Friday, June 23, 2017

Travel back in time: A visit to “submerged bridge”

This was the bridge over a big river connecting two towns. It had a railway line too!! The construction of a reserviour over the river submerged the bridge along with many villages and forests. Now when the water level recedes, the bridge makes its appearance. The window of opportunity to visit this place is very small. It can be for few weeks in summer.
The submerged bridge
Eight years ago, I made an attempt to visit this place with my friends (Link here). The road to the bridge was still under water and we had to return back disappointed. Due to good rains in subsequent years I could not get an opportunity to visit this place. It gradually faded off from my memory. But a month ago, I saw a message from Subbu telling that the bridge has made its appearance. A quick check revealed that the water in the dam was about to reach dead storage. Knowing that the monsoon was just few days away, we quickly made a plan to visit the place.

The "road" to the bridge
The town near the place looked same like eight years back. With help from locals, we were able to find the way to the backwaters. In the meantime, we were holding our breath until we reached the backwaters due to our disappointment last time. A big relief went from all of us as we saw the water levels. It is strange to feel happy at seeing low levels of water!!

Remains of the forest
The remains of the road was very clear. The trees lined up on either side of the road had gone long back but their stumps gave a glimpse of the past. We had to park the car and walk as trenches were dug to block any vehicle movement.

First view of the bridge
It was a hot day with no shade but we enjoyed walking in the reservoir. I was feeling that we had moved back in history. The silence of the place was only broken by the chirping of the birds. It was so pristine. The landscape was barren with all trees cut.

Effect of receding waters
Within 30 minutes of walking, we saw the glimpse of the bridge. It looked near but the way was blocked by water body. We had to take a long detour to reach the bridge. At some places, we had to be careful about quick sands. 

Remains of a well and milestone
It is a old bridge and submerged for last 60 years. But it still looks strong which shows the quality of engineers and their construction in those days. The railway track is barely visible and can be easily missed. A trench has been dug to restrict any movement of vehicles. 

The ramp to the bridge
I was wondering whether there is an approach to this bridge from other side. But between the bridge and the town on the other side is a National forest that cannot be crossed.

On top of the bridge
We spent a long time at the bridge appreciating the beauty. 

Remains of the railway line
Though the place is not well known, it is famous among locals. The place becomes a heaven for drunkards. The outcome of their acts are visible in the form of broken glass bottles which has become a benchmark for Indian tourist places. One need to be careful if coming with family as the place is very remote. The drunkards become active post noon and hence it is a good idea to visit this place in the morning!! 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What was the cost of our New Zealand trip?

Lot of people have posed this question to me. Everyone knew that the trip to New Zealand is expensive and they were curious to know about the actual cost. But when I told them about the expense, most of them were surprised. I thought it would be a good idea to put some details into the expenses we had during our trip. Rarely I share the details about the cost of a trip. But there are exceptions.

Edmund Hillary in New Zealand currency
The conversion rate I considered 1 NZD = 48 INR. Cost shown below is per person.

Particulars Cost (INR)
Return flight from Bengaluru to Christchurch 74,182
Visa 5,000
Taxi in Bengaluru 500
Car rental 14,400
Rides - Gondola, helicopter, boat etc 22,440
Fuel 4,968
Food and groceries 3,888
Stay 37,500
Mobile and Internet 420
Total 1,63,298

The expense was lower than my budget (I had estimated 2 lakhs per person). Some reasons were:
  • Booking flights early. 
  • Going with local rental car instead of International companies
  • Self cooked food. This was the game changer. A decent food in restaurant easily costs more than 60 NZD and if you multiply it with 15 days, you can imagine the savings.
  • Rupee appreciation. Rupee had gained about 10% from the time I planned the trip to the actual travel dates.
  • 4 people. Most efficient to distribute costs. Whether it was rental car or stay, the cost was divided.
  • April was shoulder (Autumn) season. The crowd in general was less and prices were lower when compared to summer months (November to March).

How could I have reduced it even further with the same plan?
  • Do not opt for car insurance. It was quite some money but I decided to be safe.
  • Remove GPS from my car. But I felt that in unknown lands, it is better to have offline maps.
  • Do not buy SIM card. Though hotels provided free Wi-Fi, it was necessary to have some internet outside.
  • Take a camper van and camp. I thought about it but my family would not be comfortable with it. But it is a great option as New Zealand is very camper van friendly and there are many beautiful camping grounds.
  • Stay in low end hotels. But I was with family and no compromises were made with respect to quality of stay. New Zealand has wide variety of places to stay - from hostels to motels to high end hotels. The places I stayed were definitely not high end but were decent for family.
  • Not go that Mexican restaurant. Ah!! I can’t be so strict!!
  • Do not eat ice creams. But I can’t!!!
  • Start trip from Auckland. Auckland has better flight connectivity than Christchurch. But my focus was South Island. But if one covers North Island, starting and ending trip at Auckland makes sense.
  • Travel via Australia. Australia has few budget flights. And then we would take a flight to New Zealand. But requires Australia Visa (even for transit). Good option if someone has Australian visa and can spare some additional time.

The way I travel is by first deciding on destination and then planning for the same. I try to book early or try to find time when the flight rates are low. Or plan my finances to meet the budget. For New Zealand I did all of them!!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

New Zealand day 14: Rakaia gorge

We had skipped this place earlier due to rains. Now that the weather was clear, we decided to make a visit to the gorge.

View before Rakaia gorge
It was a short drive from Christchurch. The Rakaia river, rising from Southern alps enters into the Canterbury plains though a narrow canyon. A bridge is built on the gorge.

Mountains near the gorge
We parked our car near the gorge and went down to the river. The water was supposed to be blue but due to recent rains it had turned muddy. 

Rakaia gorge bridge
A walkway of about 10km takes through some of the beautiful view points overlooking the gorge. Unlike the walkways we saw in New Zealand this was “raw” with little maintenance. But it gives a different feeling.

View from walkway
The walkway went along the river providing some nice views of the gorge, river and the mountains nearby. Our plan was to walk as much as possible and return back. I knew with family it will not be possible to go through the entire walkway. 

A mushroom on the pth
Mt. Hutt and Lake Coleridge are located nearby but it requires a 4 wheel vehicle. Mt. Hutt is also a famous Ski area in winter.

View of Rakaia river from walkway

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

New Zealand day 13: Hanmer springs

It was raining heavily when we got up in the morning. The wind speed was considerably high. The cyclone (or whatever remained after passing thousands of kilometers) was passing through bringing in the last spell of rain. The weather predicted to improve dramatically in the noon. Believing that prediction, I asked everyone to be ready to move by 10AM. Looking at the rains, my family was not fully convinced about the weather!! But predictions were on the dot.

Thermal pools of Hanmer springs
Hanmer springs is built around the hot springs. Unlike in Himalayas, you can’y find them in natural places as they are channeled into thermal pools and spa. 

Hanmer Springs town
The journey was uneventful as we passed though some of the beautiful landscapes and small passes. 

Scenery on the way
Hanmer Springs was another small beautiful town. Access to thermal pools was restricted. A ticket need to be brought to enter into the pools. For 2$ you can chose just to roam around the pool without getting into waters. 

Mountains on the way to Hanmer springs
This was the only place in New Zealand where we felt it was “crowded”. But it was a large area with several pools. 

Hanmer springs
After the pools, we spent a long time in roaming around the town. We hired a family pedal cycle just for the sake of experience!!

Hanmer springs town
Hanmer Springs is definitely a great place to visit. It would be a good idea to put it at the end of the trip to relax in those hot water pools!!

Pedal cycle!!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

New Zealand day 11 and 12: Rainy days!!

Though I changed my itinerary to escape from rains, it could not be avoided completely. Almost all places of New Zealand were forecasted to get rain for those two days. We could still have gone to some places but then it was not fun to visit during rains. And some places like Kaikoura were cut off due to landslides and flooding. “Why not we take it light?”, we thought. Until then we had mainly covered the country side of New Zealand. Why not cover some parts of the city? My family also wanted to do some shopping and the rains gave a good opportunity!!

A park in Christchurch
On one of the days when it rained heavily we visited  International Antarctic centre near Christchurch airport. Since the chances of us visiting Antarctica was very low, it looked like a perfect fit!!

Tanu experiencing polar storm!!
It was a nice experience at the centre where lot of information about Antarctica was provided. Haggling ride, 4D theatre and polar storm experience were the highlights of the place. My family was extremely happy about the place.

Small blue penguins
Until then we had only eaten self cooked food. There was some “pressure” on me to take them to a restaurant. And so we went to a Mexican restaurant. While Chaya and I cherished the food, my mom and Tanu hated it. We had to pack their food and later I and Chaya consumed it for dinner!! That was the only time we had food at the restaurant in New Zealand. 

Tanu looking small!!
Next day, we went for Christchurch city tour. There was tram ride that took tourists to various places of interest. Since it was expensive and tram ride was not new to us, we decided to walk along the tram route!! That was quite pleasant.

Christchurch tram

Bridge of remembrance, a war memorial dedicated to those who died in World War 1.

Bridge of remembrance
Christchurch was devastated by 2013 earthquake. The glimpse of that could be seen at the Cathedral which is not yet restored.

Christchurch cathedral
A good amount of time was also spent on shopping. Nothing much was purchased but we roamed around the shopping complex.

Tram route in Christchurch
As the weather conditions were expected to improve we made plan for the last two days of our stay in New Zealand.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Zealand day 10: Banks Peninsula

Banks peninsula is one of the most prominent volcanic feature of South Island. In the form of circular share protruding from South Island near Christchurch, it has two harbors and many bays. On the first day of our Chirstchurch visit, we had got a view of one of the harbor, Lyttelton from port hills. Now it was time to deep dive into the peninsula.

Pacific ocean seen at the mouth of the bay
It was a circuitous route from Christchurch to Akaroa, the second harbor town in the area. Though badly hit by cyclone a week ago, no traces of damage was seen. As we entered into the peninsula we were welcomed by numerous hills. They resembled the shola forests of our western ghats.

Hills of Bank Peninsula
After stopping at couple of places for taking photographs, we reached Akaroa. It was a small but a beautiful harbor town. Few smalls boats were anchored at the harbor. It was a nice walk in the town. At a nearby tourist information center, we got some directions towards the places to visit. There were lot of options and we had to choose based on the time available with us!!

We did a brief visit to the lighthouse before heading out of the town.

Akaroa lighthouse
The drive was now on the summit road, a long and circuitous road overlooking the Akaroa harbor and the bay. We had done quote some drive in New Zealand but this road provided a completely new experience. New Zealand has lot to offer at each place!!

Akaroa town
Of all the places in our list, Okains Bay looked interesting. A detour from Summit road took us down to the Okains village through a narrow road. The village looked so deserted and beautiful!! Since the sea was not seen, we drove further and reached a sort of dead end.

Views from Summit road
There was a camping ground and I checked with the lady looking after it for parking and access to sea. She happily helped us with those information. One thing about New Zealand, people always ready to help. We never had a single bad experience in New Zealand. Great people!!

Okains bay
Beach was simply beautiful. Nothing similar to the ones we had seen before. Again, we were the only ones in the area!! We had our lunch and spent a long time in the beach. There were couple of vehicles parked in the camping ground but we found no people. May be they were out for hiking.

Okains bay beach
We were back on the summit road. The road never seem to end as we criss crossed the hills on the narrow road. Stops had become numerous. It was so beautiful that Chaya asked why it was not planned in my original itinerary!! I had no answer. Basically, I had fit the plan into the time slot I had with me!! Nevertheless, we felt great to be at that place.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Zealand day 9: Arthur's pass

There was going to be a change in our plan due to weather. A cyclone was about to hit North Island which would bring lot of rain in some areas of south. And a low pressure on Tasman sea was also bringing in some rains. While there was no way to avoid rains, it was possible to have minimal impact from it. Abel Tasman was dropped from our plan and few places in Canterbury were added!! Thanks to, I could cancel couple of days before the journey without penalty.

A mountain in Arthur's pass
Our first visit of the day was to Frans Joseph Glacier. Situated just 25 km from Fox glacier, it looks very similar. Can be considered as a “twin” glacier. We did a quick visit to the view point which gave a nice view of the glacier.

Franz Joseph glacier
We made a brief stop at Hokitika for refueling and to buy some food items. It is one of the biggest town in Westland. 

Franz Joseph glacier
We were now climbing Arthur’s pass. The pass from west coast side was very steep and went though dense forests. The steepest section ended at Otira viaduct, considered as a civil engineering feet. As you can see in the picture, it is built over a section of unstable area prone to avalanche and landslides.

Otira viaduct
We had our late lunch at the view point overlooking the viaduct. It also provided a view of the pass.

Arthur's pass road

After the top of the pass, we reached the small township of Arthur’s pass. There were many impressive trails. We choose Devil Punchfowl waterfalls. It looked great from the road.

Devil punchfowl waterfalls
The path to the falls was long while included a steep climb which almost went to the top of the falls only to bring us down to the base!! But the hike was worth the effort. The waterfall looked stunning at the base!!

Base of the falls
We spent some time at the visitor center to understand the history of the pass. Tanu spent some time drawing!!

Closer view of the falls
While the western section of the pass was very steep, the eastern part was wide open and gradual. It provided some of the stunning views of the mountains.

Arthur's pass on eastern side
There was a snowfall at the higher section of the mountains recently. Not part of my original plan, I was glad that I included Arthur’s pass in the itinerary. It was so beautiful. The eastern section of the pass must not be missed at all. I lost count of the number of stops made to enjoy the scenery.

Arthur's pass
The final stop was Castle hill. The sunlight was fading as I went down to see the place. This place was amazing. Wished we had more time to wander around the area. 

Castle hill
It was fully dark when we reached Christchurch. I chalked out the plans for the next few days.

Road in Arthur's pass