New Zealand and a little bit of Australia        March 1998
 
 

After 33 hours from Melbourne Airport to our apartment, we were sorely in need of a bit of home comfort, and we had certainly had a surfeit of airline meals in cramped seats. Having said that, the Singaporean air-hostesses are a delight to behold and the In-flight Entertainment was excellent. We watched "As Good As It Gets" with Jack Nicholson being his usual mix of hideously bigoted, smarmy and leering - but deep down good - self; the sadly ageing and not nearly as sexy as he used to be(or is it me?) Richard Gere in "The Jackal"; as well as "Good WillHunting" - which was a somewhat improbable story that was well acted and had intelligent dialogue. (By the way, we saw 'Titanic' here in Cyprus before we went off on holiday and I thought it was stunning. The computer graphics and their interlocking with real film kept me wide awake and interested all the way through, despite knowing the ending!.)

We stopped for 3 days in Singapore - en route to NZ- and that was certainly a different experience, hot and humid atmosphere outside, air-conditioned shopping malls with tons of illicit computer software and a multicultural mix of locals and tourists. Everywhere manicured public areas and a feeling of cleanliness that I don't think I have experienced anywhere else! Thoroughly enjoyable wandering round Sentosa Island taking in all the tourist sights, as well as the wonderful Jurong Bird Park with loads of bird species in huge cages. We sat and had tea at the historic Raffles Hotel, now sadly just a "tourist experience". We even spent 30 on a portion of Abalone, well, that should be mis-spent as the Abalone was reconstituted from dried and served in brown beef gravy YUK!   Felt large and fat in comparison to the average Singaporean!

Arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand and nothing immediately either hit or inspired me into thinking that I was going to enjoy the country. Nothing like the thumping hard hit to all the senses that India is so good at; it was 1950's England - architecturally archaic, mean little square wooden bungalows with 'keyhole' feature front doors and immaculate mown lawns. The importance placed on the cultivation of the front garden is nowhere better developed. Gosh it was boring!

But the charms and delights of the country slowly emerged as one left the cities. Green, verdant rainforests full of giant tree ferns, tall trees and lush undergrowth. We drove something like 6,500 km in our hired Motorhome, and every time we went through rainforest, I found the greenness amazing. Each tree had masses of epiphytes clinging and hanging from the branches, making the profusion of plants almost overwhelming in places. Sad, or more truthfully, glad to say we didn't do any bungy jumping - just watched the younger generation hurling themselves off an old span bridge and muttering as they climbed back up the steps "****, that was just amaaazing!"

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in the South Island are magnificent, extending their icy limits to remarkably low altitudes. Their blue ice sparkled in the sunshine and although we didn't take a helicopter ride to see them from the air, we couldn't help but be impressed, even from ground level. As we drove around we noticed that most of the roads are neatly marked and bordered with strips of yet more manicured lawn, but as a sober warning to drivers there are white crosses placed at each point where a fatal accident has occurred. In one place there were six white crosses together. Exhortations to "Drive, don't drink" by local Student Unions suggests that many of the fatalities are young, inexperienced drivers.

New Zealand boasts a large number of comical and unique flightless birds; now sadly much depleted, due to the introduction of possums, cats and stoats. The possums are a particular menace as they have multiplied rapidly in the absence of any predators and found a ready source of food in the eggs and young hatchlings of the mainly ground-nesting flightless birds. As it is a nocturnal animal, the possum is frequently a victim of road death by speeding car, but with about 7 million of them still around, they still present a serious danger to the flightless birds. There was a great deal of carnage on the roads, possums by the score, swiftly devoured by the numerous Australian Harriers, another species whose numbers have increased due to the abundant food supply! The greatest treasure of the group of flightless birds was not the nocturnal Kiwi, but a startlingly blue and purple, chicken-sized bird with an enormous bright red bill called a Takahe. Their numbers are down to about 200, and they need a high level of protection. These comic birds are very friendly, and potter about muttering "pwork, pwork" and it was easy to imagine them wandering up to the early settlers almost pleading to be put into a dinner pot!

One of the ways that the keen, young and green DOC (Department of Conservation) are helping preserve some of the highly endangered native species is by setting aside offshore islands as safe refuges for them. Some are totally off limits to visitors but one island "Tiri Tiri Matangi" positively encourages them. On our penultimate day in NZ we took the day trip to Tiri. Immediately the difference was obvious. Bird song was everywhere, and we saw many of the endangered species, existing happily on a predator free island. Sadly this is probably the only way these lovely birds will survive, as their particular habitats on the main islands are further eroded, in the name of progress.

Boiling mud, gushing water geysers and the whole tourist exploitation of the thermal area of Rotorua was fascinating. Owned and managed by Maori descendents of the original tribe that lived there, it was an example of how to sit back and take money for a natural phenomenon! And the wafts of strong sulphurous gasses were interesting, too! The other place where the Maoris had a large chunk of financial control was at the Glow-worm Caves at Waitomo. Entrance is $17.50. Multiply that by the 1500 people daily trekking through and per year there's about $9,000,000 profit! The glow-worms are quite spectacular, though!

New Zealand broke away from the rest of the Australasian landmass millions and millions of years ago; hence it developed different species of plants and animals. For example, there are no poisonous creatures at all in NZ, but in Australia there are about 365 - one for each day of the year! There are also many extinct volcanoes, Auckland is situated on about seven of them! It makes for an interesting and beautiful landscape, especially in the North Island … rolling green hills with 17 million plump fat-faced sheep! In the shops it is possible to buy lamb and mutton (which is labelled sheep!) I thought it would be nice to have some fried lamb chops - but I bought 'sheep' chops. I made a mistake they were leather chops! When I got it right, young lamb was delicious and absurdly cheap. The other thing that was absurdly cheap was double cream. We both inclined to broaden waistlines by its consumption! With strawberries! Having said that, we felt normal to thin in NZ!

Travelling around is wonderfully simple and organised. Camping sites have a range of acilities; power points and fresh drinking water: shower and toilet blocks: a kitchen with gas or electric boiling plates, toaster and place for washing up: a coin operated laundry, often with washer and dryer: a TV lounge: sometimes even a swimming pool, a trampoline and a cage of budgerigars! You can turn up in a Motorhome or with a caravan; rent a caravan for the night or rent a small chalet with 4 beds, even turn up just with your backpack and rent claustrophobically small 'backpackers' accommodation (a corrugated iron tent, with 2 mattresses but no bedding!). These camping grounds are a part of the Kiwi way of life - many locals take their holidays in NZ. The islands have so much diversity; it really is not a hardship! Our 4-berth Motorhome was more expensive than we had expected, but it gave us the freedom to travel without planning an exact route and many times we parked so that our first view in the morning was an uninterrupted view of the sea.

By the end of our three weeks we felt we had travelled over most of the two islands and seen some of the major sights. We were sad to miss out on a trip snorkeling with dolphins, but our timing was out by about 3 days. We probably could have gone swimming with seals, but that didn't seem as exciting as dolphins. Indeed we didn't totally immerse ourselves in the waters of the Southern Ocean at all - but were content to wander beaches, watch kite fishing and pick up shells!

The other part of the holiday we spent in Australia, just in the bottom right hand corner from Sydney to Adelaide. What a young and vibrant city it is. Loads of history, the stunning Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and everywhere feeling as if it knows where it is going.. Of course they have won the 2000 Olympics and that has obviously brought in loads of money for development. I'd go back there again! And I'd go back to the Barossa Valley ( One hour north of Adelaide) where we spent one Sunday going from vineyard to vineyard tasting their most glorious dessert wines! Botrytis was always a word of horror in the tomato growing environment of Guernsey, but applied to the grape - well - lets just say we brought back 7 different bottles! (For about a week we stayed with Brians sister and bro-in-law half way between Adelaide and Melbourne)

One thing puzzles me. Was the person who thought up the name "The Great Ocean Road' by any chance a joker?! ( The G.O.R. runs from Melbourne 100k west) In more places than not it was many kms. from the sea and well out of sight of any sea! And would you believe - we stayed the first night in Warrnambool and thought that we would then be able to take our time around the G. O. R. and see it in sunshine! Guess what! The morning dawned cloudy and as soon as we started driving the mist turned into light rain and the wind blew up and we couldn't see the full beauty of the coastline at all! My favourite town was Port Fairy, which seemed to have the best of old world charm and also plenty of Guest houses. The other place that impressed us was the little house (now museum) where the two survivors of the Loch Ard disaster stayed.


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