The Last of the Cliff Climbing Penguins!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hi everyone, well we're almost coming to the end of our time here in New Zealand already. Three weeks have flown by so quickly and with so much to see and do, we know we'll be heading back someday because we love it here! Anyway, here's the latest...

Back to Melbourne, it was a bit dreary really but it didn't continuously chuck it down with rain as we had thought it would. Thankfully the Irish couple who bought Oobie let us keep her until the day of our flight, which meant that we could tour around, see the sights and have a cheap and cosy bed to stay in every night. We drove the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit, where Kev skidded Oobie over the kerbs in true Formula One style (Sian isn't so sure!) and we visited the interesting and very Australian, Immigration Museum. On our last night we went to an Aussie Rules Football match, which would have been great if we hadn't realised half way through that the rugby (New Zealand v's Australia) was on at the same time!

After we said our goodbyes to Oobie and Kev instructed Tony (the new owner) on some essential maintenance we headed to the airport for a very below average Qantas flight to Christchurch. By the time we landed and cleared customs it was way past one in the morning and not really worth checking into a hostel for the rest of the night so we quickly came back down to the world of backbacking and crashed out on the airport floor with all the other cheapskates.

The next morning we were up, into town and before the end of the day we'd bought a car from a Japanese girl who was leaving the country the next day. It was all a bit surreal really and our lack of sleep may have affected our judgement but it's mechanically sound and only cost 100 pounds so we couldn't really go wrong, could we? For the next few days we stayed with a wonderful Kiwi family which we had contacted again through the Global Freeloaders internet site. We were fed absolutely fabulous food, prepared as if by magic by Richard in front of our eyes and wined on some of New Zealand's finest Chardonnay. In fact Richard is quite a chef and runs his own catering company so we were spoilt rotten with fantastic food everyday. It was wonderful to stay with them and we really hope that we will see them in Scotland some day. (Thanks again guys!!)

As for Christchurch, what a city. It's really picturesque with it's fabulous park and riverside, everybody is so friendly, the sun shines and the sky is blue. You are surrounded by rolling green hills and there are snow capped mountains in the distance, what more could you ask for. Well, there's a nice beach, wineries on your doorstep (we are educating ourselves on white wines now) and a day trip down to the Banks Penninsular was absolutely stunning with scenic little towns, mountains, turquoise green bays where dolphins play and tightly winding roads cutting through it all.

From Christchurch, once we had dragged ourselves away from Richard and Colleen's fantastic hospitality, we drove high into the mountain pastures towards the snow capped peaks and lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, which both have beautiful turquoise blue colour due to the fine glacier crushed rock suspended in their waters. The whole area was once covered by the Tasman glacier which has now retreated way back into the mountains. We followed its destructive path (not that hard really) but the bright blue skies soon turned cloudy and by the time we drove to the base of Mounts Tasman and Cook (the highest in New Zealand) the wind, mist, cloud and rain had obscured everything.

Returning to the East coast the next day, through more gorgeous mountain scenery, we stopped not so briefly, for a few cold hours at dusk, at a beach, to watch some rare and endangered, Yellow-Eyed penguins hop ashore. Somewhat unbelievably they then disappeared up the steep, rocky and bushy cliff face, only to reappear some 50m further up. Seriously, it would have been a struggle for us to get up that slope but somehow they manage it!! Kev didn't quite believe Sian when she first thought she saw them up the cliff and laughed as he asked "what do you think you've discovered the last of the cliff climbing penguins or something?" but once we got the zoom lense out and checked, sure enough there they were! Apparently they're unusual in that they nest independently up cliffs rather than in colonies.

Our next stop was in the very Scottish city of Dunedin (which is Gaelic for Edinburgh and even has the same street names). This is the stop off point for trips to the Otago Peninsular, which would be just fantastic for scenery on a normal day but it was absolutely magical when it started to snow, and we are talking big fat snow flakes, with patches of blue sky and sunshine still breaking through occasionally. Along the coastal road we happened upon a tiny fur seal pup that had come ashore to rest or shelter from the approaching bad weather. He was undeniably cute and it was really hard to drag Sian away from him despite the snowy weather. The peninsular is gorgeous, it's crystal clear bays are surrounded by mountains speckled with snow clad sheep. The snow added that final touch but it lasted all afternoon and long into the night and by morning the whole town was snowed in and us with it.

We escaped the day after and carried on along the coast on some pretty rough roads to a lighthouse with a lazy seal colony and another cliff climbing penguin beach, which had large amounts of broken Paua (Abalone) shells washed ashore. We got stuck for a while on one road (not snow) when we rounded a corner and the road merged into a sea of white wool with over 1000 sheep (so the farmer told us and it was quite believable) coming the other way which was quite a sight and apparently a truly Kiwi one. Before we headed inland towards the supposedly picturesque Lake Manapouri (apparently, when the views aren't obscured by clouds), we visited a fossilised beach where you can see a pertified forest at low tide with loads of petrified tree stumps and logs amongst the waves that came crashing ashore.

Up until we left Lake Manapouri we were both taken aback by how beautiful New Zealand really is, but the following day, as we drove towards the small coastal town of Milford at the head of an unbelievably spectacular and beautiful fiord named Milford Sound, we were blown away. The road had been blocked by avalanches for 8 days, stranding 20 tourists in the tiny town, and when it opened the drive in was fabulous. Surrounded on all sides by towering snow capped mountains, we cruised through lush green riverine terrain, beautiful forrests and then up and into the mountains quite literally, as part of the road is through a long tunnel with huge long icicles hanging down. The weather couldn't have been better and as we boarded the boat for our afternoon cruise, the water was pancakle flat with perfect reflections of the mountains towering above. Actually the cruise was very nearly cancelled as no other passengers had turned up, but the captain wanted to do some fishing and the conditions were perfect, so we joined him. He didn't catch much (Kev's fishing trip jinx continues) but as we all sipped wine and watched the sun set over the Tasman sea nobody was too worried. We arrived back onshore quite late and struggled to find our way back to the car in the pitch black darkness, following every inch of the handrail along the wooden walkway. It took us ages to do the short 5 minute walk. Because they turned our cruise into a fishing trip, they invited to go on the cruise again the next morning, which was much more of a touristy affair but the Fiordland penguin and seal spottings were good and the weather was perfect again.

By the 20th of August (we fly out on the 29th), we realised that we didn't have time to see and do absolutely everything in the South Island. So, when we reached Queenstown at the centre of NZ's ski fields we had to resist taking to the slopes, as tempting as they were with all that fresh snow. Queenstown itself is a typical concrete ski resort town but in such a gorgeous location, again surrounded by snow capped mountains that reflect perfectly in the tree lined lake . Seriously, we know we use a lot of (the same) dramatic adjectives in our travelpods but NZ really deserves them and none more so than the tiny town of Glenorchy. Away from the madness of Queenstown, in a tiny backpackers cabin complete with a cosy woodburning stove and a soft, fat cat, surrounded by beautiful scenery it couldn't have been better, in fact there is a place nearby named Paradise and the area lives up to it's name.

We were on the road again the next day headed for the town named after the nearby Fox glacier. It took us a while to get there, through a tight, twisting and pretty hairy mountain pass, especially as the bad weather was coming in. This proved to be very bad timing as we had booked a little treat for ourselves the next day. The weather however was terrible and our planned heli-hike (a helicopter ride onto the glacier and a hike into the blue ice caves) was cancelled. The trip had been highly recommended (see our friends website for the fantastic photos : and we were really gutted not to be going but we braved the weather and hiked up to the massive but retreating glacier face, only to be bombarded by hailstones and soaked by torrential rain. The forecast for the next day wasn't much better but somehow it miraculously cleared overnight, although too late for us to get dry and booked onto another heli-hike. We consoled ourselves with the fabulous views of Mounts Cook and Tasman (which we could actually see this time) then drove up to another glacier town called Franz Josef. We hiked up again for a closer look and vowed to do our heli-hike next time as we stared enviously at the blue ice in the distance at the top. We also hope to do a heli-ski next time, which there will definitely be as this country deserves more of our time.

Our tight schedule meant we were rushing a bit by then but we drove up the west coast to Greymouth and to the strange coastal rock formations resemblimg stacked pancakes at Punakaiki before crossing the country over the scenic Lewis Pass and on to Kaikoura back on the East coast. Kaikoura is famed for it's dolphin and Sperm whale watching but again the weather conspired against us and the wind cancelled the boat trips. We will drive up to Picton later today and catch the ferry across to Wellington on the North island. We'll only have a couple of stops on the way up to Auckland where we fly from on Sunday.

Overall New Zealand has been better than we ever hoped for, from our first night with Richard and Colleen, everybody we have met has been so friendly and welcoming (until they get behind the wheel of a car that is!). The countryside is dramatically beautiful (seeing Lord of the Rings doesn't nearly do it justice!), there's loads to do and there's the whole of the North Island still to explore next time. We've decided we'll be back someday but for the moment we've got some Spanish to learn and a real long haul flight to contend with. We've also had a bit of a dilemma to deal with as our flat has been inadvertantly rented out until March without our permission so we've had to postpone our return home until the end of January when we'll hopefully have a place to stay and we're consoling ourselves with a bit more time to explore and to hopefully get to our friend Marc's wedding in the States in December. Our cash is finally running out but we have a few more things to look forward to, we'll keep you posted as ever.

Until next time,
K & S
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