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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Christchurch Trams Ready To Roll Again

One of Christchurch top tourist attractions, the Trams, is nearly ready to roll again after being shut down following the disastrous 2011 earthquakes.

The team at the Ferrymead Heritage Park has been busy during the downtime completely restoring some of the old tramcars.  They look stunning in their new livery.

They won't running on the full route of old . . . that will come next year as the city continues to claw its way out of the abyss, but in the meantime you can catch a trip back into another time.

Jeff Harvey of Ashburton’s Harvey Signs and Graphics  is a traditional sign-writer in a real sense, preferring to work with old-time methods utilising gold leaf or non-tarnishing aluminium rather than modern computer-generated graphics. Working on Tram No.11 which arrived from J.G. Brill of Philadelphia in 1903 to inaugurate the Dunedin Corporation electric tramway, Jeff is reproducing the sign-writing close to as it would have been that year.  

He is utilising early twentieth century sign-writing methods using gold leaf. He cannot touch the tram body.  If he does, finger grease will attract the fine specks of airborne gold.  It will not look good when the bodywork is sealed with a clear lacquer.  The completed work looks superb.

So when you hit Christchurch make sure to make time to take a trip back into the public transport of yesteryear and marvel at the craftsmanship of the volunteers that keep these wonderful old machines in perfect working order.

 The find out more about Christchurch's attractions go to

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pahia Gives It Toilets A Makeover

The good folk in Paihia, in New Zealand's Bay of Islands, were so ashamed when a visitor wrote on the walls of the the local toilet block "These are the worst toilets I have ever used"  that they got their shit together, so to speak, and did something about it.

A team of local volunteers ripped into the scummy old toilet block and, taking a leaf out of nearby Kawakawa's book, built a dunny with a difference.

paihia toilet

Different during the day, for sure, but you should see it at night - it's a flashing disco light show.  Like it's Kawakawa cousin, the local loo is now one of the most photographed things in the town.

To learn more about Paihia and Northland, New Zealand, go to or download my free Ebook A New Zealand Travel Guide  at

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The WOW Factor in Wellington and Nelson

It's World of Wearable Art time in Wellington again - this year the shows start on Sept 26 through to October 6.  The awards themselves are on Sept 27. 

Even if you haven't got tickets to the shows - there are still some nights available, including Saturday Oct 5 - it's still worth a trip to the capital city to see the WOW Window competition with 60 stores doing themed displays. 

Then there's the Wow Factor exhibition at Te Papa with a selection of garments from the past 25 years, going right back to that rainy day in Nelson when Dame Suzie Moncrieff kick-started an event that has become a major in the NZ fashion and art calendar. 

If that's not enough WOW for you, grab a flight to Nelson for a visit to the the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. 

Rather strange bedfellows - Wearable Art and classic cars, but I guess if the guys don't want to see the wearable art (they should, they definitely should), they can slope off to the cars. 

The exhibits in the wearable art section are stunning. Designers from around the world want to be part of the annual Wearable Art awards.  The show started in Nelson, but these days it's staged in Wellington. The best of the collections are brought back here. The cars are a world class collection of rare and classic cars. Open 10-5 daily.

For more on Wellington's attractions go to 

and for Nelson there's a lot to learn at 

The World of Wearable Art website is at 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Christchurch's Woolston Shopping Mall is Fantastic

It just has to be the new Must Visit in Christchurch - the shopping mall in the old Woolston tannery buildings, better known in more recent years as the Cassels and Sons Brewing Co. 

Alasdair Casels has had a vision for the old tannery for some time.  Prior to the devastating Christchurch earthquakes he had established a craft brewing business there, but could see a great deal more potential in the site. 

The earthquakes fairly much bowled the brewery and put the buildings at risk. 

Undeterred - even by the unimaginable cost - Cassels had a team of workmen strip down 150,000 bricks, clean them and once structural strengthening had been put in place, return them to their original place. 

Then he set about turning the interior into something magical. 

This is what you expect to find in London, or even Melbourne.  But in industrial Woolston?  Magic! 

The brewery is back in business and now there is a gaggle of shops, artisans and craftspeople on site.

If you are visiting the city you simply have to go there.  If for no other reason than to spend a few bob to keep the retailers in business so that further extensions of the development will make commercial sense. 

Already this is a marvellous addition to Christchurch's attractions.  As it develops further it will become, I predict, one of the top three attractions in the city. 

For more on Canterbury';s attraction go to

Friday, July 12, 2013

Skycity Convention Centre A Good Deal For All Concerned

The Government and casino owners Skycity have signed a deal under which the company will build and operate a 3500-seat convention centre in return for being allowed more poker machines and an extension of their casino licence to 2048.

The arrangement has run into a barrage of objections from the hand-wringing classes - "problem gambling will increase"  is their plaintive cry.  They should stop whining.  The loudest noise comes from people whose jobs depend on a steady supply of addicts to "counsel and support". 

Wellington's Dominion-Post - a pathetic imitation of a real newspaper - boomed "If the Government truly believes doctors, dentists and real estate salespeople can be persuaded to hold thier (sic) annual shindigs at the bottom of the world, the new centre should be paid for by those who will profit from it – tourist operators, Auckland ratepayers and taxpayers, in that order."

What, no contribution from the Wellington cafes that will pick the pockets of the doctors, dentists and real estate sales people as they explore the rest of the country before or after their "shindig"? Nor from the ferry operators that will carry them to and from the South Island . . . not to mention the civil servants that will be employed watching over this Auckland den on iniquity. 
Just how stupid can an editorial writer be? Pretty damn stupid judging by the piece they printed on 14 May 2013.  Read the drivel here.  

The tourism strategy behind the convention centre is simple:  Build it and they will come.  And then they will spend more time enjoying the rest of the country's tourist attractions. Businesses from North Cape to Bluff will be getting their share of the spoils as 33,000 high-wealth conventioneers annually spread the wallet love around. 

And as for the proposition that the increase in poker machines and gaming tables will result in an increase in problem gambling - what statistical bosh. There are already 1600-odd poker machines in the place.  Anyone who is at risk of addiction already has ample opportunity to fall into evil ways.  

It's not like there are queues of people waiting for a vacant machine. 

On the other hand if you have a couple of thousand convention attendees in the house I can well see why the casino might want more machines and tables to relieve them of some of their cash. Where's the harm? The average conventioneer can afford it and is unlikely to become addicted. 

As for the license extension, given that the company has a mega-million dollar investment in the casino, hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, a theatre and the convention centre is there any serious suggestion that the casino license would not be renewed in the normal course of events? Of course not. 

All this deal does is make a virtue of the inevitable, thus giving the company's shareholders some certainty in return for their huge investment in tourism infrastructure
And, no, I am not a fan of casinos. Haven't been there in years. 

But I do like the tourist attractions they offer -  Skytower, Skywalk, Skyjump and the Weta Cave.  And they operate a couple of excellent hotels and a raft of good nosh spots.  Find out more about these - and other Auckland - attractions by downloading "A New Zealand Travel Guide" eBook.  Here's the link.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is New Zealand Safe For Travellers?

New Zealand cops are efficient, friendly and corruption-free.

Occasionally some twit who knows little about statistics and even less about life comes up with some outrageous stat like “New Zealand is the second most violent country behind South Africa”.  

 What is in the heads of these guys?

In a strict statistical sense it may be true – but that’s because in most cases if the police are called to any sort of domestic dispute they lay charges against someone. Thus our stats are pumped up because all the clowns that hit their wives or husbands are classed as “violent crime”. Most other countries don’t even bother to report it

In other words it’s not that our crime rate is higher, it’s just because we collect better statistics..
The result of tabloid beat-up stories can, however, cause visitors to worry about whether New Zealand is as safe as it seems.

Here’s the truth: Car jacking is unknown. Murders anywhere in the country are still headline national news. Street muggings are rare. Sexual assaults are also headline news. Nobody carries guns – not even the cops. Armed robberies are not an everyday occurrence. 

Now the qualifications – yes, of course, there is the occasional street mugging, rape happens, a very limited number of gang members are armed, and armed robberies are at a rate of about two or three a week nationally. 
Here’s the actual numbers: Last year in the whole country there were 46 murders, 1874 robberies, 2204 sexual attacks. “Robberies” includes all forms of robbery – muggings, hold-ups etc – about 7 a day. “Sexual attacks” includes all kinds of situations in which someone was touched in an inappropriate manner – like a man on a bus putting his hand on the knee of the woman alongside him. Rape formed a minor part of the figures.

It is all but unknown for, for instance, a couple of sleeping tourists to be pulled from their campervan or sleepervan and seriously assaulted or robbed. 

How safe are tourists? Provided you take simple precautions, very safe. 
What are the risks. 

The most common crime against tourists is theft from vehicles. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The most common location for this is at well known tourist parking spots – for instance, at the head of a walking track. 
Local communities are well aware of the problem and sensitive to its implications. In most places they maintain a citizens watch group.

But even the best citizen patrols won’t catch every little street-rodent every time so sometimes someone loses out. In most instances it is kids looking for money, cigarettes, liquor or big-brand clothing. 

Here’s some simple tips to reduce the risk.

The best thing to leave in a car – other than a starving pit-bull – is nothing. If you must park your car on a street take everything of value with you to the hostel or motel. 

A simple thing: :Leave the glove-box open. The sewer rats that prey on parked cars can see that there’s nothing in the glove-box so it isn’t worth busting a window. Even if they go away empty-handed after breaking in, you are left with the cost and inconvenience of replacing a side window. 

A lot of self-drive tourists state that they want a sedan – a car with a boot (OK – trunk if you insist) – because they can store stuff in there. Wrong.  Most car boots are quickly and easily accessed from inside the car. A quick tap on the window to shatter it, reach inside, pull the lever, boot open, stuff gone. Total time 15-20seconds. 

Again, even if they open the boot and find it empty, your stuck with a broken window problem.
In many ways an empty hatchback or station wagon is still the best protection.

What about personal safety?

The major cities are relatively safe even in the downtown areas. I can think of nowhere in Auckland that would be regarded as a no-go zone for tourists. A young woman on her own would need to be cautious in dark side street. – but, hey, 99,999 times out of 100,000 she’d be quite safe. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?

A couple walking down a side street is unlikely to be accosted. Sure, it happens, but it’s not a prevalent offence. Again, simple precautions like avoiding dark streets with loitering youths is still street smart.

I’m 1.8m tall, slimmish and grey-haired. I.e. I’m no 400 pound gorilla that would be safe even in LAs south west area. But I can not think of any street in downtown Auckland. Wellington ort Christchurch that I would feel scared to walk down in the middle of the night. The only proviso to that is in the wee small hours of the morning – say 2am to 4am – when drunken yobbos are finally thrown out of the nearest downtown watering hole.  And you know what a drunk can be like – looking for trouble and wanting to take on the world. Just ignore them, don’t engage and move on. 

On the rare occasions that a tourist has been robbed in the downtown area of Auckland it usually makes the tv news that night. How rare is that?

What about theft in hostels. Yeah, yeah – again it happens but it’s not prevalent.

What do you do if you have a problem? Obviously , go to the police. The NZ Police have a proud record of corruption-free service. You need have no worry that the copper you talk to is on the take. Again, it’s all but an unknown. You should expect to get immediate attention and assistance.

David Morris is a freelance New Zealand travel writer.  You can get his free EBook, “A New Zealand Travel Guide” at request.htm

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Auckland’s West Coast Beaches had a bad week

Two drownings at Piha and a fatal shark attack at Muriwai a couple of weeks ago might tend to suggest that Auckland’s West Coast beaches are a place to avoid. No such thing.

Shark attacks are rare in New Zealand. There have only been 11 fatal attacks since 1852 – and this in a country where swimming in the sea is a popular recreation.

Piha Piha Beach

But the drownings are a different story. West Coast beaches, and Piha in particular, have dangerous rips, the currents created by water flowing back out to sea. After a wave breaks on the shore, the water has to return to sea. The resulting current is called a rip. If you get caught in it you will be swept along with it.

The drownings occurred when three men went swimming at night, fully clothed (and wearing jeans!) and chose to swim in a strong rip close to Piha’s Lion Rock. Even for a strong swimmer that would be risky. These guys had no chance. They were gone before the lifeguards could turn to and rescue them.

Their fate underlies the importance, especially for overseas visitors unfamiliar with ocean beaches, to be extremely cautious when swimming in the sea.

Ideally you should swim on a patrolled beach – and always, always swim between the flags. Idiots go away from the patrolled area because they want to get away from the crowds. Not knowing the ways of the sea they choose to swim in an area of calm water.  That smooth water is a death trap. That’s a rip. They get into difficulties and it can be several critical minutes before their plight is reported and longer for the lifeguards to race down the beach and come to their aid.

Then my three daughters, a 21-year-old and two 15-year-olds, all lifeguards at North Piha, have to race into the surf ,  putting their own lives on the line, to rescue them.

To find out more about Auckland and its beaches go to my travel site  New Zealand Travel Guide .