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Rolling blog: New Zealand day 22. Dunedin and the Otago peninsula

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It’s a sunny but not too warm day here in Dunedin and we’re off exploring to Otago peninsular, so expect a few updates and pictures during the day – and (if we’re lucky) some penguin pictures…

14:17.

After visiting Port Chalmers, we’ve just walked up Baldwin St, which has the distinction of being the world’s steepest residential street.

At it’s steepest it’s 1 in 2.87!

Now we’re having a quick drink at the railway station before heading out to the Otago peninsula.

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Rolling blog: New Zealand day 21. Wanaka to Dunedin.

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08:55

We’re on the move again today, this time heading across to the East Coast and the three and a half hour drive to Dunedin, where we’ll be based for three nights, giving us chance to explore the area and also to travel on the Taieri Gorge railway. As usual on this trip, we’d liked to have stayed longer where we are, but we always knew this was going to be a bit of a whirlwind tour! The good news is that yesterday’s rain has cleared, so we’ve been greeted by a beautiful sunny morning.

Here’s our nippy little hire care and AirBnB these past two nights.

Well, we didn’t get far. We were passing the national toy and transport museum and couldn’t resist. My God, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of memories like this!

15:12.

We’ve stopped for a break at a place called Milton, back on our old friend highway 1. The road from Wanaka’s been really interesting. There’s a collection of quaint ‘One horse’ towns (mostly boasting Scottish names). The area’s also the fruit bowl of Otago. I’ve lost count of the number of fruit farms we’ve passed. The road’s been incredibly winding and very busy. Dawn says it’s also had the worst standard of driving too! She’s been complaining about the sheer number of driver’s tailgating her. Another thing we’ve noticed is the amount of classic cars we’ve seen, like these two specimens.


17:00.

Made it! I never realised just how hilly Dunedin is. Here’s the view from our AirBnB..

22:04.

We’ve spent the last of the afternoon/evening exploring Dunedin, which seems like a really interesting city. I love some of the architecture here – especially the railway station.

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I’ll blog more about Dunedin tomorrow, when we’ve had chance to explore some more…

 

New Zealand day 20: It’s wet in Wanaka!

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After all our travels over the past couple of weeks we’ve kicked back today – but that’s purely because of the weather, which has been wet, wet, wet! The bright side of this has been the chance to catch up on sleep, picture editing and all those chores that you can’t when you’re constantly on the move. I’ve added a huge amount of pictures from across to New Zealand to my Zenfolio website. You can find them here.

After catching up on the rest of the world we wandered into Wanaka as we needed to do some shopping. Whilst we’ve been in New Zealand we’ve become fans of the New World supermarkets, they make Tescos look very old world as the variety of food and drink they offer’s very good indeed – and when your currency’s been tanked by Brexit nutters ‘every little helps’!

Wanaka’s an interesting place. There’s some very nice custom built properties here and it’s obviously an affluent town. The town centre’s hectic as there’s lots of pubs and restaurants on the main road in front of the lake but most of them close before 22:00. This is something we’ve discovered about New Zealand – a late culture it ain’t! In many places you’d be lucky to find anywhere open after 21:00,  That said, there’s still quite a few backpackers establishments here as Wanaka’s an important stop on the road from the West coast, so you get a greater mix of people than some of the other towns we’ve visited. Whilst in town we’ve been dropping in to the Kiwi version of Wetherspoons: Speights. A particular delight is the fact that it’s next to the river so has a resident family of ducklings. Dawn soon had them eating out of the palm of her hand. Literally…

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Apologies for the quality of the picture. It was taken on my phone *hangs head in shame*…

We retreated here again today as it’s a great place to sit and watch the (dripping wet) world go by. You can spot certain nationalities by how prepared they are. For example, the Japanese are fully kitted out with umbrellas and ‘pac a macs’. Europeans who’re tramping tend to be in waterproof jackets and shorts. Families tend to be accompanied by at least one teenager dressed in a soaked T-shirt and sodden shorts. Kiwis? Well, they just wear anything and get wet! I can only presume they’re pretending it’s not actually raining!

With the weather being so crap today I didn’t bother taking the camera out, so here’s a shot from yesterday.

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Lake Wanaka is so big you don’t actually get to see Wanaka town until you get to it. Here’s the view from the highway that skirts much of the lake. Wanaka’s actually out of sight to the bottom left here.

In many ways we’d have like to have stayed longer, but we’ve so much to see and do. Tomorrow we move on to Dunedin, which is a three hour plus drive from Wanaka. It doesn’t sound much by UK standards, but the roads are rather different here!

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 19. Franz Josef glacier to Wanaka.

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08:30

We’ve lucked out with the weather again. After an entertaining morning having breakfast at the backpackers and people-watching (more of which later) we’re packing the car in the rain.

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Low cloud surrounds the mountains at the moment and the forecast isn’t great – so we’re just going to have to play it by ear today. Our plan was to walk to the base of the glacier (well, as close to the base as you’re allowed nowadays) before heading off towards Fox glacier and some of the lakes. We’ll have to see..

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Here’s how the glacier looked yesterday…

11:56

Our luck held! The shower passed so by the time we got out to walk to the base of the glacier the clouds had cleared and the glacier was bathed in sunshine. As we walked up the path to get to the base if the glacier I was shocked by how much it had retreated since I heli-hiked on it in 1999. Here’s a rather sobering example. This selfie with the glacier in the background? In 1999 we’d have been buried at least 50m BELOW the glacier that you can now see high up the mountain behind us.

Here’s another view from yesterday. On my last visit the glacier extended as far as the rubble wall across the bottom of the valley.

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Here’s how it looked on my last visit in February, 1999. To give you an impression of scale, you can see a group of people stood on the glacier on the top right of this picture.

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So, next time some idiot tells you that Man-made climate change is a fiction and the earth’s cooling really, kick ’em where it hurts. This is the reality of what we’re doing to our planet…

Rolling blog: New Zealand. Day 18. The Tranzalpine to Greymouth & onward to Franz Josef glacier.

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08:05.

We’re aboard the Tranzalpine train, ready for the 08:15 off and one of the great railway journeys off the world. The train’s swankier than the last time I did the trip in 1999. There’s plug sockets and headphones nowadays, but one thing missing is the delicious West Coast Whitebait you used to be able to buy on the train. That said, there’s two modern buffet cars and observation coaches. This trains essentially two coupled together. I’ll post pictures when I can, but here’s a taster – the interior of our coach (F).

14:50.

We’re now in Greymouth after a superb trip. I’ll blog about it in detail later as there’s lots to mention, but right now I’ll leave you with these pictures. The first’s from the train as we climbed up to Arthur’s Pass.

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This one is as we head towards Greymouth.

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Here’s a couple of the stunning scenery you see from the train.

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21:18.

It’s been a great day. After picking up our hire car in Greymouth we drove down the West Coast as far as Franz Josef glacier. I’ve not been here for 30 years, so I was shocked to see how much the glacier has retreated. We don’t have broadband with enough oomph to upload the pictures I’ve taken today, so I’ll add them to this blog as soon as possible. One irony was realising that the backpackers that we’re staying in is the same one as last time I was here. At least some things don’t change – although in those days you didn’t get young girls travelling sporting bags of make-up, false eyelashes and a ‘trout pout’!

New Zealand day 18. Christchurch.

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(This blog is under construction. More later)…

We’ve spent the day exploring Christchurch, which is quite a surreal experience in many ways.  I’ve never been to a city that’s been so dramatically changed by a natural disaster before.

We started our day by walking into town and trying to piece together a picture of the city. It’s difficult. Not just because so many building have been demolished’ leaving entire blocks bare, but also because some condemned building are still waiting to be torn down and replaced, like this one on the Corner of Worcester Boulevard and Cambridge Terrace. In the corner window you can see a picture of the new building that will replace it.

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Not far from here was a statue of Scott of the Antarctic. Christchurch is a nexus for many of the countries that have bases there, with ships sailing from the city to the Antarctic on a regular basis. In the UK’s current political climate I could see Scott as a metaphor for Brexit…

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After wandering the city we visited Quake City, the museum dedicated to the 2011 earthquake and its aftermath. It’s a sobering experience as it brings home the power of earthquakes and also their aftermath. As well as physical remains and pictures of the earthquake there’s a series of very moving interviews with survivors of the day. These bring it home to you just what people went through. Afterwards we headed back into town to catch one of the vintage trams that operate a circular, hop-on, hop-off service around the centre of town. En-route we passed the remains of what had been the tallest building in Christchurch before the earthquake. This is what it looks like today. The whole city block has been demolished and awaits redevelopment. The rest of it is car-parks.

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Before catching the tram we stopped for lunch in the beautifully restored New Regent St, a pedestrianised zone (OK, trams don’t count) that has a great selection of bars, restaurants and cafes. We were craving spicy food so chose a Thai café called The Nook. They had tables out in the street so we could enjoy the food whilst soaking up the sun and watching the world go by – not to mention the cheeky sparrows, who ate almost as much of our rice as we did! dg316341crop

The food was good, the prices reasonable and the wine wasn’t bad either. Suitably stuffed, we caught a tram to see more of the city. Christchurch’s trams are a mix of vintage vehicles from New Zealand and Australia. We were lucky to get 152, one of the original city trams. It has a royal pedigree as both the Queen and Prince Harry have toured the city on it. There’s even little brass plaques to tell you that you’re parked your bum on the same seat as royalty!

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To be continued…

 

Viewing the Brexit madness from afar…

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To be honest, this is a good time to be on the other side of the planet, away from a country that’s tearing itself and its economy apart thanks to the utter stupidity of its politicians and the fact so many of its citizens are completely detached from the reality of the world beyond their islands shores.

I’m talking about the UK and Brexit. I’ve just heard on the news that the inevitable has happened and Prime Minister Teresa May’s ‘deal’ has been rejected by Parliament. This is as much of a surprise as the fact the sun comes up each morning. Everyone knew it was inevitable, yet she ploughed on like the Captain of the Titanic. To continue with the nautical metaphor, the UK is in completely uncharted waters now. Parliament has given May three days to come up with a plan B. Problem is – she doesn’t have one. Neither do the Brexit fundamentalists, other than persisting with the utterly insane idea that the UK can crash out of the EU with no deal and everything will be better! Meanwhile, the  Labour party continue to provide neither opposition nor alternative leadership, never mind a plan. They also persist with the insane – the idea that a Labour Brexit will be wonderful ‘cos their unicorns are painted red, not blue.

Whilst this political madness persists, businesses are tearing their hair out. Many are activating their plans to either get the hell out of the UK, or move what business they can back into the EU. Many businesses don’t have that luxury. We’ve had 2 and a half years of political and economic uncertainty because our politicians triggered article 50 without a plan. They set the clock ticking without any though of where that would lead. Tomorrow we have no-confidence vote in the Government. What will happen next? I have no idea – and I suspect many in Parliament are in the same position.

Compounding this are the people who voted for Brexit who still don’t understand the consequences of what they voted for – or who blindly refuse to accept them. English arrogance and exceptionalism is all too tragically alive and well. ‘Johnny Foreigner’ was going to roll over for us and give us everything we wanted to when we voted leave remember? “They need us more than we need them”. We’re “taking back control”. How idiotic and arrogant those slogans sound now. Only some people still believe them, because we’re English – God’s chosen people. They still can’t accept that they’re about to be served a very large slice of humble pie they cooked themselves – and the rest of us will be forced to eat it too. Let’s just remind ourselves what some of the architects of this shambles claimed…

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What have we achieved in the past 2 and a half years? Well, we’ve wasted billions of pounds in pursuit of the impossible (a better deal than we had) and preparing for the inconceivable (a no deal Brexit). We’ve trashed our international reputation and shown the world how utterly stupid and arrogant we can be. We’ve suffered two and a half years of political paralysis and time wasting chasing our tails rather than Parliament doing something useful and meaningful. We’ve proved that we’re governed by a bunch of political chancers, spivs and  dogmatic lightweights who put party before country – and we’ve shown that actually, the UK’s more to be pitied than feared when it comes to trying to throw its non-existent weight around on the world stage (one only has to look at the way the PM’s been side-lined on the world stage to see that).

I’ve never seen a developed nation implode through its own arrogance and incompetence before. I am now. Sadly, it’s my own country.

 

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 17. Mt Lydon to Christchurch.

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09:00

We’re on the move again today after two lovely nights staying up in the hills near Mt Lydon at this gorgeous Airbnb owned by Stephanie, who’s shared this wonderful space with us.

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Now we’re beginning the trip down to Christchurch, stopping off on the way, so expect some blogging and pictures later…

11:50

We’re talking a break in Cheviot, a small town on highway one after driving across some pretty rugged countryside to get here. There’s not much here apart from a few shops and cafe’s – although it does have a library and school. The place seems to make it’s living as a pit stop for travellers heading to/from Christchurch.

21:55

We’re now hunkered down in our new Airbnb in Christchurch, where we’ll be staying for the next couple of nights. It’s comfortable (and suburban, only 20 mins walk from the city centre) but it’s certainly not as amazing as where we’ve just come from. That said, Christchurch itself is a bit of an eye-opener. I’ve never ever been to a city where 80% of the city centre has been flattened by earthquakes before. I was here 20 years ago but there’s nothing I recognise apart from the shattered remains of the cathedral. Oh – and the trams. It’s a very sobering experience, looking around at all the new buildings, the few old ones that have been rebuilt, and others that are awaiting their turn. Then there’s all the open spaces that used to be buildings but are now parks – or car parks. Christchurch was hit twice, in September 2010 and again in February 2011, the latter earthquake killed a total of 185 people, which seems miraculous when you consider the scenes of destruction.

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Tram 1888 passes all the new buildings on Oxford Terrace, with the Avon river to the right. 

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The driver of tram 178 changes the points behind him as the vehicle prepares to head for the tramshed at the end of the day. The tramway runs through the ‘Cathedral Junction’ shopping centre.

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The remains of Christchurch cathedral, with the base of the spire in the foreground.

 

New Zealand day 16. Kaikoura blues…

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We were up at 6am this morning to give ourselves time to get back into Kaikoura ready for our 08:30am trip to swim with dolphins. It’s an experience I last had 20 years ago so I was really looking forward to seeing Dawn’s face when she got into the water with what can be up to 400-500 dusky Dolphins.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. The weather had closed in overnight, bringing rain and winds high enough to make it unsafe for boats to leave the small harbour here. All this morning’s boat trips (including whale watching) have been cancelled. These things are always in the lap of the Gods, sadly. As we’ve only a couple of nights here it’s not possible to re-arrange the trip. We’re just going to have to come back another time – just not in another 20 years…!

We consoled ourselves with a wander around the headland at Point Hearn, where we sat on the cliffs and gazed out to sea, hoping to spot a whale, or maybe a dolphin or two, but all we saw was seals and a variety of seabirds.

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As we watched the planes and helicopters fly out to the area where whales had been reported we realised it was a forlorn hope. Whales may be big, but when they’re miles away and mostly hidden by the sea, you ain’t gonna see much – even with my camera’s zoom lens. The only people getting to see whales today were using one of these as they weren’t affected by high waves!

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Our amble around Kaikoura also took in the railway station where we were fortunate enough to be in time to see the daily passenger train from Christchurch to Picton call. By UK standards it’s a small train as it consists of a baggage car, two seated coaches plus a buffet car and an open-sided observation coach bringing up the rear.

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DXR 8007 working the Christchurch – Picton passenger service. This locomotive is a rebuild of the General Electric DX class, 49 of which were built between 1972-75. It was stored at Hutt workshops (Wellington) in 1989 after suffering cracked frames. Formerly numbered 5362, it was rebuilt with new 3,300 hp GE 7-FDL diesel engine and smaller bonnet before re-entering service in 1993.

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Goodbyeee! The train heads towards Blenheim and Picton

Because all the tours were cancelled Kaikoura was full of disconsolate people looking for something to do – which isn’t easy as the focus of the town is very much tourist tours. Many eateries in town don’t open until after midday – such as the Pier Hotel, a lovely old hotel and bar situated at the South end of town that has great views across the bay – and probably the best location in town. We ended up there for lunch and pigged out on two of our favourites –  mussels and whitebait. As you can see the ‘large’ portions are just that!

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We’ve now abandoned Kaikoura as the weather’s worsened. This is the first day where we’ve not been wearing shorts. Instead, we’re in long pants, fleeces and waterproofs! We’re spending the evening in a fabulous mountain retreat Airbnb some 55km South at a place called Lydford before moving on to Christchurch tomorrow. I’ll try and post some pictures tomorrow – when it’s stopped raining!

Whilst it’s been sad to miss out on the dolphin swim we’ve got many other exciting things planned during the next few weeks travels – and the money we’ll be refunded ‘cos the tour didn’t run can always be spent on something else! New Zealand’s South Island has a huge variety of outdoor experiences to offer and we’ll be sampling (and blogging about) quite a few of them whilst we’re here. One thing we haven’t done so far on this trip is travel anywhere by train, but we’ll be putting that right in the next few days…

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading these blogs, please consider clicking on an advert – or two! You don’t have to buy anything, honest! The clicks just help me cover the cost of running this blog. Many thanks, Paul

 

Rolling blog: New Zealand day 15. Blenheim to Kaikoura.

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We’re moving on again today after four nights in Blenheim, which we’ve both thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been a great place to be based at and the Airbnb we’ve stayed in has been wonderful. So much so that Dawn decided to leave them a little message on the bed!

In truth, we’re both a little sad to be leaving but there’s a heck of a lot more to see and do.

Weatherwise, it’s another stunning day, so we’re looking forward to exploring the coastline from here. It’s only an hour and a half drive to Kaikoura, which means we’ll be taking our time and stopping several times on the way and hoping to do some seal watching and dolphin/whale spotting.

One thing we’re both enjoying here is the fish and seafood. As we’re on the move we’ve been clearing out our fridge and eating what’s left, so this is hardly traditional. That said, it’s delicious – the mussels out here are amazing…

17:56.

What a fab day. The trip along highway 1 was brilliant and Dawn was a star for doing all the driving. We’ve had some excellent weather and  seen some amazing sights. I’ve not done this trip for 20 years. Doing it by car rather than train gave us the flexibility to stop off where we wanted. Oh, that and the fact no trains run on a Sunday, which was a bit of a bugger as the photo opportunities would have been wonderful – as you can see from this picture.

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For much of the way the railway and road play ‘tig’ as both hug the coast due to the mountainous nature of the terrain. Unlike the UK, there’s no ugly fencing separating the two. Near Kaikoura is a place called Ohau. It’s famous for the fact seals and their pups bask on the rocks right next to the road. What’s changed is the area was devastated by the 2016 earthquake

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When I say devastated, I mean it. Both the road and the railway were out of action for a long time, in the case of the railway that was two years. Here’s a Guardian report on the reopening. The line may be back in service but there’s still a huge amount of work going on to protect both road and rail from landslips – as these pictures from today illustrate.

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A little bit closer to Kaikoura we couldn’t resist stopping at an old institution. Nins Bin has been serving seafood from a lay-by since 1977. Despite the cost (thank you Brexit fans, you’ve trashed the value of the pound & made life sooo much more expensive for us Brits who venture outside of the UK) these locally caught crayfish have got to be tried…

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It’s actually rather strange being back in Kaikoura after 20 years (for reasons I may go into in another blog), but we didn’t stay long as we’re actually staying some 50km away up in the hills at a fabulous Airbnb at Mt Lydford. That said – we’ll be back in Kaikoura in the hope to go swimming with dolphins in the morning. The only problem is that the weather forecast isn’t looking great…