Australia go 4 nil up in the Ashes

I have been watching this series from the start in Brisbane. During today’s performance I started to get angry!

The day started with Australia on 30 without loss requiring 231 runs to win the match. Although Australia were firm favourites this would have been the highest fourth innings score to win a test match at the MCG for many years. I was just about to take up my seat shortly after start of play when I saw a chance dropped in the slips. It looked to me as if Alastair Cook had dropped a difficult chance at first slip off Stuart Broad’s bowling. On the radio commentary, they blamed Jonny Bairstow for not diving across from wicket keeper to take the catch. Broad was surprisingly taken out of the attack after bowling just 2 overs. Soon after this Cook drops a total sitter off Ben Stokes’ bowling. Catches win matches!!

After only half an hour of the day part time off spinner Joe Root came onto bowl. What’s going on? Aren’t we trying to win this match? We need our front line bowlers not part timers?

Joe Root brought into the bowling attack after 30 minutes

Joe Root brought into the bowling attack after 30 minutes

A wicket falls. Warner is caught behind from Bairstow. A wicket for Stokes. 64-1.

in the Aussie first innings England bowled really well. They bowled really tightly and made it difficult for the Aussies to score. In this innings England are really sloppy. Runs flow easily at 4 an over and the fielding is sloppy. Cook takes an age to make fielding changes and some of the crowd, including me, get annoyed.

Australia reach 100 for the loss of one wicket. Rogers gets his fifty.

Our front line spinner, Monty Panesar, hasn’t bowled yet. What’s going on? Cook finally turns to Panesar when the score is 118-1. But it’s far too late. Monty bowls badly and is hit for 10 off one over.

Runs continue to flow. A century partnership between Watson and Rogers. Then Chris Rogers gets his 100 off just 135 balls. Soon after Shane Watson gets his 50 off just 70 balls. Interestingly, 39% of Chris Rogers runs were through 3rd man but Cook refuses to place a fielder in that position.

This is getting embarrassing. Bresnan goes for 14 in one over. It’s a shambles.

Rogers finally departs for 116 and gets a standing ovation as he leaves the field. A wicket for Monty. However scoring continues to be very quick. Monty goes for 14 off an over.

Before long, at 2.26pm, Australia reach their target. I decide not to linger for the presentations.

An embarrassing scoreline

An embarrassing scoreline

I am now beginning to seriously question our captain. Some of the decisions today were, to me, inexplicable. Is the pressure of the job getting to him? Would it be better if he reverted to batting?

Over the four days of the test match the total attendance was 221,865. That’s a staggering number of people. I have enjoyed the spectacle of watching a match at the MCG but not the England performance.

I had an excellent seat to watch the action. It was two seats away from a seat which marks the point where the biggest ever 6 hit at the MCG landed. In 1993, during a Sheffield Shield match, a shot by Simon O’Donnell from the bowling of Greg Matthews landed there. It’s denoted by a plaque and the seat is a different colour to the others in the section. All I can say is it must have been one helluva strike!

Marking the spot where the biggest. 6 at the MCG landed

Marking the spot where the biggest. 6 at the MCG landed

So with the match finishing a day early this gives me more time to explore Melbourne. Stay tuned for blog updates on this.

4th Ashes Test at Melbourne – Day 3

I have been getting behind with my blog entries so I decided to get up to date today. To enable this I stayed in my hotel room and blogged whilst watchIng the cricket coverage on Channel 9. This was the first time I have had the opportunity to watch the cricket on TV. It’s not bad to be honest. Not dissimilar to sky back home. It’s fronted by the polished but always slightly too smug Mark Nicholas. Their commentary team includes Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Michael Slater, Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry. To give some English balance they have Michael Vaughan and David Lloyd providing commentary alongside their commitments to the BBC and Sky respectively.

England started the day requiring only one wicket to finish off Australia’s second innings. However this was easier said than done and having resumed overnight on 164-9, the last wicket pair of Haddin and Lyon put on another 40 runs. The channel 9 commentators were highly critical of Alastair Cook’s captaincy during this period. They thought his field placings were far too defensive and he wasn’t asserting himself over the team.

So England had a second innings lead of 51 runs. England’s second innings started well. At lunch they were 54 without loss. Alastair Cook was playing really well but Michael Carberry was struggling to get runs.

Soon after lunch Cook gets a well deserved fifty. He then gets snared lbw by Mitchell Johnson and is out for 51. England are 65-1.

Joe Root is given out, caught behind, for a duck. He is reprieved after a DRS review.

Carberry’s batting struggles are finally over as he is out for 12 after batting for over 2 hours. Root is then run out for 15. He takes a chance on Mitchell Johnson’s left arm and is a yard out of his ground. What a suicidal run to take! Then Bell is out for a golden duck. A wicket for Lyon. 3 wickets have been lost in 5 balls. Another England batting collapse!

When I leave the hotel to walk to the MCG, England are 100-4. No wickets are lost on my 45 minute walk. At tea England are 115-4 with Pietersen and Stokes playing sensible cricket.

After tea Stokes falls for 19. He takes on Nathan Lyon but is caught at mid on. Why play that shot?

Johnson comes onto bowl. It’s really windy out there. Rubbish is blowing across the pitch and the bails keep blowing off. It all starts to kick off when KP backs away from a delivery just before Johnson releases the ball. In frustration Johnson throws the ball really close to KP. Words are exchanged in the middle.

KP batting in England's second innings. He and Cook were the only batsmen to acquit themselves well

KP batting in England’s second innings. He and Cook were the only batsmen to acquit themselves well

A chaotic scene with rubbish blowing across the pitch

A chaotic scene with rubbish blowing across the pitch

Bairstow is playing shots. He hits a couple of sixes and a couple of fours. However Johnson angles the ball across him, Bairstow has a nibble, and is out for 21. The score is 173-6. Bresnan and Broad quickly follow Bairstow back to the pavilion. They are both wickets for Lyon and have got out for ducks playing poor shots. Three wickets have been lost for 1 run. The second batting collapse of the day.

Kevin Pietersen is running out of partners. He needs to get some runs. He tries to hit Lyon for 6 but falls short of the boundary and is out for 49. Lyon has taken 5 wickets.

Monty Panesar is out for a duck and England are all out for 179. How very very disappointing to have collapsed from a promising position at lunch.

So Australia need 231 runs to win the match. At close of play they reach 30 without loss without any close calls.

Something needs to change with this England batting line up. History keeps repeating itself!

4th Ashes Test at Melbourne – Day 2

Having batted very patiently on day 1, Kevin Pietersen started day 2 in a different mindset. He hit a 4 from the first ball of the day. It looks like he means business! Bresnan is out from the first ball of Mitchell Johnson’s first over. He is unable to successfully fend off a short ball from Johnson and is caught at short leg. KP is out from the 5th ball of the same over. He hits across the line of the ball and is clean bowled. It was a silly reckless shot.

Broad is then out lbw. Another wicket for Johnson. He has now taken 5 wickets with the new ball. A spell of 5 wickets for 18 runs. Another devastating hostile spell of fast bowling reminiscent of his spells in Adelaide and Brisbane. There is some resistance from Monty and Jimmy. But then Monty leaves a ball from Lyon and is bowled. England have collapsed from 226-6 to 255 all out. Another batting collapse!

Disillusioned I go walkabout. I need a coffee and head to the bottom tier to find one. Whilst in the queue the Aussies start batting and I watch the action on a monitor on the concourse. Having got my coffee I watch whilst stood behind the section where the Barmy Army are sitting. Warner is out for 9. He miscues a ball from Jimmy Anderson high in the air and is caught by Jonny Bairstow. The Barmies sing a rousing chorus of “oh Jimmy Jimmy! Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Anderson”. I join in!

Soon after Ben Stokes gets Shane Watson’s wicket. The Barmies start singing the “Hokey Stokey”. Despite practising this on Christmas Day I am still struggling to remember the words and actions to that one.

At lunch Australia are 38-2. A good start by England. I head out of the MCG to go for a walk. I reach a pub called the Cricketers Arms and head in for a beer. It’s an old pub with cricket memorabilia on the wall. A sign on the wall in the bar refers to the authentic pre World War 2 Art Deco German bar fittings. Having enjoyed a VB I head back to the MCG.

The Art Deco bar at the cricketers arms

The Art Deco bar at the cricketers arms

The cricketers arms

The cricketers arms

After lunch Rogers is hit on the helmet by a ball from Broad. There is blood and a delay whilst he regains composure. Clarke is bowled by Jimmy and is out for 10. “Oh Jimmy Jimmy!”.

Rogers gets his 50 just before tea. In the tea interval I watched some pantomime going on in the nets at the MCG. TV personality Piers Morgan had been very disparaging on Twitter about England’s batting performances on this series and in particular how they have performed against Mitchell Johnson. This had led to some banter and ultimately to Morgan facing an over from legendary former Aussie fast bowler Brett Lee. Quite a crowd had built up to watch this. Lee steamed in. Morgan failed to connect with the bat in any of the 6 deliveries. During the over he gets hit on the body, backs away from a ball and is bowled by one delivery. It was a good laugh.

Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee

Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee

After tea, Broad breaks a partnership of 48 between Smith and Rogers. A great catch in the slips from Bell. Smith is out for 19. 110-4.

Bresnan strikes. Rogers is out for 61. KP takes the catch in the deep. Bailey is out for a duck after a DRS review goes our way. Thanks snicko!

Haddin is in and yet again in this series is batting well. Oh no! Jimmy drops Johnson off Bresnan.

Monty thinks he has a wicket. Haddin is given out lbw by the umpire but survives on a DRS review.

Johnson is gone! Bresnan gets him in the end and Anderson this time takes the catch. The Aussies are 151-7 and are rocking!

The crowd for day 2 is announced at 78,346. Another fantastic attendance!

Harris is out for 6. A wicket for Broad. Siddle then falls. It’s close of play and the Aussies are 164-9.

This has been the best day of the series for England. They have bowled really well with all the bowlers playing their part. They have bowled a good line and length and exerted real pressure. It’s been just like how the Aussies have bowled all through these series. England are giving a rousing ovation from their fans as they leave the pitch.

The tv cameras view at the MCG.

The tv cameras view at the MCG.

After play I was invited to go for drinks by the tour company my tickets have been supplied through. Former England player Adam Hollioake, who I met in Brisbane, is working for the tour company out here. He would be at the drinks reception with the possibility of a current England player. When I turned up there were a number of the tour party in the bar listening to Adam and Michael Carberry. This gave me the opportunity for a photo….

Me with Adam Hollioake and Michael Carberry.

Me with Adam Hollioake and Michael Carberry.

After Adam and Michael left I headed off to the Barmy Army bar, PJ O’Briens, for a couple of drinks. There was an excellent live band playing. I then walked back to my hotel along the south bank before crossing over a bridge over the Yarra River.

Melbourne at night

Melbourne at night reflected in the Yarra.

4th Ashes Test at Melbourne – Day 1

The Boxing Day test match in Melbourne is a massive tradition. People in these parts are big sports fans and Boxing Day always attracts big crowds to the MCG.

After collecting my tickets I walked along the banks of the Yarra river towards the MCG. There were loads and loads of people heading in the same direction. At a bend in the river the MCG came into view. It looked huge! I was also impressed to see other sporting arenas in the area including Melbourne Park where the Australian open tennis is held. Heading over a railway bridge close to the MCG there was a clear view of the Rod Laver arena and outside courts. Melbourne is clearly a great place to come to watch live sport.

My first view of the MCG

My first view of the MCG

The crowds heading to the MCG

The crowds heading to the MCG

The Rod Laver arena viewed from the MCG. This is the main show court for the Aussie open tennis

The Rod Laver arena viewed from the MCG. This is the main show court for the Aussie open tennis

In entering the MCG I went looking for my seat. This was no easy task in a ground which can accommodate over 100,000. Having successfully found where I was sitting I looked around me. The MCG is a huge cavernous bowl and it’s jaw dropping when you first enter. I have been in huge stadia before such as Wembley and the Nou Camp but this feels on a different scale. I have a great view of the action from my seat which is close to behind the bowlers arm. I am quite high up in the 3rd of four tiers.

The MCG

The MCG

Another view of the MCG

A panoramic view of the MCG

My view of the action

My view of the action

The toss was held in very overcast conditions. Yet again it was won by Australia. The surprise was that Michael Clarke put England into bat. Now there is a saying in cricket that 9 times out of ten when you win the toss you should bat and the 10th time you think long and hard about bowling and then decide to bat. I can only think that Michael Clarke fancied having a go at the England batsmen under overcast skies. There were a couple of changes in the England line up with Jonny Bairstow replacing Matt Prior behind the stumps. Monty Panesar was in the team for the retired Graham Swann.

Day 1 was much like other days I have watched in this series. The Australia bowlers were excellent. They bowled a good line and length and made it difficult for the England batsmen to score. A number of batsmen got in, then got bogged down and then got out. Cook 27, Carberry 38 and Root 24 are examples. This was a big innings for Kevin Pietersen. He has endured much criticism on this tour for his peformances. He has massive talent but also a big propensity for getting himself out by playing daft shots. Whilst on 6 he hits a slog and is caught out on the boundary. However the substitute fielder, Coulter-Nile, can not prevent himself stepping over the rope. KP is reprieved.

Scoring is really slow. To be honest the cricket is a bit boring. There is talk on the radio commentary about this being potentially the lowest ever score in a  test match on Boxing Day at the MCG.

I had been set a challenge by Kathryn my next door neighbour back home. Her two brothers would be at MCG on Boxing Day. I had their seat numbers so it sounded quite a straightforward task to find them. They were on the 4th tier. It took me around 10 minutes to find the section they were sitting in. After a bit of an explanation between me and the steward she told the two brothers, Martin and Paul, that there was guy from the UK looking to meet them. Martin had emigrated to Melbourne 30 years ago and Paul is on holiday here with his wife Lynne. This was only the second time that they had spent time with each other in over 30 years. Martin last visited the UK back in 1996.

Me with Paul (left) and Martin (right)

Me with Paul (left) and Martin (right)

After tea, Bell falls for 27. England are 173-4. Pietersen is still in though. Soon after a drinks break, he is dropped by Bailey. Pietersen is not happy. There is a big delay whilst he goes down on his haunches. He wants another drink. The Aussies in the crowd give him dogs abuse. There is talk on the radio that he had swallowed a fly!

The crowd is huge. The official attendance is announced as 91,092. This is a record official attendance for a day of cricket. There are rumoured to have been bigger attendances in Calcutta but there are no official records. It was great to be part of a world record crowd.

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Before the end of the day Stokes is out for 14 and Bairstow falls for 10. At stumps England are 226-6. Pietersen is unbeaten at 67 and has been batting very patiently. It’s a good wicket though and so Australia will be happier with their days work than England.

Christmas Day with the Barmy Army

So I have been away travelling now since mid November and been having a fantastic time. One day that was always going to be a little tricky as a solo traveller was Christmas Day.

Christmas back home in the UK is always a big family get together so it felt really strange for the first time in my life being away from family at the other side of the world! It also doesn’t feel very Chirtmassy over here. I think thats mainly due to the weather. I am used to cold and frosty not hot and sunny.

I had booked for Xmas Day to go to the Barmy Army lunchtime party at the Crown Casino. The casino is within a huge entertainment complex on the South Bank of the Yarra River.

The party started at midday with a drinks reception. As I milled around looking for a familiar face I felt a bit like “Billy no mates”. Eventually after a few minutes I spotted a couple who had sat on the row behind me at the Gabba in Brisbane and I chatted to them until it was time to go into the main room.

This was a huge party. There were 66 tables and there must have been over 600 people in total. There was a seating plan and I headed over to my table. I was on a table full of blokes. Mainly single travellers. Everyone was friendly and we got on well.

My table at the Xmas lunch

My table at the Xmas lunch

The Barmy Army party scene

The Barmy Army party scene

The party consisted of a 2 course meal. Turkey and some of the trimmings followed by Xmas pudding. There was also a free bar! Much of the party was spent singing songs. We were provided with a song book of Xmas carols. The singing was led by “Billy the trumpeter” a professional musician and Barmy Army legend. Many of the carols had the words changed to a cricketing theme. My favourites were :-

To the tune of Little Donkey…..

Little Monty, little Monty
At the MCG
Little Monty, little Monty
Make it spin for me

Knock down the bails tonight
Panesar, Panesar
Show us some turn and fight
Panesar, Panesar

And another classic……

Ding Dong Belly is our King!
He’s England’s Shortest Batsman
Ding Dong Belly is our King!
He’ll score more runs than Bradman
La la la la la la la……….
He’ll score more runs than Bradman

As well as the song singing there was a charity auction raising money for MDNA in association with the Broad Appeal. Items such as Graham Swann’s cricket boots and the bat with which Alastair Cook scored a golden duck in Perth were on offer.  I kept my hand in my pocket..

After the Xmas lunch had finished I had a couple of drinks at PJ O’Briens ,the Barmy Army pub in Melbourne, with some of the guys I had met at the Xmas lunch.

It was then time to go back to the hotel for FaceTime with family. It was a beautiful hot summers day and I enjoyed the walk back to the hotel along the Yarra river.

Melbourne on Christmas Day

Melbourne on Christmas Day

So a rather different Christmas Day but much better than I was fearing.

My Welcome to Melbourne

So after my weeklong adventure in New Zealand I headed to Melbourne via Jetstar from Queenstown. It was an excellent flight and we touched down at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport on time.

Your first impression of a city or country is often it’s Airport and I have to say my experience here was not good.

Queues for passport control. OK I understand border controls are important but it felt like I was being herded like cattle.

The baggage reclaim was a joke. The monitors said our luggage was coming off at carousel 4 but after waiting for a while it emerged it had come off on carousel 3!

Now the next queue was for ensuring Australia’s bio security. The queue was being administered by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests. Now having been to New Zealand I totally understand the need for bio security. New Zealand’s birds are being ravaged by non indigenous mammals that have been introduced such as stoats and possums. The possums came from Australia and there are around 30 million in New Zealand! The irony that these possums came from the country I was now queuing to enter was not lost on me. I also remember stories in the Northern Territory about non indigenous camels that were introduced to help construct early transport and telecommunications being left to roam free when they were no longer needed. The camels also indirectly introduced with them non indigenous plant species from seeds which were within the saddles of the camels. In a way it feels like Australia are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted! My bio diversity questionnaire was of course completed truthfully and as a result the trainers that I got wet in a river in New Zealand the previous day were inspected following a wait in queue no. 3! The good news is I was allowed to keep them. So I queued for a total of an hour before I managed to get out of the airport.

Rant over!

There is an excellent value skybus service which takes you straight from the airport into the centre of Melbourne at Southern Cross Station. They also offer free hotel transfers when you get into the city. My hotel is so close to Southern Cross that I could walk but the directions I got on reaching the station were not great and I got lost whilst wheeling my luggage round Melbourne and had to ask for directions. So a five minute journey turned into a half an hour one!

I like my hotel. It has been on this site since 1866. It was originally called Alexanders family hotel but in 1928 it was rebuilt and marketed as the “first strictly modern hotel in Australia”. Between 1954 and 1974 it was renamed the Savoy Plaza and became a favourite of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong when they visited here. In 1974 it was converted to a police cadet training school but more recently has been restored to its former Art Deco style glory.

My Melbourne hotel

My Melbourne hotel

My first impressions of Melbourne are good. I like the trams and the Southbank area with lively bars and restaurants. I am looking forward to spending a week here.

A Melbourne tram

A Melbourne tram

A view of Melbourne CBD from the Southbank

A view of Melbourne CBD from the Southbank

Dart River Jet Boat, Arrowtown and the Skyline Gondola

I had a hectic last day in New Zealand planned but was beginning to flag… After the early starts and long driving I really needed a lie in. But there was no chance of that as I was being picked up at 7.30 am to go on a Jet Boat trip along the Dart River.

The coach headed thought Queenstown and along the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu to the one I had travelled down the previous day. We were heading for the small village of Glenorchy. We got some amazing views towards the top of the lake.

The 3 Islands at the top of Lake Wakatipu

The 3 Islands at the top of Lake Wakatipu

Views towards the top of Lake Wakatipu

Views towards the top of Lake Wakatipu

On arrival at Glenorchy we transferred into smaller 4wd buses. Glenorchy is known as “the gateway to paradise” and the backdrops have been used in films such as The Hobbit, Lord of The Rings, Wolverine, Prince Caspian, Vertical Limit and Avatar.

After leaving Glenorchy we entered the Mount Aspiring National Park. We made a couple of stops to be able to capture on camera the beauty of the landscape.

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Before venturing onto the boat our guide took us for a walk inside a forest of red beeches. This included a chance to walk inside the hollow trunk of a living tree!

The inside of a red beech tree

The inside of a red beech tree

After the walk through the forest it was time to board the jet boat. Our driver, Royce, welcomed us aboard. The jet boat was full with 15 tourists. I sat on at the back near the 2 engines. The ride was exhilarating. We sped along the Dart River away from Lake Wakatipu. At times it seemed we were headed for rocks but Royce would then turn the boat at the last minute to thankfully miss them. He would from time to time turn the boat into a 360 degree spin.

After about 15 minutes the boat ground to a halt. It had grounded on the bottom of the river. Royce got us to stand up and rock the boat but to no avail. another boat circled round us to see if it’s wake would release us but that didn’t work either. Royce then said he needed volunteers to get off the boat to lighten the load. The river wasn’t that deep but was flowing fast. We all had life jackets on and a waterproof jacket. Being the only British member of the crew I was of course one of the first to volunteer. The coldness of the water took my breath away. I linked arms with the other 2 volunteers and Royce and before long we were on the shore. I was wearing jeans and trainers. Both were saturated with water! In total 9 of us evacuated the boat before Royce got it moving again. He moved it closer to the shore and we all got back on. This incident added to the excitement to be honest.

Passengers abandoning ship!

Passengers abandoning ship!

After taking the boat as far up the river as we could we then headed in the other direction towards the lake and after around an hours jet boat ride we were disembarking at the top of the lake. My jeans and trainers were wet through but it was a great experience. These things happen in New Zealand.

I'm on the back row - can you spot me?

I’m on the back row – can you spot me?

In the afternoon I headed for Arrowtown which was established in the New Zealand Gold Rush towards the end of the 19th century. I gave a lift up there, in my hire car, to Adam and Lori the American couple I had met on my trip to Milford Sound the previous day. Lori was keen to see the AJ Hackett bungy bridge which is on the way up there. We stopped off for around 15 minutes and saw about half a dozen people throw themselves of the bridge. it looked frightening!

This was as close as I was going to get to doing a bungy jump!

This was as close as I was going to get to doing a bungy jump!

Arrowtown is a beautifully preserved old town. In some ways it felt too perfect and that I was stepping onto a Hollywood set. A friend had recommended to me a bakery at the end of the street and their excellent strawberry muffins. I walked in an ordered one. Unfortunately they are not always on the menu and I was there on the wrong day. Having not had lunch at this point I decided to go for a sandwich… We visited the remains of the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown. Chinese labourers were encouraged to come and mine the gold but they lived in a different part of town and exoerienced discrimination.

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The shop in the Chinese settlement

The shop in the Chinese settlement

In the evening I travelled up the Skyline Gondola in Queenstown and feasted on the “eat as much as you can”  buffet dinner In the restaurant at the top. The gondola is a cable car which takes you up onto Bob’s Peak where there are panoramic views of Queenstown and the Lake from 1500 feet up.

The view from the top of the skyline gondola on Bob's Peak

The view from the top of the skyline gondola on Bob’s Peak

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So my whistlestop tour around the South Island of New Zealand was at an end. I had an amazing time and can’t wait to return.

Tomorrow I was to fly to Melbourne for Christmas and the 4th Ashes Test.

Trip to Milford Sound on the BBQ bus

A must for visiting this part of the world is a trip to Milford Sound. I had pre booked today’s trip before setting off from the UK. It was marketed as a journey down to Milford sound with a barbecue meal en route and a boat trip on arrival at Milford sound. Most of the tours down to Milford Sound from Queenstown are in full size coaches. The BBQ bus is a more intimate experience. It’s a nine seater minibus and the business is run by driver and tour guide Nick. Apart from me and Nick there were 5 others travelling that day. A young American couple, Adam and Lori, and a group of 3 from Brazil. Adam and Lori were holidaying in New Zealand over the Christmas period. Their home in the states is Atlanta but they are both living and working in Melbourne for the next couple of years. I didn’t get to know the Brazilian threesome. Their English wasn’t great. The male member of the group had a little card with the word “SEXY” written on it which he produced at each photo opportunity…

I sat up front with Nick. He is a kiwi, originally from Dunedin, and has been doing tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound for over 10 years. He used to have a much more sizeable business with 2 bigger buses and employed staff. He has decided this year to scale back the business to give himself a better work/life balance and reduced stress. I could totally sympathise with him given my own recent work situation. I got on really well with Nick. He likes his cricket and rugby and was so incredibly keen to give an excellent customer service all through the day. He was knowledgeable about all aspects of our trip and suggested ideas for other things we may wish to consider through the remainder of our time in Queensrown.

We travelled along the side of Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of The Remarkables mountain range. After the town of Kingston at the end of the lake we moved into farming country with deer, sheep and cattle stations all around. Nick pointed out a tree/shrub called a Bog Pine which was only found in this part of New Zealand and Siberia. As the land masses of New Zealand and Siberia were never connected how did that happen? The likely explanation is due to bird migration.

We stopped at Te Anau for a coffee break and to allow Nick to hitch up a trailer for the BBQ. I walked down to the lake with my coffee and took a few snaps. It was a clear day but at 9am in the morning it was chilly down by that lake. There was a statue of a bird, the Takahe, which had been thought to be extinct but was then rediscovered in the wild and is now protected.

The Takahe statue

The Takahe statue

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

We got back on the road and were soon entering the Fiordland National Park. The scenery stepped up a level. Mirror Lakes was particularly memorable with the mountains almost perfectly captured in the crystal clear lake water.

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes

We stopped at Cascade Creek and whilst Nick cooked lunch we went for a walk through a forest to Lake Gunn. It was really tranquil.

Lake Gunn

Lake Gunn

Lunch was excellent. Really tasty with plentiful quantities. I think I had 3rd helps… we lunched by the creek with the surroundings covered with lupins.

Lupins at cascade creek

Lupins at cascade creek

After lunch we got back on the road and made further stops. At one of these I tasted the crystal clear water running in a creek. We then reached Homer tunnel which bores through a gargantuan piece of mountain rock and without which the road would not get to Milford Sound. The tunnel took 19 years to complete and opened in 1954.

Magnificent views between Cascade Creek and the Homer tunnel

Magnificent views between Cascade Creek and the Homer tunnel

The entrance to the Homer tunnel

The entrance to the Homer tunnel

After going through the tunnel we made a further stop at a spectacular waterfall known as “The Chasm”

The Chasm

The Chasm

On arrival at the Milford Sound harbour we boarded a big shiny boat. There weren’t that many tourists on it so there was plenty of space and opportunities to get plenty of photos. Milford Sound was discovered by a Welshman, John Grono, in 1812, and he originally named it Milford Haven after his home town in Wales. The name was changed to Milford Sound. Nick informed us that actually it is not a Sound but a Fjord but I guess it’s probably too late to change the name to Milford Fjord?

The Milford Monarch

The Milford Monarch

As the boat set off I stood at the bow on the top deck. It was exhilarating! The spectacular cliffs on both sides and waterfalls cascading and the feeling of being somewhere quite special. Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the eighth wonder of the world and I can see why.

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After travelling along the fjord for around half an hour we were out at sea. On the way back we stopped at the Stirling Falls and got wet with spray. The boat also stopped by a rock on which fur seals were sleeping in the sun. We had been blessed with amazing weather on the boat trip and I felt very privileged to have visited such an amazing place.

Out at sea

Out at sea

Sleeping fur seals

Sleeping fur seals

Stirling falls

Stirling falls

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After getting back to the Harbour we were faced with a 4 hour road journey back to Queenstown. There were alternatives by helicopter and plane but I decided that would be too extravagant and would blow my travel budget!

So we retraced our route through this magnificent country. I enjoyed chatting with Nick on the way back.

After getting back to Queenstown at 8pm I had a walk down into the town and watched the sun setting over the harbour. A perfect end to a spectacular day.

Sunset over Queenstown

Sunset over Queenstown

Franz Josef to Queenstown Road Trip

I had another long drive ahead down to Queenstown. Around 400km but I was told that it was doable in around 5 hours. I set off at around 9.30am. It was chucking down so this would spoil the scenic views I was looking forward to on the journey. Despite the bad weather the driving conditions were not bad. There was little surface water on the roads and little traffic.

At Fox Glacier I passed a sign that said “Haast Pass closed”. I had a feeling that may be en route but decided to carry on regardless. I passed through forests and drove over numerous rivers, creeks and culverts. I must have been travelling close to the ocean as suddenly I had the Tasman Sea on my right at Bruce Bay. I made a brief stop at Lake Paringa and felt sorry for those camping by the lake. I stopped again at Ship Creek which is named after a boat that was wrecked near Melbourne and then drifted over the Tasman Sea to this point on the coast.

A rather wet Lake Paringa

A rather wet Lake Paringa

Ship Creek

Ship Creek

At around 12pm I arrived near Haast and saw a sign for a beach. It was still raining really hard at this point. The path leading to the beach was narrow and I had to walk through areas that were overgrown with grass and ferns. By the time I reached the beach my jeans were saturated! The beach was totally deserted but it was worth getting wet as you got a really good appreciation of the rugged beauty of the coast around this point.

Haast beach

Haast beach

I carried on and a couple of kilometres further on my worst fears were realised. A sign said “Haast Pass closed – update 3pm”. I headed off to the visitor information for more details as to why the road was closed. There have been problems on the Haast Pass since September when there was a major landslip which closed the road at Diana falls. In a smaller landslip on the Haast Pass, also in September, a Canadian couple touring in a camper van were swept to their deaths. So it’s a dangerous place… At the tourist information I was told that because of the high rainfall over the previous 24 hours there was concern about a boulder above the road where the original big landslip had occurred. They were optimistic that the 3pm update would be positive. The only alternative route to Queenstown from here was a 13 hour drive back the route I had come through Franz Josef and then Christchurch. I decided to stay put and wait for updates…

The delay gave me an opportunity to change into dry trousers! what a relief!

I went to a cafe in Haast and ordered a whitebait pattie. I had seen these advertised earlier on the journey and whitebait is a delicacy in these parts. What I got was a slice of toast with a pancake on top. There was no discernible taste of fish. My one and only experience of a whitebait pattie was a bitter disappointment…

My whitebait pattie

My whitebait pattie

i headed back to the tourist information to kill some time whilst I was waiting for the update. I learnt that Haast is named after the geologist Julius Haast who first publicised the benefits of a mountain pass in the area. I also discovered that I was entering a world heritage site with some of the best examples of continuous mountain to see landscapes in the world. At 2.25 I received good news. The pass had reopened. Yay!!

I set off straightaway. I was keen to make up some time. After around half an hour whilst the road was climbing I ground to a complete standstill as there was a queue of traffic as far as I could see. At the tourist information they had mentioned delays. They weren’t wrong! It turned out that at the site of the Diana Falls lanslide they were being very cautious and just letting traffic through one at a time.

The Diana pass roadworks

The Diana pass roadworks

The delay added another half an hour at least onto my journey.

By this point the rain had stopped and after the hold up there was the start of blue skies. It was turning into a lovely afternoon. I began to stop regularly as the scenery became more and more beautifull. Meadows with views of snow capped mountains. The stunning Lake Wanaka and then immediately after a stop there the equally if not more magnificent Lake Hawea. I stopped fleetingly at the town at Wanaka at the head of the lake and vowed to go back there one day.

Stunning views

Stunning views

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

Lake Hawea

Lake Hawea

View from the town of Wanaka

View from the town of Wanaka

By now I was reaching the end of the journey. I only had 100km left to travel. The landscape changed. In the Gibbston valley I passed vineyards and cherry orchards in the valley bottoms with mountains in the background. what a climate to be able to grow grapes in. I stopped at a lookout over a stretch of river called Roaring Meg.

An interestingly named Gibbston valley vineyard

An interestingly named Gibbston valley vineyard

Roaring Meg

Roaring Meg

I got to my hotel in Queenstown at 7.30. A total journey lasting 10 hours. What a day and what incredible scenery. This has got to be by far the most beautiful landscape I have ever had the privilege of visiting

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Helihike at Franz Josef Glacier

I had one full day at Franz Josef Glacier and had pre-booked a walk on the glacier. I checked at the place where the walks went from that they had my booking details on their system. They did but unfortunately I was the only person wanting to do the walk and it would be uneconomic for them to do the guided walk just for me. So unless someone else booked to do the walk that day it wouldn’t be going ahead… I was left with the prospect of spending a day at an amazing place without actually stepping foot on the glacier.

I was staying at the Terrace Motel and I turned to the proprietor for advice. He was really helpful and within a few minutes I was booked on a heli-hike and got a refund on the walk. I have to admit there was a bit of a cost differential but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed….

The heli-hike consisted of a helicopter flight up and onto the glacier followed by a hike on it for a couple of hours. The helicopter took off and within no time we had landed on a flattish area on the glacier. The flight up was exciting, perhaps a bit too much for me as on a couple of occasions it seemed to me as if the helicopter was on a collision course with the mountain!

We were provided with walking boots, crampons and water proofs. The glacier was impressive – with caves, crevices and streams running though it. It is also gradually moving down the mountain. Although you couldn’t actually feel it move glaciers are always moving, a bit like a very slow river. In the New Zealand summer the speed of movement is 15 times faster than in the winter. Due to global warming the glacier is gradually getting smaller. The new ice formed from fresh snow is not enough to fully replace the melting ice. By the end of the century the glacier could disappear. So get here whilst you can.

I was joined on the heli-hike by Rob and Sam from Andover, Hampshire and a young Austrian couple Steve and Bettina. Our kiwi guide was called Sam.

It was a fun 2 hours with the best bits being sliding through caves. It was my first experience of crampons and was impressed with how good they are at keeping you on your feet. Towards the end of the 2 hours we returned to the chopper landing site. The weather was starting to close in. The cloud was getting lower. We needed the helicopter to land soon or we may be stranded.

In a glacier cave

In a glacier cave

In a crevice!

In a crevice!

Feeling the ice cold water

Feeling the ice cold water

As we waited there was a very loud rumbling noise from beneath us. It felt as if the glacier was about to collapse from under us. Even our guide seemed worried. Thankfully the rumbling stopped and the helicopter soon appeared and it’s weight didn’t cause any problems. But it was a REALLY worrying few minutes.

The chopper returns

The chopper returns

Back in the Franz Josef town – I needed a beer! I went to lunch with Rob, Sally, Steve and Bettina. This is the second helicopter flight I have done in this trip and both times the people I have been with have gone for drinks and a meal afterwards. Is this just a coincidence or are helicopter flights a really good bonding experience??

Later in the day I visited the Kiwi Centre in Franz Josef. There are a number of sub species of the Kiwi and one or two of these are declining in numbers. This is because of a number of predators that have been introduced by Europeans, most notably the stoat, that kill the kiwi chicks. At the Kiwi Centre in Franz Josef they collect kiwi eggs and then hatch then and rear the young. After they are old enough they release them into the wild at an age where they can withstand the stoat attacks. At the Kiwi centre the sub species they are protecting is the Rowi. I saw three of them but unfortunately no photos for the blog as they do not allow them…. Taking photos could impact the kiwi shortly before they are released back into the wild.

So all in all a really good day after a tricky start…