Friday, November 11, 2005

New Zealand Trip: A Travelogue

New Zealand Travelogue

South Island (Te Waka O Aoraki)

We travelled to South Island of New Zealand for 11 days. It was a short but wonderful holiday for us. We had a great time and saw some spectacular sights.

Given that this was our first holiday in these parts, we booked all of our accommodation in advance, hired a car and drove around. But you really do not need to do that. There are plenty of motels and hotels and car hiring is accomplished easily.The next time we visit (and we will most certainly do that!) we will land up and take it 2-3 days at a time. The partial map of South Island will give you some idea of where we travelled and this travelogue may assist in your future plans. Here is our itinerary in brief:

  • Day-1: We commenced our journey at Christchurch. We spent our first day getting organised in Christchurch. We hired a car there.
  • Day-2: Drove south to Twizel and Mount Cook.
  • Day-3: We continued southward via Lindis Pass to Cromwell and then on to Te Anau.
  • Day-4: Drove to Milford Sound and did an overnight cruise on the Sound.
  • Day-5: Drove back via Te Anau to Queenstown, the thrill-seekers capital of South Island.
  • Day-6: Drove to Wanaka, just a short drive from Queenstown.
  • Day-7: Headed west and had a long drive to the Franz Josef Glacier town via Haast and Fox Glacier.
  • Day-8: Undertook the all-day glacier-walk on the Franz Josef glacier.
  • Day-9: Drove via Hokitika and Greymouth to Punakaiki.
  • Day-10: Drove back to Greymouth, dropped off our rental car and caught the TranzAlpine train back to Christchurh.
  • Day-11: Headed back to Melbourne.

The intention of this travelogue is to share some of our views on New Zealand and our holiday with all of you.

At the outset we agree with the commonly held belief that God made New Zealand on His day of rest. It is a blessed country. It has excellent and spectacular landscapes. Its inhabitants care for the natural beauty and the wilderness that is found there aplenty. We lost count of the number of mountains and lakes we passed by. Rugged mountainous terrains and virtual cliffs alongside most roads create spectacular instant waterfalls, which look even prettier when it rains.

Aristotle once said, “Nature does nothing uselessly.” It seemed most apt after we saw New Zealand. Everything seems to have a place. Everything seems designed and fits perfectly. Yet there is that randomness that one associates with Natural beauty.

In general, we found the Kiwis to be extremely friendly genial and hospitable. They are extremely helpful people. They are also totally geared for tourism. Although there is ample evidence of tourism it is seldom “in your face”. Although the country is modern in every sense of the word, there is no rat race here. The Kiwis love their land and respect it. They appreciate that visitors respect it too.

The following is a travelogue. Please let us know what you thought of it…

Christchurch - Twizel

We landed in Christchurch at 2pm on 3 March. After securing our hire car, we spent the afternoon getting ready for the journey ahead. We spent the night in Christchurch.

The start of the highway from Christchurch to Twizel was somewhat boring and presented nothing unusual by way of scenery. This hardly prepared us for the views that were on offer later on that morning. We drove past Geraldine and Fairlie. We could see some ranges off to our right as we drove through what was essentially farming country. We stopped at a few places for pit stops and to get some coffee. Somewhere near Fairlie, as we drove onwards and upwards from grass plains towards more hilly country, the landscape started to change dramatically.

The landscape was more rocky strewn scrubland. From then we were in the pleasant and dramatic company of the 420 Km natural barrier that forms the Southern Alps (which are shown in the picture to the right). We were now in dramatically different territory – MacKenzie country. New Zealand lies directly on the intersection of the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates. As these active plates move towards each other and over one another, the land in New Zealand, which sits atop these plates gets pushed up more and more; hence the Southern Alps. As we drove we could see snow-capped peaks that pierced into the sky for as far as the eye could see.

Lake Tekapo

Now we were in the heart of Alpine country. We passed this small and pretty village of Tekapo. There are some small restaurants and accommodation units along the roadside before the road heads South to Twizel. Most small towns in the South Island of New Zealand consist of accommodation houses (motels, cabins, houses and B&Bs), a restaurant or two a and coffee house or two on the main highway and close to a spectacularly beautiful spot.

So also here at Tekapo which is close to Lake Tekapo (in the picture above). This is where the natural rich blue and the pristine pure green of the various lakes, streams and rivers first hit us. So much so that by the end of the trip we suffered from acute SFS (scenery fatigue syndrome)!

Tekapo is just past Burke's Pass. The Lake itself is spectacular and has an astronomical observatory on its banks (called Mt. John Observatory).

Pukaki - Mount Cook

Deep in the Mackenzie Country is a town where the tussock plains reach the horizon, the rivers run slowly, and the mountains touch the sky. From Tekapo the road twisted south to our first night’s stay at a town called Twizel. Twizel is in dam country. Twizel nestles among peaceful lakes, where the broad plain meets the foothills of the Southern Alps. It is also mountain climbing area. Twizel is also an alpine village and is styled similar to European villages. The chalets here are quite nice to stay in. Twizel is situated near Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki.

We checked in to our motel in Twizel and departed almost immediately to Mt Cook (Aoraki). The drive from Twizel to Mt Cook is spectacular – why do I have a feeling that this word is going to be the most often-used word in this travelogue?

Mt. Cook is truly impressive even at 15 miles distance rising to 3,744 metres (12,168 ft.). Behind it lies the lesser peak Mt. Tasman, named after the explorer who discovered Tasmania off Australia. As you drive up the scenic road, all along the road on the right is the massive Lake Pukaki. We definitely thought it was a massive lake (27.2 Kms long and 3.2 Kms wide) until we saw a few other equally large (if not larger) lakes further south (Manapouri, Te Anau, Wanaka, etc). The lake is a spectacular blue as opposed to the gemstone green of Lake Tekapo.

The lake is renowned for its water purity, and for its distinctive glaciated landforms, such as ice-melt depressions and lateral terraces. The backdrop of snow-capped mountains inspires awe.

Lindis Pass, Cromwell

We drove along the southers shores of the long Lake Pukaki before heading off towards Omarama and into Lindis Pass.

Lindis Pass is another spectacular sight that lies between the St Bathan and the Ben Ohau ranges. Landscapes chanted yet again. Quite dramatically and quite soon. Gone were the craggy, rough and angry peaks of Mt Cook. What we saw was more orange-brown scrub-grassland type setting. The change was perceptible.

Trees are rare here and the wind constantly buffets your car as it funnels down between the ranges. The 100km stretch from Omarama to Tarras over the Lindis pass is just incredible. You will not see too many houses in this section and it almost looks bereft of humans too! You may see a stray tourist car wandering along the road at a sluggish pace towards some unknown destination. Or you may see an odd couple on a bicycle peddling away through these peaceful surrounds. And peaceful, it certainly is. We stopped our car several times on this 100km stretch to just step out and see the dramatically different landscape and to smell the fresh air.

Lindis Pass, at 3,180 ft. is the area's highest road and after that it is fast and downhill into Tarras. We stopped just North of Cromwell at the southern shores of Lake Dunstan; another one of these beautiful, sparkling-water lakes.

Lake Dunstan is another one of those wonderfully blue lakes that one gets to see in New Zealand (and there are many of these vast lakes about the country). The colours are always striking. The waters are always clear and clean. And there are several (like the photo alongside) for picture-postcard photo opportunities.

Cromwell is surrounded by broad tussock hills. Entering the town you know immediately what its speciality is, as a giant fibreglass sculpture of delicious ripe fruit towers above the highway. Cromwell is fruit-growing country! We did not stop here, but did catch some of the sights – including the lovely Lake Dunstan, the Clyde Dam near Cromwell and the township itself.

Cromwell is actually close to Queenstown which is a town made for adrenalin addicts; with mountain biking on tortuous trails, water-skiing on Lake Dunstan, jet-boat skiing, white-water rafting, (tandem) skydiving, speed-boat canyoning, river surfing, mountain climbing or bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge or the colossal Nevis High Wire. Bungy jumping was invented in Queenstown by the A.J.Hackett & Co. However, we did not head directly to Queenstown from Cromwell. We dug further south before heading west towards Te Anau.

Te Anau & Manapouri

No other region in New Zealand can match the breathtaking mountain scenery of Fiordland National Park. You can’t access the Fiordland National Park without touching Te Anau. The Te Anau village is situated on (yes you guessed right) Lake Te Anau. This is the touch-off point for tours, cruises, treks and flights through the New Zealand’s most remote and rugged landscape. The entire region has 14 fiords, the two deepest lakes in the country, Te Anau and Hauroko, and stupendous valleys - all gouged out by grinding glaciers. Lake Te Anau (picture alongside) is the country’s second largest lake (53 kms in length and 8-9 kms wide).

The largest lake is Lake Taupo in North Island, which fills a crater that had been formed by the world's largest known volcanic eruption.

The quiet township of Te Ana-au is situated on the tranquil lakeshore. More often than not, the surface of the lake looks like a glass. The peace, the quiet and silence in near-wilderness is so awe inspiring that one will simply want to sit and stare into the many different scenery options! Apart from all of this, a major attraction is the Te Anau Caves, a honeycomb of waterfalls and luminous caverns lit by millions of glow-worms. The name Te Anau is derived from these glow-worm caves, for, in Maori Te Anau means 'cave of the rushing water'. We absorbed the sights and sounds of Te Anau before heading off on a cruise on the lake to see the glow-worm caves.

A cruise from the waterfront takes you to these caves and back. We went on this cruise and would highly recommend it to anyone. A thought that struck us at this point was the way the whole economy and people are totally geared towards eco-tourism. However, having said that, the people and the tour-operators seem to have this enormous amount of respect for the ecology that they allow tourists to discover and see.

Te Anau is also a walkers paradise. Several great (2-4 day) walks either start here or start close to here. The Kepler Track begins here. The Routeburn, Caples, Greenstone and Hollyford Tracks are accessed from the Milford Road. Of course, the famous Milford Track commences from Te Anau Downs, which is a half-hour drive away from Te Anau.

Manapouri is a Maori word which means “lake of the sorrowing heart” – Maori legend has it that Manapouri’s waters are the tears of dying sisters. Lake Manapouri is the deepest lake in the country and this depth gives it its character. The colours are different even to Te Anau which is a mere 10 km away! Lake Manapouri is another one of those wonderfully serene lakes. Spectacular natural beauty, tranquil (mirror-like) waters and huge mountains that tower out of the water are the norm. Like so many of the lakes in the South island, it is also a lake that was formed by glacial activity within an existing valley. The lake empties into the Waiau River at the quaint little town of Manapouri. The Manapouri Lake Control Dam, which was completed in 1975 amidst tremendous protests from the locals (the “Save Manapouri” campaign stretched from 1959 to 1972 and is still regarded as New Zealand’s greatest environmental battle), regulates the lake's water levels for hydroelectric power. A generating plant that was built some 200m below ground and uses the lake's water discharged into the Tasman Sea via a tunnel.

Lake Manapouri, which is just a half hour drive from Te Anau, is the jump-off point to crusies on Doubtful Sound. We chose to go on the Milford Sound cruise instead, although I am told that the Doubtful Sound cruises are terrific too.

Milford Sound

After seeing Lake Manapouri early on our 3rd morning in New Zealand (5th March), we set off to Milford Sound (Sound is the New Zealand word for fiord). We were on an overnight cruise on the Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound through the Homer Tunnel is a spectacular one. The Homer Tunnel is at the top of a canyon at 1207 metres (3900 ft.). The drive from Te Anau to Homer Tunnel and then to Milford Sound is… yes, that word again… spectacular!

The route to Milford Sound is littered with many wonderful lakes and spots to stop and have a look. Be prepared for a longer drive than that which is advertised in most papers. Invariably, one stops a million times in the Eglinton Valley before getting to the Sound! Snow-capped mountains tower several hundred metres above the road. The road itself is patterned with many natural waterfalls. There are some clear blue lakes and at least one Mirror Lake as well. Remember to emerge from the Homer tunnel very slowly. The view of the canyon and the winding road that descends into Milford Sound is truly breathtaking. There were many times in the New Zealand holiday when I wished I was the passenger and not the driver of our car! This road was certainly one of them! I’d heard that the water that you find in New Zealand lakes and creeks is so pure that you can drink straight off it. Well it is true. We filled several bottles of water at Cascade Creek enroute Milford Sound. It tasted better than several bottled water drinks I have had in my lifetime!

There is no better way to experience Milford Sound than a boat cruise. In fact, I am not aware of too many other ways to explore the Sound. It is such a calm and serene place. The waters are still and clear. One almost fears touching the still waters, lest it breaks! The rock faces are steep and virtual. There are few compromises! It is as if the cliffs rise out of the water with anger! Some of cliffs are 1700 metres high and plummet into the black depths of the fiord. Apparently Rudyard Kipling has described Milford Sound as the eight wonder of the world. It truly is magnificent.

Milford Sound records a huge amount of rainfall – nearly 7m of rain per year! This is a phenomenal amount of water that buckets into the fiord system. After Tahiti, this area records the maximum amount of rainfall per year. The driving rain adds to the mystique of the place.
As one cruises across the fiord, one can see a thousand natural waterfalls that are automatically created by the sheer cliffs.

Our cruise took us past Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, Stewart Falls and Postman’s Island and into Anita Bay. Apparently Cook passed Anita Bay several times before realising that it was the start of a wonderful system of fiords. The sheer mountains adequately hide the treasure that lies in wait. Anita Bay is a wonderful spot for the cruise to drop anchor. Most cruises allow for passengers to travel out for a bit in Kayaks and the like. If you are lucky, you may get to see dolphins, fur seals and crested penguins there.

We would love to go back and do the 55 km Milford Track, which is reputed to be one of the finest walks in the world. The Milford Track (need to book in advance for this) takes 3 days and links up Lake Te Anau with Milford Sound.

I have talked to many of my friends who have been on the three major fiord systems in New Zealand (Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Marlborough Sound). Most have them have placed the Doubtful Sound higher than Milford Sound. I personally liked Milford a lot and would definitely recommend it.


After spending the night on the cruise, we were dropped back at Milford Sound. We set off for from there to Queenstown, which appears to be the capital of commercial tourism in New Zealand.
Queenstown is busy and hectic in winter months because of the excellent access it provides to ski slopes. Summer months are busy with a plethora of fun things that
New Zealand invariably throws up. Shotover Speed Boating takes you at breakneck speeds through the canyon that is created by the Shotover river! I’d thoroughly recommend this, but it ain’t for the weak-hearted! Another not-for-the-weak-hearted activity is bungy jumping (which, incidentally, was born in New Zealand) on the Kuwarau River.

Queenstown is not my kind of city. It is horribly touristy and there are plenty of things that you can blow your cash on. However, I must say that even in this terribly touristy environment, my view is that New Zealand manages to retain its charm and uniqueness. Although a lot of the offers are very much in-your-face, operators aren’t quite falling over themselves to get your custom

Shotover Speed Boating is certainly a must for “Thrill Therapy” seekers. The Shotover Jet Company is the world’s largest jet boating operation and is the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River canyons in Queenstown. A shuttle bus takes you from the Queenstown town centre to Arthurs Point, where the adventure ride commences and ends. The speed boats (which seat about 10-12 people) then take over and send one’s adrenaline soaring. The boats zoom through the Shotover River (picture alongside) and into the Shotover River canyons, the walls of which tower over. The drivers are skilful and extremely experienced. So it is all quite safe. They whip the boat past the rocky outcrops and, at times, it almost feels as if you can kiss the boulders when they whip up close and personal as the driver slams the brakes and performs a 360 degree turn! The best part of the thrill drill is the water spray that hits you. The water is fresh and crisp and the spray is intense.

If that wasn’t enough, there are helicopter rides, white water rafting, black water rafting, bungy jumping. Name it. Queenstown offers it. For rafting enthusiasts, the Shotover River is excellent. The ride takes you through several rapids and then an unforgettable rafting trip through the darkness of the 170 metre Oxenbridge Tunnel. You then do the Cascade Rapid to complete the trip.

Another attraction is the Skyline complex that towers high above town. It can only be accessed by a chair-car (gondola) or by a helicopter ride. The Skyline Gondola, Restaurant and the Luge are things that we managed to do as well. The Luge is quite nice. One can, of course, indulge in paragliding, skydiving and several other activities too including Bungy jumping into the Kuwaru River (photo alongside).


We drove to Wanaka. One of the main attractions for me was that it had this Math Puzzle world place (more of that later). Apart from that and the fact that it was a convenient break from driving non-stop from Queenstown to Fanz Josef, there is really nothing much at Wanaka. Wanaka is a town that sits aside a… you got it… a lake! Lake Wanaka is one of the more prominent of the Southern Lakes. It is in New Zealand's alpine country, in the southwest of the South Island. Like most of the other lakes, Lake Wanaka was carved by a glacier. It is pretty and quaint, but by then we had perhaps developed a YAPL (yet another pretty lake) syndrome! Wanaka is a gateway to the Mt Aspiring National Park.

There are many things that one can do in Wanaka that are somewhat similar to what one may do in a place like (say) Queenstown. However, one can indulge in these sorts of things without the kind of commercialism that one faces in Queenstown. So there are possibilities canyoning, climbing, sky-diving and river surfing activities that one can engage in while here. Skiing is a big pastime in winter. Lake Hawea is very close too.

We spent much of our time at Stuart Landsborough’s unique “Puzzling World”. It is interesting. It is unique and it is eccentric too. One of the attractions is the Great Maze. It is a 3D maze in the sense that it is two storeys high and has more than a kilometre of confusing passages constructed from wooden barriers.

The place has several “Illusion Rooms”. At the “Hologram Hall” we saw some absolutely amazing holograms. The “Hall of Following Faces” is an illusion room where 168 giant models of famous faces seem to turn to follow you around the room, wherever you go! The illusion room I liked most was the “Ames Forced Perspective Room". The shape of the room is distorted (although it appears ‘normal’ when viewed from a window from the outside). This makes people in the room look either very tall or very short. Other illusions are water travelling upwards (up a pipe) and a chair defying gravity by appearing to travel up a slope! Besides these there are some fun puzzles in a large play area. All in all, it is a fun place to spend an afternoon, if you have one!

Haast to Franz Josef Glacier

The next morning, we set off on what was supposed to be a longish drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef. The drive was made slower by the fact that rain bucketed down on us. So much so that, when we reached Franz Josef, we heard that a section of the road we had just travelled on had collapsed (sunk) during the day and had to be closed off. However, this wet weather led to what was undoubtedly the best drive of the trip! All along we saw numerous natural waterfalls that cascaded either onto the road or across the road. On several stretches the mountains alongside the road were white from the milk of the instant waterfalls that were created. There were at least five points when it looked like we drove through a waterfall that arched across the road!

Haast Pass (at 1,842 ft) is a low pass in the divide of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. It is actually not far at all from Mt. Cook! The low lying Haast valley was possibly carved up by glacial activity. The Pass itself is quite spectacular. If possible, try and organise to get there on a wet day! It looks even more stunning.

The Haast area is also host to extensive wetlands. So, there are plenty of birds here and it is supposed to be a bird watchers’ paradise. Lake Moeraki is just 25 minutes drive north of Haast. It is well worth the drive.

Enroute to Haast, I pulled to the roadside to enjoy the beautiful waterfalls that were being created on the opposite side of the road. The ground, however, was so wet and soft that I lost traction on the road. The car was slowly, but surely, dragged sidewards onto a creek by the side of the road. I managed to jump off the road and hailed a 4-wheel-drive headed the opposite way. The driver and a passenger, both Kiwis, seemed to know exactly what had happened. Although it was raining hard, they u-turned, got their ropes out and winched us out of the soft creek with much aplomb and no fanfare.

I narrate this incident to talk about the Kiwi spirit. We found them to be (mostly) very helpful. They seem to want to help and seem to also love tourists as much as they love their own country. They seem to have a lot of pride in their own country and the beauty that abounds in it (and why not?). At the same time, they are very welcoming of tourists and are generally, very helpful.

We drove past Fox Glacier and into Franz Josef. Fox and FJ are two temperate climate glaciers in the West. We had to decide which of the two we’d go to and after much reading and talking to others, we decided we’d do FJ. This turned out to be an excellent and an inspired choice.

Franz Josef Glacier walk

The next day was to be one of the best days I have spent in recent memory. We set off to the Glacier Walk office nice and early, fully kitted out in our walking gear. This was all somewhat wasted because we were supplied with almost everything we needed for the day-long walk on the glacier: a jacket, beanie, heavy-duty socks, walking shoes, gloves, a walking axe, talonz (to get a better grip on the ice) and more. An extra layer of clothing (or two) is recommended although the pace and the walking activity will mean that one layer will disappear soon! Don’t forget your sun cream and sunglasses. You’ll need it if the sun is out. The reflection off the ice can be quite powerful…

The Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier are two of three temperate climate glaciers in the world (with the other one being in Argentina). They cut through breathtaking glacial valleys to flow into a temperate rainforest. Apparently, many glaciers in the world have been retreating. However, these two lil’ beauties in New Zealand are still going strong, reaching almost to sea level! The glaciers here are created because of a unique combination of the tall and virtual mountains of the Southern Alps of New Zealand and the hot winds that blow into it from the Tasman. The Southern Alps lies in the path of the 'roaring forties' (the name given to the band of wind that blows into it). The hot wind is forced to immediately and abruptly rise over the Southern Alps. This process rapidly cools the weather and the result is that condensation drops as rain and snow. Approximately 30 metres of snow falls onto the resultant glacier every year! This gets immediately compacted and forms blue glacier ice that is channelled into the Franz Josef and Fox Glacial valleys. More and more snow falls on top of the structures and what you get to see is wonderful layers of blue and aqua-green. The continual snow falls also push the ice down these valleys continually. This also causes ice breaks and icefalls and the result is a set of unstructured and stunning mazes of deep crevasses, ice tunnels of breathtaking beauty and steep pinnacles of ice!

Maori called Franz Josef (named by Haast, its ‘discoverer’ after the Austrian King) Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere or “The Tears of the Avalanche Girl Hinehukatere”. It is said that Hinehukatere loved climbing the mountains and persuaded her lover, Tawe, to climb the mountain along with her. It is said that Tawe got caught up in a mighty gust of wind and fell to his death. Hinehukatere was devastated and her tears froze to form the glacier!

Franz Josef is a truly wonderful experience. If you are even averagely fit, take the day-long walk and not the half day walk. You’ll have an unforgettable experience. If you are not so fit this is not something that I’d recommend for you. Groups of 10 are guided by a professional who will cut her way through the ice to explore tunnels, ice pyramids, crevasses, ice caves and more. Remember to take an extra roll of film (or an extra bit of storage device if you have a digital camera) with you. You will need it! The colours are splendiferous.

We set off by bus to the foot of the glacier from where we walked. It took us nearly an hour to get to the mouth of the glacier. We strapped on our talonz (for additional/required gripping), got our safety and use training and set off on a 7-hour adventure that was truly memorable. I’d certainly go again, and again, and again! Our coach (Kate) was extremely helpful and supportive. She made sure that the entire pack travelled together and guided us really well. She stopped to provide both information as well as quirky anecdotes. And this made the trip all the more enjoyable. Given that there are no signs or marks anywhere (it is ice and more ice and more ice everywhere you see), she did get lost once or twice. However, she never lost her composure or her wits. Indeed, this made our walk all that more interesting!

I managed to fall more times that I could remember (and most people in the group fell at least once)! But who was complaining.
The bruises and the scars made the walk all the more satisfying! One fall was memorable. I sat on my haunches, ready to negotiate a tricky 10m long ice tunnel that inclined downwards. I perhaps hadn’t gripped the ice properly enough and my ice-axe wasn’t supporting me against the side wall. My legs went from under me! The next thing I knew was that I was sliding down the ice tunnel at the rate of knots! Luckily, there was no one else in the tunnel. Moreover, everyone at the other end of the tunnel was perched atop a slight incline. Or else, I may have taken them with me!! My backside was sore for at least a day after that but boy, was that fun or what!!


After a thoroughly satisfying but tiring day on the glacier, what we wanted most was a quiet day to recover and to also soak in what we’d experienced. We found just the right recipe in Punakaiki. We drove North from Franz Josef and onto Punakaiki via Hokitika and Greymouth. There is nothing much to write home about Hokitika, in my view (except if you want to shop for Maori paintings and art or if you happen to be there around the famous food festival). Greymouth is not my kind of place either. Punakaiki is something else, however.

It is the place with the famous “pancake rocks” and blowholes. Until I’d seen the “pancake rocks”, the limestone structures along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia (the 12 Apostles) would have to count as some of the most spectacular natural rock formations I’d seen. The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki gives the Twelve Apostles a good run for its money! They are wonderful and are made even more spectacular by the blowholes.

It is also the place where a platform collapse killed quite a few people! In April 1995, a viewing platform at Cave Creek collapsed and the occupants (mostly students from a nearby college) fell 30 metres into the waters and rocks below. Fourteen people lost their lives and 4 others were injured badly.

Since then, it seemed to me at least, that the place has been developed with greater care and attention to safety. It is really quite a spectacular place with ample spots for viewing many of the wonderful natural delights that the place has to offer.

Punakaiki is the gateway to the dramatic limestone country of the Paparoa National Park. One can indulge in some terrific treks and canoe adventures while here. There is a nice caving tour that we did not undertake. This is also horse trekking country, if you are into that sort of thing!

But the main attraction are the “Pancake Rocks” and the blowholes. These are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago. Lime rich deposits and dead marine creatures were continually deposited on the rich seabed and overlaid with more and more weaker layers of soft mud and clay. Repeated deposits have created thin plates that seem like layers of pancakes; very spectacular.

While you are here, indulge yourself in sumptuous breakfast at one of the cafes. What’s the specialty, you ask? Pancakes! But, of course!

Greymouth to Christchurh

We drove back South to Greymouth the following day to take the TranzAlpine train from Greymouth back to Christchurch. Given another chance, we’d have driven on further North, perhaps to Marlborough and descended into Christchurch. Greymouth is a grey kinda place! Nothing much there for us to enjoy. It is perhaps more a function of the type of people we are than what Greymouth has to offer! The only place of much interest to us was a place called “Shantytown”, a historical attraction. This is a mini-town, much like Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. It is a snapshot from the gold-rush period and features a few period buildings, a sawmill, and a functional steam train that trains you around the place. It is located 11 km south of Greymouth and if you are not interested in this sort of thing, it is best you arrive in time for the train that takes you back to Christchurch!

We dropped off our car at Greymouth and took the TranzAlpine scenic train from Greymouth back to Christchurch. The journey takes you up the Southern Alps, past lush beech rain forest landscapes and then through some spectacular river gorges. All along the colourful Waimakariri River and the varied colours of the river basin follows alongside the train. The train also has an open air viewing carriage! One highlight is the 16 tunnels and the 5 viaducts (including one called the ‘Staircase’, which stands at 73 metres!) that pepper the journey. If you are a train freak, this may be one for you!

Back to Melbourne

And so we were back in Melbourne after a terribly satisfying holiday. If we were to do it again (and we are tempted to go again, soon!), we would learn a lot from what we did. We’d do things differently. New Zealand is indeed a wonderful place to visit and its people are extremely friendly.

Eddie Cantor once said, “Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” This seems to fit the New Zealand way of life to a T. They seem to enjoy their life set at their pace in their land which they love intensely. It seems to me that they seem to want to share that sense of happiness and contentment with anyone who cares to want it too. So be prepared for a lovely and hassle-free experience. You will enjoy it tremendously.

1 comment:

  1. Duffy Duck7:29 pm

    You could have mentioned who all made this “EXCITING” trip to New zealand.

    Someone needs ‘Zeal’ to visit and write about ‘New-Zeal-Land’

    I always happen to believe that God took rest on ‘His day of rest.’ Now I had to change my belief to embrace an idea that He spent his time quietly creating the ‘Novel passion Land.’

    The next time I happen to visit with interest the land that offers ‘enthusiasm’ for the first time I would learn from your experience and make sure not to have any memorable fall and slide down the tunnel at a speed rate of ‘miles per hour’

    Probably if I went to see Newzealand I want to remember the land for being wonderful and its people for being friendly and not for the possible bruises and scars I make acquire during any ice climb.

    Thanks for the early warning.

    It is always better to send someone to explore the place before the real conquerors could step in.