Napier proved to be a highlight of the trip so far. The walking tour was very informative and certainly highlighted and explained features that we wouldn’t have found out ourselves. For example a few of the streets have bends in them because when the earthquake happened, the streets were widened. However the few remaining buildings that were still standing had to be navigated and so therefore the road was diverted around them.
From Napier we travelled to Palmerston North after visiting Hastings which also suffered damage in the earthquake. The architecture of many of the buildings is Spanish Mission in style and we enjoyed having a stroll up the street. Palmerston North (or Palmy as it is known to the locals) is a big university city and being Summer, it was not as active as it would be during semester. The main square is lovely with colourful clock tower and park. We also visited the rose garden which is famous for its international trial rose gardens.
Next stop was Wellington and this was a bit of a surprise!! It lived up to its reputation of being windy but despite this we enjoyed looking around and taking a stroll along the recently redeveloped harbour foreshore. We took a ride up the Wellington cable car and spent an hour or so in the informative cable car museum. We have noticed during our trip that all the museums in NZ are well done and very informative and this one was no exception. Following lunch we visited Te Papa which is the National Museum of New Zealand and similar in style (both building wise and collection) to The National Museum of Australia in Canberra. We spent three hours here and only saw a small amount of the vast collection. Te Papa would be one of the safer places in Wellington to be during an earthquake. The museum is situated on reclaimed land which has been stabilised by impacting the soil. Thirty tonne weights were dropped 50,000 times from a height of up to ten metres on to the soil to compact it. The building sits on 150 base isolators installed under the building and bolted to the pad foundations of the Museum. For anyone visiting NZ, this museum is a must see!
We also drove to the lookout at night and enjoyed a Mexican dinner at The Flying Burrito Brothers Restaurant which was quite good Mexican and filled with atmosphere. There certainly is a lot more to see in Wellington than we saw but we only allocated one day so will need to revisit at some stage.
The Interislander ferry is a car/passenger ferry that runs regularly between the North and South Islands and we had booked the 8.25am voyage. The weather was overcast and misty but our journey was uneventful. We met a couple from Melbourne and another from the UK and our chats and sharing stories about what we had seen helped to pass the time. Upon arriving in Piction we disembarked and headed to Kaikoura which is the whale watching capital of New Zealand. The drive down the coast was filled with many spectacular views. Seals also sun themselves on the rocks along the coastline near the road just before Kaikoura so we stopped to see them and got some photos. They are large smelly creatures who spend their time on land sleeping after swimming around for up to three weeks at a time.
Kaikoura is definitely a holiday spot and it was filled with tourists. Our host, Deb was very very very helpful (almost too helpful at times)!! We walked to the lookout for views of Kaikoura and the Pacific Ocean and decided not to go whale watching since the weather was not good.
Christchurch was our next port of call and we spent two days exploring this lovely city. The International Antartic Centre is considered a must see by all the tourist information so we decided to spend half a day there and were not disappointed. Complete with penguins and a Hagglund (the Antarctic all-terrain amphibian vehicle) ride this centre is very informative and covers all aspects of Antartica including wildlife, living there and famous expeditions. We even experienced a simulated wind storm and at -17 degrees with winds at 50km/hr it was cold. Christchurch is very English with lovely architecture. Trams were reintroduced in 1995 and they certainly help to move tourists around the main attractions. We took a punt down the River Avon which was rather smashing!! It truly was a wonderful day to go messing about on the river!!
The next morning we took to the air with a balloon flight and despite a 4am start this was a truly magnificent experience. We were encouraged to be involved in preparing the balloon for flight which is quite a task. Our flight lasted an hour and took us over the Canterbury plains, landing in a cow paddock. In the tradition of ballooning we celebrated with the balloonist prayer and champagne. The whole thing took about 5 and a half hours from beginning to end but was certainly worth it.
The rest of the day we spent visiting the arts centre where local artists work and sell their wares and in the late afternoon we took a trip on a gondola overlooking the city and surrounding country. (Don’t bother about the gondola if you visit Christchurch yourself).
Whilst Christchurch is very English in nature, Dunedin is very Scottish and this is where we stayed last night. The centre of the city is an octagon and after getting our bearings and booking in at our accommodation (Dunedin Holiday Park) we decided to take a train ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway. This four hour return train ride departing from the lovely railway station in Dunedin takes you on a journey through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago. Dunedin is also home to the world’s steepest street and whilst some run up it in less than 2 minutes during the annual gutbuster challenge, we drove!!
Today we visited NZ’s only castle which has been restored to its former glory. The surrounding gardens are also quite beautiful. Dunedin’s botanic gardens are perhaps the best we have seen in the country and are well maintained and quite lush. Travelling from Dunedin we took the Southern Scenic route to Invercargill where we will spend one night before heading to Milford Sound tomorrow. We are right in the centre of town and hope to do some night photography tonight of the lit up buildings. Invercargill is the point which you catch boats or planes to Stewart Island which is predominantly a wildlife reserve. With our short time here, we will have to add that to a return journey.