Why do we have to go to New Zealand? It’s so comfortable here on Phillip Island!
23 September: 5.30am start to drive 2 hours to Tullamarine airport for a 3.5 hour Qantas flight in a very long, narrow and tight tin can Boeing 737 packed to the gunwales. Landing in Wellington and escaping through customs, we renegotiated a hire car to include an incar sat nav (blue Ford Mondeo wagon with fabulous turning circle) and found our way through pre daylight-saving darkness to the Grand Chancellor hotel Wellington where our room wasn’t really all that grand and not much was happening on Sunday evening! Found some yummy Chinese food next door and happy to have arrived safely. Note to future self drivers hiring a car in NZ …don’t go into detail about your itinerary. Hire companies don’t like you taking your hire car across Cook Strait on the car-ferry! They will try to persuade you to change to a different vehicle on the other side which can by annoying. We were very pleased to have our Mondeo for the whole two weeks and two ferry crossings.
24 September; Walked our feet off all day in wonderful Wellington with cool sunny weather (which remained with us for two whole weeks!). Our first stop after the tourist centre for some up to date free maps was Te Papa, the People’s Museum which is an exceptional exhibition and includes an award winning ANZAC historical recreation using real N Z heroes and was certainly the most moving and powerful recreation of Gallipoli I have ever experienced..deeply emotionally involving. In addition the Maori history, artifacts and guided tour were all sensational especially an original and complete early thatched meeting house celebrated on a very popular 1935 2d orange stamp.
View of Wellington Harbour from the top floor of Te Papa, the Museum of the People.
Amazing Te Papa Museum (Museum of the People) in Wellington (tour guides fantastic ..need a good 2 hours plus here)
“The Beehive” ..New Zealand’s impressive Parliamentary Buildings in Wellington.
Next stop was the very short cable car ride to the top of the hill overlooking Wellington and a very steep but beautiful walk around the Botanic Gardens. NZ in Spring is an amazing mix of new leaf deciduous trees (larches and poplars especially contrasting with evergreen pines), pink and white blossom everywhere and exceptional rhododendrons and camellias in full bloom as well as the native yellow gorse flowering all over the hillsides and because their Spring is later than ours, daffodils, jonquils and tulips everywhere also.
Finally we walked to the other end of town to one of the largest wooden Gothic cathedrals in the world, Old St Paul’s Cathedral, now maintained by Government support and not far away from the brand new cathedral on the hill, close to the Beehive Parliament building and the gracious law school library. The new cathedral is also impressive and makes a remarkable contrast to the small wooden cathedral of old. We certainly used up some shoe leather in Wellington. It is a vibrant, friendly and creative city.
Wellington’s “new” Anglican Cathedral replacing “Old St Paul’s”..a remarkable wooden Gothic cathedral now maintained as a working church with Government support.
“Old St Paul’s” Constructed in 1866 and one of the finest examples of wooden Gothic Revival architecture in the world. Still retained as a place of worship although no longer Wellington’s Anglican cathedral
Dinner at the Grand Chancellor was casual and we were overwhelmed by the friendship of locals who overheard our complex plans and gave us very good realistic advice and suggestions which were very helpful indeed.
25 September: We headed north from Wellington and after an initial fight with the SatNav about finding a voice as well as the map for directions (which was eventually solved by a friendly Ford dealer in Lower Hutt (it took him 10 minutes..I didn’t feel completely stupid!) and commenced our driving tour. We drove first cross-country from Lower Hutt through haunted hills and deep forest and very curly roads to the West coast of the North Island and the seriously blue/turqoise ocean of the Southern Pacific …what a sight as you turn a corner from the forest and find a turquoise ocean.
We moved on to the small town of Otaki. Why I hear you ask? Because in Otaki is J R Mowbrays Collectables Ltd, NZ’s and one of the world’s largest philatelic dealers. I have been bidding online in their auctions for many years and it was a delight to meet John Mowbray himself and his staff and see the whole very large set up in action.
Richard at Mowbray Collectables Stamp Dealers in Otaki where he met John Mowbray, the founder, in person.
Continuing north we stopped in at a very helpful “possum and merino” clothing outlet and succumbed to several of their beautifully created knitted garments. Hitting the highway again we finished up at Lake Taupo.. NZ’s largest lake and a very popular holiday spot.
Lake Taupo..huge lake; very pleasant town with two impressive art galleries.We had a little cottage to ourselves here for two nights and enjoyed the relaxed vibe and friendly environment of the town. Needless to say the scenery en route whether ocean, mountain pass or forest was always impressive.
26 September: From our base in Lake Taupo we journeyed north through stunning snow capped mountains and plateaux to Rotorua and its powerful Wai-O-Tapu geyser and many other geysers besides in the Te Puia geo-thermal park and artistic school. Students from all over NZ come here to create exceptional works of art in the Maori tradition and work with wood, fabric, steel, precious stones, musical instruments. and just about every other medium to produce works of art of exceptional quality. As well as the bubbling mud-pools and excitable geysers we were able to catch a glimpse of our first real kiwi . a small black flightless nocturnal bird which is the NZ’s national icon also recognized on an equally popular 1935 1d red NZ stamp. Te Puia has a special “nocturnal reversal house” which enables guests to see a kiwi in action although I have to say it was still pretty dark and it was just a glimpse of a very shy critter indeed! Te Puia was a fabulous experience and our Maori guide was impressive.
Wai-O- Tapu “going off” at Roturoa!
We returned the same day to our Lake Taupo cottage
27 September: From Lake Taupo this time we drove south east to the seaside resort of Napier in the Hawkes Bay region with our first sight of a black stony surf beach…it takes a while to get used to the idea. In 1931 a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed the area, killing 256 people and injuring thousands. The town of Napier was destroyed and when it was rebuilt it was the height of the Art Deco era. The centre of town has retained and indeed celebrated these amazing shop fronts and major buildings and even many new buildings and homes are created in this style. It is a very stylish town but black stony surf?? I don’t think so!
What do you think?
Our trip back to Wellington had to be rerouted because of landslips in the Thompson Pass area but whichever way you travel through the mountains back to Wellington from Hawkes Bay area the driving is challenging, beautiful and needs care. One interesting small town on the way back was Woodville which has two very impressive collectibles shops in one of which Richard found a treasure trove of early Dinky Toys and Micro Model cars.. a collector’s heaven. We stayed that night back in Wellington at the St Paul’s apartments which were undergoing refurbishment so we had a good deal, but no outside view!
28 September: After a slow start relaxing and reading we drove to the Inter-Islander port, one of two major ferry companies taking vehicles across Cook Strait. On both of our crossings we enjoyed good weather and calm seas. The journey takes about four hours and there is plenty to do on board including excellent dining facilities, films and many places to view the scenery or for children to be involved in activities. Our destination was the seaside village of Picton which has a glorious harbour at the head of Charlotte Sound and is again surrounded by hills. The one flaw of the Mondeo is that the vibration of the ferry upsets its burglar alarm. On both crossings I was called up to go down to the hold and unlock the car to stop the alarm!
Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound is one NZ’s most picturesque towns with many inviting galleries and restaurants and even a useful second hand bookshop! It has its own little Sydney Harbour Bridge which is still quite a steep climb!
Picton Harbour looking out over Queen Charlotte Sound. Gorgeous town for just sitting and relaxing!
29 September: We made an early start from Picton on Highway 1 to Christchurch. This is one of the most spectacular journeys anywhere in the world by car or by train. But in 2016 the massive Kaikoura earthquake, magnitude 7.8 destroyed large sections of both the highway and the railway and produced structural damage as far away as Wellington as well as two major tsunamis. Fortunately the area at the epicentre of the Kaikoura earthquake is not heavily settled and only two deaths were attributed to this massive earthquake. The highway has only reopened this year and there are still many one lane only hold ups. The railway has not yet reopened. In spite of the many pauses this journey is one for the ages. Massive surf beaches and sea-scapes, spectacular snow clad mountains, vast tracts of forest and beautifully manicured vineyards and orchards especially in the Marlborough region. The “wow” factor is very much present on this journey.
In spite of hold ups we managed to make our Christchurch destination in good time to walk the 20 minute journey to the centre of the city. Christchurch is the second largest city in NZ and here once again we came face to face with yet another seismic catastrophe. In 2010 a magnitude 7.2 earthquake weakened the structure of many Christchurch buildings and in 2011 a 6.2 magnitude earthquake closer to the centre of Christchurch caused massive damage right in the middle of the city. The quake killed 185 people and turned the centre of the city into molten lava. The magnificent brick Gothic Anglican Cathedral was severely damaged, many thought irreparably, but in 2017 a decision was taken to rebuild the cathedral in its traditional Gothic style. In the meantime Anglicans have been worshipping in a nearby “Cardboard cathedral” which has its own unique beauty and simplicity (and many would wish it would remain the cathedral).
A terrible sight but nothing compared with the trauma of the death of 185 people and the complete destruction and disruption of the business and transport centre of the city! Cathedrals can be rebuilt but the impact of seismic savagery will last for genderations in this city.
The temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” in Christchurch. The interior ceiling is indeed made out of reinforced cardboard!
We wandered through several of Christchurch’s glorious parks and gardens ( there are over 90 in Christchurch) Christchurch is the second largest NZ city after Auckland and has its own style, not only its array of botanic gardens but also its old style trams in its centre (including a shopping mall with a tram running through its centre); a casino and some very funky restaurants (including an American style Route 66 eatery with wonderful fifties music where we had dinner.
It is a city which seems to breathe the beauty and grandeur of New Zealand alongside its vulnerabilty and the warnings inside the various motel rooms we occupied were salutary. We arrived back in our motel room in time to catch the exceptionally tense last quarter of the AFL Grand Final between Collilngwood and West Coast and had to commiserate with the many Magpie supporters in our extended family. I have to say for Aussies one of the amazing things about NZ newspapers is the complete absence of any reference at all to AFL issues.
30 September. From Christchurch we took another 300km+ drive to the very popular holiday destination of Wanaka just 40 minutes by car north of Queenstown. The drive from Christchurch was memorable once again with spectacular scenery including snow clad mountains, forest and agriculture, rivers, attractive small communities and very well built roads. It is ridiculous how frequently we would turn a corner and let out an involuntary “wow” at the rich vistas laid out before us. We arrived in good time at Wanaka and found a very useful motel/park with very practical laundry facilities enabling us to catch up on some clothes washing. Like Taupo, Wanaka sits on a beautiful elongated lake and our weather here was warm and dreamy. Here we made use of the local supermarket and cooked our own dinner for two evenings. Wanaka is a seriously relaxing place.
1 October . From Wanaka we celebrated NZ’s commencement of daylight saving with an amazing “over the mountain” drive to Queenstown past the Cardrona Hotel, one of only two remnant buildings from the goldrush in the area in the 1860s. The climb to the top past Cardrona needed careful attention (as did the climb down into Queenstown) but the view from the top was well worth the effort. We felt on top of the world.
Queenstown once again boasts spectacular scenery with huge mountains on three sides and a smooth flowing quiet river on the edge of a seriously bustling town. Traffic here was excitable and the city radiates youthful energy with adventures of every type on offer in many places. We enjoyed the vibe of Queenstown but were happy to retreat to Wanaka via the longer and flatter route through rich fruit growing areas (where yummy home made ice cream was a roadside treat.)
Gloriously situated Queenstown surrounded on all sides by protective mountains with a beautiful river to sit and watch a busy town go by.
2 October. We were sad to leave Wanaka but also were looking forward to our 300+km drive towards the South Island West Coast through some of its highest mountains including Mt Cook to the West Coast and once again were treated to quite inspiring landscapes and ever-changing vistas. After the forest came the spectacular Southern ocean with nothing between us and Antarctica. One highlight of this journey was lunch at the rather strange Hard Antler Bar and Restaurant in Haase. This wild west establishment had a distinctly “take it or leave it” style and the ceiling was literally covered with the antlers of vast numbers of deer that are hunted in the area (as an introduced pest). [It is interesting to go online and see the warfare between antler bars all around the world and the attention they get from vegetarian and vegan protestors].
Huntin’ and shootin’ Hard Antler bar and restaurant..not to everyone’s taste but we found the food was good!
Our goal was the Franz Josef glacier and appropriately it has produced its own town! With daylight saving help we arrived in time to walk the approximately 2km up and down walk into the glacier past a series of fine silvery waterfalls. Due to safety precautions it is no longer possible to actually set foot on the glacier without reverting to a helicopter and guide landing but it was exciting to be within a stone’s throw and see in reality a geomorphological feature I recall studying so carefully in the Melbourne University Geography department in the 1960s! An additional highlight was the outstanding food provided by the chef at the Alice May restaurant in the village of Franz Josef Glacier. This was a meal to be long remembered and a quite unexpected treat.
Retreating Franz Josef glacier
Impressive “trident” waterfall on the walk into Franz Josef glacier
3 October. Our West coast journey continued with another dazzling surf, forest and mountain 300+km drive to the sleepy town of Westport. Our lunchtime stop this time was quite a contrast to the “outback” town of Haase. We were treated to the far more civilised and prosperous “greenstone and gold” town of Hokitika, made famous in recent years by the widely book club read and Man Booker prize winning 1860s gold rush novel Luminaries, the second novel by Eleanor Catton. Hokitika is a stylish town with its own art deco cinema whose restaurant sells seriously good meat pies of great variety and in addition some outstanding pastries. Hokitika also has at least four major greenstone shops (NZ jade whose sale is controlled by the Maori population) and in addition The Gold Room, ; run by an outstanding jeweller this retail outlet is a quite remarkable shop full of historical material about the gold rush days but also impressive for its high quality gold workmanship.
I have to say after all these highlights that the surfing town of Westport was somewhat of a letdown but nevertheless we had a comfortable motel with an attractive garden setting and in any case a good rest was needed.
4 October. Our final South island journey was yet another 300km+ journey back to the Picton ferry through spectacular mountain gorge scenery, quiet little towns and finally the fertile Marlborough plains, source of so much of the sauvignon blanc and pinot gris downed in quantities by Australian quaffers. A particular highlight was the delightful rural town of Murchison which currently is lucky to have a gold star French pastry chef and his wife who have created a quality of coffee and cake which I believe it would be hard to match anywhere. Quite remarkable! How long can he last in this quiet little town?
In Blenheim near Picton we discovered the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the Omaka Classic Car display centre. Local flying enthusiasts commenced this collection of classic aeroplanes and the chairman of the Centre is extraordinary Film Director and entrepreneur Sir Peter Jackson of the Lord Of the Rings films fame who is also the creator the impressive Wellington War Memorial. The Omaka Classic Car collection of 140 vehicles is personally owned by Blenheim dentist and business man Ron Stewart and includes about 8 Jaguars, 3 impressive Daimlers, an Austin A105 in immaculate condition, many Holdens and Fords and a host of other now quite rare vehicles including a Super Shadow Rolls Royce. (But no Triumph Mayflower!]
Immaculate Austin A105 and Wolseley 16/60 (Omaka Classic Cars
One of 9 Jaguars in Ron Stewarts Omaka Classic Collection
recreated C type Jaguar – very few originals anywhere in the world
After finally extracting myself from the Car Display we returned to the same amazing motel in Picton and enjoyed this stunningly calm and peacefully beautiful fishing village at the head of Charlotte Sound.
5 October. We mooched around Picton for the first half of this day enjoying the scenery, the Jewellery shops, the second hand bookshop and just the peace and quiet with very little driving! In the afternoon we rejoined the InterIslander ferry and passed through gorgeous Queen Charlotte Sound back to the North Island. Our motel on this evening was in trendy yuppy Lower Hutt and we truly enjoyed the wonderful dinner provided by the very crowded Buddha Stix restaurant.
5 October. Our final day in NZ was spent In Wellington at the Weta Conceptual Design and Manufacturing Workshop responsible for the amazing Peter Jackson visual characterisations which brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen as well as much of the visual wonder of James Cameron’s Avatar movies. In addition Weta was also the company that animated the original UK produced Thunderbirds Are Go puppet tv programs into a new six dvd series. This guided tour workshop is simply an amazing place and the company maintains a huge staff employed in a variety of roles. A highlight of this visit was lunch at The Larder, 500 metres up the hill from the Studio with the most sensational menu and food.
Richard outside the Weta Design Studio with a model of a Tolkienian troll
In the afternoon we sadly bade farewell to our faithful Mondeo and enjoyed the hospitality of the Wellington airport as we awaited our return flight to Melbourne. New Zealand had stolen our hearts…a peaceful, stunningly beautiful and energetic place. We are glad we went!