Category Archives: New Zealand 2018

An epic trip to the other side of the planet.

And in conclusion……

Well, we have recovered from the jet lag, washed and ironed our holiday clothes, sorted out the photographs – though note yet labelled them all, counted the cost (eeek) and changed back the unspent NZ bank notes. What to do with a bag of NZ coins though? Any takers? What did we think of our fourth antipodean experience (for the other three have been in Australia).

As with any travel experience there were good parts and less good parts. So here we go.
It was a long way to go – eleven and a half thousand miles and twelve time zones is wearisome, even in the relative comfort of modern aeroplanes. The best part of two days faffing around airports or trapped in an aluminium cylinder is not my idea of fun, but it has to be done.
Similarly, New Zealand is a large country. We traveled three and a half thousand miles by road, in three weeks, mostly driving our (comfortable) hire cars. Although we could stop and start when we chose, it was still a lot of driving, and on almost entirely on single lane roads and often behind slower vehicles (grrr). Still we chose to see as much as we could so that had to be born.

New Zealand cities are not all that attractive. NZ’s built heritage starts in 1830 and the twentieth century modernists have pretty much despoiled much of the charming Victorian buildings. It is hard to admire concrete and glass shapes, other than for their engineering prowess. Would that budding architects had had more than Lego to play with as children.

Don’t expect NZ to be cheap. It isn’t. Hotels, restaurants and, oh yes, wine are about 20% more expensive, like for like than their UK counterparts – but then we didn’t go there to save money. The local taxes on wine render a good bottle of their local produce more than in the UK. Governments so enjoy taxing sins.

That’s the negatives. Now the positives.

NZ is breath-takingly beautiful. Awe-inspiring is an over-worked phrase, but it is. Countryside, rolling hills, green fields where stock grazes, or fruits and vines grow in abundant and neatly tended rows abound. NZ’s economy is principally agriculture and boy, do they make the most of it. Travelling among this is a privilege. Wherever the eye pauses it settles on something that is pretty. It is almost fairy-tale pretty but without the castles.
North Island more closely resembles upland England – though going back in time. South Island is more magnificent in its grandeur. Its mountains, the Southern Alps, are spectacular – high, glaciated, topped with snow, surrounded by wisps of cloud and largely bereft of tracks and lanes. The lakes at their feet are long, deep (though we only saw the surfaces) and in fine weather are mirror-like offering reflections of their companion hills in an intriguing symmetry. The main highways cut through the gaps, but the by-lanes are few. It looks like a fell-walkers paradise. Imagine the remoter parts of England’s Lake District (e.g. Wasdale or Blencathra) raised to the fourth power. There is little evidence of recreational fell-walking though. Tramping, as it is known, requires expeditions of several days.

We loved the fiords in the south west – stark, grand and impressive, we loved the lakes –Taupo in North Island and, Lake Wakatipu on which Queeenstown sits and Lake Wanaka in South Island and we loved the primeval vegetation.
New Zealanders are most welcoming. They smile and are invariably friendly, helpful and quietly proud of their beautiful country. We never encountered a sullen face – but then they were taking money off us in quantity.

Was it worth it? We spent a pile getting there and propping up the NZ hotel industry, to say nothing of keeping the wineries working overtime, but the answer has to be yes, yes, yes. Such a trip should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. Just take a week or so longer than our three and maybe leave out the Bay of Islands in the North, a long and perhaps pointless journey.
Would we return? Well the Rossell bucket list still has a few far flung opportunities, so NZ would have to wait, but if we are spared, then yes.
That’s it then for this story. If you have been reading this blog, thank you.

Around Christchurch, Tuesday 6th March, 2018

Tuesday 6th March

Christchurch is probably the most English of NZ’s cities. Its centre is neat, its public buildings are generous and exude civic pride, its parks are reminiscent of central London’s parks – generously set out and lined with deciduous trees (for we have seen an awful lot of conifers lately), and with plenty of open spaces. We walk past a couple of schools (now in full swing) and observe the children, like those of Australia, neatly attired in properly fitting uniforms of which they seem proud, behaving sensibly. There are no graffiti visible. Oh! where did we go so wrong in the UK? Ever since the perfectly sensible recommendations of the Plowden report, the Left staged a coup d’etat on the organisation of schooling (I won’t equate that with education), and things have gone steadily down hill. OK that’s enough boring old f…t stuff (Ed). Anyway we like what we see.

Sadly, the main reason people come to Christchurch these days is to view the scars of the devastating two earthquakes that so severely damaged its Central Business District in 2010 and 2011. As we wander around, the place is a hive of building activity. Roads are closed, but are being re-equipped with the stuff that goes underground – electricity, gas, water, telecoms. The rubble of fallen buildings has long been cleared away and that entrepreneurial feature of managed car-parking spaces has taken over the voids that are huge areas of the city. Its an ill wind as they say.

Plenty of work for builders

Cones galore

Mr Wilson’s bomb-site car parks abound


The most severe casualty is the city’s grand Gothic cathedral which fell to pieces and which no-one has yet decided how to (or if to) rebuild. Several other, largely stone block, buildings are shored up pending decisions as to their fate. We don’t get any impression of sorrow. That’s all over. There is a huge “Let’s get on and rebuild it” spirit.

The poor cathedral


Temporary shoring

Christchurch boasts a very fine museum. Its Maori early history is elegantly depicted in grand tableaux with lots of artefacts dedicated to killing things. Mr. Maori was keen on the ostrich sized Moa-on-toast for his breakfast so these grand flightless birds all got eaten up and are no more. Clearly Mr. Maori hadn’t been on one of the BBC’s eco-system courses. History has a habit of repeating itself. NZ’s other flightless bird, the Kiwi, is under severe threat since the European settlers introduced rabbits (so they could eat rabbit pie). With no natural predators, the rabbits bred like…..rabbits and became a numerous nuisance. Our very clever European settlers then introduced Mustelids (that’s ferrets, stoats and weasels) to eat the rabbits. You guessed it. Mr Mustelid found excavating rabbit holes tedious, but nice eggs from ground-nesting flightless Kiwis, now there’s a treat. So the poor Kiwi is under threat. We have seen on our travels dozens of “rat trap” sized traps along farm fences and by likely kiwi habitats in an attempt to keep these marauders under control, but they breed like….stoats too. None in Christchurch though.

Ubiquitous mustelid traps


I mentioned that Christchurch is very English, well so is its weather. Seduced by sunshine and fluffy clouds we ventured out in our tourist togs and at the furthest point from our hotel it began to seriously rain. There was nothing for it but to get soaked. So we retreated to our hotel to dry out. We are greeted by smiling staff with an armful of official looking envelopes. Today is NZ census day, so Sue spends an amusing half hour informing some factotum that we were 1) Alive, 2) British 3) Our location for the night. We were spared the 45 questions for the locals on Maori tribe, schooling, income and so on. It is interesting to ponder that but for officialdom’s obsession with counting people, our Lord might have been born in the comfort of his parents’ home. What would that do for the school Nativity play? There was an intriguing notice on the inside of our room door.

Earthquake drill

That’s all for today.
Tomorrow, all being well, we are in the air from 1200 hours, en-route to Auckland (1.5 hours), then to Hong Kong (10.5 hours), a short pause in Hong Kong (3.5 hours), then to London (12 hours). We will not know what day it is let alone what time it is.
I will publish the last chapter of this blog with our reflections of our NZ trip on our return. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. I have enjoyed creating it.
David R

Greymouth, by train, to Christchurch, Monday 5th March, 2018

Monday 5th March, 2018

We arise, breakfast and try to condense our belongings back into two suitcases and two back-packs. We have been living out of a car for two weeks and have accumulated cartons, bottles, carrier bags and other “camping” conveniences which are scattered all over it and which do not always come into hotels with us. Ultimately all this must pass the scrutiny of the airline industry as we present our kit for loading, so some discipline is called for. Our train has an airlines-style bag drop, where we witness two stout kiwis in orange day-glow jackets (they are all orange here; I haven’t seen a yellow one) man-handle our kit onto the baggage wagon. David, who always watches these proceedings, just to keep a check on our precious belongings, hears the baggage man utter “Christ almighty” as he loads the first of our bags. I do hope the aeroplane men don’t cut up rough.

Baggage


“Christ Almighty”

The TranzAlpine journey must be among the world’s most scenic and spectacular of rail journeys. The train is the last word in comfort and organisation: allocated comfortable seats; headphones for the commentary – if you are Chinese or if you need it; cafeteria service and, best of all, a viewing car with no window glass for the click-a-holic photographers to lean from. Two mighty throbbing diesel units haul the 15 car train from sea level, up to Arthur’s Pass (737m), through the grand National Park there, and down the other side of the Southern Alps, across the Canterbury Plain and into Christchurch in just about 4 ½ hours.

Our tractor units


Viewing car- as yet unoccupied


The Southern Alps are a formidable natural barrier. The mountain range is the back-bone of South Island and is only passable, with wheels, in four places. Lewis pass is the most northern. We did that one, west to east, on our great diversion on Friday 23rd; Arthur’s Pass (which we are about to do, west to east, again; Haast pass which we drove over, east to west, last Friday and the Milford Pass which we did in both directions in our coach trip in one day. Mathematicians among you will be checking that we haven’t ended up on opposite sides at the same time, or via some time–warp. That’s a pretty fine collection of passes for one small family.
David is in his element as photographer-in chief and spends much of the journey standing, and clicking, in the windowless viewing car. It is a fine and sunny day.
A few images:

Sue’s natural habitat – comfy chair and guide book


David’s natural habitat: the camera club


Tunnels


And bridges


The highest point


National park

National park


National park

We de-train, take a taxi to out hotel and dine quietly for this is journey’s end and there is a blog to write up.

Punakaiki back to Greymouth Sunday 4th March, 2018

Sunday 4th March, 2018

On most mornings the Rossell household is awakened by an alarm clock radio that broadcasts “The Today Programme”. Some of it is interesting. Most of it now comprises shrieking harridan female presenters bickering with their interviewees. Anyway it comes on at 7 am and begins with a news bulletin. That is David’s prompt to get up, make tea and bring it, and an awakening kiss, to his lovely wife. The news bulletin ranges from the grand and significant, e.g. “Putin invades Crimea” to the banal and insignificant e.g. “Doctors discover a link between old age and death”. I would dearly love to hear a voice proclaim “This is the 7 o’clock news with John Humphreys and Sara Harridan. There is no news today”. I would leap for joy.

All this is a preamble to our journey of March 4th. This is the first time we have retraced our steps with an hour’s drive (nothing, absolutely nothing, dear reader) back to Greymouth. Here we mark time for the best part of a day. We shall hand in our faithful Toyota hire-car tomorrow and board the “TranzAlpine” train which goes over the Southern Alps from Greymouth to Christchurch, The end point of our tour.

That says it all

Greymouth is a mining town. It is the biggest town on the sparsely populated west coast of NZ. Set at the mouth of the Grey River, it was originally a gold-rush town, but subsequently the miners found coal, and digging that out keeps swathes of people busy to this day.

Greymouth mining monument


It has also killed a lot of them. There is a rather grand monument on the harbour-side dedicated to the men who “gave their lives” (how do you do that?) to the mining industry i.e. they got squashed due to inadequate pit-props or blown up by seeping methane being inadvertently ignited. The monument has four facets each of which is covered in neatly chiselled names, akin to a war memorial. Rough game this mining stuff.

View of Greymouth from my hotel window

That’s it. There is no news today.

F-J Glacier to Punakaiki, Saturday 3rd March, 2018

Saturday 3rd March, 2018

F-J Glacier to Punakaiki

We arise and look out of the hotel window and can’t even see the garden. It is raining. No it is seriously raining. I don’t mean “slip on a wet-proof” raining, or “hoist an umbrella” raining, I mean “cats and dogs, stair rods, p…ing it down” raining. David has parked the car, tidily, about 30m from our covered walkway and in retrieving it gets royally soaked. I fear glaciers (which are a 20 minute hike from the nearest car park) are off for today. We drive hopefully to the top of a wiggly road, itself a small river, labelled optimistically: “Franz-Joseph Glacier, Vehicle Access Point” and watch assorted other hopefuls peering out of their car windscreens and shaking their heads. We give it 15 minutes, say to ourselves “Well, we’ve bounced on glaciers long ago on a sunny day in Canada” and retreat back down the wiggly road. Don’t even ask if we saw Mount Cook. David is convinced it doesn’t exist, never having met a traveller who possesses a photograph of it.

Slightly disappointed, we wend our way back to Highway 6 and head north to Punakaiki, our next, and northernmost, stop. Within 30km, the skies above us begin to clear and the sun comes out. We consider retracing our steps and having another go, but as Sue, my geographer, points out, “Weather is local, especially in mountains and it is possibly / probably / certainly still raining on our glacier”. We decide that discretion is the better part of Valerie and head on.

The coastal road is unremarkable. It borders a wide strip of flat land largely given to grazing sheep, cattle, deer and the odd herd of alpacas. We pause at the small town of Hokitika (NZ’s answer to Chicken Tikka. Ho Ho), a former gold town, now given over to indigenous green-stone (jade) carvers. Its shoreline is peppered with drift wood – whole tree trunks washed down the rivers into the Tasman sea. Each January there is a festival of “Driftwood and sand”, in which flotsam and jetsam is fashioned into all sorts of arty crafty sculpture.

Sue looking for driftwood


Found some

Hokitiki shoreline

Driftwood art

Driftwood sculpture

We visit “Eco world”, national kiwi centre. It is a small aquarium-cum-kiwi habitat. We spend an amusing hour looking at huge, 100 year old fresh water eels, non-native trout and salmon, glow worms by the million in makeshift caves and a couple of kiwi birds in an enclosure where day and night is reversed. We stand silently allowing our eyes to become accustomed to the gloom and there they are, the size of large chickens, snuffling about in the forest floor habitat of their enclosure. Sue is now satisfied that she has honoured her quest to see these elusive and quaint creatures.

Onwards via Greymouth, and undistinguished, former gold town and the railhead for our scenic train ride to Punakaiki our next resting point.
Punakaiki is famous for its curious “pancake rock” formations at Dolomite point. Some while ago, when these things were on the sea floor, limestone layers not only got seriously squashed, but also interleaved with layers of mud. No one knows how. When the layers were thrust up the softer mudstone layers got washed out leaving formations that resemble stacks of pancakes – a process known to geologists as stylobedding. Anyway they are worth a look and thousands of folk, including us, come to see them.

Pancake rocks


More pancake rocks

Sue testing them out

Intrepid tourist

Curious rock formation


Our billet for the night is a delightful small hotel on the sea shore, where after dinner we are lulled to sleep by the sound of gently pounding surf. Bliss

Wanaka to Franz-Joseph Glacier, Saturday 2nd March, 2018

Saturday 2nd March, 2018

Our travels are taking us gradually northwards to just beyond Greymouth (where we shall hand in our faithful Toyota hire-car and take the scenic train to Christchurch on the east coast). We are still in the midst of the very grand Southern Alps and we are in for a treat today. It is another fine and sunny day though the temperature has dropped a bit to 22°C. I said Wanaka sits at the southern shore of the lake that bears its name and we shall return to it as we travel north, but first we travel along the western side of Lake Hawea, another grand and beautiful glacier lake, 35km long and 410m deep. There is a shortage of lexicon adequate to describe these things, “Stellar vistas” is our guide book’s go. We stop from time to time, gawp in wonder and try to create picture post card images, but I am sure they are a poor recording of the real thing. The still air and its curious temperature profiles allows wispy cloud to hang around below the summits of the hills. These wisps add a sort of Elizabethan Ruff to draw the eye. Not for nothing did the Maoris style their adopted land “The land of the long white cloud”. Here goes with a few attempts.

North from Wanaka


Lake Wanaka

Breath-taking Lake Hawea


Lake Hawea


Selfie, Just to prove we were there


Long white cloud over Lake
Hawea


Long white cloud and reflections


Lake Hawea

The shores of these lakes are littered with the bleached remains of fallen trees washed down by the rivers that feed them. It is calm today, but I guess it can be quote a brisk current when it rains.

Driftwood


Lake sculpture

We cross an isthmus (good word) and re-join the northern part of Lake Wanaka and follow it along the forested road that skirts it. The forest here is worthy of a book in its own right. It rains a lot and the predominant vegetation is native Podocarps – large trees with heavy furrowed and ribbed bark and a primitive conifer canopy. There is an understorey of luxuriant tree ferns and a forest floor layer of numerous species of ferns, club mosses and lichens. The tree trunks are completely covered with these, making a dense green vertical eco-system. Everything drips – even on a fine day. There are no flowering plants – save an occasional primitive Magnolia. One could imagine dinosaurs roaming around this lot. Some trees appear to cling to almost vertical rock walls as they (the walls) are gradually colonised by mosses, little trees take root in the shallow soil, their roots intertwine and they thrive. At some point they become too heavy to be retained and in a rainstorm they are unseated and fall, taking their lower cousins with them in a “tree avalanche”. Workmen seem to spend much time clearing these from the road and the bare scars of rock remaining get colonised by mosses and so on and so on.

Primeval vegetation


Ferny understorey


Ferns abound


Colonised tree trunks

We are high in the mountains now and it is raining hard, the first time the windscreen wipers have had to work for their living. We traverse the Haast Pass (named for the German geologist and explorer of that name), follow the Haast river down to the coast to the township of Haast. Herr Haast also named one of the glaciers that flow off the Mount Cook range after his emperor, Franz Joseph. You get the idea that this chap left a large footprint here. Our bed for the night is at Franz Joseph Glacier (in a hotel, you understand, not on an ice sheet). We plan to visit the glacier on the morrow. F-J G is a thriving township which boasts helicopter rides, aircraft rides, mule treks, and any and all other ways of clocking a glacier. It also sold the most expensive petrol in NZ. A sumptuous meal and bed, for David is tired from driving on wiggly roads.

North now, Queenstown to Wanaka, Friday 1st march 2018

Friday 1st March, 2018

We load our kit and leave Queenstown, somewhat reluctantly for we had a nice pad here and enjoyed our diversions, but we are on a schedule and the show must go on. The next leg of our journey takes us north, across the Crown Range to Wanaka, about 120 km away. We are still among the grand glacial lakes of the Southern Alps. Once again we are blessed with a fine day and for David this is a short easy drive over the alpine road (grand and wiggly) down to the hamlet of Cardrona. This is a sleepy little place which only comes to life in the ski season. For some strange reason, one of its lodges has amassed a whole fence length of contributed bras. It has renamed itself “Bradrona” and this is all in the name of supporting breast cancer research. One wonders about the bouncy nature of its donors.

NZ bra fence. Well why not?

Yep. Thats about right

Wanaka town sits at the southern shore of lake Wanaka. Its lake view is delightufl.

Wanaka Lake

Wanaka Lake

Wanaka Lake


It retains a laid-back, small town feel and comes to life in the winter sports season. The folk of Wanaka clearly have a propensity for history. A trail of terra-cotta tiles line its waterfont walkway offering a time line of great events. Each donated by a subscribing resident. What a nice educative idea.

Tiles of the time-line


Tiles of the time-line

Its bars are vibrant and full of merry makers (for it is Friday evening) and we enjoy a couple of beers and a noisy steak dinner by its water-side. Today Wanaka appears to be a stop-over for all the world’s camper-vans.
A word about those. One of the popular ways of enjoying NZs fabulous scenery is to rent a camper-van and tour. The camp sites are many and, of course, inexpensive. We own one of these machines in the UK and enjoy the liberty to go and stay where we will. On NZs single lane highways they can be something of a nuisance to the likes of us motorists, as they are speed-limited and overtaking opportunities are sometimes far apart. The protocol, encouraged by road signs, is to “Share the road” and “Traffic behind you? Let it pass”. But they don’t always do that. We have spent many a mile looking at the back end of slow moving camper vans.

View from my winscreen


Our billet in Wanaka is a delightful small hotel run by (you guessed) another pair of English ex-pats. Is there a lesson here in living the dream?

Around Queenstown, Thursday 28th Feb, 2018

Thursday 28th Feb, 2018

Queenstown presents us with another fine and sunny day. We were warned by other travellers that “it always rains in NZ”, but so far we have been blessed with early autumn sunshine and warm and pleasant air. We have one more night to spend in Queenstown so we award ourselves a day of light duties. We arise late, throw open the doors to our balcony and breakfast to the sound of NZ Magpies. Unlike their English cousins these birds have a mellifluous call that resembles the whistling of the baker’s boy. Two black swans, which species is unique to the Antipodes, and their five cygnets paddle serenely around on Lake Wakatipu just in front of us.

Our swans


We shall drive to Arrowtown today which is 20km north of Queenstown (which we have not really visited yet as our apartment is on the outskirts of it) and loop round to approach QT from its other end. Not a challenging day at all. As chance would have it we pass, on our way out, another local winery, Amisfield, advertising “Cellar Door Tasting”. They all do. We stroll in and taste 5 wines for $10 (£1/glass). The SBs and the PNs were pleasant, the off-dry Riesling fine but all were a bit on the pricey side. They will ship to the UK, but we don’t bite.

A gentle drive to Arrowtown, past another delicious glacial lake, Lake Hayes. They are breath-taking and it is difficult to capture their awe on camera.

Lake Hayes. Nice isn’t it?

Arrowtown is NZ’s best example of an early Chinese Settlement. A rather nicely curated open air museum illustrates the lives of these largely ostracised immigrant workers who came here from Australia to dig and pan for gold. The ore is now worked out and the last China man died in 1932.

Des. Res. for Chinese gold prospectors

And next door

Panning for Gold

More than sixty of the original gold-rush buildings still exist and Arrowtown’s high street resembles the set of a wild-west movie – all single storey buildings with verandas. No horse hitching rails though, just short-stay car-parking bays.

We trickle into QT and park (on a meter! the first I have encountered). This town is dedicated to providing adrenaline rushes for the young and foolish. Shops and booking offices advertise: bungee-jumping; para-ascending; zip-line rides; ferata (that’s climbing up fixed metal rungs, commonly up the side of waterfalls); canyon swinging; jet-boats; kayaking; white-water rafting; black-water rafting (the same thing in a dark cave); water-skiing – as well as the “normal” outdoor stuff – trekking; mountain-biking; bivouacking and so on. In the winter months there are numerous “snow fields” (that’s down-hill skiing) open within a short distance. The youngsters we see all look lean, tanned and fit but if they do all this you’d wonder if they will see thirty. Not surprisingly there is an enormous apparel and equipment industry here to support all this activity. You could spend a mint on kit. We are happy to watch in awe and cheer.

Queenstown adrenalin junkies

We broach a couple of bottles of fine NZ wines and dine de-luxe in our apartment.

Milford Sound, February 27th, 2018

Wednesday 27th Feb, 2018

Today we visit Milford Sound.Let’s get the pedantry out of the way. Milford Sound is not actually a sound (a flooded river estuary) it is a fiord (a flooded glacial cut). When it was named though, the word fiord hadn’t yet been imported from Norway into the UK so sailors called any haven between mountains a Sound. So a Sound it is. In order to cover their embarrassment the canny NZ burghers have named this vast section of south-west NZ (which has a landscape resembling Norway) Fiordland – a good name. Only one fiord (Milford) is accessible from inland by road, all the others are only accessible by track or from the Tasman Sea.

Fiordland in SW New Zealand

They are all very spectacular. In fact the whole area is very spectacular. The two tectonic plates (you will remember those from an earlier lesson, the Pacific Plate and the Indian / Australian Plate) are wrestling with each other in all sorts of ways and probably pushed the islands of NZ up from the sea floor in the first place. Like the African and the European plates they have created a crash zone of high mountains (these being called the Southern Alps), which are steep and pointy.

In the last ice age (before my time, you understand), the Antarctic ice sheets extended to cover nearly all of South Island and their grinding and gouging actions created a series of magical, deep valleys that extend well below sea level. Now the average annual rainfall in this corner of NZ is between 7 and 9 metres (not mm, metres) so these valleys are now filled with lakes, some hundreds of metres deep – great places to dispose of a body! As we drive alongside them they are grand, austere and, set against the high mountains, breathtakingly beautiful. That’s enough geology for the time being.

Milton Sound is 300 km from our current home in Queenstown. David is fed up with driving so we take a bus. We are sad to discover that our Hampshire senior’s bus passes don’t cover this part of the world so we have to pay. A lot. But it is good to have Chris, our handsome bearded coach driver, dressed in the NZ uniform of shorts, short sleeved shirt, and shoes and socks, to do the heavy lifting. We arise early, breakfast swiftly and stand in the dawn awaiting the taxi that will take us to the bus station. We have brought heavy duty waterproofs with us from the UK which have travelled all over NZ at the bottom of our suit cases. In anticipation of another metre of so of rainfall they are deployed to our rucksacks, where they remain, for it is to be another dry, warm and sunny day, but it feels good to be prepared.

Given the popularity of Milford Sound as a tourist attraction, you’d think there would be a decent straight road there. Not so. Our coach journey takes us at first south along the side of our home lake, Lake Wakatipu, which is shaped like a zig zag with Queenstown at its Zig. This covers the first 100km to Kingston. We then turn west for another 80km to Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in South Island and a good coffee stop. The little township of Te Anau is dedicated to the NZ outdoor pass-times of mountain-biking, fishing, boating and tramping (as well as coach loads of tourists desperate for a pee). From here we turn north again and then west for another 120km of soaring mountain peaks, U-shaped valleys, tumbling glacial streams, mirror-like lakes and a long tunnel get us to Milford Sound. It is three sides of a rectangle to drive here and in all it takes Chris 4 hours of skilful driving and what sounds like a tank-full of fuel for his high-revving coach engine. His droll commentary en-route keeps us informed and entertained.

Glaciated U-shaped valley near Kingston

Mirror Lake

Hanging Valley

Intrepid photographer

Professional Geographer

Our Sound vessel

Milford Sound is but 18km long, and to view it we must board a small ship. No rain today so we perch on the highest deck, cameras at the ready, for we don’t want to be caught with our Nikons down. We chug gently down one side of this 3km wide channel to the Tasman Sea. And gently back up the other side. There are vertiginous peaks which rise 2,200m straight from the sea floor, and grand waterfalls of snow-melt which tumble 150m to the sea. Our captain provides an amusing running commentary and takes a delight in nosing his craft right under the waterfall so that his passengers can justify bringing their waterproofs. If you fell into the water here, (450m deep) apart from it being rather cold, there are no hand-holds or rocks to grab. It would be curtains for certain.

Chugging down Milford Sound

Waterfalls

Another hanging valley

It is a calm, warm day today. We are told that the wind commonly whistles in from the west at 120km/hr (a pretty stiff breeze) and that hats must be hung onto. Today the Tasman Sea is tame and provides a gentle bobbing swell – caused by the bar of glacial moraine (rocks) at the mouth of the Sound which brings the sea floor up considerably.

Looking up the Sound


Basking fur seal


Our sea voyage lasts just 2.5 hours and we are back to the jetty at the head of the Sound. We are offered the option of flying back (there is a small air-strip) or a helicopter ride taking in the summits of the highest snow-covered peaks, but we gracefully decline. How much?
We are faced with another 4 hour coach ride back to Queenstown, this time as fast as is practicable with but one stop. Home by 8:30. We have travelled 600 km to see Milford Sound but it was worth it. Dinner and early to bed.

Dunedin to Queenstown, Tuesday 26th Feb, 2018

Tuesday 26th Feb, 2018

Akaroa to Dunedin: 400 km

Now begins the journey into the heart of the Southern Alps, to Queenstown. At last we branch off our familiar friend, Highway 1 and choose Highway 8, heading north-east. “What happened to the other 7”, I hear you cry. A road designer’s mystery. We enter Otago Region (read County), described as the fruit basket of NZ. Autumn is just beginning here and it is the soft fruit season. There are roadside orchards of lovely red apples, pears, apricots, cherries – all sorts of soft fruits. Each producer seems to have a road-side sales hut and the place bristles with fruity enterprise.

Otago: Fruit basket of NZ

The day is warm (25 °C) and the terrain changes from coastal plain to foothills, reminiscent of the UK’s high Peak District. The rock resembles Mill-stone grit – though it has never been fashioned into mill-stones. This is more like the NZ of the picture postcards. We have the road almost to ourselves. Joy!

NZ as it should be

Picnic coffee stop

We journey towards Alexandra and pause for coffee and biscuits. We like the wide-street, low-rise towns of NZ. They have a clean, ordered and cared-for air, reminiscent of similar sized American towns, though without the accompanying red-necked approach to commerce. Not surprising I guess as nothing non-Maori here is more than 150 years old. Combine that with the clean fresh air and you have a delightful environment. Apart from the annual sheep shearing contest, Easter bunny hunt or Spring-time blossom festival, there is little reason to pause in Alexandra so we don’t.

As we climb slowly in altitude we pass several hydro-electric power stations. NZ’s mountainous terrain plus its high rainfall provide an easily tapped source of potential energy. A big dam and a few turbines and you have enough power to light up all the major cities in South Island. It is just a pity that the only way to distribute electricity is along overhead lines, and pylons litter the beautiful countryside.

4 x 480 MW of power – for free

Power to the people

Sue has cleverly telephoned ahead and pulled some strings so we are to visit Felton Road winery in Bannockburn, home of numerous wine growing estates.

Bannockburn, Otago

Take your pick

Hugh Johnson’s wine guide gives only three NZ wineries his 4-star rating, and Felton Road is one of them. This is a small winery but consistently produces exceptional Pinot Noir, excellent Riesling and Chardonnay varietal wines. We arrive at a beautifully manicured estate, neatly laid-out rows of vines all clad in netting to discourage predatory birds from eating the fruit, and join six Australians on a guided tour and tasting.

Felton Road Winery

What a nice view

We are taken on a tour of the estate by a wine-maiden who tells us that this is both an organic and biodynamic winery, owned by an Englishman, Nigel Greening. His vines certainly look very robust and we are told that picking will start tomorrow, two weeks earlier than usual since the weather has been so good. There is much activity steaming out stainless-steel fermentation tanks, cleaning oak barrels and generally checking valves and pipes as wine-making will begin in earnest shortly.

Ingrid: Wine-maiden


Fermentation vessels


The Library

We are taken to the winery’s “library”. Not a collection of books but of bottles. Here reside samples of every wine made since the start of production in 1996. None of these are for sale – ever, though Nigel might sanction the opening and sharing of a couple on high-days and holidays. We drool and fantasize about being shut in here. Not even a corkscrew is required, for Felton Road, along with all NZ producers use only screw caps. We pose alongside a Jereboam of 1997 Pinot Noir and dream.

Now that’s my size of bottle

Mine too

We are decanted into the sampling room and subjected to a delightful hour of sipping and comparing their products. ‘tis a pity we are limited to 23 kg of airline baggage as it was tempting to stagger away laden. We select one wine and buy a bottle.

Sue sipping PNs


Onwards, gently, to our next stop at Queenstown a short drive from Bannockburn. Here we shall stop for three nights to regroup, accommodate a day-long trip out to Milford Sound and a day gentle sightseeing cum R&R day. Our accommodation is on the Frankton arm of lake Wakatipu and comprises more of a complete apartment than a hotel room.

This one has a huge lounge, fully equipped kitchen / diner, bedrooms and bathrooms for four and a balcony with a breath-taking view of over Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range.

Our Queenstown pad



With a lovely view


View from our balcony. Not too shabby?


We drop our bags, drive to the local Four Square supermarket and lay in stores. Blessed Sue cooks a delightful steak dinner (with guess what to drink? Yes PN) and we retire early, alarms set for 0600 for tomorrow we have a long day out.