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We left Christchurch after only one freezing cold day but will be flying out from there at the end of February where we will spend our final two nights in New Zealand. We headed south down Highway One over the flat Canterbury plains. On our right the mountain tops were covered in snow from the previous day but the weather was beginning to warm up a bit. Not usual to find snow at that altitude at this time of the year. Our first stop was at Hampden where we stayed in a nice little motel and the owner, Alice, let us use her internet connection to download our emails.
Alice also told us where to go to see penguins at Nugget Point. First we visited the Moeraki Boulders, strange spherical rocks sticking out of the sand on the beach. These were formed 65 million years ago and are known by geologists as septarian concretions.
No visit to New Zealand would be complete without a picture of some of the very pretty sheep which outnumber the human inhabitants by about twelve times! For the prurient amongst our readers the picture below is of some naked ones! At Nugget Point there were fur seals in abundance but we wanted to see the yellow eyed penguins which come ashore in the evenings in Roaring Bay. There was a viewing hide here where you could wait in comparative comfort and we did not have to wait long before one came waddling up the beach.
Driving back along the Moeraki peninsular we encountered a couple of Highland Cattle, very fine specimens which we named Hamish and Murdo! Over a pint in the local pub we again advised the barman not to chill his beer so much. We told him that in England we like our beer at room temperature so you can taste it. We knew that Australian beer was so poor that you had to drink it cold, but Kiwi beer had some flavour. He said he had been to England and that our beer was "shite". Well, I liked his direct approach to the subject but there is no accounting for taste which most beer drinking Kiwi's seem to have lost! A NZ CAMRA is badly needed. Oh for a nice pint of Otter. We then bought some chips from the local takeaway and ate them with the lovely steak pies from Turners in Christchurch.
We left Highway One at Palmerston (the southern one) and struck inland to Ranfurly. In 1901 the then Governor of New Zealand who held the title of Earl of Ranfurly presented a shield to the NZ Rugby Union which was awarded to Auckland Union who were the best side in 1902. The Ranfurley Shield then became a challenge competition, the holders required to accept at least seven challenges for the shield. So nothing really to do with the town but I thought I would mention it. Nice enough place situated on a high (550m) plateau but miles from anywhere of any size.
The next place of any significance was Alexandra and here we were in wine country again. A hydro electric dam straddles the Cromwell Gorge forming a huge lake which has a depth of 65m at its deepest part and known as Lake Dunstan. Cromwell was founded as a gold mining town but is now a centre for fruit growing as well as wineries and tourism. Our route took us through the Kawarau Gorge into the Gibbston Valley which is full of vineyards so we finally succumbed and drove into the Peregrine Winery. They are one of the largest producers in the area, particularly famous for their Pinot Noir (the 2008 won gold in London and was the best Pinot) but we particularly enjoyed their Rieslings. Their wines can be purchased in the UK through Majestic.
The old Kawarau Bridge was built in 1880 and there is now a new bridge over the gorge but the old one is still in use as a platform from which to jump, Bungee style. Aucklander A.J Hackett pioneered this form of grundie staining activity, jumping off the Eiffel Tower in 1987 and then setting up the first commercial operation at the Kawarau Bridge in 1988, since when he has become a multi millionaire setting up similar operations all over the world.
In the photo on the right you can see a girl leaping out from the bridge over the river 43m (141ft) below. She dives out and then the elastic catapults her back on the other side of the bridge (she was screaming at this stage) where the bowels are presumably tested to the limit! When she stops bouncing she is recovered by an inflatable dinghy.
The whole operation has been refined commercially and it will set you back $NZ180 for a jump but there was a discount for seniors. A 90 year old has the record! None of us felt the urge and Chris said he preferred a different sort of jump but there was a continuous queue of adrenalin junkies pouring money into Mr Hackett's pocket!
Our destination that night was Queenstown where we stayed in a Reavers Backpackers Lodge for a mere $NZ120 including continental breakfast. Apart from being the oldest ones there and about 500 Indians in the adjacent apartments who couldn't stop talking, we found our two bedroom apartment one of the best in which we have stayed with crisp cotton sheets and a great view of the Remarkables (the mountain range in the picture at the top of this page) from our balcony.
It was a really hot day and we wandered down to the town, quaffing a refreshing ale next to the lake where we met a Belgian family who were on a world trip which had so far taken them 15 months. They had sold their Belgian house and taken their children, complete with teacher, to Africa, America and Australasia. Mum and daughter had bungee jumped in tandem that day and they had even acquired a pair of dogs in New Zealand which they intended to ship back to Belgium!
They recommended a restaurant on the quay which looked pricey but we decided to splash out as our nights accomodation was so cheap. Unfortunately the only good thing about it was the view across Lake Wakatipu watching the youngsters impressing their girl friend's by tightrope walking and the old steamship "Earnslaw", built in Dunedin, dismantled and sent by train to Kingston at the head of the lake, where it was reassembled and launched in 1912, still taking tourists round the lake and burning a ton of coal every hour.
Our meal was a minor disaster, Chris had rare lamb ($NZ56) with a $NZ16 glass of the cheapest red while and the rest of us shared the cheapest ($NZ46) bottle of local white with our ($NZ46) dry overcooked snapper, cold broccoli, miniscule potato croquettes and "slow cooked egg" which was nearly raw, this was French cuisine at it's worst. I had to buy a meat pie on the way home I was so hungry!
Apart from runny botties, perhaps the result of our expensive meal, we awoke to another hot sunny day and embarked on the "Million Dollar Cruise" around the lake. We sailed downstream to Frankton where we had the best view of the Remarkables pictured at the top of the page and ogled the million dollar houses on the adjacent peninsula. The skipper gave us an interesting commentary and at $NZ25 for a 90 minute cruise it was certainly the best value for money in Queenstown after Reaver's Lodge.
From early morning the paragliders were at work taking tourists up the cable car and jumping off the top, gliding down to land in the school field below the lodge. Another popular activity around here is of course walking but we were not staying long enough to do any of the local walks. One suggestion from the tourist leaflets was to take the cable car up (on left side of picture above) and climb to the top of Ben Lomond (on right side of above picture). When I return I think I will try something a bit more ambitious and traverse the Remarkables ridge as far as Double Cone which is the highest point at 2319m.
Te Anau was a two hour drive away and we arrived in glorious weather, however, this is the rainiest place in New Zealand and the next day it blew a gale and rained continuously all day. We put the heating on in the Little Blue House right on the edge of Lake Te Anau opposite the bronze sculpture of Quinton Mackinnon.
Chris's answer to the cold weather was to put a pair of black tights on under his shorts which made him look a bit like Nora Batty. You can now compare him to the epic Scottish explorer who with Ernest Mitchell was the first European to find an overland route to Milford Sound now known as the Milford Track and one of the most popular walking routes in New Zealand.
We will not be walking the Milford Track which is a three day tramp and booked up months ahead but we do intend to do some walking during our weeks stay here.
The weather improved enough for us to walk a low level section of the Kepler Track from the control gates at the outlet of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay and back, a walk of about 2.5 hours.
We had sunny intervals but there was a southerly breeze which made it feel cold so we needed our fleeces. Fresh snow was over the mountains down to about 1000 metres. Carol did not join us on this walk through lovely Red and Mountain Beech forest as she elected instead to go horse riding.
We also visited the Wildlife Centre on the lake shore. The birds kept here are mainly rare species or injured birds, part of a recovery programme by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
They are breeding the very rare Takahë which was once thought to be extinct but rediscovered in 1948 since when the programme of rearing and reintroducing them into the wild has resulted in an estimated 200 (in 1999) birds in the wild. It looks a bit like the Pukeko in its colouring but it is twice the size with shorter legs and unlike the Pukeko it cannot fly. The Night Owl or Morepork is not an endangered species but it looked pretty!
Another endangered bird is the Käkäpö with only 123 known surviving birds which are on protected offshore islands. This is a large, green, flightless parrot which can live for decades.
Another bird under threat is the Kereru which is a big fat wood pigeon with a white chest and colourful emerald and purple plumage. It is important for native forest regeneration as it is the only bird that feeds on the fruit of the podocarp species of tree and spreads the trees seeds in the process so if they loose the Kereru they will loose more native trees.
We had been monitoring the weather forecasts for Milford Sound and seven different web sites gave seven different forecasts, however, the consensus seemed to be that Sunday 29th January was likely to be the warmest and the least chance of rain so we booked on a 9am cruise. It meant a very early start as it is a two and a half hour drive from Te Anau but the plan was to beat the Tourist hoards that descend by coach later in the day.
Whilst on the subject of birds, Carol snapped the Toutouwai or New Zealand Robin above on the Kepler Track the next day.
The New Zealand Mountain Beech normally fruits every three to five years and these years are called mast years. During these years the nuts provide plentiful feeding for the introduced species of stoats, weasles and rats which otherwise prey on the native birds. On a recent occasion there were consecutive mast years so that the rodents became used to easy feeding but on the third year there was no easy food and some of the bird population were decimated and have disappeared from the region. You find traps everywhere in the bush to try and eliminate the predatory mammals.
We drove down the Waiau River from Te Anou to Rainbow Reach and walked down to Shallow Bay on Lake Manapouri.
This was an area where many scenes were filmed for the Lord of the Rings movies. It was an interesting walk that included lots of different scenery, with wetlands, Beech forest, Mountain and river views along the way. At the Shallow Bay hut, Chris saw a little mouse scuttle away when he opened the door which now means Sue will never ever venture into a New Zealand Mountain hut! We did keep our eyes open for Hobbits but we didn't see any!
Sunday 29th February we awoke at 5-30am and set off at 6am for Milford sound. The dawn came up about 6-30am and it was very red but the old shepherds warning did not apply on that day as the sun shone the whole day. We only saw one car on the whole journey and we covered the 120km in well under two hours, admiring the spectacular mountain scenery but not stopping once. We were half an hour earlier than we needed to be but boarded the catarmaran "Lady of the Sound" operated by Southern Discoveries and sat down to a continental breakfast. There were I think four operators running cruise vessels out of Milford but we though this one offered the best deal of NZ$62 for a one and three quarter hour cruise including breakfast. We cruised the length of the sound to the Tasman Sea where there was a moderate swell as we turned back.
Captain Cook didn't find Milford Sound as the entrance is so narrow so his charts show it as a bay. A Welsh skipper of a sealer was using Cooks charts and took refuge from a storm in the bay but was being pushed more and more towards land and thought he would be shipwrecked when he noticed the narrow entrance to the sound and sailed through into calm water. He named it Milford Haven as he was from that port in Wales. The Welsh connection continued with the naming of the nearby snowcapped peak Mount Pembroke and the river running into the sound the Cleddau River.
No trip to Milford sound would be complete without a picture of a waterfall of which there are dozens, especially after heavy rain. The Stirling Falls drop into the sound from an impressive hanging valley and all the cruise boats nose right up into the spray. Of course one of the most photographed mountains in the world is Mitre Peak and the tide was right to get the classic shot of it reflected in the water.
Sandflies are a feature of Milford Sound which are equal to Scottish midges in their delight of human flesh and blood. It is only the female that bites so if it's a male that lands on you there is no need to swat it! Insect repellant is a must here.
We took our time travelling back, first to view the mighty Cleddau River rushing through the Chasm then on the other side of the Homer road tunnel we stopped to wander around the nature trail and stroke the Keas! Seriously, the Kea is not to be messed with and has been known to demolish windscreen wipers and anything else that this carnivorous cheeky mountain parrot can destroy including your fingers.
The Homer tunnel is 1.2km long and bores under the Homer saddle at over 900m altitude. It was begun in 1930 to provide labour during the great depression and eventually there was a small semi permanent community employed here. Work stopped in 1940 during WW2 and it was finally opened in 1953. Until the tunnel was opened the only way to get to the Milford Sound was by steamer or by walking the 51km Milford Track. The view as you come out of the tunnel across to the Darran Mountains with Mount Crosscut framed in the glacial valley is stunning.
Our next destination was The Divide, the lowest east-west pass in the southern alps at 531m. Our objective from this point was Key Summit which was 910m and a three hour return walk. For most of the way you walk along the Routeburn Track which is a 32km track linking Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks. After about and hour you leave the Routeburn and head up to the Key Summit where there is another nature trail.
The day being Sunday and the weather so glorious we met a constant stream of people, old and young, of every nationality but after three days of walking, our old bodies were beginning to feel the strain! At the top the mountain panorama made it all worthwhile. The view West was of the Darran mountains with the hanging valley and moraine Lake Marian then to the East the Ailsa and Humboldt ranges but the stars of the show were the Earl Range with the triple peaks of Triangle, Flat Top and Pyramid a stark outline against the bright blue sky.
The nature walk on top of Key Summit was very pretty with many alpine flowers growing amongst the spagnum moss. The DOC had provided boardwalks over the sensitive boggy areas and through scrub bush which had a very attractive red coloured moss or lichen growing over the trunks.
The weather closed in again on our last day at Te Anau as you can see from the above pictue of the lake with the town of Te Anau in the forground. The Kepler track was closed due to high winds. When this happens everyone already in a hut gets an extra night free so I suppose you should carry an extra days provisions, or starve?
Our next destination was Dunedin or as Gertie Garmin called it "DUNE-don". There was nothing particularly scenic on the way through mainly flat or rolling pastoral country. On our first walk around the city our overall impression was of a rather seedy and run down place with lots of empty semi derelict buildings and others with peeling paintwork in a poor state of repair.
The central place called the Octagon is full of bars and a rather fine art gallery containing one of the best collections in New Zealand. The painting of a Maori chief in Pakeha clothes above by Charles Frederick Goldie was painted in 1905, is almost photographic and caught my attention. Looking down Stuart Street from the Octagon you can see the crowning glory of Dunedin, the railway station, built in the Flemish Renaissance style it is reckoned to be the most photographed building in New Zealand.
The statue of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns, sits in the Octagon in front of St. Pauls cathedral. The locals say that is possibly the closest he would get to a church in real life!
We drove to the end of the Otago Peninsula where there is a Royal Albatross sanctuary but we did not feel inclined to pay the NZ$40 each they wanted to view their nesting sites.
On the Southern side of the peninsula at Allans beach, Carol photographed these sealions who became quite aggressive which made the local surfers beat a hasty retreat for fear of being raped by a rampant bull seal. It also deterred Chris from swimming for the same reason! According to the surfers, these were Hookers Sealions and they are an endangered species.
Driving out of Dunedin on North Road you come to Baldwin Street which claims to be the steepest street in the world. Every year the locals roll thousands of Cadbury Jaffas, a chocolate covered orange sweet made in Dunedin, down the 1:2.86 slope for charity. You can see in the photograph some idiot in a camper van trying to drive up it which he failed to do and had then to slowly reverse back down.
Continuing along the North Road you traverse around Mt. Cargill with superb view over Otago Harbour then down to Port Chalmers where Captain Scott sailed from on his ill fated expedition to the South Pole and where there is a memorial to him and those who died.
As you can see from most of the photos, we were plagued with miserable weather, cold and overcast for most of our time in Dunedin which did not perhaps give us the best impression of the place. We did like the old Rialto Art Deco Cinema where we thoroughly enjoyed Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. I also discovered, in this city which is the home of Speights, NZ's biggest Brewery, Emersons beer which was the best Kiwi beer I have yet tasted and not served too cold.
We thought that in Dunedin, with it's Scottish roots, would be interested in the Calcutta Cup game and we asked in several pubs if they were going to screen it but were told there was no interest in Six Nations games. It is worth recording that England's young inexperienced team managed to beat the experienced Scottish team 13-6 at Murrayfield for the first time in eight years.
Onwards then to the mighty New Zealand mountains.