A Travellerspoint blog

WELLINGTON TO PICTON

Our last morning in North Island, then over to Picton on the ferry

sunny 18 °C

Thursday 8th January 2009

Thankfully our ferry wasnt booked until 2.15pm, which gave us the morning to do a bit of shopping and browsing. I went off early to post some stuff back home as my luggage situation is getting very very tight now, even with two bags. I packed up some of the sturdier tourist tat ( had forgotten how much I'd actually bought - god only knows where its all going to go !!!). Anyway, my joy at getting rid of it was short lived as it cost me NZ$85, and it only weighed 5kg. Think I'll be having a bring and buy sale at the airport before I fly home as wont be posting anything else back - and it takes 4 weeks anyway !!!

Unfortunately I then went shopping and bought yet more Cd's from the fantastic CD shop in the Willis Mall that Id found yesterday ( absolutely everything was 20% off - bought heaps and heaps). Apparently most Wellingtonians eat their lunches at Mall's such as Willis because theres such a variety in the food section and they're so cheap - I have to agree, I was spoilt for choice.

Bit of hilarity when we were about to leave though and the car was brought round to the front of the hotel by the Hotel's Car Valet guy. Neither of us could figure out how to put off the hazzard lights so we had to go back into the hotel and get poor Ivan to come back out and show us. Talk about feeling like a numpty !!!! Turns out the button was MASSIVE and bang smack on the middle of the dashbaord. Just to confuse us further we had to leave the hire car before getting on the ferry and collect a new one when we got off- meant lugging my assorted bags into the Ferry terminal, although it was all relatively hassle free.

I wasnt overly impressed with the ferry over - all the guide books say the Marlborough Sounds are breathtaking and stunning ; I wasnt really blown away by them, although we had a nice day and managed to get outside for bits of it when it wasnt too blowly. The 3 hour crossing passed in no time ; think I was only really outside for the last 45 minutes or so.

No hire car at Thrifty for us like there should have been, so the woman had to give us a fancy 4x4 for the night ; promising to come and exchange it the following day.

Superb little drive up in our posh new car to Blenheim, our base for the next two nights - although we both liked the look of Picton ( where the Ferry docked) and reckon we'll try and get a look around there before we leave.

We had to have a bit of an itinerary re-think as it had become crystal clear to us that doing Nelson and the Abel Tasman isnt going to be very practical if we want to see around Picton and Blenhiem too. Discused our options and decided that as neither of us were really up for anymore hiking ( I couldnt even get my left foot into a pair of trainers just now anyway) we might just miss Abel Tasman and try and do some Dolphin watching and possibly an easier walk around one of the Islands in the Queen Charlotte Sound instead of Nelson and Abel Tasman. Quite happy with our decision, think it'll be a good one !!

Posted by Sparkster 03:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

WELLINGTON

Just loved it here !!! Definitely my sort of place !!!

semi-overcast 20 °C

Wednesday 7th January

Had a great day today, exploring Wellington ; even the wind didnt detract from what turned out to be a really good day. We headed up to the top of Mount Victoria in the morning, got some great views out over the harbour and even spotted our hotel.

I was quite impressed with the sculpture/piece of art ( The Byrd Monumnet) that was put up there to honour arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd. It was redesigned in 2000 ( think the original was put up in the sixities) by a local artist and made from ceramic tiles. One side of it shows the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis - of course I posed for a few photos next to it. Also climbed onto the big cannon a bit further along ( like a big kid) - blame Val for egging me on to do it !!! The cannon was fired daily much like our own 1 o'clock gun, although it was discontinued many moons ago.

We drove along Oriental Parade, because the guide books all recommended we saw it ; wasnt that impressive - apart from the joggers and a few boats there wasnt much to see so we quickly about turned and did a trial run to the Interislander ferry for tomorrow and our trip to the South Island ( very close to the hotel so it shouldnt take us long) then spent the afternoon at Te Papo, Wellington's famous cultural museum. Very impressive set up - puts ours to shame I must say ; everything was very geared up towards engaging with kids, yet there was enough other bits to keep the adults amused. Lots and lots of really good European Art - loads of Scottish Artists emmigrated to NZ in the mid 19th century and a lot of their works were on show ( James Nairn impressed me the most - originally from Glasgow. Also like some of Duncan Grant's work ( originally one of the Bloomsbury Set) ands a local artist called Robin White.

Val and I took the cultured bit to a whole new level by breaking the habit of a lifetime and having a few Gin and Tonics either side of our museum visit. It's a wonder I can remember seeing anything LOL.

We finished off the day by heading for something to eat at Monsoson Poon - a lovely Asian retsaurant that served the most amazing food, which was kind of like a fusion between traditional and modern Asian cooking. Terrific cocktails too - which we needed as both our meals were incredibly spicy.

Almost forgot to mention our little drink in The Kiwi bar - a brilliant little pub which wasnt particularly authentic New Zealand ( pastel painted deckchair type seating outside) but had a great feel to it, and was more laid back than some of the busier pubs on Courtenay Place. And they had CIDER !!!!!!

Finally we headed to the Embassy Theatre, the cinema where the world Premiere of "The Return of The King" took place( "Lord of the Rings" is understandably massive throughout New Zealand, there are tours of landmarks from the films everywhere you go,and Peter Jackson the director was a local boy from Wellington so guess he's a bit of a god in these parts !!) Its an amazing theatre, lovingly looked after with excellent knowledgable staff - think it was restored for the Premiere though as it looks very new.

We saw "Austrailia" which I thought was kind of apt - okay, well at least its the same continent. Film was good, although it ws really the atmosphere and the architecture of the building that made it such a good night.

I'd recommend Wellington to anyone - its very very friendly, has a great buzz around its pubs and restaurants, and all the locals seems to have gotten the work/life balance totally spot on. Sure its a bit windy because of its geographical location but you soon get used to that and culturally I thought it had a lot more going for it than Auckland ( sorry Lynnie !!!). All the locals here say that although Auckland is the biggest city in NZ , Wellington's stronger on culture, art and quality. Neither myself or Valerie could disagree - and its easily moved into the highlight of our trip to New Zealand so far !!!.

Posted by Sparkster 02:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

NAPIER/WELLINGTON

Art Deco, and a tour of the local Wineries - oh and amazing weather !!!

sunny 27 °C

Monday 5th January

Started off today by jogging with Valerie at 7.30am ( I so wish I hadnt !!!!) We had planned to use the gym but apparently out hotel only has limited usage of the gym across the road and two obnoxious Americans beat us to the last two places. If youre not fast youre last as the saying goes !!! Anyway, decided to jog along the sea front and although I started reasonably well the fact that my trainers were almost two sizes too small for me soon became an issue and to cut a very long and boring story short I was soon crawling along and in total agony. My big toe looked like someone had run over it when I finished - think I mustve went over it or something.

We were all changed and ready for the 10am Art Deco Walking Tour, although Valerie almost had a heart attack as we walked up to the Visitors Centre and saw two ladies in white who were obviously our guides. Both of them looked as if they were in their eighties. I almost had to physically stop Valerie from about turning and heading back to the hotel.

As it turns out , because Valerie took a bit longer than we expected at the ticket counter booking our afternoon Winery tour we unfortunately missed the first tour - led by 86 year old Mary !!! I was a bit put out actually as she looked like a barrel of laughs ( albeit maybe quite a slow barrell !!!). We managed to get a 'trainee' guide - a new start called David, who was being supervised by Wyn and looked around 68. He quickly put us in our place though by informing us that he was a retired teacher and wanted us all to stay together when we crossed the roads !!!

Just to put everyone in the picture, Napier is a sleepy town with virtually no traffic LOL.

The tour was really really good - David was really informative ; the architecture was outstanding and the pace was more than manageable ( we were also the youngest two on the tour - an added bonus !!). Again we had a bit of a laugh, especially when we went inside the ANZ Bank building to 'gape' at the ceiling ; impresive though it was it really wasnt even a patch on any of the bank ceilings in Edinburgh, although we didnt have the heart to say this.

I enjoyed the history that went with the trip, especially the stuff about the earthquake that decimated Napier in 1931. All credit to the town for recovering so well from it.

In the afternoon we did a mammoth 4 winery tour with a lovely guide called Karl who manged to give us lots of tips and advice without being too pretentious as regards smelling, tasting and checking the colour of the wine. Bit of a heavy day though as the first Winery, Ngataruawa, had us taste 8 wines !!!! Need to say that I gave 2 of the white wines a miss and Valerie missed 1 red and the sherry ( cause its "an old persons drink" !!!!!!). With hindisght this was probably the best wine we tasted ( either that or our tastebuds just got pickled as the day went on.We followed this first visit with a taster plater of food at Sileni ( stuffed tomatoes, fresh salmon, huge mussels, smoked venison and beef, various cheeses and breaded mushrooms). Kind of complicated as we were supposed to choose one of four wines for each piece of food. I was clueless, even with advice from Karl - who incidentally told us all about his acting aspirations over lunch ( he's done a one man play thats been a big hit in NZ and is hoping to get to the Edinburgh Festival one day).

We also got chatting to a lovely English couple at lunch - Mark and Emma ; now Id liked Emma from the minute we got on the bus as we're both cider lovers !!!! They're doing a very similar route to us ( bet most folk on fly-drives are doing the same as us actually LOL). They were both lots of fun and seemd to have had scarily similar experiences along the way. Val's convinced theyre on their honeymoon - Im not sure.

Found Edinburgh Rock in the Sileni Gift shop - extortionately priced, but feeling a bit light headed we both posed for photos with boxes of it and found it incredibly amusing ( you probably had to be there LOL !! ).

The 3rd winery was Moana Park - a completely organic and vegetarian winery. Lovely idea - and they even offered to ship a crate of wine to Scotland for us for only £130, but to be honest the stuff we tasted wasnt that fantastic. They did have an amazing Ice Wine though ( desert wine) - totally gave you a buzz, I thought it reminded me of Thunderbird ( come on now, who remembers that stuff ??? Know that Petes does - sure we drank that on the infamous Elephant game night, eh ?? !!!!).

The last Winery was the oldest in New Zealand, Mission Estates - and it looked amazing, with an excellent guide to go through the tasting with us. Again wasnt that impresed with any of the stuff we were offered to taste, but do think our taste buds were probably a bit frazzled by then. I was in my element when I discovered that Olivia played a concert here in 2006 and there's even wine for sale with her name on it ; it also has Chris De Burgh's on it too but lets not go there.

We opted for chinese tonight and went to a quirky little chinese restaurant which we've nicknamed "Singapore Sling" ( cant remember the real name but Singapore was in the title) - a really mad chinese woman ran it, and did all the cooking too. She more or less ordered me to eat chicken instead of meatballs for my starter and gave Valerie a heard time when she ordered beancurd ( she shouted at her "YOU VEGETARIAN ??!!!" I was in hysterics). The food was good though and we saw a couple that had been to the Mitai show with us in Rotorua - think they were Australian ; they suffered even worse than Valerie cause when she came to take their order they said they werent ready. Mad woman then decided to ignore them for the next 45minutes !!!!!

I'd definitely say go though if youre ever in Napier - even just to see the womans' eye shadow. Its a classic !!!!

Tuesday 6th January

Although I had intended to get my haircut the fact that most of the hairdresers were only opening this morning after their Christmas break, and the fact that I was a bit hungover meant I didnt really have time. Opted to shop instead and did a bit of rummaging through second hand shops ( uncovered a classic Olivia LP with a free poster - no way I'll get that home intact though), and bought a polo top that I didnt really need from a lovely shop with the friendliest shop assiantant yet ( Rodd and Gunn).

We had a nice drive to Wellington, leaving napier around lunchtime ; only got lost once but as we ended up in Havelock North ( one of the poshest places to stay in North Island ) we werent complaining.

Bizarrely enough Mark and Emma overtook us in their Toyota car on the way - quite freaky we bumped into them again.

Had a coffee stop in Masterton ( lovely Nachos at the coffee shop on the main street), but it wasnt that eventful on the way there. Masterton impressed because everyone seemed to know each other and it didnt feel even remotely touristy. Infact everyone almost ignored us.

After arriving at The Holiday Inn ( quite impressive - with views over the harbour) we met Chris , who I'd travelled with in Brazil/Argentrina for drinks. Was great to see him again and we did a little tour of the pubs around the harbour area before heading into town. Can only remember Macs Brewery ( think we ate there too) and a pub that used to be where the Ambulances left from. That pub wouldnt have been out of place in George Street in Edinburgh. Both pubs were lovely, as were the others. Chris did us proud by showing us a good selection of pubs and giving us good advice on what to do with our free day tomorrow. Thanks Chris - appreciated it big time, maybe get to return the favour if you ever make it up to Edinburgh. It really does make a difference when you have someone showing you around.

Wellington already making quite an impression on us both !!!

Posted by Sparkster 03:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

WAI-O-TAPU, LAKE TAUPO and NAPIER

The road down to Napier via yet more Hot Thermal Springs

28 °C

Sunday 4th January 2009

We decided to go the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park on the way out of Rotorua so checked out sharpish and zoomed down the road to get there before their main attraction, the Lady Knox Geyser ( no relation to you Ray ??) 'errupted' at 10.15am. This is where I get a little cynical, as the 'erruption' was actually orchestrated by one of the park guides who has the job of putting soap powder down a hole into the Geyser every day to ensure it errupts bang on schedule in front of all the tourists. When I heard about this I was less than impressed, and fairly sceptical of the whole thing, however it was a beautiful sunny day and I was detremined to be positive.

To be fair it was, as ever with Rotorua, a very well organised affair with the tourists literally playing "Wacky Races" to get into the visitors centre, queue for their entry tickets then drive the 2km back out to the Geyser, park their cars and scramble for the best viewing on some rather dodgey wooden benches. We both found it hilarious and got well into the spirit of things fighting off Japanese tourists for a bench. The guide almost acted like a Master of Ceremonies and kept the tension building while he gave us a historical premable about the geyser followed by a technical description about how the soap powder like subtstance triggered the erruption of water from the Geyser ( the soap powder reduces the waters surface tension and this then forces the hot steam and water to the surface in a forceful jet of up to 10 metres - gee's, dont I sound like a clever scientist ?? !!)

The whole thing took on comedy status when just before the erruption all we could see from our seats was bellowing hot steam, covering everything and everyone. I thought it was hilarious watching everyone ( including Valerie) trying to get their video shots by jostling into position only to have it thwarted by lots of steam. To be fair I think I managed to get one or two half decent shots and it was certainly far 'gush-ier' than any of the ones I saw in Chile, although the fact that it was kick started kind of detracts a little from the whole experience.There was also no mention of dead tourists here in Wai-O-Tapu, which was an added bonus. Have to say though that I dont think Id be rushing back to see a geyser of any shape, size or description after my two most recent experiences.

Valerie and I returned to the car and round two of "Wacky Races" as we frantically tried to get to the other car park and commence the walk around the Geo- thermal park. This was a pleasant enough walk around formations, thermal pools and more hot springs - all of which had very grand sounding names such as "Devil's Ink Pots" and "Champagne Pool". Im thinking some of the names were maybe just a bit on the grand side, however it was a good hour and a half walk and we took loads of photos.

After a quick bite to eat in the Cafe we headed off on the road to Napier, stopping only at Lake Taupo on the way (begs me to ask why on earth didnt we opt to stay at Taupo insted of Rotorua - seems much much nicer and has a beautiful lake, the largest in New Zealand and bigger than Singapore !!). Next time for sure !!!

Got to Napier around 4.20pm and I LOVED it from the minute we drove into it ; its a lovely sleepy kind of town with the most amazing Art Deco buildings ( largest concentration of them in the world). All stems from the town being completely rebuilt in less than 2 yeras after the great earthquake of 1931. The buildings were all fashioned in the style of the time (and that was by chance Art Deco). Napier has since managed to make a whole tourist industy on its architecture, although I reckon the glorious sunshine has something to do with it as well.

Was a bit thin on the ground in terms of decent restaurants though ; we ended up eating at a new-ish restaurant just along from our hotel on the promenade called Med. Not a bad meal and the menu was fairly extensive.

Need to mention the hotel room, staying at Te Pania ( a Scenic Circle hotel), and our room impressed us by having two windows facing out onto the promenade and the beach - quite impressive views, almost a total 180 degree view.

Napier is definitely what I thought New Zealand would be like - and the sunshine is just a total bonus ; been told its full of old people but reckon if my friend Lynn can have a wild night or two here then so can we, and besides its seriously classy. The shops are all a bit quirky and different and the people we've met so far are incredibly friendly. Like Ive already said, I JUST LOVE IT !!!!

Posted by Sparkster 01:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

ROTORUA

Really not sure what to say about this place !!!!

rain 18 °C

Friday 2nd January 2009

Got to Rotorua mid afternoon and checked in to our hotel ( The Millenium - nice hotel near the far end of the lake, pleasant enough) during a short gap in the rain that had followed us most of the way from Auckland.

Rotorua smells awful ( particularly up by our hotel). Its the sulphur from all the hot springs - and although they say you get used to it after an hour or so I have to disagree. Found it pretty disgusting to be honest. Its also quite a sprawled out town and on the way in both of us noticed that it seems to have a lot of commercial business premises mixed in amongst residential areas (i.e. lots of Farm Equipment stores next to houses next to Burger Kings etc etc). It has very large American-like roads which adds even more to the spaced out/sprawled out feel. Quite touristy and commercial too, not really my sort of place.

We wandered around for a bit after grabbing some decent food at Cafe Cisco, and found oursleves down at Lake Rotorua and the Maori village of Ohinemutu just along form the waterfront ; it was the principal Maori settlement in the area before Rotorua and although its been swallowed up a little by Rotorua's expansion its still classed as a Maoiri village today. The church ( St Faith's Anglican Church) was very impressive - as was the Tamatekapua Meeting House, and the numerous hot springs that were blowing off steam just along from the village square.

The rain put a bit of a dampner on our sightseeing , although we managed to miss the worst of it when we were travelling down from Auckland.

Although we did plan to head out for dinner, neither of us could really be bothered so we nipped to the local supermarkert instead ( Pac N Save - looks like a Lidl, only a bit classier ) and bought junk food for a slobby night in. Fisrt time Ive eaten in since I started travelling I think - and it was a great change. Loved it !!

Saturday 3rd January 2009

Started the day by hitting the Skyline Skyrides a few miles out of town. Again, it rained on and off for most of the morning. Valerie bravely headed down one of the Luge rides ( kind of go-kart/luge ride on a choice of three courses , each stretching a few Km down to the bottom with chair lifts back up).

There was a heap of queueing going on, which was a bit irritating but to be expected really. Rotorua is a big tourist destination for foreigners and Kiwi's alike - lots of families here, and the whole place feels slighty too commercial. Valerie and I both commented on the fact that the whole place seems to have done very well for itself by making the most of not very much and totally cornering the tourist market ( the hot springs is basicallly the main thing to see here - Rotorua doesnt have much else, although it is very rich in Maori culture)

After the rides at Skyline we went to look at the Zorb ( another ride a few miles further out of town where you travel down a hill inside a 10ft high plastic ball ). The concept of zorbing originated from the area, and is now a 'craze' all over the world/NZ. Cant say Ive ever heard of it before. We watched it for a bit from inside the car as it was bucketing it down outside, and I have to say I thought it looked stupid - so, although I had been contemplating pushing myself to do it I decided against it as I really wasnt sure what the point of the exercise would be!!! Besides, everyone who was trying it looked way under twenty !!

We went to a Maori concert and Hangi at night ; after perusing all our options we decided that the 'Mitai' was the best option to go for and it didnt disappoint.We saw a pretty authentic show which included lots of Maori dancing, singing and a Waka ( maori's in a canoe). It gave us a good flavour of Marae custom and protocol, and was performed very enthusiastically by a group of men and women. The hangi ( maori feast - cooked in underground buried ovens and consisting of meat and steamed vegetables) was really good considering the fact that it was mass produced for the tourist trade and I couldnt really fault it, even by my fussy standards.

Downside of the night was probably Valerie's companion at the dinner table - a german girl who seemed a little full of herself. Finally after dinner we were given a tour round the grounds to see some Glow worms ( something I was chuffed about as we didnt manage to get to Waitomo caves to see them there) and a few other bits and pieces.

We had an entertaining guide/host for the evening called Owen who used the word "Folks" about ten times in every sentence - most amusing, although he was enthusiastic and certainly fairly knowledgable. Turns out he normally does the dancing and singing part, and that the maori chief is actually his Uncle, but he was standing in as a host for us tonight because everyone else was on hioliday. Suprise suprise , that sounds familiar!!!!

Posted by Sparkster 04:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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