Tag Archives: New Zealand

The sound of lava on willow

Friday 14th November – Monday 17th November
Rotorua to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand

On Friday, we took a bus from Rotorua to Hamilton, and then completed the Northern Explorer train route by riding on the Hamilton to Auckland section.

Our final few days in New Zealand were spent in Auckland. Although New Zealand’s capital is Wellington, Auckland is by far its biggest city, boasting some one million residents.

Rotorua to Auckland
Prior to catching our bus to Hamilton, we took a walk beside the lake in Rotorua, and saw the unusual (for us Europeans) black swans that live there.


We had an hour or so to spare in Hamilton, so we grabbed a snack. Simon decided that a photo was in order, as he felt that a snap with this waffle, banana and chocolate combo should be the updated version of the ice cream sundae shot that my parents always took when I was on holiday as a child!


We arrived in Auckland in the evening on Friday, and we caught a glimpse of the Sky Tower (the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand) on the way to our hotel.


Saturday was unfortunately rainy (although we can’t complain, as we have really had very few days of rain on our trip), but we did manage to have a look around the city. We used our guidebook to follow a bit of a walking tour of the city centre, taking in the modern Auckland Art Gallery building, Albert Park and the university area.

In the evening, we went to a city centre sports bar called Fox’s to watch the Four Nations Rugby League final between the New Zealand Kiwis and the Australia Kangaroos. The game was taking place in Wellington (about 650km from Auckland) and we would have loved to have been able to be there to see it live – rugby league is a less popular sport in NZ than rugby union, so we could potentially have got tickets – but the timings did not work out due to our flight on Monday. However, the atmosphere in the pub was great and we really enjoyed the match – particularly as the Kiwis were eventually victorious 22-18, after a close-fought battle.

Sunday was a brighter day and we kicked it off with a tasty breakfast in an alarmingly-named coffee shop close to the Britomart station.


We then took the train a short distance out of the city centre to go for a walk to get some views of the city. We walked up Mt Eden, which is in fact a volcano (Auckland is a city built on fifty volcanoes – Mt Eden is extinct, but not all of them are!). The top of the volcano later formed a crater, which is sacred ground for Maori people.



A sign at the summit confirmed that we were a long way from home!


From there, we walked through to Eden Park, the stadium where the NZ All Blacks play rugby and the NZ Black Caps play cricket, to watch a Twenty20 cricket game between the Auckland Aces and the Northern Knights. It was mainly a family event, and only one stand was being used by the attendees (hence why the stadium looks deserted in our photos!). This was our first ever live cricket game (we’re definitely going to attend a game at Chester-le-Street when we get home) and it was fantastic to see some sport at the national stadium.



We finished our day back in the city centre in the Britomart area, just behind the central station, which contains a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.


Thought for the day
On one of Simon’s favourite sit-coms, The Flight of the Conchords (about a Kiwi band and their manager, trying to make it big in New York City), the wall of the manager’s office is graced by a tourism poster featuring a photo of sheep grazing on the rolling hills of the North Island and bearing the legend: “New Zealand – like Scotland, only further away“.  

In fact, and as much as we love Scotland, it seems to us that NZ really isn’t like anywhere else on earth: 

– This stunningly beautiful country, which is not much bigger than the UK, boasts beaches, volcanoes, geo-thermal pools, alpine mountains, earthquakes(!), cool cities, rainforests, glaciers and even fjords;  

– Its 4 million incredibly friendly residents seem to get along harmoniously, despite their varied backgrounds, with far less of the friction between original inhabitants and European colonists than is the case in other countries;

– 75% of the country’s energy needs are supplied by renewable sources, principally hydro power from the multitudinous rivers and geo-thermal energy from deep underground;

– Its legal system has managed to avoid a “compensation culture” by instituting a state-wide system to compensate victims of accidents and fine the perpetrators; and

– New Zealand has no snakes and only one (very rare) poisonous spider.  Add this to the fact that there are no large predatory mammals, either native or introduced, and you have a country where, unlike Australia, the wildlife is not generally out to destroy humanity (the geological fault lines are another matter, however…).

In other words, we loved New Zealand (or “Godzone” as it is sometimes known, after it was described by a poet as “God’s Own Country”). In fact, if we didn’t know better, we would think that the entire place had been carefully designed – perhaps by legendary Kiwi movie director, Peter Jackson…

When we first arrived, we kept saying to ourselves: “We need to do everything we can while we are here – we will never come this far again.” Within a week, our catchphrase had become: “Next time we are here…”!

Goodbye New Zealand – I suspect that we will be back.

PS The title of this post was inspired by our day of volcanoes and cricket. I think I missed my calling as a tabloid sub-editor!


Kaikoura to Wellington

Saturday 8th November – Monday 10th November
Kaikoura to Wellington, New Zealand

Train journey, Kaikoura to Picton
On Saturday morning, we picked up the Coastal Pacific, travelling through to Picton in the north of the South Island.  The journey was stunning once more, and we we able to see some of the vineyards that New Zealand is rightly famous for.



Ferry journey, Picton to Wellington
Saturday afternoon saw us on an Interislander ferry from Picton back to Wellington, on a journey that I (Joanna) am told was fairly calm – I cannot comment, as I was huddled below decks, studiously staring through the window at the horizon for the most part – I am a terrible sailor, which was not helped by the planned crew emergency drill that lasted for around an hour in the middle of the journey, culminating in a very bored “abandon ship, abandon ship” command from the captain…


The first part of the journey takes you through calm blue waters, interspersed with beautiful green islands. You then leave the South Island to cross the Cook Strait, before heading into the harbour and towards Wellington. 



Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t actually travel north by any appreciable amount on our journey from the South to the North Island, as can be seen from the map below.


Wellington Sky Show, Wellington Harbour
Another surprise on Saturday was discovering that Kiwis celebrate Guy Fawkes’ night, meaning that we were treated to an excellent pyrotechnic display in Wellington Harbour on Saturday evening.  As you may be able to hear from this video, the “oohs” and “aahs” that accompay fireworks are universal (although in fact, I think that the group standing behind us, who you can mainly hear, were actually British).

Walk to Mt Victoria lookout, Wellington
On Sunday we woke to a beautiful (and slightly less windy than usual) day in Wellington, so we took the opportunity to walk up Mount Victoria through a lovely park, to get 360 degree views of Wellington and its surrounding harbour/suburbs. Seeing the city in this context really gave a sense of the beautiful land and water that can the found in this part of the North Island.


Another evening in Wellington also gave us an opportunity to return to The Email (see our previous post about Wellington) and find another restaurant to please our tastebuds. This time we went for Mexico which (unsurprisingly) served up some fantastic authentic Mexican food. Special mention is due for the dessert: fresh churros with xocolate sauce and crushed salted peanuts. 

Carter Observatory, Wellington
Monday was our last day in Wellington before heading back to see Doug, Julie, Sam and Joe for the evening. We had a couple of clear nights while on the South Island, but our knowledge of the Southern skies are limited (for which read: virtually non-existent). 

A trip on the Wellington Cable Car took us to Carter Observatory, where a visit to the planetarium gave us a crash course. A video about the search for life in space was followed by an excellent presentation by one of the Observatory’s astronomers about how to find your way around the Southern sky. It was slightly embarrassing that all the school children in our planetarium presentation knew more about the Southern Cross than we did, but at least we know now! 

Tradition of the day
The Carter Observatory also gave us a bit of background to some of the Maori myths and legends surrounding the night sky. We were particularly fascinated to learn about Matariki, known in the UK as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, and one of my (Simon’s) favourite things to look for in the night sky (it’s actually a cluster of young stars, so looks fantastic even through binoculars).

Matariki disappears below the horizon in the New Zealand night sky around the end of April/beginning of May each year. It reappears about four weeks later in the eastern dawn sky, just before the sun. This usually marks the end of the old year, and is a time of reflection. 

The next new moon after this occurs is the start of te Whetu o te tau, the Mauri New Year (around the time of the shortest day in the southern hemisphere). Celebrations vary, but often involve rising before dawn to greet Matariki rising, songs, and eating kumara (a sweet potato) cooked in embers. It also represents the time to start preparing for the planting of new crops.

Kaikoura gets our “seal” of approval

Friday 7th November
Christchurch to Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

On Friday morning, we boarded the 7am Coastal Pacific train from Christchurch to Kaikoura, which means “place to eat crayfish” in Maori.  This small town, around three hours north of Christchurch, has an incredible setting, bounded by almost-unbelievably blue seas to the east and the Seaward Kaikouras (a mountain range) to the west.

There is a lot of whale-watching here, due to the deep ocean meeting the continental shelf, causing an upwelling of nutrients close to the shore.  However, given my aversion to boats we decided against booking such a trip – and were pleased that we had made that choice, when we arrived to find that many of the trips were being cancelled due to rough seas.

Kaikoura Peninsula walk
The weather when we arrived in Kaikoura was amazing, so we took advantage by going out for a 10km walk immediately after dropping off our bags at our hotel.

The walk took us around the peninsula, with fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean, beaches and nearby mountains. There is also a seal colony living there. They aren’t the easiest to spot…we actually thought there weren’t any seals on the shore until another visitor started pointing them out. We then realised there had been one right by where we had been standing!

[photos, from the top: enjoying the view from South Bay; two views as we walked to Point Kean; Seal Colony at Point Kean; the view from the esplanade as we walked back into Kaikoura]






Video of the day
To give you a very small taste of the incredible beauty of this place, I took a 360 degree video of the view at Point Kean in Kaikoura.  I was going to say “please excuse the sound of the wind whistling past us”, but in fact that is all part of the experience!

Ain’t no mountain high enough (to keep us from Christchurch)

Thursday 6th November
Franz Josef to Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

During our time in the South Island, we repeatedly heard that, due to the mountain range down the spine of the country, it is often the case that when it is raining on the west coast it is sunny in the east (and vice versa).  Therefore, we chased the sun to a certain extent during our time there, which meant heading back towards the east coast towards the end of the week.

Driving Franz Josef to Greymouth
On Thursday we drove back to Greymouth in the morning, stopping along the way for yet more photos of perfect glacial lakes, including Lake Mapourika.


Bus and train, Greymouth to Christchurch
We grabbed a nice lunch in town, before our TranzAlpine journey back to Christchurch. 

Unfortunately a landslip meant we did the first part of the trip, to Arthur’s Pass, on a bus replacement service (an experience that was very familiar from home!). But this did give us the opportunity to see some different views, because at one point the train goes through an 8.5km long tunnel rather than over the mountains.


We were also lucky that the weather was a little better than last time in some places, including at the journey’s highest point, giving us even more breathtaking views.




On arrival back in Christchurch, we went for a meal in a pub in Riccarton, where we sampled a burger containing the “traditional” Kiwi accompaniments, beetroot and a fried egg!  I believe that MacDonalds NZ has just re-issued the “Kiwi Burger” for its 25th anniversary, although I can pretty much guarantee that the version served in the Fox and Ferret at Riccarton is better, despite the cheesy London Underground signs adorning the pub’s walls!

Road sign of the day
The driving between Greymouth and Franz Josef wasn’t too tricky on the whole (and we were certainly helped by the fact that Kiwis drive on the left, like we do in the UK). However, there were a number of single carriageway bridges, including one that was shared with a railway (trains have priority, in case that needed to be made clear!).

We were also amused by this road sign. Roundabouts? No problem. Level crossings? That should be fine, thanks. Roundabouts with a rail line going right through the middle of them? Excuse me while I concentrate for a bit…


Highlights of the TranzAlpine train route

Monday 3rd November
Christchurch to Greymouth, South Island, New Zealand

When we were researching our visit to New Zealand, we were keen to see how much of the country we could enjoy by train. And the TranzAlpine route definitely got us excited – taking you from the east coast of South Island to the west coast, it’s widely considered to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. 

We were not disappointed. This spectacular journey leaves Christchurch across the Canterbury Plains, before heading up into the Southern Alps, then back down to Greymouth.

The train has the added advantage of an open carriage (cold and windy but fantastic for photos, as long as you’re quick!).

These are some of the incredible views we got to enjoy.






Product of the day
Spotted on a box of cereal bars. Not quite sure how it feels to be ‘as happy as a box of budgies’, but we’re assuming that it’s a good thing! And if you’re wondering what jandals are, apparently that’s what Kiwis call flip flops.


How to rebuild a city

Saturday 1st November – Sunday 2nd November
Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

The flight from Wellington to Christchurch was absolutely beautiful, travelling across the Cook Strait and down the east coast of South Island. 

Christchurch city centre
When visiting the Te Papa museum in Wellington we’d learned a bit about the natural forces affecting the environment in New Zealand, including earthquakes. And if anyone wanted an example of the reality of earthquakes and the destruction they can cause, then Christchurch is it.

We had heard about the 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch on 22nd February 2011 (we were less aware that there had been one before then, on 4th September 2010, which had already done some damage to older buildings in the city). Despite this, we weren’t prepared for what the centre of the city would look like when we arrived. Whole blocks levelled. Many of the buildings that were still standing had been condemned, and were clearly just waiting to come down. Infrastructure is also still in a poor state (which led to floods in the city last summer, according to one person I spoke to, due to the fact that the city’s drainage system is still not fixed).


But actually our experience of the city was a positive one – living proof that it’s not buildings that make cities, it’s the people that live there, and the creativity and positivity that they bring. This is a city that’s still living with a terrible recent past, but is facing the future with pride.

The Re:Start mall – Christchurch’s temporary city centre – is built out of shipping containers.




There’s also some fantastic art all over the city (the giraffe is from a new project called Christchurch Stands Tall, which can be found across the city).



But perhaps most impressive is the temporary cathedral that has been built. Nicknamed the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, the structure is built from cardboard tubes, covered in corrugated plastic. A truly incredible building!



Rugby in Riccarton and Botanic Gardens
We are always looking for opportunities to enjoy sport in the countries we visit, and in New Zealand it had to be rugby union. So, first thing on Sunday morning, we headed a short distance out of the city centre to Riccarton, to a pub that was showing the All Blacks against the USA in Chicago (the first time the All Blacks have played in the US since 1980). It was all a bit one-sided – the final score was 74 – 6 to the All Blacks – but the USA played well in possession and the fans in the pub seemed to be enjoying it anyway.

On Sunday we also took a walk through the Botanic Gardens. It was a beautiful spring day, and showed a very different side of the city.

Photo of the day
This temporary art installation in Christchurch city centre is called ‘185 Empty Chairs’. The chairs represent the people that lost their lives in the earthquake of 22nd February 2011. The individuality of each chair pays tribute to the uniqueness of each person represented.


Wonderful, Windy Wellington

Wednesday 29 October – Saturday 1 November
Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

Wellington has two nicknames: “Windy Wellington” and “The Coolest Little Capital in the World”, and the reasoning behind both was very much in evidence during our visit!


Having briefly toured the city with Doug on Tuesday, we had a pretty good idea about what to expect. In addition, we had the huge advantage of having received an email from Simon’s colleague, Jenni, who is a Kiwi with family still in Wellington. She asked her partner’s sister, who is apparently something of a foodie, for some restaurant recommendations for us, and boy, did she do us proud! We had some amazing meals during our time in the city, so please forgive me if this post is mainly about food…!

Ombra, Cuba Street
We caught a train from Doug’s place into Wellington on Wednesday evening, and, after checking in at our hotel, visited Ombra restaurant on Cuba Street, which is the city’s main destination for food and bars. The theme here was cicchetti (which is apparently Venetian tapas) and we shared a fantastic meal including broccoli and ricotta fritters, a rocket and pear salad and three (count ’em!) desserts between the two of us. We loved the menu here so much that we had to resist coming back another night, but we thought that we should trust in The Email (as we had come to know Jenni’s sister-in-law’s recommendations) and try some more places – and we were delighted that we did!

Sculpture Walk and Havana restaurant
The weather on Thursday was lovely, as you can see from the hotel room view that we woke to (below), so after a wonderful breakfast/brunch at Ti Kouka (thank you, Email!), we explored some of the “sculpture walk” around the harbour area.



The photo below is from an installation dedicated to the memory of the New Zealand men who went off to fight in the First World War. 10,000 of them left New Zealand just over a century ago – in fact, Saturday 1 November was the 100th anniversary of the date on which they, along with the Australian troops who were also part of the ANZAC expeditionary force, left the Australian port of Albany, bound for Gallipolli and, later, the Western Front. In total, 100,000 Kiwi men fought in the First World War, which is incredible, given that the population of the country at the time was only around 1 million.


On Thursday evening, we indulged in tapas once again, this time with a modern Spanish theme. Havana is a very cool bar and restaurant where we tucked into delicious food including Moroccan-inspired lamb and chickpeas and a fantastic salad of lentils, smoked beetroot and goat’s cheese.


Sightseeing and Floridita’s
Friday was a somewhat busier day, as we had a lot of sightseeing to fit into our last day in Wellington!

We started with a tour of the Parliament buildings, which was very interesting. The round building, known as the Beehive, houses the executive functions, the NZ parliament sits next door, and the final building is the parliamentary library.



The two older buildings had work done on them in the early 1990s, to retro-fit them with earthquake protection, using base isolation technology developed here in New Zealand.  Three hundred cylindrical rubber and steel “shock absorbers” (known as bearings) were installed under the buildings and then engineers cut away a horizontal section of the original foundations, so that the buildings now sit solely on the bearings.  In the event of a ‘quake, the bearings should allow for 30cm movement in any horizontal direction, without the building above being shaken too much.

A number of the traditional aspects of the Westminster parliament on which it is based remain, including such anachronisms as Black Rod and 2pm – 10pm sitting times, but NZ does have a history of being somewhat more progressive than its mother country: in 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote and there is no appointed upper house (the Kiwis abolished it in 1950 because it was undemocratic).

The other participants on our tour were mainly from France, Germany and Brazil, which meant that we did not get a chance to discuss one of the burning issues of the day with any locals: that morning, we had seen a newspaper article explaining that it is likely that New Zealand will vote next year on whether to change its flag. Currently, the flag consists of a dark blue background with the Union Flag in the upper left corner and four stars (representing the Southern Cross constellation) on the right – which may surprise rugby fans, who would be forgiven for believing that the flag is black with a silver fern! Various ideas are under consideration, including the simple removal of the Union Flag.


During the afternoon, we visited Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, where I was particularly interested to learn more about how the Maori people had come here from various Pacific Islands some time between AD1000 and AD1200.

We also saw a brand new display (only opened on the day that we visited) about Shrek the sheep, who apparently became quite famous  here in NZ a few years ago.  He was a merino sheep who escaped the “muster” several years running by hiding out in the mountains, living in a cave despite the freezing conditions.  By the time he was eventually captured and sheared, he looked more like a cauliflower than a sheep!  He then became something of a celebrity, travelling around the world raising money for sick children (although he didn’t like to talk about his charity work, according to the display…).  Shrek sadly passed away in 2011, by which time he had retired to a luxury shed, but he has now been stuffed so that he can be kept at Te Papa for posterity.

On Friday evening, we tried out one final recommendation from the Email, Floridita’s, which was, predictably, excellent. Wellington is definitely a foodie’s paradise!

Final impressions, Wellington
Everything about Wellington is cool, even the airport that we departed from. In addition to the amazing displays based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (below), the airport sign facing out onto the runway did not say “Wellington” but instead read “The Middle of Middle Earth”!



Video of the day
In honour of our tour of the Parliament buildings (and also because it is one of our favourite YouTube videos of all time), this is the public gallery breaking into a Maori love song after the NZ parliament voted in 2013 to make gay marriage legal: