Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We did Hot Air Ballooning in Methven NZ, 27 – 28 Apr.

When we visited Cappadocia, Turkey on 29 Apr 2015, ‘Hot Air Ballooning’ was on top of the agenda. Unfortunately we were unable to do it due to bad weather and over booking. We returned very disappointed. Since then HAB has been on top of our ‘Must Do Before You xxx’ list. So during our NZ trip we had explored all possible locations – Auckland, Methven and Queenstown. Bad weather prevented us from going up in Auckland and we did not want to miss the opportunity in Methven. So when we rang up the ‘Aoraki Ballooning Safari’ a HAB Company, they said the weather was fine and booked us for an early morning flight on 28 Apr.

French paper manufacturers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier were the first documented persons to inflate and send a balloon up in flight from their home town of Annonay in the south of France. On the 25th April 1783 they decided to test their theory. Since then it’s come a long way as a very thrilling adventure sport.

Leaving Kaikoura and the whales behind, we travelled west and reached Methven after 4 hours of driving through 270 Km of outstanding country side. South Island is a visual treat and offers much more to the tourist. Surprisingly we did not see a single policeman in NZ, which speaks volumes about their discipline and law abiding citizens. We came across one police vehicle which was rushing towards an accident site. There are no animals on the road.
On the way
We checked into Ski Time Hotel very close to the town.
Sky Time Hotel

Jai returning after a short walk

Methven is a small town in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Crouched at the base of the Southern Alps, Methven is a welcoming town for visitors looking for adventure. In winter, it’s a base for snow sport enthusiasts who come to conquer the slopes of nearby Mount Hutt. At other times of the year, activities such as jet boating, hot air ballooning and mountain biking are popular.
1326 is the population of Methven.

After a bit of Zzzzzz we went out to explore the one horse town and eventually settled in Blue Pub. After a very satisfying meal we retired for the night. The weather was very nippy and we had to use electric blankets to keep warm.

Beer chips pasta and salad

Well earned beer

Dinosaur in a park

We got up at 5 AM and went for HAB. Captain Martyn EX RAF was our pilot for the flight. The exercise starts with the pilot letting go a survey balloon to assess the wind speed and direction etc. Thereafter we proceeded to an empty farm field for the launch. 8 of us passengers helped the pilot and his assistant cum chauffer cum steward in unpacking the HAB and spreading it on the ground. A blower then pumps air through a flame thrower and in the process the balloon is filled with hot air, helping it rise from the ground and become vertical. The immense size of the balloon becomes evident only when it’s fully filled. It is really very very huge.
The ballooning truck

The ballooners

The passenger basket

Flame lit

Martyn the pilot now tilts the cradle on its side

Jai feeling extra cold - protected by the pilots jacket

Balloon fully stretched length wise

Now on all sides

Balloon being filled with air

Now with hot air

Ready for boarding

Take off

After a brief introduction to the HAB, safety procedures, emergency drill, dos and don’ts we all climbed into the basket. The lift off is very gradual and smooth. Thereafter the wind takes charge of the balloon. The pilot controls the altitude by regulating the flow of hot air.

With the rising sun in the back drop the balloon makes its way up, as cows on the meadow look up in wonderment at this huge floating monster. As we started to move with the air current the farm land below appeared to shrink, the roads become small lines and houses just tiny dots on the surface. The wind was not much but it did not take away the fun and adventure behind ballooning.
Farm land below

Cows in amazement

A lovely shadow of the balloon

Roads below

Kats and Naveen in the basket
 Time passes quickly as you travel further from the launch position. Adrenalin jumps as the pilot lowers the balloon to tree height. The cows below muddle together watching the balloon and run helter skelter as it approaches them. The shadow of the balloon on the ground is a nice sight. After an hour in the air Martyn made a smooth landing.
Master of ceremonies with Champagne

Jai relishing early morning Champagne

Naveen turn for the bubbly

Photo op

We helped the pilot to secure the kit and load it on to the truck. As per the traditions of HAB we were given a certificate by the pilot and thereafter treated to a glass of champagne and breakfast.

Martyn told us that in the early days local farmers were understandably frightened and skeptical about balloons and often mistook them for otherworldly beings. Many a time balloonists were met with hostilities in the form of pitchforks when they landed. This is where the tradition of offering the landowner a bottle of champagne evolved from - it not only gave the farmers thanks for letting them land on their property, it also proved the balloon was in fact French.

I think HAB is addictive and all four of wished to do it again.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ferry Transfer from North to South Island – Whales of Kaikoura -25 Apr 2016

It was end of our travel in North Island. Early morning we drove to the ferry terminal to transport the car and ourselves from Wellington to Picton. The transfers of car in a ship ‘Interislander’ was a first time experience and all of us were looking forward to it. The entire process was smooth and efficient, except for Kats doing a Houdini act when he went to get coffee for all of us. Thank the Lord, both of us had local SIM cards and were able to communicate. One must always buy a local SIM card. The ship was huge with 8 levels. 
A very large transporter
After a sumptuous breakfast, we settled down in a well appointed lounge with huge glass windows. The sea was fairly calm with occasional white horses.     
Lovely Marlborough Bay
After three and a half hours of smooth sailing in the scenic Marlborough Sounds we landed in Picton at 11.30 AM. After a further two hour smooth and interesting car journey we reached Kaikoura and checked into the ‘Sea View Motel’.
City of Picton

Picton Airport

Never ending meadows

Huge Vineyards

Nat King Cole -The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Excellent roadways


The motel offered an excellent sea view. It is better to stay in Motels as they are very informal and provide a home like atmosphere. They generally provide good cooking and laundry facilities. We used to invariably end up buying heat and eat food from their stores. Most days we retired early and cooked a very basic meal in the motel. 
Real deal undoubtedly

Our Toyota parked outside the motel

From the motel

Along the drive

Sun set in front of motel

Throughout our stay the weather was manageable; as we travelled South it got colder. In some places we had to use electric blankets or room heaters.

After a lovely lunch and a bit of rest, we drove around the small but very picturesque town. We ended up relishing a huge ‘Cray Fish’ at dinner time and retired early. A medium sized Cray Fish costs 70 to 80 NZD, pretty steep though.  

Kats with a very vivacious Mexican student bar tender

All of us agreed

The picturesque coastal town of Kaikoura is the perfect place for marine life encounters, coastal walks, and tucking into a plate of crayfish. In the Maori language 'kai' means food, 'koura' means crayfish. It has a population of 3,552 inhabitants.

Next morning we went on a ‘Whale Watching’ tour. The main focus of the tour is to spot the ‘Giant Sperm Whale’. Once they dive they remain in water from 40 – 60 minutes, which makes it possible to sight them at least twice during our 2.30h trip. The whales grow to a length of 15 – 20 meters and weigh 40 – 60 tons. That is pretty big. They live for over 70 years. The trip also involves sighting of ‘Dusky and Hector Dolphins’ and Royal Albatross.

After a long wait

Another gigantic mamal

Racing with us

After the whale watch

Not to be left behind

Low water

We were very lucky to sight 2 whales and a large number of dolphins along with a few Albatross. Watching whales pop up from nowhere and majestically dive displaying their huge tail is a memorable sight.

The company refunds the trip cost up to 80% if whales are not sighted. That is fair game. 

After a very satisfying lunch in an Indian Restaurant we drove 25 Km from the city to watch baby seals. Ohau Point seal colony is a unique spot where baby seal pups can be seen under a waterfall and swimming in the stream. Baby seals come from the sea and waddle across to the waterfall to play and bond, whilst their mothers are busy at sea hunting food. The babies can be seen visiting the waterfall from end April to August. The waterfall is part of the Ohau Point Fur Seal Sanctuary and is home to an estimated 3000 seals. The seals are quite noisy in a group.
From the sea towards the waterfall

Lazing around

Pretty chilly and windy

Naveen all pleased

Baby seal crossing the creek

Ohau point waterfall

For us sighting whales, dolphins and seals was a unique experience.
The Kaikoura trip was worth every penny. 

An Aside

A Sea voyage is always relaxing and therapeutic. The sea breeze and the gentle sway of a cruise ship help one to retrospect. Looking back on our 10 days stay in North Island, what struck me most was the scenic beauty of New Zealand. They inherited this piece of beauty, but no kudos for that. What merits a mention is the way they have maintained and preserved nature’s bounty in a pristine fashion.

I am really amazed at how these small countries with hardly any population maintain their natural assets, highways, toilets, tourism support and other infrastructure in prime condition. This great attribute is most evident in NZ and East European countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic etc.

How do these countries achieve this very high level of upkeep and maintenance when we struggle to provide bare, minimum facilities?

I have drawn a comparison between NZ which is a country and my own state Karnataka, India. I have taken roads to highlight my point.

NZ is slightly bigger than Karnataka and has three times the road length than us. There are fewer people in NZ to maintain roads. In fact Karnataka is 13 times more populous than NZ. Even with this massive population we generate lesser revenue. Anybody who has driven in NZ will agree their roads are outstanding in every way.

How come New Zealand gets the act right and we fail miserably?

268,021 km²
191,791 km²
NZ – slightly larger area to look after
Current population
4.5 million
64 million
NZ  - has extremely  limited work force
Total Revenue
US$ 51 billion
US$38 billion
Karnataka generates extremely less revenue in spite of 15 times more population than NZ
Total length of highways
28,311 km.
3 times more roads to be maintained in NZ

Source - Internet