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Published: September 28th 2014
New Zealand at last! Not exactly the trip that we originally planned as it was going to be a much, much shorter one, nevertheless I was very excited to visit this green, mountainous and a far, far away land. Originally we were supposed to come to the ‘Hobbitland’ for a month in November. Unexpected job offer and a decision to settle in Oz made us change the plans though and visit my homeland (or rather homelands!) instead… As happy as I was about visiting my side of the world, I did feel a bit disappointed about being so close to New Zealand and not setting my foot there back then though… Since we were going to be living relatively close to it now I knew that sooner or later I would get there… eventually... Finally an opportunity arose in April. A longer weekend only, still we knew we would make the best of this short time anyway… Visiting the places where Grant grew up, meeting some of his family, meeting up with our friend from Annapurna, hopefully going for a small trek… yep! It was going to be a busy few days…
We landed in Christchurch late in the evening
and headed for the night to Grant’s cousin. After quick introduction and catch up it was bed time – after all not everybody was having holidays… We were heading to Kaikoura early in the morning so it was best to get some rest anyway… What a great feeling it was waking up in the morning in a chilly room to see morning dew outside and a mist hanging low above Christchurch. I missed out on the view of the gorgeous mountains that I recalled from Grant’s pictures, still it didn’t really matter, the mist itself was enough… It just created this incredible eerie atmosphere… and it sure made me think about my dear Dublin – quite a few mornings like this one back there… The surroundings, climate and a ‘fresh’ morning felt so familiar, I couldn’t help but smile… So far away from home, yet very familiar… Before we took off to Kaikoura we drove around Christchurch a bit, Grant showing me where he used to live and where he went to school… Really exciting and heart-warming to be able to get a glimpse of his past like that…
As we were driving from Christchurch to Kaikoura, it was
still very misty along the way – it simply seemed as if a big cloud was hanging over the South Island. Grant ‘predicted’ no rain during our stay in New Zealand though? Looking at the clouds I wasn’t too convinced whether my personal weatherman had any idea what he was talking about, fingers crossed! It was a lovely drive to Kaikoura – passing by some vineyards, many sheep pastures (I have to say it would probably be quite disappointing if we didn’t pass any – we were in the sheep country after all, right?) and we even got a few rays of sun while driving through a hilly area closer to Kaikoura. Once we reached our destination we were back in clouds again though. Still there was no way it would spoil our day at all – beautiful surroundings, no rain (always a plus!) and we were about to catch up with our friend…
As we got to Kaikoura and were driving towards ‘the centre’ I started wondering how we were going to find Randy, but as usual we didn’t really need to worry about that at all as he happened to be walking down the street we were
driving at! Problem solved then! 😉 It felt quite bizarre to meet again… So many things have happened since our Annapurna trek – not only for us as Randy did have quite a few adventures since then as well… It felt as if we didn’t see each other for ages yet at the same time it felt as if it was only yesterday that we were attempting to conquer Himalayas together… And it sure was quite a coincidence that we booked our holidays to New Zealand around the same time! It sure was great to catch up... We spent the rest of the day exchanging adventure stories while walking around Kaikoura. Next day: whale watching tour!
Waking up to an alarm clock on your holidays is not exactly my idea of fun… Also I started doubting whether a whale watching trip sounded like a good idea after these few beers the night before… If it was just the two of us, I probably would’ve convinced Grant to do it another day 😊, but since we had another buddy with us, there was no turning back… Quick shower and I was as fresh as a daisy… well, kind of… As
Grant started to get ready I heard knocking on the door – were we late? No… Hmmm… Something didn’t seem right… and it sure wasn’t… I could barely even see Randy at the door… Even more misty than the day before… Ah well… no whale watching that day then… Hmmm… We sure were ready to start the day though, so there was no point going back to bed now… What now then? Some trekking maybe? We didn’t really have enough days to do a bigger trek and there was no point in driving too far away from Kaikoura either, so in the end we just decided on trekking up to Mount Fyffe with an overnight stay in the hut on top… Maybe not the most challenging trek (or so I thought) but we sure hoped it would be a pleasant one with some nice views… As soon as we left Kaikoura, we saw a bit of blue sky… Who would’ve thought we might have been lucky with the weather after all…
They say that it takes on average 3 hours to get to the hut from the beginning of the trek. Well, as soon as we started out trek
I knew it would be at least that for me! I couldn’t believe how unfit I was! It sure was quite steep, but it didn’t seem to have stopped a few people running up the hill! Are you kidding me? Superhumans I would say! My legs were burning, had to stop once in a while to catch my breath… What on earth happened to me? And how on earth did I manage to do Everest and Annapurna??? Did it really happen? Or was it only a dream??? As it did feel like a dream now only… I guess the photos were proof enough… not to mention the incredible memories… and what’s more important Grant really was walking right next to me… I guess I couldn’t ask for a better proof than that!
So despite the puffing and sweating and stopping every now and then to give the lungs some badly needed air, it was a really enjoyable trek! Absolutely beautiful views around us, sunny, blue skies over us, and …a big cloud sitting right on top of Kaikoura… yep! it was a good idea to leave town and go above the clouds… It looked like we were the only
ones staying in the hut that night, so after resting a bit, we left most of our stuff in the hut and headed up to the top. Even though it’s not the highest peak I’ve ever conquered as it’s only 1600m, still the fact that you go all the way up starting basically at the sea level definitely makes it challenging but worthwhile as the views from the top were simply spectacular! It was really nice to share this moment not only with Grant but Randy as well… We made a pretty good team for sure!
As we got back to the hut it is was all about getting some wood for the fireplace, enjoying the beautiful sunset and then simply getting cosy in the sleeping bags… Yep! it was going to be a very early night for sure! I was absolutely amazed to see how starry the sky was… Wow! The Milky Way clearly visible, a couple of constellations that I could recognise as well and millions of stars scattered all around… I don’t remember seeing a sky like that ever before – the price you pay for living in the city… Or maybe it’s just the price
you pay for living in Dublin – clouds, clouds, clouds and some more clouds again… 😉
I would like to say that I woke up for the sunrise, but I was so cosy in the sleeping bag and it took me so much time to get out of it, that I simply missed out on it… By a mile! 😉 We started wondering what we could do that day, whale watching was clearly stuck in our heads still, but it didn’t seem like the cloud hanging over Kaikoura was going anywhere… As much as we were enjoying staying on top of Mount Fyffe it was time to head back to the town tough, after all it was our last day here… I was hoping the descent would be much easier than the ascent, but that wasn’t exactly the case… My legs felt as if they were made of wood! Muscles sore, knees barely able to bend, I seriously felt like a Pinocchio waste down… My fitness level was simply ridiculous… What do they say? That you simply need to walk off the pain? Well… I tried it, and can’t really say that it made any difference… It was more
the surroundings that made me forget about my hard rock calves… 😉 Once we got to the cars, we celebrated our conquest with a beer – maybe not exactly the most appropriate hour to be having beers, but what an occasion that was!
What a pleasant surprise it was to reach Kaikoura and see the clouds slowly clearing as well! So without second thought we headed straight to the whale watching centre to book our afternoon tour… It’s definitely not the cheapest pleasure…. $185! Per person!!!! But then I guess it’s one of these things that you do once in a lifetime… So with much emptier pockets we boarded the boat and headed on the open water… The crew assured us that we were going to see a sperm whale… They did ask for a bit of patience though as seeing that sperm whales come out to the surface for approximately 8 minutes and go under water for up to 90 minutes and as far as 1000 metres deep (typically 35 minutes and 400 metres deep), it could take a while before we found one… In the meantime we had a chance to find out a bit about these
incredible giants from the very informative video. Suddenly everybody was asked to go outside as apparently we were close… We saw one of the crew members sticking some kind of a device (assuming hydrophone?) into the water and listening… We were asked to look around as well… false alarm it would seem though… No whale, back inside as we had to sail a bit further… A short while later we were asked to go outside again, the device was immediately back in the water and everybody started looking around… still nothing though… this started looking to me like trying to find a needle in a haystack… Once again we were assured that we were really close and to keep our eyes open… when I heard the mike being switched on again, I thought we would be asked to go inside again, instead we were told to look to the right as apparently the whale was just coming up to the surface! They said to hold on tight as well as we were going to move a bit closer as well… All the heads turned right anxiously waiting for the giant to emerge on the water surface… And there he was!
Really close to the boat as well, totally undisturbed by our presence, puffing the water out through the blowhole every now and then… Wow! I couldn’t believe it! You could hear ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ all around… We had a good few minutes to look at this gentle giant right next to us… And then suddenly our guide said ‘Ok folks, get your cameras ready as it’s time to say goodbye to our companion’ and 30 seconds later the whale was gone – waving with his tail to us first of course. 😉 And that was it… If we wanted to see him again, we would need to wait another 40 minutes or so… I think everybody was more than satisfied of what they have seen though, well everyone but one girl who was sitting inside spilling her guts out to a plastic bag… Poor thing… Quite an expensive ride to be getting sick… On the way back we spotted a few albatrosses and later on came across a big pod of dolphins as well! They sure looked like they were having fun, curiously swimming by the boat and jumping around, … Incredible creatures! Expensive or not, this trip was worth
every penny for sure! And what a beautiful way to say goodbye to Kaikoura… No wonder Grant was thinking of moving here at some point of his life… Not too many job opportunities around I would say though… That’s where the creativity comes in probably… Nevertheless beautiful spot…
After spending our last evening with Randy, it was time to head back to Christchurch. I have heard from Grant many stories about his town, but even more so about the mighty earthquake of 2011… Just like many other Christchurch’s inhabitants, his family and friends were pretty badly affected by the earthquake as well… I have seen a few crumbling buildings and empty blocks of land on our first day here already, but this time since we were driving deeper into town, the earthquake’s aftermath was even more present… It was quite sad driving around the streets and seeing all the destruction around – many empty spots here and there, many sites secured and ready to be demolished still, old architectural relics at the verge of collapsing… The overcast sky and drizzle made the town look even more gloomy… 3 years after the earthquake and the city is nowhere close to
standing back on its feet… Having said that you can definitely see that the reconstruction is taking place… actually not only that, as new ideas are popping up all around as well – funky shopping mall made of containers or a small concert venue made of wooden pallets would be perfect examples… Very creative and authentic for sure! Seeing these places and even some of the construction works around made me feel very positive about Christchurch’s future… It will take time before this town will fully recover from the devastation the earthquake caused, but it sure is on a good way to do so… We’ll definitely need to come back here every now and then, not only to visit Grant’s family but to check on his hometown’s progress as well…
And that was it… An evening with Grant’s family and friends and next morning we were flying back to Brisbane… The trip was way too short and my hunger for travels was nowhere close to be satisfied… Still it just had to do it for now… At least I got the taste of it again… There was one thing I knew for sure – New Zealand definitely got a
place in my heart… There was so much more to see and do…. Until next time then…
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