Greymouth to Franz Josef

(February 24th 2007)

We started our drive this morning from Greymouth and soon came across one of the famous ‘one lane bridges’ here in New Zealand. They are everywhere, and not normally a problem. One way has preference over the other and you give way to someone depending on what the sign says. This one however was a bit different. Not only was it one lane and you share it with cars and lorries coming in the other direction, but it was also used by trains. There were train tracks down the middle of the bridge, oh and by the way, trains are exempt from giving way, so you have to look out. Gladly, so far we haven’t seen any trains, but they put the willies up me every time we cross tracks.

The journey was as usual fantastic to drive and just look out the window. We passed beautiful ice blue lakes and rivers and massive mountains, some with snow on them. The snow topped peaks are the source of the Franz Josef glacier, and we could see more and more as we approached the town. The town itself (really a township) is very small, but has everything that you need. Our room wasn’t ready, so we drove to the carpark nearest the glacier and took a walk towards the face of it. We didn’t go all the way but close enough to get some great pictures, before turning back and checking in at the motel.

The Punga Grove motel seems very nice, and we have a small balcony looking out into the rainforest, but sadly no broadband, so this will be a little late, but you know that already. We had a really lovely meal at a local restaurant The Alice May. I had fabulous bangers, mash and peas (my favourite meal in the world) and Amanda had venison stew with mash and veggies. It was delicious and so reasonable. No matter where we have ate the prices are so good as all the restaurants are mainly full of locals there’s no rip off! A strange concept to us coming from the UK.

Tomorrow, it’s the helicopter ride over the two glaciers, so that should be fun. Amanda is so looking forward to it….not!

We need a bigger boat

(February 23rd 2007)

After sorting out our little internet access issue, we resume normal service. When we last left you we were getting ready for our whale watching trip in Kaikoura. We left very, very early to hit the road as we didn’t really know how long it would take us to get there. As it was we made good time and got there early (so unlike me really, don’t you think?). At one point we didn’t think we were going to make it as we crossed the oldest, most rickety bridge in existence, and we both had our eyes closed as went over it (not really). When we arrived in Kaikoura it was grey, overcast but best of all the sea was really calm. We did get the most annoying man in the world behind us in the queue as we boarded the bus to the marina, who complained to one member of staff that they should have given notice when the video showing in the waiting area was about to start as some people would have liked to have watched it all the way through. I’m not sure if the woman taking the complaint knew if he was joking or not, I would have just told him to get a life, but that’s why I don’t work for tourist information. The boat was brand new and big enough to make me feel better. The whales are a couple of miles offshore and the trip was pretty quick and thankfully fairly smooth. The whale we saw was a resident, meaning he stays in the area all year round. He was a sperm whale and although most of the photos look like a log floating on the water, I can tell you that watching him was very cool, especially when he dove and we got to see the graceful way something that huge slid under the water. We also saw a shark (hence the title of this entry), I’m sure it was a massive great white but Amanda thinks it was a small blue shark. I prefer my version.

After the boat trip, we jumped back into the car and headed inland towards Hanmer Springs. The drive was again spectacular, but we’re getting to used to that by now. We’re also getting blase about seeing birds of prey soaring above us even though the first few times we almost stopped the car to watch. Some of them are pretty huge and look like they could snatch a small child, hehe. Hanmer Springs is a pretty little Alpine-like village with a difference, It is situated in a thermal area and has hot springs which once we’d dropped the bags off we soaked in (alright Amanda dragged me to, but it was ok actually) and laid back looking up at the mountains surrounding us, thinking of our travels so far. The motel we were staying at was excellent and in a great location, and we would recommend it to anyone as we would Hanmer Springs.

This morning, we grabbed breakfast in Hanmer Springs, filled up with petrol and headed further inland over the mountains towards the west coast. As always the drive was fantastic, the view gobsmacking, but………. We stopped at a place for coffee and decided as it was so nice to sit outside to drink it. While we were waiting for the drinks to arrive, Amanda started swatting little flies, and then though she felt one bite her. Sure enough I felt the same and we moved inside quickly. Sadly not before the little sods had eaten large chunks of human flesh and left big, red welts on Amandas legs. We drank our coffees very quickly and got in the car and got away from that place as fast as we could. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we got to Greymouth early enough to drop off the bags and head back out to explore.

We headed north towards the ‘pancake rocks’ and the gorgeous coastal drive. The photos can’t do it justice but I can tell you that it is truly stunning and we’re both glad that we did that instead of finding a coffee shop to sit in or going shopping instead.

Tomorrow it’s south to Franz Josef….cya.

Picton and the wine country

(February 21st 2007)

Today we thought we’d take it easy as from now on it’s a lot of driving. So this morning we took our time getting up and having breakfast (I watched a woeful display of football from my beloved Arsenal against PSV Eindhoven) and then this afternoon we took a drive towards Blenheim and the wine growing region of Marlborough (yes I know we went there yesterday as well but there are a lot of wineries there). We didn’t bother stopping in Blenheim as there didn’t seem a lot to grab our attention, nice though it was, and we headed into the broad flat Wairau Valley and the vineyards. As you enter the ‘main road’ of the region there is a chocolate factory selling boutique chocolates. Well, we had to stop there didn’t we? We bought a few little things just to be polite, hehe, and then jumped back in the car and looked for somewhere nice to stop, taste wines and grab a coffee. We found that place in the Clifford Bay Winery. Amanda tasted today as I was driving and thought enough of the Sauvignon Blanc to buy a bottle so I hope it’s as good as the stuff I bought yesterday. We had a couple of cups of coffee (flat whites, love ‘em) sitting in the shade looking out at the rows of vines and the mountains beyond. Then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for an early check-out tomorrow ready for whale watching in Kaikoura.

Goodbye foggy Wellington and hello super sunny South Island

(February 20th 2007)

As you will have guessed by the time you read this, I have been having internet access problems, so I missed a day (well that and the fact that I was a bit tipsy and couldn’t type).

Yesterday we woke in luxury in the Bolton Hotel and congratulated ourselves again for making the change from the ‘hole’. We decided to take a trip up the cable car to get a better view of the city. The trip was pretty cool and the views were, as expected, excellent. Shame about the coffee at the top, our second bad coffee of the entire trip (the first was in Rotorua), but apart from that it was good. At the top is an observatory (which we arrived half hour too late to catch the planetarium show) and the botanical gardens which on a cooler day would have been nice to walk around a bit. As it was scorchio we decided to head back down and grab some lunch and then head out on the Marine Drive tour. This takes you on a road around Oriental Bay, the inner harbour and out to the outer shoreline facing the Cook Strait. The views were stunning. People living in Wellington must thank their lucky stars every day.

Once we’d returned the car the safe hands of the hotel, we headed back out for something to eat. First stop was Mac’s Brewery (so far I have tried 5 of their beers, all fantastic), and although we paused there for a while there was nothing we fancied to eat so we (I staggered) walked to a pub (Irish, much to Amandas disgust, as we always seem to find an Irish pub and I always seem to find a pint of Guinness in my hand). The food looked ok on the menu so we ordered. Apart from the portion control (always far too big) the food was great and so was the Guinness. So after all that, writing the blog was the last thing on my mind so we crashed out and watched a film back at the hotel.

This morning we bid an early farewell to Wellington, as we made our way to the ferry port for our crossing to the South Island. It was a glorious morning and the sea looked really calm, which I was thankful for. Apparently the crossing can be bad sometimes and I didn’t fancy that at all. To get on the boat we had to reverse in a long way alongside a train. Yup, a train. Amanda was driving and I have to say that even a man couldn’t have done better, hehe. The guy in front was useless and nearly hit the side a few times, and the men who worked on the ship looked on very admiringly. Amazed it was driven by a girl I expect. We went through a bank of fog which was weird but gave some good photos, and then broke through into brilliant sunshine. Our first proper view of the South Island came pretty soon as it takes over an hour to navigate through the Marlborough Sounds with islands all around you. Pretty soon we came into Picton and cleverly we had booked to stay here for two nights so we could explore the wine region. The hotel is only 10 mins from the ferry terminal, and what a find it was. We have a one bedroom apartment with two balconies, a kitchen, living room and a lovely bathroom. Oh yes, and a 42” plasma tv with Sky 🙂 All for about £95 per night.
After dropping the bags off we headed out to check on a few of the wineries. The drive is pretty amazing (although I expect you’re tired of reading ‘amazing’ brilliant’ and ‘breathtaking’ by now), and we soon arrived at the first winery called Hunters. I tasted a few wines (Amanda was driving) and bought 3 bottles. Then we went to Cloudy Bay winery, and I tasted a few more (5) and bought 3 more and bought more to ship home. Then we headed back to sample the wares which we are doing right now.

PS. Man flu broken and well on the way to full health again. Superior genes I expect.

Wellington

(February 18th 2007)

Missed a day yesterday but I have an excuse, honest. The drive from Taupo to Wellington took quite a bit longer than we expected. The guide said approximately three hours, but we decided to take a slightly more scenic route and it took us five and a half hours instead. I have to say it was worth it as we drove the desert road (a real desert not a pretend one) and saw Mt. Doom (from The Lord Of The Rings films). I know I said we’d run away screaming from any LOTR references as it’s so naff, but we couldn’t help it. We’re still not joining the Hobbit groupies on any of the special tours, but seeing Mt. Doom was pretty cool I have to admit.

So after a long drive we arrived in Wellington and although not a large city by our standards we still had to negotiate one way systems and small roads to find our hotel. When we finally found it, we were disappointed gutted. The hotel is being refurbished and was supposed to be finished by now. Needless to say it wasn’t. If you like old-school, 60’s style furniture and stains you’d love it (see photo at the top, it’s the one with the red roof). We didn’t. To top it all we were booked in for 3 nights!! Amanda and I went online and looked for an alternative and we’ve rebooked into the Bolton Hotel which is much nicer. We cancelled the remaining 2 nights in the Kingsgate and we slept much better for it.

Last night we had tickets for a Super 14 rugby game and watched our new adopted team (the Hurricanes) beat the Blues 23 – 22. Drank beer, cheered them on and generally had a great time. Then had the depressing thought of going back to the hotel, at the same time happy in the knowledge that it was our last night there.

This morning we checked out as fast as we could and drove into town (not far but quite a steep hill) and visited Te Papa, New Zealands National Museum. It’s a fantastic building and the museum itself is excellent. One of the highlights is the cafe which not only serves fantastic coffee, but homemade (or museum-made) food which is delicious and extremely reasonable (approx £10 for two meals and two drinks). Well worth a visit if you’re ever here.

After pottering around the museum for a few hours or so, we headed for the new hotel. I’ve gotten the hang of the street map so we found it pretty easily. What a difference! Valet parking, good staff, huge room with kitchen (and washing machine, dishwasher etc), two huge TVs and a DVD player, as well as a huge, very comfy bed. To top it all, it’s clean….result.

Check the photos page for Mt Doom and Te Papa.

More tomorrow, à bientôt.

Groundhog Day

(February 16th 2007)

Well what can I say, today didn’t start out as planned by Ian yesterday. Sorry, it’s an entry from the other half today as Ian has that rare and deadly disease, that only effects the weaker species, MAN FLU!. This obviously started yesterday and affected his brain as he left his walking shoes in Rotorua, so one phone call and numerous words I can’t repeat later, we were back on the road to Rotorua to collect said shoes. Mission complete we started again on the road to Taupo.
Taupo is nice enough but with Ian’s man flu (by the way I should have mentioned we stopped of to purchase flu and cold remedies) and there not being too much point driving another 4 hours to Napier and back we decided to have a lazy afternoon. I should also say we had decided last night over dinner not to travel to Napier as they are having an Art Deco weekend and today is a classic car rally along the roads which they are shutting to non classic cars. So not too much to report other than to say Ian is watching the cricket and I am writing the blog.
I would like to take this opportunity to catch up on some things we remembered after beer, cocktails, wine and a gorgeous meal last night that we forgot to put in the blog. While at the Cavalli Beach House we were lucky to have dinner with some really nice people, as you eat with the other guests (maximum of 4) this could have been awkward if we didn’t get on. As you know Ian will talk to anyone, we met a New Zealand couple and you’ll never guess what, but they were Gooners (Arsenal supporters for those now saying what!). As you can imagine Ian didn’t shut up that night and as a parting gift the guy gave Ian a love letter of all the timings for Arsenal matches on NZ tv whilst we are in this lovely land. I have to say this now goes everywhere in his pocket. Another couple were from New Malden and I can tell you this caused great confusion amongst the other guests, but they have heard of Maldon Salt in NZ so we just kept saying we’re the ones form the salt town.
No new pictures to add due to groundhog day. Off to Wellington tomorrow where we are going to see a super 14’s match, Hurricanes – v – Blues (Wellington and Auckland) in the evening so more to come on Sunday.

More smelly smells then off to Taupo

(February 15th 2007)

We left Rotorua early-ish this morning so we could get to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (good name eh?) in time to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupting at 10:15am. The guide books said that this thermal area was the best one around and as it’s on the way to Taupo (our next stop) it seemed like a good idea. It was an easy drive and we got there at around 9:00am. It turned out that the geyser was a short drive away and so we grabbed a cup of coffee and chilled for a while enjoying the gorgeous smells that we have grown to love over the past few days…yeah right. At about 9:45 we headed back to the car to head towards the geyser site only to find ourselves blocked in by three coaches that parked over the disabled parking bays. I managed to reverse out and wound my window down to ask the driver of the front coach, very politely, if he could just close his door for a moment so we could get out. Very untypically for New Zealand hospitality he said, point blank, no. Must have been Australian. So swearing and muttering under my breath we waited. Once the lucky passengers of this luxury motor vehicle with the charming driver had departed we drove the short distance to the geyser site, grabbed a seat and waited until 10:15am when a ranger type man appeared and emptied a small packet of soap powder into the hole. He explained that it broke the surface tension of the water underneath and kick-started the eruption. It was pretty spectacular even if it was cheating a bit.

That done, we I made sure I beat that nasty coach driver out of the car park and went back to the main entrance. It was a hot, slow walk around the track that took in the various smelly but colourful and interesting thermal caves, holes and lakes. At Wai-O-Tapu we also spotted a new breed of tourist that we are calling ‘tick boxers’. They race around stopping briefly to look, take a photo, and mentally tick the box saying that this site was visited. This breed isn’t very rare and in fact is a pain in the ass as they whoosh by you regardless of the speed at which you are travelling or indeed if you are at the front taking your own photos. They also hunt in packs, probably originating from cruise ships, and can be identified by the colourful patches (or badges as we know them) on their chests. They should be avoided at all costs.

Once again the Lonely Planet guide done good, as this was a nice side trip on the road to Taupo despite the tick boxers.

It’s only about an hour or so to Taupo from there and as we couldn’t check in until 2pm we stopped off at the Huka Falls. I was expecting some dramatic waterfall, but I should have read my guide book better. The falls are only about 5m high (best guess) but what they lacked in height they made up for in quality. The speed of the water and the colour of it was amazing. I’m not sure the photo will do it justice but take a look anyway. Lake Taupo is the source of the Waikato river which is the longest in NZ and I’m not sure it looks as spectacular anywhere as they do at Huka Falls.

Just down the road from the falls is Taupo where we stay for two nights. We are right on the lake front and the view from the balcony is lovely (see the photo at the beginning of this entry). Tomorrow we drive to Napier, art deco capital of NZ, for the day which is about 2 hours drive, and is supposed to very nice, so nice we couldn’t get a bed for the night there when I tried. They are having a special art deco weekend and it’s very popular. Napier is also in Hawkes Bay, very famous for it’s delicious wines, such a shame I’m driving…hey, wait a minute, Amanda can drive…result. I’ll let you all know tomorrow what it’s like.

Busy day in Rotorua

(February 14th 2007)

We get one full day in Rotorua so we thought we’d make the most of it. I’d booked a Duck Tour back in the UK (the ‘duck’ in case you don’t know is an amphibious WWII vehicle) and we jumped on board outside the tourist information office and headed off around the town quacking at passers by. Yes, that’s right, quacking. Everyone onboard got a plastic duck bill which when you blew through it, quacked. Sounds stupid, and it is, but fun all the same. After seeing the sights in the town itself, we headed out to the Blue and Green Lakes where we went in and ‘drove’ around in the water while getting a very informative and fun commentary. Highly recommended.

We grabbed our lunch from the car once we’d finished the tour and ate in a small park area behind some office buildings along with the poor souls who had to go back to work after theirs…awwwww.

Then it was off to the Buried Village, which lies 15km from Rotorua. Back in 1886, there was a massive eruption from Mt Tarawera. It lasted only 6 hours, but once finished over 1500 sq km was buried in ash, lava and mud. Three Maori villages including Te Wairoa were obliterated. Some of the village has been excavated and there is a museum showing some of the artifacts recovered. It’s accessed by a lovely walk which goes along a stream full of big rainbow trout and also a side trip to se a waterfall which I made but Amanda (sensibly) didn’t. It was worth it but to get there you had to go along a very steep path, quite overgrown and the walk back up the other side was lung busting especially on a very hot day which it was today. After that we needed a sit down and a drink (me more than Amanda if truth be told).

The plan then was to return to Rotorua and go to Rainbow Springs and it’s Kiwi Experience. Sadly due to loads of people turning up on coaches before we arrived, the Kiwi experience was fully booked so we just went into Rainbow Springs. We were both a bit gutted as the Kiwi Experience has Kiwi eggs hatching at the moment and baby Kiwis which would have gotten a huge amount of aww’s and oooh’s. Rainbow Springs is an excuse to feed giant rainbow trout and watch the feeding frenzy, as well as look at other NZ flora and fauna. We saw, and photographed, giant redwoods, keas, geckos and saw, but couldn’t photograph, an adult kiwi. A nice way to spend an hour or so.

Off out for something to eat later, then tomorrow it’s off to Taupo via one of the thermal areas to see and smell the bubbling mud and geysers.

Glow worms and nasty smells

(February 13th 2007)

We left Hamilton pretty early this morning and headed towards Waitomo caves to see the glow worms. It was money well spent as the sight is absolutely amazing. After a short-ish quided tour around the caves you get on a small boat and in absolute darkness you glide around a cave looking up at the ceiling at the points of light that at the glow worms produce to catch their food. It looks like thousands of stars in the sky and in the silence it makes it all the more magical.

That little detour completed we pointed the car towards Rotorua. The drive was spectacular and we were glad we decided to take that route rather than go direct from Hamilton to Rotorua (apart from the fact that we would have missed the glow worms). About half way I was starting to cross my legs and we saw a picnic spot with some likely looking tree cover for me. I got out of the car and saw a sign on the side of the road pointing to a Christian camp across the river. I found my spot, made sure there was nobody around and soon there was a happy smile on my face. As I finished the deed I heard a round of applause behind me and I nearly fell over. Looking around I noticed, through the trees, that the god squad were having an outdoor meeting of some sort and although the applause was coincidental I felt proud that it merited such rapturous clapping.

We finally got to Rotorua and found our motel. Nice, clean with good facilities but a huge step down from the luxury we had (sadly) gotten used to at the Cavalli Beach House. After dropping off our bags we headed into town. Amanda was already holding her nose at the smell (maybe she’ll get used to it, but I doubt it), but we found the lake front and sat and read through some brochures and guidebooks. As it was now past 4pm we went to the only thing that seemed open which was the museum. If you ever get a chance to come to Rotorua, make sure you visit the museum, it’s excellent, and probably the best museum I’ve been to in a long, long time.
Once through the museum, we grabbed something to eat and went back to the motel so I could catch up with this blog thing and chill out. More tomorrow…..

Goodbye Bay of Islands and Hello Lots of Driving

(February 12th 2007)

It was a good idea at the time, deciding to travel north and across the top before heading south towards Auckland and beyond. The thought was we could see the west coast and the giant Kauri trees in Waipoua forest, however we let ourselves in for a lot more driving than we imagined. We left the beach house at 9am and headed northwards sp we could catch up with the west coast highway heading south to get another view of NZ that we hadn’t got so far. The forest was amazing and the views spectacular, and the ‘daddy’ of all Kauri trees was immense (photos to be added later). The problem came when we decided to drive as far as we could to minimise the driving the next day. Most the drive after you leave the forest is incredibly boring and consists of very long, very straight roads. Eventually we go through Auckland and decided to head towards Hamilton to stay the night there. We figured it was Monday night so we shouldn;t have much trouble getting a room in a motel of hotel there as it’s NZs biggest inland city. How wrong we were. All of the motels we passed along the way had ‘no vacancy’ signs outside and the main hotel we tried was also fully booked. As a last resort we checked the guidebook and phoned another hotel rather than simply turning up on the off chance. They did have vacancy but only an executive suite which was about a twice as expensive as we’d hoped but beggars can’t be choosers at 7:30 in the evening. On the upside, it is opposite a terrific restaurant which we have just returned from, the room has a spa bath and is absolutely huge.

Tomorrow we head for Rotorua and are looking for some pegs for our noses.

It’s 9:15 and after 11 hours of driving I’m off to bed 🙂