Monday, November 10, 2014

Big Birthday Holiday - Part Two

Guest post by Tony Underhill

Looking out from the deck of the Interisland ferry as it moves down Queen Charlotte’s Sound towards Picton – what a stunning introduction to South Island. Our diary note says ‘Awesome … the best thing we’ve seen so far’. 

Staying in Blenheim, and still resisting the temptation to see everything at the risk of remembering nothing, we concentrated on Queen Charlotte’s Drive (so many beautiful views), Havelock (population about 500, but ‘the green-lipped mussel capital of the world’ no less) and Nelson (the walk up Botanical Hill to ‘the centre of New Zealand’). But the highlight, despite the cold and rain, was our self guided all day bike tour of the wineries. Intoxicating in every way.  Shame the weather seemed to have put everyone else off.
St Peter’s Church, Havelock – loads of boats,
not sure why I chose the church?
AU 1600, Heritage Park, Nelson – spooky …
a car with my initials and year of birth!
Car day - Blenheim to Christchurch. Via the Ohau Waterfall (baby seals), Kaikoura (beautiful bay, sandwich scavenging seagulls) and Cheviot (for the gallery of local artists’ work).

Even the undulations in the roads outside of Christchurch didn’t prepare us for the scale of destruction in the city centre nearly two years after the earthquake. Very emotional even for us as visitors.  Local opinion seemed divided between restoring the Cathedral or rebuilding it in a contemporary style. ‘Can do’ attitude everywhere.
Christchurch CBD – hugely emotional, even for visitors

Highlights included Canterbury Museum (lovely building and lots to see), a punt on the Avon (boaters and blazers), the innovative Re:Start Mall (‘pop up’ shops in brightly coloured shipping containers) and the return trip to Akaroa (our first pukekos and great scenery despite the weather).  All tempered by another reminder of the destruction at Sumner (expensive houses now perched precariously on the cliff’s edge).

St Patrick’s, Akaroa – quick sketch on a wet day … another church!
Up early to catch the Trans-Alpine Express from Christchurch to Greymouth. The scenery more than lived up to our high expectations and the experience was right up there with Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer.  Loads of photos, very draughty and crowded open viewing carriage. Then a new hire car and the drive down to Fox Glacier via Hokitika (plenty of pounamu shops – local jade for those that don’t know).  Great views of the mountains as we neared Fox Glacier – even better ones of the pub when we finally got there!

The next day’s organised Glacier Hike was tamer than expected (but still memorable and a good excuse for a massive café breakfast beforehand); and clouds meant no ‘mirror reflection’ photo of Mt Cook on our walk round Lake Mathieson. So the unexpected highlight was avoiding being mown down by a herd of cows and two quad bikes during a roadside sketch of an iconic red barn.

Whitebait Stall, Haast – no time for the crayfish stalls at Kaikoura so made the most of this opportunity
Red Barn, Fox Glacier – an everyday sight in New Zealand but a ‘must sketch’ for a Brit

Another car day - this time Fox Glacier to Wanaka.  Fantastic scenery everywhere … Bruce Bay (magnificent, even the driftwood looks beautiful), Ship Creek (our first sandfly bites), the Haast Pass (fabulous river views) and finally Lake Wanaka.

Lots of fresh air and activity in and around Wanaka.  Walks up Mt Iron (great panoramic view from the top), Diamond Lake / Wanaka Lookout (great view again) and Rocky Mountain (even ‘hairier’ on the way down than the way up – maybe we took the wrong route?).  And a bike ride along the river and back to the Lake (further than we thought and exhausted by the end).

View From Rocky Mountain, Wanaka – sketching was a good excuse for a rest
Cardrona Hotel – a quick roadside sketch … so quick I missed out an ‘R’!
Car day again – Wanaka to Te Anau. So much space, so much scenery and all of it stunning.  Fabulous drive across the Crown Range (early stop for a roadside sketch at Cardrona - too good to miss). A J Hackett’s bungy jumping outside of Queenstown (watching was scary enough).  Picturesque Arrowtown (perfect weather, beautiful heritage buildings, too much to see to sketch) and a visit to meet Garrick Tremain (watercolour painter and political cartoonist). A couple of hours Queenstown, then Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables and finally Te Anau where we stayed in a relocated former convent (another first).
Next morning’s drive to Milford Sound lived up to all the hype. One road, no towns, almost no other cars, some wonderful stop off points (finally got my reflection photo at Mirror Lake) and natural beauty everywhere.  Then our first view of the Sound and the waiting tour boats, … and best of all Mitre Peak. Lots of sandflies, but lots of Deet too this time! Then onto the Milford Mariner for the boat trip itself (our first time on a fjord), towering cliffs, vertical waterfalls, up close under the spray, seals and penguins, out to the Tasman Sea and back, and at the end another chance to see Mitre Peak.  Spectacular. 
George’s Violin, Te Anau – spotted this
in one of the windows at the converted
convent … a lovely peaceful moment

Tony and Maureen, Milford Sound

Drove back to Te Anau to find out next morning that the Milford Sound road had been closed due to a rockfall.  So lucky to have got in and out yesterday and feel sorry for those who might have travelled so far only to miss the highlight of their trip today. Then the drive to Queenstown for a proper look around and our last night in New Zealand. Over beers, wine and another steak we recap on our four fantastic weeks in New Zealand. We can’t choose between North and South Island. We love them both and agree that the whole is even greater than the sum of two wonderful parts. Also that the Kiwis themselves (epitomised by everyone we’ve stayed with) are a big part of what’s made New Zealand special for us… laid back, friendly, helpful, no pretensions and always ready to share a joke.

We broke our trip back to the UK with a two day stopover in Hong Kong. From a country of 268,000 sq. kilometres and just 4.5 million people to a single city with 7 million people. Even more of a shock than we were expecting but worth it for what might be our one and only chance to see it.

Nathan Road, Kowloon – a big shock after four weeks in New Zealand
Hong Kong – Kowloon Ferry – twelve of these carry 70,000 passengers a day and 26 million a year!!!
Thanks for reading and a big thank you to Murray for giving me this opportunity of a guest post.  It’s brought back some great memories … long live urban sketching!

Visit Tony at Flickr for more sketches.


  1. I very much enjoyed your blog, it felt as if I was travelling with you! The violin on the window sill was beautiful, and all the sketches were wonderful. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  2. Hi Lorraine. Thanks for looking and for your thought in leaving such a lovely comment. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. Yum - whitebait!
    Well done on getting recording your travels, and done with such skill too - all very nicely done.
    HK is an awesome place, but yes, a totally different experience than NZ.

  5. Hi Eric. Thanks for looking and commenting. Writing the blog and going through my sketchbook from that time was a great way to recall some good memories.

  6. Great blog and visual diary Tony. Fond memories of Nathan Road and Star Ferry; now I want to go to NZ!