Mount Manganui – the English men who went up a hill and came down…

Today is the last day of the ‘tourist’ stuff before the serious point of the trip starts – namely the first ever test at Mount Manganui (Mt M) in the Bay of Plenty.

Having had a travel day yesterday from Queenstown to Tauranga – uneventful flights except for the a) the opportunity to travel in a prop plane and b) no bag security checking for the ‘local’ flight, today had to be a bit of exploring, climbing the mountain and then recovering!

A walk from Tauranga into Mt M added to the collection of the total number of walks and steps taken over the past week as this is clearly a country where fitness is a priority!

We stumbled across a coffee shop where we found Mark Ramprakash huddled in the corner over an early lunch, girded our loins again and prepared ‘properly’ this time for an assault on the mountainside. The climb is 232m from ground level to summit and a choice of treks – ‘simple’ to ‘vertical’ – we chose the former even though it was still over 2km long!

A mural part way up Mt Manganui

The track started on a reasonable incline but soon progressed to close on a 10% gradient if not steeper and given our collective youth, we decided that frequent breaks to admire the sheep, view and have a drink were essential. One of the group decided to add a drama to the climb by falling down, and given the incline, was potentially heading to fly off the mountainside (H and S counts for little here!) but I managed to grab him before he flew past!

So…on we trekked, stopping to ask others who were on the way down how much further but when told us that they had seen a guy weighing 180Kg at the top, we each knew we could do it!

And do it we did! The views were spectacular as you will see below. Yours truly managed to fall over (on the flat bit at the top) and grazed my elbow removing a layer of skin, but I’ll survive. (The excellent local pharmacist was brilliant and recommended a Manuka honey and oil potion).

Stunning views
The gradient os about 1 in 10 if not steeper!

Ok…I’m trying to keep the camera level but just look at the slope on the horizon!
The view from the top!
The view from the bottom – 47 storeys below the top!
The cricket ground can just be seen on the right!

The trip down was more stressful on the legs – the mountain is the equivalent of a 47 storey building! But another fall/trip on the way down gives JA a 2-1-0 lead in the competition to see who can fall down mountains the most!

By the time we had reached the town at the bottom of MT it was filling up with English cricket supporters – you can tell them a mile off (probably me too!) so there should be a good English support for the test starting tomorrow when the blog reverts to cricketing matters. Steve Finn as also spotted in town (Middlesex and England followers will know who I mean).

But fear not dear reader, Rotorua is on the plan for next week and has a longer and faster luge than Queenstown – and more accidents too (so, said the pharmacist) as well as some geysers, hot springs, mud pools and volcanic activity but when it comes to shaking the earth, we English have got it covered in Mount Manganui!

Craziness in a crazy town – who’d notice?

Queenstown is world renowned for the place where bungy jumping first started and the craziness has just grown from there. Here you can throw yourself off any and every height. Paragliding, bungy jumping, white water rafting, mountain biking are just a few.

However, the group enjoyed hurtling down a mountainside on the luge track last week so much that we decided to spend our last full day here being completely crazy and having this thrill several times.

Completely crazy but who’d notice? One young person asked our advice about the luge and clearly didn’t believe how crazy we were/are! I’m taking that as the ultimate compliment in this crazy place.

However, the views from the gondola and the top of the mountain are even more striking than before; in essence they change with such regularity as the weather changes that no two days or even hours are the same.

So…hurtling myself six times down the luge track was just the greatest fun and thrill…even allowing for the cold wind on the chair lift and its unscheduled stopping at times. If…no, when you come to NZ and Queenstown you MUST try the luge…and remember ‘once is never enough’!

A few more photos showing the sheer beauty of this place. Probably no blog tomorrow as it’s a travel day in readiness for the First Test. So, tourist readers beware…cricket takes over by the end of the week!

There’s gold in those hills!

New Zealand is a country of many discoveries and today’s is the Otago gold rush of the 1860s! Did you know there was one? No…? Me neither! So today we went looking for gold in those hills…or to be more precise, those rivers!

But first a contrast – overnight rain had disappeared and dried out leaving overcast skies at dawn but snow on the mountain across the road (well, lake actually). So compare this view with that from last Friday.

Snow overnight

We have the hire car for the last day today and asked the locals where’s a nice place for a half day out. They recommended Arrowtown (about 25km away) as a ‘Western type’ town. And Western as in John Wayne and not Cornwall. And we were not disappointed as the following show. It’s a true Victorian colonial type rural/mining settlement built by gold diggers and seems to be thriving as a tourist and retail venue today.


Miners cottages
Farmers market

To aid comparison – think Hahndorf, Adelaide and Niagara on the Lake, Ontario and I’m sure somewhere in the UK.

The group decide to walk one of the old trails – nominally 8km and 3 hours for ‘fit and able’ walkers but care was advised. Off we set – in the wrong direction! I need to remember that the sun is in the North at midday! It’s mucking up my internal compass no end!

After 30 mins, we’d made it to the first resting point before heading almost vertically up the mountainside. Now, without wishing to disparage my walking colleagues – none of us were prepared for such terrain, none of us are experienced walkers and none of us will see our 20th birthday again unless we’re cryogenically frozen and brought back to life!

So we decided after an hour that discretion was the better part of valour and it would be British and proper to know when we’re faced with overwhelming odds! Coming down the mountain was more physical than going up but the views in each direction were worth it. I hope you agree.

Refreshed by a local ice cream we headed back to return the hire car but stopped at the Edith Cavell bridge to watch the fast boats in the gorge. You can just about make out the look of fear in the faces of the paying passengers!

Edith Cavell bridge
And you can just see the fear in their…

The return of the hire car was fraught with challenge but that’s for another forum! All I’ll say is jobsworths are everywhere!

I’m sure they had them in the Gold Rush but what’s certain is that this country and this trip keeps coming up with gold medal standard stuff – not least the Otago ‘burgundy’ at dinner last night.

Marathon coach trip but well worth it.

Today’s escapade is a trip to Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet (or so the theory goes). And it gives the group the chance to escape the Queenstown International Marathon (yes, I didn’t know it held a world famous marathon either but with the gradient on many roads being almost vertical it gives itself to such activity). It will snarl up the whole town for the day, and probably tomorrow.

And since our tour manager, whilst aiming to improve his fitness is some way off marathon class levels, hadn’t entered the marathon off we go on a 270km each way journey to Milford. Total time is expected to be close to 13 hours but includes a boat trip and lunch so marathon sitting and watching the countryside pass is the order of the day.

Two hours plus and we reach Te Anau on the very edge of Fiordland National Park for a short pit stop before we set out again.

Te Anau and it’s rare bird!

The Park is renowned for its scenic beauty as well as being some of the locations for the Lord of the Rings series.

The last toilet break before Milford is at Knobs Flat and precedes some splendiferous scenery as we cross the snow line and come across remnants of last winters snow and ice lingering in the spring rains.

Knobs flat

The coach driver is keen that we keep to time since the 13h30 lunch cruise will leave without us if we are late! But as he keeps a running commentary he offers further stops for scenery, waterfalls, history and the like.

Cascade Creek

At The Chasm we stop to view the falls.

Incidentally it rains here almost every day and the waterfalls as they cascade as rivulets down the mountains are quite dramatic but we can’t stop where you like for some really clever photos as it’s avalanche country and stopping is not allowed.

Mountainside rivulets becomes water falls and then vanish within hours of rain stopping

If it doesn’t rain, most falls dry up within hours. But at the Chasm what starts as medium rainfall turns instantly into a thunder burst and even the best waterproof gear is useless. I arrive back at the coach as if I’d had a shower with my clothes on and windows steam up as we venture on.

I trust that the photos which follow justify my drenching!

The Chasm

Undeterred we plough on and reach Milford on time. The instructions given for the boat trip are clear and I gain the feeling that I’m being processed as part of a major tourist operation. Some 750,000 people visit Milford each year and given there’s very little else there, it’s mass people processing.

Our boat returns to the dock at – not before- the scheduled time, our coach is ready and the next batch wait for processing. There may be a time when numbers have to be restricted.

Nonetheless Milford lives up to its billing – it is quite special and even more spectacular on a sunny day but there’s something that doesn’t quite gel with me. Not sure what that is.

Milford Sound – the mist is from the Bowen Falls

Milford Sound – mean and moody today

We end the day – some 13 hours after we set off – in bright warm sunshine as the journey back to Queenstown ends. The scenery just gets ever more spectacular not least as the sun and cloud move round to reveal even more landscapes and features. It’s almost as if Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.

If you don’t have NZ on your bucket list…add it! You won’t be disappointed.

Adrenalin rush and the offer of a male strippers uniform

You just never know what’s going to happen next or what you’ll come across here in NZ!

Today’s weather was forecast to be the best of the days the tour’s stopping in Queenstown so it had to be the gondola Skyline ride.

Open the curtains in my room and this is the view!

Friends and family will tell you of my irrational fear of heights and in particular large structures held up by ‘string’ (or so it appears to me but it’s actually proper steel cables etc.) typified best by my dislike of the Dartford Bridge on the M25. I know it’s been there for years but one day…

You can just about see the string for the cable car as they climb vertically!

Anyway, loins girded the cable car to the top was uneventful and even calm for me (as I wasn’t looking down). But the views from the top were stunningly spectacular even for NZ! Sample glimpses follow…

Intriguingly there are various activities you can do at the top of this mountain – cycle down, paraglide off or even bungy jump (after all Queenstown is the world capital for such crazy things) but the one that looked the most sensible was the mountain top luge – or to be more precise a low slung carbon fibre moulded trolley with wheels and a brake which you could use as you hurtle down the preordained tracks.

So after watching others – including small children and aged others – managing to do this without risk to life or limb, it has to be done – not once but twice! But it meant each ascent up above the gondola was by ski-lift. Again, another structure held up by string! But it had to be done!

Suitable for all ages

But wowee! Brilliant! Massive adrenaline rushes both times and fear of stringed structures probably allayed.

And even those dressed as clowns!

A walk around the centre of Queenstown after the gondola descent brought this exclusive group to a fancy dress/party goods shop since our tour leader is planning more fun and needed feathers, a hi-vis jacket and balloons! Heaven knows what’s in store!

Whilst browsing an elderly lady overheard our conversations as to what we were looking for and handed me a male strippers costume (or rather lack of it) to consider! The goods were returned to the shelves as I want to leave NZ next month with an unblemished character!

Even more stunning views – lakeside

Goodness only knows what tomorrow brings when we head to Milford Sound!

Just tourist stuff today

Just a few photos taken at a few stops on the car journey from Fox Glacier to Queenstown.

The problem here is that you don’t know what fantastic views are just round the corner and each day’s scenery is better and more breathtaking than the last! When will it end?

In 200 miles today the scenery went from mountains to seaside, then to mountains and river valleys/gorges then lakes, highland areas reminiscent of the Peak District but more spectacular then to lake views, lakeside towns, vineyards, cheeseries, more gorges then to the splendour that is Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown). Just stunning from start to end!

Fox Glacier mince?

Today arrived with copious amounts of rain, grey and low cloud and the prospect of trying to find something to do in a resort/township which caters 90% of the time for outdoor activities

Nonetheless we Brits, used to a bit of rain, decide that a later leisurely breakfast was the first need of the day and to assess plans afterwards.

Decided not to be deterred by the weather a couple of walks were proposed – firstly to see how far we could get to the glacier itself and then a walk around Lake Matheson as recommended by the locals as something quite special with great views.

Ok…best laid plans! The roads to the glacier were either closed or blocked so to the Lake! And we were not disappointed as the photos show.

We decided that once you’re wet, you’re wet so after a break for refreshment we tried another walking route to the glacier. Again no joy since the path to the glacier car park before you even get sight of the glacier was closed due to a land slip. And here, land slips mean land slips! A colossal area has been affected so try as we might we didn’t succeed.

The only way on a normal day now to see the glacier is by helicopter (very expensive!) but even today with low cloud and now persistent rain none seem to be flying.

So Mother Nature in all her glory was to be savoured and enjoyed on a couple of walks – no mincing to Fox Glacier- over 12 km and 17,000 steps – and not all flat!

The photos don’t really do justice to the sheer variety and greenery or scenery but at least I tried!

Reflections from afar

And when there’s a land slip!!!
And looking in the other direction…see how much Mother Nature has done!

And finally…the national emblem of a silver fern in real life?

Send in the clowns?

This blog starts in Christchurch New Zealand as I join the ‘southern extension’ section of a cricket tour to NZ. The prospect of sightseeing across the South Island for a week or so and then two tests on the North Island (interspersed with a few days in Rotorua) is just mouth-watering beyond description!

I’m back with the same tour company as they did such a great job in Sri Lanka this time last year. For some reason, our erstwhile tour manager (TM from now on!) seemed to think that my casual dining wear of green trousers and accompanying red trainers was more clown-like than the height of fashion which I was clearly portraying! TM also then suggested that as a clown I would be good at magic tricks – how the two are related I have no idea but TM thought otherwise. And so the soubriquet stuck – so much so that another member of the tour party was convinced I was a professional clown!

So if references to clowns or magic arise…you know the context!

Anyway, off the group set early morning for the TransAlp Express from Christchurch to Greymouth. The excitement of one of the great train journeys of the world enhanced by the words ‘rail replacement service’ from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth due to a land slide.

But no worries! The suburbs of Christchurch soon gave way to the expanse of the Canterbury Plains (imagine the Fens but with lots and lots of sheep and you’ll get the idea!). But unlike the Fens, the Southern Alps soon appeared on the horizon and within minutes became a reality.

We slowly and imperceptibly climb to above cloud level, the ‘highlands’ in verdant splendour awash with cattle, rivers, valleys and scenery to take your breath away.

Let’s take a photo of the inside of tunnels! And some did!
The open sided diesel fume collector!

It’s also taken away by the open sided front carriage with inflowing diesel fumes from the engine and crowds of tourists snapping for all their worth including the inside of the many tunnels as we climb and the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps appear.

With each turn, change of scenery, twist etc there’s almost a Pavlovian action en masse to grab the next photo opportunity but as the fumes build a retreat to the closed coaches and attempt to take photos without reflections! Hopefully a sample will suffice but I’m taking loads (636 so far!) so if I do invite you round to see my holiday snaps, I’ll understand!

The replacement bus service starts at Arthur’s Pass (the Spoonerism is quite descriptive) but unlike others I’ve been on it has some of the most dramatic scenery to behold! It follows the railway as much as it can and only adds 10 minutes to the time,

The collection of the hire car was an episode in itself and it seems my offer to help with the driving was taken as ‘do all the driving’ as I’m presented with a chauffeur’s cap and gloves!

Anyway, a short break after a navigational error took us north instead of south (no names no pack drill) and a stop to stretch legs at a small seaside town was well received.

The town sign for Hokitika

My choice of music – I’m driving, hence my choice (!) – was met with similar derision but Send in the Clowns as we drove S6 to Fox Glacier among ever more enchanting scenery was most apt. Tomorrow we explore glaciers – Fox Glacier to be precise and there are mints in the hotel reception!

Ps…a more formal, structured and sensible blog for the tour company will be available next week!!

May your chickens turn into ostriches (part deux)

Regular readers may recall my impressions of Australia from my first visit which ended only 20 months or so ago; and the phrases Aussies use in a somewhat forthright manner which we Brits would never consider using (or the more polite among us…if you can find any nowadays that is!).

My first impressions of a vibrant nation, can do and will do attitude remain as refreshing as ever. The lifestyle is free and easy, the weather supposedly warm (I’m told it’s been cold for November here…a chill spring day comes to mind), and the love of cricket deeply embedded in the whole culture – I suppose that’s the thing that makes the place great for me anyway (not forgetting the rellies and their neighbours and the free flowing alcohol 🍷).

I’ve been quizzed about Brexit, Boris Johnson and the GE back home as no one here understands what’s going on (does anyone?) and there’s a risk under any new trade agreement that Neighbours may no longer be supplied to the UK! It seems that we Brits are the only people who watch en masse. A few tinnies later no one is still any the wiser.

One thing I can’t accept is fizzy red wine – so wrong on so many levels and against nature but then to an Aussie warm beer (supposedly flat) is also anathema!

But there’s so much to like here and to pick one thing would be unfair – but who cares? I think the best episode was my niece at the races last week when, after a sherbet or two, she was amazed to see two grey horses parading in the paddock before the race. I explained that it was the same horse coming around for a second time and there could well be a third grey to follow! Ok, we just each backed the winner of the Melbourne Cup at 12/1 and were on the merry side of sober but it was just hysterical!

I would recommend Australia as a great place to visit but work on the basis that they’re all barking mad and you’ll be fine!

So, NZ next and more adventures!

And in conclusion see if you can work the following phrases into any conversations in the coming days:

1. About as neat as a dick in a shirt sleeve

2. As useful as tits on a bull

3. Trying driving a fart up your arse! (Useful comment when assessing another driver’s ability!)

Offbeat – even for Australia!

Tourist stuff today – my last full day in Oz!

A trip to some local wineries to sample their wares as well as laying down some bottles in preparation for my next trip (November 2021…if all goes according to plan). So some scenery but the D’Ahrenberg winery is just surreal and whacky (even for Australia!). Enjoy!

The Cube
Just one of the Dali inspired exhibits

And inside too…is this a sheep or what?

Yes…these are the urinals!

The former is made up of these!

And finally…some scenery!