Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: New Zealand

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.

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.

Milford Sound Excursion

Saturday 26 March 2016

We have a longish drive this morning through some of the beautiful South Island scenery from Queenstown to Milford Sound.  On a map it does not seem quite so far away – but the route is far from direct as we head along the eastern shore of Lake Wakapitu.

On the way there we stop at Eglinton Valley, then Mirror Lakes and later at the Chasm amongst some of that wonderful scenery.

Milford Sound is a long distance from holiday accommodation so coach firms for travellers have to carefully plan their arrival times as facilities are limited.  I suspect there is a limit how early the coach can arrive before the boat departs.

We see some seals basking on rocks towards the end of the journey and pass waterfalls but wildlife is perhaps not as visible today as it is on other days.  However the entire area is very wonderful; somehow I do not think the photographs do it justice.

The photographs of the journey and Milford Sound can be found here.

The drive back to Queenstown certainly leads to my usual sleep – but as we near our destination there is again some great views.  It all feels like Scotland, but with a magnifier applied to make it all much larger.

Dinner this evening is another highlight.  Roaring Meg’s is a recreation of a much earlier establishment which has been lost in the redevelopment of Queenstown but has the internal fittings of the original.  The food is very good – probably the second best meal of the trip.  As an example here is our lamb:

Food photographs from

Roaring Meg and Gentle Annie were allegedly two prostitutes who ran competing houses for the locals in the Nineteenth century.  Roaring Meg was allegedly the quiet one whilst Gentle Annie was far more raucous!  I bet the food is better today – a Swiss chef is in charge.

A very long and tiring day.  But very wonderful.

Visit to a Station – with no trains

Sunday 27 March 2016

Treading the waters of Lake Wakapitu is TSS Earnshaw a 1912 built coal fired twin-screw steam ship.  She is now the only working coal-fired ship on Lloyd’s Register.  She was initially constructed in a shipyard in Dunedin and once built she was disassembled, the pieces brought by roadto the lake edge and then reconstructed in Kingston at the south end of the lake.

There were other vessels on the Lake in earlier days but this is the only one left and it was saved in 1969 through being leased by a holiday company and transferring from providing essential services and connections around the lake to a holiday attraction – one of the oldest in Otago.  The need for regular services lessened as off road transport improved!

Now entirely owned by a holiday company she takes people (at least on the day we were there) to and from Walter Peak High Country Farm which is a prodigious operation to handle up to 389 passengers which the steamer can carry.  She has carried Royalty and has appeared in Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull masquerading as an Amazon steam boat.

Passengers can also inspect the steam engines at work.  And the stokers.  That is hot work.  The journey is of the order of 10km and takes over an hour.  As we disembark earlier travellers are waiting to board to return to Queenstown – they started very early!

Our destination is Walter Peak which is to the west of Queenstown but on the southern shore.  Once ashore we partake of a buffet lunch with the meat having barbecued.  It is well laid out and organised and indeed tasty.

After lunch we have a demonstration of some sheep herding followed by the shearing of a sheep to give us some idea of what this farm (or station) does for real revenue.  The size of the station is hard to believe but cannot be done on foot alone – the distances are too great.  So quad bikes and a helicopter can be used to move people and the inevitable dogs around to move the sheep.

Photos of the TSS Earnshaw and the sheep station are here.

Our return journey on the TSS Earnshaw is balanced by more arriving for afternoon tea.  A piano player leads a sing song on our return journey and song sheets have been distributed.  A pleasant day.

Dinner in a local restaurant.  Time to move on in the morning.

Through South Island to Queenstown

Thursday 24 and Friday 25 March 2016

I am not overly keen on coach travel and often spend much of my time on coaches asleep and today is not greatly different from the norm!

However what has been exercising the tour party today are rumours about our next overnight stay.

On the way south we stop at Hokitika for a lunch break taken at a Jade Factory – the shop is a busy place.  There is a camera shop “Photo Corner” at the far end of the town and after a bit of a hunt around I manage to buy a cable for the Canon camera which I had not packed and which they were unable to sell me in a camera shop near Melbourne.  So this is a real one up for New Zealand.  Well done Photo Corner!

Anyway the rumours continue of flooding at our overnight stop and with poor mobile signals our poor guide is having trouble establishing the facts.

We started the drive in the highlands and then spend the rest of the morning travelling along more or less at sea level with the sea off to our right.  In the afternoon the scenery changes and we are travelling through a tropical rainforest.  Rainfall levels in this area are very high as the weather comes in from the west and the rain is dumped as the clouds meet the mountains – just like those geography lessons 50 years ago!

However it seems that the staff accommodation at our planned destination has been flooded (all down to heavy rain) so that it cannot take us.  A very acceptable alternative is found at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat in Franz Josef, not far from the glacier.  After a longish day of travel we decide to wander out to eat at the Indian restaurant along the road we had spotted as we drove into town.  Due to the rain we cannot walk to the glacier as the route is treacherous.  We do get a good sight of it from the road in the morning.  In the light of the rumours we are glad to have somewhere to lay our heads.  We have done nothing all day – but still feel tired!

Come the morning it is time for our onward journey to Queenstown.  The good news is that the weather has started looking better and we can almost feel the sunshine coming on.  As we travel we also see evidence of the reason for the country’s other name as we see evidence of the “long white cloud” hanging at a lower level through the hills.  Hopefully some of the photographs here will demonstrate that there is a good reason for the name.

Queenstown is on Lake Wakatipu – actually alongside the Frankton arm (or inlet).  However on the opposite side of the lake are some mountain peaks known as “The Remarkables”.  We have driven through some very thinly populated areas and Queenstown is not large – but is very clearly thriving.

Rail to Arthur’s Pass

Thursday 24 March 2016

This is the NZ Trans Alpine train which we take from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass.

There is an open coach in the consist – so no glass to get in the way of the cold which soon permeates through if you spend too long in there!  It is a grey day and as the hills rise it is hard going for the two locos.

Wikipedia says “The trip is considered one of the world’s great train journeys for the scenery and views.”  I hope the photographs here give some idea of the scenery – I bet it looks much better on a bright sunny day.   The rail line continues to Greymouth on the west of South Island but we are heading south from here and so join our coach for the continuing journey through South Island.


Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 March 2016

On the Tuesday morning it is off to the airport and then across the water to New Zealand.  We are flying direct to Christchurch on South Island.

The recent history of Christchurch is dominated by the 2011 earthquake.  This decimated the centre of the city although as we drive through the suburbs these seem to be largely unimpacted – although no doubt damage was done.  For several years the centre was effectively a “no-go” area and the opportunity has been taken to rebuild all of the underground services before redeveloping using techniques which should limit damage in the event of another quake.  The worst damage and loss of life was in one office block which had supposedly been constructed to withstand such quakes – but it has later been found that many corners were cut.

Having been empty it is going to take time for the city to return to normal.  Businesses moved away and getting them back is no doubt an uphill task.  Hard work is being put into getting restaurants and catering facilities open and trading to ensure it looks attractive to employees visiting the area.

Of course instability of some damaged buildings remains so sites are shored up and many walls have been covered with a variety of artistry so that they are less stark reminders of events.  The initial shopping area was achieved by using a lot of shipping containers.  There are also a variety of other attractions – a basic tramway system and also a variety of sculptures.

The most arresting installation are 185 empty white chairs close to the point of the worst devastation.  185 died and the chairs are intended to represent the individuals, so there are high chairs for children and easy chairs for older people and so on.  We were told that there would eventually be a more permanent memorial to the losses but this was particularly poignant.

The photos from the bus tour can be found here.

Parts of Christchurch are now permanently pedestrianised and work is progressing in enhancing the local area along the river.  We then went around the town on the local tram – a limited service was running due to the road works but we see more of the decorated walls and also some cute “sheep” which act as blocks to prevent road traffic extending into the quieter areas.

Among the facts we learned is that New Zealand was the first country to give votes to women – achieved in 1893; most countries did noting until after 1918.  It is also clear that the Maori population has been treated far better than the indigenous populations in other countries – they were granted property rights in 1840 and were respected by the European settlers.  Those organising the settlers were not dependent on prisoners (eg Australia) or slaves (USA) – they were trying to build communities and sought to bring all the skills to the country.  So from the outset the people who came were perhaps willing to experiment, to try new ideas and pursue an honest life.  And whilst I have often heard descriptions of the country being England but set in the past it strikes me over the next few days that we see a very modern country.

Photographs of that tram tour can be found here.

In the evening we have what probably turns out to be the best meal of the trip in Australia and New Zealand.  We found, almost by accident a restaurant called 27 Steps.

The ground floor entrance is not overly prepossessing  – but take the stairs to the first floor!  Nice room, warm welcome and excellent meal.

I had some very nice tongue:

Followed by the venison:

And then the cheese of course:

Food photographs from

Plus earlier we had visited a small bar and I had some whisky.  A very nice place, pity it is so far from home.