Saturday, March 15

Hotel de Wheels

Everyone raves about the Museum Art Hotel in Wellington.  The hotel had a great room rate on offer last week so I decided to try it for myself.  The fish sculpture you can see above greeted me every morning as I waited for an elevator.  However, the most interesting exhibit in the lift lobby was a display case capturing the story of the building's relocation several years earlier.

The building once sat on the edge of Wellington harbour.  In 1993 the 3,500 tonne reinforced concrete structure was moved 180 metres along the waterfront and then back across a major road to its current location  It was relocated to make way for the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.  The entire feat was achieved by carefully cut its foundation piers, then lifting the  building onto giant rail trolleys which were then pushed delicately along temporary rail tracks by enormous ram jacks.

Here's how summed up the relocation on its 20th anniversary last year:
  • 3000-tonne, four-storey building - the largest ever shifted in New Zealand.
  • $2.4 million cost ($3.7m in today's dollars).
  • 3 months of preparation for a 3-day move, in two stages
  • 120-metre shift - 80m east along Cable St (August 14-15, 1993), a 90-degree rotation and 40m south across Cable St (August 21).
  • 5-10 metres an hour - the average speed of the building when moved
  • 3 kilometres of rail line on 8 tracks.
  • 96 "bogie" rail trolleys pushed by 8 hydraulic rams.
  • 120 tonnes of push needed to move the building.
  • 48-hour closure of Cable St for final track-laying and relocation.
  • 1000-strong crowds watching the various stages of the move

The Art Deco Capital of the World

Napier, located on the Hawkes Bay coast of New Zealand, is a unique city.  Large sections of the city were leveled by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the morning of February 3, 1931. At least 256 people lost their lives in Napier and neighbouring towns.  The toll made it the nation's most deadly natural disaster.  Such was the scale of the quake that it lifted the surrounding area an average of 1.8 metres above sea level.  In fact the regional airport sits on a coastal plain that was once the floor of a large lagoon. 

Despite the devastation, local were determined to rebuilt.  At the time, Art Deco was architectural style in vogue.  Hundreds of buildings were erected reflecting its colourful, geometric forms.  The result, is an incredible architectural time capsule. Today, a preservation society actively works to preserve the city's stunning heritage. I can recall only one other location where a similar concentration of Art Deco can still be found; Miami Beach, Florida.

I spent last weekend in Napier while enroute to Wellington for work.  Over the years I've tried unsuccessfully to visit the Hawkes Bay. This time luck was with me.  My flight from Auckland landed shortly after 3:30pm on Saturday.  I collected my rental car and made my way to south to Te Mata Peak.  This craggy ridge rises 399 metres above the surrounding coast, offering near perfect views of the entire region.  A narrow, somewhat hair-raising road winds its way up to the summit. 

However, the white knuckle ride is worth the effort as the view is inspiring. You can look across to Napier and the Mahia Peninsula, down on the Tukituki River and local vineyards and across the rolling, fertile Heretaunga Plains.  While I was at the summit a car club on an afternoon tour pulled into the carpark. The group included an assorted of immaculately maintained vintage cars and convertibles.

I then drove up the coastal road to Napier, enjoying the ocean views and my first glimpse of the white limestone cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.  This cape sits at the southern tip of Hawkes Bay.  It distinctive coastline finishes with a small pyramid-shaped island.  The headland was named after an attempt by local Maori to abduct the servant of a member of Captain James Cook's crew in 1769. The crew member was Tiata, a Tahitian accompanying Cook's interpreter Tupaia.

The local tribesmen assumed that the Europeans had enslaved Tiata and attempted to rescue him.  Cook's journal states that Tiata was in the water near Endeavour when a Māori fishing boat pulled alongside and dragged him aboard.  Sailors from Endeavour′s deck immediately opened fire on the fishing boat, killing two Māori and wounding a third. Tiata promptly jumped overboard and swam back to Endeavour, while the remaining Māori paddled their craft back to shore.

On Sunday morning I joined an Art Deco walking tour of the central business district.  An enthusiastic local resident spent an hour sharing tales of the city history, interpreting Art Deco's forms and pointing out it expression on the surrounding buildings.  I enjoyed the tour more than I'd expected.  Afterwards, I visited the recently opened regional museum to see its earthquake exhibit and watch a film that captures the personal memories of those who lived through the disaster as young children.

After lunch it was off to the Bluff Hill lookout to see Napier's harbour and take in the expanse of coastal land that rose from the sea in 1931. My weekend visit coincided with the arrival of the Sea Princess, an Australian cruise ship.  As a result, the harbour was dominated by the vessel and the town was filled with exploring crowds.  The influx did have its benefits as the locals were out in force with live bands, vintage car displays and other regalia. 

My weekend in Napier finished with a real highlight.  By chance, weeks earlier I'd come across a tour of the famous gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers.  Australasian gannets are beautiful sea-faring birds.  They've found along the southern coast of Australia and eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island. Gannet pairs typically mate for life, breeding only one chick each season.  At Cape Kidnappers, four large breeding colonies have developed, with more than 20,000 nesting birds.  Incredibly the birds return for 16 weeks every year, between October and April, to raise their chicks.

Reaching the colonies is an adventure in itself.  The tour involved being towed in a trailers by two antique tractors along 8kms of spectacular cliff lined beaches.  The beaches are only accessible at low tide.  Each trailer has comfortable padded seats and welded footrests so the journey is more comfortable than it sounds.  The coastline is extraordinary.  The tectonic forces of New Zealand's restless continental plates are on full display.  Fault lines cut the cliffs at crazy angles, ancient seabed fossils can be seen in the sedimentary layers rising up from the waves.  It's all rather magic.

The tour ends at the start of walking track that takes you up to the gannet colonies.  The largest colony is situated on wind-swept plateau, more than 200 metres above the beach.  A 20 minute walk along the coast and up a steep, winding track takes you to the colony. The sight of thousands of birds is amazing, as are the rather potent, chocking guano fumes that greet you as you crest the hilltop.  I spent almost 40 minutes soaking up the view and marveling at the fact that I'd finally made to this famous, stunningly beautiful corner of New Zealand.  I can't wait to show Garry.

Saturday, February 15

Sunshine in the Bay

I dropped in to see my Mum last weekend.  I had three days in Wellington on business at the start of the week.  It seemed silly not to fly early and spend time in Tauranga.  As result, I departed Sydney mid-morning on Saturday, arriving shortly after 8pm in the Bay of Plenty.  Frustratingly, my domestic flight was delayed leaving Auckland which all but wrote off the evening. 

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny.  Mum and I took ourselves down to the café strip along the Mount's main beach for a leisurely brunch.  Hamish and his family then joined us for a walk around the Mount.  It was glorious afternoon with scattered clouds helping to keep temperatures comfortable.

Mum and I also finalized plans for a trip to Southern Africa in January 2015.  We'll be spending two weeks travelling through South Africa experiencing many of the sights that Garry and I have enjoyed over the years.  Our proposed itinerary includes Cape Town, Johannesburg/Pretoria, Victoria Falls and a few days on safari.

I was also thrilled to finally see the giant eagle that's currently suspended from the terminal roof at Wellington airport.  It's a promotional display for the latest Hobbit movie.  The eagle made headlines last month when it came crashing down during a 6.2 magnitude earthquake.  The quake caused minor damage but no serious injuries. 

It was the region's third jolt above 6.0 since July last year.  On July 21, the city was rocked by a 6.5 magnitude quake, followed a month later by a 6.6 on August 16. Click on the image below to see just how active things have been. Wellington seems to be on the move again after decades of relatively little tectonic action. 

Monday, January 27

Domestic journeys

It's fascinating how expectations shift over time.  A decade ago I would have consider a flight to Melbourne a bit of an adventure.  Travelling overseas, even across Tasman, more than once a year was a lofty ambition.  Roll the clock forward and such excursions have become a relatively normal part of life. Since August, I've flown to Melbourne at least ten times for work, crossed the Tasman twice and driven to Tasmania.
It's therefore somewhat ironic that the array of flights scheduled in diary for the next few months seems rather mundane. I have six flights already booked with more to come.  This includes:
  • Melbourne - a business trip in early-February.
  • New Zealand - two business trips scheduled, one in mid-February and one at the end of March. The later trip is an annual offsite. There's talk about holding this year's event in Queenstown.
  • Perth - a business trip in late-February.
  • Longreach - Garry and I are off to outback Queensland for a week-long Easter vacation.
  • USA - Garry and I have a two-week road trip through South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana booked in September. We're off to see Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park and Salt Lake City.
Sadly, short-haul flights are not enough to maintain my Qantas Platinum Frequent Flyer status.  After more than a decade enjoying the various perks of top tier flying status, I found myself downgraded to Gold level this month.  To date, the greatest shock has been the change in lounge access. 

Previously on domestic flights I'd had access to the Domestic Business Class lounge.  My Gold status only gives me access to the Qantas Club lounge.  The difference was subtle, but immediately obvious.  Gone was the hot breakfast option of eggs and bacon, replaced by toasted cheese sandwiches I had to make myself.  Gone were the deep, comfortable leather armchairs, replaced by a somewhat less cosy version.  It's surprising what simple creature comforts you get use to.

No doubt there will be more road trips to come in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned for more posts on my domestic (and trans-Tasman) adventures.

Friday, January 17

The world's coldest heat wave

Melbourne has been in the grips of a heat wave for the last three days. I flew into the city for business on Wednesday morning, landing shortly before 8:30am. As I left the airport the thermometer had already hit 35C. It subsequently peaked mid-afternoon at 43C.

Temperatures on Thursday's reached 44C, while today's high was a modest 42C. Yesterday, the heat was so punishing that play was suspended for several hours at the Australian Open. Officials called for the unprecedented halt after tennis players and ball boys began dropping like flies.

It's therefore somewhat ironic that I found myself wearing a long sleeve shirt in the office today. Yesterday, while wearing a short-sleeve shirt the occasional cold shiver had run down my back. It seems that building management responded to the soaring temperatures by cranking up the air-conditioning to near Arctic conditions.

• Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, January 11

Freycinet reflections

Garry and I are still reliving memories of our truly sublime Christmas at Saffire Freycinet, in Coles Bay.  Our two nights/three days at this resort were a genuine highlight from our Tasmanian road trip.  Everything was simply perfect.  The view. The weather. The service. The food.  The wine.  The room.  It was all perfect.  Basically the entire package just blew us away.

The photo you see here was taken on Christmas morning.  We're suited up in our waders really to wander into the bay and enjoy freshly shucked oysters plucked from the water. Behind us are the stunning Hazards, a small range of hills that frame the eastern shore of Coles Bay.

By the time we returned our hire car last Sunday evening we'd clocked up an incredible 3,966 kms over 16 days.  I was momentarily tempted to drive around the block a few time just to hit the magic 4,000 mark.

The car's trip meter also kept track of how long we'd been driving.  The total time was an astonishing 61 hours.  We certainly didn't feel like we were living in our car.  Our itinerary seemed well paced with several relaxing sojourns along the way, including Saffire.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 4

Border crossing

Garry and I crossed several state borders today while making our way back to Sydney. The first crossing occurred somewhere in the middle of Bass Strait, about 2am this morning. We slept through the entire event on board the Spirit of Tasmania.  Our second crossing occurred about 4:30pm this afternoon as we entered our home state of New South Wales.

Our sea crossing was a rather rolling affair, with more than one shuddering crash jolting me awake in night. The captain clearly took his time as we finally arrived in Melbourne an hour later scheduled. However Garry and I were happy to have extra sleeping time. Two week earlier, the 4:45am wake up on our voyage south was a rather unpleasant shock to the system.

Today's late arrival also made it much easier to find a decent cafe in St Kilda. Nothing decent is ever open before 7:00am. By the time we'd parked the car, Rococo, a local institution, was open.  We stopped for a hearty breakfast before hitting the road.  I enjoyed a smashed avocado and poached egg combination, seasoned with basil and pomodoro tomatoes.  After numerous hot breakfasts I was keen to try anything but more bacon and eggs.  This avocado combination was a refreshing change.

This evening we're relaxing at the historical Seahorse Inn nestled on the shores of Twofold Bay, 9km south of Eden. The hotel is the last surviving structure of a former township called Boydtown, which once supported 200 inhabitants.

The hotel and fledging community began construction in 1843. The venture was financed by Scottish entrepreneur, Benjamin Boyd. He purchased a large property on the foreshore as a base for his Steamship Company which operated paddle-steamers between Sydney, Twofold Bay and Hobart.

The first building erected in Boydtown was the "Seahorse Inn", named after one of Boyd's steam-boats. The foundations were constructed of sandstone imported from Sydney and the rest of the building from locally made bricks and hardwood and with cedar and oak fixtures imported from England. The hotel was built with convict labour but never fully finished.

Boyd ultimately went bankrupt and disappeared soon after in the Solomon Islands. The hotel fell into ruin but was subsequently restored by a local builder in the 1950s. A second renovation was completed in 2007. It's somewhat ironic that the final day of our Tasmanian road trip should find us staying in another hotel with links to the island state and its convict heydays.

• Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, January 2

Stanley sunset

Bliss. As we down a few glasses of vino, the sun is sinking slowly over the sleepy village of Stanley, Tasmania. It's the perfect way to finish our final night exploring Australia's island state. Tomorrow evening we're heading back across Bass Strait.

• Posted from my iPhone
• Location: Australia

Wednesday, January 1

Tasmanian gallery

Here's a selection of images from our Tasmania road trip that no other post had room for. You'll see highlights from Saffire, below, followed by the wild Southern Ocean and Port Arthur.

As you can see, here we loved Cradle Mountain!

And we loved our hotel upgrade in Hobart...

Tuesday, December 31

Does what it says on the can

Cradle Mountain is Tasmania's most popular national park.  We understand why after spending an afternoon walking the iconic circuit around Dove Lake on New Year's Eve. That's two hours of our life we consider well spent; and a perfect way to finish 2013. We'll let the pictures do the talking...