Day 6 - March 16:
Today was the drive from Rotorua to Wellington (the Kiwi capital). En route we stopped at the Huka Falls and, just like at Nigara Falls (but on a much smaller scale), speed-boats go as close as they can to the falls. Here the water was as blue as the sky and the café sold hot coffee in a can: we didn’t try it.
Another first: Chad at the wheel in Turangi! Our nerves calmed down since Graham had carefully instructed him in the art of “what-not-to-do”! There were also some interesting road signs: “merge like a zip” and “horse poo for sale” (not that we got any as souvenirs).
The weather continued to be at its best. Just before lunch we drove by Lake Taupo and, once passed the lake, came the mountains and its winding roads through the Tongariro National Park. Once we cleared the mountains we stopped for our first picnic lunch near Taihape.
After lunch we had our first sightings of large sheep, alpacas and deer herds. We also heard all about Graham’s recuperative powers. However, nobody remembers any of it since there were much more interesting things to concentrate on – the sheer natural beauty of the landscape. By the way, has anyone else noticed Graham’s gait? As we were commenting on his need to always be 50 meters ahead of the pack, he introduced us to the concept of his gait, or so he claims, whatever that means!
Another first - this time a slight computer screw-up with the Wellington hotel. Although the hotel had our booking for two rooms only one was available! Luckily they were able to relocated us to a nearby motel. While Chad and Dino received the royal treatment: a superb view, a balcony door that worked and a normal bathroom, Michel and Graham suffered the indignation of a view of the freeway, a balcony door that could not be unlocked and, to top it off, a rather unusual bathroom with a shower that was reminiscent of a hospital bed curtain and a drain in the middle of the bathroom for the water to flow freely to it. After a shower, you could swim to the toilet or sink!
For the evening we ventured to the Wellington Botanical garden: unusual in its location on the side of the hills surrounding Wellington. From the top, to which “Daniel the GPS” dutifully led us despite our desire to find the cable car station for a ride to the top, we all worked-up an appetite going down to the Lady Knox Rose Garden and back up to the car.
The evening concluded with dinner at a downtown Wellington pub and drinks at a local bar. Although we were back at the motel by 10:15 pm, we soon realized that the “internet curfew” started at 10 pm! Yes - no access to the reception (the only area where internet was available) after 10 pm.
Day 7 - March 17:
St-Patrick’s day started on the wet side with our first showers of the trip. Of course, Graham’s natural ability for things to happen occurred. Somehow as he passed the ferry tickets to the attendant they dropped into a puddle. The tickets were salvaged and dried on the dashboard - thank God! As we waited to board the Picton Ferry to the South Island not all was lost, a rainbow shone over us signaling a positive influence for rest of our day. Picture perfect Picton welcomed us to the South Island.
Oh, just a small note: after more than 5 years of friendship, Graham can’t tell the difference between Chad and Dino. He often calls one by the other’s name in some random fashion.
After embarking the Ferry, we stopped in Pickton for lunch and then had a short walk around the town. The drive from Picton to Nelson took us through the Malborough wine region (where over half of New Zealand’s wines are produced). Unfortunately for several of us, mostly white wines. Not only did we see acres and acres of vineyards but also apple, cherry and pear orchards.
Just before we got to our first wine sampling, another Graham incident occurred. Dino, no…Chad….no Dino….closed the car door and Grahams hand got in the way. After a loud scream, Dino…or was it Chad…. opened the door to free Graham’s hand. We finally got to appreciate Graham’s recuperative powers - his hand was still intact.
We arrived in Nelson, and checked-in at the Century Park Motel (our best accommodation to date). We received a warm welcome from Jan, with the standard question of whether we would like regular or trim milk. Jan suggested that the old fellahs should get the trim milk. She recommended that we have dinner at the Boat Shed and we took her up on her suggestion. Chad, Dino and Graham went for the “Trust the Chef” dinner which consisted of a six course meal with three appetizers and three main dishes. All dishes were excellent.
Day 8 - March 18:
Friday, as we checked out of the Motel, some learned a new expression “be with you in a tic”. The itinerary for today was a drive to Westport and then to Greymouth on the western coast.
We made our way to Westport through exceptionally winding roads and shared bridges: yes, you got it right, single lane bridges with, at times, a railway track beside. On one bridge the railway track was also part of the road.
Once in Westport we took a side trip to the Cape Foulwind Seal Colony. After a picnic lunch by the Tasman Sea we walked to the seal colony and then a chance to dip our feet in the ocean. Here we also encountered our first native bird: the Wake (pronounced whacky). The Wake might be considered the day-time version of New Zealand’s famous Kiwi bird. As we never ventured out much at night, we never got to see a Kiwi.
From Westport we headed to Punakaiki Scenic Reserve. As we approached Punakaiki the ocean views were amazing. At Punakaiki we saw pancake rocks and blowholes. As it was not high tide, we did get to see the blowholes in full force. However, some felt there were some in the car!
During our drive to Greymouth, there was some discussion as to whether or not to visit New Zealand’s famous Mirror Lake. Chad commented that “we should reflect upon it”.
We made our way to the Gables Motor Lodge where we all shared a one-bedroom unit. For some they had their first sighting of Graham in his dressing gown!
Our evening dinner was with the locals at the Revington Hotel. Not being locals, we did not realize the drink and meal ordering procedure was somewhat structured. Our ignorance brought on the wrath of the head waitress. Some of the other patrons wondered why we were experiencing such special treatment. For dinner, Dino accepted the challenge and, apparently, was one of a few to finish a full-size roasted lamb dinner. After dinner we joined other locals for a nightcap before calling it a quits.
We did notice that there appeared to have been a mix-up in the visit of Prince William to Greymouth. He had visited Greymouth the day before and was unaware that Ottawa’s famous four would in the town after he had left!
Day 9 - March 19:
This was our last full day in New Zealand.
Before leaving Greymouth, Graham allowed an entire hour for some souvenir shopping. When the “long” shopping stop was over we headed for Shanty Town. Here we rode an old British steam train, toured the historic village, Graham panned for gold (you would not believe how much he found!), and after a picnic lunch in the grounds we headed for Springfield.
The drive to Springfield took us across the Southern Alps and through Aurthor’s Pass National Park. Careful driving was essential with steep inclines, sharp hairpin turns and a lack of guardrails. Following a brief break at the Wobbly Kia Café and Bar we continued the drive.
Throughout the Alps the views were spectacular. At one point we stopped for a photo opt. It was a perfect opportunity to give Graham’s delayed-action photography another chance. It seems he finally mastered the technique.
If you are reading this blog you have probably seen the youngest traveler’s comment on his travelling companions’ napping habits. The following demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people in glass houses should not throw stones!
Originally we were going to spend out last night in New Zealand in Christchurch quite close to Christchurch Cathedral. In view of the earthquake, we decided to stay about an hour east of in Springfield at the Bahara Motel. Our accommodation gave us a rustic view of New Zealand with alpacas and horses around the motel.
Dinner was at the Springfield Hotel, definitely a local “hot-spot” for a Saturday night on the town - population of Springfield 219! You can ask Graham if he recommends the Porterhouse Steak special?
Day 10 - March 20:
In Springfield the day started bright and cool (below 10 degrees). As drove to Christchurch it began the rain – was New Zealand crying since we were leaving!
A short rain-walk through part of Hagleigh Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens was followed by some time in a local mall. The second rental car was returned (with no damage!) and we took the shuttle to the airport for the flight to Melbourne.
New Zealand Summary:
Distance Traveled: A little under 2,000 km.
Best Experience: Crossing the Southern Alps
Best Attraction: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Reserve - Rotorua
Biggest Disappointment: No Kiwi sightings
Most Over-rated Attraction: Shanty Town - Greymouth
Best Scientific Experience: The toilets do flush in the other direction!
Best Hotel: Century Park Lodge in Nelson
Worst Hotel: None
Best Meal: The Boat Shed Restaurant in Nelson
Worst Meal: Revington Hotel in Greymouth
See you in Australia mates!!