A Travellerspoint blog

There's a reason the sun shines on NZ before anywhere else

How I will remember New Zealand....

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Kia Ora - Oh my goodness! - It's a beautiful day - sweet as - wee - squashed possum - haka - hongi - chocolate fish - hokey pokey ice cream - teapot - kumara - sandflies - cruisin' - flippin' freezing - bloody cold - Aotearoa - hobbits - Kiwi - Brazilian volleyball players - muffins - flat white - long black - green & clean - what shall we talk about this morning - burned toast - bugger off - go away - giant carrot - gumboots - designer toilets - star gazing - cool bananas - glow worms - pavlova - fish of the day - didimo - traffic is chaos today! - first class seat - poi dance - pole dance - so proud of you team! - 5 minute return walk - yeah right -whanau - kea - avalanche - take away coffee - my body is a temple - hair straighteners - gluten free - the Precious - flip flops - L&P - dinner at 7 - crying with laughter - ....

And finally allow me to quote the Lonely planet guide, couldn't say it any better way:
"There's a reason the sun shines on New Zealand before anywhere else - every new day in Aotearoa is something to cherish! Small, remote and thinly populated, yes, but NZ punches well above its weight with its outlandish scenery, fabulous festivals, superb food and wine, and magical outdoor experiences. Equally impressive is NZ's potent mainstream Maori culture. This is a country that recognises and celebrates its indigenous people - the world is a kinder, gentler, more respectful place down here!".

Posted by Petravs 23:41 Comments (0)

The Sydney experience

Although this is a kiwiblog I have to write about Australia, because I ended my journey with a citytrip to Sydney. I figured I had to go there while I was in the neighbourhood :-) It took a 3 hour flight from Christchurch and though I was quite sad about leaving NZ, I was really looking forward to four days in Australia's oldest city. It was raining as we arrived but the air felt heavy and warm, very different to the refreshing NZ air. We took a taxi into town straight to the Amora hotel upon Jamison street. 5 star luxury, yes Ange and I decided to spoil ourselves :-) It's the kind of hotel where - at least - 2 people open the door for you and where a concierge is available at all times for example to hand you an umbrella if a few raindrops come down. A swimmingpool, jacuzzi, sauna and spa on the 3d floor, and a spacious room, what could you want more? I felt like a backpacker when we arrived, wearing my sandals (by now my feet looked like I had been living on the beach for a few weeks) and longing for a bath in my fancy bathroom overlooking Sydney. We had a lazy evening, went for a swim, enjoyed a late night dinner at the hotel resto and slept like a rose. Untill 5.30 am ...when the alarm on my mobile went off, 2 hours too early, because I had forgotten about the time difference. "But it's still dark!" I say confused and stay in bed for another 2 hours.
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THE ROCKS, THE HARBOUR BRIDGE, CAFE SYDNEY, SKY TOWER
We end up at the breakfast table around 8.30. A very peculiar routine unfolds itself - and will be repeated over the next days. The staff behave like robots, walking around serving coffee and tea, and taking away your plate one second after you finish the last bite. In the background loungy music, we figure that's what keeps them going. They're robots functionning on lounge music! Nevertheless we enjoy our holiday breakfast and then head down to the Harbour.

It's only a 500 meter walk from the hotel and catching the first glimpse of the OPera House and the Harbour Bridge feels so exciting. A huge cruiseship partly messes up the view - what is it with these cruisepeople?? - but the sun shines brightly over Sydney Harbour. It's a weird sensation to finally be there for real. I think of my brother Tom who spent some time in Sydney on his big Australia travel a few years ago. Ange and I head for the market at the Rocks, ready for some shopping. We enjoy strolling down the market, and soon realise it's very tempting to buy loads of souvenirs :-) The Rocks is a very touristy area, but at the same time still feels historical. You have to imagine this was the place where European settlement started in Australia, sailors and whalers boozed here in harbourside pubs. Really worth a visit is the Rocks Discovery Museum (free entrance!). The museum digs deep into the history of The Rocks, displaying many artefacts.

From The Rocks we move on to the Harbour Bridge. Six million bolts hold the bridge together, 1400 workers took 9 years to build it. Today the Harbour Bridge is a true Sydney landmark together with the Opera house. The courageous ones can take the challenge to climb the bridge. ANge and I stick to the pedestrian walk on the bridge. The views across Sydney harbour are pretty great up here too. We go back down looking for a place to lunch and pick out 'Argyle's'. Yummy lunch in a sort of courtyard away from the busy hustle and bustle on the street. After lunch we walk down to George Street in the busy modern part of Sydney and go for a ride on the Metro Mover to get a quick look on other parts of Sydney. It's crowded and warm in the Metro Mover so we get out after 15 minutes. Because we're on holiday we decide to have little siesta and freshen up back at the hotel, and around 5 we're expected at Café Sydney for Ange's birthday dinner.

Café Sydney is on the top floor of the Customs house down by Circular Quai, offering stunning views of the harbour. We picked this place from the Sydney Good Food guide and could only fit in for early dinner at 5. The place is always fully booked. Ange's birthday is on 21st March, but as I can't just fly back to celebrate we make this a pre-30Th birthday celebration. We start with a 'Long White Cloud Cocktail' and go for a delicious 3 course meal with NZ wine. We propose a toast to ourselves and New Zealand :-) Down on the street there's a band playing live music, I particularly remember hearing 'No woman no cry' and 'I shot the sheriff'. Those songs will now always remember me of this lovely dinner at Café Sydney. We have our table till 8 pm and stay till the last minute :-)
By the time we leave sun sets and we head into the city centre to go up the skytower. On our way we pass a 'Cab-e-oke', a karaoke cab complete with flickering disco bal!! And no, we didn't get in :-) It's Saturday night so everyone seems to be going out. Our visit up the Skytower offers nice views of Sydney by night but the reflection on the windows make it impossible to take decent photos. Doesn't matter, we'll just look and remember.
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OPERA HOUSE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, TARONGA ZOO
We didn't go clubbing, but someone else did. As we look out our hotel room the next morning we spot a half naked person sleeping on the couch in one of the flats just opposite the Amora. She didn't even bother to close the curtains, we figure she must have been very drunk, just kicked out her shoes and - some of - her clothes before falling down on the couch.
We are fit as can be for another lovely day in Sydney. Breakfast with the robots and then we head for the Opera House. There's a wonderful blue sunny sky over town and I feel so excited to stand in front of this famous building. The OPera House was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. It's construction started in 1959, but the building only opened in 1973. Another famous architect, Louis Kahn, said: "THe sun did not know how beautiful its light was unil it was reflected off this building." Its indeed quite impressive. Very peculiar shape. Utzon is rumoured to have drawn inspiration from orange segments,palm fronds and Mayan temples...
Next to the Opera House you find one of the entrances to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Gardens were established in 1816 as the colony's veggie patch. The attitude here is very relaxed. Signs say: "Please walk on the grass. We also invite you to smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns." So we gladly explore this green haven of rest, enjoying the views. The Gardens open when the sun comes up and close at sunset. On 31st December you have to be early to get a picnic spot on the lawn and spend the entire day here to finally watch the fireworks over the Harbour. Jogging seems to be the favourite Sunday morning activity. We see women, men, old(er) and young jogging along the paths. Very peculiar is a colony of bats hanging in the trees. You'd think bats look for a dark spot during the day and live at night, but these ones are alive and kicking in the bright sunshine,making noise and flying above the trees.
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At noon we have lunch at Portobello's café just by the OPera House and then we head for the ferries down at Circular Quay to go to Taronga Zoo. The Zoo is huge and ofcourse we have special attention for "Wild Australia" housing the typical animals you expect to see down here, from kangaroos to koalas. I always have a double feeling about visiting a zoo. These animals didn't choose to live here, often a long way from their natural habitat and being observed by visitors. On the other hand, a zoo helps to preserve species and it is quite special to stand so close to lions, gorilla's, giraffe's, elephants, ....Everyone is excited about a new baby elephant just waiting to be born. It is SUnday so it is extremely busy, lots of families and after a couple of hours I'm quite happy to get back on the ferry and enjoy a cruise down the harbour. The giant cruiseship Queen Mary 2 arrived and everyone is eager to have a look. I can't really be bothered. I don't seem to like cruiseships very much...I do like the ferries. They are the best way to travel to one of the many beaches and coves around the wide area of Sydney harbour.
We end our day with dinner at....Argyle's, our fave place :-)
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CHINESE GARDENS, MANLY, BILLY KWONG
Monday, another working week starts for most Sydney siders. Everybody is hasting to work as we walk downtown on our way to the Chinese gardens of friendship. The gardens are built according to the balancing principles of Yin and Yang, and are supposed to be an oasis of tranquillity. To me the look of the high buildings towering over the garden sort of unbalances the whole yin and yang thing, but the garden with its waterfalls, lakes and paths is nevertheless worth a visit. It brings us to another part of town close to Darling Harbour where there's a lot of development going on.
In the afternoon we escae the city and take the ferry to Manly, It's a bumbly old-time ferry, but as good as any more expensive harbour cruise could offer us. We weave through harbour traffic, past ritzy waterside homes and leafy patches of Sydney Harbour National Park. Manly is a laid-back place and attracts lots of day tourists heading to the beach. We first pick out a place for lunch just by the promenade to do some people watching and then go for a walk along the ocean up to Shelly Beach. On our way back to the ferry we buy a bottle of wine because we're meeting up with Ange's friend Nicole - who works and lives in Sydney since a couple of years - to go out for dinner. There's this 'BYO' (Bring Your Own) system where some resto's allow you to bring your own bottle of wine.
Back at the hotel we get changed, and then walk down to the traffic lights where we're supposed to meet Nicole. We find her parked, hop in the car and she takes us to another part of town, Surry Hills, south of the center. This area brims with great places to eat and drink, and it's the home of a mishmash of inner-city groovers and yuppies. Nicoles works as a sales representative for Perrier and she takes us to Billy Kwong, a very popular Chinese resto.http://www.kyliekwong.org/BillyKwongs.aspx It's a tiny place, you almost sit back to back with the people behind you, but there's a pleasant atmosphere about the place. We're lucky to get a table for 3 without reservation. Chef Kylie Kwong no longer personally rules the kitchen, but her novel take on Chinese cuisine using only 100% organic ingredients explains why this hip eating house is always so busy. We order different things so we can try different dishes, eating out of little bowls with chop sticks. We all agree on the chicken dish being the best, heavenly taste! After dinner Nicole takes us 'cruisin'' in her car through the city. She'll soon move into a new flat and she shows us her new neighbourhood. Finally, she takes us to Bondi Beach, only known to me so far from the images on the news at Christmas when you see all these people in the sun wearing Santa hats. It's dark, but we go for a short walk just to get a taste of the atmosphere. Last night in Sydney....My adventure Down Under is coming to an end...
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THE BIG GOODBYE
My flight to London leaves at 6 pm, so that gives us about half day to say goodbye to Sydney and eachother. We head to the Sydney Museum, built on the site of Sydney's first Government House. It's a storytelling museum that uses state-of-the-art installations to explore the city's people, places, cultures and evolution. There's a temporary photo exhibition about life in King's Cross in the wild 7Oies. From hippies to prostitutes to old ladies with a dog, the photos are snapshots of daily life in this rough Sydney neighbourhood. A quote to remember from one of the portraits: "Life is a banquet, but most poor suckers starve to death." From the photo exhibition we move on to the Martin Sharp exhibition. Sharp is a Sydney artist and his works are very dynamic and colourful. Posters, cartoons, major paintings...he does it all.
We spend the last hours in Sydney in the Botanic Garden, talking, reflecting over the past holiday and future plans. It's such a gorgeous day, people are pick nicking on the lawn. We have lunch by the harbour, and again see so many joggers. People just going for a run during lunch break!
And then the inevitable goodbye approaches. I collect my luggage from the hotel and we go the the airport by train where we queue till I'm checked in. I had such a great time and am happy to have met Ange again, it's great to know friendship is stronger than distance. We don't say goodbye but see ya, and as we both go our own way again I do feel quite emotional. I've had such a fabulous time in New Zealand with the group and then hanging out with Ange. I came to the other side of the world expecting to see beautiful scenery, I got the scenery and so much more.

Posted by Petravs 12:33 Comments (0)

Elvis the blind penguin

Elvis is alive. He came back as a penguin, a blind penguin. So he doesn't know he's being observed by all these visitors who come to the Antarctic centre in Christchurch.
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If you have some time to kill in between flights, the Antarctic centre is definitly worth a visit. Christchurch is actually the gateway to the white continent. In the Antarctic centre you can experience an Antarctic storm with temperature dropping to -25 °C, learn lots of things about this special continent and its importance for the rest of the planet, and you can observe the penguins! That's where we get to know Elvis, who is strangely flapping his little wings, and swimming with his little head above the water the whole time. All the penguins in the center are handicapped in some way, so they will all spend the rest of their lives here. But they seem to be alright. In fact, Elvis even has a girlfriend. Though penguins are faithful we also learn there's a 20% divorce rate among the penguins here. Sometimes, after being together for a long time, the penguins change partner. CeCe decided to get a new boyfriend after a relationship of 10 years. Don't underestimate the penguins!
We end our visit with a ride in the Hogglander, the vehicle that's used for transportation on Antarctica. Ange and I end up with a group of seniors who are VERY excited about the trip. They drive us to a rough terrain with lots of bumps, ponds,...The seniors scream their lungs out like they are in some kind of Disney attraction. Again, I'm crying tears of laughter. It's absolutely hilarious.
Then we head back to the airport - at walking distance from the centre - to wait for our flight to Sydney. Leaving NZ ground...it feels strange.

PS Ange, being a real Kiwi, confirms she loves Hokey Pokey ice cream and chocolate fish, so it seems not everything Kevin told us was made up :-)

Posted by Petravs 12:42 Comments (0)

Not sure about your brakes? Park at the bottom.

Ange has another busy interesting day planned ahead. Our first stop in the morning is Olveston, a historic Dunedin home, and actually the place where Ange got married in December 2008. Well she only saw the garden on her wedding day, so it was about time for her to get a guided visit inside the house too. Olveston was built in 1906 for David and Marie THeomin and their children Dorothy and Edward. Dorothy left the house and gardens to the city of Dunedin, and the house looks just as when the Olveston family was still living there. With enormous eye for detail all original furniture, art work, kitchen equipment,...are left in their original state and place, like time stood still. The Olveston family sure knew the good life. Daughter Dorothy was quite an adventurer. Never got married, instead travelled the world and climbed mountains.
Ange and I don't climb a mountain, but we take a drive up to Signal Hill from where we have an amazing view over the city, the hills, the water... Definitly a waw effect. We stand there for a while enjoying the moment, and hearing other people say 'waw' as they make it up the steps and have a first look at the scenery. So this is Ange's hometown. I see her looking out over the hills and wonder what she's thinking, knowing we're leaving NZ tomorrow and she doesn't know when she'll be back again.
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Then it's time to get down to earth again and face 'the world's steepest street'. We have a look and it doesn't take me long to decide I'm NOT going to climb it. It's in fact a very ordinary street with a very ordinary name (Baldwin Street), but indeed a very steep one. I take a picture - as real tourists are expected to - and that's it. My lonely planet guide mentions: "If you're not sure about your brakes, park at the bottom." Yeah right :-) I just missed the annual 'Gutbuster race' with up to 1000 athletes running up to the top of Baldwin St. and back. Even more weirdly, in July each year 10 000 chocolate candies (Jaffas) are rolled down the hill for charity.
Our tour through town continues to Dunedin railway station, an Edwardian building just over a 100 years old. It claims to be NZ's most photographed building, but that might be because it's one of the very few real historical buildings in NZ - and who's counting the number of photos taken anyway? It's not used anymore as an active railway station, only for the tourist train through Taieri gorge.
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We're getting hungry and having lunch by the beach sounds like a good plan. We stop at St Clair beach, and see some surfers trying to hit the waves - without much success, nope they can't impress us :-) At café Swell's we find the perfect spot for lunch, in the sunshine, overlooking the beach. A feeling of melancholy comes over me, thinking I'll leave NZ the next day! It's just so unbelievable how quickly time went by. I don't want to go...
After lunch we head back into the town centre to do some shopping. Ange's mum joins us and we go for a coffee in their fave coffee bar Modaks. A cruiseship let its passengers lose in the city. We see people with coloured stickers on their t-shirt, like in kindergarden! Glad I'm not a cruiseship passenger. Ange is my private guide :-) She did a wonderful job showing me around her hometown, and to thank her and her mum for all the hospitality I invite them out for dinner. We go to Luna's, a new place in town with a view over the hills. Back at the house the only thing that's left to do is pack our bags because we have to get up early the next morning to catch our flight to Christchurch. But I can't leave without trying pavlova, the typical NZ dessert. Ange makes a delicious pavlova, and we all have a piece in front of the telly. Ange's brother Brett and his girlfriend Jenna stop by. I realise that for Ange it's a hard goodbye to her family, her hometown, her country. What an amazing country!

Posted by Petravs 09:55 Comments (0)

Four seasons in one day

I definitly know now what inspired Neil Finn to write "Four Seasons in one day". Weather can change quickly in NZ. Starting the day with sunshine is no guarantee for a whole day of clear open weather.
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But even when the skies turn grey there's something special about it. For our daytrip around the Otago Peninsula the change of sunny into overcast weather increased our changes to see the wildlife. The peninsula was the home for Maori people untill European setllers, mainly Scottish arrived. The Scottish transformed the native bush into farmland. Here and there you still see ruîns of old settler houses.
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Ange and I start our day with a promising blue sky, ready for a whole day full of amazing interesting things, first of all a visit to Larnach Castle (NZ's only castle), built by banker William Larnach in 1871. It's an amazing house, set in a wonderful spot overlooking the peninsula, but its story is rather tragic. A beautiful home for a very unfortunate family. The castle was turning into a ruine when the Barker family bought it in 1967 and restored it. In the castle garden we have a short chat with a Turkish woman - who's also doing the daytrip around the peninsula - and she turns out to be a big fan of Belgium! Most people - if they know Belgium at all - associate my country with chocolate, waffles and beer. Not bad, but it's not exaclty the kind of thing that makes you want to travel to Belgium. THis Turkish lady spent 28 days travelling through Belgium! Even I find that hard to imagine. Drive in any direction for two hours and you're in another country. But yes, this lady spent a whole month travelling through my country and she loved it. She's all lyrical about the cities with their beautiful historical buildings. SHe does have a point, maybe I should become a better ambassador for my own country.
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After the visit to the castle we get into a van for a drive around the peninsula and observe wildlife like black swans, Pukekos, paradise ducks,...and the impressive Albatross. We're priviliged to see a few Albatross chicks and learn that after the chick leaves the nest, the parents take a whole year off travelling to other parts of the world! With a wingspan of 3 metres, these birds can fly at 100 kph and may travel over four million kilometres during a 45 year lifespan. Their eggs are twice the size of an orange, and it takes 79 days to incubate. The chicks leave in September and spend four years at sea actually. Very impressive indeed to see the Albatross in their natural habitat.
From the albatross we move on to penguins, yellow eyed penguins, one of the rarest penguins in the world. We get to observe these animals while walking through an ingenious system of trenches. THe pinguins are set on their privacy, and by moving through trenches visitors get to observe the penguins without disturbing them. We come at a time most of the little penguins already left dry land to go out in the open sea, where they're at high risk to become a shark's next snack or dinner. THat's what happened to penguin Dave, he broke a few ribs and got deep biting wounds, but they were able to rescue him from the shark and perform surgery. And faithful as penguins are to their partner, his wife Gerry is waiting for him to return to the penguin reserve. I try to teach Ange the Dutch word for yellow eyed penguin -geeloogpenguin, might come in handy during a visit to Belgium - but its kinda hard to get it right :-)
By the beach we spot some fur seals, two males are playing (fighting??) and some other seals seem to observe us too.
The day gets even better when we go on board of the Monarch to observe wildlife from the water. The extra jackets are very welcome because the sky really turned grey at this point and the water is kinda restless. We slide up and down our seats, but I'm enjoying myself too much to even feel remotely sea sick. The Monarch takes us all the way back to Dunedin Harbour, and when we get back to Ange's mum's house we warm our feet by the fire.

[b]Four seasons in one day, Crowded House:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0ATdyqZxdw&feature=related

Posted by Petravs 12:39 Comments (0)

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