A Travellerspoint blog

Jetlagged KL Stopover

sunny 30 °C

The Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur was brutal - not because of Air Asia, the plane and crew were fine, but because of the timing of the flight. I left Auckland at, I think, 8:30 in the evening and had a not bad meal served to me but then we had to stop at Gold Coast airport. We had obviously gone through security before boarding in Auckland but in Gold Coast, all passengers had to leave the plane and go though a mickey-mouse security setup, hang around in a gate lounge for a bit and then carry on. No meal for me on this leg: although there was a meal service, the website hadn't allowed me to book a second meal. We hit KLIA2 at 4:40 in the morning, nearly an hour early, there was no delay getting through the formalities, so I had a fair amount of time to wait before it was worth heading into the city. I have not actually been to KLIA2 - last time I flew Air Asia, they were still in the LCCT, a big shed-like structure which was pretty chaotic. I took a look around - there are a few food outlets on the second floor, plus space to look at some planes lined up - pretty much a standard sort of airport. Australia and New Zealand have become squeamish about even acknowledging they have tobacco products - here it looks like they've decided to make a feature of them!

I lingered in a hard chair in a quiet recess of the airport, then went to find a bus into town - at the bottom of the shopping mall that has been tacked on to the airport. I was in KL Sentral by around 10:00. There's been quite a bit of construction since I was here last, so I was not entirely sure of the direction to my hotel, so I cheated, and caught the train to the former main KL rail station. This is the site of one of my all time favourite hotels - the Station Heritage - I've stayed there twice, last time for a week. I enjoyed its timbered rooms, its long gloomy corridors, its near emptiness and even the fact that when something went wrong with a room, they'd just move me rather than fix the problem. It was built in 1910, but it obviously needed quite a bit of investment which has not been forthcoming. So now it is closed and the station just has a few commuter trains and a canteen.

Luckily, I had a back-up - the Majestic is just outside the old station but, because it is no longer an important hub, the hotel is ridiculously cheap to stay in for one of this class.

Showing its class, when I showed up all sweaty and dishevelled at 11 in the morning, I was able to check in immediately. This turned out to be a mistake - I had a few ideas of things to do but they transformed into "stay in the room", "have lunch in the Colonial cafe", have a beer in the Smoke House. The Colonial Cafe was almost empty - one person at one table, a group of three at another and then two more came in as I ate my Hainanese Chicken Chop - basically a chicken thigh de-boned and belted flat, with a sauce tasting most strongly of worcestershire sauce and a few chips. Not my best dining experience.
Hotel Majestic - Colonial Cafe

Hotel Majestic - Colonial Cafe

Tempting as it was,

I couldn't spend all day in my room. I had to go back to the station to organise some train tickets. They have one of those queuing systems where you take a ticket and wait to be called - someone had checked the train I wanted as I joined the queue but, by the time my number was called more than two hours later, the train had sold out. The joys of booking a train around Chinese New Year. Luckily I found that I could get as far as Butterworth on one train, then catch another to where I need to go. By this time, I really didn't feel like doing much other than finding some food and then go to my room. I hadn't seen anything very appealing as I looked around the station and its new shopping mall (they're all the rage here), so popped over to the Suria/KLCC mall and just went into the place with the most people - Madam Kwans, for a curry. Since my hotel had a wee bar, I thought I should give it a go, having something they call a Straights Swing. It was an odd experience - I was the only one there, and the barman kept hovering, just across the bar from me.

Posted by NZBarry 10:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Off to a Literary Festival

sunny 19 °C

Work finished on Thursday before Christmas and I had a flight out of Auckland late on Boxing Day: I could have done the boring thing and flown up, but I thought I would try my luck with relocating rental vehicles. Several weeks before departure, Transfercar obliged with a Jucy campervan for four days ex Christchurch. I was just about to bite the bullet and get on the bus to Christchurch when they released a bunch of cars needed to be taken from Dunedin to Christchurch. All I knew was that they were Budget cars, but I had the vague hope that I might get something decent to drive: I really lucked out and got an XR6, a car I have been thinking of buying as it can be both a tow car for the caravan and a normal car. It was a nice car to drive, although I found I had to clamber a bit to get between the steering wheel and seat.
Leaving after work meant it was about Timaru that I started to feel the need to eat - although Macs do a great fish and chips, I was sold when I saw the sign for Saikou Teppanyaki & Whisky Bar: obviously, I couldn't sample their whisky but a quiet beer with some gyoza and chicken karaage hit the spot. This place (opposite the old Hydro hotel) looks like a real asset for Timaru - it had quite a decent crowd and a nice feel. I'll be back.
Bed for the night was a pod in the new Jucy Snooze just outside Christchurch airport: I found the pod a wee bit claustrophobic and the mattress thinner than expected but it is great to have this here: it has a wonderful big social space and they deliver guests to the airport and to the Jucy depot, which suited me just fine.

With a ferry to catch and concerns about the state of traffic (given the closure of SH1 and the proximity of Christmas, I didn't dilly dally: a quick coffee at the first place I saw, then a bigger break in Hanmer to wander around (it has more than doubled in size since I was here last) and another coffee break in Murchison.
River near Hanmer

River near Hanmer

I was really surprised at the lack of traffic: I drove for long periods with no-one in front of me or behind me, and maintained a good speed, so that I hit Blenheim at around 5:00 p.m. I don't know this town at all in terms of finding good places to eat, but Tripadvisor came up with Gramado's - it is a Brazillian restaurant just as you come into town from the south. I had two dishes I have never heard of - Feijoada (a black bean stew with chorizo, ham hock etc) and Escondidinho (a kind of shepherd's pie).
Escondidinho @ Gramado's

Escondidinho @ Gramado's

Feijoada @ Gramado's

Feijoada @ Gramado's

I was well in time for the ferry, which is a bit of a pity because it was a tough crossing: so rough that the staff forced sickbags and ice on the passengers and closed the bar! It was also very noisy: the whole ferry boomed as it crashed through the waves. I don't think many people actually got sick - I didn't even feel queasy. We were a bit late so it was around 2:30 a.m. when we hit Wellington: I needed a loo break at Mana and discovered that the Domain there is actually available to self-contained campervans. It was a great place to wake up.
Ngatitoa Domain

Ngatitoa Domain

Once on the North Island, I had a bit more time up my sleeve: even so, I think my brother was a bit shocked when he phoned me quite late in the day, and I had only made it from Paremata to Fielding - a total of 135 kilometres! I basically popped into anywhere I thought might be interesting - so had coffee in a very busy cafe in Paekakariki, went down to the beach at Otaki (it is not a great beach and wandered the streets of Otaki town centre. I was most impressed with an idea I discovered in the Otaki library: to facilitate bookclubs, they have bags of ten or a dozen copies of the same book, along with suggested questions and some background. Across the Kapiti Coast library system, they have quite a decent selection.
Bookclub in a bag @ Otaki Library

Bookclub in a bag @ Otaki Library

It is a long time since I've been in Foxton, so I stopped off there for lunch and a wander - there's a sort of trolley bus museum (really, just half a dozen buses, but they'v set up some wires so they can actually take them somewhere.
The leather seats in the penultimate photo smelled fantastic - I could have just sat in there all day and soaked them up. I liked the signs in the last photo, as I am pretty sure there was no actual conference centre. More impressive was MAVTECH (formerly called the "National Museum of Audio Visual Arts & Sciences Of NZ" - lots of old movie cameras, TVs, radios, cameras, record players... There were a few items in there that I or my family have owned.
In addition, there were a few things I remember really really wanting and never having:
This radio is quite quaint as, like most of its time, it listed all the radio stations around the country on its dial

I'll put the rest of the photos of MAVTECH at the end. Of course, the major feature in Foxton is the windmill, which is still put to regular use to grind wheat into flour.
Nearby there is a collection of murals which were painted for some competition or other - some are better than others. and they've faded a bit.

I carried on up SH1 because I'd heard there's a great new cafe called the Woolshed just south of Sanson, but it was closed so I diverted to Fielding, hoping to see a film in its cool little cinema, but they weren't showing any. This led me to Palmerston North, where I watched United Kingdom - a movie based on a true story in which the future leader of what is now Botswana met and fell in love with an English woman. The romance side of the movie was dealt with pretty quickly: the main story was about the political ramifications for both of them when they married. It was contrary to English political goals to have a white woman have power in Botswana and the people of Botswana felt cheated by not having one of their own marry their leader. I finally hit the road north at about 9:30 and found a quiet spot above Tokaanu to sleep.

Things actually worked out for my two brothers and their families and I to all get together in Tauranga for Christmas dinner: after sleeping that off, I headed off to Auckland to drop the van off and embark on the next leg of the journey - to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia.


Posted by NZBarry 10:19 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries Part VII

Around Collingwood

sunny 24 °C

I am ashamed at the way I have neglected this space: since I have some more travels coming up, I am going to try to get things a bit more up to date. When I last wrote, I had just arrived in Collingwood, at the far north west of the South Island, for a four night stay over New Year's. It is a fairly small, but has a decent pub (albeit one that takes you back to the 1970's in its style, even has fish and chips in a basket),
a good cafe in the old courthouse which I visited each morning for coffee and a danish,
an ice cream place I visited each evening, a hand-make chocolate business I went to more than once, and a shop selling all sorts of bits and pieces in the Post Office (which still functions as a post office, although it is for sale so maybe its days are numbered).
Apart from a day on which it rained continuously, I took wee trips out to see what could be seen. There seems to be a taste for eel farms at the top of the South Island - there was one just out of Collingwood: much closer than I realised, so that I had to make an abrupt turn to go in, much to the mingled consternation and amusement of my passenger: the latter was increased when we found a Police car waiting for us. There were plenty of eels - not very attractive, I've decided - which became quite animated when we fed them. large_IMG_3142.jpglarge_IMG_3143.jpg
They faced a certain amount of competition from the ducks with which they shared their pond.
There were a couple of tortoises as well, in a blue plastic kiddie pool: unfortunately, my camera became confused by the netting but I quite like the effect.
One of my trips had me go down as far as the entrance into the Heaphy Track - I actually walked in as far as the first hut.
Not really as significant as it sounds, as Brown Hut is maybe 500 metres from the entrance. On the way down, I had to stop at Bainham, for the oldest store in New Zealand, Langford's: it has been run by the same family since 1928. I had to have tea and a scone and a general mosey about.

Carrying on down the road, I saw a sign for the Salisbury Footbridge, over the Aorere River. The footbridge was built in 1887 but has been washed away twice, the more recent one being in 2010 and it looks like it will not be replaced - the wee frame is all that survives.
The river at this point is a popular local waterhole, and it was a good spot to just hang out for a bit.
Something I didn't really expect to come across in my travels was a museum - The Rockville Machinery and Settlers Museum, located in the former Golden Bay Dairy Company cheese factory out in the country, and carrying the overload from the Collingwood musuem. I didn't know this last detail when I visited and it explains something - the relative lack of household items (it is really about the machinery). When I arrived there were two kids playing outside but it was otherwise deserted, and stayed that way the hour or so I wandered about (even the kids left).

Posted by NZBarry 20:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries Pt VI

Mokihinui to Collingwood

To pick up where I left off in my last post, I quit Mokihinui, had a last wander around Westport and headed north, up the side of the Buller River.
After an ill-advised stop for a beer in a place called Berlins, which consists entirely of a cafe, then an ice-cream in Inangahua and a coffee in a rather wonderful cafe in Murchison, I finally arrived in Motueka in the early evening.

I've never spent any time there, apart from a coffee as I've passed through, so set up camp for a couple of days. Its a nice enough town to do that - a relaxed holiday park, several decent bakeries, at least one good cafe - Precinct Dining - and a Sprig and Fern made me quite happy. Places for dinner were not thick on the ground, but I went to a very busy (and tasty) Indian cafe for dinner: while there, I had to ask the waitress why the nicer looking Indian place next door was practically empty. I never really expected her to tell me, but she was very forthcoming (had had a bad experience there on her birthday).

Friends were staying around the corner in Kaiteriteri, so I popped around to visit them in their camping ground. This was a rather different experience: it was HUGE and absolutely packed, with every tent or van cheek by jowl. Every time I moved, I got lost. Not really my sort of holiday park. Kiateriteri Beach itself was nice, with golden sand and a small rivermouth.

The next town round is Marahau: we stopped in for a coffee and a strange form of breakfast hash, several elements of which were not cooked. The main event on the streets seems to be the Marahau Water Taxis - they load the passengers into boats at a shed, then parade them down the street to the launching point.

My destination, however, was beckoning and so, with just two days of 2015 remaining, I set off over the dreaded Takaka Hill: it isn't particularly high, but it is a long and winding climb to get up and over it. Going up was actually OK - I just took it slowly and there was not much traffic behind me. On top, the outlook is bleak, but with nice coast views if you look in the right direction.
Going down was the problem: I had to brake so frequently that things started to get quite heated - I felt my wheel hubs at one point and nearly burnt my hand. This had the flow on effect of expanding (I guess) the brake discs to the point they were making continuous contact with the brake pads - it slowed me down even on the flat and there was a pronounced squealing: stopping to let things cool down removed both problems.

There is a reward for going west over the hill: Takaka. In the summer, it is a bustling wee town, with lots of craft shops (although fashion is making some inroads) and cafes - my preferred option is the Wholemeal, which was set up in part of the cinema in 1977 and has subsequently taken over the entire building.They have retained a few notes of its cinematic past, it is a cheerful place and (when the kitchen is open) serves interesting food.

From here it is an easy jaunt to Collingwood, which is near the end of the road. It is built on a point, with the holiday park occupying the sea end. Here I was faced with my first significant parking challenge: there were two parallel walls, with three tents at the entrance to the space and my plot at the far end, meaning I had to back down between the tents and the wall, then turn the 'van so it faced into the wall. Not a problem as it happened, but I did take the precaution of suggesting to one tent person that he move his car.


This is where I spent 4 nights over New Years, and I'm very happy with my choice.

Posted by NZBarry 19:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries: Pt V

To Karamea and back

Westport strikes me as a town at the end of the line (this is not necessarily a bad thing). You drive over the Buller River and up its long main street, to find that it terminates at the edge of the river. In ways I can't describe, the town also has an end of the line vibe. Kaitaia feels the same to me. But it is not the end of the line: by turning right half way up its main street, there is more - 100 km of gloriously wild coastline, coal mines, country music museums, pizza parlours in cowsheds and historic sites before you get to Karamea. Even then, for the determined, there is more: a multi day walk over the Heaphy Track will see you emerge near Golden Bay.
I spent a couple of days north of Westport, parked up in a holiday park in Seddonville, a tiny settlement named in honour of former PM Richard ("King Dick") Seddon: I don't think he had any connection to the town, although he adopted the Coast as his home when he arrived in New Zealand (and was Mayor of Kumara). Seddonville was a mining town, and as far north as the West Coast railway line came - it sits just across the Mokihinui River from the Karamea Bluff, which is a major obstacle for trains. The camping ground is very low key, in the former school with check in at the local pub. There were just an older couple - who come every year for the fishing (the man grew up here and went to school in the very building used for the camp facilities) - a family in some tents, and a group of indeterminate size in a large converted bus.

There are actually three camping grounds in this area - the Mokihinui Domain ground is on the southern side of the rivermouth and the Gentle Annie is to the north. The former didn't look very appealing and I found my place before I drove in to the Gentle Annie - a busy park in a beautiful spot.

It is here I found the pizza place in the cowshed: the people who ran the farm found that a lot of people wanted to stay, so they turned over some land to camping, and that business grew to the point it was better to stop the dairying and provide some food. After a few years, they contracted out the food side of the business, which led to an odd system of payment. You can pay for camping with a credit card, but for food it is either cash or direct payment from your bank account to theirs: they watched me as I made the transfer on my phone. Pizza range was pretty limited, but I enjoyed the Margherita.
I could not be this close and not carry on to Karamea: as I drove over the Bluff, I was so glad I was not towing a caravan - it is about 30 km of curls, first up, then down. Karamea itself is pretty small, and very quiet on a summer Sunday afternoon. I sat outside the shop with an ice cream, amused by the young guy who parked his bike beside me, engaged in an elaborate ritual of locking up his bike, went across to the shop aver the road and was back to unlock his bike before I'd finished my ice cream. The only people around were a few locals coming in for beers, and tourists in campervans after ice cream: no security risk. After a nosey around town and a quiet ale in the Karamea Village Hotel ("Best Country Hotel 2011" according to Hospitality New Zealand), there was no real reason to stay.
large_33CB7DCAB6E296DEF425650586331E6D.jpgBeach @ Karamea

Beach @ Karamea

South of Seddonville is much more interesting. I stopped in Granity several times - initially to have a quiet ale at the pub. My only companion seemed to have a certain hostility to outsiders coupled with a need to talk - his sole conversational gambit was an attempt to tell me my caravan lights were on, dismissing any suggestion by me that they were not on the basis that he knew better. I drank up quickly and went out the back to the rather good Tommy Knocker cafe, which faces the beach.

It has only been open since Labour Day, but is by far the best source of rogan josh pies on the West Coast, has good coffee and, at least on the Sunday after Christmas, was doing a roaring trade. I was past several times and stopped in, but when Drifters, the original Granity cafe, re-opened after the break I went in out of curiosity. I remembered it as this ramshackle place, with furniture which was a mixture of the hand-made and whatever someone wanted to get rid of - in other words, quite cosey. Now, it looks like any other cafe with corrugated iron bar facing and proper tables and chairs.

Just up from Granity is Hector. On my first pass through, I saw a sign for the Hector Country Music Heritage Museum, but the first couple of times I checked, it was closed. Finally, about a week into the New Year (I was back in the area) I had my chance. It doesn't reveal its secrets from the outside
Hector Country Music Heritage Museum

Hector Country Music Heritage Museum

but the place is jam-packed - some memorabilia, a homage to Dunedin band the Tumbleweeds (who had the best selling single in New Zealand for a couple of decades with their version of Maple on the Hill), a few Indian-American artefacts (why not?) but the bulk of the collection was music and signed photos of country music artists. The fellow who runs the place, another Barry, was keen to chat, told me of the difficulties of having modern artists provide photos without payment and of having people want him to make recordings from the collection without payment. The collection is impressive.

The big thing on the coast is, of course, mining. The Denniston mine has tours, but they were not operating the days I was there. The Stockton mine is still producing coal, and very much closed to the public, with a big security fence several kilometres from the mine. All I could see were the gantries constructed above the railway line so that coal can be poured into carriages.
The best I could do was wander around the old Millerton mine, which closed in the 1960's. There are still a few houses scattered about but the equipment and buildings from the mine have been taken away, leaving behind just a few (significant) signs of activity.

This is a grand part of the world in which to hang out, but I had bookings elsewhere, so it was time to cross back over the Buller River and head north.

Posted by NZBarry 12:51 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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