Thursday, 9 March 2017

Getting away from the UK winter....

Ugly, but it does the job; Emirates A380

Chris and I have just returned from almost a month in the Antipodes; eleven days each in Australia and New Zealand plus several days travelling from home to the far side of the planet and back. We've been promising ourselves such a holiday for a while and decided to book with Great Rail Journeys, with whom we have enjoyed some super European jaunts previously. Great Rail holidays include a tour manager who accompanies the group, and they plan and provide all travel and use only high quality hotels.

But perhaps this should have been 'Great Flying Journeys', as several Airbus A380s, Boeing 737s, and even a Boeing 717 were involved. And precious few trains!

Days 1 to 3

Great Rail's itinerary started at Heathrow to fly to Cairns via Singapore. We decided to choose a regional departure from Manchester using Emirates A380 service to Dubai and on to Melbourne, followed by a QANTAS B737 to Cairns. I think that was a good choice as the remainder of our group, who all flew from Heathrow, had 7 hours wait at Singapore followed by 12 hours in a cramped Boeing 737 of Silk Air to Cairns (Cairns airport is quite small, and cannot handle wide body jets).

Our return home would be Emirates A380s again, from Christchurch to Dubai via Sydney, and Dubai to Manchester.

However, I do wish there was a better way to get to the antipodes and back.Twenty Five hours in the air in 3 legs (one of 14 hours) on A380s, thirty six hours elapsed time door to door in one long 'day' through several time zones is knackering! Especially if you can't sleep in an airline seat (I can't).

Our first view of Australia was from the QANTAS Boeing 737 from Melbourne to Cairns, and it wasn't very inspiring. Hundreds of miles of what looked, from 36,000 feet, to be sandy scrub bisected by dead-straight roads stretching as far as one could see among scattered salt lakes. However, further north it got greener and more interesting, becoming hilly rain forest before we began our approach into Cairns. Engine power was reduced from cruise power to idle as we began the decent, gently weaving between the towering cumulus build-ups which had punched skywards, driven by heat and moisture, above the tropical landscape. 

The approach was masterful; almost silent save for the rush of the air conditioning and occasional whining of the flap motors as flap was incrementally added, each application was felt in the cabin as a deceleration accompanied by a steepening of our decent angle to counter the added drag as the extra lift was used to maintain speed without adding power as we continued to weave between the majestic white columns, sweeping out to sea and curving back around some offshore islands towards land. The rumble and thump of the gear coming down preceded the subdued roar of disturbed air as the now-protruding legs, wheels, and undercarriage doors spoiled the Boeing's otherwise streamlined shape. 

The last few degrees of flap were added as the wings were leveled on short final. The tarmac of the runway appeared immediately below, followed after a few seconds by a slight jolt as we touched down and the smoothness of flight was replaced by the jiggling of running along supported by rapidly rotating wheels over the ground rather than static wings through the air as the aeroplane braked gently to vacate the runway. Engine power was added for the first time since we had left cruising altitude as we taxyed to the terminal. I can tell when a pilot is enjoying his flying, and this guy certainly was!

We'd left England in a snow shower, white streaks flashing past the A380's windows as we climbed into the Manchester night. Now, the tropical heat hit us as we stepped out of the air conditioned cabin into the blinding sunlight. Our antipodean holiday was about to begin.

We met the rest of our group that afternoon in the Cairns hotel; five other couples, a single widow, and Ian our Tour manager. A nice small total of fourteen.

Here's a selection of the many photographs I took, together with some descriptive captions, which I hope give a flavour of our holiday. Please click on any picture for a larger image.

View of Chinaman Creek in the tropical heat on our Cairns hotel room balcony

The hotel's pools

Night view from our balcony of the (upside down and back to front!) moon peeping above the hills on the far side of Chinaman Creek.

Cairns has a large population of flying foxes, or fruit bats. By day they hang upside down in trees, like black fruit, and at dusk they set off up Chinaman Creek presumably to feed. They have a wing span of up to two metres so fly with a lazy flap like large birds, rather than the frantic wing beats of our small UK bats. We watched them each evening at dusk from our balcony as they made their way from the town centre past our hotel to their feeding grounds upstream.

Locals know never to park their cars under trees where the bats are roosting as their poo will not only remove paint from car bodywork, it also attacks the very metal itself. I had noticed some cars driving around that looked as though they'd been in the sea for a few weeks, such were the large patches of red rust bat-induced bodywork corrosion.

Day 4

We traveled on the 125 year old Kuranda Scenic Railway which winds its way up into the rainforest through 15 tunnels, past dramatic water falls, from Freshwater station.

Our train pulls into Freshwater station

The line crosses many ravines as it climbs up through the rain forest

Some dramatic waterfalls, too

Our group had our own reserved coach where we were served sparkling wine, nibbles, and orange juice. Tour leader Ian, me, Chris, and Cecilia.

At one stop I took time out from photographing the water falls to capture our locomotives

Karunda station, terminus of the line

Karunda village church

At the Kurunda Rainforest Centre we experienced Aboriginal skills (such as boomerang and spear throwing), dance, and a tropical BBQ lunch which included local delicacies such as kangaroo and crocodile.

After his we had a tour around the wildlife zoo at the Centre

Koala Bears sleep most of the time

This is Jack (the ripper). He killed 12 female crocs, each introduced in the hope of them breeding, before his keepers caught on that maybe he didn't like female company.

Chis pets a tame kangaroo

Next on the agenda was a trip into the rain forest on an ex-army DUCK amphibian vehicle. Our driver / guide here points out some of the plant life, most of it highly dangerous! It seems most animals, plants, sea creatures, and insects in Australia are out to kill you!

Tree ferns reach to the top of the forest canopy

This innocuous looking little plant is a stinging tree. 

Contact with the leaves or twigs of the stinging tree causes the hollow, silica-tipped hairs to penetrate the skin. The hairs cause an extremely painful stinging sensation that can last for days, weeks, or months, and the injured area becomes covered with small, red spots joining together to form a red, swollen welt. The sting is infamously agonizing. One victim, who was slapped in the face and torso with the foliage in 1963, said "For two or three days the pain was almost unbearable; I couldn’t work or sleep, then it was pretty bad pain for another fortnight or so. The stinging persisted for two years and recurred every time I had a cold shower. ... There's nothing to rival it; it's ten times worse than anything else.

The DUCK takes to the river

We traveled back down to Freshwater in a cable car that skims the top of the rain forest canopy for several kilometers before diving down off the plateau to the coastal plain 

Looking down from the cable car to rain forest canopy

Cairns airport from the cable car just before we descend to the coastal plain

Day 5

Today we visited the Great Barrier Reef. But first, breakfast.

A simple breakfast on our balcony at the Pullman Cairns International hotel. Sometimes we ate in the hotel restaurant at breakfast time, but often, especially if there was a very early start and / or a lunch was on the itinerary, we kept breakfast light and quick.

Today was an early start as we had a two hour drive up the coast to Port Douglas (above) to take a Quicksilver Cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef

Heading out to the reef at 50 knots on the catamaran. Even at this speed it took one and a half hours to reach the floating pontoon at the reef. The weather was hot and sunny, around 35 degrees C. Lovely!

On arrival at the reef one can take a trip in these semi-submersible boats that give a great under water view.

The reef is 'bleaching' in many areas (losing its colour as it dies back) due to rising sea temperatures

Plenty of fish around, though

One of the semi-submersibles. One descends stairs at the back to the under water 'cabin' with windows along each side.

The catamaran remains moored to the pontoon all day to provide toilet facilities (there are none on the pontoon). We enjoyed a buffet lunch on the pontoon which itself had an under water viewing gallery and plenty of deck space to chill out. 

Heading back to Port Douglas at 50 knots after a great day on the reef

Day 6

05:15 start this morning for a coach transfer to Cairns airport to take the once-per-day 3 hour flight to Ayers Rock Airport (Yulara), which is about 20 minutes drive from Uluru (the aboriginal and therefore correct name for Ayers Rock). The aeroplane looked like a McDonnel Douglas DC9 to me but was in fact a QANTAS Boeing 717. I later discovered that Boeing took over MD and produced the 717 from the DC9 design. The runway at Yulara is 2,500m, not especially long considering the density altitude brought about by the prevailing temperatures of around 40 degrees C. 

Our 717 took all of the runway to land and stop, performing a 180 and back track to vacate the runway.

We stayed at the 'Sails In The Desert' hotel in Yulara (all tourist developments within the Uluru National Park were removed some decades ago to Yulara).

First view of Uluru from our Boeing 717 as we approach Yulara airfield

Team photo at Uluru

Local coach and guide for our day around Uluru

These National Park guides are very knowledgeable about the area and about Aboriginal culture. They have to attend a college course and pass exams before being allowed to be guides. Note the fly net worn by one of our group. These were on sale in our hotel and are highly recommended to keep the flies off your face, and are far more effective than the archetypal hat with corks on a string. Though as our guide said, "locals don't get bothered by the flies until they go in through one's mouth and out through one's nose! 

Most of us have our fly nets on in this team picture

Chris and I be-netted on a famous bench. Apparently Charles and Camilla were photographed on it a while back.

That evening a coach picked us up from the hotel and took us out into the desert for a bush-inspired dinner under the stars. As the sun set we saw the changing colours on Uluru, and after the meal (by when it was totally dark) the lights were extinguished to reveal an amazing southern skies starscape.

The billions of stars of the Milky Way, an edge-on view into our galaxy, arced bright overhead, and a 'star talker' guided us around the southern night sky. Orion, upside down to us with the Pleiades beneath that constellation and to the left, instead of above and to the right as we see it from home, was clearly identifiable, as was the Southern Cross, an object not visible in the northern hemisphere.  

Looking the other way from Uluru is the even more sacred Olgas, which we will visit tomorrow

Dinner in the desert

The other table for our group

Day 7

This began with an early start to be driven out at 5am to Uluru from the hotel to witness sunrise on the sacred rock. It was well worth getting out of bed early for as the rock caught the first sunlight at its top and subtly changed colour, from dun to blazing orange, as more of it became illuminated. And anyway, to our confused body clocks, what is 'early'?

The moon above Uluru as the rising sun starts to illuminate the rock

Chris and I are amazed by this fascinating sight

After returning to the hotel for breakfast and check out, another local guide arrived to drive us out to The Olgas, a set of large domed rocks even more sacred to the Aboriginals than is Uluru.

After spending some time exploring The Olgas, we re-boarded the coach for the seven hour drive to Alice Springs. Distances in Australia are vast; most people think Uluru is right next door to Alice rather than a day's drive away. Here we stop at an outback dunny (toilet) on the road to Alice. This is the dead red centre of the continent; hundreds of thousands of square miles of outback bush and rock formations. 

As well as comfort stops at outback dunnies, we stopped at three sheep stations. The first one provided lunch, and this one (above) was famous for being at the dead centre of the red centre of Australia; this edifice marks the spot. 

Waltzing Matilda: During the long coach trip from Uluru to Alice our driver / guide kept us enthralled with information about Aboriginal culture, Australian life and history, and other points of interest. He mentioned a New Zealand / Australia rugby match where the New Zealand team performed their traditional Maori 'Hakka'. The Ozzies responded with a rendition of Waltzing Matilda:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred
Down came the troopers One Two Three
Whose that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
Whose that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker-bag
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Up jumped the swagman sprang in to the billabong
You'll never catch me alive said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

And some years ago Australia had a referendum on its national anthem and Waltzing Matilda almost won! But what does it mean?

A 'swagman' was an itinerant sheep or cattle station worker, 'Waltzing' is walking, a 'Matilda' is a bed roll, a 'Billabong' is a water hole, a 'Jumbuck' is a sheep, a 'squatter' is a land owner (and in this case, sheep owner), and a 'trooper' is a policeman. 

Our driver / guide played the song on the coach sound system, and was a bit surprised by the spirited joining in by our group in the chorus. It transpired that among our number were several members of choirs!

I captured our rendition on video. Click on the link below for a video of our group singing Waltzing Matilda on the road to Alice:

Day 8

Alice Springs. The place came about as a relay station on the Darwin to Adelaide telegraph, and this morning we visited the 'School of Air' (internet-based education for children on the remote sheep stations), the Royal Flying Doctor Service Centre, the old Telegraph Station, and Anzac Hill, a memorial to Australian and New Zealand war dead.

After these visits, we boarded the 'Ghan' train at Alice station for an overnight journey to Adelaide.

Alice from Anzac Hill

Our cabin on the 'Ghan'. Remarkably comfortable; when we returned here after dinner that evening it had been transformed by the train staff into a 2-bunk en-suite room, the lower bunk in place of the seat, the upper one (mine) folding down from the wall.

The Bar Car on the 'Ghan'. Comfortable seats, a great view of the passing outback, and a bar serving beers, wines, and spirits. We were traveling 'Gold' class, so all drinks and meals were inclusive. 

The ice in my G&T gently tinkles in the glass as the outback  baking in 40 degree C heat passes by outside the air conditioned train.

Next to our sleeping car was the bar car where we spent most of the time, and next to that was the restaurant car where we enjoyed a lovely lunch shortly after boarding, and  an excellent evening meal (all inclusive, including the bottles of wine) before retiring back to the bar car, 

Day 9

Just before midnight the train stopped for a couple of hours in the middle of nowhere for a catering re-load and removal of rubbish and empties. We trooped out into the desert where tables were set up laden with drinks and nibbles, and there was a large bonfire blazing. When the light from this died down the fabulous night sky became visible and again we could pick out the Southern Cross, Orion etc. 

I found the bunks surprisingly comfortable overnight though not all did, but climbing down the ladder and back in the dark to use the en suite facilities was a tad challenging!

An excellent full breakfast was served in the dining car, and a few hours later, around mid day, we rolled into Adelaide, where the train finishes its journey..

About lunchtime on day 9, Chris with the 'Ghan' train in Adelaide station

A coach and guide picked us up from the station for a tour of Adelaide, including Port Adelaide and Gleneig. As there were a few rail buffs in our party, Ian arranged for us to include a visit to the railway museum.

Adelaide from our coach

Day 10

A visit to the wineries of the Barossa Valley was scheduled for today. The weather had taken a turn for the worse with dull skies and occasional rain, the first non-sunny day of the holiday, but it cleared up later.

Our group enjoyed a guided tour of the Jacob's Creek winery after visiting a another, but less memorable, Barossa Valley winery (Saltram) earlier. The Jacob's Creek tour was superb.

There really is a 'Jacob's Creek' and here it is, just beyond the grassy bank in that dip. Remember that next time you are in the Sainsburys wine department!

A great feature of this tour was the 'sampling vinery', where the grapes for the different wine types can be picked and tasted. It's amazing how different they are to each other, and how sweet they are; I'd always assumed (don't know why) that wine grapes would be sour to eat.

Grapes on the vine

And of course, there was that wine to sample....!

We had a really excellent lunch at the Jacobs Creek winery, one of the best fillet steaks I have ever tasted.

After lunch we traveled to the village of Hahndorf in the Mount Lofty Ranges, which is the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia with many craft shops, bakeries etc. We then returned to our hotel, the Majestic Roof Garden, in Adelaide.

Day 11

An easy start today with plenty of time for breakfast in the hotel before transferring to Adelaide airport for a QANTAS Boeing 737 flight to Sydney. We got our first view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the aeroplane as we approached the airport.

After checking into the Sydney Harbour Marriot we had a walk around the Circular Quay area of this interesting city and enjoyed an al fresco evening meal by the harbour.

Day 12

The fabulous weather continued today for our cruise around Sydney Harbour past the bridge, the opera house, and Fort Denison. We continued to the middle harbour past waterfront homes and beaches to the Tasman Sea, then back via Manly.

That afternoon Chris visited an art gallery while I boarded a ferry for Darling Harbour and walked in the mid 30s heat to the Powerhouse Museum (a cross between the London Science Museum and MoSI). I returned on a tram to Central station and a train from there to Circular Quay, close to our hotel.

Sydney and its opera house from our cruise boat

Chris and a famous skyline

Middle Harbour

Some folk (none in our party) parted with the thick end of $300 to do this - climb the bridge arch

In the Powerhouse Museum

Day 13

This was advertised on our itinerary as a 'day of leisure in Sydney', but at the suggestion of our tour guide, Ian, some of use took a two and a half hour very comfortable train ride out to Katoomba, the local station for Scenic World in the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains get their name from a blue haze in the air from the oil from the eucalyptus trees, but what is inarguable is the magnificence of the scenery - reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

The world's steepest railway, at Scenic World near Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Scenic World board walk through the rain forest

The view from Scenic World's cable car as we ascend out of the valley back up to the top of the cliff

Blue Mountain landscape. As Richard in our group said "just like the Grand Canyon, you can photograph it, but you can't capture it".

Blue haze? Whatever, it's an impressive landscape.

Just to prove we were there!

Day 14

This is the day we left Australia and began the New Zealand section of our Grand Tour. Another QANTAS Boeing 737 took us from Sydney to Auckland. It took ages to clear Auckland immigration, with many hundreds of people queuing to be checked for anything banned we might be trying to bring into New Zealand. As a result of this delay we didn't get to the hotel until 18:30. We had hoped to meet a friend who lives in Auckland but with a group meal in the hotel that evening and an early departure the following morning that wasn't possible.

Day 15

I got my steam and signalling fix today, at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway which we visited on the way to Rotorua.

Locomotive Ww 644 was in steam for us and everyone in our party who wanted one got a footplate ride. This engine was built in 1915 in Dunedin and worked the west coast of South Island until 1970 when it was bought from New Zealand Railways and steamed from Greymouth to Auckland. After a delayed restoration it entered service with the Glenbrook Railway in 2007.

Click on these links for videos of in-cab fun:

In the cab

Cab Ride

This 3' 6" gauge railway has lovely old coaches with open veranda ends

In the shed is No.1250. This engine is the same age as me so I had to 'cab' it! 

No.1250 was built at Hillside, Dunedin in 1949. The locomotive certification was extended several weeks to allow 1250 to participate in a couple of events including the Festival of Steam at Glenbrook Vintage Railway just days before our visit. It's now 'out of ticket' and to renew operational certification requires funds beyond current resources of the railway, so it could be many years before this locomotive can roam the rails again.

I managed two cab rides in Ww 644; my allocated ride soon after we arrived, and during the run-round when the train returned to Glenbrook Station

This is Neil, signalman at Glenbrook. That's a McKenzie & Holland frame made in Worcester, England, just like the one in 'my' box at Consall. Neil not only works the box, he restored it, including building the mechanical interlocking below the frame. 

This was our road transport throughout in New Zealand, a 21 seat coach with trailer for the suitcases, so room for 14 of us to spread out a bit. It's parked here at Rotorua where we were due to visit the Maori Museum, but unfortunately the building has been closed as it suffered earthquake damage and has been deemed unsafe. 

Rotorua is a bit smelly! The odor of bad eggs hangs over it from the thermal springs. The upside is free central heating for the residents, evidenced by leaking steam pipes all over town!

Chris and I enjoy an evening drink at our Hotel, the 'Distinction', in Rotorua

Day 16

Our day began with a visit to Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. We observed traditional Maori carving and needlework, but the star attraction was the bigger of two Geysers, shown here 'blowing'.

Our Maori guide was keen to point out that these are pronounced 'guy-zer', not 'gee-zer'. As he said, the geezer is the person taking the photograph!

Click on this link for a video of the geyser blowing: Geyser blowing

Thermal mud ponds at the Reserve

Next port of call was the Agrodome Sheep Show with many types of New Zealand sheep on show; most, if not all, UK breeds

Click on this link for a video of sheep shearing at this event: Shearing

We were at the Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park for lunch, al fresco as usual

Chris at the Kiwi House at the Park. Kiwis are nocturnal so Kiwi Houses are darkened to simulate night (and lit at night while the Kiwis sleep) with no photography allowed. 

That evening we traveled to a Marae, or Maori village, to enjoy partaking in Maori cultural activities, and enjoy song and dance and a buffet meal of Maori cuisine. The coach picked us up from the hotel after collecting other groups from other hotels, and on arrival at the Marae each group had to appoint a 'Chief' who had to gain acceptance by the Maori chief at the Marae. This was done by a 'greeting' ceremony to indicate we had come in peace, not to make war, and rubbing of noses between chiefs.

"No tongues, then", said Ian, our chief.

Once the Maori chief had accepted the visiting chiefs, the Maori women welcomed us into the Marae.     

The welcome from the Maori women

Maori chief in cheeky mood

We learned how the Maoris came from Polynesia in eleven large canoes to colonise New Zealand only around 700 years ago. Prior to that New Zealand was not populated at all, and indeed had no mammals, only insects, fish, and birds. European colonisation came soon after, with Abel Tasman in 1642.

While everything in Australia, animals, plants, insects, and sea life seems to want to kill you, New Zealand is a benign country with no nasty plants or creatures at all.

The 'boys' in our group tried their hand at the Hakka

The Maori song and dance was good, as was the real version of The Hakka!

Click on this link for a video of how the Hakka should be done: Hakka

Day 17

We were driven in our coach from the Rotorua hotel to the railway station in Hamilton, to catch the Northern Explorer train to Wellington.

Chris (second from left) aboard the Northern Explorer train en route Hamilton to Wellington. 

This is the Raurimu Spiral, a significant feature of the line enabling a 139-metre (456 ft) height difference to be overcome. It is a notable feat of civil engineering, having been called an 'engineering masterpiece'. The Institute of Professional Engineers (NZ) has designated the spiral as a significant Engineering heritage site. We could see the front of our train going in the opposite direction to us at times!

Though not as scenic as South Island, North Island does boast some dramatic landscapes

The rail line winds around as it descends towards the coast. We had just traveled over this viaduct (from left to right) shortly before (now traveling from right to left) this picture was taken.

Although this line is electrified for all of its length, our train was diesel hauled. It isn't only in UK where 'diesels under the wires' are not uncommon.

The line crosses many deep river gorges, especially on the descent to the coast

Our 'Northern Explorer' train on arrival at Wellington. From here our coach took us to our hotel for the night, the James Cook Grand Chancellor.

Day 18

Next morning we crossed the Cook Straight from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. This crossing can be notoriously rough, but for us (and much to Chris's relief) it was dead calm. Unfortunately it was also dull with low cloud, obscuring much of the beautiful scenery usually visible in Queen Charlotte Sound on the way into Picton.  

From Picton we should have taken the coastal train to Chistchurch, but the earthquake of November last year has severely disrupted both the coastal railway and road. We therefore took to our coach for the long but highly scenic inland journey to Christchurch. Soon after leaving Picton, in the Blenheim area, we saw many vines as this is an important wine region for New Zealand. Ian. our tour leader, is in the jump seat!

Somewhere near Howard Junction we passed a gliding site. This photo, taken nearby, shows a glider pilot's 'three steps to heaven'. 
Step one, the hill ridge providing initial lift as the wind blows up the slope. 
Step two, the cauliflower-like cumulus clouds indicating unstable air with powerful vertical currents to carry the glider from the ridge to maybe 20,000 feet or more. 
Step three is indicated by the upper clouds in the picture, lenticulars. These are wave clouds, their long thin shape being formed by the air rising to the invisible crest of a wave downwind of a mountain range. They don't move relative to the ground unlike normal clouds, as the standing waves they mark are generated by the un-moving mountain range. They can rise to ten times the height of that range; their forward edges constantly forming while their trailing edges dissolve away. Get your glider onto the up-going phase of one of these standing waves and it's a free and very smooth ride up to 40,000 feet or more!

The long drive to Christchurch was eased by the traffic free roads, the magnificent scenery, and Peter, our driver's, informative commentary. As our eleven days in South Island progressed, so did Peter's observations, revealing a deep knowledge of the country, its history, and its customs. 

On arrival at Christchurch's Hotel Chateau In The Park, we had a group meal. Ian and Nick are nearest the camera, with Sally and Margaret behind them.

Group meals were the exception, with just a few on the holiday. Usually, we made our own evening meal arrangements either in the hotel or local restaurants.

Day 19

McKenzie Country (he was an infamous sheep stealer) as we made our way from Christchurch, past the deep cobalt blue of glacial Lake Pukaki, to Mount Cook

Me photographing Chris photographing Mount Cook

Mount Cook from the Mount Cook Hotel

Inside the Mount Cook's Hermitage Hotel is an Auster Autocrat, the aeroplane which started Mount Cook Airline, pioneering glacier landings in South Island

What a view! Chris and I enjoy a drink at the Hermitage Hotel, Mount Cook

Orographic cloud forming and dispersing on the ridge

Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki

These glacial lakes provide much of South Island's electricity through hydro power. Once the water has passed through the turbines it travels via these wide canals to lower lakes where it can be used a second or third time to create more electricity.

We spent the night at the Heritage Gateway Hotel, Omarama. If you know anything about gliding, you will recognise Omarama as the home of many gliding records. It is a glider pilot's mecca and celebrates itself as 'Glider Town'.

Day 20

This is Arrowtown, and in my hand is some real English-style cask ale brewed here. Nice find!

On to Queenstown, and after checking in at the Copthorne Resort Lakeside Hotel we took a cruise to a lakeside BBQ on Lake Wakatipu in this steam ship, the TSS Earnshawe, which dates from 1912

One of two triple expansion double acting coal fired compound steam engines in the ship

Click on this link for a video of the engines working: Engines

Cruising the lake in hot sunshine to our BBQ destination

Margaret and Chris; Margaret is holding her husband, Richard's, glass of wine as he, being a steam buff like me, has gone to the ship's engine room 

TSS Earnshawe moored at our BBQ destination. After the meal, on the cruise back to Queenstown, Chris and I enjoyed the balmy night air on deck and marveled at the un(light)polluted night sky with the Milky Way and Southern Cross so clear they looked like one could reach out and touch them. Then the unmistakable bright 'star' of the International Space Station drifted serenely across the heavens! 

Day 21

On the road again, this time to Milford Sound. It's a long way round by road and from Te Anau it's a very long dead-end road to the Sound. This is the reflective lakes on that road.

As the road climbed the cloud became more prominent, and we feared rain on the Milford side of the ridge 

The top few hundred feet of the ridge is pierced by the Homer Tunnel, which is one-way with controlling traffic lights and a 'time to wait' display. Gradient in the tunnel from here is one in ten down.

Our fears of rain were unfounded. Here. our boat approaches its mooring to take us on a cruise of Milford Sound, including lunch on board.

Heading seawards down the sound from our mooring

The cloud did not detract from the magnificent scenery

Male Fur Seals sunbathe on a rock

Many waterfalls enter the sound, but this is the biggest

Our captain took us in for close-up view and a wetting from the spray. Tradition has it that this spray restores one's complexion to youthful beauty. I can't say it worked for me.

Heading back up the sound

We were the only non-orientals on the boat, but these young ladies seemed to be having a good time

One of the lesser falls

Two Chrises! Chris Cottom and my Chris pose by our boat

Day 22

Chilling out in Queenstown

Day 23

Another long but scenic day on the road, enlivened by Peter's commentary as we head for the Franz Joseph Glacier. This view is looking back to Queenstown. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you might just be able to see the runway at Queenstown Airport between the river and the town. The VASIs (Visual Approach Slope Indicators) can be seen showing 'red', as we are too low on the approach!

For decades Queenstown has been a difficult approach for aircraft. Today's GPS technology has made possible a perfectly safe poor weather letdown through the mountains. Here is a video of it:

Queenstown Instrument Approach

Like many former gold mine towns, Cardrona has a 'Wild West' look about it

Peter, our driver and entertainer on our travels in South Island

As we approached the west coast the sunshine turned to rain. But that didn't spoil our fun on this jet boat on the Haast River!

The following links are to videos aboard the jet boat:

The following links are to 'spinning' videos aboard the jet boat:

The weather, with low cloud and rain, meant we would have to wait until tomorrow for a chance to see the Franz Joseph Glacier so we checked into the Scenic Franz Joseph Hotel for a group dinner. On the way here we had passed the Fox Glacier; I was disappointed to discover this is not where Foxes Glacier Mints come from!

Day 24

This morning we drove up to the base of the glacier and some of our party set off on the walk to see it, but cloudbase was still low so not a lot was seen.

Typical narrow river bridge in South Island. Good job there's not much traffic!

We stopped at Hokitika to see jade being worked in a greenstone factory

Turning inland at Kumara Junction we headed through Arthur's Pass on our way back to the east coast at Christchurch

A Kia in Arthur's Pass

After Arthur's Pass we should have boarded the Tranzalpine Train to Christchurch, but unfortunately wild fires had damaged bridges and signalling equipment and the line was temporarily out of use, so we continued by road

Before checking again into the Hotel Chateau On The Park we took a tour of Christchurch. The vintage trams are running again, but much of the city is still in ruins from the major earthquake of seven years ago.

The damaged cathedral

The so-called 'Cardboard Cathedral', a temporary building in use while the real cathedral is unavailable. It isn't really made of cardboard, being mostly plastic and metal, though the supporting internal columns are cardboard.

End of tour farewell meal in our Christchurch hotel

Day 25

The last morning of our holiday; breakfast in the Christchurch hotel before chilling out in hot sun in the garden. Most of our party had by now left for the flight home via Singapore, but our flight via Sydney and Dubai didn't leave until early evening, though we would arrive in Manchester approximately the same time as Chris and Pat, travelling with the main party.

Our Christchurch hotel

That evening at Christchurch Airport; our Emirates A380 ready to carry us to Sydney and on to Dubai, where we'll board another one to Manchester arriving about thirty six hours after leaving Christchurch, 25 of which will be spent in aeroplanes.

Day 26

The final leg - on board A380 A6-EUK Dubai to Manchester. Thankfully the middle seat of three was not occupied so we could use it for 'stuff'. The middle table was useful for all the free booze they hand out, too!

We landed in Manchester at about 11:15am and were home by 13:30.

What an amazing holiday!