll”, done an apparently kiwi way, which was fried up inside an omelette, and I managed the “fush, salad + roll combo”… both were fantastic.

After lunch, we heading back into town, via the lazy route (ie by car), as the day before, I had managed to wound myself… cracking my little toe, which is still an interesting mix of black and yellow.  I’d love to say that it was doing something heroic, like fighting off the first sighting of a giant Moa in 500 years, or running from a pack of rampaging Kiwi birds.. but no.. it was instead by kicking a fireplace on the way to turn on a lamp.  Anyhow.. in town we found another great iSite, and booked up with a trip to head off whale watching on a boat the next day.

Kaikoura RangesOn the 23rd, we had a lazy morning, (to a certain degree getting over a pretty fantastic meal at the Green Dolphin the night before.. *cough*), and headed off the Whale Watching Station type place, where alas we were informed the trip was cancelled as the weather/sea was too rough.  Cue marching back to the iSite, who promptly booked us onto a Whale Watching Flight for a couple of hours later on (for a mere $5 more or so).

So… off up again in a little plane, heading out over the ocean and we found 2 sperm whales on the surface… glide around a few times, then head on back to park on the strip of lawn, rather amusingly called Kaikoura Airport.  Fantastic trip… highly recommended!  Sorry for the shite photos… whales are big… but from 1000feet with a little compact camera and a fast little plane.. focusing = not easy!

Back to Kaikoura, for another excellent dinner, this time at 45 South for a half-cray… Kaikoura in Maori means something along the lines of Meal of Crayfish… so yep.. Kaikoura catches, cooks and sells a lot of the stuff, and damn fine it was too.

Onwards then to Christchurch.

Blenheim, South Island

After getting up at the crack of dawn, we departed our rather odd hotel-room-in-an-office-block and headed off to catch the Interislander FerryInterislander ferry from Wellington, North Island to Picton, South Island. Thankfully the predicted force 10 gales through the Cook Straight held off for our crossing, which was very calm. The journey takes about 3 hours, and the destination of Picton is one of those ferry towns where by seeing the town as you drive out, you’ve seen pretty much all you need to.

We stayed in a small cottage/shed/shack in the middle of acres of vines, just outside the town of Blenheim, in the Marlborough wine district. Bliss.  As well as miles of vines, the cottage also had deer, sheep, chickens and what sounded like hundreds of birds.

In the region were many familiar names from the world of New Zealand wine, such as Cloudy Bay, Montana, Saint Clair etc. We had a pretty wonderful lunch in Allan Scott Wine restaurant called the Twelve Trees.

This morning we departed Bleheim and headed for Kaikoura and our new base for two nights.

Wellington, North Island

Today we drove south from Napier to Wellington.  We only have the one night here, before getting up at some ungodly hour tomorrow morning to catch the ferry (or “faiery” as Kiwis seem to call it) to Picton on South Island.  Currently it is howling a gale outside.. and the forecast for the trip across is… 25-50knot winds.. should be interesting!

Wellington was the city that on our itinerary we rather sacrificed, with only the one evening here… shame.. as from our quick tour around today (up the cable car / fernicular to the Botanical Gardens, and a wander back down) it seems a really great city… a place to come back and explore another year.

2 great iPhotos

Hawkes Bay, North Island

Yesterday, we drove east from Taupo to the Art Deco captial of the southern hemisphere, Napier.

Napier was devastated by an earthquake in 1931, which killed 256 (or 258 depending on your source) mainly from the fires that followed the quake.  The quake added around 40 square kilometres of land to the town, that was previously undewater.  Being fairly determined folk, the locals quickly rebuilt the city, in the style of the time, that happened to be Art Deco.

As a bonus, this quake also changed the course of several rivers in the area, which meant that the former river-beds, were available (and richly fertile) for planting… mainly of vines.  Hawkes Bay was previously known as the “Salad Bowl of New Zealand”, for marketing and tourism reasons, it’s now known as “Hawkes Bay Wine Country”.  In 20 years it will be probably be “Hawkes Bay… Avocado Centre of the World” or whatever they are keen on that day ;)  Hawkes bay is home to a hell of a lot of winerys, vineyards and all the associated gumph.

Today, we joined Odyssey NZ‘s Wine & Gourmet Odyssey tour.  Our friendly host Carl picked us up from our motel, then pootled around the town(sorry.. city), picking up our co-wine-lovers  for the trip out to 4 of the areas wineries.

We started off with Sheep in the Vines.. Mission Estatethe Mission Estate, thoughtfully established by a French religous order, followed by the excellent Moana Park (try their Tawny Port..wow!), then a rush around Trinity Hill, ending up with a platter of yummy nibbles at the Vidal Estate.  We must have tried 30 or so different wines and ports throughout the afternoon… amazingly the group was surprising well behaved… tipsy yes.. but not as annihilated as I thought some might be!

A great tour, and a bargain at the $65(NZ) per person we paid.

Taupo Seaplane & Speedboat Trout

Yesterday (the 14th Dec), we had probably the best day of our trip so far.

We are still based in the town of Taupo, which is pretty much slap-bang in the middle of North Island.

At 11am in the morning we took off, in our little flying boat plane thingymajig from the lake, and flew for around 40mins to our destination of a small river jetty at Orakei Korako, which is a geo-thermal park.

Seaplane Taupo

We had a rather swift walk around the park, breathing in plenty of hydrogen sulphide (think rotten eggs), ooohing and aaahing at the mudpools, geysers, silica ledges, and caves.

Orakei Korako

On the return trip back to the lake I got to sit in the front of the tiny plane (it only seats 5 or 6 including the pilot).  A pretty amazing experience.  On the flight with us were two fellow Brits Julian & Graham from the Hamble (a river that empties out into the Solent opposite the Isle of Wight), they suggest that we charter a boat and go and see some Maori rock carving and try our hand at a little trout fishing.

We chartered a rather modern looking craft called Stratus, skippered by local Kiwi Marty.

Firstly we headed out to visit the Maori rock carvings, which are all very nice and pretty… but created in the late 1970′s, so not quite what most people have in mind!

Shortly afterwards, Marty switched from the main engines to a little quiet outboard and  set up three rods, explaining what he was doing all along.  We were fishing at a depth or around 90 feet.  After about 15 or 20 minutes of naff all happening, he handed me a “lead-line”, which of course spurred the fish on *cough*, minutes later we had a double strike with Julian & Graham both landing a trout each.  The three lines were reset, and 10 minutes or so later it was my turn to land a fish.. woo!

Taupo Trout!

On the return to harbour, our skipper kindly gutted and cleaned up the fish, which we then took into a local pub/restuarant as part of a “bring-your-own-trout” kinda deal.

Taupo Trout..

To use the Taupo terminology… an Awesome day! ;)

Internet Returns

Yep.. still alive.. just!

We left Bay of Islands and drove to the Coromandel Peninsular on 10th December.  We stayed at the Rapaura Watergarden, in their little ‘cottage’, which was really a rather sweet large garden shed set in a private sub-tropical garden, complete with pet ducks and a rather tame collared dove.

No Internet, no mobile phone reception, no tv, no radio… you get the idea.

Whilst on the beautiful Coromandel, we visited the incredibly quirky/geeky and downright scarey Driving Creek Pottery & Railway.  This is the creation of local potter/artist/sculptor/eccentric Barry Brickell.  Barry bought a chunk of New Zealand bush back in the early 70′s, and over the last 30 years or so has built a twisting railway up through the hills for about 3km, up to a summit where he’s constructed the tackily named “Eyefull Tower” as a pretty impressive (albeit tree-house inspired) lookout.  Brod thinks the whole thing is a cross between Rupert Bear and Indiana Jones.  If this was in the UK, Health and Safety would condemn the place, no safety locks/barriers/systems.. you just have to hope the driver is having a good day the day you visit.

After the loony railway, we drove around to the other side of the peninsular, to the unpronouncable town of Whitianga (the Kiwis do odd things with ‘Wh” it becomes “Phhhh” or something), then back to our forest retreat/shack via a suicide road (30km of gravel, single track, twisty, blind-bend roads, but with Kingfishers and equally suicidal truck-drivers for company).  We had eggs laid on the premises (not due to the bad roads!), and several bottles of NZ wine (mainly due to the bad roads :P).

On the 12th we departed our little Eden, and headed South for Taupo.  We broke the journey about half-way in the town of Matamata, which for the Tolkien geeks is also known as Hobbiton.  At the local iSite centre (NZ’s verson of Tourist Info centres), we jumped on the tour bus to Hobbiton, with a huge crowd of… 1, some poor tourist from deepest, darkest Canada, who had taken a bus from Auckland especially to do this nerdy trip… bless.  Hobbiton, the film set, is a few kilometres outside of Matamata, and is a sheep farm.  Our tour guide Eric, who was older than Gandalf seemed to ignore the fact there were only three of us, and took us around with gusto, even asking us if we had brought costumes to dress up in….. yeah.. right.  Aparently it’s not uncommon for nerds people to travel half-way around the globe to dress up as Bilbo.  This weird little tourist thing may.. or may not still be here in years to come, as they may.. or may not.. be about to film The Hobbit here, though legally we cannot talk about that, as technically according to the NDA nothing has been agreed yet… or not agreed…. yay for legal speak bollocks.

Onwards to Lake Taupo, along the stunning Highway 1, to our motel, the rather imaginitively named “Lake Motel“.  This is a small (5 room) motel, with a 70′s retro theme.. done really rather well.  Yes we love our hostess Helen ;)

The word of the week for Taupo, is “Awesome”, after our waiter in the local pub/restaurant place, whose resonse to everything sounds like he’s from BIll & Teds Excellent Adventure…. “two more beers?  Awesome!”, “The world is about to end?… Woah.. thats Awesome!”… aye.. gets tedious by the 9th time.

Anyhow.. we are currently stealing Wifi from a kind/unsuspecting/clueless neighbour.. so that will do… pics etc will be uploaded soon..ish.

A quick catch-up post

Yes.. I am crap at keeping these things up to date!  So here is a very brief run through of the last few days.

Tues 2nd Dec
Arrive Auckland about noon, have a boozy lunch, caught the tour bus for the circular tour, fall asleep.

Weds 3rd Dec
Busy day, wandering around Auckland.  Up the SkyTower (hence the photo of the fella in the air in an earlier post), the Auckland Museum, catching the ferry over to Devonport for an early dinner

Thurs 4th
RNZB Guest Artist Shannon Dawson as Kitri's father, Act I Photo by Maarten HollPicked up the hire car, a rather battered Toyota Corolla 1.8l Auto, which isn’t like the UK Corollas, it’s probably closer to a cross between the UK Avensis and the Corolla.  A trip to the Auckland Botanical Gardens, then the evening spent watching the truly excellent Royal New Zealand Ballet.  More info/piccys:
http://www.nzballet.org.nz/season/don-quixote-2008

Fri 5th Dec
KauriLong drive from Auckland to our next stop, the Bay of Islands.  We are staying in a town called Harura Falls, which is on the outskirts of Paihia, in a B&B called Crisdon Castle.  We drove up the West coast (Tasman Sea), through the Kauri forests, where we saw the ancient and huge (as in 13 metres wide trunk type of huge) Kauri trees.  Gift shops all over the place seem to sell 101 things made from the wood, it’s impressive there are any left at all.  We got to the B&B around 6pm, where we were met by our hostess Donna, who informed us we had been upgraded.  Rather than the one bed apartment we had booked, we have a three bedroom detached house!  The view from the house is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orionesque/3087074239/

The town of Paihia is tiny, a few restaurants, dozens of motels and lots of people selling the same half-dozen or so different boat trips, scenic flights, parasails and trip on crazy fast boats.

Sat 6th Dec
Chillout day, huge breakfast, followed by a wander about Paihia town/village/hamlet buying a hat.  Took the ferry boat over to the township of Russell, where more eating and drinking was involved (are you sensing a theme here?).

Sun 7th Dec
My birthday.. yay.. turned the rather senior age of 30.  Yes.. I am looking at cardigans, slippers and smoking jackets in a whole new light.
We drove to Kawakawa, steam-trains and weird toilets etc (see the other post).  In the evening we went on a river cruise dinner boat type thing.  Not at all what were expect (not that I am sure what that was exactly), but was a really fun night with plenty of white wine (yay! what a suprise), and meeting and chatting to new folk from all over the globe.