New Zealand March 2001

To celebrate our 35th Wedding Anniversary, we decided to fly to New Zealand, using some of our Global Rewards points.  We chose to go to the South Island only, as that's where the most scenic areas were.  Our plan was to drive and stay in motels/B&Bs without any real planned itinerary.

Thurs 15th Mar.  We flew from Brisbane to Sydney, taking Liani with us.  She would stay with Ian while we were away.  Judy took advantage of the time in Sydney to have some follow-up appointments with various doctors.   After that I bought a new digital camera (Kodak DC3400) to replace the 3-year-old Canon.  That night we had dinner with the kids at Darling Harbour to celebrate Ian's birthday the day before.

Fri 16th Mar.  An early start out to the airport for a 9:30am departure for Christchurch with Air New Zealand.  Flying Business Class was certainly a very pleasant experience! and worth the extra points.  It also gave us more flexibility in choosing our flights.

Arrived in Christchurch around 3pm local time.  Managed to get a free upgrade from Avis - a Vectra instead of a Corolla.  Found our way to our hotel opposite the Avon River without too much trouble.  I spoke to a Radio Amateur friend in Dunedin, then another who was driving nearby.  We went around to his place for a visit, then back to walk around the city.  Christchurch didn't make much of an impression, so we decided to head for the West coast the next day.

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Sat 17th Mar.  We loaded up the car and set off through the flat Canterbury Plains, marvelling at the numerous high hedgerows.  Soon we were into the foothills of the Alps, stopping for morning tea at Arthurs Pass.  While the country is quite mountainous, the pass was at the junction of two fairly gently sloping valleys, so the climb was neither steep nor lengthy.  We were impressed by the rapid change of scenery from the plains to the mountains in such a short distance.  Apart from some cloud when we left Christchurch, the day had been beautifully clear.

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Lunch was taken at the town of Hokitika on the west coast.  We bought some jade earrings from one of the many jade shops there.  Pressed on through fairly twisty roads, but with little traffic, progress was quite swift.  We arrived in Franz Josef around 3:30, and found a room in a motel.  Motels in NZ generally provide a small kitchen and cooking facilities, so we went to the supermarket to get some supplies.

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Sun 18th Mar.  A major highlight of the trip - a 40 minute helicopter flight over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and Mts Cook and Tasman, with a landing on the top of the Franz Josef Glacier.  There was quite a lot of cloud around the mountain tops, but as we ascended, the sky was an intense blue.  It really was a breathtaking experience. 

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From there we stopped off at Fox Glacier, picked up some hitchhikers and made Haarst our lunch stop.  It was interesting to see the change of scenery from glacier to rainforest to sea shore, all in the space of a couple of hours.

From Haarst we proceeded south past various lakes and mountains - truly spectacular scenery.  A few hours later, and we were in Wanaka, a really pretty town on Lake Wanaka. 

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Apparently Wanaka is being promoted as NZ's prettiest town - we certainly wouldn't disagree.  Despite the abundance of navigable waters, we saw very few boats.  Wanaka had maybe a dozen trailer-sailers in a park near a boat ramp.

Mon 19th - Wed 21st Mar. Outside of Wanaka is Puzzling World.  There is a huge 2-level maze, rooms where you can play with puzzles, view holograms, look at famous faces with eyes that follow you around the room.  A bit further down the road is the Warbirds Museum which houses many WW II aircraft.  Both were very interesting diversions on the way to Queenstown via Arrowtown.  We passed by the A.J. Hackett bungy-jumping site with no desire to try this form of madness.

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Arrowtown was a goldrush town in the late 1800's, with a sizeable Chinese population.  Some of their tiny cottages have been preserved near the Arrow River.   Arrowtown is now quite a tourist town, being only about 20 minutes from Queenstown.

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While Wanaka is quiet, tranquil and low-key, Queenstown is a full-on tourist town, full of booking agencies, tourist shops, restaurants, etc, etc.  Because it is near the mountains and lake, it is a year-round activity centre with 15,000 beds.  The lake and mountains are certainly very attractive, but we prefered Wanaka.

We spent three days there including a walk along the lake to Sunshine Bay, a trip up the Gondola to the Restaurant for an intimate buffet dinner for 300, a drive up 12 km of windy gravel road up The Remarkables and another highlight, a trip on the Shotover Jet!   This was really fantastic fun as we zoomed along the shallow river, inches from the canyon walls at 70 kph.   The 360 degree turns were terrific,  although of course everyone got wet.

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Thur 22nd Mar. We had heard that all the Tour Coaches left Queenstown for Milford Sound around 7:15am and can be quite a mobile roadblock, so we left at 7am to avoid them.  As a result, we only saw a couple of them before Te Anau, and a few more just before Milford.  Again the weather was pretty good although we ascended into misty cloud near Milford.  It was fairly cloudy as we went out on our tour of the Sound, but it didn't rain.  Quite surprising really, as the area gets over 8 metres of rain falling on more than 200 days per year.  Milford boasts some pretty aggressive sandflies, but RID managed to keep them at bay.  The scenery is quite beautiful, no wonder so many people go there.

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We left around 3:30pm, again in brilliant sunshine, heading back to Te Anau for our overnight stop.  This is another pretty town on a lake, somewhat similar to Wanaka, but even smaller.

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Fri 23rd Mar.  Te Anau has a small Wildlife centre on the outskirts of the town with various birds on display including some very rare flightless ones.  After having a look at these (no Kiwis) we headed down the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill on the southern end of South Island.  Invercargill is pretty falt and uninteresting town, although it does have a nice park.  We pressed on the The Catlins, an area along the coast east of Invercargill.  Again, we had quite varied scenery including Jurassic logs preserved in the sandstone of Curio Bay, and rainforest areas.  Quite a lot of this was covered by narrow gravel roads.  At Surat bay we saw a colony of sea lions which were quite unconcerened by our presence.    Our stay for the night was at a B&B in the town of Owaka.  The owners had a small sheep farm which we thought was quite green and lush but the owners assured us it was very dry.

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Sat 24th Mar.  On the road again, this time down to The Nuggets, a cape with lighthouse and rugged outcrops of rock in the sea.  We could see seals swimming in the rockpools below.  Not much else to see as we proceeded up to Dunedin to meet Russell ZL4OI.  We were ably guided to his house by two-way radio, arriving in time for lunch with his wife Linda.  That afternoon I accompanied Russell to a Ham club meeting to learn about Amateur TV.  After that we headed into Dunedin to find a motel - we did, but it was right in the University area and there was a big Rugby match on that night. Of course there was a party nearby, but it didn't keep us awake.


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Sun 25th Mar.  As the University was nearby, we had a wander around the old buildings, which were of quite beautiful archictecture built in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Of course they are surrounded by more modern buildings of concrete and glass not quite in keeping ... in other words quite ugly.  from there we took a stroll in the Botanic Garden, looked at, but didn't climb the supposed steepest street in the world, and returned to the Museum.  There was a very interesting section on the Pacific Island cultures, comparing and contrasting the Polynesians, Micronesians, Easter Islanders, etc.

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After lunch we drove out to the Otago Peninsular, visiting Larnach Castle, the Royal Albatross observatory and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Observatory.  The latter was very interesting.  The owners have dug trenches down to hides which are close to nesting boxes.  The trenches are covered with camoflage, so we were able to get quite close to the penguins without disturbing them.

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Mon 26th Mar.  Our last full day as we headed north back to Christchurch via the Moeraki Boulders and Timaru, not a lot that was noteworthy.  We arrived in Christchurch around 3:30pm and found ourselves a motel for the night.  A walk around Cathedral Square, some shopping, and an early dinner before visiting another wildlife reserve to see some kiwis!  Well they were there, in the gloom, scuttling about but there wasn't enough light to capture them on film or camera memory card.  Anyway we saw them!  Back to the hotel to pack, and an early night.

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Tues 27th Mar. We had to get up before 5am to get out to the airport, return the car and check in.  A final farewell to Russell via the radio repeater and we were back on the plane for home.

So ended a very memorable holiday which lived up to all expectations.  The scenery was just so different and changeable, the people friendly, the weather beautiful.   We drove nearly 2500 km in the 10 days we had the car.