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Christchurch to Newcastle

W flew out from Christchurch on Thursday 15 Nov to Sydney then took a train up to Newcastle to spend the next few days with Lynda and Steve Parish. We were amazed that the cost of the 2.5hr train journey was a mere $8 each and the scenery once we had got out of the suburbs of Sydney were excellent. The trains are a rather basic and in need of upgrading with the toilet facilities being very basic. But hey, the views were priceless and we would not have seen them had we gone by road.

Lynda and Steve were there to welcome us as we arrived in Newcastle East station. It was so good to see them again since they left the UK over 2yrs ago.

We truly had an amazing time with them as they showed us around the lovely area they live in. For us it was a but strange as we both grew up in the north-east of England and the nearest city to us was Newcastle. There were so many similarities with the north-east with the river and dock yards, coal, many areas named after areas that we used to frequent such as Jesmond, Wallsend, Stockton etc. as well as Cardiff and Toronto!!! On the Friday as Lynda and Steve had to work we took time exploring the area. it was just like home as it virtually rained all day!!!

On Saturday Steve and Lynda took us on a great coastal walk (a round trip of circa 8k) from their lovely home to have breakfast overlooking one of the many awesome bays before driving us out to Hunter Valley a name known worldwide for its fabulous wines.

On the way we went into the ‘bush’ area and it was amazing to see that virtually all the trees (and we saw millions) are gum trees. We had a fabulous day with the weather improving all the time. We stopped for afternoon in what I could only describe as the ‘outback’ – a small village in the middle of the bush. It really was a piece of Australia that was worth visiting.

On Sunday morning we attended the Church that Lynda and Steve are members of. It was really interesting comparing the style of worship with that of St Mary’s. The music used was virtually all ‘Hillsongs’ and was sometimes more of a performance style though it did feel participative. A very different style to St Marys and probably more like Soul Survivor! However having not been able to attend a place of worship on our travels it was great to listen to a message (sermon) that was clearly preached with a sound bible context and we both felt really nourished.

After church Lynda and Steve took us up the coast to Nelson’s Bay a lovely resort about an hours drive from Newcastle and a place that they have spent their Christmas holidays at for many years. It’s rather strange seeing the advertising for Christmas and decorations up with the sun shining and the temperature around the mid 20’s.

Sunday evening saw us going to a Christian Fest that had been running in Newcastle since Friday evening. What a great event this was with Christian artists performing to a very high standard. We listened to a Christian rock band with the name Antisceptic – they are a nationally recognised band in Australia and their performance was amazing – full of energy and with great lyrics that would appeal to a younger age group. This was followed by the Salem Gospel Choir from Chicago – what singing and what energy exuded from this group. Headlining the show was Darlene Zschech a singer songwriter synonymous with Hillsong but now with her husband Mark pastoring a new church. The first section of her performance was full of energy with a range of songs that were new to me. Darlene then moved into a more reflective section and it was great to be able to sing along with songs which were familiar and which we use at St Mary’s. Being outside and being blessed with an awesome sunset there was a feeling of standing in the presence of God – at that moment I really felt close to our great creator.

It was with a sense of sadness that we said our farewells wot Lynda and Steve on Monday morning. What special people they are and their hospitality, kindness and love to us is not taken for granted. So we set off on the next phase of our travels which would take us up the ‘sunshine’ coast to Brisbane.

Day 30 – Christchurch

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that we intended to walk around the city today to get a better feel of the damage caused by the earthquakes. We did that and literally walked around the perimeter of the red zone which is really quite extensive. It took us nearly an hour to do this. So instead of writing about what we saw I’m going to download a range of pictures of what we saw – both the destruction and the restart areas where they are using containers as units for a range of different shops. The aim is to give you a flavour of where this great city is currently at. The first group show the destruction caused and the final ones show what progress is being made. Though slow at least there is a vibrancy around the Restart area and people feel really optimistic about the future though still living in fear of further tremors or even earthquakes. At least for now a new and vibrant Christchurch is rising from the ashes.

Day 29 – Geraldine to Christchurch

So today was the final leg of our travels through NZ. We have had an amazing time and have really fallen in love with this wonderful country. I really think that had we come here when we were much younger there could have been a strong possibility we may have stayed – however we accept that this was not in God’s plan for us.

You may recall from yesterdays blog that we tried to have a cuppa in Verde Cafe Deli in Geraldine but had arrived as they were closing. So this morning we called in on our way out of Geraldine and got ourselves takeaway coffees and some scrummy cakes to eat later as it was only 9.15am and less than 1hr after our brekkie.

Our journey of around 130km would takes us along the Canterbury plains and very much reminded us of Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire – very flat. After the previous 4 wks of mainly seeing and driving and weaving up and down passes and gorges it was very odd driving along flat straight roads. The journey was fine but also very strange travelling in a fair amount of traffic which was steadily increasing as we got closer to Christchurch.

Once we had got booked in to the holiday park we decided to get a bus into the centre of Christchurch. As we travelled what would only have been about 20mins on the bus we started to get glimpses of the damage the earthquake had caused. However, nothing could have prepared us for the devastation we would see not only in the centre of the city but also in many of the suburbs. It was strange how some buildings appeared untouched by the earthquake whilst others standing alongside had suffered significant damage.

The area where we alighted from the bus is a temporary central bus station and right next door to where the council has creatively used big containers to provide units for those businesses which had previously been in the centre of where the earthquake had struck. This area had a great feel to it and was really alive so we had our lunch in a Hummingbird Cafe which uses one of these containers with outdoor seating.

We decided to explore the city by bus, once we found out where it started from!! This was an old red London Route Master bus which bizarrely still had a map of the London Underground on the upper-deck!

The first hour of the tour took us as close as you can get to the epicentre of the earthquake in the city centre. It really did look like a war zone at times with piles rubble that had once been a building or twisted metal and buildings where most of the glass had been shattered/blown out by the force of the earthquake. It was remarkable that many more people had not last their lives though any loss is sad.

Street after street had been decimated where once stood maybe 4/5 storey buildings now they were either surface car parks or just plain nothing.

However, out of all this turmoil and tragedy is rising a new Christchurch one which possibly offer it’s residents and visitors a much better place to live and visit. We were told that there are still after shocks with the last one being just a couple of weeks ago at a magnitude of 4.2!!

It was a very humbling experience as we travelled through the city centre and listened to our guide explaining what it had been like since the first earthquake in Sept 2010. When we got into some districts he described what had previously stood there in others he genuinely couldn’t remember what had been there.We went past the Basilica which looks like it had been bombed. They are wanting to preserve as much of it as possible as down through the years a number of bishops have been buried within the boundary of the building.

The Anglican Cathedral was also badly damaged with it’s spire crashing down to the ground for the third time after a number of previous earthquakes. They are busy erecting a new Cathedral which is being described as a cardboard Cathedral due to the way it is being constructed. Apparently this is causing a great deal of angst amongst locals as it’s not even being constructed on the original site!

After this tour which lasted an hour we moved away from the centre to look at other places of interest. We went to the Cashmere district which is an affluent area south of the city and quite high up. We were able to have a panoramic view across the city and over to the coastal area of Akaroa. A splendid view until our guide explained that a number of key landmarks had disappeared because of the earthquake. People who lived in this area had also been affected by the earthquake as we viewed a number of properties that had suffered damage, in some instances it was terminal as it is too dangerous to reconstruct or repair the property.

In the picture opposite you might just be able to glimpse in the centre of the photo a large stadium. This is the famous Lancaster Park which had hosted a number of great sporting events down through the years. The stadium is currently out of action owing to the severe damage sustained during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and will remain closed indefinitely with the first of its stands, the Hadlee Stand being demolished . All the stands have sunk in places by up to 30cm (approx 12″). We visited this as part of the earlier tour and it looked in a real sorry state.

We moved on to Sumner which is on a bay of the Estuary of the Avon and Heathcote Rivers. Here we saw properties which had either been significantly damaged and others which had to be vacated because of the perilous state they were in on the edge of a precipice. It is a beautiful area and you could sense why people had moved there and why some properties had been built in the location they occupied because of the magnificent views they had of the surrounding area. However, the earthquake has altered the landscape permanently and some exclusive and expensive looking properties will have to be demolished.

We wended our way back into the city along roads where once again we saw individual properties that had suffered damage.

For us it was a salutary lesson that you can not take anything for granted and that tragedy can strike at any given time. New Zealanders know that they live in a land that is susceptible to earthquakes and even volcanoes. They knew they were due one but the general view was that it would likely be Wellington and not Christchurch.

Tomorrow we plan to walk as much as we can of the city centre but for now we are grateful to God that this great city is rising from the devastation of a deadly earthquake.

Day 28 – Omarama to Geraldine

Our aim for today was to travel to Mount Cook Village in anticipation that we would be able to view Mount Cook NZ’s highest mountain. After a fair amount of rainfall last evening God was incredibly gracious as the weather was good with lot’s of blue sky and high cloud as we set off. However we knew that we had around 100km to travel and that the Mount Cook region because it is so high is notorious for being in a low cloud cover for a high percentage of the year.

Imagine our excitement (maybe you can’t but I can tell you we were) when after travelling on state highway 8 for around 50km with a range of snow covered mountains on our left we turned on to highway 80 which is the only road into the Mount Cook National Park and as we came over a rise to see in front of us one of the most stunning views I have ever experienced. Laid out in front of us was the blue waters of Lake Pukaki with Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in the distance with it’s snowy peaks with some cloud but with Mount Cook majestically standing high above those around it.

The satnav was indicating we had about a further 30mins to go before we arrived. It actually took us more like 50mins as we kept stopping to take pictures and admire God’s awesome creation. I kid not I was quite emotional as we drove the rest of that journey thinking about what was laid out before us. We have been blessed to visit some great places through our life and seen some awesome and humbling sights. Today though for me has to be up there amongst the best, if not the best. I thanked God that He had made it possible for us to have this experience.

We parked up at the Whitehorse Hill car park which is as close motorised vehicles can get to the National Park and we walked around 1 mile to the Kea Viewing Point. It is called Kea after the parrots that live there, however we didn’t see any on our walk. The walk takes about 30mins and it was with a sense of expectancy as we climbed the final rise that we were going to see something really special.

Whilst there was cloud around it was moving quickly and in the right direction, away from the range in front of us. I was staggered to read later that there are 19 peaks in this range of mountains that are over 3,000 metres (10,000ft) with Mt Cook (3574m) and Mt Tasman (3498m) being the tallest. They were truly majestic as they stood there in all their ruggedness with the white snow shining out.

In addition we were virtually at the face of The Mueller Glacier which is a 13-kilometre (8.1 miles) long glacier. Its meltwaters eventually join the Tasman River. We had not realised how close we would be able to get to this glacier and the towering Mount Sefton was an awesome sight with its brilliant white snow still covering at least 1500m of this 3151m mountain.

 

As we wandered back down the hillside we kept getting glimpses of Mt Cook and as we finally reached the car park I took this picture.The clouds had cleared and there was Mt Cook standing pristine in all it’s awesome grandeur. We know of some people who visited the area and were unfortunate not to see what we we experienced. God had once again spoken to us through His creation.

So we set off on the next leg of our journey which would take us to Lake Tekapo. We had to retrace 50km of our journey and it was great being able to have a different view of what we had passed on our way to Mt Cook village. We had to circumnavigate around 60% of Lake Pukati on the first part of the route and had a view of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park virtually all of the way. By the time we got to Lake Tekapo we were looking at the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park from the opposite side to when we had been at Kea Point.

So lunch was taken at Lake Tekapo which is at the southern end of the lake of the same name. It has unobstructed and fantastic views across the turquoise water and a backdrop of rolling hills and snow covered mountains.

The remainder of our journey took us through some quite familiar countryside of green hills on one side and the ruggedness of snow covered mountains which are home to countless ski locations on the opposite side. One of the things we have endeavoured to do through our travels is to not only look forward and to the side but to try and look at the view behind us either through the back window or our rear view mirrors. This is one of the best views I have seen so far on the our journey and I doubt if it will be bettered. It is of Mt Cook – not bad eh? (Oh by the way I had stopped and was stationary when I took this picture

After a couple of hours of travel we arrived in Geraldine which our Lonely Planet guide book informed us that it ‘has a bit of a country-village type of atmosphere with pretty gardens and an active craft scene’. Well not sure we would agree with that description as we thought it had more of a small town feel about it.

Geraldine is also home to the worlds largest knitted woollen jumper (thanks to Alysoun Sanders for that bit of information) and we did go and see it.

Another friend, Emma Hayes. told us about a lovely coffee shop which she had visited when she was in NZ. So we made haste for that as we know Emma has excellent taste but sadly it closed at 4pm which is exactly the time we got there. So …. we know where our coffee break is going to be tomorrow – The Verde Cafe Deli. About 3 minutes drive from our holiday park lol.

However, we were able to have our coffee in another lovely coffee shop called ‘The Plums’ which also did some very yummy cakes and chocolates. We bought some of the latter as pressies but I’m not sure they will make their intended receivers!!!

Tomorrow is the final leg of our adventure around NZ. We will travel to Christchurch which is to be our final resting place until we fly out to Oz on Thursday. Christchurch is still recovering from it’s massive earthquake in early 2011 but we have been told that they are encouraging tourists to visit so as to bring money back into the local economy. By the time we reach Christchurch we will have completed close to 4500km (circa 2,800mls) and what and drive that has been!

 

 

Day 27 – Queenstown to Omarama

Our journey today would take us from Queenstown which had been our base since Wednesday – we’ve had a great time whilst there and is certainly somewhere we would have possibly spent longer at had we more time.

Our destination was Omarama which is a small town that lies on state highway 8 and has a worldwide reputation fro gliding because of the strong northwest thermal updraughts. As it is a Sunday we found it a little noisy as the small planes towing the gliders seemed to be taking off at around 5min intervals.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that we had passed the spot on our way in to Queenstown where the birth of bungy jumping in NZ first commenced back in 1988. The bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge is where you plummet 134m (440ft) over the gorge towards the fast running river tied to a rubber cord strapped to your ankles and thighs – not for the faint-hearted. So we decided to stop and see if there was going to be any action and we were not to be disappointed as there were a steady stream of people looking for that ‘thrill of a lifetime’. We watched as a young couple tandem jumped of the jump pod and hurtled downwards before being yanked back up through the tension of the elasticated cord.

We got to chat with them afterwards and it had been their first jump and were still buzzing with the thrill of doing it. They had decided to jump together because they felt if they had gone solo one of them may well have pulled out at the last moment.

So as we left after watching other ‘jumpers’ we looked at each other and said – yup it’s to get to out of here before we have any foolish ideas of jumping!!

Back on the road our journey continued on state highway 6 which took us through some of the wine and fruit growing area of the Gibbston Valley. This area is particularly well known for it’s Pinot Noir grapes and it certainly does taste good as we sampled a bottle with our meal the previous evening.

We reached Bannockburn then Cromwell which is at the junction of state highway 6 and 8 just as it started to rain very heavily. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before we left it behind as we followed the shoreline of Lake Dunstan then through the Lindis Pass. We were really high up at this point and the surrounding vista was stunning. From the summit of the Pass coasted down hill for around 25km until we entered Omarama where the sun was shining as we drove into the holiday park.

Our plan was to get booked in then drive up to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park which Mount Cook the highest mountain in NZ stands (3,754m/12,316ft above sea level). However, on checking in with the webcam that overlooks Mt Cook we could see that we would be wasting our time as it was raining and very cloudy. The forecast for tomorrow is promising so we plan to set off early and hopefully do some walking towards Mt Cook.

So instead we took a stroll around Omarama which didn’t really take that long before returning back to the holiday park and spent the afternoon relaxing.

Days 25 and 26 – Doubtful Sound

Well what a fantastic time we have had during the last 2 days. We left Queenstown at 8.20am on Friday and travelled by bus to Lake Manapouri which is one of the key entry points to Fiordland National Park. It was an interesting and relaxing journey that took us around 3hrs with a few surprises along the way. One such surprise was seeing the Kingston Flyer – an old steam train that has recently been renovated and introduced as a tourist attraction. It starts at Kingston which is at the head of Lake Wakatipu and travels a short distance giving it’s travellers an experience of steam travel.

We arrived at Lake Manapouri around lunch time to commence our journey to Doubtful Sound.  We firstly cruised by a ferry across the lake followed by a short coach trip over Wilmot Pass, an alpine pass to Deep Cove where we boarded our vessel for a cruise on Doubtful Sound. We would spend the night on board our small craft. What a fabulous experience with great views and an excellent crew.

Doubtful Sound is the second largest of the Fiordlands national parks which has 14 fiords (Dusky Sound is the largest) and Deep Cove where we started our journey is around 40km from the Tasman Sea. Though we didn’t get that far there is also a Thompson Sound!! Doubtful Sound reaches about 430m at it’s maximum depth, that’s about 1300ft. It is tidal but the range is fairly moderate generally between 25 and 3m. It was originally named Doubtful Harbour by Capt Cook in 1770 when he skirted past wondering if there was sufficient wind to manoeuvre his vessel in the narrow reaches, he thought it wasn’t worth risk and named it Doubtful Harbour.

It is home to to a variety of marine mammals namely dolphins and seals though we didn’t see any dolphins due to the adverse weather conditions. However we were very fortunate to see one of the worlds rarest penguins the Yellow Crested Penguin along with the little blue penguins. The blue penguins grow to maximum height of 40cm (about 16″) and we were able to see some of these towards the end of our journey.

Fiordland is one of the world’s wettest regions and can deliver very changeable conditions which we experienced during our time there. It is a vast rainforest area though of the temperate kind, being jungle-dense complete with vines. Because it rained most of the time we were  there we saw some spectacular waterfalls cascading down mountain sides 1000m up.

There was opportunity to get a bit closer to the land by going either in a motor launch or in a kayak. Brenda loves kayaking so off she went with a group of other passengers to explore the area. She had a great time even though it started to rain quite heavily and the conditions got rather squaly.

I opted to stay within the safe confines of the boat and helped the skipper keep things in order. Don’t you think I look the part??

There is so much more I could go on about. One of the crew has exceptional knowledge of the geology and nature of the area and throughout the journey was extremely informative keeping us all entranced in what we were experiencing and seeing.

Our night on board was incredibly peaceful only the sound of lapping water and song birds at dawn.

This trip is certainly one of the highlights of our adventure even though we got quite wet at times. We returned back to our camper-van on Saturday afternoon tired but very happy with what we had just experienced.

Day 24 – Queenstown

So today is a special day for me – it is my 26 birthday (oops I got the digits round the wrong way lol. When I got back from the washrooms I opened the door of the camper-van to Brenda singing happy birthday to me. What more could one ask for other than to have my ear plugs back in – only joking she sounded rather sweet!! I had some cards to open which was a pleasant surprise especially the one from Sephi which had a picture of a dinosaur on the front which she had coloured in. Inside it read (written by her mum) – Dear Pops hope you have a wonderful birthday! Sephi chose the dinosaur and I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with your age!! Lots of love Sephi xx

 

I also got a present from our youngest son, Martin. Not sure what message he is trying to give me! Perhaps he is just doing his bit to promote movember. It said on the packaging that a handlebar moustache is a moustache with particularly lengthy, upward curved, extremities. It’s dignified, sophisticated, refined, and above all else irresistible to the opposite sex! (Ah that’s why he got it for me!!!)

What do you think folks? Dignified, sophisticated, refined??? Not sure I needed this as I am all of those lol. Well it was a grand start to the day and did cause me to chuckle a little. Thanks Martin I love you lots.

So the day had started well and it was just going to get better.

We had chosen to take a ride on a jet boat! No just any old jet boat but one that provided a breathtaking ride through dramatic, narrow canyons at speeds of up to 80km an hour. It included 360 degree spins with the aim of course to soak as many passengers as possible each time!!

Not sure what our driver thought as I’m guessing the average age of the 9 passengers would be around 65 with only 2 being slightly younger than myself and Brenda. It didn’t appear to be fazed with this and duly went about his business taking us very close to the walls of the canyon. What a fantastic experience and apart from having pictures to prove it we also have the dvd as well!!  The picture opposite is of the group that went out after us and the conclusion of their ride which ends with a 360 degree spin.

Our little spin had certainly worked up an appetite so we decided to have a brunch in the town and it was lovely sitting out in shorts and t-shirts in the very warm sun. After lunch we were back on the water only this time at a more leisurely 5km per hour on the lake. Lake Wakatipu is a beautiful lake and the people living all around it have unbelievable views. It was a very different experience to the mornings cut and thrust adventure. There are loads of  little coves with small settlements around them. There is one particular area where you do have to be rather wealthy as land prices start at a cool $1.5NZ (around £750k) and building costs for the types of housing there would start at around $4/5mNZ. I caught a glimpse of a golf course at the end of one of the peninsula’s. What a fantastic place to play your golf and only around £40 a round. We really enjoyed the cruise which lasted around 90mins and the sun continued to shine so we were able to sit outside and get a much better view of the area.

Tonight we are off to celebrate my birthday at what looks to be a rather nice restaurant with lots of fish on the menu. We can’t be too late as we have an early start tomorrow being picked up to start our journey to Doubtful Sound which is part of the Fiordland. We are will be staying the night on a boat and not returning till late Saturday afternoon so there will no more posts till then,