Habitat trip to New Zealand via Australia

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January 9th 2013
Published: March 30th 2013
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January 11,2013. One more week and we are off to New Zealand via Australia for 9th Habitat build. Jan and I will be spending extra time in Sydney, Tasmania and New Zealand in a campervan and will also do a cycling trip plus lots of hiking-home by March 8,2013..

January 17,2013-Just one more sleep then off on 24 hour marathon to get from SSI to Sydney, AU where it is now 46C! Hopefully it will cool off by the time we arrive. We will stay in Sydney for 2 days, then fly on to Auckland where it is apparently cooler.

We have put our MEC backpacks on the shelf for this trip and will be travelling with medium rollers-never thought it would happen given all my rants about roller luggage. We will see how it works out...

Finally back to a good internet connection(at home). We had a great trip starting with a good Air Canada flight to Sydney, Australia-small glitch re Jan's visa at AC counter but solved by helpful Air Canada counter person. We arrived in Sydney 0845 the day after we left(I slept about 5 hours) We then spent the day wandering around the Harbour - I was hobbling a bit due a stretched ligament on my left knee as a result of hauling too much luggage on to BC Ferries after our trip home from Manitoba-not going to be good for hiking in NZ.

We found a BF market and spent some time there-got a kangaroo skin and some other key items.We managed to stay awake until 8.00 PM after a fairly expensive meal-they dont give stuff away in Australia.

The next day we did a packaged bus tour to Blue Mountain- Our guide had quite a bit to be modest about and certainly couldnt be described as short of words... We did some cablecars and rain forest hiking and met some very strange people on the bus. After the rain forest hike it was a mad dash to catch the ferry back to downtown harbour- A very warm day (not 46C again) but Australia does beer well even though the prices are close to the infamous Oslo/Reykavik levels.

The next day it was off to our good friend Rons (free internet,clean washrooms etc) and the start of our quest for Merino wool products (an exploratory shop in at least 10 stores) We then caught the Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. This was a trip highlight and not to be missed-the safety film was done by the Hobbit cast-hilarious and can be seen on YouTube.

We started our NZ trip by getting ripped off by a shrewd cabbie who flat rated us from the airport- about 10 blocks for $39 NZD.Our first NZ stay was in a modest B and B run by a superb hostess - sort of made up for the cab bandit .The next day it was off to Scotty's for our jalopy which was an El Cheapo backpackers car. We got it for about $20 per day, no mileage charge and no extra insurance. In fact as it turned out they didnt even ask to see our drivers licenses.

We started our tour by driving through the heart of Auckland -great place to get used to right hand drive. We managed to get through OK thanks to our pal the GPS. The first night was in the luxurious Aaron Court Motel in Whangarea. We walked to the Killer Prawn Restaurant for dinner - It is possible the name comes from people trying to kill the Chef...

The next day we continued our tour and stopped at some great beaches. The best beaches on the North Island are on the east side (unless you are a surfer) We stopped in a number of un-pronounceable places including Kawakara and Opononi to look at wood carvings etc. We also saw a 1700 year old Kauri tree (41 feet in diametre and 150 feet high) I am also starting to see a few new birds so bought a NZ common birds ID folder. Our accommodation was in Dargaville at a holiday park-perhaps the description was about the operators taking a holiday from cleaning the cabins? Dinner at a local restaurant was roast lamb and it was very good.

In the morning we drove out to Bayless Beach-perhaps one of the best beaches so far.After a 3 mile walk on the beach it was off to Helensville where we bunked in at a B and B which apparently was a converted maternity hospital. We went for pizza which was cooked by the Killer Prawn chef's brother.

The next day it was good bye to the car and time to figure out the Auckland bus system (fairly easy) We spent the day downtown and started it off with a visit to the Ice Bar.($30 each for a vodka cocktail in an ice glass?) The two of us also completely cleaned out a Merino store.

It was then back to the Airport Bed and Breakfast for our last night before the build.

The next day we were picked up by Conrad the HFH NZ coordinator and it was off to the Airport to meet the team.

Everyone arrived as scheduled and headed out to take a brief tour of Auckland and then to a wecome brunch - a huge BBQ/brunch/meat fest. The next stop was the Manakua Top 10 Holiday Park which was to be our home for 2 weeks-cosy but good. The first step was to send out the grocery shopping team-we also had to develop and implement a plan to keep the team hydrated...

The next few days went by quickly. We started with a bare field except for the driven wood piles and by Friday had the house framed. Each day started with the team breakfast and then the exciting drive to the site-a bit challenging given the right drive issue... We usually started work about 8.30/9.00 and made a lot of progress each day. The NZ crew is very safety conscious so no incidents and the first aid kit was pretty much left untouched.

This house is a different experience as it was constructed with pre-built steel frame components. It was carefully unloaded , set out as it was to be put up and then laid up and fastened in place. One or two false starts and do-overs but generally it went very quickly.

On Friday we decided to do dinner at the Local ( Cock and Bull) along with the NZ staff-great night of varying duration for the team members...

Saturday we decided to go to Karekare beach which was supposed to be an easy drive to the outskirts of Auckland. After an early start (10.00) the team headed out in three cars with various GPS units clicked on.. Just off the freeway one of the cars did a Old Faithful and had to be abandoned-fortunately the breakdown occurred in front of the house of an owner of a taxi so we carried on with the cab and the two remaining cars. The convoy got lost (twice) and also lost one of the cars but we did make it to the beach. (the lost car got there at 1700 hrs) We then did a brief beach event (no services at beach) and headed back to civilization where we enjoyed life giving elixirs (beer) and food-then back to Top 10 after a small fortune in cab fare.

The next day was much less complex as we had organized a ferry ride and tour of Waiheke Island. WI is a lot like Salt Spring and we visited some wineries-very nice day ending with Tacos at the Top 10.

Monday it was back to work (and out of the Top 10 into HFH NZ billets for two nights) Wednesday it was back to the Top 10 -reservation screw-up so we renamed it Top 3 - one of those "not me" things

Wednesday we built all day and then did a restaurant meal down the street at the Lonestar-a western themed place and within walking distance of the Top 3..

Thursday it was all over after a half day of work- we had another great evening barbecue at one of the board members- they do meat in NZ...A great night.

Friday it was off to Rotorura for R and R. Major thermal area with lots of sulphur smell in air and venting steam etc. After some shopping and lunch we did one of the two legislated events when in NZ-an on-farm sheep show. (the other must do being a Maori cultural experience) The sheep show was well done and included a dog herding a flock of ducks...

We then drove to Taurangi to the Trinity Wharf Hotel-not exactly a youth hostel. Highlight of the night was the pizza extravaganza down the street -toppings included banana,mango,cashews,rocket,smoked beef,yoghurt etc. (Some people took a copy of the menu and are trying the pizzas at home)

Saturday it was back to Roto Rooter (NZ names seem difficult for some of us) for the Maori experience which included live Kiwi Birds and the famous Haka dance-easy to see why the All-Blacks dont lose very often- The Haka would intimidate the front line of the Green Bay Packers.

In the afternoon it was off to the beach. The team went for fish and chips that night and it could have been(was) the best meal of our trip -Bobby's Fresh Fish Market - 15 people ate for $80 NZD.

The next day was the end of the HFH experience- we did a hike on the way back to Auckland but the team basically split up and went their separate ways-a great bunch of people.

Jan and I went downtown to a dockside hotel (Mercure) as we are catching an early train on Monday (Feb 11) We are carrying even more Merino product as we found a factory outlet near the airport.

THe next 2 days consisted of a train ride to Wellington,a Wellington hostel stay ,a ferry ride to Picton and then another train ride to Christchurch. The trains are excellent here as they have an outdoor open observation car as well as the standard coach cars. There is also a service car for food and beverages.

The first train was 2 hours late getting into Wellington but our very basic hostel was right across the street from the station (not the best place we have ever stayed)-we ate at our friend Rons just down the street. In the morning he invited us back for breakfast and then we caught the shuttle to the ferry. The trip across the strait took about 3 hours on a very large boat (9 decks)

In Picton, it was a very short walk to the train station and then a brief wait. This train is a bit smaller but the same basic configuration. This train had a very humorous service manager who made a number of highly critical comments about Kiwi Rail's management style and corporate strategy. Apparently Kiwi Rail is decreasing train frequency and laying off staff.

Christchurch still shows signs of the earthquake with lots of rubble filled vacant lots. Hotel rooms are at a premium and we were fortunate to have made a reservation. The next day it was off to the Escape Van rental establishment to pick up our camper(kind of a hostel on wheels) After loading up beer,ice,wine and food we headed out of the city towards the south end of the island.We have 3 days to get to Clyde where we will start our Otago Rail Trail bike trip.

Our first campsite was in Winchester and the pleasant discovery that we are having a better sleep in the van than most of the hotels so far? We have welcomed ourselves to summer here by having gin and tonics as the evening libation.The next day it was off to Temuku, Omaru with a final stop in Moeraki for a campsite. Day highlights included a visit to a Physio for my stretched knee ligaments, a yellow penguin expedition and a stop to see a model train setup. The Moeraki campsite (in my opinion) was perfect-ocean on one side and a train track on the other. we had 2 trains go by during the night-excellent.

Our next stop was Palmerston for more groceries and a brief visit to a roadside country sheep auction. For those of you wanting to stock up, breeding lots of 300 ewes were selling at about $90 NZD per animal. I would guess there about 100 pens on sale that day- for $27,000 per pen you could be in business.

We then drove to Ranfurly which is about the mid point of the Otago Rail Trail.We got lots of information from the helpful lady and she encouraged us to go to Naseby to see the indoor curling rink. We went and found a very nice 4 sheet rink that would fit right into any small western Canadian town.

At this stage mild panic was starting to set in as we had been informed we would need cash for the bike trip and our cards werent working. We camped at Omakau Holiday Camp(more cash gone) and had a pleasant evening.

The next day it was off to Alexander and an ATM that worked for us (sigh of relief)- next stop was Clyde and our scheduled meetup with the Ranfurly Bike Co. We parked the van, loaded up and were gone down the trail at 10.20. Today the ride is about 44 km with an elevation change of 163 meters. First stop was Chato Creek Pub for ice cream and coffee, then off on final stretch to Lauder, arriving at about 3.30. We stayed in the Lauder Hotel which turned out to be excellent, including the cold lager.Both of us highly recommend this as a place to stay if you are doing the Otago-also great meat pie meal.The owner is a gem.

Day two was a bit longer (57 Km) and mostly uphill (from 333 to 618 meters) we had a few interesting stops including the 114 year old Oturehua General Store. We discovered that near there is where they hold an outdoor bonspiel every winter. We passed over some trestles and through a tunnel and then arrived at Wedderburn Tavern-nice lunch. Then it was downhill to Ranfurly and Waipata (another tavern -2 handles each) where the call was made to the farm lodge owner for pickup. (our luggage was being shuttled to each place-excellent) The farm lodge is an old period farmhouse with at least 6 bedrooms (only one other guest) BF steak barbecue for dinner. Another great place to stay and highly recommended.

On day 3, there were about 53 kms to go (all downhill) to Middlemarch and we were supposed to be there and ready for the shuttle by 2.00. Off into the fog at 8.15 and on to perhaps the most spectacular part of the trail. Great ride including a cow traffic jam...We stopped in Hynde for refreshments and to get out of a huge wind from the rear- unfortunately it died a few metres down the trail. Arrival at Middlemarch was at 12.30 so did 53 km in 4.15 hours including one stop-not exactly racing speed. The Otago Trail experience was the best part of our entire trip.

We then found the Trail Journey HQ, turned over the bikes and had showers (and beer) The shuttle then took us to Clyde and our beloved van-next stop Wanaka.

We then spent 2 days with friends in Wanaka - They are paying $250/wk for a 2 BR suite in the top of a house. The women did a glacier hike while those of us with knee issues walked downtown and back.

On Wed feb 20, the campervan experience was underway once again with our destination the west coast. There was lots to see along the way including two major glaciers (Fox and Franz Joseph) plus some great beaches. Our destination was chosen to be the Okarita Lagoon as there area white herons there - busy campground. The beach at sunset was spectacular.

The next day we rented a double kayak and it will be the last time we ever do-all previous experiences have been uniformly bad(Gaspe, Belize) so I am not sure why we thought this would be different???

We did see lots of new bird life in the estuary (White Herons,Black and Pied Oystercatchers, Cormorants and lots of White-throated Herons) I am trying to identify 100 birds in NZ and AU.

At 12.30 it was off again for a short drive to Hokitka for a stockup on gin, ice and other key items.We camped west of town (once again beside the railroad tracks) The next day it was over Arthurs Pass (amazing road) to the east coast where we camped along the coast road. A major highlight was an off shore boat cruise to look for seabirds including the Royal Albatross-about the size of a small airplane (now at 63 different birds)

After another beach camp it was back to Christchurch to tour the city via the transit system- the downtown container mall is quite interesting-lots of rebuilding left to do.

On Tuesday the van return was completed and some more city touring was on the agenda. The next day it was off to Hobart on Virgin air to pick up the next van.

It was a Britz and somewhat more modern than the Escape hovel model we had in NZ.

The first part of our touring route in Tasmania took us down to Port Arthur to see the prison. Lots of different wildlife here(much of it dead on the road) including kangaroos, wombats and lots of new birds. We also saw Tasmanian Devils at a sanctuary and got to pat some live kangaroos.

There is lots of fire damage along the road here including a number of completely burned out houses. After a very interesting tour of the convict camp (where the British sent their convicts, many of whom were only guilty of being poor) we headed up the coast to the underwhelming Coles Bay Big 4-piece of dog ((*&^ for $36 AUD. The next door camper van could almost be reached out our side window. Needless to say we didnt linger the next day.

Stocking up with food again today-have switched to G and T premixes. Also got fresh fish from the dock in Bicheno, then off to see kaolas and some aircraft sized pelicans (now at 80 birds) Today was another Big 4 at St Helens and it was much better-proprietor nodded knowingly when we described the Big 4 at Coles Bay...

Sunday March 3d was a long and somewhat boring day-following the guidebook, we stopped at Derby, Bridport and Georgetown-yawn... At Devonport the Big 4 was full so we ended up at an adjacent park which eventually became really full. Apparently the Devonport holiday parks fill up with people coming over from Australia (or leaving to go there) The ferry arrives/leaves from a port just down the road-it takes 8 hours and can cost up $1200 for a car/truck hauling a caravan(maybe BC ferries isnt so bad (yes they are)

After Devonport we continued up the coast to Penguin (the town) and then on to Burnie where we camped for the night. Our plan was to go on a guided walk to see Little Penguins (the birds not the wine) but the other residents of the campground advised they could be seen across the street on the beach at dusk-so away we went. We were there until well after dark and saw a few. Apparently the adult penguins spend the day out on ocean fishing and then return at night to feed their young ones (who stay in their burrows all day)

The next day we started back for Hobart after a fruitless quest to see a platypus-no luck. We ended up in a nice town campground in Deloraine- another great spot between a river and the railroad track (3 trains in the night) For dinner we had kangaroo meat tacos...

Our last day of driving-made it to the Hobart Airport Campground-then flew out in the morning to Sydney for our last night and home on Thursday(14 hours arriving same day we left etc) On balance Australia was a waste of time and money-we should either have flown home early or stayed in New Zealand.(However saw 92 different birds including a Kookabura which almost hit the van)


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