Christchurch and Queenstown were wonderfully refreshing places to visit and more than met our pre visit expectations.
The Hotel SO at Christchurch had tiny rooms and baths but was functional and more than adequate for a nights stay. The Hotel had an atmosphere that was lively and 'funky'. Finding our way around Christchurch was not a problem at all as it is a small city. Our pre booking of the airport -hotel shuttle and a two day tram pass was adequate although we could have bought a combo ticket for the tram, gondola and punting at the tram station at lower rates and across the counter.
The Botanical Gardens, one of the ten best in the world, was a beautiful place to stroll around in. It would have been great if we had more time and could sit around and enjoy the serenity and majesty of the trees and flowering plants. We took the Punting ride on the River Avon through the Botanical Gardens and this too had a peaceful and calming influence about it.
The Gondola ride wasn't up to the mark and in retrospect was a waste of money. We just spent a short while at the top of the hill and had a cup of coffee / hot chocolate before we headed back. It was chilly and extremely windy on the hill top. You could literally get blown off. I have some interesting photos of Deepa & Saraswati with their hair swept crazy by the strong winds.
The tram ride through the city in quaint old trams was fun and we stepped off and on at places of interest. The National Museum for Maori Art and Culture and the Arts Museum were worth the time we spent at each. The Arts Museum had paintings of the early settlers and life as it was in those early days. It was good seeing Christchurch or New Zealand of old and it's evolution into the city and country of today. Every where we went we saw the value and esteem paid to the early settlers, explorers and pioneers and their dedication to the establishment of the fledgling settlements. Of course in terms of ancient civilisations and culture this place cannot match the places of historical interest such as Rome, The Mesapotamia, Indus Valley etc. The Maori tradition and history cannot match that of the ancient Chinese, Indians and Persians.
We squeezed in a visit to the 1864 Methodist Church and the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral. At both places we stayed awhile and said short prayers and spent moments of silence. Both Churches had beauty and calm though the Christchurch Cathedral was the more structurally beautiful and majestic. The Cathedral Square was quite a happening place and a place to sit around and rest awhile.
In Queenstown we were fully looked after by Nokia and the Event Management staff. True to form we were give an outstanding time. . . experiences of a life time in terms of the food and wine, the hotel stay experience at the Hotel Sofietel, the Adventure activities and the beautiful cultural fare. Lots of care and attention to detail made the visit comfortable and memorable. The Sofietel Hotel and Spa was extremely comfortable and right in the heart of the small town of just 17, 000. They do however receive over 1. 5 million tourists every year. Life for the residents clearly revolves around tourism. The Taxi engaged to ferry us around to each activity were driven by well educated retired folk who engaged us warmly in conversation every time. A world of a difference from the cab /taxi experience in most other cities.
Of the many memorable experiences we had was 'The Souring into the Heights' Programme as part of the Delgates Programme. I had the experience of flying in an open cockpit ancient World War 2 Tiger Moth. It cant get more memorable than that can it?? I also took a helicopter ride along with four others and landed on a mountain top over looking the Remarkables Mountain range and valley and the River Wakapitu. The sights were truly breath taking. I took plenty of photos but the camera simple cant do just to the majesty of the scenic beauty.
We had a fun filled day at the Queenstown Hill and the Walters Peak were we had a range of activities covering kayaking, horse riding, sheep shearing, and an exhibition of a sheep dogs skills. The setting was simple out of the world. Deepa in particular freeked out with multiple Luge rides, kayaking, horse riding, et al. We had flown into Walter's Peak in an eight seater Islander Aircraft which was a wonderful experience in itself. Quaint little aircraft these, very well suited for the type of flying we engaged in through valleys and along the mountain side before landing on a grassy plain. The experience and the sights were superb a once in a life time experience. The restaurant at Walter's Peak and the sheer beauty of the surroundings was just wonderful. I couldn't help clicking away with my camera.
The return journey was in a steam boat, TSS Earnslaw, a coal fired steam engine driven steamer which has been plying since 1912. On board was a grand old lady playing the piano and encouraging every one to join in a sing along session of old favorites such as Waltzing Matilda, My Bonnie Lies over the ocean etc. It was a fun and relaxing journey back to the hotel.
As usual Nokia ensured we had great networking time over dinner. The first day was at the Prime Restaurant where the food and also the ambience was not all that good. The next day at Gantley's was far better. The ambiance in particular was superb. Like wise the venue of the Awards Nite at the Mount Soho winery and restaurant was wonderful. So to was the Opera recital by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. She is reputed to be one of the outstanding performers in the world and her singing even to as uninitiated a ear as mine was truly beautiful and soul stiring. We were told she sang at the wedding of The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana!!!!! We were really fortunate to hear such a highly rated performer.
Another great experience was the 25 minute thrill ride we took on The Shotover Jet. A speed boat that hurtles along the Shotover Canyon at 80kms /hour, driven by experts who twirl the boat around 360degrees and also shoot along the walls of the canyon giving you the impression your going to crash into them. It was a fun filled ride and a wonderful experience.