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January 25th 2017
Published: January 25th 2017
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Days 92 to 100 from 165

One highlight we promised ourselves in New Zealand was to swim with dolphins, and as such we had booked some months ago to do so at Kaikoura, on the east coast of South Island. We had been very concerned, therefore, when in November last year the town was cut off by a M7.8 earthquake nearby. But, as you may have seen from our last blog, access has improved. So, we were here and ready to swim with dolphins.

Kaikoura is blessed with much wildlife - dolphins, whales, seals, albatross, .... - because a deep sea trench rises just off the coast. This brings in plankton, krill and other such low-on-the-food-chain life which due to the meeting of deep sea and surface waters brings much of this within reach in the upper sea layers. And that in turn attracts the aforementioned wildlife.

Our swim was due to be with Dusky Dolphins, of which there are thought to be a few thousand off the coast here. They are also renowned for being the most interactive and acrobatic of the species.

Suitably kitted up in winter thickness wet suits, and looking somewhat like beached whales, the two boatloads of swimmers, around 20 per boat, were taken out to an area around 40 minutes away but still just off the coast. And when we got there it was just astounding. We probably expected 20? 50?. ....... what we got was a pod estimated by the crew to be 3-500 strong. They were everywhere.

4 times the captain discharged us into the water to be surrounded by these creatures which seemed to be as fascinated by us as we were of them. The crew claim that if swimmers make singing noises through their mouthpieces this will attract the dolphins. We were not so convinced by this theory, but we certainly had our fair share of them swimming around us. Paul made many 360° turns in the water with a dolphin following him around, eye to eye. But it was never an even contest - one flick of the tail and they would be 10s of metres away.

After the swimming, and a hot chocolate, the boats stayed in the area for another 30 mins or so to enable us all to try and get that 'dolphin leaps out of the water' shot that we wanted. And then it was, almost, all over, and back to harbour. But with the added bonus of spotting a blue shark, a paddling albatross, a petrel and a flock of shearwater on the way.

And then for us on to Christchurch, which we got to later that afternoon. That evening we took a brief walk into the city, and oh, what a sight of devastation.

In September 2010 and February 2011 Christchurch was hit by separate large magnitude earthquakes. The September one, M7.1, caused quite a lot of building damage but no deaths. The February one, was 'only' M6.3 but it was barely 10km from the city and only 5 km deep. So buildings, already weakened by the earlier 'quake, fell down in numbers. The biggest casualties were in the Broadcasting Building, which also housed a language school. That pancaked down, and 115 people died in that building alone. 185 in total perished, and whole blocks of the city centre were obliterated or damaged beyond repair.

As a result, 6 years later the city centre is essentially one huge building site, interspersed by many urban car parks. The city authorities have grand plans in place for the rebuilding and rejuvenation of Christchurch but the residents appear to have some visionaries amongst them and out of adversity has come some fascinating ideas.

The 'Cardboard Cathedral', now officially titled Transitional Church, was designed, built and opened in 30 months - August 2013 - an incredibly short timescale for a 'cathedral'. And a new shopping 'mall', the re:START Mall, built from converted shipping containers, was open by October 2011. In fact there are now repurposed shipping containers throughout the city and region - they are the foundations/ walls for the Transitional Church, several other pop-up units around the city, and even as some coastal cliff-base shoring.

A lot of this was bought to further life on our first full day in the city when, in the morning we took a guided City Walk, and in the afternoon visited Quake City, an exhibition about the dual 'quakes. The tour guide was a bit clinical, but took us to places we wouldn't have found ourselves eg the newly installed Base isolators beneath the art gallery. The exhibition was far better.

Day 2 (day 94) and we went to the International Arctic Centre. Near the airport, 5 of the major countries with a presence in the Antarctic have their bases co-located here. And alongside these is an exhibition space. Amongst many serious exhibits we also got to 'experience' an Arctic storm, see rescued penguins being fed, and get rain / wind / snow lashed during a 4D film. A good place if a bit 'theme park'.

The following morning we set off early for Aoraki/Mt Cook. It was cold, 7°C, but the shock was seeing, off to the west of us, a line of snow capped hills & mountains. We weren't expecting this for many miles. When we stopped at Geraldine along the way in conversation with a shopkeeper we found out that that snow had fallen the previous evening, a result of the weather-bomb that had hit that part of the country. What were we letting ourselves in for?

On the way we also had on the radio a great 50s, 60s and 70s radio station. But they somewhat blotted their record when they played Jonathan King (Everyone's Gone To The Moon). Don't they know at this station? What next? Gary Glitter followed by Rolf Harris?

Shortly before the valley road up to Mt Cook we ascended, by car we hastened to add, Mount John, home to an observatory complex with many telescopes and cracking views of the surrounding landscape. We had a small 'tour' during which we were given a look at Mt Cook through a high power terrestial telescope. Great view, but, terrestial it may have been but the telescope still turned the image around from left to right! As we found out when comparing direct pictures with those taken through the 'scope.

The Maori on the gate, on finding out that we were from England, said 'Ah, you've popped over to see the colonies have you?'

The lakeside road up the valley to Mt Cook Village gave us magnificent and clear views of the peak. Simon (son) tells us he knows people who have been there 4 times and have yet to see the summit due to cloud. Our clear views lasted into the evening. Even our room in the YHA gave us a glorious view of the snow capped mountain range, though Cooky itself was just hidden behind a closer mountain. After supper we walked up to The Hermitage (village posh hotel) and sat with a beer and cider looking across to the snow-capped Mt Cook bathed in late evening sunset light.

On Saturday, day 96, we walked the Hooker Valley track. Around 11km return, this took us up to the Hooker Lake, complete with icebergs, stretching from the Hooker Glacier beyond. You could base a whole A level Geography thesis on the landscape around here. Glaciers, moraines, cirques, scree, bergschrund...... We did reflect though that that single 4 hour walk through the valley was better than any single day we had had on the Abel Tasman trail.

Our timing was great. Later in afternoon the heavens opened, but we were back in the village by then.

The following morning we awoke to find that overnight rain had turned to snow, and not just on the mountains but down to 'ground' level (albeit, ground level being 760m above sea level). Sadly this had mostly gone from the village by 10ish due to persistent rain. The weather though made us delay a walk to the Tasman Glacier until the afternoon. The walk up to the lake was strenuous - 335 steps - and the view not at its best due to the rain and mist. On the return, though, we detoured to the river outlet and were rewarded by closer and much clearer views of the Tasman icebergs. The glacial lake only started to form in 1974, but is now around 7km long. This is a sobering reminder of how this, and many other glaciers, are retreating. The lake is now big enough to accommodate kayak and boat (semi rigid inflatables) tours, but there was almost a disaster not many years back when a calving of 10s of thousands of tonnes of ice from the glacier sent an 11 foot high tsunami across the lake, almost swamping boats that were on it at the time.

The following day, leaving Mt Cook once again bathed in sunlight, this time sunrise, we drove to Dunedin, 'the Edinburgh of the South' and the furthest city in the world distant from London. On the way we stopped for coffee at Oamaru, to find that it was the location for Watchman's Hut where crew from the Terra Nova first came ashore and reported the death of Captain Scott and his 4 colleagues on their ill-fated return from the South Pole. We also stopped at the Moeraki Boulders, a collection of septarian nodules that are now on the shoreline, their surrounding earth having been eroded away.

Day 99 should have been another highlights of the trip - a visit to the Royal Albatross Centre on the Otago Peninsula. This is billed as the only mainland albatross colony on earth. What we actually saw were 4 solitary nesting birds, about 50 metres away. Hardly the 'colony' we had envisaged and certainly no opportunity to view their 3 metre wingspan in flight. Quite a disappointment.

The afternoon at the , free!, Settlers Museum was a complete contrast. This wonderfully modern museum, partly housed in one of the best, original art deco buildings in the country, is a delight. Telling the story of the development of Dunedin from early settlers to present day, the place is full of fascinating artifacts and many hands on / interactive displays. Before we knew it we had been there over three hours and it was closing time!

The city certainly makes a lot of its Scottish heritage. Our Day 100!, January 25th, is Burns Night, and the restaurant at the museum is holding a Supper, complete with haggis, neaps, whiskey and bagpipes.

Today we had another waking tour, with a very knowledgeable and personable guide. Once again this gave us hindsights into history and buildings that would have been difficult for us to research. We also took ourselves around a Street Art tour, managing to see all 28 pieces listed on the map. A visit to Baldwin Street, officially thr steepest residential street in the world, and the immaculate Dunedin Botanical Gardens in the afternoon rounded off our delightful stay here.

Tomorrow we will take the Southern Scenic Route around the coast until we loop up to Te Anau in 2 days time. There we pick up our tickets for the Milford Track, a 4 day / 3 night hutted Great Walk that bills itself as 'the finest walk in the world'!. Well, I'm sure walks like Machu Pichu trail, the USA's many multi-week hikes and Everest Base Camp Trek, to name just a few, may dispute that. But we shall see.

We start the 55km on Sunday.

The current day 1 to 4 weather forecast is





Great!? 😎

Written near a picture window with a view to the southern sky.

NB - heard on the radio

'Honda say that the biggest cause of motor cycle accidents is a loose nut between the handlebar and the seat!'

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26th January 2017

Mother nature
28th January 2017

Thanks for looking in on our blog Paul and Pip

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