So we made it to Milford Sound, on a day tour by bus with a cruise on the sound at lunchtime. Fiordland is so raw, the scale of the earth brought home to me in this landscape carved by glaciers. As for Milford Sound itself, it will perhaps always for me be associated with a sense of sadness and loss (or a memory of such, one day) and with, of course, sandflies. My face was still swollen. We chatted with the crew, who sympathised with my plight. A bite to the eye of lip will often swell up frighteningly (and very unbecomingly). In my case it was just a longer plight due to allergic reaction. (But as I write I am quite recovered from this particular suffering!)
It is a beautiful place, somewhere that the mist becomes. It is serene but there is life there – seals, and a rushing waterfalls, one of which the boat approached so closely I stood in a wild shower, laughing as I filmed (hoping my camera would forgive me the dousing). (Maybe I’ll post the video sometime…)
The next day we set out from Te Anau for Wanaka. I would be staying on in Wanaka, while my travelling companion of three weeks would continue on to Christchurch, over the next couple of days, to return the van to its starting point. My plan was to spend some time in peaceful Wanaka then to carry on to Dunedin to avail myself of the wildlife dense Otago Peninsula. From there I was (and remain) uncertain as to what my next moves would be as I made my way back up north.
I love the sea but have found a different sort of beauty, one I did not immediately fully appreciate, here in the lakeland setting of Wanaka. I have done some fantastic walks around, and overlooking, Lake Wanaka and the surrounding landscape. I have gone kayaking on the lake (by morning, so peaceful, and also so amazingly energising). I have met fantastic people in my hostel (YHA Purple Cow, check it out when you’re next in town…they show a movie every night at 8pm!) from all over the world, have had glimpses into other lives…and into my own life as well. Remove yourself to another place and you may leave the mundane but you take yourself with you. Of course, you say…well anyway. I must stop now, nearly time to gather my bags from the hostel and catch my bus to Dunedin and leave this pretty place.
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but one thing I know is that my general mirth right now could easily fit into a sandfly’s granny’s sewing thimble without running over.
I hate to complain, really, but here goes anyway. I have been suffering from the dreaded bite of the sandfly for some time now. Unfortunately, I am very sensitive to insect bites and, even more unfortunately, in recent times I seem to have become very sensitive indeed. Witness the tedious ankle saga, sigh. During my travels I have had swollen feet several times (each taking it in turns, more or less, how very polite) and the odd bit of swelling around the wrist. Annoying but, you know, wotevah.
Last night we stopped off at a Dept of Conservation (DOC) campsite for the night, a lovely spot near a creek, along the road to Milford Sound, the plan being to rise early and continue on to Milford in the morning before the hordes of tour buses apparently take over the road. The sandflies were ganging up on us humans even more than usual but as bedtime came round I hoped for a peaceful night’s sleep, as one does.
Sometime in the night I awoke and needing the toilet stumbled forth from the van. I noticed my left eye felt a bit odd, a bit swollen. Was that a welt I detected on my eyelid? Nothing to be done so back to bed. Later I awoke again to find the eye more swollen. The best was yet to come however, when I woke to a buzzing in my ear. Right inside my right ear. I did a bit of loud complaining, I thrashed gently, hit my ear, tipped my head from side to side, what a routine. Of course the sandfly stayed put, buzzing away. What a sensation. Inspiration struck me and I took a cup of water and poured it into the afflicted orifice. I tipped it out onto the grass and the buzzing ceased. I vaguely wondered whether I had released the insect or simply left a drowned one inside my ear, but frankly it seemed trivial when I finally got a look at my face. The skin around both eyes was swelling up nicely and I looked, and felt (ish), like I’d been punched in the face.
No, there is no photo. I must preserve my dignity!
So then, plans amended, we headed back to Te Anau in search of medical attention, which I found, and was relieved of more of my money at the health centre and pharmacy. We then found a campsite in town, Te Anau to be our new base for the next couple nights. Since then I’ve been lolling around wearing ice cubes in bags on my eyes and attempting to count my blessings.
On the upside, I took a nice photo last night. And I booked us a cruise on Milford Sound tomorrow so we can at least see this place, with its reputation of sublime beauty. Well, we came all this way and the camper van days are now truly numbered. I’ll be continuing explorations of the South Island from Wanaka perhaps and then head to Dunedin for a few days, sounds nice, and the Otago Peninsula is full of wildlife. Then it’ll be up the east coast from there. Picton, Wellington, up the North Island exploring until it’s time to re-Auckland myself and fly away.
But for now, my photo, taken at Lake Te Anau….uh no, sorry. Just looked at this internet terminal doesn’t have the actual computer bit accessible. Man! Swollen eye girl is thwarted! Man.
Anyway, ignore all this and read my previous entry on paragliding. Much cooler.
The time in Franz Josef was good – a bit of a chill-out time, hanging out with the ‘gang’. That horse trek never happened, though, a casualty of the difficulties in trying to coordinate a number of people’s schedules. J and I explored the local area and attempted to swim in the sea, which was hit us with stones, and in Okarito lagoon, which was surprisingly chilly. Found other forms of outdoor recreation, then returned to the village to arrange an overnight stay outside the accommodation where our friends were staying. The woman in the public bar said they were happy for us to park up and pay a fiver for a couple showers. That was until the next morning when, having just thrown open the camper van doors to get some life affirming cool air, we heard the crunching of gravel and were accosted by a man claiming that the owner didn’t want us there and it was lucky he was away or he’d be towing us away. Seems you just can’t win sometimes. But we were able to depart unscathed.
We decided to go have a look at Fox glacier. So here it is.
Carried on, following another of those lovely twisting roads, stopping off at a salmon farm/cafe for lunch and coffee. They did some tasty smoked salmon there. Through Mt Aspiring National Park, past beautiful waterfalls,
and Lakes Hawea and Wanaka, finally arriving at Lake Hawea village to stay for the night. Was hot, hot, hot well into the evening. Did some laundry (ooh) and cooked some dinner (aah), and later on went for a walk. It was very, very quiet where we were (gosh, it was quiet) and there were many, many stars to be seen. I can now find the Southern Cross very easily – those pointer stars do what they’re meant to. Go stargazer Trace.
Next morning it was a short drive into Wanaka, a chilled out lakeside town. We did the fuel, groceries, ice for the cooler routine, then paid a visit to Puzzling World. Very good fun those illusion rooms. You can create your own illusions too, if you are as clever as I am (ha ha) and also get totally caught up in the devilish puzzles they leave out in the cafe area (and not get at all frustrated when you can’t solve them, if you are as clever as I am, uh ha ha).
Next we came across some tennis courts and as for some reason we’d challenged each other to a game of tennis we needed to finally stop and do it, before time was up. My injuries and the amazing heat kept me from being the amazing player I normally am (ahem) though someone else claimed that it was also down to the superior upper body strength of one of the contenders. Well, I took on a trucker at sport and lost, but it is time I shared with my readers one of my great sources of pride on this trip. Kramer has muscles! Sorry I have no posing picture to share, but trust me, a combo of lugging things around and doing things like kayaking have given me muscles that even the sarcastic trucker admires.
Another highlight of my travels has been good fresh fruit, often procured from side of the road stalls (e.g. big fat cherries in Wanaka, yum).
But what you really want to hear about is how I came to be in the sky. Well of course I did that tandem paraglide mentioned before, flying from Coronet Peak near Queenstown. Here I am getting ready to go…
Here’s a shot from the flight with my lovely pilot from Brighton…
and here we are coming in for our landing (which followed some wonderously fun spins in the air, but unfortunately those bits didn’t get captured on the video):
I have some other videos (filmed by the trucker) that I will try to add at another time. For now, all I can say is when can I do it again?!! Ace.
Friday we departed Marahau and started making our way towards the west coast. Stopped off for one our roadside lunchbreaks, hiked down near a river with plates in hands and were met by a couple of tethered goats who eyed up our sandwiches. Later stopped for ice cream with real fruit (I had boysenberry) from a quiet little place called Motupiko. Really felt off the beaten track as we travelled along. Really nice. Stopped to make dinner later and were attacked by the evil sandflies so had to retreat inside the van to eat. Then did a bit of a ‘skyline walk’ which gave great views of the four rivers plain on which the town of Murchison is built (the rivers Matakitaki, Matiri, Buller and Mangles – there will be a quiz later).
Then we continued our scenic drive through Buller Gorge, and on to Westport to camp for the night…
In Westport we located a holiday camp, went up to the office and found it closed. Now, there was a phone there that one could use to contact the management…however J suggested we park outside and just use the showers. I went along with this, then later emerged from said shower to find J waiting for me. How courteous? Well, actually he’d been sent to retrieve his friend from the shower by the irate owner who’d discovered our van outside the camp, and had been letting down the tires in the shadows when J had returned to the van. In short, we’d been busted. I learned later that the guy had used some choice words (or certain choice words over and over) until he’d cooled down a bit. At any rate, he wasn’t happy. We gave him some cash and departed. He said he’d be giving out our vehicle registration to every campsite in NZ, which makes us chuckle everytime we tell the tale. J was contrite that evening, but we later came to the conclusion that these “Top 10” type sites are a rip-off. Evidence, our campsite the next night, a family run affair: just as clean, comfortable (and one might say friendlier…) and at least half the cost of the fancy chain one.
The next morning we had to top up the low tire at a petrol station, then we made our way to a park with public toilets. J was just pulling up to the kerb when the cleaner promptly informed him he had performed an illegal move. “In New Zealand we don’t park in the direction opposite to traffic. What country are you from?” England being the response, a discussion of the nuances in traffic laws followed. Meanwhile, I was in the back of the van quite ready to use the loo, if only I could escape without a further lecture ensuing on the use of safety belts or some such thing. I sat quietly and listened. Oh dear, the friendly banter had turned to politics, the EU and the punishment of unruly children. Really, all this? Before 8am? Eventually, the cleaner had to move on, job to do, and ablutions were able to be performed. The loo had an automatic toilet paper dispenser that tried my patience, but aside from that things seemed ok now. I hoped we’d steer clear of further correction for at least a day.
We departed to visit the seal colony at Cape Foulwind (nice name). It was a beautiful morning for it. Continued on to Charleston, where we took a longer walk with further views of gorgeous seascapes. A reminder of how far from home(s) I am:
Noodles for lunch, then Punakaiki for the Pancake Rocks and blowholes (much more touristy here, but again quite stunning scenery).
Am in glacier country now….via Hokitika, with its jade, its goldrush history, its view of the Southern
Alps in the distance, and its sand and driftwood sculpture competition.
And via Pukekura (pop 2, according to Lonely Planet) where one could, if one wanted to, visit the Puke Pub and eat road kill (“you kill ’em, we grill ’em”). Yes, if one wanted to. I instead recommend Lake Ianthe for a lunch stop – we made and ate toasted cheese sandwiches here, while sitting by the lake, looking at those Southern Alps, listening to the lapping of the water, the buzzing of flies and the sound of the occasional car passing along the main road.
So glaciers to be explored and all that. We met up with some of J’s friends he met on the North Island, who are now working/lurking round these parts. Had a few drinks with them in a bar just outside Franz Josef village. A really good group of people. We’re going on a horse trek with them later. I managed to injure my hip getting into the van yesterday so that will be interesting. (A stupid injury but really painful so stop sniggering at my misfortune – it’s not an unrelenting so called barrel of laughs and scenery here, you know. Honestly.)
Update on this post since I last wrote (and the power went out just before the exciting moment at which Kramer hits the Publish button)… Last night a few of us went for a walk out to the terminal face of the Franz Josef glacier. It was cool and quiet, a welcome break from the heat (there has been much wilting by day, along with comparisons of our sandfly bites). And we were pretty much the only ones there. When we got back to the carpark we did meet some other creatures, we think they were Kea. Here are some photos so go to it, bird identifiers:
And here’s the glacier:
Pretty, isn’t it?
Planning on doing a tandem paraglide, probably in Queenstown. Just trying to get it added to my insurance…
My other hobby is hunting the Southern Cross (aka Crux). Apparently there are two pointer stars that will tell me if I’ve found the correct cross.
But for now, time to publish and exit into the sunshine once again.
Since my last post, I have made it from Kaikoura on the east coast, around to Abel Tasman National Park in the northwest. I guess I keep saying things like this, but I’ve really enjoyed the changes in the scenery, and just how very laidback it is here on the South Island.
After heading out of Kaikoura we stopped off at viewpoint overlooking a seal colony and watched lazy seals, playful young seals (in a pool we called the Kindergarten) and this fellow, gazing out to sea:
We stayed around the back of a somewhat grotty hostel that night, in Blenheim. We were in wine country now and felt it would be nice to do a wine tasting. But first! The exciting opportunity to try out the healthcare (for foreigners) when my strange ankle (if you know of that saga) acted up, swelling and turning red. We visited the hospital and I was told by the triage nurse there (a friendly Canadian) that it would be best to go to a doctor and be seen for $60 rather than $300. I agreed. At the GP, I was treated very nicely as well, and then at the chemist as well. Everyone was so… nice! So even though I spent money on rather boring stuff it was less painful than it might have been. I’ll stop now, as it is boring.
So then we visited sustainable Grove Mill, where we tasted and learned. Bought a ‘late harvest 2006 Gewurztraminer’ (which I guess is posh, it certainly tasted delicious – we drank it a couple days later sitting in camp chairs and nibbling on crackers with brie and blue cheese, mmm). The woman at the winery told us about the Irish bar in Picton (where we were headed) that has live music on a Monday night. It was Monday afternoon. An evening plan was forming.
Picton is a lovely place. Small but with a bit of bustle at this time of year, as it is is the ferry port that connects with Wellington on the North Island. After some dinner in our campsite we walked into town, I took a few minutes to play on the local playground equipment (I can recommend the slide), then we found the Irish bar, where I can report they do a good pint of Guinness, even if it is a bit pricey. And Monday night music as promised.
Next day we did part of the Snout Walkway, our uphill climb in the rapidly increasing heat earning us a great view of Queen Charlotte Sound. We met a French guy, and he and J talked football as guys always seem to do when I go walking with them. Age old ritual or something. After lunch we bought petrol and groceries and then got on the road toward Nelson. It was a beautiful route (aren’t they always) and with Eric Clapton playing (via speakers, not live) we wound our way along, stopping to make dinner alongside a river and then later stopping at a layby next to a beach, initally for the view but then decided to stay there the night as there was a portaloo and standpipe. The beach for some reason had not only the usual things like shells but also jawbones. J and I each found one, while walking separate stretches of beach. The next morning while we munched muesli and seagull had a go on one of the jaws.
We couldn’t swim at this beach, too stoney, so the next morning we found a sandier one and had a bath. Here I am admiring the view:
Our destination for the day was Abel Tasman National Park – where we have now spent the past couple days, staying at a campsite called Old MacDonald’s Farm. It was very noisy here with that roar (is that the word) of the insects or whatever it is. I can’t explain the sound – it doens’t disturb sleep or anything but it does make you sometimes need to speak up rather A LOT to be heard.
We hired mountain bikes for the afternoon and explored with them for awhile. Visited a sculpture garden run by a local artists collective, such a creative and peaceful place.
The next day we were up early for our sea kayaking trip. We had freedom rentals but still needed to be briefed on equipment, safety and so forth but were on the water by 10ish. What can I say: it was a gorgeous day in a beautiful place.
Will add more photos when I can.
In the meantime, have I mentioned sandflies? Bastards.
Heading north out of Christchurch, we parked up for the night near a beach and campground. Used the campground’s toilets on the sly, and the next morning asked about paying for a shower. They were more than happy for us to use the coin-operated showers and they were a bargain – only 50 cents. Good stuff! Ate breakfast in our van while a sparrow visited the back, bobbing into our pots and pans to see if there were any tasty morsels going spare.
We drove on towards Kaikoura, stopping off at a beach to take in the scenery and to allow me to perform an impromptu dance. Talent, no?
Kaikoura is pretty and laidback, kinda quiet at the moment considering the time of year, but on the other hand, the weather is crap. (Very English – rain, grey skies – nooooo!) We decided to go for a full-on powered site round the back of the Lobster Inn. Really nice: open-air kitchen, power to charge our devices (cameras, etc.), friendly people about.
Yesterday’s highlight was whale watching. We weren’t sure how the weather would pan out, but even though the seas were choppy the trip went ahead. I was thankful for the sea sickness tablet I took beforehand as it was a bit rollercoastery at times. We saw loads of dusky dolphins, who came to swim alongside the boat and tease us (and 0ur cameras) with their speed and playfulness. We also saw some petrels and albatross – so impressive!
But the main target our attentions was the sperm whale population in the underwater canyon above which we were riding. One of the whales was feeding below and it was only a matter of time before he would surface…and finally he did and the excitement was on as we all tried to capture the moments on camera. Then all too soon he he flipped up his tail and was gone. Our time was running down and the crew turned to return to land…but then all of a sudden they made the quick decision to head back out. Word was he was going to resurface. And so he did…and I even caught his tail this time. And a beautiful one it is! His name, by the way, is Tiaki, which means ‘guardian’.
Once we had returned to shore, we went for some beers and food in Kaikoura. I tried the ‘seafood selection’ – lots of fried seafood, served with chips. I wish some of it had been labelled as I was curious exactly what I was eating… We had thought about going to see a band, as it was Saturday night after all, but it was a choice between a very quiet folksy thing and some sort of Australian reggae (I guess Kaikoura wasn’t rockin’ that night) so we opted for a walk instead, along the beach and along the road south.
Oh, how I love being by the sea…and walking along the beach, lost in thought, or free of thought. I think perhaps there is no heartache the ocean could not absorb.
After a night in jail, we made our way into central Christchurch yesterday to pick up the camper van, which is painted with a Transformers theme.
First stops were petrol and groceries. Then down the coast a bit to Banks Peninsula, where we found a campsite next to a beach at Okains Bay. The roads there wind you this way and that, taking you over and through some beautiful scenery. It was very nice indeed to be out of the city.
Even though the campsite was full of people, especially families as it’s the school summer holidays here, there was still a calmness and tranquility to the beach. Very nice. This morning Jode opted for a dip in the cold sea, but I went for the $2, 4-minute shower option, and waited until a bit later when it had warmed up to dip my toes in the sea.
We drove a winding path back towards Christchurch, stopping off at a pretty little bay to make some lunch. I immediately spotted a rope swing on the beach, suspended from a tree, and made a beeline towards it so I could give it a go. Fun fun fun! I returned to it after a tuna sandwich for more (who could resist?) and also took a masterclass in skipping stones. I am very bad at this endeavour but today finally managed three skips, and without emptying the beach of all its stones in the process. Which has to be a good thing.
We eventually made our way back to the city and parked up next to the big park here for some coffee, then moved to a more picturesque place in the park to make dinner. We do a mean stir fry. I got the urge to play tennis, as we were near some courts there, so we may do that one day if we find a place. Meanwhile, hoping to pick up a cheap football somewhere for kicking around (naturally). One must caper, after all. Like the lambs of NZ perhaps? Hm, yeah…
Anyway, am now sitting in a an internet shop trying to type. We came into town thinking we’d catch some performances from the World Buskers Festival but nothing much is happening until tomorrow. So probably heading out of the city in a bit to find somewhere to park up for the night. “Freedom camping” is fine here, just as long as you don’t choose someplace where camping is actually prohibited. I had my $2 shower so I’m all good and clean for a bit anyway. Will be heading north up the coast towards Kaikoura, where there are things like whale watching and swimming with dolphins to try. A very popular spot.
Apologies to anyone reading for the lack of flair in these entries. For one thing, the computers I’ve been using lately are rubbish and cramp my style! That’s one excuse anyway.