Touring the South Island

Trip Start Apr 10, 2006
Trip End Feb 07, 2007

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Monday, January 1, 2007

Firstly, happy New Year! 2007, eh? Creeps up on you, when I was a lad it was barely even 2001 and now look at the world; all grown up. So, hopefully you had a great night and maybe are reading this all hungover and rotten? If so settle in with a cup of tea and I'll tell you all about what we've been up to since the last report.

We flew into Christchurch on the 11th December. Christchurch is the main city on the South Island and has a population of around 350, 000. It is, by reputation, the most English-feeling of all NZ cities, even to the extent that you can go punting on the river, which the guide books tell me is very English! At the airport we were met by the guy from the rental company who showed us how our new car worked. It's an automatic, which we'd never driven before. Essentialy, it is like driving an oversived Go-Kart, with only two pedals, stop and go, and two main gears, forwards and backwards. I love it, it takes all the hassle out driving when you have no gears and leaves you with a hand free, perhaps to complete a crossword, or write a postcard. It also has an overdrive switch that when engaged, the car makes a really loud grunting noise. It's really cool but I'm not sure we actually go any faster, the point is that it makes me feel like a big man.
Under the advice of Cheryl we headed out to a place called Akaroa, which sits about 45 mins south of Christchurch on the Banks Peninsula. Like much of NZ it is a volcanic landscape; it is perhaps more evident here as the peninsula seems to almost  be formed around a central caldera and seems to have oozed into place. It is an absolutely stunning landscape and we camped up in the hills looking down into the valley. The Town itself is quite cool, it was colonized by the French and it works hard to maintain that link to the past. The streets are all Rues and they fly the tricolore. One night we were hanging at the campsite when huge sirens started going off in the town, like air raid sirens, really loud. It was only later that we found out it was teh Shark Alarm, warning people that a big beastie was in the bay, we had a look but couldn't see it. We've since heard similar alarms in a few places...

Kaikoura was our next major stop. It sits at the foot of a huge range of Mountains called the Seaward Kaikoura ranges. They dominate the landscape and just amazing, you see them wherever you are looming over you and they are so high (around 2,500 m) that they were still covered in snow even at this time of year! They dominate the town and you can see them poking out no matter where you are, it is an awesome sight as attested by the amount of pictures that we took of them!
It was not mountains that we were here to see though. No, we were after sea mammals Kaikoura is pretty famous for them as it has unique ocean conditions. There is a massive trench a couple of miles off shore that is about 4500 ft deep. this allows deep water conditions to occur very clos to shore. Hence, they have an abundance of seals, whales and dolphins. First on the list was the seals. We visited the locla colony a number of times and were able to get very close to some of the tubby swimmers. You can see them just metres away on the rocks and frolicking in the water. The best one was the chubster we found lurking in the bushes of the carpark, the seedy seal. He was just loafing and we were able to get some good pics of hime.
The next spot was the big one, we were booked onto a whale watching tour onto said deep water. We necked a load of sea sickness pills and set off. It's a good job we did too, it was extremely choppy and soon enough there was a wave of vomitting sweeping through the passengers like an awfule mexican wave. We were okay though, which is the main thing, and we were soon off spotting Sperm Whales. They are a unique species as they surface for up to ten minutes and take hour long dives. Other whales only stay at the surface for a short while but dive for less time. So the boat we were on had all sorts of technical gubbins enabling them to find the wet beasts. Within a few minutes the hunt was on and we had caught our first sight of a Whale, or at least Tamsin had, i was too slow and went to the upper level by whih time he'd scarpered, bah!
The next few spots were infinately more successful though, we managed to catch up with them on two more occasions where they were on the surface for ages. It was humbling to be so near to them, they are gigantic and we were able to get really close to them. I was in a bit of whale geek heaven. The best bit was when they dived and did the whole swishy tail business, with the mountains in the background, it was just perfect.
The 12 days of Christmas
Between arriving in Christchurch and Christmas we camped all over the North East of the South Island. It was pretty cold and we were a bit sore after 13 nights on the floor, but it is so cheap as to be irresistable. In addition, it is great to be outdoors in such a beautiful country. We were able to get a lot of walking done in some amazing countryside. Tamsin had her first taste of geek heaven when she managed to get her hands on one of the rings form The Lord of the Rings.
For Christmas we had booked into a campsite to stay in a TeePee. It was quite basic, with no electricity and just a matress and some carpet to sleep on. It was cool though, Tamsin made a little Christmas tree and we made it our own. on Xmas eve we did a huge tramp in the Abel Tasman National Park. We caught a water taxi 12 miles up the coast and walked back all along the beautiful coastline, it was stunning but we were gald to be back at our teepee for a few beers with the other campers before settling down and waiting for Santa.
Well, he never found us but it didn't matter, befor we left Auckland Cheryl had given us a bags to open at Christmas. We were so pleased when we opened them to find stockings stuffed with really cool, thoughtful presents. It made our day. The rest of teh day we spent loafing in the sun before settling down for a nice picnic!
Franz Josef Glacier Walk
Franz Josef is a small town proving tourist services for the Glacier of teh same name. The pics will give you a better idea of what the Glacier looks like, but I will add a bit anyway. FJG is one of only 3 glaciers in the world to come down so low, you don't have to climb any mountains to see it. This is possible because of the huge Neve where the snow gathers, some 3000m up the mountain. It has an area of 32 km Sq, and has an average annual snowfall of 40m, a great deal more than the average that a ski field gets of about 5m. The huge pressures created by this unmelting snow compacts it and sends it off down the mountain. The result as you can see on the pictures is a cascade of solid ice flowing for 13km before reaching the ground as part of an imposing wall of vertical ice known as the terminal face. The whole thing is lubricated by underground water tha exits from the huge river that runs from the cave in the face of the glacier. Our aim was to go on a guided tour and climb the thing. 
We had booked in ages ago as it is really popular and I had been looking forward to it for ages. I was so dissapointed when we turned up to pay the day before our walk and was told it had been cancelled, we only had a day to do it but it had rained so much that all the steps they carve into the ice had been washed away. I was gutted, but there was a ray of hop a sister company, who used different paths had spaces available and we were able to get on it. I fretted all night as the rain poured, thinking that it might wash away the tracks. the next morning though, we woke to blue skies and were told that the walk would be operating, I was made up. We had booked onto a full days walk as it gives you access to loads more ice caves and big crevasses. When we booked in we were given a sheet saying that the walk was for people of good fitness and that if we couldn't keep up we would have to be evacuated at our own expense. That didn't sound good, and teh nerves started a bit.
We needn't have worried though as once we hit the ice, we were up to the pace and managed pretty well. It was just awe inspiring, so beautiful, the ice is all blue from the pressure and juts up at the most amazing angles. You have to shimmy through all these tight caves and climb all these vertical walls with some steps roughly carved in. It was ace! Probably my highlight so far and we got a real sense of achievment. 
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