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Showing posts from March, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

It's been an emotional few days as we bid farewell to New Zealand and begin our journey home... and NZ said goodbye to their cricket World Cup dreams too. We travelled from Fox Glacier up the west coast to a place called Hokitika, which describes itself as the "cool little town". There was certainly something quirky about the place, which had its heyday in the late 19th century when they discovered that there was gold in "them there hills" and greenstone in the rivers. There is still gold to be found if know where to look (not a clue) and have vast quantities of dredging equipment at your disposal (which we didn't). Greenstone (also known as jade or pounamu) is now protected and can only be collected by those with a direct link to the local Maori who lived in the area before European settlement. Hokitika also happens to be the setting of The Lumineries by Eleanor Catton, which you may have read. I'm working my way through it on Audible. Given we couldn&#

Sliver of Truth

When we were planning our tour of the South Island of NZ, there were two places added to the list of potential destinations pretty early in the process. The first, Wanaka, was somewhere I'd visited in 2004 and it was on my trip highlights and I'd always wanted to return. The second, Lake Matheson, was an elusive destination on that same trip. I got close but never made it... time, weather and access got in the way. Compared to many other of NZ's famous lakes, including Taupo, Wakatipu and Wanaka, Lake Matheson is tiny, with a circumference of less than 4k. But it's famous nonetheless, primarily because of what you can see when you look in it, or at least what you can sometimes see...  We arrived in Wanaka after a 2 hour bus journey, on the back of our very enjoyable 27 hours in Twizel. Getting off the bus on the lakeshore, the view over the lake was much as I remembered - hills, mountains, trees and lots of activity on the lake. The only difference at first look was the

Flood Tide

From Wanaka to Fox Glacier An early start, we're up with the sun The hills glow eerily in the early morning light Breakfast on the lakeshore, pink in the sky Seagulls on the prowl, don't let crumbs fall. The bus arrives, luggage loaded on board A seat by the window, we've a long way to go Out past Mount Iron, then off to the North Winding round Lake Hawea, looks choppy and cold First stop Makarora, time for tea and a wee Then back on the highway that took 35 years to build Winding a course up through Haast Pass Clouds hang low in the valley, threatening and dark Crossing rivers, streams, gullies, falls and creeks Bright yellow signs proclaiming their names Surrounded by native rainforest, ancient and strong Farmland, buildings, animals and people rarely in view The clouds lift, the road turns back to the  Tasman Sea Waves crash on the shore, driftwood strewn on the beach The road climbs, Knights Point Lookout comes and goes Don't look down, the cliffs fall away steeply

Reversible Errors

Due to a slight mix-up with hotel bookings and onward bus connections, we found ourselves "stuck" in Twizel for 27 hours. Twizel (pronunciation wise, it "rhymes" with Tideswell) was established in the 1960s to house workers brought to the area to construct NZ's largest hydro electric scheme, connecting the existing and newly created lakes with massive canals and a network of dams. It was only supposed to be a temporary town but was saved from the bulldozers by construction workers and their families, who had grown attached to their new homes and wanted to stay in the area. The Rough Guide to NZ suggests destruction would have been a "kinder fate", which sounds a bit harsh. Admittedly, it doesn't have quite the same draw as its near neighbours of Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook, but it can't be that bad, can it?  We set ourselves the challenge of finding 27 things to do in Twizel in our 27 hours in town. We've done some of them, but not all, as w

The Almost Moon

Every week of our trip has been filled with amazing experiences or fantastic locations and our time in Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook has not disappointed either. We've gone from the dawn of time to the far reaches of the universe in just a few days. We headed for Lake Tekapo for one main reason and that was to see the stars like never before. Tekapo is a "dark star reserve", meaning that there is very little light pollution and lots of clear nights. There is an observatory at the top of Mount John on the lake's western shore and, after being put off by lots of clouds on Tuesday when we arrived, we booked in for a tour on Wednesday night.  The only uncertainty was the weather. I spent most of Wednesday looking up at the sky and wishing I was an expert meteorologist... the clouds were clearing, the clouds were coming back, what was the wind doing, did the location/position of the moon make any difference? I think "a bag of nerves" would be the best description

The Traveller

Queenstown confuses me! The centre of the town is a cross between a university campus, with backpacker hostels instead of halls of residence, a typical Friday night in most UK city centres (cue drunkenness, inappropriate clothing and kebabs), the seafront in Blackpool (haunted houses and stag nights) and the waterfront in Cape Town (expensive bars, international restaurants and tourist-related gift emporiums). It's a small place in terms of actual population but is more like a city centre, especially at night... the late opening hours, young population, nightclubs and a casino make it unlike most other places in NZ outside Auckland and Wellington. Every other shopfront is for a tour company trying to convince you that their offering is really the only way to 'do' Queenstown.  You can't just go for a river cruise, you have to go white water rafting or ride a jet boat at high speeds as close to the rocks as possible. A walk in some of the most stunning scenery I've ev