I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand. It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!
One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor. Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.
The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor. Here is to returning some day!
My seven super photos below show the some of the things that amazed me and the memories I cherish from my many travels. I think I was tagged for this a few months ago. I can tell because I had begun placing candidate photos in a special folder but I couldn’t find a post… Thanks to Lola (@LolaDiMarco) for tagging me. I will need to think about who to tag since she probably hit some people I would have hit and I also don’t want to hit the person who tagged me months ago! (and I can’t remember who that is… my apologies, I was trying to get it done!)
Here it goes!
a photo that takes my breath away
Crossing the majestic Andes…
a photo that makes me laugh or smile
Walking like Egyptians… In Egypt.
a photo that makes me dream
I dream of returning to Mykonos…
a photo that makes me think
Village savings and loan members posing near Mwanza, Tanzania: not begging for help, but taking control of their livelihoods. How we have lost that in our own country…
a photo that makes my mouth water
The grapes that yield a delicious Bordeaux…
a photo that tells a story
Hated taking this pic but it was very moving to see this in Pompeii…
a photo that i’m most proud of (aka, my NationalGeographic shot)
Overlooking Queenstown and The Remarkables in glorious New Zealand
Well, 2009 is almost in the books and who would have told me at this same point in 2008 all that I would do in 2009! On the less glamorous side, sinus surgery and losing my job. Yep, I wouldn’t have imagined both. But, on the more exciting side of things, I certainly had even less of an idea that I would get to see the land of John Paul II (Poland), the mythical (at least for those of us far from it) land down under (Australia), the majestic islands in the far south Pacific (New Zealand), the mountains and beauty of the granite state (New Hampshire), and 18 years later a country I loved when I lived there (Chile). I also did get to visit more familiar places like Tampa, DC, Panama, NYC, and Denver but most of those were in my plans already.
So I sit here during Christmas Day wondering which places will I get to see in 2010 for the first time and what will I discover in more familiar places… I can’t wait to find out! Could it be the year I see the Holy Land? Or check out Iceland? Perhaps visit southern Chile and the lake district? Or finishing off “Western” Europe by seeing Portugal and Ireland?? Or, why not, go to Australia again and explore other parts of the continent? SO much to see, so little time and money!
Thanks 2009, and good riddance in a way. 2010, bring it on!
Well, by southern I mean “geographically”. It was the southernmost city I visited in New Zealand and I was expecting it to be frigid but, mercifully, it was not. In fact, we had some really beautiful days though one morning we had minor rain.
Dunedin with about 130,000 inhabitants is quite a pleasant town to explore. It has Scottish roots but, never having been to Scotland, they were not as easy for me to identify. However, I enjoyed the town as it was quite walkable – except for the steep hills! Dunedin sits by the water but it is surrounded by hills. The city’s area includes the slopes of these hills where many neighborhoods are located. It is a nice drive to go up to higher ground and see the old houses as the road curves along, while looking down on the city. But having walked a few of these streets, I can certify they are steep! In fact, Dunedin does lay claim to the steepest street in the world and I am not surprised.
Not the steepest street I saw
The world’s steepest street
During my visit, I explored the Otago Museum right by the university. It is a very nice museum (and free to boot!). It is an excellent place to take the kids. http://www.otagomuseum.govt.nz/
I also took tours of the Cadbury factory (also good for the kids) where they kept giving us different chocolate bars along the way (not all were to my liking as they were mainly milk chocolate based and I am a dark chocolate fan) as they showed us how chocolate is made (very interesting) and of the Speight’s brewery (where, of course, we sampled their beer – very nice! sure, why not, also good for the kids! lol ).
Dunedin’s railway station is a piece of art onto itself, both the exterior and the interior, and a must-see if you visit.
Finally, the main street itself has a good number of places to eat as well as places to shop so walking it up and down a couple of time is certainly worth it.
I found Dunedin to be quite charming and the people friendly. I am not sure how cold it gets in the winter being so far south but I counted my blessings of not finding out in person!
As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand. These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye. I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious… Hope no one takes offense!
- I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip. After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see? Krispy Kreme. Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut. And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
- Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike). I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag. But first, let me load up on caffeine! I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE! I did not know Aussies were so into coffee. Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner. Wow. That’s a serious devotion of coffee.
- So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around. I ask for a coffee. I get a blank stare. I repeat myself. The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears. I repeat my request “a coffee, please”. She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white. I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk. I say no I just want coffee. It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else. I get a blank stare. Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement. I succeed in getting black coffee. I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee. Only to discover it was horrible. And then it dawns on me: perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam. Got it. But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
- It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”. At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
- There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia. I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places. Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores. And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks? (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
- Air travel is a breeze here. Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand. Security doesn’t even require shoes off. My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines. Not here. Nada.
- Driving: in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad. No locations shall be named…
- The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce. I love these countries!
- More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides. Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere. It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)… Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch… I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”! Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).
Dunedin’s most famous street
- Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere. It felt like everything wanted to claim something. Best example: the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
- Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters! (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
- Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
- Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on. If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
- Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk. It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”): since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
- Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window. One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked. It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar. At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft… I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
- Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers. I loved that since it was very cold.
- Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket. Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
- Public restrooms in every town’s central area! And easy to find!
Do you share any of these random observations? Any others from your travels down under??
Besides flying into and out of the country and riding the TranzAlpine train, buses (or coaches) were my main mode of travel. I was surprised that trains were not talked about much in my readings about how to move about the country but it seems buses are the main way to get around (outside of driving).
Backtracking a little, I did not sign up for a standard guided tour but instead bought a package of transportation and accommodations based on the places I wanted to visit. The agency that helped me basically ensured the places were sequenced in a logical manner and handled the synchronization of schedules when connections were required or when special linkages to other events were needed. The package also included a couple of main attractions (like the ferry ride through Milford Sound). I really liked the idea of an independent tour, as they are called, since I wasn’t looking forward to the “confines” of a guided tour nor of driving around solo.
The “Bus/Coach Experience”
I was not sure what to expect from taking a bus around and in between towns. I was not expecting a regular public transportation bus (as I know them in the U.S. and Europe) but also was not expecting a major tour bus type. These inter city type of buses (InterCity seems to be the largest bus company around but there are others affiliated with tour companies) pretty much go everywhere and are fairly comfortable. Many will have a restroom (or “toilet”) on board and, if not, they will make frequent stops every couple of hours or so for nature breaks, food breaks, and even some photo opps. The drivers for these buses will even do some narration of what you are looking at or going through which was a very nice surprise so that you could understand better the land you are observing. Some of these drivers were a veritable fountain of facts and knowledge! The buses were also on time and some even picked you up/dropped you off at your hotel. In researching the options, there were buses that seemed to be focusing on college-aged tourists – I sensed as much and stayed away from those as I am well past that age. Make sure you understand the focus of any bus company you choose!
Following a Circuit
Another curious thing about doing an independent tour and using the bus system to get around in the south island is that, more likely than not, you are really following a circuit that goes something like this with variations possible: Christchurch, Greymouth, glaciers, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Dunedin, and back to Christchurch. Some of the variations include the Catlins, Invercargill, Stewart Island and a few other places at the very south and very north of the island. (I didn’t do the same type of travel in the north island so I am not as familiar with what a good circuit might be there.)
The neat thing for me was that I began to run into the same people at different stages of the circuit (people who were going counterclockwise on that circuit; the opposite direction is also possible!). Sometimes we would be in the same bus 2 or 3 places in a row. Sometimes we broke the sequence only to reconnect later in the trip. It took at least a couple of times of coinciding before really chatting them up. And I actually enjoyed running into the same people later in the trip. Grace from NJ, Chris from London, the Lees from Hong Kong, a couple from Delhi, etc. were some of those folks I ran into a few times. I also did meet other folks whom I only saw at one spot but got to chat or hang out (Ben from Tamworth and Ryan from Melbourne).
Finally, because of the various stops the buses make, you get to see a couple of smaller towns even if for a short 30 minute walk. We are talking small towns (the largest I reckon was about 4,000 people) so 30 minutes gets you at least a peek at the town center which is better than a drive-by. If you like seeing small towns, clearly driving around would be better as you can decide how long to stay somewhere but I enjoyed seeing places like Wanaka (on the shore of Lake Hawea and somewhere I would stay instead of Queenstown if I ever return!), and Hokitika near Greymouth.
So, among the various good ways to travel the country, the bus system gets a thumbs up. And you will never be a total stranger to everyone while going around NZ!
When I planned my trip, I decided based on my interests and what was on offer to spend more time in the south island than in the north island. However, this does not mean the north island lacks places to explore. I left the visit to the north island for the last 4 days of my month-long trip down under making Auckland my base and then traveling around the center of the island to visit places like the Waitomo glowworm caves (incredible!), Rotorua, Taupo, Huka Falls, and the geothermal fields. There was so much to see that even 2 days for these sites was a bit rushed.
I noticed a few differences between the two islands during my visit. Clearly, the north island is more densely populated (this does not mean it feels crowded) and there was more evidence of human presence along the roads traveled in that part of the north island whereas the south island felt more vast and empty. Also, the presence of the Maori culture was much more evident in the north island than it was in the parts of the south island that I visited. Finally, the north island also seems to have more going on in terms of volcanoes and geothermal activity but the south island has the more extreme mountain scenery (the Southern Alps, glaciers, fiords).
Meeting the Maori Culture for the First Time
One of the highlights for me of the north island was to get a small peek at Maori culture by visiting the Auckland Museum (highly recommend it) and one of the cultural visits in the Rotorua area. It was great to understand better the songs and dances of the Maori, including the scary “haka” that I was familiar with only through watching the All Blacks rugby team in action!
Sample Maori meeting hall – being greeted when we arrived
Maori dance performance
Hot Lava, Anyone?
Another highlight for me was visiting the geothermal fields and understanding why those fields exist and are so active – the area is a very “alive” volcanic area. I visited a few sites where I saw geysers and thermal pools. The Artists Palette and the Champagne Pool were my favorite among the various famous sites near Taupo. But everywhere you looked, you could see a column of steam coming off the ground, not only in the areas set up for visitors but just about anywhere you looked. I have never seen anything like that before! Of course, along with all this comes a strong “aroma” of sulphur.
One of the pools
Part of the Artists Palette pool
Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating too much so I did not get a good view of the lakes in the area. It rained a good bit the weekend I was in the north island so I am sure that kept me from enjoying some nice views.
In Auckland itself, I limited myself to the Auckland Museum and the Maritime Museum, and to do a very long walk around the central business district, Ponsonby (where I stayed) and “K” road (Karangahape is the proper name). While the central business district had some neat architecture that I assume is early 20th century, it was the districts of Parnell and Ponsonby that seemed to have more of the charming feel. I did not explore beyond this central core of the city so there is likely more than I got to see. For instance, the central business district waterfront area is only a fraction of the coastline that is available to the city, which is bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Tasman Sea.
Auckland definitely felt very different than everything else I had seen in NZ in the trip. It is the most populous city in NZ (around 1.3 million residents out of the 4.something in the entire country). By comparison, the next largest city I visited, Christchurch, has about 350,000 residents. After spending a week in the southern half of the south island, coming to Auckland required a bit of an adjustment!
Among the many things I did not see but heard were worth seeing were the Coromandel Peninsula, the city of Wellington, islands off Auckland like Waiheke, the areas on the north of the north island, etc. It seems, therefore, that I need to return to NZ to complete my visit
For some reason, fjords here in New Zealand are fiords. No time to google it. Just sharing… In any event, I left Queenstown early in the morning to see the wonderful site that is Milford Sound in the southwest corner of the south island of New Zealand. As the bird flies, this should have taken, I don’t know, an hour or two. However, there is no direct route so we had to drive all around the lake by Queenstown – a VERY long lake – and backtrack to get to Milford Sound. This took about 5 hrs or so (I am guesstimating, my memory begins to confuse the segments’ durations…). I wondered why they would not just build a more direct route since Queenstown is such a popular destination in NZ for skiing and adventure (the adventure capital of the world, or is it of the southern hemisphere??), and Milford Sound is high on the list of must-sees in NZ.
The Answer? (Or My Theory of It)
Well, the question answered itself along the way. The trek to get to Milford Sound is the most beautiful of all the road scenery I had seen in the trip. You are, the last part of the way, driving on a road flanked on either side by a mountain range with snow-capped peaks. But I am not talking about far in the distance you see some mountains. No, they are right next to you!
The drive, needless to say, was spectacular. We passed a few mountains (Mt. Christina which in my mind was spelled Mt. Cristina as it made me think of my cousins named Cristina, all 3 of them; and Mt. Talbott where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his eventual climb to Mt. Everest). Right by Mt. Talbott we entered a tunnel where ice stalactites had formed due to water seepage and some of these would fall on the roof of the bus as we passed – quite loud and it took us all by surprise!
The well-named Mirror Lake
The zone was beginning to show the effects of the arrival of winter. The contrast between how the zone looks in winter vs. how it looks in summer must be incredible to see. (Mental note: I need to go back in late spring or summer.)
During this drive, we passed the divide of the south island and the vegetation clearly became more rainforest-like as we went west over the divide. It was neat to see the contrast.
One interesting note is that, in this area, tree avalanches are possible. The trees along these mountains can’t develop a root system (if I recall correctly) that goes deep enough onto the mountain sides so the trees’ roots intermingle not only underground but above ground. If a tree dies, the overall root system weakens. With enough of this and high winds and entire group of trees can fall and it becomes a cascade of trees all the way down from wherever the avalanche started. We saw a couple of such avalanche sites and basically you can see, just like with a mudslide, the entire section where the trees rolled down. We were told one time it took 2 weeks to re-open the road below!
Milford Sound is a fiord that takes about 45 minutes to traverse in one direction until it hits the open seas (this would depend on boat speed). One can go in one of the boats that take tourists or kayak some of the way. The former was the way I did it and I enjoyed taking in the views, seeing the waterfalls that dot the very vertical faces of the mountains along the fiord (I still want to spell it fjord; Norway on my mind?). The Mitre mountain is the one typically shown on pictures of Milford Sound. It is called “Mitre” because it resembles the hat of the same name worn by bishops/cardinals. Unlike some fiords elsewhere, these are part of a national park and there is no development or habitants in the fiord.
Heading out on the boat
Along the cruise we took, we saw seals and dolphins, the latter quite playful, following the boat, turning on the side as they swam with us, etc. The place had a peacefulness to it that made me want to kayak it on my own, just looking around and enjoying this wonderful corner of earth called Fiordland.
The playful dolphins of the sound
Milford Sound, as far as I understand, is just one corner of the Fiordland region. Now I want to come back and spend the same amount of time I spent in the south island in the Fiorland region! So much to see and do, so little time…
Queenstown’s claim to fame, perhaps among others, is that bungy jumping was invented not far from the town. By now, taller and scarier jumps have been created in Queenstown and elsewhere but that original bungy jump exists in the same bridge.
Now, I am not sure if Queenstown is indeed the adventure capital of the world. For instance, I thought me eating guinea pig in Lima would make Lima the adventure capital of the world, for me at least. But there is definitely plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities all around town as well as the more traditional and sensible activities of skiing and snowboarding. I heard people talking about the different things they did while there an dhow much they paid and I concluded (not rocket science!) that the reputation of the city as adventure capital certainly helps the city with revenues as these adventures are not cheap!
I arrived in Queenstown at the start of the winter season after crossing a good but of the west coast of the south island from Franz Josef. It was a beautiful drive with the only issues being some black ice once we left the coastline and headed inland – it was cold!!! The west coast is less populated than the east coast of the south island and it showed. Very few towns, very small if they existed.
Queenstown seemed like a metropolis after my passing through Greymouth, staying at Franz Josef, and seeing the small towns along the west coast. We did pass some inland towns that were a little more substantial with Wanaka being one of the nicest ones (on the shores of Lake Wanaka). It seems to attract similar type of tourists as Queenstown for skiing and other activities but it is smaller and retains a smaller town feel to it. I would not have minded staying there and exploring… Anyhow, back to telling you about Queenstown. It was littered with skiers and snowboarders and all the types of businesses that cater to this crowd (average age must have been 20!). I could have been anywhere in ski country USA – the town had that type of feel to it. My motel was a walk away from the center of town but was very adequate and the staff was great. As far as places to eat, I was surprised at how good a semi-hidden joint on The Mall was. Its name was Chico’s Bar and Grille and the beef and venison pie was simlpy outstanding! The Peregrine Saddleback pinot noir was a nice wine to drink with it.
A view from a square by the lake
So what adventurous activity did I undertake? Well, all the hiking in Tasmania and at the glacier ruined my left knee to the point that days later even walking hurt. So I had to drop my plans to ski at one of the two main sites (Coronet Peak or The Remarkables). I was bummed. I considered white water rafting but even with a wet suit, I could not stomach the thought of the frigid waters. It was frigid just walking around – I had not appetite for trying the waters! I could not just sit around all afternoon so I opted for a float and a massage. Not adventurous? Well, the float thing was new to me and it required getting into this sort of enclosed tank and laying there on very salty water floating in the dark for 30 mins. That was adventurous to me!
I also got to go up the mountain right above town using a gondola for some excellent views of the town, of The Remarkables, and mountains beyond. I do not know if the skiing is worth the trip down under but certainly viewing The Remarkables made me want to come back and get a shot at their slopes!
The Remarkables range (and an adventurer; I’m very proud of this pic!)
The village of Franz Josef on the west coast of the southern island of New Zealand (whew, that’s a long “address” to give for a village) exists to share the Franz Josef glacier with those who want to see it. This glacier and neighboring Fox glacier are 2 out of 3 glaciers in the world that end in a rainforest and miss getting directly to the ocean by not much!
Now, there are numerous ways to explore the glacier: short walks, half-day or full day hikes, heli-hikes, flyovers and perhaps more that I do not know about. I decided that due to sore knees from earlier hikes that I should not do the full day hike. But then the helicopter ride tempted me as we would start further up the glacier plus we would do all the hiking on the glacier instead of part of it being on normal ground to get to the glacier. I am always up for such a shortcut when the tradeoff is like this!
The helicopter flight up took less than 10 mins. I could not tell you how long it took as I was to busy looking out and snapping pictures. He did fly us to the top before coming back down a bit to drop us off. In that last segment, the pilot did a nice maneuver where we were almost on our side. Nice surprise…
Approaching the glacier
The amount of ice is unbelievable and we didn’t really get to see the top field of the glacier which must be quite expansive (and deep!). We landed – it seems – like 2/3 of the way up the face of the glacier. A guide had been dropped off earlier to scout the terrain that day (since the glacier moves, etc. they cannot just assume the same area will work from one day to the next) and set up the landing spot for the copter. Once we landed, he quickly explained a few things to us (like how to use the crampons on our boots to better get a grip on the ice as we walked). We quickly got the groove of it and began exploring. The guide would check out the area he wanted to take us through and then we would follow. Like this, we explored crevasses, mini-caves and open spaces. The most exhilarating thing was getting deep into a crevasse or mini-cave and be surrounded by beautiful blue ice. Of course, you always had to be mindful of the floor of crevasses and mini-caves as they could be at any moment just a thin layer of ice and your foot would just go right through to freezing water underneath! That happened to a couple of folks in the group. Another solo traveler and I quickly clued in that it would be best if we traded cameras during the hike to snap pix of each other instead of constantly having to ask each other or others “can you take my picture?” He did a great job of snapping pix away of me with my camera so I have a nice set of pix of me in all sorts of tight spots, etc.!
The guide leading the pack
After 2 hours, the helicopter came back for us and took a more direct route down than he took up. A fellow traveler and I went to grab lunch and celebrate with a beer. Later that evening, New Zealand was going to be playing a match of rubgy against France so we met up again at one of the few pubs/restaurants in the village to watch with the rest of the visitors. The place was The Landing and we enjoyed the setup and the friendliness of the wait staff.
I was told that during summer, during peak tourist season, the village can get up to 3,000 visitors in one day. In winter, the numbers are much lower but I was surprised still at the amount of visitors. I think that the place is likely just as beautiful in the winter (though colder). It was not really terribly cold, in fact, we had lunch outdoors that day with no heaters (but still wearing our jackets). In the evening, it definitely got cold!
There are lots of options when visiting this glacier, or Fox glacier, on what to do. Cost can be a key factor in choosing the activity but, if you can afford it, by all means do the heli-hike! You will not regret this way of experiencing nature and the beauty of glacier country in New Zealand!
In order to get to the village near the Franz Josef glacier on the west coast of NZ, I had to take a train across the mountains in the center of island (which are called unofficially the southern Alps, hence the train is called the Tranz Alpine train).
This train cuts through the plains of Canterbury where Christchurch is on the eastern side of the southern island and then climbs up to Arthur’s Pass before beginning the descent towards Greymouth, a small town on the western coast where I connected to a bus that would then drive me south to Franz Josef village.
View of the Canterbury terrain
The views were spectacular along the route. The train had a viewing platform from which one could take pictures without the glare of the train window – but only if one was willing to freeze in the cold wind that hit the platform.
Western side of the island from the train (after crossing the Southern Alps)
The train ride was very comfortable and made a stop or two where we were allowed to get out and stretch our legs. The train ride took about 4.5 hours.
The bus ride was also very interesting. Bus rides here include the driver providing commentary that is quite good for a tourist. The bus also makes several stops along the way not just to pick passengers but at some scenic spots for pictures or to take in the view. It also makes one or two stops depending on the route and duration for people to eat something or go to the local supermarket. This made the trip quite comfortable as one always had access to food and restrooms! These, I learned on my next trip in the southern island, were typical of bus rides not just the one from Greymouth to Franz Josef.
I may become redundant at some point but the beauty of the land is incredible. I have been to many places I have liked and it continues to amaze me how many types of natural beauty there are around the world. What strikes me about New Zealand’s west coast is how close the different types of terrain are. The alpine mountains and glaciers almost touch the ocean where rainforests dominate. It is like Switzerland by the ocean, sort of (the statement probably doesn’t do justice to NZ or Switzerland but it is the best I have come up with so far!).
There are so many awesome places in New Zealand but I feel Christchurch, though not one of the top 2 cities in NZ, may be the best place to hit first on a trip over.
I arrived in Christchurch on the eastern coast of the southern island of New Zealand (where Lord of the Rings was filmed; the lands in the movie were called “Middle Earth” for those who may not be familiar with the movie!). From the plane we flew over the southern Alps, as they are unofficially called. In this picture, we pass over the highest peaks and you can even see a glacier coming down. This is the view you want to see ahead of coming to NZ!
Glacier flowing to lower right corner of pic
It was around 230 PM and we were delayed getting off the plane because a passenger had flu-like symptoms. Nice. The health person from the airport had to board the plane and do some kind of test on the passenger before any of us could get off. I could not see exactly what he was doing but after a few minutes of whatever, we were allowed to get off the plane. The airport claims to be the “top carbon neutral airport company in the southern hemisphere” which I found amusing for a couple of reasons, one of which is the recurrent theme in Australia and NZ of claims about a place being the “—-est” (tallest, biggest, cleanest, etc.) in the “southern hemisphere”. Considering how little of the world is in the southern hemisphere, these claims almost seem too easy but, heck, someone’s got to make the claim!
Besides being carbon neutral, the airport is nice and small and it was very easy to just go to the bus stop and catch bus 29 intown. It dropped me off very close to my bed and breakfast but apparently I signaled “stop” one street too early so I walked an extra block. No worries, extra exercise. The streets were very pleasant and had the air of a place where people knew each other, where people felt safe, and where the pace was not too fast and not too slow – a great place to get to know NZ and, especially, the south island.
The Orari Bed and Breakfast was in an old house and was very nice. At 6 PM they cracked open some wine for the guests so I knew I had ample time to walk around before sunset (around 430 PM) and be back to shower, unpack and get some wine. The room was frigid when I got there though they had turned on the standing heating unit probably just before I arrived. I thought I would freeze that night but the standing units (there was another one) and the heating blanket worked really well. In fact, all too well, I was burning up in the middle of the night and had to turn off the heating blanket! It was the first time I had used one… I was very glad with my choice of place to stay due to a great location next to an art museum but otherwise not in the middle of things, yet a short walk away from places to eat, the city center, etc. Oh, and the staff is great! It definitely made me feel Christchurch and NZ was putting its best foot forward to welcome me.
The town of Christchurch is called the garden city and I would agree with that although it was the beginning of winter. The “suburbs” were very nice but also the areas closer to the city center. The city center itself was manageable and with some key sights to check out.
The ill-fated cathedral, fatally damaged in the earthquake and now being rebuilt
A friendly game of chess in the main square
Near the main square
New Regent St. in Christchurch – seriously damaged during the earthquake
I strolled down Oxford Terrace by the small river that cuts through the town as there were a lot of restaurants/cafes/pubs along the street and I wanted to scope out where I would have dinner later that night. I settled for a place called Sticky Fingers where I later got to enjoy a very nice Sauvignon Blanc for Marlborough called Cloudy Bay. The place has a nice smart and modern ambiance. The seating areas was very comfy and next to but separate enough from the bar area. The food was good but I would not say stellar. Other restaurants in the strip that caught my attention were Ferment and Liquidity.
My visit in Christchurch was short and I am going back at the end of my tour of the southern island so I should get to sample another restaurant and sip on the wine at Orari. The tempo of the city and its charm served as a great welcome mat for this first time visitor to the magical place that is New Zealand.
(Pictures taken with Canon EOS Rebel)