Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: April 2016

Australia & New Zealand Summary

Holiday Summary

Heathrow - Dubai3420
Dubai- Singapore3637
Singapore - Melbourne3753
Melbourne - Brisbane859
Brisbane - Cairns865
Cairns - Ayres Rock1112
Ayers Rock - Sydney1354
Sydney - Christchurch1323
Christchurch - Queenstown301
Queenstown - Milford Sound and return356
Queenstown - Auckland638
Auckland - Rotarua and return284
Auckland - Sydney1343
Sydney - Bangkok4674
Bangkok - Dubai3050
Dubai - Heathrow3420

Whilst the table covers the major road journeys in New Zealand it does not include the side journeys by coach to and from hotels or to the Puffing Billy, boat trip to the koalas or the distances covered to the Great Barrier Reef and so on – so we probably exceeded 31000 miles.

Flight times were generally well observed with no real delays until we returned to the UK and got stuck on the dear old being dug up M3!  Scenic’s programme was maintained and we have seen down under.  Did we miss much?  Inevitably we could only see a tiny proportion of the wealth that the two countries offers – but we did achieve an awful lot.  Australia was less objectionable than we thought it might be and New Zealand is not as struck by a time warp as is often alleged.

A wonderful holiday.

Bangkok and the final journey

Saturday 2 April – Tuesday 5 April 2016

We arrive in Bangkok in the dark in the early hours of Saturday morning.  Huge metropolis and you can but hope that the taxi driver is going to the right place.  Book in and tumble into bed.  That will not really help with the time changes  – Sydney was a bit of an anomaly!  Auckland is 11 hours ahead of the UK, Sydney is 9 hours ahead of the UK whilst Bangkok is 6 hours ahead.  So in one day we have moved 5 hours – which is similar to the UK to New York difference.

So well into Saturday morning we rise for breakfast.  After such a busy period we had predetermined that we were not doing much today, so retired to the sun deck and pool – which is way up in the sky.  Had a couple of swims.  It is hot and humid.  We are staying at the Centara Grand at Central World which surprisingly is in the centre of the city.

In the evening we went into the adjacent shopping centre and wandered around looking at the various restaurants eventually settling on one where you effectively cook your own dinner.  All the ingredients were fresh and it was quite tasty.

Sunday we had booked a half day tour in the afternoon but had a free morning.  So we took the Skytrain from adjacent to our hotel to one end of the line at Mo Chit – which is adjacent to an absolutely huge market.  We walked along to the market but could only investigate a small portion before feeling overcome with the heat.  As the Skytrain is air-conditioned Jackie agreed to continue riding the Skytrain, so we returned to Siam, briefly visited the National Stadium and we then went to Bang Wa and watched the train reverse.

The Skytrain photos can be found here.

In the afternoon our guided tour took us to the Palace – which was absolutely heaving.  We were meant to go for a river cruise – but the transition to the boat was looking dangerous and so we aid we could not do it, signed a disclaimer for the guide and he took us to the reclining Buddha instead.  Many, many photos from this afternoon can be found here.

In the evening we dined in the restaurant on the roof of the hotel.  When we arrived I asked for the music to be turned down so that I had a chance of hearing Jackie talk.  On the other tables the other diners were by and large consulting their phones rather than each other – no doubt driven that way by the usual volume of the music.

The Monday comes around all too quickly.  We have another couple of hours in the sun before we finish our packing and get ready for the long flight back.

We leave Bangkok in the middle of Monday initially for Dubai where this time we have time in the lounge in the early hours of the morning.  Food is on offer in the lounge but it does not match our body clocks in any shape or form!  Wifi working so pick up some more downloads.

Roll into Heathrow at breakfast time and find our taxi driver.  Then the longest delay of the entire trip – the M3 is rock solid just after we join it and we are stuck for a good hour before coming off at J3 and come round via Frimley Hospital.  Apparently the M3 was flooded between 3 and 4 so if we had stayed on we might have returned sooner.  We have ended our longest and probably most expensive holiday ever.



Auckland and Homeward

Thursday 31 March and Friday 1 April 2016

Our holiday is heading towards an end, but we have a long way to go yet in terms of mileage!

On the Thursday we took one of the gentler options this morning – a harbour tour which took us out past a lighthouse, Brown’s island; then along past the Rangitoto Island Scenic Reserve and then past Devonport which is on the opposite side of the harbour.  We then pass briefly under the Auckland Harbour bridge before returning to port.

Some of the photos seem to be wrongly dated 30 March 216 – which I do not understand as it was definitely the Thursday.  Tracking back dates to prove this has not been easy.  As ever the right sequence is justified by Jackie’s posts on Facebook which are of course incontrovertible.

Having returned to land we wander up into the shopping area.  It is really hot this afternoon.  Jackie had seen some shoes as we passed through Sydney airport and was rather hoping to track down the same brand in New Zealand – but we did not manage it.

Farewell dinner this evening and the entire party comes together for a final time.  Onward journies are complex.  Some remain in NZ to visit family.  Others will be with us to Sydney – but then will go to see family in Australia.  Others are stopping off in Dubai on the return journey, we, I think uniquely, are stopping in Bangkok.

A fine old evening – although some moving around to avoid sitting to close to Stevie as she is not liked by various people.  Perhaps not as good as the group in India but generally we have had a good time together.

The following morning (Friday)  we are all drifting through breakfast and then awaiting our separate departure times.  We are one of the last groups to depart so have some time in the lounge area of the hotel awaiting our taxi.

First flight is the hop over to Sydney once again.  And a meander between terminals for our flight to Bangkok.  Back in business class, so at least it is comfortable.

On a holiday of this length and with limited wifi accessing the pc in the UK and getting downloads of the various music programmes would seem a magical thing to do maybe 10 years ago; now it is almost second nature!


North Island and Rotorua

Monday 28 March to Wednesday 30 March 2016

A short coach journey this morning to the airport and then we fly to North Island – Auckland.  However we are not going into Auckland just yet.  Onto another coach and we are off to Rotorua.

The countryside here is very different to South Island.  This could easily be rolling Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire rather than the majestic beauty of a magnified Scotland.  Rolling green countryside; an awful lot of cows being farmed in the “New Zealand” style with large numbers in small paddocks.  I can easily imagine why the early English settlers felt so at home.

Rotorua again attracts huge numbers of tourists and has many activities available.  We believe it is called the “Outdoor capital of New Zealand”.

We wander into the relatively newly built town centre and choose a restaurant, although the quality here is not as good as we enjoyed on South Island.

Our main activity on Tuesday is to go rail cruising.  We are taken to a former railway station, Mamaku on the now closed line to Rotarua.  I can find no proof of this but the line was I believe 3′ 6″ and I am pretty sure the gauge remains unaltered.

Here we split into groups of four and join our rail cruiser – a four wheel, four seater buggy and the individual cars are set off every few minutes – we were the last and did not see the others until we reached the end of the line at Tarukenga.  The powered buggies are petrol-electric hybrids

The outbound journey is at no more than 20 kmph and is largely downhill and so gravity assists the battery power as we descend.  There is an audio description of the history of our surroundings – initially farmland but over a longish section some ancient forest which predates the settlers which came here.  We are advised that there should be no need to use the brake unless we see another vehicle stopped in front of us or another obstruction and one of our number is officially the “Brake man”.  Inevitably the outward trip is trouble free as we are the last buggy to depart.  The downhill journey is actually peaceful as there are no motors and it is a warm and pleasant morning.

At Tarukenga there is a small turntable and the cars are turned and the petrol engine started.  Then in the same cars and same order we return to Mamaku.  The return distance is 19km.  There are no level crossings (and little sign of habitation) along much of the route and the cars carry on board sensing equipment to detect other cars nearby presumably via GPS and mobile signals.  There is also a radio connection to base in the event of a problem and we do hear a couple of messages.  This is a little noisier and there is a need to apply the brake to park the vehicle on return.  The uphill journey uses the engine to recharge the battery ahead of the next downhill trip.

A somewhat different approach to using an old railways and with powered vehicles like this  it may be unique.  In France I have read about using specially adapted cycles which have two wheels on one rail and a third on the other rail – but nothing like this.  I understand there were some technical challenges as the petrol – battery hybrid is unique and I note that some vehicles are badged as 3000 and some as 3100 – implying development have been made.

There are plans to offer some form of operation in Rotorua itself in the future but at the time of our visit these did not appear to have come to fruition and there was no obvious sign when we passed what I think was the end of the line.

Certainly the outward downhill journey is very quiet.  The steep gradient suffered a couple of serious runaways during its active life.  Today certainly felt very safe.

The photo collection is linked here.

Back to Rotorua and for me one of the highlights.  From a long time ago I have a memory of a television programme featuring the hot springs at Rotorua – Blue Peter maybe?  Anyway these hot spring baths are very close to our hotel and we walk across to them.

Pools are 38 deg C to 41 deg C and we spend a little time in each.  We have been getting in and out of aeroplanes, coaches, strange beds and so on for nearly a month and it is noticeable how for some days after this (relatively brief) exposure to the waters the aches (especially in my fingers for example) appear to have been washed away.  It does indeed feel magical.

This evening it is time for a trip out to a traditional Maori evening, in a village.  They demonstrate their traditional ways – but certainly these Maoris do not live like that I would say.  Sadly the photos here suffer from a lack of light!

We are all taught the haka and allegedly our dinner has been cooked in the traditional manner – Hangi.  A huge pit is dug and the stones at the bottom are raised to a good temperature and then baskets of food are places above the stones and then covered over trapping the heat, cooking the food slowly.

This is followed by a short show telling one of the traditional Maori stories.

And time for bed!

Wednesday shows us retracing our steps – this time into Auckland itself by coach.

On the way we pass a hobbit house – one reason to return to NZ would be to visit some of the Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit locations – there seem to be trips to various filming locations used in the films in many of the places we have stopped.

For lunch we stop on a true dairy farm and we are told about the “New Zealand” farming method of cows – before promptly setting down to eat (in some glorious weather, so we are outdoors for once) local produce.  All very tasty.  Due to age the farmer has now sold most of his land and retains the farmhouse and the facilities developed for visitors like us and for use for weddings and other events.

Our onward trip includes a service station shop and Jackie uses it as a shopping opportunity for a wool wrap.

Auckland, the capital has about 1m people (out of a total in NZ of 7m) and we are told the traffic jams can be pretty awful although as we arrive in mid-late afternoon it seems a quite normal city, with our progress being reasonable.  Our hotel is in reconstructed docklands in a very modern setting.

In the evening we wander out – being close to regenerated dockland there is actually quite a bit of choice – although the “trams” are not running due to the building work.  Eventually we choose a restaurant on the far side where we enjoy a good meal again outdoors.