By coincidence my stay in Switzerland coincided with the annual four day Lucerne Carnival culminating in a big parade on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday. A major feature of the parade are the "Guggemuusige" or improvised (masked) bands and we began our visit by joining the crowds watching them lining the Seebrucke Bridge.
A Band crossing the Seebrucke Bridge during Luzern Carnival
Amongst the bands there were also many elaborate floats, most of which had very dark themes.
One of the many floats at Luzern Carnival
And it wasn't just the parade members that dress up but about 90% of the spectators as well! We couldn't get fancy dress at short notice (apparently dour reformist Zurich doesn't go in for that sort of thing and leaves the partying to Catholic Lucerne) but nobody seemed to care and we had a great time.
Carnival goer at Luzern Carnival
Me at Luzern Carnival
When the parade was over we sampled some of the history of this beautiful medieval city with its famous 14th century covered wooden pedestrian bridge (seriously damaged by fire in 1993 but now restored) and narrow streets.
The Kapelbrucke Bridge in Luzern
Rathausquai during the Carnival with the Jesuit Church on the other side of the river
Meanwhile the partying was set to continue right through the night. The bands were now making impromptu performances around Lucerne including on some steps by the river.
Auckland is built on a narrow istmus where you can walk from the east to west coast in about 4 hours. It is also pitted with about 50 volcanic cones and craters and half the city seems to spend their free time jogging up and down them trying to keep fit. The most famous of these are Mount Eden (Auckland's highest volcanic cone) and One Tree Hill of U2 Joshua Tree fame and whose tree was chopped down by a maori activist in 2000.
One Tree Hill - minus the famous tree on its summit chopped down in 2000
One Tree Hill from Mount Eden
Auckland including the Harbour Bridge and Skytower from Mount Eden
The summit of Mount Eden at sunset
In my opinion however the cone with the best view of Auckland is Mount Victoria on the North Shore of the harbour above the naval base at Devonport. On top of it is Fort Victoria and its disappearing gun built in 1899 in response to the threat of Russian expansionism in the Pacific. Offshore and dominating the view out to sea is Rangitoto, the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanoes which last erupted about 600 years ago.
The disappearing gun at Fort Victoria overlooking Auckland Harbour
The spectacular view of Auckland Harbour from Mount Victoria
The Fossil Forest exposed on Takupuna Beach in front of Rangitoto, Auckland's largest and youngest volcano
Just like Freemantle when Australia won the America's Cup in 1984, Auckland's harbour side attracted a lot of investment and got a major revamp after New Zealand won the Cup in 1995 and 2000. Several multi-millionaires have their luxury yachts in the Viaduct Harbour (one 5 star hotel even offers them berths!) and the New Zealand and Italian America's Cup Teams are still based here.
New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup winning yacht NZL32 "Black Magic" in the NZ Maritime Museum
The luxury yacht Ulysses moored in Auckland's Viaduct Basin
The Headquarters of the New Zealand America's Cup Team
The Italian America's Cup Team are also based in Auckland
Thousands of yachts are moored in the Marina and demand for berths is so high that one company even offers multi-storey berths promising to have a customer's boat in the water within an hour of receiving a phone call. Across the mouth of the Viaduct Basin is the $3.7 million Wynyard Footbridge which opens to let boats through and is popular with tourists and cyclists.
The Skytower viewed behind a forest of yacht masts in Westhaven Marina
Whatever next? A Multi Storey Boat Park down on the waterside in Auckland
The Wynyard Footbridge across the Viaduct Harbour
The Wynyard Footbridge is raised to let a private yacht out to sea
Also by the Viaduct Harbour is New Zealand's Maritime Museum which in addition to galleries on the arrival of the Polynesians, early pioneers, immigrants and the America's Cup also has twice daily sailings around the harbour in the Ted Ashby, a modern reconstruction of ketch-rigged deck scow typical of those used to transport cargo around New Zealand's coasts 1870-1920.
Hoisting the Sail aboard the Ted Ashby in Waitemata Harbour off Auckland
View of Auckland from the Waitemata Harbour
While sailing on the Ted Ashby we sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge completed in 1959. Originally it only had 4 lanes which was very quickly found to be inadequate and by 1969 a Japanese construction company had been engaged to add a further 4 lanes which ever since have been affectionately known as the Nippon Clip-ons. It is also possible to do a bungy jump from a bungy pod close to the southern pier of the bridge; we narrowly missed catching someone jumping as we passed underneath!
Me approaching Auckland Harbour Bridge aboard the Ted Ashby
The bungy pod close to the south pier that they jump from underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge
Returning to port aboard the Ted Ashby off Auckland
Not far to the west of Auckland is the 70 square miles of the Waitakere Regional Park with its visitor centre at Arakati with views of Manukau Harbour, Auckland's second harbour facing west connected to the Tasman Sea.
The Arataki Visitor's Centre in the Waitakere Regional Park
View across to the West Coast and Manukau Harbour from Arataki
Me in a picture frame of the view of Manukau Harbour from Arataki
The Park was formed in 1940 to protect the remaining local NZ bush and allow what had already been lost to regenerate. This includes the Kauri Tree (which can live for 2000+ years), Rata Tree (which start as vines growing up other trees) and New Zealand's national emblem the Silver Fern. At Karekare there is a waterfall in a glade that was used for scenes in the Oscar winning film "The Piano".
Rata Tree near Piha in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
Karekare Waterfall in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
Close up of the Karekare Waterfall and the beach used in the film "The Piano"
Our final stop was Piha, famous for its iconic vista over the beach and Lion Rock. Beaches on New Zealand's west coast facing the Tasman Sea have iron rich black sand originating from volcanic dust while those on the east coast facing the Pacific are a more usual sand colour.
Me sat at the Lookout overlooking Piha Beach and Lion's Rock
Travelling alone with everything on my back and a lot of distance to cover, joining a backpacking tour felt the best way to get the essential NZ South Island experience. Having settled into my hostel in Greymouth I wandered down for a tour of the local Monteith's Brewery whose Amber Ale I had developed a taste for. The tour itself made me sad with the brewing now done in a large plant elsewhere with the micro brewery that remained only used for researching new beers. However at the beer tasting afterwards I met and joined for dinner 4 lovely ladies already on the Magic Bus I was joining who gave me the lowdown on what life on the bus with our driver "Soap" was like; the next 9 days were going to be fun!
YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in
Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)
Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth
Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)
After a boisterous welcome aboard the bus the following morning we stopped at the Bushman Centre at Pukekara. Not a lot to see per se in the small museum but they did screen a humourous macho 20 minute video about deer hunting - NZ South Island West Coast style! Basically deer are an introduced species and with no predators bred like rabbits destroying everything. At first they were ruthlessly hunted but then it was realised profit could be made by capturing and farming them. Then the video gets fun because ultimately the way they are caught is by flying low in a helicopter and leaping on them with a net - maniacs!
The Bushman Centre at Pukekura
Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre
The highlight of the day though was the afternoon heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, we were given coats, boots & crampons and flown on a short but spectacular helicopter flight to the start of the glacier. We were then taken on 2 hour hike across the ice, crossing & climbing crevasses and descending through ice tunnels. It was brilliant and very different from my previous glacial experience during my trip at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.
The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier
Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter
We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure
We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier
Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier
A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village
Early the next morning we reached Lake Matheson and after a short walk across a deliberately wobbly bridge reached the viewpoint where Mount Cook, Mount Tasman (the 2 highest mountains in NZ) and the Fox Glacier are famously reflected in the lake like a mirror. It turns out the connection between the glacier and the top UK selling Fox's Glacier Mints is a myth - one is named after an 1870s NZ prime minister while other is named after their Leicester based inventor in 1918!
I didn't know it at the time but the new data card I inserted into my camera after Franz Josef turned out to be a dud and I lost all the photos I took for the next couple of days. Fortunately I was with friends trying to take very similar photos to myself and they have helped out so these are "borrowed" photos until Milford Sound. Thanks again guys for helping out - you know who you are!
The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems to move to the left or right!
The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less
We then had to cover a lot of miles from the relative flat of the West Coast snaking up through the mountains and dense forest of the Haast Pass to our next overnight stop at Wanaka. On the way up we stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls which Soap our driver said were "magic" and that if we stared at them for 30 seconds and then looked slightly away we'd know why. I'm not entirely sure I saw what was intended but as I stared I did see what looked like a warp in my vision in the trees next to the top of the falls which was pretty eerie!
Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)
Once we reached the summit it was relatively flat driving alongside Lakes Wanaka (26 miles - 43 kilometres, 70 square miles in size & 4th largest in NZ) and Hawea (21 miles - 35 kilometres long, 54 square miles in size). Our final stop before overnighting in Wanaka was at Puzzling World, a tourist attraction built around optical illusions and puzzles. It had a maze but it's signature attraction was its leaning tower outside, the idea was you took a photograph from an angle such that it looked like you were holding it up!
The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka
Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World
The next day began with "Soap" our driver playing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" full blast, we were approaching Queenstown, "the adrenalin capital of the world". First stop was at the historic AJ Hacket Bridge over the Kawarau River, the home of the original bungy jump and nearly a quarter of the bus had signed up to have a go! Needless for me to say but with my fear of heights I wasn't one of them... although there was something gnawing away inside of me saying if I could just get enough courage (or madness) to do it for the couple of minutes it takes I'd love to be able to say I'd done it!
The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River
Bungy Jumper eye view of the river
We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!
Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!
All fired up we had a lunch stop in Arrowtown and went in search of the meat pies from the local bakery. Hand-sized meat pies baked fresh daily from the local bakery in every small town are considered the national dish in New Zealand and although similar, invariably taste a lot better than the steak pies back home in the UK. Arrowtown itself is a quaint small town which has managed to retain more than 60 of its original wooden and stone buildings from its gold rush days of the 1860s.
The Arrowtown Bakery
It was then onwards to Queenstown - where most towns have chemists and supermarkets, Queenstown instead has agents for bungy jumping, jetboating and skydiving and a host of bars and clubs! Our Bus was in a party mood having won the "Battle of the Buses" bar games tournament against the rival tour bus companies the night before in Wanaka and we now enjoyed a few nights in the pubs, clubs and restaurants of Queenstown (and off course the meat pies from the world famous Fergbakery in Shotover Street).
Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)
All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)