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New Zealand tour

New Zealand tour: 5th Dec 2003 - 7th Jan 2004 NEW ZEALAND PART ONE: Took off from Santiago @ 2345 on Wednesday 3rd December with a flight of 12 hours 27 mins to look forward to! But 2 hours into our flight, the captain announced that we were returning to Santiago due to an engine “technical problemE This turned out to be a bird strike in the starboard inner engine Eshredding fan blades and resulting in the engine shutdown. Then we were dumping fuel for 35 mins in order to get the plane’s weight down to the correct level for landing. So, flying back on 3 engines Enot that we noticed anything different Elanded safely at Santiago at 0400 with lots of emergency vehicles lining the runway with their lights flashing! What excitement. After a 4-hour wait (while another plane was flown down from Los Angeles), we took off again at 0912 Thursday. However, we lost Thursday somewhere when we crossed the International Dateline and finally landed at Auckland on Friday 5th December at 1330 Eonly 9 hours late, but at least not in the Pacific! Found a good motel in Parnell Ea hip and trendy area of Auckland for 4 days. It was difficult to find accommodation as everything was booked out due to the Robbie Williams and Duran Duran concert in town over the weekend. Parnell is full of very smart (and pricey) eateries, art galleries, designer shops and so on. Where the smart set hang out. That’s why we are here as well!!! Roamed around the waterfront area Elots of huge yachts and more trendy boozers and eateries. Took a day ferry crossing to Waheke Island, one of the many islands in the bay. Had a very tasty seafood lunch and afterwards strolled along the silvery, sandy beach Ewith the Pacific rollers gently breaking on the sand. Quite humid, tropical vegetation and exotic bird sounds all around. Tuesday 9th Dec, we took off for Samoa until 12th, and then the big tour of NZ really starts. So check SAMOA PAGE as well for more news. NEW ZEALAND PART TWO: Back in Auckland on 12th December, picked up our Avis hire car and headed out of the city, via the Coromandel Peninsula Ean area of spectacular coastal scenery and rugged forested mountains. Spent the weekend with an old classmate from school EDavid Brown and his wife Maria Ein Rotorua aka Sulphur City. ( I had last seen David in 1969 after matriculating from Paarl Boys High School in South Africa: so that’s 34 years ago!!! ) But we picked up on many things and shared memories Ethe years just dropped away. Rotorua is at the centre of thermal and volcanic activity in New Zealand: geysers, hot pools and vents of bubbling mud. And the delightful smell of sulphur. You get used to it, I promise! We visited Lake Rotorua and the Government Gardens: with a backdrop of the grand former bath-house, well manicured bowling greens and croquet lawns, ponds and rosebeds: all creating a distinctly Edwardian atmosphere. Also visited the very worthwhile Hell’s Gate Thermal Activity area: boiling pools of scalding water, silica terraces, bubbling pools of chocolate-coloured mud pop-popping away like porridge. This 10ha reserve is a very active and steamy affair; set on 2 levels separated by tracts of bush, yet subtly connected by a warm thermal stream complete with a steaming waterfall! Pools of bubbling mud and water - with evocative names like “Sodom and GomorrahEand “The InfernoEEhiss with menace and are quite scary, with temperatures of well over 100 degrees C. The upper level has steaming lakes and a myriad of tiny steamy vents and fumaroles all letting off sulphur fumes and steam as well as some mud volcanoes. Best of all is the “Devil’s CauldronEEsmall pit that is home to a lively globular mud pool which makes the most wonderfully disgusting noises. Then it was further south to the Tongariro National Park where we spent 2 days at a self-catering chalet in Whakapapa Village: this was to rest up a wee while, as after 3 months of travelling we were feeling a bit knackered to say the least! Tongariro is the home of 3 magnificent volcanoes: Ruapehu (2797m), Ngauruhoe (2291m) and Tongariro (1968m). Ruapehu erupted spectacularly and without any warning in July 1996 with devastating results. It has a seismograph linked to it permanently monitoring its fickle moods, lest one forgets that it is still very much an active volcano. Watching the seismograph readings in the park visitor centre was very sobering Ethe raw power of nature right above our heads. We did a couple of minor walks just to get the flavour of the place and exercise the legs Eit is not every day you can walk on the lower slopes of an active volcano! The famous climb to the Crater edge or the Tongariro Crossing will have to wait for another visit. The weather was very fine: clear blue skies with hardly any clouds, but a cold wind blew. We were at 1200m after all and it felt like it! Next it is back to the eastern coast, heading for the arc-deco city of Napier for 17th Dec. Then onwards southwards to Wellington for our ferry crossing to the South Island on Saturday 20th and yet more adventures. NEW ZEALAND PART 3: Having left the volcanic Tongariro area, we headed south through the lush, hilly countryside with 1000's and 1000's of sheep and 100's and 100's of cattle grazing everywhere - these are the big ranching "stations"- as they are called hereabouts. Once vineyards appeared we knew we were getting closer to Napier. The town of Napier had to be included in our itinerary not just because of the name linking it to Napier University. It is also the Art Deco Capital of the World. Having suffered a devastating earthquake in February 1931, followed by fire which totally destroyed the original town, the place was completely rebuilt within 2 yeares in the style of the age - Art Deco. Sue joined a one hour guided tour and came back full of insights into the creation of Napier as it is today, provided by a retired school principal who must have been 3 or 4 years old at the time of the quake. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richer scale, 161 people died and many more were injured. The ground shifted to such an extent that former marshy land was drained and a hill was created where there was once an island! To oversee reconstruction of the town, 2 men were appointed: an engineer and an accountant - no committee structure for Napier town! Their first action was to organise a temporary township of shops and housing to re-start the economy. This was known as Tin Town. Architects were commissioned to plan the new town in a unified style. The popular style of the age, with clean lines and stylised shapes was Art Deco. Not to be confused with the sensuous curvy shapes of the turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau. A core team of NZ architects were helped by several young graduates from Auckland. Spanish Mission style and the American Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright were also in vogue and used as models for some of the buildings. The brief walking tour took us through the centre of town and into the interior of some of the buildings - all beautifully restored and maintained over the years. The whole town of approx. 50,000 inhabitants seems justly proud of its status and appearance and the Art Deco Trust keeps an eye on any new build in the centre to ensure no serious mishaps. Several houses in the suburbs are classic Art Deco flat-roof style, painted in soft pastel colours. Our guide informed us that for several years after the earthquake, people simply didn't talk about the disaster which had so changed their town. As a schoolboy he took part in a performance in the newly opened civic theatre, but was not aware of why or how it was so new and stylish! Today, however, the town thrives on its past and present. Certainly for fans of this design style which flourished for a relatively short span, yet is so destinctive, Napier is a "must see." Plenty of souvenirs and Claris Cliff type tea-sets to be purchased. And all under warm sunshine in the heart of a flourishing wine- and fruit-producing area on the Pacific coast. A greaty day's visit. Then onwards further southwards still through the Wairarapa region - lovely rural countryside, lots of vineyards, quaint wee villages with fine eateries, art galleries and craft outlets. All very stylish. We stayed at two of these villages: Masterton and Martinborough - with excursions to a dramatically sited lighthouse at Castlepoint (named by Captain Cook in 1770 - who else hereabouts?!?). Fishermen were fishing for snapper and gruinard from the high rocks; big fishing boats (for charter) sat on enormous rigs (cradles) and are pushed into the sea by tractors (much like the ones used at airports for pushing jets off their stands) for launching into the crashing surf. Visited the Mount Bruce Wildlife Park (where lots of NZ birds that are close to extinction or endangered, are bred for release into the wild). Saw the cheeky Kaka (North Island parrot), Takahe, Kokako, Kakariki (parakeet), Hihi (stitchbird), Campbell Island Teal and the Brown Kiwi (the latter in a nocturnal Kiwi-house which was so dark you were hard pushed to see your nose in front of your face let alone a Brown Kiwi! Sue swears she saw the little blighter.) Introduced predators like rats, stoats, weasels and possum (the latter from Australia) have wreaked havoc among New Zealand's bird population (especially the flightless ones) over the years. Ironically, in Oz the possum is a protected species, whereas in NZ it is a pest and fair game for eradication. Send em back to Oz I say!!! Every possum roadkill was a joy to behold! Saturday 20th December: we crossed by ferry (the good ship Arahura) from Wellington at the bottom of North Island to Picton at the top end of the South Island - a 3.5 hour crossing of the Cook Strait and then up Queen Charlotte Sound - a narrow fiord-like channel with the ferry turning this way and that, negotiating this twisting waterway, hemmed in on both sides by steep forested slopes plunging right down into the sea; sometimes only metres from the cliff faces. (As Avis operate a separate N and S Island rental policy, we dropped our first car off in Wellington, went across as foot passengers, picked the 2nd car up in Picton - a good idea and it does save NZ $120 for the car on the ferry!) We stayed in Picton with friends from Ullapool - Andy and Joni - who also just happen to own a house here in Picton on the Marlborough Sound. This Sound is a vast system of "drowned" river valleys, peninsulas, inlets, bays and beaches dubbed NZ's "little slice of Norway" with very stunning views and scenery all around you. Captain Cook (who else?) visited the Sound on each of his voyages here in 1770, 1773-1774 and again in 1777. He obviously could not keep away from the place (or had forgotten something?) and is responsible for many place names all over the place. Other early visitors were Abel Tasman in 1642 and Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1827 (he also explored Antarctica). After our all too brief stay in a "normal home environment" with the Bluefields, we carried on westwards to Collingwood in the Golden Bay area, right on the NW corner of the South Island - and the end of the road! We spent 6 days at the very friendly and cosy Skara Brae Garden Motel and B&B in Collingwood, with very charming and generous hosts Joanne and Pax Northover - unwinding and resting up at last (first time we had been longer than 2 days in the same place and it was a pleasure.) Collingwood was named after Nelson's second-in-command at Trafalgar: Admiral Lord Cuthbert Collingwood) and it is a former booming gold mining town and port; now the gateway to the Kahurangi Nat. Park and some of the most spectacular and beautiful beaches in NZ, especially Wharariki Beach - rolling hills of native bush fall to the azure, clear waters of the Tasman Sea lapping onto endless stretches of pure golden sand. Tourism is the new "gold" industry in every sense. We went on a tour (in a 4WD Bedford bus - an adapted ex NZ Army truck) along the 35km long Farewell Spit - a spit of sandy dunes extending like a golden rainbow out into the wild Tasman Sea to envelope the vast mud flats of Golden Bay. Home to 1000's of migratory waders from Siberia and Alaska as well as the locals residents of terns, gulls, gannets, black oystercatchers, etc. The Spit is 800m wide at high tide and between 6-7km wide at low tide as the mud flats are laid bare; the highest dunes are a mere 20m. Farewell Spit was named by Cook (him again) when he left NZ for Australia in 1770. We also saw NZ fur seals at Cape Farewell - advised to give them a healthy amount of space - they are somewhat bad tempered! On Christmas Day we were invited (along with other guests and our hosts son's family) to a fabulous brunch all washed down by copious amounts of brandy and strawberry punch - needless to say, the afternoon saw everybody having a bit of a siesta! Boxing Day was spent doing a short section of the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Walk (more golden sandy beaches, turquoise seas, dark-green rainforests, rocky granite headlands) and a visit to Wharariki beach and its resident fur seal bulls. Wharariki is a real gem of a beach: sand dunes, islands, inlets, caves, wild and thunderous surft from the Tasman Sea, sheer cliffs, rock arches, lakes formed by dune-dammed streams - and all against a racing-green rainforest as a majestic backdrop to this natural theatre. Pity about the 40-knot wind which was blowing, but even Paradise cannot be perfect - well , not all of the time! Sunday 28th Dec: pressing on still further south from Collingwood - via Takaka, Motueka (more big sheep & cattle stations) - Greymouth, Hokitika, Harihari - and the first glimpses of the snow-capped Southern Alps. Spent a night at Okarito (population 30) - a former goldfields port with the stunning Southern Alps as a backdrop (when they're clear that is and it doesn't rain.) And it can rain here as we found out. This part of NZ, called Fiordland, is one of the wettest places on earth, with a staggering 5 metres of rainfall annually at sea-level and much higher in the mountains, where it falls as snow. This is real industrial strength rain and we got a good dose of it one night and morning - complerte with cracking thunderclaps reveberating around the Alps. But then the weather just as quickly cleared and we visited the 2 big blocks of ice in the area - aka Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers! (walking for about an hour up each glacial valley to the respective glacier's headwall.) Franz Josef was named after the Austrian Emperor of the same name and Fox after a former NZ prime minister. FJ Glacier descends from a height of 3000m to a mere 350m and advances by one metre a day (although it is actually retreating, if you see what I mean?) Both glaciers are relatively easily accessible: big carparks cater for lots of visitors, lots of people on trails to headwalls and quite busy. You can also go on guided glacier walks (crampons supplied) or there are numerous flight options (small planes and helicopters - both of which do glacier landings as well! This all costs so we declined! However, in glacier terms, we felt they were mere ice bumps compared to the glaciers we had seen in South America. Almost forgot: amongst all this stunning scenery and loveliness there is one fly in the ointment (literally)!!! This is the notorious NZ Sandfly ( Renderus Insanitus) which is a real pain in the arse - and everywhere else! They are particularly vicious in the south of South Island - and they are far worse than the humble Scottish midge I can tell you! And so ever southwards and onwards: past Mt Cook (5764m) which we just glimpsed and no more, Mt Tasman, (scene of a fatal mountaineering accident this week), Mt Sefton, Mt Brewster, Mt Alba, Pollux, the Minaret Peaks and Mt Aspiring - all snow-capped, jagged-toothed peaks and some with permanent icefields and hanging glaciers. Drove over the impressive Haast Pass (563m and only completed in 1965) and through the dark gorge known as the "Gates of Haast" - it captures the mood of this very mountainous area with names like "Valley of Darkness" and "Mount Awful". Many spectacular waterfalls en route - crashing and cascading through the dense rainforest - they look like streaming "chalk marks" drawn on a dark green "blackboard." We bypassed Queenstown - the adrenalin capital of NZ - offering heart-stopping bungy jumps, jetboating, rafting, flightseeing, canyoning, flying-by-wire in any number of contraptions, etc. You name a way of scaring yourself shitless, and they have invented it in Queenstown! Instead we opted for the quiet village of Lumsden (100kms further south) for our stay for the Hogmanay period (as well as seeing a restored steam train called The Kingston Flyer at a wee station called, funnily enough, Kingston! ) Wednesday 31st December: From Lumsden we treated ourselves to a cruise-tour of Doubtful Sound - a wild, remote and imposing wildernesss area. Doubtful Sound is a place of towering peaks and bush-clad islands, of twisting, hidden arms (side channels) and sheltered coves. In Maori legend, Tu Te Raki Whanoa created this incredibly beautiful fiord not alone, but with the assistance of 4 young sea gods who carved out its sheltered arms. Doubtful Sound (Patea) remains a relatively unspoilt and remote wilderness (only 2 boats operate on the whole fiord); not as commercialised as Milford Sound further north, where even huge cruise liners with thousands of passengers on board, enter from the Tasman Sea. In 1773 Captain Cook (him yet again!!) wrote of this fiord: "Inland as far as the eye can see the peaks are so crowded together as to scarce admit any valleys between them." He named it Doubtful Harbour when he sailed past in the Endeavour in 1770 as he had doubts that there was enough wind to manoeuvre his ship once inside the fiord. So he carried on to Oz! We had no such qualms and our tour started at Manapouri with the crossing by catamaran of the island-studded Lake Manapouri to West Arm on the other shore - then by coach down a 2km underground tunnel to visit the Manapouri Underground Power Station machine hall (like Ben Cruachan in Scotland), over the Wilmot Pass before embarking on a second catamaran (Commander Peak) for the 3-hour cruise down Doubtful Sound towards the Tasman Sea. This is some of Fiordland's most dramatic scenery: blue, dark waters of the fiord, blue skies with those famous "long clouds"stretching forever, steep, forest-clad mountain slopes plunging straight into the fiord, snow-capped peaks - a veritable photographer's paradise! Wildlife spotted: 3 bottlenose dolphins skimming the waters alongside the "cat", 2 blue (fariy) penguins porpoising along and a large colony of fur seals on a rocky island where the Sound meets the Tasman Sea. The catamaran was doing a fair bit of rock and rolling at this point! The cruise company we went with "Realjourneys" run a very professional, friendly and slick operation. We saw in the New Year very quietly indeed at our motel in Lumsden - the village is not even mentioned in our Footprints Guidebook - which is no bad thing! Had dinner, read our books, had a few drams at the "bells" and that was it - 2004 had arrived. 1st January 2004: we proceed a wee bit further south to Invercargill and then eastwards to Owaka to explore the Catlins area (famous for penguins, fur seals, elephant seals and Royal albatrosses), before heading to Dunedin (the Edinburgh of the South), then Christchurch and flight to Oz on 7th Jan. A further report will follow before we depart these shores - and head like Cook - for Australia! NEW ZEALAND PART 4: From Lumsden we headed further south into Southland (pop 920,000) out of a total NZ population of 3.8m with Auckland having 1 million souls – i.e. a quarter of the entire population. Agriculture is really big business with huge grazing pastures on the sheep and cattle gstations.h Average sheep flock size is 1,500 – 2,000 (and there are thousands of these flocks) and dairy cattle herds which number anything from 500 to 3,500 beasts! Dairy farming is now overtaking sheep farming – cattle are milked twice a day (highly automated with only 2 men overseeing herds of up to 950 cattle in the milking parlours – going through 40 stalls. Spent 2 days each in Invercargill and Owaka: visited the excellent Southland Museum and Art Gallery which has a first rate exhibition entitled gThe Roaring 40fs & Sub-Antarctic Islandsh – which was of personal interest to me (harking back to my spell on Marion Island in the sub-Antarctic 1975-1976!) The absolute highlight is the Tuatara living exhibit and breeding programme – a chance to come face to face with these living ancient reptiles. Henry, the oldest resident at 120 years, just sits in his glass enclosure and stares ahead unblinkingly! Also visited the Bluff (end of road on South Island); Riverton, the oldest permanent European settlement in Southland and a former safe haven for sealers and whalers – nowadays a safe haven for diners as itfs full of fine restaurants and cafes! Explored the beautiful coastal Catlins area between Invercargill and Owaka: rugged coastal scenery with the cold Southern Ocean pounding ashore. The Catlins – SE coast of South Island – are a bit off the beaten track (as much as this is possible in NZ these days!), not YET that overly busy, relatively unspoilt, but with beautiful scenery and spectacular wildlife – especially of the marine variety. Catlin highlights were: Waipapa Point – the scene of NZfs worst civilian maritime disaster when the SS Tararua was wrecked there in 1881 with the loss of 131 lives; Slope Pont at 46f40hS and 169f00hE the southernmost point of South Island – next stop Antarctica! Blue skies, golden sands, dark blue Southern Ocean, golden sun – perfect! Curio Bay – one of the worldfs finest fossil forests visible (at low tide) – fossilized tree stumps and trunks embedded on the rocky platforms revealed at low water; a walk through a dense Podocarp forest at Tautuku Bay (podocarp are mainly NZ-type pine trees such as Rimu, Totara, Matai, Kahikatea and Miro) as well as perching plants, huge tree ferns, giant fuchsias, vines, etc; Surat Bay and Cannibal Beach where we saw 8 Hookerfs sea lions stretched out on the sand, sunning themselves, periodically flicking sand over their huge bodies with their flippers, all the time keeping a bleary weather-eye on their human visitors. You are advised to keep at least 10m away from all seas and sea lions and with good reason. Hookers are endemic to NZ and the rarest of the worldfs 5 species of sea lions. As we Jimmy wrote innocently on his postcard home: gDear Mum, Went down to the beach today to look for some hookers. Found 6 huge, fat ones asleep on the sand - scratching, snoring and breaking wind!h These soporific barrels of bad breath (weighing 400kgs and up to 3m long) can explode into aggressive, bullet-speed action. Appearances are indeed very deceptive where hookers are concerned. Onto Roaring Bay near The Nuggets where, from a hide, we were privileged to watch 4 very rare Yellow-eyed penguins porpoising through the surf, then waddle up the beach before disappearing into the fringe of scrub, tussock grass and flax plants, where they have their nests. This was at dusk and they were returning from the dayfs fishing trip with fish suppers for their chicks. YEPfs (yellow-eyed penguins) are very shy birds and not social like other penguins, nesting alone and not in groups. They are unique to NZ and one of the rarest penguin species in the world. The Maori called them gHoihoh which means gNoise Shouter.h The last two days in NZ were spent on the Otago Peninsula just outside the very gScottishh city of Dunedin. The Otago Peninsula – stretching 35km northeast of Dunedin out into the Pacific – is as synonymous with spectacular wildlife ( yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, Hookers sea lions, NZ fur seals, Royal albatrosses ) as Dunedin is with Edinburgh. We went on a 1-hour guided tour of the Royal Northern Albatross Centre (opened in 1972) situated at Taiarora Head: it is the worldfs only mainland breeding albatross colony. From an excellent cliff-top hide we had up-close and personal vies of 13 Royal albatrosses (there are between 90-100 in total when they are all in residence). Some were on their nests incubating their eggs (hatching due in late January); others just sat or stood about gsocializingh; yet others were displaying and calling to their mates; some landing and taking off thanks to a very stiff wind, but most were wheeling, gliding and swooping over the headland and hide –true aerial mastery! They are indeed the most supreme and beautiful masters of flight and long-haul travel as they circumnavigate the globe umpteen times during their lifetimes. Ever since the first egg in 1920, the site has become an almost sacred preserve of these magnificent seabirds, wheeling in from the Southern Ocean on their massive wings (wingspan 3m) with a grace that defies the effort. This is truly airborne ballet – and done to perfection! Then on to Pilotfs Beach to wait for the little Blue penguins (the smallest of all penguins) to come ashore (around dusk we were told – i.e. 2130). We waited very patiently – along with about 40 or so other hardy souls from 2030 to 2205 when, all of a sudden 13 of the wee fellahs popped out of the surf (barely visible in the gloaming). They waddled up the beach, then up the walkway from the beach to the dunes and right past our noses (about 4 feet away!). All this took place in bright moonlight (almost a full moon) – they carried on to their burrows hidden amongst the tussock grass and simply vanished. Everybody just sat on the ground on either side of the pathway as the penguins, quite unconcerned, waddled past – intent on getting to their burrows and nest for the night. Penguin Parade by Moonlight! There must be a song there somewhere?!? Spent final day exploring Dunedin –the gEdinburgh of the Southh. For those familiar with Edinburghfs centuries-old streets, Dunedin is somewhat disconcerting. You notice at once the echo of Scottish architecture in the grand stone built buildings, built to last and in true Scots tradition, defy the inclement weather. And we had very traditional Scottish weather – it was gpishingh with rain. Even the streets share the names of Edinburghfs most famous ones – names like Princes Street, George Street and Moray place to name but a very few. And in the city centre , The Octagon, is a statue to the poet Robert Burns. Dunedin is a lively and attractive city. In the 1860fs it was a prosperous city thanks to the gold boom, but then the gold fizzled out and Dunedin had to reinvent itself like so many NZ towns. Today the highly regarded Otago University is sited here and the magnificent wildlife is also a major attraction. We went on a city bus tour – in the rain – just like Edinburgh! and saw all the grand buildings, former merchantsf mansions on the hillsides, the fabulous old Victorian railway station building, Otago University – which is a carbon copy of Glasgow Univ including the central clock-tower! Also investigated Baldwin Street, billed as the worldfs steepest street with a gradient of 1 in 2. Tomorrow, 7th January we fly from Christchurch to Melbourne and on to Tasmania before heading back to gmainlandh Oz again; so check for further adventures there in due course.

Farewell Spit - Golden Bay
Golden Bay
The Kingston Flyer train
Doubtful Sound cruise

Yellow-eyed Penguins
Royal Albatross Centre