Sunday, 25 September 2011

New Zealand 2011. September 12th. Queenstown, The Luge, Jet, and Flying Fox.

 Today we drove from Dunedin to Queenstown, following the Culther River and the so called ‘Fruit Route’ via the towns of  Milton, Lawrence and Alexandra. All the fruit trees in the orchards were full of blossom and it was a nice drive. All the small towns in NZ have a local coffee shop. these are great and sell loads of traditional home made items, such as Scones, both the sweet and savoury variety. Home made soups and pies, we stopped at a few on the way up to support the local communities! Well that's our excuse.
Queenstown is a resort town in Otago, this is in the south-west, of New Zealand's South Island. It is built around an inlet called Queenstown Bay on Lake Wakatipu, a long thin Z-shaped lake formed by glacial processes, and has spectacular views of nearby mountains.
We are staying in a private house in an area called Fernhill, I rented it from the owners via the Internet and it is perfect, just as described on the web page. Fernhill is a very nice suburb, just up from the Heritage Hotel where, coincidentally the England Rugby Team are staying. It is however a little too far to walk into the main town, but this is not a problem as the house and its mountain views make up for this. We have the most fantastic view of the Remarkables, and you could just sit and watch them change colour all day. We can also see the coal fired, 100 year old steamship, the TSS Earnslaw , do its tourist trip on the lake and sounding its whistle. The steamship looks tiny against the lake and mountains and just puts into perspective how large the mountains are.
Queenstown is a resort town, and sells its self as a centre for adventure tourism. Skiing, jet boating, white-water rafting, Bungy jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, tramping, fly fishing and more are all here. In fact, this is the place where the bungy jump was born. Queenstown is also a major centre for snow sports in New Zealand, with people from all over the country and many parts of the world travelling to ski at the four main ski fields :Cardrona, Alpine Resort, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone. As we have found out, everything about Queenstown is designed to part you from your money and have fun whilst doing it!
We headed off to the ‘i-site’, to book some activities. The ‘i-sites’ are all over New Zealand, operating as tourist information and booking office. The service they offer is outstanding and they are in even the smallest of towns.
Our first activity was the ‘Shotover Jet’. This jet boat runs on the Shotover River, passing through narrow canyons. The Jet Boats use jet units for propulsion. Water is drawn in to two jet units then forced out through the jet nozzles at the rear of the boat. It is this that propels you through the water at great speed. The jet boat does not need a lot of water to move and can do tricks, such as 360 degree spins. It was great fun, but I did not expect to end up soaking wet! That was despite the rain coats / capes we had to wear. At the end of the thrilling ride we were like drowned rats...and cold ones at that!

Once we had dried off, and warmed up, we went up the Queenstown Gondola, we were going on the ‘Flying Fox’, this was a bit of a disappointment as it was advertised as a unique high wire experience above Queenstown. '' Experience the freedom and adrenaline rush of soaring in the sky through the forest as you fly along zipline cables (flying fox) in the treetops! Above central Queenstown, Ziptrek offers a thrilling eco-adventure experience''. I think the clue was in the word Eco, I missed that! It turned out to be a few zip wires combined with a lot of eco education. The zip wires were fun, but the whole experience was a bit drawn out and long winded, there was a lot of waiting around with clipping & uncoupling of safety harnesses and all the hanging about made it rather cold at times. It was a cold day, snowing at times!
I have never heard of or seen a Luge before. This is a concrete Luge, not on snow. It is generally known as "The Luge" in New Zealand . it was first created in Rotorua, and built at Skyline Skyrides. It is a downhill gravity ride on a 3-wheel cart, the cart is plastic and has a very primitive breaking system. At the top of the Queenstown Gondola there are three tracks.
The "Scenic" track runs for about 2 kilometres, and is a perfect first ride when becoming familiar with your cart. The "Intermediate" track features a few more sharp turns, as well as a sudden drop, giving you a quick burst of speed (good fun). The "Advanced" track is a quicker ride, but definitely the way to go for those who are seeking a thrilling, fast ride!
We received a simple "driving lesson" on how to start and stop, or slow down your cart. (You push the handlebars forward to speed up and pull them towards you to break.) We were given a brake test then got a stamp on a hand to show that you had complete the talk and understood how to operate the flimsy plastic cart.
Then it was racing time.....and you really can go as fast or as slow as you like on these plastic trays, making it enjoyable for the speed demons, and the overly-cautious driver, who they nick named Mrs Magoo. The Luge was my favourite activity in NZ and we had more than one go!
We seem have been following the England Rugby 'Team'  about today, they have a 'day off'. I use the term 'Team' lightly, as they are the Back Room Boys, the physios, water carriers etc. Every activity we have done today they have been there. BUT, I am not impressed, I know that this is the day off for them, hence the activities, and do understand that they do not want to be pestered for photos etc. But Martin Johnson did not even acknowledge the fact that there were other people on the rides and activities, let alone other English people, let alone the English Rugby Fans. There are lots of Rugby Fans in town, they are easy to spon in the England Shirts! He did not even make eye contact with any of the English Fans or us! The team did not talk to any of the staff who were working on the activities, many of who are English students on a Gap Year. The physio only spoke because we spoke to him (sorry!!! but we recognising you as a consequence of you being on the TV! if you don't like it then stop coming into our house via the TV set ). Very rude behaviour was displayed by this team, who have obviously forgotten who pays the wages, and that they are representing our Country in New Zealand, Ambassadors almost. I think it is time for Martin Johnson and his cronies to go!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

New Zealand 2011. September 11th. Dunedin to Queenstown.

The plan was to have an early start to Queenstown, but due to the previous nights revelry this did not happen.
To clear out any cobwebs left by the night before we walked up Baldwin Street. Everything in New Zealand seems to have a tag line attached and Baldwin Street is no exception, this is ‘The Steepest Street in the World’. We walked up it, just to say we did and saw many people practicing for the ‘Gut Buster’ race that will be held on 18th September 2011, when contestants run to the top then back down again. They also have a 'Jaffa Rolling Contest' on this street. but the Jaffa's are not the UK type Jaffa Cake. This is a bright red. hard coated, chocolate ball. I thought it would be like a Revel until I tasted it??
At about 13.00, we set off to drive to Queenstown. The roads to Queenstown have been tagged “The Gold Route”, then subdivided into the ‘Fruit’ and ‘Art Deco” Routes. Today we took the ‘Fruit Route’, This road followed the course of the Clutha River, taking us through the towns of Lawrence, Roxburgh arriving in Alexandra. As it is spring in New Zealand the blossom on the many fruit trees on the route was in full bloom and the sheep were producing lamb upon lamb, I even saw some being born as we whizzed pass in the camper van.
Wynyard Cottage in Queenstown, had been booked over 18 months ago, and more than lived up to the web page photos. The house sleeps six, with two double bedrooms and a room with twin beds. Two bathrooms, kitchen, BBQ, sitting room etc, and best of all: a view to die for. Words just cannot justify Wynyard Cottage and Queenstown and the views, it is simply idyllic.
Sat on the balcony eating my Brecki, looking at this. Does life get any better?
So tonight we went to the Pig & Whistle for some dinner and to watch a match then got off to bed to ensure that we are refreshed when we book our adventures in the self styled ‘Adventure Capital of The World’ tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011. England v Argentina. Dunedin.

Sat, September 10th 2011
The Bella Vista Motel was perfect. I had booked a one bedroomed apartment this was clean, warm (once the heater was on), well equipped, with very comfortable beds. It is a walking distance of about 15 minutes to Dunedin and 20 minutes to the new Stadium.
We had a quick trip to the supermarket for the essential supplies. I found the meat, fruit and veg in the shop to look lovely and very good quality but exceptionally expensive, about double the price in the UK. The worst thing is the price of bread, it is so expensive, one brown loaf worked out to be over three pounds.  
We found one Bank in Dunedin that would change UAE Dirhams and went to Speights Brewery for lunch and a tour of the Brewery. The lunch was good and hearty, helping us to recover from the jet lag. But the tour of the brewery felt a little rushed. They had put on extra tours due to the Rugby World Cup and were rushing the groups through the Brewery. I know no more about the brewing of beer than I did before we started the tour. The tour ends in the Bar where you could sample six of the brews, serving yourself from the pumps. This was good fun, but again we were kept on a strict time schedule and after exactly 30 minutes that was it, bar closed.
The town of Dunedin was starting to fill up with Rugby fans of various nationalities, but predominantly English and Argentinean. We sat in a bar and watched the other matches being played at various locations around the country.

Dunedin pulled out the stops to keep the fans entertained, throughout the town live entertainment was provided, many organisations were fund raising by running burger stalls ect. The Octagan, in the centre of the city was packed and a really lively atmosphere was developing as the Argentinean fans beat drums and summonsed their fans support, to counteract this, the Engalnd fans were singing. At 19.00 the masses of fans set off to walk a set route to the new Dunedin stadium. The Otago Stadium, this stadium is brand new, it is enclosed, so the weather conditions don’t matter. Tonight it was a fine evening, but incredibly cold. Once in the stadium, made from steel and plastic, protected us from the cold wind and was warm. Our seats were fantastic, we sat just above the score board ( typical!! I had not brought my Cannon Camera with me & would have got some really great shots of the players). The match was intense, with the Argentinean players and fans putting on a great display. England’s performance was blighted by ill discipline, and Jonny missing a string of kicks. The Rugby may not have been great but for atmosphere it was one of the best matches I have been to.

We walked back to Dunedin in jubilant mood, and some of us partied till five in the morning, and even then the bars and town were still dancing!

EK 418, Dubai to Christchurch. The flight goes on...

Thursday September 8th.
The hotel wakeup call came at 07;00, and check out was at 08:00. It was time to make our way to the gate for EK418. Our boarding pass and the gate check stated that the fight was to Christchurch it did not identify the multiple legs involved, some passengers who were not going right through to Christchurch were very confused. The first leg was Dubai-Bangkok. Just about 5 ½ hours. This is a Boeing 777-300, and I am sorry Airbus fans but I still prefer the Boeing. I find the crew on the Bowing to be better somehow, more human. The A380 crew I have encountered seem to do a little as possible. So I am now 35,000 feet above Thailand writing this, due to land into BKK in 00:33 minutes. So far it’s been a good flight and the sectors of this journey are getting ticked off! PS, they did call for “medical assistance, doctor or nurse” during the flight....I was asleep?
We had to get off at Bangkok Airport, walk through security into the depature lounge, go through another security check and get back on the plane. This process took just over one hour. There was a change of crew at this point. Back into the same seat for the next leg, Bangkok to Sydney, this is due to take about 8 ½ hours. I had my dinner, a glass of wine, a glass of Port and went to sleep. I slept very well, waking just over Ares Rock; it is now Friday September the 9th.
It was pouring with rain as we approached Sydney, I have never seen Sydney when it is sunny, and that was a pity as I had a good window seat, and got a really good view of the city. We had to fly round Sydney for about 30 minutes whilst the plane received permission to land, so we were late arriving into Sydney.
Once again, we had to get off the plane at Sydney, go through security and go back to the departure gate again. Waiting at the gate was a lovley lady, she had flown from Abu Dhabi on a Ethihad flight, and was getting an Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch. It was parked at the gate next to us in the rain. Despite the fact that it was pouring with rain and only 10 degrees, all the workers out on the tarmac were in shorts! At least it saved me from thinking I was still in Manchester.
There was a slight problem in Sydney with the airport staff demanding to see a return ticket. Something about (students) using New Zealand as a 'back door' into Australia. The problem was that airlines no longer issue tickets, its all e-tickets, it did take a while to sort this out, so be warned, in the ticket less society, print your tickets because the Australians think that we all want to live in that dreadful place. Should have kept it as a prison, but thats another story!
Final leg, Sydney to Christchurch. Back into the same seats and ready for the comparatively short 2 ½ hour flight into Christchurch. The flight was fantastic as it was clear and sunny over New Zealand and I could see the South Island in all its glory.
At Christchurch airport our walking shoes were checked, and deemed not clean, despite the fact that I had cleaned them. The customs official then took the offending boots and cleaned them with some king of solution, now we look like we have new books; my advice, don’t bother with the cleaning, let the officials do it for you.
The Britz Campervan pickup area at the airport was very busy, full of Argentinean and English Rugby fans. Despite it being so busy we had the campervan on the road at 17.00, leaving Christchurch and heading for Dunedin. It was a shame that this drive was undertaken predominantly in the dark, as it looked like we missed some very nice scenery. With a little help from Red Bull, (it does give you wings) we pulled in to the Bella Vista Motel at 21.30, and climbed in to a very cold, but very comfortable bed: on our last day I found out I was sleeping on an electric blanked, unused by myself!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Flight EK18 Manchester to Dubai. A peep at First Class.

The Flight. Wednesday September the 7th.
The A380, emirates Flagship. I reviewed the economy experience in this link so you can check that out.
Toady's flight was not full, there were no passengers in the First Class. So I asked the crew if I could have a peep at the First Class Suites. I was very lucky as First Class was empty, and I was allowed a quick tour.
There are 12 Suites in the A380 First Class. Each with an Electronically adjustable seat that can lay flat. Emirates ICE entertainment system is fantastic in all classes, but in First Class, with its large screen, it’s like watching TV at home. The suites have sliding doors that can be closed to ensure privacy for
those that want it.
But, I really wanted to see the Showers! What I had not realised was that the First Class also has its own small bar area on the A380, next to the two showers.

The Bathroom was very much like a caravan / boat type with its precast shower, but the bathroom has, and you could feel it.....under floor heating! How amazing not just a shower at 30,000 ft, but warm feet as well. Ow well! enough of the fantasy. For me, it’s a quick reality check, back to my seat down the stairs and my flight EK18 to Dubai. Departing late (as usual?) at 15:15, we arrived into Dubai around about 01:20. I was glad I had rescheduled this leg of the journey as we did not have to dash to get the connecting flight, but needed to find our way to the Dubai International Hotel, located within the airport.
I got a shock and felt sick as we entered Dubai Airport, a man was holding up a placard with my name on it! What had happened? As it turned out, thank goodness, was a porter from the Dubai International Airport Hotel who had come to take us to our room.
This hotel is rather overpriced, it was 89 pounds on Agoda, but if you want a very clean hotel room with a very comfortable bed for the night in the Airport at Dubai, then this is the place to stay, It is located in the Terminal, above the lounges and shops, look up and you will see the curtained windows! It does have a pool, but I don’t know if this really gets used. The rooms have a double bed and a couch type thing that I think an adult could sleep on. All toiletries are provided, as are dressing gowns and slippers. Bottle water and tea making facilities are also in the room. All in all, it’s very clean, very comfortable & quiet and does what an airport hotel should do............ lets you get some sleep.

Getting to Christchurch, New Zealand from Manchester. September 2011.

Terminal One at Manchester Airport has 4 lounges. This concept of having to purchase a space in a comfortable Airport Lounge, as opposed to it just being what an Airport seating area should be, seems to have appeared in recent years as yet another way of getting money from travellers.
This ‘Lounge experience’ is now being sold as a ‘Holiday Extra’. The prices vary from upwards of £17.00, and are included in the ticket price for many Business and First Class Passengers. Some lounges are operated by the airport such as BAA but others are owned by the airline and the Emirates Lounge at Terminal One in Manchester is ‘by invitation only’; used by both Business class and First Class Travellers as well as Skywards Members. When I booked the flights to New Zealand, Emirates or the Travel Agent, I cannot remember which, was running a special offer, giving entrance to the Lounge as a booking incentive.
So, it is with excitement that I entered the Emirates Lounge at Manchester Airport. The lounge is situated on the second floor of terminal one. It is bright, the windows along its length overlook the runway so you have a good view of the incoming and outgoing aircraft.
It was very busy, but retained a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. The interior decor is in true Emirates Style, a lot of gold, beige and brown tones. It is not old fashioned looking, but verges on it! At one end there is a large screen TV, with 24 hour news on. I do not know if you could change the channel.
The leather chairs and sofas are set out in small cosy groups, but most people bag the ones facing the windows to plane spot. The business centres with its computers was, busy with clients accessing Facebook and MSN. The lounge had free Wi-Fi (remember I learnt about that in Greece?).
There are drinks stations all around offering all beverages from tea , coffee, and soft drinks to beer, spirits & champagne. Most people were having champagne. Magazine racks were well stocked with newspapers and magazines to help yourself to.
Food is served in a restaurant type area, however many people were eating in the more casual seating areas. Lunch was the choice, I don’t know why but because it was 11.00am I had expected breakfast to be on offer!
The selection of cold starters looked very tempting; the soup was a Butternut one. The main courses were Fillet of Beef, A curry, Lancashire Hot Pot, a prawn dish, pasta and a vegetarian offering. I had the individual hot pot, and it would have been a good hot pot had it not been very salty. The desserts and cheese board were sensational.
The toilets were clean and had shower facilities: dressing gowns and slippers included. All in all, fantastic! I have to say that the lounge was a real experience for me and I would recommend this to anyone, it really is a relaxing start to your travels. The choice and quality of food was good, and it saves you struggling trying to eat in a confined space offered in Economy class. It was the fastest 2 ½ hours I have ever spent at an Airport.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New Zealand Day 1.

And so the long trip starts. Manchester to Dubai, Dubai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Sydney, Sydney to Christchurch, then a drive to Dunedin! see you in two days time.