South Island

7th March 2015 …

… and Pat has been packed for several days! Lots to do still, mostly sorting out money.

The planning and booking has all been done for us by Audley Travel. Although we’ve been very much been involved in where we go, Audley’s Chris Wilson has offered invaluable advice as to what to see and the best routes to take, and we’ve been able to leave all the booking, and coping with the inter-island flight schedules, to him!

16th March 2015 – To Queenstown

Here we are in Queenstown – at the Queenstown Country Lodge, to be precise. We feel it should be late Sunday night but everyone else seems to think it’s Monday afternoon so we’ll go along with them. We had to hang about an extra hour and a half in LA, waiting for Cyclone Pam to distance itself a little more from Auckland but otherwise the journey went smoothly. We soon adjusted to the long-haul mentality. Pat was heard to say, in all seriousness, “Oh, it’s only another 4 hours to Auckland.” And, for the record, Air New Zealand Economy Plus rocks.

Queenstown is set amidst some stunning hills – very Lord of the Rings (much of which was filmed here). It made for a bit of a hair-raising approach to the airfield, though. We’re pleased we’re not flying out from here.

This afternoon we went for a walk round Lake Hayes,

just down the road from our guesthouse. We needed the fresh air, and the lake is very pretty. We were treated to the sights of several Australasia Harriers cruising the adjacent meadows for dinner and a row of crested grebes sitting on a log drying their wings like miniature cormorants.

Off now to the pre-dinner wine tasting.

17th March – Queenstown

After 10 hours’ sleep and an enormous breakfast we were ready to pick up our hire car – a Ford Mondeo, which will do nicely. Popping into the local supermarket we picked up a 2degrees SIM card for an old phone of Colin’s, which will enable us to make calls in NZ cheaply. We were also pleased to confirm that the maps we’d downloaded for free work perfectly in the Zumo we’d brought with us, so that’ll help with the navigation.

Then it was off into town to explore Queenstown. The touristy bit of downtown and the waterfront are very attractive but the rest is not at all so. We enjoyed the public gardens beside the lake (nearest peninsular in picture below).

Sitting there watching the boats we became aware of one small, enclosed boat made to look like a whale that suddenly dived completely underwater and then breached, almost vertical. It was a great sight but we really didn’t envy the passengers.

The gondola ride up Bob’s Peak was fun, passing over the luge run and close by the bungy jump. We passed on both! There was still a bit of cloud on the mountain tops, so while we took a few photos of Queenstown we look forward to the sky clearing in order to do justice to the views.

For dinner we popped down the road to Arrowtown and decided on the Tapas Bar that was No. 1 in Tripadvisor. It didn’t deserve its rating!

18th March – Arrowtown

The day started showery, so we decided to take the short drive to Arrowtown, a frontier town from the 1860s gold rush that has maintained much of its character. There’s a small museum, useful for ducking into on a showery day and we passed a pleasant hour there. The weather was holding so we took a chance on a walk along the Arrow River where people are still panning for gold. It was quite a strenuous walk in parts but worthwhile for the scenery. We stopped to take lots of photographs, including one (below) of the stretch where Peter Jackson had filmed the “Fords of Bruinen” scene from Lord of the Rings.

Back in Arrowtown we treated ourselves to a French lunch at “Bonjour”, a delightful cafe with real French waitresses from France. A quick browse of the shops followed. We couldn’t stretch to gold jewellery or to merino wool mixed with possum fur (the softest sweaters ever) but the sun was out and the sky much clearer so we headed up the windy mountainous road to Cardrona.

We rather enjoyed all the hairpins but we were soon taking them all the way back down again as the side road to the ski resort was closed. Nothing daunted we came back to Queenstown and drove up to the Coronet Peak ski resort instead. The views were stupendous, and our cameras were abused.

By then it was nearly dinner time, so we headed for Queenstown and a curry. An all-round good day.

19th March – Glenorchy

Our final day in Queenstown, and a nice sunny one at that. Off to Glenorchy, then. And what a fabulous road it was. Each bend in the road revealed yet another fine view even better than the last and crying out for a photo. We did eventually make it to Glenorchy, which Colin had particularly wanted to see as it was where Jane Campion filmed Top of the Lake.

We then went to and beyond the well-named Paradise. The hire car took us along gravel roads of varying degrees of smoothness and through the odd ford, chasing Lord of the Rings locations. The atmospheric beech woods delighted us even though it was a bit worrying when we met other cars on the narrow track. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in a clearing and made a leisurely way home. Another great day.

20th March – Te Anau

Today we moved on to Te Anau.
First we popped down the road to the Kawarau Gorge bridge to see the bunji jumping – enjoyed vicariously.

The trip to Te Anau itself was pretty but uneventful. A brief wander round the town, a quick settle into our B&B, pizza for dinner.

21st March – Doubtful Sound

Today was the day for the planned excursion to Doubtful Sound. This involved a bus from our B&B to Manapouri, a boat across the lake to West Arm, another bus through the rainforest and over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove and then a catamaran through the sound all the way to the Tasman Sea. Eventually followed by the whole palaver in reverse, of course.

We woke to a very windy morning and we’d been warned to expect rain but the bus turned up on time and the whole thing worked like clockwork. The picnic lunches were waiting for us at the first boat dock, Pat’s reassuringly labelled “vegetarian, NO mushrooms”. Very good it was, too!

Our fellow passengers were a wide mixture of ages and races. Just about everyone was wearing layers of the warmest things they had and a waterproof, but there were one or two exceptions like the young woman in the minidress and slippers. The most noticeable was the immaculately made-up young Asian woman with the henna patterns on her legs, wearing beautifully tailored clothes ( a fur-collared coat and a rather nice pencil skirt), expensive-looking jewellery, smart shoes with transparent heels and a Burberry handbag. The sickening thing was that she looked just as elegant at the end of the day.

The whole trip was fabulous. The rain and increasingly dense mist hid some of the view, but conversely added an element of ghostly mystery to the scene. The rain forest vegetation was amazing – tree ferns and fuschia trees among the dense beeches. The fiord walls, though almost vertical, are just as densely covered except for the patches where a large tree just hasn’t managed to hold on any longer and has started a “tree avalanche”.

After an hour or two of rain, waterfalls started gushing down the fiord walls. All in all a truly dramatic scene.

Bottlenose dolphins accompanied the boat for a while and we visited a colony of NZ fur seals. Sadly, we saw no penguins. The commentaries from the bus drivers and on the boats were first class, as was the organisation overall. Well done Real Journeys!

We returned tired and a bit damp, revived ourselves with hot chocolate and nipped into town for a quick bite. It’s still raining. Hard.

22nd March – Te Anau

When they were shooting background footage for Lord of the Rings, they spent a whole year filming the scenery in all seasons from an aeroplane and helicopter. Some of the unused footage was too good to waste so they put together a compilation with a soundtrack and turned it into the half-hour Fiordland on Film. Then they had to build a cinema in TeAnau to show it. Been there, done that, bought the DVD.

Then we took a walk in the woods – just a little of the Kepler Trail starting from Te Anau Lake – superb primaeval forest.

Later in the afternoon we had a boat ride across the lake to the glow-worm caves. This was a quite magical experience though we did have initial qualms about entering the caves as we had to bend almost double (Colin) or duck quite a lot (Pat) for the first several metres.

We rounded off the day with an excellent dinner at Te Anau’s finest.

23rd March – The Catlins

A long drive today around the Catlins section of the Southern Scenic Route (Yes, J,J and J, that’ll be the coastal route the tourists use) which certainly lived up to its name. We saw a petrified forest and some porpoises at Curio Bay; enjoyed the view from Florence Hill Lookout; walked up to the wonderfully named Purakaunui Falls; explored Nugget Point; and generally enjoyed the rolling hills and forest that comprise the Catlins. We stopped so often and for so long that we had to ring the next guest house at 5 o’clock to say we were still miles away and liable to arrive late.

At that point (Nugget Point, actually) we were really glad that we hadn’t tried to hurry because we discovered that the nearby hide was positioned for watching penguins. The rare yellow-eyed penguins come out of the sea in the early evening to sleep on land. We started watching at 5. At 5.40 we decided we’d give it until 6. At 5 to 6 something that first appeared to be a seabird emerged onto the shore and waddled up the beach.

Soon there were three penguins flapping about. We couldn’t believe our luck.

We’d been warned that Otago was celebrating its 150th anniversary and restaurants would be closed so we settled for fish and chips, taken out and eaten in a layby with an ocean view.

24th March – Dunedin

Today was a day of two halves. We spent the morning in Dunedin where we particularly liked the Settlers Museum. After we’d had a look around and were enjoying a coffee we saw three large coaches pull up outside and disgorge Maoris of every age from the most elderly tottering on their zimmer frames to young children. It turned out to be part of Hikoi ki Te Waipounamu – the group was being taken on an 8-day tour culminating in the receipt of an official apology for the sacking of Parihaka in 1881. One of the museum staff welcomed them with a short song and then a very elderly lady from the visitors replied in the same way. This was genuine stuff, not a ceremony for tourists, and we found it quite moving.

We then drove the length of the Otago peninsula, low road out and high road back. “Stunning” is a word we keep using to describe the scenery, but it’s the right word. Near the albatross sanctuary we were lucky enough to see, and photograph, several birds on the wing.

Later, walking along a nearby beach, we got up close and personal to a couple of sunbathing sea lions.

We dined with Fiona, a distant cousin of Pat’s, and her Danish-born husband Hendrik.

25th March – To Wanaka

This was a day of travelling, across central Otago. The first leg was north and east via Middlemarch (yes, really) to Ranfurly, through very varied countryside, from rolling hills divided by bushy ravines to a surreal rocky landscape.

In the tiny town of Ranfurly we stopped for lunch at the E-Central Cafe, very busy with cyclists travelling the Otago Central Rail Trail. Lunch was good and they make a mean cup of coffee. We made a detour to St Bathans, one of the gold towns of the 1860s where a few people are still living. The diggings there featured hydraulic mining – a new one on us.

Thereafter it was a straight run through to Wanaka and its pretty lake.

Colin was immediately on the phone to see if he could find someone to clean the sensor on his camera. A camera repair shop in Christchurch has promised to sort us out on Monday.

We rounded the evening off with a meal at the ShinaBuro Korean restaurant. It was the dog’s bollocks (well, it had to be said).

26th March – Wanaka

We decided to leave the car where it was and simply stroll round the lake, having picked up the makings of a picnic lunch from the local bakery. The weather got better and better as the day went on, so it was impossible not to take a few photos of the lake.

Talking of photos, we still misjudge the sun’s movement. We can’t get used to it being in the north and moving from right to left as the day progresses!

Pat used her video camera to try and record some of the local birdsong, which is very different from our own.

The rest of the day we spent relaxing in our guesthouse’s beautiful garden, until a fellow guest spotted that one of our rear tyres was nearly flat. Hertz’s roadside assistance would help us change the wheel for $140 but wouldn’t fix the tyre. The Hertz emergency service said we’d have to change cars at their depot the other side of the mountain if we wanted a car with 5 good tyres. So Colin changed the wheel (10 mins) and tomorrow we’ll pay someone to fix the tyre. Then we can begin arguing over payment!

We dined at the The Spice Room. We do like our curries. We passed, however, on the chocolate nan. Looking at the town guide back at our guesthouse, we were amused at the fact that several local businesses drew their names from the Mount Aspiring National Park north-west of Wanaka. We wondered about the competence of the Aspiring Dental Practice!

27th March – To Fox Glacier

Prompt at 8:00 Colin took the car round the corner to the local garage, then came back for breakfast while they repaired the tyre (a nail) and changed the wheel back. Fifteen quid – really not worth arguing about.

Then it was over the mountains to the Tasman Sea, Fox Glacier Township, and Mount Cook. It was another fine day, so we made a number of stops to view sights and take photographs. Again we find it difficult to describe the scenery, even more so to photograph it. Panning out to fit it all in simply made the mountains, gorges and lakes look small rather than awesome!

We also made the short walk to Blue Pools, noted for its ultra-clear water, via a very wobbly suspension footbridge,

and later to Thunder Creek Falls. Stopping for more photos at Gates of Haast, we were surprised to see a few vintage cars coping well up the steep hill – must have been some sort of rally.

Soon after arriving at our guesthouse we had brief view of the very top of Mount Cook (very brief, as Colin accidentally deleted the photograph!) before it disappeared back into the clouds. We met our fellow guests over a glass of wine and cheered on the horse belonging to one of them (the one with the new Rolls Royce) on the telly. The horse won but as we weren’t offered a celebratory champagne, we walked into the sunset

with fellow non-horse-owning guests Florien and Claire, for dinner in the village.

28th March – Fox Glacier

The weather in the morning was dismal. We drove down to the nearby lake to see what the view was like. It was grey. We drove up to the start of the footpath to the glacier. It was raining so hard we decided on elevenses instead and headed back to the township for coffee. We chose the cafe opposite the general store (“Possum fur buyer – top prices paid for cash”!).

Looking out of the cafe we could see that the rain had turned to showers, so we returned to the glacier, and set off up the footpath. The rough path crossed the odd stream by way of stepping stones but we dealt with that. When it suddenly became steep enough to make us out of breath some sadist had put up “No Stopping” signs with warnings of rock falls. We really must be fitter after this holiday! The rain came on quite steady but it was worth it for the view of the glacier at the top.

The rain eased as we came back down, and we were dryish by the time we popped back in to the cafe for more coffee and cheese scones. Pat was rather surprised to find that her scone also had bacon in it. Back to the counter:
Pat: I’m afraid I can’t eat this; it has meat in it.
Waitress: Would you like a muffin instead?
Pat: What do the muffins have in them?
Waitress: Chicken!
Then she laughed and would take no payment for it.

By then the rain had set in again so we retired to our guesthouse and our books. We drove in for dinner – a move vindicated by the subsequent thunderstorm.

29th March – Eastward Ho

Today was the drive from the west coast to the east. Mountains, mountains and more mountains! Low cloud and heavy showers in the west, not enough to spoil the view but enough to keep the cameras in their cases. Sunnier and lighter cloud as we approached the east coast. It was a long drive up the west coast, then inland and over Arthur’s Pass, and finally down to the Canterbury Plain. The nature of the mountains changed from the forested slopes of the west to the bare, brown, rugged peaks of the east.

Since we’d made good time, Colin thought it a good idea to take a little side trip on the Banks Peninsula, ostensibly to find a nice place to walk. He got a bit carried away and we wound our way up a single track road that became very narrow and very twisty, with a precipitous drop on one side and completely devoid of places to turn around. We didn’t know what we’d do if we met another vehicle but fortunately everybody else had the sense not to venture up there. We eventually stopped and managed to turn just before we drove into the lowering cloud. However, we got some good photos of different aspects of Akaroa Bay.

Our digs for tonight and tomorrow are on an olive farm. We have our own balcony where we enjoyed a welcome cup of tea and admired the view across the bay of the ridge where we’d been.

30th March – The Banks Peninsula

The Banks Peninsula was formed by the eruption of three volcanoes and the crater of one of them forms Akaroa Bay. Surrounding it is a jumble of mountains with ridges running every which way. It was one of these ridges we’d ended up following yesterday, with so many twists and turns we couldn’t work out in the end what we were looking at. Today we though we’d stick fairly close to Akaroa.

We started with a look around the shops, which didn’t take long as there weren’t many and most of those were full of tat. Over a coffee we planned the rest of the day. Since there seemed to be clouds gathering on this side of the peninsula we decided to take the car over the tops to Le Bons Bay. The road was clearly marked and provided fabulous views. This is the bay from above.

The tide had just turned and left the bay full of shells. We had the lovely beach to ourselves, it was sunny and getting warmer and Pat had a quick paddle in the Pacific.

Back in Akaroa the cloud had gone and we had lunch in the sun then went up to The Giants House. The house belongs to an artist who makes mosaics. She has created a terraced garden filled with odd figures all covered in mosaic. Somehow it all works and we were fascinated.

There still being a bit of afternoon left, Colin fancied another drive out, this time along Lighthouse Road which sounded innocuous enough. It even started out wide enough for two cars and with a white line up the middle. As we climbed it turned into a very narrow, gravel track edged by precipitous drops. Again we did eventually find somewhere to turn round, and gingerly made our way back to civilisation. How we suffer for a good photograph!

31st March – to Kaikoura

Today we drove north to a Christchurch camera repair shop where Colin had arranged to have the sensor unit on his camera cleaned. The shop was in a converted garage attached to the repairman’s house. He used to have an office in a 3-storey building in the city until the earthquake of 2011 damaged the building so badly it had to be pulled down. He calmly told us that his house, well south of the city centre, didn’t have much damage, just a fallen chimney and a cracked foundation. It has only just been repaired; a team emptied the house contents into large containers on the lawn, did what was necessary, and moved it all back in again. Other houses have had to be jacked up while their foundations are completely replaced.

Afterwards we drove through the centre of Christchurch itself, to see for ourselves how much earthquake damage remains to be rectified. We kept looking for the city centre until it finally dawned on us that we were in it. It’s a huge building site with roads closed and traffic diverted and huge cranes everywhere. Four years on from the earthquake, it was a sobering sight.

For lunch we had intended to stop at a winery in Waipara that our hosts in Akoroa had recommended, but it closes on Mondays and Tuesdays. It was 2:00 p.m. before we found an open cafe!

On the road we were again surprised at the variety in the scenery. The only consistency seemed to be that it was rarely flat! And as we approached Kaikoura it turned positively mountainous.

Reaching Kaikoura in good time we popped along to the headland to have a look at the seal colony. There were a few seals happily dozing mere yards from the walkway that bordered the seashore and one wide-awake baby taking an interest in passers-by. Very photogenic! Then on to our B&B, on the esplanade facing the sea. Drinks on the terrace were called for.

1st April – Kaikoura Dolphins

A glorious sunrise promised another glorious day. Our landlord remarked over breakfast that it hadn’t rained in Kaikoura since Christmas. Nice!

After a restful morning in town we set out for our Dolphin Encounter. There were about 50 to 60 people taking part, on two boats. About two-thirds of them planned to swim with the dolphins so they were all kitted out in wetsuits, flippers and snorkels before we all had our safety briefing.

Fifteen minutes out in the south bay and we were surrounded by dolphins! We had never expected to see so many.

They were following the boats, swimming under and around them, and generally making their presence known. The other boat stayed there but our captain headed for the other side of the bay where we found even more. Off went the swimmers and the dolphins really did swim with them, circling and diving and brushing past people. The boat crew were vigilant. One or two swimmers got into trouble and needed to be rescued but it was all very efficient and no one was in danger. Twice the swimmers were called back into the boat and then after a few minutes allowed back into the water.

Those of us on board were able to take some great photos and videos. After the swimmers had returned to the boat the dolphins continued to put on a show for us. They were leaping into the air and somersaulting and doing all sorts of acrobatics.

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The sea was getting a little rougher as the wind increased and we headed back for the harbour. The sea-sick buckets were put into service and there were a few green faces getting off at the jetty (not ours) but every one had a big smile. What a day!

2nd April – To Nelson

Today’s drive – quite a long one, on Colin’s birthday – took us through Marlborough wine country. Our Kaikuro host, Patrick, was full of recommendations for stops along the way.

First was the point where seals bring up their pups. It’s clearly visible from the road but quite inaccessible and sheltered from storms. It was teeming with fast-asleep mature seals and lively babies climbing over the rocks, swimming in the pools and fighting with one another. They were just as noisy as human children. Five minutes further on we took a walk up Ohau stream to the waterfall. If you saw David Attenborough’s “Life Story” you’ll remember the seal pups making their way up a stream to a fresh-water pool with a large waterfall. There were two seal pups at the top, happily playing within a few feet of us, and we caught glimpses of another three making their way up.

After a coffee stop at The Store (“You can’t miss it, it’s the only place on the right.”) we pressed on to Blenheim and Patrick’s next recommendation, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. It was brilliant – a large number of WW1 planes, set out by Peter Jackson in ‘film sets’. And outside was the airfield where planes (like this old Boeing)

were starting to assemble for the next day’s air show. Lots of piccies taken! There were also a couple of Austin Healey 3000s in the car park. The owner of one told Colin about a rally where he would find a lot more the next day.

By then it was lunchtime and, after one false start that generated a good lead, we ended up at Giesen Wines Cellar Door. (Pat had been longing to experience a cellar door). We had an excellent cheese salad lunch, with glasses of their local pinot noir followed by, in Colin’s case, a glass of merlot and a glass of late-harvested chardonnay! Pat drove the rest of the way…

And what a windy way it was. Nobody told us that the whole of NZ is one long series of mountain roads. We were held up by an accident between Nelson and Richmond but it was cleared efficiently and we got through to Bronte Ridge in reasonable time.

3rd April – Nelson

A hot, sunny public holiday. Don’t they know it’s supposed to rain? Time for the obligatory view from our balcony.

We had a wander around the neighbourhood, which didn’t take long, but it did involve us buying a painting from the artist down the road – a most unexpected find. Then we decided that it was definitely a beach day and made for Rabbit Island. Lots of local families had the same idea but there was plenty of room for all. There were multiple grassy picnic areas and a huge beach with the tide going out. Pat had a long paddle through the shallow water of Tasman Bay while Colin contented himself with walking above the high-water line and photographing the birds (NO, I do mean the feathered variety).

Later in the afternoon we drove into Nelson for a look at the town and a spot of afternoon tea. It looks a really pleasant place with wide streets, pedestrianised areas and parks.

Then we were off to the outskirts to see the Austin Healeys (70 were expected) collected together for a rally. All of the Big Healeys were represented – 100, 100/6 and all three marks of 3000. There were cars and owners from Australia and the USA as well as NZ. We spoke to one Aussie who thought nothing of shipping a car from Oz to NZ and back again. He also had another one at home! Colin, having once owned a 100/6 and a 3000, was in his element.

Down the road to Mapua for dinner again. This time to The Jellyfish which was superb. We’ve booked in for tomorrow night on the understanding that they will come up with a second veggie dish!

4th April – Abel Tasman

Today was our last full day on South Island. We decided to mark it by doing a short section of one of New Zealand’s iconic walks – the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

It was very pretty

and the path was well surfaced and mostly fairly level, so we managed about 3 1/2 hours – including a picnic lunch. The bays that had been full of water on our way out were almost dry on the way back. We’ve noticed in this region that the beaches are almost flat so when the tide is out it’s really OUT. The kayak hire people use tractors to drive out over the sand and retrieve the kayaks that just floated off earlier in the day.

And that was about it! Except for dinner. We went back to the Jellyfish, last night’s restaurant, which had promised Pat a bespoke veggie dish. It didn’t disappoint. Two good meals in two nights. Recommended.