Header image  
From London to Los Angeles to New Zealand and then hong Kong followed by Heathrow  
  HOME ::
Here's my thoughts of the trip

14th September 2006

I met some of the group I was travelling with the night before the holiday, in a hotel close to the airport (there are a lot of these hotels around Heathrow) and, as we were scheduled to leave late in the afternoon, we planned to meet during the morning to travel to the airort together. This worked and we all caught the 11:20 bus to the airport – the bus was busy with a large family group, as well (not with us).
Check in for our flight was not yet open when we arrived at the airport, but opened shortly afterwards. A Travelsphere rep was checking people while we were queueing. I managed to get an exit row seat on the plane (I was in row 31, the rest of the group was in rows 58-65) - possibly because we were at the check in early and I'm a member of the Bonus miles scheme (and tall). We met Julia, the tour manager, in the departure lounge, where I also met the bulk of the rest of the group - you don't really know who is in the group until after landing, when everyone gets together to go to the first hotel.The plane left late, it appeared to be waiting for one group of people.We were held up and took off about 5:00pm, rather than the scheduled 4:15. It was a reasonable flight over, the plane had full range of video on demand films and TV for entertainment. The range of films was from Sentinel to MASH (I watched MASH). There was reasonable food (quite nice, if you like food) a 10 ½ hour flight. Long queues at LAX immigration – mine took just under an hour to process everyone, and there ware people arriving all the time.Our hotel coach had to be called to the airport (there is no waiting outside, in the road) but once we were loaded everything went smoothly. Arrived at the hotel – on Sunset Boulevard - at about 10:00pm. I will have a drink in the bar and a good night's sleep. There's a free welcome breakfast at 7:45 in the breakfast bar next door and an included tour of Los Angeles starts at 8:30 – must make sure everything is ready for first thing.
No photos yet.
The luggage was delivered to the room at 10:30. I went down to the bar and spent time chatting with others from the group. In bed at midnight Los Angeles time.

15th September 2006

After getting up at 6:30 I went down for breakfast at 7:30 – Julia said 7:45 but that's for a continental, not a cooked breakfast. Going down at 7:30 will give time for cooking and a nice, relaxed, breakfast before the bus leaves at 8:30 for the Hollywood tour. I went down a little early and get some money from Wells Fargo (one of their ATM's is just outside the hotel). I plan to write one card for Adam and Amy today (my nephew and neice, you'll see their names several times during this document), possibly buy one from Universal Studios when we spend the afternon there.
The tour bus left at 8:30, picking up the guide (Curtis, called Curt) at the Hollywood Bowl. Some of us cimbed to the top of the bowl and took pictures. We drove on to the Hollywood and Highland complex. A star was being installed on the walk of fame, the owner (for 50 years) of 'The Magic Castle' a club which only admits magicians. After looking round the area we toured on, around Rodeo drive, la Brea tar pits, and Beverley Hills.The tour finished the morning off at The Farmers Market. Tour guide mentioned a computer shop was outside the market, in an area called The Grove. Went there, found it was an Apple shop. They were able to sell me the ExpressCard SD adaptor for the laptop - $30. It made me very happy as I had not been able to get hold of one back home in the UK as they were so new. Spent lunch at Farmers Market and found one person missing – it looks like there was a miscount leaving Hollywood and Highland - and the people in the group ware still straners so one person missing was not noticed.We waited, looked and eventually called the hotel, where she was. Arrangements were made to meet at Universal Studios. We drove out to Universal Studios and went in. Most of us went straight to the 'Backstage Tour'. Interesting, especially in the tunnel from the film The Mummy – it really made me feel that we were rolling. After this then Shrek 4D – the donkey (amongst others) spat at us. Took the Back to the future ride. Interesting. Had a drink (water) and then went down to the lower lot. Some of the people in the group went on the Jurassic park ride – I sat it out as I did not like the idea of a 80 foot vertical drop at the end of the ride. Then went through the special effects stages - how to make live action special effects for a film. The day had nearly finished and there ws still things to do but they closed at 6:00. Went out and messed Julia (the rep) up by trying to get the bus back early. Walked round the shopping area (Century City) and got as drink (alcohol) before going back to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel 7:30 and then went out at about 8:30 to eat. Used the restaraunt I used 2 years ago, nearly opposite the hotel. 6 of us and the food was still good. One of the ladies had her birthday that day and the restaraunt was generous with dessert. We arrived back at the hotel at about 10:00 and went almost straight to bed. Alarm set for 6:30.

16th September 2006

San Diego day (Stills)

Started towards San Diego at 8:30, trip took 2 ¼ hours. We met the guide at the old town – there was a fiesta going on. There an hour to walk around before starting on the tour. This wery much a motorised tour,and although the city seems fairly small (in terms of area, for an American city) there is a lot there. Travelled from Old Town (the original settlement where San Diego started) to the Pacific Highway. Then past the trolley tracks (they go right to the Mexican border, 15 miles away, our guide said the current traffic queue through the border is about 3 hours) past the airfield – planes miss one of the buildings over the road by about 200 feet (we saw one landing) – and then along the waterfront. Across the bay was one aircraft carrier, last week there were two. Farther along was the Midway (another, old, aircraft carrier) museum which we drove out onto the dock and then back past. There are tours but there was no time to take one - apparently tehre is a lot of up and down stairways included. Following tis we over their bay bridge. This is high and turns 90 degrees along it's route. This took us on to Coronado island. Only for the rich, house prices $1,000,000 and up. We had a quick walk through the Hotel Del Coranado. The hotel is all wood construction and looks beautiful. Walked out on to the sun deck and looked over the beach. There are photos of the outside of the hotel on the photos pages. Apparently wedding parties use this a lot - we saw one. Back over the bridge to the 'Seaport Village' for lunch.
After lunch back onto the coach, more driving through the cultural centre of town and then up to the 'heights' above town – the name was mentioned but I didn't note it, and it's not on the map I have. The tour took us past the zoo and various museums up there (Natural history, aerospace (they had a SR71 outside), Art, Man etc..) ), a Spanish village, a pacific village and finally over the highway (quite a high bridge) back to Old Town. 1 ¼ hours to wander around and look. Said goodbye to the guide then. Wandered around and had a couple of root beers (bitter bark) from souix city beverages. Sat and watched Mexican music (it was Mexican independence day). Played by a band called Javid. As I liked the music I bought two of their CD's (first and fourth). Also there was a couple dancing in front of the stage. Back on the coach and up through the traffic into Los Angeles. We had dinner shortly after we got back, it had been a long day. Then back to the hotel and a drink at Pannini (a bar next to the hotel).

Time to sleep and get ready for tomorrow - Tours and a flight to New Zealand.

17th September 2006

Woke at 8:00 after a good night's sleep. Breakfast was down at at Panini. We must be ready to leave the room at 11:30 so I will be packing now and this afternoon (starting at, surprisingly, noon) we will be going to Santa Monica and Venice beach, then on to the airport in time to check in for the flight to Auckland and Christchurch.
I walked on to the pier at Santa Monica (stills) and pictures and video were taken looking back to the beach front. Spent 2 ½ hours there and ate lunch in a large shopping center away from the beach, then went on to Venice beach to look at the muscle beach area and the roller blading there. Walked around for a while (we had 1 ½ hours there) then back on to the coach for a trip to the airport to catch a plane.
We were very early in the queue for the check in and then had to wait quite a while for the flight. On the check in he could not give me any extra legroom but they suggested that I asked at the gate. I did and then got an exit row – again.
12 hour flight, leaving at 21:30.

18th September 2006

I lost a whole day - we crossed the international date line the wrong way.

19th September 2006

Arrived at Auckland - and through customs with no problems. The transfer to the internal flight (to Christchurch) was a little messy as, after people had gone through customs and the group split. our tour manager had not mentioned gathering at any specific point after clearing immigration and customs. Some of us just went on to the domestic check in and some had to take their own bags to the domestic terminal (across the airport) and check in there. But we who had checked dour bags also had to re-check in to get a new type of boarding pass (barcoded). The flight lasted 1 hour 10 mins. We were met at Christchurch by our the driver who took us to the hotel. There was a nice breakfast waiting, but the rooms are cold 9after all, it's spring in New Zealand) – an oil heater was waiting to be switched on.
I will be out with some of the group to look at Christchurch (Stills / Camcorder) in a little while, after cleaning up. I will also change some travel cheques (it is a Tuesday and the banks should be open). Changed the money OK, but lost the group. I bought some postcards and stamps to write later in the day then went over to the tram and, after I bought a ticket, the rest of group arrived and we all got onto the tram. I went as far as the Botanical gardens – the rest went on round – and then walked around for about 2 hours. A very nice place but a little early in the year to see it in it's full glory, but what I saw is shown in the photos I took, then I had a coffee at the café there and caught the tram back to the main part of town. Bought a calendar, it may be mum's Christmas present or I may use it at work next year. It depends on how many others I buy later (1 or 2). Ran into the rest of the group and then said goodbye as I was heading back to the hotel to write cards – they were going on, back into town.
Gave the cards to the receptionist to post when she offered. I had asked for the nearest postbox. Dinner will be at 7:00, after a welcome meeting at 6:30.I booked a flight over Mount Cook for tomorrow (and paid), also booked the cruise on Milford sound but still have to pay (some of the usual tourist things, I'm sure). Dinner was good – the tour manager had to call one of the others, who had fallen asleep in her room. An early night afterwards - I had not really slept since Los Angeles so off to sleep (8:30pm).

20th September 2006

I had a very good nights sleep – woke at 5:30 and napped until my (mobile) alarm at 6:00.
The hotel alarm call (arranged by our tour manager) went off shortly after 6:30. Out of the room in time for breakfast at 7:00. We left the hotel at 8:00 - on time, as this tiur seems to be planned almost to the minute.
We met our driver for the rest of our time in NZ – name of Eric.
After a tour (by coach) of the area we drove up to an overlook point in Christchurch - a nice view of the area. Followed by driving us into Christchurch for us to get money, to pay for the planned cruise. Then travelled on and out of Christchurch stopping in Ashfordly and at the Tin Shed. Lunch at the Observatory in Tekapo (stills camcorder)– where we found that the flight over Mount Cook is off due to bad visibility and high winds. Julia will return the money later. On to lake Pukaki (stills camcorder) and then to Omarama for the night. After settling into the room (for the overnight stop) I went down to the bar for dinner here at about 7:30.
After dinner, approx 9:00pm went to bed. Read for a while but very tired and went quickly to sleep.

21st Septemner 2006

I had a good, long night's sleep – woke up a couple of times but slept almost continuously until 6:30 (when my alarm went off). Breakfast at 7:30, followed by getting on the coach and moving by 8:30. First stop of the day is Mrs Jones fruit stall. While we are on the coach the tour manager returned the monies paid for the cancelled flight over Mount Cook - more to spend. Then we paid the money for the cruise on Milford Sound tomorrow. Easy come, easy go. We then went on to Arrowtown, where we stopped for an early dinner (11:30am). I explored the town, especially the area where the Chinese labourers used to live (the area was well known for gold mining) and then had a small dinner. Then went on to Queenstown, and our tour manager had some bad news. It is almost certain the cruise will be cancelled due to an avalanche blocking the road to Milford Sound – it came down last night.
We are now going down for a run on a jet boat, whoever is interested.
Just over ½ of us wend down to the jet boat – it's good. Came back and bought the photos which were taken just before we went off in the boat.
Back to the hotel, planning for dinner at 7:00. It's time to clean up after the day travelling and the jet boat ride.
A group of us met in reception to go down into town to eat. Ended up eating at a Thai restaurant. After a good meal we came back to the hotel at about 9:30, to a couple of drinks in the bar. Time to go back to the room and rest. Alarm set for 7:30am, a trip (to replace Milford Sound) is timed to depart at 9:00 - if we want to go - otherwise we can spend the day exploring Queenstown.

22nd September 2006

Woke up 10 mins before the alarm (7:20) - I think I'm getting used to the times, now - and felt fine. Spent some time sorting out the room as I'm staying for two nights this time and went for breakfast – nice meal. I was told that it rained from 3:00am to 6:00am last night – I didn't hear any of it. At 9:00 went out for Skippers Canyon (stills camcorder) tour. This was arranged by the tour manager as a replacement for the Milford Sound trip, and she came along. 2 x 4WD vehicles took those who wanted on the trip. 4 hours, with wonderful scenery and a picnic at the far end (an old, restored, schoolhouse). The trip paralleled the Shotover river, where there used to be a lot of gold mining (both panning and hydraulic) in the cold river. All this has stopped now. Saw some white water rafting while we were going up. Plenty of photo stops. The river is swollen and dirty (muddy) today, due to last night's rain. The snow line is low, compared to yesterday, due to the snow last night (height makes rain = snow) and some of our stops showed this. But, by the time we reached the end of the trip it was shirtsleeve weather (and sun cream). We arrived back at the hotel by 1:30 and, after a rest I then caught the local bus and went out back to town for Starbucks (Wi-Fi access). Sent emails to work and wandered into the Red Rock bar - I used to drink in a Red Rock in Andorra. They have no T shirts but, apparently, there is one (a Red Rock, not a T shirt) in Las Vegas. I'll have to find it next time I'm over. Then I took a ride up in the gondola to see over Queenstown (stills camcorder). Also look at the luge track at the top of the gondola – I do not plan to do this. Eventually go back down and have a couple of Jagermeister in Red Rock. Then go to the bus stop in town and get a bus back to the hotel. The group who went out last night plan to meet at about 7:00 – 7:30 to look at a meal. When we met everyone decided to go into the hotel dining room – could not be bothered to go anywhere else.
After dinner I left and relaxed in the room for a while, seeping at about 11:30.

23rd September 2006

After a good night's sleep I rose early and, after breakfast was ready to depart at 8:00 for the trip to Franz Joseph. We retraced the route from entry to Queenstown out past Mrs Jones fruit store then turned off, along state highway 6, towards Wanaka (Shania Twain has a house near there, apparently). Turned north along the shore of Lake Hawea (stills / camcorder), then crossed over to follow the shore of Lake Wanaka. It was very windy around there and we could see the clouds flying over the mountain. We passed through Mount Aspiring National Park – it rained heavily and the vegetation was more like rainforest. We stopped for lunch at a salmon farm, then continued along the Haast river to the coast. Turned north and followed te shore for a while before cutting back inland for a while. Ran back out to the coast for a little while then cut in towards the Fox Glacier. Arrived at Franz Joseph about 4:00pm.
All the time we were trying to set up helicopter flights to the glacier. Apparently the morning flights went OK but the afternoon flights were cancelled due to poor visibility. Currently we have a provisional booking for tomorrow morning. 5 of us on the early flight, 10 on the later flight and 5 on the latest flight. I'm on the latest flight, check in at the office in town at 8:25, flight at 8:40. ½ hour flight, 2 landings on the glacier. Due to be up at 6:00am, bags out at 7:00, 7:15 breakfast sitting in the hotel and then get myself to the helicopter office in town by 8:25. We plan to leave the carry onlugage with Eric at the coach during the morning while on the flight and the coach may meet us at the helipad – it's a long drive to Pictairn.
Those are the plans. Now to clean up, see what is in town, and decide where I'm eating tonight. After a walk around I decided to eat in the hotel. Into the bar at about 6:10 and some of the others showed up at 6:30. We then went in to eat prior to the other tour group at 7:00. Couple of drinks in the bar after the meal then to bed. Cases out at 7:00 tomorrow, breakfast at 7:15 (timed because of the groups) and head out to the helicopter check in for 8:25 (flight due at 8:40).

24th September 2006

I woke up during the night – a heavy storm was sounding. Multiple thunder and lightning. Managed to go back to sleep, wondering if the helicopter flight will be on.
At breakfast the tour manager came round and told us that, because of drop outs, there would be only one flight, the second, and check in is at 7:50. Headed over and then the flight was cancelled due to poor weather – very low cloud and no visibility. The coach run to Picton started early. Most of the moring is spent just driving.
Morning break at 11:00 when we stopped at Hokitika. I bought myself a coffee.
Just driving.
Afternoon break at 2:00, ate. Stopped at Reefton.
Just driving.
The tour manager gave us details of the crossing, bags to be outside the rooms at 7:30 and leave the hotel at 9:00, with the ferry departing at 10:00 - it takes about 3 hours. Also gave details of flights availible in Rorotura. Possibility of 2, one for 30 mins over a volcano (dormant) and one for 1 ½ hours out over the sea and White Island which is active (this flight also goes over the dormant volcano). This happens after a morning trip to the agrodome and Rainbow Springs. I'll see if it is possible for me to make my own way to Rainbow Springs and then be picked up by the coach on the way back to get a flight.
We plan to meet at 6:30 this evening to go out to eat.
Went out (group of 7) to 'The Barn'. A nice place – they tried to rearrange the tables in the front room, then the back room to accommodate us. This did not work as they were busy so they opened up a side area for us, and we were the only people in that room. When we left we were the last out, but it was a Sunday. We went back to the hotel and a couple of drinks. The tour manager found us and let us know that the luggage was being picked up at 8:00 now, not 7:30. All else is the same.

25th September 2006

Up at 7:00 – a lie in. Packed and the case out at of the room 7:35, then off to breakfast. The case was taken as I walked out of the room (efficent). After breakfast I wandered around taking some pictures of the Picton harbour area before getting on to the coach. We drove to the harbour and the tour manager picked up the boarding passes for our trip on the inter-island ferry. 9:30 on to the ferry, left at 10:00. and spent most of the time reading, after watching us leave the South Island. We arrived at Wellington 1:00pm. A tour of the town followed, including a visit to a lookout point with a 360 degree view of the area (stills / camcorder), we could even see the ferry we arrived on leaving. A group of us agreed to meet at 6:30 to go out for a meal. I had a wander up the main street to have a look and take some photos. Interesting 'sculpture', presented to the city by Weta worksops. Looks like a film camera on top of a tripod (which looks like a tripod as drawn on the cover of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds' album). It also had an orange light behind the lens.
Met at 6:30 and went to 'Monsoon Poon' restaurant. It's popular, and thai / indian / ?.
Back and a drink in the bar, nodding off so I came upstairs to write this.
Tomorrow Bags at 7:00, leaving at 8:00. I will be ready.

26th September 2006

Left on time, and headed out towards Rotoura. First break at 11:00am, not really a time for lunch, a little too early. Nice little place with farm animals in the rear – including a loud cockerel of some form (Guinea fowl?). Back on the road again. Crossing the desert highway (not, technically a desert as it has 16” of rain every year (deserts must be 10” or less, we were told)), stopped for photos of the three snow-capped mountains visible. This area is also used for army practice.
On towards lunch, we stopped at 2:00 – break to 3:00. Found a nice place to eat, Fat Fish, and had a late lunch. News from the Rotorua – they can do a 8 person helicopter trip over Mount Tarawera tonight, so two people had to drop out to tomorrow. Stopped at Huka falls, for a short after lunch break (15 mins) and then a geothermal power station (one of 2 in the country apparently). News – the flight is on, and I'm on the first one, this afternoon.
Headed into Rotorua and the lakeside, where the helicopters are. Excellent trip out, over crater lakes and the remnants of previous eruptions. Visited the 'Hell's Gate' hot pools area and saw ducks swimming on the sulphur lake. Stills of the trip / camcorder of the trip. Flew back and the a cab to the hotel. After cleaning up, head down to dinner with the others. Nice meal. Couple of drinks in the bar and up to the room to do this writing. Soon to bed. Alarm call scheduled for 7:00, breakfast 7:30 and departure for the day's activities at 8:00.

27th September 2006

2005 page 1
2006 index