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Published: November 1st 2008
We had some time to reflect upon things on a walk around this lake...
Hola Nueva Zealanda! Only there is no need for Spanish anymore which feels a bit weird. At the airport in Auckland we both continued to say hola, gracias, ciao and numerous other Spanish words which escaped our mouths before we could realise our mistake. Just reflexes left over from six months in a hispanic mindset and this took a few days to wear off. South America we miss you!
But with a bright and exciting new chapter of our travels ahead we both had big smiles on our faces, despite a 14 hour flight! We got straight onto another flight down to Christchurch in the South Island. Ian (Karen's brother) met us off the plane and we headed out to his house in the nearby town of Sumner. His house really has to be seen to be believed, it sits perched high above the seaside town on a rocky bluff, with wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding coastline with emerald sea stretching as far as the eye can see. We were starting to the see the attraction New Zealand (NZ) holds already, Ian has been here three years already! Ian and his flatmates were kind enough to let us stay
for several days, during which time we explored Christchurch and took a jaunt along the coast to Banks Peninsula, where we had a lovely lunch by the sea in the quaint village of Akaroa.
After lots of deliberation we decided that renting a campervan for a month was the cheapest and best way for us to see NZ, we chose a nice wee number which had everything we needed, a stove, a fridge, a bed and a table, it made us feel homely and cosy. We first travelled north along the coast which prooved to be both rugged and beautiful at every turn in the road. For long stretches we drove right along beside the turquoise green sea. We went as far as the Marlborough Sounds, also passing the vast vineyard country of Blenheim. On our return south we had a magical encounter with some NZ fur seals. Tony managed to spot the colony out of the corner of his eye as we drove past, we pulled over and watched the smelly fellows on the rocks, there were young and old lazing around. We spent ages in their company until some seagulls decided to dive bomb us so we
Black & White Sunset
Paradise, a place near Queenstown.
made a hasty getaway!
Back in Sumner Ian had offered to take us on a skiing weekend to nearby Mount Hutt as a present for our birthdays! Karen, Ian and his flatmates are all snowboarders, so Tony buckled to peer pressure, ditching his skis to board with everyone else! After one lesson Tony was doing surprisingly well for a first timer, taking to boarding like a penguin on ice! We stayed the weekend in a nice cozy lodge in the town of Methven. Here we spent the evening by the warm fire being educated by Ian and his friends on the joys of Pinot Noir, NZ's finest red wine, how sophisticated! It was a fantastic weekend on the slopes and a great birthday present, muchos gracias to Ian!
We were then eager to get back on the road in our wee campervan to continue our exploration of the South Island. Next up was a journey to the famous Mount Cook, NZ's highest peak. On the way inland we took in the azure lakes of Tekapo and Pukaki. The campsite near Mount Cook was in a spectacular location, we spent the night surrounded by snow-capped mountains with a glacier
high above us. We went on a memorable walk through the Hooker Valley which took us to the foot of Mount Cook itself, trekking past churning river rapids and glacier filled valleys.
We then headed back to the south east coastline, where we visited the Moeraki Boulders. These are not just any boulders but massive perfectly round boulders, half buried in the golden sands of the beach. While there is a complicated scientific explanation for these boulders but the Māori believe they are the remains of eel baskets, calabashes (trees), and kumara (sweet potato) washed ashore from the wreck of an Arai-te-uru, a large sailing canoe from ancient mythology. However we
have a theory of our own, these 'boulders' are actually dinosaur eggs still waiting to hatch! The spherical stones made an eerie yet serene sight as the turbulent waves washed around the moss covered orbs. We spent an enjoyable few hours taking photos and beachcombing amongst the shimmering shells on the sheashore...
Further south, we couldn't pass by Edinburgh's namesake, Dunedin, without a quick stop. After a wander around the town, Tony finally decided that the might beard had finally run its course. His furry facial friend
This wonderful reflective lake was as far as we could walk, beyond you need specialist equipment...
had raised eyebrows all over the world, becoming a legend, admired and mocked in equal measure. But it took the barber barely ten minutes to remove the growth and consign the shaggy castaway look to the history books forever ...or is it? After this traumatic experience Tony's face felt freezing and Karen could hardly recognize him....and couldn't stop laughing at her new look boyfriend.
Pushing on, we drove right to the South of the island to navigate the jagged coastline of the Catlins. This seldom visited area saw us taking in splendid forest walks to waterfalls, treks over rolling green hills through fields of leaping lamb, to cliff top lookouts over the sea below. We also visited a penguin hide, and patiently waited until we were rewarded with our first sighting of the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin. They came ashore to feed their young in nests which were surprisingly high up in the hillside in the undergrowth beside the hide. It was a special time spent watching them waddle about on the beach, alongside some Hooker sea lions. We felt very privileged to have this David Attenborough moment. The Catlins will be remembered as one of our highlights in
NZ, for its striking scenery and close encounters with wildlife.
It was then time to turn North to Fjordland and one of NZ's most famous areas. The drive here grew ever more scenic up into the mountains before finally passing through the snow covered Homer Tunnel right through the mountains into the Milford Valley. Here we were met by huge, sheer mountainsides disappearing above us into mist, with cascading water falling everywhere around us. It was spectacular and we held our breath as we wound our way down into the valley. The next day was the main event, we had booked a day of kayaking into Milford Sound. Perhaps unfortunately the day drifted frequently between sunshine and rain, with plenty of drizzle. However here wet is often best as it provides even more dramatic scenery and a beautiful monochromatic landscape. Once again the water teemed from the mountains towering above us and the mist hung in the air around us. Due to the rain we didn't dare get the camera out for long so our photos are few (for once), which is a pity. Despite the wet weather the kayaking was still great fun and luck was with us
once again as we saw more seals and penguins up close and personal.
After a few wet days in Fjordland we traveled to Queenstown to meet our friends Tom and Carolyn, whom you may remember we met throughout our journeys in South America. Bizarrely we both chose the same campsite, parking next to one another in our campervans, which coincidently were of the exact same model - all this without any arrangements other than a simple plan to meet in Queenstown! We had a fab time reminiscing about our travels and discussing future plans.
After saying our goodbyes we set off further north to the wild west coast. The rain here continued unabated as the forest (or bush as its called in NZ) became dense and tropical and we followed the steep winding roads along the coast. We went on treks to see glaciers and lakes and one of the places we spent the night allowed us to take a walk into the forest to see some glow worms. As we walked into the pitch blackness we turned off our torches and were surrounded by tiny, shining lights suspended around us like a blanket of stars. It was
a spellbinding experience, especially as it was just the two of us and free!
Next, a place Karen was looking forward to revisiting, Punakaiki (she had been here a few years earlier with Ian). These fascinating layered rock formations are set in cliffs on the coast. Scientists are still not agreed on exactly how these pancake rocks were formed. But the gist is that the limestone has been eroded by the sea leaving harder rock behind that has been compressed over millennia. It was fun to watch and listen to the huge waves crash and boom into the rocks forming blow holes and tumultuous cauldrons of water.
Sadly it was then time to return the van to Christchurch. We traveled inland up and over Arthur's Pass which is the highest road in the South Island. As we drove up through an incredibly steep gorge the snow fell and we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. Time for one more adventure before leaving for the North Island, Ian took us to a pretty spot a few hours from Christchurch called Castle Hill. Here he showed us the art of 'bouldering' which is really just scrambling over some huge rocks.
This is our cosy wee van, home for a few weeks in the South Island
The enormous rocks stood looking out over the snowy mountains like sentinels. It was a fun day out and thankfully we all got away unscathed. Oh yeah, we also stopped off on the way at NZ's award winning pie shop in Sheffield.
The South Island certainly provided us with all four seasons from scorching sunshine, hurling gales, icy snow and tropical rainfall! It was lovely to spend time in our cosy van, supping cups of tea, doing crosswords while admiring the stupendous scenery we found ourselves surrounded by time and again. It was also great to take a rest from the hostel rigmarole we had become used to in South America, for a start we had the same bed for a month which was a great comfort.
After a month here our overriding memories are of epic scenery and captivating wildlife, and the Kiwi's know how to cook a mean pie to!
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