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Published: February 7th 2012
The view from the road...
...and the air.
After the last blog I thought I'd go back to eulogising about just how spectacularly beautiful New Zealand is! And hopefully convincing you all of this fact through a few photos taken on my journey-ings around the South Island recently.
A bit of geography first. New Zealand is made up of two main islands, combined they are a similar size to Great Britain and Ireland I suppose. I'm currently living at the very top of the South Island. In order to do my tramp of the Milford Track last month I needed to get to the bottom corner of the South Island, a distance of maybe 600 kilometres as the crow flies. The problem is someone's plonked a chain of tall, steep, snow-capped and extremely picturesque mountains in the way. So I ended up travelling more than two days and via several different modes of transport in order to complete a distance of probably double this, each way. What could have been an extremely tedious journey flew by thanks to pit stops at friends houses and some perfect sightseeing weather. Journey 1. Air
NZ flight from Nelson to Christchurch...via Wellington.
Not exactly the most direct route, but by far the cheapest thanks to the grab-a-seat website. For about a fifth of the cost of a touristic 'scenic flight' I got a window seat with a perfect view across the Marlborough Sounds and the East Coast of the South Island. I also got a complimentary snack, and they dropped me off in Christchurch rather than back where I started from – bonus! The plane flew low enough to spot boats heading out to the resorts and the Interislander Ferry chugging out through Queen Charlotte Sound. I was even looking out for whales and dolphins as we passed over Kaikoura!
The Sounds are spectacular from the air: steep, dark wooded ridges look like the tails of dragons dipping down into the cool, deep blue waters of the channels. Further down the coast powdery Alpine rivers string out like May Pole ribbons before pushing out into the sea and resting against the cerulean waters of the ocean. Journey 2. Newman's Coaches from Christchurch to Queenstown.
Almost a luxury coach: a double seat to myself and plenty of rest stops at
delicious bakeries and fresh fruit stalls. Our first driver took the opportunity of having a captive audience and bored us senseless with trivia on EVERYTHING we passed. Bearing in mind the first 3 hours of the route was through flat and fairly featureless farmland this was quite a talent. Things I learnt on that bus journey (and am still trying to forget), include:
• Apparently traffic cones cost $50 each – really?
• There are at least five different kinds of irrigation systems out there for pasture grass, even if they all look the same to me.
• There are a lot of different breeds of cows in NZ.
• There are at least 2 different breeds of free-range pigs in a field somewhere between Timaru and Tekapo.
• There are a lot of sheep in NZ, but only half the amount there were a decade or two ago.
• You should swerve to hit a Possum on the road in NZ.
• In winter you only need to kill about 12 Possums to get a kilo of fur and you can make about $120/kilo for their fur.
• How to drive a coach with chains on the tyres when it is icy (stick at exactly
• Which bends and lay-bys the Police are most likely to hang out in.
• How to tell if the milk factory on Highway 1 an hour or so south of Christchurch is operating at full capacity or not.
• What colour the livery is for the milk tankers that serve said milk factory.
Ok, I'm going cross-eyed writing that so before I lose you completely I'll stop. Just remember I had many hours of listening to that! Luckily once we headed inland towards the mountains the scenery became more than spectacular enough to distract me from the driver's ramblings. I would recommend this drive to anyone, the views of Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki alone are worth driving several hours to see. Both lakes are the most amazingly intense perfect reflection of the sky. I've just tried looking up 'shades of blue' on Wikipedia and nothing comes quite close enough to describing the colours of these lakes. Lake Tekapo is maybe periwinkle but with a bit more oomph, while Lake Pukaki veers more towards a pale-torquoise I suppose, but with a luminescence impossible to capture on film. Without seeing them with your own eyes it is very hard to
imagine that such colours actually exist in nature, maybe they are unique, and we can start describing things as 'Lake Pukaki blue' from now on. Good luck getting Dulux to recreate it anyway! Journey 3 and 4: Car to and from Queenstown to Te Anau Downs.
It is an indication of how spoilt we are in New Zealand that my friends in the car suggested we could go to sleep after the first hour of this journey because the scenery wasn't that amazing for the second half of the drive! Admittedly the first hour is pretty special with the road winding alongside Lake Wakatipu, hemmed in by the jagged toothy ridges of the Remarkables mountain range, with the sun casting long shadows down the valley. But even once the landscape opens out and dries up, it is still a picturesque artists pallette of late summer evening hues, gently rolling hills and scattered farm houses. We reached the banks of Lake Te Anau as the sun was casting its final languorous rays over the distant mountains. And there in the distance at the far end of the lake we could see the hazy mountains closing in and
marking the divide between ourselves and our final destination, Milford Sound.
On the return journey, tired as we were and safe in the knowledge we were covering old ground, we still stayed awake as the dusk swallowed the fields around us and were rewarded with the twinkling lights of Frankton shimmering in the dark waters of Lake Wakatipu as we neared Queenstown late at night. Journey 5: Jetstar flight from Queenstown to Christchurch.
I've just checked online, you're looking at $600 for a scenic flight across the mountains. I paid $47 and Jetstar were kind enough to give me a whole row of seats to myself, let me move around to check the view from both sides of the plane, and even dropped me off in Christchurch to save me another 8 hour bus journey. It's a good job they did let me move around, I'd stupidly booked a seat on the right-hand side of the plane when all the mountains are out the left-had window! I did get awesome views of the aptly named Remarkables before we took off and saw Queenstown mapped out below me as we circled over the town and lake.
We then headed up the South Island following the spine of the Southern Alps. I swapped seats just in time to see Mount Cook and the flourescent blue of Lake Pukaki stretch out far below. As we descended towards Christchurch I returned to my original seat to see the bulk of Banks Peninsula heaving out of the Canterbury Plains and the Pacific Ocean. We then soared over a criss-cross of high hedges - buffers against the strong winds that sweep across the plains – and glimpsed the cranes and remaining high-rises of the city centre in the distance just before we touched down. Journey 6: Atomic Shuttle/Naked Bus from Christchurch to Nelson.
I was lucky to make it on to my bus out of Christchurch. At some stage in the past 4 months they've changed the pick-up location and failed to tell my hostel. So there I was sitting outside a petrol station at 7.20am wondering where my bus and all the other passengers were when it zoomed past me! Fortunately I leapt up fast and caught the attention of one of the passengers on board, who told the driver, who was really nice and stopped
just in time and let me on! Unfortunately the only seat left on the bus was next to a weird and over-friendly hippy guy who wanted to chat all morning when all I wanted to do was stare out the window and try not to be travel sick!
The road is very winding as it runs alongside the beautiful, rugged coast and the air conditioning on the ancient bus we were in was broken so the atmosphere was stifling. Thankfully we stopped at Kaikoura long enough to get fresh air and some breakfast to settle my stomach for the next leg of the bus ride. We stopped again just outside Kaikoura as well to take a look at the seals that live all along this stretch of coastline. After that I'm afraid to say I put my headphones in and feind sleep in an attempt to block out the chatterings of the weird guy next to me so I didn't see too much more of the scenery up to Nelson, but I'll be driving this way again in a few weeks so I'll try to take it in better then!
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