The best of the rest

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, May 21, 2007

This is going to be the last entry from New Zealand, and I've finally caught up with myself! Hopefully I'll be able to keep on top of things a bit better from now on.

After leaving Fiordland, I made a beeline for the south coast and the Catlins. There's not a hug amount to detain you in the towns you pass through apart from comparing the price of petrol (this has become my new top sport) and going into the cheapest one. If you want to see bumpkins South Island style, by far the easiest thing to do (rather than fester in a pub) is to take a while filling up your car. You can pretty much guarantee that there'll be a good collection of blokes who look like they eat a whole sheep for breakfast filling up their UTE with a dog (generally of the mean looking, 'don't mess with me sheep' kind) and telling some yarn about what happened on the farm yesterday. It is little wonder that some of them seem to take half the morning to fill up the tank.

The south coast itself is pretty bleak and windswept. Not much seems to happen in lots of places apart from sheep. Even the trees have a pretty hard time of it, and the ones that survive tend to be bent double. Though the point marking the most southerly bit of the South Island is nothing to shout about, there are some real gems tucked away along the coast. One that appealed to the palaeontologist in me was the fossilised forest at Curio Bay. One of the best examples of a fossilised Jurassic forest anywhere in the world, it essentially looks as it did when it was flattened by a lahar (volcanic mud flow) several tens of millions of years ago. The material of the trees has been replaced by silica, meaning the shape has been perfectly preserved whilst becoming as solid as anything. It was a relatively high tide when I turned up, but there were still a couple of dozen logs poking out above the surf line. There are numerous layers of these trees going up the cliff, where successive forests were flattened and buried by volcanic eruptions.

I chose to stay down in the Catlins for a night, and picked a place right by the beach. The idea behind this was to pop out first thing in the morning before I left to check out the sea lions that use the beach. Sure enough, the following morning there were sea lions, though only a couple. Talking to the owner of the hostel, they all seem to have disappeared off in the last week. Still, the two that were there were quite impressive, and I climbed up onto the sand dune behind them to get a better look at their sparring. You're meant to keep 20 metres away on flat ground from them, but with a 2-3 metre drop from me to them, I was able to get to within about 4-5 metres quite safely.

On my way round the coast from the Catlins the next stop was the Otago Peninsula. This sticks out from Dunedin (the Edinburgh of the South - Dunedin is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh), and has rare yellow-eyed p-p-p-penguins, Royal Albatrosses and New Zealand's only castle. I didn't manage to get to the penguins, but I got to the others. The castle, Larnach Castle, has commanding views over the entire peninsula, and amazingly was derelict until the 1960s. The chap that built it (Larnach) had a rather troubled family, and squabbling led to it being sold off and dissolved. Usual story. With its mix of high Gothic Revival architecture and New World styling (verandahs) it is quite an imposing structure, though inside it is not much bigger than the average Old Rectory or small Manor House in the UK. As for the Albatrosses, it is a wonder that they breed where they do at all. You would be hard pressed to find somewhere more exposed anywhere in the south island. There are currently 23 Royal Albatross chicks (one of the more endangered types) on the peninsula, and these big balls of fluff each weigh about 8kg. No wonder they've got such a massive wingspan!

In Dunedin itself, I was very kindly put up by the McCullams, who I'd met a few days before in Doubtful Sound. They have the most fantastic house overlooking the city - somthing that'd cost an absolute fortune back home, but which is quite common to have in NZ. In Dunedin I continued my Fives courts search, and found a couple more schools with them. One even has quite a lot of boys playing, and recently re-instated the inter-house competition (all thanks to a keen master). When I went further up the coast, I found another couple of schools with courts (near Oamaru) though didn't get to explore for any in/near Christchurch due to lack of time. I'm pretty sure that there'd be some around there, given the strong old-English influence in the area. As well as the Fives in Dunedin, the Cadbury's chocolate factory and Speight's Brewery were also good calls. Quite a good mix for the afternoon and evening if you ask me.

As I'd spent such a relatively long time over in Fiordland, I wasn't able to spend as much time going up the east coast as I'd have liked to have done, but I did manage to go whale watching at Kaikoura. This was, again, planned with the weather in mind, as you can forget going out in a raging gale. As it turned out, the conditions were near perfect, again, with the swell being between 1-2 metres. The type of whale that's most common around the area are male sperm whales. You only see them when they come up from deep dives - the record recorded is over 3000 metres. I would love to know how they cope with the intense variations of pressure is such a short space of time - they can come from that deep to the surface in 10 minutes. Compare this to regular human divers who need to have a safety stop at around 5 metres for 5-10 minutes if they go to 30 metres or so. Quite cool indeed. On the trip we saw two whales. Only one did the stereotypical tail fin in the air before diving down, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. I didn't realise quite how powerful the sonar on the whales is. No only do they use it as a search tool for finding their food in the depths, but they also use it to stun and even kill their prey. There was a case of a diver a few years ago who was filming the whales underwater, and one of them gave out a sonar blast towards him. Feeling a bit queesy, he surfaced, and the day after started to pass blood from internal bleeding and bruising. Not an animal to be messed with.

Since the banning of seal hunting within 200 miles of the New Zealand coastline, the numbers of seals has rocketed. This is most evident when you drive up the coast road towards Picton for the ferry back to the North Island. At one point I stopped just to look out over stuff, and there must have been at least three dozen, if not more, seals and their pups just lounging around or playing on the rocks.

Apart from loads of dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds on the way back across, not a great deal else has been happening in the last couple of days. I stayed with Neil Marshall  (a Fives connection) in Taupo a couple of nights ago and we went Fives court hunting (though to no avail), and I'm now back up in Hamilton staying with Mike & Anne Goold before heading off to Auckland tomorrow. I've had a real purge of stuff today, and have filled quite a large parcel with stuff to go home. It's been ages since I've just had a day or sorting everything out, as I've been on the go for the past 5 weeks, and it is quite amazing how much rubbish you accumulate in such a short space of time.

Anyway, next stop Fiji. Let's just hope they don't fancy another coup.

photographic experimentation: mp;id=222300048 mp;id=222300048
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