NZ Travel Notes (long)
Posted on Jul 02, 2013 by
These are my thoughts/notes/etc from our recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand. We spent the first week in the Taranaki region of North Island visiting family before heading south - which is where this diary starts.
9th November 2007
This morning we took the 10:30 flight from New Plymouth to Christchurch, landing at 12:00. Excellent weather conditions afforded us excellent views over both the Taranaki country side, including an aerial view of Mount Taranaki, and of South Island as we approached Christchurch.
Leaving Christchurch airport, I read about the Oamaru Blue Penquin Colony which was handily en route to Dunedin. So we decided to pop in.
We took the "Behind the Scenes" tour with the resident Marine Biologist as well as the evening viewing when the Blue Penquins come ashore to feed their young.
The combo ticket came to 30NZD but just the evening viewing is 20NZD per person and is very popular. This evening the viewing began at 20:15.
The viewing works basically like this. The penguins have nested at Oamaru and each member of a pair (penguins mate fore life) takes it in turns to go to see to get food for the young. They will be at sea for between one and five days. At around dusk, penguins will gather just off shore from the colony at Oamaru. When a larger number have gathered together as a raft, they will approach shore and land. They then head off to their nest and feed their young. Often they will come in numerous rafts and each raft will land one after the other.
We were scheduled to be in Dunedin this evening but, as the Blue Penguins were in town, decided to spend the night in Oamaru. The Blue Penguin event lasted until gone 10pm - and Dunedin was another 90 minutes away so checking in locally proved to be a good move. We stayed in the Kingsgate Hotel Brydone, Oamaru
10 November 2007
After a quick walk around Oamaru this morning, we drove down to Dunedin which took the expected 90 minutes or so. As we had no prior reservation we checked into the first centrally located hotel we found. Which turned out to the The Leviathan.
Having been very quickly and efficiently checked-in at the Leviathan, we stumbled about town for all of a few minutes before we settled in for lunch at The Craic at the Octagon. M`learn`d colleague took the penne with mushooms and bacon. I took the Mt Cook smoked salmon with fries and salad. The Salmon had been soaked in Manuka honey and Irish Whiskey before being smoked on the premises. Both dishes were excellent and I do, therefore, have no hestitation in recomending The Craic. I was beginning to lose faith in these "Irish Pub" things until I came to this one. There`s a lesson for all those European rip-offs in this place.
This afternoon we took a tour of the Otago Peninsula with Elm Wildlife Tours which promised us
"close encounters" with Royal Albatross, Yellow-eyed penguins, Sea-lions and the New Zealand Fur Seal.
As it was breeding season, we (understandably) weren`t able to visit the Albatross colony itself, but the Royal Albatross could be seen flying accross the surface of the water. The Albatross has a huge wingspan in relation to the size of it`s body and, consequently, is ideally built as a gliding bird. This is why it sticks close to the water as the waves generate an up-current in the air which the albatross is able to use to maintain its flight.
Once we had seen the Albatross, we were off to see the New Zealand Fur Seal, the Sea Lion and the Yellow Eyed Penquin. To do so, we drove further into the Otago Peninsula. Elm Wildlife Tours work together with a local farmer who allows exclusive access to parts of his land to Elm Wildlife Tours. The land is hilly and, as a result, this tour does need a decent level of fitness as we undertook 4 15-minute walks - i.e. two times down and up again hills to and from an New Zealand Fur Seal colony and then down to the beach to see the Sea Lions and Yellow-Eyed Penguins.
The second hike to see the Sealions and Yellow-eyed penguins was (slightly-)less challenging than the first down to Fur Seal Colony - but much more exhilarating. I`ve never been so close to Sealions before and (Attenborough documentaries aside) had no idea how just large they were. One of the best aspects of this tour was the beech access which (apart from being privately-owned and exclusivly accessible through Elm) allowed fantastically close access to the Sealions without actually disturbing them. Such access is not something I`ve experienced before and found the whole experience fascinating. One can imagine how a young person (or even a not-young-person) can become enthralled by this kind of experience.
If all the tours offered by Elm Wildlife Tours are as enjoyable and close-up as this one, I have no hesitation in giving a recommendation. It`s something I would like to try again and will certainly consider using Elm Wildlife Tours again for my next trip to see the Otago Wildlife.
11 November 2007
This morning, after checking out the Hotel Leviathan, we took a walk around Dunedin which was a pleasant enough city. Memorial services were taking place in the main Churches of the city to commerate Armistace Day and the fallen ANZAC troops from the 1914-1918 war.
The Leviathan is acutally a decent hotel in a great location and the staff are friendly, but I wasn`t impressed by the showers in the bathroom.
During our walking tour, we visited the Anglican Cathedral and the Prebeyterian church and the Dunedin Railway station. Dunedin, apparently, was built according to what the original residents thought Edinburgh would look like - even though none had actually been there.
The Otago and Southland regions region of New Zealand was, apparently, much settled by Scots and that`s in evidence in Dunedin - where a statue of Robert Burns takes pride of place in the square in front the the Anglican Cathedral.
We left Dunedin this morning for Queenstown. We headed south and turned inland just after Milton. En route, we stopped off at The Packhouse (Coal Creek, RD1 Roxburgh, Central Otago) which I commend to others travelling this route for their damn fine Ice Cream which is made with real fruit right in front of you. And it`s nice and creamy too.
As we approached Queenstown through the Central Otago area the number of wineries and vineyards visibly increased and many were clearly signed for visitors. We decided to take the turning down the dirt track for Chard Farm where we were greated by the convivial Viv - a relative newcomer (but knowledgable) to Chard Farm. Viv talked us through the Chard Farm wines which included some very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I actually really enjoyed the wines from Chard Farm especially the Finla Mor and The Viper - both Pinot Noirs. This was surprising as I`m not really a white wine drinker and generally prefer heavier red grapes such as Syrah/Shiraz or Tempranillo. However, I remain unimpressed by Gewurztaminer - which to my mind remains an abberation of a grape worth of feeding to the pigs. The Finla Mor, in spite of it`s youth, was simply marvelous. One of the best, if the best Pinot Noir, I`ve had in years with a smooth texture, wonderful bouquet and all rounded-off with a fantastic silky smooth finish. It left me wanting more so much, I bought some on the spot. Simply fantastic. Personally, I really enjoyed the the Viper Pinot Noir 2006 which is full of potential with a marvelous body and a fine bouquet and lovely finish. I agree with our host in that it does need some years in the cellar to reach maturity and the smoothness that was immeaditely apparent in the Finla Mor. Sadly, The Tiger was not available for tasting but I hope to get my hands on some soon on the basis of this performance. I have no hesitation in recommending Chard Farm wines, especially the two I mentioned, and a visit to their winery in order to sample their full range.
Today I learnt that Central Otago grows mainly Pinot Noir which is well suited to the Central Otago climate as it is a small grape with a thin skin which allows it to ripen well in this area. Pinot Gris (Pinto Grigio), Reislings and Chardonnay are also grown in Central Otago. Some wineries have tried to grown Merlot in Central Otago unsuccessfully and have replaced them with other vines. Gibbston Valley, Bannockburn, Cromwell Basin and Clyde Basin areas make up the Central Otago Wine Growing Region. Central Otago wines are varied in flavour, colour and smell. Central Otago wines taste good.
I should not be surprised if Central Otago wines become available to an audience well outside New Zealand.
At Gibbston Wines we visited the South Islands biggest wine cave. We learnt about the problems of growing wine at such a Southerly Latitude - frost - and about the introduced predators - such as rabbits - which Gibbston Valley and others in area have to deal with to varying degrees depending upon existing rabbit colonies and their individual terroir.
In addition to visiting the four wineries, we stopped for lunch at The Big Picture for a platter lunch. Essentially the picture picture is a wine themed restaurant. As part of our tour, we went into "The Aroma Room" which comprises fifty scents for you to smell and identify. The scents are associated with different types of wine and it`s a handy introduction before you head into see the film. The film is, essentially, a promotional video of the vineyards during which you "fly" over a selection of vineyards and are invited to sample wines from them - this time Pinot Noir wines from Gibbston Valley (2004 from Gibbston), Wild Earth (2006 from Bannockburn), Pisa Moorings (2003 from Cromwell), Kawarau (2006 from Cromwell), Locharburn (2006 from Wanaka Highway) and Mount Maude (2005 from Wanaka). Actually not a a bad idea as it`s constructed in such-a-way as it gives you an idea of the varying styles from the Central Otago region.
We were six people on the tour - the maximum is 10 - which allowed us to have a highly personalised tour of the vineyards and allowed plenty of time for questions etc as we went.
Kirsty, our tour leader and driver, had an excellent knowledge of both the local area and of the wine and vineyards she was taking us to taste. It is because of her excellent service and knowledge that I have no hestitation in recommending Appelation Central to readers of this page and site.
During our time in Queenstown we stayed at the Caples Court Serviced Apartments which we can recommend - apartments were clean and a good size. The owners were very helpful with making any necessary bookings/reservations and demonstrated excellent knowledge of the area.
13 November 2007
Today we left Queenstown for Whataroa where we would base ourselves for our visits to the Franz Josef Glacier and the White Heron Sanctuary.
We commenced this length drive by heading back towards Cromwell and then headed north whereupon we hit Lake Wanaka and took a pit-stop in Wanaka township itself. Lake Wanaka is, at 2,500 square kilomteres, New Zealand`s fourth largest lake.
Lake Wanaka and Hawea, both on our journey and highway 6, contrast each other in their colour but both a utterly beautiful and marvelous to stroll along. Prominent peaks visible here include Mt Aspiring (3,033 meters), Mt Iron (740 meters), Treble Cone (2,058 meters), Mt Roy (1,578 meters) and Black Peak (2,289 meters).
Continuing our journey, we continued through the Haast Pass towards the coast. The Haast Pass is named after the Canterbury geologist Julius von Haast who led a party over the Haast Pass/Tioripatea in 1863.
Scot Charles Cameron was credited with being the first over the pass (arriving on the other side two days before Haast) thereby challenging Haast`s claim to be the first European over the pass. Cameron Flat and Cameron mountain are named after Charles Cameron. The mountain was named by TN Broderick who found the inscribed powder flask of Cameron west of the pass in 1881.
As we took our time driving to Whataroa and were a bit knackered, we did actually miss the last tour of the day to the White Heron Sanctuary. We may well rejig our schedule to take it in.
Whataroa is a one-street affair which does limit the dining and accomodation options. However, the motel which is also run by the White Heron Sanctuary tour people is conviently located. and recommended in this posting. The rooms are a decent size and clean.
The Whataroa pub does an excellent stone-grill. The meat for the stone grill (which includes Venison and beef) is all locally farmed - and of high quality. I really don`t think you`ll be going home hungry after the stone-grill.
14th November 2007
We have elected to spend an additional night here in Whataroa in order to take in the trip to see the White Heron Breeding grounds.
We were scheduled to take a Heli-hike on the Franz-Josef Glacier today but, in spite of the wonderful blue skies, wind conditions at the top of the Glacier prevented helicopter from landing. We did, however, take a 30-minute scenic flight from The Helicopter Line, which included a landing on the Fox Glacier. The flight itself was excellent and smooth. There are several chopters operating on this route and others land on the ice - but rather than taking away from the experience - they actually add to it. None land close to each other which allows you to appreciate the size and scale of the mountains and glaciers you`re looking at. It`s quite wonderful, actually.
Behind the DOC Information Centre (at the south end of town opposite the Church pictured right) there is a hut which was built in 1912 for a price of £120 and was the first place in which tourists stayed when visiting the Franz Josef Glacier. The DOC Information Centre has plenty of information on walks and such likes that can be done in the area.
15 November 2007
This morning we took a tour of the White Heron (Kotuku) Sanctuary which is run under a Department of Conservation (DOC) concession on the Waitangiroto river near Whataroa. We travelled with White Heron Sanctuary Tours, who also run the motel we stayed in a couple of hundred meters down the road.
We found the trip to see the Heron to be unexpectedly exhilarating and quite fascinating. We met our mini-bus at the White Heron Tours office on the main street of Whataroa whereupon we took the short drive to our jetboat. The jetboat took us down the river towards the colony. The jetboat, with its muffled engines, cut to idle as we entered the sancturary and we made our way to the boardwalk for the last stretch to the hide. Our tour operator issued us with binoculars (well, we brought our own Meades but those that didn`t did.) A telescope at the hide had already been setup and was trained on a nest with a heron and her chicks.
While at the nesting colony I learnt that: (a) the White Heron begins arriving at Waitangiroto in September and remains until March (b) the White Heron allows the Royal Spoonbill (Platalea leucordia regia) and the little shag (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) to nest at the same location (c) the feathers of the White were once treasured by humanity for decorating hats which came close to causing the extinction of the species in New Zealand (d) although the White Heron is seen all over New Zealand, the Waitangiroto colony is the only nesting colony in New Zealand (e) feeding conditions at the nearby Okarito lagoon play a key part in the success of the White Herons breeding success (f) usually one or two chicks per nest are succesfully reared from three to five eggs usually laid typically between 30 and 40 pairs will settle down together and chicks will be visible in November
Once that was complete, we headed onto Greymouth, whereupon we almost immediately stumbled accross the Monteiths Brewery (http://www.monteiths.co.nz/). We were informed that the tour of the Monteiths Brewery required booking in advance - but we quickly found availability on the 4 o`clock tour. During the tour we learnt the Monteiths Black for the whole country of New Zealand is brewed at Greymouth but brewing of other beers occurs at Timaru and Auckland as well as Greymouth. Our 90-minute tour of the brewery culminated in a tasting of the range of Monteiths beer.
During our stay in Greymouth, we stayed at the Breeze Motel - which we found to be substandard.
16 November 2007
Today we headed north from Greymouth to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki. (http://www.doc.govt.nz/templates/PlaceProfile.aspx?id=38449) The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes only occupy a small part of the 30,000 hectare Paparoa National Park at Dolomite Point. At high-tide, the sea bursts through a number of vertical blowholes in the highly eroded limestone.
Apparently, the pancake rocks formation began over 30 million years ago as dead marine life was deposited on the seabed. Layers of mud and clay were then deposited on the marine life. And so the cycle continued. As the marine life was mainly soft and lime-based the elements have etched away at them to give this unusual, and fascinating, formation.
Aside from the Rocks themselves, one of the more impressive features of Dolomite Point is "The Splurge Pool" (pictured right.) A large pool of water at the base of the Splurge Pool surges and falls back again as the larger waves lash against the exposed coastline and push water under an arch and into the pool itself.
Having south again, we headed to Shantytown - a mockup of a village from the 19th Century Gold-rush days around 10km south of Greymouth. The Chinatown area of Shantytown tells the story of the Chinese migrants who came to the West Coast in order to pan for Gold and shows the harsh conditions in which they lived. Shantytown also plays home to a restored L508 trainupon which it`s possible to take a short ride. You can also, should you so desire, pan for gold.
Having left Shantytown, we headed to Christchurch via Arthurs Pass. En route, we spotted a wild Kea on the pavement happily hopping along behind this little girl who was carrying ice cream. Apparently, the Kea absolutely love human beings as they bring along food for them. Their curiosity has led them to peck at bits of cloting and even the rubber on cars.
17th November 2007
A day of rest and relaxtion in Christchurch today. Having spent a lovely night in our comfortable bed in The Classic Villa (http://www.theclassicvilla.co.nz/) we headed out for a potter around town.
During our day in Christchurch, we took in the Gothic Revival Anglican Cathedral, watched the entertainers do their stuff in Cathedral Square, went Punting on the Avon and had a quick look into the Basilica-style Catholic Cathedral.
Neither of us have been punting before - in spite of the fact I`ve lived in England for a number of years - and found the whole experience quite a relaxing way to spend half-an-hour of the day before pottering of to do something completely different.
For a small fee, we were allowed to climb the spire of the cathedral. The 100-and-something step climb to the top is well worth it for splendid views over Cathedral Square.
Architecturally speaking, Christchurch is, along with Dunedin, one of the more interesting places we visited on this trip. Cathedral Sqaure offers a cohesive selection of styles in the Gothic Revival Cathedral, the Venetian Gothic former Post-Office and the Edwardian Regent Theatre which all provide an interesting contrast with the more modern glass-dominated buildings that surround parts of the Square.
While The Classic Villa is not cheap (esp by New Zealand standards) it is an excellent hotel. It`s walking distance to all the major attractions of Christchurch and the large breakfast table is excellent for discussing your holiday plans and exchanging ideas with other residents.
18th November 2007
It`s always a sad day leaving New Zealand. It`s wonderful and varied country with much to keep you entertained. From bird-life to wine to marine-biology to fantastic vistas at the Remarkables - it would be remarkable indeed if you did not enjoy New Zealand.
Still it has to be back to work - as this galavanting needs to paid for somehow!