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New Zealand

JANUARY 2007- In The Land of the Long White Cloud - part II

Train hopping and whale watching on the South Island -part II without Nick

sunny 27 °C
View Train Hopping on the South Island & Seoul to New Zealand on Bulls's travel map.


Maja and I had another 8 days or so left and having spent the last week travelling around the southern tip and the central part of the North Island we decided to give the South Island a once-over- well not quite...

We crossed Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton on the ferry and hopped on TranzCoastal train that took us through the farmfields and vineyards and along the coast to Kaikoura - known as the whales' favourite hangout with a food rich trench that lies just few kilometres away from its shores.

We arrived in the early afternoon, dropped our bags and headed to the sea. As the motel we stayed in was just across the road from the beach, that was exactly where you could find us few minutes after and pretty much until the evening (except for a stroll to the internet cafe and the local shops for some food):

Next morning we got up early, picked up our bags and aimed for The Whale Watch Station hoping to be able to say that we'd seen a whale just a few hours after.
The weather was perfect and all looked promising!


The Kaikoura Whale Watch station is a very well organised place, with informative films preparig you for the adventure ahead and a great choice of souvenirs -we opted for a book and a t-shirt for Maja which she keenly wore for her first encounter with the real thing!


Shortly we got on the boat and were cutting the waves in search of the beautiful giant.The "state of the art" boat had all that's needed on board with a huge screeen inside explaining just about everything about the place, why it is so popular amongst the whales, dolphins and other sea creatures. It also went into details about the whales and their habits.


Once we reached the appropriate depths, the search began and our eyes sparkled with even more excitement and anticipation.We didn't have to wait long until we could see something long, black and shiney floating on the surface. As we came closer it was clear this was a whale getting ready for his/hers next immersion and so the buzz kicked in and the camera flashes went off.
It wasn't that easy for me as I had to look after our camera as well as keep tabs on Maja curiously hanging over the rail. At the end I managed to take some snaps as well as catch a glimpse of the whale not only through the camera lenses.

Here is some whale action for you:


Maja seemed a bit confused at first as I think she was expecting the whole whale just cruising on the sea surface with the fountain on the top of its head spraying the water around. It took me some time to persuade her that what we were all watching was in fact - the whale!

She didn't have any doubts about the playful dolphins though and wanted to join them in the water for a splash and a quick chatter!Next time Maja!

After that we boarded the train and carried on along the coast to Christchurch.
Apart from admiring the views I manage to have a read while Maja had a little snooze and dreamt about the new friends she had met earlier -the whales and the whale of a time we'd had.


Forgot to mention about the train itself. It was a slow old fashioned type of train but with comfortable seats, large panoramic windows,a little table and plenty of legroom.There was an open air carriage with no windows on the sides for viewing and photographing and a buffet carriage serving all sorts of drinks and snacks. There was also a little but interesting commentary throughout the journey.
After the succesfull morning with the whales and a very relaxing journey still along the coast,we arrived in Christchurch in the evening and decided to have a wander around the city centre while looking for a place to eat.
We found that our motel was a little bit further out from the centre then promised on the website but having accumulated some energy while sitting on the train we didn't mind the walk. We only had this and another evening in Christchurch so had to try to see as much as we could although pretty much in the dark.

My impressions of Christchurch were exactly as described in one of the books I had read about NZ -"a transplant from England" and "the most English city outside of England",with many notable buildings and monuments that recall its colonial heritage as well as parks and gardens.
We headed straight to the heart of the city -The Cathedral Square with its famous cathedral which we could only view from the outside as it was being restored.
We settled for a while in the restaurant by the square and watched the Christchurch life go by. Although it was the heart of the city with few reastaurants, bars, a hotel and a backpackers next to it, it seemed pretty quiet with few people passing by and an old fashioned tram circling around which I promised Maja to go on on our way back.Nice way to end the day!

Next day -we had an early morning again, caught a taxi to the train station to embark on yet another train -exactly the same as TranzCoastal one with the difference in name TranzAlpine and the route it was taking. Having come from North to South Island, this time we were to travel across the island on what is known to be one of the most scenic train journeys in the world!


The passage is 223 kms long and it took 4 and a half hours to get from the east coast to the west coast. .At first the train led us through the patchworks of fields and farmlands of Canterbury Plains and gorges and river valleys of Waimakariri River to climb into The Southern Alps with a brief stop at the highest point enroute -The Arthur Pass resting 737 metres above the sea level and finally descent through the lush and rainforest.


Although it was a summer season and the mountains tops looked grey opposite to snowcapped as seen during the winter season, it was still a great journey! The scenery managed to take our breath away as we sat glued to the windows for nearly the entire journey. There were other attractions on the way, we dived in a few tunnels , went over high viaducts and passed by coalmines with the early mining settlements looking now more like ghost towns.

We arrived in Greymouth-the largest town on the West Coast but how different to Christchurch on the other side. I must admit I didn't like it very much. Although it is by the coast it is in fact located by the Grey (!!!!) river leading to the sea which makes it a bit tricky to get to see it. As the weather wasn't great we set for a little walk around the town but except for Honda dealership, a supermarket, a warehouse and a church it didn't have anything special on offer. One of the museums there is was closed but we managed to visit an art gallery with an exhibition of the local art at the shooting prices! I think we would have much nicer memories if the weather was better and we had a car to move around.


Greymouth was the furthest south spot we got to on our journey. Knowing that just a couple of hours away were the gems of the South Island -Mount Cook with the highest mountain in NZ, Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and more -made us wish we had more time to explore it properly. As we were due to be back on the train midday next day, we only managed to take a taxi (there was no train or bus available at the early hours in the morning) to Punakaiki -a small coastal settlement famous for the Pancake Rocks and blowholes located nearby.

Although it was a flying visit it was well worth it to experience what miracles nature is capable of creating itself. We loved it!


Shortly after that we were dropped at the station to take a train back to Christchurch. I was hoping to take more photos on the way back as hadn't really taken any on the way there but the weather was pretty bad so we stayed inside the carriage most of the way reading, colouring and chatting. Maja was still buzzying with excitement and bursting with energy but managed to sit in one spot colouring and making up stories. She had not only entertained herself and me but the whole carriage and people kept coming up to me praising her for both her good behaviour and creative imagination. I must say it again -she had made a great travel companion and made sure we had never wasted a minute for doing nothing -every minute of the journey had been filled with some sort of action or words!

Back in Christchurch, we went to the cathedral square for a ride on the old restored tram. It wasn't a very long route just aroud the square with a driver indicating different sights and points of interest etc. Maja loved it especially when she was invited to sit in front of the train and pull the old fashioned gong bell.
Not long after we went back to the motel and went to sleep. Next morning we continued our journey on the train to Picton and got a ferry to Welligton where Phil was awaiting us to take us to their new stunning home!

We stayed 2 more days in Wellington I think and just chilled out (as if we were doing anything else for the past 2 weeks anyway) with our friends. We went to visit the local Zoo with the kids and spent some time on the beach and a cafe in Scorching Bay (where the Lord of the Rings cast and crew used to hang out while being over in NZ doing the film).


On our last day Monika and Ralph drove down and we all cruised off the Wellington Harbour to one of the surrounding bays although I am not sure which one it was -I think it was Oriental Bay but it could have been any other.
We had another very productive day of sitting in the park tucking into some delicious cakes and washing it off with coffee and just relaxing on the beach making the most of our loosey goosey times together.


On the way back Maja and Henri kept poking into the captain's cockpit until he gave up and invited them to sit in and "steer" the boat back to the port.


We had an AWESOME holiday in New Zealand and no wonder that more and more people choose it as a place to live. It is a beautiful country with most attractions still made by nature that keep the tourists coming and locals beaming. It was a constant feast for our eyes as well as our lungs. We didn't have to travel very far to come across beautiful not necessarily any extraordinary views and breathe the fresh air.
It proves again that the simplest are the most important and beautiful things in life!!!

And I am glad to say that we haven't even made it to the best spots on NZ visitors' list - the very top of North Island and the very bottom one of South Island...which gives us a prefect excuse to come back again!

I just hope not to leave it for too long...


Next time we hope to see and learn a bit more about Maori heritage as this time we only saw recently made carvings in the rock while cruising on the boat around the lake:


Until next time!

Posted by Bulls 12:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

JANUARY 2007- In The Land of the Long White Cloud -part I

A rather detailed rundown of our New Zealand adventure- part I with Nick

sunny 25 °C
View Wellington to Monika and Ralp's Farm & Wellington to Lake Taupo & Seoul to New Zealand on Bulls's travel map.

In the middle of Korean winter chills we only had to fly 10016 kms south east off Korea to find the welcoming sunshine of New Zealand

We were not up early enough to enjoy the sunrise -New Zealand claims to be the first country in the world to not only give women the right to vote (pretty amazing achievement considering it was the last country in the world to be settled) but also to see the sun rise- but man we enjoyed its sunsets!
Here is one seen while on Monika's and Ralph's farm -buggers they have it pretty much every night and probably wonder why the photo of this probably an average one, found its place on our blog.


So far this trip has been a highlight (at least for me) of our year away from home.
We got to swap the snowless winter for the sunhine and summer, the grey and noisy hubbub of the city for a break on the far away and isolated island hopping between the lavish greenery of farm lands and the dramatic settings of the mountains:
cruising (and more!) on the silvery and pink glitters of lakes and meandering amongst the spectacular and in places very smelly thermal theatre displays:

enjoying unspoilt and suprisingly unpeopled beaches:


and meeting some of the most beautiful creatures there are on Earth- such as whales, seals, dolphins, albatroses

and of course ....OUR FRIENDS !!!!!...


...all going about their days in their own natural enviroment or as it goes for our friends -in a very cosy, beautiful, somehow contemporary (no I did not use the wrong word here) country cottage on a secluded sheep farm and a few storeys house sitting on the hill with a spiral staircase (dream of mine) overlooking the most serene and content country capital I've so far experienced -Wellington.

But let's start from the beginning.
The same as we couldn't wait to get on the plane, we also couldn't wait to get off it. We had 2 extra legs on our journey Auckland to Christchurch and Christchurch to Wellington that were not showing on our tickets or itinerary and were not previously mentioned by our travel agent. NZ_-Maja_o.._posing.jpgExcept for a fright that we might have got on a totally wrong plane (being heads in clouds on that day we felt like we've been just cruising at the airport from the check-in through the passport control to the departure point without controlling anything ourselves, totally relying on other people and knowing by now that stupid mistakes like that could easily happen in Korea although we would only have ourselves to blame)and a bit of inconvenience with getting off and on the plane twice more then expected, we didn't mind it that much -Maja kept herself entertained in various possible ways while we enjoyed the diverse views of New Zealand's both islands.View_from_..aranaki.jpg

***In WELLINGTON with Elisabeth, Phil and Henri***

Once on land in Wellington, it took us a few minutes to collect our luggage and go through the customs. It was so fast and easy that we wouldn't have realised we were at the exit if it wasn't for our friends - Phil (senior) and Henri (junior)standing there and waiting for us -both as laid back as it gets, wearing shorts, T-shirts, jandals (never thought there was another word for flip flops), healthy tans and carefree smiles. It was so good to see them! Maja and Henri were playing shy at first but they quickly checked one another out and were up to their old tricks of running, screaming and talking in their "galla galla" language!

Although we were still at the airport we felt like we landed at the gates of paradise somehow 10 kilos lighter and 10 years younger. The place was filled with light, colour, buzz and smiling people -it might sound really naf but it felt the opposite to where we just came from -perfect holiday place!

It was a short drive from the airport to Elisabeth and Phil's place where we stayed
for a few days as well as in between other trips. Driving through the outskirts of New Zealand's capital city -although the word city somehow doesn't agree with me here, it felt like we were in some small holiday town by the coast. It looked perfect with its beautiful clear blue skies and green hills embracing the harbour. Known also as New Zealand's cultural capital, conveniently located sort of in the middle of the country( at the bottom of the North Island) and being now a home town to Elisabeth, Phil and Henri it served as a great place to hang around as well as a "hop off" point for our "tours".
It was good to see our friends settled in and looking so well and happy. Although they were pretty busy themselves -Phil was working, Henri was going to school and Elisabeth was pregnant, they looked after us so well and managed to organise their time so we could spend quite a bit of it together! THANK YOU GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!

It was also Maja's 4th birthday and what a treat she was in for! She had her b'day breakfast in the company of her kindergarden sweetheart Henri!Majas_bday_breakfast.jpg
There also happened to be a music festival in Wellington's botanical gardens on this day so we went along for a picnic with some pizza, wine and of course a birthday cake for Maja (again thanks Elisabeth!):

The next day we went to explore Wellington's picturesque harbour:

and visited a nearby Museum of New Zealand TE PAPA TONGAREWA to find out a bit more about the country's history, its natural enviroment and Maori's heritage. It is well worth a visit, full of interesting information and hands-on activities for kids. Sorry didn't take any good snaps.
Afterwards we treated ourselves to a lovely lunch of fish and chips and Elisabeth took the kids for some ice cream while we had a little time to ourselves and wandered back from the harbour through the town centre.
I remember loving it. It seemed very compact and easy to find your way around.
With few modern and higher then the average here buildings in the centre, through the streets lined up with a variety of commercial buildings and as we were walking away from the city -charming wooden and old looking cottages and stunning suburban hillside villas. The town gave off mixed (but always positive) vibes -it felt lazy or laid back and in the same time stimulating, old fashioned (vintage shops) and chic and happening(contemporary museum buildings, art galleries and cool looking , windows free bars filled with colorful people and laughter). It felt friendly,leisurely and so easy going if this can be used to describe a place. I think I could easily live there! Never mind the winds...

***On the farm and around with Monika, Ralph and the sheep***

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

After a couple of relaxing days in Wellington, we went to visit our friends Monika and Ralph, who lived on a farm (also called station) near Martinborough, north of Wellington and "on the other side of the mountain" -about an hour and a half drive. We decided to go in the car that Elisabeth and Phil kindly lent us. The drive was fantastic through the "proper" mountain range with spectacular often dramatic views of the mountains and trees that seemed to be shaped as if bent by the wind and frozen in time. Once we got to the other side, the landscape had completely changed. We arrived at Martinborough Hotel where Monika had already been waiting for us for a while as we were running a bit late. Sorry mate!


It was so good to see her -the last time we saw Monika and Ralph was probably before they got married some .....years ago. She hasn't changed and looked really good! As it was still early in the day and Ralph was busy on the farm we decided to catch up a bit and stopped for a bite to eat and a drink in the restaurant at the hotel where Monika used to work. After that Monika gave us a drive guided tour of the area - we visited what Martinborough area is best known for -the vineyards
and drove to the farm.


What a place! The farm is situated amongst the hills but still close to the coast where we went for a walk....


....in the middle of nowhere or rather in the middle of the most green and scenic countryside I've ever been to. Once Ralph got back from work, he invited us for a look around the farm which turned into a spin on quad bikes.

The ride up steep in places hills was awesome. We managed to get to the highest point on the farm (or quite close to it I think) and enjoy a pretty good view - look for yourselves -it was absolutely stunning


After that we came home, had some dinner - home grown potatoes, salads, sheep and few drinks and did a bit of catching up. It is funny how it is with friendships -it did not matter that we haven't seen each other for ages -it was just good to spend time together,see that the others are doing great and are happy and talk about now and the future. We didn't dwell on the past as much as we used to (no Travelguide holidays ferry parties stories Monika -next time hey....)and having all sorts of responsibilities we didn't drink until the morning as we used to. Definetely make up for it when you come and visit us in London!

The next day we were in for yet another treat. Monika took us to see a seal colony. We drove for a while to get to the coast and there they were as close to us as we wanted them to, taking it easy, lazing about:


and posing for the camera!

It was wonderful and heartening to see them in action or totally out of it and to feel like this time we were the intruders invading their world (although we tried to keep the distance)! So much nicer than seeing seals in zoos swimming endlessly from one wall to another, diving through metal hoops or moving back and forth on swings in exchange for an old fish!

After that we climbed the 200 or something stairs( if my memory doesn't fail me here) and it wasn't just the climb that took our breath away. Look at these:


After chilling out a bit on the beach


and a lunch of fresh fish and chips and paua burgers, we went on another drive this time a mission to trace Peter Jackson's property that he had recently bought around the area. Nick who is a great fan of Lord of the Rings really wanted to visit the film sets etc but didn't have enough time for it so we thought this could compensate him for it a little bit.
However sad it sounds it was actually a great fun! We felt like we were being on a safari except it was not the animals we were looking for!Monika heard from few locals about its whereabouts and Nick had read something that he was also buidling a rail line (???) on his land. Put the two together we managed to find it, following a small road in the middle of nowhere. Once we saw a little tower (hello?the country houses do not have towers here)
some sort of tunnels being dug out and
a beautiful gate with a camera zooming in at us
we felt like real paparazzi with the mission accomplished -for all you fans out there (Nick's mates) although can't really see anything!!!!

We had a lot of fun as well as a little peek into the scenes of the daily life on the farm and chores it involves, which we found is very demanding, challenging and requires a lot of commitment. Thanks guys for finding some time for us and showing us around!!!

*** Long weekend with Elisabeth, Phil, Henri and Nigel at Lake Taupo***

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

After the flying visit to Monika and Ralphs we went back to Wellington in the evening ready for an early start next morning - a drive for a long w/e to the central part of North Island -by lake Taupo. Elisabeth and Phil arranged the car and accomodation so there was not much else to do as pack up and go!
On the way there and back we passed through few small towns as well as Tongariro National Park so we could get a glimpse of the mountains
as well as take a "postcard snap" of what I had imagined New Zealand to look like but found that it is so diverse that the mountain and some sheep simply don't stand a chance and I would have a problem picking my postcard.

We stayed in Oasis 5 minutes away from the lake in the small village of Turangi -perfect spot away from the crowds and with natural mineral hot baths on site!!!

On the first day we ment Nigel -a friend of Elisabeth and Phil, who was also by the lake and offered to take us for a cruise . It was brilliant!

We stopped somewhere on the shore to have a snack

and found that there were also water skies on board so we all (except for kids and pregnant Elisabeth) decided to have a go but not all of us succeeded....never mind-next time hey? At least you tried !Let's have some practise in the UK!


At the end it all comes down to experience and a little talent ......


The next day we drove a little bit north again to visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland

-recognised as one of the most active volcanic areas in the world or according to Maja and Henri's speculations -home to all witches and place where they make hot chocolate and cook up....their dinners! We took a walk past a succession of many geothermal features like bubbling craters (witches pots), geysers,caves


and colorful pallettes of hot and cold pools!


It was a great walk with amazing views for our camera and out of this world scenery that wonderfully fed our kids' imagination and gave beginnings to many stories we've heard while exploring....


Sunday was our last day and we planned to visit Tongariro National Park and have a little hike in the mountains as well as stopping by the beach on the way home.
As for mountains we managed to see all three peaks of Mounts Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe,but a drive to one of the mountain stations and lunch in a wooden bungalow was as close as we could get to a hike. The weather had got much worse than it was in the morning and it started to rain so we decided to head back home.

It did however clear a bit and we managed to have a wonderful afternoon by the sea. We sat on the beach and dined on fish and chips out of the paper,played ball, splashed around in the sea,built sand castles and admired the shells and other bits and pieces that the sea had chucked away.

It was an idyllic afternoon and the last day of the holiday we got to spend together as Nick Waiotapu_T..nd_Nick.jpg

was flying back to Seoul early next morning.

Mine and Maja's journey around New Zealnd continues in part II coming soon to Travellerspoint

This month we liked:

"TRAVEL IS PARTIAL.WHATEVER ROUTE YOU TAKE MEANS A HUNDRED YOU DON'T TAKE" - taken from a great book describing the author's journey down and up New Zealand filled with information, humour and interesting and very insightful points of view -" A Land of Two Halves" by Joe Bennett

and by the same author "Bedside lovers" -collection of esseys on life and culture in New Zealand and beyond

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides "NEW ZEALAND"

seeing our friends, the scenery, the fresh air, Elisabeth's home made flan (can I have a recipe pls?), the wine, Monika and Ralph's little cottage with remainders of places they had visited, a cool, old style record shop in Wellington complete with dusty vinyl and geeky owner, the quiet nightsky forever stretching sparkling with stars, flying fox ride in the park -or better known as "a death slide"........ TUI adverts and its product:


Posted by Bulls 04:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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