Wellington & the South Island

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island
November 17th 2007
Published: November 19th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

View over WellingtonView over WellingtonView over Wellington

Sunny days at Charlotte's
Back on the road, our first stop was the capital Wellington. Wellington airport is apparently one of the hardest international airports to land at; being short, surrounded by water and subject to strong cross winds. Our plane appeared to drop rather than land and Tom was effing and blinding that he’d never fly into this ‘bloody city’ again.

We were picked up by a friend of a friend of Gemma’s called Charlotte. She lived in the suburb of Melrose. Her house sat on a hill and had a veranda with a great view over the city, one of the city’s beaches and the airport that had tormented Tom earlier. Charlotte very kindly put us up for three days and cooked up a mean pot of mussels.

It was the first bank holiday weekend of spring when we arrived and the sun was out in force. Tom burnt his forehead on the first day and glowed for the remainder of the time we were there. There were a few things going on in the city. The museum had a small music festival and we spent an afternoon watching some local hip hop acts. It was also Diwali and we stumbled across a warehouse full of food stalls selling really good cheap curry. Tom was in his element despite it all being vegetarian.

We also got a tour of NZ’s parliament. It shares a lot of similarities with the British Parliament, even down to the avaricious, repugnant, deceitful and inept ‘right honorables’ that inhabit it. In saying that the NZ lot doesn’t need heavily armed police and a few meters of concrete to protect them from the people they serve, so they can’t be all bad.

The best part of the tour was how the guide pronounced stairs as ‘steers’ and the number of times she warned people to be ‘careful of the steers’ or if people had ‘problems with the steers’. By the end of the tour we were getting dodgy looks for pissing ourselves every time the lady spoke.

Gemma’s new found eagerness to walk up hills continued and Tom was dragged up Mount Victoria to ‘get a nice a photo of the city’. This pattern continued for our remaining four weeks in the South Island.

We took the ferry from Wellington to Picton in the South Island. The contrast in landscape between the North & South Island was obvious from when we first entered the beautiful Marlborough Sounds on the ferry. We stayed the first couple of nights just outside Blenhiem, this time with a relative of a relative of Gemma’s (this pattern would continue also).

Barbara & Mike live in a house they had recently built themselves and it overlooks Cloudy Bay, with the mountains of the Marlborough Sounds in the background. The house and view were amazing and our luck with accommodation and meeting interesting new people continued. Gemma’s Christmas card list is getting longer.

Barbara was a great cook, but Mike’s reluctant hot chocolates were a firm favourite with Gemma. The evenings were filled with good banter and the favourite topics of conversation seemed to be the kiwi North South divide and the finer points of Dory’s tertiary education.

Our first day in the Marlborough region was spent indulging Gemma’s favorite pastime, wine tasting. As the day went on, Gemma tried to appear knowledgeable by regurgitating the information she’d been told in the previous wineries. However by the time Gemma had got to the tenth and final winery, it was all a bit confused and Gemma was talking fluent cod shit. The staff quickly realised that Gemma’s cheeks were red due to alcohol and not the sun.

Next we drove up to the town of Marahau, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. We spent a couple of days at the Park. The highlight was spending a day kayaking / sailing around the bays, exploring the beauty of the area. In hindsight we should have maybe stayed a couple of days longer. The beaches and the colour of the sea were striking and we were blessed with great weather.

The next relative of a relative on our hit list was Shelly’s brother Paul and his wife Sari. They again lived in a lovely big house, this time right in the middle of Nelson. We went out for a really good Indian and again had a nice time in great company. We spent a day exploring Nelson and the surrounding hills.

In the evening we met up with Gemma’s second cousin Tom with his girlfriend Toni and a load of their mates. Again it was good timing as they were having a house warming party and we got rather hammered on Beers, Sake and Tequila. At the end of the night the boys had an impromptus game of Sumo. By taping bean bags to themselves, the boys were able to replicate Sumo with all the grace and tradition the ancient sport requires. Well maybe not but it was bloody funny.

We headed to Kaikoura next after another quick stopover at Barbara and Mike’s. On the day we arrived, Kaikoura was hosting its annual and only trot (with the jockey sitting in a cart behind the horse) race meeting. Again we were blessed with good weather and spent the afternoon betting on the racing and watching the locals get well and truly steaming drunk (for once we didn’t participate).

The next day we went whale watching on a boat at 7am. The discipline we showed in getting up so early paid off and after an hour of cruising around, we came across two Sperm Whales. We were also lucky enough to see another whale and a couple of pods of Dusky Dolphins later in the trip. The morning was really enjoyable and the conditions were great with the sea calm and a clear bright sky. We’re not sure why some of the other passengers threw up though. They did look Japanese, so they were probably sick that they missed the chance of whale meat for lunch.

The only bad thing about the trip was the tour guide. His irritating self righteous manner meant that by the end of the trip Tom wanted to go harpoon some whales and dolphins just to spite him.

Our next stop was Hamner Springs; a town 100km inland, half way between Kaikoura and Christchurch. It’s famous for its hot springs and trekking. As we’d done more than enough hot springs on our travels, trekking it was. We had a good night sleep and then got up early to climb Mount Isabel. It took about five hours to get to the summit and back. The views of the Southern Alps at the top were amazing and an early indication of what we had in store for the next couple of weeks (walking most of the day to look at big mountains & lakes). We didn’t stay long in Hamner Springs as they only had the springs and some crazy golf.

On our way to Christchurch we picked up some hitch hikers thinking it would be good to have a bit of conversation for the journey. In hindsight we would have been better off picking up a couple of mime artists. We picked up the only American in the world who hasn’t got a lot to say and a mute Austrian (well we think he was mute because he didn’t say sod all). Getting conversation out of them was harder than getting money out of Gemma’s wallet (or Tom up a hill).

In Christchurch, it was Tom’s turn to use his connections to sort out a place to stay. This time we stayed with Katherine (Tom’s old manager) and her husband Al in their lovely house a short walk from the centre. As their kitchen was being renovated we had an excuse to get off our staple diet of pasta and went out every night, which made a welcome change.

Christchurch is very much the English colony in New Zealand. Most of the street names are English towns and cities or names from the old Empire. There is punting on the River Avon and the Cathedral is the oldest looking building we have come across in New Zealand. There are also numerous shops selling English sweets, tea bags and other food and drink

Whilst in Christchurch we explored the city centre, went to the Art Gallery (slightly out of character for us) and watched the locals playing chess in the main square. We also visited Akaroa, a small French town on a nearby peninsular with lots of walking tracks in the hills, much to Gemma’s excitement. We also had fish & chips in Lyttleton, at what we later found out was NZ’s fish & chip shop of the year.

We headed back inland after Christchurch and towards the Southern Alps. We stayed first in Tekapo, the small township standing at the southern edge of the turquoise blue Lake Tekapo. The lake is surrounded by snow capped mountains and is fed from a glacier that gives it its remarkable colour. We walked up to the observatory on a nearby hill. The lake is supposedly the best place to see stars in New Zealand. Unfortunately we forgot that by the time it got dark and so cannot confirm if it is true.

Next we headed for Mount Cook. The drive was along straight flat roads with very little vegetation and nobody around for hundreds of miles. With Gemma asleep, Tom took the opportunity to see how fast the cheapest hire car in the South Island would go without falling apart. Surprisingly and probably luckily for Tom, the car’s violent shaking at 160km didn’t wake Gemma up.

At Mount Cook we took one of the trails so we could get some better pictures of the tallest mountain in NZ. We didn’t hang around though and were soon on our way to Wanaka. Again another small township on the edge of a beautiful lake surrounded by snow capped mountains. Again we went for a walk around some of the lake and up a hill. You may be able to spot a pattern here.

The South Island is undoubtedly beautiful with some remarkable imposing scenery. The lakes with the background of the Southern Alps are stunning. If you like rambling, mountain biking, kayaking in peace and tranquility you’ll love it. When Gemma gets back to the UK she is going to join Ramblers Anonymous. The novelty was starting wear thin with Tom though.

It was funny traveling around the South Island and seeing the north vs south divide in another country. Auckland is to New
One mountain climbed One mountain climbed One mountain climbed

hanmer springs
Zealand, what London is to England. People who live outside it seem to take great pleasure in deriding it and its inhabitants.

Wherever we went and mentioned to locals that we lived and worked in Auckland for three months, we were invariably told what a horrible place it was and how Aucklander’s have a chip on their shoulder and think that NZ doesn’t exist outside it.

We didn’t find this to be the case but always felt compelled to agree with them that the South Island was much better. The only real difference in the divide between the UK and NZ is that in NZ it’s obvious where the divide begins as the country is split into two islands. In the UK, Midlander’s get mocked for being southern by people from Yorkshire & Newcastle, while getting derided for being northerners by anyone from London & the South East. Perhaps to remedy this, the UK should just flood the Midlands.

The pace of life in the South Island is certainly a lot slower. Tom popped into a chip shop one lunchtime and ordered fish and chips. He was surprised to see a pile of magazines but sat down and started reading one to kill the time. 10-15 mins later Tom was wondering what was taken so long and stood up only to see that neither his fish nor chips were in the fryer (they cook to order in NZ).

He asked the boy behind the counter ‘if they had to catch the fish first’ but was met with a blank expression before being told ‘sorry I’ve only been here a couple of weeks and don’t know how to do the fish, the owner will back soon’.

Tom resisted asking why he didn’t tell him this 15minutes ago but instead offered to show the boy how to dip a fish in flour and then some batter, so he’d know for the next time. Again there was no reaction, just a blank expression. Tom waited another 5 minutes for the owner to turn up and it was probably 30 minutes after entering the place that Tom finally had his chips and they still made him pay for the vinegar!

In the South Island if you enter a shop and the owner is reading a book or sweeping the floor, don’t expect to get served before they’ve finished their chapter or polished the floor. The only place this probably isn’t true is Queenstown and that’s apparently full of JAFA’s (just another f@#king Aucklander).

The Franz Joseph Glacier was our next destination, about 350km from Wanaka. We left with half a tank of petrol and thought they'd be opportunities to fill up on route. What we didn't realise was that the dots that looked like towns on our map were actually bridges or a couple of buildings. The last 30km to Fox Glacier was a bit hairy as we ran off the fumes.

We booked up for a days glacier walking and then shopped at the most expensive supermarket in the world, well maybe not but it was certainly making the most of its non existent competition. The glacier walking turned out to be a long day. When you arrive at the start you can see the glacier and it looks about a 10min walk, it's turns out to be about 45min, with the size of the surrounding landscape playing tricks with your eyes.

At the bottom of the glacier we fastened our crampons, clipped on the biggest bum bags ever and starting climbing the beast in front of us. We were on the ice for about 5-6 hours. The first 4 hours were really enjoyable as we climbed, crawled and navigated ice tunnels, caves and imposing walls of ice. After about 3 hours though the pace slowed as our guide started to cut out new routes in the ice. This is when we started to get cold and just seemed to stand around for long periods. The supposed excitement of going to unchartered territory was a bit of a damp squid. Although probably very hazardous, we would have preferred to explore on our own or in smaller groups, as we started to feel like lemmings or sheep.

The next day we drove the 550km to Queenstown, picking up a couple of Dutch girls for company and to share the fuel cost. They were a lot more chatty than our previous traveling companions and so the journey didn't seem so tedious.

Queenstown feels like a resort, it caters for the summer and winter seasons and is full of bars, restaurants, hotels and backpackers. It's famous for all the adrenaline junkie activities like bungy jumping and jet boat rides. It's also close to a number of ski fields. In Queenstown we booked an overnight cruise through the Doubtful Sounds and enjoyed being back in a city again.

Gemma ventured out on a walk on her own, finally leaving Tom behind so he could watch some much needed champs league football. Unfortunately Gemma got a bit lost and ended up following a downhill mountain bike track leading her back to the hostel much earlier than Tom would have liked (ie before the game had finished).

We only stayed a couple of days in Queenstown as we were due to fly out of the city at a later date. We drove down to the edge of Lake Manapouri to start our Doubtful Sounds overnight cruise. To get onto our cruise boat we first had to travel across Lake Manapouri and across the Wilmott Pass. The cruise was the most enjoyable thing we did in our time in NZ.

Luckily we had the quad-share bunks to ourselves. The food on the boat was excellent. We were treated to a top quality buffet dinner and breakfast. The day started with the boat cruising through the sounds, admiring probably the most beautiful and dramatic landscape in New Zealand. We then laid anchor and had the opportunity to kayak around a cove in the sounds. This was followed by a quick dip in the freezing water. Only the bravest (or most stupid) participated in the swim and this included Tom & Gem (although after Jesus, Gemma is only the second human to walk on water, given the speed she got in and out).

The boat then continued out in the Tasman Sea and close to a seal colony. The next day we were up early and were lucky to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins doing back stroke (apparently the rarest pengiun in the world) and about 3 or 4 pods of bottle nose dolphins. The dolphins were a definite highlight as they followed and played alongside our vessel, taking great pleasure in the attention they were receiving.

Next stop was Te Anau (yep you guessed it - a beautiful lake surrounded by snow topped mountains). Then onto Invercargill, the southern most city in New Zealand. We stayed in a really cheap hostel inhabited by Germans with dodgy mustaches. It was like being in a german porno and we were glad not to here the phrase 'Guten Tag, I've come to sort out your plumbing'.

Sorry Katherine, but Invercargill was a bit pikey. We backed out of doing our weekly washing at the towns only laundrette, it was slap bang in the middle of what looked like the South Island's only sink estate. Hanging out in Lapa in Rio or central Sao Paulo, no problem, washing our smalls in an estate in Invercargill, no chance! We did go to the cinema and were lucky to just make the late showing (7.15pm)!

Surprisingly we didn't stay long in Invercargill, we also didn't make it to Stewart Island as the ferry seemed expensive and Tom had done more than enough walking for one lifetime. The next stop was Dunedin, apparently named after Edinburgh. You could spot the Scottish connection straight away as it was dreary and rained the three days we were there (Tom's thoughts not Gemma's). Dunedin is home to three things of note. The Cadbury's factory, whose tour (& product) Gemma enjoyed thoroughly.

We also visited the Speight's brewery and did the 12am tour and tasting. We continued the tasting into their bar next door and used our tour receipt to get discounted pints more times than we were meant to. By 2pm we were drunk, by 4pm we were hammered and by 6.45pm we were tucked up in bed. The last thing of note to visit in Dunedin is the world's steepest road, apparently its not in San Francisco. Gemma wouldn't let Tom race her up it in the rental car so we had to walk. You wouldn't want to do the paper round on that street.

We had pretty much covered the majority of the South Island and headed back to Queenstown to catch our flight back to Auckland and onto Oz. We did have a few days to kill in Queenstown and enjoyed the local night life, luging as well as visiting Arrowtown (an old gold mining town) and Glenorchy (Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings). Glenorchy is stunning and does deserve its 'Gateway to Paradise' tag, but then most of the South Island left an ever lasting impression on us.

Additional photos below
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Bottlenose dolphins

Doubtful sounds

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