Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where in Hell is Cape Reinga Light House?

500+ years old kauri tree
At Cape Reinga of course, right at the most northern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. And, we've been there! Hoorah!

It's a 400 km odd round trip from Paihia where we were staying at the Paihia Lodge Resort to Cape Reinga, so we decided to let someone else do the driving and signed up for a bus tour which began at the unholy hour of 7:15 am which meant we had to get out of bed at 6:30 am ... not all that impressed.

Our bus driver picked us up at our resort and away we drove with about 30 other tourists, even an older couple (yes, older than us) who are New Zealanders.

We drove for an hour to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom site with restaurant, kauri carving shop and something the driver called "fuddy duddly" which to New Zealanders apparently means toilets. Here we, yes, you guessed it, visited the fuddy duddly and picked up a cup of coffee for breakfast. We spent 20 minutes looking at the carvings which included a vertical staircase carved by chain saw out of a 3 metre kauri log.

When I see these things I am always amazed at what skills people have; to conceptualise a vertical , helical staircase and then cut it as well as it was takes real skill ... or perhaps a lot of trees.

From there, we drove farther north and after travelling 20 km or so through a forestry plantation of beautiful pine trees (there are literally millions here), we entered 90 Mile Beach. After a short delay with some tourists in a camper van who had become bogged getting off the beach, we drove onto the beach and headed north again. It reminded me of Frasers Island off the Queensland Coast. Flat and straight.

Our bus
The driver told us that going up the beach cut 25 minutes off the journey and that it was possible to travel at the max allowable 100 km/hr, which he did, driving through numerous areas of fresh water flowing from the nearby hills into the Tasman Sea to our left. We stopped for a short while at a spot along the beach and although the driver offered sufficient time for anyone wanting to swim, the opportunity, nobody braved the cold waters, even the young and hardy.

But, the young and hardy and a couple of older people did brave the sand dune boarding a few kilometres farther up the beach and into the hills. We declined. The thought of having sand in our clothes for another few hours didn't appeal, although I had given it serious thought with a view to retaining my Putin like "action man" image after white water rafting at Turangi. Not today.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Next stop was at Cape Reinga where we debussed and walked a couple of kilometres down a declining walkway to reach the light house. After taking a few snaps and reading the information boards, we walked up the incline which was excellent exercise for our hearts, minds and bodies generally. We've walked 5-8 km per day since arriving in NZ which is excellent for our health and fitness program.

From Cape Reinga, we drove for about 30 minutes to a lovely little cafe/service station where we had lunch that was provided as part of the tour cost. While there, suddenly eight police vehicles and as many police officers arrived and while the driver assured us they weren't after him, one of the officers revealed that they had been doing marihuana raids. This explained the helicopter we had seen near the forestry reserve carrying camera equipment (or perhaps sensing equipment?) hanging 20 metres below. Casting my mind back to the days when I was a police officer, I reminded myself that police have to eat too, they were simply there for lunch.

After a short stop during our return to allow people to attend to their fuddy duddly needs, we continued home along the winding road that runs through numerous small towns, all of which are beautiful as is the rest of New Zealand. At around 5:30 pm we arrived back at the Paihia Lodge ready for a shower, a glass of red and dinner.


PS: We are yet to visit Cape York Peninsula, the most northern part of Australia.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mt Hutt Lodge and Region, New Zealand

Mt Hutt is both a mountain and a region. We stayed at Mt Hutt Lodge which is near Rakaia Gorge where a jet boat operates, there is a caravan park and people seem to spend time dipping their fishing lines into the fast flowing, grey-blue waters.
 Sitting with the curtains of our room pulled aside, I can see Mt Hutt in all its majesty standing tall with a line of white snow on top, reminding us that it has been here forever and will be here long after we have gone. Clouds cover all but the top of the mountain and seem to be lingering today as there is little wind.

As I write, I can hear the jet boat powering up with the gutterell sound typical of such engines. Speed has always been an attraction to we bipedal land lovers and I guess it's the speed that attracts people to want to travel aimlessly up and down the river with the boat's hull bumping up and down and the too cool wind blowing through their hair. There doesn't seem to be anything else going for it. At least at an aviation show, you get to smell the aviation fuel and see much more sophisticated maneouvering.

The Lodge is older, as can be seen from the photograph above and consists of both hotel style, short-term rooms and four timeshare apartments that are fully self-contained. Ours is comfortable for two people but has sufficient table, chair and movement space for perhaps four or five.

Yesterday we drove via Arthur's Pass to Springfield. There is a train journey you can take from Christchurch to Greymouth, but it's expensive so we decided to drive so we could see more of the sights and have the freedom to come and go as we pleased, which we did. We stopped at several lookouts, went for a long walk about the Castle Hill rocks (see entrance photo) and had lunch at a quaint cafe at Arthur's Pass with free entertainment from a friendly kea bird that landed on our table and without waiting for an invitation began helping itself to the scraps left on our plates. Chris took some video footage of the kea, which is a mountain parrott only found in the south island of NZ. Unfortunately, it's too large to upload. The photo here of the kea sign below tells a little about them.

Arthur's Pass is spectacular with a viaduct, a concrete, overhead structure on part of the road to safeguard drivers from rock falls, and several lookouts. We'd love to see it in winter full of snow although I don't know that I'd want to be driving on wet roads up and down the pass. Also, I expect there would be many more people here making driving and parking etc a little more hazardous.

Talking of people, I'd like a $10 note for every Recreational Vehicle I've seen ... there are literally thousands of them ... and I haven't seen the lot. It's obviously the way to see NZ; rent an RV and drive all over the place.

The adventure continues.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Christchurch's Container City

Container Coffee Shop
After the earthquake that devastated Christchurch in 2010, the shopkeepers whose livelihood had been taken away within a matter of hours, quickly devised a cost-effective and timely way to recover. They set up a container city within Christchurch.

When we visited Christchurch we were greatly impressed by the design, style and colours that people had used to re-enable their businesses. Everything from coffee shops to dress shops to a Westpac Bank were housed in nicely designed and outfitted cargo containers.

They stood near the buildings that had either withstood the event or that were vacant, pending dismantling. "Life goes on" was the order of the day.

When I saw the Christchurch church crumbled and lying in pieces on the ground, the thought passed my mind that the all powerful god people speak of and pray to couldn't save his church, but a less significant premises nearby was untouched. I already knew the answer to the question posed by that supposed dilemma.

We stopped at the coffee shop shown on the left for a cup of coffee and watched as our fellow tourists (obvious by their dress, backpacks and cameras) walked to and fro.

Others who appeared to be locals went about their business as normal, this one to the bank with a hessian bag full of something, perhaps the day's takings. 
That one, all decked out in suit and tie perhaps heading to the pub after a long and boring business meeting.

After finishing our coffee, it was late afternoon and we had a way to drive to get back to Mt Hutt, so we spent about half hour walking around the shops to see what they sold and headed for our car which we'd parked nearby.

Sadly, the containers will be removed in the next few years as the buildings are rebuilt or demolished and replaced with something grander, hopefully stronger and less prone to acts of nature.

When that happens and the last container is removed, we will only have the photographs and memories of the container city, evidence of humankind's resilience and ability to survive even the greatest odds.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Antarctic Comes to Christchurch, NZ

International Antarctic Centre Hoaglund Vehicles
Hagglund Vehicle and Trailer

The next best thing to a trip to the Antarctic is a visit to the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch, New Zealand. The Centre is situated next door to buildings that house the staff that work for the New Zealand Government's Antarctic program and strategically positioned near the Christchurch Airport from where field staffs in Antarctica are resupplied.

Unfortunately, costs and time determine that you can never see everything you want when you visit another country or, for that matter, another city within your own country.

One of the places on our "preferred visits list" during our holiday in New Zealand was the Antarctic Centre which we had read about previously. So, we set off from our time share accommodation at Mt Hutt and arrived at the Antarctic Centre shortly after opening time.

Christina at a static display
It was a pleasant day and we decided as we'd probably never get to Christchurch again, we'd buy the ticket that included everything. We received a senior's discount too, which made it quite less expensive.

After touring the static displays and reading about New Zealand's Antarctic history, we visited a penguin nursery and a pool where we could see numerous penguins while they were being fed. Several were disabled in some way eg, one had a wing/fin that'd didn't articulate as it should and had difficulty not swimming in circles.

Probably the best event of our visit was the Hagglund vehicle ride which bumped along on its steel and rubber tracks, went up and over a few steep hills and through a deep pool of water. Grandson Tory would have loved it. We loved it!

Robin has an Antarctic freeze
Another event allows those silly enough to experience very low minus temperatures as in a windstorm in Antarctica. We were silly enough and it reminded us that some of our friends in Canada live in places where it gets just as cold. And they have to shovel snow from their driveway every day.

We were provided with thick overcoats and rubber booties and walked into what was really a deep freezer with several huge fans designed to rain down truck loads of snow at high speed.

Yes, it was cold ... very cold, but we weren't in the freezer long enough for the cold to really soak in. Both of us were wearing jeans and a shirt with a light pullover, so I've no doubt we would have become unbearably cold within 20 minutes or so.

As would be expected, the Centre has a nice little coffee shop where we finished up with a nice hot coffee and cake. We also bought a waterproof jacket each and then headed back to Mt Hutt having had another lovely day in New Zealand.


PS: This post has been posted well after the visit date, but to maintain blog order, I've changed to post date to ensure proper ordering

Monday, March 10, 2014

Edgewater Resort at Wanaka, New Zealand

Many years ago we bought a timeshare week at Beachhouse Resort on the Gold Coast. We have never stayed there, but it has allowed us to stay at other timeshares all over the world ... literally. Edgewater Resort is the first of four timeshare resorts in which we will stay while in New Zealand.

Every year we accrue a number of timeshare points based on the original six people timeshare at the Gold Coast. But, as there are only Christina and I, we book venues with lower capacity and thus get more bang for our buck. Essentially, although staying in timeshares is not free, the costs are considerably lower than one would pay in a motel, backpacker's lodge or other accommodation venue. We have paid for our accommodation in advance and know what standard we will get.

Timeshares like Edgewater are fully equipped with cooking, sporting, washing, and other living requirements. You could live in a timeshare forever and only need to buy your food and consumables. There is nothing to pay unless you use the telephone or decide to have a massage or other service that is optional and not included in the timeshare deal. They are, of course, much larger than motel rooms and better furnished. Much more a home away from home than other types of accommodation.

Before leaving Queenstown, we picked up a Toyota sedan hire car and visited a shopping centre where we bought $170 NZD worth of food and drinks. We do most of our own cooking which means that our expenses are minimised and after all, we'd be paying for food and drinks etc if we were living at home. Unless you are specifically into restaurant and cafe food, it tends to get monotonous eating out when you can simply knock up a nice sandwich yourself.

Edgewater Resort is integrated with a hotel and spread across quite a large property with beautiful greenery. Judging by the list of activities visible on foyer notice boards, it's a common venue for people to get married. Some lucky couple was being married when we arrived.

After taking a day to rewind and wash our clothes, we spent most of the rest of the week hitting a tennis ball, walking around the many pathways, and visiting the sites within a day's reach.

It's a hard life, but someone has to live it.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Wanaka's The Puzzling World

It's certainly puzzling ...

After a few days at Queenstown, we headed for Wanaka which is only a short hop from Queenstown. As would be expected, the sights are similar and the lake large and beautiful as the photo of part of Wanaka from the town lookout suggests.

Here, we attended a social get-together for timeshare guests where we had sausages in bread and coffee etc for lunch and chatted with our fellow travellers, most of whom were New Zealanders from the north visiting the south island. The barbecue setting is underneath a glorious old tree in an idyllic setting as shown in another photo I just had to take that also shows a water wheel in the foreground.

NZ has plenty of opportunities to get outdoors, despite the cold, and walk, so we have done a fair bit of that walking around the edge of the lake and within the nearby national park area. We also had a 45 minute game of tennis which got the pulse moving, which was part of our plan, to get some exercise while on holidays.

Most interesting was Wanaka's The Puzzling World which is designed to challenge your spatial, abstract and conceptual skills through working a variety of puzzles and entering rooms that are built at an angle sufficient to challenge your balance and perception. Very interesting indeed. I fiddled with a wooden, four piece puzzle for maybe 20 minutes managing to form two of the four shapes possible and then lost interest. It's demeaning to be beaten by a few pieces of wood!

Christina and I entered the reality-changing building which initially was like walking up a ramp while fighting against our old friend and foe, gravity. In this building, water appears to run uphill, a chair ride takes one uphill on its own accord when you press the release button, and various things you see aren't really what you see. As one of the great philosophers suggested, "we should be more interested in not what we see, but why we see it."

A couple of additional photos from the Puzzling House show part of the experience. The first is Robin with his arms through two nuts that look flat until photographed. The second is the water running uphill. 



Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Our Tour to Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound ... Visiting by Bus

Milford Sound isn't that far from Queenstown as the crow flies, but it's a 12 hour round trip on the tour we took, departing at a sensible 8:15 am. As fate would have it, our bus driver "Oz" (give me a break) is an Australian turned New Zealander. Apparently, if you are an Aussie, it's fairly easy to get permanent residency in NZ. For some reason, the government likes us and gives us special treatment.

Mountains en-route to Milford Sound
He didn't say why he had transplanted to NZ many years ago, but locals tell is us it's a great escape from child maintenance that may otherwise be payable by men in Australia who don't wish to pay it. I'm not of course casting aspersions at Oz ... he may simply prefer the NZ way of life instead of the Aus way of life. Each to his own, but I'm advised that escaping child maintenance is a common motivation for expat Australians.

As would be expected, the trip to Milford Sound is via mainly winding roads and as it had recently rained, there were streaks of water creating water falls in most of the hills we passed. The driver gave us an ongoing oratory about the history, character and special events etc we passed, but of course by the time we had got to Milford Sound we had forgotten most of them. Information overload, but interesting at the time.

Some of the wild life here is unique. We haven't as yet seen a genuine, non-plastic kiwi, but hope to do so before the end of our trip. We saw a statue of a Moa, a larger, more imposing version of the emu at Queenstown.

According to one information board I read, the flightless birds of NZ were once capable of flight, but because there are very few ground level predators, they lost the faculty of flight because it was no longer needed. Now, I'm no evolutionary biologist, but that sounds like a lot of codswallop to me.

Evolutionary biology is full of examples of products that didn't quite work out. It seems more likely to me that the creatures grew wings that didn't work. Why would you give up the ability to do something very effective and functional? Everyone who's read Dawkins' books knows that reptiles grew wings to be able to traverse territory better and to do things like move from tree to tree. Present day lizards with large skin folds between their front and rear legs that glide are testimony to a work in progress; long after we have moved on, they will likely have wings.

The most favoured bird here is the Kea, a type of parrot which is large and apparently very friendly and playful (lovingly referred to as clown birds). We saw a couple on the ground while waiting to enter a tunnel on our return to Queenstown from Milford Sound, but unfortunately never got up close and personal to them.

Milford Sound is probably just a little more spectacular than the whole area here. The hills are a bit taller, the lake just as nice, and of course there is a fleet of tourist vessels waiting to take the thousands of tourists, like us, for a two hour cruise up the sound, which is really a fjord.

The slow, two hour trip up and back along the fjord as far as the Tasman Sea is pleasant with plenty of photographic opportunities. A handful of furry seals was lolling about on a rock providing a different sort of photographic opportunity from the rock walls of the escarpment and the dozens of waterfalls. Apparently the first few metres of the lake is fresh water with an underlying salt water base. Makes sense to me.

Having done the 12 hour trip, I don't think I'd bother to do it all again, but now I can say in true New Zealand speak, "bin thire, done thet."


Sunday, March 02, 2014

Visiting New Zealand

Queenstown, obviously one of the best kept secrets

At left are a partial view of Queenstown from the mountain top and of their equivalent to a beach at the edge of the township.

We flew into New Zealand after a three hour, pleasent enough trip from Sydney and the first thing we saw was the huge rugged mountain range. I remember wondering where there would likely be a piece of flat ground sufficient for an aircarft to land. Sure enough, the aircraft turned around and there it was, the Queenstown Airport, neatly tucked away among the suburbs of Queenstown.

Shuttling into the city centre, we arrived at the Nomads Backpackers Lodge after about a 15 minute drive. Our room, an ensuite on the third floor and designed for a person in a wheel chair was larger than we expected and nicely appointed. Even though there are only two of us, it's nice to have enough room to swing a cat just in case one gets the compulsion and opportunity to do so. (I hate cats!)

Queenstown was a surprise. I had expected a lot of old buildings reminiscent of Sydney, but the place looks surprisingly modern and is attractively laid out with nice roads, parks and of course Lake Wakapitu nearby. The lake is very imposing ... huge and fresh water, although surprisingly the Queenstown Golf Course, where the 2014 Golf Open was being held, looked incredibly brownish ... they don't irrigate from the dam. Couldn't believe it, but according to the locals, it usually rains sufficiently not to have to irrigate, but of late, it's been a bit dry. Well, dry for a few weeks, which by NZ standards is a serious drought.

The goods and services tax rate in NZ is apparently 15% which probably partly accounts for the generally higher cost of living than in Australia. Beer and wine seemed expensive as did most other things. If nothing else the exchange rate between the AUD and the NZD was marginally in our favour, but nothing to get too excited about when compared with countries like Vietnam where we can live like kings for almost nothing Australian.

We walked about the city and visited the lookout after a gandola ride. Beautiful views of thel ake and nearby regions. Younger, more keen people bungy jump, fly and ride a luge, which isn't a luge in ice or snow, but a plastic tray with wheels and a steering handle which also acts as a brake. There are different gradients so that the beginners don't wipe themselves out on a hairpin bend.

At the airport a customs official saw "Place of birth: Queenstown" on my passport and said, "Oh, so you were born here?" I replied, "Regrettably no, my Queenstown is in Tasmania and nowhere as beautiful as yours."

Tomorrow is another day and we still have about four weeks to go.