As our ‘tailor made’ travellers, the Woodroffes, continue their journey down NZ’s east coast they visit Wellington before encountering the beauty of the South Island coastline and even manage a heritage rail ride up a steep gorge with some interesting viaducts en route.
Wellington, like Chicago is also known as the "Windy City”. It boasts one of the world's most protected and beautiful natural harbours, formed by the flooding of an extinct volcano.
It became NZ’s capital city in1865 when there was a little local difficulty in Auckland. In the early 1890's the female vote was gained nearly 30 years before any other nation.
A cable car service, established in 1902 with shiny red cars made in Switzerland takes us up a hill in a gentle fashion. What would be a marvellous view is partially obstructed by foliage, but the nearby botanical gardens, established in 1868, offers 64 acres of native forest, exotic trees and plant collections. They were originally planted to assess which imported trees could be of use to the New Zealand economy.
We wind our way down the hill passing many magnificent specimens. The Mexican Hand Tree (Chiranothodendron Pentadactylon ), with extraordinary hard waxy red flowers. We see red, blue and pink hydrangeas all in a glade.
The Lady Norwood Rose garden, named after the wife of a former Mayor of NZ has 110 formal beds.
We tour Wellington’s landmarks , the parliament building , with its beehive extension and St. Paul's Cathedral which was built in three stages, taking 44 years to complete in 1998. It is modern, somewhat mirroring Guildford Cathedral. A large and airy place of worship. The hanging behind the High Altar was stunning and reminiscent of Graham Sutherland's work at Coventry. This is not the only link to that city. A small cross on the side of a prayer desk is made from three of the nails from the thousands which fell from the burning roof of St Michael's Coventry when it was destroyed by bombing on November 14 1942.
Ever since Christchurch was devastated by the earthquake three years ago and the harbour severely damaged, Akoroa, on the Banks Peninsular, has been the substitute port.
It is a beautiful inlet of rolling green hills and deep blue waters, again formed by volcanic activity 12 million years ago. Akoroa in Maori means" long inlet" and in modern Kiwi "unbelievably beautiful".
As we approach the main quay it looks lovely with its bright blue " tin" buildings. We have gone “off piste" again today opting for a private harbour cruise than the Celebrity Cruise excursion.
A magical two hours followed. The sea was calm and we ventured into coves not normally accessible. In the aquamarine sea we watched groups of Hectors dolphins, unique to this area and the smallest species of dolphin, jumping and playing around the boat. Blue pacific penguins, the smallest penguins in the world, bobbed on the water alongside fur seals and their pups, who really did not care that we were there.
We landed back at the quay and strolled along the front in search of sustenance. A feeling of tranquillity pervades, with a definite Gallic influence. French, British and New Zealand flags flutter on competing flagpoles and a mixture of English and French street names complete the picture. Old wooden buildings mix in with modern designs and there is no sense of overcrowding.
We approach Otago Harbour where the land on either side gently slopes down to the water’s edge and is reminiscent of the south Devon coast. We tie up at a commercial wharf whose primary export appears to be timber. Stacks and stacks of straight Monteray pines awaiting shipment.
Here we take the Taieri Gorge Express to Pukerangi, 250m above sea level. This heritage train was rescued in 1990 by the Dunedin City Council when the line from Wingatui to Cromwell was closed. We settle into our seats in the last carriage, which is 100yrs old, with a viewing balcony at the back. Two volunteers, Ngaire and Ivan are going to tend to our needs and soon Ivan is collecting our orders for tea and coffee. The couple look rather like Margaret and Nick from The Apprentice!
We start off, following the curve of the harbour for 12 km until we get to Dunedin. This city has a distinct Scottish flavour to it. In 1844 William Tuckett, captaining the Deborah, sailed south with a representative of the New Zealand Company to determine a site where a Free Church settlement could be founded. Dunedin was chosen, the name being derived from the Scottish Gaelic name Dun Eideanne for Edinburgh. The result is a city with many Edwardian buildings, including the magnificent station building with stained glass windows and a Royal Doulton mosaic floor.
Gold was discovered in the interior of the Otago province in 1860's which brought in huge wealth. The authorities in Britain decided some planning was necessary and imposed a classical 19th century town on the peninsular without considering the topography. As a result Dunedin boasts the steepest street in the world! The gold brought the city many firsts. The first University in NZ, the first girls ' High School, the first daily newspaper, the first city outside the USA to have its own tram system and women were given the vote thirty years before anywhere else in the world.
After Dunedin we start gradually climbing, leaving the main line at Wingatui to go up the Taeri Gorge line. The countryside is straight out of the UK. You get glimpses of Scotland, Wales and I am sure I saw the south Shropshire plain and Caer Caradoc. The train hugs the side of the gorge and rattles over cast iron viaducts, the most impressive being at Wingatui junction. We pass horses and young foals, lamas, sheep, goats and some cattle. In the air, riding the thermals at the summit, are a New Zealand Falcon and a few Australasian Harriers. At Perera the old crossing house is in immaculate condition and is now a private holiday home with no electricity, cell phones or broadband - What bliss!
We arrive at Hindon where the locals have set up a market and lamb and kiwi glove puppets are bought as gifts to amuse our grandchildren back home. This area features in the novel "In the land of the long white cloud" by Sarah Lark. Also at Hindon a statue of a collie dog called" Sue" commemorates all those dogs who have worked this land for the last 150 years. This is the beginning of "Sheep Country" and the climb gets steeper until we reach the end of our outward journey at Pukerangi. The locals are again out in force but a heavy drizzle results in only the hardened shoppers from making any purchases.
The train waits for the next one on the line to arrive before beginning our return to Dunedin. The gorge is ablaze with yellow broom and gorse imported from the UK. It has been so successful that it is now considered a nuisance!
While on route we chat to Ivan. He is wearing a very natty pair of tartan trousers. It turns out it is a tartan that he invented and patented called Pride of New Zealand. After discussion it becomes apparent that the material is available at The Scottish Shop in Dunedin and he, as a master tailor, can make them up. On arrival at Dunedin we seek out the shop and Ivan is already there. Measurements are taken, cash handed over and the trousers will arrive in early February, just when we arrive home.
On our return to the ship we have been told we are likely to see Southern Royal Albatrosses as we pass Taiaroa Point at the mouth of the harbour. We peer through the drizzle and spy white dots on the slopes - the females on the nest. Further squinting reveals males circling in the air. Oh bliss unconfined! Our shuttle bus driver says there are 32 eggs this year, up from last year and that is good.
What a marvellous place to live. We come to the conclusion if we were 30 years younger we would emigrate to NZ!
We are heading for Dusky Sound with its steep wooded banks, rising to 2,000ft and still, dark blue waters - some points 1,000ft deep. It gives the impression of the Scottish Islands and Highlands, one range looking very like the Cullins on Skye.
We cruise round the Sound for 90 minutes looking at the wonders including waterfalls, though not torrential today as it has not been raining. Milo, the naturalist, gives a running commentary. We see little wildlife as New Zealand has no indigenous wildlife, all having arrived from elsewhere by one means or another. There is a chill in the air and there is a variety of clothing on display. Some have taken to wearing their Celebrity Cruise dressing gowns as an overcoat to keep warm. There are stalls selling souvenir thermoses, filled with hot chocolate and a choice of alcohol. I add Grand Marnier. The effect is delicious and warming.
After garnering a few photos we retreat back to our cabin to sit on our balcony in the sun, as we progress up the West coast of South Island to Doubtful Sound. The terrible Tasmin Sea is like a mill pond and we are on the lookout for wildlife. Ninety minutes later we turn to starboard and enter Doubtful Sound. Again we pass deep sided wooded walls, waterfalls and rock-fall scarred rock faces. If we were in a smaller craft and continued to the head of the fiord we would find the Deep Cove Hostel waiting. To get here by land from the nearest road involves a 15 mile boat journey followed by a five mile hike!
They saved the best one to last - Milford Sound. Magnificent, majestic, the fiord runs inland following the shape of a comma. Steep, slightly concave slopes reach the water's edge. Trees, bare escarpment and waterfalls vie for space. Mountainous ranges tower behind the first wave of land, some still with snow covered caps. We move up towards the end of the Sound, admiring everything, waiting for the next pearl. The spray from the waterfall catches the sun's rays and there are filmy rainbows.
We reach Milford Haven - a small harbour with a grass track airport. A helicopter giving scenic rides buzzes in and out and 5 small winged aircraft take off and head away. Lady Bowen's fall at the fiord head is a raging torrent and the mountain commanding the high ground is Mt Christina (2500m). As we turn into the wind and make our way down the sound, the foredeck, previously a throng of tartan blanketed photographers resembling a strange type of clan gathering, rapidly clears of viewers.
We pass sea lions basking on a rock as we make for open water. We have been extraordinarily lucky with the weather and tides. Many people have told us it is only once or twice a season that the Zane Grey hole and the Sounds can be navigated.
Good Bye New Zealand. Australia here we come. We have enjoyed our time with you so much.