Tag Archives: seals

Dunedin and northwards

I stayed at one of the best hostels ever in Dunedin, Chalet Backpackers. The rooms are big and airy and have harbour views and it’s cheap. Big kitchen, big long table in the dining room for chatting with your neighbours. Listing the details doesn’t do it justice, really. The point is it feels like a home from home here and the people who run it are extremely friendly and helpful. (They are not paying me either, this really is a lovely place!) Anyway, this is where I made my home for four nights.

People often say that Dunedin feels very English. It has Scottish roots actually, amongst others, and my understanding is that Dunedin is the Gaelic for Edinburgh. But what you need to know about Dunedin is that it is very, very, very hilly. Like San Francisco hilly. In fact, it boasts the official steepest street in the world. I went up on a hot afternoon. Yeah, pretty steep but I seem to have developed insane walking skills (or just plain insanity) so didn’t bother me!

In fact, after a coffee in the cafe of the botanic garden I found another really steep road and walked that for awhile to try to get to a viewpoint that some people had told me about over dinner the previous evening. I didn’t find the lookout but I did get up high and sweat a lot and get a nice sunburn on my hair parting (that burn’s peeling now, nice and flakey). The botanic garden is very big and a great place to pass some time. One highlight for me was the aviary where I saw various exotic birds including two African grey parrots who have learned to wolf whistle. They demonstrated for me. Nice work, guys.

The day after the hot, climbing day was freezing and rainy. I of course left the hostel wearing summer clothes and proceeded to freeze. I did start to wonder if this was Britain…but the the Kiwis will tell you their weather is changeable too. Luckily, I fancied visiting the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which is a beautiful space to view art. They had some very interesting things indeed, including a Tom Kreisler exhibition which I found intriguing and amusing. Later in the day I put on many more clothes and went on the Elm Wildlife Tour to the Otago Peninsula to get up close with some of the area’s wildlife. We saw royal albatross, some sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins and yet more New Zealand fur seals (always a pleasure), plus various birds including oystercatchers.

My last full day in Dunedin was devoted to getting my arse into gear trip planning-wise. Following much behind-the-scenes drama I had now decided on a rough plan for the final less-than-two-weeks of my trip. I was headed to Oamaru just an hour or two up the east coast to see the blue penguins. Then to Christchurch to fly to Wellington. From there various versions of North Island itineraries float like geographic gumdrops before my eyes. But more of that later.

Sunday was also Chinese New Year, as I am sure all are aware. Dunedin’s Chinese Gardens were open for free that evening and there were lion dances and the like, and to top it all off fireworks. I went along with a Kiwi roommate of mine, where we were initially underwhelmed by the ‘launch of the lanterns’ we’d had advertised to us. But then we had the dances followed by some truly vibrant fireworks! You can’t get tired of fireworks. Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone.

Before catching my afternoon bus the next day I explored the shops a bit and drank some coffee (Dunedin has a very strong cafe culture – now you have many facts about the city; just ask for more, anytime!) and then visited the free Otago Settlers Museum where I learned more about the heritage of the place. My favourites were the room that was set up like the – what do you call it, cabin? – where people who were coming to settle would have slept in bunks and taken their meals on the long sailing voyage to get there, and also the transport gallery. There is a penny farthing bicycle there you can try out by climbing up some steps but I was too chicken to do it without an accomplice. (I felt similarly when sitting in a city park and eyeing up the zip slide and other intriguing equipment. Ah, there are unexpected drawbacks occasionally to travelling solo! And why do we have to be ‘too old’ for certain things anyway?)

I eventually dragged myself away from all these diversions and took the bus to Oamaru. Now the big draw in Oamaru is the blue penguin colony. So first stop was the hostel (another friendly place complete with Tigger the cat), then to the i-site for info, ended up booking tickets for the evening ‘viewing’ of the penguins with a guy from Hong Kong who’d I’d met when we discovered we were both heading to the same hostel. Then we both felt like a walk so followed the ‘skyline walk’ to get some views of the city and harbour. The route also dips into forest, including some native bush. Here’s a view of the harbour and some cabbage trees. They have a lot of those in Otago but I don’t know why it’s called a cabbage tree:

At some point I found a ready-made club (or is it a back scratcher?).

For dinner, I had fish and chips and Tigger tried to charm me into giving him some. No such luck, kitty! Then to see the penguins. Do not expect any photos here as people are not allowed to use cameras within the viewing area, and you can only use one without flash outside of there (in the dark), so use Google image search instead. Blue penguins (also found in southern Australia, where they call them fairy penguins) are the smallest species of penguins. They are also the only ones to have blue and white feathers rather than black and white. The ones who have been out at sea fishing all day band together into ‘rafts’ for safety as it starts to get dark and then arrive on shore together. At the Oamaru colony we watched each raft come up out of the water, preen their feathers and shake the salt out of their faces, and then eventually make their way up to cross over the the nesting areas in groups. They move in the determined way of penguins on land, leaning forward and inducing smiles. I love ’em. They also make a racket as they call to mates and tell off anyone who tries to poke their beak into their nest burrow. As you leave the evening’s viewing you can look out for penguins in the car parking area, as some of them nest out that way in burrows or under buildings. We came across a few and watched them but unfortunately it was far too dark to get a decent photo.

Today I came to Christchurch on a full-up bus with very little leg room. My ipod served me well – so glad I remembered to transfer it from backpack to daypack before I boarded, life saver. The journey had an extra element of excitement as my Travel Companion Extraordinaire was in town as well (I describe him as such, as I know now he’ll be reading, having discovered this to be the idea way to remember all the best bits about our camper van trip – hi there). We found each other and I dumped my stuff at the hostel, then had to feed my flat white addiction. Chocolate fudge cake added itself to the proceedings, but this was not instigated by me. Boys and chocolate, eh! After this the sunny afternoon needed to be honoured further by a walk in the park. We found ourselves in the botanic garden and there was absolutely no silliness at all.

Now time for pizza and a beer. I’ll miss ya, J, you big…thing. But will defeat you in our tennis rematch in Bristol…

End of internet session. Logging out!

The road to Wanaka, second time round

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.

Law and order in the Wild West

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.)

"Unisex toilet" in Hokitika cafe
Sign in the men's
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.

I Love NZ

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.