Friday, December 30, 2011


Leaving Fairlie we took the alternative route towards the east, which wound down through several valleys onto the Canterbury plain where we turned north onto Highway 1. At Ashburton we stopped at Annie’s Country Quilt Shop (friendly, good range of material, good prices, according to Laetitia). Once we were out of the hills, the roads became long, straight and flat - and thus a constant challenge to stay awake!

When we reached Christchurch we returned to the Welcome Vegetarian Chinese Café for lunch. We chose different meals and enjoyed them just as much as our first dinner in New Zealand.

We then continued driving north through increasing drizzle and reached Amberley around 4pm and checked in to Delhaven Motels & Caravan Park. We were in a “standard motel unit”, which was large, well lit by the many windows and had a full kitchen. No wifi on site (but the library down the road provides free wifi). However the shower (as we discovered later) suffered somewhat from a lack of water pressure; it was a very thin stream of variable temperature, and we’re glad we didn’t have to be use it in cold weather. Not recommended, especially if you’re going to be there in winter!

Given the dreary rain Laetitia decided to stay in while Ian went to check out the library’s free wifi and Amberley Beach. The beach was almost deserted, only one person walking their dog - hardly surprising in that weather - cold and grey, a mix of stones and dark sand.

After our filling lunch we just snacked in our room for dinner.

The next morning we decided to take the inland route to Kaikoura, along two legs of the “Alpine Scenic Triangle”. We had originally intended to check out Lewis Pass but all we would have seen would have been the inside of a cloud. However the second half of the drive, northeast from Waiau down to Kaikoura was indeed very scenic, a beautiful road winding around and along the sides of wide, steep-sided valleys, down into several gorges and across old one-lane bridges before climbing up again, surrounded by green hills and flowering trees and sheep and cattle farms. Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Our next two nights were in Fairlie, 60 km west of Highway 1 on the way to Lake Tekapo. We stayed at the Pinewoods Motel where the managers are a friendly Christian couple. They offered to upgrade us for the first night only (unfortunately they were fully booked on the second) but we declined because we didn’t want to have to move our things between rooms the next day. Even the smaller room was quite comfortable, with a spacious bathroom - highly recommended. We cooked our own dinner in our room and spent the night in, reading and resting.

On Wednesday we enjoyed a lovely sleep-in and then made lunch to take with us on our drive. We headed north-west to Lake Tekapo and the town of the same name, then further west to Twizel at the southern end of Lake Pukaki. We decided not to go to Mt Cook on this trip. We loved the wildflowers growing along the road, although they’re actually considered weeds, and we weren’t the only ones; we spotted several tourists cutting heads to take away with them. On the way back through Tekapo we stopped to check out the historic church building, currently being used by three different congregations (Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic). Dinner was again cooked in our room.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Some years ago our friend Allison moved from Brisbane to Dunedin. Her mother Cherry is also staying with her temporarily.

We found her place without any trouble, on the side of a steep hill (like most streets in Dunedin!). Indeed, her house is quite high up above street level, with quite a steep walk to get to the front door. Several exhausting trips later, we had our things in our room (actually Allison’s bedroom!) and were ready for Christmas Eve.

After briefly meeting a couple of her friends who dropped by, we played some games including Ticket to Ride and had a simple dinner. We were pretty worn out after our long drive from Gore.

On Christmas morning we got ourselves up in time to go to church. We had chosen a likely one just a couple of blocks down the road by looking on the internet the night before. Of course, we didn’t know whether the website was up-to-date nor whether the Christmas Day service would be at the usual time of 10:00 am…

We wandered down the street (“down” being exactly the right word in this case), going a little past the New Life church we were aiming for to also check out the beautiful Anglican building on the next corner. The Anglican service had started at 9am, so we were far too late for that. We walked back to New Life and went in at about 9:50 - and discovered that they’d started already! Ah well, not to worry. It turns out they’d started not long before, and indeed their website was quite out of date.

Nevertheless they were friendly and welcoming and we enjoyed the service. Then of course we had to walk back up the street - and then the front path and stairs! - to get back home to Allison’s.

Christmas lunch was a quiet get-your-own affair, because she’d invited friends over for a big Christmas dinner. We opened some presents, and handed over ours for Allison (some Australian bubbly wine). In the afternoon we played more games, first with Allison and then with her friends when they arrived. Cherry prepared the meal and Allison and Cherry even made their own Christmas bon-bons!
Dinner was delicious! Cherry had made us a nut loaf to go with the roast vegetables, as well as a date loaf with extra fruit (making it more like a Christmas pudding) served with soy ice cream. We were well fed, and the company was cheerful. A fabulous evening!

On Boxing Day we made ourselves a packed lunch and headed out to the Otago Peninsula. At Taiaroa Head at the very end there is a wildlife reserve, the only place in the world apparently where albatross nest on a human-inhabited mainland. These are Northern Royal Albatross, weighing about 8kg and with a wingspan of around three metres. Taiaroa Head has also been of military significance for both the Maori and European people here.

The road out to Taiaroa is narrow and winding along the very edge of the Peninsula - a beautiful drive.

The reserve is well protected and you can only go past the visitor centre as part of a guided tour. The visitor centre itself has a large gallery full of interesting details and lovely photographs. We did the Unique Taiaroa Tour which included a short informative video about the albatross followed by a walk up the (steep!) hill to the observatory, then a walk further up the hill to Fort Taiaroa. We were there in incubating season and from the observatory we saw one albatross sleeping on a nest. They also showed us live video from a camera around the corner from where we were, of three others also sitting on their nest. Solitary animals at any time, they were all quite a way from each other. Mother and father take about week-long turns either incubating or out at sea feeding. Apparently the young, when they are mature enough to fly (mid next year), will spend their first five years entirely at sea, not once making landfall! When they eventually return to where they hatched, they’ll have their juvenile tag replaced with an adult tag and will then be closely monitored. We also saw a colony of shags (what we would call cormorants) and a few spoonbills.

On the way up to the Fort we had to walk past a seagull colony. It’s funny, you never really think about seagulls nesting, but obviously it has to happen somewhere! The young chicks were absolutely gorgeous, cute little fluffy things with dark feathers (or speckled as they grew older) and far less bold and brash than the adults. The parents were understandably very protective and nearly burst our eardrums with their loud warning calls.
Inside the Fort we were impressed by the “disappearing gun”, which is raised hydraulically to fire its 100 lb (!) shells then lowered back underground for reloading. We also got to see another nesting albatross not far from the windows of the observation post, which were about at ground level and about a foot high.

We had our lunch outside (watching carefully to avoid seagull droppings) and looked out from the cliff on the eastern side - to see a seal rolling in the water far below! We also saw some black ducks, but no penguins from where we were (apparently they nest a bit further around).

Then we set off for Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand - which claim we found amusing; does Australia even have any castle? This one was built by an Australian whose parents were Scots. The current owners are trying to restore it and have done a good job of making it an interesting tourist attraction, as well as revitalising and extending the surrounding gardens. We did the (self-guided) tour of the castle itself, enjoying the eclectic décor, lovely tiled floors and kauri wood furniture, hanging spiral staircase (plus the tight twist up to the tower) and the view from the top. Actually, all the bedrooms get a very good view.

In the garden we followed the Native Plant Trail. We liked the detailed information in the brochure and enjoyed the “hunt”, managing to find all but one of the marked plants.

Then it was time to head home. Dinner was left-overs from the night before. We played a game of Bolivia with Allison.

The next morning it was time to pack our things up again. Several more trips up and down the steep front path! We said our goodbyes, then went off to see a couple more things before leaving Dunedin.

The train station down near the docks is a lovely brick building from 1904, with tiled floors and stained glass windows. The train waiting there to take tourists up Taieri Gorge will have to wait until another time for us, unfortunately.

Then we drove north past the botanic gardens (pausing briefly to wash the seagull poo from the day before off our windscreen) to the lookout atop Signal Hill, and then around to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world! (According to Guinness at any rate.) Yes, it was very steep. Somehow just seeing it was a challenge, so up it we had to walk.

And then finally we left Dunedin, stopping for a picnic lunch soon after and then again to see the Moeraki Boulders, which are most interesting spherical stone boulders scattered along the beach.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


On Friday morning we drove south from Te Anau to take the scenic coastal route to Gore via Manapouri, Tuatapere and Invercargill. We had a picnic lunch at McCracken’s Rest, the most south-westerly point of the New Zealand state highway network, with a lovely view over the ocean towards Antarctica. The wind was fresh but (somewhat surprisingly) not too cold. Every now and then an albatross or three would drift by (Southern Buller’s mollymawk, a small albatross), plus the usual seagulls. We even saw a few dolphins playing in the surf way below.

We took a detour south from Invercargill to go to Bluff. We checked out Stirling Point and the sign at the start of Highway 1. We also went up Bluff Hill - up a very steep road that our rental car struggled with a little. The view from the top was fabulous.

When we eventually got to Gore (at 6pm!) we found our accommodation, the Oakleigh Motel, and decided we were too weary to go out for dinner, so we snacked in the room instead. It was a large and comfortable suite and the hosts were very friendly. Highly recommended.

The next morning Laetitia discovered a quilt shop right across the road from the motel! Unfortunately it was closed for Christmas. She was very disappointed.

Gore’s claims to fame include country music (sister city to Tamworth in Australia) and trout fishing. We checked out the various monuments in the centre of town before heading east to Dunedin.

Friday, December 23, 2011


The drive from Queenstown was long and in parts straight and flat and boring so we were quite tired when we arrived in Te Anau. We checked into Fiordland Great Views Holiday Park and were really looking forward to three nights in the same place! We stayed in our room for that evening, cooking dinner ourselves.

The next day was our Doubtful Sound cruise. We were picked up from the gate and taken to Manapouri, where we boarded a boat to cross Lake Manapouri to the hydroelectric power station at West Arm. Our trip included a “tour” of the power station, so we got on our bus and they drove us down into the bedrock. Yes, the power station is deep in the rock; it’s a long drive down a steep (1 in 10) dark spiralling tunnel. The “tour” basically included a few minutes on the viewing platform and a short explanation of how it works. There’s actually not that much to see; the station is remotely operated from the surface. But the tunnels and stories were interesting and worthwhile.

After we climbed back out, the bus took us up over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound. The driver’s stories about the pass were very interesting. The road was built specifically for taking the machines to the power station; they thought that would be cheaper than taking everything to Bluff on the south coast and transporting it to by road to Manapouri and then across the lake. However, as our driver put it, “Fiordland had other ideas” and the road ended up costing about $2 per centimetre in today’s money! It’s a steep (1 in 5!) and winding gravel road but it’s actually very good (it had to be, to support the very heavy machinery they had to truck in). It was paved with gravel made by crushing the waste material from the tunnels dug out for the power station.

Doubtful Sound itself is actually a fiord (carved by a glacier), not a sound (carved by a river). Our boat took us along the fiord out to the Tasman Sea, then back again, with a couple of excursions around islands and into one of the arms.  We were able to get close to a fur seal colony on rock islands at the mouth of the fiord and saw rare dusky dolphins on the way back.

The weather was spectacular, sunny and breezy and warm. Apparently this is rather unusual; it’s more common to see four seasons in one day, and the average rainfall is 3m at Deep Cove and 8m at the mouth, with a record recently of 16m in one location. However when we were there it hadn’t rained for three weeks (the locals were calling it a drought) and the many waterfalls were just small trickles or not flowing at all. Nevertheless the views were spectacular and it was a lovely day out.

On our return to Deep Cove we took our bus back over Wilmot Pass, boat back over Lake Manapouri and then were dropped off back in Te Anau where we had left-overs for dinner before collapsing in bed from exhaustion.

The following day we drove north to Milford Sound. We stopped several times along the way and saw a range of landscapes including beech forests and lakes (all with many sand flies).
Ian especially enjoyed the Homer Tunnel, a 1.3km long tunnel carved through the mountain. (This next photo is a re-creation of one taken on his previous trip to NZ when he was a child. The tunnel is now controlled by traffic lights instead of signposted times.)

Milford Sound also looked beautiful, and we had a picnic lunch at the waterside (amidst a cloud of sand flies) before driving back to Te Anau. Dinner was another room-cooked meal.

We really enjoyed the accommodation and friendly hosts at Fiordland Great Views Holiday Park and the Doubtful Sound Cruise - both highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We stayed at the Sherwood Manor Hotel on the highway between Frankton and Queenstown. After checking in we headed into town and found the Skyline gondola and Kiwi Birdlife Park. The gondola was still operating until 9pm, so we went up and also took a ride on the luge at the top. Great fun!

Dinner was left-overs from Wanaka.

The next morning we decided to pass on the jetboats and instead spend a few hours enjoying the excellent Kiwi Birdlife Park. We saw their kiwis (what is the plural, anyway?) which they house in special buildings where they artificially switch day and night (because kiwis are nocturnal). They were cute, surprisingly large and very active, running about scratching and pecking at the ground. The park also has a selection of other native birds and also some tuatara lizards. We enjoyed the Conservation Show which also included some introduced Australian animals (a possum and a rainbow lorikeet) which are pests in New Zealand.

For lunch we got a take-away from Freiya’s Indian Restaurant (delicious food and quite cheap - highly recommended!) in the centre of town, and took it to the beach by the lake in Frankton, which was pleasant and quiet except when planes took off overhead from the airport right behind us! The view was spectacular.

Then we headed south towards Lumsden before turning off west to Te Anau. We stopped briefly in Garston (apparently “New Zealand’s most inland village”, pop. 106) to taste-test and buy some small pots of local honey.

Monday, December 19, 2011


On arrival in Wanaka we were reminded of one of the reasons we had wanted to stay there: Puzzling World. We stopped briefly to check opening times for the next day, then went on to our accommodation, Manuka Crescent Motel. This was a lovely place away from the main road.  We especially liked being upgraded to a larger suite. We did a load of washing (expensive but necessary), hanging the clothes on the line just outside for a few hours in the wind until dusk (9pm, remember!) before bringing them inside to finish drying in the room overnight. Dinner was cooked in our room again.

Ian went to the shops for supplies while Laetitia kept an eye on the laundry. He brought back a pack of fresh peas in their pods, which Laetitia shelled while he started cooking. It’s something that can be done while thinking about something else or even watching TV, however she doesn’t intend to make a habit of it as it’s rather time consuming, which isn’t conducive to a quick meal.

The next day we went to Puzzling World. The great maze took us over an hour and introduced us to many people (other maze walkers). Yes, I’m sure we did walk at least the average four to five km! You have to find your way from the entrance near the centre to each of the four corners (in order, for an additional challenge) and then back out again to the exit near the start - which is almost as hard as finding the corners!

Then we visited the illusion rooms, which were very impressive, but quite hard to describe. You just have to go there yourself, I guess!

We went back into town for lunch, finding suitable take-away fare at a kebab shop on the esplanade, and took it away from the busy centre of town to a quieter spot on the beach by the lake to eat.

On our way out of town, we visited Christofer Robyn Quilts, where Laetitia browsed the wares and we asked for advice on which route to take to Queenstown. The Crown Range route sounded more like us, so we took that option and indeed very much enjoyed the views as we descended in many switchbacks down from the pass. Apparently that’s the highest sealed road in New Zealand, at 1076 m, and it was only sealed in 2000.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Our next night was spent in Haast, a coastal town just before the highway turns inland. We stayed at the Heartland World Heritage Hotel, which was a nice place with lovely lawns and a delightful cool breeze. No fridges in the rooms (apparently Haast is not connected to the national grid, so electricity is at a premium) but they stored our cold bag in their cooler for us. Not feeling up to driving into town to find somewhere to eat, we asked at the hotel’s restaurant, and the chef was happy to cook something suitable (and quite large portions) at a very reasonable price. Highly recommended.

After dinner we went for a short drive down the coast road towards Jackson Bay. Our plan had been to look for seals or penguins, however at our first stop along the beach we were promptly attacked by swarms of sand flies so we decided to curtail our drive and head back to the hotel.

We’re still getting used to the latitude here - we got back to our hotel around 9:30pm, in time to watch the sunset!

In the morning we drove east to Haast Pass. At the top, there’s a walking track up to a lookout. Not allowing ourselves to be put off by the steep switchbacks we could see, we grabbed our cameras and water bottles and set off. It was a very steep climb that took us 31 minutes, only a minute longer than the suggested walking time on the sign at the bottom, including several short stops and a rest on the seat provided half-way to catch our breath. But the view from the top was good. Walking down was a bit tricky on the sometimes loose gravel!

We stopped for a picnic lunch soon afterwards at a rest stop near Camp Flat overlooking the Makarora River.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


On our third day we drove south along State Highway 6 to Franz Josef. We had wanted to do a few walks up to lookouts in Greymouth before we left, but with the low-hanging clouds and continuing drizzle we decided there wasn’t much point. We also stopped briefly at Shantytown, just south of Greymouth, to check out the tourist attraction there, but again decided against spending $30 each to wander around in the drizzle.

We stopped for lunch at Hokitika. We checked out the Jade Factory as well as the views from the lookout at Sunset Point, at the head of the river. The weather was starting to clear by this point. Unfortunately the Jade Factory no longer runs the make-your-own jewellery carving course, so Laetitia had to cross that off her wish-list. We took a short walk through a patch of regrowth forest called Bushman’s Rest, then had a picnic lunch.

The drive down the coast included more and more steep inclines - up one mountain, down the other side, a one-lane bridge over a river, then up the next mountain.

When we got to Franz Josef we checked in to the Top 10 Holiday Park, which was excellent, and, with the weather continuing to clear and a sunny forecast ahead, we booked ourselves in for a heli-hike onto Fox Glacier the next morning. For dinner we had a stir fry cooked by ourselves in the kitchen next door to our room. What a pleasure to have a “home”-cooked meal!

The next morning dawned beautiful and sunny, with patches of drifting fog obscuring and then revealing different parts of the rugged mountain peaks. We headed off to Fox township and checked in for our helicopter ride. It was amazing! They flew us right up close to the walls of the valley and did some tight swooping curves over the glacier. We got to see right down a deep, deep hole into a waterfall down under the glacier! Then we landed on the ice. They gave us crampons to attach to our boots and a walking pole, and we set off up the glacier. Spectacular! It was a bit tricky to begin with, but after a while we got used to how to step to keep the crampons spiked firmly into the ice.

We saw ice caves, crevasses, a small lake atop the ice. (Yes, the water was cold!) The top surface is white where the sun has warmed it and the structure is disturbed, scattering the light, but the solid ice underneath is quite blue.

After a few hours the helicopter came back to pick us up and we returned to the township below. We had lunch there at the Cook’s Saddle (delicious, not too expensive, friendly service: definitely recommended!) before driving on southwards along the coast.