I’m partway through my final train trip across the northern island of NZ and then off to Fiji tomorrow. In this blog I will talk about the Alexandra Basin Wine Region, Queenstown, the drive from Queenstown to Christchurch, this two day train ride from Christchurch to Auckland and the 4 hour ferry crossing in rough seas from the South Island to the North Island.
But first I will go over some cultural idiosyncrasies I have observed in NZ. First, every Kiwi I have met has been extremely nice. Kiwis make Canadians seem rude lol. Second, Kiwis are very proud of their Maori heritage and traditions. Third, you can’t check into a hotel/motel in NZ without being offered a bottle of milk for your tea, fourth, Kiwis speak their own brand of English and sometimes it is hard to understand what they are saying.
I rented a TomTom GPS with my rental cars and the person voicing the directions was a Kiwi gentleman who won the right to be the voice of New Zealand in a contest. Trouble is his directions sometimes required an American English/New Zealand English dictionary. As I would reach the end of every route he would say what I thought was “Okay mate grab your genitals, your tongs, your chilly buns and let’s get going… cheers for the ride mate!
I thought this was a rather strange thing to say to foreign tourists so I looked it up on google. What he was actually saying was “Grab your jandals(sandals), togs (bathing suit) and chilly bin (cooler) and let’s get goin… cheers for the ride, mate!
And any time I was to take a sharp right he would say “Sweet as!” How the hell was I supposed to know that?
And “She’ll be right” for a sharp left turn. Right for left? What kind of madness is that? And anytime I made a wrong turn he would say “let’s find us a MEAN steak and cheese pie” instead of turn around!
Crikey, if I’m having this much trouble understanding an English cousin I’m screwed when I get to Pakistan and Bangladesh!
Now back to the travel review. First stop was in Alexandra where I rented a very nice studio chalet in the middle of an apple orchard. And based upon the owner’s recommendation had a fantastic steak dinner at Pauline’s Restaurant in Clyde. This entire river basin is the furthest southern wine producing area (below the 45th southern parallel) in the world. And having sampled one of their wines at dinner and then several more selections the next day at Gibbston Vineyard’s wine cheese tasting I can recommend the areas Pinot.
There are over 25 vineyards stretched out across the Central Otago Valley and many have tasting opportunities. I read that there is a cycling tour of the basin peddling from one vineyard to another tasting wine as you go. Doesn’t sound all that safe to me but I guess drinking while bicycling is not a crime in NZ.
From the Otago Valley we continued on up the river to a pretty little town of Cromwell and spent a couple of hours visiting the Cromwell Heritage Precinct and enjoying a wonderful breakfast of eggs over toast, streaky bacon, mushrooms and baked tomato at Amando’s Kitchen.
From Cromwell, we traveled on up river to Queenstown and spent a pleasant 90 minutes aboard the 100ft TSS Earnslaw Steamship. Queenstown sits beside a huge lake and the 100-year-old steamship used to service all the towns and sheep stations around the lake. In its heyday the steam ship carried passengers, sheep, cattle, bales of wool and other cargo from one end of the lake to the other. Today the ship only carries tourists packed in and treated like sheep. But the 90 minutes were relaxing, the scenery was beautiful and the wine was excellent.
One of my two regrets about my time in NZ is that I didn’t spend more time in Queensland. This looks like the most interesting place I visited in the country. Lakeside there were lots of interesting looking restaurants and bars. And the town is the jumping off point for tons of outdoor pursuits from trekking the mountains, mountain biking, bungee jumping, rock climbing, skiing in the winter, and water sports of every type in the summer.
My second regret is that I did not include several days to hike on and around Mount Cook. These are the mountains that Sir Edmond Hillary, Rob Hall and my 4 new lady friends from the train launched their climbing careers from. It would have been
fun to walk in the footsteps of these personalities.
After a relaxing afternoon in Queenstown I began my race against the clock back to Christchurch. Reception at my motel closed at 10pm and my rental car was due back by 11pm. The Kiwi guy on my GPS said it was a 6 hour drive to the motel and I had exactly 6 hours to make it. Reminded me of a line from the Blues Brothers Movie with Jake and Elwood.
I made it with 20 minutes to spare and the drive was spectacular with snowcapped mountains to the west, golden rolling foothills dotted with white sheep to my east and very few signs of people along the route.
Our dinner that night consisted of cheese and a fresh baguette we had purchased during our visit to the Gibbston Vineyard. I was sorely tempted to break out one of the bottles of wine that I had purchased to compliment the cheese and fresh bread but restrained myself since I was driving on a winding two lane road at 120km per hour. So it was warm coke zero, fresh Havarti cheese, and a baguette for dinner as I drove.
After a very short night of sleep we were up at 5am to pack, taxi across town to the train station and catch the 7am Coastal Pacific Train to Picton. This train route was billed as scenic and truly was – with great views of the rugged coastline, dramatic seascapes, surfers in their wetsuits, sunning seals, Marlborough’s 30 plus vineyards and earthquake damage from the 2016 earthquake that has yet to be repaired.
Once in Picton we changed over to the Interislander Ferry and enjoyed/endured a rainy and rolling sailing across an angry sea in the Cook Strait. Four hours later arriving in Wellington (named after the Duke of Wellington) in a cold driving rain storm with whipping winds. After a short shuttle ride to the railway station and a mad 700foot dash to the hotel we had arrived for the night.
Unfortunately, my plans for a big Saturday night out in Wellington was washed away with the rain. Instead my big Saturday night was too many Knob Creeks and Water while waiting for a table then a nice steak with continued slow service before off to bed (after raiding the minibar for a Kit Kat bar for dessert).
Today, we are continuing our slow but scenic train ride to Auckland under cloudy skies. Our vistas continue to alternate between virgin bush, seascapes off desolate beaches, rolling hills of green pastures dotted with tens of thousands of sheep, and dramatic gorges/ravines with fast moving rivers at their bottoms.
We have 3 more hours of train travel then one last dinner in Auckland. If I am lucky the hotel will have a laundry and I can leave for Fiji at 9am tomorrow with freshly laundered clothes, knowing the difference between genitals and jandals, understanding that “Sweet as” means turn right dumb ass, “She’ll be right” means turn left you looser, and “Lets find us a MEAN steak and cheese pie” means you are going the wrong way – make a U turn wanker!
I’ve enjoyed New Zealand and hope to come back to spend some time in Queenstown and hiking on and around Cook Mountain. But on to Fiji for some blue skies, warm water, hot beaches, and bare skin now. Lol!