Day 224, Wed 18th Sep
Woke up the next day feeling surprisingly chipper. A beautiful day’s drive down through the wine country (with a quick detour for some wine tasting – for medicinal purposes of course) down to Kaikoura. The drive was spectacularly beautiful, but the highlight was stopping a Ohau springs where we found a small pool under a waterfall where baby seals swam 500m up a small rocky river to play in the pool. The fact they do it is amazing, but what I want to know is how they actually found it in the first place…?!
Up for the ingloriously common 10am NZ checkout and off to Kaikoura for whale watching tomorrow. Our wine stop-offs meant no time for the Kaikoura peninsula walk I had planned then forgotten about – oh dear – another early morning tomorrow then…
I enjoyed the seals at the Ohau stream too, but sadly my pressing need for the bathroom – Keir having driven past the only garage in about 100 miles – drove us to an early exit…
Day 224, Thurs 19th Sep
Up at 6:30 for breakfast before our peninsula walk, then off to see whales – or one whale twice, in this case – one was fine for me (though not the Canadian lady on our trip, it seems), my last attempt to see them ending in extraordinary painful coldness, the necessary donning of a fleecy crew boilersuit, and non-sight of a whale in Reykjavik – I hope we have a decent picture. Thank you Mum & Dad for paying for us
Double thanks from me to Alan & Lyn (A.K.A Mum & Dad No.3!) as I got to piggy back on this trip. Whether it was one whale or 100 whales it was still a priceless memory.
Drove down to the Banks Peninsula via another wine tasting – vital for the procurement of an oeno-related gift (for the rest of us normal people – she means vino!) for our hosts to be – arrived 6ish.
Keir’s friend Bill, father to his godchild(ren), has a sister (Helen) on Banks, who has very generously volunteered, not only to put us up for 2 nights, but also to cook us a meal tonight. We will arrive bearing gifts, including Sea World rubber stamps for the kids (this could either go very well, or horribly wrong as they stamp every bit of wall space in the house!), Tahitian biscuits and BOOZE of course (Bill had advised me that Keith liked beer…. Of whatever variety! ).
As ever, the hospitality of the Ross’s (Ne Hillier) knows no bounds – whether it be the UK or NZ!
Helen, the more gorgeous of the Ross siblings (sorry Tom/ Billy Ray – but you know it’s true!) had invited us to stay; obviously looking to wheedle all the tawdry truth about Bill out of me. Don’t worry Bill; Mum’s the word!
Sorry Bill; it took 1 bottle of wine – apparently ‘Blab’ is now the word!
Had a lovely meal with Keith & Helen, obviously involving copious amounts of booze, & we fell into a satisfied slumber.
Day 225 Fri 20th Sep
Helen & Keith are absolutely lovely, as are their kids, Eva and Ben, cats, Mouse & Murph, and dog, Milly. We feel truly at home.
(Milly is a black lab & beautifully trained whilst the cats are like living chocolate – beautiful & sooo friendly – I want some!!!)
Decided to take the scenic route to Akaroa, via an unanticipated single-lane, very bendy, cannot see more than a foot in front of you, dirt road; it was breathtaking, in more ways than one… (Especially if you are having to drive it after the navigator led you up the swanny…!)
Akaraoa was cute, but it is tiny and there is not much to do apart from go to a café and take a walk – both of which we did on arrival – unfortunately my choice of footwear left much to be desired so after a couple of hours slipping and sliding along mud-paths, and the missed opportunity of a stop at the closed, but beautiful looking, Tree Crop Farm, I was ready to return to Banks.
A lovely evening drinking wine and eating about 100 rice cakes with cheese (courtesy of Barry’s Bay cheese – expensive, but good – on the way to Akaroa) with Helen & Keith.
Helen’s enthused me with the Americas cup – Team NZ good, Team Oracle – bad! So, up early to watch the race… points go Oracle’s way… not so good.
Eva (the little Lamb) & Ben (Carriage No. 2) are in the school play tonight so very excited about the first night’s performance; Finger’s crossed.
Loved the Bank’s peninsular – lots of beautiful views & fantastic anchorages full of yachts… I want one!
Day 226, Sat 21st Sep
Got up late (considering the kids knocked on the door at 8) for a wonderful cooked breakfast of poached eggs, mushrooms and beans – by myself unfortunately, due to said late rising.
Off to Oamaru today, a Victorian town south of Christchurch, with a steampunk culture and PENGUINS!
Immediate stop at the info centre to book our penguin tour for this evening and to have a quick go on the Penny Farthing, then off to the free yellow-eyed (Hoiho) penguins at Bushy beach. We found one hanging around said bushes and saw another swim to the beach before deciding against it, before I decided I was cold enough and that it was time to go for the non-free Blue Penguin viewing.
The blue (Fairy) penguins were ultra-cute, only 12 inches high, but NO photos :-(. It was worth it for the premium seats though, we saw about 30 and a few were hanging around their little huts when we walked back through the enclosure. We then nearly ran one over in the car park whilst giggling at the ‘penguin crossing’ sign. Mercifully our last minute spot averted that potential trauma!
A lovely wake up call with the kids coming in & Milly, the dog, giving me a kiss. Tracey grunted, turned over & went back to sleep!
Another poor day for Team NZ – they effectively won the Americas cup but the non-sensical rules meant they ran out of time about 3 mins away from the line… How can you have an Americas cup race that has a minimum average wind speed of 5kts, but when you have an average of 9kts of wind the whole race there isn’t enough time to get around the course… the fact the Americans made the rules, their yacht was very poor in light winds & the TV companies had only programmed 2 hrs for 2 races obviously had nothing to do with it… made a joke of the whole Americas cup. P.S. I will accept Kiwi nationality if offered. :-)
Had to bid a sad farewell to Keith, Helen, Ben & Eva & head south to Omarua – a real gem of a town that hit it big & then time stood still as the prosperity moved elsewhere. Some lovely buildings in varying states of decay/ renovation &, more importantly from Tracey’s point of view – Penguins!
Had to explain, patiently, that Penguins wouldn’t like the weather back home & that the pond wouldn’t really be big enough for them.
Day 227, Sun 22nd Sep
A morning wandering around the market and cafes of Oamaru this morning, including interesting visits to a couple of steampunk shops, some beautiful and intact Victorian buildings, a sweet shop, and the Steampunk HQ museum. I think we might have a steampunk party when we are back – I quite like the tagline of ‘tomorrow as it used to be’.
‘Steampunk’ – Evolution inspired by Victorian whizzardry & invention.
Then off to Dunedin for food and the not very good, but visually stunning, film ‘Mood Indigo’ – I confess it was my choice, but it was Keir that did not let me Google the review first…
Is that my fault, again…?!
Day 228, Mon 23rd Sep
Nice sunny morning in Dunedin, which we completely failed to make the most of, with a nice trip to the Chinese Garden and drive to the Otago peninsula. Unfortunately our rather tardy start meant that it had completely clouded over, and then rain set in, before our planned walk. Oh well, a lazy early evening then!
A chilled, but forgettable day…. What did we do again..?!
Day 229, Tue 24th Sep
The drive towards Te Anau was beautiful as we decided, en route, to go via the Catlins mountain park right down on the southern tip of the island. Lots of windy roads, occasional dirt tracks & stunning scenery. Arrived, as planned, to see sunset over the lake at Te Anau… however the sun disappeared behind the mountain long before sunset… doh!
Stunning drive to Te Anau, which took most of the day, to arrive at our motel with unexpected kitchen – great, I was expecting nothing more than a kettle, and being slightly skint due to the non-South American prices, that saves us from a pot noodle
Day 230, Wed 25th Sep
Up early for an exceptionally long drive to Milford Sound (2.5 hrs) & then back through Te Anau to Queenstown (Another 5 hrs). Beautiful drive to the sound through misty mountains & fog bound mountain plains.
The trip on the boat was also quite stunning with waterfalls dropping off the steep mountain sides into the depths of the sound. Amazingly, we were the only people who hopped off our boat to do the trip to the underwater observatory & therefore we had a private viewing of the unique coral systems & fish life in the lake.
The long journey to Queenstown was punctuated by beautiful stops & the Kiwi constabulary issuing me a $120 speeding fine. T decided that silence was the best form of punishment & I arrived in Queenstown, like driving Miss Daisy, with my tail between my legs.
The hostel here was very friendly, but we were staying in what looked like a converted shed in the garden – washing & toilet facilities were all inside the hostel… T was not impressed!
Milford Sound was gorgeous, as was the early morning drive with all of the mist – a road fortunately not closed for day of travel. About halfway through our boat trip the remaining mist cleared and I managed to take a few extra photos :-). Drove on to Queenstown via a couple of nice walks to find the hostel – rather than holiday park – that I had booked, had places us in an outside cabin, necessitating the donning of a full outfit, shoes, key, and walk through the hostel for my night-time loo visit. Ironic as I chose not to book the extremely well rated holiday camp on the basis that I would have to go outside for the bathroom – why do none of the hostels have rooms with bathrooms in NZ anyway?
Day 231, Thu 26th Sep
Weather looked changeable so we had a day’s drive out to Glenorchy (beautiful but quiet) & then Arrowstown (stuck in time with clapboard houses & old ruined Chinese shanty town). Saw ‘Rush’ in the lovely little picture house there – a fantastic film if you haven’t seen it about the ‘James Hunt’/ ‘Nikki Lauder’ rivalry in F1 in the 70’s.
Glenorchy was nice, but Arrowtown nicer, unfortunately I think much of the Glenorchy drive relates to the scenery – slightly poorer for the overcast weather. Loved Arrowtown though, and Keir’s choice of film (I did Google this one) was great, the cinema is also very nice, like the little boutique ones you find in London.
Day 232, Fri 27th Sep
We had planned to hike up the mountain & do the ‘Luge’ at the top – a luge like run down concrete tracks in carts – then ice skate. However, torrential rain meant plan B came into force & we reversed the day’s events, with a little bit of shopping jammed in for T as well.
Why we don’t have these luge things back home is beyond me – they appeal to all ages; had great fun bombing down the runs, cutting inside & outside of T, Mums, Dad’s & kids whilst screaming at the top of my lungs – particularly fun having watched ‘Rush’ the day before!
A nice morning turned into a very wet day due to our late rising again – I tell you that all of these early morning travel days can be worse than work – but salvaged by an hour on the ice rink (no falling over, at least not by us – I think Keir actually only went round twice though!), a nice walk up the mountain and the LUGE. Really good fun, but we got up the mountain so late that we only had time for 2 runs and a glass of wine before approaching dusk forced us to walk back down again.
Day 233, Sat 28th Sep
This was meant to be a gentle drive to Fox glacier through the beautiful scenery of the Haast pass with multiple stops for breath taking views. However, after a 2 hr drive we stopped in Wanaka only to find the pass was shut – indefinitely – due to risk of a landslide. A quick re-plan by T turned & we now had a 6 hr detour on our hands!
We arrived in Arthur’s pass at 1930 after a 10hr drive much wearied, but strangely buoyant that we’d coped with everything Mother Nature had thrown at us. We even had an unexpected arrival committee of 2 ‘Kea’s’ – alpine parrots – who landed on the car roof when we arrived & were sticking their beaks into everything they could as we unpacked the car. T wanted a picture of the 3 Keir/ Kea’s together; I’m not sure what she was going to entitle it, but I heard some mutterings about ‘Dumb & dumber’ or a ‘Who’s got the biggest beak competition’…
My best laid plans were rather scuppered by the Haast closure – though since a couple of Canadians were swept off the road in a landslide a week or so ago in that spot, we were quite understanding of the caution shown there – manic re-plan ensued; we will go to the glaciers tomorrow, but it means 2 days of long drives for Keir. Sometimes not being able to drive is a good (albeit selfish) thing.
Day 234, Sun 29th Sep
Another long drive today down the mountain to the coast, then south to see Fox’s Glacier, Franz Joseph Glacier & Lake Matheson, before driving all the way back up to Greymouth. This would then bring us back on track with the plan after the Haast pass detour.
A day of almost perpetual rain, with occasional bursts of sunshine. We got as far as the car park of the lake & Fox Glacier but had a walk in the rain to see Franz Joseph.
A quick detour to see the Hokitiki gorge meant that we arrived into Greymouth slightly late & knackered. However, we had a very warm welcome from the Hostel owner how ransacked the place to find us a copy of the ‘Hunger games’ to watch whilst we ate dinner.
Disappointing that we could not really enjoy the glaciers or the Hokitiki gorge due to the weather, and running out of time again, but I guess we have been pretty lucky so far in New Zealand and the West Coast is the most subject to wet weather…
Fantastic owner at Neptune’s Backpackers in Greymouth spent about an hour looking for The Hunger Games for us while I was cooking up a storm in the kitchen and drinking more wine – I may have to cut down on this alcohol thing, Keir has started buying cider as well as purportedly sharing the wine, but he does not seem to be doing much of the latter…
Day 235, Mon 30th Sep
Dropped the hire car off & then caught the train for the trip back through Arthurs pass to Christchurch. Beautiful sights though the train window – so much more relaxing than driving.
Managed a quick walk around Greymouth before our train ride – pretty spectacular and well worth the NZ $99, I am not sure if I would have paid the international price of $199 though; book it in New Zealand if you are going!
Arrived in Christchurch for another late supermarket run and supper. Met some nice British girls, Sara & Kirsty, in the kitchen and shared some travel info whilst attempting another rice dish – maybe I will actually be a decent cook by the time I get back? I live in hope, I think Keir does too…
Day 236, Tues 1st Oct
Spent the day wandering around Christchurch, checking out the cardboard cathedral (not all of it, to my disappointment) and the re-start mall. It is really sobering to think how much was destroyed in the earthquake and how many people lost their lives, but also great to see so much regeneration and positivity here. We did not have much time unfortunately, transfer to the airport for Melbourne at 6pm!
Christchurch has a nice vibe, despite the horrendous destruction from the earthquake, everyone is very positive & new buildings/ developments are sprouting everywhere like budding shoots.
Our new hostel, Pint on Punt, is like student digs, the room is fine – if a little dirty – but no soap or toilet roll in the bathrooms and a lot of dirty saucepans lying about. Not great, lucky it is only for 2 nights!
Nice pub downstairs & a comfortable bed are the only things going for the hostel – a little care & attention & it’d be a great place.