Six Years On!

Arriving by Taxi to our Hotel in Christchurch New Zealand was a bit of a shock to the senses. Six years on from the devastating earthquake that struck on 22nd February 2011 large areas around the main Cathedral square were still very much in the process of being rebuilt.

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Our hotel rose up from the ground in front of us looking pristine and new it’s fascia gleaming from the suns rays, in complete contrast to the building site next door which was a scene of grey devastation with two tall towers, one a flat wall only being held up by iron supports seemingly inches from our Hotel! We were later informed these were the new lift shafts for the development about to rise from the ashes – lifts are built first and floors are slotted in acting to further strengthen the structure – in non technical speak that is!

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There was no pre-planned itinerary except  – beard/hair trim for the long-suffering before he became unrecognisable to friends, family and me, followed by the purchase of alcohol and snacks to help us transition to a static hotel room after leaving our wonderful home on wheels ‘Aramoana’.

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Without ‘an itinerary’ we were in danger of drifting aimlessly around in our grief but luckily a fellow traveller recommended the daily ‘free’ walking tour of Christchurch. This two hour walk works on the principal you pay what you think it’s worth. The guides recommend a minimum of 15 dollars per person but it is really up to the individual.

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The meeting place was the Challice at Cathedral Square – a cone shaped sculpture nicknamed ‘A Cornetto’ by the long-suffering! In fact it represented the Millennium and 150 years founding of Christchurch and Canterbury.

We walked out from Cathedral Square with our guide Martin, at each stop of our tour of the surrounding area and back to the centre we were given a bit of history pre and post earthquake. The tour was always interesting, very informative and went a long way to help the long-suffering plan a new itinerary for our short time here!

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The two most poignant stops of the tour was the site of the Canterbury Television building where 115 of the 185 casualties died as the building collapsed and caught fire around them, and the 185 white chair memorial – standing out in the open on a vacant plot once occupied by a church, each chair; armchairs, wheelchair, babies chair, cafe chairs to name but a few form a stark reminder of lives cruelly taken.

Innovation in the form of the ‘Re-Start Mall a shopping centre created entirely from freight containers.

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Part ruined Cathedral in the square still sadly waiting for a decision on its future.

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Hop on Hop off Tram ride – on restored heritage trams with a new extended route with 17 stops. The trams ran every 15-20 minutes with a happy driver giving us a talking tour as we rolled along the lines.  This charming way around was our only mode of transport – other than our legs – while in Christchurch.

Christchurch Botanic Gardens – Beautiful gardens started in  1863 with the planting of a single English Oak, now covering an area of 21 hectares including water gardens, rock gardens, Rose gardens, Victorian conservatory, Fernery and much more. I could easily have spent the day here if time allowed!

Punting on the Avon river – lazy, indulgent, romantic, half hour return ride along the river – this was instead of the long-suffering rowing me in our own boat ‘too hot’! Luckily we were able to sit at the very back with only three other tourists in the boat all facing forward!

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Our puntsman decked out in traditional Edwardian dress propelled us slowly and gently through the water, passing resident ducks ducking and diving beneath the water as we glided along through the Botanic gardens before an expert turn sent us  back to the start and almost the end of our time in New Zealand.

Christchurch still feels like a ghost town and parts are still eerily quiet despite the constant background noise from the ongoing rejuvination of this once busy city but it is clearly making progress to rebuild its future.

Hopefully when next we return as we surely must to this beautiful country that is New Zealand the rebuild will be complete. For now our journey continues to Australia…..

Last Drive

Day 28 – Although sad to set off for the drive to Christchurch and eventual handover of Aramoana, we were content in the knowledge that we had travelled around the North and South islands in the best way possible.

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We did at times go off itinerary – my small seat of our pants input – but joking aside, without the Long-sufferings careful research over eighteen months, we would not have got to, or seen half the beautiful places we explored in between the planning for our 25th anniversary cruise and ferry crossings. Quite frankly without him this trip would not have got off the drawing board!

Meanwhile there was just time to stop and explore one more ‘off itinerary’ excursion!

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Cave Stream Scenic Walk, Arthurs Pass – we took one of two short easy half hour return walks to the cave entrances, the accessible cave runs 594m between the two.

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Caving was not something either of us wished to do – both of us breathing a sigh of relief at the others defined head shaking from side to side!

As we neared the entrance though two people were just appearing out from the blackness, very cold and surprised at depth of water and how winding and cramped it had been!

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Looking at the cramped conditions only served to reinforce my reserve never to go caving by choice!

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Arriving out safely back into the daylight must feel quite exhilarating!

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And then all too soon after one last lunch roadside, we were in Christchurch handing back our beautiful Aramoana to her base ready to be checked and made ready for her next lucky set of occupants.

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We had already decided to return one day in the not too distant future….. for now  though our journey was to continue by taxi, as Christchurch beckoned………

Reflections, Ice, Pancakes & Blowholes!

Day 27 Lake Matheson – it was important to get here early not only to beat the crowds but to beat any changes to the warm still morning we were lucky to wake up to. Our experience here – a perfect reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman – in the still waters of the lake was entirely weather and nature dependant!

The easy one hour return walk from an impressive visitor centre and gift shop already busy with coach loads of tourists, took us over a suspension bridge – long-suffering no longer groans at these – through native forest to a stepped tiered pontoon out above the dark brown waters of Lake Matheson.

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And for the most part it was a perfect reflection, except when one little duck paddled quietly through the outer edges. And then it was a jostle to get the perfect shot without random heads, of which I failed!

Fox Glacier valley walk – moderate 2.6km return over mostly easy tracks with a steep hard climb as we neared the Glacier view-point.

This walk takes you to approximately 500m from the front of the Glacier although it is constantly moving so that can change quickly with ice/rock falls or high waters in and around the rocky canyon.

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Another very clear hot day and uphill exertions saw sweating man return as we neared the view-point with the hordes of others coming and going on this busy track.

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With the glacier in continued retreat, it is sad to think future generations may not ever get to see this glacier at all.

Lake Ianthe – off itinerary lunch stop, beautiful lake to sit and enjoy our lunch, another couple joined us on the picnic table and we spent a good hour chatting companionably  together about our travels in this beautiful country.

Pancake Rocks – not on our intended route but worth every bit of the extra kilometres covered, over an hours drive up from Arthur’s Pass gave us chance to see the unusual and unique rock formations looking every bit like stacked pancakes!

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Loop walk – thirty minute return along paved paths. Lovely easy walk with strategic viewpoints overlooking, rock formations, crashing seas and blowholes.

Arthur’s Pass – beautiful scenes as we drove along this long stretch of road.

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Through gorges, steep winding roads, a one lane bridge shared with a train – Kumara Junction Bridge – viaduct, photo stops galore….

Eventually taking us to the best Freedom Camp ever for our last night in Aramoana….

Facing ones demons!

Day 25 – early morning tumble dryer run found me, running around camp in my pyjamas as first one machine was used, another faulty, third time lucky accessed through the toilets! By now totally dis-orientated – doesn’t take much – I managed to get hopelessly lost as I weaved this way and that between tents, motor homes, tent cars before ending up on the road. Eventually Aromoana was sited with anxious long-suffering standing at the door ready to rally a search party!

Ziptree Tour Queenstown – the zipline was on my itinery, but not on the long-sufferings. His fear of heights the stumbling block. Now pre accident he would have happily waved me off, post accident he has become my champion! And so it was with trepidation he joined me for the mammoth ninty minute climb up steep, rocky terrain along zig-zag paths, zooming mountain bikes and more steps to the starting platforms. We could have gone up in the gondola a less sweaty experience but we were booked for that and the restaurant later.

We took the four line experience a medium run starting 2,500ft high in pine forest a short distance from the sky tower. Groups were any number to a maximum of ten, we were lucky to have only us and one other couple from Minnesota. There followed safety, harnesses and finally we were all on the first high platform with our two instructors Meg and Martin.

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The first line was a shortish, slower, get you used to it affair, but still daunting to walk down and off the steep steps into a void with thick pine forest on either side. I was pushed forward to go first, poor long-suffering nervously taking second place. Wow, wow, wow, sooo exhilarating, I felt I was flying, no time to look around and then stop it was over. Safety is paramount here and at no time are you left un-clipped unless behind the safety gates, useful as I tripped getting up!

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There was a delay from the other end as Long-suffering psyched himself up for the mammoth leap of faith in front of him. And then through the intercom, he was on his way.

He survived intact, and was ready to zip the remaining three, that steadily increased to the last – the length of the first three combined. On the second we were now set our first challenge leaning backwards off the platform and flipping upside down!

Long-sufferings turn to go first, really, that was never going to happen! Choosing the straight option off he went without too much stalling this time – maybe because I was watching.

Last to go – challenge still not taken – it was down to me not to disappoint. Alone on the steps, my back to the wire, it was my turn to stall this time, not for fear of the wire, rather could I while moving flip upside down and curl my legs around the clips keeping me on? Meg, very patiently assured me I could do this!

It turned out I could, with not a dislocation in sight and wow what a great if a little scary experience it turned out to be. I did let out one expletive – bloody hell – not very loud I thought, until it was mentioned at the platform as Meg zipping wildly, joined us. On every platform we had a short but interesting eco talk, we both felt quite proud that a lot of the issues raised we were already addressing in our lives back home and since being in NZ.

Third wire, new challenge, backwards off the steps, eyes closed and no hands. The long-suffering showed how far he had come and with the exception of letting go rose to the challenge. I happily let that minor fact go – I couldn’t bring myself to let go either! And then the longest one, no challenges, just hang on, enjoy the ride with beautiful views over the lake! Perfect. Not so perfect though back at the top with our belongings, was the sixty minutes scramble down the steep rocky, rooted terrain!

Next up, bikes off and cycle to Queenstown gardens, bit hilly in places, our legs slightly fatigued from the earlier mountain climb!

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Lovely gardens, relaxing amongst stately trees and fauna.

Evening, another hurdle for the long-suffering, the Skyline gondola ride up to the Skyline restaurant. More food to feed his fear of heights as well as his belly in equal measure!

We were not disappointed, buffet style the food was excellent, anything from Mediterranean,Thai, Japanese, fish dishes lots of juicy meat – relief for long-suffering – and desserts galore. Hot and plenty of it we certainly ate our money’s worth.

Tomorrow we head to the glaciers…….

Queenstown

Day 24 – early drive to Queenstown, stopped off at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu for a short lunch break.

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This was a truly wonderful tranquil spot even though it was a stones throw from the main highway six. The gentle lap of the clear turquoise water over the shoreline of smooth stones masked out any sound of passing traffic.

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With a location this idyllic and hot sun beating down, the itinerary was diverted once again. Stripping off and creaming up we took time off in our hectic schedule just to lay back and enjoy the moment.

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While long-suffering slept, snoring happily away beside me as is his way once horizontal, as is my way whenever water is about I just had to take a cooling dip. It was instantly, very cooling – like all the rivers and sea I have dipped into in NZ – breathtakingly cold.

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A few well placed sprinkles later on, shocked the long-suffering awake, our cue to move on!

Kelvin Peninsular Walk Queenstown – easy loop walk first through pine forests, then out into the open past an immaculate members and public golf course. With huge Lake Wakatipu on one side, the rolling fairways sloping to it, this could be a challenging course – according to Long-sufferings practiced eye.

He declined my suggestion of a round – too expensive, no time, really I think it was more the fact I haven’t played proper golf in many years – far too embarrassing!

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Just over an hour this walk gave us beautiful views over the lake to Queenstown, the sky lift and its back drop of mountains, our next challenge tomorrow.

Queenstown – evening, a complete contrast to anywhere else we have visited. Our senses were assaulted by first and foremost the noise! The town was buzzing, literally teeming with backpackers and other travellers, every nationality – the majority youngsters – walking around, sitting, eating, dreadlocks, bearded, mismatched, creased, drinking, carrying packs of beer, backpacks – so big as to render standing tall impossible. Long-suffering blended in well with his fully grown beard!

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In the square where we came to rest for a rare meal out, an open mike session was in full swing, the two bands we watched – from the comfort of our chairs – were actually very good, and loud as they must be. The grassy area in front of the stage was covered in a festival of young people coming together, listening, chilling, sharing their stories of travel and excitement. The buzz was infectious and our feet were tapping along to some tunes we knew – and a lot we had no idea – sign of our age, and we did feel slightly older, with all this youth stretching as far as the eye could see!

Only Two!

Day 23 pm – Curio Bay, hoping to see the rare nesting yellow eyed penguins after a three hour drive, that could have been back in Dorset England with rolling hills and stunning coastline. Only the verges lined with New Zealand Flax, Galmia setifolia – resembling Pampas grass – and Red Hot Poker in huge clumps showed our real location.

On one side of the cove the beach was long, and sandy with waves perfect for surfing, the walk across the top revealed a different story, rugged, rocky the sea smashing relentlessly, this, apparently a perfect place for penguins.

Seven in the evening we were on the beach to wait for the star attraction, after a rushed evening meal back at camp. The long-suffering and I hooked up with a work colleague of his, her partner and father who happened to be here at the same time. Not a total surprise, just slightly choreographed in timings!

Cold was an understatement, the wind whipped our faces, my four layers just about sufficed although leggings under my walking trousers would have helped the bottom half. Sitting on and off at intervals for two hours on cold rocks gave the hip plenty to gripe about.

The long-suffering chose to wear only two layers and suffered dearly for it as did my ears listening to him citing how bitter it was! Luckily for him the partner of colleague lent him a buff – bandana/headband/hood/neck-scarf/facemask and any other way you can think of! His initial reservations about wearing it soon fell by the wayside, eventually donning it ear muff style under tuition, and along with his full castaway beard he morphed into a true Tom Hanks/hippie!

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The penguins – all two of a nesting pair – did appear, unfortunately the long-suffering and I have been watching too many David Attenborough documentaries where thirty plus penguins whoosh up the rocks on crashing waves. A chat to the conservation lady revealed this was one of only three nesting pairs in this area!

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Our initial disappointment – we were freezing by now – soon became one of ahhh as first Mrs Yellow eye whooshed out shortly followed by Mr yellow eye. She walked drunken sailor style along and jumped down the rocks to him, they seemed to get intimate for a while before he transferred the fish stored within his person. His job was done, and while Mrs set off along the rocks to their nest Mr gave himself a good clean up.

Us ice cold humans, well we sloped off along with the masses back to the warmth of Aromoana, only this night we had guests, cheese and biscuits from the work colleagues and piping hot cups of tea to warm as all through, perfect end to another perfect day!

Fiordland

Day 22 – our 25th wedding anniversary. The long-suffering pulled out all the stops for our 25 year treat – aside from a special holiday travelling for two months, that is!

Doubtful Sound overnight mini cruise with Fiordland Cruises. We really couldn’t recommend this operater highly enough, money well spent.

Our tour started from their head office near our park site with a twenty minute bus to Lake Manapouri harbour for a one hour breezy boat ride across the lake to West Arm on the other side. Our driver Brian introduced us to Kirsten one of the two crew looking after us for our overnight stay on our eventual cruise boat.

We were to share our boat with four other couples – two Dutch, one French, and one American all on introduction seemed a good mix of people to spend our special day with, and the early dull weather after a night of rain appeared to be clearing!

Next we transferred along with half the population of sandflies to Kirsten’s minibus for the forty five minute journey over the Wilmott Pass Road – the only road in NZ that isn’t connected by any other road – down to Deep Cove at the start of Doubtful Sound.

The journey was broken up by a stop at the underground hydroelectric power station an amazing feat of engineering – excavating 1.4 million tons of granite – completed in 1971, 75 per cent of the power generated goes to the smelting works at Bluff, the rest into the national grid.

Temperatures fluctuated wildly the higher we got, driving on rough gravel roads we had just about got rid of all the sand flies before the doors opened at another glorious viewpoint and in they all flew, all for the perfect shot!

At the cove our boat – The Southern Secret  – and skipper Jason were waiting for us. Once loaded, safety checks and briefing taken care of, we cast off. Kirsten showed us to our berths – ours was the honeymoon suite at the bow of the boat – very nice it was too, although not if you were very tall!

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Soon after lunch was served, mouth-wateringly fresh lobster – my favourite – and a selection of salad and rice dishes, bring your own drinks were opened helping to break the ice between us cruisers.

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Lunch out the way we all ventured out in dribs and drabs to the sides, stern and top deck, the latter proved to be a bit too breezy for comfort! This was not a cruise with running commentary, rather when there was something of particular note to see – constant scenes assaulted the mind at every turn  – we were alerted by Jason. This left us plenty of time to relax, socialise, eat – food kept coming, cheese and biscuits, home made cake – or scamper about below and above decks.

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‘A shout, we stand as the boat drives nearer and nearer until we are almost touching, the water cascades, down, rushing, noise deafening in its intensity, swirling into the crevices and over the edges. The pull as the boat seems to be sucked in, engines powering to hold her steady at arms length. The spray cold like ice, pricking my skin. The view up is all consuming, drowning in this vertical stream of water. These falls are alive with the power of water, and a blanketing duvet of lichens and mosses camoflaging the ruggedness of the granite cliffs’

During the rest of the afternoon, the interaction on and off the boat kept on coming, there was fishing to do – my reasonable size sea perch we ate that evening.

The long-suffering was not so lucky, first catching a rock on the sea bed causing him great excitement as his rod bent over violently, before Jason enlightened him on his stony catch, not only that he lost the weight and hook off the line in the process of retrieval!

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His second attempt did not fare any better as his catch – a sea perch – was deemed too small and thrown back. Other catches included Blue Cod, more sea perch to eat at dinner and one Tarakihi served raw with soy dip, pickled ginger and wasabi as an after fishing snack.

Kayaking came next, most but not all the party took to the seas, navigating around a small inlet with shallow cave and waterfall.

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A particular highlight was the pod of  bottlenose dolphins that joined our boat, racing along at the prow of the boat, so close as to almost be within touching distance.

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Champagne was flowing – provided by us for our 25th celebrations – for pre dinner drinks.

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Being totally British the long-suffering and I had changed for dinner, imagine my horror – attired in my white Capri pants – as the shout from the skipper came in to hoist up his lobster pots from deep in the sea all wet, fishy and slimed!

Dinner was a feast including roast lamb, the fish we caught, chicken with roasted vegetables, roast potatoes and more besides. Followed by refreshing creamy ice cream and berries mixed.

After dinner Kirsten – a true multi tasker in every sense of the word, fishing, cooking, driver, both boat and minibus, mother and more – produced an electric piano and to our surprise played classical concertos – she was once a professional concert pianist – ending the evening with a beautiful lullaby. It was the perfect way to end our special day.

Day 24 – after an early 6.30am, continental style breakfast Jason took us back slowly to our starting base, but not before more encounters with the Dolphins and all the stunning scenery the Doubtful sound has to offer.

Then it was back in the minibus and ferry boat to Te Anau and Aromoana for the long drive down to Curio Bay the bottom of the South Island. We left the Doubtful Sound behind but took away with us a very special celebration memory to treasure forever.

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