Slightly Disappointing Dunedin – Saturday 25th February 2012


Friday night had been a noisy night in Dunedin and we took time to energise ourselves to get our washing done. Lots of stuff needed to be done because it was slightly damp from our overnight cruise and kayaking on Doubtful Sound. What with the rain and the fishing and the pulling upon the heavy, but empty crayfish pot…
So that was the morning done!
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city. We liked St Paul’s but found it hard to find anything else we could spend time on.

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We thought that a tour of the Cadbury factory might cure me of ever wanting to eat chocolate again. I’m afraid to say it is a great weakness and if I get a taste of it I become addicted very quickly, needing to finish any that is near me.
But, sadly it is Saturday and the workers do like a weekend, so the factory offers cut down tours of their chocolate waterfall, with tasting session. But no! I want to see a factory in action, not a Willy Wonka lookalike.

The steepest street in the world is in Dunedin, and that did appeal. Baldwin Street, in the Guinness Book of Records look a humble suburban street until you look up it! It’s really funny to walk up and down it, your body moves differently confronted with such an incline.

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With a taste of a good view in mind, drive up Flagstaff Hill. The three main parallel streets, two of which are the one way element are very clear. So is the size of the city and environs.

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But it started to rain – again – and we went back to the motel.

All was quiet, unnaturally quiet, until midnight, when we were in bed…
Then the students began…
They had all been to a concert, stopped off on the other side of our motel for MacDonalds and then headed into the Octogon for the bars. Then they came home to their lodgings on the other side of our motel.

One guy had collapsed and was dragged up our stairs ( outside our apartment) by friends. “it’s not like my legs are broken, is it?” he giggled. Apparently he was put to bed in an empty motel room because they leave the doors open for airing!

Somehow I had a disturbed night. Strangely, it was accompanied by stomach pains! Weird!

The Southern Scenic Route – Friday 24th February 2012


The Southern Scenic Route from Invercargill to Dunedin has a coastal option, featuring a dozen or so stop offs, including the ‘concrete horse trough’, which we gave a miss!

It would seem that New Zealand is practising the “4 seasons in one day” scenario but the trump card today is definitely wind.

The Caitlins has a dangerous coast line. At Waipapa Point in 1881, the SS Tararua ran aground: 131 out of 151 passengers and crew died. The lighthouse is stout and built after this disaster.

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The rocky coast also has patches of golden sand and large swathes of ribbon seaweed. To my great joy, I notice a lone, lumbering seal, heaving itself onto the beach to rest its head on a rock and have a good scratch.

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Next stop: a short walk over farm land to Slope Point, the most southerly point in New Zealand.
No! That was the most Southerly road in Bluff, which we saw yesterday!
True South is a bleak place (yes, bleaker than Bluff!) Even the grass was having a hard time growing there and in places had given up, in favour of the smallest succulent I have ever seen. Tiny spores, like duck week spread out, clutching at thin soil.

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At the cliff edge, by the official sign post to both the equator and the South Pole, the winds buffeted us ferociously. For an instant, it grabs your whole body, but mostly it wraps my hair around my face so I cannot see anything at all. Not safe on top of a cliff!

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Next stop: Curio Bay is fascinating because an ancient fossil forest litters the beach. Rounded tree stumps and large fallen logs, certainly not coal, but hard as rock with a wood texture.

Here we also see a yellow eyed penguin, some 60cm tall, lying rotund as a submarine, just under a bush. They are an endangered species who are very wary of humans and it is difficult to get close. I think we were lucky this one was asleep with his head under the bush. He stretched occasionally and wriggled his toes but never suspected he was posing.
We find two more of these lovely creatures at Roaring Bay, standing on the beach waiting for parents to return home with supper. .Two more seals laze at the far end of the bay. I hope they are not contemplating their own supper of penguin! I’ve seen those David Attenborough programmes!

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Next stop: Nugget Point/Takata lighthouse.
Up this hill we see hundreds of fur seals in their colony. And again am amazed how agile they are. They climb really high up on islands out at sea, over incredibly steep inclines. We certainly need binoculars to see them but they are a wonderful sight.

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The Southern Scenic Route, Ocean option road is metaled, but not sealed, for much of its distance. It’s the first time we have traveled on this kind of road for so many kilometers. It took us ages to cross is as the road was bumpy and we stopped so often for sights. By the time we finished I felt quite jarred!

It’s good to have reached Dunedin. It’s a university town of some size. I look forward to learning more about it.

Well…
The Bella Vista motel is average and, for a two bedroomed place, is honestly cramped. There are student lodgings next door and they are on Orientation week, meaning alcohol and shouting from 10pm to 2 am.
Reminds me of Kingston!

Oh and Dunedin has a long one way system.

The Fastest Indian and rain – Thursday 23rd February 2012


I woke early, hearing heavy rain, and despite turning over, the rain persisted all morning. There is something about being at the bottom of New Zealand. My Melbourne friend is correct. The light isn’t right! There is nothing ‘underneath’ us, except the Antarctic and some penguins!

We are still out of food, but cannot motivate ourselves to buy some. We manage a makeshift lunch: half a muesli bar, an apple, 3 crackers with Vegemite or cream cheese and a cup of coffee each.

Clearly we must get out of here! So we begin our routine of finding a bed for tomorrow night, and when that is completed, and the rain has still not stopped, we play Scrabble on the IPad, and are pleased it is such a high scoring game.

By one o’clock we feel it’s now or never, and leave to visit the Invercargill museum. Here we find the Fastest Indian motorcycle which was made famous by Burt Munro, and Anthony Hopkins, who played Burt in the film of the same name. It was larger than I thought, longer that is.

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I enjoyed the photos of Burt’s life and was impressed by the machines he tweaked and improved with his engineering.
Here is the museum, we also saw a Moa skeleton, some interesting artifacts about the Sub Antarctic islands, many of which I had never heard. I was surprised they included a Marion Island. Why anyone thought these hostile islands should be inhabited remains a mystery to me- but very brave on anyone to try.

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These gorgeous clothes were created recently with materials to match the animals and environment. An albatross dress using real feathers, a gentlemen’s suit with seal fur waistcoat, which the museum curator tried to reassure me was “just lying in the museum for years before the project”.
Most unusual, the museum has an area devoted to tuatara reptiles. They have a breeding program for this prehistoric animal and they are doing really well. We saw at least 4 tiny babies and several other generations, all doing well in their lovely enclosure. They are not lively, their metabolism is incredibly slow, breathing only a few times a minute and with a ridiculously slow heart beat.

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When we got back outside it was still raining! So we drove down to Bluff, which really is the last town of New Zealand. It’s famous for oysters. Now, I have never eaten an oyster. I thought that if I were to try, it would be best to try an Bluff oyster, because I am told they are simple, the best! But it is not the season for oysters yet. I need to come back in May!

However, we have achieved a personal best. Driven from Cape Reigna, at the northern most end of State Highway 1 down to Bluff at the most southerly end, where, by the way, it was raining.

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For once I refused to get out the car. It was grey and damp- no, wet! And cold! It was the first day on this entire trip, since October 2011, that I have actually felt cold. I mean, it has rained before, but not like this!

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“Let’s go somewhere warmer,” I said to John. “What about Australia?” I suggest.

So we will…
Let’s turn back now, because we can’t go further, and slowly, very slowly, make our way home, to London.

I think we’ll get there by mid April!

Dawn on Doubtful Sound, dusk at Invercargill – Wednesday 22nd February 2012


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We are awoken by the sound of the generator, signaling pumping of water has resumed. The light, this morning is enhanced by a hint of pink dawn layered over threads of clouds. The stillness, the isolation is overwhelming.
We eat breakfast, see yet more dolphins, but this time in the distance, body flipping and then penguin. Three little ones, swimming ahead.

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Next task is to try to find a crayfish for the next cruise. Our captain set traps last evening, I volunteer to help raise them.

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Sadly nothing! Poor people will have to catch their own supper!
The scenery is simply beautiful here and I am sad to be leaving. This will live in my memory for many years to come.

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But we must leave, so re-trace our journey, 50 minutes on a minibus, 50 minutes on a boat over Lake Manapouri, and a short ride home to collect our car and bags, before we start for Invercargill.
And first on our route is Manipouri – again! This feels rather ridiculous but inevitable. The rest of the journey follows the Southrn Scenic Route but after the majesty of Doubtful Sound, it feels a little flat. Both John and I try to relieve the journey with stop offs.
Clifden Bridge: suspension bridge which improved communication, but more amusing was the pig!

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There he was, this black boulder, lying under a tree, until we, tourists, started to arrive. He staggered to his feet, grunting with pleasure and wagging his tail, persuading people to rush to their cars and find apple cores for his consumption. He was massive! (that’s not my hand in the photo)

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By the time we were 30 km off Invercargill, both John and I were exhausted. We had shared the driving as much as possible, taking shorter and shorter legs for each section of the journey. Eventually w pulled off the road, and for the third time in this entire epic travel, admitted defeat to sleep! We pulled the seats to maximum recline and slept for 20 mins.
This provided us with just enough energy to find the motel and unpack, but not enough to buy food or search for a restaurant. We dined on apple, an orange, an apricot, 3 crackers with Vegimite or Philadelphia and a muesli bar washed down with a Gin and Tonic and coffee.
Believe it or not the saga of the Heirtz/Rentalcars.com fiasco where we ended up paying twice while in Melbourne, has not yet ended. John makes a valiant effort to conclude it but fails because of time difference in UK and the right person being unavailable.

Doubtful Sound – Tuesday 21st February 2012


As often happens, when I have to get up early, I don’t sleep well. I can never work out why this is. Is it excitement, anticipation, or some mis-cued autopilot going off too early? Anyway, today we pack our overnight bag, and leave the rest with the car, at the motel. For today we are going on an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.
The journey is very much part of the experience, but as with most trips, it begins with a pick up from the motel in a coach.
Important background reading
Lake Te Anau feeds Lake Manapouri but has its water level strictly regulated under government legislation. Lake Manapouri feeds the hydo-electric power station which provides all the electricity for the aluminum smelting at Bluff. Once the water has turned the turbines it runs through a long tunnel out to Doubtful Sound.

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This is all a key feature of the area and runs as a sub- plot to the whole day!
The coach takes us from Te Anau to Lake Manapouri, where we board a boat up to the power station. There are lots of different tours using this boat, so it feels a bit crowded, especially as we have booked our cruise on the Southern Secret because it only holds a maximum of 12 passengers.
Many of these tours stop to tour the power station, but we, eight, get on another coach, well minivan.
So why is it so important I explain about the power station? Well, everything needed to build this power station had to be brought in by boat to this point, and then they had to build a new road from the far edge of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound which has sea access, so large equipment could come in that way and to support the project.
Now, of course, they no longer need the road but it has been seen as a wonderful tourism opportunity. Most coaches grind their way up the steep road, visit the tunnels and take the day trippers to cruise on Doubtful Sound.
‘The Southern Secret’ is wonderful! A luxury motor cruiser with a galley kitchen that many houses would appreciate, and spacious en suite cabins. It really is very comfortable.
While we wait for new gas bottles to arrive, we spot 12 dolphin and before long set of to join them. They play and leap, and as we approach five decide to swim under our bow. They stay for some time and I am captivated by them.

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We cruise towards the sea and eat our packed lunch, which is enormous, and before long we see more dolphin. They stay for a slightly shorter time, clearly we are not very entertaining for them and they set off on their own adventures.
Doubtful Sound is very rare, very green. It’s raining for much of the day but it has a different feel to Milford Sound. For one thing it is clearer, less mist! It’s calmer, more remote and far less traffic on it. We rarely see another boat.
After a time we stop engines and Ken, John and I choose to kayak off the back of the boat. We are in single kayaks and I find it hard to keep up with the men (I didn’t say that!) but it was brilliant to feel so intimate with the scenery.

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As soon as we are back on board, we find the others fishing. I am quick to pick up a line and others seems thrilled to be able to show me what to do. Actually it seemed very simple, casts line overboard, wait three seconds, feel something bend the rod, pull and hey presto! Trouble was I couldn’t stop laughing! (I think it helped that the captain used radar to find the shoal of fish in the first place!)

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Huge eyes! Ugly brute! Not really very big! Nasty fins! Altogether we catch about 12 of these, which are cooked for our dinner.
Dinner seems a peculiar mix! There are these Jock Stewart fish, a massive crayfish, chicken, lamb…

The crayfish, which I named Herbert, was already on board when we arrived. He was sitting in a large bucket, looking none too happy. Jamie our host, picked him up to show us but his back was thorny and he managed to get to the floor, where he danced a hornpipe, flapping his segmented tail and careering backwards.

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Now I did not realize that crayfish got to be so big. They said he might be 20 years old! Nor did i know they drowned in fresh water. You can also stab them in the head, or throw them into boiling water, but if you try the latter, be careful because they can, quite rightly protest violently against this treatment and flick water onto you with their powerful tail. Herbert was drowned in the sink.
Anyway he was incredibly tasty, especially his legs.
So first course was hors d’oeuvres of cheese, then we had fish, which we knew was very fresh, then chicken and lamb. For dessert we had meringue with fruit and cream. Amazing!

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We were an intriguing group, and you’d doubt, initially if we would get on well, but we did! A group of friends, retired biology professors, who had worked together in their lab, having attended Cambridge, their wives. All very well travelled and fascinating conversation. Then a couple from Essex, who had a very different education background but were more streetwise. All of us were retired. Over the course of 24 hours we got on very well and enjoyed each others company.
But how interesting, only one said they sometimes woke in the morning, strolled over to the TV and instantly felt tired. I want to avoid this at all costs!

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Birds in Te Anau – Monday 20th February 2012


This morning we return to Queenstown centre to post the lovely print to our friends. This becomes a performance which takes a good hour. We need parcel tape, which appears to be very expensive in NZ, and a box for packing and bubble wrap, which is in very short supply in Queenstown! Usually we would expect to get all these at the post office, but we are out of luck and have to traipse round and round to collect all the elements, including a greetings card to thank them.
Having competed this tour of stationers, we return to the apartment for our car and bags and set off for Te Anau.
It’s a pleasant, straight forward journey which takes about three hours. We settle quickly into the Red Tussock Motel, before setting off for a walk around the lake. About 15 minutes from town are cages of various Kiwi birds, including three Takahe and two Kea parrots. Now we saw a wild Kea parrot on our tour to Milford Sound but did not get a photo: too far up a tree, but it was definitely there. And we saw wild Takahe on Tiritiri Matangi island. So we muse over this collection for a while.

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Kea parrots are known to be mischievous; they like to rip apart campers belongings and steal things from tents. These two had ladders and swings to amuse them.

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I’m not sure if the Pukeko had volunteered to join the Takahe in their huge enclosure but it was good to see the two side by side as it were. There are elements which they share, but the Takahe is by far the heavier, indeed flightless bird, and it’s beak is massive.

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The stroll by the lake is very leisurely and it is a pleasant way to end the day.

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But John has a better idea: we mix a bottle of gin and tonic and take two glasses back down to the lakeshore, before our meal. There we see about 100 mallard ducks, waiting! Occasionally some stray over the main road, but mostly the sit and squabble with each other. About 6 pm a man approaches with bags of grain. He feeds the ducks and they gobble the food. Then the all begin to fly, waddle or flap back to the lake for a grooming session and an evening swim.

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Queenstown -Sunday 19th February 2012


There is no forecasting the weather here! Today was supposed to be as rainy as yesterday but by afternoon it is beautifully sunny with blue sky.
One of the advantages of taking this lovely flat (you can tell I’m enjoying staying here can’t you?) is that is allows us to do the laundry and sort stuff in wonderful comfort.
We wash as much as possible, cut John’s hair, do some ironing, and have an early lunch. Funny how, when traveling it becomes a pleasure to do household chores.
We have not been able to access wifi for a few days and it occurs to me that, we must have run out of data! The system is for Vodafone to sends a text but of course, the mobile hot spot receives but cannot display text messages!
So our shopping trip organizes more data and tries to get out money from a cash point. “insufficient funds!” it said. Nonsense we replied, but it was not listening. We tried about 6 machines all to a similar effect. So, then we had to phone the bank to say we still had our card – no it had not been stolen, yes that was us using the card in lots of machines…
Eventually we got $300 out and a record which thinks we also got a further 600 because the machine had run out of funds!!!
However, during the shopping trip we stopped in a gallery and saw a lovely watercolor print of a farm, which reminded us of the wonderful folk who puts up for a couple of nights in Waitomo. We just had to buy it for them.
Then we say by the lake and enjoyed an ice cold wheat beer, peaceful, relaxed with amazing scenery.

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John tried to measure the supposed rise and fall of the lake brought on by microclimate but failed to prove anything conclusive!

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And we watched sparrows enjoying crumbs from a table. What a peaceful day!

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Milford Sound in the rain – Saturday 18th February 2012


Up early for the coach pick-up. Paul, our driver, is Irish, with the gift, I’m sure! We happen to be first on the coach so choose to sit in the front to get the best views. It’s a 12 hour trip. It takes 2.5 hours just to get to Te Anau and a further 2 hours to get to Milford Sound. Now a sound is a river cutting between two mountains that becomes flooded by the sea. A fjord is glaciated valley now full of sea. This will be important and there WILL be a test later!

The first explorers got this wrong and named Milford a sound when they should have named it a Fjord. The NZ government tried to help by calling the area Fiordland but they couldn’t spell it should be Fjordland.

Enough!

The boat took us right down the fjord to the Tasmin Sea and back. And it rained all the time!

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We learned about tree avalanches where the red beech simply could not hold on any longer to the bare rock and slipped, pulling all the neighboring trees with it. We learned about snow avalanches where the snow fell in a compact block hundreds of meters, and wind avalanches where the wind simply ripped the trees and everything else off the rock face.
We passed a mirror lake which was flawed because the rain pock marked it’s face with concentric circles, but it was still beautiful.

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The rain simply increased while we were on the boat. The cloud so low at times, it was impossible to judge the scale of this place. I get the idea it’s always impossible to explain the size of it. At times I looked up at a waterfall, so huge, only to see another layer of cliff above and another beyond that. One waterfall was compared with the height the Niagra Falls! Not the volume, because it was a slim fall!

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The sheer number of waterfalls was fantastic! At times the crew would bravely drive the ship under the waterfall and we would all be drenched. Luckily they offered bright colored raincoats for such an occasion.

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Three hours previously, there had been far fewer waterfalls so the rain was certainly welcome. Without it we would not have witnessed such a spectacle. It was stunning!
We also saw lots of New Zealand fur seals, all young males we were told, having a great time messing about in the fjord.

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Huge, wet, wonderful, Milford Sound!

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The Crown Range – Friday 17th February 2012


The Crown Range road links Wanaka to Queensland. In various places this journey is written of as a “destination” rather than a journey because of its scenery. In Ron Laughlin’s “The Ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide” there is a comment that this is the highest road in New Zealand and “not recommended at any time”, it goes on “rental vehicles are not allowed”! Rubbish Ron! My edition is copyright 2011 and the Crown Range road was fully sealed in 2001.

Maybe don’t try this with a mobile home, and certainly not with a trailer but… What a fantastic road it is! The hairpin bends at the Queenstown end are hairy. We travelled from the Wanaka side and if you have a choice I’d recommend you do the same – that way you get the best views!

It’s simply one of the most impressive drives in New Zealand: and we loved the Haast Pass yesterday! From Wanaka the road climbs steadily until it reaches an old gold mining town, Cromwell.

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Several historic building remain here. Then the road continues up to a view point, which is magnificent!

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We walked up from this viewpoint for a while and John decided to go even higher than me. So I spent some time trying to take the best photo of me and the view.

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For lunch we went to the old bridge across the Shotover River. Look at that blue water again. It’s not just the sky that’s doing this. The water IS blue!
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Then onto Queenstown. We have chosen to take an apartment here. Complete with separate bedroom, well fitted kitchen, lovely bathroom, brilliant sofa, sound system, washing machine and tumble dryer. We set to washing immediately!
Then we begin to plan how best to pass our time here!