LOVE TO WANDER
New Zealand struck me as a country which is comfortably at ease with itself. Of course, there are some political tensions, but overall people are broadly tolerant and respective of each other.
Kiwis also seemed to be generally a very law abiding lot, complying willingly with laws enforced to protect the environment (e.g: fishing quotas; cleanliness of hiking gear; speeding restrictions; no alcohol zones etc.)
The low population and earthquake risks means that the majority of houses are built as single storey and on reasonably large plots. This, combined with the stunning scenery gives a tremendous feeling of freedom and space and room to spread out and enjoy life, both in the cities and outside.
Kiwis are also thrill seekers and there is an ever growing range of adventurous sports available to them and to tourists to indulge this side of their character.
Tourism is a big source of income and there is a danger that it may get out of hand if not handled carefully. Some of the places we visited - including remote "wilderness" areas - were in danger of being overrun with tourists which could spoil this lovely country very quickly.
New Zealand Air have a TV advert which uses the slogan "You're only a Day Away". This is clever - it is a country that is very distant from anywhere else in the world but it is. becoming increasingly accessible, which is an opportunity as well as a threat.
E noho rā NZ!
With increasingly alarming reports coming in of the scale of damage at home while we have been away, our energy levels for exploring Dubai were flagging a little. We spent our first day here relaxing by the swimming pool and then decided to book a couple of tours so give someone else the challenge of finding our way around here and getting the best of the place.
Dubai is trying very hard to sell itself as a city that delivers both a luxurious experience for tourists and an efficient business hub. The city needs to achieve this so it has something to fall back on when the oil money runs out. Everyone is trying to sell you something - from the marketing hype to the souks. My overall impression is that - though there is a thin veneer of luxury and efficiency - under the surface, it is just one huge, hot sandpit. Its central location in the world makes it a logical business hub, but for tourists, I think there are better places to go. What didn't help sell the luxurious image was that the air quality was particularly poor - full of sand dust. Maybe this was just bad timing for our visit - but it didn't match up to the blue skies and sunshine that the marketing material promises.
Our room here was upgraded to a suite because of the early check in time (6am) (at our expense). The staff were very helpful with sorting this out. The palatial suite gave us access to the Business Lounge which had a "happy hour" from 5 - 8pm where all the drinks were provided foc - so very happy indeed! There are two outside swimming pools on the 2nd and 8th floors which are nice areas to relax in if you are getting over jet lag (as we were).
The hotel is nice enough, but focussed on a business market with large conference meeting rooms etc. There is also a veneer of luxury about it which doesn't quite deliver in practice. For example - tea bags were provided, but no kettle? The many spotlights are on a complex push button system which takes several "pushes" to activate.
A very comfortable hotel with friendly and efficient staff. The breakfast here was well worth the $25 charge. We had a king sized room with an ocean view which was excellent. There is a swimming pool too with an ocean view - we didn't use it. but it looked very well maintained and inviting. There is also a room you can use to shower and change once you have checked out. Highly recommended!
Coogee beach is what life by the ocean is all about. Coogee is known affectionately as "Sydney's Seaside Village" and it was great to reunite with my old schoolfriend and see her family so happily settled there.
Coogee is well placed to explore the iconic Sydney sights. We spent a leisurely day walking the Coogee to Bondi coastal walk and another exploring the Botanic Gardens in Sydney with superb views across the ocean back to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Sydney is a great choice of stopover to break up the flight home.
A quirky boutique hotel centrally located in Christchurch. Our room had a huge bathroom with a roll top bath. Very helpful staff.
We spent the morning driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook, We took a side trip en route from Omarama to the Clay Cliffs - bizarre rock formations change colour depending on the time of day. We also stopped at the site of the first bunny jump at Kawarau Gorge and watched a stream of tourists pay $205 each to complete their jump. Over one hundred people a day take this mad challenge?!
We didn't have much time for a long walk in these beautiful surroundings, but managed a couple of hours walk up to Kea Point - Mount Cook's summit was buried in cloud, but we got a good view of the neighbouring glaciers. The panoramic views from the Hermitage's Panorama Restaurant made a nice last evening before heading back to Christchurch Airport.
Great location with stunning panoramic views from the restaurant. Our room here was a bit small though and the kettle didn't fit under the tap in the small wash basin (?!). There is very little choice of accommodation in this remote spot though and this hotel was as good as any. Breakfast is a pricey $30 each, if you decide to take it.
We visited the Kiwi Sanctuary in Queenstown today. It is a great place to see these fascinating creatures. They are nocturnal and live in the forest, so there really is no easy way to view them without visiting a sanctuary like this. They are much bigger than I had anticipated - about the size of a rugby ball. You get really good close up views once your eyes adjust to the darkness, No photo, unfortunately, as the conditions in the bird sanctuary are very carefully controlled: no cameras; no 'phones; no talking (as the kiwis are very easily scared)!
We used the afternoon to stroll around Queenstown gardens and watch people playing frisky golf - very hard on a windy day! What a great idea for making a park more fun - we could do this at home.
Kiwis mate for life - they live for 60 years or more and have around 100 chicks in their lifetime.
They have nostrils at the end of their long beaks which they use to sniff out bugs and grubs to eat - their sense of smell is one of the keenest of all birds.
Tip for Future Travellers:
We ate at Public Kitchen and Bar on the Waterfront last night - they have a really good selection of local NZ dishes - much more inventive than the fish & chips/steak & chips that dominate so many menus here.
A functional hotel, conveniently located for walking to town and all the restaurants it offers. Our balcony is very small though and the room is a bit tunnel-like and dark. There are better rooms with wider windows and really good views of the lake which might be worth the upgrade if you are here for a while. There is a good guest laundry and a bonus of a hot tub and sauna area too. The buffet breakfast seemed very impersonal after all the friendly B&Bs we have been getting used to here!