The Margaret River area is the south west toe of Western Australia about 3 hours drive from Perth. I had been there before on my previous visit to my cousins in Perth back in 2002 but definately wanted to go back there again as there was so much to see.
We started by visiting the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse situated at the most south western point in Australia which is where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. After the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Cape Horn in South America this is one of the most treacherous capes in the world. The lighthouse was built in 1895-96 and is 132 feet (40 metres) high with walls 7 feet (2 metres) thick at its base - and 176 steps we had to climb to reach the top!
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
The Lighthouse Lens at Cape Leeuwin
The view of the rest of Australia from Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Me at the meeting point of the Indian and Southern Oceans
Next stop moving north was Lake Cave, the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge which is the backbone of the Margaret River Area is peppered with over 100 of them most of which have the most amazing natural cave formations. Lake Cave is considered the prettiest of them with an impressive colapsed cavern entrance known as a doline and its stalactites within reflecting in the stream that flows very slowly through it. From the karri trees growing in the entrance it is estimated the doline colapsed about 700 years ago and inside Lake Cave there is a very unusual cave formation known as as suspended table formed by the flowstone beneath columns being eroded away.
The impressive entrance down into Lake Cave
Stalactites reflecting in the water inside Lake Cave
The suspended table inside Lake Cave
The deepest part of Lake Cave
Day light again! Re-emerging from Lake Cave into its doline
The Boranup Forest above the caves contains an amazing forest of karri and marri trees, driving along the Caves Road that runs along the spine of the area you are aware the trees are tall with similar sized trunks but all of a sudden the trees seem to be 3-5 times taller than they were previously - very belittling! Karri Trees are a very straight trunked hardwood tree with all its branches high up that can grow upto 200 feet (60 metres) high. The most famous karri is the 200 feet high Gloucester Tree near Pemberton about an hour's drive away to the east which is used as a fire lookout tree and can be climbed but I was quite happy keeping my feet on the ground!
The view from the Boranup Lookout across the Karri Tree Forest to the Indian Ocean
Karri Trees line the track as we drive through the Baranup Forest
To give an idea of scale, our car stopped on the track amongst the Karri Trees in the Boranup Forest
Where the Margaret River enters the Indian Ocean is also world famous for its consistent surf and I remember a fun day on the beach there during my previous visit. Since then the shape of the coastline seems to have changed a lot and still shows the scars of a bushfire that ravaged the area a couple of years ago but as we stopped for old times sake we could still make out the surfers practising in the waves on Surfers Point for the annual Pro Surf Competition being held there starting at the weekend.
Surfers practice at Surfers Point, Margaret River
Lifeguard Notice at Margaret River Beach
Surfers encampment at Margaret River in readiness for the Pro-Am Competition the following weekend
Scrubland at Surfers Point recovering from the Bushfire that ravaged the area in 2011
However what Margaret River is famous for more than anything else is for being Western Australia's premier wine region so what else were we to finish our trip to the area but with a tour of a local winery? The winery we chose to visit was the Leeuwin Estate, one of the original wineries in the area when it was identified as an ideal place to grow grapes back in 1972 and which often hosts open concerts for famous entertainers such the London Philamornic and Sting. Our tour was given by a very enthusiastic guide and one of the senior growers and was very interesting and fun - honest I learnt a lot! We then finished off by sampling some of the different vintages before starting our long trek back to Perth.
The entrance to the Leeuwin Estate Winery
The stage all set for the next open air concert at the Leeuwin Estate
Where the grapes arrive from the fields
Wine fermenting in the vats at the Leeuwin Estate
Wine aging in oak barrels in the cellars of the Leeuwin Estate
Of course no tour of a winery would be complete without some wine tasting!
The strap line The Unexpected Journey from the film The Hobbit seemed appropriate as I'd just been to Hobbiton and prior to my arrival in New Zealand I did not have any plans to visit the North Island's East Coast. However when the opportunity arose to spend Easter with family in Hawke's Bay it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Hastings is the largest town on Hawke's Bay, renowned for its fertile farmlands, almost Mediterranean climate and red wine. My second cousin and his wife have a small holding a few miles out of town where they are growing vines, truffles and olive trees in readiness for when in a few years time the time comes to give up their day job. It's an idealic spot, far away from the bustle of the town with only crops, sheep, cattle, trees and crags visible on the gentle hills around it. On most days we also the saw the occasional hawk close by surveying the land below for prey.
The track above the house
The Oak Trees above the house being cultivated for the truffles growing in their roots
The view from the veranda first thing in the morning
Much of the front is given over to Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc vines and I had my fingers crossed that I would be there to help bring in the 2013 vintage which was very close to being ready for picking. However it wasn't to be and I missed out by 2 days while we waited for the brix (measure of the vines sugar content) to reach the magical 23 mark but I did get to see where the wine is made. Not surprisingly the process was very similar to what I had seen on the winery tour in Margaret River WA a fortnight before but on a smaller scale.
Vines covered by netting to protect them from the birds
Close up of a vine almost ready for picking
Where the wine making happens
In addition to the wine my cousin and his wife also produce a range of delicious liquors such as damson and walnut. There was an olive grove and beside them rows of young trees such as oak cultivated to harvest the truffles growing from the spores planted amongst their roots. There were vegetable and herb plots and there was also a bee hive I narrowly missed out doning a bee suit for to help harvest the honey. There were a handful of chickens inquisitively running about and also a ewe with three lambs. One of these had been slaughtered the previous day (they picked the one who kept escaping through the fence as he was causing too much extra work!) and I watched as the carcass was carved up for the freezer.
The olive grove below the house
The bee hive near the lemon trees
Carving up the lamb ready for the freezer
On Easter Sunday we went down first thing to the farmers market held in Hastings where the large range of fresh produce was all grown locally (including not surprisingly for Hawke's Bay some wine) and had a cooked breakfast before wandering amongst the stalls deciding what we were going to cook for dinner. Afterwards we drove up to Te Mata Peak (1,309 feet, 399 metres) from where there were terrific views across the whole of Hawke's Bay, much of the surrounding valleys and on a clear day even as far as Mount Ruapehu. There was also a ramp for hang gliders to jump from - this is New Zealand after all!
The Sunday Farmer's Market in Hastings
The Sunday Farmer's Market in Hastings
The view of Hastings and Hawkes Bay from Te Mata Peak
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