The big park near the centre of Auckland is called "The Domain" and is the site of yet another currently inactive volcano (called Pukekaroa) whose crater is now used for sports fields (there's got to be a cliche there somewhere!). Dominating it all is the Auckland Museum, an iconic building that looks like a Greek Temple that also serves as the Auckland War Memorial, an approach I have seen adopted in several other New Zealand towns as well.
The volcano's crater at the Domain is now used as a sports ground!
Me stood outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum
Looking down on the Grand Foyer of the Auckland Museum
The ground floor of the Museum is dedicated to Maori Culture with the impressive Maori Court containing amongst other things a Maori Meeting Room, Store House and a large War Canoe. The Maori arrived in New Zealand (called Aotearoa in Maori) about 1000 years ago from Polynesia. Meeting Houses are at the heart of every Maori marae (village) and are full of symbolism of the ancestors. There are protocols that need to be followed before a stranger is allowed to enter a marae (non Maori are called pakeha).
The Maori Court at the Auckland Museum
Maori Meeting House - complete with posing Maori warrior!
Inside the Maori Meeting House
Large Maori Pataka (Storehouse)
Maori War Canoe
The highlight of the Maori Court was the Cultural Performance, after being greeted and taken into a small theatre we were given an explanation and display of traditional Maori dances. The most famous Maori dances for women are with tethered weights known a Poi. There is also the Ti Raku where a stick is thrown from dancer to dancer, this is the basis of many children's games and it is considered bad luck to drop the stick! However the most famous Maori dance of all is the Haka War Dance and this was used to close the performance.
The Ladies of the Maori Dance Troupe prepare to do the Poi
Maori Poi Dance
Maori Ti Raku Stick Dance
Haka War Dance
The next floor of the museum was devoted to nature and as the Kiwi bird that symbolises the country is nocturnal I (as it turned out wrongly) assumed the stuffed specimen I saw here would be the only one I would see in New Zealand. Also covered on this floor were the volcanoes and earthquakes that have moulded the country's landscape. This included a room that looked like a normal Auckland suburban lounge with a patio door looking out onto the bay and a news channel being broadcast on the TV in the corner. The news follows the emergence of a new volcano in the harbour that can be seen through the patio door and then as it erupts the cloud moves towards you and the floor of the room shakes mimicking an eruption and earthquake - definitely one for the kids (including older kids!).
A stuffed Kiwi on the Natural History Floor of the Auckland Museum
The Earthquake Lounge in the Auckland Museum
The top floor of the museum is devoted to New Zealand's military history and emergence as a nation through the loss and suffering of war. There were galleries covering every conflict New Zealand has been involved in since the Maori Wars of the 19th Century with particular reverance to WWI and WWII including a WWII Hall of Memories where the names of the fallen of Auckland are inscribed on the wall.
World War I Field Gun at the Auckland Museum
World War II Hall of Memories at the Auckland Museum
World War II Field Gun from the Italian Campaign in the Auckland Museum
It wasn't my original plan but having revised my itinerary to fit in Easter in Hawke's Bay I ended up with back-to-back trips on all three of Kiwi Rail's Scenic Train Routes, the nearest thing New Zealand has got to an intercity passenger network. My journey began with the now familiar trip into Auckland's Britomart Station from Onehunga where I caught the thrice weekly 7.50am 11 hour Northern Explorer Kiwi Scenic Rail Train south to Wellington.
Auckland suburban train about to leave Onehunga Railway Station for the Britomart
Britomart Railway Station
The Northern Explorer about to leave the Britomart in Auckland for Wellington
All three trains - the Northern Explorer (Auckland to Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Picton to Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (Christchurch to Greymouth) - have identical newish rolling stock with plush seats, panoramic windows, airline style overhead screens of the route and earplugs for a commentary. However what makes these trains stand out are their open air viewing carriages for taking pictures of the pretty spectacular scenery often passing outside.
Inside the passenger carriage of a Kiwi Rail Scenic Train
The open air viewing carriage
Inside the open air viewing carriage
Me in the open air viewing carriage
The journey began with atrocious weather through the lowlands south of Auckland, past the Waikato River (the longest in New Zealand) and into the King Country. During the 1850-1860s this was the last stronghold of the independent Maori who hoped by electing themselves a King this would better help them defend their land and culture. For a long time this area was out of bounds to Europeans, a bit like the American West with the Red Indians about the same time.
The King's Marae is at Ngaruawahia and has been visited by many world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II. We passed the royal Maori cemetery on the sacred mountain of Taupiri where the higher up the hill you are buried the more senior you were with the Maori Kings being buried right at the top.
The Waikato River bending away towards the coast
The gate to the King's Marae at Ngaruawahia
Maori cemetery on the sacred mountain of Taupiri
The train then began to climb up towards the volcanic plateau, initially passing rugged farmland but this changed to native broad-leaved podocarp forest as we reached the Tongariro National Park. We had a short photo stop at the National Park Railway Station where the top of Mount Ruapehu (aka "Mount Doom" from the Lord of the Rings) briefly made an appearance above the clouds.
Crossing the river on the way up to National Park Station
Crop spraying helicopter on the way up to National Park Station
Native Podocarp broad-leaved Forest seen from the train
Mount Ruapehu (aka Mount Doom) appears above the clouds
Close up of the top of Mount Ruapehu
From the National Park the train headed south towards Wellington using tunnels, viaducts and the Raurimu Spiral (built in 1898) where the track spirals 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometres) to cover a distance of 1.2 miles (2 kilometres) in order to beat the gradient.
Crossing a large viaduct on the way down to Wellington
Our train leaves a tunnel on the way down to Wellington
We arrived in Wellington (christened "The Coolest Little Capital in the World" by Lonely Planet) where I made my way across the road to my backpackers hostel where I was staying overnight before getting the ferry in the morning. There was an ominous sign on the back of my door giving instructions of what to do in case of an earthquake!
Coolest Little Capital in the World sign rotating around a harbour building in Wellington
What to do in an Earthquake notice on the back of my room door in Wellington
I went exploring the city in the evening and discovered it was late night opening at Te Papa, the excellent Museum of New Zealand. Inside I passed some Orcs, was subjected to shaking room simulating an earthquake and saw a giant squid as well as the feathered cloak Captain Cook was given in Hawaii shortly before his death in 1779. On the history floor there was a wall high copy of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and the British, something New Zealanders are immensely proud of and treat with a reverance akin to how Americans treat their constitution.
Three Orcs by the Information Desk in the Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand)
Giant Squid at Te Papa, the largest and most complete specimen ever found
Hawaiian Feathered Cloak and Helmet given to British explorer Captain James Cook in 1779
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi wall high in the Te Papa Museum
In the morning I got the shuttle bus from the railway station and climbed aboard the Kaitaki Interislander Ferry for the 3 hour 10 minute sailing to Picton on the South Island. For the first time since Switzerland I actually wore my coat as it was starting to feel a bit chilly. The Kaitaki started life as the Isle of Innisfree for Irish Ferries on their UK to Dublin/Rosslare routes so I've probably sailed on her before in a former life!
Our ferry Kaitaki gets ready to leave Wellington
Our Ferry leaves North Island in its wake as we cross the Cook Strait
After crossing the Cook Strait (unfortunately I didn't see any albatrosses) we entered Tory Sound and then sailed down Queen Charlotte Sound (both are better described as a 'fjords') to Picton. Everybody on the boat appeared to be on the deck as sailing down the Marlborough Sounds is pretty awesome as the land closes in behind you after sailing across the open sea.
We enter Tory Sound on South Island on our way to Picton
The Kaitaki sails down Queen Charlotte Sound on South Island - awesome!
Passing other ships in Queen Charlotte Sound on our way to Picton
The Kaitaki docked the far side of the harbour in Picton ready to return to Wellington
Having disembarked from the Kaitaki it was only a short walk to the railway station to catch the 5 hour 30 minute Coastal Pacific Kiwi Rail Scenic Train to Christchurch. No commentary this time unless you had your own earphones as the Chinese supplier had let Kiwi Rail down and the ear phones they were meant to give us were still enroute!
For the first hour and a half of the trip we passed endless rows of vines, not surprising as the Marlborough Region we were passing through is by far the largest in New Zealand producing about 75% of the country's output and is particularly well known for its white wine.
The endless vineyards of Marlborough
and more vineyards...
...and yet more vineyards
At Lake Grassmere we passed the shallow lagoon sheltered from the open sea which with its high salinity along with warm prevailing winds make it particularly well suited to salt extraction producing about half of New Zealand's domestic salt. Beyond Seddon the railway ran along the coast and we reached where the Kaikoura Mountains (the highest mountains north of Mount Cook) reach the sea and the scenery changed dramatically with headlands rising out of the sea and lots of tunnels.
The Lake Grassmere Salt Lagoon
The Salt Works at Lake Grassmere
The Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea with dramatic headlands
There were numerous tunnels where the mountains reached the sea
This stretch of coastline is particularly well known for its marine life and we saw many seals from the train lazing on the rocks. The train stopped at Kaikoura with its Whale Watch Centre, a place I plan to return to a bit later on my trip. The last part of our journey was across the very flat North Canterbury Plans crossing the occasional river until we reached Christchurch.
The rocks where the Kaikoura Mountains reach the sea are ideal for seals
Seal coming ashore near Kaikoura
The train stops at Kaikoura famous for whale watching
The Coastal Pacific at Kaikoura Station
I overnighted in Christchurch, a city very much still recovering from the earthquakes that devastated it in 2010 and 2011 and which I will be returning to in 10 days time. Suffice here to say it was a shock to see especially after hearing how beautiful the city had once been.
In the morning I got the free shuttle back to the railway station and boarded the TranzAlpine for the 5 hour journey across the Southern Alps to Greymouth on the west coast, the final stage of my end to end journey on Kiwi Rail's Scenic Train Network. Initially our route took us across the Canterbury Plain, New Zealand's largest flat area but after about an hour and a half we had our first real view of the mountains and had a photo stop.
The TranzAlpine about to leave Christchurch Station for Greymouth
The Canterbury Plains - New Zealand's largest area of flat land
Our first view of the mountains
The next couple of hours were the most spectacular of my entire train journey from Auckland as we went through 16 tunnels and crossed 5 high viaducts making our way across the Southern Alps. It was difficult to decide which side of the train to look with the highest of the viaducts - the Staircase Viaduct - standing at 240 feet (73 metres).
The railway ran alongside increasingly deep river gorges as we climbed up into the mountains
One of many spectacular viaducts we had to cross as we made our way across the mountains
The train passed and crossed many mountains, lakes and deep gorges as we crossed the Southern Alps
Crossing the Staircase Viaduct as we make our way through the Southern Alps
Having crossed the Otira Viaduct and then gone through the Otira Tunnel (at 5.3 miles - 8.5 kilometres, the longest railway tunnel in the British Empire when it was built in 1923) we stopped at Arthur's Pass, the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps and the highest settlement in NZ.
From here we descended South Island's wetter West Coast, initially through cattle country but then as we descended past Lake Brunner (a large lake popular for trout fishing) and into 1860 Gold Rush country we had natural New Zealand Bush and Forest until we arrived at our final destination of Greymouth.
Me at Arthur's Pass, the highest settlement in NZ
Crossing the Grey River on the way to Greymouth
The TranzAlpine makes its way down to the west coast
My original plan included a couple of extra days in Christchurch (often described as "the most English City outside England") so I could visit the Antarctic Centre at the airport and go whale watching from Kaikoura up the coast. However Christchurch was hit by a 7.1 earthquake in November 2010 followed by a 6.3 aftershock in February 2011 and when I arrived and saw how devastated the city still was I knew the focus of this entry was going to be very different.
It was the city centre and especially the older stone buildings that bore the brunt of the quake and 2 years on most of them have been or are in the process of being demolished, replaced by wasteland car parks while the authorities decide what to replace them with. Much of the city centre is cordoned off "red zone" still considered too dangerous for the public to enter with scaffolding, traffic cones, cranes and men in hi-vis bibs with safety hats everywhere.
Typical street in Christchurch City Centre (the Police HQ is on the left)
Typical street in Christchurch City Centre (the Public Library is on the right)
Damaged Church beside the River Avon in Christchurch
Fenced off Shopping Centre in the centre of Christchurch
Notice on a condemned building
The hub of the city was Cathedral Square but it remains out of bounds apart from a recently opened viewing area. The Cathedral's 206 feet (63 metre) spire was one of the headline casualties of the quake and they are currently building a transitional "cardboard" cathedral to provide a temporary place of worship with an expected lifespan of about 20 years.
Cathedral Square is still out-of-bounds to traffic
Christchurch's Cathedral Square, the scaffolding on the right is the only evidence left of the famous spire
The transitional cardboard cathedral under construction
Model of the proposed cardboard transitional cathedral in Quake City - the Christchurch Earthquake Experience
Christchurch is New Zealand's 2nd largest city but after the earthquakes there is still very little life in the city centre, I was there for 4 nights and finding shops, somewhere to eat or drink was almost impossible. Also with all the construction workers in town the only accommodation available was in hostel dormitories with very basic amenities even by hostel standards. In an attempt to bring life back to the city centre a shopping mall out of shipping containers has been constructed in what had once been one of the main shopping streets. The brightly coloured Re:START Mall on Cashel Street has now become a tourist attraction in its own right but it is still very quiet for a city the size of Christchurch.
The Re:START Mall on Cashel Street
Shops at the Re:START Mall
More shops at the Re:START Mall
Quake City - the Christchurch Earthquakes Experience in the Re:START Mall
Included in the Re:START Mall is Quake City, described as "the Christchurch Earthquakes Experience". It includes iconic objects that fell during the quakes such as the cathedral bell and spire as well as recalling many personal stories and the actions of the rescue teams from around the world. It also explains what liquefaction is which is what happened in the suburbs while buildings were collapsing in the city centre.
Bottles on display in Quake City of a one-off beer (called After Shock) created by a local brewery following the 7.1 quake in November 2010
The fallen spire from the Cathedral on display in Quake City
Photo on display in Quake City showing the aftermath of liquefaction in the suburbs
The cathedral bell and other artifacts in Quake City
Speakers Chair from the Council Chamber on display in Quake City