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’.

Dunedin

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.

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.