A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: busyboots

Back to Aus - Melbourne

I was fortunate to stay with a friend in his beautifully restored Victorian villa which is like a museum piece in itself 79DB382A2219AC6817EF252426F5872C.jpg79DA34882219AC68175E980D25C3D2E1.jpg79D94DEE2219AC68177726530E6864AE.jpg976490F42219AC681761428CE985B8A7.jpgand after a multi course dinner, cooked by my host, and plenty of wine, I slept really well. It was wonderful to be in a private room with en suite bathroom after so many nights in dorms!
On Friday I took the bus into the city and as you drive down Lygon Street you pass the myriad restaurants and coffee bars that offer the culinary delights of almost every nation and make Melbourne famous for it's 'cafe culture'. I went straight to Federation Square, the civic and cultural heart of the city with it's cathedral like atrium and outdoor cinema screen. 3A8091682219AC681785FC9546CBA1DB.jpg3A7E8DF42219AC6817D2007480F2322F.jpg3A7F4EDA2219AC681751D3CF0E032D19.jpgAcross the road from the Square is Flinders Street Station, the busiest in the city and, for a traditionalist like me, much more architecturally pleasing.3A11DA4A2219AC6817DBBBD691761DCD.jpgInside the Square are exhibition buildings including the Ian Potter NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) and I spent a while wandering around this. The 'rug' in this picture is made entirely from cake icing 3A44F7D82219AC6817EB0A238D14CE64.jpgand this outfit is made from a combination of materials but predominately neoprene.3A4D1F672219AC6817080B675B4A3DCF.jpgThere were some other interesting exhibits3A4A292A2219AC681719ACE6B925983B.jpg3A4B28032219AC68171F4807BFE6DC1C.jpg3A4C44652219AC6817F547758F72D130.jpgbut nothing that really had 'the wow factor' for me. The Square backs onto the Yarra River with it's boathouses 3A1079FC2219AC6817F80056DEE92ACF.jpgand where the old wharves and vaults have been converted to bars and bistros.3A0FC2AA2219AC681795BB7AA70E3A28.jpgYou can walk along the promenade to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Rod Laver complex. I went out to the MCG with the intention of taking a tour round it but the queues were long so I decided to take a walk around the historic lanes and arcades of the main shopping district.3A816AD42219AC68178CAA54A218C1C9.jpgI expected to find the kind of little shops there are in the Brighton lanes in England but, unless I missed them, they were full of little cafes and bars all of which were very busy. Across the river to the South3A8817D62219AC68175B1318DEABC9DE.jpgis the Eureka Tower and 18.50AUS$ will buy you a ride to the Skydeck with 360 degree floor to ceiling views of the city.The Skydeck is 88 floors up and the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere. The lift travels at 9 metres per second and takes 38 seconds to reach the 88th floor. The views are, as you would expect, stunning3ABC3EA92219AC6817ECB2AC95F62C44.jpgwith this one looking towards the MCG and Rod Laver Stadium99F099372219AC6817002F2E39775FBB.jpgthis one down onto the Botanic Gardens and Government House3ABE527B2219AC6817E4756E94B915E0.jpgthis to the Arts Centre (with the Eiffel Tower mast on top) and the National Gallery.3ABD3FC72219AC6817389F49B2F7576F.jpgand here is a birds eye view of Federation Square.3ABF7D502219AC681702059C9F82A70E.jpgIf you hold onto your ticket you can come back in the evening and for another 3.50AUS$ you can go up again to see the city at night. There is an outdoor, caged, area that allows you to experience the elements at 300metres above the ground and 'The Edge' is a glass cube that projects three metres out from the Skydeck so that, for an extra 12AUS$ you can 'walk on air'.
The Arts Centre is a guided tour only experience and there was one tour a day which I had missed. There are three tour options covering different parts of the two theatres, backstage and dressing room areas and I'm sure they are worth considering. I had a coffee at the Tram Bar out front3AF3AC122219AC681714626BBD54BD92.jpgand then went next door to the National Art Gallery. Again some interesting exhibits3AF633A12219AC68176C54F50F237F31.jpg3AF7121D2219AC6817F48336AC46E7CC.jpg3AF8130F2219AC6817F413BE8D0A76F6.jpg3AF921E22219AC6817CCD6C2466828F1.jpgand the wall of water at the front entrance is lovely 3AF54B112219AC6817605AB48612A288.jpgbut again there was nothing there that really made me gasp. While I was waiting for my lift I sat in Federation Square and watched the news on the outdoor screen and then went into St Paul's Cathedral and listened to a male voice choir (men and boys) for a while. 3AFB783A2219AC68172F16F078AE2C3D.jpgThat was a haven of tranquility after the teeming crowds outside and the interior of the building is beautiful.
I must really be missing something here because everybody I met EVERYWHERE said 'Melbourne is the best city in Australia and you will love it'. No disrespect to Melburnians but actually I didn't. The city is certainly a delight for foodies of all tastes but I found the crowds overwhelming, (even more so than Sydney) the multi-track railway running right through the middle of the city very ugly, and the architecture of Federation Square brutal and garish. In mid 2012 the popuation of Melbourne was 4.25 million, I am told that this is expected to go to 10 million within the next ten years and it is hard to imagine how the city, it's infrastructure and environs, are going to cope with this. Melbourne has been voted top of the world's most liveable cities for the last three years running. You have to hope there is a grand plan in place to deal with this population explosion in order for it to keep that ranking.
Friend Tom is a biker and he picked me up for a drive around the bay to Williamstown for a view of the city from another angle and then we went to Lygon Street for a wonderful dish of pasta marinara and some fabulous ice cream ?
On Satuday we rode into the city again to go to Victoria Market which seems to be top of the most visited attractions of Melbourne. It really is incredible, huge and with every possible kind of fruit and vegetable you could want, and there are deli halls and meat halls and fish halls. The list goes on and this is not to mention the clothing and souvenirs etc. etc. It was packed and fragrant and amazing!
In the afternon we rode the bike up through the Dandenong ranges to Skyhigh at Mount Dandenong where there is a lookout point and restaurant.798BBDF22219AC6817B81AEBADD7A4FD.jpgand the wonderful 'Austaliana Tree' beautifully and intricately carved from an actual standing tree.798CE1A02219AC681784371B04D79C3A.jpgUnfortunately the weather did not allow us to see the spectacular views which were out there but the air on the drive up was full of the scent of eucalypts and the hill villages, each with it's little antique, gift shops and restaurants are well worth visiting. Just fifty minutes from the heart of the city this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a big tourist draw.
Sunday morning we visited Abbotsford Convent which was home to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a Roman Catholic order, until 1975. It was also a refuge for destitute women and a home for orphaned girls. The women were able to come and go at will but the girls were not and it was the site of one of the many Magdalen Laundries. The nuns, it seems, were advocates of the performing arts, and there are two large performance halls either side of a courtyard within the 11 building convent complex. After falling into disrepair it was rescued and restored and is now an arts, education and cultural hub with live theatre, music, markets, a bakery, bar and cafe and a host of artisans working and doing business there. There is also a well stocked and visited Childrens Farm and a very pleasant walk down to the Yarra River.
On Sunday afternoon we drove through the Yarra Valley to visit a winery798DE1162219AC68178BFABDE08FFA75.jpg as you can see we were completely spoilt for choice but we settled on this one 798F04BD2219AC68174D04EC057398EE.jpg798FEC4C2219AC6817B527B9118F7D3E.jpgand had a very nice plate of cheese and a glass each of something quite delicius.
On Sunday evening Tom's parents were coming to dinner so we started as we meant to go on9D8C18D92219AC6817753E7166A101D7.jpgand enjoyed a wonderful dinner of salad and Ossobuco and some entertaining company. It was a good job I had a quiet few hours on Monday before packing for my return flight to Sydney!

Posted by busyboots 16:55 Comments (1)

There are still plenty of good reasons to go to Christchurch

As we drove into Christchurch my first reaction was one of shock at the devastation of the city three years on from the earthquakes. Everywhere you look there are huge gaps where buidings were and I later learned that almost 80% of the original city has been demolished including 200 heritage buildings.651486552219AC681708D5841A23C02A.jpg65153C912219AC6817414B4252E93602.jpg6515F16C2219AC681749C46CC93AF3CB.jpg65168BC32219AC68172601EE773081B0.jpg Entire sides of some of the remaining buildings are being held up by stacked containers filled with ballast and the entire city is ike a huge construction site. I stayed at the YHA hostel, which is a heritage buiding and although it suffered some damage it is now back up and running 3539CF822219AC681743506B09025FA9.jpgbut right across the street is the Arts Centre which currently looks like this 353AAD192219AC6817DDC9DB91919B5A.jpg The beautiful cathedral which stands at the heart of the city used to look like this 353C2A102219AC681723CAC72E1632F0.jpg353CE0502219AC681763B12DD69BC308.jpgbut now looks like this 353B8D6D2219AC68176E75714E80DE04.jpgand there is so much debate about the future of this iconic building that it has been the subject of a court case. Meanwhile a 'Cardboard Cathedral' has been built 357A99252219AC681705B1577D200F6E.jpgand has become a tourist attraction in itself. Despite the devastation some of the old buildings have survived 357B62E72219AC6817809FB3640CE817.jpg357C214C2219AC681784A9FFFACDDEE8.jpg and the 'Restart Mall', where shops and restaurants operate out of containers, is a symol of the spirit of the city and a big draw for tourists. 357CF28C2219AC681786BDF1417D5B6F.jpg357DA11F2219AC68179E9E2A5112F4CD.jpg357E42A82219AC6817BD67ABDD31759C.jpg There is still punting on the river and lots of little 'pop up' coffee bars have emerged to add colour to the area. 35B435E82219AC6817DBCE71B40DFB69.jpg35B316462219AC681789FB4FEAFFE9B5.jpg Street artists have taken advantage of blank walls 3623CD132219AC6817F353408D46265F.jpg and temporary 'gap fillers' have been erected. This outdoor entertainment space which has been constructed alongside the damaged concert hall is one example 35E83FD32219AC6817F743EE154CAE12.jpgIt has been put together by members of the local community and is made from folded packing crates with the names of those of have contributed to the effort painted on the sides of each one.
The museum is still standing 35B4EE242219AC68173917980924904C.jpgand I spent a couple of hours in here exploring the wonderful exhibitions including a reconstructed colonial dwelling 35B5B7042219AC6817E7D519B6028EBB.jpg an early Christchurch street 35B671182219AC68174E84344567EE08.jpgsome fascinating fossils 35B71AAD2219AC6817C7B5B2B5A31FC4.jpgand a gallery dedicated to Antarctic exploration35E4522D2219AC6817728536B8039ABA.jpg35E504F42219AC6817F3AC1B49750F83.jpg35E5D3782219AC6817D84F909215364A.jpgThere is also an entire gallery of street art including some examples of Banksy.35E693F62219AC681797EEDA34E71C40.jpgand many other galleries worth spending time in. It really is an excellent museum ?
The botanic gardens, which are right next door to the museum, are absolutely beautiful and play host to free outdoor entertainment. 362553782219AC6817FB3AFDF527B0B6.jpg36263A3D2219AC68177B52C8172E7836.jpg3627179D2219AC68174CE13F5B2D4CB4.jpg3627FBB72219AC6817C25AF5D4234D9B.jpg364DBA192219AC6817A0B5C6F741890F.jpg364EB2082219AC6817AF563C2234DADD.jpgI managed to capture the interest of one of the feathered inhabitants 364F75122219AC6817E1F03FF024F96C.jpgbut some of the others gave me 'the bird' 365010452219AC6817D1023AE2F575BB.jpgI had less than 48 hours in the city but 'Quake City' was recommended to me by one of the museum staff so I went there in the morning before I left to fly back to Australia. I had not intended to go to this as I didn't want to be ghoulishly voyeuristic about so much suffering but I was assured it was run by the museum and dealt sensitively with the earthquake experience. There is a NZ$10 entry fee to this but it is worth going to. There are photographs of the immediate aftermath, CCTV footage of a small area of street as it happened (thankfully nobody was injured in this sequence) and lots of information about how the local, and national community rallied, to assist the people affected by the disaster. There is also information about how the rebuild is going and the future plan for the city is on display.There are to be a many more open, green, spaces and squares encompassing entertainment, sports and hospital facilities. What has happened to this city is undoubtedly a huge tragedy but there is also a lot of potential for quality, life enhancing, re-development and apparently a lot of enthusiasm among architects and planners who have moved into the city in the aftermath of the earthquakes. It is going to take a very long time to make this city as beautiful as it was, and it will be very different to the old Christchurch, but if the planners and builders get it right they could put Christchurch right back on the map as a world class destination. Meanwhile there are plenty of tourists in evidence, although accommodation needs to be booked well in advance as much of it is taken up by construction workers, and the outdoor coffee bars and restaurants are still buzzing in the Christchurch sunshine.

Posted by busyboots 17:34 Comments (1)

Queenstown - a gift to adrenaline junkies and to me!

I was booked into the YHA Lakeside hostel 280758312219AC6817E1461ABA619392.jpgfor my five night stay in Queenstown but after some confusion about my room allocation, and me exercising my rights of complaint, I spent my first night in a very nice, private, room at YHA Central. By the time I got sorted out and settled in the evening was getting on so I only had time for a quick walk along the waterfront A84BE4592219AC68175BB71E50C8C740.jpg and a cheese Fergburger (one location but internationally known gourmet burger place). I made the mistake of ordering chips with it, not a good idea even when you are hungry, I should have realised when I saw all the beefy guys going out with just the burger. It was probably the best burger I have ever had and for NZ$12 it was great value.
On the recommendation of son Tom I booked a skydive with Nzone for the next morning and it was probably the defining moment of my entire NZ trip. I had known the kind of things I was capable of doing before I set out on this trip but my time in Queenstown was always intended for me to push my limits. It was awesome (and I do not use that word lightly) there was a moment when I realised, at 16,000 ft, that my entire body was outside the plane and only suspended by my attachment to my tandem partner and then we were tumbling and rolling and flying. ?271E62192219AC68175F3FAD660ECAAA.jpgI do not have enough superlatives to tell you how amazing this experience was and I am so pleased that I bought into the video/photo package because I will have a record of this forever. This is not a cheap activity, expecially when you add the camera footage, but, honestly, if you only do one truly exciting thing in your life DO THIS it was unbelievable. Nzone were very professional and my partner, Chris, was so calm and laid back that there was not a moment of anxiety for me. Would I recommend this YES! Would I do it again ABSOLUTELY!!!
We got back to town in time for me to sign up for some white water rafting (with Queenstown Rafting) for that same afternoon on the Shotover River. Another first for me, and to be honest I have always been worried about doing this, but when you have jumped out of a 'plane a couple of hours before you are still on a bit of a high. Anyway, the two hours on the river was really exhilerating and I even bailed out of the raft (purposely) for a little 'bobbing along' with the other members of my group. We rafted through a 170m tunnel hewn from the rockface and although we only navigated level 4 rapids, and not too many of those, it was a great introduction and has persuaded me that I need to do more of this. Our guide, Michelle, was calm and confident and he had all of us working as a team in no time at all.
The following day I took the Intercity bus to the famous 'Milford Sound' in Fiordland. It was a five hour drive each way to enjoy a two hour cruise on the Sound (which it seems is actually a fiord) but the online reviews had said that the scenery on this drive was magnificent so I considered it to be part of the whole 'sightseeing' experience. Actually it was worthwhile and the bus drivers on all my journeys in the South Island have been as good as tour guides. Their knowledge is extensive (unless they are really good at reading crib cards while driving) and they stop at all of the 'photo op' places along a route. Mirror lakes are quite lovely 271F89332219AC681702E28C7E2FDE1E.jpg and just before we drove through the Homer Tunnel 272147C42219AC6817C285042FA256AC.jpgwe came across a group of Kea (mountain parrots) 272251212219AC68170A7170E67803B9.jpg making mischief on the roof of a camper van.
It was really grey and with very low cloud when we got to Milford Sound so I was not sure whether we would actually see very much of the peaks at all and my 'photos, which were taken in colour, look more like black and white.27680F3A2219AC6817F660F2DDDA16AA.jpg2768AC6B2219AC6817BFCAE36C77D467.jpg276940E92219AC6817DFDA5F9DB96CCD.jpg276A8E572219AC68172AC0764382C0F9.jpg It was a good cruise nonetheless and there were many waterfalls coming down from the mountains. We did get up close to a colony of fur seals who were taking an afternoon nap and even closer to the biggest of the waterfalls 2769FFC32219AC6817990FE7EFE1DF5C.jpg which sent a lot of people scurrying for cover with their cameras. By the time we got back to the ferry base the cloud was beginning to clear 27BEDBA02219AC6817E833CCD5FD08E7.jpgand I decided to take advantage of a helicopter ride back to Queenstown for the views and speed of return (50 minutes instead of five hours).
I was not disappointed, the views were sensational 27C053372219AC6817B4346EEAA3B1BB.jpg27C14A112219AC68177F984C02397242.jpg and the journey itself was not without it's 'heart in mouth' moments when the pilot lifted close over mountain ridges and then nose dived down the other side. Those manoeuvres were obviously designed for effect and they certainly worked! We came nose up to a wild red deer on one of the mountain slopes and then landed above Lake Wakatipu for a few minutes to take photographs 27C202CA2219AC6817293E199D21E498.jpg27C319642219AC68170B40734DEA4B08.jpg27C4245B2219AC6817EBC7387E4D3E04.jpgThis 'Z' shaped lake is New Zealand's longest, it's third largest and with a depth of 380m it's floor is below sea level. It really is as blue as these pictures show. Once back in the helicopter we flew on into Queenstown and a minbus met us to drive us to our accommodation. A second great day!
On Sunday I thought I ought to take a look around Queenstown itself and it was so much better than I had expected. Of course it is 'touristy' but not in any tacky way. The waterfront is lovely 28084BA32219AC681771F76A6BEE782C.jpg28095B422219AC6817910E742304C735.jpgand the shopping area is compact and with, mostly, quality shops. 280A30512219AC681709EF9D744E9157.jpgQueenstown gardens are small but very pretty and have stunning views across the lake to the mountains and the 'Gondola' station at the top.283EBDA62219AC68173704426597DD8C.jpg283FD8A22219AC681763CB651FBAAA5B.jpg2840F2D82219AC6817D5098981F7F535.jpg2841EB982219AC68177E84DE6235D630.jpg2842DD6A2219AC6817317372E282595D.jpgIn the afternoon I took a bus to Arrowtown, an historic community established on the basis of the gold rush and now a tourist attraction due to it's many conserved buildings 287425962219AC68172B68F67CD7F423.jpg2874DCD92219AC681777E95C2789FF24.jpg28769DAE2219AC68173D747B7B3E7299.jpgOn the outer edge of the town is the Chinese Village where you can view the area that was inhabited by the Chinese gold diggers during that time and with some very good information about their lives. 2878651F2219AC68179EE6F094D251B9.jpg28777C822219AC6817B067A476273C51.jpg2879A0332219AC6817FE9984C7E94A2D.jpg The museum 2895E92F2219AC6817C291C8CFA0FFEC.jpghas some excellent displays and a lot of information about early life in the gold mining community. 2896B0492219AC6817298E18D20E6CBE.jpg289761D62219AC6817336DE1C5A609F7.jpg28982B9A2219AC6817D917E80C92D8B9.jpg
I had booked Ziptrek, a zip line experience down the mountain, for my last afternoon, but I had the morning free so I found a hairdressing salon and had a cut and colour which was much overdue. At this point I have to say that I have seriously missed my friend Denise. ?The three hour long Ziptrek activity starts at the top of the mountain and you can either spend an hour walking up or NZ$27 return for a ride on the Gondola. I chose the Gondola. This is a fast ascent and you can even take your bikes up with you 28CB79D92219AC68177597024ED72740.jpg as there is a bike trail down the side of the mountain. At the top the views are incredible 28CE6FEC2219AC6817444601D14196C1.jpg and you can do a bungy jump or any/all of three luge courses. 28CF7C422219AC68175A3CA3E5166563.jpg28D0A22B2219AC68170724C3AED9E5F5.jpgThere is a restaurant with pretty good, reasonably priced, food and a gift shop28F6404C2219AC68178BF8F796963E4A.jpg
The Ziptrek course starts from just outside the Gondola station and is a series of either 4 or 6 zip wires down the mountain. I did the 6 wire, 940m, course and, after that first leap of faith, it was a lot of fun. 28F8E4FD2219AC681705B87C6181506A.jpg28F9F1162219AC6817ABB24821EA5B3E.jpg Our guides, Charles and Jags, were very professional and their attention to health and safety detail was impressive. They were also very funny ? This is an eco-activity so they spent time at each station talking to us about the environment and at one point showed us a 'wildling pine' sapling (those thousands of which have escaped cultivation to dominate the landscape) which stood next to a native beech sapling. The beech was 11 years old and the pine was 11 months old and they were both the same height. No wonder these pines, which were brought over from North America and grow ten times faster in the New Zealand, are taking over the country.
Queenstown has been a phenomenal experience for me. I loved the town itself and, despite the fact that my bank account has taken a major hit, I loved all the activities that I signed up for. Next stop is Christchurch for two nights and then back to Australia. Where has this month gone?

Posted by busyboots 22:46 Comments (0)

The long and winding road to Franz-Josef

The bus left Nelson at 7.15am on Tuesday and I was fortunate (I think) to get a seat at the front with a 180 degree view. This turned out to be a bit of a double edged sword because I was also a first hand witness to the stunning abilities of the bus driver. Seriously, he was outstanding, there are not many people who can throw a coach around the corkscrew roads that snake up and down the mountain ranges, with no discernible braking on blind bends, while maintaining an air of calm confidence. There were a couple of heart stopping moments - for me. I simply had to put my trust in the fact that he probably knew every bump and grind along the entire route and hold on tightly to my tiki. ? He liked to get up close and personal with any traffic in front of him which must have been very disconcerting for tourist drivers most of whom pulled over immediately. Way to go! Actually he was a great guy and the bus service is an unofficial delivery system that drops car parts, newspapers and parcels off to remote communities along the route. You have to applaud that initiative. One 'town' that we passed through had a population of four people. Seriously! Not good if you don't get on with the neighbours or your partner.
As in parts of the North Island for a while I found the scenery a little oppressive with mountains on all sides and the all pervasive pine trees blurring the contours of the landscape. Then we passed into farmland and I began to see more sheep than I have seen since I have been in the country plus herds of cows (beef, apparently, is now the bigger export) alpacas and deer. After Westport the road runs right along the coast so there was sea, road and mountains for miles and these mountains are covered in native foliage. It was absolutely stunning, like driving through a tropical rainforest, and you realise what a tragedy it is that 70% of New Zealand's native woodland has been lost. Congratulations to the New Zealand Government and people who appear to be making serious efforts to reverse this with the creation of new wetlands, large areas of national parks and areas under preservation order.
In Punakaiki we dropped some people off at a lovely looking backpacker hostel right on the beach (aptly named Beach Backpackers) which would be great to stay at if you like a bit of isolation and long walks through the Paparoa National Park or along the beach.? Just up the hill from the hostel is a cafe, upmarket souvenir shop, information site and the 'Pancake Rocks' where a 20 minute laid out walk winds through native forest to the coast and the most amazing rock formations. A brilliant exeperience even in the rain. C877AFB22219AC68175C7CE11D7A3456.jpgC879503A2219AC681798598CDDCECE61.jpgC87B2B782219AC6817DE8DE76234732F.jpg The YHA hostel at Franz-Josef is, in my opinion, good. It is very comfortable and is designed to look and feel like a mountain lodge D5D7E88F2219AC6817D45FA17EE8D963.jpg and it does not have a TV set ? but it does have a sauna which is free. Generally the 'township' is made up of many backpackers lodges and a small number of more upmarket hotels. There are a couple of bar/restaurants, two gift shops, a garage and a small supermarket. Oh and a police station. D8439B572219AC68171759EEDB7036B6.jpgThe rain that started en route yesterday continued throughout the night and most of the day today and the clouds closed in so that it was impossible to see the peaks. D5D1AF2E2219AC681787911F4358EAE4.jpgD5D26B3F2219AC681753D2468ADDE1A1.jpg Scenic helicopter flights over the glacier were cancelled and it was not even worth walking the 1.5 hours to the viewing point 500 meters from the glacier face because you would not have been able to see it. I had also spoken to several people last night who did that walk yesterday and thought it wasn't worth the effort since all they could see was a wall of dirty ice. It is no longer possible to walk onto the glacier because a huge section of the front has broken off and it is too dangerous. The only way to get on it therefore is to take a helicopter ride which will cost you NZ$195 for a twenty minute flight (over either Franz-Josef or Fox glaciers) with a brief landing on the ice to take pictures. The prices go up from there. There was an option to watch a 20 minute film (on maxi-screen) shot from the helicopter so that you could at least know what you were missing. That seemed a worthwhile option at NZ$12.50. Unfortunately it had broken down ?
The weather effectively confined everybody to barracks for almost the entire day and then the rain stopped and the sun came out at about 4pm. It was good to be able at least to walk around the town and to see the mountains emerging from under the blanket of cloud,D5DAC7472219AC6817A178BEEB091C50.jpgD5DBB46E2219AC6817F7CDE181563F7F.jpgand you could begin to see why this area is called The Southern Alps. Suddenly everyone came outside it reminded me of the Alan Sherman song 'Hello Muddah Hello Faddah. There are a nice few short walks around the town and two beautiful historic churches that are worth a visit. D5D47D542219AC6817EEAE4C0A8C1178.jpgD5D347022219AC68176EF9E264565D60.jpgD5D5C6D12219AC6817D23008340FF3C5.jpgD5D6B1DE2219AC6817B46F1763CD768F.jpg The window wall at the end of the second one, St James Anglican Church, looks out onto an excellent view,D788C1682219AC6817E5670B6A7EF630.jpgor at least it would be on a clear day.
So, that was Franz-Josef, not quite what I had expected but I would have had to break the journey south somewhere. It seems the weather here tomorrow is going to be 26c, clear and sunny, I am heading out on another eight hour bus ride to Queenstown (I might try to sit further back in the bus this time) and the weather there is forecast for rain. Do you think it's because I'm English? ?
P.S. When hiring a car over here read the small print very carefully. One of my room mates hired a car for nine days, after two days she skidded after rain. Not too much damage to the car but they carted it away saying that they could not allow her to continue using it until it had been fully checked over. They would not give her a refund on the remaining days (small print) and told her that as the accident was 'her fault' she could not have another car unless she paid again. She had taken out their top of the range insurance policy but all this meant was that she did not have to pay for the repairs to the car. I don't know if this is standard practice or just a rogue outfit but, as always, it pays to read the small print.

Posted by busyboots 22:00 Comments (1)

Nelson via Picton - more than a gateway to the South Island!

After a crossing of the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton A50EFC782219AC681728774EA4E6A1D6.jpg the Intercity buses connect to the ferry from right outide the ferry building at Picton. I had planned, as most people do, to get off the ferry, onto the bus, and head off to my hostel for the next two nights in Nelson. I had a half day to spare so I googled 'things to do in Picton' and found some really good reviews of 'naturetours.co.nz' which offers various options to explore the Marlborough Sounds. Even 'though you get magnificent views in Queen Charlotte Sound as the ferry sails through it, I decided to do a half day cruise which was offered as 'Motoura Island Bird Sanctuary & Dolphin Cruise' and to get a later bus south. I am so pleased that I did because Picton is a lovely town that deserves much more than being a 'drive-through' and I had a chance to explore a little of it whilst I waited for the cruise to start. A50FEB802219AC681795A0315B418282.jpgA510D1372219AC68178B193D1E9E1EAC.jpg If I had realised how nice it is I would probably have booked my first night on the South Island there.
Paul and his crew from Nature Tours were excellent, their knowledge of the environment and wildlife is extensive and they were good fun. We actually had three dolphin encounters during the afternoon, two with small pods of bottlenose dolphins and one with Hector dolphins, which are on the endangered species list. We also managed to get close to basking fur seals and saw plenty of birdlife including several King Shags which are also on the endangered list. The walk up to the lookout point on Motuara Island was easy going and the views of the sounds were brilliant. A512ADDD2219AC6817346C2504E3C41F.jpg Many of the islands in the sounds are under preservation orders and cannot be landed on. Motorua is a sanctuary where several endangered species have been re-introduced and although it is open to visitors it is strictly reguated to prevent any kind of animal life being introduced. It was a fantastic afternoon and I would highly recommend it.
The 6.30pm bus took me to Nelson and when I arrived I was really disconcerted to find that the entire town had gone to bed. Okay it was Sunday evening but I hadn't expected this. The YHA hostel at Nelson is probably one of the nicer ones I have stayed at and at least there was life after 9pm inside. I disovered the next day that my first apprehensive impressions of Nelson were totally unfounded. I had planned to go the Abel Tasman Park for a day of hiking but in the end I had a late and very relaxing start to the day, did my laundry and took a leisurely walk around the town. This is a town I could live in I think. It sees many tourists but feels like a working community town with good shopping, eating and drinking and a laid back feel. On my way to look at the really unusual church A5162E402219AC6817E4CE56551F2975.jpgA51767F42219AC6817B6D2097B9881B8.jpg I managed to come across a very pretty old building A51A86A32219AC68171C83BE4FA5B5CD.jpgwhich is home to a business dealing in second hand ladies clothes and accessories. Needless to say I coud not pass up the opportunity and confess to a little bit of retail therapy that my already bulging suitcase will not be happy to accommodate. Nelson is named for Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson and there is an interesting stone commemorating this connection A5152FD02219AC68172F8A5A77530BA1.jpg There are some good 'new age' shops, some examples of what seen to be typical wall murals A5191DB42219AC68178A38A36373C48A.jpg and the most amazing bead 'emporium' that my friend Liz would die to spend time in. A51BB8BE2219AC68172424861C0BFFAF.jpgA51D0A942219AC6817301F3FBEA7084B.jpg I'm not sure what this particular restaurant was selling A51DFA912219AC68174DD7116C20E369.jpg and I wasn't hungry enough to find out ?.
It seems like 'pit stops' all the way but I am actually getting a flavour of this country, and I'm meeting some wonderful people, more about whom later. My next port of call is Franz-Josef, which exists purely as a tourist resort, from which people can explore one of the New Zealand's two famous glaciers. I'll report back on this once I've done the hike.

Posted by busyboots 23:08 Comments (0)

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