Hei konā rā Aotearoa

This entry is part 22 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Hei konā rā Aotearoa
Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand


Well this morning is Wendy’s birthday so Happy Birthday Wendy! Carried some cards and some pressies all the way from the UK and she was happy to have them. I am happy now too ‘cos they aren’t in my case anymore. This is the last day in NZ, but we don’t fly out until early evening and so don’t want to get back to the airport too early. It’s a beautiful day (typically) so we decided to investigate the Hamilton Gardens by the river for a couple of hours. This is apparently famous, though as always, fame is relative.

It’s located just off Hwy 1 about a mile south out of town, so is easy to find. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of entry charge, so that’s gratifying at least. We wander round the gardens for a bit. Not many labels, not many varieties again, though the different types of gardens are lovely to see. Weirdly it sort of turns it’s back on the river and we can’t do more than get glimpses of it through the trees and from the follies. All too soon we have to make tracks north for Auckland. It’s about 100km from Auckland, but once we leave the urban sprawl it’s fast expressway or motorway, so you can do it in a little over and hour. Before heading in we stop off at a service station for a bacon roll. Well, this is prime pork and ham country, so it seems unfair not to.

The car is dropped easily with just a cursory check that I haven’t turned it into a typical Kiwi car. I’ve not mention these before ‘cos I might start ranting, but basically I haven’t found rural New Zealanders to be the best drivers in the world. Essentially their philosophy seems to be that as the country is so empty, I am therefore unlikely to hit anything – yet car after car (inevitably a white Japanese saloon which appears dubiously maintained) will have dents and scrapes on it, which sort of spoils that theory. All over the roads are signs telling them to slow down. The typical Kiwi driving technique seems to be get on to the unrestricted road and hold it at 110km/h (speed limit is 100km/h) regardless of obstacles or how wet the road is, etc, etc. If they come up behind a slower-moving car (usually me at 100km/h) they will park their car 5 feet from the back bumper (or ‘the full Audi’ as we like to call it in the UK) and hold it there until a passing place presents itself. I’d love to look up their accident rate – I bet it’s not edifying reading given the low traffic density.

(Note: I looked it up. According to the World Health Organisation the UK has a road death rate of 3.7 people per 10,000 of the population. New Zealand has 9.1/10,000. That’s more than double the rate in a country roughly comparable in size but with less than 1/10th of the population. I told you they were **** drivers).

OK, sorry, I also told you I’d rant. Change of subject. Even though we’re a massive 5 hours before our flight and it’s not even up on the departures board yet, because we’re Premium Class they let us check in and offload the cases. Both are 21Kg, within a whisker of each other which is well within our 30Kg long-haul quota. We may have to ditch some stuff before attempting to board the Manchester shuttle. Ominously the girl attaches ‘heavy’ tags to them both, so that’s our warning, eh? However, Wendy’s carry-on luggage is tiny compared with the stuff some of them take (I have a laptop and a camera rucksack, so I’m guiltily as anyone). I reckon there’s room for manoeuvre there.

Well, looks like we’re being called up to go through security at the gate. Ah well, Hei konā rā Aotearoa (or goodbye New Zealand).


Highs and lows as we move ever closer to home

This entry is part 21 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Highs and lows as we move ever closer to home
Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton, New Zealand


Today has been a day of both climatic extremes and literal highs and lows. Firstly the climate: I am going to complain to the New Zealand Tourist Board because we have been here for 3 weeks and it hasn’t hailed. Not once. We’ve had everything else, so what have they got against hail? As for the highs and lows; it’s not often you can claim to have scaled Mount Doom and been underground on the same day.

Anyway to start at the beginning, there was a terrific rainstorm in the night whilst we were at Wanganui. It was calmer but still raining the next morning and still quite cool with it. We set out fairly early because there were a lot of miles to cover to our intended overnight stop of Hamilton, plus the decision to go via Wanganui rather than Palmerston North meant that we’d be taking the high road rather than safe, boring Highway 1. The signpost out of town simply said “Highway 4. National Park 105km”. I thought that sounded a bit generic, after all one thing NZ isn’t short of is National Parks. However, a quick look at the map showed there was actually a place with the name National Park, right on the edge of Tongariro National Park. Could be confusing? Nevertheless we set off into the rain in that direction.

The first thing that became obvious as we climbed away from the coast is that the overnight rain had been pretty widespread. Most of the rivers were in full flood and there were rockfalls and waterfalls down all the sides of the hillsides. It could have been quite scary if I had slowed down enough to look! We did stop at one point where the Wanganui River was thundering over a vast waterfall below. This is the same sedate river in the sun I’d photographed the day before. Hwy 4 steadily climbed and the car thermometer steadily dropped as we did so. Soon the rain looked suspiciously like sleet. Hmmmm. Then the ice warning symbol on the dash lit up and the sleet looked suspiciously like snow! Yes, it was snowing, and fairly heavily too. It wasn’t settling though and cars coming the other way were snow-free so I know we weren’t heading into trouble.

Before long the eponymous town of National Park showed up. I had had it in mind to stop there for a cuppa, but frankly it looked dead and deserted (and closed) plus the sleet/snow was falling heavily, so we pressed on. Somewhere over to our right, lost in the cloud, was Mount Ngauruhoe, which apparently served as Mount Doom in the film ‘Lord of the Rings’. Sadly there was nothing for us to see but the swirling white.

However we hadn’t gone much more than 10 mins from this antarctic wilderness when suddenly we drove through a gap, popped out the other side of the hills and the weather changed almost as if a switch had been flicked. The sun shone brightly and there were white fluffy clouds in the sky. The temperature rocketed almost a degree every kilometre. We’d been thinking it would be rain all day but the NZ weather hadn’t failed to produce another sunny sky. We stopped at Piriaka Lookout to see the (what I think is) the same Wanganui River being all peaceful and lovely again. Incredible. Just down the road was the town of Piriaka, where the ‘Stagga Inn’ served a lovely cup of tea and a scone.

Just beyond Piriaka we swapped to Hwy 3, and only a little further again and just a few kilometres off this highway was Waitomo. Now I wouldn’t go out of my way to get here, but being just down the road it seemed rude not to stop and visit. Waitomo is primarily famous for caves – some of them deep, some of them scary but the one I wanted to see was called the glowworm cave. Unfortunately only one of us decided to brave the underground, ahem. After being relieved of quite a lot of money, a guide took a group of about 8 of us into the cave. The first 30 mins of the tour comprised easy walking on flagged cave floors into various caverns and chambers filled with the usual limestone flows, stalactites and stalagmites – so far all very Derbyshire Peak District. Eventually though, we were led deeper into the gloom (and it was very gloomy indeed) and boarded a flat-bottomed boat. In absolute silence we drifted along an underground stream through caverns who’s ceiling was covered in millions and millions of glowworms. It was like drifting under constellations of stars – it was pretty marvellous and worth the entry fee for that. Eventually the boat drifted out through a tunnel entrance to the cave several hundred feet below where we had originally entered on the road above.

After some lunch in Curly’s Tavern it was back on the Hwy 3 for a final push to Hamilton for the night. We’d come through Hamilton on our epic drive from Pahia to Rotorua and hadn’t really liked the look of it much, being heavily built-up and industrialised. This time we tried to get closer to the city centre on the river. The first hotel to catch our attention was the Ventura Inn and Motor Lodge. I have to say this was the best value of the hotels (leaving aside all the special deals I got for the Copthorne’s) we’ve been too. $109 for a massive room plus bed and breakfast. It’s very, very like a Travelodge in the UK – in fact I reckon the owner has definitely visited Travelodge as some point! It was just a block away from the main ‘happening’ street, Victoria Street. When we drove down later for some tea we were gobsmacked to find the whole semi-pedestrianised street was jumping with people. So much so we had trouble parking. Restaurant after restaurant open and busy after 7pm! I have never seen New Zealand so lively outside of Auckland. Typically of course it was our last night, so we had to leave the fun and games and go repack everything for the next day. Oh and I only got an hour on the parking meter!


Back over the ditch and heading uphill

This entry is part 20 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Back over the ditch and heading uphill
Wanganui, New Zealand

Wanganui, New Zealand


A bright, clear and cold morning in Picton and with a ferry sailing at 10am, no rush to get up and get down to the docks. However, they still like us there an hour before the sailing, so 9am we were waiting. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a boat. As we got closer to the 10am sailing, the lack of a boat became somewhat discouraging! Compared with the outward trip, there seemed to be fewer people in the queue – only about 40 cars instead of the 100+ last time. At 9.45 we were chuffed to seethe good ship ‘Aratere’ turn up. They then began unloading. Off came trucks and train wagons as well as cars, which makes it sound a lot bigger that the outward boat, but it turned out she wasn’t, only carrying about 350 passengers to the ‘Kaitaki’s 1000+. Eventually they started loading, starting with the railway wagons – when it came to our turn, they put us on the same deck as the railway stuff. We all had to reverse on to the ship, which had a couple of drivers in a tizzy so a harbour official had to do it for them. I noticed the official chosen for this job was a pretty girl, which sort of guaranteed no Kiwi men would fail to give it a go.

Anyway, backed on to the boat, we then had to negotiate a tangle of hawsers and chains to get to the exit and stairs/lifts to the upper decks. Much better seating on this boat – looking at the specs ‘Aratere’ seems to have been built in Spain for InterIslander Ferries and is Wellington registered. No rebadged SeaFrance boat this time. We finally set sail about 45 mins behind schedule, which wasn’t too bad in the end. By the time I’d got a couple of drinks and a choc brownie we were out of Queen Charlotte Sound and saying goodbye to South Island.

The whole crossing was pretty uneventful and the Cook Strait pretty calm. In no time we seemed to be docking at good old Wellington again. The skies were still blue, and had been all the way across. The forecast in the ‘Dominion-Post’ newspaper was pretty dire for North Island and even the boat captain had warned up it was cloudy and raining in Wellington. IT WASN’T. Overall we’ve found the weather forecasting to be pretty dire in NZ as a whole. There hasn’t been a single day without some sunshine in it so far, and today for example, it’s been sunny he whole day despite the forecasters. Whether this is due to the fickleness of the NZ climate or the crapness of the forecasters, I don’t know.

Anyway, we were straight on to Hwy 1 and heading north before you know it. Bye-bye Wellington, maybe see you again? The original plan had been to stay on Hwy 1 all the way north, which would mean retracing some of our route down. Looking at the map we decided to branch off at Palmerston North on to Hwy 3 and head through Wanganui and Waitomo. It would mean not crossing our outward tracts until the very last day’s drive in to Auckland airport, and after all, that’s what we are here for. With that in mind, we made a quick 100 clicks to Bulls for a tea break. Yes, the town is called Bulls, and do they milk it. Even my AA atlas which gives points of interest says ‘Many humorous signs’ next to Bulls. See the pics for examples. The good news was this tiny town also had many open cafes even though it was past 2.30pm! Incredi-bull (groan).

It was only a short hop from there to Wanganui, our stop for the night. We quickly got checked in to the Acacia Park Motel at the side of the Wanganui River. This has even bigger rooms that the night before. I think we’ll soon be having a house to ourselves if this goes on much longer. Took a wee walk by the river then headed into town in search of some dinner. The town is quite old and really elegant and I managed a daily fix of Art Deco. We ended up in a Mongolian restaurant of all places – it looked pretty cool and indeed turned out to be just that. You chose your own raw ingredients, like a supermarket pile-in salad, then handed them to the chef who cooked them on a huge hotplate whilst you waited. Was pretty nice. That’s about it for today – tomorrow it’s a big-mile day to put us within striking distance of Auckland. Hopefully thee’s still be me for a diversion or two though.


Heading back North to Picton

This entry is part 19 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Heading back North to Picton
Picton, New Zealand

Picton, New Zealand


A big move north today as we gradually make our way back towards Auckland and the onward flights.

Drawing the curtains this morning revealed a stormy and rain-lashed Christchurch, so I am really glad we had a day here yesterday rather than today – it would have been a lot less fun. After brekkers the concierge recovered the car from somewhere nearby and loaded it with cases for us, then we made a dash through the rain and jumped in. Bye-bye to Grand Chancellor and bye-bye Christchurch. Getting out of the city seemed dead easy now I have the one-way roads sussed and we were on Hwy 1 north in no time at all. We even had a motorway for a few miles, though it doesn’t let you drive any faster than the main roads.

I kept the car moving across the Canterbury plains and we made a quick 150 km to Kaikoura, a town by the Pacific Ocean, for coffee. The rain had stopped soon after leaving Christchurch, but it had stayed grey and cool this far. Temptingly we could see blue skies on the horizon and as we hadn’t had a day without sunshine yet, I hoped today wasn’t going to be the exception. Kaikoura is one of the main places in New Zealand for embarking on whale and dolphin-watching cruises, but looking at the steep Pacific waves and grey skies, it didn’t seem awfully tempting today.

From Kaikoura it’s back heading north with the views along the coast getting more and more spectacular. Snow-covered mountains on one side, steep Pacific breakers on the other. It wasn’t long before we broke out into the sun. At about the same time we reached Ohau Point, which is supposed to have a seal colony. We piled out to take a look, nearly got blown over, but indeed there was a large colony of seals on the rocks below. You could see them, occasionally hear them, and if, like me, you got within 200 feet, you could smell them! These were New Zealand fur seals, though I am not quite sure what difference they are from other seals (apart from the passport, obviously).

After a bit of seal-watching, it was back on the road for another 150km to Blenheim for coffee and a bun. We reached there before 2.30 and I pulled the car up right outside a deli. Got out the car and found they were closing. 2-bloody-30, can you believe!? They only opened at 10, so that’s hardly a working day now is it? There are some people where I work at the Uni that would consider 2.30pm a bit of a late morning start. Those young New Zealander’s that come to work in London for a year or two must think they have dropped into the seventh circle of hell. Mind you, I think that about London too and I was born there!

But anyway, rant over. There was a second cafe over the road that was staying open until the dizzyingly late hour of 3pm. We got our coffee, etc. I noticed there was a Turkish kebab shop down the road with a very prominent, large sign outside ‘Yes, We Are Open’ – I am not sure if the sarcasm was deliberate or not. Did a bit of a tour of Blenheim, but there wasn’t that much to see, so we headed off out. It turned out that whilst driving away from the town centre the town looked a lot nicer with parks and wide streets, but Picton and the ferry port were calling.

Picton is only 20 mins down the road from Blenheim and we got there in plenty of time to secure a massive apartment in the Broadway Motel – our biggest yet. Picton itself is pretty, but a bit of a disappointment. It’s really just a dropping-off point for the ferry and I suspect that most people do basically what we did when we arrived going the other way, and drive straight through. Still it’s a bed for the night and means we can be up at a civilised hour for the ferry back to North Island in the morning.


The most English of cities…

This entry is part 18 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

The most English of cities…
Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, New Zealand


A full day in Christchurch today and plenty of things to be doing so no time to waste. All the action round here seemed to centre around Cathedral Square, and as this is only 10 mins walk from the hotel, we headed off down there. It’s a holiday here and the place was very quiet, with just a few people about at 9.30am. However, we weren’t hanging about and first trip out was to the International Antarctic Centre, which is located near the airport. We caught the shuttle bus, and as we were the only passengers the driver gave us a bit of an impromptu city tour on the way. I must say that Christchurch is seriously nice and most of the people nicer.

The International Antarctic Centre (IAC) is directly opposite where the American and New Zealand Antarctic ‘base camps’ are. There were quite a few US Air Force cargo aircraft parked round their massive section of the airport. Even the NZ Air Force only had a little tin hut in comparison. I’m guessing that the British Antarctic Survey are based somewhere like South Africa since their station is on the other side of the continent? I am told that Prince Edward & Sophie will be visiting the IAC in November as part of his trip to NZ, so we beat you Eddie!

Anyway, we got there just before they fed the penguins, so big rush right through the centre to the penguin enclosure. These are Little Blue Penguins, native NZ penguins and the world’s smallest. The enclosure is a big tank and the keepers get in there and feed them by hand. I saw one penguin consume 10 fish before staggering away to try and digest them all. It’s a wonder they still floated! From there one of us (ahem) went into the snow and ice experience – this required borrowing overshoes and a thick jacket and entering through double doors into a large room, complete with a skidoo, igloo and ice slopes. The temperature inside was about -8 degrees when I went in, but after a few minutes the lights dimmed and an Antarctic blizzard began raging with winds up to 40km/h. It was somewhat chilly. The windchill went down to way below -20 degrees and frankly I was glad to get back out for a cup of coffee and a bun.

Next up was a trip on the Hagglund. I have to get me one of these. A wee tracked vehicle built by the Swedes for polar exploration, it can go just about anywhere. I sat in the cab with the driver, and with various noisy kids were safely tucked in the trailer at the rear, we set off for the special obstacle course round the back of the IAC. Sorry, no photos from the trip – too much effort to hold on! We climbed over hillocks the size of a house with 45 degree slopes (and the same down the other side), made crazy turns and jumped over a 3 foot wide ‘crevasse’. We did all of this pretty much without slowing down. For a finale we went through the lake, which is much deeper than the vehicle, so it had to ‘swim’ most of the way. I am glad to say it didn’t leak despite water coming up nearly to the windows. The petrolhead in me says this is an ace bit of kit and would totally own the Snake Pass in winter!

After we’d had a good look round some of the more sedate stuff at the IAC, we caught the Penguin Express back to Cathedral Square. I was glad to see loads of people were now in the square and all the shops and cafes round had opened up too. A spot of dinner, and we went into the Southern Experience. Now this is largely Another Bloody Aquarium and IMHO here’s only so many of them you want to see in a lifetime, unless maybe you’re a cat. However, they do have a USP – they have some real kiwis. I read somewhere that the vast majority of New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi, so it felt wrong to come all this way and miss the opportunity. After a while looking at the fish, mostly to allow our eyes to acclimatise to the low light, a keeper took just four of us at a time into the kiwi enclosure. There’s absolutely no photography or even mobile phones allowed in there since these birds are very sensitive. It was hushed tones throughout. The enclosure is lit to simulate moonlight as kiwi are nocturnal – in the real nighttime huge banks of overhead lights simulate daytime so the birds go in their burrows and get some kip. The enclosure was planted out like a native forest. At first we couldn’t see anything, then suddenly one of the birds strolled right up to the glass – they are a lot bigger than I thought! About the size of a domestic chicken, except fluffy dark brown and with the long beak of course. The bird was totally unconcerned, rummaging around for food. A few minutes later a second bird joined the first. They are really quite comical-looking to European eyes. In a way it was quite moving to see them in the sombre light, going about their business completely unaware how precarious things are for kiwis in the wild these days.

After the kiwis there was a bit of a whistlestop tour of the centre. Down to the banks of the River Avon to see the punts (Wendy; no thanks. Me: done that in Cambridge). Along to the Botanic Gardens and the museum, just for a look from the outside really. Then back to the hotel via the Cathedral itself. A proper, if slightly bijou cathedral this time – none of your bungalows from Nelson. I think Christchurch is my favourite city so far and South Island has been a revelation. I better start saving so I can come back and see the Island for longer! As we walked back to the hotel we noticed that the clouds were rolling in and it was getting a bit cooler. After a lovely sunny day, as I write this it’s raining. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.


Across the Southern Alps

This entry is part 17 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Across the Southern Alps
Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, New Zealand


The morning started bright, clear and cold. At 8am locals began setting up a market in the motel car park. These Sunday markets seem to spring up in rural areas and are a bit like mini car boot sales, with the usual car boot tat most of the time, only with added handicrafts of greenstone and glass. Anyway, we had a look round before breakfast, but after brek we were off up the hill to see the pancake rocks in Paparoa National Park. These are natural formations that have been created by complex geological processes that were too hard for me to understand on just two coffees. They looked pretty amazing though and have apparently been used as part of a sequence in ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ on the telly.

After a walk round there we moved on back to Greymouth. It looked a lot nicer today in the sunshine, but not only was the town closed, it was chain-linked fenced off to make a motorcycle racetrack. We managed to find a coffee shop both open and outside the circuit and topped up the caffeine. A quick look round what bits of the town we could see and a quick watch of the bike racing from the wrong side of the fence and we moved on to the railway station, which was also outside the circuit. The whole thing there was dead organised – there was a baggage check-in like a little airport and we got rid of the suitcases. We also said goodbye to the red Ford Focus at this point and the Apex Rental man confirmed a blue one would be waiting at Christchurch station for us. Seemed pretty smooth since I booked it all 8 weeks ago and 9000 miles away in the middle of their night.

We then had an hour-long wait for the train. Lots of other people started turning up and checking in, so it didn’t seem long before the train arrived and disgorged it’s load of passengers from Christchurch into waiting buses and rental cars. They then took the train away briefly to swap the locos round from one end to the other so it could make the journey back. They then let us on board. At 1.45pm precisely we set off on the single rail track back across the country.

If you don’t know, this rail journey is from the Tasman Sea port of Greymouth to the Pacific Ocean city of Christchurch across the Southern Alps, rising to a maximum altitude of 7300-and-something metres at Arthurs Pass Village. Scenery-wise it’s pretty astonishing, as you might imagine. Just before Arthurs Pass, the train moved into a tunnel for a good 20 mins; it has been grey and cloudy on one side and was brilliant sunshine when we emerged. The train includes a viewing platform, which is basically a carriage without seats or windows. People would go in from their regular carriage for a little while, take some pictures and then scuttle back to the warm. Eventually we descended from the Alps onto the Canterbury plain and made a run for the city.

We finally arrived in Christchurch at just gone 6pm. The cases appeared on a baggage conveyor fairly promptly and it was out to the car park to find an unlocked blue Focus with the keys in the glovebox. You have to smile at how trusting they are here. Or at least you do until you find that apart from being identical in every way to the red Ford Focus (apart from blue and clean), somehow the boot is smaller! Took me a while to figure it out, but the red car must have had a spacesaver spare tyre and the new one has a full sized. I can’t think of anything else, but I got the cases in, just.

It was then a 15 minute drive to the hotel, whereupon they took the keys off me and parked the car in the multi-storey next door. For a change we are abandoning Copthorne and are in the Hotel Grand Chancellor, just a few hundred yards from the Cathedral Square and the centre of the city. They have put us on the 19th foor, which gives great views towards the surrounding hills. But that’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow we take a look to see what Christchurch as to offer.


Amazing South Island scenery

This entry is part 16 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Amazing South Island scenery
Greymouth, New Zealand

Greymouth, New Zealand


Wow, this place gets better and better. There’s no question that South Island beats North Island hands down for scenery based on what we’ve seen today. Many miles driven (320km) but we took lots of breaks along the way so it didn’t feel too bad.

Started the morning in Nelson, a bit cool and overcast as we abandoned our motel and went in search of breakfast. A big cafe called “Lambretta’s” was doing good business and looked very cool, so they hooked us in too. Their eggs benedict were ace and Wendy couldn’t manage all her omelette. After break we wandered round the market that had been set up in one of the car parks. Very interesting – lots of craft people mingled in with local produce. Shame we don’t need any bread or cheese or sculptures made from driftwood and wriggly tin.

From Nelson it was south on our old friend Hwy 6 towards a date with a train at Greymouth. The sun had appeared by now and about an hour down the road we stopped at a little town called Murchinson for a cuppa and a KitKat. Up until then the drive had been nice but normal for New Zealand; however between Murchinson and Inangahua we entered the Buller Gorge on the edge of Victoria Forest Park. The road followed the path of the River Buller down towards the sea and was incredibly spectacular, to put it mildly. All bridges were single track and at one point the road was a single track that clung to the cliff face. Luckily it was traffic light controlled!

At the foot of the gorge and still reeling from the views we took a small detour into Westport for a late lunch. A nice quiet town that was largely… you guessed it, closed. I know it’s a Bank Holiday weekend, but surely closing shops on a Saturday dinner was something we never did in the UK? All the time we keep getting passed by groups of motorcycles. It was nice to see them out enjoying the sunshine and twisty roads, but little did we know this was going to have ramifications later!

From Westport Hwy 6 runs along besides the Tasman Sea for about 50 miles to Greymouth. This was the second scenic surprise. Mile after mile of clifftop views, deserted beaches and waves crashing onto the shore. Absolutely astonishing. If this were the UK it would be packed all the time, never mind on a holiday. After over an hour of this we crossed a bridge over the Grey River into Greymouth, and finally that’s where we found all the bikers congregating. Seems like there is a big series of motorcycle races this weekend and every hotel and motel in the town is booked up! Luckily we recalled a beautiful place about 30 mins back up the road, so we did a U-turn and headed back to Punakaiki, to a little motel right on the beach. For the first time we don’t have Sky tv and I don’t have internet access, but otherwise (or perhaps because of) it is perfect. The restaurant has just served me fish and chips for tea and I have just seen the most staggering sunset over the sea. Sometimes you just drop lucky because from what we had seen of Greymouth it was the usual NZ town, whereas here is little short of amazing. There’s even supposed to be a market in the morning and somewhere very interesting to visit tomorrow just a km up the road. But more on that in the next instalment.


Over the ditch to the other island

This entry is part 15 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Over the ditch to the other island
Nelson, New Zealand

Nelson, New Zealand


6.30am start on a rainy morning in Wellington saw us eating brekkers in the 7th floor of the hotel as the city woke up below. A 15min drive from the hotel to the ferry terminal and we were in the queue for the Interislander ferry. The car hire company had arranged all the tickets, so it was just a question of turning up and waving a ticket and we were driving up the loading ramp of the ‘Pride Of Cherbourg’. Ooops, I mean the ‘Kaitaki’, except of course the previous name was still visible in painted-over steel letters on the bow. She was even still registered in Southampton and flying the red duster off the stern (*). Obviously we had a chuckle about how often she must have chugged across the English Channel before ending up here, 11500 miles away, but it was to get better still – more later.

(*) That’s the red ensign of a British merchant vessel, you landlubber!

Onboard was like any cross-channel ferry you have ever been on, which is hardly surprising, eh? We grabbed some seats and on the dot of 8.30am the boat cast off and set sail. It was sit back and enjoy the ride for the next 3 hours/90km as we crossed the Cook Strait and through Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton on South Island. The first hour was pretty steady crossing the Strait, but once the ship entered the Sound, the scenery took a turn for the spectacular. The Sound is quite narrow and steep-sided with wooded hills either side and very little sign of life. Occasionally we’d pass a fish-farm or an isolated holiday home, only accessible by water, but otherwise it’s all untouched nature. The rain had dried up before we left Wellington, and in Queen Charlotte Sound the sun tried it’s hardest to get through the heavy clouds. It make for a a moody backdrop. All too soon the ‘Isle of Innisfree’ was in sight of Picton. Ooops, I mean ‘Kaitaki’ again. You see, I’d just found the commissioning plaque and it seems the old bus was built in Holland in 1995 for Caledonian Macbrayne and sailed the Western Isles for a number of years before becoming the ‘Pride of Cherbourg’ in the Channel. I wonder how long she’s been the ‘Kaitaki’ crossing the Cook Strait?

We docked in Picton so gently it was impossible to tell when we were at sea and when we were tied up. After the usual long wait on the car deck, we were allowed to drive off on to South Island. It was only 11.30am, and still tanked up on ‘Kaitaki’ coffee, we elected to take the scenic route to Havelock for lunch. This is called Queen Charlotte Drive and on the map looks like a child doing zig-zag scribbles. On the road it’s obvious why it looks like that – yet another swoopy road, only this time with beautiful vistas over the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. We have 30km of this to Havelock, a tiny little town where the Drive joins Hwy 6. Lunch was in a small cafe called the Wakamarinian next to the inevitable museum. I can thoroughly recommend the cafe’s bacon and egg pannini though!

From Havelock it’s only 70km to Nelson, our stop for the night. We were there before 3pm, and checked in to Trailways Hotel at the side of the Maitai River. It was nice to be able to wander round the town before they closed the place for 5pm! Some of the shops were getting a jump start though as it’s Labour Weekend coming up (so Monday is a national holiday). I am seriously glad we’re in a city (Christchurch) for Sunday and Monday nights – there’s a chance everything won’t be shut there. But Nelson is nice and has yet more Art Deco buildings mixed in with modern . Our motel is on Trafalgar Street (of course) and at the other end stands Nelson Cathedral. Originally designed at the turn of the last century to look like a typical English cathedral complete with flying buttresses and a enormous spire, due to changes in funding and that sort of thing, it’s ended up much flatter – like a bungalow cathedral! I cant help that being built from grey tufa instead of the usual pale stone makes it look a bit like it’s built out of breeze blocks as well. Still, we take a peek inside and it’s nice and modern and airy. We cal it a day at this point and head for some tea.

Tomorrow is a long, long 300km drive to Greymouth, ready to catch the train on Sunday. Here’s hoping that views over the Southern Alps make the drive worthwhile!


Welington on foot (and cable car)

This entry is part 14 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

Welington on foot (and cable car)
Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand


Today we have had a change from driving and walked and walked round Wellington. It’s been nice to have tired legs rather than a sore bum! The weather isn’t as kind as yesterday and it’s much cloudier, though the sun has put in the odd appearance. At leased the rain has held off, which is nice for a walking day.

We started out by heading up to Lambton Quay to the bottom of the cable car terminal. $3 each for a ticket, which is a bargain considering how high it climbs. The cars look a bit old-fashioned, but are actually fairly new, built by the Swiss in the 1980’s. The cable car route itself has been in operation since the late 19th century, so it’s pretty venerable. The 10 minute ride takes us well above the city to the Carter Observatory and the Cable Car Museum – we wander round the Museum (free) which is actually very interesting and has both a very, very early cable car and one retired more recently.

The top of the hill is also the start of the Wellington Botanic Gardens, so we work our way down through the gardens over the course of the morning. The vexed subject of labelling rears it’s head again, with the result that a lot of plants appear to be called “I don’t know that one” or “I haven’t a clue”. I personally can’t tell you much about the gardens, except it’s full of trees and plants and glasshouses and sculpture. It is however planted on a very steep slope, so it makes my excuses with my own sloping garden look lame. It’s a good long walk down before we reach the cafe at the bottom, but the tea and bun is welcome.

From there we continue downwards on the ‘City to Sea’ walk which winds through the old Wellington cemetery. Because they blasted a motorway right through it in the 1960’s, no-one is buried there now. The bodies were all moved and the monuments and gravestones re-sited along this walk. As we reach the city proper we pass ‘The Beehive’, which is what everyone calls the parliament building. We reach ‘Te Papa’, or ‘The National Museum’ for a late lunch and, yippee, it’s free again. The museum itself is massive – something like 4 football pitches of exhibition space – and there’s no chance we can do it justice in an afternoon, but we still see some neat stuff. There’s a hall dedicated to geology and tectonics, where we experience an earthquake aftershock from inside a house. There’s a whole exhibition dedicated to a Colossal Squid that was fished from the Antarctic Ocean a few years ago and the first to be scientifically examined. The quarter-ton squid itself is the centrepiece in all it’s embalmed glory, and frankly it’s all very icky. Finally, outside there is an entire forest planted, with walkways through the trees and plants and even a series of limestone caves underneath.

Anyway, have to close this now as we have to pack everything away again ready to throw them in the car in the the morning – the ferry sails at 8.30am and we have to report an hour in advance!


North Island runs out

This entry is part 13 of 29 in the series RTW via New Zealand

North Island runs out
Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand


Another big miles day and another shift to the south – as far south as we can go without falling in the water. Glad that is over and there’s a couple of days without much driving – hopefully none at all tomorrow. There’s a heck of a lot of empty space here in NZ. For someone who likes camping or with a motorhome(*), it would be brilliant. For someone like me who doesn’t stray too far from the nearest latte it’s a big country!

(*) not seen a single caravan here so far.

We started the day in Napier with a brilliant blue sky and the sun bouncing off Hawkes Bay – it was mighty chilly out though. First thing was a drive up to Bluff Point, which overlooks much of Napier city. The views really were outstanding. Looking back the way we had come the previous day it was possible to see snow on the tops of some of the mountains – not sure if they were ones we’d crossed or ones further east, but a reminder how quickly the weather can change here. The morning warmed up as we descended back into Napier and took the walking tour round the central business district (as they call downtown) to look at the Art Deco buildings. As I said yesterday, Napier was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1931, and many of the buildings were rebuilt in the Art Deco style. Somehow they have survived and remain to this day. With pedestrianised streets it makes for a very elegant town centre.

But we had to get moving again – a lot of clicks to cover today and nice weather to do it in. Back out on Hwy. 2 south for an hour or so, we stopped in a little one-street town called Waipawa for lunch. Even a little town like this had a couple of upmarket cafes and some antique shops. Our cafe had it’s own little garden growing herbs and lemons. These little towns vary from the seemingly affluent like Waipawa to some that have little more than a ‘Hotel’ (fancy name for a traditional pub) and are full of empty shops. One town just seemed to consist of closed cafes and shops – now what’s that all about in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon?

We put on some big miles – I stuck the cruise control at 110km/h and just steered down a pretty straight road as we knocked off the towns down the centre of North Island. Dannevirke (big Viking theme going on there), Woodville (sent me off the main road on a fools errand through the town centre), Masterton (a bit obsessed with sheep IMHO), Greytown (looked very nice actually). Then somewhere between Greytown and Upper Hutt (presumably where Jabba lives) we ran into a mountain. Every day I say, bloody hell this is unbelievable, as we hit a road that swoops and turns like the best biking road of all time. Wendy asked why we never see any motorcycles, since these roads would be flooded with them in the UK. Just then 10 big BMW police bikes came the other way, one after the other, and they were definitely having a ball!

Safely over the mountain we descended further into Upper and Lower Hutt and then Wellington. The road became a motorway and we passed the docks where we have to pick up the Picton ferry at silly o’clock on Friday. I had looked up the directions to the hotel the night before. Most places have a list of street names, turn left, turn right, sort of instructions. Not ours – “The motorway flows into Wellington and Oriental Bay is well signposted. The Copthorne Hotel is a large building on Oriental Parade near the Te Papa museum”. All very Zen, eh? But we found it with only one slight missed turn when in true Kiwi fashion they decided to place a single signpost at the last possible minute on a four-lane road junction.

The hotel is stacked up on one of the hills overlooking the harbour. To reach our room we have to ride the lift to the 7th floor, then cross the restaurant lobby and take a different lift up another two floors. The car, luckily, is valet parked behind the hotel somewhere on the 7th. I’ll let them fetch it down when I need it again! The room is not small, but seems small after last night’s vast suite in Napier. The view from the balcony over Wellington harbour is stunning though. We’ve taken a walk along the harbour and though the town for tea. I am quite excited to find that the Te Papa (Our Land) museum is open until the dizzyingly late hour of 9pm tomorrow night. And it’s free, so we just have got to visit. Tomorrow we explore Wellington further. Tonight we’re doing some laundry.