And that’s a wrap….

We are aboard a Qantas Airbus 380 crossing into Europe, the bulk of our journey home is done. We left the hotel in Auckland at two in the afternoon on Monday (one in the morning in the UK). We will land at Heathrow just after half past twelve Tuesday lunchtime via Melbourne and Dubai…. A tough ask for any traveler.

This time my ‘cunning plan’ to book window and an aisle seats actually worked. My simple logic was by booking the aisle and window no one was likely to volunteer to place themselves in the middle and someone would only end up there if the flights were busy. The shortest sector Auckland to Melbourne we volunteered to ‘give up’ the window seat to a lady travelling alone. On the two longest sectors no one was placed in the middle so we had a spare seat…. Result!

The last few days we spent in New Zealand’s metropolis, Auckland. A sizeable and quite pleasant city with a waterfront that provides the option to catch a a downtown ferry to reach a variety different communities including the wine producing island of Waiheke. On balance we liked the city although the increase in the number of people living on the street did generate an edge to the city which was a little unwelcome.

Auckland is certainly the most sharpish of the New Zealand’s cities and towns we visited with service levels much quicker and a sense of people being switched on a lot more.

So our journey is all but complete. I have certainly enjoyed my visit to this visually stunning country and to meet such warm and kind people of many nationalities…

I have always liked to travel to new and interesting places, to see how different peoples live, to understand their histories, culture and to enjoy everything such countries have to offer. This has been a longish trip by my standards , I left the 6th – today is the 24th, and as the plane crosses the skies of Europe towards London i have the same recurring feeling. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to many different countries over the years and despite having seen and experienced so much each time I travel it is always so good to come home.

Probably this is a good time to close this piece and avoid (any more) cringing sentimentality….

And so for New Zealand 2015 that is wrap….

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The middle bit

You may have gathered my last post was largely crafted after I had left Wellington, as this one is being written in the metropolis of Auckland.

Taupo is very similar to Queenstown a largely unreal collection of restaurants, bars, shops and activity outlets all of whom are exclusively focussed on the visitor rather than the resident.

Staying in Taupo was actually felt good. There were less coaches than Queenstown and fewer groups with face masks and cameras…. If you know you know….

The one example of being stuck in two worlds that I forgot to mention last time is that they still have video/dvd rental shops here…. The only word I can think of is ‘quaint’….

We drove from Wellington up Highway 2 to Napier. The scenery is simply stunning.

Napier is an interesting town, very oddly wedded to all things ‘Art Deco’ for some reason we didn’t fathom during our short stay. By the time we got there we only experienced the tale end of that curse of mass tourism…. The cruise ship passenger – on shore… We came, we saw, we walked along the beach a little, had an ice cream and went again.

The landscape on North Island is less dramatic than the South but we took a chair lift to the snow line, saw an active volcano, saw the power of some amazing natural falls, delved deep into caves to see thousands of glow worms clinging to ancient rock roofs and cruised across a huge lake… Not too bad for the middle bit.

Peter

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Wellington – A town stuck in two places

For those of you that didn’t know Wellington is the capital of New Zealand not it’s much larger Northern cousin Auckland.

So the city has the Parliament buildings and national institutions including galleries and museums and a business district complete with tall skyscrapers. Elsewhere however the city remains full of colonial buildings and homes, helping to turn this capital city into a visible outpost of the former Empire.

It is not just the buildings tall or colonial where this battle for identity is being played out. Ok I saw this in Taupo in an Estate Agents window, but I am guessing it wouldn’t have been out of place in Wellington. I quote from details for a house “…and there is a little veg garden at the back for mum.” I am wondering how many nano seconds it would take for such a comment back in the UK to go viral and for the offending estate agent to be hung and quartered…..I was expecting to read ‘mum would also enjoy cooking in the fully equipped kitchen whilst her man whilst enjoying a cold one on the decking….’

We ate in a restaurant called the Five Stags down by Courtney Place if anyone knows it. Nice place, good atmosphere, sound food at a reasonable price. No consider this establishment appears to be in one of the busiest social areas of the town on a Saturday night…. So I was a little bemused at the sight of the guy on the next table who had carefully placed his rucksack/day bag behind him out of the way. Perhaps it is the cynicism that comes from living in the UK but I couldn’t help but thinking that back home the guy would have parted company with his rucksack somewhere between his starter and mains….

When in a foreign town, especially yet another one that claims to be a ‘coffee capital’ a pretty safe bet and arguably more refreshing is a nice cup of tea. Now in the UK if you ask for tea in Starbucks, Costa or anywhere else for that matter the order goes no where near the barista, the cashier will grab a cup, sling a tea bag in it, fill it with water and point you at the milk. Not here, the record for waiting for a pot of tea was about 14 minutes and we only got it then because I could see it languishing on the side waiting to be collected by a waitress. You could argue this is better service, I just think it was frequently and needlessly slow.

My final example of not quite being up to speed is a petrol forecourt. So I stopped to fill up the hire car and trying to work out how to select pay in shop instead of pay at pump – both options being available, when a very kindly and polite attendant popped along and filled my tank up for me. Now this was a large forecourt with it’s own BK’s built into it, large shop, sophisticated EPOS technology and they still felt the need to have an attendant…. This is a wonderful example of a town being stuck in two places….trying to be modern and sophisticated but in reality clinging onto their past a bit too tightly….

Oh I forgot the advert on national TV for some product to prevent the udders of diary cows getting chaffed… And the regional TV is as almost as hysterical as the worst of local US TV….(if I am going to offend lets share it around a little).

New Zealand is a wonderful country, and I have really enjoyed my visit so far and have liked the people I have met….Kiwi’s, Irish, Jock’s (a lot) and a very polite Geordie, however reading back what I have written here it would appear critical and condescending. Probably it is, I am sorry, these are just some observations I have made.

At the end of my trip advisor reviews I try to indicate (when I remember) if I would be happy to visit or stay again. So far for New Zealand I would visit again if given the opportunity in a heart beat. To stay (and live) would be a different answer. Probably I am already too old and I am too use, even in my Worcestershire home, to doing things at pace, to flitting around Europe and so on. New Zealand feels and really is a long way from anywhere.

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Christchurch – a burden not yet lifted

We were lucky enough to be in the city and was able to enjoy the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup. It was a great event, free to the public, to experience and be able to say ‘I was there’.

During the speeches the Mayor of the city gave an impassioned vision of a community reborn, ready to over come it’s trials and to move forward into the future. Reference was made to losing out during the last Rugby World Cup and that it was only fit and proper that Christchurch should play a prominent role in this the 2015 cricket World Cup.

Having spent a couple of days in the city I have seen what has already been achieved and the progress under way to rebuild. The ‘container’ shopping mall is imaginative, fun and positive. For me however there are still far too many large buildings fenced off, open spaces where buildings once stood and now serve as ‘open air’ car parks. There is still a very great deal to do.

We visited the ‘Quake’ visitor experience (the word ‘attraction’ would be wrong on too many levels) and listened to a video where normal, regular people told their stories of that day… It was very moving and humbling.

I have visited many quake prone cities and the concept has always been very theoretical. However here in Christchurch seeing the ongoing effect of 30+ seconds of nature reeking havoc on us frail humans and listening to the stories of people at work, teaching children, having lunch on that day and what happened to them made the whole thing so very very real. Much more real than visiting LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Italy or the Greek Islands.

Despite the enthusiastic protestations of the Mayor of the city the city will need to move on. At some point in the future, but not even close to being now, the container shopping mall will need to be dismantled, the 185 empty white chairs of the earthquake memorial relocated , the Cathedral re dedicated and a host of other things will need to happen before the burden of the 2011 earthquake is finally lifted.

185 people lost their lives, many more had their lives changed forever. Four years is scant time to heal those collective scars, for the individuals no time will be sufficient.

I wish the people of Christchurch well, I feel privileged to have visited the city at this time. I hope I am able to return again in a few years and see what the people of the city have achieved for themselves.

Best wishes

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Queenstown…..everything you expect from New Zealand

If you asked a bunch of people to describe New Zealand and amalgamated their thoughts I am pretty sure you would end up with Queenstown.

A small low rise town on the shores of a glacier fed lake surrounded by stark rocky mountains some of which even in the height of the summer capped with snow and ice.

The views are spectacular, the 100 plus year old steam driven boat plying its trade across the blue, green waters of the lake just adds to the sense of being somewhere very special.

At this level you can not help but love Queenstown.

The 21st century does however intrude… The town, especially the streets and walkways around the lakeside are festooned with restaurants, bars, shops selling ‘outdoor’ clothing and outlets wanting you to jump off the mountains in various ways, or walk across them or ‘enjoy’ a thrill ride across the water. The other manifestation of the world in which we live are the swarms of tourists filling the town.

The town has a slightly unreal artificial feel, too many enterprises catering for visitors and squeezing the life out of anything that might be deemed authentic. The alarm bells ring when you see groups of middle-aged men in golfing shirts either at breakfast or in the bars in the evening. The thought of creating manicured fairways in such a natural wilderness just seems wrong to me. Then again I belong to the half of the world that thinks chasing a ball around for four or so hours a pretty stupid idea….

More alarm bells ring on seeing coaches disgorge swarms of visitors all of who insist on taking pictures of everything that moves, or doesn’t move for that matter and push past and push in at every opportunity invading my personal space and who are absorbed in what they wish to do… Then again I am a Brit so such behaviour is bound to annoy me!

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone wants to visit New Zealand and get a fix of supreme natural beauty this is a great place to start.

We got out of town to catch a ride to the little community of Glenorchy located at the head of the lake which acts as a gateway for serious walkers to get into the mountains and tracks. The only evidence of sight seeing tourists here was almost just us!

We visited February 2015 at the height of Summer. Queenstown is also a ski resort, it would be interesting to come back in winter and get a sense of the vibe then. I am sure it would be different.

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Qantas gets it so wrong and so right…

All in the space of 20 minutes….

This is a rant so please forgive the indulgence.

So I left the UK to fly half away across the world to meet my daughter in Sydney to fly on together to Queenstown, New Zealand on QF121 on Sunday 8th February 2015.

Being the organised person that I am, weeks if not months ago I selected seats for Helen and on on flight QF121 in 17a and 17c on the basis we may end up with an empty seat between us and if not I was a confident a passenger would willing trade a middle seat for an aisle or a window.

So at the gate in I was told I had been moved to 11c. When I queried the matter and explained I hadn’t seen my daughter for 5 weeks and I had very deliberately selected seats I was referred to the gate supervisor.

This lady was addressing another matter in relation to a non English speaker sat in an emergency row was clearly not coping with the pressure. I could have coped with her putting a hand in my face and telling me to be quiet because she had 3 things to deal with. I was a little upset at the ‘you either sit in the seats we have now put you in or you don’t fly’ statement. But really has led me to embark on this rant is the fact after I emphasised the point that I had booked (and paid) for these seats weeks ago she first radioed the dispatcher to reallocate me back to my original seat, reissued the the boarding card in my original seat and told me everything was fine and then in the time it took me to get from the gate to the plane she had re-radioed the dispatcher and told her to intercept me before boarding and place me back in 11c.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Angelina (or a name similar), deliberately lied to me to kick the problem down the road to get rid of me. Since when has telling a customer a deliberate and such obvious lie been considered acceptable customer service practice?

So now I am upset at been moved without consultation, being lied to and I am stuck at the bottom of the stairs of an aircraft ( having spent the previous 24 hours flying from London) with a female dispatcher basically shrugging her shoulders at being dumped on and a male supervisor basically unwilling and unable to do anything to do anything apart from saying he needs to get everyone sat down because he needs to get the plane away…..stitched up good and proper.

So once airborne I ask to speak to the cabin services manager. Now this young lady, Susie , got the service ethic totally right. I had already realised there was no easy or viable solution to solve the problem and opened my comments with such an observation. Susie bent down to my level, gave me excellent eye contact , listened and emphasised, didn’t promise anything she couldn’t deliver and over the space of the next 1/2 hour or so made a bit of a fuss of me and my daughter (now sat 6 rows in front).

Susie got it right, Angelina – or what ever her name is got it so, so wrong…

She has a representative of Qantas deliberately set out to mislead me to get rid of a problem….

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Finally the penny drops….

It’s not that I haven’t been sleeping well, I have. But there has been an ‘air’ that has kept me if not on edge then a little sharp.

Then of course the penny dropped. Over the years I have done many things but probably at heart I am an Event Manager. For those of you who are Event Managers, know an Event Manager or lives with an Event Manager will know that as a breed we are compelled to behave in a certain way. To tidy the untidy, to plan incessantly, to constantly think about ‘what next’. There must be something a little odd about people who arrive at a restaurant, bar, cinema or an amazing vantage point with stunning views over the sea, water or mountains and whose first instinct is to think about…. what happens next? how will we leave? by what means? where do we need to get to, by when? Yes that is an event manager.

So when that most precious of all things, one of our children decides to embark on a trip that involves four times zones, eight flights, two ferries, two separate drives of a best part of a 1,000 miles and a raft of airport to town and town to airport transfers and doing all of this +4, +10, +10.5 and +11 hours from the UK…. no wonder I have felt a little wired….the desire to dabble is almost irresistible….ok I will fess up… delete the word ‘almost’.

Oh well….

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