Back to Blighty

In the morning, my free transfer coach took me from the hotel to the airport and I started my last flight of the trip. I managed to get a window seat and was lucky enough to have a seat between me and the guy in the aisle seat, so could spread out a bit. After the stewardesses had brought round food, we were asked to lower the window blinds so that people could sleep. After a few hours though, the map of our flight plan showed we were passing over India, and so I raised mine partially to look out at a stunning view of river deltas spread beneath me. It was an absolutely incredible sight. For some reason we didn’t pass over Iraq or Afghanistan (both were still very unstable), but did pass over Turkey. I also managed to watch Seabiscuit and Alex and Emma – both good films. We arrived back in the UK in the dark – it was almost the shortest day after all – and after disembarking, I almost immediately got annoyed by the long time our bags took to arrive on the carousel, and then again when I couldn’t find the bus to transfer to the hotel. I was glad to have booked into the hotel though, since I was pretty exhausted and certainly couldn’t have handled a trip back up north to Birmingham.

Singapore Botanic Gardens and Night Safari

Bob took me back into Auckland around 8am and dropped me off on his way to work. I went to a coffee shop for some breakfast and a nice pot of English Breakfast tea to kill some time, before buying a couple of souvenirs. I was sad to get on the bus to go to the airport, but was starting to look forward to getting back home. At the airport I had my corkscrew confiscated, having stupidly left it in my carry on baggage – I was rather embarrassed when the security officer found it amongst all the other stuff. I killed a bit of time at the airport spending the rest of my dollars and then boarded the plane. Unfortunately I only had a centre seat, so could not watch as New Zealand slipped away. I wasn’t sure if I was just sad to be finishing my holiday or sad to leave New Zealand – a bit of both I guess. I watched a couple of good films on the seat-back screen but the flight was interrupted by bad turbulence – even the cabin crew had to strap themselves in. After all that, I didn’t get much sleep on the flight and so arrived in Singapore absolutely shattered. I went almost straight to bed.

Farewell New Zealand

Bob took me back into Auckland around 8am and dropped me off on his way to work. I went to a coffee shop for some breakfast and a nice pot of English Breakfast tea to kill some time, before buying a couple of souvenirs. I was sad to get on the bus to go to the airport, but was starting to look forward to getting back home. At the airport I had my corkscrew confiscated, having stupidly left it in my carry on baggage – I was rather embarrassed when the security officer found it amongst all the other stuff. I killed a bit of time at the airport spending the rest of my dollars and then boarded the plane. Unfortunately I only had a centre seat, so could not watch as New Zealand slipped away. I wasn’t sure if I was just sad to be finishing my holiday or sad to leave New Zealand – a bit of both I guess. I watched a couple of good films on the seat-back screen but the flight was interrupted by bad turbulence – even the cabin crew had to strap themselves in. After all that, I didn’t get much sleep on the flight and so arrived in Singapore absolutely shattered. I went almost straight to bed.

Back to Auckland

I caught a shuttle bus back to the railway station early in the morning and, after sorting out my ticket and checking in my luggage, boarded the train. I was disappointed to find that the observation car was enclosed and so photos would be difficult – a shame because it was a sunny day. The sun was to cause even more problems however. The journey was due to take about 11 hours, but an announcement by the train staff made even this sound like a short trip. About a third of the way through the journey, it was announced that the “powers that be” had imposed blanket speed restrictions on all trains due to the risk of rails buckling in the heat. Made me feel right at home after similar problems during the previous summer in the UK! Shortly after the announcement was made, after leaving National Park station, we passed through an incredible feat of civil engineering. In order to drop 50m in a very short distance, the engineers had built a spiral track through the hills with two horseshoe bends. As we started passing through, the line could be seen below us, sure enough after a few minutes we passed right beneath where we had been a few moments before but travelling in the opposite direction. Although we were 90 minutes late arriving in Auckland, it had been a fascinating trip, and the scenery of the North Island had a different beauty to that in the south. Bob met me at the spanking new Britomart station – a new underground terminus built under the old central post office building at the foot of Queen Street. It was quite late by the time I arrived in Auckland and we had trouble finding a restaurant for some reason. We ended up in Denny’s 24 hour diner (actually right by where I am writing this entry, nearly 2 years later). Afterwards, we ended back at the Sky City casino and had a good chat – we didn’t get to bed until after 3am.

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

The next morning I went to the Te Papa museum – the national museum – on the waterfront. Tim had already told me how good this museum was and he was right – I was glad I had left a whole day to have a look round. After having breakfast in the cafe and dropping my bag off, I went to explore the various exhibitions. There were displays on the natural history of New Zealand, including earthquakes, volcanoes etc and rather sad displays about the extinction of the Moa. There was a full size Maori Marae (meeting house) on one floor, as well as displays about social history. Outside, there was a great interactive garden with native plants and caves. Even the architecture of the museum was impressive. In the lobby, there was the orignal model of Eisengard, which had been used in the LOTR films – you couldn’t get away from the films even if you wanted to. I also went on some rather cheesy interactive rides – good fun all the same! I spent 6 hours there in total. After returning to the hostel to do some washing and catch up on my travel diary, I went and sat in my room and got chatting to a German guy and a Kiwi about politics, life, the universe and everything.

Return of the King Film Premiere, Wellington

I took the coach to Christchurch airport to catch a flight back up to Wellington. While waiting to board the plane, a USAF Antarctic supply plane took off from their base at the airport. My plane was rather smaller, but it was a great scenic flight over the mountains and up along the coastline. On arrival at Wellington, a huge figure of Gollum and his preciousssss (anyone who doesn’t know Lord of the Rings might want to skip the rest of this entry) loomed over one of the terminal buidings, while there were mannequins dressed in Lord of The Rings costumes standing above some of the shops in the arrival hall. I caught a bus into the CBD, but as this was the day of the world premiere of Return of the King, the city centre was pretty chaotic with roads closed in readiness for the parade. NZPost had issused some LOTR stamps, and these were advertised on the side of large buildings all over the city. I booked into the YHA again and had a wander around the city. The venue for the premiere was 100m from the hostel and had a huge fell beast crawling over its facade (well not a real one obviously). A cave troll was hanging from another large building. The parade started early in the afternoon and as I walked along the streets, crowds of fans of various degrees of commitment were lining the route of the parade. I walked further towards the start of the parade and got a good vantage point. The cast of the film came past in open top classic cars, with actors dressed as orcs, goblins etc walked along beside them. Some Ring Wraiths also trotted along on horseback. Peter Jackson, the director was filming the incredible scenes and there was a lot of noise! An Air New Zealand 747 in special advertising colours made a low pass over the city as the parade passed. Wellington is a relatively small city but its poulation had swelled enormously for the spectacle. After the parade had passed, everyone ran towards the cinema, but as there were already hordes waiting there, there was no point in even trying to get close. Instead, I returned to watch procedings from the balcony of the YHA – not a bad vantage point. When things had died down a bit, I went for some food and then in the evening there was free entertainment by the waterfront. After some incredible Maori dancing and twirling of flaming batons and showing of clips from the afternoon’s events, The Two Towers was shown on a big outdoor screen. Great cheers went up as the main characters came onto the screen, particularly from the female contingent when Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen came on. It was starting to get windy by this point and as I was likely to see the extended version on DVD when I got back to the UK, I decided to call it a night at about 11pm. Back at the hostel, I found a couple of rather obsessed LOTR fans in the dorm – they had spoken to some of the actors and had amassed a fair few souvenirs.

Lyttleton, Christchurch

As I had been “larging it” the night before, I woke about midday but didn’t feel too bad. I got a bus out to Lyttleton, a pretty little port town a few miles out of the city. After lunch/brunch at a funky little cafe, I wandered around the town and then caught a harbour cruise. There were two competing companies – one had a smart looking catamaran, the other was a simple old converted fishing boat. I chose the latter. There was a Russian icebreaker moored up in the port, while there were various freighters tied up too – Lyttleton is the main port for the South Island. The choice of tour turned out to be a good one, as the skipper was witty and provided a detailed commentary – we pretty much had the run of the boat too. We finished the tour with some Hector’s dolphins frollicking around the boat – which was great. After returning to the city, and the YHA, I saw Tim again and arranged to meet up later in the hostel’s lounge. I also met Andy who I had watched the rugby with in Dunedin, but foolishly forgot to exchange email addresses. I spent some time chilling out and reading a newspaper and then offloaded a couple of books onto Tim and exchanged email addresses. He was flying to Oz the next day, I was flying to Wellington.

Christchurch

I woke up the next morning to a bright sunny spring day. After getting some digital photos burned to CD, I went for a walk through the Botanic Gardens alongside the river. I could almost have been in Cambridge back in the UK, with students in straw boaters and striped blazers punting along the river. After walking through the gardens, I then went to the local museum, which was excellent – some very interesting displays about the Moa (huge flightless bird, now extinct) and the Antarctic expeditions. There was a weekend arts market in the Arts Centre across the road. As well as arts stalls, there were various food stalls selling a range of foreign foods. In the afternoon I rashly decided to get a bus out to New Brighton, and soon regretted it. The beach was nice and sandy, but the seafront was rather bare and windswept. I didn’t stay long. When I returned to the YHA, the guy I had met in Queenstown (Tim) was checking in along with another American guy (Riley). They had just arrived from Dunedin. Riley was in my dorm (I had been moved to a room with light) and Tim came along later with some red wine. After a number of drinks, Tim persuaded us both to accompany him to a gay club in town, which we eventually did. When we arrived, Riley and I obviously stuck out like sore thumbs but after a while, Tim decided to leave and we went to a couple of conventional bars; we finally finished the most interesting evening of the trip at 4am!

TranzAlpine train to Christchurch

It was another sunny morning, but the bus started early and so there was no time to see the glacier. The driver was another enthusiastic and knowledgeable chap and he made the trip to Greymouth interesting and entertaining. On the way north along the coast, we stopped at a weird cafe place called the Bushman’s Hut, the owners of which obviously have a wacky humour. It clearly paid well, because there were about 5 coaches all stopped in the car park. The next stop was Hokitika, which was an old gold mining town. I walked over to the beach but it was a bit bleak and windswept. Instead I visited the supermarket for some provisions for the afternoon’s journey over to Christchurch. After leaving the town, we crossed a combined single track road/rail bridge over a wide river. Greymouth seemed to live up to its name somewhat but there wasn’t much time to look around because the train was already in the station when we arrived. After checking in my rucksac, and finding a seat, the train soon pulled out and started climbing into the hills. The TranzAlpine is the flagship passenger train and on my trip was full of tourists (yes like me I suppose). Unfortunately there was no observation car like last time, but there was a small open platform at the back of the train which was good for taking photos. As usual the scenery was absoluteluy incredible, but I think that was the trouble – I’d Overdosed on the stuff. It had got to the point where I was thinking “Oh look there’s another great river. And another. Oh mountains too.” Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip and certainly another highlight of my holiday, but I’d become too conditioned to it all. Two weeks earlier, I’d have been gobsmacked at such scenery but by that point…. We arrived in Christchurch quite late in the evening and I arrives at the YHA to find it a bit chaotic after an earlier small fire. There was a bit of a mix-up and I ended up in a room with no light – not it wasn’t much of a problem as I was quite tired and was offered a torch by a friendly member of staff.

Haast Pass and the Glaciers

After a bad night’s sleep – probably due to mixing wine and beer – I went off to get my bus to Franz Josef Glacier over on the west coast. The bus was an Intercity service but the driver kept up an interesting commentary as we went through Wanaka and up to the pass. Amazingly the road had only been finished 30 years ogo and had only been sealed in the last 10 years or so. We stopped along the way to have a look at a waterfall. The driver had earlier asked if anyone was interested in a trip to Haast, at the end of the river, on a jetboat but we were all rather surprised when he pulled off the road onto the edge of the river bed. I think the people walking along the bank were even more surprised! After letting off a couple of passengers to catch their jet boat, we continued back onto the road and along the pass. It was another stunning ride and all the better for being something I wasn’t really expecting. We stopped off for a break at a visitor centre at Haast – just a hostel and a hotel from what I could tell. We arrived at Franz Josef to low cloud and rain and any hope of seeing the glacier rather forlorn – a bit disappointing but not entirely surprising. I retired to the hostel after a quick meal in a local restaurant and finished my book – James Herriot if you’re interested!