Saturday, January 28, 2017

End of holiday greens.

I've started back at work this week. This always bring mixed feelings as I love my job but I have had a wonderful summer with the family and I'm not ready to let go yet!

Saying goodbye to my sister was not easy. I have now lost track of the amount of times I have cried in Wellington Airport. I guess the airport is used to these dramatic displays of emotion. The looks of sympathy from travellers in the airport, as my kids and I burst in to tears again, suggests that plenty of people have experienced this.

I guess New Zealand is basically a country full of immigrants so most families have members who live abroad. It's not easy.

To distract us we have been out and about this weekend exploring locally. We climbed (what felt like a mountain) Colonial Knob in Porirua this weekend. The car said it was 30 degrees and it certainly felt like a route march up a mountain in the tropics. 

The route is beautiful but it is also basically vertical up over 1000 steps. People obviously use this route regularly as a work out as we were passed by many sports clad individuals who were either very fit, or clearly seeking to be fit.

The view at the top is stunning but the route is described as challenging. And I can confirm it is!

The route starts on the edge of an industrial estate and climbs through native forest to reach some stunning views across the Cook Strait to Kapiti Island.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lake Tekapo

The last few days on holiday were spent at Lake Tekapo. The drive from Wanaka to the Lake was beautiful and rather fun. I kept imagining I was Jeremy Clarkson zooming through stunning landscapes in one of those super cars.

I know I drive a Volvo, but it can still climb up mountain passes at quite a lick. Its just the kids arguing in the back that tends to spoil the moment!

The water in the lake is a gorgeous colour. This is apparently due to the rocks the water passes over before reaching the lake. The water collects tiny amount of dust that gives the lakes in this area this amazing blue colour.

This tiny church on the shore front adorns many a postcard in this area. It was very difficult to get a shot of it without other tourists in the picture. As you can see I failed.

People travel specifically to this area to star gaze. It is apparently famous for being a location with a particularly clear sky and there is an observatory on one of the hills around the lake. We wondered down to the lake in the dark to have a look for ourselves. It certainly is a great place to view the milky way and I did attempt to get some photos but failed dismally. I think I may actually have to read the instructions for my camera!

If you area lucky enough to visit this area I would thoroughly recommend completing the walk around the observatory and visiting the cafe at the top. It is described in the Lonely Planet guide as being "probably the best place in the world for a cafe". I agree with this assessment. It has some amazing 360 degree views. 

All in all I loved this area and we will be coming back in the winter to explore it in the snow. 

Monday, January 16, 2017


We visited Queenstown two years ago and loved it, despite the huge number of tourists. However we did actually stay in Glenorchy, which is a 45 minute drive out of the town so we had an escape from the crowds.

Friends of ours had recommended Wanaka as a quieter version of Queenstown. So we made a decision to include it in our trip and we are very glad that we did.

The little town is busy but incredible friendly and welcoming. We hired bikes and cycled around the lake and managed to fit in some swimming.

The main town area was incredibly windy and it felt too cold for a dip in the lake. However if you drive two minutes around the corner from the centre of town, under the trees are some lovely sheltered bays, perfect for swimming.

It looks like a mediterranean climate. I think its all the trees and arid hills.

Just outside Wanaka is a lavender farm which is open to the public and has a gorgeous cafe and gardens attached. We spent a glorious couple of hours wandering around enjoying the sunshine.

The farm also had some bee hives and the lavender was clearly attracting lots of bees.

About half an hour outside Wanaka is the abandoned gold mine village Bendigo. You can only reach it by driving up some very steep gravel roads but you are rewarded by some fantastic views and a haunting abandoned village to explore.

The village has a fascinating history and was only abandoned in the 1940s. If you want to read more here is a link Bendigo area .

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Franz Josef Glacier

I have always wanted to see a glacier, ever since I studied glaciation during my A Levels back in the UK. However it is not until I am the grand old age of 41 that I have finally been able to see one in real life.

The incredible ability that ice has to shape our landscape has always fascinated me. The U-shaped valleys, massive boulders and craggy peaks it creates are my favourite landscapes. So travelling to the west coast to view these areas was something I was really looking forward to. 

The journey itself did not disappoint. Travelling from Arthur's Pass to the west coast is a tough but rewarding route. The twisty roads take you through some fantastic dramatic gorges and ravines. Once you reach the west coast itself you are rewarded by thick rain forest and a totally different landscape covered in primordial like forest. 

I kept expecting a Velocoraptor to spring from the side of the road or a Diplodocus head to emerge above the canopy. It really was like walking through a Jurassic forest. This whole area felt prehistoric and the forest just goes on for miles and miles. It appears to cover most of the west coast!

On the day we went it was overcast and rainy which really added to the spooky ancient atmosphere. The weather clearly failed to put other people off as the car park was crowded and there were many other people making the damp hike up to see the glacier.

I was really hoping to actually be able to walk on the glacier but apparently this is dangerous. So the closest we could get was a view of the terminal face.
The ice is retreating at a reasonably rapid rate and is unstable. So the only way you are able to get nearer the glacier is by  hiring a guide. This is something I have now been promised for my birthday! So we will be back.

I am still in awe of glaciers and their immense power to change our surroundings. This glacier was advancing at a phenomenal rate of up to 70cm a day up until 2008. Unfortunately it is now retreating quite rapidly which is believed to be down to global warming. I guess I should consider myself lucky that it still exists and that my children were able to visit it. I can only hope that my grand children are able to visit it too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve - Castle Hill

I don't like enclosed spaces. So I did not do this walk. However my other half has no fear and apparently neither do my kids or my sister. So when they spotted this opportunity to walk and climb through an underground cave they jumped at the chance. 

The cave walk involves climbing in the pitch black through a cave system for about half a kilometre from one entrance to another. The cave also has ice cold mountain streams running through it so you need to be prepared to get wet.

The water at the beginning comes up to an adults chest height so you need to be wearing wet suits or clothing that you don't mind getting soaked.

We discovered the caves on day one of our stay in Castle Hill and my other half was so enthusiastic to explore he went in fully clothed!

Yes this is a picture of my husband and my nutty sister going into the cave fully clothed. We had a very soggy journey back to our bach!

This is my eldest (she's 12) climbing out of the cave having completed the 560 metre journey through the cave system. She loved it! 

It is a challenging route as you have to climb up underground waterfalls and negotiate rock falls. DOC recommend you don't go alone as people have died. However on the day we went there were plenty of hardy souls completing the journey and all emerging from underground looking very pleased with themselves.

I am slightly disappointed with myself for not doing this walk. My other half and sister said it was a "once in a life time opportunity". And I agree it probably was. Everyone I spoke to at the exit to the cave said how amazing the rock formations are underground. I think I may summon the courage next time we visit the area. And I am sure we will be back!

If you fancy visiting this cave system here is a link to the DOC site - Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

Monday, January 9, 2017

Castle Hill and Arthurs Pass

Our next section of our road trip took us to Castle Hill and Arthur's Pass via State Highway 73. This is a breathtaking beautiful route and I recommend taking some time to stop off to take in the views.

We stayed in a beautiful and unique little Alpine village called Castle Hill. About five minutes before the village is a stunning reserve containing loads of rocks which the kids loved exploring and climbing over.

The area was very popular with loads of other tourists exploring the rock formations. 

Luckily the area is still big enough to loose everyone else!

Arthur's Pass itself was something of a disappointment. The drive to it is spectacular but the village itself was full of tourists and trampers and the walk to see the Devils Punchbowl was crowded. (Not in UK terms but busy for NZ). I preferred the less popular walks. As soon as you try the longer walking tracks you loose the other people and once again feel like you alone in the wilderness.

The landscape is beautiful but you need to avoid the tracks that travel near the road as the noise from the passing traffic ruins some of the walks.

Despite the crowds Arthur's Pass is still worth a visit and we will be returning in the winter to see it in the snow.

And the Kea's are awesome. Make sure you stop for coffee in the cafe and meet the Kea's that frequent the local eateries. Just make sure you watch your food. We lost my daughters lolly cake to a sneaky and quick witted Kea!

The Kea is the worlds only Alpine parrot and is only found on the South Island of New Zealand. They are quite rare and it is estimated that there are only around 15000 left in the wild (although I have also read an estimate of only 5000 as it is difficult to accurately calculate exactly how many there are living in this remote region). They are fascinating to watch and very intelligent and inquisitive. It is well worth stopping to have a coffee and lunch with them!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Banks Peninsula

On our second day in Christchurch we decided to have a look at Banks Peninsula. This is an area consisting of the remains of several extinct volcanoes that have been slowly eroded over millions of years to form beautiful bays and beaches. The whole area was named Banks Island by Captain Cook after his resident botanist Joseph Banks (even though it was later discovered not to be an island!).

The main town in the area is Akaroa which we briefly tried to stop at. However it appears to have become a major tourist hot spot as we struggled to find any parking. I think this is down to the cruise ships that stop here but on the day we visited there were no cruise ships in the harbour and the little township was still heaving with tourists.

We avoided the town centre and headed up to a walk that took us through a cemetery for the early settlers in Akaroa. Quite fascinating and sobering reading the gravestones. Early life for European settlers was clearly not easy.

The clouds lifted in the afternoon and we headed out towards Okains Bay on the other side of the Peninsula.

On the way we passed an amazing little nature reserve which had great views across the Peninsula. It appeared to be maintained by volunteers and totally self funded. Well worth a visit and a great spot for a picnic.

Okains Bay is well worth the drive along the twisty roads. It appears to have a fantastic camp ground and if the wind had died down the beach would have been great for swimming.

I would also recommend the lovely cafe in the village. The tea and cakes are great and the interesting retro nicknacks  on sale are really cool.

There is also a large cave to one side of the beach which is fun to explore.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Christchurch - a city in recovery.

This is my first visit to Christchurch so I never had a chance to see it prior to the devastating 2011 earthquake. We spent the day walking along the river Avon and exploring the city centre.

It was a fascinating and rather moving experience. Walking through Hagley park and exploring the beautiful botanic gardens there was no evidence at all of the dramatic and deadly earthquake the tore the city apart.

We loved the stairs to nowhere. I was fascinated see if the ducks would actually climb it!

The botanic gardens themselves were full of the most beautiful plants housed in victorian greenhouses. Thankfully they did not appear to have been damaged by the earthquake at all.

The rose garden is absolutely stunning at this time of year.

Once you entered the city centre the impact of the earthquake was clearly visible.

Buildings are still being demolished and some look like they are hoping to be rebuilt.

The city centre feels fragmented. Which is unsurprising as according to our tram driver over 70% of the city centre was destroyed by the earthquake. There are some sections that have been given new life and rebuilt like the retail area in the converted shipping containers. And there are other areas where there are just abandoned buildings waiting to be demolished with the odd coffee shop clinging to survival amongst the surrounding devastation.

Yet somehow the city still has a feeling of rebirth and hopefulness for the future. Everyone is very friendly and there were certainly lots of tourists exploring the city even in the miserable weather we had during our visit. I desperately hope that the city recovers. It has many beautiful areas and even though it has lost some of its main landmarks, the river that runs through the centre and the bridges that cross it remain and somehow continue to keep the life blood flowing through this beautiful city.