The shariden at Rokuon-ji, or the Golden pavilion (Kinkaku -ji) has been destroyed twice, once during the Onin wars and again in 1950 by a monk of the temple who had a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. All that said, it’s still magnificently splediferours in all it’s gold plate. Look closely and you’ll also see the architecture changes floor by floor, from shinden through samurai and finally to zen, not bad for a building that started out life as a retirement villa. The largest island in the lake that surrounds the villa represents Japan, and the whole is surrounded by a magnificent, running out of superlatives here, walk around garden with carefully planned views back over the estate. All very zen. How to get there? Well we took the green Raku tourist bus from Kyoto station*.

*FYI if you’re in Kyoto for a couple of days it’s probably worthwhile getting a Kyoto city bus day pass at Kyoto station.











Nishiki Market, Kyoto


Tucked in between Teramachi and Takakura and one block north of Shijo is the Nishiki markets with it’s multi-coloured glass roof. An awe inspiring selection of gastronomic sights, and smells, greets you in what the locals call Kyoto’s pantry. Some of the stalls sell takeaway in the form of sashimi and yakitori skewers and there are some small sit down restaurants tucked away here and there. A good place to hit for an hour or so of wandering if the weather is dubious, which is exactly what we did. Be warned though, if you’re a foody you may never escape…

To Kyoto by Shinkasen

Kyoto city of a thousand temples, pavilions, gardens and stately palaces, all surrounded by the surging froth of  modern Japan. Behold, the golden layer cake of Kinka.[record scratch…freeze frame ]

You’re probably wondering how we got here aren’t you… Let’s wind the tape back a little to see how we got here shall we? Dateline Narita International airport, situated in Chiba prefecture to the east of Tokyo. Our intrepid travellers arrive on their way to Yokohama via a flying visit to Kyoto. As it turns out the easiest way to Tokyo station and the Shinkasen connection to Kyoto is simply to take the Narita express (takes about an hour) delivering you to a basement platform in Tokyo central. You do need to book your seats for the Shinkasen and NEX trains at Narita. We left the Narita express at Tokyo station trundled upstairs to the ground concourse and the transfer gate to the Tokaido Shinkansen to Kyoto. All the lines are colour coded (Tokaido Shinkasen a helpful blue) and signed in english. Safely boarded on the Shinkasen it was kick back and enjoy riding the bullet in all it’s retro-futuristic glory as the Japanese countryside unwinds around us and we fall into an alternate future called Japan.

Downtown Kyoto, so far, so moderne...


Mt Cook

Aoraki, or Mt Cook if you prefer, is the tallest piece of real estate in New Zealand so as we had a spare day in Queenstown…Yep you guessed it, road-trip! From Queenstown it’s about a seven hour drive through the central Otago region, known for it’s vineyards and  where we stopped for lunch at (strangely) a nice little vineyard. Yes it’s long drive but you do get to see a lot of the south island as the landscape changes from farmland, barren rockscape then back to farmlands, then plains and forest until finally it’s the Hooker valley with Mt Cook looming at the end of it.

We walked the short distance to the start of the Hooker valley track which overlooks the proglacial lake at the base of the Mueller glacier, yes the water really is that light blue. As we walked up you could hear the boom of an avalanche on the mountain as ice and snow let go in the warmth of the afternoon sun, impressive. Historical note the Australian climber Freda Du Faur was the first woman to climb the mountain in 1910, interesting lady Freda.

Lake Tekapo

The Dr and the Mountain

Mt Cook, at the end of the Hooker valley



Looking back down the Hooker valley, river on the leftObligatory arty shot :)

Auckland vulcanis redux

Rome might have its seven hills but Auckland is built on the bones of fifty or so volcanoes. Oh, and the volcanic field is still active which in turn means that eventually it’s going to rumble in to life again with predictably bad consequences. Still it’s not quite as bad as what might happen if the Taupo super volcano kicks off… 🙂

That warning having been delivered, if you’d like a great and quirky way to see Auckland I recommend the Auckland Volcano tour. Hike up to the top of Mt. Eden, Mangere Mountain, Mt. Wellington, and One Tree Hill and check out the views from the crater rims. The whole tour takes about 5 hours. And in case you’re thinking this is just a geology lecture, people (the Maori) have been living around these volcanoes for a long time so the tour is about the history of the people and the land as much as it is about vulcanology.

The Sound of Piopiotahi

Very Hebridean

Taking our leave of the Routeburn we picked up our bus at 11 from the Divide Shelter car park and kicked back for a couple of hours travel not requiring ou legs.We drew some curious looks from the other passengers given our slightly travel stained appearance. 

Even getting to Piopiotahi/Milford is dramatic, the road winds up through the mountain valley past the avalanche gates at Marians corner weaving up towards the Homer tunnel, a raw one lane 1.2 km long tunnel drilled through the side of the mountain. And when I say raw I mean raw, you have to put the windscreen wipers on when the water from subterranean streams comes spattering out of the roof of the one lane tunnel.

We ended up at the terminal building where we caught our tour boat for a two hour tour trip down the sound in all its moody, misty grandeur. The good doctor has been here when it’s sunny and was a little disappointed for me, given it was raining and all, but hey! my family hail from Scotland originally so I quite liked all the mist shrouded brooding ambience of the sound. This is, after all, where the kraken (or at least Architeuthis) is supposed to hang out. 

After all that it was back to Queenstown and then onto Auckland, and a unique birthday present. 🙂 

The Routeburn

Day Three: Lake Mackenzie to the Divide

An early start and about four hours of walking took us the 12km from Mackenzie hut down to the Divide. The track starts with a fairly steep climb up out of the valley past The Orchard before coming to Earland Falls (174m). The track then drops to Howden Hut. From here, the track climbs up again to the Key Summit track turn off (we didn’t have time for a side trip unfortunately) then downhill through the beech forest to the divide on Milford Road. A little bit of light rain or low flying cloud but otherwise good. 

Next stop Milford sound. 🙂

The Routeburn

Day Two (part 2): Along the Hollyford face

Of course once you get to the Harris Saddle and your journey doesn’t end there. You then have to hike south along the face of the Hollyford range to get to Mackenzie lake hut, if that’s where you’re overnighting. Now the mud map shows a gentle decline all the way to Mackenzie… The reality? Well it’s a long couple of hours in the sun slogging across ridges as you work your way southwards along the face. Take your sunscreen, even with a kepi the back of my neck got fried. The great consolation of this leg of the hike is the magnificent views down the valley to Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea beyond. Finally we rounded the last ridge line and there was Lake Mackenzie below us. A moment of reflection before we commited to a steep knee hammering set of zig-zags down through the quiet beech forest to Lake Mackenzie hut.

Mackenzie Hut sits right on the edge of the lake and by mid afternoon it’d started to fill up with guests for the night. Hint, get your name on the bunk roster as soon as you arrive. As the day was warm and the lake looked invitingly cool I decided to go for a swim and wash the grime off. Oh yeah, it was cool alright. The sort of cool that takes your breath and stops your heart for a beat. After a short bone freezing swim I emerged an interesting shade of pink (apparently).

In the evening Evan Smith the Hut ranger came around and gave a fascinating talk on his project to set up a wall of stoat traps to preserve the native birds, which the stoats as an introduced species have decimated. His program extends the existing trapping program in the adjacent Fjordkand park into the Hollyford valley and eventually to link up with other trap lines. You do notice how much quieter the forests are on this side of the range, so I reckon it’s worth donating to sustain the project if you have cash on you. Evan’s story, reminded me a lot of The Man who Planted Trees, it’ll be interesting to come back in a couple of years to see what changes this has wrought in the local ecosystem. After the talk we got our tickets checked and it was off to bed. Early start tomorrow so that we can get off the mountain in time to make our transport to Milford sound.

The Routeburn

Day Two (part 1): Over the Harris saddle

The only downside to staying at the Routeburn flat huts is that you then have a long day ahead of you to get over the Harris saddle and to Mackenzie lake. The day was sunny with a cool breeze and even in the early morning of the valley floor I was comfortable in a tshirt. Then it was a moderately steep climb up through the beech forest with some magical views of the Humbolt range until we arrived at the cascades of Routeburn Falls. 

After a short stop it was a scramble up the rocks of the cascade above the Falls Hut until we came out into the high part of the valley. Crossing the heath and wetlands we climbed up along the bluffs above Harris lake to get to the Harris Saddle/TarahakaWhakatipu at 1,255 m. Then we rested, had lunch and admired the view. 

The Routeburn

Day One: To the Flats

So here’s a little secret about the Routeburn track, book the Flats Hut as your first night on the track. Sure it means a long second day (we walked through to Mackenzie lake hut on day two) but this has to be one of the most draw droppingly beautiful places to stay. A vast alpine meadow spreads out before you, set amongst snow capped mountains all with a river running through it. There’s a walking track that you can follow up the valley, which we did. Oh and most people skip it, so it’s pretty quiet too…

Kinloch lodge

At the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu on the western side is the little lodge of Kinloch. To get there you have to drive up the east side of lake Wakatipu, worth it for the views alone, and then hook around the top of the lake crossing over the Dart river to get to the western side of the lake. There’s also a wee ferry that runs between Glenorchy on the east side of the lake and Kinloch. The lodge itself goes back to the 19th century and if you’re planning to do the Routeburn track from East to West it’s a great place to stay the night before you hit the trail. The lodge runs a morning shuttle up to the Routeburn track trailhead as well. The views in the morning, and the breakfast, are definitely worth it. 🙂