Dunedin, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Blenheim

In Dunedin we were back on the East coast ready to start working our way back towards the North Island.

Dunedin is a fine city with grand buildings in the style of the Scottish capital it was named after. Of these the most impressive is the railway station where we met Beryl, our Servas host for the next two nights.

We took it very easy in Dunedin, recovering from the rail trail while we enjoyed good conversation and Beryl’s excellent cooking. As it rained all day, we were relieved not to have been cycling, but couldn’t do our washing! After touring the city by car we went down the peninsula as far as the Royal Albatross Centre in the hope seeing the fabulous birds, but no luck.

On Monday morning we said goodbye to Beryl, picked up a car and drove to Christchurch where we spent a night with Poonam’s brother, Ketan, his wife Catherine and daughter, Riya. On the way we examined the boulders on the beach at Moeraki and had a lunch stop and walk at Oamaru, another fine town of impressive victorian buildings and wharves – the largest collection of protected heritage buildings in New Zealand.

From Christchurch we went up the coast to Kaikoura for whale watching. Sadly although we tried 3 times the weather off shore was so bad that no tours were running. So no whales for us.

There’s not much else to do in Kaikoura but we sampled the recommended local delicacies – freshly cooked crayfish from a roadside stall and fish and chips (the ‘best in New Zealand’?). We also visited the excellent Kaikoura museum, located in the library. There we learned more about the whale hunting history of the place and also the more recent history of the devastating earthquake that rocked this coast in November 2016. This was a different earthquake from the one that destroyed a lot of Christchurch 5 years earlier. A walk along the Kaikoura Peninsula gave an insight into how much the coastline and seabed were reshaped as a result.

Restoration work is still in progress all along the coast road and railway – the road was closed for a year and passenger trains have just started running.

The drive along the coast to the Marlborough area was gorgeous. We stopped to watch a particularly active fur seal colony at Oahu.

Marlborough is New Zealand’s main wine producing area, famous for it’s Sauvignon Blanc but producing many other varieties. Vines were first planted in the 1970’s in what was previously a farming area. Now all you can see is vineyards in every direction making us wonder about the sustainability of such a monoculture – a few days later we met a student writing a thesis on exactly this topic!

We stopped at Peter Yealand’s winery for a quick tasting and to pick up a couple of bottles to take with us to Pauline and Roger, our hosts for the next two nights in Blenheim. Pauline and Roger are the parents of Poonam’s sister-in-law, Catherine, who we stayed with in Christchurch. They have lemons growing in their front garden!

At last we were able to do the rail trail laundry! A big attraction in Blenheim is the Omaha Aviation Heritage Centre. We visited the World War One display to be impressed by the convincing, lifelike dioramas of historical events created by Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings films). There is also a huge display of memorabilia featuring New Zealand, Australian and German airmen including the notorious Red Baron.

We were very impressed with the planting in the park!

We had a walk in the Wither Hills which form the backdrop to Blenheim and tried to convince ourselves that would be sufficient training for our expedition along the Queen Charlotte Track that was about to begin.

In the next post Alan will tell you how that went.

Otago Central Rail Trail

The Rail Trail was opened in 2000 by the NZ Department of Conservation. It is 152kms (94 miles) along the route of a disused railway. We decided to ride it over 4 days ending with a trip on a remaining train line into Dunedin. We booked a package including bikes, helmets, accommodation, restaurants and transport at each end of the journey – all we had to do was ride the bikes. That turned out to be the hard part.

Below are the notes we made at the end of each day’s ride.

Day I, Wednesday 2 January

We were picked up from our accommodation outside Arrowtown promptly at 7.15am. The minibus went on to Queenstown to pick up other customers and drop someone at the airport. Exactly an hour later we passed the end of our road! After a further hour we arrived at the Trail Journeys depot in Clyde where we went through our itinerary, had bikes and helmets fitted and watched an information video. At 10.15, three hours after the pickup, we were ready to start. By then the thermometer outside a nearby pharmacy showed it was 30deg.

The first 8km was easy, took us into a small town, Alexandra, where we had coffee and a sandwich. The rest of the morning was hot, hard and seemed never ending! The route went through open countryside, crossed very few roads and passed no buildings other than remnants of railway structures.

After frequent water stops and a snack we arrived at our lunch stop, The Chatto Tavern, around 2pm. By then we’d cycled 26kms. Revived by a pint of coke each, chips and chowder and urged by the landlady to get going as the temperature was rising, we left at 3pm to tackle Dragon Hill. Battling an alternating headwind and crosswind we struggled up.

Thoughts ran along the lines of ‘Who’s idea was this?’, ‘Why did we sign up for it’ and ‘How do we get out of doing any more?’

Finally we crested the hill and the rest of the way was down.

Our ’boutique’ accommodation, Pitches Stores, in the historic township of Ophir was a welcome sight. Like Arrowtown, Ophir was a gold prospectors’ settlement in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike Arrowtown it’s now a quiet place with a small population, there’s a town trail of historic buildings, but, unlike Arrowtown, these seem to be mostly original facades only.

We’d cycled 40kms to earn our dinner and drinks in the bar!

Day 2, Thursday 3 January 2019

We can seldom justify eating everything available at breakfast – today was the day!

We set off before 9am, visited the local store for supplies and were back on the trail by 9.15. It was a beautiful day, yesterday’s wind had dropped.

Gently uphill, ‘Good morning, how’s it going, we passed you yesterday’ – ‘you certainly did’, not very diplomatic – Alan picked up speed, rode along chatting happily, remembered me and reverted to our usual, slow pace.

We thought today would be uphill to start with, this feels like down, a pointless debate about gears keeps us going for the first few kilometres.

We soon reached the first stop, Lauder Stationside Cafe, for coffee and, realising it was almost the only stop today, bought a takeaway pasta salad for lunch.

Then a glorious swoop down, a tunnel, two tunnels then gently up. You need your torch for the tunnels!

‘How’s your ride been today’ ‘Great, what about yours?’ Looking over my shoulder to hear the reply, skidded and fell off!

A scraped knee and bruised elbow later, on we went.

Today’s ride was fun, varied and interesting. On and on until we reached Hayes’ Engineering Works and Homestead. Today it’s a cafe and museum, telling the story of nineteenth century pioneers from the UK midlands who developed engineering solutions for New Zealand farmers some of which are still in production today.

We rode 35km today -and now we’re startled to find the next 2 days are each more than 40km. We’ll make an early start and hope it’s a downhill glide in kind weather tomorrow.

Tonight’s accommodation, just outside Oturehua is very cosy and has a lovely view. We’re the only guests tonight so we’re getting special attention.It’s pretty windy here and our hosts have lots of flags flying in the breeze. That meant that we could do our washing before supper and have it back dry when we got back. We ate fish pie at Oturehua Inn fraternising with our fellow riders, free transport there and back was provided by the pub.

Day 3, Friday 4 January 2019

Tender bottoms when we set off today!

Cheese omelette and mushrooms was a good start plus it was overcast and cool, very refreshing after the heat of the last two days. We expected a 12km climb but reached the summit after only 6km. After which it was, as the sign says, downhill all the way.

Ranfurly was a nice Art Deco sort of place on the way today. We bought bread and cheese for lunch there – then succumbed to a pie in a pub on the way.

We had a good day’s cycling and reached our destination before 2pm. Have we mentioned there are old station buildings, bridges, even toilets, along the trail?

Tonight’s accommodation at Kokonga is quite luxurious with another fabulous mountain view. We had an excellent dinner with four other guests, all trail riders. They have a good, local wine list too!

Day 4, Saturday 5 January 2019

Today is the last day and we have a train to catch. We’ve been worrying about this, off and on, every day as well as a few nights. So we’re out on the trail early, hardly anyone else about.

Another 43km later, a final tunnel, we’re in Middlemarch and it’s over with time to spare. We’re already talking about ‘next time’ and possibility of electric bikes!

Our reward was a glorious ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway with it’s mixture of antique and modern carriages. At the glorious Dunedin station we were met by Beryl, our Servas host for the next two nights.

Wanaka, Arrowtown, Queenstown and Milford Sound

There comes a point in every trip when we start to fall behind on the blog. It may be that we’re enjoying ourselves too much, energy levels are dropping or just bad Wi-fi connections. We seem to have reached that point around New Year, so here’s a very quick summary of what happened next.

Wanaka is a lovely town on a lake. We stayed in the youth hostel there and cooked our own dinner two nights running. It’s a place people go for activity holidays in summer and to ski in winter. We avoided all these things but did walk up a hill named Mount Iron to admire the view.

From Wanaka it was a short but lovely drive to Arrowtown with more amazing views and the lupins were beautiful even though they are invasive weeds here.

Arrowtown was developed by gold prospectors in the 1860’s gold rush. The gold didn’t last long and many mining settlements were soon deserted but Arrowtown survived and is now a considerable tourist attraction with it’s picturesque Victorian streets and fascinating museum. Nearby are the deserted remains of a township built by a community of around 60 Chinese miners who also came seeking their fortune. It was particularly interesting to learn how attitudes towards them developed and see the similarities to responses to immigration today

Arrowtown is close to Queenstown, another city on a lake and the tourist hub of the Otago region. We arrived on Saturday lunchtime and found it hot and overcrowded with nowhere to park. We quickly retreated to the calm of the botanic gardens where the roses were lovely. It’s also the home of a strange game called Discgolf, the rules are in the photo. People of all ages were playing the course.

As soon as we could, headed out to our New Year apartment in a remote location outside town.

Our four quiet days there were only disturbed by a full day trip to Milford Sound on the South West Coast by the BBQ Bus. Milford Sound is on the New Zealand ‘must do’ list, it’s a deep fiord surrounded by high mountains, home to rare marine wildlife.

The drive there was long but scenic including rainforest and waterfalls. We even had an actual barbecue at a very pleasant nature reserve. After that the weather changed a bit so that by the time we boarded our boat the view was best described as ‘atmospheric’ but we did see a group of seals.

Milford Sound is the furthest South we’re going – our next journey took us back to the East Coast by bike and train. That’s the next post…..

Mountains and Coast

The TranzAlpine is often included in lists of the great rail journeys of the world because of the scenery it passes on it’s way from Christchurch to Greymouth, to the west of the South Island. The trip started off cold and rainy, ‘atmospheric’ would have been a polite description but eventually the clouds lifted and we understood what all the fuss is about.

On arrival at Greymouth 5 hours later we were first in line to pick up a hire car to travel on to the small town of Franz Josef. We stayed in a private, en-suite room in the youth hostel – very acceptable – and ate the first fish and chips of the trip that evening.

First thing next morning we walked as close as we could to the nearby Franz Josef glacier which gives the town its name. The alternative is to view the glacier from a helicopter and plenty of them were buzzing around. Along the walk there were signs indicating where the end of the glacier had reached at different dates in the twentieth century and attributing the significant reduction to climate change. Which made viewing by helicopter not seem a good idea. But then maybe our journey there was damaging too! Either way it was a fabulous sight.

From Franz Josef we continued our long drive down the West Coast admiring the fabulous scenery on the way – we stopped at rivers, lakes and mountain views. The water has a wonderful colour and quality due to the rocks and minerals in the mountains. We saw a lot of cows too.

We went over the Haast Pass in some of the remotest country in New Zealand, into Mount Aspiring National Park and on to Wanaka where we stayed in our second youth hostel.

More about Wanaka another day.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everybody from both of us.

We’re spending it quietly on our own, a complete contrast to the hectic last few weeks!

Thank you for following the blog. We appreciate all the comments, sorry if we seldom reply – it’s generally as much as we can do to keep the posts coming!

We’ll be back next year with more updates. When we get home we have a lovely wedding slideshow to show you.

Here’s the view from our bedroom this morning.

Christmas in Christchurch

A large group of us got together in Christchurch for Christmas – there were 14 on Christmas morning. The celebrations started on Sunday 23rd December when we arrived from Hamilton with Poonam’s parents and no doubt continued after we’d left on Boxing Day morning.

Lots of food was consumed and although there was no barbecue on the beach we did eat outdoors on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We also went for a walk in the sunshine late in the afternoon after our Christmas dinner!

Christchurch is the main city on the South Island of New Zealand. We didn’t have time to explore the city centre which was devastated by an earthquake in 2011 so we can’t describe the rebuilding that has been completed. But we did take a gondola ride high above the city on Christmas Eve and had amazing views of the city, the surrounding area and beach. We followed that with afternoon tea at a cafe specialising in chocolate based drinks and dishes and topped the day off with a Thai takeaway in the evening.

There was lots of food for Christmas dinner, all tastes were catered for – and absolutely nothing had been prepared by us! Christmas pudding was definitely not on the menu!

It was our last opportunity to spend time with Steve and Poonam before their departure for UK but we expect to catch up with just about everyone else later in the trip.

Next day, very early, Steve dropped us at the station to catch the TranzAlpine express. So trains and mountains are coming up next!

North to Northland

Alan and I stayed a second night in Tongariro National Park before slowly making our way back to Hamilton. We stopped at Taupo for a walk beside the largest lake in New Zealand where we saw black swans.

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Then on to be impressed by the Huka Falls and the nearby ‘Craters of the moon’ where thermal activity has created an unearthly landscape of craters, mud and steam.

After a night with Amrat and Manjula in Hamilton we all set off for Northland, the Northernmost part of the North Island, stopping off on the way at Matakana for the Sunday market and lunch.  We’ve often bought wine from the Matakana Estate vineyard from our local Guildford Wine Store.

We spent that night at Russell in the Bay of Islands where the view from our homestay looked like this:

Russell today is a pretty place but is said to have had a notorious past as the ‘sin city’ of nineteenth century New Zealand. The British flagstaff here was chopped down more than once in the 1840’s as a symbol of Maori discontent with the colonial regime.

There are certainly a lot of islands in The Bay of Islands and the sunset in Russell was sublime.

The rest of the week was spent at Taiga Resort in Doubtless Bay. According to Wikipedia it was named by Captain Cook who expressed his view that it was ‘doubtless a bay’ as his ship passed nearby!

We alternated lazy days when swimming and walks on the beach were the only activities with some very active sightseeing trips.

We visited the Waitangi treaty grounds where, in 1840, a treaty guaranteeing Maori land rights and guaranteeing Crown protection signalled New Zealand’s arrival in the British Empire. We didn’t do justice to the comprehensive museum but the Maori war canoe was impressive. We also saw our third haka performance at the ancient Maori meeting house.

Cape Reinga is where the spirits of the Maori dead depart on their journey to the ancestral lands. It’s also the Northernmost tip of New Zealand.

We visited one of Amrat’s favourite places, Opononi, and then went on to see Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, a tree sacred to the Maori in the beautiful Waipoua Forest.

Just like the kauri trees on Waiheke, precautions are in place to protect the giant tree from fatal disease. We had to disinfect our shoes and could only view it from designated footways.

It was a long drive back that afternoon, so we had one more lazy day at Taipa before the even longer journey back to Hamilton.

That brings us almost up to date – we did our laundry overnight and now we’re all in Christchurch to celebrate Christmas with the family.

Next time we’ll tell you how that went. Until then, HAPPY CHRISTMAS to all our readers!