Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

I only spent one morning in Christchurch as on the way back here I made plans to move on to explore the south east of the island.

While I was there I stayed one night in a very cool hostel called the Jailhouse – located, you guessed it, in an old jail. It was an actual working prison from 1874 to 1999, when the last inmate left. The ‘cells’ have been converted into rooms including multi-bed dorms, but you can also stay on your own in a one bed cell (if you dare!). There is a cell preserved, with artwork from a former prisoner still on the walls – quite a cool thing to check out! I stayed in the dorm and it was a good experience; clean, quiet, friendly reception staff and great barista coffee from the reception desk (YES!)

But I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hostel, just enough to sleep and get caffeinated. I spent my morning taking a walk around town. The hostel was a bit of a walk into the CBD, maybe 15 minutes? But the path takes you along a pretty tree lined park and it’s pretty easy to find the way.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I found the CBD suprisingly/not-suprisingly still looking quite battered post-earthquakes (Christchurch was tragically and dramatically altered by large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. I have read 80% of the CBD has been demolished).

Christchurch, NZ

I knew the city had been hit hard, I knew there was a long road to recovery… But 5 years later I assumed it would be further along that path that I found it to be. There is scaffolding everywhere. Everything looks like it’s being supported and braced so it won’t get worse, but not a lot looked like it was getting rebuilt.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

The Christchurch Cathedral is smack bang in the middle of Christchurch and was built between 1864 and 1904. It’s been damaged over the years by a number of earthquakes, but none so much as the 2011 earthquake which measured 6.2 magnitude and brought down the west wall, the spire and part of the tower. The remainder is now held up with various steel structures, a stark visual in the city centre. The Anglican church has decided to demolish the structure and rebuild which has been considered a controversial decision – the cathedral being such an icon of the city’s identity. What will take it’s place? And what will it say about Christchurch?

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Because the rebuild will take a long time, the Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square, more popularly known as The Cardboard Cathedral, was built as the first significant rebuild project after the earthquake. I went there and had a tour by a lovely old chap, a lifetime Christchurch resident who shared with me the impact of the earthquakes on the city, which went further than the physical damage and the emotional grief. The logistics of getting everything repaired put a big strain on resources. The priority was getting all the residential damage fixed up so that people had somewhere to live; this is why the city itself, and major icons like Christchurch Cathedral are still a long way from repaired. They had to bring in Tradies from out of the city and country, but meanwhile there was a residential shortage due to the damage. People were crammed into share houses, which made it more difficult to attract workers in to help. It opened my eyes to the complexity of a recovery effort.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

The Cathedral is the only church in the world built mostly out of cardboard, and is a sight of beauty. Clean lines, with a colour neutral palette that let’s the stained glass windows pop!

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

Downtown, the re:start precinct is a ‘shipping container mall’. It’s really quite funky, particularly the two-storey cafés and restaurants with upstairs balconies – really cool to see how inventive the creators have been. The concept brought the retail and tourism trade back into the CBD years before it would have been if business owners waited for new building developments.

Christchurch, NZ

It was such a different vibe there than walking the main streets where there is so much scaffolding and, though I’m not sure if it’s because it was a weekend, but just a general pervading sense of desolateness. Of course, maybe the weekdays or weekend afternoons are full of hustle and bustle, I don’t know, I only have my experience walking around on an early winter Sunday morning.

Christchurch, NZ

The Shipping Container Precinct was bright and colourful and full of business, it was refreshing.

Re:Start, Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I had breakfast with some fellow travellers and then parted ways as I headed back to the Jailhouse to get my stuff. Along the way, there were signs of revival amongst the empty spaces and cleared lots.

Christchurch, NZ

Art and design; creativity seeping up through the cracks into the city.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning stroll in Christchurch, it took me by surprise, the vibe, the street-scape and the innovation across the city.

Next, I headed to pick up my car rental ready for my next adventure :-0

The drive from Omarama towards Lake Tekapo was really beautiful – some of my fave photos from the trip were taken then, either standing on the side of the road by the bus, or from my prime position for the drive – in the front seat!

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Early mornings sure are my fave.

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We approached Lake Tekapo and saw it shining a beautiful blue turquoise colour! Even on a cloudy day the colour was so vibrant, it comes from the sediment of fine rock ground up by the glaciers.

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Sitting pretty by the lake is another of New Zealand’s most well known sites – the Church of the Good Shepherd. What a sweet building in an amazing location! It’s a shame there are so many people around (haha, darn tourists) as it’s hard to get a clear shot, but even the crowds don’t detract from the calm and peaceful vibe.

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The water is stunning, something right off the front of a postcard – oh wait, this spot is definitely on a postcard!

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Across the lake we could see rain clouds teeming with a downpour… ahhh nature! You are really something!!

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The lakeside reminded me of places I’ve been in England, such as around the Cornwall area. With the cloudy sky, the chilly bite in the air, and the wind whipping my hair and causing my eyes to stream (look how bloodshot they are, I’m squinting to keep them open!) So different to beaches at home in Sydney, but beautiful in its own way.

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It was a great spot to work my photographer magic (haha, well I try). My friend Susie got a shot of me in concentration trying to get a level shot of the lake.

Alongtheaway.com

A short walk along the lake away from the church is a bronze statue of a Border Collie dog, it was erected in the 60s in honour of the working dogs in the sheep industry in the area.

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Seeing as we were in the heart of New Zealand’s sheep farming land (yeah I thought that was all of NZ too!) we then went to visit a sheep farm.

It was a wonderful opportunity to see a working farm – the sheep are cute, but so are the Border Collie dogs who totally run the show. The farmer gave the dog an order and off he went to round up the sheep, who came trotting home from behind the hill.

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And into the corner just as they were told to.

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I love them, they’re so docile and sweet.

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The farmer rewarded them with some milk, this guy was trying hard to get every last little drip.

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And then off he trotted, back to graze in paradise.

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From here we continued on the last leg of the bus trip, crossing the Canterbury Plains back to Christchurch.

After a day spent mostly in the coach and on a boat looking, looking, looking at the untouchable rugged beauty of Fiordland, it was rather refreshing to find ourselves the next day in Arrowtown, in the Otago region. This lovely little town has a wonderful village-vibe going on with some great cafés and stores to wander around. It’s also a good place for a bike ride, with a great cycle path along the willow-lined Arrow River.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

The point of the bike trip we went on was to head towards the Kawarau Bridge, traversing over river crossings, country lanes and apparently a pretty amazing suspension bridge.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

Apparently. Hmm. Due to some bizarre navigational instincts, myself and Gabriela, a girl I was riding with, somehow took a turn about halfway that took us back to the starting point….

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

Yeah. Not sure what happened. We were having a merry old ride. We even stopped for pictures.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

The owner of the cycle hire place was quite surprised, especially as we hadn’t even taken the same route back. Sure we saw signs, but we thought it all looked OK.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

And we were rather preoccupied with the scenery.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

But anyhoo, we were kindly given a lift in the car to the Kawarau Bridge where the others were. Bit embarrassing, but mostly disappointing as we missed out seeing the suspension bridge, but sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s OK.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

We had fun on our bike adventure, and seeing as we didn’t even realise we were on the wrong track til the very end… well – no harm done lol.

Arrowtown Adventures - alongtheaway.com

Goodbye Queenstown! Time to mosey on over to the south western corner of the South Island!

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Off we trundled on the coach, passing through some lush forest lined roads.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

We had the opportunity to take a wander through some forest trails right off the main road which is always good for healthy dose of nature.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

We then continued through ‘Fiordland’ – to me, ‘Fiordland’ sounds a bit like a territory you might find on a map in Game of Thrones, but in reality it is a land of beauty and picture postcard views. Like the Scandinavian ‘Fjord’ (steep valley), Fiordland is dominated by the Southern Alps and the crystal clear lakes that lie between them.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

We stopped to look at Mirror Lake where the still waters reflect the mountains and sky. This particular spot is rather famous and a sign sitting above the waterline rather cleverly makes it’s point.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland offers similar views and effects all around the area so we stopped regularly along our journey to get out our cameras.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

A highlight of our trip was driving through the mountain – the Homer Tunnel is built into the Darran Mountain Range and is 1.2km long. When it opened in 1954 it was only a single lane gravel road. It has since been widened to two lanes but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was rather glad to not have met another vehicle on our journey through it!

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

The tunnel is pretty much pitch black, but when we came out through the other end it was back into the sunshine, past waterfalls and forest, always with the moody mountain backdrop.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Winding our way around the snow capped mountains meant we eventually ran into some snow! We had time to pull over and have an impromptu snow ball fight!

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

But I’m a lover not a fighter, so I also busied myself creating a little baby snow-pal, complete with a hat.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Luckily the weather was not wet or wild so we were able to take time to go on the Milford Sound Nature Cruise. This was quite special, cruising around the Sound in between the sheer vertical mountain faces where multiple waterfalls cascaded off the sides.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

We saw a couple of fur seals sunbathing on the rocks, and then a pod of bottlenose dolphins came out to play with the boat!

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

What is it about dolphins that turn everyone into crazed paparazzi clicking away? I took a million photos, but for everyone’s sake here are just a couple.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

It was cool how close the boat took us to the wall of the mountain rock face. The captain edged us right up to the wall where a waterfall smashed down on the front deck. Some brave souls held on tight and took a hit – but I watched from just inside the cabin :-)

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

The rocky walls are beautiful, layers of colour and minerals – the geology is very interesting, on the boat they share information about it which is cool.

Fiordland - alongtheaway.com

The Milford Sound Cruise was really good – I would definitely recommend it. I did wonder a bit about the fabulous reviews Milford Sound gets from travellers, it was beautiful but not as breath-taking as I was expecting (it pains me to say, but gotta be honest). I think it must depend a lot on the weather, the sky and the water. A Google image search shows some truly gorgeous photos of the Sound, so if you have options, opt for the clearest day you can.

I am now breaking the post-New Zealand holiday catch-up transmission to share something much more recent.

Last month I had the opportunity to go on my first overseas work trip! The company I work for is an Australian owned and operated company so opportunities to do business outside Australia have been limited in the past (that’s eleven years – I’m a stayer!). However, we are currently tendering for contracts in Singapore… so I got to go there for three days!

Business of course was the first priority and it consumed most of the time I was there. We stayed at the Furama Riverfront hotel which was just wonderful for our purposes. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor about it, but in summary the rooms were modern and functional, and the staff were so friendly – particularly in the business lounge. They greeted us cheerfully every morning and were so accommodating to our group of ten taking over the conference room. They kept the cappuccinos coming to fuel our long working days.

Fast forward through that bit, which was heaps of fun for me but no doubt fairly boring to you. On the Friday, after we had delivered the presentation we went there to do, we all headed to Sky on 57 for a special lunch on level 57 of the amazing Marina Bay Sands building.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

We enjoyed the three course ‘executive lunch’ there – it was delicious and is beautifully presented!

Sky on 57 Restaurant meal

That’s all I’ll say about the food, the pictures say it all. The next day I headed out with my colleagues to the Gardens by the Bay. We had spotted the gardens from the top of the Marina Bay Sands the day before and for obvious reasons they had drawn our attention. I read a review in the Sydney Morning Herald calling the gardens something out of Avatar…. and yes, they really do seem like something out of Avatar with somewhat other-worldly, playfully-vibrant infrastructure (not to mention the thriving plant life!)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The outer gardens are free to wander around, that in itself makes for a lovely visit: a walkway along the water, various groves, ponds and nature walks and an awesome kids water playground.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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Included in the paid ticket is entry into the two big glass domes and the tall purple flower structures.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The domes were so impressive, a very unique experience.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The first we went into was a mountain environment. Total eery Avatar moment. The air is really cool and floating metal walkways wind around and up the ‘mountain’. All the plants – and there is an abundance of them – are what would grow in a cool mountain climate – ie, not Singapore.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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2015-01-31 Singapore (44)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The second dome was warm and the air was sweet. It was full of…

Flower Dome, Singapore

Flowers!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Galore!

Flower Dome, Singapore

Plants!

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

And art.

Ants in the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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My favourite was this one; a gift from Changi Airport to the gardens, a sculptured family made out of bronze showing how visitors to Singapore leave a piece of themselves behind when they leave.

Flower Dome art, Singapore

I was most fascinated by the purple things so it was great to discover that it’s possible to get the lift halfway up one and stroll along the elevated walkway between the others.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Such a great way to see the city and experience the innovation and creative thinking of the people – it blew me away!

Unfortunately my time in Singapore then came to an end. My workmates and I had time for a quick wander through Marina Bay Sands and a shopping stop at Vivo mall before we headed to the airport for the overnight flight back to Sydney.

Changi airport is supposed to be pretty amazing – I’m not sure to be honest; maybe it depends on the terminal. There was this pretty awesome ‘media-tree’ when you can snap a picture and it is added to the mix.

Changi Airport, Singapore

I was able to enjoy the QANTAS flight home as the work deadline was behind me so I cozied up in my window seat and watched some movies (how good is the Skeleton Twins?!?)

As always, the window view helps pass the time as well :-) And that was the end of the whirlwind four day work trip!

Flying home to Sydney

Skiing was a big deal for me as I have only done it once in my lifetime, and it was on the disaster scale. I was seventeen, on a student trip to the USA west coast on the G’day USA program. We went to the snow somewhere in the extreme north west of the country, I can’t even remember the name, it was south of the Canadian border. Our group instructor seemed bored and not that bothered. He gave us a half-hearted lesson before putting us all on the chairlift up to the top (it seemed like a ginormous mountain, but I concede that time may have increased the dramatic scale in my memory). The chairlift was fun, but when we got to the top I didn’t know what to do! I put my feet down, slid off the chair and then kept sliding. Down. The. Mountain. The good news is that I didn’t crash. The bad news is that I didn’t know how to turn or control my speed at all, so I picked up speed until I was literally airborne for half of the descent. When I neared the bottom I saw that it leveled out to end in an excavation pit where there were trucks and bulldozers (again, memory scale maybe be slightly distorted). So to avoid skiing off the cliff, I had to throw myself sideways, where I cut my cheek on the ice. Epic ski fail.

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

Cut to 15 years later and I thought I’d give it another go.

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

Because I was on my own I visited Snow Biz the afternoon before to book in a gear hire beginner package which included ski and clothing hire, lessons and bus transport up the mountain. I rocked up very early the next morning to get fitted for skis, pants and jacket then was one of the first to get in line for the buses, which depart right outside the shop. There are two options – The Remarkables and Coronet. I did some googling which would be best for a beginner and decided to go to The Remarkables.

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

The bus ride was easy, though pretty intense considering the steep, winding climb on a narrow, snowy road! We arrived and I felt a bit out of the loop on what/how. Everyone was there in friend or family groups and seemed to know what they were doing. The intrepid solo traveller is not immune to occasional pangs for the comfort and ease of being with friends. But the only option is to brush it aside and make it work. I watched for awhile and then changed into my ski boots there in the car park and then trudged up to the people-conveyor-belts (what are they called?) and to the building with everyone else.

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

I figured it out from there – I put my bag in the storage room, leaned my skis on one of the numbered stands, went to the cafeteria for a coffee, snapped some photos and then it was time for my first lesson!

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

Luckily there were some other solo peeps in my group so we quickly forged a bond of support to keep each other’s morale up and clapped and cheered our gradual improvement. Our instructor, a twenty-something Welsh guy, was absolutely wonderful. Funny, kind and understanding – he played a huge part in building my confidence. We had a two hour morning lesson, stopped for a lunch break and then had an afternoon two hour lesson.

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

I couldn’t believe that by the end of the day I was capable of skiing down the beginner slope, controlling my direction and speed and most importantly STAYING UPRIGHT!

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

I had a blast the whole day, the lessons were fun, the environment was stunning and I felt pretty proud for having tried something new that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I would love to come back another time for a week or so, and I have to say, I think it would be a lot of fun with a group of friends. Add it to the travel list :-)

Beginners Lesson at The Remarkables

Glenorchy Horse Riding

While in Queenstown, I went horse riding at Glenorchy, arranged with Dart Stables who came and picked up a group of us in town. It was a 45 minute scenic drive to the stables travelling along Lake Waktipu with a couple of photo stops along the way which was appreciated… I mean, look at this scene.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

When we got to the stables we had the option of borrowing gear for the ride which was a good idea given the river crossings we would be making. I borrowed some gumboots and a big waterproof riding jacket – I felt like I was off on a mountaineering adventure, but better to be prepared than sorry (and wet and cold).

Glenorchy Horse Riding

I went on the two Hour ‘River Wild’ ride which was perfect for all riding abilities – especially beginners!

Glenorchy Horse Riding

It was breathtaking.

Glenorchy Horse Riding

We meandered along the northern part of Lake Wakatipu with a mountain range backdrop and lots of glacial river crossings.

Glenorchy Horse Riding

I rode a beautiful horse named Merlin – he was very kind, and only a little bit curious about wandering off the track a couple of times.

Glenorchy Horse Riding

The two female riding guides travelling with us were great, they kept all the horses happily in line and gave us plenty of instruction in regards to riding through the river crossings and how to lean backwards to make it easier for our horse.

Lake Wakatipu

I was just enthralled by the beauty of the mountains and the golden light.

Glenorchy Horse Riding

As the sun set the temperature dropped – my feet were so so so cold! My toes felt like little pebbles in my shoes by the time we got back – I couldn’t feel them at all, and that was with two pairs of merino socks on, so be warned if you read this ahead of doing the ride – rug up your feet!

Glenorchy Horse Riding

Totally worth it though!

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My time in Queenstown was jam-packed with activities – fittingly so, as Queenstown has the reputation of being one of the world’s adventure tourism capitals.

I skiied! I luge-ed! I horse-rode! I danced!

I loved the winter village feel of Queenstown. The streets were bustling and everyone was rugged up warm and cheerful.

Queenstown

Every direction offers a postcard view – it’s the mountain horizon that does it. Even the view from our apartment was pretty special.

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I explored with some friends from the bus tour over the three days we were there. On one night I went with Mel and Michael to a fabulous whisky bar with a big fireplace and hard-core bartenders who laboured intensely to create a very fancy Old Fashioned for my friend and an expresso martini for me – both were awesome.

Queenstown drinks

We kicked on to meet a large group at the quintessential backpacker nightclub, The Buffalo Club, where we drank cocktail jars and danced the night away.

The next day I rode the Skyline Gondola up to Bob’s Peak on Ben Lomond Mountain, which was well worthwhile for the amazing views at the top.

Skyline Gondola

Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown from above

While I was up there I figured I may as well ride the luge – it was fun for novelty’s sake and not expensive, but the view is definitely the highlight.

Skyline Luge Queenstown

We traveled back down and walked into town to meet some others at Fergburger – the famous burger hotspot. Being a vegetarian I wasn’t sure if I’d get the same experience as it’s the Fergburger original that everyone raves about – but they had a few veggie options so I tried the “Bun Laden” – a falafel burger. It was pretty damn good actually!

In the afternoon I wandered around on my own for awhile – time for some solo time-out! The evening was beautiful down by Steamer Wharf, I even appreciated the chill as I walked around, it lent a special atmosphere.

Queenstown Lake front

Queenstown Lake front

Queenstown Lake front

That night we went to the Below Zero Ice Bar – which, you guessed it, is made of ICE! Including the cups…

Below Zero Ice Bar

And the decor…

Below Zero Ice Bar

And the light fixtures…

Below Zero Ice Bar

Basically everything! It was fun to visit for awhile, we stayed for about two hours. To be honest, it’s not really that cold (compared to being outdoors in NZ haha!) There is a photo booth in there plus an ice puck table and vodka on the rocks – plenty to amuse oneself for a couple of hours.

For dinner, Mel, Michael and I kicked on down to Steamer Wharf where we’d independently walked around earlier that day and seen some interesting restaurants.

We walked back and forth a few times before deciding on ‘Public Kitchen‘ which was quite special. Their menu is based on collective dining and sharing food, so while we all ordered our own ‘main’ meat or seafood we ordered a number of delicious veggie side accompaniments – yummo! We were there for a few hours, chatting and laughing and sharing tales from their life in Darwin (fascinating – I want to go even more now!) and my travel stories from India. Seriously, it’s the people you meet while on the road that make the most lasting memories; it was one of my favourite nights.

I’ll share more in my next couple of posts about my skiing and horse riding adventures. I would love to return to Queenstown again, either in winter so I could properly learn to ski, or even in Spring or Summer to go hiking and enjoy these great outdoors.