Retirement Travels – New Zealand Part 1 – South Island

Having had 3 trips to New Zealand now, with a fourth coming shortly, here is part I of probably IV, on what we have found and enjoyed on our travels.

I hope you will find it interesting should you be heading there, or indeed just visiting from your armchair….

We have used a local NZ travel agent a few times in working out our itineraries. I really can recommend them. We got amazing support from Suzie at First Light Travel. The service was fantastic. They organised everything from our car rental, to all accommodation, ferries etc. Yes, I am sure we could have done it ourselves, but I don’t think we would have saved a lot of money, and we wouldn’t have easily found such great places.

Christchurch

Some of you will already know, but New Zealand is a land of earthquakes. It has fantastic scenery, but that comes at a wee bit of a price. In our visits there, we have only felt one earthquake, a 3.6, and as my son says, he doesn’t get out of bed for less than a 5. It was real enough for us though. The nearest thing it matches for me was it was like a train in the sidings.  However Christchurch had a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, which had a real impact on life there. Many people lost their lives, and some beautiful buildings, including the cathedral were destroyed.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to Christchurch until after the massive earthquake on 22 February 2011, which caused so much damage. 185 people were killed and many thousand injured.

We first arrived in November 2011, just as the city ‘Red Zone’ was opened for locals to see for the first time, the real impact on their city. We were fortunate enough to take one of those bus trips. It was such a poignant journey. We were given a safety talk, because many of the buildings were unstable and had not yet been demolished. Buildings had been urgently exited and 9 months later were still exactly as they had been left. A stack of books in a bookshop, tilted as they were on the day, suspended mid-fall. Doors looking like they were covered in graffiti, but these were far more important messages – building searched, fully evacuated, bio-hazard, chemical hazard etc. I found this so sad, and the nearest equivalent is post bombing in Northern Ireland where I grew up. Except, just like loads of bombs all at the same time.

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Here are just a few of the photographs I took, over the following days. Buildings held up by containers. Others so badly damaged that they had to be demolished from the top down, with men attached to cranes for their own safety. Every building holds someone’s memories, now only held by a snapshot, or just a picture in someone’s mind.

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This one is even more poignant for me. My son was in one of these buildings when the earthquake hit. His building remained intact, but it had to be demolished later….

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And on a slightly happier note, the regeneration of the city was already happening. Container mall

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Time moves on, last time we were there, there was no red zone. Life had pretty much returned to normal. This time when we go, I hope to see the Cathedral made out of cardboard tubes. It was completed in 2013, but we didn’t see it last trip.

Our first trip took us on the train across from Christchurch to Greymouth, on the TranzAlpine. Just amazing. The scenery is fantastic. At every bend in the track, there’s another photo opportunity. The train has an open sided carriage, just to let the photographers go mad.

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The scenery throughout New Zealand is just amazing.  We went to Lake Tekapo on the way to Mount Cook

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It was a bit of a damp day, but Mount Cook decided to clear up just for the photo opportunity. We had one of those moments when walking near Mount Cook, where every way we turned we just went ‘wow’.

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It was a weird moment, because just as this stunning vista is opening up, I get a call from a friend saying what a really dreadful time they have had at work. In all night trying to sort problems, and now knackered, starting to try and answer all the ‘how could it happen?’ questions. If it ever made me realise why I had left work – this was it! The joys of IT.

We stopped at the Moeraki Boulders, stunning natural spheres. In fact I see they are sometimes turning up on the Windows 10 start up menu.

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We had a fantastic meal at Fleur’s Place – the most stunning fish. Do book ahead. We had booked before leaving the UK – Thank’s Joe for the recommendation.

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It is just off to the left of the pier in this photograph. you can just about see the gable end. A stunning place

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We chose to take the inland route for the last leg, which took us past the Kurow (Pasquale) winery, in the Waitaki valley where we had our first ever wine tasting. Suffice to say we bought a few bottles. A great start to our many tastings in NZ.

After that, to Dunedin, which to all Edinburgh is instantly recognisable by the street names, and at the same time, totally confusing, because they are all in the wrong place! We were staying with our friends Chris & Clare in Mosgiel, who made us extremely welcome. Thanks, we really enjoyed it.

Then off to the Albatross Sanctuary at the very end of the Otago Peninsula

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Back up towards Christchurch, with a brief stop in Oamaru. We stopped in a great place, unfortunately it is no longer open. 64 on Derwent, run by Marilyn and Ron with support from Bree. Thank you for your hospitality, and I hope you are both well. The breakfast was just amazing.

On a subsequent trip we headed for Queenstown. We weren’t into the more extreme adventures (no parachuting, paragliding etc), but we did have the most amazing helicopter trip into the mountains / glacier. Unfortunately the weather closed in and we weren’t able to land on the glacier itself, but hopefully these shots give you an idea of the amazing landscape / panorama. I admit that these re only a very small percentage of the photographs we took.

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We did some super wine tastings as well. We have now tasted wines in Hastings. Napier, Marlborough, Queenstown, Otago. Just Nelson Bay, and Bay of Islands are missing – maybe this trip…

Mount Difficulty (Roaring Meg), Peregrine Wines (the most gorgeous rose), Gibbston Valley, Mt Rosa, Wooing Tree. In one, we even had the chance to talk to the main wine man. It was lunch time and the staff had gone for lunch. It was absolutely fascinating.

Not surprisingly we swallowed, not spat, so we were very mellow by the time we were dropped back at out apartment.

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