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NZ: A Series of Bitter Disappointments -- a Songdoc Trip Report

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Oct 27th, 2014, 10:25 PM
  #21
 
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You might enjoy the Edwin Fox museum right there in Picton - down by the wharf. And the Waikawa Marae, just down the road from your motel (towards town).
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Oct 27th, 2014, 10:32 PM
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You might also consider Queen Charlotte Drive over to Havelock - not the best views in the rain, but at least you'll stay dry.
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Oct 27th, 2014, 11:28 PM
  #23
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Thanks for the suggestions. We did the Queen Charlotte Drive on the way in. That was some seriously windy road! There were some beautiful views, but the pix didn't capture it because it was mostly gray and cloudy.
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Oct 28th, 2014, 02:56 AM
  #24
 
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I just checked, Songdoc, and the Alpine Glacier motel in FJ was where we stayed too. We had a room at the back with a little patio where a Tui came to visit every day. He was so lovely I could have sat there and watched him for hours - in fact i did just that on day after the glacier walk. just sitting, reading and listening to him sing was bliss.

Nice place.
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Oct 29th, 2014, 09:12 PM
  #25
 
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The air museum at Omaka in Blenheim has been substantially financed by Peter Jackson, and a lot of the planes in the collection are owned by him personally. A lot of the sets have been created by his studio and Weta Workshops. I am sure you will love it Songdoc.
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Oct 30th, 2014, 10:59 PM
  #26
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It took about two hours to drive to Hokitika. The drive was pleasant—but not “wow.” We stayed two nights at 252 Beachside Motel; $145/nt NZD. It was perfectly fine—a basic, clean motel room w/kitchenette, as all the accommodations were. Once again, we encountered a very friendly, helpful desk clerk.

We wandered across the street to an exceptionally stark beach strewn with enormous amounts of driftwood. Apparently, that’s what Hokitika is most known for. There were some marvelous driftwood sculptures erected on the beach and on a few lawns. We were about a 10 – 15 minute walk to “town”—which was a couple of blocks of shops and restaurants housed in somewhat interesting old buildings.

It was cold and cloudy, but being the brave and hearty souls that we are, we took a 15-minute walk to windy, cold Sunset Point. We watched several people fishing for whitebait—which is served EVERYWHERE and touted as being “a taste of heaven.” I’m not a fish eater (other than shellfish) and when I learned that whitebait fritters consist of whole little fishies (heads, tails, and everything in between) I didn’t even want to see one, let alone taste it. The clouds obscured the sunset and it was too cold to stay more than a few minutes.

The next day I splurged and bought a heavy scarf for a dollar at a charity shop. That helped with the next night's foray to Sunset Point -- when I got some very nice photos of distant snow-capped mountains that glowed as the sun went down.

After dark, we walked less than two blocks from the motel to the "glow worm dell." They looked like hundreds of shining stars set amongst the trees and the dell. There was no admission fee--and it felt special seeing them in a "natural" setting--as opposed to paying to see them in a cave.

The following day we wandered through town to the museum, which is in a wonderful old building that was initially funded as a library by Andrew Carnegie. We enjoyed the displays that gave a glimpse into Hokitika’s gold rush days. Overall, I’d say that Hokitika was more of a stopping point to break up the long drive up the west coast—than being a destination.

We were expecting amazing coastal views, but were disappointed. It was “okay”—but nothing special. With the winding roads and frequently changing speed limits I found I was a little tense driving, and I was getting really tired of it—but at least we were having sunshine—which had been a rare commodity up until now. Then we approached Punakaiki …

Punakaiki needs a good publicist. It’s INCREDIBLE. In it’s own way it’s every bit as spectacular as the best parts of Australia’s Great Ocean Road. We figured we’d spend five minutes at the Pancake Rocks, take a few photos and leave. But as we walked the walkway every turn revealed new gasps. When we tore ourselves away from photographing the blowholes and rock formations we had a nice lunch at the little café next to the visitor center then continued on to walk the trail to Turner’s Beach. Again, WOW! Just gorgeous—and the blue sunny skies certainly helped.

FYI, we timed our arrival to coincide with high tide, and that was a good move. The blowholes elicited gasps and “OH MY GOD”s from the crowds. Now, I finally understood why people drive the West Coast!!! The scenery continued to impress for about an hour as we continued toward our next stop—Westport.

Just before reaching Westport we took the turnoff for Cape Foulwind, figuring that we should see it while the weather cooperated, because we seemed to be alternating days of sun, clouds, and rain. Cape Foulwind (I love that name!) and nearby Tauranga Bay were pretty, and we enjoyed them—but they didn’t have the dramatic beauty we had seen earlier in and around Punakaiki.

We took the walkway to the fur seal viewing area. But alas, adding to the list of bitter disappointments, we didn’t see any seals. On the way back, we asked some other walkers if they had seen any seals. They responded that there at least 7 or 8—but that you had to look closely, as they blended into the rocks unless they moved. We went back to the viewing area (which now had quite other people there) and sure enough—there were the seals!!! It was really fun to watch and photograph them—including a couple of adorable babies.

We hadn’t realized that this was Labour Day weekend (Oct. 25 – 27). The only lodging available was the Westport Motel ($110/nt NZD). It was decidedly a step down from the other places we’d stayed, but it was clean and fine for our purposes.

Westport seems to be a dying town. There were dilapidated buildings and an overall sense of this being a place whose heyday was long gone. There were a couple of interesting deco buildings, but I didn't see a reason to visit Westport other than to spend the night and break up the driving.

The towns on the West Coast seemed as if they’d been frozen in time—probably in the 1950s. There was a charm to that—but not enough to make me want to do more than drive through en route to somewhere else.

It was a long, tedious drive to Nelson where I’d be teaching a master class. Our motel was DeLorenzo’s, and it was big step up from all the other places we’d stayed. I’d flown into Nelson before, but had driven from the airport directly to Abel Tasman—which we LOVE. So we’d never really seen Nelson before. We really liked it; it had lots of galleries, cafes, and shops for browsing, and some interesting deco architecture.

We wandered to Queen’s Gardens, which was lovely. I’d forgotten to mention that the spring flowers everywhere were beautiful—especially in Queenstown. The rhododendrons were immense compared to anything I’ve seen in the U.S., and I loved the unusual plants and flowers. We went into the cathedral and were the only ones there, so we were surprised to hear beautiful organ music being played live. I walked the labyrinth, and then it was time to go to work. But first, delicious Turkish kebabs!

I don’t think of Nelson as a “destination,” but we really enjoyed our time there. Now ... we had four days until we needed to be in Wellington to work. We decided on Picton, partly thanks to Melnq8’s recommendation. The long drive from Nelson through Buller Gorge was disappointing because once again, it was cloudy and/or raining. GRRRRR … I could tell that there would have been some stunning views. We had a very brief clear period and walked to the area around “New Zealand’s Longest Swinging Bridge.” Very pretty!

We took the Queen Charlotte Drive into Picton. As I’d been warned, it was seriously windy. Again, I would have loved to see it with blue skies, but at least it wasn’t raining. We finally arrived at the Bay Vista Motel in Waikawa Bay—five minutes from Picton. A huge “thank you” to Melnq8 for that recommendation. The setting was just what the doctor ordered—on a beautiful beach with a black swan, herons, ducks, black oyster catchers, and sea gulls. I could have happily sat on that patio—or looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows at that view—all day.

We enjoyed a short walk beachcombing the Waikawa Bay beaches. There were beautiful sea urchin shells strewn along the sand, and lots of jellyfish that we could see from the wharfs. The host at the motel suggested we drive about ten minutes to Karaka Point—the site of a Maori settlement. The views of the sounds were exceptional—but once again, my photos suffered from the dull, cloudy skies.

Unfortunately, we only had one sunny day. But that day was as good as it gets. We started with a walk on the Snout Track and views that were just incredible. Then boarded the Beachcomber Cruise “Magic Mail Run” ($95 NZD pp) at 1:30PM. We pulled into lots of little bays and coves to deliver mail and supplies to the hearty residents who live so isolated from the rest of civilization. The crew would chat with the residents, and their dogs and cats would come out to meet the boat and get a treat. It was so sweet—and the views were fantastic. We saw quite a few seals and seabirds. But the best was yet to come …

We steered into Ship Cove—where Captain Cook docked five times. I can see why. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We had fifteen minutes on shore to explore the monument to Capt. Cook—and the informational display. The color of the water ranged from emerald green to turquoise, and seemed impossibly intense. Ship Cove was my fantasy of the ultimate South Seas paradise. I would have loved to spend more time there.

We returned to Picton at 5:15PM and enjoyed a lovely traditional roast dinner at The Barn ($36 NZD). The restaurant played old time country music (1950s – 60s) and it was easy to feel as if we’d stepped back in time.

I would have loved a few more days in Picton—to swim with dolphins, and to drive to Blenheim and see the aviation museum that gets such rave reviews. (Thanks for that suggestion, Nelsonian.) I have a feeling I’ll be back.

Picton had never been on my radar, but IMO, it’s one of the most stunning areas in New Zealand. The Marlborough sounds are incredibly beautiful—and the scenery is so different from anywhere else I’ve ever been. For me, this is a “must-see.”

We arrived at the ferry terminal about an hour early, and used that time to check out the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum. We didn’t have time to see the movie, so the ticket seller was nice enough to offer us half price admission. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering the old ship and getting a glimpse of what it must have been like to take a long journey by sea 250 years ago. It was an interesting juxtaposition to then get on the Interisland Ferry and sail to Wellington in total comfort, with a cinema, cafes, and internet on board!

more after Wellington ...
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Oct 30th, 2014, 11:12 PM
  #27
 
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Songdoc I love whitebait, but it is so expensive if you don't catch it yourself. The whitebait season only lasts for about three months, and I was determined I was going to have some this year even if I had to buy it. It cost $ 33.00 for about 300gms, so $ 110 per kg. We got about 10 patties each which was enough for a meal for DH and I. That will be the one and only time for this season unless someone gives me some!!!
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Oct 31st, 2014, 11:18 AM
  #28
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Nelsonian--
You can have all of mine!!!
It must be a kiwi thing ...
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Oct 31st, 2014, 02:55 PM
  #29
 
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It must be a kiwi thing ...>>

hate to tell you nelsonian, but they are pretty cheap in the UK, especially if you are prepared to cook them yourself. in a restaurant, you can get them for about £6 for a starter -size portion.
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Oct 31st, 2014, 03:03 PM
  #30
 
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Cover your eyes, Songdoc
.....
Nelsonian, another whitebait fan here, but I prefer them loose rather than in cakes / fritters.
...,,

Ok Songdoc, you can come back now

I'm really enjoying your travels & have added quite a few places to my NZ file. Thanks to all the great tips, I'll probably have to rent a couple of batches & stay for 3 months !
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Oct 31st, 2014, 03:24 PM
  #31
 
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So glad you enjoyed Picton Songdoc! And the Snout Track! And Ship Cove!

I feel the same way about Westport...I think of it as rough and tumble country town worth a stop for petrol and groceries.

Ditto on the whitebait, no thanks.
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Oct 31st, 2014, 03:44 PM
  #32
 
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Not the same thing Ann. They are a lot smaller in NZ only about 5mm long, nothing like the UK type. I don't think I could eat the ones in the UK!!!.

http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/11112/whitebait
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Nov 1st, 2014, 02:45 AM
  #33
 
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I hadn't realised that yours are freshwater fish, whereas ours are young herring so saltwater fish, but we still eat them whole. Have you ever eaten whitebait in the UK? don't knock it til you try it!

I wish that we'd had the chance to try yours.
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Nov 1st, 2014, 10:48 AM
  #34
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While we're on the topic of food ... (but deftly changing the topic from squiggly, yucky little fish!) ...

The ethnic food choices in Wellington are amazing. There was a Friday night market just off Cuba Street that was mostly stalls featuring foods that were soooo tempting I wished I could have eaten dinner ten times.

Last night we had Malaysian food at the Satay Palace (a little hole in the wall at 165 Cuba Street). My taste buds were exploding. We have nothing like that in Nashville--and I'm loving it.
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Nov 1st, 2014, 01:43 PM
  #35
 
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Hi, Songdoc,

Hope Cape Foulwind did not live up to its name while you were there! I've been a few times, and in certain winds you can certainly smell it (thanks to the seals) before you see it. Last time we were there I had the same problem - where are the seals? - but then saw one move and realised there were many, many beautiful seals and their pups.

The museum in Hokitika is quite fantastic. We spent quite some time there on our last visit, and were very impressed.

Sadly, every time we have gone to Westport we have noticed its further decline. We use Westport as our base to travel further up the coast or inland, if we are not going to or from Marlborough. While there we usually visit one of the cemeteries where we have family buried, to tidy up the grave. I suspect if this was not the case, we would not return.

And whitebait - ahh, I can taste it in my mind, if such a thing is possible!, but I don't buy it as my DH is not fussed about whitebait. I can remember, as a child many years ago in Christchurch, there was a one-armed fish-monger who used to drive around the streets and sell fresh fish from his van. My mum would buy whitebait but had to take the eyes out because she felt it was not right for the whitebait to see what was going to happen to them!!

I can see that DH and I are going to have to visit Picton again, and spend more time there. We usually spend a couple of days there on our way to or from Wellington.

So enjoying reading about our country, and places that I love to visit, through someone else's eyes.
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Nov 2nd, 2014, 02:55 PM
  #36
 
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Bookmarking. Loved OZ so much, now thinking of NZ. Is there a better re: drier, time of year to visit?
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Nov 2nd, 2014, 09:19 PM
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mcheryl, February is the best month to visit in my opinion. Nice settled weather normally, school has gone back, so not as busy.
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Nov 4th, 2014, 11:16 AM
  #38
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I'm packing up to bid farewell to windy Wellington (which certainly lived up to its moniker) to work, work, work in Auckland.

I really like Wellington--with the funky vibe and great ethnic restaurants on Cuba Street, the sculptures along the waterfront, the marvelous suspended orb, (you'll see it in my photos), and the old buildings set within a vibrant, modern city. The highlight for me was something I'm guessing few people see--the peace flame in the Botanic Gardens.

The flame was taken from the fires of Hiroshima, and has been kept burning in remembrance of the devastation--and as a reminder to seek peaceful solutions. It's within a small pagoda that stands in front of a waterfall. I found it very powerful.

The Botanic Gardens were beautiful -- as were the views from the top. Unfortunately, we seemed to be a week too early for the roses--and a week too late for the tulips--but it was still beautiful! We took the cable car back down.

We walked to the City Gallery to see an avante garde modern art, 5-screen video installation that has been touring the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I found the 30-minute piece to be intriguing, and visually and aurally fascinating. DH thought it was bullshit! I guess he's just not cultured ;-).

Then we strolled past the Beehive/Parliament buildings and visited Old St. Paul's -- one of the world's oldest wooden gothic churches. It was "nice" -- but after recent visits to Florence and Paris, it takes a lot to blow me away in the church department.

It seemed every meal was a highlight. The chicken "burger" at Abrakebabra (on Manners St.) was nothing short of amazing. It was a massive amount of roasted chicken (not ground like a burger) with an entire salad, served on a freshly baked Turkish roll that was about as good as it gets. This place is head and shoulders over the other kebab places that are "good" by any other city's standards.

The hotel desk clerk recommended Satay Kingdom--her favorite Malaysian hole in the wall in an alley off Cuba Street. Again -- WOW (and cheap)!

But undoubtedly, the highlight of our Wellington visit (and definitely NOT a bitter disappointment) was a delightful visit with dottyp! It was so nice to have a lovely chat over delicious coffees at French Can Can -- and put a face to the name.

Now ... time for the next city!
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Nov 4th, 2014, 12:03 PM
  #39
 
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Hi, Songdoc,

Glad you made it to the Art Gallery, even though you both had such opposite reactions!, and to Old St Paul's. I can understand your reaction to St Paul's after visiting the Notre Dame and York Minster last year. I have a confession - I've not seen the peace flame, but I have only lived in Wellington 46 years!! It is on the list of "places we must go to before we leave Wellington".

And it was a great pleasure to be able to spend some time chatting with you both, and looking at your wonderful photos.

Have fun in Auckland.
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Nov 4th, 2014, 12:08 PM
  #40
 
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Meant to add - French Can Can is a great little café. I must take my DH there as well as some of my friends. And we must try the burger place, Abrakebabra and Satay Kingdom.
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