Kaikoura, Picton and Wellington (again)

I was picked up from Christchurch airport at about 10am the following morning. Only got lost once driving back to the airport…

We arrived in Kaikoura in the early afternoon. As I was spending 5 nights in Kaikoura, I had quite a leisurely afternoon buying food and chilling out. I had intended to do some laundry but as there was no dryer at the hostel, I decided against it.

The next day I went whale watching. I’d done this when I was in Kaikoura in November 2014, but was being violently sea sick at the crucial photo op point when the sperm whale did its dive. Having sussed out the weather forecast (gloriously sunny) I decided to try my luck again. Having had my sea sickness tablets, I arrived at Whale Watch Kaikoura at 9.30am and checked in. After watching a short safety video, we boarded a coach for the short journey to the dock on the south side of the peninsula.

We left the dock and headed out to sea. Whale Watch Kaikoura pretty much guarantee that you will see a whale as they have listening equipment to listen for the unique sound waves that sperm whales emit. On our way to the location of the whale they were tracking, we were lucky enough to spot some orcas (also known as killer whales). 

  
(Bad picture but you get the idea).

As someone who is very prone to sea sickness, I was feeling a little bit queasy at this point, despite the medication, having an ear plug in my left ear, and making a conscious effort to focus on the horizon. We headed off towards the supposed site of the whale and waited for it to appear for its roughly hourly poke on the surface.

Sperm whales have a characteristic spout at about 45 degrees

  
This whale came to the surface quiet quickly, and we had a side-on view when it dived.

  
We then headed to another site where another sperm whale was due to make an appearance. We waited there quite a long time, during which I became increasingly nauseous. Just as we were about to leave, the second sperm whale made an appearance, this time we were front on, and I got a picture that I’m very proud of.

  
After this we (thankfully) headed back to dry land, and arrived back shortly before 1pm.

As I had not been well, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the hostel, using the fastest wifi so far.

The next day I decided to do the Kaikoura Peninsula walk. This was a 4 hour walk around the Kaikoura peninsula, and back to the centre of Kaikoura. I bumped into some more wildlife on the way.

   
   
It was a lovely walk and a very nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I still had 2 days lefts in Kaikoura. I had originally contemplated some more sea kayaking as I had enjoyed it enormously in Abel Tasman, but after being quite ill on a relatively calm day, I decided against it. I spent the next couple of days pottering around the town, looking in the local shops and enjoying numerous chai lattes (I think I’m addicted). I also went for my first run in over 2 months. Not terrible but not great. I’m quite pleased that my stamina seems to have improved with all the walking I’ve been doing (though I still hate hills and steps), but my speed is sloooooooow.

On my final morning I got up early to watch the sunrise. 

  
Pretty awesome.

We were picked up from Kaikoura at 9am and then headed up the coast towards Picton. We stopped briefly at Ohau point to look at the super-cute seal pups. This place is like a seal-pup kindergarten as the parents go out to sea during the day and leave the pups to play in the stream.

  
We arrived in Picton at lunchtime. Some people were catching the early afternoon ferry, but I had decided to stay the night. I took a nice walk along the Snout Track to the Queen Charlotte lookout, over the Queen Charlotte Sound.

  
New Zealand, it seems, just carries on getting more beautiful.

The following day, I caught the early afternoon ferry to Wellington. In the morning I went to the Edwin Fox maritime museum, and the aquarium. The Edwin Fox museum houses one of the boats that convicts were sent to Australia on.

It was a perfect day for a ferry crossing. The first hour of the 3 hour 20 minute journey is through the Marlborough Sounds.

   
 
Eventually we made it to the head of the Sounds and out into the Cook Strait.

  
We arrived in Wellington at around 5.20pm, and as it is now definitely autumn, it was already going dark. I headed to the hostel for a chilled evening.

I now had 2 days left in Wellington before heading back to Auckland.

On the first day I took care of some admin – sending stuff home that I don’t need, and hunting around for a printer. In the afternoon I went to the Great War Exhibiton at the National War Memorial. Learnt quite a lot, including that the British, German and Russian royal families were all related (I’m sure I most have known that before but evidently I’ve forgotten how pally Kaiser Wilhelm was with King George and Tsar Nicholas), and the origin of ‘bangers’ as in ‘bangers and mash’.

In the evening I went to see The Boss at the cinema. Very entertaining.

The next day I was struggling to find something to entertain me in Wellington. Having been here for a couple of days 5 weeks ago I think I’ve done almost everything. I had a wander around the Saturday underground market, and some of the shops. Wellington claims to be the ‘coolest little capital’, but I think Cardiff definitely challenges it on that front 🙂

I ended up in the cinema again in the evening. This time it was Eddie the Eagle. I have been to the cinema a lot while I’ve been in NZ, but I never go at home, so why not? This will probably be my last trip to the cinema as America is going to be too packed (I think) to fit anymore trips in. Also, it was an excellent opportunity to see Hugh Jackman looking fiiiiiiiiine.

An early-ish night followed as I was up at 5.45am to catch the bus back to Auckland. Or was I? The bus drove straight past me. Minor panic ensued, and $220 (£110) later I find myself at Wellington airport waiting for a flight toAuckland. Assuming all is well, I’m off to the Cook Islands in the morning for some time travel and some R&R. 

Christchurch

After my 2 day road trip, it was time to spend a day in Christchurch.

Christchurch was very badly damaged in 2 earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011, and as a result, tour companies seem to bypass Christchurch, or warn you off going there. Stray, for example, only pick up and drop off at the airport. I thinking that is increasingly the wrong attitude.

When I was here in November 2014, I was surprised and saddened to see the mess it was still in. This time, I was prepared. There are still large parts of the CBD that are derelict, or have buildings boarded up awaiting demolition. But there is also a lot of construction work ongoing.

   
 I went to the Quake Museum, which is harrowing at times, though not quite on the scale of the 9/11 Museum in New York. Among other things in the museum, there was a video presentation showing the vision of Christchurch that they are rebuilding. Lots of the architecture that made Christchurch the most English city outside of England has been lost, but in its place is going to be (at least by the looks of things) some really great modern buildings that will take Christchurch onwards and upwards.

I visited the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, which was erected as the famous Christchurch Cathedral was very badly damaged in the quakes.

  
I feel that the original cathedral may be beyond repair, which is a great shame as it was a very fine building which I was fortunate to be able to see when I was here in 2004.

   
 
That there are still so many buildings boarded up over 5 years since the earthquake is shameful on some fronts. The pace of rebuild is staggeringly slow for a developed country, but I understand why the cathedral is still there in its delicate state. It was such an iconic piece of Christchurch that it should try to be salvaged if at all possible.

One of the positive outcomes of the earthquakes are the innovative ways that the people of Christchurch (Christchurchians?) have come up with to rebuild their city. One of which is the Re:start shopping mall, which is constructed out of shipping containers. Very Shoreditch. I hope they will keep it in some form once the main shopping areas are rebuilt.

  
I also visited the art gallery, which seems to have only recently reopened, and the Canterbury Museum. I was very pleased to be able to visit the museum as one of the things I remember very clearly from my first visit in 2004 was going to a museum which had Satsuma-ware ceramics. Mum and dad have similar ceramics at home and I remember recognising them. I was very pleased to discover that they are still here!

  
I also visited Hagley Park, a large park in the centre of Christchurch, and home to another innovative idea that sprung in the wake of the earthquakes. The Hagley Oval is the new international cricket ground in Christchurch. But I use that in its loosest form. It is actually in the middle of the park, and you can walk right through it. Or you could if they weren’t digging up the square.

  
This is such a cool idea. All the away around the ground are raised banks, and I guess on match day you bring your deck chair and a picnic and find a patch of grass to sit on. Amazing!

On my long walk around the city, you also come across some very sombre sites, including the ‘185 white chairs’, which are situated across from the site of the Canterbury TV building where most lives were lost.

  
185 people died in the February 2011 quake, and this is a pop up memorial to them.

I walked around the city for about 6 hours, and it gave me a lot of time to think. So, my plea to tour companies would be this: include an overnight stop in Christchurch in your itineraries. There is plenty to see in the city, and the businesses would be very glad of the custom. Christchurch is going to be rebuilt, and it is going to be modern, vibrant and worth seeing. I would love to come back one day and see it when it is complete.

Road Trip

After a short and slightly dull stay in the Peel Forest so that people could ‘enjoy’ rafting on the Rangitata river, we had an early start (6.40am departure) to drive to Christchurch. Stray only stop at the airport, and don’t stay overnight in Christchurch (which is a shame, more on this in a separate blog post), so we arrived at Christchurch airport shortly after 9am. The reason for the early start is that the final destination for the day on the Stray Bus is Kaikoura, and they need to be in Kaikoura by midday for whale watching.

Anyway, Kaikoura is for another day. When we got to Christchurch airport, I gathered all my belongings (4 bags of varying sizes at this point) and found the car rental desk. After wincing at the $3,000 excess and paying for the rental, I got the keys for my wheels for the next couple of days – a 5 door Toyota Yaris (automatic).

 

It was clean when I got it – this is a picture from day 2.

My plan for day 1 was to head out to the Banks Peninsula, about 90 minutes southeast of Christchurch. A few people had mentioned that it was really pretty, and my Lonely Planet describes the scenic drive as ‘absurdly beautiful’. Sadly the weather was not good. The Banks Peninsula was formed by 2 volcanoes, and when I was driving along the top of the crater, I was driving in the clouds. I almost had to stop the car to figure out where the fog lights were!

Nevertheless, I ploughed on, and followed the scenic drive to several bays, including Pigeon Bay:

 
Little Akaloa:

  
And Le Bons Bay:

  
The car got very dirty when I decided to try to get to the Lighthouse, but after a slightly hairy drive down a dirt road, I chickened out about halfway to the lighthouse. It was raining quite hard, and the dirt road was turning very muddy. The poor little automatic was struggling so I figured it would be better to turnaround while I had the opportunity.

After that little escapade, I decided to head to Akaroa and find the hostel. This shouldn’t have been hard as Akaroa is basically one main road, but I drove straight past the hostel to start with!

Akaroa has a lot of French heritage (for example, the roads are all Rue…). I went to the little museum where there was a short video explaining how there came to be such a French connection here. After a short and cold stroll along the front, I bid a hasty retreat to the hostel. Akaroa seemed fairly sleepy, despite there being a cruise ship in the harbour.

The hostel I stayed at was the quietest one so far. I only saw 3 other people there, and had a dorm room all to myself.

I had an early night as I wanted to be off early in the morning as I had a lot of driving planned for day 2.

Obviously the weather in Akaroa was absolutely stunning the following day. As I drove out of the Banks Peninsula towards SH1 I stopped for a quick photo op:

  
If only the weather had been like this the previous day!

My first destination on day 2 was (were?) the Moeraki Boulders which are 4 and a half hours’ drive from Akaroa (hence the early start). They are practically in Dunedin and it might have made slightly more sense to have visited them whilst I was in Dunedin, but nevermind. I enjoyed being back behind the wheel, even if the lack of acceleration in the automatic was annoying.

The Moeraki Boulders are surprisingly smooth, round stones on the beach at Moeraki:

   
   
After a nice walk on the beach among the boulders, and my picnic lunch, it was time to head to my next stop, about an hour back north from Moeraki. When I was in Dunedin, I met a German girl who recommended that I should go to the Elephant Rocks as well as the Moeraki Boulders. The Elephant Rocks are near Oamaru, but are inland. They aren’t particularly well signposted and as I was navigating purely by road signs, I was quite pleased to find them.

   
   
I’m not entirely sure where the ‘elephant’ name comes from, but they are an interesting geological formation.

After this, it was a long drive back to Christchurch. I arrived at the hostel in Christchurch just after 7pm. It only took 3 drives around the block to find the entrance! Weirdly though I had been here before with G Adventures in November 2014. The place has had much-needed spruce up in the intervening period.

Over the 2 days, I covered about 850km. I really enjoy driving, and after almost 4 months of not driving, it was really nice to get back behind the wheel. I will definitely never buy an automatic though – I need to have more control over my speed!

Aoraki Mount Cook

I’ve just spent 2 and a half glorious days in Aoraki Mount Cook village and national park. The weather could not have been more perfect.

We left Queenstown early on Friday morning. The Remarkables mountain range had a dusting of snow overnight – it’s definitely Autumn now! After a stop in Cromwell for supplies (there are no shops in Mt Cook village), we stopped for lunch overlooking Lake Pukaki. The blueness of the lake is amazing.

 
We arrived at our accommodation in Aoraki Mount Cook village at around 2pm. Aoraki is the Maori name for Mount Cook, and means ‘cloud piercer’. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the Hooker Valley Track, which is a walk I’d done when I was here back in 2014. The weather was much better this time, and we got some awesome views of Mt Cook on the walk, which we couldn’t even see in 2014.

   

 

As the sky was so clear, we were treated to a fabulous view of the night sky in the evening. It’s probably the clearest I’ve ever seen the Milky Way, and we could also see Jupiter and Mars really clearly. The views of the night sky that I’ve seen on my travels really have been something else.
On Saturday I took a 4WD ‘Argo’ trip to the terminal of the Tasman Glacier.

  
I have to say that this was one of the most uncomfortable journeys I’ve ever had, 5km up a boulder-strewn gravel track, but it was an awesome view when we got to the glacier.

  
I then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, learning about the first people to ascend various peaks in the Southern Alps, along with watching a 3D short film on Mount Cook, and an interesting documentary on Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953.

In the evening i had a vastly overpriced pint of cider from the bar at the backpackers. It was $11 – £5.50 – basically London prices. I won’t be making that mistake again!!

Today (Sunday) was another beautiful day. I walked up the Sealy Tarns track. This was quite challenging. Roughly 90 minutes of walking up steps, though I suspect fitter people could do it in around an hour. The views on the way up, and at Sealy Tarns lookout, were amazing.

   
 
It only took me 45 minutes to get back down, and even with about half an hour for lunch at the top, I was still within the suggested 3 hour time frame for the walk.

I also walked to Kea Point, which was 10 minutes from the start/end of the Sealy Tarns track, and gave another great view of Aoraki Mount Cook.

  
After my long walk, I treated myself to a bath. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has baths! I love a bath, and it feels like forever since I had one, though in reality it was about 5 weeks ago in Rotorua.

Tomorrow we move on to Rangitata, where I will not be partaking in white water rafting (which is basically the only thing to do in Rangitata). The day after that we head to Christchurch where I will be renting a car for a little road trip…

The Deep South

After a quick overnighter in Queenstown, it was yet again early on the road as we headed to Milford Sound. After a stop in Te Anau for Milford Sound cruise tickets and Stewart Island ferry tickets, we drove through part of the Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound. The weather wasn’t great, but they get up to 9m of rain a year here so you’ll be lucky if the weather is good.

  
At Milford Sound we went on a scenic cruise for about an hour and a half. I have to say that this was the most disappointing part of my trip so far. It was raining and the clouds were really low. Now, when I was here in November 2014, the weather wasn’t great either. However, it must have been even more rainy then because there were hundreds of waterfalls on Milford Sound, and it looked amazing. This time there weren’t as many waterfalls, and it was difficult to see the surrounding landscape because of the low clouds.

   
  
I wasn’t the only one who found it disappointing (although I guess a lot of that disappointment was in comparison to last time), others on the bus also found it underwhelming.

We spent the night at nearby Gunn’s Camp. This was originally built as accommodation for the men who built a tunnel through the mountain so that you could access Milford Sound by road. It isn’t your usual type of accommodation. The cabins were heated by wood burners, and electricity was available from a generator between 6pm and 10pm only. The hot water for the showers was also heated by wood burner, and I have to say it was one of the hottest showers I’ve ever had.

The next day was quite a leisurely drive from Gunn’s Camp, back through Te Anau where we stocked up at the supermarket, and onto Bluff for the ferry to Stewart Island. We made a few stops along the way for photos, and this is one of my favourites on the way out of Fiordland:

  
We arrived in Bluff just after 4pm, and after a quick stop at the signposts, it was time to board the ferry to Stewart Island.

  
The crossing takes about an hour, and was apparently a relatively smooth crossing. I wasn’t taking any changes and had already had my sea sickness tablets.

Stewart Island is the 3rd largest island in New Zealand, and is home to a lot of wildlife. It’s also your best chance in NZ of seeing a kiwi in the wild, as well as the aurora australis (southern lights). Unfortunately I saw neither whilst I was there.

I was staying 2 nights, and the ferry back wasn’t until 3.30pm so I had 1 and half days to explore. On the first day I took a water taxi to Ulva Island, which is only a 10 minute journey from Stewart Island. Ulva Island is pest free and home to a lot of bird life. There are a few walking tracks around the island and I spent about 4 hours there walking, trying to spot wildlife, and enjoying the solitude. It was so quiet and peaceful (aside from the birds chirping away) that it felt like I was the only person in the world.

   
   
 
After getting the water taxi back to Stewart Island, I walked back to the hostel in Oban around the coast from Golden Bay. 

The next day I decided to walk in the opposite direction, to Horseshoe Bay, and then back to Oban.

   
   
The weather turned a bit in the afternoon and the crossing back to Bluff was rather choppy. I was even more glad for my sea sickness tablets on the way back. A couple of young kids seated in front of me did not enjoy it at all.

We arrived back in Bluff and then I caught the shuttle bus to Invercargill, where I was staying the next 2 nights. Thankfully only 1 day though as there is not a lot to do in Invercargill. It is not a beautiful town by any stretch of the imagination, and has a certain Wild West (Deep South) feel to it.

I went to the museum, which had an interesting exhibition on sub-Antarctic islands which, to be honest, are part of the world I didn’t even know existed.

After a long walk around the park and a slightly disappointing chai latte in a local coffee shop, I headed back to the hostel to start writing this. (It’s several days later when I finish it!)

In the evening I went to the cinema (again). This time I tried out a kiwi film – The Hunt For The Wilderpeople. It’s got Sam Neill in it, and the kid who plays the lead is great. I can’t imagine it will get a wide release in the UK. Maybe in an arts cinema (maybe Chapter in Cardiff), but if you come across it, it’s well worth a watch.

The next day we went to The Catlins, which is an area on the south coast about 70km east of Invercargill. We spied some dolphins but sadly no sea lions, even though they are quite common in this area.

   After picking up some people from the Stewart Island ferry, we hot-footed it back to Queenstown.

The next day I headed south again, on a day trip to Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound is much bigger than Milford Sound, and is more difficult to access. We drove to Manapouri before taking a boat trip across Lake Manapouri. We then drove over Wilmot Pass (which is not connected to any other roads in NZ) before arriving at Doubtful Sound for a 3 hour cruise.

   

I really enjoyed this cruise, we saw bottle-nosed dolphins, and although it was raining a bit, the clouds were much higher than they had been at Milford Sound, so we were able to enjoy the waterfalls and the scenery.

  
We had an eventful journey back to Queenstown. Our bus broke down so we all had wait a short while for a couple of the other buses in the area to pick us up. We got back to Queenstown at 8.30pm, after a 7am start, so it was a long day. And after a long day, there’s only one way to finish it off in Queenstown – with a Fergburger. The best burgers in the world. Also, with it being quite late on, there was no queue!

Time to head north tomorrow, to the Mt Cook region. Fingers crossed for decent weather so I can get out walking.

Easter Weekend

We arrived in Wanaka on Good Friday. It was extremely busy as there was an air show on in addition to it being a long weekend.

We arrived late afternoon, and after sitting on the lake with an ice cream, enjoying the sunset and a few planes flying by, I went to the cinema. You may think it’s a bit odd to go to the cinema on my one night in Wanaka, and on a Friday night as well, but this isn’t any old cinema. This is Cinema Paradiso, which gets a decent mention in my Lonely Planet. The cinema has sofas, and there is an intermission about an hour into the film where you can buy freshly baked cookies. 

  
I went to see Batman v Superman – a bit confusing, and loads of CGI.

Another reason for going to the cinema instead of sampling the local nightlife is that you basically cannot buy alcohol in New Zealand on Good Friday or Easter Sunday (there are some loopholes along the lines of staying in a hotel and buying a meal at the hotel restaurant allows you to buy one drink). Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything, but being away from home gets me in the holiday spirit, and being on holiday means drinking most day. I’ve been on ‘holiday’ for 3 months now so probably could do with a few days off the booze.

Anyway, the next morning I woke early and was out of the hostel and wandering around town at 8.30am. Wanaka is a really nice little town, kinda like Queenstown but with a more laid back vibe. Probably should have spent another night here in hindsight, but nevermind. The bus left at 9.45am to take us to Puzzling World, just outside Wanaka. Puzzling World has loads of illusions and a giant maze, and is kinda cool. They had a wall of hollow Einstein masks, but your eyes trick you into thinking you are looking at the outside of the mask instead of the inside. I promise you that all these are the hollow inside.

  
We left Puzzling World at about 11.30am and set off for Queenstown, self styled ‘adventure capital of the world’. We stopped off at Kawarau Bridge, home of the world’s first commercial bungy jump. We watched a few people jump, but no one from our bus did it. We also watched a short film on how bungy jumping was invented and became commercialised.

  
We arrived in Queenstown mid-afternoon, and my first task was to go in search of a new pair of walking boots after mine started taking on water from underneath in Franz Josef. With my new boots acquired, I had a walk around the lakefront, and through a local craft market. In the evening we had a boat trip on Lake Wakatipu with a burger and a free drink whilst watching the sunset. It was pretty spectacular to say the least:  

 
  
After a couple of drinks in the hostel bar, it was a pretty early night as I had an early bus in the morning to Dunedin.

I arrived in Dunedin around lunchtime on Easter Sunday, and to say it was quiet was a bit of an understatement. Not a lot was open and there were very few people about. After a little walk around to get my bearings, I retreated back to the hostel to do some much needed laundry. Cheapest so far, only $2 for a wash.

As it was so quiet, and there was little else to do in the evening, I went to the only thing open – the cinema. I’ll be turning into a film buff at this rate! This time it was My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which I found surprisingly poignant.

Easter Monday was back to something approaching normality. Things were open so I was out of the hostel mid morning to see what Dunedin had to offer. First up, the Chinese Gardens. It turns out that the Chinese have a longish history with Dunedin following the gold rush in the 1800s, and there is a decent sized Chinese population in this area.

The gardens were opened in 2008 (i think, I don’t remember them being here in 2004), and are very tranquil and peaceful.

  
Next, I went to the Otago Settlers Museum, which was an interesting look at how various peoples settled in Dunedin and Otago, including the Maori, and the Scottish. Dunedin has a strong Scottish heritage, which is patently evident from walking around the city. It definitely felt like I was in a city in northern Britain. They even have a statue of Robert Burns in the city centre.

  
Next up was a tour around Cadbury World, and more free chocolate than I could shake a stick at. British people – be warned that Cadburys chocolate tastes weird in Oz and NZ. They put extra ingredients in to stop it melting in the heat.

  
Finally on Easter Monday I had a quick walk around Dunedin Railway Station, apparently the second most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere. Guess what’s first?

  
After a hectic day I had a quiet evening in the hostel.

The next day I went to the Botanical Gardens, and had a nice long walk around there.

In the afternoon I went to the Otago Museum, which had quite a few exhibits including some personal possessions belonging to Sir Edmund Hillary from the first successful ascent of Everest.

I then had a quick look around Dunedin Art Gallery in the hope that the more I look at art, the more I might ‘get’ it.

After a long day walking around in my new boots, it was time to put my feet up in the evening.

I had one final morning in Dunedin before getting the bus back to Queenstown. I spent most of the morning searching for eye cream and consuming vast quantities of my new favourite drink – chai latte.

After a seemingly never-ending bus journey back to Queenstown, I arrived back at around 7pm, and am bracing myself for another early start as we head to Milford Sound.