Archive for the ‘Travel in Australasia’ Category

Hokitika Highlights

Our room at the Beachfront Hotel in Hokitika had a wonderful wide sea view.  We loved going to sleep with the gentle sound of roaring surf.

View from our hotel room

Underfloor heating in the bathroom was an unexpected treat.  It reminded me of the time I stayed at a motel in Nelson with a group of friends, and one of them left her pyjamas lying on the bathroom floor before we went out for dinner so they’d be warm when she came back.

We had two nights with one full day in Hokitika.  I found that many shops do not open on Tuesdays, and others were closed for the winter, but there was plenty to see.  I was pleased to buy some Colin McCahon stamps at the Post Shop, and investigated the two op shops, but found nothing there I wanted.

Wednesday morning was cloudy with rain, and I managed to explore further and visit the wonderful Hokitika Museum.  This is housed in a Carnegie Library building, one of eighteen that were funded in New Zealand.

Carnegie Building in Hokitika

There were many excellent historical displays, and an exhibition Prospects Fearful which debunked the idea that Thomas Brunner was an explorer.  In fact he relied on Maori guides to show him the way and teach him to make sandals (paraerae) to protect his feet once his shoes had worn out.  The building receptionist was friendly.  I wondered if she might be a volunteer, but found she’s paid for the four hours a day the building is open.  Renovations in the 1990s saw elaborate stone details replaced with polystyrene, but that’s not enough to meet the latest seismic standards.  The building is soon to close for at least a year for earthquake strengthening.

After this I lunched at Kitchen Hokitika where I got a yummy roast vegetable frittata with side salad for $12 – doing better than the day before for healthy eating.  The Kitchen has an eclectic mix of decor, with books (including a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica) and a display of disused cellphones.  In the afternoon the sun shone and I went further along the beach and the Heritage Walk, and took lots of photos.

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At Hokitika much to see
and much that interested me


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Tuesday was a perfect clear sunny day for travelling on the TranzAlpine.  It was ten years since we’d last been on this scenic train.  While we waited to board I noticed a sign that made me do a double take.


The mountains looked absolutely beautiful:

Snowy mountain near Craigieburn Station

There was snow beside the track in many places:

Snow beside the railway track

I put on headphones to listen to the commentary, which was clear and slow – a good model for my Avon Loop walk.  Usually I go four to five hours between breakfast and lunch, but travel stimulates the appetite, and I was feeling hungry by 9.30am despite having had porridge at 6am.  The cafe car had reasonably priced food plus I’d taken a flask of tea.  Healthy eating regimes are not easy to keep up on holiday.  The open air viewing carriage was shut for the first while because of black ice, but we were happy to stay in our warm carriage and enjoy the view through the wide windows.  We passed Cass Station, immortalised by Rita Angus, and learned that Cass now has a population of just one.

Bealey Hotel at centre

Arthur’s Pass

After a five minute stop at Arthur’s Pass we went through the Otira Tunnel which is eight and a half kilometres long.  Once we were through the scene was breathtaking, with snow on the trees, and we were soon amongst cloud.  There were pukeko, and some sheep, but they weren’t very woolly.  Perhaps they were the sweeter mountain sheep?  We saw no lambs on the westward journey, but when we returned two days later there were lambs gambolling in the fields, a delight to see.

This trip has a wonderful array of scenery, snowy mountains, rivers, viaducts, tunnels, and clouds.

Ruth & Stephen at Greymouth Railway Station

If you haven’t been on the TranzAlpine recently I would thoroughly recommend it.

This trip is truly stupendous
with scenery that’s tremendous.

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I first visited Australia in 1964, mainly because my brother had emigrated there with his family.  Since then I’d visited a number of times, travelling within Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.  During these trips I’d seen few Aboriginal people.  In the early 2000s at a Conference in Melbourne I was surprised and pleased to find the local indigenous people briefly acknowledged.  It seemed that Australia was well behind Aotearoa in including indigenous people and customs.

This month I visited South Australia and Northern Territory and gained a wider perception of Aboriginal heritage.  On our Murray River cruise we visited the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Conservation Park which is one of the most significant archaeological digs in Australia.  The tribal elders have returned both to protect their Dreaming place and to share its mysteries with others.  We had a guided boardwalk tour to view ancient rock carvings and learn about the Aboriginal history of the area.

Aboriginal carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

Aboriginal carvings

The sun symbol denotes that this was a women’s area

During a Murray riverbank walk we saw a tree from which Aboriginal people had made a bark canoe.

Canoe tree

You can see the scar on the left hand side of the trunk.  Canoes were constructed from a single piece of bark.  An outline was cut in a tree, and stone wedges were inserted around the edges and left there until the bark loosened.  The bark was softened with fire and folded and tied at both ends with plant-fibre string.   The tree continued to live without the piece of bark – great sustainability!

When The Ghan stopped at Katherine, the fourth largest settlement in the Northern Territory, we were able to take a cruise down the Katherine River through the Nitmiluk Gorge.  The name Nitmiluk means place of the cicada dreaming, and the land has recently been handed back to the indigenous Jawoyn people, who own and run the cruise boats.  The landscape in the gorge is incredibly beautiful.  One boat took us through the first gorge, then we walked over rocky terrain to where the boat for the second gorge was waiting.  Here are some views of the gorges:

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On the way back the guide pointed out a fresh-water crocodile lurking under a ledge.  He told us it’s usually safe to swim with freshwater ones.  It’s the salt water crocodiles that may attack.

Crocodile lurking under ledge

In Darwin we found there was a strong Aboriginal presence which was different from other Australian cities I’ve been in.  I enjoyed listening to the local Aboriginal radio station.  Darwin seemed very laid back, and very hot.  The population is only one-third that of Christchurch, and there is little traffic.


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When The Ghan stopped at Alice Springs I was whisked away in a mini bus with seven others for a camel ride in the outback with Pyndan Camel Tracks.  Two couples rode tandem, while the rest of us each had our own camel.  Mine was Tjala, a female born in 2003 at Mulga Park Station on the Northern Territory/South Australia border.  She sat down while I mounted, then we were warned to hold tight and lean back while the animal rose.

Me and my camel

The six camels were strung together and Ben the Cameleer led us on foot.  The pace was slow and steady with no need to hold on.  It was hot (41 degrees) and I kept brushing away flies, even though one man had kindly sprayed under the rim of my hat with fly-spray.   In Darwin I later saw people wearing nets that covered their head and neck, and I think one of these would have been useful.  We walked for an hour which was quite enough in that heat, and Ben kindly took photos of each of us.

Camel train in front

On the camel track

Tjala’s head

Camel train


When we returned and dismounted we were given cool wet cloths and cold lemonade or beer which were very welcome.  We were driven back to the train terminal where we were again given icy cold drinks while we waited to re-embark.

Alice Springs Station

Riding a camel is definitely something to cross off the bucket list.  This same day I ate kangaroo (like lean beef) at lunchtime, and a slice of crocodile sausage as dinner entree.  No camel on the menu I’m pleased to say, although we’d seen camel mince and diced camel on a stall at the Adelaide Central market.

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We boarded The Ghan train in Adelaide at midday on Sunday and found our allocated berth – number 5 in N carriage.  It was small but adequate, with an ensuite, a bench seat, and a good sized window.  Definitely no extra room for cat swinging.  We were pleased to find we were travelling forward as requested.  There are 36 carriages and the train is almost one kilometre long (902 metres), with an average speed of 85 km/h.

A lounge had comfortable seating and drinks available at all hours with meals served in the adjacent Queen Adelaide Restaurant.  These two cars serviced four carriages (80 people) with similar lounges and restaurants scattered all along the train.  While we had dinner our beds were made up.  Being more agile than Stephen I took the upper bunk and climbed the firm ladder to get there.  The bunks were actually longer than those in the ‘Murray Princess’, a relief for Stephen, and both had a bedlight and a little shelf for glasses and MP3 player.  The light was only just adequate for reading. I’ve been in a sleeper berth with a toilet and basin before, but never one with a shower as well.  This worked fine, but had no indication which way was hot and which way cold.  Consequently my shower was warmer than I needed.

We were already up when our early morning call came at 6am at Marla.  Most people trooped off the train, and followed a lantern-lit path to an area with picnic tables and seats, beside a bonfire.  We were served juice and coffee, plus a picnic breakfast, and able to watch the desert sunrise.  The red earth was different, and the sky clear, but I have to say the sunrise was not as spectacular as many we get in Christchurch.

Bonfire at Marla

Sunrise at Marla

Afterwards we returned to our cabin, where beds had now been stowed away, to pass through miles of flat red desert sparsely sprinkled with trees and bushes, occasionally a rocky mound in the distance.  Very occasionally we saw a few cattle.

Outback desert

More desert

Carriage N on The Ghan – note red soil

The growth was tropical as we neared Darwin


Tuesday morning there was more vegetation as we neared Darwin. Along the way there were hundreds of red termite hills.  Unfortunately my photo from the moving train isn’t very clear.

Termite hills

These mounds were all kinds of shapes, some at least a metre high.  Some were cone shaped, others like sculptures of people, or indeed the Venus of Willendorf.  I suggested they might be Goddesses.  Stephen said some looked phallic.  Towards Katherine the growth looked green and the soil very red.  Occasionally there were Brahman cattle, pale as though they’d been bleached by the sun.  During the whole journey Stephen saw just one kangaroo, but I didn’t see any.

The whole trip was an amazing experience, with lavish meals.  More to come about Alice Springs and the Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine.

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The highlight of our Australian holiday was the seven day cruise on the Murray River in South Australia.  Our cabin was spacious, and located conveniently close to the dining room and bar.  I wasn’t able to share photos at the time, but here are just a few of many that I took.

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On our last full day in Sydney we took a three hour bus tour.

Waiting for tour bus

This started in Hyde Park and took us around eastern Sydney with plenty of stops for photo opportunities.  Martin, our guide gave lots of information and told good stories, although his heavy accent made him hard to understand at times.  Here are some images of the places we saw.

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The news of the terror attack in Christchurch had come just the day before and I found that when people asked me where I was from I almost hesitated to say ‘Christchurch’ because the immediate sympathy made me want to cry.  One woman told me she’d seen our P.M. speaking on television and admired her greatly.

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