A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Family Reunion

Dunedin to Christchurch

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I arrived in Dunedin and negotiated my way around the bus system so as to avoid walking up a giant hill with my backpack, which I swear is getting heavier by the week. My mother's cousin Rebecca and her husband Anthony were at a funeral so I let myself in before joining them for the wake (not quite how I imagined my introduction to Dunedin!)

Next day, Rebecca's youngest son Kara gave me a tour of Dunedin including the now defunct railway station and Otago University, New Zealand's oldest. We had a wander around the museum and saw a pickled Rat King (google it and prepare to be disgusted) but I couldn't get a decent photo.

My parents arrived from Auckland in the evening- their whistle-stop trip had already taken them to Honolulu, where Mum despaired as Dad quoted Hawaii 5-0 at every turn. Although it had been over four months since I'd last seen them, the magic of t'internet meant it really didn't feel that long at all.

On their only full day in Dunedin we drove with Rebecca to the Otago Peninsula before heading to her older brother Simon's for a family barbecue.

Dad had hired a great big car in order to drive to Christchurch and we bid farewell to Rebecca and family early on Monday morning. The incredibly scenic route included the Moeraki boulders, which look like a giant has abandoned his game of marbles. We spotted the snowy peaks of Mount Aspiring and her neighbours in the distance.

Oamaru, where my mother's cousins grew up, has a Victorian centre and heritage steam train.

Timaru is the small town where Gran Gran grew up and we wanted to visit the site of her family home; we had been given the address, but it didn't seem to exist. An hour of searching later we realised the house number was wrong. By 100. After visiting Caroline Bay we made a detour to Fairlie, where Mount Cook can be viewed on a clear day. It was not a clear day. I'm starting to think Mount Cook is just a myth to keep the tourists coming.

After a sunny morning in Christchurch showing my parents the important sites I'd visited earlier in my trip, we headed to the airport to fly to Melbourne and Christmas.

Posted by arianemeena 04:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

47° South

Stewart Island

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Stewart Island is New Zealand's southernmost point and a little pocket of untouched wilderness, the perfect peaceful location for my last few days of solo-travel. Crossing the Foveaux Strait tests the stomachs of even the saltiest sea dogs, although I was sufficiently distracted by the albatrosses that soar over the ferry. Oban Township contains most of the island's 400 residents and has a very Scottish feel.

The island's weather can turn on a sixpence, as my mother would say, but I got enough sunshine to go on a 12km hike along the coastline and through some primitive looking forest, often following the tracks made by the sawmills in the late 1800s.

The island is known for its bird life and I saw (or heard) tui, kaka, wood pigeon and many more that I couldn't begin to identify. The kaka had no fear and regularly came to investigate the garden outside my hostel.

The hostel was small and homely (the island is so safe they didn't even have keys for the rooms) and had both hot water bottles and an extensive DVD collection, ideal for post-hike collapsing. On my last day I walked to Ackers Point, where the lighthouse was airlifted in by helicopter a few years ago. The road signs reflect the traffic issues experienced on the island.

After an equally dodgy crossing back to Bluff (this time briefly accompanied by bottle-nosed dolphins) and a night in Invercargill it was time to head to more family in Dunedin, where Mum and Dad were coming to meet me.

Posted by arianemeena 01:59 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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.

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.

Heading further south, Lake Matheson is commonly known as mirror lake, but sadly it wasn't playing ball when I walked around it.

Fox Glacier next and despite the drizzle the walk was certainly worth it as you can get much closer to the ice here.

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.

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.

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


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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.

One of the installations is '185 empty chairs', a moving memorial representing each of the people who lost their lives.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Having descended from the plateau there are several impressive viaducts and cliff faces, as Middle Earth rolls past the window.

The approach in to Wellington along the coast was stunning in the early evening light.

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.

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.

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.

Posted by arianemeena 14:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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