Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NEW ZEALAND NOTES - CHRISTCHURCH

After breakfast, we started on our drive from Queenstown to Christchurch - 
the sun was streaming through the bare trees.

We were promised lots and lots of scenic photo-stops on the way. 
                     
We kept staring out of our windows capturing some scenes on our camera and framing the rest in our mind's eye.

We made a halt at Jones's Fruit Stall ..... 
with a captivating array of exotic fruits as well as vegetables grown in New Zealand. We couldn't resist the temptation of buying the 'oh-so-fresh' fruits to take back to India.

As we came out of the shop we didn't fail to notice dry bare trees in the orchard - we were told that those were cherry trees - the season was just over! 


As we continued our drive we realized that such pristine natural beauty soothing to all our senses is rare to find. 
                    
Naturally we made stops on the way to loiter around - one was near Lake Ruataniwha .....

and at times stomping on the snow and crusts of ice. In fact one of the enthusiastic guys in our group ran towards the snowy mountain seeing trekkers there - just like a school kid - despite the repeated shouts from his wife and the rest of the group to come back. It was after a good ten minutes on the snow that he chose to return. His shoes and socks were soaking wet and his hands, face and ears were freezing. But he had his share of fun!

For lunch we stopped at Mackenzie Country Inn - in the midst of a sprawling countryside - a very different kind of place. We took a stroll around the place which had a nice garden and picturesque views. 

We had been intimated by our tour manager that we were being served sambar and rice too along with their usual Continental fare but we ought not to expect authentic Indian taste. I was keeping my fingers crossed. Anyway there was no chance that we'd go hungry - at least there would be bread, butter, cheese.

We started with creamy corn soup which was really tasty. With renewed hopes I went to the table to serve myself. There was rice, there was sambar and there were French fries! What more could I ask for? 


These dishes as well as aloo matar tasted good too. And there was pasta and yogurt also, not to forget bread and butter! For dessert we relished fruits with ice cream.
After lunch we relaxed for a bit in the lounge which had a rustic  old world charm.
We continued our scenic drive and reached Lake Pukaki to savor more splendid scenes which mesmerized us. Lake Pukaki is the largest of three roughly parallel alpine lakes running north-south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin on New Zealand's South Island. The others are Lakes Tekapo and Ohau. The glacial feed to the lakes gives them a distinctive blue color, created by glacial flour, the extremely finely ground rock particles from the glaciers. We saw two of those three lakes.

This magnificent landscape was the setting of  'The Lord of the Rings' and the Hobbit trilogies for the irresistible charm of the wild expanse with white mountain peaks embellished by the shimmering turquoise blue Lake Pukaki. 

We had another halt after another hour this time at Lake Tekapo. It is the second-largest lake. Once again a glistening turquoise blue lake, a range of soft white mountains and azure sky  and brown mud - it was actually just two or three colors splashed on to an amazing canvas. Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing.

We walked to the quaint little church on the shores of Lake Tekapo - the Church of the Good Shepherd built in 1935 to satisfy their spiritual needs and commemorate their ancestors who braved the rigors of this harsh alpine environment. The highlights of the church are its sheer simplicity and the all-natural stones. One of the most photographed places in New Zealand, it features an altar window that frames stunning views of the lake and mountains.

There is also a statue of the Collie sheep dog dedicated for its services without which grazing would have been impossible in this alpine terrain.

We continued our drive to Christchurch still craving for more of its saccharine sweet scenic attractions and reached there before 7 pm.  .

After dinner at 'Little India' ...
we checked in at 'Breakfree on Cashel' - we wouldn't get more than four hours sleep as we had to leave for Christchurch airport before 3 am. 

We sailed through the formalities smoothly and our flight took off after 6 am. After a three hour flight, we reached Sydney. As it was raining heavily, our flight to Singapore got delayed by an hour. But as we had a three hour stopover in Singapore, we had no issues. From there we boarded the flight to Mumbai and landed there on time around midnight.

As we settled down to the sultriness, heat and dust of Mumbai, we couldn't help mentally going back to the cool, rather cold, pristine locales of New Zealand. Wow - that was one unforgettable experience! The haunting memories linger on ....!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

NEW ZEALAND NOTES - QUEENSTOWN

Our flight from Auckland was to land at Queenstown airport around 1.30 pm. We had been informed to be vigilant to get the first mind-blowing glimpse of the place. So we were ready armed with our cameras to shoot the exotic scenes as our plane prepared to land. 


And we were richly rewarded for our efforts - serene, soft-snow-covered mountains beckoned us to the picturesque place. In a moment we were convinced about the much-touted natural beauty of New Zealand. We were eagerly looking forward to four more days of bliss in the lap of nature.


The airport welcomed us with posters of fun-filled winter activities.


We drove down for lunch first. The scenes in the short drive bowled us over totally. 


After lunch at Bombay Palace, we drove to Wanaka to enjoy Puzzling World - a unique experience. (Please click on 'Wanaka' above for the exclusive post on that experience.)

After a fabulous evening there, we returned to Queenstown and had dinner at The Spice Room.

Next we checked into our rooms at the quiet Copthorne Resort.

Next morning there was no wake-up call as the morning was free for us to explore the quaint town and enjoy shopping at our leisure. 


But both of us as usual explored the surrounding areas before going for breakfast. It was such a picturesque place, with a lake glistening in the rays of the rising sun, even as the white snow-capped mountains in the background glittered like silver. We couldn't get enough of the beauty of the place. But we had to get back to our hotel as it was really cold and also time for breakfast. 

We walked to the nearby market place at 9.30 am and loitered around the little shops hunting for souvenirs. 

My younger son, a crazy Martin Crowe fan had asked for New Zealand cricket jacket / shirt. When I inquired at the sports shops, they said they didn't have them. In fact I was surprised to find they had nothing connected with cricket in the shops; they too were surprised at themselves when I pointed the fact to them. They had moved on to rugby and rugby souvenirs were aplenty.

There was a curio shop which had captivating collections from all over the world. I was particularly impressed at the Indian pieces available there!

Some of us ladies had been been looking for New Zealand jade. We admired the vast variety in the size and shapes of jade varieties. I managed to find jade pendants and studs within my budget and it made my day. Another interesting item there was the comparatively cheaper Paula stone curios and jewelry. Many bought soft toy Kiwi bird and Merino sheep to give company to their counterparts from Australia - Kangaroo and Koala bear. Some got leather jackets / sweaters for good deals. The men folk laid their hands on wine bottles to take back home. Cheese was going to be the last item to be bought just before flying out of New Zealand.

Our hotel was in the market area and all of us assembled at Tandoori Palace and ....
had a hearty lunch.


We then undertook another fun-filled Queenstown Activity! 


The Skyline Queenstown Gondola ride - the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere unfolding stunning views of the city!


The Gondola carried us 450 metres above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to the top of Bob's Peak. The view from there was simply divine! We could also spot some para gliders.
Shaped like a lightning bolt, Lake Wakatipu is the third largest lake in New Zealand. The lake, 48 miles long and up to 3 miles wide, and covering an area of 113 sq. miles, occupies a single, glacier-carved trench and is bordered on all sides by tall mountains. Settlements around the lake shore include Queenstown and the neighboring villages. Because of its unusual shape, Lake Wakatipu has a 'tide' which causes the water to rise and fall about 10 centimeters every 25 minutes or so. Maori legend links this phenomenon to the heartbeat of a huge monster named Matau, who is said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake.


It was interesting to see that Coach Captain Nigel had put up the day's agenda on a small board near the steering wheel. 
He was a jolly good fellow and kept us entertained. 

The drive to Arrowtown itself was scenic - vast green grasslands, huge cylindrical packages of grass wrapped in polythene and stored for the winter, snow-capped mountains .....

Historic Arrowtown, a New Zealand jewel - where history meets nature - is charming and quirky – a delightful gold rush village nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the sparkling Arrow River. 


We walked around the quaint place - it seemed to be a museum village! It has an interesting history too. Before Europeans settlers came to New Zealand, Maoris made seasonal trips to hunt native birds, and find the prized pounamu (greenstone). Then came William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann, the first Europeans to establish farms in the area. Suddenly, there was dramatic change. Jack Tewa, a Maori shearer for Rees, found gold around May 1861, followed in 1862 by either William (Bill) Fox or perhaps the team of Thomas Low and John MacGregor. But the forceful Fox took credit for the discovery and the ragged new “town” was first called Fox’s. Fifteen hundred miners were camped noisily beside the Arrow River by the end of 1862. 340 kgs of yellow gold were lugged out by the first gold escort in January 1863. 

As much of the easy gold in Otago had gone, the Otago Provincial Government, to re-stimulate a flagging economy, invited Chinese miners to come and work. The small Chinese village they created in Arrowtown stayed settled until 1928, and its remains are part of the country's history. As a more permanent town emerged, the avenues of trees were planted in 1867, making Arrowtown look more like the European towns the settlers missed.

Next we drove to Kawarau river to view Bungee Jumping. First a young man thrilled us with his feat and landed in the cold river and then climbed on to the boat. 


Next it was a young lady who did bungee jumping and 
chose to land in the boat. Then it was time to return to Queenstown. On reaching our hotel we bid goodbye to our amiable Coach Captain Nigel. 



We still had the energy to take a stroll around the Gardens which were specially lit as part of a festival. Then we had dinner again at The Spice Room - once again we were treated to yummy 'chocolate poli' for dessert.

Next day after breakfast at 7, we started on our long drive to Christchurch with stops in between at scenic spots all along the route.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

NEW ZEALAND NOTES - ROTORUA AND AUCKLAND

We were leaving Sydney, Australia for Auckland, New Zealand for the second half of our tour. We had reached the airport at 7.30 am, three hours before our flight. It was a grey, rainy day. Weren't we glad the previous day packed with memorable activities had been bright and sunny! At the airport we completed the formalities of Immigration and Security Check and were comfortably seated in our flight.
As our flight took off from Sydney at 10.30 am, we bid a nostalgic goodbye to Australia for providing us with an exotic and memorable week. We landed in Auckland after a 3 hour flight at 3.30 pm - you see New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia and six hours ahead of India.

Auckland airport wasn't exactly buzzing or busy. Customs n' Immigration was quick and cool. No sniffer dogs as in Brisbane!

Our 3 1/2 hour drive to Rotorua began at 4.30 pm. We got a taste of New Zealand's famed natural beauty - simple, sweet, serene and soothing scenes of the countryside - green and blue for the most part. There was no snow in and around but it was cold. After a little while, we had a halt at Family Mart and our tour manager came back with snack boxes for each of us - sandwiches, giant slice of cake, apple. Another restroom halt after another hour. We reached Rang Mahal restaurant, Rotorua for tasty Indian buffet after 8 pm.

We then checked in at Sudima Hotel. We had been warned about the rotten smell we were likely to experience because of the hot bubbling pools around. We didn't - because we hit the bed immediately.

Next morning, both of us explored the neighborhood for half an hour - there were bubbling mud pools all around. 

We could see steam rising up at some distance. And sure enough there was the smell of Hydrogen Sulphide!

I had taught a piece on Maori Villages two decades ago to my students and was pretty excited about visiting Whakarewarewa in Rotorua. 

It was about the village of Ohinemutu which is a living village, with houses built along hot pools - without a kitchen or bathroom. Separate hot pools are used by the Maoris for cooking, washing and bathing. I googled Ohinemutu and found that it is just a 10 minutes walk from downtown Rotorua. This place is home to the Ngati Whakaue tribe, who gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built. Ngati Whakaue is a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) which journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand around 1350 AD. Visitors are welcome to walk around the living village keeping to the paths at all times. I wasn't sure whether we'd have time for that.

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast and drove first to Agrodome. 


We enjoyed the Sheep Show - it was fun to see the large variety of sheep as they came on stage and took their designated place - it was no less than an impressive 'sheepwalk'.

Then there was the dog show - I mean the watch dog of shepherds.

video

This was followed by a demo of sheep shearing which was a unique show. The sheep really looked pathetic after shearing.

We then came outdoors to witness the sheep dog guarding the grazing sheep and lambs.

The lambs were so fluffy, fleecy and cuddly. 

The visit to the gift shop gave us glimpses of the fabulous wool varieties and woolen sweaters / gloves - expensive but unimaginably soft!

Next was the highlight of the day - the Maori Show. Maoris the original inhabitants of New Zealand have now become modernized and also speak good English. 
As we were walking towards the concert place, we got glimpses of Maori art in the form of wooden carvings ....

The Maoris were presenting a cultural show 'Haere Mai Concert' projecting their tradition and culture.
One of the visitors had to volunteer to be the visitors' Chief ( my husband did). He was given instructions by the Maori hostess about the 'Greeting Tradition' of Maoris - hand shake, rubbing of each other's noses twice, shaking of hands once again.
At show time, a couple of Maori warriors came out of the hall, and performed a few steps at the entrance. Then the hostess led our Chief to the hall. They were followed by a couple of bodyguards. The rest of the visitors had to walk three steps behind them. All of us took our seats. I was seated in the privileged position as the wife of the  'Chief'. 

video
He was then led to the stage to greet the Maori warriors on stage. 


                                               video
This was followed by spirited warrior dances along with Maori songs. 

Then enactment of a romantic Maori love story ....


                                          video
followed by women joining the sprightly dances. What impressed us was the flawless English these Maoris have picked up.

We also visited the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute which gave us glimpses of the wood carving .... 

as well as weaving patterns.


We were then joined by our guide for a round of Whakarewarewa  ('Wh' is pronounced as 'f') and is the short form of the complete word which is in the photo above! Take your time learning to pronounce it in one breath.

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and its array of geothermal features - volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles and colorful sinter terraces are impressive. We enjoyed a walk along the geyser terrace.

Te Puia is the geothermal station .....


 with hot mud pools with medicinal value and ....


geysers including the Pohutu geyser which is the star attraction - erupting up to 20 times a day to heights of 30 m. 

video
It is also the biggest in the Southern hemisphere; unfortunately I couldn't get the video from the start!

After the great taste of Maoris and Maori culture, we proceeded for lunch at 'Lovely India'. 

We started back for Auckland at 3 pm. 



We had our coffee break an hour later at Robert Harris - the sweets and snacks looked inviting and yummy. We enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows.  

As we came out what did we notice in the neighborhood? 
Hobbit House! Harry Potter fans gave a closer scrutiny of the place. As Hobbiton Movie set was not in our itinerary, we couldn't explore it.

We reached Auckland after 6.15 pm and headed straight to Sky Tower.

The Sky Tower is an observation and telecommunications tower in Auckland, 328 meters tall, as measured from ground level to the top of the mast, the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere. It is an iconic landmark in Auckland's skyline due to its height and unique design - it has three observation decks at different heights, each providing 360-degree views of the city. The main observation level at 186 m with thick glass sections of flooring gives a view straight to the ground. The top observation deck labeled 'Skydeck' sits just below the main antenna at 220 m and provides fabulous views. 
We entered the first lift which took us within seconds to the 51st floor which is the first level of viewing. We enjoyed a great bird's eye view of Auckland.


Then we took the elevator to the 60th floor - the second level. The 360 degree view from the top was simply fantastic!
For dinner we went to 'Saffron' owned by South Indians where we enjoyed South Indian favorites idli, dosa, uthappa, chutney, sambar, rasam, curd rice etc.

We checked in at Scenic Hotels - we were happy to get one of the best rooms - on the 7th floor.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel after breakfast and took the 1 1/2 hour flight from Auckland to Queenstown