Rottnest (or "Rotto") is a small island 12 miles off the Fremantle coast famed for its wildlife (and in particular "quokkas", cat sized marsupials) and used as an idyllic holiday retreat by the locals. The day started with catching the early ferry from the Barrack Street Jetty in Perth and then an hour long cruise down the Swan River past West Australia's equivalent of Millionaires Row to Fremantle.
Perth from the Barrack Street Jetty
View from the ferry on the Swan River between Perth and Fremantle
Having berthed up beyond the "Costa Deliziosa" Cruise Ship (the big cruise ship currently in port) and loaded up with more tourists, bicycles and ballot boxes (for the imminent state election), the ferry sped past ships queueing to berth up in Freemantle Harbour. Arriving on Rottnest Island about 30 minutes later, we then got on a RIB (Rigid Inflatible Boat, apparently similar to those used by the SAS) for a 90 minute "eco-tour" right around the island stopping at coves to see the wildlife along the way.
Bicycles and Ballot Boxes being loaded on the Rottnest Ferry at Freemantle
Approaching Rottnest Island on the Ferry
The RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) we were on going around Rottnest Island
On the eco-tour RIB speeding around Rottnest Island
The ride bouncing along at up to 35 knots outside the speed restriction areas was fun and we saw lazy New Zealand Fur Seals, nesting Ospreys and well as foraging Stingrays but I must admit I had hoped to see more as dolphins and seas lions are often also seen on the trip I took.
New Zealand Fur Seal at Cathedral Rocks on Rottnest Island
Kayaking and snorkeling amongst the seals on Rottnest Island
New Zealand Fur Seal floating on his back on Rottnest Island
Osprey perched high up on a cliff on Rottnest Island
On returning to Thomson Bay (the main settlement on the island) I hired a bicycle for a couple of hours to explore the island's interior as with cars non-existent this is the recommended way to get around. I managed to reach the Oliver Hill Guns (WW2 Battery installed to defend Freemantle Harbour), Wedjemup Lighthouse and ride past some of the salty pink lakes (4 times saltier than sea water and like the Dead Sea you naturally float in them) before I had to return back to make sure I was back in time for my ferry.
The WW2 Gun Battery on Oliver Hill
Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island
A pink lake on Rottnest Island
Me exploring Rottnest Island by bicycle
Geordie Bay full of yachts on Rottnest Island
Back in Thomson Bay I made a quick visit to the museum and "Quod" (old prison now hotel, Rottnest was used as an aboriginal open prison during the 19th century) was beginning to worry the only quokka I would see would be the one sleeping by the surf boards at the bicycle hire shop. I need not have worried, literally just before I got back to the boat one wandered out in front of me and good as posed for my camera!
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
A must see for me was Milford Sound only 40 miles (64 kilometres) away as the crow flies although with mountains and lakes in the way the actual distance by road was 180 miles (290 kilometres) and took over 3 hours. The drive there was spectacular and we stopped at a lake with a particularly pristine mirror refection of the surrounding mountains and forest before making our way through the Homer Tunnel to Milford. When we emerged the other side the weather had totally changed, Milford Sound is the wettest place in New Zealand!
The stunning scenery on the way to Milford Sound
Mirror Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Sign reflected in the Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a 10 mile (16 kilometre) long fjord with very steep sides; Mitre Peak is the most famous and towered 5,551 feet (1,692 metres) over the Sound as we arrived to board our tour boat. With forest clinging to the sheer cliffs, waterfalls cascading into the Sound from high up and seals colonising the rocks (apparently there are dolphins in the Sound as well but we didn't see any the day we were there) it is one of the most stunning places in the world and part of a World Heritage Site covering the south west corner of New Zealand.
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (5,551 feet - 1,692 metres), for an idea of scale note the tour boat at its base!
Me by Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
Close up of the Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
St Annes Point at the mouth of Milford Sound, next stop Australia!
Seals on Seal Rock in Milford Sound
Bowen Falls on the left as we return up Milford Sound
Unfortunately it was when I arrived at Milford Sound that my camera began to indicate it had a problem. Two and a half months and five countries into my round the world trip even with most of them backed up (in triplicate - I am an IT Project Manager after all, always got to have a contingency plan!) you can imagine how I felt!
Fortunately it turned out to be the new SD Card I put in my camera after the Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike that was the problem so I was able to use my camera's internal memory (and borrowed photographs) until I got a replacement the following day in Queenstown. Two photo stores in NZ and LA have tried to recover the lost pictures for me since with no success so I'm pretty sure they are not recoverable.
I try to put on a brave face after realising there is a problem with my camera