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New Zealand January 5th - February 5th 2015

January 5th-7th 2015 - Larnaca to Aukland

Lovely weather for our departure from Larnaca! Arrival in NZ and our hosts: Jen and Geoff

We have been back from the UK for six days and we are off again, this time to see our friends Geoff and Jen in New Zealand. Our departure day as can be seen from the above picture is wet and windy. Hopefully we will have better weather in NZ. Our route takes us from Larnaca to Abu Dhabi to Perth to Auckland with Etihad and then the final leg with Air New Zealand. We leave on the 5th and don't arrive in Auckland until the morning of the 7th. There is 11 hours time difference from Cyprus to take into account, a six hour stopover in Perth but still about 20 hours flying time. On arrival we are shattered but all smiles as we see our mates waiting for us.

The Pannell residence, Pukekohe Patio at the back

A 45 minute trip later we are "home". Home is a 'Lifestyle Plot' as they say down under with two houses (one for Geoff and Jen and the other for their daughter Sarah and husband James and the two grandchildren Jessica and Thomas. It also has 15 acres with horses, cows, sheep and goats. It is pretty magical.

Thursday January 8th - Sailing in Aukland Bay

Sailing in Aukland Bay on "Purla" The Skyline

Our first full day here sees us heading to the marina in Auckland to spend a few hours on Geoff's 'toy' boat. A little downsized from Sooty Albatross, more of a dusty seagull. Julie becomes captain for the day (under supervision of course) and out we go into the bay. It's a bit windy but not too bad and Julie gets a new name for herself; 10 knots Smart after managing to get just about the top speed possible out of this little day sailer.

Friday January 9th - Visit to Hanua Falls 

Hanua Falls Us in the picture

Next day we are seeing the countryside and head for Hanua Falls. Even though we were framed we got away without being arrested.

Saturday January 10th - Black Sand Beach

White-fronted Terns Pukeko (Purple Swamphen)

A nice easy walk along the black beach on the following day. Volcanic sand left over from when New Zealands mountains were 'alive'.

Sunday January 11th - Wrights Water Garden

The beautiful gardens Geoff in the Stocks

Another day out this time to a Water Garden. Very peaceful to be able to walk around in what is an almost tropical setting. Geoff of course finds himself in trouble with the law (Jen) and finishes up in the stocks. Such a shame we didn't have any rotten tomatoes with us!

January 12th - 18th - The 'Bach' at Matarangi

The back view of the 'Bach'... ...with Jen

The following few days we spend at the Bach (beach house). Actually the name is a left over from bachelor accommodation for workers but now everyone calls their beach houses "the bach". Matarangi is up on the Coromandel Peninsula and on a north facing beach. Remember we are 'upside down' so north facing is good.

Monday 12th

View on the drive to the Coromandel Matarangi Beach

Our drive to the Bach shows us beautiful country side ever changing as we move along.

Tuesday 13th

Two protected birds: New Zealand Dotterel and New Zealand Oystercatcher

Long walks along the beach and round a point which goes around the golf course and we come across the New Zealand Dotterel and two different types of Oystercatcher. In reality we have seen Black Oystercatchers before but not in the numbers here. There are hundreds of them.

Wednesday 14th

The dock at Port Charles The intrepid hikers

A drive further north up to Port Charles this day. Again, amazing countryside to be seen.

Thursday 15th

Matarangi Beach on a breezy day Variable Oystercatcher and chick

More beach walks and a really nice spot of mother and chick. Parents are usually very protective of the chicks and you don't normally see them. Guess who was in seventh heaven?

Friday 16th

View on the walk down to the cove Cathedral Cove

Friday sees us heading to Cathedral Cove. The photo doesn't really do it justice as part of the beauty is the walk from the car park to the Cove. Of course the last bit of the walk was 148 steps down to the beach. Easy, but then you have the knowledge that the only way back is to go back UP 148 steps. Worth it though.

Saturday 17th

Song Thrush in the garden

New Zealand Kingfisher

Lots of smiles on Julies face from the bird life around the place.

Sunday 18th

Return to Pukekohe.

January 19th - 28th - Trip to the South Island

Monday 19th - Pukekohe to Wellington by train

The engine and... viewing carriage

Tongariro volcano from the train

Beautiful scenery on the way

The Raurimu Spiral - incredible design... ...with tight curves

We have trusted our South Island trip to Pukekohe Travel to organise. Have to say they did a stunning job and we would recommend them to anyone. We start out with a 10 hour train journey through the heart of the North Island. We see so many changes from grassland plains to volcanoes and amazing scenery. We traverse the Raurimu Spiral on the train where you just seem to be coming back on yourself all the time but it is a method of gaining height in a short horizontal plane. By the time we arrive in Wellington we are all glad to be off what is in reality a fairly slow moving train. A short walk to the hotel and we are set for the night. Apart from a trip to the waterfront that is for what turned out to be a very fine dinner.

Tuesday 20th - Wellington

Enjoying the sun The Rose Garden and cafe in the Wellington Botanical Gardens
Pretty in Pink Just pretty
Beautiful roses in the Rose Garden And Orchids too!

Our only full day here and we head up the Funicular Railway to the Botanical Gardens overlooking the city and the bay that Wellington sits on. Again, well worth a visit.

Wednesday 21st - Ferry to Picton, drive to Kaikoura

Jen on the ferry The beautiful channel

Today we head for the South Island. A two and a half hour ferry trip gets us into Picton. That's the short version. The reality was that to get to Picton you have to go through a small channel through the various small islands with stunning scenery. It was maybe a little windy as can be seen from the "untouched" photo of an unsuspecting Jen. We love the photo but for some reason Jen isn't too fond of it. Can't think why! We pick up our hire car in Picton and head off down to Kaikoura on the east coast. It proves to be our best drive yet. We find our motel (with spa baths included), sort ourselves out and head into town for a walk round and dinner.

Thursday 22nd - Christchurch, Lake Tekapo

Lots of seals on the way Christchurch Cathedral (what's left of it)
The house at Lake Tekapo The view from the house

On leaving Kaikoura we head to Christchurch where we had planned to spend the night and maybe have dinner with a friend of Geoff and Jen. Having walked round the desolation of Christchurch which is still struggling after a major earthquake 4 years ago, we have a beer and decide not to stay. We head on to our next destination, Lake Tekapo which is on the way to Mount Cook (NZs highest point). We have no accommodation booked and are a little surprised to find the motel we go to is full. However the friendliness of the Kiwis is demonstrated when the owner phones a friend and we find ourselves renting a three bedroom house for the same price as two motel rooms. We walk into town for dinner and thoroughly enjoy steak at the Stone-grill restaurant even though we have to cook our own!

Friday 23rd - Mount Cook, Oamaru

Jen and Geoff with Mount Cook in the background Mount Cook through the window

Towards Mount Cook Shags on the Pier at Oamaru

Today we are heading to Oamaru to try and see the penguins. Our route though takes us via Mount Cook (or as close as we can get to it). We are not allowed to take the hire car on the unpaved road but manage to get as far as the visitor centre. The scenery continues to amaze and we have just about run out of superlatives to describe everything we see. At Oamaru we find a nice new bed and breakfast owned by a South African lady. We find out that the first of the penguins are due to come ashore at 7.00pm (ish) and these are the Yellow Eyed penguins. Nobody is allowed on the beach in the evening so we are at the viewpoints above the beach and surely enough on the dot of 7.00pm the first, and only, penguin comes ashore, spotted first be Geoff. This particular breed is the rarest penguin in the world so we are very lucky even to see one. After this we head to "The Brewery" for a little refreshment of the amber liquid kind before heading to the viewing point to see the Blue Penguins which very conveniently come ashore a couple of hours later than the Yellow Eyed.

Yellow-eyed Penguin... ...up the beach

Oamaru Little Blue Penguin Colony Two Little Blue Penguins

We are in the VIP viewing area where the penguins are only about 10 feet away. There are about two hundred of them come ashore here but unfortunately photography is not allowed. So the only photograph Julie could get was as we were leaving and there were just a few penguins away from the main colony. One surreptitious shot later, a telling off from some lady and above is the only shot we could get of what is the smallest penguin in the world. Not too bad a day really - the rarest and the smallest penguins.

Saturday 24th - Te Anau

Iconic Black Swan Glacier near Te Anau

Our next destination is going to be Milford Sound. Accommodation is very difficult there so we decide to stay at the small town of Te Anau which is about 100Km away from Milford Sound. Again we have managed to rent a house, this time a four bedroom for about the same cost as two motel rooms. It's again a beautiful spot right on the lake with a nice small town with good restaurants. Italian the first night and American the second. We also take the opportunity to book our boat trip on Milford Sound.

Sunday 25th - Milford Sound

Our first views of the Sound The Milford Mariner
The Four Musketeers Milford Sound in all its glory
In the waterfall The Mollymawk (small Albatross)
Seal Rock Dolphins fishing close to shore

What a fantastic trip. Very windy on the way out but as soon as we were through the narrowest part of the Sound all calmed down. Right out into the Tasman Sea was a bonus as Julie managed a picture, somewhat distant, of the Mollymawk. On the way back the captain promised a shower under the waterfall. Yes Ron got wet taking the above photograph. No it wasn't his only shower of the trip!

Monday 26th - Queenstown

View of Lake Wakatipu from our hotel room at Queenstown

And finally Queenstown. Called the adventure capital of the world you can do Jet Boating, hang-gliding, bungy jumping, skiing (in season) etc etc.  In the evening we dined at 'The Flame' which had been recommended by the South African lady at Oamaru. Had what was possibly the best steak we had eaten anywhere in the world.

Tuesday 27th - Queenstown

Ron and Jen on the Shotover Jet close to the rocky cliffs!!

A few days before our visit we were reading reports of an accident with one of the Shotover boats. Not put off the intrepid Jen and Ron defiantly took the trip while the hung-over woozies Geoff and Julie chickened out. The ride of a lifetime!!!

Lunch in Arrowtown Sunset at Queenstown

We continued on to Arrowtown, an old gold mining area. Very interesting and very reminiscent of small gold towns in the USA. That evening we 'dined' on burgers. No ordinary burgers though. These were "Fergburgers". Fergburgers is a small local establishment that has made a name for itself. The queue is virtually round the block but after 30 minutes we managed to place our orders. Ten minutes later we are eating the best burgers anywhere. And that includes anywhere in the USA as well. Not bad - best steaks and best burgers all in one small town!

Wednesday 28th - Fly back to Aukland

Thursday January 29th  

Julie and Geoff at Manukau Lighthouse View from the lighthouse

A little half day trip out to the west coast just south of Auckland.

January 30th - February 4th - Bach Matarangi

Friday 30th

Return to Matarangi and of course, walk on the beach, drinks at the fire station and dinner at the Golf Club.

Saturday 31st

Walking on the beach.

Sunday 1st February

Ron, Geoff and Jen on New Chum Beach Waxeye
Black Swans in the estuary A pair of Variable Oystercatchers

Walking on the beach, New Chum this time.

Monday 2nd

The Sleeping Giant (Mountain)  Pied Shags

Walking on the beach.

Tuesday 3rd - Quiet day with a walk along the beach and up Bluff Road. Julie and Jen walked down to the next beach and found a few chicks with their parents. The Oystercatcher chick had grown a lot since we saw it on the 15th Jan (see previous photo).

Variable Oystercatcher chick Great Black-backed Gull chick

What makes you think we liked walking on the beach! While we are there the summer school holidays have finished and everyone has gone home - except us. Almost every day we have about two miles of beach to ourselves. It is glorious.

Wednesday 4th - back to Pukekohe

Thursday February 5th

Today we fly home. Auckland to Melbourne to Abu Dhabi to Larnaca. We have managed an upgrade to Business Class for the 14 hour flight from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi so manage to get some sleep in a degree of comfort. Also the use of the Business lounges during stopovers makes life a little easier.

And so ends our month in New Zealand. You may have picked up that we enjoyed it. Good friends, good food, good drinks and good countryside made this trip memorable in the extreme. It may be a little while but as the big man said: We'll be back.



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