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After three mostly rainy weeks in Napier we set off south for Wellington, stopping on the way at Palmerston North for Lunch with Sues Mum Joan where we ate pies in the garden in hot sunshine. We broke the journey at Shannon which has reinvented itself as a shopping destination for unusual fashion accessories. Finally we arrived at our destination on the eighth floor of the Quest Atrium building in a cramped apartment next to Wellington's only motorway but very central.
We did all the usual things one does in Wellington, ate at a trendy bar in Cuba street and a gastro pub, up the cable car to the botanics, visited one of the best museums in the world, Te Papa, drove up to Mount Victoria to view the city from above (see picture above) and even managed a trip out to the Hutt Valley and "historic" Jackson Street where we bought some "historic" cheese and "historic" herbs and spices.
Wellington lived up to it's reputation as the windy city and we managed to find the house where Sue spent some of her early years in Oriental Bay. Unfortunately we could only photograph the roof of the property as we would need a helicopter to photograph the front!
We also visited Old St. Pauls church which used to be Wellington's cathedral. It is built completely of wood and the church authorities proposed to demolish it when the new cathedral was built. Fortunately there were enough people against this course of action to persuade the government to step in and save the building.
It is still consecrated and they have a few weddings and concerts there but it is now preserved as an historic building and was a unique place to visit.
The wind dropped for our three hour ferry journey across the Cook Straight so the sea was calm although it was still quite cold. The ferry emerges from Wellington harbour into the Cook Straight then navigates through the narrow Tory Channel and into the Queen Charlotte Sound to berth at Picton. Cook named the sound after the then British Queen and was the first European to come here. After climbing a hill on one of the many island he could see what appeared to be open sea to the East and so discovered the straight named after him. He also found that the locals were a bunch of cannibals!
We settled into our little house in Picton, appropriately named "Nest and Rest" and the next day it blew a hooley with horizontal rain and the house shook but only the sensible one amongst us stayed in!
When the following day dawned bright and clear we decided to tackle the Queen Charlotte Track as the forecast was dire for the rest of the week. The track starts at Ships Cove where Cook made his first landfall on the South Island, first skirting the waters edge then following a ridge between the Kenepuru Sound and the Queen Charlotte to terminate at the head of the sound 71km later. We had only one day so Sue and I were dropped off at Portage and walked back along the track to Te Mahia, a walk which should take 4 hours but only took us three including a stop for lunch.
It was hot work on the uphill sections and the views were often obscured by bush so Sue decided it was boring and moaned most of the way!
Chris and Carol climbed up to the 410m lookout at Te Mahia which is the hill you can see in the middle distance of the photo above and it nearly killed them! Our destination was the saddle on the far side and the track which, fortunately for us, skirted round the right hand side of the lookout hill.
Back in Picton we relaxed in the sunshine outside a bar where much Blenheim Moa pilsner was consumed while the girls knocked back some stiff Bombay Gin and Tonics (At NZ$35 a round, drinking aint exactly cheap over here!).
Chris and I checked out the Irish pub next to the Fish and Chip shop while we waited for our Blue Cod to be cooked. We discovered that the Guiness was perfectly acceptable (apart from the price) as were the barmaids and they have traditional Irish singing every night which might tempt us back.
Finally we all settled down on the deck of our little house to eat our fish and chips with a bottle or two of Pear perry before immersing ourselves in the hot spa tub where Chris nearly drowned having had too much nasty juice!
We did go back to the Irish pub the next day and discovered that the traditional singing was only on Monday night so were treated to a rocksy folksy bluesy sort of band and a round of two pints of Guiness and two glasses of wine was NZ$36 but they did take credit cards!!
From the deck of our house you look over the town and harbour area with a nice panorama of mountains covered in green bush. It is a good place from which to explore the surrounding area which includes the Marlborough vineyards of course. We set off one morning to explore the East coast as far as Blenheim. The road hugs the coast down the Port Underwood Sound, a busy whaling port in the 1800's and the road is unpaved for much of the way so the journey was slow. We were hoping to find a nice sandy beach to lie on but although there were many picturesque coves, the only nice beach was off limits as the only access was over private farmland.
The photo above of Robin Hood Bay is the entrance to Port Underwood Sound. On the right in the far distance, the bank of cloud is Wellington on the other side of the Cook Straight.
We eventually found a nice beach called Monkey Bay (below left) which was really a little cove on Cloudy Bay with the black volcanic sand that is found in this area. Chris went into the sea and swam but the rest of us decided the shelving beach and surf was not for us.
We drove on to the Allen Scott vineyard and tasted their wines. They had a deal if you purchased a mixed case of six bottles of their estate wines they threw in a further six bottles free which added up to NZ$12 a bottle. Impossible to resist and we also booked a table for lunch on our way to Nelson for a couple of days later.
Continuing on the wine trail our next stop was the Herzog Winery owned by a Swiss couple who make quality wines at quality prices. They even wanted NZ$10 a head for a taste but we persuaded Alice, the nice French lady, to give us a free taste after we had booked a table for lunch at the bistro!
The next day we all sat out in the lovely garden at Herzog winery bistro and had a really nice, if a little expensive, lunch, the highlight of which was the Brie de Meaux (if only the Kiwis could learn to make cheese like this life here would be almost perfect!). The little fantail on the right did not even get our crumbs!
Our ladies rather overdid the pink shampoo and Sauvignon Blanc, in fact Sue was observed (and photographed) stealing apricots from the garden whilst the pair of them later commandeered a gun in Blenheim pretending to shoot up some imaginary enemy!
Certain winey people we know will be receiving postcards with Marlborough vineyards all over them and in the shop where we bought them the owners gave us advice on local pronunciations and suggested a few more wineries we could visit but we did not think our constitutions could take much more!
Sue insisted that we take photographs of what she considers the archetypical picture of the New Zealand Marlborough wine scene which are the rows of vines against the background of the Wither Hills with the long white clouds above so here it is.
Our next port of call was Nelson and on the way we revisited the Marlborough vineyards. We first went to Hunter's winery where they have a native garden you can walk around. We tasted all their wines but I was relatively unimpressed although we purchased a couple of bottles as the lady who served us was so good at her job!
We then had lunch at Allan Scotts winery where we were seated at a table in the hot sun which tended to attract the flies. The food was just OK but did not begin to compare with the meal or the setting we had at the Herzog winery, however, we rated their wines as the best we tasted in Marlborough after Herzog. We then drove on to Nelson, a drive of about 1.5 hours.
Our motel was in Trafalgar Street which is the main thoroughfare of Nelson and the first thing that strikes you about it is the monstrosity of a building which I guessed to be the city offices and so it proved to be. Obviously designed by a committee it looks like a tenement block with a large chimney at one corner surmounted by a clock with a load of scaffolding around it. None of the locals we spoke to liked it and our Motel owner said she thought it demeaned Nelson which has an arty image. Nelson does have some lovely old art deco buildings including the State Cinema directly opposite the civil monstrosity where we went to see the film War Horse one afternoon.
One of the local breweries is the Sprig & Fern and we found one of their pubs managed by Lee, a Leicester bloke, who employed Ollie from Milverton and served a rather good pint of Best Bitter. We were induced to return the next day by the offer of a free BBQ which turned out to be those dreadful precooked sausages wrapped in a slice of white bread. Well it was free! Lee informed us that the Tigers lost against Ulster by an unmentionable number of points while Bath lost by two points in Montpellier. We have not been doing very well since that Kiwi Beaver bloke joined us!
Another rather strange Nelson building was the local cathedral which was begun in 1925 using marble but they possibly ran out of cash during the construction as it was finished in concrete blocks and wasn't consecrated until 1972. From the outside it is yet another strange committee inspired building with a bell tower that looks like one of those constructions that firemen use to dry their hoses in! Inside the cathedral it is remarkably attractive however with some very fine stained glass windows.
Just beside the hill on which the cathedral is built is South Street which is full of old houses that were originally built for tradesmen and have been completely restored. Several are named after the original inhabitants and one built in 1864 was called the Biddle Cottage. Who knows, they might have been my forebears?
The first European to discover New Zealand was Dutchman Abel Tasman. He anchored in Golden Bay in 1742, just up the coast from Nelson where four of his crew were attacked and killed by Maori's so sailed away without ever landing. The area south of Golden Bay (which Tasman actually named Massacre Bay) is a very beautiful coastline of sandy bays and rocky promontories which became the Abel Tasman National Park. The coastal track through the park is 51km long and we elected to walk 12.5km of it by first taking a water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage then walking back.
AquaTaxis were selected for our water transport as they have the nearest base to the southern end of the track. You board the boat on a trailer which is then towed down onto the beach and launched. We first visited Split Apple Bay, so named after the apple shaped rock split down the middle. It took about 20 minutes to travel the 12km up to Anchorage where we set off on the coastal track back to Marahau.
We had picked the ideal day for the walk with clear skies and the temperature in the low twenties. We had a cooling sea breeze, not too hot for walking and not too cold for swimming, however, we started with a long uphill section with little shade and wondered if this walk was going to be more difficult than we had hoped. Thankfully the track then began to contour around the coast, gradually descending and reascending to and from sea level for access to the various beaches, mostly in the shade and bridged across numerous streams tumbling into the sea.
After just over an hour we came to Akersten Bay where a sign warned us that it was a beach where clothes were not obligatory. Chris said he did not wish to see New Zealand naked nubile nymphs cavorting in the oggie (I think he is beginning to go a bit funny or maybe he had too much sun?) so we elected to continue on to Stillwell Bay where we all cooled our hot bodies in the crystal clear water wearing swim suits.
The rock pictured above reminded me of the famous rock at Pebble Beach in California where we were last September. Lunch was taken sitting in the shade looking out at this lovely setting and it was voted unanimously the best beach we had yet found in New Zealand or perhaps even the world!
We still had a couple of hours walking ahead of us and the track continued as before, passing more beautiful beaches until we arrived at the end where there was a cafe which sold cold beer. It would have been rude to have passed by without sampling a pint which we did and very refreshing it was too! Another 800m further and we collected our car from the Aqua Taxi car park before driving further down the coast to Kaiteriteri for an Ice Cream then back to the motel for a Lamb Rogan Josh. We all slept well that night.
An old friend of Sue's, Joan Barnes, has a property in Nelson overlooking the bay and she very kindly invited us all for dinner one night together with her friend Caroline from Ireland and her son Jake with his girlfriend Sarah. Sue and Joan have known each other for 57 years from childhood in Palmerston. She follows the summer between London and Nelson, a very agreeable lifestyle I think. Jake coaches cricket in London and has a similar position here in Nelson. He kept us informed of the miserable news from Dubai where the England cricket team were getting soundly thrashed by Pakistan.
On the way back to the motel we encountered a police check point where they were conducting random breath tests. Fortunately Chris had managed to restrict his wine consumption over dinner so escaped! This was the second time it has happened to us since we arrived and the police here can stop you without suspecting you of any offence.
On another visit to the cinema we saw the Iron Lady. Not a great film but probably the best acting performance I have ever experienced by Meryl Streep. She seemed to take on the whole persona of Margaret Thatcher with not the slightest hint in her speech that she was American. The film itself, though fairly accurately depicting events, dwelt far too much on Lady Thatchers increasing dementure and I would have preferred a little more of the cut and thrust of her political life.
We could have spent longer in Nelson and the sun shone the whole week we were there. The town has lots of interest as does the surrounding area and there were many places we were unable to visit so we will be back.
We set off south down between the mountains of the Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes National Park to Murchison where we paused for coffee, stopping again at Maruia Falls where the dreaded biters had a feed of our blood. On down to Springs Junction then over the 863m high Lewis Pass through steep mountain scenery and out into the Hope Valley where we were presented with the bare scree slopes of the Glynn Wye Range.
At Hells Gate we stopped to photograph the gorge from where they bungee jump and you can see a red jet boat in the picture below.
We stayed overnight at Hanmer Springs which lives on tourism and eats tourists money. The main attraction is a number of hot springs which they have turned into a spa and sort of water park. We ate at a Robbies Pub where they warned us the meal would be delayed about 50 minutes. An Hour and a half later Carol gave them a verbal warning; "If the meals aren't on the table in five minutes we are leaving without paying"! They did then arrive but my medium to rare steak was not only well done but stone cold into the bargain. Being British I do not often complain but this time I did, what with the poor service and meal quality.
I'd had one glass of wine which they offered to knock off the bill but I said I was not satisfied as there was nothing wrong with the wine, only the meal and the service. They eventually refunded the cost of the meal, just the same, we will not be eating again in a Robbies pub.
The only good thing about the evening was meeting the lovely Nic and Bex who were out on a hen party and rather took a shine to Chris as you can see. Nic (in pink and white) was carrying round a photo of her beloved, who seemed to be protecting his valuables, and who she planned to marry in a couple of weeks. She needs a sober honest upright bloke like he seems to be to keep her on the straight and narrow!
The New Zealand monsoon started the next day as we drove down to Christchurch and the temperature dropped from the mid twenties to single figures.
We arrived at Turners Car Auctions for a valuation on our car and they will buy it back from us for about NZ$1,700 (£850) less than we paid for it which means we will have travelled about 12,000km in about five months in a big comfortable car for about NZ$4,000 less that the cheapest car we could have hired for the same period. A good result and a solution we would recommend to anyone planning a similiar trip. We thought Turners to be a slick operation in every respect but if you are not a Kiwi you must open a New Zealand bank account as Turners will pay you in NZ$ by cheque or will transfer the funds electronically only to a New Zealand bank account. Any NZ bank will open an account at zero cost and you do not have to be a Kiwi to open one.
Turners even had a little cafe at their Christchurch premises and their meat pies were voted the best yet. The guy running the cafe said that we should come back to the city because they rocked you to sleep for nothing! A reference of course to the terrible earthquake that shook the city during September 2010, killing 180 people since when they have recorded over 9,000 separate tremors, some as large as force 6 and one shallow one in February 2011 that did further structural damage and liquifaction. The latter being when underground water is forced upwards which deposits mud throughout large areas.
Directly across the road from our motel was the Knox Church or what was left of it. Signs told us "it will be mended". As we walked down Victoria street towards the city centre we became aware of empty office blocks with windows missing and fenced off, waiting for demolition or repar, then at the junction with Salisbury the old clock tower was kept upright by large blocks of concrete and the spike at the top bent over at a crazy angle. Further down Montreal Street all the older buildings were badly damaged and when we turned into Worcester Boulevard we met the so called red zone at the bridge over the river Avon. Here you could just see what is left of the Cathedral but the spire had been completely demolished.
We found a pub where the inside had been left untouched since the quake with broken crockery and cutlery lying around the floor. We walked along the riverside to Cashel street where we found the new shopping centre constructed almost entirely from shipping containers. Inside them you could not imagine you were inside a bunch of containers as they are fitted out like normal shops. There were flower beds in stillages and coffee shops and lots of people walking around, the idea being to bring a bit of life back to a devastated city centre. This used to be a busy shopping street and most of the buildings that were in this area have been demolished.
We met up with Mark Harris who emigrated from Merriot in Somerset a couple of years ago. He told us that he was on the third floor of the ten story BNZ building when the big quake happened. He was told that if that quake had continued a further 10 seconds that the building would probably have collapsed with tremendous loss of life. That building will be demolished as will most of the city centre high rise buildings, in fact the whole of the central business district will be largely rebuilt.
Mark walked with us round to the Botanic gardens where opposite was an old art institute that was badly damaged in the quake. One of the ornamental towers had been removed and was sitting on concrete blocks in front of the building.
We walked though the garden along the river where a passing punter doffed his straw boater to us, then into Hagley Park where there was a buskers festival being staged, moved from the city to the park for obvious reasons. As we walked around the city there were other people like us, just reverentially staring at the broken buildings and silent streets and perhaps thinking of the hundreds who died there. The Cantabrians will rebuild their city and I am sure we will return to a wonderful new one in a few years time.
I was woken by a small tremor the next morning and they tell us such earth movements are expected here now for many years.
We continued south across the Canterbury Plains