Day 63 – Sydney/Cairns

Got up fairly early today and had some breakfast before heading into town to return the rental car – our trusty red Corolla sedan that took us all around Southland. We actually got an $80 cashback deal when we returned the keys which was a nice bonus!!

Now that we were car-less, we had to walk back to our hotel…which actually wasn’t that far at all from downtown. We walked along the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu, taking some final snaps of the mountain range and lake along the way. Unfortunately the last 400m to the hotel was an uphill trek and whilst Seio (madman) decided to jog it, I took a more leisurely stroll there – I caught up with him at the top anyway, so….

When we got back to the hotel it was just before 10am and so we still had some time to relax before check out at 11am. Our shared shuttle bus came to pick us up at 11:35am and take us to Queenstown airport. I was surprised at how small the airport was, and how picturesque it was. The airport is situated right between the mountain ranges, and it only has about 6 gates in all – quite compact!

We sat in the waiting area before being called to the boarding lounge – but just before we got to security we were told we needed to pay a departure tax!! Typical….the amount of hidden fees that appear in flying these days is ridiculous, whether its for suitcases (allowed baggage at that!) or departure fees, it all mounts up…and that cheap fare isn’t as cheap as you thought it was!!

We paid our NZ$50 departure fee and were allowed through the security screening – NZ security is more relaxed than the US, there is no need to remove your shoes, jackets, belts and almost everything else you are wearing – it was quite a nice change!

Once through to the boarding lounge, we watched as our plane arrived and the previous passengers disembarked. We were flying with Qantas today – the first time since we started our trip , even though our round the world ticket is a Qantas ticket!! We have been traveling mostly with Qantas’ One World Alliance partners.

When our plane was ready, we were called to board and Seio and I tok our seats in the first row behind business class – Row 4. We had plenty of legroom, although we had to crane our necks to watch the in-flight movie!

Before long, we had taken off, but what a bumpy take-off it was. It was a steep take-off to begin with due to the surrounding terrain, but we hit some clouds almost immediately and were rocked from side to side and up and down a couple of times before things smoothed out!! I think it felt more scary because the mountains felt so close by. Once we had reached altitude above the clouds, the sky became a nice clear blue and it was a smooth flight from there on in. The landing was fine in Sydney too – although you come in quite close to the water which is a bit of a thrill in itself.

We knew we would have a bit of a wait at Sydney airport before our connecting flight on to Cairns. It was 3:55pm when we arrived and our next flight was not until 7:35pm. It was quite nice to have plenty of time though, because we had to clear customs and collect our luggage once before continuing our journey. Customs in OZ was even more relaxed than in NZ, a huge difference from the US and particularly Canada, where the customs officials do not even smile!! We breezed through passport control and received our Australia stamp, before going down to the baggage claim area and collecting our suitcases. After passing through quarantine, we went through the arrivals lounge and walked for what seemed like miles to the Qantas domestic transfers desk. We already had our boarding passes for the next flight, but we still needed to recheck our baggage. Once we had checked our suitcases again, we went through security screening once more before getting on a bus and being taken across the runways to the Qantas domestic departures building. It was a 10 minute bus ride away – which shows you how big Sydney airport is!!

After taking a walk around the duty free shops, we found Gate 1, took a seat and waited for another hour and a half before being called to board.

Our flight to Cairns was pretty full, and this time it was a smooth take off. In fact it was a fairly smooth flight until landing. Unfortunatley the weather in Cairns was not good – rain. clouds and string winds. This all added up to some extremely bumpy spells on the way into the airport!!

We eventually landed in one piece and were quite glad to be on terra firma again…

‘Nightmare on Sheridan Street’

It was absolutely pouring down with rain when we arrived, and so we decided to hop in a taxi and go straight to our motel. The hotel was only about a 10 minute ride away from the airport, and looked quite nice from the outside – apart from the ominous looking police car and policeman who seemed to be ‘investigating’ an old man with a long box!! We don’t know what the motel looked like on the inside, because we never actually got to check in!!

According to the big sign outside the motel it was a 24-hour check-in, but when we rang the bell for assistance nobody came out….After the 20th ring, we decided to give up and find somewhere else to camp out for the night. A young lad came to our assistance and told us that there were probably some spare rooms where he was staying. It was only down the road and as we didn’t really have any other options we decided to go and check it out. Luckily the old man in charge let us have a room at short notice, even though he charged us $15 over the going rate and wanted cash!! Although we were very grateful to escape the torrential downpour outside, we were a bit disappointed to say the least – first by being let down by the original motel and secondly by the state of neglect that this alternative motel was in…it didn’t help that I found a dead cockroach on the carpet as soon as i went in either…..After that discovery I didn’t really feel like touching anything in the room and wondered if I was actually going to be able to sleep tonight…. Oh dear!

Day 62 – Queenstown

Got up and had breakfast, before heading into town to do a spot of souvenir shopping. We parked up the car and popped into a couple of shops in Queenstown Mall – an outdoor shopping arcade in the city centre.

After finishing our shopping, we went straight to the post office to send off our souvenirs along with some bits and pieces that we have collected along the way.

We came back to the hotel and had some lunch and then later in the afternoon we went back downtown to return the rental car. We actually have the car until tomorrow morning, but we thought it would be easier to drop off the car this evening instead. Before we could return the car though we needed to find a petrol station and fill up the tank. We went round and round in circles looking for a petrol station but couldn’t find one, so we decided to drive to the next town and see if we could find one on the way. We ended up taking quite a long drive around the coastline and finding some really nice scenic locations, including a place called Wilson Bay where there was a mountain biking track and a nice picnic area.

There was still no sight of a petrol station and so we carried on in the direction of the next town, Glenorchy. We came across another scenic lookout point at the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the snow topped mountain range. A nice lady in a camper van offered to take mine and Seio’s photo which was very kind.

Our petrol supply was getting fairly low at this point and so we decided to head back towards central Queenstown and see if there was anywhere on the opposite side of town. We eventually found a place and filled up, but it was too late to return the car by this point and so we agreed to take the car back first thing in the morning as originally planned.

On the way back to the hotel we picked up some food at the local supermarket for tonight’s meal.

In the evening we packed up our suitcases ready for our journey on to Australia tomorrow.

I can’t believe New Zealand has come to an end – this is a truly beautiful country and we have thoroughly enjoyed our travels here. We will be back – that is for sure!

Day 61 – Queenstown

Today we set off for Lake Wanaka. We took the scenic route which involved 15kph snake bends and undulating roads. It was literally a breathtaking drive in a number of ways. A lot of the roads here do not have crash barriers, and so it can be quite scary at times!!

We arrived in Wanaka safely, and were greeted by an amazing view of the lake. The snow capped mountains provided the perfect background, while people played with their dogs on the stoney beach and others relaxed in the sunshine or sailed their boats.

We carried on towards Mount Aspiring, and pulled over just after Glendhu Bay at a place called Parkins Bay where there was a short walking track to the shoreline.

After taking some photos, we jumped back in the car and worked our way back to Diamond Bay and another little walking track to the lake front.

We bumped into some sheep and a couple of lambs on the way who had come to the lake for a quick drink! Unfortunately we scared them off into the bush. The landscape was stunning, Milford Sound and the mountain ranges showing their heads from all angles.

We walked along the track for a short while before heading back to the car and back to the main car park at central Wanaka. We stopped the car and had some lunch by the Lake front, before going into the town and doing some food shopping.

We took the scenic route back to Queenstown again, stopping off at the various scenic lookouts on the way.

We arrived back at the hotel around 5pm and had a relaxing evening, going for a walk at around 9pm to see the beautiful sunset.

Day 60 – Queenstown

We got up really early this morning, and headed off for a morning walk around the botanic gardens. Dunedin has a sister-city relationship with Otaru, Japan and as such the botanic gardens have a specially designed Japanese garden complete with Azumaya (shelter) and stone lantern. Even the ducks (at least the ones that were awake!) seemed to be enjoying the garden. We had a walk around the upper and lower garden, before heading back to the hotel, grabbing our stuff and checking out.

The journey to Queenstown was quite a long one, but we only stopped off for short breaks here and there. It was a very scenic drive and some of the towns along the way have the most beautiful landscapes you have ever seen.

We arrived in Queenstown at around 2:30pm, but our room wasn’t quite ready for us. We waited in the lounge area and took in the beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and its backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

As our room wasn’t ready, we received a complimentary upgrade to a lakeview room which was a nice bonus!

In the afternoon, we relaxed by the poolside and read some books under the sunshine. Unfortunately the water really was too cold to swim, but we had a dip in the hot tub a couple of times.

In the evening we headed into town to get some food and do a bit of exploring. Queenstown is a mixture of Wellington and Christchurch – it has a very hilly landscape but it is also surrounded with greenery. A typical Alpine town – reminiscent of Austria or Switzerland in the summer months.

It has quite a young atmosphere as well – but that is probably because this is the adventure capital of the southern island!

 

Day 59 – Dunedin

This was our second day in Dunedin. It was another warm day again, which is apparently quite unusual for this town, but we were not complaining!! Today we set off for a lovely coastal drive around the Otago Peninsula. As we crossed over the bridge to central Otago we got some wonderful sea views. Our first stop was Larnach Castle and as the road started to climb and climb, the clouds got closer and closer and you really started to get that eerie, misty, Scottish highlands feeling. It gave the Castle a great atmosphere. Apparently this is the only Castle in New Zealand. It was built by a politician/banker and it’s a bit of a quirky style castle – it incorporates the traditional British castle style together with Australian-style verandahs with ornately carved iron railings. The gardens were beautiful, and the inside of the castle had been kept quite authentic as well.

After having a bite of lunch in the castle grounds, we set off for the tip of the peninsula and to the Royal Albatross Colony – we were tempted to take a tour to see the Albatrosses, however the wind was so gusty and strong, that we found it hard to stand up, let alone go on a guided walk. We hopped back in the car and headed back to a warmer and less windier location. The coastal drive was beautiful, the sun had come back out and was glistening on the water. We passed through a lovely little town called Portobello before arriving at the main bridge and then central Dunedin.

Once we were back in the city centre, we stopped off at the famous Station building to take a couple of snaps – Along with the Sydney Opera House, it is apparently one of the most photographed buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. A wedding party was having their photographs taken inside just as we arrived.

Across the road from the Station was the Cadbury’s Factory!! We couldn’t help ourselves and decided to go on a little ‘Chocolate tour’. It was quite interesting actually, because although the actual manufacturing processes must be the same, a lot of the chocolate bars are completely different to those in the UK. I had never heard of some of the chocolate we were given as samples!!

After our chocolate experience, we took a quick walk around the city centre and looked at some of the traditional architecture. Dunedin was apparently the very first City and therefore has a lot of the first of everything! A very interesting city…

In the evening we packed and got ready for the next leg of our journey.

Day 58 – Dunedin

We left Oamaru at around 10am this morning and headed off towards Dunedin. On the way we stopped off at Moeraki to see the famous Boulders on the beach. There were actually more of them than I thought there would be, some of them perfectly round, others looking like tortoise shells, and others looking as if they had been split clean down the middle with a gigantic karate chop!

Outside of the cafe/shop, there were a couple of deer grazing in a nearby field – they posed graciously for our photos and then stood underneath the sign that explained where we could buy them food – well trained or what??!

We didn’t feed them, but instead jumped back in the car and carried on along route 1 towards our destination. After a little while we came across a little place called Trotter’s Gorge, and stepped out of the car to stretch our legs and take a break. The water was so clear and cold there! We walked through the campsite ($6 per night!!) and carried on up a track towards some caves. It was very cool and refreshing – today’s temperature was about 23 to 25 degrees, but it felt more like 30! When we got back to the car, we had something to eat and rejoined route 1 for Dunedin.

We arrived in Dunedin just after 1pm, and checked into our hotel. Dunedin apparently takes its name from the scottish meaning Castle of Edin. There are a lot of families with Scottish names here, and many of the streets have Scottish origins.

After unpacking some bits and pieces and taking a little break, we headed off for the world’s steepest street ‘Baldwin Street’. At its steepest it has a gradient of 1 to 2.86m. It is only about 100m long, but it felt like a very long climb up – coming down was of course a breeze! The view from the top was well worth it, but once again a photo really doesn’t do the scale of these places any justice. Its amazing where people have actually built their houses – I think the people that live here must be very fit indeed. When Seio and I got back down to the bottom of the road, we rewarded ourselves with a nice cold ice cream…just what we needed (^^)v

Next we headed back into town and took a scenic drive around some nice country lanes, before heading to the scenic lookout at the very top of Signal Hill Rd. There we got some amazing views of Dunedin city and the Otago peninsula. It was such a beautiful day again today, we really have been lucky with the weather –  I don’t think we have had one bad day in NZ yet!

On the way back to the hotel we did our usual Supermarket stop and picked up some food for the evening. Supermarkets in NZ seem quite similar to the UK – there appear to be 3 major chains: Countdown, New World, and Pak ‘N Save – a bit like Asda, Tesco, and Morrisons!! Today we shopped at New World.

As it was such a nice evening, and still quite light outside, we decided to take a nice walk to the Botanical gardens and back before calling it a night. It’s still quite warm now at 11pm!!

Day 57 – Oamaru

We got up early and had breakfast in the Queen’s bedroom (?!) before checking out and waving goodbye to the lovely little town of Timaru. Our destination today was Oamaru, another sleepy little town about 80km from Timaru, famous for Penguin watching!! On the way out of Timaru, we popped into a local art gallery called Aigantighe (pronounced egg and tie) for a quick look…. they had some very nice pieces of fine art, some aboriginal artwork, and even a couple of Japanese wood block paintings by Hiroshige, which Seio was pleased to see!! New Zealand is quite an art and crafty place, with small galleries like this dotted all over.

We arrived at Oamaru just after midday, and had a quick drive around the town. We came across the old station – now just a freight train stop, but full of character, and also saw some lovely sea views.

Although it was a bit early still, we decided to track down our hotel and check in. Our hotel is run by a nice Chinese man, and is situated on the top of a hill..quite high up so the view of the town and the sea is very nice! The hotel is under a year old, and I have a feeling that Seio and I are the only guests today…the Chinese man was so helpful, he showed us everything from how to operate the TV to a selection of menus from local restaurants. After having a quick cup of coffee and a bite to eat, Seio and I headed out to see what we could find…guess what, we found another botanical garden – complete with Japanese bridge and rose garden!! We do like our garden walks though, especially when the sun is shining. We managed to befriend a cute grey cat, and follow a bunch of ducklings upstream, as well as coming across some people dressed in Victorian clothing, seeing an elephant and spotting Humpty Dumpty!!

After leaving the pretty gardens, we drove back into town to take some photos of the older and more traditional buildings made from Oamaru stone. The architecture is another lovely feature of some of these quiet coastal towns.

Later on we popped into the i-Site information centre to find out what time the penguins were coming home tonight – there are two kinds of penguins in Oamaru: Blue Penguins and Yellow-Eyed Penguins. We decided to go and see if we could locate some Yellow-Eyed penguins and headed off for Bushy Beach Reserve. On the way we stopped off at the Lookout point and got a lovely sea view of the town…we could even see our hotel on the very top of the hill!!

When we reached Bushy Beach Reserve, we parked the car and walked down to the cliff top viewing platform. It was a while before the first penguin came in … he was so far away – a little dot on the beach, but you could still tell it was a Penguin from its waddle!! Another one came in a couple of minutes later and again waddled off onto the cliffside. We also saw a fur seal swimming around just off the shore. It was a while before there was any more penguin action, but then we discovered a penguin the cliffside in the grass! Very cute  – he even waved to us at one point (^^)v

Today was a bit of a botanical and zoological adventure – cats, ducklings, sheep, cows, penguins and an elephant!