Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trip to Newzealand - South Island - Part I

A forced 3 week vacation at work during Christmas and new years made us plan a holiday back in September. Due to visa conditions, holiday period bookings and time restriction we had to plan our itinerary in September itself. I wanted to visit New Zealand for its natural beauty, it being an underrated travel destination and the fact that I live in Melbourne which is closer to NZ than India is.

Tickets to Christchurch
With so much competition between the airlines and the absence of need of food in a 3 hour flight the tickets were cheap. $400 AUD return was a bargain, if I waited a couple of weeks it would've been cheaper. If there are flights from Queenstown to Australia, it would've been better as one needn't drive back to Christchurch.

Car hire
We hired a car as opposed to hiring a campervan or trailer as the requirements were to have a private toilet and cheap at the same time. Campervan's are not economical for a short trip as the cost of hiring a car and living in motels/bed and breakfasts is cheaper than hiring a campervan. Besides campervans need maintenance.

Melbourne to Christchurch
We took the low budget airline Pacific Blue to Christchurch and lost two hours by the time we landed in NZ. The South Island of NZ has a population of 800,000 only of which Christchurch is the largest city, so not much traffic on the roads. Except, of course, tourists like us. Driving in NZ is the same as Australia, but the first thing I noticed is that when turning left at traffic lights one should give way to on coming traffic from the opposite direction, where as in Australia when turning left at the traffic lights you have right of way after the pedestrians if they are crossing.

Our primary reason to travel to NZ was sightseeing and Christchurch doesn't offer much for our requirement, so after checking in to Base Christchurch (Backpackers accomodation with hostel type and hotel type rooms) we drove to Akaroa. As we started off at 5.30 PM and were in a hurry we could not carry our cameras and missed taking pictures of this wonderful harbour town. You can look at Flickr pics of Akaroa here. Akaroa is about an hour's drive from Christchurch. By the time we were back to our hotel it was 8.30 PM and still light.

Christchurch to Hanmer Springs and then to Oamaru
Brochures are a traveller's friend. But not all brochures say the truth. One such not-so-true brochure was the Hanmer Springs one. We thought that the hot springs of Hanmer Springs were natural springs, but were wrong. So an hour plus drive and about $15 entrance to the Springs we were greeted with artificial pools with different temperatures and mineral quality waters in each pool. After spending an hour there we started off to Oamaru. On the road to Hanmer Springs there is river with jade coloured waters, somehow we missed the road to get closer to this place.

Oamaru is a quiet town on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the main attraction of this town are the two Penguin settlements, one of Yellow Eyed Penguins (only about 20 nest on the beach) and one of the smaller Blue Penguins (hundreds of these). The Yellow Eyed Penguins on the Bushy beach were too far to take pictures of but a group called New Friends of Bushy Beach left two pairs of binoculars for viewing pleasure.

Bushy beach Oamaru:

Blue Penguin Colony is about 10 minute drive from Bushy beach. The penguins come back to their nests here after dawn starting at around 9PM during summer. For $20 per adult head one can sit in a viewing platform and watch the penguins coming back to their nests. Photography is not allowed here in case the automatic flash of cameras startle the penguins.

Oamaru to Queenstown
A three hour drive from Oamaru will lead one to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. The journey itself was delightful with lakes, historic paintings, dinosaur remains finds on the way.

On the way to Queenstown from Oamaru:

But the destination was something we didn't quite expect. Situated on Lake Wakatipu, this picturesque town is the stuff made of material for computer wall papers and scenic calendars. The only adventure activity we did in Queenstown was ride the jet boat. For about $75-$90 one can get a ride on this boat which goes at high speeds and takes 360 degree turns.

Queenstown (not just good for Adventure sports):

Queenstown to Te Anau
We ventured into Fiordland part of NZ to visit Milford Sound. While Queenstown to Te Anau in itself is picturesque the drive from Te Anau to Milford (about an hour's drive) takes ones breath away. The combination of snow capped mountains with clouds foraging in between them, rainbows, colourful flowers make the sights overwhelming, there is not enough space in camera memory cards to capture all the beauty.

On road to Milford Sound:

Rest in Part II

Google's new Favicon?

Most of google's services are now posing a new favicon (A web icon where you can identify the website just by looking at the icon).

It was recently changed to this:
And now some Google sites are showing this:

No doubt, this is more colourful, but not all of their sites show this for one reason.