Sunday 24 April 2016

From South to North

 Next stop - New Zealand. It is a big country of two islands. Stunning scenery from snow capped mountains and glaciers, turquoise lakes, fjords and waterfalls, hot springs and geysers to palm trees, sandy beaches and vineyards. It has it all. Most visitors concentrate on North Island or South Island, but we had to do a sprint through both islands, over the course of three weeks, as husband has family on both islands. Some go for the high octane sports, others for the wildlife. We went for the scenery. Here is a snap shot of our trip.
After Sydney we flew to Christchurch on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island. Here the recovery from the 2011 earthquake is underway. Below is the now famous cardboard cathedral 

that has replaced the old brick cathedral which is currently a sad sight, while it is decided if the old building can be safely repaired.

Leaving Christchurch we drove south west to Queenstown, stopping for lunch at Lake Tekapo - below.

From Queenstown we went on a very long all day trip to the fjord of Milford Sound, which should have been all blue skies and sparkling water, but what we got was grey skies and heavy rain. The waterfalls from the cliffs around the sound were stunning but everything was so grey!

Next day, weatherwise, normal service was resumed we explored Queenstown itself and we took the gondola high above Queenstown to get this view of Lake Wakatipu.

After Queenstown we travelled north up the west coast to our next destination of Lake Wanaka. On the way we stopped at Arrowtown, which grew up in the 1860s following the discovery of gold in the River Arrow. Today there are more than 60 of the original wooden and stone buildings, but no gold. It looks like a film set from a western. Pity about the cars.

From Lake Wanaka we moved onto the Franz Josef Glacier, where the cloud base was almost down to ground level. Consequently the visibilty was poor and we did not see the glacier. Our next stop was Hokitika- another little town founded during the 1860s good rush, but not nearly as attractive as Arrowtown. The 2013 Man Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton was set here during the gold rush. We stopped on the way there at this treetop walk, which was quite a feat of engineering 20 metres above the forest floor. I found this a bit unnerving as it swayed around as we walked along, with quite a drop below us.

Then it was onto Nelson (below) in the north east of South Island. Here it was warm and sunny which was much appreciated after three days in the car and two cool grey days.

One day we explored Nelson and the next day drove west up the coast, stopping for lunch at Mapua waterfront - below.

Then it was time to leave South Island and take the Interislander Ferry from Picton - below

through Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sound to Wellington on North Island. We then  drove to Martinborough, where we stayed three nights in this impressive looking, but disappointing hotel. While in Martinborough we took advantage of being able to walk to some of the local vineyards and sample the wine.

From Martinborough we drove north to the volcanic and geothermal area of Lake Taupo, which at 606 square kilometres is New Zealand's largest lake. Here we spent three nights staying by the lake, giving us two days to explore the area. We did a cruise of the lake during which we saw see these Maori rock carvings created by a local tribe in 1980 at an area known as Mine Bay.

In the afternoon it was back into the car to investigate the area around the lake, which took us to the Huka Falls, where  New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato, is slammed into a narrow chasm dropping 10 metres into a surging pool. The roar of the water was deafening.

The following day we visited the amazing  Orakei Korako cave and thermal park.

    Initially a ferry took us across the river -  above, to a valley of hot springs

silica terraces

and colourful mud.

The next morning it was time to move on. We travelled north again, up the Thermal Explorer Highway to Rotorua where we again stayed by the lake, with its distinctive sulphur aroma. While there we had a very pleasant swim in the hotel's geothermally heated swimming pool.

We only had one night here. Then we were off again. Up north to the Coromandel Penninsula and a two night stop in Whitianga, which gave us a day to take in some of the local scenery by taking the ferry across the harbour then walking along the coast.

Now we had one day left in New Zealand. We  had a drive along the Pacific Highway which winds around the Coromandel Penninsula before heading to Auckland for an early flight to Hong Kong, via Melbourne the following day.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

City life

After three nights in Singapore it was time to move on with another over night flight to Melbourne in Australia, where we arrived at our hotel mid morning and thankfully were given immediate access to our room. After unpacking and an early lunch we went for a ride on the free tram, which runs from near Flinders Street railway station. Both husband and I struggled to keep our eyes open while on the tram. That evening we had an early night.

The following morning we did a hop on hop off bus tour of Melbourne and in the afternoon we went on a boat trip up the Yarra River. The next day we had a walk around the Botanic Garden, which was similar to an English garden albeit with some more exotic plants than would happily grow here in the UK.

Our three nights in Melbourne were soon over and we were onto our next destination of Sydney. While there we did another hop on hop off bus tour. We should have shares in them. They are a good way of getting around and seeing a lot in a short space of time. With hindsight we probably would have been better going on the route out to Bondi Beach, but we chose the city tour, hoping off at Darling Harbour, which is to the west of the  harbour bridge, to have lunch. Then getting back on early afternoon to finish the circuit.

Later we went for a walk around the Botanic Garden which was rather parched, with nothing much worth photographing apart from the rose garden, which was hosting a wedding and was cordoned off. It was St Valentine's Day and it was hot. The bride in a long white dress and veil and her groom in a DJ must have been ready to wilt.

What I did photograph was this statue by the gate where we entered the garden. It is known as the 'Satyr' and there is a sad tale to his existence. He was modelled on the sculptor's younger brother and a goat. The younger brother jumped or was pushed from a ferry in Sydney harbour and drowned. Years later the widow of the sculptor paid to have the Satyr placed where he now sits, looking out onto the spot where the younger brother drowned.

With one day remaining in Sydney we took a boat trip around Sydney harbour, which was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be. We stopped off at Watson's Bay for lunch. Then completed the trip around the harbour and made the most of the photo opportunity.

Saturday 2 April 2016

On the way ...

Down Under our first destination was a three night stopover in Singapore. I had never been that far east and was not sure what to expect. Our car journey from the airport to our hotel whisked us through what seemed to be an enormous building site, with lush patches of green. The buildings were mainly high rise flats or offices. Temperaturewise it was about 30 degrees Centigrade, with grey overcast skies. We had left home around 10 am on Friday morning and arrived in Singapore early on Saturday afternoon. Somewhere we had lost a night and with it our beauty sleep! Needless to say we did not do much that day. The next afternoon we were booked on a tour of Singapore, which took us down to the waterfront, where there are a variety of buildings, housing shops, offices, restaurants and bars.

We had not realised that it was the Chinese New Year and consequently a bank holiday. It was heaving with people both visitors and locals. We just had time to take a few photographs before getting back onto the coach.

As it was the Chinese New Year we could not get anywhere near singapore's Chinatown, but we did manage a walk through the colourful Indian Quarter.

And then we were taken out of the centre to the Botanic Gardens, which are an UNESCO World Heritage site and include the National Orchid Garden. Singapore's tropical climate allows these immaculate orchids to grow out doors.

This was our first ever stopover and I know that we did not make the most of it, but the experience will help us to plan stopovers better in the future.

On the way back from Down Under we had a four night stopover in Hong Kong, which did not get off to the best of starts when Quantas left husband's suitcase in Melbourne. Things did not improve when he attempted to get Hong Kong dollars from an ATM at the airport, inserting his credit card instead of his debit card into the machine and consequently using the wrong PIN number, which meant that his credit card was locked and could not be unlocked until he got back to the UK. Our first evening in Hong Kong was spent trying to find M&S from the receptionist's vague instructions, so that we could purchase husband a change of clothes. I know that we should have packed some of his clothes in my suitcase, but he was not keen to do so. His suitcase did arrive the following day.

Once the suitcase had been unpacked we were able to set out into the damp,cold and grey Hong Kong weather. We were staying in the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST)/Kowloon area. Every street looks the same with the same shops. We eventually managed to find our way through Harbour City to Victoria Harbour.


Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world.

On our second day we were more adventurous and bought a 48 hour ticket for the hop on hop off bus which gave us access to three bus routes, the Star Ferry, which runs a shuttle service across Victoria Harbour between the TST and Central districts of Hong Kong, the Peak Tram, a harbour cruise and a Sampan ride. We did not use all of the tickets, partly because it was difficult to fit every thing in and partly because of the miserable weather, we did not do the harbour cruise or the Sampan ride.

The Peak Tram, Hong Kong's 125 year old thrill ride rises almost vertically up to the 552 metre high Victoria Peak - the highest point on Hong Kong island. On a clear day the view from the summit is spectacular , but this is what we got...

One evening we climbed to the top of the Harbour City shopping mall to see the 8 pm laser show, which happens every evening and lasts for 20 minutes. The visibilty was so poor that we gave up after five minutes.

Our final day in Hong Kong marked a special occasion, which I shall post about later. On the way there we walked through the HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) building and had to take a photograph of one the lions that sit outside.