Thursday, 16 February 2017

The North Island

We arrived in Wellington and after picking up our second hire car we drove to our accommodation in the suburb of Strathmore Park. The house, owned by lovely couple Janice and Brent, has amazing views of the ocean and we can watch the ferries and cruise ships entering the harbour from our bedroom window.

The Te Papa Museum in downtown Wellington is a fabulous venue. We spent hours there several years ago and at present they are hosting a special exhibition called Gallipoli: The scale of our war. The exhibition centres around the lives of  'eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances' and the detail is absolutely breathtaking. Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, has created giant replicas of the eight, right down to the hairs on the backs of their hands. It is a truly remarkable exhibition.

These figures are 2.5 times the size of a human - amazing!
One of many paintings

Lifesize model

Wellington is also famous for its cable car (funicular) and we took this to the top of the Botanical Gardens and visited the Cable Car Museum and the Carter Observatory, where we watched two films in the planetarium that finally answered a lot of our questions about The Big Bang.


The tunnels

At the Cable Car Museum

But a real highlight was our visit to Zealandia, only ten minutes from the CBD. Since the 1990s, 225 hectares of land has been cleared of both plants and animals, and revegetated and populated with birds, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates, including rare and endangered species, that existed in New Zealand before the arrival of humans. As you approach the sanctuary, set deep in a valley, you could be mistaken for thinking you are walking into Jurassic Park.

The residents live without barriers except for an enormous predator-proof fence that surrounds the entire property and the sanctuary houses a dam which was formerly the water supply for Wellington. We spent nearly four hours on a guided tour and saw more nature than we have in a long time; we particularly liked the native birds and of course the Tuatara. The sanctuary is a work in progress and a team of 450 volunteers care for the property, planting, weeding, feeding, etc. It could take up to 500 years to complete their full mission of life as it was pre-humans.

Nesting cormorants

The rare native Takahe


We did manage to take in a winery... and drove to Martinborough, a quaint village of cafes, restaurants and home decorating shops. Out of town we discovered the Coney Vineyard and Restaurant where we had the most delicious Turkish-based meals and great wine - so good I bought a bottle of the Rambling Rose... All the wines have musical names and the walls are tastefully decorated with sheet music because of the family's love for music.

We arrived in Napier in a heatwave - 32 degrees - and checked in to our gorgeous B&B cottage. It has been completely renovated by our hosts Kitty and Peter, and is just beautiful inside, with lots of lovely personal touches, including a mouse-house that has been cut into one of the skirtings and been beautifully decorated inside (see photo). And Kitty put on the most wonderful home baked breakfast, at table and chairs overlooking the pool.

Our cottage

The mouse's cottage
Breakfast by the pool

After a quick walk through art-deco Napier (we'll be back on the cruise) we took a drive up to Havelock North, another quaint village but very modern (and expensive) and walked around Birdwoods which comprises gardens with interesting stone and metal sculptures, a gift shop that sells African arts and crafts and an old fashioned sweet shop. We also spent time at the National Aquarium and finally got to see the elusive Kiwi, along with penguin and shark feeding.

Valentine's Day dinner at Thirsty Whale on the Napier waterfront
Then it was on to Waitomo where we took two tours, the first to the Glowworm Cave where we boarded a boat and sailed through dark caverns with ceilings reminiscent of the great stained glass windows of Europe - only these were produced by glowworms. Just magic. The second cave, the Ruakuri, was just like the caves we see at home except for the chance to see glowworms up close. Each glowworm, lying horizontal, spins between 10 and 15 sticky spiderweb-like strands to catch their prey. They look like strands of diamonds, about 20-30cms long and they are just stunning. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos of the glowworms - you'll just have to Google them!

A walk through the bush

Ruakuri Cave

 Finally we made it into Auckland, in pouring rain, and dropped off the hire car. For the last 20kms we'd been in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then of course we couldn't get a cab, so we walked, with bags, in the rain, 2.6kms to our hotel. Looking like a pair of drowned rats we checked in, bought a few groceries from the local Countdown (Woolworths) store and settled in for the night. This morning it is still raining and we board the ship at 11am - and can't wait!

Friday, 10 February 2017

Invercargill to Christchurch

Our first stop in Invercargill was to the E Hayes Hardware Store which has an excellent display of historic motor bikes. Of course the most famous is the Burt Munro Indian motorcycle as seen in the 2005 movie The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins. It still holds the world record for the fastest land speed (under 1000cc).

Our walk through Queen’s Park Gardens took much longer than we anticipated. Not only are there 24 hectares of flowers and rose gardens, but huge aviaries and even an animal enclosure – as well as a golf course and rotunda, etc. And then of course there is the adjacent Southland Museum and Art Gallery which has interesting history and nature displays including the world’s largest public exhibit of New Zealand Tuatara. They might look like lizards but they are actually descended from the dinosaurs and flourished some 200 million years ago. Their oldest inmate is Henry, at over 110 years old!

The beautiful Queen's Park Gardens, Invercargill

Inside the Southland Museum and Art Gallery
Henry, the 110+ year old Tuatara
From Invercargill we drove towards the Fiordland, through some of the most magnificent scenery we have ever seen to Te Anau, via the beautiful Manapouri Lake. Te Anau is the stepping off point for Milford Sound but time didn’t permit us the luxury of the 100km drive there and back, so its just as well we will see it on our upcoming cruise. We could have stayed in Te Anau for a few days of pure relaxation, but the west coast was calling.

We then headed to the very famous Queenstown with its multi-million dollar homes and hotels overlooking Lake Wakatipu. It is much bigger than we had imagined and we spent hours wandering along the shoreline and through the Botanical Gardens to take in the views, followed by lunch in the main city centre Mall. Late in the afternoon we drove a few kilometres out to historic Arrowtown and enjoyed enormous icecreams in this quaint little village. Queenstown is definitely a place to return to.

From Queenstown we drove further north to Franz Josef with the hopes of seeing the famous glacier. However, as we ventured on, the cloud cover became thicker until it was heavy fog and we weren't able - on either of the two days we were there - to see the glacier. A great pity and instead we enjoyed some good food and wine!

On our way to Franz Josef

Our final stop on the west coast was Greymouth in the mining belt, and the place from which we would take the Tranzalpine Railway back to Christchurch. After booking in to our hotel we drove to the station to confirm our booking and were devastated to discover the train was cancelled due to a fire on the line which had destroyed signs and even a bridge pylon.
Having lunch at the impressive Spreight's Ale House in Greymouth
A memorial to miners who have lost their lives since the 1800sincluding those from the Pike River Mine Disaster in 2010

South of Greymouth is the historic village of Shantytown, a smaller version of Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill. We spent a few hours there; took a steam train ride, watched a holographic presentation about the area’s murderous past and wandered through the replica buildings. There was plenty of wildlife around - local hens, ducks and the Weka, another of New Zealand's flightless birds, that congregate near the steam train in search of food.

Our adopted Kiwi, Kai - a first class navigator!



At Shantytown
The Weka

The next morning we left Greymouth, by car, and drove the 236 kms back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass, over an incredible viaduct and past some magnificent snow-capped mountains.

The friendly Kea parrot - we encountered them at one of the lookouts

Viaduct - what an amazing feat of engineering!