A Travellerspoint blog

Napier

Artful and Decorative

sunny 15 °C

Saturday 10 June

Wellington had one last ´surprise´ for us; the parking that we had been assured was unrestricted, wasn´t. We picked up a nice $40 fine. To be fair, we couldn´t complain too much, this wasn´t much more than we would have paid in daily parking fees anyway.

Given that our time on North Island was limited, we decided to follow a basic itinerary suggested in the Lonely Planet travel guide, and thus we left Wellington for an overnight stop in the town of Napier.

Napier really deserved more than one day´s attention. The town´s main claim to fame lies in the numerous 1930´s art-deco buildings dotted around the place - the result of extensive rebuilding after a devastating earthquake in 1931.

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Additionally though, it is located on the East Coast in the Hawkes Bay area, New Zealand´s foremost food and wine region.

We arrived at our hostel (´Archies Bunker´ for you American sitcom fans) in the early afternoon, relieved ro find that here you really could park anywhere free of charge; parking restrictions don´t apply at weekends.

The helpful hostel owner seemed slightly nonplussed that we were only staying in town for one night, but nevertheless suggested a mass of local activities. The one that immediately appealed was a meandering walk out of town and up Bluff Hill, a local viewpoint which looks out over the bay and one of New Zealand´s busiest ports. Not so on this Saturday; it looked deserted.

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The walk was a pleasant way to fill our only afternoon here, and helped to build our appetite. A fruitless search for a no-longer existent pub made us even hungrier and as the evening wore on we found our way to a small but extremely good steak house before retiring for the night.

Posted by andymoore 15:06 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Wellington

Here be Hobbits.

sunny 21 °C

Wednesday 7 - Friday 9 June

Wellington is New Zealand's capital city, and as you might expect it is huge and busy. A lesser known fact is that it is twinned with Harrogate, Yorkshire, in the UK.

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Wellington? Or Harrogate?

Wednesday provided another sunny day allowing us to get out and explore. Much as we don't mind exploring bigger cities, we find stretching our legs and seeing a bit of nature a preferable alternative. Lucky then, that Wellington's impressive Botanical Gardens based high on a hillside in a district called Kelburn can be reached by (yes, another!) funicular tram from Lambton Quay in the city's business district. Luckier still that on the way to the funicular I spotted a hiking shop called 'Mainly Tramping" in which Sharon found her perfect pair of walking boots.

Atop the 628 metre ascent sit the 25 hectares devoted to the Botanical Gardens; a maze of pathways leads to various grouped species of plants, stands of trees, impressive sculptures

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The 'Listening & Viewing Device' Sculpture. With added legs.

and a large Victorian glass greenhouse containing hundreds of specimens like these:

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We spent the bulk of the day exploring the gardens, before heading back into town through the adjoining Bolton Street Memorial Gardens, pausing to look in the tiny chapel.

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Stung by the previous evening's dinner experience (see previous entry), we opted for a supermarket visit for eats, but not before we paid a lengthy and very enjoyable visit to a bar famed as the only place in the Southern Hemisphere to sell 100 different beers!

Thursday 8 June

Today we took as a much-needed 'catch up' day. Washing was to be done, blogs were to be written, routes were to be planned and sleep was to be caught up with. Sharon arose especially early to grab a car parking spot in a side-street next to the apartments, where we had been assured that parking restrictions didn't apply; just as well, as we had been forking out car-park fees up until now.

It doesn't make for very exciting blog entries, but sometimes we find there are days when we just don't do stuff...

Friday 9 June

With all of the housekeeping taken care of, today was another day for getting out and exploring downtown Wellington. Of particular interest was a visit to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. I'm not a great fan on museums but this one had been highly recommended to us, and once there I could see why.

Te Papa is enormous; set over five floors split into different zones it covers all aspects of New Zealand's history from its geological and geographical origins, through its earliest settlers and onward right up until today. The best aspect though, is that all of the exhibits are interactive - for example, you can actually experience what it feels like to be in a house when an earthquake occurs.

I was so enthralled by Te Papa that I could have filled the blog with thousands of pictures, but for a far better experience I recommend you visit the museum's website.

Just when we thought things couldn't get any better... we visited the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy exhibition which currently takes up the entire fifth floor of the museum. Here we got to see hundreds of original costumes, weapons and models used in the films, plus artwork and special effects demonstrations; sadly I can't illustrate any of this here as photography is strictly forbidden. But trust me, if you are a fan of Tolkien or Peter Jackson then entry fee is more than justified.

It was evening when we left Te Papa (we'd entered at lunchtime!), and having had such a great day we felt it only right and proper to round off our time in Wellington with a return visit to the pub-of-100-beers. Hic.

Posted by andymoore 19:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Crossing the Cook Strait to Wellington

Ferry pleasant.

sunny 20 °C

Tuesday 6 June

Another early start; we wanted to make the one o'clock Interislander ferry to Wellington, and the South Island terminal at Picton was a fair morning's drive away. But, once again, we were blessed with warm sunshine and after a non-taxing journey we arrived at the charming town of Picton (sadly only notable for the ferry terminal) with time to spare for lunch.

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Picton Harbour

Then it was on to the ferry,

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and a sad farewell to New Zealand's South Island; at least we would be taking many happy memories - and hundreds of photos - with us.

The leisurely cruise along the Cook Strait in the sunshine reminded us a bit (just a bit) of our Milford Sound trip just a week ago...

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In fact, the day was deceptively chilly as we headed north, but we were reluctant to leave the open deck as we watched Picton recede into the distance and disappear; there was always the possibility of dolphin spotting, and anyway the scenery was too good to miss.

Eventually, the coast of North Island appeared and some time later - right on schedule - the ferry pulled into Wellington Harbour.

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Following some sketchy navigation and a slightly confusing detour we arrived at our accommodation for the next three nights, a basic but comfortable studio apartment.

As it was evening, we ventured next door to a promising-looking bar/restaurant. Sadly, this place provided us with the worst meal experience of our entire year so far; in hindsight it was comically bad! We waited precisely one hour between the starter and the main course and on questioning the waitress she informed us that the delay was because the chef "had decided to go for a walk"! After approximately an eternity we were each presented with what appeared to be a dirty plate; closer inspection with a magnifying glass revealed that this was, in fact, the main course.
The only saving grace was that the restaurant managed to undercharge us for our drinks; we left the money for the bill (no tip!) on the table and fled.

Not to be deterred by one lousy meal, we retired for the night ready to explore Wellington afresh the following day.

Posted by andymoore 14:14 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kaikoura

Home of the Lazy Shag

sunny 20 °C

Sunday 4 - Monday 5 June

Running slightly behind schedule after our Franz Josef Glacier hike, we left Franz Josef late Saturday afternoon and headed to Greymouth for the night. The weather was truly foul, but the hostel we stayed in (Global Village) was absolutely fantastic - more like a good budget hotel than a backpacker place. Fortunately, we had already taken in the sights of Greymouth on our TranzAlpine trip from Christchurch and so we weren't too concerned at being confined to our comfortable quarters for the night.

On Sunday morning we left early, still faced with torrential rain, and made our way to Kaikoura arriving mid-afternoon.

Kaikoura lies on a peninsula, and crayfish - for which the town is now famous - are abundant in its waters. (Kaikoura, literally translated, means 'meal of crayfish').

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We had managed to outrun the morning's rain as we arrived at our accommodation for the next two nights; a charming hostel called 'The Lazy Shag' (behave yourselves!).

We headed into town in the evening, searching for a particular venue that the hostel owner recommended for a meal and a drink but try as we might we couldn't find it among the seemingly endless crayfish restaurants, and so we ended up in a typical pub eating sausage and mash! Here, the heavy rain caught up with us once more and we headed in for the night.

Sunday 5 June

Kaikoura prides itself on the conservation of an abundance of local marine life; in season, there are seals, dolphins and whales aplenty to be seen here.

Although we were here out of season, we were still keen to take a boat trip out into the bay just to see what we could see. Sunday morning was cool, but bright and sunny. However, on arrival at the Tourist Information Centre we were told that the sea was too rough for any boats to be going out that day.

This was to be our last full day on New Zealand's South Island, and we were keen not to waste it; the weather was too good for that. As an alternative to a boat trip, the helpful Tourist Info lady suggested could do a coastal walk which would take us from town, to the peninsula, up into the hills over the bay and then back down into town through open farmland. Well, we're always happy to do another walk...

Thanks to the sunshine, the scenery and the wildlife, this was one of the most enjoyable walks we have done and rather than give you a detailed account of every step, I'll give you the highlights via photos...

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Starting by the shore

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Kaikoura's rugged coastline

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Down by the rocks, no-one was excited by our presence

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From seashore to farmland and back to town...

Although the hills may look green and rolling, they were actually green and brown since cows grazed here; I quickly discovered this by plunging my foot into a large, fresh cowpat causing Sharon much hilarity.

Walk over, we headed to the supermarket then feasted back at the hostel with a celebratory bottle of wine; we had crammed so much into our few weeks on South Island and tomorrow we would be heading from Picton to Wellington for new adventures on North Island.

Posted by andymoore 11:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Franz Josef via Lake Matheson

Old Blue Ice is Back.

all seasons in one day 10 °C

Thursday 1 - Saturday 3 June

Just a few days left on South Island now, and as we headed north towards Picton and the interisland ferry our next stop was Franz Josef village.

Franz Josef is famous for one thing - the Franz Josef Glacier;

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and here we come to another one of Sharon's 'must-do' activities: hiking on a glacier. But I'm jumping ahead.

The route we took to Franz Josef just happened to pass one of New Zealand's most famous landmarks/tourist attractions - Lake Matheson. Chances are, if you've ever seen a picture of a perfectly still lake in which the surrounding mountains or forest are reflected, then you've seen Lake Matheson. The lake is approached via a nondescript woodland walk, occasionally punctuated by viewing platforms; and what views!

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Sated by the beauty of the lake we continued to Franz Josef itself, arriving in the early evening and hastened to buy tickets for a glacier 'heli-hike' the following afternoon.

Friday 2 June

The village of Franz Josef, named, like the glacier, after Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, is basically a single road lined with tour operators, restaurants and accommodation. All the local ation takes place on, around and above the glacier itself.

Today was the day of our heli-hike (a helicopter flight to the otherwise inaccessible top of the glacier, followed by a two-hour hike over the ice). We awoke to clear blue skies and sunshine, and the sounds of numerous small planes and helicopters buzzing overhead.

Clutching our tickets, we eagerly made our way to the tour operator... only to be told that because we were the only people booked on the heli-hike it would be uneconomical to fly us up to the glacier. We were peeved, to say the least; we didn't really have time to hang around another day in the hope that we might be able to go on tomorrow's heli-hike. We opted for a refund, then made a quick phone-round of the other operators just in case. No joy. Sharon was upset; we'd come so close.

Sensing that this might be our one-and-only chance ever to hike on top of a glacier, we pulled ourselves together, hastily re-wrote our schedule and marched back to our tour operator. Handing over the cash once more, we were told that tomorrow's heli-hike was virtually guaranteed as other folk had already signed up. What could possibly go wrong?

We filled an unplanned free afternoon with a woodland walk which ended near the base of the glacier. So close, so close...

Saturday 3 June

The day began promisingly, but before very long we noticed a subtle darkening of the clouds gradually transforming to an overall blanket of dark grey. The hitherto constant drone of aircraft in the skies overhead ceased, and we began to worry.

Our tour operator confirmed our worst fears; by lunchtime incoming rain and snow over the mountains made flying impossible and all aircraft were grounded for the day (excepting emergencies).

Well, what now? The tour operator offered a lifeline; despite the weather, we could still take a guided hike on the lower part of the glacier even if we couldn't fly to the higher part. Of course, we couldn't turn this final opportunity down.

And so it was we finally found ourselves and an intrepid few others, rain-soaked and freezing, with crampons on our feet, climbing over solid impacted ice and squeezing through the narrowest ravines on the Franz Josef Glacier, with our guide - ice-pick and rope in hand - carefully carving steps and footholds in the ice for us. And you know what? It was fantastic!

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Posted by andymoore 18:06 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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