Joe's Travels - Round the World 2003

 Diary - Week 6
Friday 21st March - Bondi Beach

 Bondi Beach

A fabulous hot sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. Caught the train to Bondi Junction then the bus from there to Bondi Beach. Spent some time sunbathing and swimming, though the waves were even larger than at Manly on Wednesday hence it was more of a wave-dodging exercise than swimming! Walked around Mackenzies Point to Tamarama Beach then Bronte Beach. All along this beautiful cliff-top path there were stunning views of the huge waves crashing against the rocks, with the sea appearing to be a mixture of pure greens and deep blues. Caught the bus back to Bondi Junction then the train to Milsons Point.

In the evening we went out for a meal, but it was so bad we left and went to a different restaurant. So, it is possible to have a bad meal in Sydney (though extremely rare). Next we tried a wine-bar serving food which was much better and also had a huge selection (around 40) of imported beers!

Saturday 22nd March – Sydney

Had a relaxing day, planning New Zealand travels, then I took the train to Chatswood (6 stops north from Milsons Point) where there’s an enormous shopping centre with around 400 shops on 6 floors. Massive!

Sunday 23rd March – Day trip to the Hunter Valley

 Vineyards in the Hunter Valley

Booked a day tour of the Hunter Valley with the excellent Sydney Bus Co. This was a nice small bus of just 16 plus the driver, a really good bloke. Weather was patchy rain to start with, but once we reached the Hunter Valley it was a reasonable day and we had no more rain. We travelled for about two hours up to Cessnock, then on to our first vineyard of the day, Ivanhoe Wines. We tasted six wines here, including a Chambourcin, which I’ve never had before. We were given plenty of information about wines and tasting.

Next we stopped off at the Golden Grape Estate, a much more commercial place, where we tasted 6 wines and 6 liqueurs. Here the emphasis was much more on how many things we could taste, but without much attention to wine appreciation! The wines were actually very good in the main, however the liqueurs were quite sickly sweet. In particular their port is much more like a very sweet sherry – their sherry was pretty similar. They also have a chilli liqueur. We had a perfectly adequate lunch in their restaurant.

Our third vineyard stop was at Drayton’s Wines, one of oldest wineries in the valley, and celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. Here, we had a short but interesting tour of the winery followed by a tasting of 6 wines. We were also able to try any others on their list if we wished, so I tried another 3. Wasn't as keen on their wines overall but the vineyard was extremely friendly.

We then visited the Hunter Village – a small shopping area with another cellar door shop, plus fudge and cheese shops. Many of us went to the wine shop, as it was McGuigans and I’d already had some good wines of theirs. Fortunately we were able to taste as much as we liked in their shop – I tried at least another 8, taking the total for the day to about 35 ! I’d certainly say that I liked their wines the most – and I bought a bottle of their delicious Bin 2000 Black Shiraz.

Our driver then took us a big field near Cessnock where he showed us how to throw boomerangs. There was mixed success amongst the group, but most failed to return to the thrower!

Set off for Sydney about 1730 - all in all an excellent day out and I’d highly recommend this tour.

Monday 24th March - Sydney

 Sydney Aquarium

It had rained all night and the rain was slow to clear this morning, leaving quite a cool and grey day today. Met up with my cousin Gemma (who I haven't seen for years!) and husband Paul. After brunch we walked down to Finger Wharf, an incredible old building which has been renovated and transformed into apartments and a very smart hotel. We also managed to fit in a couple of beers at a nearby bar.

Later on I met up with friend Neil, who arrived in Sydney from the UK last night with his sister and her three children. We went to the Fish Markets for a late lunch, then walked to the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour. It’s an excellent aquarium with a huge variety of aquatic life, the highlights being the Perspex tube through the shark and stingray tank (as in Singapore Aquarium) and the Barrier Reef – very much like what I saw when snorkelling near Cairns.

Tuesday 25th March – Sydney & Manly

 Manly Beach

Took the ferry to Manly and met up with Neil and family on the beach. It was a lovely hot sunny day, the waves were a fair bit smaller than last week and the water was really warm today. Had a good swim and did a bit of sunbathing.

Then caught the ferry back to Circular Quay – due to one of the normal large ferries being out of service this sailing was replaced by a Jetcat, which was interesting to travel on for a change. The journey takes only 15 minutes by Jetcat rather than the usual 30. Having reached the city, I walked down Pitt Street, one of the main shopping streets in Sydney to meet up with some lovely girls from England, who I’d met first in Cairns. We walked down to Darling Harbour for a drink at one of the many smart bars that overlook Cockle Bay (the inner part of Darling Harbour).

In the evening went out with my Sydney friends to the Belgian Beer Café – a new and very popular restaurant in the Crow’s Nest area. Had moules frites (what else!) and plenty of Hoegaarden – good food, beer and a great atmosphere.

So, finished off my stay in Sydney with a really good day – fantastic weather, met up with great friends and had an excellent meal & beers in the evening. I shall be really sorry to leave Sydney, it’s a wonderful city.

Wednesday 26th March – Flight Sydney to Christchurch then Queenstown

 Walter Peak & Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Took the train to the airport to catch the 0930 Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch,which left on time and arrived in Christchurch at 1320 (1 hour ahead of Sydney). Views over the Southern Alps were impressive though partly obscured by cloud.

After an hour and a half at the airport I left on another Air NZ flight to Queenstown at 1450 – a Boeing 737. It’s only a short hop of 35 minutes but one of the most spectacular flights I’ve ever been on. From flying over Lake Benmore, a totally unreal shade of blue, to the approach to Queenstown, this is an amazing route. For the last five minutes, the 737 banks sharply several times as it flies down the valley into Queenstown airport – very high mountains are just outside the window. This is the sort of flight you would normally only do in a light aircraft! Checked in at the YHA hostel - very comfortable with wonderful views out over Lake Wakatipu (NZ’s third largest lake, after Lake Taupo and Lake Te Anau). The Remarkables are beyond to the left and Walter Peak (see photo above) is to the right. Queenstown is certainly in the midst of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

The weather has been unusually dry in Queenstown recently – it’s been nearly 3 weeks since they had any rain. The forecast is for rain over any of the next few days, however I’m told it’s very often wrong.

Thursday 27th March – Queenstown & Jetboating on the Dart River

 Jetboating on the Dart River

Walked around the town in the morning. The weather was absolutely superb and the leaves are just beginning to turn to autumn colours now so the trees look wonderful.

Set off at midday for the trip booked with Dart River Jet Safaris – a six-hour trip including bus travel to Glenorchy and Jetboating on the Dart River, going up into Mount Aspiring National Park. The bus takes the road alongside Lake Wakatipu to its northernmost point, a 45-minute journey with stunning scenery the entire way. With the lake very still today and clear blue sky, there were incredible reflections of the mountains in the lake. On arrival in Glenorchy we were taken to the lakeshore to board our jetboat – seating nine people plus driver, and capable of around 75-80 km/h (50 mph) on the river in as little as 2-3 inches of water. We had an hour and a quarter of jetboating, up the river as far as Bennetts Bluff (about 35 kms, or 22 miles, from Glenorchy), then half way back again. On the downstream part, the speed was of course considerably faster! Our driver skilfully manoeuvred the boat through the narrowest of channels and very shallow water in places – we touched the bottom of the river a couple of times – and for thrills he put the boat into a 360° spin on several occasions and enjoyed whizzing past protruding rocks as close to them as possible. We saw brown trout in the river at times, when we stopped for a brief description of our location.

Half-way back down the river we stopped to swap with half the group who were waiting on the river bank. We then had a short walk through an attractive beech forest, and were then driven by 4WD bus back to Glenorchy. We drove mainly along a dirt track, through beautiful forests - this is the area where much of “Lord of the Rings” was filmed, and many other movies and commercials have been made here, including “Vertical Limit”. This was a really wonderful trip and definitely worth doing for both the exhilaration of jetboating and the stunningly beautiful scenery all day long.

Once back in Queenstown I took the Skyline gondola to the top of the mountain overlooking Queenstown. Although it was a little cloudy, I was just in time for an incredible sunset, turning the tops of the mountains reddish-brown and reflecting on the lake.


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