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New Zealand Road Trip 2004

We left Heathrow on a Cathay Pacific 747-400 at 18.50 on Monday 4 October looking forward to a smooth flight down to Hong Kong and being able to get a bit of sleep. Didn't manage much of that but I did watch Fahrenhight 9/11. Scary. The free world seems to in the charge of a blithering idiot.
We landed in Hong Kong on time after 11 hours 55 minutes in bright sunshine and 28 degrees C.
Having a 5 hour stopover we decided to go out and have a look at the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lan Tau Island.
So we grabbed a blue taxi, showed the driver a picture on the Big Buddha and he said "Ah, da big buddha". And off went.
The 35 minute taxi ride up over 2 small mountains on very good but narrow winding roads, was pretty exciting. Plenty of stopping to let buses pass, plus road works, but some spectacular scenery on the way.
The buddha is the largest bronze buddha in the world and sits up on top of a hill, accessed by a long stone stairway of 268 steps. We took our time over the climb but I did see a couple of people jogging up. The climb is very worthwhile as the views over the valley are quite spectacular.
At the foot of the hill is a small street market selling souvenirs, hats etc plus some food and drink stands. This is a major tourist attraction and despite he narrow winding access roads there were plenty of coaches and busses up there, and there is a cable car under construction.

Back to the airport to get our flight to Auckland, we had time to get washed and changed into some fresh clothes and look round the duty free shops. I'm not so sure they are duty free. Tip for you if go here, check the prices carefully. I looked at the Apple iPod in the electronics outlet and found the price to be 450 Hong Kong dollars more than the price listed in the Hong Kong Apple store. I questioned a salesman about this and he shook his head saying he didn't know why. He tried to tell me it was because they gave a worldwide warranty. Nonsense. All Apple products have worldwide warranties irrespective of the place or country of purchase.
Curiously a similar situation exists at Heathrow where the same 40gig iPod is £297 in Dixons duty free shop. The exact same price as John Lewis will sell it to you for, including tax.

From Hong Kong to Auckland the Cathay Pacific Airbus once again delivered us on time to be greeted by clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine. We collected the Avis Toyota from the car park next door to the terminal and made for the Silver Point Motor Inn 5 minutes away on McKenzie Road.
We had an early dinner with Dean before a typically sleepless first foreign night.

Thursday morning was dry but overcast as we headed for New Plymouth. The rain chased us down Highway 1 towards Hamilton, with a coffee stop at Te Kauwhata on the way. Leaving Highway 1 at Hamilton for Highway 3 we made for the Waitomo Gloworm Caves. These limestone caverns are home to millions of gloworms that line the cave ceilings and look like tiny stars as you drift through the darkness in small boats.
During the short walk back up the hill from the caves river entrance you can listen to the Bell Birds up in the giant redwood trees that grow so fast in this area.
Leaving Waitoma we made for 8 mile junction where a decision had to be made. Do we carry on down 3 to New Plymouth or do we take a detour down the Lost Highway. By this time the weather had closed in and we decided on the direct route. Leaving the Lost Highway for another, better, day.

New Plymouth is a large coastal town nestling at the foot of the extinct volcano Mount Egmont and the Taranaki National Park. On Friday we took a ride up the Surf Highway to Oakura Beach and on to the Cape Egmont lighthouse. From there you can get a good view across to the mountain, which was covered in cloud for us.
Back down the highway a little way is the road off to Lucys Gully, a popular picnic area full of Pongas (tree ferns) and tall trees. Further back towards New Plymouth, turn off and up the winding road to Pukeiti Gardens. This rain forest is full of Rhododendrons of all varieties. Here we got caught out in a torrential thunder storm with no alternative but to shelter in amongst the trees and ferns until it eased off enough for us to make it back to the Lodge complex at the entrance.
Back in New Plymouth we took a walk along the newly created coastal walkway, past the Wind Wand, along with the joggers, skaters and cyclists out for an evenings exercise.

Saturday saw us take Highway 3 south heading for Wellington. A short way out of New Plymouth is Lake Mangamahoe where we saw Tue's and Kingfishers in the trees and black swans on the lake with ducks and geese of all varieties.
The cruise down the almost deserted highway takes you through farmland for the most part with isolated farming communities every few kilometres. On a Saturday afternoon in most of them there was no sign of life.
We stopped for lunch of smoked chicken paninis and hot club sandwiches at the Lake View Bar overlooking the Winter Gardens at Wanganui, before driving through the Art Deco centre of town and over the bridge to the Durie Hill Lookout. The entrance to this is through a carved Maori gateway and into a 205m. long tunnel carved into the cliff face leading to an old wooden lift which takes you up through the hill to the cliff top. From the lookout platform on the top of the lift house is a spectacular view over the town and out to the mountains. For an even better view climb the 187 steps of the stone lookout tower.

Further south on Highway 3 we joined Highway 1 for the run down to Wellington via the Kapiti coast, stopping at Paraparaumu to buy drinks and Lotto tickets at a convenience store overlooking the bay and the Kapiti Island nature reserve. Here we once saw basking whales, but not this time. An easy run down the highway into the northern suburbs of Wellington and into Karori to see some relatives, before the short run down into the city and round the bay towards Eastbourne and Lowry Bay where we are staying with friends in a hillside house with spectacular views across the bay and out towards the sound. On a clear day from here you can see the South Island.

After a lazy Sunday morning we went into Wellington to The Brewery bar on the waterfront for drinks and chips. This refurbished warehouse has a modern micro brewery with an elevated viewing area where you can see the brewing process together with some good views over the harbour. We hit the Wellington shops on Monday and took a look at the Old Bank Clock in Old Bank Court. This refurbished BNZ building houses shops and a super food court offering a huge choice of meals from all corners of the world. The perfect place for a shopping expedition lunch break.
Up to Mount Victoria after lunch to take some photographs. From here you get a 360 degree view over the whole city. Back down the hill, round Oriental Bay passed the floating fountain that my uncle helped to build, and never seems to be working when we're in town, and on to The Chocolate Fish Cafe at Scorching Bay for coffee. This was a popular hang out for the stars and crew of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy as the studio is nearby.
Tuesday saw us take a drive over the Rimutaka range to the Wairarapa region. The switchback road climbs out of the Hutt valley to around 550m before descending into the sleepy towns of Featherstone and Carterton with their boutique shops and cafes. From here we drove into Martinborough where we intended to have a beer at our favourite Martinborough Hotel. But it was closed so we crossed the road to the Martinborough Wine Centre for an excellent lunch, before returning to Wellington in time for dinner.
On Wednesday we took a drive up towards the Kapiti coast and visited the Lindale Centre. This large tourist complex houses craft shops and galleries as well shops selling cheese and ice cream made on the premises, plus The Lindale Farm Park with weekend shows and farm walks. The evening was spent with friends at the popular Lifeboat Inn in Eastbourne.
After a quick visit to the Magnum Apple store in Wellington on Thursday morning we spent time in the Te Papa museum before our customary family reunion dinner, this time at Uncle Chongs Chinese restaurant in Courtney Place.
Friday morning saw me catch up with some work. Thanks to the Internet some clients are not aware that we're not still in Spalding. A musical evening at the Wellington Bluegrass Society rounded off the day.
A lazy Saturday in Lowry Bay was rounded off with dinner at the Hogs Breath Cafe in Courtney Place, where the mouth watering inch thick medium rare rib eye steaks are on the rare side of medium and the portions on the large side of big. If you go there make sure you're really hungry.
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny and saw us fly out over the blue Pacific Ocean on the hour long hop to Christchurch on the South Island to pick up an Avis 4 wheel drive Toyota and head for Arthurs Pass and the West Coast.

The drive from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass is pretty uneventful. Mainly farming country with the mountains in the background. Arthurs Pass itself is just a handful of buildings, including a visitors centre and possibly one of the smallest post offices on the planet. The railway passes through a tunnel at this point and the settlement was created to house the workers who dug the tunnel. From here we drove down the mountain over a spectacular viaduct and into Hokitika for the night. Dinner of lamb shanks in Stumpers is highly recommended.
On Monday we headed for Franz Josef by way of Lake Mahinapua and The old gold rush town of Ross, where we took the Water Race walkway for some spectacular views out over the town back up to Arthurs Pass.
From Ross we carried on down Highway 6 to Pukekura, population 2, and the home of the famous Petes Possum Pies and the Bushmans Centre and Puke Pub and cafe. Easily recognised by the giant sandfly hanging over the main entrance. Unfortunately the pub was shut because Pete was away and his partner was busy making possum pies.
The next township down the highway is Hari Hari, famous because pioneer aviator Guy Menzies crash landed upside down in the local swamp after the first solo flight over the Tasman sea from Sydney.
The Okarito Lagoon is the next significant stop on the highway, once a bustling gold mining community with several hotels and theatres, now home to 16 residents.
Franz Josef Village is a surprisingly busy place, with motels, restaurants and shops just 4 kilometers from the foot of the glacier. The Sentinal Rock Walk through a rain forest takes you to a viewing platform overlooking the glacier face.
Fergs Kayaks has an interesting Internet facility in an old bus, providing several PC terminals on a fast connection.
We spent the night at the Alpine Glacier Motel before heading off down Highway 6 over the Omoeroa and Cook saddles towards the Fox glacier, stopping at Lake Matheson for some photographs of Mount Cook.
From the township of Fox Village we took the Fox Glacier Valley Walk up to the glacier face over moraine left behind after the glacier retreated back up the valley over the last 200 years.
As the weather closed in we managed to keep ahead of the rain down the highway, across Copeland Valley via Bruce Bay and Lake Paringa to Haast.

Haast is a confusing place for the visitor. The approach from the North is over the longest single lane bridge in New Zealand, 760m with 2 passing places. You then find signs for Haast Township, Haast Beach and Haast Junction. We stayed the night in the Heritage Park Lodge Motel in the township and once the rain had stopped we witnessed a magnificent sunset over the mountains.
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and we set off through the Haast pass following the course of the Haast river South towards Wanaka and Queenstown. The 262 kilometers from Haast to Queenstown took about 8 hours due to the many stops along the way to view the stunning scenery, waterfalls and lakes along the way.
The puzzling World of Stuart Lansborough at Wanaka is a good place to break the journey. This curious Disneyesque tourist attraction built round a maze, which they claim will take you an hour to solve, is at odds with the surrounding farmland. Sit in the cafe with a coffee and cake and try to solve the puzzles on the tables. Visit the roman style toilets and take your photograph by the Leaning Tower of Wanaka. Truly weird.
From Wanaka the highway passes many wineries with fields of vines on both sides of the road. The highway then follows the Kawarau Gorge with many interesting stops along the way such as the Goldfields Mining Centre, where you can explore the old gold mine and take a jet boat ride, and Roaring Meg where we saw some intrepid white water body boarders.
Just before Arrowtown the highway passes the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, home of the original A J Hackett bungy jump. This impressive complex features a multi media experience, licenced cafe, shop as well as the original bungy jump site. You can walk onto the historic suspension bridge and watch people throw themselves at the Kawarau river 43m. below. well worth the stop for the laugh.
Arrowtown, another old gold mining town, has the look and feel of a classic tourist trap. The main street has the look of an old western frontier town, spoiled by the parked cars, with most of the shops selling expensive clothes, jewellery and souvenirs. It also served as the location for The Ford of Bruinen in the Lord of The Rings films.
The short run from there to Queenstown takes only a few minutes and we stayed in the Colonial Village Motel on the main highway about 1km from the town centre, and our room had a spectacular view across the lake to the Kelvin Heights and the snow capped Remarkables mountains beyond.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. You can do pretty much anything here that involves putting your life at risk. From bungy jumping off suspension bridges and mountains, to white water sledging, skiing in season, kayaking, hang gliding, sky diving etc. Situated on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains the views are pretty spectacular wherever you look. Within a few short minutes drive there is the famous Shotover Jetboat ride through the river gorge, highly recommended as Disney will never match this for thrills. Coronet Peak ski base is reached by way of a narrow winding but good quality road, and affords spectacular views across the valleys. However don't attempt this drive if you have a problem with heights. The drops on the side of the road are shear in places with few guard rails.
We took the scenic drive north along the lakeside to Glenorchy, through Closeburn and 12 Mile Delta, both sites used as locations for Lord of The Rings. Glenorchy is a sleepy little town of about 200 people catering for eco-tourists. Jet boat safaris and horse treks out to the Dart river go from here. Glenorchy is known as the gateway to Paradise, which does exist about 20km up the road. It's a paddock practically in the middle of nowhere. All you can do is turn round and come back.
Queenstown nightfife is plentiful, literally dozens of restaurants and bars including the obligatory Irish pub, this one claiming to be the most southerly on the planet. We had a fine dinner of fresh salmon and succulent lamb in The Branches on Beach Street.
The other high spot in Queenstown is the Skyline Gondola, a restaurant and shops complex perched above the centre of town reached by cable car. Take a ride up there, have a drink, eat dinner and throw yourself off the bungy platform. The perfect end to a perfect day.

We had a boat trip out on Milford Sound booked for 3pm on Friday and that's 290km from Queenstown, via Te-Anau where we had 2 nights at the Lakefront Lodge Motel booked. Leaving Queenstown just before 9am we made good time down highway 6, stopping at Kingston, 45km south of Queenstown, to check out the Kingston Flyer, a grand old steam train in the old wild west tradition which hauls tourists on a 14km stretch of track twice a day between October and April.
A rest stop at the Lazybones Cafe at Athol on highway 6 for coffee and muffins while sitting on a comfy sofa by a log fire was great. This little cafe used to be a garage but it's been turned into a fabulous little old world cafe full of home made food, crafts and knitware by the owners, who are only too pleased to chat with travellers passing through.
Cutting across to to Mossburn on the 97 we joined highway 94 for the run into Te-Anau.
We made Te-Anau by midday and dropped off our luggage before setting out for Milford Sound down what must be one of the greatest drives in the world. They say you should allow at least 2 hours for the 120km but we managed it easily in around one and half because we didn't want to miss the boat. But if you intend doing this drive allow at least 4 hours. Round every twist and turn of this road is a fantastic photo opportunity of snow capped mountain vistas, reflective pools and sparkling mountain streams. Although it's not possible to stop in many places because of the narrow road you should have your camera ready to shoot through the windows.
The route climbs gradually to the Homer tunnel. 1.2km long and unlined rough hewn rock, apart from an initial upward slope on entering it slopes down towards the Milford end at a gradient of 1 in 10, has a permanently wet and slippery road surface and is virtually unlit apart from small lights in the roof. Readers intending to do this trip should take care on entering the tunnel on a bright day. Take off sun glasses and turn on headlights before entering the tunnel, and slow down. The initial total blackness is very alarming. The tunnel is also very narrow with a couple of bus passing places along the length.
From there on down to Milford sound you pass through The Chasm, formed by the rushing waters of the Cleddau River, into Milford. If you intend doing this drive make sure you have enough fuel for the return journey, and snow chains are a legal requirement for this road irrespective of season. There is no petrol station here. Milford is just the terminal for the boat trips out onto the sound these days. There is a hotel by the car park, which is a short 10 minute walk from the visitor center/harbour, but no other facilities apart from toilets. All the boats have refreshments on board. We opted for a stop at the underwater observatory which provides a close up view of the marine life below the surface of the fiord and adds an exciting ride back to the harbour aboard a fast sports fishing boat. Well worth the extra few dollars over the regular cruise price. Milford sound has been described as the eighth wonder of the world and to fully appreciate the cruise you really need to be out on the top deck of the boat, where it can sometimes be very windy and cold. It is also one of the wettest places on earth with up to 9 metres of rain a year. But it's best in the rain as there are more waterfalls. Take appropriate clothing.
Te-Anou is a beautiful little town with shops, restaurants, cafes and a gorgeous lakefront situation ideal for the boaties who seemed to flock there over the labour day weekend we were there. It's also known as the walking capital of the world and the famous Milford, Hollyford, Routburn, Greenstone, Caples, Kepler and Dusky tracks all start nearby. You can take floatplane and helicopter flights over the fiords and glaciers from the town jetty, and jetboat rides, kayaking, horse trekking and mountain biking are all available.
On our return from Milford we had dinner at Bayliez. Huge portions of Cajun chicken salad and lamb shanks with cool glasses of the delicious house Montana chardonnay.
We spent an easy second day walking along the lake shore and visiting the local wildlife sanctuary, plus checking our email at the Te-Anau Photo Centre, where you can burn your digital photos to cd if, unlike us, you don't lug a laptop round the world.
Tonight it's porterhouse steak, fresh mushrooms and vegetables and hash browns with a bottle of McGuigans Black Label Cabernet Merlot.
Tomorrow we head for The Catlins and Kaka Point down the Southern Scenic Route. This well signposted route winds it's way out of the mountains and down around the south of the island through lush green rolling farmland and fields of grazing sheep, cattle and deer, plus some of the most amazing coastline in the world with cliffs battered into shape by the wind whipped southern ocean, and ends up at Dunedin on the east coast.

The Southern Scenic Route takes highway 95 out of Te-Anau south towards Manapouri, the town saved from drowning by a nationwide protest against the raising of the levels of lakes Manapouri and Te-Anau for a proposed hydro electric scheme. The resulting West Arm underground power station has no visual impact on the environment and is itself a tourist attraction, being a stop off for boats on the way to Doubtful Sound.
There are so many places and things to look at on this route round the southern tip of the island it would take at least a week to see them all. Unfortunately we didn't have that much time so we had to be selective and choose only those that are close to the road or at least only a few kilometres off it.
We had a quick look around Manapouri, the setting for the novel Song of The Sound by the English writer Adam Armstrong, before heading off towards Clifden for a quick look at the old suspension bridge over the Waiau river.
Our next stop was Tuatapere, self proclaimed sausage capital of New Zealand. I don't know why, as all we saw was one butchers shop, a bar, motel, an art gallery, some public toilets, a rugby field come camping ground, and a garage.
McCracken's Rest is the next significant stop on the Scenic Route, and is the most south westerly point on the New Zealand road system. A rest area here overlooks the Te Wae Wae bay out to the Solander Islands and you can see the southern end of the Southern Alps and the Hump Ridge.
Monkey Island comes up next, in Maori legend this is the anchor stone of the Takitimu Canoe which was wrecked at the mouth of the Waiau River. Here we took the car onto the beach for some photographs of the island, which is a tiny hump of rock and grass in a small inlet and only accessible at low tide.
For a good coffee break I recommend the Beachhouse Cafe and Bar in Riverton. Take the road out to the Riverton Rocks to get to this popular local eating house, where the menu is better than your average cafe and the portions are huge. The locals eat here, always a good sign.
The South Scenic Route goes through the centre of Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand. We drove through here quite quickly, but noticed some fine and interesting Art Deco buildings on the way, as well as a very large shopping area and sports stadium etc.
Our intention to visit Slope Point the most southerly point of the south island and the Lands End of New Zealand, took us off the main highway onto an ungraded gravel road through Otara and Haldane. Slope Point is only accessible by foot across farm land and unfortunately for us the footpath is closed during lambing season which runs September through October. So the closest we got was to stop on the road at the start of the footpath and photograph the marker, easily visible about half a kilometre away. This is an interesting and exciting drive along gravel roads, an insight into how the New Zealand road system was not too long ago. The road follows the coastline up onto high cliffs overlooking the ocean where the next land mass due south is the Antarctic. Up here the wind can be vicious at times. We got well and truly windswept, often finding it difficult to even open the car door and standing up required finding something solid to hold on to.
Our destination for the night is Kaka Point and the Nugget Point and Kaka point Motel, curiously situated on both sides of the road. We arrived in time to unload the car and grab a coffee before heading out to Roaring Bay in an effort to see Yellow Eyed penguins. We are assured the penguins come ashore every evening before sunset. The road from Kaka Point to Roaring Bay is gravel, narrow and winds around the cliffs towards the Nugget Point lighthouse. We stopped to ask a group of surfers the way. A small gravel car park on top of the cliffs overlooking Roaring Bay is the top of a very narrow path leading down the cliffs to a hide built into the cliff face with a great view over the whole bay.
Roaring Bay faces due south and the wind was still very strong and whipped up a great surf before howling into the hide and straight into our faces as we looked for signs of penguin activity. We stayed there for almost an hour, a testament more to wearing the right clothing for the conditions than our patience, for we saw no penguins. We did see a great sunset though.

We have 2 days of our holiday left, 2 days to get to Christchurch and catch a flight to Auckland to get our return flight to the UK. Our options are the quick route up the East coast or take the slower South Scenic Route. We chose the later and headed for Oamaru. In the morning we back tracked a few kilometres to Purakaunui Falls for some photos and then made for Cannibal Bay. So named because a large quantity of human bones were found there.
The bay lies at the end of a winding narrow gravel road and has a fine golden sandy beach, on which we saw 2 Hooker Sea Lions basking in the sun.
The road from here goes north through Balclutha, Milton and Waihola. From here it turns onto a gravel road and climbs steeply through a newly planted forest before descending back down to the coast at the fishing village of Taieri Mouth. From here the road follows amazing white sandy beached edging the deep blue Pacific Ocean through Brighton and Ocean View to Dunedin where the South Scenic Route ends. Making our way quickly through Dunedin we joined Highway 1 North and stopped for coffee at the Harvest Moon Cafe in Waikouaiti before making Oamaru in time for dinner.
Oamaru has a conservation and research centre for the Little Blue Penguin in an old quarry down on the harbour. NZ$15 buys a guaranteed sighting of penguins coming ashore in the evening. So we paid our money, took our seats in the purpose built stand along with dozens of other tourists and waited in the cold wind. Sure enough as darkness fell the penguins began to appear on the beach below before making their way up the rocks and into the nesting boxes built into the old quarry.
We have at last seen some penguins.
In the morning we headed north on highway 1, crossing the 45th parallel for the second time just north of Oamaru, heading for Timaru and Christchurch. There are 2 possible routes to take, the quicker main highway which follows the coast and the Inland Scenic Route which follows highway 72. Apart from the town of Geraldine near the beginning of the route there isn't much else along there but rolling farmland, sheep and cattle. We decided to cut this short and following a signpost for Christchurch turned off onto South Eyre Road, which must be one of the longest straight stretches of road anywhere. Almost 40km. with hardly any reason to even twitch the steering wheel.
We spent the night in the Airport Lodge Motel just a couple of kilometres from the airport, went for an evening stroll around Cathedral Square in Christchurch before dinner of Venison sausages, Kumara chips and Watties baked beans, washed down with a bottle of Montana Sauvignon Blanc.
Tomorrow we fly to Auckland and then on to Hong Kong and home.

Our Air New Zealand 737 put us down in Auckland on time and with no bags to collect, they were checked through to Heathrow from Christchurch, we took the short walk in warm sunshine to the international terminal and the Cathay Pacific check in desk. Not forgetting to pay the NZ$25 departure tax first. New Zealand is such a great little country they charge you to leave.
The Airbus A340 was less than half full on the leg to Hong Kong and we secured seats at the back of the plane so we could stretch out and get some sleep. I like the Airbus, it's quieter than the 747 and there is more legroom in economy.
Hong Kong airport sprawls across reclaimed land on the edge of Lantau island and it seemed like we walked the whole length of it from the arrival gate to the departure gate. It took us about 15 minutes. The last time we did this East West journey we arrived in Hong Kong a little later in the evening and the airport was almost deserted. Very strange. But this time it was much busier and all the shops were still open at 8pm.