New Zealand Week 3: Dunedin -> Wellington

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wow is week 3 over already? It's flown by! The first 2 weeks were action packed and felt like 2 months, but the past week has slipped past without me even noticing. I must be getting into the swing of things!

I last left you in Queenstown where I was lying on my deathbed bravely overcoming some sort of deadly virus. Something like that anyway. Well I managed to drag my sorry arse out of bed and left Queenstown for Dunedin, the beer and chocolate capital of New Zealand. Our new driver was called Mangu and was the first Maori driver we've had on our trip. It was nice to get a different perspective of the country and on the Maori legends we get told as we travel around. Unfortunately he did have a seriously bad taste in music so most of our journeys were spent listening to our ipods and being generally antisocial.

We got into Dunedin at lunch time and checked into our hostel above a nice pool bar that served guests $1 glasses of beer... Dunedin (translated: "Edinburgh of the South" as the Scottish had settled here to escape the English!) was fairly nice although we didn't really get to see much of it. Soon after we arrived we walked down to the Cadburys chocolate factory and joined the discounted (due to it being a Sunday) tour. Despite it only being $8 (about 2 pound 80) it was still quite a rip off as we didn't get to see much other than a short film about how the chocolate was manufactured and then we were given a couple of measly fun-sized crunchies. The one in Birmingham is far better, but then I suppose we did go on a day the factory wasn't in operation so perhaps it's better midweek. We did get to climb inside a huge silo and watch a tonne of chocolate form a waterfall so I guess it was worth it just for that. No oompa loompas though sadly.

We left Dunedin the next day and headed for Lake Tekapo. First stop was Baldwin Street, officially the world's steepest street. There wasn't much chance of me making it to the top (although perhaps it could have helped burn off half the stock of Cadbury's outlet shop I bought yesterday...) so I kindly sent up Dan to take photos while I stood at the bottom. Glad I was that heartless because he came back panting and wheezing and mumbling something about it feeling like you were walking backwards! I'd surely have collapsed halfway up and there'd have been no chance of an ambulance getting anywhere near me. See, I was just making sure I wasn't wasting the emergency services' time! I'm good like that.

An hour later we stopped at Moeraki Beach where we had a short stroll along the shore to look at the perfectly spherical boulders sticking out of the sand. Thankfully they look better in the photos than they did in real life, but perhaps we just don't appreciate round rocks as much as we should. We had a snack in the cafe (which for some reason seemed more popular than the boulders..!), took a look at some animals that looked like deer but were as big as horses and then we got back on the road.

After buying another sheep (this time a pillow - see my souvenirs are practical as well as nice!) we finally arrived at our hostel, a backpackers lodge right on the lakefront. The surroundings were absolutely beautiful and couldn't really have been more wild. The lounge had a huge log fire with sofas set out all around it and looking out through the glass walls over the lakefront and mountains beyond. Not bad for 13 pounds each! We took a walk along the bright blue lake to the centre of Tekapo and to the Church of the Good Shepherd - a tiny church with absolutely stunning surroundings. We walked a little further to the statue of the collie dog which the women of Tekapo had raised money to have made before sending it over to Britain to get bronzed. I can't really remember why the dog was so appreciated. I vaguely recall it being something to do with the dogs exploring the dangerous land to help re-claim it but Dan remembers it being something to do with the dogs protecting the women while the men went off to build the villages. I really should look it up considering we have about 15 photos of it including the obligatory 'Sheppie At...' shot.

The next day we had a full coach for the first time on our trip. The journey to Christchurch was uneventful with Dan's highlight being passing through the town of Fairlie which he renamed "Fairlie Dull" and then insisted on repeating the joke for the rest of the day. After a brief stop for brunch we found ourselves driving through a little suburb of Christchurch called (drum roll please) Templeton! The second Templeton of our trip but this time accidental. We didn't stop there though sadly so the only photo I have of it is the bakery we passed at 70mph. That's still enough for me to be chuffed about though. I might rename this trip the Templeton Tour.

Christchurch turned out to be one of my and Dan's favourite places in New Zealand so far. We stayed in a hostel right in the centre of the city and on the Cathedral Square, a beautiful area surrounded by cafes and fish and chip stalls, a giant chess board and of course the beautiful cathedral. After a very brief wander, we went to the hostel bar (the Saints and Sinners) where we met a load of other Magic Bus travellers who had the same idea. We had a few pints of the super cold Export Gold taking advantage of the happy hour prices and watched a guy from Australia called - you guessed it - Bruce do some magic and juggling. He wasn't bad but did offer to down half a pint every time he dropped a ball which got him rather drunk! We then had a paper, scissors, stone competition for a Stray (a company similar to Magic) bus pass around the South Island. People took it quite seriously which made it good fun with one girl spitting "F*ck you!" to the guy who beat her and another doing warm up exercises as he waited for his heat. I managed to get myself disqualified by disputing the judge's decision but enjoyed the notoriety that comes with being thrown out of a paper, scissors, stone contest! Was good fun despite its simplicity and the guy who beat me ended up winning and had only just bought his bus pass earlier in the day. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

We left the bar just after 9 and headed to another nearby for a bit of dinner and a few more drinks. Was quite a nice and friendly bar until 2 middle aged American men started a conversation about how they didn't "get on with black people" and something about how slavery ended 200 years ago so get over it already..! They seemed ready to start discussing the English so it seemed a good time to leave.

The next morning we didn't have to get up for the bus so treated ourselves to a spectacular lie-in until 9am. We asked directions to the supermarket and set off on a 15 minute walk to the Pac'n'Save. I really like Christchurch but it felt like we were walking through a rather seedy area with shops selling "party pills" and massage parlours appearing on every street. One Vietnamese buffet restaurant offered massages as well as food and I felt obliged to ask Dan whether he thought it was all-you-can-eat. New Zealand has brought the crudeness out in me, obviously.

The supermarket was horrifically busy which put us both in a bad mood, although at least it was pretty cheap. We tried to buy some Freixenet (sparkling wine) which was only $8 (about 2 pounds 80, compared to it being about 8 pounds in England) but were rather amused to be asked for ID and then find they didn't accept any of the kind we were carrying. They do have a policy here of asking anyone who looks under 25 for ID which is fair enough but, unfortunately for him, not even Dan looks 24 let alone 17! I did find it fun to be refused alcohol by someone a good 5 years younger than me particularly as we then paid for our shopping using a Mastercard. Perhaps he was happy to let us use a stolen credit card so long as we don't under-age drink. Still, Dan's chuffed he looks like a teenager and I can only conclude that waterfall at Milford Sound that makes women look 10 years younger must have worked!

Since we lacked cheap alcohol, Dan and I headed to the Saints and Sinners bar for a few happy hour specials. It was pretty empty so we decided to leave just as the entertainment was about to start in fear of being forced to be volunteers. Seemed a good move as shortly after I was passed by two girls leaving saying "There was no need for that, it wasn't even funny!". We found ourselves an Irish bar and had a pint of Kilkenny beer in honour of my mum who's from Kilkenny and a vague recollection that my grandfather had something to do with the brewery. Knowing Irish people though, it could just be that he single handedly kept them in business ;)

The next day we headed out into Christchurch with a picnic after stopping in the newsagents for a small bottle of sparkly which Dan made me buy as he was crapping himself he'd get IDed again! We took some photos of the city and settled down by the river to have our food but quickly moved from the grass onto a nearby bench when thousands of ducks and seagulls decided to join us. We watched several people punting along the river and then saw a graduation ceremony parade from the University of Canterbury led by a man in a kilt playing the bagpipes. It was really nice to watch the proud students and even prouder parents march through the city and stop all the traffic.

We spent most of the rest of the day watching films with other backpackers and trying to find a cinema showing Ice Age 2 after dark. We failed.

For the first time since the first day we boarded the Magic Bus, the next morning we were waiting for the coach a good 15 minutes before it was due. We'd heard that the activities in our next destination got booked up quickly and the best way to ensure a place was to sit behind the driver and be the first to put your name on the activity booking sheet. Would have worked beautifully had the driver not handed the clipboard round the opposite direction to every other driver so that we ended up last instead of first! Thankfully it didn't matter and we secured our places on the whale watching trip.

The journey to Kaikoura was pretty and we stopped at a fur seal colony where we took some more photos in case the other 70 we took previously weren't enough. We stopped for some breakfast which I promptly threw up for most of the rest of the journey. Need to start eating more operation-friendly food to stop this happening. I've never felt pain like it.

We arrived in Kaikoura at about 11.30am and checked into our hostel. After a quick lie-down we walked 5 minutes along the beach to the whale watching centre. We got a coach to the docks and boarded the catamaran which took us out to sea. After about 15 minutes we came across our first beautiful sperm whale taking a breather on the water's surface. We rushed upstairs to the top viewing deck and took a million photos that will never do the magnificent sight justice. After about 10 minutes the whale arched its back, swung its tail up in the air and dove back down into the depths of the ocean. Unbelievable.

We were so lucky (for once!) with the weather and had perfect conditions out on the water. We saw 2 more whales called Tono and Noodle (so called because he always spends exactly 2 minutes on the surface so is named after New Zealand's well-advertised 2 minute noodles) and we also saw another whale off in the distance. They were so amazing to watch even though you could only really see their backs. Noodle did show a bit of his face but I missed it trying to get a picture of his tail. We were really lucky to see so many whales as most people often only briefly see the one. We also saw a shark and loads of albatross before sailing into a HUGE pod of Dusky Dolphins. There must have been at least a 100 if not more. They jumped and flipped and showed off for at least 20 minutes before we finally had to sail on and leave them behind. It was wonderful seeing them so close and friendly. It's one thing to go to Sea World and see Flipper jump over a rope for his fishy reward but it's another to see so many competing in the open sea, showing off to the people watching and hoping one of the female dolphins might be impressed enough to do the dirty which they incidently do 8 times a day just for fun!

We then sailed around the fur seal colony we stopped at earlier in the day and eventually returned back to shore. What a trip! Possibly the highlight of our journey (and maybe my life?) so far. Truly unforgettable.

The next day we waved a very reluctant goodbye to the South Island and got on the Interislander Ferry back to Wellington in the North. We got some seats by a window in the hope we might see more dolphins but they never arrived. We got some tea in the cafe of "should I have ordered a short black instead?" fame. There wasn't much of a queue this time but that seemed to confuse them and they forgot to make our drinks. At least they're consistant. We then met a few people from the bus and the guy Sheriff who'd been our coach's chief at the Maori night a few weeks ago and also bumped into a couple who'd shared our cottage in Franz Josef. It's weird how you can run into the same people over and over.

We got off the ferry and collected our bags but were too late to fit on the first free shuttle to our hostel. The driver assured me in an Arnie voice that he'd be back but after about 10 minutes a guy came over and asked Jamie, a girl we were with, whether she was Canadian. After a bit of a chat, it turned out he was a Stray bus driver and none of his passengers had turned up which I'd seen him looking for them earlier. He offered us all a lift to round the corner from where we were staying and we all gladly jumped on the coach. It was pretty cool as there were only 5 of us on the bus with the driver who gave us a little guided tour of Wellington before dropping us off. We only had a 5 minute walk to Wildlife House (the hostel we'd stayed in before that's painted like a zebra) rather than the 30 minute one we'd have had after the free shuttle.

We headed out into the streets of the city and picked up a very cheap curry before going to the cinema to see Ice Age 2. Great film (not as good as the first one though) but the cinema was really loud - I must be getting old! We walked back to the hostel and passed a really awful singing busker who got the process slightly wrong and kept throwing his own money into his hat. We got back to our room to find we were on a floor with what seemed like an entire American school with kids ranging in age from about 10 to about 18. The floor had been turned into party central with the dorm opposite ours acting as the main hang out. We weren't too impressed with the noise continuing all the way through the night with the teachers just occasionally whispering "shhh!" down the hallway. That's the beauty of staying in hostels though I guess!

So that about completes week 3 of New Zealand and already week 4 looks like it's going to be another good one. We're now heading back north toward the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Islands, both of which are meant to be beautiful. Just under 2 weeks left here before we head over to Australia and a week or so later reach our halfway mark. It's crazy.

Anyway, I hope my updates aren't too bloody boring and some of you manage to make it through each essay! I've loved hearing from you and all your comments, even if sometimes it takes me a little while to reply. Hope you're all well, take care and make sure you keep me up to date with the gossip!
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