Paris 1

Travelling to Paris

Continuing from where we stopped off last week….Dover

We travelled to Paris by a ferry crossing the English Channel. At Dover, our tour bus drove on to the lower deck of the P&O ferry and parked there. We alighted and climbed up to the upper deck of the ferry. As the ferry left the shores of Dover, we could see the white cliffs of Dover at a distance.

The cliffs as seen while crossing the English Channel

On board the ferry crossing English Channel

We arrived at Calais , the port on the French side of the English Channel. At Calais, we boarded the bus back and were driven to our hotel in Paris.

One of the first sights that welcomed us at France was not such a pleasant one. The dark side behind all the glamour and pomp was obvious!. Potential immigrants to UK desperately trying to get into any vehicle crossing over. I understand this is a common phenomenon and leads to even loss of life sometimes. The desperation to get across the border, lands some of these people in difficulties. We do read off and on about the calamities that befall some of them!!

After some time to check in and freshen up, we boarded our bus again for dinner at a restaurant followed by a visit to the Eiffel Tower to see the lighting up of the tower.

Lighting up of Eiffel Tower

As soon as it gets dark, the Eiffel Tower’s golden lighting switches on automatically thanks to sensors. In addition to the structural lighting, a beacon also comes on.

In addition to this the sparkles come on for 5 mins at the beginning of each hour till 1 am.

The lit up Eiffel Tower (the rain water added a reflection too!!)

The Sparkles and the beacon!!

Since we are at Eiffel Tower, let me take you through some day-time views of the tower. (We actually did this the next day as part of the city tour)

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is the most visited tourist attraction in the world!

It was designed by Gustave Eiffel for the Paris Expo in 1889 which marked the centenary of the French Revolution. The Eiffel Tower was created as an entrance for the expo.

There is an interesting anecdote about the survival of this tower. It was initially dismissed as a monstrosity when first unveiled ,as the artist community, felt that it would destroy the beauty of Paris. But Gustave insisted that he would build it in two years and he actually managed to do it. When the lifts were not ready, it is said that he climbed it manually and hoisted the French flag. Such was his determination.He was allowed to retain the tower for twenty years to enable him to recover his costs. The understanding was that after that time it would be brought down. Eiffel thought of a clever plan and installed radio antennae on the tower. Once the antennae were regularly sending signals, the anti tower lobby relented and the rest is history…..

Now ,this very same tower has become emblematic of Paris

The tower is made of sturdy iron rods weighing more than 10,000 tons. On arrival at the base, the sight of the four massive pillars is awe inspiring. These legs of the tower house various facilities like ticket counters and lifts and a wide road passes between the pillars. Inside one of the pillars is an old steam lift preserved for posterity!

The base of the tower with massive pillars

The Eiffel Tower

An elevator ride (or 360 steps to climb for the brave ones) leads to the first level at 57 mts height. This level has a gift shop, cafeteria, washrooms and an outdoor viewing terrace.

View from first level

View of River Seine from the first level of Eiffel Tower

Another elevator ride takes one to the second level at 125 mt. This level has similar amenities as the first level and offers views of many important landmarks in Paris. The balcony is covered with glass to prevent suicides and accidents.

View from second level of tower

At the second level of The Eiffel Tower

The next view is from the final level of 276 m. which can again be reached by an elevator.

View of the Les Invalides ( shrine where Napoleon’s tomb is located) from last level

After a detailed visit to the Eiffel Tower, we were on the Champs-Elysees.

Champs Elysees

Champs-Elysees is the most monumental boulevard in Paris. 1.9 km long and 70 mts wide; it was once a desolate marshland. After the 17th century, the place was gradually developed with elegant buildings bordering the boulevard.

Broadly divided into two parts by the Rond-Point intersection; the lower part has the Place de la Concorde ( Concord square) and the Petit Palais. The upper part extends up to the Arc de Triumph and is lined by luxury shops, hotels, cafes, cinemas and theatres. It is a popular meeting point for Parisians.

Though the place has an upscale aura about it, there are more affordable stores and restaurants too.

The Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triumph at one end

Typical buildings lining the Champs Elysees with high end shops

Arc de Triumph

This arc is dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the French armies of the Revolution. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and completed in 1836. This 50 mt high arch features bas-reliefs with larger than life size figures which depict the glorious return of the French armies.

At the foot of the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier. The Flame of Remembrance is kindled here every evening at the tomb.

At the Arc De Triumph

The Tomb of the unknown Soldier and the Flame of Remembrance

Place de la Concorde (Concorde square)

This octagonal square was the heart of 18th century Paris. It was the scene of several historical events including the execution of Louis XVI and Mary Antoinette. It was also part of Napoleon’s triumphal route.

It is one of the most attractive squares in the city and offers great views of many Paris landmarks. The center has an Egyptian obelisk and has beautiful fountains.

It is a busy intersection too with heavy traffic.

The Concorde place with the obelisk and a fountain

A typical building surrounding the Concorde square

I must mention here that as we were driven around Paris, I was surprised to find walls defaced at many places with graffiti. We do not hear about these things and the actual sights can be an eye opener. Our guide also warned us to be careful with our bags and wallets at all points of time. So there is a dark side to this place. Perhaps our colonial mindset makes us think that the grass is all green across the oceans. But that is not true…a dark underbelly is very much a reality!!

See you next week with more pictures from various locations in Paris. Till then , keep your comments going and subscribe below

Feedbacks welcome!

London 2

Continuing my series from London , today we visit few more important locations…take a look….

Wembley Stadium

This “Home Of Football” was opened in 2007 and hosts major football matches including home matches of the England national football team. With 90,000 seats, it is the largest stadium in UK and second largest in Europe. It has a circumference of 1 km. It is owned by the English Football Association.

Its signature feature is the Wembley Arch , which , apart from adding aesthetic value also supports major part of the weight of the roof.

It played a major part in the 2012 summer olympics in London hosting many of the matches.

Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium by night

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is an iconic landmark of the London built across the Thames river. The Neo-Gothic architecture and the lifting central sections make it special. It was built to give better access to East end of London which had expanded its commercial potential in the 19th century. It was built between 1886 and 1894.

This 240 m long bridge has two towers , one on either end connected at the upper level by horizontal walkways. The central bascule can open to allow shipping .The bridge deck is accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians whereas the towers, upper walkways and engine rooms form part of an exhibition.

The Tower Bridge

Driving under the arches of the Tower Bridge

The lower portion opens to allow shipping

The Shard

The tallest building in UK, the Shard is a 72 floor skyscraper also referred to as the Shard of glass. It is a glass clad pyramidal structure with a viewing gallery and observation deck called The View from the Shard.

It houses a 26 floor office complex, 3 restaurants, 10 residential apartments and the viewing gallery.

The Shard

Thames River

Just like the Tower Bridge, pictures of London are incomplete without the Thames River. Flowing through most of London ,it is 346 km long and is the main source of water to London city. It is also used for navigation purposes.

Around 50 years ago , this river was highly polluted and declared biologically dead. But there has been a turn around and is now one of the cleanest rivers. The installation of oxygenators or bubblers to increase the dissolved oxygen levels has been a turning point in this river’s history.

The Thames river

Waterloo Bridge

This is a road and foot traffic bridge across the Thames and commemorates the victory of the British in the Battle of Waterloo. Due to its strategic location, it provides great views of the London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster.

Waterloo Bridge with the London eye , Big Ben and Westminster in the background.

Trafalgar Square

A public square, Trafalgar square commemorates the victory of Britain in the Battle of Trafalgar. The square is lined by iconic buildings like the National Gallery and has multiple sculptures and a central high column. On top of the column is the statue of Admiral Nelson who led the battle of Trafalgar. The area is called Charing Cross.

The square is the location for many gatherings and political demonstrations. New Year’s eve celebrations are also popular here.

Trafalgar Square

The Trafalgar Square column with Admiral Nelson’s statue on top

The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square

St Paul’s Cathedral

One of the most famous and recognizable sights of London, is a working church with hourly prayer and services. Located at the highest point in the city of London, is the seat of the Bishop of London. It has a magnificent dome which is one of the biggest in the world. It has been hosting many important ceremonies of the royalty and notably was the venue of Princess Diana’s wedding.

The original cathedral was destroyed in a fire and what we see today is a rebuilt cathedral.

St Paul’s Cathedral

The British Library

The national library of the United Kingdom, it is one of the largest libraries in the world.

The entrance to the library

Lord’s

Lord’s cricket ground, called Lord’s in short is referred to as the Home of Cricket and houses the world’s oldest sporting museum. Named after its founder Thomas Lord, it hosts various cricket matches. When we visited, it was the 200 years of Lord’s . Some pictures…

200 years of Lord’s

Entrance

At Lord’s

The Lord’s Pavilion

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

Founded by the sculptor Marie Tussaud in 1835, the wax museum in London is bigger than many others world wide. It displays wax figures of popular personalities. Some pictures…

The royal family

With Sachin

Natural History Museum

A treasure house of exhibits from various ages, a visit to this museum is a very educative experience. It has one of the largest collection of exhibits ; some of which belonged to Charles Darwin. Its exhibits are displayed in various sections like life, earth, wild life gallery etc. Fossils of dinosaurs, virtual reality shows and experiences of geothermal phenomenon are some of the unique sections. A huge blue whale skeleton takes center stage here. Some pictures..

The Natural History Museum

A blue whale skeleton…an exhibit at the museum

After a long but entertaining day of hip hopping through London, we returned to the hotel. Our next destination was Paris.

We travelled to Paris on a P&O ferry crossing the English Channel. The ferry leaves from Dover on the England side to Calais on the French side.

Our tour bus took us to Dover passing some beautiful English countryside on the way.

Typical English countryside

At Dover we also saw the famous white cliffs of Dover.

The White cliffs of Dover

Around seventy million years ago this part of Britain was submerged by a shallow sea. The chalky skeletal remains of a type of alga were deposited on the sea floor and these subsequently became the white cliffs as we see it today.

For ancient mariners, these white cliffs signalled their arrival at UK while crossing the English Channel.

The White cliffs of Dover….

At Dover, we boarded the ferry to Calais…see you next week at France…

Well friends, this is my blog number

Let me take this opportunity to thank every one of you who have been encouraging and motivating me in this journey of documenting my travels.

From this episode, I am adding a feedback form where you are free to give me your feedback

For those of you who feel like subscribing….here’s the button below

London 1

Starting my series on Europe from London. For this Europe tour, we were part of a tour group unlike my earlier tours.

It was a bright and sunny day in London and as we were landing at London, I got a real bird’s eye view of the city. The Big Ben, Westminster Palace ,Thames River, London eye and various bridges across the Thames were clearly seen…take a look..

Bird’s eye view of London

Beauty in uniformity….beautiful rows of houses as we approach to land

After a late evening check in at the hotel at Wembley, we started our tour of the city next morning. That was not a bright and sunny day as you will realise from some of the pictures!

Some of the important locations we visited….

The Big Ben :

The Big Ben is the nickname of a huge bell that hangs in the clock tower at the north end of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. By extension, the clock and clock tower are also referred to as The Big Ben. The main clock chimes every hour and the quarter bells chime every quarter hour. (The clock used to chime every hour but since 2017, this has been restricted as some restoration work is on). The clock tower in which the bell is located is called Elizabeth Tower and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower is 96 mt tall and there are 334 steps to the belfry. A special light above the clock faces is illuminated when the parliament is in session.

The tower is a British cultural icon and is often used as a symbol of UK. It boasts a Gothic Revival style of architecture. All four nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) are represented on the tower. The construction was completed in 1859.

The Big Ben

The British Houses of Parliament :(Westminster Palace)

The featured image of this blog is of the Westminster Palace.

The Palace Of Westminster serves as the meeting place for the House of Commons and House of Lords….the two houses of Parliament of the UK. The palace is located at Westminster on the banks of the Thames River in central London. It is the center of political life in the UK and is often referred to as Westminster.The clock tower and Big Ben are part of this palace.

When it was initially built in the 11th century, it served as the primary residence of the King of England but was destroyed in a fire. The construction of the present palace started in 1840 and continued for almost 30 years with delays and cost overruns. Following the second world war,( when the palace was hit by bombs on several occassions), extensive repairs have been carried out.

Casual access to the parliament is restricted and requires prior permission and tickets from an MP.

The Palace of Westminster on the banks of the Thames with the Big Ben at one end

Buckingham Palace :

It is a Royal residence and seat of administration of the monarchs of the UK and located in the city of Westminster. It is often the center of state occasions and royal hospitality. It is the focal point of the British for occasions of rejoicing and mourning.

Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the core of today’s palace was a large town house. It was expanded by three wings around a central courtyard in the 19th century and became the London residence of Queen Victoria in 1837 and was called Buckingham Palace. The palace has 775 rooms and a large private garden. The state rooms which are used for official entertaining are open to the public each year in August and September.

When paying state visits to Britain, foreign heads of state are often entertained by the Queen at the Buckingham Palace.

The palace has ornate gates in black and golden colour and is adorned at the entrance by the iconic Queen Victoria Memorial.

The Buckingham Palace

Queen Victoria Memorial at the Palace entrance

Change of Guards ceremony :

This is a formal ceremony in which a group of soldiers hands over the duties to another set of soldiers. This ceremonial parade of sorts spans the Buckingham Palace, the St James’s palace and the Wellington Barracks.

During the ceremony, the Royal guards come from outside and enter the palace. An exchange of flags takes place. There is an accompanying band and mounted soldiers too.

The public can line up along the roads here and watch the soldiers march by and also see the hand over and take over ceremonies. Some pictures from the change of guards ceremony

The Change Of Guards ceremony

Westminster Abbey :

It is one of the United Kingdom’s most remarkable religious centers and the traditional place of coronation and burial for the British monarchs. Situated just next to Westminster palace, it has been the venue for some of the royal weddings too.

The Westminster Abbey

The London Eye :

Also called the Millennium Wheel, this observation wheel is located on the banks of the Thames river. When it opened in the year 2000, it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Subsequently it was over taken by many others. It has 32 ovoid and airconditioned passenger capsules. It does not normally stop for passengers to alight or board. The speed is slow enough for passengers to walk on and off it. The slow speed also helps easy photography.

It provides breathtaking views of the city. Some pictures…

The London Eye

One of the capsules

Entrance to the capsule

Inside the capsule with the Palace of Westminster in the backdrop

View of London city with the Thames and its bridges from the capsule

This is my first episode on London city. Next week we continue with more sights from the city tour. Till then, do comment and subscribe below

Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu is an active geothermal area in New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic zone located just 27 km south of Rotorua. Chemical reactions due to various gases and chemicals create very dynamic and colourful sights for the tourists to enjoy.

Due to dramatic geothermal conditions beneath the earth, the area has many hot springs noted for their colourful appearance, the Lady Knox geyser, the Champagne Pool, Artist’s Pallette and boiling mud pools. It covers an area of 18 square kilometres and is protected as a geothermal scenic reserve. Wai-o-Tapu in Maori means “sacred waters”.

A part of the scenic reserve now operates as Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is where the tourists can see these geothermal wonders. It is a volcanic zone but the eruptions do not spew molten lava but are gaseous expulsions from vents and colourful geothermal pools. The distinct smell of sulphur similar to rotting eggs is all pervading here.

Highlights of Wai-O-Tapu:

The Champagne Pool:

A pool in a 65m diameter crater is one of the most iconic photo spots here. The abundance of carbon dioxide much like in a bubbling champagne glass is what has inspired this name. The high sulphur content combining with ferrous salts in water cause the distinct orange sulphur deposit along the border of this pool.

The water in the pool keeps an average temperature of 73 deg C and is at 260 deg C when it enters the pool. So it can be dangerous to get too close or touch these waters!

The Champagne Pool

The Devil’s Bath :

A large ruggedly edged crater created by an eruption deep underground is filled with water of amazing iridescent lime colour. The colour is the result of excess water from the Champagne pool mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts. Changes in colour through yellow to green are associated with the amount of reflected light and cloud cover.

The Devil’s Bath

Lady Knox Geyser :

Wai-0-Tapu has several active geysers but the most famous one is the Lady Knox geyser. It can erupt for over 20 mts high. This geyser is forced to erupt daily at a specific time by a park ranger. If this is not done, it will naturally erupt every 24 to 48 hours at sporadic time intervals. Spectators can view this geyser erupting and is definetly one of the highlights of this park.

At Lady Knox Geyser

Video of the Geyser eruption….click on video

The Mud Pools :

The word pool should not mislead you….you certainly can’t swim in it. The coughing bubbling spitting mud pools are fun to watch. Here you find thick muddy water spewing out of the earth much like the boiling water splashing up from the pan.

The Boiling Mud Pools

Video of boiling mud pools…click on video

Artist’s Palette :

Overflowing water from the Champagne pool draws minerals from below the surface. As the water cools, the minerals settle down and are exposed to the atmosphere and show up in a variety of colours….much like an artist’s palette!

It looks like a huge palette splashed with various colours…

Artist’s Palette

Opal Pool :

The greenish yellow pool next to Artist’s Palette

The Opal Pool

Sulphur Cave :

Here sulphur has crystallized on the over hanging shelf from the cooling of hot sulphur gases. There are also some chlorine pools here which may have been suitable for cooking.It is believed that the ancient people used these pools for cooking and other purposes. They used to revere these pools highly.

The Sulphur Cave

The chlorine pool useful for cooking.

Inferno Crater :

This crater has a bottom of violently boiling mud.

The Inferno Crater

Thunder Crater :

A collapsed crater; it graphically illustrates how unstable the land can be.Due to constant geothermal activity, the bottom of some of the craters give way and result in large gaping holes.

Thunder Crater

Thunder crater…note the steaming hot water at the bottom responsible for the erosion

Bird’s Nest Crater :

As the name suggests, the walls of this crater have holes in which starlings, mynahs and swallows nest. The warmth in the crater helps to incubate their eggs.

Bird’s Nest Crater

Last, but not the least….

A tribute to the original inhabitants of the place….an inscription in the reserve explaining the reverence that the locals had for the river Waikato and the Wai O Tapu region.

After a very exciting visit to this geothermal area, we returned home to our hotel with great memories..

With this episode, we bid farewell to New Zealand.

As we departed New Zealand, there appeared a colourful rainbow in the horizon….as if to say….do not forget the colourful memories from this land….

The rainbow

Starting our Europe tour from next week…memories of a trip undertaken long ago…refreshing my memories as I take you along..

See you next week at London

Till then, do comment and subscribe below:

Rotorua

A city in the North island of New Zealand, Rotorua is located on the banks of Lake Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for geothermal activity and as we reached the city, the smell of Sulphur was overwhelming. Once we reached the city, we got used to it and soon did not realize the smell. Rotorua is also home to a living Maori village and tourists are treated to a Maori Cultural experience. A crafts school teaching traditional Maori woodcarving and weaving is an added attraction.

Enroute Rotorua, we visited an alpaca farm. Alpacas are reared widely in New Zealand and alpaca wool is very popular.

The Alpaca Farm

When we visited Rotorua, it was fall and we enjoyed the visual treat of the fall foliage.

Fall foliage

Lake Rotorua

Geothermal activity

Located in the Volcanic plateau in geothermal belt of North Island, Rotorua has hot springs, boiling mud pools and spouting geysers. Waimangu and Wai-O-Tapu are two areas known for these geothermal activities.

Geothermal activity is visible everywhere in Rotorua. We were surprised to see steam spewing out from the streets and from the compounds of houses.

Steam spewing out from the footpath along the compound wall of a house

There is a park in Rotorua called Kuirou park. Extensive geothermal phenomenon can be visualized there.

Kuirou park

Steam arising from inside Kuirou park

Boiling mud pool

Steaming pool in Kuiro

Steam arising from one of the pools in the park( click on the video)

Boiling Mud pools(click on video)

Maori Culture

Rotorua is one of the principal bases of Maori culture and tradition and Maori constitute a reasonable part of the local population. The Ohinemutu area, on the shore of Lake Rotorua, has several historic buildings, including a traditional Maori meetinghouse.

The Maori Village at Ohenimutu

Meetinghouse at Ohenimutu

Traditional Maori wood carving

Geothermal activity at Ohenimutu

The Maori people and their cultural show

The village of Whakarewarewa, situated in a geothermal area, offers demonstrations to visitors of how the Maori traditionally used the thermal waters in everyday life. 

Rotorua is also home to a sizeable Indian population and many Indian shops and restaurants can be seen.

Indian restaurant in Rotorua

Amphibious duck tours

With so much geothermal activity, tourism is one of the main activities at Rotorua. A special vehicle called the amphibious duck takes tourists to various geothermal centres. This vehicle can move on land and water…as the name suggests. I found this vehicle unique to this place…

The Duck Tour Vehicle

After experiencing all these geothermal wonders in Rotorua, we visited the Geo thermal Park at Wai-O-Tapu. That was another great experience and I shall meet you next week at Wai-O-Tapu and take you to the Lady Knox Geyser…

Till then, good bye…

Do not forget to comment and subscribe below

The Interisland Ferry

After a very gratifying tour of the South island of New Zealand, we were headed to the North island. If fjords, adventure sport and scenic drives are the hallmark of the South island, amazing variety of geothermal activity is what is in store in the North island. This is not to be interpreted as these activities being mutually exclusive of each other. Their preponderance in these locations is what I am trying to convey here.

The fastest way to cross over between the islands is of course to board one of the innumerable flights . But an exhilarating experience of sailing the Cook Strait on an Interisland ferry ,is so much more than getting from one island to the other.

The Interislander is a ferry service between the North and South islands in New Zealand operated by KiwiRail. It runs between Picton in the South island and Wellington in the North island across the Cook Strait covering a distance of around 95 km in 3 hours.

It forms a part of the tourism brand Great Journeys Of New Zealand created by Kiwi Rail to connect their Scenic transports and The Interislander and Tranz Alpine (which we did recently) are part of it.

We traveled from Christchurch to Picton by road. The road embraces the coast for considerable distance and awards great views! One of the main tourist destinations in New Zealand is Kaikoura….a coastal town known for whale watching.

Kaikoura is an important stop on this route. This place is also home to fur seal colonies and travelers get to see them if they are lucky.

Some seals relaxing on the rocks at Kaikoura

Our Trip

We had booked our trip on the Interislander from Picton to Wellington. Arriving Picton the previous evening, we relaxed at a hotel in Picton . Picton is a natural harbour with plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops. Picton’s marina is home to many of the local’s yachts and boats. Picton is also a base to explore the Marlborough Sounds. There were beautiful views of Picton harbor and Yacht club from our hotel.

Picton Yacht club

Next morning, we headed to the boarding point of the ferry and collected our boarding passes and waited with anticipation for the journey.

The waiting lounge at Picton terminal

As we waited to board the ferry, the cars were being loaded on to the lower deck and we watched the cars being driven on to the ferry. Soon we boarded the ferry .

Some images of the ferry and its interiors:

The passenger deck of the ferry

Vehicles driving onto the lower deck of the ferry

Soon we set sail from Picton and the views of the port and town as we left it, looked beautiful..

Leaving Picton behind

Just after we left Picton, the ferry sailed along some dramatic fjord-like valleys, passing secluded coves and bays. This is the Queen Charlotte Sound, which is part of the Marlborough Sounds. Some pictures….

Queen Charlotte Sound

Soon after that, the hills of Marlborough surrounded us and we were sailing into an extensive labyrinth of waterways with lush greenery of the forest-clad hills soaring into the sky. This is the Marlborough Sounds. Taking up a considerable amount of the New Zealand coastline, the Marlborough sound provides an ideal location for sailing, watersports, fishing and mountain biking. Some pictures as we sailed the Marlborough Sounds….

The hills of Marlborough gradually appear

The Marlborough Sound

After some beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds, the ship entered the Tory Channel which is the entrance to Cook Strait. At one point it almost looked like a dead end but the ship took a sharp turn and entered the Tory Channel

The sharp turn at Tory Channel

Once we crossed the Tory Channel, we were in the Cook Strait. Dolphins, penguins and seals are very often spotted here and we did see some dolphins!!

Leaving Tory Channel into the Cook Strait.

Dolphins playing around

Once in the Cook Strait, it was water water everywhere….surrounded by water on all sides.

After some more sailing , we were at the entrance to Wellington Harbour.

Two lighthouses mark the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Wellington Harbour is quite big and it takes almost an hour to sail from the entrance to the harbour.

The lighthouses at the entrance to Wellington Harbour

Reaching Wellington

Wellington Harbour

After we left the ferry, we collected our luggage and headed to our hotel in Wellington.

After a rather short stay at Wellington, we went on to explore the town of Rotorua….a hotbed of geothermal activity.

See you next week at Rotorua….till then, do comment and subscribe below

International Antarctic Centre

Have you thought about this? There is a continent which varies in area from time to time. Well…that is Antarctica; its borders change as per the freezing and thawing of its shores!!

Let us visit this unique continent today….first at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch and then through some pictures of life in Antarctica!

International Antarctic Centre

Located right next to Christchurch International airport, this center is one of the major tourist attractions in Christchurch. It provides visitors of all ages with an interactive, fun and exciting experience of Antarctica. This center is home to the Antarctic programs of New Zealand, United States and Italy and houses their administrative offices, the Antarctic Passenger Terminal and a Visitor Centre. Christchurch is geographically closest to the Antarctic and hence this connection.

At the entrance of the International Antarctic Centre

The center keeps you captivated from the moment you enter.

As we walked into the center, we got a feel of being in Antarctica. The interiors are inspired by the special landforms of Antarctica such as icebergs and glaciers. On display are the conditions of the Antarctic base and information received on that day from the Base Station in Antarctica.

Exhibits

There is a light and sound show of the Antarctic’s seasons where it snows every few minutes….

The seasons in the Antarctic

Experiencing a snow storm in Antarctica….that’s what the storm dome maintained at -8 deg C here does to you. We entered the dome wearing thick jackets and a simulated snow storm put us through a -18 deg C feel with heavy winds lashing around. Was little frightening….I must admit! There is an igloo here which you can enter .

Inside of the Storm dome

Ready for the snow storm

Polar plunge is where you can challenge yourself to see how long you can hold your hand in the icy cold Antarctic water.

Hagglund Field trip

Polar conditions require special vehicles that can ride on ice and there is a vehicle here called a Hagglund that is actually used in Antarctica.

We buckled up for a ride of our life on a road simulated like the rough Antarctic surface in this unique and all terrain amphibious Hagglund. Needless to say, it was a real bumpy and jerky ride!!

The Hagglund

Penguin Encounter

Here we saw the little blue penguins in their natural environment. There is a penguin feeding live demo also where the little ones are fed regularly. The penguins here are the lucky ones actually because it is a penguin rescue center where abandoned and wounded penguin babies are nursed back to health.

The penguins in their natural environment

Live demo of penguin feeding….click on the video

Ice Voyage is an exciting 4D experience that will take you on a simulated cruise across Antarctica.

“Beyond the frozen Sunset” is a short movie that takes you through a seasonal arc with stunning images.

Apart from the tourist activity, the Antarctic Center is also a full fledged support center for the Antarctic base stations of the US, New Zealand and Italy. All logistical support to their individual base stations is provided from this center. This makes the center a vital link for all scientific work carried out in the centers in Antarctica.

Support Centers for individual base stations

Many countries have their base stations in Antarctica including India. These base stations have scientists who carry out various research activities. The base stations are manned by scientists and essential support staff. There are support centers for these base stations located in different countries which are closest to the respective Antarctic base stations.

The following map will explain this:

Map showing support centers in various countries.

The support center for the US, New Zealand and Italian Antarctic scientific expeditions is located in Christchurch at the Antarctic Centre as their stations in Antarctica are closest to Christchurch. The support center for the Indian Antarctic base station is located in Cape Town . Scientists and other personnel going to the Indian station will go via Cape Town. That is a broad outline on how these logistics are managed.

The Support center for the US Antarctic Program

After all these experiences, one almost feels transformed to Polar territory.

The Gallery offers a host of interactive experiences ranging from tactile to visual , leaving one enriched with information.

Glimpses of life in Antarctica….

As I walked through these experiences, I was reminded of my medical college classmate and close friend who has experienced all this in real time. Introducing you to Polar Woman…Dr Madhubala Chinchalkar. An anesthetist by profession, she was the doctor accompanying the 36th Antarctic Scientific Expedition from India between 2016-2017. An extremely tough and gritty lady, she has spent one winter in Antarctica standing up to all the trials and tribulations that this icy continent offers.

Some pictures she has shared with me…to give you a perspective of actual life in Antarctica!

Dr Madhubala with the Indian base station MAITRI in the background

ALCI…Antarctic Logistic Centre International a 72 seater Russian cargo flight that operates from Cape Town and Novo air base in Antarctica in summer

The inside of the aircraft with the national flags of all countries whose scientists are traveling

An ice shelf in Antarctica

Antarctica has just two seasons, summer and winter. It has 6 months of daylight in summer and 6 months of darkness in winter.

Full moon during polar night in Antarctica

The vertical crescent moon ….unique to the polar regions.

Aurora Australis a natural light show seen in polar regions

The Independence day celebrations at the Indian Antarctic base station Maitri

She has also made a short documentary film on life in Antarctica . This film And Skua Returned Early has received several awards. It dwells on the impact of climate change on this continent. Skua is a bird that comes to Antarctica in summer and thus heralds the onset of summer in Antarctica. The early return of the Skua signifies the early return of summer….an ominous sign of global warming.

For those of you who are interested to know more on this, I will share the link to this film..

I am sure this short diversion from the Christchurch center to the actual life in Antarctica would have kindled some curiosity about this continent in some of you at least. The short film will help answer many of your questions.

With this, I wrap up my visit to the Christchurch centre but not before I bow down with respect to the scientists who work there under very difficult conditions…

We now move from the South island to the North island of New Zealand .See you next week on the Interislander…a ferry that crosses the Cook’s strait and takes you to North Island.

Till then, keep your comments going and do subscribe below:

A Tranz Alpine Journey

Our next destination was Christchurch. What better way to reach Christchurch than by the epic train journey on the Tranz alpine?

Having heard about this train journey we were keen to do it at least one way. That is why we headed to Greymouth from where the Tranz Alpine leaves to Christchurch. The Tranz Alpine effectively takes you from the west coast across the Southern Alps to the east coast of South Island . It ascends and descends the Alps in this journey and thus presents you the beauty of this great mountain range. It is operated by Kiwi Rail and is part of The Great Journeys of New Zealand and is touted to be one of the best train journeys in the world.

We reached Greymouth from Queenstown by a Great Sights bus the previous evening. Greymouth is a small quaint place where the Grey River empties into the sea. Apart from being the starting point of the Tranz Alpine and a well known jade trade centre, Greymouth is a sleepy town. It was pretty cold and windy and we quickly took to the warmth of our hotel room.

Next morning , after a short walk in the town, we headed to the station on time to board the train. The station is also a very small old time kind of station.

Greymouth Station

The Tranz alpine covers a distance of 223 km one way between Christchurch and Greymouth in about 5 hours time.

As we were waiting at the station the Tranz Alpine arrived from Christchurch. Take a look at this video…

The beautiful Tranz Alpine train arriving Greymouth

As this train caters primarily to tourists, it focuses a lot on luxury and portraying the scenic beauty of the place. The train’s carriages have un-tinted, non reflective, panoramic side and roof windows to capture the beauty of the Southern Alps and the alpine forest landscape. Commentary in 5 languages via headphones is available on all seats.

The interior of the train

The train has a cafe carriage offering alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, snacks and light meals.

The cafe

Apart from this; the train has a viewing platform where there are no seats and one can stand and enjoy uninterrupted views through open windows.

The Viewing Platform

Once the train started off we were treated to some spectacular scenery.

We started with what is called the West Coast where the scenery is greener and vibrant. Initially the train passed the Grey River valley and then headed to Moana on the banks of Lake Brunner…

Lake Brunner

After this we crossed a series of river valleys of which the Taramaku and the Otira are the more famous.

From there was the Otira tunnel…a 8.5 km long tunnel which is the lifeline of this rail track from Greymouth to Christchurch. This tunnel marks the transition from the West Coast .

The Otira Tunnel

After the Otira Tunnel we reached the Arthurs Pass….a pretty alpine village.

Arthurs Pass is the highest point on this track. The part of the track from here on to Springfield is considered an engineering masterpiece and that is what the Tranz Alpine is most famous for. There are 15 tunnels and 4 viaducts of which the staircase viaduct is the highest.

The Arthur’s Pass Station

Soon after the Arthurs pass, the train crossed the Waimakariri river and gorge providing some spectacular scenery.

The Waimakariri River

The Waimakariri gorge

After the train crossed the Waimakariri river a couple of times, it reached an area with plains against the backdrop of the Southern Alps.

The Staircase Viaduct

As we moved along the plains , Mount Binser appeared and was indeed a great view .

Mount Binser

From here on we reached Springfield where the Southern Alps ended and the Plains of Canterbury started. Looking back from Springfield, the Majesty of the Southern Alps seemed unsurmountable.

The view from Springfield

After leaving Springfield the scenery was predominantly of grass covered plains against the backdrop of the mountains. This was the Canterbury Plains.

The Canterbury Plains

After a journey cutting through the grassy plains we arrived Christchurch.

Christchurch Station

From the station we took a cab which had an Indian driver and reached our hotel with wonderful memories of a beautiful train journey.

As most of you know, Christchurch is the closest place to many of the Antarctic stations. Christchurch has a great Antarctic centre where Antarctic life is showcased for the common man.

We had the good fortune to visit this center and experience simulated Antarctic life. So next week. let me take you through an Antarctic experience at the Antarctic Centre, Christchurch.

Till then, do comment on my blog and subscribe below:

Lake Matheson

This beautiful glacial lake is located in the South Island close to Fox Glacier which we talked about last week. The iconic picture of this lake has been featured on chocolate boxes, beer bottles, calendars and souvenirs, and even on a postage stamp! It is the most photographed lake in New Zealand.

It is famous for the reflections of the twin peaks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.

Te Ara Kairaumati (the Maori name for the lake) was traditionally a food gathering place for the Maoris as they explored the coast in search of pounamu or jade. Eels which thrive in these brown waters were their traditional food.

Little bit into the past….

The retreat of the Fox Glacier 14000 years ago at the end of the last glacial period left behind a valley and a huge slab of ice which gradually melted and collapsed to form the lake bed. The lake is now about 12 km from the current terminus of the glacier. The gravel from the glacier dammed the valley and the lake grew by being fed by small streams and seepage. This lake is surrounded by dense forest and native bushes. The streams that feed the lake pass through this thick vegetation and carry organic matter and tannins from the forest which gives the water a dark brown colour enhancing its reflecting capacity.

Scientific studies have shown that the water here is acidic , lacks nutrients and tends to get deoxygenated. These are features of a dystrophic brown water lake and it is predicted that the lake will accumulate organic matter and gradually fill in to become a peat bog.

Well, that is going to take a few hundred years atleast…so no worries now…enjoy its beauty.

Little bit into the present….

Since the rise of the tourism industry in New Zealand, this has become an important tourist destination for its reflections of the Southern Alps. The most famous reflections seen on the lake are that of Mount Cook And Mount Tasman, the two highest peaks in New Zealand.

The reflections are best viewed at dawn on a calm clear day before the wind disturbs the water surface or clouds form on the peaks.

Our Trip:

As promised the previous day, Murray our driver arrived on time at our hotel. A short drive from Fox Glacier town, and we were at Lake Matheson…

The area around the lake is part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park . There are a couple of walking tracks and viewing points along these tracks that offer the best views of the lake and the reflections.

An easy 2.6 km track circles the lake and we followed this track…

Some pictures that had us spell bound…..just come…walk along….

The start of the walk…

The dense bushy native plants around the track

A stream with well rounded stones that we had to cross

The swinging bridge over the Clearwater River

The Clearwater River….note the brownish colour of water

After we crossed the Clearwater river, the track took us in between some tall trees and native vegetation.

The dense vegetation

Further on the track we reached the viewing platform of reflection island.

The viewing platform at reflection island

Here we got some beautiful views of the forest and vegetation reflecting on the water.

View of reflection at reflection island

Finally we reached the most photographed location….the view of views….the reflection of the twin peaks…

The viewing platform at View of views

View of Views….as they call it….the two peaks reflected on the water.

One of our most cherished pictures….

After this we walked back along the track to the car park area where Murray was waiting for us. In the usual kiwi way, he offered to take us around the Lake Matheson area .

Some pictures…

Cattle and sheep graze in the backdrop of the Alps

The beautiful countryside

A helicopter takes off!!

And a couple sky dive…..

After some breathtaking views of Lake Matheson, we headed back to the hotel. Our next destination was Greymouth from where we took the Tranzalpine train to Christchurch. Meet you next week at Greymouth and on the Tranzalpine…an epic train journey indeed!

Till then, do give me your feedback and comments and don’t forget to subscribe

The Fox Glacier

Zig Ziglar……the American author says…Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations…This saying can be interpreted metaphorically to our life events. But here it’s not metaphorical….it’s physical….

After a difficult but scenic drive from Queenstown along the Haast Pass ( about which was my last blog),we were at the beautiful small town of Fox Glacier….. justifying what Zig Ziglar said!!

The Fox Glacier Town

Called Weheka in Maori, this town is actually a tiny village on the west coast of south island in New Zealand. It was renamed Fox Glacier after a visit by the then Premier of NZ, William Fox . State highway 6 (Haast Pass road) passes through this village as it leads to another glacier; the Franz Josef Glacier.

The village serves two important tourist destinations. The Fox Glacier itself and Lake Matheson. The town is famous for the glacier hikes and helicopter rides.

We stayed at the beautiful Bella Vista Hotel. The views from the hotel were awesome.

Fox Glacier Town

The Bella Vista Hotel

The Fox Glacier

The specialty of this glacier is its close proximity to the Tasman Sea. No where else in the world are there glaciers so close to the coastline and that makes Franz Josef and Fox glaciers truly unique.

The glacier is 13km long and is located in the Tai Poutini National Park. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world with its terminal phase as low as 300 meters above sea level about 6 km from fox glacier town.

Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier descends from a height of 2600m above sea level in the Southern Alps into the temperate rain forests just 300 m above sea level. The outflow from the glacier forms the Fox River. During the ice age, the ice retreated and left behind many moraines. Lake Matheson( which we visit next) is one such lake.

Fox Glacier

Fox River originating from the glacier

Primarily there are two modes of visiting the glacier…by hiking or by helicopter. Helicopter rides can be booked from the counters in the town and they take you to the top of the glacier. Bad weather is a constant threat to these trips and one must have sufficient time at hand to deal with such delays.

Helicopter rides to the glacier are very popular

There are about 30 different walking tracks around the Franz Josef and Fox glacier areas. Hiking guides are available and one can hike as per one’s capacity from simple walks along the glacier edge to rugged and strenuous hikes up the glacier.

Some of the popular tracks are: Southside Walkway and Fox glacier Valley Walk

Southside walk is a 6 km walking/cycling track that follows the south bank of the Fox River through a rain forest. A 40 minute walk takes one to a view point of the glacier. Cycling is not allowed beyond this point.

Views from South side walk…Fox Glacier

Valley Walk

This is shorter and around 2.6 km

We did this walk and could access the terminal portion of the glacier from around 200mts away . The initial part of the track is not very steep. The slope is gradual and one can follow a stream which we had to jump across several times. Gradually the steepness of the track changed and the final part was a rather steep climb . But we were rewarded with these views at the end….

Terminal portion of the glacier

A close up of the terminal part of the glacier

Another view of the glacier from a distance

Apart from this trek on to the glacier, is an easy wheelchair friendly walk called the Minnehaha Walk from near the town following a stream through the rain forests with the bonus of seeing glowworms at night. This is a loop walk of around 1.2 km and can be easily done in around 30 mins along a rain forest.

Minnehaha walk through rainforest

We did this trip to the Fox Glacier in 2018. I understand that there have been considerable changes here after that. The road to the iconic Fox glacier was closed in 2019 . A severe storm in February 2019 caused a massive landslide . Flooding following heavy rains in March 2019, caused further damage to the road . Tons of rock and gravel came crashing down to the Fox valley and destroyed the causeway and the car park areas. This landslide was New Zealand’s largest active landslide and is called the Alpine Gardens landslide.

After this, the reestablishment of road access was considered impractical and the road was indefinitely closed.

Helicopter rides to the glacier, and scenic flights to Franz Josef are still happening. The economic impact of this closure on the township is huge but the other activities for which it is a hub still continue. One such great place to visit from Fox Glacier township is none other than Lake Matheson…the iconic lake of New Zealand.

Next week we visit this Lake and I promise you some breathtaking views. Till then, its bye from Fox Glacier…

Do give me your valuable comments and subscribe below..