Braving the winds...
Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
123Trip End Feb 27, 2006
Shortly after 1pm, the bus meandered its way to the top of the hill and I loaded my backpack into the back. The driver was indeed 'wacky,' but I quite liked him, although I imagine he'd be a nightmare to live with! His humour was similar to that of Timmy Mallett's, but I was willing to put up with anything as it was only for a day. In fact, he became less hyperactive when the others went for a walk on Tautuku Beach, and I had a nice chat to him about my time in New Zealand. I opted to stay in the bus because I'd been to that beach the previous day (and the raging wind acted as a minor deterrent too!).
We drove on for a further 45 minutes, listening to a strange selection of music from the German guy's Ipod, e.g
Curious about Japan as ever, I got talking to Ai from Kawasaki, and it turned out that she'd been to New Zealand before. In fact, she'd been all over the world as a cheerleader, and now she was a cheerleading coach. It was interesting talking to her, and we later exchanged email addresses which was nice considering we'd only just met!
An hour later we were at the beautiful, but absolutely freezing Porpoise Bay - it's amazing how quickly the weather can change in New Zealand! I took a couple of pictures but then scurried inside the visitor's centre for information on Stewart Island. Quite frankly, I didn't fancy making the 1 hour crossing by boat, as the ocean was wild (apparently it has been voted into the Top 10 worst crossings in the world!). Our guide told us about one journey when literally everybody on board threw up! The flight to the Island seemed more appealing, although that too is known to be an ordeal...
Anyway, we decided to brave the cold and have a walk to Curio Bay, home to one of the world's most extensive fossil forests (160 million years old). The rare yellow eyed penguins can also be seen before sunset, although we didn't encounter any
A bonus of doing the Bottom Bus thing off season is that you get a free night at Dolphin Lodge, and it was such a relief to get in front of the log fire! I drew the short straw :-) as I had to share a room with Ai, the Japanese cheerleader, and a blonde, German teenager - I was so disappointed not to be sharing with the loud Americans and the German guy!!
I am of course being sarcastic, and the Americans turned out to be nice lads. The German guy was too, and I played a few games of pool with him on possibly the worst table in the entire world! I missed the object ball 3 times in a row at one point, and it was all down to the unevenness of the table rather than any discrepancies in my technique (that's my story anyway!). We drew 2-2.
Ai and me looked at eachother's photographs later on in the evening, but everyone was asleep before 11pm as it was an early start the next morning (it almost goes without saying now!)
After an hour's drive, we arrived in Invercargill, and our driver told us an amusing anecdote about when the Rolling Stones visited here in the early '60s. Unimpressed by Mick Jagger's lip pouting and hip shaking, the crowd pelted the band with tomatoes, leading Jagger to refer to Invercargill as "the arsehole of the world!" The city's reputation isn't much brighter some 40 years later, with ex-England rugby captain Brian Moore labelling it "the Chernobyl of the South Island."
Consequently, I didn't have high expectation levels for the place, but to be honest it was no worse than say, Ashburton. The glorious sunshine probably clouded my judgement (so to speak), but my main reason for being there was to organise myself ahead of Stewart Island. It was back to reality after a week of no mobile phone signal, and very little internet. So I spent time updating my journal, and contacting people who were probably waiting with bated breath (not likely!) for a sign that I was still alive.
I had heard from a girl on the Bottom Bus that if you contact Stewart Island Flights late in the day, it is possible to get standby fares at a much reduced price. Sure enough, I ended up getting the return journey for just $95 - a saving of $50. It's not a journey I'm looking forward to, but 20 minutes of terror will be worth it as Stewart Island is a tramper's heaven by all accounts. With 85% of the Island made up of bush, and only 500 people living there, it sounds like my kind of place...