Our CRUISE around NEW ZEALAND & return to AUSTRALIA FEB 2017 – PART 3 by “Yolo”

We walked the streets of pretty Picton on a sunny Saturday afternoon where the locals were enjoying their weekly open markets in the soft sunshine of a NZ summer day. It was only about 19 degrees but very pleasant. The affable locals chatted welcomingly with the vast number of tourists who had suddenly been disgorged from the massive ship in their tiny inlet. We enjoyed walking the shops, many straight out of the ’60s and ’70s, interspersed with the odd very modern presentation by younger generation locals. The local sea food was plentiful, fresh and delicious.  Yet another meal amongst the 1920 guests of this ship on a Saturday evening. We had dined in the Lido cafe on the first night but found there were so many guests there seeking tables and queuing for food at the buffet bars, that we ate in the formal dining room. There we could choose to sit with others we had met or join strangers at tables of 4, 6 or 8. We chose 6 often as it gave us the opportunity to meet more fellow travellers but not too large as to not be able to hear clearly. We often had a choice of 3 dishes or more over 4 courses and with so many to feed, the duration was often over 90 minutes.   We met many pleasant people who were mainly from the USA, Canada, Great Britain and Australia with a few mainland Europeans. On three evenings, we chose to dine in the Italian restaurant, Canaletto where the food was superb and with a “sharing” of dishes option. The service and friendliness of the staff was very welcome in a more intimate dining area.  On the Sunday morning, we awoke in Akaroa‘s harbour. Since Christchurch suffered its second major earthquake in 2013 only months after an earlier quake, its port had become inaccessible as the harbour floor had been significantly uplifted. As a result, ships now anchor off the town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula (due east of Christchurch) and use their life boats as tenders to ferry guests ashore.  The charm of this old French town with the incredible scenery surrounding it has assured Akaroa’s popularity as a destination in its own right.   We undertook a 7-hour excursion on this day entitled Journey to Middle Earth; Lord of the Rings High Country. It was another pilgrimage to another of Peter Jackson’s film set sites that he had chosen after a local “scout” had located a very remote location 100 miles from any town. Our guide advised it was about that distance west-south-west of Christchurch. After driving over the high (east) coastal mountains we arrived on the outskirts of Christchurch after 3/4 of an hour.  Although we had been in this beautiful city twice in the past, we had not been since 2005 and so had not seen any of the massive damage inflicted by the successive earthquakes. And neither were we going to this time! We were driven around the city’s southwest and then west towards the massive mountain range known as The Southern Alps which run the length of the South Island and close to its western coastline. It was not so far from the Mt.Cook National Park that we arrived by gravel road in this vast, desolate, dry area in summer, almost surrounded by mountains.

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