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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
After dinner I left and relaxed in the room for a while, seeping at
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
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
Morning break at 11:00 when we stopped at Hokitika.
I bought myself a coffee.
Afternoon break at 2:00, ate. Stopped at Reefton.
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
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
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