Okiwi Bay

Okiwi Bay is located in the Rai Valley on the northern coast of the south Island approximately half way between Nelson and Havelock. The locals describe it as, ‘a quaint little drinking village with a bit of a fishing problem’.

My brother picked this for our final stay before returning to Christchurch. We arrived around lunch time and sorted out our cabin. Then off to explore this gorgeous little village. The only retail therapy in town is at the caravan park, which has as a tiny general store with a few basic supplies. Don’t expect to get your weeks shopping there though. I think they sell a few chocolate bars, ice creams, milk, and possibly they may sell some bait too. Being a village with a bit of a fishing problem, i guess that’d take care of the important stuff for the regular holiday makers.

After almost two weeks of clear blue skies, and hot summer’s days, the weather while in Okiwi Bay was overcast with low cloud. Clearly, swimming was out of the question.

cloud hovered low over the hills
A pretty little bay
It would have been a lovely day for boat fishing
Now I know what to do when my agapanthus drop their flowers

 

The bay on one side of us, and this little water way on the other
And a bridge leading you to a walk track

Its a shame we only had one night here. Definitely the prettiest place on our trip, I would have liked a few days to wind down and relax. I’m sure Paul would have appreciated tossing a line in the water too. Perhaps next time…..

 

The Abel Tasman walk

After a couple of days in Christchurch we headed north to begin our three day guided walk of the Abel Tasman National Park, approximately 36kms walking in total.

We had a couple of overnight stops on the way, and a few short stops to visit places of interest. Paul walked down to capture this next photo – I was busy trying to fend off a very friendly bee. Note to myself – don’t wear blue when visiting NZ, the bees think you’re a flower, or so I’m told.

A pretty place (shame about the friendly bees)

Then onto our pick up point in Motueka where we sorted our luggage ready to begin our three day hike. There’s a tidal crossing towards the end between the Awaroa lodge and Totaranui, and the tides weren’t going to be favourable for us at this crossing if we were walking the track from start to finish, or from finish to start. Instead we started somewhere around the middle. A boat trip took us to our starting point approximately a 7km walk from Awaroa lodge, our first nights accommodation.

A well maintained, fern lined track
Looking down on turquoise bays

A bit of a beach trek and we arrived our first nights accommodation and were allocated our rooms. We were ever so surprised to discover ours was the room at the top left – only the best room in the place. How lucky were we!

Our room – top left

 

view over the bay from our room

We had been told we could do as little or as much of the walk as wanted. Paul’s a lot more capable than me, so he managed the full hike. I only did around 1/3 of it in total.

I chose only to do the first part of our 2nd days walk,  approximately  7km. The tide still wasn’t right for us to walk across the crossing, but fortunately the water was deep enough for us to be transported across by barge to begin day twos walk – around 17kms for those completing the whole walk.

Despite being told we could walk it at our own pace, the pace needed to meet the boat at Totaranui was considerably faster than my natural bush walking pace. I was to stressed at trying to keep up that I found it hard to enjoy any of the sections I did complete. I’ve never enjoyed walking with experienced bush walkers and this walk has only re-enforced my desire not to share a bush walk of any length with anyone other Paul. Paul understands my limitations and, although he’s able to walk considerably faster than me, he also doesn’t mind matching his speed with mine. We both manage to enjoy walking together without pressure, and without stress when on our own.

With a lot of prompting to speed up the pace from our guide we did manage to meet the boat at Totaranui, with more than a few minutes to spare. Phew! (didn’t enjoy that much). The boat then dropped me at our second nights lodgings, and continued on with the rest of the walkers to the previous days’s starting point for commencement of the walk in the opposite direction.

Even if I couldn’t stop and relax to appreciate the views, the walk as seen through Paul’s camera lens did offer some pretty sights.

The track wound up and down between pretty bays

 Arriving at our lodge around 5 hours before the rest of the party allowed me to enjoy the solitude, and wonder at our room allocation. Yes, again the best room in the house. Apparently we were the first ones to book, and the rooms are allocated on a first in, first served basis.

Torrens lodge – our room on the top left (again the best room in the house)
View from our window – what did we do to deserve this

The next day the walking group left around 9am. I waited until lunch time when a water taxi took me to meet the walkers at their lunch stop. From here I walked with them to the walks completion.

Nearing the end
The start of the Abel Tasman walk – or in our case, the finishing point

A coach met us to take us back to the office in Motueka where my brother and sister-in-law met us to take us back to our digs.  The walk is labelled as one of New Zealand great walks. The track is well maintained, winding through shady forest landscape and overlooking gorgeous turquoise bays. For experienced bushwalkers I’m sure it’d be a pleasure. For me, well I enjoyed the accommodation, and apart from that all I can say is – seeing that coach at the end – what a pleasure that was!

A little bit more about the Avon River – Christchurch NZ

The Avon River

I love this little river, and little it is – as far as depth goes anyway. Meandering from it’s source in the Western suburb of Avonhead, and winding it’s way gently through the suburbs to the Central Business district of Christchurch, I doubt the water would reach above knee-deep at any one point.

Shallow, and narrow

Perhaps that’s why so many Christchurch children have spent some of their childhood paddling their own canoes down it’s tranquil waters. It’s safe.

$12 will hire you one of these for an hour

As children we would make our way to the Antigua Boat sheds on a warm summer’s day. The cost of hiring a kayak (or single canoe as I’ve always called them) was very cheap. Goodness, it’s still only $12 an hour. Did we bus into Cathedral Square and walk out to the sheds, or did we cycle from home? I really don’t remember, but I suspect we probably cycled. That’s what kids did in the 1960s. We wouldn’t have locked our bikes up either, we didn’t need to. What a different world it is today for kids.

There’s double canoes, family row boats, or you can even hire a Punt with it’s own skilled Punter to propel you slowly along the water.

They didn’t have these when I was a kid

The river is lined with weeping willows, their long, gentle fronds reaching into the water and forming little curtains for canoeists to steer their vessel behind so as to  hide from a fellow friend – such are the games that children play. If you’re like me, you could mistakenly believe that a tree as prolific as the weeping willow on the banks of the Avon belong, and have always belonged there. How surprised was I to read about their origin.

The weeping willows can be traced back to a cutting taken from Napolean’s grave

What a surprising piece of history that was. I’ve tried to find out if, not being a native tree, is the weeping willow is a menace. I haven’t been able to find anything to indicate they’re  any cause for concern. Phew! Thank Goodness. Along with the Cathedral, the weeping willows lining the of the banks of Avon river just seem to belong there don’t you think?

I couldn’t imagine the river without the willow’s fronds gently sweeping the water’s surface
So tranquil – what a pleasure!

 

 

 

Akaroa – The Giant’s House (for my good friend Toni)

Akaroa Harbou

Situated on a deep harbour just 75 kilometres from Christchurch lies the French settlement of Akaroa. The drive around Banks Peninsula to get there offers some stunning hilltop views with gorgeous bays dotted every which way you look. Once there, you’ll encounter a small village with streets bearing french names, a gorgeous harbour and a veritable feast of things to do, places to stay, and delicious food options. It was one of my favourite destinations when I was a teenager, and remains one of my favourite New Zealand destinations to this day. It’s no wonder it’s a favourite port of call for the multitude of cruise ships traversing the New Zealand coastline.

We’ve walked the streets before, canoed on the harbour, and picnicked in many a park. This time there was something new, something we hadn’t seen before – The Giants House.

The most colourful house and garden ever

Located a short up hill walk from the village at 70 Rue Balguerie, lies what must surely be the happiest and most colourful garden on earth. Full of unique sculptures and incredible mosaics, I’m not going to say anymore. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

A steep, pretty, garden walk up to the entrance doesn’t begin to hint at what awaits
A close up of that grand piano

There were plenty of mosaic seats on which to rest

Circus troopers
Topiary, and colourful flowers – there wasn’t a leaf out of place
Animals
Another circus figure (or perhaps it’s the mad hatter)
This one is definitely for my friend Toni. Anyone who knows Toni would think of her when seeing this

 

 

Believe me when I say you just have to go to this place. It needs to be on the very top of your list of ‘Must sees’ in Christchurch and the surrounding area. It’s art at it’s most colourful. I have only shown you a snapshot of all that is to see at the Giant’s House. Don’t forget, you won’t regret it – put it on your list. What a delight to visit this amazing place full of so many amazing works of art. One of life’s memorable pleasures for sure!

A very different Christchurch

We arrived into Christchurch on a February afternoon to a warm family welcome on a bright summers day. The first evening was spent  eating, drinking, chatting and catching up – as you do….

After a good nights sleep the sight seeing began. First thing on the agenda was to visit Christchurch’s city centre. Nine years on from the devastating earthquake that took 185 lives and seriously injured another 164 people, an unrecognisable city greeted us.

First stop on my brothers personally guided walking tour was Antigua Boat sheds. The colourful sheds are still standing after nearly 140 years I’m pleased to say, and the river remains relatively unchanged.

Antigua Boat Sheds
Weeping willows line the peaceful meandering Avon river

Many days during my childhood school holidays were spent rowing down these tranquil waters. Single person canoes were the thing, and to this day I’m still a single person canoe person. I can’t get the rhythm that’s needed to share the rowing in a double canoe. So literally – I like to paddle my own canoe!

Next onto a restored Bridge of remembrance. I believe this was severely damaged in the earthquake, and restoration has only been completed within the past year.

The newly restored Bridge of Remembrance

Eventually we arrived into the centre of town, the Cathedral Square. The square centre of the city has always been known and spoken of using the Cathedral for identification. We never caught the bus to the square, it was always, The Cathedral Square.

The once proud cathedral now stands steeple-less and in ruins

The whole of the square,  once clearly bordered by rows of solid buildings roughly at right angles to each other and forming a square, is now stark and airy in comparison. There’s space – lots of space now where shops, movie theatres, and peoples lives and livelihoods once stood.

It’s eight years on since the devasting earthquake on 22 February 2011. The rebuilding of Christchurch is clearly underway, evidenced by the multitude of high cranes towering everywhere you look. Equally as clear is that the rebuilding is a slow process, and sadly, that the city  will never be the same again.

Everywhere we went throughout the south island we were met with signs of what to do in the case of an emergency. We’re all familiar with the usual fire emergency warnings posted in hotels etc. All of these emergency warning notices in NZ now list three things, fire, earthquake and Tsunami. Earthquakes are now accepted as an almost weekly occurrence, and, I gather,  the general consensus is that the worst may not yet be behind them. Yes, the city has changed, and so to have the people. You just can’t live with that constant threat without it changing you to some extent.

But I digress, back to the cathedral. Apparently there’s been several years of discussion and argument as to whether or not the iconic cathedral was to be restored. It’ll be a monumental task, but the decision has been made in the favour of restoration. I’m pleased!

Pics from the cruise

We loved the Blu restaurant, with it’s two massive sculptured rose walls, it’s chandeliers, it’s modern port hole multi coloured wall, and its small menu (changed nightly). We also loved the flexibility of this restaurant with no need to pre-book. Some nights we ate early and went to the late show, other nights we went to the early show and dined afterwards depending on our mood on the night.

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Amazing sculptured rose.
Big sparkley chandelier

The small menu changed each night. The food was superb, as was the service.

An example of one night’s offerings.

Some days we ordered breakfast in our room (a free service). Eating it on the balcony, how good was that! Other days we had breakfast in our Blu restaurant.

Breakfast on the balcony

First port of call after two days at sea was the Isle of Pines. We’d heard nightmare stories of people on other ships queuing for hours to get a place on the tenders to be taken to shore. I must say the Celebrity Solstice provided an impressively efficient service. I don’t think anyone would have waited longer than 15 minutes – we certainly didn’t.

Tenders crossing two and fro ferrying passengers throughout the day.

One side of the Island had a bit of a reef system ideal for snorkelling. We had forgotten our own snorkelling gear so had to hire some on the island. It was worth a look.

Snorkellers exploring the coral reef near the caves.

Then back to the main swimming beach, with it’s pleasantly warm water on the ship side of the Island.

Main swimming beach with the ship anchored close by

Next days port of call was Mystery Island where we booked a guided snorkelling tour. It was deemed to be ‘extreme’, and only for experienced snorkelers. It’s always a bit of a worry when you book something that’s listed as being for ‘experienced’, as one never knows what the benchmark is that delineates the difference between a novice and someone with experience.  As it turned out it did involve a lot of swimming to keep up with our guide, but we managed easily enough. The only hard part was climbing back into the boat – never easy climbing a flimsy boat ladder from out of deep water. None of us found that easy, but with much pulling and pushing we all managed.

Snorkelling at Mystery Island

There was loads of brightly coloured fish, and coral. Deep below us we saw a couple of rather large reef sharks that may have given cause for concern had our guides not warned us they prefer to keep a comfortable distance, and will swim away if we get to close.

Pretty coral

Next stop was Loyalty Island, another lovely swimming beach. Apparently there was another lovely snorkelling spot there, but we opted for a short swim this time, then lay under the coconut palms for a while before returning to the boat.

The crew provided a welcome treat for all the returning passengers after each beach stop, a lovely drink of iced water, and a cool wet face cloth for a cool, refreshing wipe down. What a pleasure!

Iced water, and cool iced wash clothes – most welcome after a few hours in the water.

Our last stop was Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. It lived up to it’s reputation of having nothing much there worth photographing or writing about. Some passengers did an Island tour and I believe they found it to be quite amazing. Perhaps we should have done the same, but we felt we’d had our share of swimming and snorkelling. Maybe next time…..

Then our return to Sydney.

The last two sea days on the cruise left some people on board, including some of the crew a little under the weather as we sailed back towards Sydney in the wake of Cyclone Debbie. The seas were rough with the high swells tossing the big ship around as if it was a small boat. The top decks and pools were closed I believe. I never went up to look myself – it wasn’t a place one would have wanted to be in such rough conditions.

On the second to last night sleep was a bit elusive for most on board, including us, as the ship crashed and rocked towards home. We berthed on time to a wet and rainy Sydney. Then our flight back to WA in time to drive home for a night in our own bed. As with any trip away, it’s always nice to come home again.

Will we cruise again – maybe? We enjoyed a lot of it, some of it was disappointing. It was certainly relaxing. We have friends that love cruising. Perhaps one day we’ll do a cruise with them if we can find one that appeals at the right price. That’s if I haven’t proved myself to be too much of a party pooper for them to want to cruise with.

Bingo on Celebrity Solstice

On sea days the ship has A Bingo session. There’s a considerable sized jackpot for the last of four games, That will only be won should anyone get a full card within 45 calls.

We’ve played twice despite the high cost. I don’t really know why – I guess it’s because it’s one of the few organised activities on board that reassembles a board or card game, and I love a good board or card game.

It cost $39 US dollars for one board with three game squares, $49 for two, and for $59 you get an additional paper set of three to play on the fourth and final game.

Yesterday the first game everyone was playing for a line. There was one winner who won $147 US. The second game was played for the outside corners. This time there were two winners who shared $177. The third game was for the four inside corners, three winners shared $206. The fourth game for the full square had two winners who shared $235. The full card was won only well after the 45 calls required for the jackpot. You’d have to be really, really lucky to win the jackpot, possibly more chance of winning lotto.

Today there’s a bigger prize for the fourth square, around $1000. One fellow cruiser said that’s at least $6000 on other ships for every session, and bigger again on the final day. The attendance has dropped each day I believe. Probably today, being the last day will see the numbers jump up again though, especially as the weathers grim, and the sea rough, not a good day for outdoor activities.

I’m undecided if I’ll consider playing again today. My sense of sensibility says, ‘don’t do it’. Sometimes I’m not that sensible though, so most likely I’ll play for one final time. ‘Stupid is as stupid does’, comes to mind!

The cruising party poopers!

We’re nearing the end of our nine day cruise. After our last port of call today (Noumea) we have two sea days left. We’ve taken lots of photos but won’t be able to post them until we arrive home and can download to our laptop.

So – what are our thoughts?

Mixed feelings. The first two days we were both alternating between thinking, ‘this is the life’, and, ‘is this the life for us’? The next two days we were thinking, ‘Mmmm, could get used to this’, and now – well, sort of back to the original feelings of the first two days.

We are very spoilt in living where we do, and in travelling in our caravan. We can arguably be on one of the best beaches in Australia (and possibly in the world) within a couple of minutes from our home in the summer (and for free). Taking our caravan north to Broome in the winter months brings more of the same. So, the South Pacific islands, although gorgeous, don’t have the same impact on us as they do on people who are starved of turquoise waters and white sand vistas.

Saying that though, we did enjoy our swims on our three Island visits. Noumea, today’s port of call, not so much. It’s a bit grungy and frightfully expensive. We were among the many passengers who did a courtesy couple of laps on the hop on, hop off bus before heading back to the ship for lunch, where we remained for the rest of the day.

On board there is lots to like, but also a counter balance of things not so impressive. Our cabin is lovely, the bed comfortable, and the balcony roomy. The meals are superb, as is the service. We’re not so impressed with some of the on board entertainment. There’s a night time show which lasts about 40 minutes – some have  been good, others rate a bare OK. There’s afternoon quiz sessions which we enjoy, so does everyone else. People end up sitting on the floor because it gets so crowded. There’s movies, we went to our first today. There’s music and dance bands scattered randomly around the ship. Each singer or band usually only plays for around 45 minutes.

So, that’s the entertainment we like, which doesn’t account for many hours in a day. After that, there’s pool games, bandeokie (kareoke done to a live band), silent discos and a few other things that we have no interest in. By far though the vast majority of the entertainment on board is presentations followed by upselling – other cruises, diamonds, watches, handbags, art auctions….. all sorts of things that they call entertainment, but in reality it’s just gimmicky marketing. The casino is also clearly a big money maker, its hugely promoted, and is very well frequented.

We’ve ended up getting some playing cards and a crib board and are playing crib in the evenings after dinner and the show. Guess we’re just party poopers!

Waiting to cast off.

We’ve been on board Celebrity Solstice since just after 11am. Whilst Internet is still available I thought I’d add a little post of first impressions along with some photos. However, I’m wishing I’d packed our laptop. Apologies if the format is a little different and the photos smaller. The IPad is proving a little difficult.

Firstly, our stateroom. We’re on the 11th floor, and whilst in port have a lovely view over the harbour and the Opera House from our balcony.

View from our balcony

Our room is spacious and the bed king size. I had expected the room to be a lot smaller than the on line photographs had shown it to be. What a pleasant surprise, it’s exactly how was shown in the promotion photographs, and feels quite oppulent compared to my expectations.

More than enough room

We were welcomed on board with a glass of champagne, and shortly afterwards were offered an upgrade on our existing drinks package. Offer accepted, and promptly taken advantage of with a G & T each with our lunch, and later whilst on the sundeck, a Peroni for Paul, and Piña Colada for me.

Shortly we will be attending the safety demonstration, but in the meantime our bags have just been delivered, so I’d better go and help Paul unpack.

Must say – from first impressions I think perhaps I’m going to enjoy this!