The Queenstown to Milford Sound day trip is a big one. I was picked up for the tour before 7am, and we arrived back in Queenstown around 8pm. A good eight of those hours were spent on the bus, and I spent more or less the first two hours sleeping. We had a few stops along the way, alternating toilet/important scenery stops. Bruce, our tour guide, gave a commentary the whole way down. We got down to Milford Sound around 1:30, and it was onto the cruise boat, out into the Sound itself. Unfortunately, the day had clouded over, and the weather got worse, the closer we got to Milford Sound, but it was still stunning. They say that out in the Sound, you should usually see penguins, seals or dolphins, and we saw rock-hopper penguins and seals, so I reckon that was pretty good. After the cruise it was back into the (warmth of the) bus, and the long drive back to Queenstown. Thank goodness for BBC podcasts!
My first full day in Queenstown and it was a big one. The clouds had cleared and the sun was shining, so this morning I got my first proper look around, and to see Queenstown as it really is, with all the mountains and the Remarkables and everything else. It is properly beautiful.
So what’s the first thing one does when in Queenstown? How about a jet-boat ride? Yep! So after getting very wet and cold out on the lake I went and had early lunch/very late breakfast at Fergbakery, and got myself one of their fabulous pork and apple pies. My goodness are those pies something! Then I headed up to the cable cars, up the hill, and had two rides on the luge – fantastic fun and highly recommended. After a rather adrenaline filled morning, I decided I needed more – this time heading up Bowen’s Point. I didn’t make it all the way up, but the views from where I ended up were spectacular. Once I got back down into Queenstown, I went for another ride out on the lake, this time on the Million Dollar Cruise, much more relaxing than the jet-boating, and a different sort of fun. Then I had a massive serving of Indian takeaway for dinner. After a bit of a relax back in my apartment, I headed back to the cable cars and up the hill for a session of dark sky star gazing. I hadn’t done this before (this day was rather full of things I hadn’t done before!), and it was amazing. I unfortunately can’t remember the name of our guide, but she was from Ireland, and the tour was supposed to go for an hour, but she spoke for nearly two, and it was just fantastic. I’m very glad I did this early in my stay in Queenstown, as it was the only clear night I was there. A highly recommended activity, and, once you get back inside, they give you a complementary hot chocolate – much needed after standing out in the cold night for two hours (Canadian goose-down coats are provided, but it still gets cold!). Then I caught a cab home from Skyline because I couldn’t be bothered walking – plus it was well after 11pm, and I had to be up at 6 the next morning.
A very high-adrenaline day, that’s for sure.
This was another big day of travel, this time entirely by bus. We apparently travelled through some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand, but saw little of it, due to the constant rain and low clouds. Later in the day it stopped raining a little, but weather-wise, it was hardly the best day of my trip. Still, some of the photos turned out alright, and I met some great fellow travellers on the bus. All in all, not as bad as it could have been.
After arriving at my hotel in Queenstown and unpacking a little (as I was to be staying there for five nights), I went down into town. Again, there was little to see as a result of the low clouds, and Queenstown is hardly at its prettiest when wet, but still. I found the world-famous Fergburger, and had my first burger from there. My goodness, the hype is not for nothing. Those are seriously the best burgers in the world.
I was back on the train, this time heading west across the South Island, first from Christchurch to Greymouth. This train trip was about 5 hours, and, should you be spending lunch aboard any of the KiwiRail trains, the steak and cheese pies are very good (and not just good for train food, they’re actually good!). This train ride covered the Canterbury plains, then through the mountains, including Arthur’s Pass. It was freezing cold in the outside carriage, so a spent a lot more of this train trip inside compared with the trip on the Coastal Pacific. The scenery was beautiful, if somewhat bleak, not helped by the overcast day and low cloud, blocking a lot of the mountain tops. Still definetly worth the trip, though. From Greymouth it was onto the bus down to Franz Josef, where I was to be spending the night. More scenery, this time mostly hills, pastoral land, a couple of huge lakes, rivers, and the Tasman Sea. Arrived at the Franz Josef township around 5pm. Because Franz Josef it getting rather far south, the days are slightly longer, so I had just enough time to march (literally) up to the glacier and back, a 10km round trip that I had to do in an hour and a half, because of the failing daylight. Despite feeling very tired afterwards, it was well worth the march, and Franz Josef is on my list as a place to visit again, and spend a whole day there, rather than just the night. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the glacier, but it is stunning (used for the Lighting of the Beacons in “Return of the King”). And with the sun setting, and the last rays of sunlight before it disappeared behind the mountain shining on the glacier, plus the mystical clouds – wow.
I stayed at the Bella Vista Motel in Franz Josef, which was lovely, and the owners were particularly friendly. So another very busy day, but so worth it.
Finally, a bit of a lazier day, I was not up at the crack of dawn to go touring, but was able to sleep in. I didn’t leave the hotel (Ibis) until well after 9, when I went to find some breakfast. I ended up at the excellent Hummingbird Cafe in the Re:Start Mall, which was just one block away from where I was staying. I had a delicious bacon, egg and tomato toasted sandwich, and, it being such a glorious morning, ate outside. The Re:Start Mall is made up of shipping crates converted into shops, so after I finished eating, I had a look around there, as well as at the Saturday Market in the street, and then to the other Saturday Market in Gloucester Boulevard. After that, I went to the Canterbury Museum, on the outskirts of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Then I went punting along the River Avon, something I’ve not done before, but it was wonderfully fun and relaxing, especially as there the River winds through the Botanic Gardens. Then it was time for lunch, which I ate at the cafe on the River, then went for a stroll through the beautiful Botanic Gardens. After that, I went for a walk through Christchurch itself, but one can really only do that for so long, as it is quite depressing. Almost everything is either boarded up, fenced up, covered in scaffolding or shipping crates or is simply gone. It looks a lot like Europe did after WWII. But it is obvious that the people of Christchurch are trying to move on, so it’s sort of positive, but it’s still a bit depressing. Despite that, definitely worth the visit.
A quick note on Christchurch and the destruction: Christchurch is more or less divided east and west by the River Avon. Everything on the east of the river is reclaimed swampland, whereas the west is solid ground. When the earthquake hit a couple of years ago, the east, reclaimed land pretty much just fell apart, whereas the west shook and rumbled a little, but it pretty much entirely safe and intact. So half of Christchurch looks completely normal. The other half is a demolition zone.
I know there’s nothing one can do about the weather, especially when it’s rather torrential rain. But it is very, very disappointing when what should be one of the highlights of a trip is quite spoiled by it. I’d booked a day tour from Christchurch out to Mt Sunday, which is the location of Edoras in the Lord of the Rings films. Usually, in good weather, one is able to climb Mt Sunday, and this is heavily promoted in all of the tour brochures, etc. My tour, however, only got somewhat close to Mt Sunday, due to the very, very heavy rain (you can see from the pictures how wet it was). It was terribly disappointing not to be able to climb to the top, and what made me even more upset was that instead of having some alternative activity as we were unable to climb the mountain, we just sat in the cafe for an hour and a half before driving back to Christchurch. On a clear day, the scenery there would be just amazing, but we could hardly see anything due to the low cloud and rain.
So, I will have go back there another time, and I think I would like to stay at the accommodation that’s there. But it was definitely the most disappointing day of my trip.
Of my two weeks in New Zealand, this day was amongst my favourite. I think I’ve said it somewhere here before, but I’ll say it again, I LOVE travelling by train, and I spent six hours on one on this day of my trip. The day started, however, catching the bus to Wellington Station, then another bus from the station out to the docks, then boarding the InterIslander Ferry across the Cook Straight from Wellington to Picton. The Ferry trip was certainly worth it, 3 1/2 hours on the huge ferry, the swell was a level 2 of 7 (no glassy, just a little bit of waves). It was, however, once we got out of the Wellington bay and into the Straight – absolutely freezing. It was the wind that was so cold, but still, that’s half the fun. Then it was into the beautiful Marlborough Sounds for about an hour, slowly making our way through to Picton. We arrived at Picton around midday, and, with about an hour and a half before the train for Christchurch left, I had plenty of time to look around. I had lunch at the Picton Village Bakkerij, and I must say, they make pretty good pies.
Then it was ont0 the Coastal Pacific train, for what must be one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world. Travelling through vineyards, along the Pacific Ocean past a seal colony, past part of the northern part of the Southern Alps, and through pastoral lands. It was such a stunning afternoon weather-wise, which just made the countryside all the more beautiful. The train arrived in Christchurch around 7pm, then I caught a shuttle bus to the hotel. By time I got to the hotel, I’d been on the road for over 12 hours, and was more than a fair bit worn out! But still, a fantastic day.
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Of all the days, weather wise, to be in Wellington, my full day there was certainly a good one. There were two main things I wanted to do in Wellington, go to the Weta Cave and Workshop in Miramar, and to Zealandia.
After a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, I caught the bus down to Miramar. Quick note: the bus system in Wellington is fantastic. It’s well priced, extensive, buses are clean, regular and new. Excellent system. Back to the story. I arrived at the Weta Cave, which I have visited before, but it was good to have another look around, see what’s new (all The Hobbit stuff), etc. Then I went for a tour of the Window into Workshop, which actually shows you inside Weta Workshop, where they make/have made all the armour, costumes, weapons, etc for the Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, etc films. I got to handle the Witch King of Angmar’s Morning Star (not quite as heavy as it looks, but I still wouldn’t want to be carrying it around all day!), plus you get to see heaps of other props, etc used in the films. Understandably, they have a very strict “no photos” policy, as you are getting a window in their workshop where the artists are actually making things for upcoming films, etc. On my way back I visited the Roxy Theatre, which is a brilliant Art-Deco cinema.
After lunch back in central Wellington, I caught the shuttle bus up to Zealandia. Here I teamed up with a few other backpackers/travellers, and had a great time wandering around the reservation, seeing the different native New Zealand birds and lizards. Zealandia was one of those attractions that I thought might be a nice way to pass the afternoon, but actually ended up being really, really good. I would highly recommend it as a half-day activity in Wellington, being only 10 minutes from the CBD.
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Day three of my trip was a transit day, flying from Auckland to Wellington. Not having to be at the airport until about 11, and check out of the hotel until 10, I went for a walk down Queens St to buy some breakfast, bagels with jam and cream cheese, from the Melba Cafe on Vulcan St, off Queen St. Highly, highly recommended. I took my breakfast down to the Quay to eat it down there.
On the way back up the hill to the hotel, it began to rain, and, as I was without raincoat, I ended up quite wet. Then it was time to gather my things, and head out to catch the airport bus to Auckland Airport, where I was to spend the next four hours, due to strong cross winds at the airport meaning that planes couldn’t safely land or depart. Most annoying, but these things happen, and, as I had no real plans for that afternoon, it was a bit of a bummer, but not the end of the world. It’s interesting to see the comardery that developes between passengers in such situations, I had a good whinge with some middle-aged ladies about different delayed-flight experiences, was given a newspaper by a RNZAF pilot named Bill (it was on his name badge), met a Chinese girl around my age who had just flown in from China and was trying to get down to Wellington and was worried that she’d miss the connecting flight – but due to the delays made it with hours to spare, and had a good natter with the bloke sitting next to me on the plane while we waited to take off (that classic case that will hold up any plane – they have someone’s luggage on board, but not that someone). Because of the delays, a lot of people had changed/given up on their flights, so I ended up having the window seat in stead of the seat in the middle of the row.
After a very quick 40 minute flight, I arrived in wonderful, windy Wellington. I caught the airport bus to the hotel, then set out for a walk along the harbourfront and then to find some dinner, ending up at Heavenly Pizza in Cuba St, a woodfire oven pizza place that is fantastic.
It didn’t take me long to remember how much I love Wellington and how easily I could live there.
And I strongly recommend watching the Air New Zealand inflight safety video. It made me laugh every time.
Time to post some pictures from my trip to New Zealand, starting with my first full day there, which included my trip out to Hobbiton (Matamata), about 2 1/2 hours south of Auckland.
I have visited Auckland before, but didn’t think an awful lot of the city. I’m glad to say, however, that this time I quite enjoyed my time in Auckland, and found it to be quite a nice place (if you ignore the fact it’s built on one heck of a steep hill!).