Christchurch, New Zealand

A side trip from Australia. Now I’m in Christchurch, the largest city in South Island, New Zealand, about to embark on a tour of the island. Chch - as it is known here - has a river called the Avon (though they can't pronounce it properly) and punts poled by men with straw hats. It's a delightful city, ringed by mountains, with historic stone buildings, pretty craft shops and neat cafes.

 The weather here has been far better than I could have hoped for and so I walk over a mountain pass (well the Port Hills) to the harbour town of Lyteltton today. It is an accident, I was just out for a stroll,  but the views are glorious, almost better than the Highlands, though it is a shame about the coal tip round the corner.  It's hot enough to doze on the beach at times, especially when I can find a little nook in the sand dunes. Then, off to eat scallops at the trendy café down the road from my hotel.

South to Queenstown

A bus, mainly filled with Japanese tourists and commanded by Tom, the singing driver. An American couple, delighted to find someone who speaks English,  talk at me incessantly even though my eyes glaze over. We cross the Canterbury Plains,  with their 45 million sheep.  As well as sheep, the farms boast a range of exotica: deer, elk, alpaca and ostriches. It seems odd to suddenly be launched into spring after the autumn of Japan.  Lambs gambolling in the fields, bluebells, the odd surviving daffodil and lots of fluffy ducklings. 

The gorse and broom are in full flower, gorgeous against the beautiful blue skies though the Kiwis call them noxious weeds.  They haven't had much luck with introduced species.  Rabbits to eat grass, then stoats to eat rabbits, but the stoats prefer kiwis ( the birds that is). Then deer to hunt, gorse to keep the deer out, possums to eat the weeds. (And for fur).  But possums also like kiwis and all the native trees. Kea, intelligent large parrots, who have been observed using tools, roam the roads.

Snow-capped mountains, azure glacial water. Mount Cook, at 12,000 feet, fulfils its duty and is suitably magnificent.

The Awesome Foursome

Queenstown, with its own lake, Wakatipu, is extraordinarily beautiful.  The original bungee is here, but I am not tempted.  You're supposed to do the Awesome Foursome (Bungee, helicopter, jet boat and white water rafting). The ski season has also just finished, much to my disappointment, but I do take a jet boat ride.  It is supposed to be a tame one, but I get the co-pilot’s seat and I end up with arms like Twizzle and a mass of bruises, after the pilot has finished demonstrating his ability to execute 360 degree turns in four inches of water. It delivers us to the foot of some amazing glaciers.

Fjordland

It rains when I take the bus to the famous fjord country at Milford Sound. The other main fjord in the Fjordland National Park is Doubtful Sound - it's a good name for today. But I struggle gamely on and make the boat trip into the mist nevertheless, vainly hoping that the cloud will lift. I'm sure the views of Mitre Peak would be great if I could see them for more than a glimpse.

Dunedin and The Otago Peninsula

Not one, but two of the great little railway journeys of the world, over the Taieri Gorge into Dunedin  (the American couple buttonhole me again) and lastly, the Tranzalpine, across the Southern Alps from Greymouth back to Christchurch.  At one point lambs are running in front of the train and have to be removed from the track before they get squished.

There are minor adventures to be had in Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh and very Scottish). This is the second city on South Island, the principal city on the Otago Peninsula. It's known for its Victorian and Edwardian architecture, including Larnach 'Castle'. It's billed as New Zealand's only castle, but I'm not sure it's old enough to count.

On the peninsula I see albatrosses flying (huge), dusky dolphins leaping, fur seals basking and rare yellow eyed penguins on their nests.  All the other birds here are called shags for some reason. I'm playing the theme tune to the Piano as we gaze at beaches over cliff tops.

I get into conversation with some of the Bay of Plenty First Division Rugby Union team who happen to be staying in my hotel (they're playing Otago) and am invited down to the casino with them. Another first. but extremely boring.  It's very quiet and and there are no women in slinky gowns, just  lots of All Blacks in the bar, including the captain, Anton Oliver, being very loud.  They fulfil every stereotype by having brassy blondes draped all over them.  I chat to Brendan Laney who is coming to play for Edinburgh next year, but he seems to think it is in England.  Oh dear - that won't go down well.

The Bay of Plenty coach, Gordon Titchens, also coaches the All Black Sevens.  He sidles up to me at one point and asks for my number in England “to see me when he comes over with the New Zealand team".  'Oh brilliant', I respond naively before the penny drops that I'll be seeing him and not the New Zealand team. So I tell him all about the tabloid propensity for publishing details of the private lives of rugby coaches (he's married of course) and he sidles away again.

Then the chairman of the club offers to fly me up to North Island, for next Saturday's game.  He tells me to ring him on Thursday.  I think about it, but decide there is no such thing as a free lunch and stay in Christchurch.

The only other excitement has involved trying to avoid the advances of bus drivers who stand too close and ask me out for drinks. One - Dodgy Colin - even tried to tickle me. Generally though the New Zealand people are lovely. The Kiwis and the Aussies as I'm learning to say (through gritted teeth) have an interesting relationship. No opportunity is missed for a dig.  I will have to be careful when I go back across the straits to Australia.

Auckland, New Zealand

The third stage on my Round the World Trip, flying in from Australia to Auckland, in North Island. It is the largest city in New Zealand, but not the capital, which is Wellington. It's an expensive but enjoyable place to live - plenty of museums, galleries, shops. and a large harbour full of superyachts. It's known as The City of Sails.

I meet up with Raye, from who I had parted in Hong Kong and we stay with her brother and his family. A brisk tour of the city and trip to One Tree Hill Park, balanced on a volcanic peak. It's commemorated with an obelisk and it's definitely the place to go for views across town.

Then, an evening visit to watch the horse and cart racing. We end up sitting in the stands and drinking with the Australian rugby team who are scheduled to play New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup the following day. Campese is frolicking in the seats and John Eeles towers over me. The Kiwis win - by a small margin. It isn’t the best match ever. There aren't any tries.

New Zealand

Time to explore The North Island of New Zealand, known for its volcanoes, mountains and geysers. New Zealand consists of two main islands and over 700 smaller ones. They have the distinction of being the last large habitable landmass to be settled by humans. These were Polynesians, between about 1280 and 1350. A distinctive Māori culture then developed. Abel Tasman was the first European to sight and record New Zealand, in 1642, hence the Dutch name. As with Australia, it was the British who eventually staked their claim to the land, in 1841.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

A trip with Raye's family, up the northern finger of the island to Waitangi. In 1840, representatives of the United Kingdom and 500 Māori chiefs met here to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, which in its English version (only) declared British sovereignty over the islands. There are two museums, a treaty house (with a replica of the treaty), a carved Maori Meeting House, two huge war canoes and cultural performances in the grounds.

Bay of Islands

Waitangi is adjacent to North Island tourist hotspot The Bay of Islands. This natural harbour (mapped and named by Cook) contains 144 islands. There are plenty of gorgeous panoramas, Maori artefacts and, sporting opportunities. The main draw is big game fishing - apparently. This is where the early whalers came, but the game today isn't quite that size. In a 2006 study, the Bay of Islands was found to have the second bluest sky in the world, after Rio de Janeiro. It's not so azure in the winter. The picture is Manghawahi Heads, another scenic spot, two hours drive south of Bay of Islands, in what are known as the Northlands.

South of Auckland

Then south from Auckland, past Hamilton, the country's third city. then an urban sprawl now a nightlife hub. Otherwise, it’s very quiet and sleepy. The weather is mild and the skyline is dotted with the ubiquitous and characteristic palm like tree ferns. They remind me of Jurassic Park.

Rotorua

Rotarua, in the Bay of Plenty area, is another mandatory stop in New Zealand's North Island. The town is set on its namesake lake and is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. In Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley, the geysers are prolific, exhilarating and stink of sulphur. The 30 metres tall Pohutu Geyser, happily, erupts many times daily. As in most of these volcanic sites, you can stand at the Gates of Hell watching pools steam and mud bubbling. Most of the motels here have hot spring fed Jacuzzis out back of each room.

Rotorua became stablished as a spa town in the late 1800s. The most magnificent building is the half timbered former Bath House (1908), later converted to a History Museum and Art Gallery.

Another highlight of Rotorua is the Agrodome, a working farm, where there are shows for tourists to learn about sheep and sheep shearing. It is extremely amusing. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not.

Back to Auckland via the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. You can get a boat to see the tiny creatures glow in the dark.

Next stop Hawaii.

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