December 15 - Auckland to Wellington
The "Overlander" left Auckland at 7:30am and we arrived in Wellington twelve hours later. Of course, as we expected, the scenery was spectacular, although the last hour or two as we entered the outskirts of Wellington was not overwhelming.
Kris deeply engrossed in her book
Various mountains from the train. If they look as though they belong in "Lord of the RIngs" - they were.
Our accommodation for the next two nights was a very modern/minimalistic self contained apartment in the city. The unit was a bit clinical for our tastes - all glass and stainless steel - but it was perfectly comfortable.
Our accommodation in Wellington - The Century City Hotel.
It was late and we were tired after traveling so we went to a nearby pub for a quick meal and headed back to the apartment for a reasonably early night.
December 16 - Wellington
Way back in the fourth week of our travels we met a very nice couple Trevor and Karen at the B&B in the Barossa Valley. Trevor had since arranged to meet us at our hotel and show us Wellington. He picked us up bright and early and wisked us up a windy road past some lovely Victorian homes to Mount Victoria, a lookout point close to our hotel. From this vantage point we could see the city below. As we came down the hill Trevor pointed out the location where one of the scenes from Lord of the Rings, where the Hobbits hide from the Black Rider, was filmed.
Wellington Harbor from Mount Victoria
We then drove along the coast road to Oriental Bay and Scorching Bay and stopped at the Scorch-O-Rama Cafe for breakfast. The cafe is a favorite of Peter Jackson's.
Breakfast at "Scorch-O-Rama"
We then drove to the WETA Studios where Academy Award winning artists and craftsmen helped bring many recent films to life, including Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia, Avatar and The Lovely Bones. We looked around the museum and shop and watched a very good movie about WETA in the small theatrette. We then met Karen for lunch in Thorndon, the area where the government buildings are located. After lunch we took a guided tour of the Parliament, Beehive (Parliament Administration) and Parliamentary Library.
"The Beehive" - the Parliamentary office building
The Parliament Building
After the tour Paul and I decided to sit in the gallery and watch Question Time. Watching the Opposition ask the Deputy Prime Minister embarassing questions was hilarious. A tour of the very fine Botanical Gardens was a nice change of pace and after stopping for a coffee we climbed a steep hill to the cable car. Riding down the hill we had a great view of the city.
The Botanical Garden
The Wellington Cable Car from the top
That evening Trevor and Karen drove us out to Petone, one of the older neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Wellington. We had a very good meal at Soprano's, a wonderful Italian Restaurant with lots of atmosphere. We were sorry to say goodbye to Trevor and Karen who in such a short time seem like old friends. Hopefully we will see them again on our way back up to Auckland.
Dinner at Soprano's with Karen and Trevor
December 17 - Wellington to Christchurch
An early start because the ferry, the "Inter-Islander" left at 8:15. This was a car ferry (in fact I'm guessing that it may have been a cross-channel ferry in an earlier life) but we were foot passengers and just walked on.
It's about a three hour trip and the last portion through the fjords of the South Island is very dramatic. We had good weather, which also helped to make the crossing an easy one.
The path taken by the ferry through the fjords. Picton (lower left) is where ferry docks.
Queen Charlotte Sound
The Inter-Islander coming out of Picton
At Picton, we boarded the TranzCoastal, the train to Christchurch. This was a much shorter ride (about five hours) and apart from nice views of the coast, not as spectacular or memorable as the Overlander we had taken two days earlier.
Picton Railway station
Kristine enjoying the scenery but (just for once) forgetting to smile at the camera
View from the observation car on the train
Coastal view from the train
We checked into our hotel, The Heritage, which was right in the center of Christchurch. After a quick look around the Cathedral Square, we called it a day.
The Heritage Hotel
December 18 - Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and second largest (after Auckland) in the entire country. We decided to try and see as much as possible in one day, so we bought a three part ticket for the city sightseeing tram, punting on the Avon and a gondola ride to the top of of Port Hills.
We headed for the Antigua Boatshed which was built for the Christchurch Boating Club in 1882. Punting is something that we have always associated with Oxford and Cambridge, but Christchurch with its many Victorian stone buildings, botanical gardens and the River Avon flowing through it seemed like the perfect place for a ride in a punt. The sun was shining and sitting back and relaxing while our punter did all the work was a lovely way to spend half an hour. Next time we must remember to bring the cucumber sandwiches and champagne.
Punting on the Avon
Afterwards we took a walk through the Botanical Gardens, one of the largest city parks in the world and probably amongst the best.
The Botanical Gardens in Christchurch
The base station for the Gondola ride to the top of Port Hills was a thirty minute bus ride to the east of the city and by the time we arrived the sun had vanished and it was getting very windy. The ride to the summit took about five minutes and there was a good view of Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains, and Lyttelton Harbour. On our return journey the wind was very gusty making the gondola sway and we were thankful that we got down the mountain before the ride was shut down and we were forced to walk down.
Christchurch from the top of the of the Gondola Ride
The third part of our three part ticket was the historic tram which circles the city center. As a means of transportation, walking is probably quicker, but it was a "guided tour" so we did take it several times - usually as an excuse to sit down.
Downtown Tram Cathedral Square
The movie 'Avatar' had just been released in New Zealand and had received good reviews, so off we went. Surprisingly, the cinema wasn't full but we really enjoyed the movie and were delighted that the Na'vi won the battle for their planet. Sometimes the plot was "Dancing with Wolves" meets "Alien" (Sigourney Weaver kept popping up) but at least in this version, the good guys won. James Cameron doesn't hide his opinions - they were pretty clear right from the beginning. Now we need to see it in 3D ! By the time the movie ended, the free bus service had stopped, but it was a pleasant evening so we walked back to the hotel discussing the movie as we walked.
December 19 - Christchurch
The Christchurch Arts Center is located in a beautiful Gothic Revival stone building that once housed Canterbury University. Browsing around the arts, shopping and dining complex and the nearby open air market was very pleasant.
Christchurch Arts Center - once the University
Lunch in the grounds of the Art Center
A local Maori Dance group - notice the strange tattoos on the womens' faces !
We spent an hour in the Christchurch Art Gallery which was showing several exhibits by well known New Zealand artists, although none that we had ever heard off, I'm ashamed to say.
Christchurch Art Gallery - supposedly the biggest and best in New Zealand
We took a quick look in Christchurch Cathedral and decided to return the next evening for the Christmas Carol service.
Cole Porter's musical "Anything Goes" was playing at the ajoining Court Theatre. We really enjoyed the Kevin Kline movie "De-Lovely" about Cole Porter so off we went.The musical "Anything Goes" was great fun and even though it debuted in 1934 Cole Porter's music and lyrics still work today. The weather was still warm enough for us to drink our champagne in the courtyard during the interval. After the show we walked to a nearby Irish pub for a snack (pizza) and a glass of wine before returning to the hotel.
December 20 - Christchurch
We had been expecting the weather to turn cool and wet for several days but when we woke up to sunshine, we decided to take a bus trip to Akaroa, a small town about 50 miles east of Christchurch. This pretty little town in a lovely harbour was first settled by the French in 1840, but they were quickly kicked out by the British. No Froggies in THEIR colony ! Apparently it was all resolved peacefully and the french settlers were allowed (perhaps even encouraged) to stay.
Akaroa (in the middle of the picture)
The tour bus left Christchurch at 8:30am and as we had not had breakfast, our first stop was a harbourside cafe for bacon and eggs. Good meal but we COULD NOT get the waitress to bring our drinks. Very frustrating !
Breakfast in Akaroa (please note the Bacon and Eggs are for Kristine - not Paul !)
We took a short walk just outside of the town center taking in the lighthouse, old cemetery and a pretty park on a hillside.
The Presbyterian and Roman Catholic cemeteries
Paul reliving his childhood View down the hill towards the village
As we were exploring the shops and galleries the sky turned very black and it started to rain. We took shelter in the Akaroa museum. Although small, some of the exhibits were very interesting. Our favorite was about the local hero, Frank Worsley, who was the captain of most of Scott's Antarctic expeditions and saved his entire crew when their ship was crushed by ice.
The nasty storm blew itself out very quickly and we emerged (dry !) from the museum in time for our bus back to Christchurch.
That evening, we attended the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christ Church Cathedral. The service was being recorded to be shown on national TV on Christmas Eve. Fortunately we arrived early and managed to get good seats. The English lady sitting next to us was working in Singapore and on vacation in New Zealand so while waiting for the service to begin we compared travel stories. The choir was lovely and the carols and the atmosphere of the old cathedral put us in a very Christmassy mood but of course, no pictures were allowed ! The biggest surprise of the evening was that the Bishop was a woman, the Right Reverend Victoria Matthews ! When the service was broadcast later in the week, she gave a very eloquent interview and expressed her own surprise at having being selected as Bishop. To Paul's disappointment, the broadcast only used the choir segments from the service, so Paul's lusty carol singing was not shared by the rest of New Zealand. They will never know what they missed !