E noho ra - Goodbye New Zealand. It's time for Final Reflections. New Zealand struck me as a country which is comfortably at ease with itself. Of course, there are some political tensions, but overall people are broadly tolerant and respective of each other.
The Radisson Blu Hotel Media City Dubai is obviously a chain hotel, so we weren't really expecting too much from it. We hotel was chosen because of its location in Media City where we had hoped to visit the Food Festival. In the end, we decided not to to go to the Festival, so a more central choice of hotel in Dubai might have been preferable.
Do buy Dubai. Dubai is trying very hard to sell itself as a city that delivers both a luxurious experience for tourists and an efficient business hub. The city needs to achieve this so it has something to fall back on when the oil money runs out. Everyone is trying to sell you something - from the marketing hype to the souks.
The Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach is a perfect place to stay in Sydney. Apart from great facilities it has very friendly and efficient staff. The breakfast here was well worth the $25 charge. We had a king sized room with an ocean view which was excellent. There is a swimming pool too with an ocean view - we didn't use it. but it looked very well maintained and inviting. There is also a room you can use to shower and change once you have checked out. Highly recommended!
Coogee Beach is what life by the ocean is all about. Coogee is known affectionately as "Sydney's Seaside Village" and it was great to reunite with my old schoolfriend and see her family so happily settled there.
Eliza's Manor Boutique Hotel Christchurch is a quirky boutique hotel centrally located in Christchurch. Our room had a huge bathroom with a roll top bath - nice!. The staff are very helpful and welcoming and do everything they can to make your stay here comfortable.
The Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook has an enviably great location with stunning panoramic views from the restaurant. Our room here was a bit small though and the kettle didn't fit under the tap in the small wash basin (?!). There is very little choice of accommodation in this remote spot though and this hotel was as good as any. Breakfast is a pricey $30 each, if you decide to take it.
We hadn't expected to be woken at 4am with the bad news from home that our house had been subject to flood damage during the "Beast from the East" which is gripping Britain currently. We are still trying to assess the extent of the damage, but it seems as though we will have a real mess to sort out when we get back home. There is always a context to everything though. Christchurch was badly hit by earthquakes in 2010/11 and 185 people died - commemorated by a display of empty white chairs in the town centre.
We visited the Kiwi Sanctuary in Queenstown today. It is a great place to see these fascinating creatures. They are nocturnal and live in the forest, so there really is no easy way to view them without visiting a sanctuary like this. They are much bigger than I had anticipated - about the size of a rugby ball. You get really good close up views once your eyes adjust to the darkness, No photo, unfortunately, as the conditions in the bird sanctuary are very carefully controlled: no cameras; no 'phones; no talking (as the kiwis are very easily scared)!
Peppers Beacon Queenstown is a functional hotel, conveniently located for walking to town and all the restaurants it offers. Our balcony is very small though and the room is a bit tunnel-like and dark. There are better rooms with wider windows and really good views of the lake which might be worth the upgrade if you are here for a while. There is a good guest laundry and a bonus of a hot tub and sauna area too. The buffet breakfast seemed very impersonal after all the friendly B&Bs we have been getting used to here!
To bungy or not to bungy? The first bungy jump happened here and A.J. Hackett is still in business with a big centre in town at Kawarau Gorge. There have been 2 million successful bungy jumps since 1986. It makes you wonder what the definition of an unsuccessful bungy jump is?!
Today, we took a cruise into Milford Sound. It was raining which added to the beauty of this remote region immensely. When it rains, all the non permanent waterfalls really come to life. Within fifteen minutes of a rain shower stopping, many of the temporary waterfalls stop running, When it pours with rain, Milford Sound pumps and roars with appreciation. Fascinating Fact: There are so many Maori words for water. Some of the town names really start to make sense once you understand this:
The Fiordland Navigator has comfortable enough little cabins with a tiny wash basin and a shower. None of the cabins have a porthole, but this didn't really matter as we were only on board 1 night. The evening meal was a reasonable buffet style. Soup was served mid afternoon and cakes etc. too, so you don't need to bring a packed lunch. This is a great way to see the Sounds and stay overnight so you can experience the peace of early mornings here before the crowds descend.
Yesterday, we took a short cruise with Real Journeys across Lake Manapouri then a coach trip on the remote sub-alpine route over Wilmot Pass and into Doubtful Sound where we docked overnight on the Fiordland Navigator. This is a very peaceful and beautiful place where you can experience the Sounds of Silence of Shadowland. The boat turned off its engines and everyone kept a complete silence for five minutes - blissful.
Blue Ridge Boutique B and B Te Anau is upmarket luxuriously appointed accommodation with tea and coffee making facilities in the room. They even provided bathrobes here, which was nice. There is a hot tub too. Breakfast is a generous and conical affair in the host's own kitchen. Best of all, it is just a short walk into town where there are a variety of restaurants, so this lodging ticks all the boxes.
We used today to say Goodbye to Wanaka and travel to our next lodgings in Te Anau in Fiordland National Park - conveniently located for trips into the Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Trips can be booked via Trips and Tramps and Real Journeys.
The weather turned chilly, very windy and promised rain in the afternoon. We managed a leisurely stroll around the lakeside and then paid a visit to Puzzling World Wanaka. We failed the challenge of exiting the giant maze within the 60 minutes target and gave up when we saw an emergency exit. If there was one of these back home, it would make a fortune I think! The attraction houses a whole host of illusional exhibits which turn your brain inside out.
Yesterday, we took the 4.5km Mount Iron Loop Trail which gives great views of Wonderful Wanaka as a reward for the very steep uphill climb. We were only walking for a couple of hours, but the elevation gain - up hill consistently for an hour - made it feel like harder work than that.
Peak Sportchalet Lake Wanaka is certainly a very well equipped chalet, with a full sized oven and all the kitchen utensils you could possibly need. There is a little private, sunny garden too, which is a great bonus. Good laundry facilities and very friendly and helpful hosts add to the charm of this accommodation. The Wi-Fi is free and fast too, which is always an important consideration for me!
OK - it isn't really called Mount Perspiring - it is Mount Aspiring and we walked 775m to view its summit today. Total distance covered in today's walk was 15kms and we felt it at the end of the walk `as it was very steep in places. This walk gets a "hard" category in the walking trails booklet - we saw what they meant! The views at the top were awesome though and worth the climb.
Today did not start well. We woke up early - worried about the effect of Cyclone Gita overnight. There was no water in our chalet, so we had to go up to town to buy some. In town, we discovered that the road from Franz Josef to Wanaka had been closed in both North and South directions. So, we were stuck, in a place with no power, no water and no fuel.
Glenfern Villas offers well equipped accommodation with full kitchen facilities if you want to self cater and BBQs for hire. There is also a laundry on site.
Today, we continued our journey south to Franz Josef. We made an early start (7am) because of the cyclone warnings. Local schools were all shut and there was talk of closing the coast road, so we didn't want to take any chances. Despite the early start - things did not go smoothly ...
The Rocks Homestay Punakaiki is a reasonable choice of B&B with lovely views of the sea. It is a short drive to Punakaiki from here, but it isn't walkable. There are a couple of restaurant options in the village, but you won't find much beyond steak & chips/fish & chips or pizza. The rooms are air conditioned which is welcome with the humidity of the pre-cyclone weather currently. There is also good wi fi reception here.
Today we took a long walk along the beach first thing. The sand in Paparoa National Park is grey and very coarse - very different from the golden, coarse sand at Abel Tasman NP. There is a 23km beach here - and only we are on it - all morning. Awesome! The rest of the day we clocked up another 12kms on the beautiful Pororari River Tramp through lush, dense rain forest. Thankfully, the sun kept shining and the tree canopy gave some welcome shade.
Pancakes in Punakaiki. A 3 hour drive brought us into different countryside again. The West coast of South Island is much wilder than the East≥. There were 8km high waves here during the recent cyclone which had a king tide. They are bracing themselves and hoping that Cyclone Gita stays North and does 't real and more havoc down South. We are obviously keeping our fingers crossed on that one too. We had time to fit in a visit to Pancake rocks this afternoon - worth the trip..
The Ocean View Chalets Marahau Beach offers extremely well equipped chalets with full kitchen facilities, laundry space and within easy walking distance of two reasonable restaurants - perfect! The lovely sea views are a bonus too. This was a great choice of accommodation for this portion of the trip and ticked all our boxes.
Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp. We took a scenic cruise today inside the Abel Tasman National Park, booked through Wilsons - www.abeltasman.co.nz. The boat takes you up to Totaranui Bay at the top of the coastal stretch covered by the park and stops by a NZ fur seal colony on the way back before dropping you off at Medlands Beach to walk the 11.8kms back to Anchorage Bay. It is a beautiful stretch of coast line, but it was tough going on a very hot day.
Punga Cove Resort is a really lovely complex with 19 cabins built up the hillside with good facilities including a swimming pool, hot tubs, hammocks, sea kayaks and a table tennis table. Our large cabin was a well equipped suite with kitchen facilities if required. It is a pity we are only staying two nights here - you could easily spend longer as it is a lovely spot.
Punga Cove Resort - Sanctuary in the Sounds It was a day’s drive from Tongariro to Wellington via the twisting, scenic Wanganui River Road. The next day, we boarded the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton - a 3 and a half hour journey. From there, we boarded a pre-booked water taxi (operated by Cougar Line firstname.lastname@example.org) and arrived at beautiful Sanctuary in the Sounds of Punga Cove Resort - an hour and a half later.