Queenstown, South Island

On Kingston Flierour way from Te Anau to Queenstown, we indulged Brod in yet another geeky train thing.  This time it was a genuine antique steam train called the Kingston Flyer.  It is has a history in New Zealand railway folklore and now runs on *13Km* of track from Kingston on the shore of Lake Wakatipu to a turnround in the middle of nowhere.  This is the only remaining part of the main railway from Dunedin and Invercargill to Kingston, where the train used to connect up with a steamship to Queenstown.  Brod spent most of the time photographing the loco and standing grandly on the open deck of the last carriage like an American president going through the Wild West.

WeQueenstown spent 2 nights in The Lofts Apartments in the town of Queenstown.  Queenstown is a year round resort, with busy snowfields within 20Km of town during Winter, and a busy, sporty & warm climate during the Summer.  Queenstown claims it is the inventor of the Bungee Jump, it also lays claim to the worlds first commercial jet boat on it’s rivers.  Our plan was to take the Shotover Jet Boat, down river, however after a morning reading the local paper, and it’s headlines about how the river was closed, due to the police and rescue services continued search for the two bodies of two jet-boaters, we decided to give it a miss.

We took a drive out to the Kawarau bridge over the icy-cold river where there was a bungee operation to watch lunatics hurl themselves off.  Before you jump off, the staff at the top ask you if you want to stay dry, touch the water, or be completely immersed (upside down of course).  Judging by the reactions of some who got soaked, we are not so sure they paid too much attention!  One young lad of about 10 was having real last minute nerves, which meant the whole crowd watching started to cheer him on, we were standing next to the jump platform and had every sympathy with him!  After about 5 minutes of coaxing by one of the staff on the platform he went over.. poor sod, he didn’t look overly happy at the bottom either.  All jumpers Queenstown Bungeewere collected by a little rubber raft, bouncing about in the freezing cold torrent.  After which they had to climb up a bloody big flight of steps back to the top, usually freezing cold and all alone!  Seems a bit of a downer for NZ$165 each!

Leaving the madness of the jumpers behind, we drove up to Arrowtown, a former gold-minding town.  Here in the museum I found more of the Cowan clan, this time an owner of a coal-pit nearby.

After the shiteness of the Te Anau cuisine, we were pleased to be in Queenstown, where they appear to employ chefs and waiters with some form of training.  We had two very good meals here, including one, where we even ‘bought to t-shirt’.

Te Anau

On the 1st we drove from Dunedin to Te Anau via Bluff, basically going from the south-east to the south west via the south (..ish).

BluffBluff is the “town” that claims the crown of being the southerly point of New Zealand, even though there are really more southerly points… this one just happens to have Highway 1 starting there which helps.  Bluff is a land-spit about 20Km south of Invergargill, which is famous for oysters and an aluminium smelter.. oh and one of those wonderful signs with distances to London, Sydney, Beijing, New York, etc etc.  We grabbed a lunch in the Lands End Pub/Cafe that can only be described as the best of British Rail catering…  I guess when BR got privatised, they had to do something with the staff…. :)

Onwards then to Te Anau… a lake with a tiny town attached… famous as the jumping off point for trips to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and various tramps and trails (many of which are 3-5 days long).  We found our motel.. which the Lonely Planet book describes at 80s exterior with a modern interior.. personally I think the Lonely Planet guy must of either been paid a fortune or was stoned…. as the interior is a throwback to 1982 and really really needs a design overhaul.

Te Anau itself… mmmm.. one high street.. one harbour… a bp station… 20 motels and a few campsites.  The real reason for coming here is to get to Milford Sound, and my act if I was made mayor of Te Anau, would be to build a bloody huge dual-carriageway by-pass around the town so people didn’t have to bother with the place.  I’m not saying the place is without it’s charm… the lake, with mountain backdrops is truely beautiful… but all the restaurants, shops, and service staff (out motel excepted) are locked in a really fucked up complancency of apawlingly dire service… “Ah.. yeah.. I know we have like 8 empty tables… but there’s a 20 minute wait for a table.. as the chef needs a break.. so sit down.. and someone will be with you in the next hour or so to take a drinks order from you…”  Gorden Ramsey with his Kitchen Nightmares would have a flipping field-day here.

On the 2nd we found out why the lake is so full, and everything is green.. it dropped 3 inches of rain on us.. in one day.

On the 3rd.. Milford Sound - Keait didn’t look much better, be we thought bugger it and drove to Milford Sound.. 120Km away, and a good 2hour ish drive.  The drive is just amazing, really amazing.  We stopped several times, where we met Keas (a sort of parrot), wandered into a rain-forrest, met more Keas… you get the idea.  The highlight was the Homer Tunnel… a  1.2Km long downhill barrel run, thankfully when we were there the traffic lights were on, as I am not sure how good my brakes were bombing down the suicide run to the bottom.  After the tunnel the road became worse, narrow, windy, some really impressive hairpin-bends on gradients…. all good fun.  The drive alone is worth doing, thank god we were not on a coach trip.. or it would of been filled of a 100 odd people saying “Wow.. fuck.. wow..omygod…”  We arrived in Milford Sound, had our sandwiches we bought in the supermarket in Te Anau (the cafe in Milford Sound made BR catering look top-notch).  Off to the harbour to join our boat with Mitre Peak cruises, one of of 4 or 5 companies that run cruises up and down the sound.  We picked this group as they seemed to be the smallest, and offer smaller boats.  The biggest crew are “Real Journeys” who run coachloads of folk in from Queenstown, and really looked a bit too big.. also their coach drivers appeared to be complete twats.. pulling straight out infront of huge trains of traffic and then going at 20mph… yay for bus drivers.. paint the bus white and you’d get the idea 😉

TheMilford Sound cruise is worth doing.. truly “awe-inspiring.. mindblowing.. jaw-dropping”.. all that sort of crap… really really “awesome”.  Mile-high cliffs, huge waterfalls, 500-odd metres deep.. all that jazz.

Today… the 4th.. we went off Quad-Biking…. a little mini-bus picked us up from the motel and then off to a farm in the arse end of beyond.  A group 6 of us were kitted out with welly boots, waterproofs, gloves and helmets and trooped outside looking like a group of complete herberts.  Onto the quad-bikes, given about 1 mins training (“Push this with your thumb to go… move gears with your left-foot… and keep up!”) and off.  We thought it would be a fairly tame little run around the edge of some fields with maybe the odd puddle… oh no no no!.. this was hard-core offroad military training.. up mountains.. across gulleys.. through rivers… 2 hours plus.  Highlights were bombing through stampeding cattle.. finally getting into 4th across the grass meadow at the end.. and hurtling down the mountain in what must of been a 1 in 1 (or 45deg down), not forgetting at least 50 mud-filled ditches which we threw our bikes into.  All of us, except our instructor Fraser were covered in mud and God-only knows what.  Stunning views on the way, cannot recommend it highly enough, one of the highlights of the whole trip, Brod only rammed into me once.. (and crashed into me another time too… though that was as I had managed to stall an un-stallable bike in  ditch with water up to my knees).

Back to the motel.. quick shower.. and off for another dose of dire service in a local restaurant.  This time it was the “big coach party” that was buggering everything up.. a party of… 10.  If a restaurant cannot cope with the odd big table it really needs help.

Te Anau QuadbikingTrying to avoid being negative.. generally the food in New Zealand is fantastic.. it just seems the further south we get, the more amateur the service becomes.  Off tomorrow to Queenstown, which is a far bigger, and more established place (and stuffed full of money) so we are hopefully of an improvement.  Also.. although I jest about the 1980’s decor of this motel.. the standard of motels in NZ is generally fantastic and for the price, blows the awful UK hotel chains like Travelodge, Premier Inn, Holiday Bin etc out of the water by a metric mile, why we put up with such shite in the UK is beyond me.  A new idea for a website is brewing….

More pics to follow.. when I find decent wifi..

Onwards to Queenstown!


On the 29th we drove down from Moereki to Dunedin which was another beautiful drive.  Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.

On the 30th, we drove out onto the scenic Otago Peninsular to the very end, where there is an Albatross Colony… alas again New Zealand attempts eco-tourism… which means a rather untidy mess of a visitor centre and a really shite cafe run by people that should probably of remained in whatever institution they were plucked from… think 20 minutes waiting for a coffee, and all the tables outside covered in bird-shit.. yep… that nice.  The closest we got to an albatross was the video in the little display area…. pretty poor all in all.. but the drive out there was gorgeous.

Larnach CastleOn the way back, we headed for Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, which considering the time it was built, back in the 1870s, was basically a rich mans folly. The Larnach story is an interesting one with the usual Victorian mix of marriage, lust, death and incest (well almost.. the son was only bonking the Step-Mother.. so not sure how that counts)… all good stuff :)  A really interesting house, great cafe (phew!) and stunning gardens with *awesome* views over the peninsular.  The castle also offers accommodation, and when we return to NZ.. we will definitely stay there.

Back to Dunedin for the evening, and off to “The Reef“, a surprisingly good little seafood restaurant, serving the best smoked salmon I’ve ever tasted.

On Dunedin Settlers Museum New Years Eve morning, we headed off to the Dunedin Settlers Museum, which was a rather split-personality kind of place, one half was as expected with displays of the early (mainly Scotish) settlers (including some Cowans.. woo!), a replica of the inside of one of the settler ships and various maori, chinese and other settler displays.  The other half, was a transport museum.. sort of… with displays of the old stage-coaches, trams etc.. but also they had managed to save the original art-deco/streamlined waiting room of the old bus station.. all rather odd.. but it worked.

In the afternoon, off on another train.. this time the Taireri Gorge Railway.  This line heads off from Dunedin’s stunningly over the top railway station to the arse-end of nowhere.. a former town called Pukerengi (population… 5), Dunedin Railway Stationvia a twisty route through tunnels, over bridges and wrought-iron viaducts.  The route takes about 2 hours each way, and thankfully had a buffet/bar.  The highlight, apart from the amazing views was the commentary which really deserves a post all of it’s own.  The “Little Katie on the Jigger” story will have to follow.  We are still not 100% sure if it was all a huge piss-take.. or if the guy really was being serious.

Dunedin was celebrating New Years Eve in “The Octagon” which sounds like a park.. but is really a road junction.  As the rain wasstarting as our train returned to Dunedin Station, we gave it a miss.

DunedinOn the 1st, we booked out a day early… I think it’s fair to say after 3 nights in Dunedin.. we’d done all we could :)  Off to Te Anau.. via Bluff..  More to follow.

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.


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.

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.