A Travellerspoint blog

Glaciers and Fiords

Greymouth to Queenstown


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The west coast of the South Island is a rugged, dramatic affair and the site of many a shipwreck. Greymouth is usually just a stopping off point for the train, but it has some impressive views and I borrowed a bicycle from the hostel to explore a little. On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see Mount Cook from here, but seeing as Greymouth never really has clear days this could just be a ruse to lure in tourists. Just to the north are the bizarre and as yet unexplained pancake rocks.
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I headed south along the coast to glacier country. First stop Franz Josef, which descends from the Southern Alps towards the Tasman Sea. Its terminal face is rapidly receding, meaning the ice is now inaccessible except from helicopter, but the view from the ground is still impressive and despite knowing it would be, I was still stunned by how blue it was.
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Heading further south, Lake Matheson is commonly known as mirror lake, but sadly it wasn't playing ball when I walked around it.
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Fox Glacier next and despite the drizzle the walk was certainly worth it as you can get much closer to the ice here.
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Next through a rainy Haast Pass and along Lake Wanaka to Queenstown, home of the worlds first permanent bungy-jump and where youngsters come to dress up and get trashed. Alternatively you can take the cable car for stunning views of turquoise Lake Wakatipu, before walking up Ben Lomond for more breathtaking scenery.
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Of course the real reason for staying in Queenstown, apart from the legendary Fergburgers, is to access Milford Sound, the name disguising the fact it's actually a fiord (the Kiwis seem to insist on the 'i' rather than Scandinavian 'j' spelling). It rains 200 days a year here and I'd picked one of them, but this means the ephemeral waterfalls were on show and did little to diminish the majesty of the rock faces, carved by long-gone glaciers. The seals didn't seem to mind either.
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Craving some peace, I left the excesses of Queenstown behind and headed deep into Southland.

Posted by arianemeena 12:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Quake City

Christchurch


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February 2011 saw Christchurch's second earthquake in 5 months and one of the worst on record. It resulted in the deaths of 185 people as well as the collapse of many of the buildings in the city centre. The Quake City exhibition is designed to educate locals and visitors alike about what happened, the rescue effort that followed and how the city is recovering. Rebuilding has been slow and the centre feels like a scene from 28 Days Later, but it's getting there. There has been some ingenious use of the empty lots for outdoor art and there is a whole mall constructed from shipping containers.
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One of the installations is '185 empty chairs', a moving memorial representing each of the people who lost their lives.
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The cathedral was decimated in the quake but recently a temporary replacement has opened, almost entirely built from cardboard and designed to last for 50 years.
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I stayed with Hamish, who was also an F2 in Worthing and is working in Christchurch Hospital in order to avoid the NHS treadmill. Virtually all the doctors in the place are from the UK, which speaks as much to the failings of the training programme back home as it does to the humane treatment of juniors in New Zealand.

I ventured out to Akaroa, New Zealand's only French settlement, on a searingly hot day. The natural harbour was created by volcanic activity millions of years ago and is home to the world's smallest (and rarest) dolphins, tiny penguins and fur seals. I saw all of them from a catamaran whilst drinking Sauvignon blanc and eating home-baked biscuits. This is pretty much my idea of heaven. It was cruise day, with a 2800 passenger ship vomiting middle-aged tourists in to the town. This is pretty much my idea of hell.
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After a long overdue night out (coinciding with a local school leavers ball, guaranteed to make you feel ancient) and an equally overdue lazy Sunday I headed to the station for my 18th and final train. The TranzAlpine cuts its way across the Southern Alps, through Arthur's Pass, arriving in the aptly named Greymouth on the rugged west coast.
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Posted by arianemeena 01:28 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

North and South

From Auckland to Christchurch via Wellington


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Trains in New Zealand have been in decline for some years and the mainlines are now mainly used by freight. Two years ago KiwiRail relaunched its Scenic services just for train geeks like me, complete with luxury carriages with huge windows, audio commentary and a viewing car. The longest of these is the trip from Auckland to Wellington, which takes 10 hours and I was lucky enough to have glorious weather from start to finish.
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In order to ascend 139 vertical metres to the plateau of Tongariro National Park, engineers devised the Raurimu Spiral (see geektastic diagram here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RaurimuSpiral.jpg) meaning the tracks loop back on themselves during the climb. Ruapehu (more famous for its role as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films) was shrouded in cloud but still impressive.
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Having descended from the plateau there are several impressive viaducts and cliff faces, as Middle Earth rolls past the window.
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The approach in to Wellington along the coast was stunning in the early evening light.
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Te Papa (roughly translating as Our Place) is the huge Museum of New Zealand and a really thoughtful presentation of the history of the country. After a couple of educational hours I took the cable car (actually a funicular railway, not that I'm pedantic about these things) to the top of the Botanic Gardens, followed by a beautiful walk back down.
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Early next morning I took the Cook Straits ferry to the South Island. As you approach the Marlborough Sound it's impossible to see where the boat can get through as a wall of rock looms. Then you find yourself in a stunning network of bays carved by the river.
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The harbour is a short walk from the railway station where I boarded the second scenic train, taking me to Christchurch along the pacific coast, catching my first glimpses of the Southern Alps.
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Posted by arianemeena 14:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Kia Ora

Auckland and the Bay of Plenty


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Budget airlines are fine for short hops to continental Europe, they're bloody awful for 10 hour long-haul flights. Add in surround sound screaming toddlers and over-enthusiastic air conditioning and there was never going to be much sleep on my JetStar flight from Singapore. I was welcomed to a gloriously sunny Auckland by my Mum's cousin Jonathan and his wife Linda, who I'd met in the UK a couple of years ago. We decided to make the most of the weather and they took me on a whistle stop tour of the surrounding area, starting with the black Western beaches.
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Crossing back over the Waitakere Range we stopped for cake at the aptly named Elevation cafe, with stunning views over the city.
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Then to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano in the heart of Auckland, for more views followed by a well earned glass of wine in an actual pub. By this time I felt I had my bearings, but fewer than two hours sleep in 30 had taken its toll and I escaped to bed after my first home cooked meal in 14 weeks.
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Feeling refreshed I headed in to the city centre on Monday for lunch with Jonathan and explored the harbour front and Albert Park, home to the excellent Auckland Art Gallery. The next day I accrued some serious granddaughter brownie points by visiting Gran Gran's oldest friend, Ann, who lives in a retirement village on the north shore. It was lovely to hear all her stories and about the history of New Zealand, a topic on which she can talk for hours.

In the afternoon I climbed One Tree Hill, now something of a misnomer as the tree has been twice cut down by Maori activists.
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In the evening we had fish and chips at Mission Bay with a view of Rangitoto before watching the sun set. Next morning, Linda, Michael (their son) and I took the ferry out to Devonport, where New Zealand's historical coastal defences are sited, although they were never used.
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I used Auckland as a base to visit Dan and Sarah (who were in the year above me at BSMS) in Mount Mangaunui where I kept Dan company post nights and climbed the aforementioned hill. It was lovely to catch up with them and a close call as they are about to return to the UK after working out here for a year.
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From there I went to Rotorua, home of hot springs and the smell of eggs, a result of geothermal activity just under the crust. I've wanted to see the bubbling mud since I was I child and saw pictures in an ancient copy of the children's book 'I am a Maori', which I read every time I visited Gran Gran.
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After a final night in Auckland, complete with a delicious BBQ with family and friends, it was time to say goodbye to Jonathan and Linda who had made me so welcome and provided the perfect start to my time in New Zealand. The next morning I was off to Wellington, by train of course.

Posted by arianemeena 16:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Singapore Sling

Singapore


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Landing late at an aggressively festive Changi Airport we took the light rail in to the centre and promptly passed out, exhausted from a day of plane travel. In the morning we had a wander around the pristine Chinatown area before meeting my old school friend Nick for lunch at a local food court. He and his fiancée have been in Singapore for a year and so we demanded he tell us what to do with our time. On his suggestion we walked over to the shiny Marina Bay area, built on reclaimed land in the harbour and the epitome of sterile Singapore. It stars a hotel that has three towers connected by what looks like a boat perched atop them.
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The Gardens by the Bay are new and beautifully set out botanical gardens behind the marina. There are two bio-domes, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, as well as man-made Super Trees. On walking to the meadow we were faced with an enormous floating baby, created by British sculptor Marc Quinn (famous for freezing his own blood in the shape of his head and putting Alison Lapper on top of the Fourth Plinth).
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In the evening we ate at the harbour and saw the hilariously kitsch merlion statue.
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The day of our departure we ticked a tourist box and visited Raffles Hotel, every bit as colonial as I'd hoped. Having decided to treat ourselves on our last day in Asia we headed to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for a very grand and chocolatey afternoon tea, complete with my first cup of Earl Grey since leaving Blighty. We walked back along the picturesque Boat Quay.
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Then it was time to bid farewell to Josh, who was heading back to Manchester and life as an SHO. I'm most grateful to him, both for planning a fabulous itinerary and for putting up with my difficulty relinquishing control, honed by months of lone travel. Meanwhile, I was heading to the Southern Hemisphere and New Zealand, one of the major components of my ever-confusing ethnic make-up.

Posted by arianemeena 18:41 Archived in Singapore Comments (3)

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