A Travellerspoint blog

Solo to Wellington

Ferry through the Marlborough Sounds fom Picton to Wellington

storm 10 °C

Friday 12.3
After breakfast Catherine & Thomas drove off to Nelson to catch their flight back to Christchurch while I went to the port at Picton to get the ferry to Wellington. They went to meet up with Aideen before flying back home. Unlike other ferries I had taken previously I had to check my luggage in; I was early and the ferry sailing was delayed by over half an hour so I had time on my hands. We eventually got away with the weather changing from the wind and rain of last night to calm with clouds and intermittent sunshine – just about warm enough to get out on deck to view the fantastic scenery of the Marlborough Sounds; the many islands and peninsulas were wove through provided me with some good camera shots. There was little habitation on the islands and remote parts of the peninsulas and the lush vegetation grew right down to the rocky shores. It was a three hour crossing; one hour going through the Sounds, one hour in open sea and an hour going through the inlet up to Wellington. The hotel was basic but I had a great view from my bedroom window of the Botanic Gardens the other side of the road. As I was browsing round the city centre shops the sky turned black and the wind got up – the rain started and before long it was steady and horizontal. I quickly sought shelter at the iSite centre and dashed from there to the Te Papa Museum, close to the harbour. Others had the same idea so it was quite busy there. Te Papa is an expansive museum with a modern design. As I had just over an hour before it was due to close I was advised to start at the fourth floor and see how I progress from there. I took the lift up and was amazed by the spaciousness; apart from a large cafe area this floor housed the whole historical influence of the Maori and European culture on New Zealand. There was also a separate exhibition on Pompeii; it was a well set-out museum with a colourful variety of exhibits, even a virtual 3D one. I had only finished looking round this floor when a member of staff came up to me and said they were closing in two minutes. I had a quick glance at the third floor before braving the storm outside and heading straight for a restaurant – a Thai meal and shelter! I heard later that there was a mini tornado in the bay and winds reached 130 km p/h with the temperature dropping 10 degrees in less than fifteen minutes.

Posted by JShevlin 22:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)


Farming, chocolates and the heart of the wine region.

semi-overcast 20 °C

Thursday 11.3
We phoned Kevin & Carol Loe (relatives) and arranged to meet them at their farm about 40 minutes from Blenheim (near Ward). Their farm was right out in the country, called the Homestead, made up of the main house and a couple of other nearby smaller houses. The family made us very welcome; two of their three sons were there and their daughter who works in Wellington. They had about sixty horses near the Homestead which Daniel (their son) managed. Kevin took us out in his 4X4 across part of the farm (5,000 acres) and showed us some of his stock of cattle and sheep. The land was very dry and arid after the summer, and fairly rough hilly terrain. No ordinary vehicle could have managed the terrain or steep hills. The 2,500 sheep and 600 cattle have ample room but the pasture is sparse. Kevin has recently diversified by introducing walks for trekkers and trails for bikers. The former is taking off well and he has set up different stations for them to stay overnight while on their two or four day walks. He gave us the history of the farm – how his grandfather chose this area after winning a ballot when it was owned by the government, right up to now where he and the neighbouring farmers are looking at a big irrigation project to improve the pasture and possibly grow some vines; this would be partially funded by the government. He said rabbits are a big problem at the moment. While we were there we saw a government official travelling over the land on a motorbike doing a survey of the number of rabbits. Kevin allows hunters, mainly at weekends, to shoot the rabbits – he even supplies them with free ammunition. Talking to him I got the feeling that he was in favour of the 1080 poisoning project (a government sponsored proposal to spray poison to kill off the pests and rodents – a controversial proposal!). We stopped at a landing strip very high up where the seed spraying planes took off and landed. We could see across a lot of his land right down to the coastline. As it was such a vast area we asked him how frequently he would inspect the stock – roughly once a month was his reply, and if an animal gets ill and dies it is buried where it drops. Back at the homestead we had lunch – all home cooked – and we heard all about the family history and connections. After a few photos we said our goodbyes and made our way back to Blenheim where we visited a chocolate factory – a small boutique where we could see the chocolates hand produced. We were welcomed with some free samples to eat; Thomas decided to go back out and return for second helpings!! We bought a few boxes of chocolates with macadamia nuts. We also went to the nearby Saint Clair Winery but it was just closing.
We travelled on to Picton – a small port where one can catch the ferry across to Wellington; it also has a large marina. I booked a crossing on the ferry to Wellington for tomorrow morning. We found a lovely B & B overlooking the coast for the night. There was only one other couple staying there – German. The owners were quite chatty and very helpful. They let me use their network to book accommodation for tomorrow night in Wellington.

Posted by JShevlin 23:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

North of Christchurch

Nelson, Abel Tasman and beyond

sunny 23 °C

.Monday 8.3
It was such a lovely morning that Catherine & I decided to play some golf, while Thomas drove to Ashburton to see a friend of his who has a dairy farm outside the town. Ashburton was about an hour’s drive from Christchurch and is locally nicknamed “Ash Vegas” because of its similarities to Las Vegas. Thomas’ friend has a large farm there and milks over 1,300 cows a day. Catherine & I walked to the local Hagley Park, hired some golf equipment and played 18 holes; it was quite a good standard pubic course and so convenient. It’s a parkland course with a great variety of trees in it. With the heat of the day and all the walking we were really tired at the end of the round; we were pleased to stop on the way back to Aideen’s for a coffee and cake. Lots of the cafes in Christchurch (in fact throughout NZ) are creative with their selection of cakes and biscuits. When AIdeen, Kieran and Philip got back from work we had some supper and went back to the park to play some doubles tennis; as the light was fading we played on one of the floodlit courts. Though tired we had close games and a lot of fun.

Tuesday 9.3
We were up early to catch a 7:00 flight to Nelson; it a small twin-engine propeller plane but it was a smooth flight and landing – only 35 minutes in the air. We had booked a hire car from the airport; however, as it wasn’t ready, we caught the shuttle into Nelson and visited the “iSite Centre” – there is one in most towns and they’re helpful information bases. We browsed around the town centre and the shops and visited the local museum. Once we collected the car we drove towards Abel Tasman, found our accommodation, which we had previously booked at the iSite centre. The accommodation was outside Mouteka in the middle of market gardening countryside with peaceful beautiful scenery surrounding it. The apple trees were laden with fruit; a variety of other fruits were also grown and there were polly-tunnels for specialist flowers as well as the usual vines for this part of the country. We had a self-contained chalet with its own balcony overlooking the valley. We drove to nearby Kaiteriteri where there were lovely beaches, had a swim and sunbathed for a while. We booked a boat trip for tomorrow.

Wednesday 10.3
Awoken by the sun streaming through the balcony windows we got up and checked out of our accommodation and went to the beach to pick up our boat trip along the Abel Tasman coastline. We had a large fast speed boat with over 150 passengers on board; the people sitting next to us were Finnish, those behind were French and those in front Dutch – very cosmopolitan. The trip took us past the idyllic white sandy beaches, numerous small islands (including the Tonga Island Marine Reserve) and up to Totaranui. We looked out for the seal colony around the Marine Reserve but unfortunately didn’t see any. On the way back we asked to get dropped off at Tonga Quarry so we could walk part of the way and arranged to be picked up in the afternoon at another beach further south. We had an hour’s trek through the woodland from the beach and on to Bark Bay where the pick-up was arranged. However it was too shallow for the boat there and we had to rush to the next bay along to catch it – we just made it. We made our way back to Nelson and on to Blenheim where we booked an apartment for the night. Blenheim is in the famous Marlborough wine growing region where there were manicured vineyards as far as the eye could see. We passed by signs for some well known wines, such as Cloudy Bay, Montana, Wither Hills and Lake Chalice.

Posted by JShevlin 12:02 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

From the West Coast back to Christchurch

Knife-making, sandflies and another weekend in the city.

semi-overcast 20 °C

Friday 5.3
With an early start we drove towards Barrytown passing some beautiful coastal scenery on the way; N Zealand has such a spectacular and varied landscape you don’t know what to expect round the next corner. Barrytown is really a misnomer as we had driven through it in a blink – just a few houses and nothing else. We had booked to do knife-making today but we had to drive back through the little settlement to find the place where it was taking place. The centre was run from the home of a couple (Steven and Robyn) who had been knife-making for over 14 years with over 12,000 clients. We were the first of ten to arrive so we were shown round by Steven while waiting for the rest. The furnace, anvils and all the machinery were just outside the back of their house; an array of tools safety goggles, old shirts and gloves were laid out on benches. When Steven showed us round he stoked up the furnace, adjusted the airflow into it coming from an electric fan blowing air through a plastic pipe, and put some composite of coal and coal-dust on the fire. The object of today’s course was to make a professional hunting knife from a piece of steel, wood and some wire for rivets. While chatting we sprayed ourselves with insect repellent as the west coast is notorious for sand flies; they are very small but their bites give an irritating itch and leave a mark for days later. The rest of the group arrived in dribs and drabs; one chap I had met the previous evening on the brewery tour. We got kitted out with the over-shirts, goggles and gloves and had a safety talk from Steven. We eventually got started heating up the length of raw steel in the furnace and gradually forging a blade with a heavy hammer; we had to heat it quite a few times to keep the steel pliable. Steven We then used a range of belted sandpaper machines to gradually file down the blade. Each stage of the process took longer than I anticipated. We broke for lunch for an hour; we tried our skills at target practice with axes – Steven was a master at it - , went for a walk to the fields to feed their horses, and had a go on their giant swing (a homemade one erected between two huge poles on a mound).Throughout the afternoon we cut, shaped and riveted the handle on to the blade; we then further sharpened the blade and sanded and polished both the handle and blade. Our finished products looked really professional – we were all proud of our craftsmanship. After a photo shoot of all of us brandishing our weapons we had dinks (homebrew Barrytown bubbly wine) and nibbles.
We drove on to the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki and had a walk along the coast admiring the force of sea erosion and the power of the waves dashing against the rocks. The unusual stacks looked like layers of pancakes. The sea waves crashed through narrow openings in the rocks sending vertical sprays through fissures. We found a good restaurant on the way back for a meal and returned to our accommodation in Greymouth for the night.

Saturday 6.3
We made our way back towards Christchurch to spend the weekend there. There was more traffic on the road than during the week, particularly camper vans; generally there is very little traffic on the roads anywhere in N Zealand, and it’s not unknown to drive for quite a few miles without passing a vehicle. We came across an area where most of the houses were brick-built – quite unusual for NZ as most homes seem to be weatherboard or other wood-based material. The large tracts of land were divided with high leylandii trees shaped into hedges – these formed effective windbreaks and grew to great heights. We also passed three distinct usages of land as we got closer to the city: first there were fields of grazing llamas (not just white ones but black and brown); then the landscape was dotted with small tin huts for pigs; and finally paddocks, some set out with jumping fences for horses.
We met up again with Aideen, Kieran and Philip; after settling back in we planned to go to the rugby match at the AMI Stadium. We first met up with some of their friends at a pub near the stadium for a few drinks before the match. The pub and the area around were teaming with fans on their way to the stadium. There was a good turnout for this needle match. The Crusaders (local team) were playing the Blues (from Auckland). Though the score at half time was close the Crusaders ran away with it in the second half. The atmosphere was quite different to matches I had been to in the UK & Ireland; the crowd was very vocal when the opposition was taking a penalty kick and there was a lot of hype when the home team scored, and huge gas flames shot into the air from strategic positions around the side of the pitch. The South African couple who hosted last weekend’s BBQ came back with us to Aideen’s place for a meal. We stayed up until the early hours chatting over a few glasses of wine.

Sunday 7.3
Today was very much a rest day, apart from a game of tennis in Hagley Park nearby. The amenities there were a good standard; there were about 15 courts – mainly grass with some cement and others all weather astro-turf. We had a few sets – great fun. Not many others were using the courts though there were quite a few in the park. Kieran took his trial bike for a run along one of the dry riverbeds just outside the city. We had another BBQ when everyone got back.

Posted by JShevlin 12:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Towards the West Coast

From Christchurch across the mountains through Arthur's Pass to Franz Joseph Glacier and Greymouth

sunny 22 °C

Wednesday 3.3
When we checked out the apartment we went into town to pick up the photos of my skydiving. We got the shuttle to the airport and caught a flight back to Christchurch. As soon as we landed we collected a rental car (pre-booked by Aideen) and drove west across the mountains and through Arthur’s Pass towards the coast and on down south to the town of Franz Joseph (not far from one of N Zealand’s most popular glaciers). We had an apartment booked for the night just outside the town – not quite the same as the previous one but good enough for an overnight stay after 5 hours of driving. The scenery through the mountain pass was incredible – alongside a wide riverbed in a massive alluvial plain and rich pasture land between the mountain ranges. Most of the mountain sides were heavily forested with conifers from their peaks to their bases. We also saw some huge water sprayers like those in the north island. We saw our first train in N Zealand (a passenger one); shortly afterwards we nearly ran into a freight train at a level crossing – we just made it across just before it whizzed by with the driver hooting at us. We stopped briefly at Arthur’s Pass village for a snack – tourist prices as it had the monopoly being the only village for miles.
When we checked into our apartment we had a late night meal in the centre of Franz Joseph and watched the 20/20 cricket before turning in.

Thursday 4.3
Thomas & I were up bright and early ready for the pick up for the trek to Franz Joseph Glacier. However no one arrived; we waited a half an hour before we phoned to find out the reason for the delay – they had forgotten about us but said they would be with us in five minutes. They apologized, brought us into their base in town and kitted us out for the trek. They nearly stopped me from taking part because f my hip; I however persuaded them that any trekking would not be a problem for me. We got on a coach which was full and waiting for us. The coach took us on a short journey towards the glacier and we trekked 2.5.km to its base. We climbed the moraine hill - a steep incline - and put on our crampons before going onto the ice. We climbed up steep faces, over crevices and through gulleys until we reached about 650 metres where we rested for about 10 minutes. We did not have enough time to climb higher so we started to descend. It was easier going down but I was quite tired after the 8km round trek. Catherine was waiting for us at the base station, so we handed in our kit and had a well-earned coffee.
We drove to Greymouth, picking up a German hitch-hiker on the way – hitch-hiking is fairly popular in N. Zealand. He had been in NZ since last September and loves it here; he survives by working on fruit farms plus other small cash jobs. We dropped him off in Greymouth; he was going further north. After a meal in an Irish restaurant/bar, I went for a tour around Monteith’s Brewery, while Catherine and Thomas browsed around the town. There were about 15 others on the tour; though the tour itself was fairly mundane the beer tasting afterwards was very interesting. We tasted eight different brews with our guide giving us some background information on each one. The cider was an unusual clear one, unlike those in the UK, and was tasty. After the beer tasting we were free to pull whatever beer we liked. It was like a free-for-all. Catherine and Thomas arrived to collect me just as I was settling in.

Posted by JShevlin 01:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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