December 30, 2011
Hello to our family and friends in Australia. I am with Mum and Dad, who have eschewed the hassle of Xmas in Sydney to join me on a 2 week trip around the South Island of NZ.
The first thing to say is that it has been unusually warm and sunny here - everyday , in fact, since we arrived on Christmas Eve (even Milford Sound, which is normally brooding, cloudy and wet). We arrived in Christchurch the day after the recent double earthquake on Dec 23. But all was fine for us (I did feel two small aftershocks during the night, but that was all). The rubble and destruction of the Feb quake is still really evident. We wandered around the roped off "Red Zone" , peering into pubs and cafes that seemed frozen in time, when everyone dashed out in a panic some nine months ago. One pub still had broken plates, cutlery etc on the table, and a half drunk bottle of red. It was very sad. We had to buy food and booze for the next day (Xmas day) so we went to a local supermarket. Mum was roaming the deli section while Dad and I were in the alcohol section. I said to Dad:
"They have already had 60 aftershocks here since yesterday's quake. We should work out a plan on what to do if a quake starts while we are here in the supermarket."
Dad replied: " OK... you grab those two bottles of Scotch over there, I will get that six pack of Coopers, then we get the fuck out......Oh, and get your mother too."
We spent a balmy Xmas day in Chistchurch botanical gardens, which was excellent, then dinner at the Casino where Mum won $60 (Surprisingly great food). The next day, we drove out to sun-soaked Banks Peninsula and the charming waterfront town of Akaroa. The views of the green scalloped coastline and aqua marine water were magnificent (as was the charming British cyclist that I struck up conversation with !)
After CHCH, we drove South to Dunedin via the Moeraki Boulders, large spherical rocks embedded in the beach. Another sunny day ensured good pics. In Dunedin, we admired the fine old buildings and pubs (esp the grand old Railway Station). We took ourselves to Otago Museum, which was excellent - especially the Animal Attic, Maori cultural stuff, and all the moa skeletons (extinct endemic bird like an emu). We also spend a full day driving the Otago Peninsula, which is absurdly beautiful and known for its wildlife. we saw fur seals and sea lions, one of which chased Dad (his sore foot suddenly found great speed). We also went on a tour of the colony of yellow-eyed penguins - world's second rarest and very pretty with yellow band across the face and pink legs. We were lucky enough to see one feeding its fat brown chick in the sand dunes -quite close. Otago Pen is a must -see while in Dunedin. The birds are viewed via a series of trenches, which minimises tourist impact and makes for great close up pics.
From Dunedin it was a 3 hour drive across to Te Anau , the jumping off point for Milford Sound. We had a truly fantastic day at Milford. This place has sheer mountain cliffs coming down to the water, snow-capped peaks (even in December), lush temperate rainforest, and naughty keas (alpine parrots that love chewing at rubber parts on cars). I have been to Milford twice previously and it was grey and raining. It gets 6.7m of rain per year and is almost always wet. Well, I was third time lucky. we had a blazing sun and blue sky and it was magical - we learnt later that the hottest temperature in all of NZ for that day was 26 degrees where we were in Milford Sound ! We went on a typical cruise around the sound (actually a fiord - an ice -carved valley drowned by the sea). Brilliant - esp. when the boat goes right up and under one of the myriad waterfalls, and up to the iconic Mitre Peak, glorious in sunshine.
My folks are having a ball and Dad is his endearingly funny self. On the way back from Milford, he ate a banana and threw the skin out the window.
I said: "This is a National Park and a World Heritage Site, did you just throw a banana skin out the window?"
"No." he said. "What's a World Hermatige Site?"
"I'm sure you did throw a banana skin out there."
"Actually yes, I think I did. Don't bloody worry. It will denigrate into the habitat and be important for the evolution of the environment and all your bloody birds and mammals and shit."
I said: "There are no native mammals in NZ, apart from some bats."
He said" " well, the banana skins will be useful in attracting them."
Tommorrow we head to Queenstown - a party town for sure - which will be be good and sunny weather is set to continue.
Happy New Year everyone,. Stay safe
Craig, Marcia and Ron
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