Tuesday, January 27, 2009

South Island--East Coast

January 27, 2009—On January 19 our Bluebridge Ferry pulled into Picton at 11:18 a.m. We made a quick stop for gas and then drove south to Blenheim. The main business in this area is wineries, and the vineyards go on for miles. Makana Confectioners is also located here, and it was all that we could do to get past its shop with its wonderful Toffee, Chocolate, and Macadamia Nut bars—they are to die for. Brie and Tim introduced us them when we were in Kerikeri, and we loved them just a little too much. We succeeded in getting through town without stopping and continued south down the eastern coast.

The mountains were rocky and barren with minimal foliage; however, about half way to Christchurch the highway began to run along the coast. This gave us the prettiest scenery on this portion of the drive. At one point we pulled off the road to check out the beach. Steve walked out onto a large group of rocks while Zelda walked on the beach. She was walking along looking at the ground when suddenly she was just a few feet away from a seal that was sunning itself on a large rock. She jumped back a bit, but the seal did not seem too upset about being disturbed, and I was even able to get quite close to get a picture.

We continued driving along the coast going through towns such as Kaikoura, Cheviot, and Kaiapoi. These communities are summer resort areas, and they were all packed with people on holiday. We arrived at Christchurch around 4 o’clock and found Mount Pleasant Homestay where we met the host Jan Nielson and received a very warm welcome. Her home is located on the hill overlooking the bay, and we had wonderful accommodations—two rooms with separate baths and a family room with a kitchenette. Jan shared with us a wealth of information about the area and also served us wonderful breakfasts of fresh fruit, yogurt, croissants, cereal, juice, and coffee. Her loving dog Molly put the finishing touches on a perfect stay.

We cleaned up and went to dinner at the Thirsty Mariners Pub where we all enjoyed Butter Chicken Curry, which was delicious. On Tuesday we decided to take a drive up into the mountains to Arthur’s Pass, and this trip took us by miles of farmland and fields filled with sheep and then up into higher mountains. There was an area of large limestone boulders that covered one hill, so we stopped and took a walk to get a closer look and take some pictures. It was quite interesting.

We stopped at a campground for lunch and then continued on our way. The road became steeper as we began to climb higher. We were now driving beside the Waimakiriri River, which has a very wide riverbed. It appeared that during the spring runoff, the river could become quite large. It wasn’t long before we reached Arthur’s Pass where we stopped to take a picture of the sign to show that we made it. A family named Arthur pulled along side us and got out of their car to take a picture, so Steve offered to take their picture with the sign. We realized only later that we got a picture of the sign but no pictures of us with it. Oh well.

We returned in the afternoon and decided to go to downtown Christchurch. Christchurch Cathedral, consecrated in 1881, is a spectacular church that is open to the public. It has an impressive rose window, wooden-ribbed ceiling, and tile work emblazoned with the distinctive Fylfot Cross. We also rode the cable car tram for a tour of downtown where we went by the former Canterbury College that is now the Arts Centre. This was the filming location for Harry Potter’s school in the movie. Dinner that evening was at the Speight’s Brewery where Zelda and I enjoyed chicken Caesar salads, and Steve had monk fish over risotto.

The next day we were off to the east to see Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The beautiful drive down the spine of the peninsula was the highlight of the day. The road was steep, narrow, and winding for miles with no, at least none that we can remember, guard rails along the way.

In 1838 whaling captain Jean Langlois purchased the Banks Peninsula from local Maoris and then returned to France to form a trading company. With the government of France backing him, 63 settlers headed for the peninsula in 1840. However, only days before they arrived, panicked British officials sent their own warship to raise the flag at Akaroa, claiming British sovereignty. Had the French arrived two years earlier, the South Island may well have become a French colony.

We made a stop at the Barrys Bay Cheese Factory and purchased some delicious cumin Gouda and some Masdam, which tastes very much like Swiss cheese. When we arrived, it was lunch time, so we enjoyed lunch at a small café located on Akaroa Harbor and then did a little shopping in the local gift shops along the waterfront. The French influence was evident in the street names and much of the architecture, and it was a lovely and quaint little town.

On the morning of the 22nd, we said goodbye to Jan and Molly and left Christchurch headed south on Highway 1. Most of this trip was driving more inland through farmland. Sheep are everywhere here with cattle coming in a close second.

We arrived in Dunedin around 3 o’clock and checked into the Aberdeen Motel. After getting things put away, we decided that we would go tour Larnach Castle. This castle was built by William Larnach beginning in 1871, and it was finished three years later. The castle was bought in 1967, and a large restoration project began. The views from the top of the castle were breathtaking, but I imagine that they were even better in the 1870s before the large city and commercial properties along the shore were there. The thing that amazed me was that, while the castle looked large from the outside, the rooms inside were quite small. The furniture (beds, chairs, etc.) was all quite small as well. Unfortunately, the story is a sad one as his first two of three wives died, and he eventually committed suicide in 1898.

After the castle tour we were hungry so we decided to go downtown to get some dinner and stopped at the Reef Restaurant. Zelda and I split a delicious flounder meal while Steve enjoyed their seafood chowder. While we were walking back to the car, we passed a lovely old church and took some pictures. That then led us to the First Church of Otago—a stunning old church built in 1848. From there we went to the Railway Station, designed in Flemmish Renaissance style and built between 1873 and 1906. The building is listed as one of the top 200 places in the world to see, and we absolutely loved it. We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Dunedin and wished that we had more time here but tomorrow it is off to Te Anau.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Traveling South

January 24, 2009--On January 17 we began our trip down to the South Island. Our first day took us along the east coast just south of Whangarei and then past Auckland. The landscape was similar to what we had seen up north. About an hour out of Auckland the traffic began to get heavier and slower, so we were more than happy when we got through this big city.

We continued on down Highway 1 to Rotorua, and we pushed hard to arrive by three in the afternoon. We checked into our room at the Ventura Motel and relaxed for awhile. We then went to have dinner at the Pig & Whistle Pub just a few streets away where we had excellent meals of Thai Beef salad and fish and chips. Steve, of course, enjoyed a Speight’s Old Dark, which he said was excellent. Rotorua is known for its volcanic mud baths, which means that the town smells like sulfur and right at the outskirts of town you can see steaming geothermal vents.

The next morning about 30 minutes south of Rotorua, we stopped at Waimangu Volcanic Valley where we took a two-hour walk down and around a steaming lake, sulfur terraces, rare geothermal plants, and a bubbling “Inferno Crater.” Unfortunately, it was lightly raining the whole time, but we still enjoyed the tour very much. We continued south through Taupo, a lovely resort community, where there is a beautiful lake. After that, we drove past Tonariro National Park, which contains three large mountains that were, unfortunately, shrouded in clouds when we drove by.

We arrived in Wellington—the capital of New Zealand—and stayed in a hotel in the downtown area. We had reservations for the ferry across to the South Island early the next morning, so it was a very convenient location. Our room was on the ninth floor of the hotel, and we were amazed by how hard the wind was blowing--it was rattling the windows! The next morning the paper reported that the winds had been gale force (60 knots) and Cook Strait had been pretty rough.

The ferry trip across Cook Strait takes about three hours. We checked in at 7 a.m., and while we waited, we decided to run across the street to the Railway Station to grab a quick cup of coffee. Boy what a treat that was--the station was a wonderful building both inside and out. We returned and the staff was ready to load the cars so we pulled in and left the car for the comfort of the ship. We located the cafe and enjoyed a nice breakfast. We then went out on deck in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery of both the south end of the North Island and the north end of the South Island. Luckily, the weather had calmed down, and we had a smooth crossing with partly cloudy skies and light winds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tour of the North Island

January 19, 2009—We arrived back in Whangarei on January 7 and took a day to catch up on our sleep after a 12-hour return flight. Steve’s mom Zelda returned with us to spend a month in New Zealand, and our daughter Brie and her husband Tim arrived on January 8 after spending some time in Sydney, Australia, and Blenheim on the South Island.

After a relaxing for a day in Whangarei, eating lunch at Whangarei Falls, taking a short hike, and doing some touring around town, we headed north to Kerikeri on January 10. We drove along the coast enjoying the beautiful scenery and stopped for lunch in Pahia, which is a summer resort community.

When we arrived in Kerikeri, we checked in at our motel where we had a lovely cottage set in sub-tropical gardens. We then left to visit a chocolate factory (wonderful!) and enjoy a shop displaying wooden objects made of beautiful Kauri wood. The next day we shopped at the local growers’ market, toured the Stone Store that was built in the 1830’s and is the oldest stone building in New Zealand, and as we left Kerikeri, we stopped at Rainbow Falls for a picnic lunch.

We continued up the coast to Kaitaia where we went on a tour of the North Cape the next day. Our guide Selwyn was very entertaining and informative and gave us a full history of the area. The drive up the peninsula was very beautiful, and when we arrived at Cape Reinga, we all made the long walk down to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is still in use, and directly below it is where the waters of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Still visible on the very tip of Cape Reinga is the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree whose roots hide the entrance to the mythical Maori Underworld. This is the point where the Maori believe the spirits of the dead depart the earth.

After we left the Cape, we went to the Te Paki sand dunes where people could slide down the dunes using a sled, and then the bus then took us out on 90-mile Beach. We drove for quite awhile on the beach and stopped at one point to dig up some tuituis or clams. Steve, of course, came back with a bag full of them. When we returned to our motel room, we immediately steamed the clams and ate them—they were delicious!

On Tuesday, January 13, we left Kaitaia and drove down the northwestern side of the island. The scenery continued to be beautiful with green, rolling hills. We had to cross the Waihou River by ferry, and then we continued on and arrived in Omapere in the early afternoon. We stayed at the Harborside Bed and Breakfast, which was located on beautiful Hokianga Bay and the views were spectacular. Joy and Garth made us feel right at home.

On Wednesday we returned to Whangarei, stopping along the way to see the Tane Mahuta or “Giant Kauri” in the Kaury Forest on the way. The tree was approximately 150 feet tall, and it was amazing. We arrived back in Whangarei just in time to take Brie and Tim to do some shopping.

Thursday morning we enjoyed breakfast, and afterward Steve, Tim, and Brie took off for a hike up to Whangarei Falls. Zelda and I met them around one o’clock for some lunch, and then we (except for Zelda) used a rope swing to swing out over the water and go for a swim in the upper pond. We then walked down to the pool at the bottom of the falls and swam (in very cold water) in that pool. Steve, Tim, and Brie even swam under the waterfall.

The next day was a relaxing one that included a great lunch at the Thai restaurant in town. We took Brie and Tim to the airport around 5 o’clock and said our goodbyes. It was great fun to have them visit, and we thoroughly enjoyed having them spend time with us.

Next we are off to the South Island, but I will leave that for the next blog.