Saturday 3 January 2009 - Monday 12 January 2009 14 °C
Flew to Queenstown on the South island of New Zealand, as I stepped off the plane I discovered it was a lot colder in NZ than in Oz!! Caught the bus into Queenstown, only there for one night. Nice town, surrounded by mountains which are really pretty, passed the Remarkables mountain range on the bus. They really are, well, remarkable!!
Next day it was back on a plane, this time to Christchurch, only 50 mins away, by the time we got up in the air it was time to come back down! They were practically throwing our breakfasts at us! Definitely no time for in flight entertainment!
Met Mum and Dad at the airport, was very strange that I was seeing them in New Zealand not England! Quick walk outside to our home for the next 5 weeks, the motor home, christened Harry the Horsebox as he looks a little bit like a horsebox! Set about exploring and finding all the little nooks and crannies. Was very strange to completely unpack after 8 ½ months, I keep losing everything now!!
We were staying in Christchurch for a couple of nights so motored off to the campsite which was connected to a big backpackers. Nice spot and very central, went and had a look round Christchurch which has a river running through it, the Avon, after the Avon at Stratford and the centre feels very English. Got the local bus up to the Gondola which rises 500m to give a gorgeous view over Christchurch and the local lakes. Settled down for a night in the motor home, am pleased to report its very comfy!
Next day it was back into the centre to have a tour round on the tram circuit, hopped off to visit the museum and then went punting along the Avon!!! We were ok going downstream but I think our punter had a bit of trouble coming the other way as the current was quite strong! Really nice and pretty, weeping willows overhanging the water, like being back in the UK.
In the afternoon we went to visit someone Dad used to work with. Had a lovely afternoon sitting out in the garden and were fed up with a NZ special- meatloaf, never had it before but it was lovely. For dessert we had Hokey Pokey Ice cream…whats hokey pokey I hear you cry? Ice cream with honeycomb in it, very yummy!
Time to leave Christchurch and to my first surprise stop. I don’t actually know where we are going in New Zealand, Mum and Dad have planned it all, I’m just along for the ride! We were off to Akaroa to swim with the dolphins!!! Wow! The rare Hector dolphin is the worlds smallest dolphin and only found in the waters around New Zealand. Were issued with wetsuits and boots when we got to the harbour….the water was going to be pretty cold!! Once we were all zipped up it was onto the boat to head out into the Akaroa waters. Before long we were seeing lots of pods of dolphins, they didn’t hang around though and were heading out to sea. Soon it was into the water….argh! Yep it was cold!!! After a while the wetsuits warmed us up though, it was just the initial shock! We were floating around for a bit, doing all the things we had been instructed to do to attract the dolphins, tapping our masks, singing into the water, making bubbles but to no avail, the dolphins didn’t want to play. Hopped back into the boat to try another spot…then the dolphins decided to surface, typical! Anyway we were off and soon back in the water making fools of ourselves again! The dolphins started approaching and they came really close but didn’t stay around to play. To protect the dolphins (and us!) we could only stay in the water 45 mins so soon we had to get out and head back to the harbour. Went for fish and chips which were nice and warmed us up, they even had old chip pans turned into hanging baskets!
A few hours down the coast we stopped for the night in Timaru. Dad showed me some video of Callum being a sleepy shepherd in his nursery nativity, very cute!
Next morning we drove to Oamaru, the only Victorian town in New Zealand. Was very quaint and quiet, went to a bakery and had some lovely custard tarts. Just down the coast were the Moeraki boulders, huge spherical rocks that are lying on the beach, made millions of years ago from lime crystals and mudstone, really strange to look at, looks like they have been broken up and then glued back together! Back on down the coast, some lovely scenery and rolling hills. At one point we overtook a small campervan then came to a massive hill, our motor home is a lot bigger so slower going up the hill, we nearly resorted to running like the Flinstones! Was embarrassing as the small campervan was catching us up!! We managed to make it up though without being overtaken, was very funny. Arrive in Dunedin and set up camp, getting into the swing of things by now.
In Dunedin we went to the Otago Settlers Museum, was a great museum, probably one of my favourites so far. Lots of information about the original settlers of the area who came over by boat from Scotland. They also had a photography exhibition by Chris Gable. Portraits of local independent shopkeepers in their shops, was great to imagine all their personalities and relationships if there was more than one person in the picture. Then discovered the photographer had done interviews with them all and you could listen to the via iTunes on a Mac in the gallery. Wanted to sit there and listen to them all but didn’t have time to just heard a snippet of each to see if the person was anything like I imagined them!
Onto the second surprise of the trip, we were going on a wildlife tour of the Otago Peninsula to see Albatross, Fur Seals and…….Penguins!!! The first part of the tour was on board a boat to go and see the Albatross nesting, their wingspans of 3 metres are really impressive, they look so long compared to their bodies, they do need the lift though because they weigh 3kgs! We were lucky and a fishing boat was just coming in from sea with about 30 albatross following it! They were everywhere! Lots of other birds too including the Petrel, also known as the rubbish bin of the sea as they will eat anything. Followed the boat back toward the pier and stopped to have a quick look at some fur seals, more of them later. On the way out we also saw a blue penguin which was fishing, it was tiny!
After a drive around a lake to spot some more birds if was off to the penguins. Parked on the headlands, we were lucky and it was a lovely mild evening with the wind coming from the north but they normally have the icy winds from the south which can gust at up to 180kph!!!! Tramped down a very steep hill and onto the beach. Our guide suddenly got very excited as their was a fully grown sea lion making its way along the beach! He was having a great time rolling in the sand and after a while shuffled off into the surf looking a lot more graceful once he got into the water! It was amazing to see one so close, he was massive! Climbed up the sand dunes into the hide to watch the penguins making their way up from the sea. They hunt all day and then have to make the long trek up the beach and into the fields to their nests. Yep yellow eyed penguins live in fields, among the sheep! Was so funny to see them walking along the grass, I thought they would sleep on the beach. Had a great view of them hopping up the hill, standing like statues with their wings out to cool themselves down. They are very territorial and were telling each other off when they got too close to anothers nest. Into the lower hide which was next to the beach to see them actually come out the sea, they are very funny, they look like they are a bit drunk until they get their land legs! Shaking off the water from their tails. There was a big fur seal on the beach and they were all a bit wary of it, except one who bravely ran past, we thought he was a goner when the seal suddenly got up and headed in his direction but the penguin had made it safely into the long grass. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the penguins and go to see the fur seals. Back up the big hill, and down the other side to where the seals were hanging out on the rocks. There were lots of them including lots of babies who were only a couple of weeks old. One caught my eye as he hopped over the rocks to another seal who seemed to be stuck in a little crevice! He looked like he was panicking a bit and trying to get out and although our guide assured us he was fine I’m still convinced he was stuck! Spent the whole time with my eyes glued on him to see if he got out! The little baby started copying him, turning his head upside down which was really cute. After about 15 mins of tossing and turning the slightly older one managed to get out the crack between the rocks…phew! Think I would have had to stay there all night to check he was ok otherwise!
Went to the beach in Dunedin the next morning, not to swim or sunbathe unfortunately, too cold for that! Was deserted so very pretty with sand dunes at the back. Time to get on the road and head for the south coast along the Southern Scenic Route taking us through the Catlins, some beautiful countryside and coastal views. Didn’t see many people along the way, with only 4.1 million people living in the whole of NZ the roads are pretty quiet!
Drove into Invercargill in the pouring rain, glad it wasn’t doing that when we were tramping round looking at the penguins! Had a quick peek in the velodrome (Dad used to race bikes when he was younger) and happened upon the national squad having a training session so watched for a while. Burt Munro (played by Anthony Hopkins in the film the Worlds Fastest Indian) came from Invercargill and the bikes he used to break the record are in a local hardware shop in the town so we went and had a look round there before hitting the road and driving up through Fjordland to Milford Sound. The journey was absolutely spectacular, the landscape changed completely, from plains and rolling hills to sheer granite giants on every side. We stopped lots along the way for photos and at one point a pair of inquisitive birds hopped up, very tame and looking very interested in the motorhome. We later found out they were Kea birds which peck all the rubber trims off cars just for fun! Luckily we escaped that treatment. Going through the Homer Tunnel was an experience, hewn out of the solid rock of the mountain, no lights, water running down in channels, after 6pm the traffic lights are turned out so no idea if we would meet anyone along the way! Made it through into the spectacular surround of Milford Sound, talk about a room with a view for the night, we looked out onto mountains from every window!
Another day, another surprise, sailing around Milford Sound for the afternoon. Boarded the Lady of the Sounds and had a nice BBQ lunch as we set off into the fjord, passing waterfalls and forest covered mountains. It was a beautiful clear day, the scenery just breathtaking. We were on the bow of the boat and as we got to one waterfall we went right under- getting soaked in the process! Sailed all the way out to where the fjord joins the Tasman Sea, decided not to make the 4 ½ day voyage to Oz and headed back inland. Stopped on the way back at the underwater observatory, 8m down you can see lots of deep sea marine life. They are tricked into thinking they are a lot deeper by the layer of freshwater which lies on top of the denser saltwater of the fjord. This layer is filled with tannins which run down in the waterfalls from the mountain sides and prevent the sunlight from penetrating deeper which makes the saltwater underneath much darker than usual.
Drove back through Fjordland to Te Anau our stop for the night. Still very little traffic on the road, however we did get held up this afternoon….by a flock of sheep! The farmers were taking them from one field to another and they were all over the road, it was a sheep and campervan pile up as quite a few vehicles were trying to make their way through without squashing any sheep or the rather enthusiastic and bouncy sheep dogs.