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5 weeks, 2 Continents and 4 Countries

by Alan Thomas

Start date 27 January 3.30 pm. Taxi booked for 4pm arrives half an hour early. Is this a good omen?

We fly B.A. Premium Economy. Difference is more leg room and proper knives, forks and spoons.
We arrive in Singapore about 4.15 local time. A man holding a card with my name on it awaits. Makes me feel famous.

En route to our hotel, it pours with rain. Driver confidently tells us it will rain until end January. As we leave on 31 st January, this is not good news. What does he know – rest of our stay is hot and sunny.

Hotel is in City Centre and on edge of Chinatown (there is always a Chinatown). We go for early evening drink in Chinatown and are charged about £5 for a beer plus 10% service and 7% Government Tax. Have they never heard of Happy Hour?

29th January

We visit Botanical Gardens. This is more Roz’s province than mine. I come into my own when looking for a cheap sandwich for lunch – Find a place after a long walk.

30th January

Roz wants to have a drink in Raffles Hotel. This is to be the first of a number of Roz’s unfulfilled ambitions on this holiday. Raffles is closed, and completely boarded up until July.

The subway system in Singapore is enormous, every station is huge and state of the art. There is an extraordinary underground network of shops, restaurants and cafes. All the restaurants seem to be full of people eating, at any time of day. They must prefer this to the heat and humidity of above ground. First near disaster, I lose Roz on the train. I get on, Roz doesn’t, doors close behind me.

I have the tickets and the money. At next stop I alight and return to station of our separation. No Roz. After a red herring tip-off from a local lady, I get back on the train and find Roz at next stop. We both stay remarkably calm.

The most stunning feature in Singapore is Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Similar to the Eiffel Towers influence on the Paris skyline, wherever you are you it is also there. It has the appearance of three giant cricket stumps, with a forest for bails.

31st January

Leave for Sydney. We are upgraded, much to Roz initial displeasure.

In Business Class you have your own cubicle, and sit facing your partner. No partner, you presumably face a total stranger. Your seat falls flat, to help sleep, otherwise, not much different from Premium Economy.

Eventually Roz grows into this form of travel. I like to think it’s because she is facing me for 10 hours.

1 February

Arrive early morning. Park Royal Hotel is a few hundred yards from Darling Harbour. The exact location is in the middle of Spaghetti Junction, but there is a way out. As we cannot check-in until 1.30 pm, I look around for a place to buy coffee and tea. My first taste of Australian bonhomie comes from the man in the Coffee Bar.
“Hey Alan. Do you like your tea bag left in the mug or taken out?”
Fortunately I have the right answer. We walk for the first time around the u-shaped wonder that is Darling
Harbour. I cannot help but think what it must have been like in 2003 after we won the Rugby World Cup.
So many bars around the massive harbour front.

Our stay in Sydney is five days, and we have dinner every night in one of the many restaurants surrounding Darling Harbour. The atmosphere is of a continuous party.

Ferry trips are to figure prominently during our holiday. The first of these is to Manly. About a forty minute cruise from Darling, Manly is a delightful place. A bit strange, as you get off the boat, walk in a straight line for half hour
and there is the Sea again. On the way we go under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A tremendously impressive Victorian iron structure. Look up, and you will see people walking across the top of the bridge. They have to be tied on to the rails, as the top must be about a half mile above the sea.

sydney harbour bridge photograph,sydney opera house photograph,travel and talk

The Sydney Opera House is also visible. It tends to look less significant than the bridge. Two days later we walk around the Opera House, which is all the better for seeing up close. The outside of the building is made from small
porcelain squares.

The next day, we go to see the Blue Mountains, following one of the slowest train journeys ever.  Viewing the Mountains gives a clear indication of the vastness of Australia.

blue mountains photograph,sydney photograph,travel and talk,mount solitary photograph

As is custom we go to Bondi. Bondi is a beach like any other. I guess the reason it is famous is the location, being in the middle of Sydney.

While Darling Harbour is great fun, as a city Sydney was a disappointment.

6th February

Off to Auckland and the start of a truly memorable adventure. The plan is to hire a car for the entire time we are in N.Z. We rely heavily on Sat Nav, which in turn means I rely heavily on Roz ability to read Sat Nav. This Roz does with commendable skill “In 800 metres turn left. In 700 metres turn left. In 600 metres turn left, and so on. I have this running commentary for three weeks.

We are in Auckland for three days, during which time Roz goes down memory lane. Auckland is busy, but comfortable. No outstanding features but I would think a nice place to live.

9th February

We travel on to Lake Taupo, and suffer a prolonged spell of bad weather. Intermittent rain and sun. The scenery is of rolling fertile hills.

It is truly cold and wet.  We travel on “Desert Road” from Taupo to Carterton, and Mauorai. The scenery is more tinged in brown, due to lack of rain, throughout the summer. This will change over the coming days. The farm is huge, about 3,000 acres. Inhabited with sheep and cattle who have far too much land to roam around. The problem must be where to put the animals next, as there are so many fields to choose from.
Tuesday 14 February is a landmark day.

The drive to the Wellington-Picton ferry is meant to take 1.5 hours. That estimate did not take into account the morning Wellington rush hour. A further complication is my desperate need to find a toilet. These two factors result in our making the ferry at 8.45, fifteen minutes before sailing time. We are the last on board.

The Wellington – Picton ferry takes 3.5 hours, not because of any great distance, but the journey involves travelling along inlets, close to the shore, and a speed limit of 5 knots. We arrive safe, but then have a 5 hour drive to Westport, and our first night on South Island.

What immediately strikes me is that South Island is more dramatically mountainous than North Island.
Westport, a pleasant enough place, becomes the setting for what could be described as a “You couldn’t make it up “experience. I booked a place called Westport Coast Hotel. This we cannot find on a map or on Sat Nav.

westport new zealand photograph,pancake rocks photograph new zealand, travel and talk

We do however find Westport Coast Motel. The receptionist points out that on the booking form, Westport Coast Hotel is in Ireland. Oooops! The motel is full, but we can be accommodated at a Holiday Park nearby. This turns out to be unsatisfactory, and we end up in The Black and White Hotel, Main Street Westport. Cheerful, basic, but clean.

The only small complaint, Roz finds more than one foreign hair in her bed the following morning. Roz has lost faith in my organisational ability.

Breakfast the next morning is in Gibbys Café, and is in the top ten of best scrambled eggs and bacon of all time.
As the cost of the hotel and breakfast for two is about £50, I tend to take a positive view on the outcome. Next day is a drive to Ross, along the West coast.

15th February
Ross is an old gold mining town. The gold is long gone, but the place has survived, how, I do not know. The mecca of all activity is the Historic Empire Hotel. It is here we have one of the most eventful nights of the holiday. We get to eat a home cooked buffet, play 60’s records on a free juke box, and listen to a honky tonk piano played by an elderly, but sprightly, grey haired lady. Great night, and back to the most spacious set of rooms of our stay.

ross new zealand photograph, historic empire hotel photograph, new zealand photograph

16 February
Next up is a trip through the mountains, past Franz Joseph Glacier, and on to Lake Wanaka. It is the most spectacular, dramatic day’s drive of my life. The signs that tell you “driving in New Zealand is different” , the One
Lane bridges, turning a corner ,faced with a sheer mountain face, turning another corner to witness a lake, the water the most vivid turquoise colour is all unforgettable.

We finally arrive in Lake Wanaka, a lovely place, with an alpine “feel”. The place is crowded, due to an international triathlon, that takes place the following morning. We unwittingly become involved in this event, and lose 2 hours travelling time the following morning.

Wanaka would have been the furthest south we travelled, on the entire holiday but as we are diverted south from Wanaka, this honour falls to Cromwell. From here on, we head north eventually towards Auckland.

17 February

We travel past Lake Tekapo, and view Mount Cook in the company of an increasing number of  tourists
some of whom have a disregard for Official viewing sites, and instead wander around rather dangerously.
Geraldine on the east side of the mountains is our next port of call.

lake takepo photograph,new zealand photograph,travel and talk

The scenery develops into an English country side, with rolling green hills, reminiscent of Devon. Geraldine, with its stone wall by the roadside is definitely “English”. Saturday night and The Village Inn is where we eat an excellent dinner, along with a good number of Geraldiners.

The man at Motel reception is most friendly, and advises me on how to use the T.V. without incurring any extra costs.

Sunday 19 February

Not the greatest day of the holiday. We have a long journey to Kaikoura, to see the Whales. The drive to Christchurch, and beyond is along a flat open road, with no problems. A stop for coffee just outside Christchurch leaves us a bit depressed, for the only reason that we are drinking in a shopping precinct. After the rustic surroundings of the past few days, this reminds us that the holiday will be over in a few weeks.

After Christchurch, Roz takes the wheel, but is not happy when we start to climb the mountains again. We start our own sing song, either to the 60’sCD bought at a coffee stop, or our own numbers. “Runaway Train” for some reason is a favourite.

After a while, thinking we are past the worst, Roz drives again. I prove to be a rather nervous passenger when next to a sheer drop on the passenger side. “F– — -g Hell is my response. Roz copes well.

Approaching Kaikoura, evidence of the earthquake three years ago is visible. The road is squeezed between the sea and sheer cliff faces. Tsunami one side, land slips on the other. For a good number of miles we have to drive single file. The road workers do a professional job at getting everybody through. All cars are counted, and the registration number of the last car is logged, before cars going in the other direction are given the all clear.

Kaikoura is a disappointment. Not only are we not able to go whale watching, but the place has not fully recovered from the earthquake, and is not a comfortable place to be.

Monday 19 February

The problems of Kaikoura are put behind us, as we learn of Cyclone Gita that is due to hit the north of South Island, and south of North Island in a day or two, just as we are scheduled to catch the Picton to Wellington ferry.

Frustratingly, not much information is forthcoming from the News Channels on T.V. as to the exact timing of Gita, and where it is likely to hit.

We arrive in Picton in the afternoon. The lady in the ticket office does not think there is much to worry about, and the sailing will be fine. Sensing my unease (panic), she changes our booking to an earlier time.

We are now booked on the 9.05 a.m ferry. Our last night’s stay on South Island is at the Picton Yacht Club Hotel.

Our travels on South Island have taught us that Motels are a better bet and offer greater value for money than Hotels.

Tuesday 20 February

Not wanting to repeat the experience of the earlier crossing, we are up at 5.30 a.m. even though we are only 10 minutes from the ferry. It is pouring with rain, but the 120 mph wind forecast has not arrived. The crossing is surprisingly calm, and the rain temporarily abates.

We arrive in Wellington, and the drive up to Carterton begins. The rain in Wellington is torrential but the further north we go the better the weather.

We are very lucky – the next day there are reports of devastation on the north west coast of South Island as well as Kaikoura, and New Plymouth which is to the north west of us on North Island.

21/22/23 February

Nothing can replace the adventures of our South Island trip, but we still find plenty to do during our last days.
We visit Martinborough, a Victorian style town with a picturesque Village Square. A tour of a Winery is next, followed by afternoon tea. Finally we visit Masterton, which is very affluent, being where all the
rich farmers hang out.

24 February

We return to Lake Taupo, and this time we see it in glorious sunshine. This is a popular resort town, where people come to visit the largest lake in the southern hemisphere. The brief stay is comfortable, and prepares us for our final days journey back to Auckland. The road between Taupo and Auckland is the best we have travelled on,
being dual carriageway. It is also the busiest, and the last twenty miles are in heavy traffic, again reminding us of our return to an environment we are used to being in.

27 February

One last near disaster before our flight to Hong Kong. Again we have an early start, the flight being at 9a.m, we have to return the hire car. It is dark, the roads are busy, and the sat nav does not give the exact address of Go rentals. We drive around, think of leaving the car by Arrivals at the Airport, have heated discussion, before finally finding the Return address, and in fact arriving at the Airport 2 hours before the flight.

I am thinking at this stage that maybe I would prefer to go straight home, and forget Hong Kong.

The flight is 11 hours, and on arriving at our hotel, this thinking is strengthened when I see the broom cupboard the management of Eaton Hotel, Kowloon are trying to pass off as a room. I ask for something better, and both of us are delighted with the alternative at an extra cost of £20 per night. Once we have the new room, spirits are lifted, and we have a wonderful time.

I said before, ferries played a big part of our holiday.We get bus to Victoria Harbour, ferry to Central, Hong Kong Island and another ferry to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. Hong Kong Island is the commercial, shopping and entertainment centre Kowloon is the mainland, and inhabited mainly by Chinese. Expats, and other Europeans, Americans etc live on Islands away from the Centre, and travel in and out by ferry. They generally have no need to
go to Kowloon. Discovery Bay is on Lantau Island, as is the airport. Kowloon is densely populated, and very” in your face.” There cannot be many cities where the main road is a six lane dual carriageway.
This is Nathan Road. The most used form of transport is the double decker bus. Taxis come a close second, and it is a constant wall of noise. That’s why Discovery Bay is such a welcoming place. You could be on the shores of the Mediterranean. It is quiet and peaceful. There are no cars on Discovery Bay, they drive in golf buggies.

28 February -3 March.

Doing the tourist bit, we go on the Vernicular railway, up the mountain to the “Peak”. Hong Kong is rather short of historical places of interest, and although interesting, the presence of shops, and a Madam Tussaurds give The Peak
an artificial look. I fall for it though, and buy Roz and myself new watches.

Last night, and we have dinner in the Lang Kwai Fong district of Hong Kong. Drinks before and afterwards are an eye opener.

The locals are not big drinkers, but this does not stop the Anglo Saxons who we see congregating around a Kiosk selling cheapish beer and wine. This is a very English custom, drinks after work, particularly on a Friday. The dinner is a bit bizarre, and drinks more so.

The Lang Kwai Fong District is buzzing, with Chinese and Euros. This must be the area where Gazza and the boys of ’96 came for a few drinks in the Dentist Chair.

Next day we again visit Discovery Bay for lunch.

The return flight is not until 11.30 at night, due to land Heathrow at 4.45 the first of the day at Terminal 5.

There to greet us is our driver, who just happens to be Chinese.

Holiday over, much to remember, and it is bringing a tear to my eye, when I think of all we did together.

https://www.newzealand.com

http://www.discoverhongkong.com/uk/index.jsp