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Published: November 27th 2005
Since Gem's parents Pete & Gee left us on Sunday 6 Nov, we've had three weeks in the South Island and spent the time taking in the wildlife and doing some serious tramping.
We drove down the coast from Christchurch and stopped at Oamuru for a night to see the famous penguin colony there. We were lucky to see a yellow-crested penguin on a beach first, then saw nearly 200 blue penguins waddle up the rocky shoreline and into the main colony. The penguins are quite small, very cute and hilarious in the way they tend to cautiously wobble up the beach, nervously checking around to see if the coast is clear. Then the screaming kids come out of the nests and hassle the poor parents that have been out fishing all day, it was very interesting. The colony was established by the omnipresent Department of Conservation (DOC) partly because the people of the town were tired of penguins burrowing under their houses due to the lack of nesting sites!
From there we drove to Dunedin, which is a scottish-style city, it's actually based on the road layout of Edinburgh (complete with the main Princes Street running through the
centre) and most of the time it also has the Scottish weather! Not much to report there, except we saw a German film called 'The Edukators', well worth watching if you've ever been an idealist and watched it be washed away as you've left your twenties behind.
We then crossed most of the island to get to Te Anau, which served as a base for the four-day Great Walk known as 'The Kepler', named after the astronomer if you're interested. We walked from the town to the start of the track to save five bucks and stretch our legs that little bit further. The first day was nice enough, after a couple of hours walking around a lake we had a 3-hour climb through a forest and all was peaceful. When we emerged above the bushline, we were hit by gale force winds and driving rain. It only took 30 minutes to the hut but we were drenched, with waterproofs on. Gem wasn't too happy about that (see photo)!.
The second day we walked across narrow mountain ridges all day in winds up to 100 KPH. The ridges were pretty thin, with drops either side and it was
difficult to stand up. Even the two bigger guys infront of us found it hard to stay on their feet. Fortunately emergency shelters gave us two breaks during the day. Two of the seven trampers that had stayed at the hut the previous night gave up at this point. We got to the second hut, thankfully at lower altitude, to be greeted by the NZ sandfly. For those unfamiliar with the little blighter, a sandfly is smaller than a mosquito, has about the same bite and ten times the agression. They also appear in clouds so thick they look like rain from a distance. The Maori legend of the sandfly explains that Fiordland (the area of NZ that contains the Kepler) was so beautiful that the sandfly was created to ensure people did not stay there forever. Certainly works on the tourists.
That night in the hut we discovered one of the other trampers was actually a rugby star called Jamie Blackie. Ardent Rugby fans will know that he plays for the Highlanders and just missed out (unfairly) on playing for the All Blacks this year. Only hours before, Gem had asked him what sport he followed... it was
kind of like meeting Ryan Giggs in a hut in the middle of nowhere, the Kiwis (especially the park ranger) seemed pretty wowed.
The third day we walked through forest to another hut on a lake, the sunset just about making up for the sandflies, then on the fourth day we walked back to Te Anau, a hot spa and an ice cold beer.
Next day we took a day trip to Milford Sound. The drive there was astonishingly beautiful, and the boat trip we took was cool. We saw a few Fiordland penguins and seals but the highlight of the day was the sudden arrival of a pod of bottlenosed dolphins, who surrounded the boat and played in the wash, jumping in and out of the water, deliberately soaking those of us who leant too far over the side by squirting water over them. They were such elegant and emotive creatures, they often look you straight in the eye and the glimmer of intelligence you catch is totally convincing.
Next up was Wanaka, a nice lakeside town. We specifically turned up to attend Cinema Paridiso, famous for it's sofa seating and morris minor within the cinema
that you can sit in to watch the film - which we were lucky enough to get! Drank a nice locally-brewed lager and ate home-made white chocolate and baileys ice-cream. Great fun.
From there we drove to Fox Glacier and walked 'Welcome Flat', a three day tramp up a river gorge most known for it's natural hot spa, geothermal springs conveniently situated next to a hut. The walk up was quite long but well worth it as we bathed in hot water out in the open, surrounded by snow-capped mountains with only a handful of trampers sharing them with us. Another highlight was watching Gem chase my flip-flop that had come off during a river crossing at the start of the tramp, she managed to retrieve it after running downstream for 100m!
On the final day of the tramp we got up at 5.30am to walk out of the gorge and avoided severe rainfall that would have trapped us there for two days due to rising river levels. We managed the 7 hour walk in less than 5 hours and avoided getting wet, which was lucky!
Drove up the coast and across to Arthur's Pass via the
Franz Josef Glacier. Lowpoint of the journey was being ticketed for speeding, for being 6mph over the limit just after a speed change from 60mph to 18mph... I did have my foot on the brake but we had been warned that the NZ police could be a little harsh.
We then did a daywalk up Avalanche Peak, a 1000m climb that turned out to be a highlight of the trip. Before we set off, Gem put her boots on and they fell apart. Undeterred, with the advice of the DOC she donned trainers for the climb. It was pretty steep and bordered on rock-climbing in places but we were stunned to find how easy it was for us, I don't think I've been this fit since I was a young nipper. There was fresh snow at the top, which proved tricky, but the views from the thin point of the summit were amazing. We walked down a gentle slope, at which point Gem decided she'd fall over and gained an extremely impressive bruise on her bum. After much debate, we decided not to include it in the blog photos for those of you about to sit down to dinner.
Along with the disintegrated boots and my poor knees (they object to long downhill stretches) that put paid to our tramping in NZ, but it was a fantastic finale as we stood atop Avalanche Peak, surrounded by mountains, glaciers and waterfalls.
Came back to Christchurch where we have spent a few days relaxing, including staying with friends-of-the-Sadler-family Guy and Anna, and their children Rebecca and Johnathan. I visited the place where famous scientist Rutherford studied and experimented when he was kneehigh to a gross-hopper, and Gemma spent an impressive 2 hours in the same clothes shop (a trip record). The kids have shown us plenty of new board games and even put on a musical show for us last night. The whole family have been great hosts and today took us to see a Kiwi in a sanctuary before we left NZ, which was great. A lot of the native species of NZ are under threat due to the frankly idiotic introduction of animals like possums, stoats, weasels and many more. So the Kiwi, symbol of NZ that it is, is under threat of extinction.
To end this blog as Jerry Springer would end a talkshow, here's a
thuoght for the day that we whinging Brits have learnt from the Kiwis: there's no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes.
So that's our time in NZ over with. We have loved the country, especially the wilderness experiences we have had. Tomorrow we fly to Perth to see Western Australia and spend Christmas on the beach.
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