A Travellerspoint blog

ChrICEchurch

Antarctica, airplanes and earthquakes

So for the past two days we’ve been chilling in Christchurch. We’d heard from a Couchsurfer in Auckland who had been studying in Christchurch that the town centre was like a third world country due to the recent earthquakes that struck tragedy right through the heart of the city. Aside from a small section of the city centre and some outer suburbs we, thankfully, did not find this to be the case. The city was vibrant and full of life and the people are still some of the kindest we’ve met even with the constant threat of more quakes (we managed to sleep through a 3.5 graded ground shaker). A good example of its vibrancy was the Icefest that we came across whilst on our way to make use of the free parking at the Botanic gardens (we parked here yesterday and today saving ourselves the $3 an hour fee everywhere else in the city).

The Icefest was a festival dedicated to celebrating Christchurch’s role in Antarctic exploration and the history of its discovery. We learnt a lot from the free boards about people like Shakleton and Scott and some of the artefacts they had on display were incredible. Sadly though most of the exhibitions had a cost and so being strapped for cash we decided to skip over these.

We had good fun in the Gardens during the time we spent there over the two days. There was an astounding array of different areas for what was quite a small space and we spent a relaxing couple of hours exploring them. There are also various sculptures around each section giving an idea of what to expect such as the giant rose outside the rose gardens. Having done all our exploring on the first day, the second day after the short lived Icefest we headed straight for one of the grassy areas and promptly fell asleep surrounded by tranquillity and peace.

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Alex had noticed on one of the maps the RNZAF museum and so after a bit of begging we went to see some old boys toys. We got there just in time to go on a one hour Behind the Scenes tour, which brought a light to Alex’s inner soul. Rach did however enjoy some of it as we were led around the ongoing restoration projects and other finished pieces that wouldn’t fit into the museum. After the tour we only had an hour left to run around the museum looking at all the planes, set off alarms (Rach), make pretend machine gun noises (Alex) and have a dance to wartime music (both guilty). It was a really well thought out place with just the right number of aircraft and brilliant info to accompany them. We were having such a good time that we had to be almost dragged out by one of the museum staff come closing!

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And along with the closing of the museum our time in Christchurch has come to an end and so onward, ever onward, to Tekapo.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • The only place we could find any free parking was in the Botanic gardens.
  • Be careful of the one way system in the city centre, we found it challenging at times.
  • Because of the earthquake damage, if you’re going anytime soon be aware that there may be road closures to navigate around.

Posted by rexontheroad 21:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Feeling a bit like Attenborough

A seal colony, a cliff top walk and boring Blenheim

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Poor old Blenheim. We spent an entire day there but we’re only going to spend one paragraph chatting about it. It isn’t all Blenheim’s fault and we did manage to do a food shop and use the free internet in the library. It has to be the world’s strictest library though with; an under 16's area that we got kicked out of (although there was a suspicious lack of signs showing this to be the case, probably just the librarian taking an instant disliking to Alex as most people do), no plugs available for public use (not that they were being used for anything else) and the internet being cut fifteen minutes before close (just brilliant). Having finished up in the library it was half two and after a bit of a look around at what there was to do we came across an historic village on the outskirts of town. After a quick glance at the village map, showing a pretty large place full of things like a vintage car museum, miniature railway, vintage farm machinery museum and a whole street-worth of historic village, we dived right in. As we wandered the empty lanes it quickly dawned on us that we were the only people there and that everything was closed. We spent about ten minutes looking at the exteriors and peering through windows before leaving Blenheim in defeat.

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That night we parked up on a rocky outcrop not far from Kaikoura which looked really pretty. It wasn’t until the sun rose that we realised what a gorgeous place it actually was with the mountains rising sharply behind us, whilst we were surrounded on all other sides by the sea. Not only was the view magnificent we also discovered that we’d managed to end up parked in the middle of a seal colony and spotted some lazing on the rocks only metres from the camper. As if this wasn’t all enough we were bathed in brilliant sunshine and so we pulled out the camp chairs and ate breakfast, drinking in the views.

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After quickly jump-starting a fellow travellers car we drove two minutes down the road where we found the heart of the seal colony. There, covering all the rocks we could see were a huge number of fur seals. Feeling a bit like David Attenborough we kept up a constant commentary to one another remarking on what they were doing in front of us.

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After using up practically the entire of the camera’s memory card we moved on to the town of Kaikoura to go on the cliff-top walk that we’d heard was beautiful. We were feeling particularly fit and so decided to walk the long trek from the info centre. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake. It took just over an hour to get to the start of the walk and it was a boiling hot day and so puffing and panting we arrived at the seal colony that started the walk. Nevertheless we summed up our reserves and battled on clawing our way to the top of the cliffs inch by bloody inch. It was well worth the struggle though as the views from the cliffs were outstanding, encompassing the coast, the sea and the mountains in the distance. We also got to climb down to one of the sea level ledges where there was a steep limestone hummock that Alex just had to scale (naturally).

What felt like several days later (actually two hours) we arrived back at the campervan and though the temptation to collapse in a quivering heap was incredible, we strove to find our deepest reserves of energy and carried on to our next destination; Christchurch.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • There are some fantastic picnic areas to camp in between Wharanui and Kaikoura, some with seals included.
  • The road down this Northern most part of the Eastern coastline is gorgeous and well worth driving down.
  • Countdown have a travellers discount card which can come in handy. We saved 16% on this food shop.
  • Libraries are a great place to use the internet for free (although maybe steer clear of Blenheim library).

Posted by rexontheroad 18:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A day in Middle Earth

Pointy-ears, giant orcs and non-chocolate muffins

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We must be gluttons for punishment, somehow our vast experiences to do with LOTR have not yet been enough and so we embarked today on what has to be one of the most geek fest filled days we’ve had so far. We started out the day by visiting a little set of warehouses, tucked away in a sleepy little suburb of Wellington, that is home to one of the most prestigious names in New Zealand movie making; WETA studios. They were the principal costume/set/graphics/props/prosthetic/everything designers for LOTR and following on from that success and some other smaller films such as Avatar they decided to open a small museum to the public. It was a surprisingly good place to visit especially considering its small size. The place was stuffed with props and costumes used in LOTR as well as some of the other projects they’ve worked on. They also had a pretty engaging twenty-five minute documentary looking at the history of WETA and the work that they’ve done. We desperately wanted to buy one of the collectables from the gift shop but sadly everything came with an astronomical price tag and so we had to settle with the free postcard given out on the completion of a visitor survey form.

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We stuffed down a quick lunch and after a chance meeting with some of our fellow travellers from Fraser Island (oh what a small world we live in) we trekked off in search of adventure on the LOTR Wellington film set location tour. A little bit of a mouthful but I guess we were paying by the letter at $95 per person. It was worth every single cent however as it was a personal guided tour it being just us in the van (not technically true there being another family there who weren’t English speaking and didn’t really come to any of the tour spots as their three year old was sleeping). Our tour guide Laura concentrated on us almost exclusively as a result and we had a brilliant time in her capable hands. She was a bigger LOTR geek than either of us could ever hope to be and let us in on so many behind the scenes stories, such as Viggo Mortensson had to have the National Armed Police called out in response to his actions on a Wellington street!

She took us to each location, and as the sets are no longer in place, was ready with pics showing the locations as they were with the actors and sets in place. Not only this she happily answered all of our inane questions and took our photos, even going so far as to whip out some sticks so we could pretend to be Gandalf and Saruman. By far the best part though was when she produced the elf ears and sword so that we could pretend to Legolas. To top it off she provided us with afternoon tea at Rivendell although because of the rain we found ourselves hiding in the van as opposed to chilling with the elves.

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It was an awesome tour that we’re glad we did. We had previously been tempted to simply follow our LOTR film location guide around the country but that would have been rubbish. We would have turned up at most of the places and after hours of fruitless searching eventually found the hidden spots and simply been looking at a tree or a rock with no reference to where it actually fitted in with the films. The tour took up this part of the slack, taking us straight to the locations and then providing us with the pics that showed the location during the filming providing an instant memory jog as well as giving an interesting insight into some of the filming methods used.

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As if we hadn’t had enough of LOTR today, once we got back to our campervan we continued on with our holiday reading; Alex had The Hobbit and Rach had The Lord of the Rings.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

A great way to get in to the workings of WETA is by visiting the WETA cave in Wellington and it’s all free!

We wouldn’t recommend trying to visit the Wellington LOTR film locations without a tour guide unless you have a lot of time on your hands trying to pick out the correct trees. Unless you know specifically what you’re looking for, there’s no way of picking out the right features.

There are other LOTR tours for cheaper but according to the visitors centre these are a little less personal and we had such a good time we didn’t mind paying the extra.

Check out Rach's reviews of Weta Workshop and Wellington Rover tours.

Posted by rexontheroad 18:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Volcanic rugby

Drop kicks, sheep cam and the history of New Zealand

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Over the past three days we’ve spent time in two excellent but very different museums; one small, one big; one pricy, one free; one entirely about rugby, the other about everything under the sun (and in some cases the sun itself).

The first was in Palmerston North and was requested by the notorious rugby fan Rach – The New Zealand Rugby Museum. We had a bit of a struggle locating the place as it wasn’t where it said it would be on the map. That did however mean that when we turned up at the new building everything was shiny and new (aside from the artefacts that is, that would be a little strange in a museum). It was a little pricey for what it was but still a good museum. It is based in one large room which is interesting as you can see everyone else in there and we had a bit of snake going with the other five visitors as we followed the information boards around the edge. There were some brilliant pieces of rugby history in there and it held the interest of even those who are less enthusiastic about rugby. It did however become a little repetitive in some parts and due to the massive amount of information that had to be taken in some of it got a little confusing.

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The best part though had to be the interactive section where we got to practise our rugby skills. Alex had a slight advantage being a rugby player himself and got some decent scores on the running, the line-out jump and the scrumming. Rach however proved a little more flight of foot when it came to the tackle bags and managed to shave a whole second off Alex’s time. We spent a good couple of hours there but couldn’t have managed the entire day.

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In contrast the Te Papa Museum could’ve taken up an entire week and we’ve already made plans to revisit on our way back through Wellington when we journey back to the North Island. There are five floors bursting at the seams with exhibitions covering a wide variety of topics to do with New Zealand. Instead of doing our usual and trying to work our way through each one, as there were too many to comprehend we simply looked at one of the boards, selected the ones we each liked the sound of, picked a meeting time and dived right into the action. Alex as a bit of a science nerd headed straight for the forces section showing all of the major forces at work in the Earth. Rach went off for the more historic approach and went to see the New Zealand in the twentieth century exhibition, covering NZ’s relationship with other countries but also its social history.

These were just the tip of the iceberg and we spent as much time as we could there before we had to head off to our campsite. We did however make plans to return the following day and proceeded to spend most of the day just wandering through the exhibits absorbing the information around us. It was an exceptional place and very obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the display of each and every single subject and article. There was even an amazing interactive room which was slightly reminiscent of the Minority Report with a giant screen where images could be manipulated. Sadly they weren’t controlled by gloves but instead wands that looked a little like torches. It was a brilliant space to be in, much like the rest of the museum.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • The Rugby Museum does have a cost of $12.50, worth it for some, not for others.
  • The Te Papa Museum is free although if you are driving parking will come at a hefty price, unless you are willing to walk quite a way. Check out the car park next to the pricey museum car-park for a cheaper stay.
  • There are plenty of tours to do at Te Papa although most of these do come at an extra cost.
  • If you want to see Te Papa properly plan to spend at least a day and a half there although maybe spread it out with something different in between, too much at the same time can be mind numbing.

Posted by rexontheroad 21:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The mystery of Mount Doom

Waterfalls, snow and a game of hide and seek

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First off apologies for the crappy blog title but we’ve now reached the point where our joint artistic well has all but dried up and it has been a long time since its rained. Secondly as you may have gathered this title concerns the legendary Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. Being slightly crazy LOTR fans (Rach especially, something to do with Hobbit fetishes) we’d agreed that if we were in the vicinity of any filming locations we would stop off and have a bit of a squizz.

So being at Lake Taupo it meant that we were next to the Tongariro National Park which held the locations of Mount Doom and Mordor. They were very easy to get to from a central village called Whakapapa, which is just a short drive off a major highway. We’d planned to walk to a beautiful feature we’d found in one of our many guidebooks called the Emerald Lakes, a four hour walk that would take us across the bottom slopes of Mount Doom. Its actual name is Ngauruhoe but we’re going to refer to it as Mt. Doom throughout the rest of the blog, why, because we can! There was however the small issue of several million tonnes of water in frozen form blocking our way and the kind lady at the visitor centre told us that unless we had crampons and ice picks to attempt the crossing we’d more than likely be getting a lift back home with the mountain rescue. Luckily as it is such a popular place there are loads of walks to do and she recommended some of the shorter routes. There was one that caught our attention in particular that led to some spectacular waterfalls and so after a quick change of clothes and shoes (jandals* not being entirely appropriate) we were off.

The walk was brilliant, brief moments of embarrassment when we met other travellers due to Rach’s insistence that we dress as Hobbits along the way aside, and the views of the mountains were spectacular. There was however some confusion on our part as to which mountain was actually Mt. Doom as it could have been one of two mountains in the range and the crappy tourist info map didn’t really clear the matter up. Rach wanting to pose in front of Mt. Doom managed on more than one occasion to actually be snapped in front of Mt. Ruapehu. It wasn’t until much later in the day that this mistake was actually rectified. The arrival of the waterfall in our path more than pushed any thoughts of Mt. Doom from our minds however. It was a proper waterfall and it even had the hollow behind it. So with child like glee we took it in turns to run around the back of the waterfall and hide behind the cascading water. We got absolutely drenched in the process and had it not been for the freezing temperature of the water we would have gone in for a dip.

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Instead we carried on up the path to the top of the waterfall had a bit of peer out over the edge before wending our way back to Whakapapa. From there we set out up to the nearby ski fields on Mt. Ruapehu to have lunch at the film location for Mordor, but it didn’t look very Mordor like as it was still covered in snow and we weren’t really too sure what we were looking for. We just pointed our camera in the general direction and hoped for the best! Lunch was amazing with the beautiful snowy panoramas unfolding from our little campervan windows.

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After lunch we still had a little bit of energy left in us so we decided to do one more short walk on our way out of the National Park that the lady from the info centre had said was also a filming location for LOTR (Henneth Annûn?). Tawahi Falls were just a short walk away from the road and although not as spectacular as the Taranaki Falls still impressive in its own right. We managed to climb around the side of this fall and again get soaked in process still not having learnt our lesson from earlier on in the day. By this point the sun was starting to set so we waved our goodbyes to Mount Doom and we headed off to our next destination and luckily found a free campsite along the way to Palmerston North. No more picnic areas for us!

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • *Jandals – otherwise known as flip-flops, thongs, havis, sandals, take your pick. New Zealanders call them jandles as an abbreviation of Jesus sandals.
  • There are loads of mountain walks in the Tongario National Parks, but before you go check with the local info office; some you need guides for, some you need previous Alpine experience and some will be simply impassable due to recent volcanic eruptions!

Posted by rexontheroad 19:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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