Anyway, we headed off through Lord of the Rings scenery. We drove through a town called Twizel, and the surrounding area had been used to film the battle of Pelennor Fields, in the Return of the King. A stunning landscape, and strangely familiar
! I've seen those films too many times I think. One more stop on the way was to see some more giant trees (they have lots of them in New Zealand), before we some of our group went off rafting and one girl went off horse-riding. I was really tempted, but decided to save some money and leave it. We arrived at our very small, but cosy, accommodation. A wooden cabin with kitchen come living room, and dorm rooms with triple bunks which I'd never seen before! Myself and a couple of other girls went on a walk down to the river, passing by some fields of red deer. They farm a lot of deer round here for venison, so you see fields full of hundreds them, which is very strange for me, because at home you only get to see them if you're very lucky and come across one in the wild! So I found it a bit sad to see them all cooped up, and the stags with their antlers sawn off.
But anyway, we all had dinner and sat in the living room by the log burner, and then in the evening our whole group sat together and watched 'The Beach' with Leonardo Decaprio in it. It's a film about travelling, so was quite relevant I guess. It was really good, and the first time I'd sat and watched TV in ages! Makes a change from being at home! When everyone was going to bed, I popped outside to look at the stars, and they were amazing. You could see everything, it was fantastic. A cool way end the day.
The next day we drove to Kaikoura, a sweet little coastal town
. On the way, we stopped in Christchurch to pick people up, but since the earthquake happened, the bus no longer stays overnight there, which is a shame. I didn't have time to get off and stay the night, but having spoken to people who'd been there, it's rather depressing, as the main CBD is still closed off and being dimolished, and there's not a lot else to do or open, especially at this time of year. So we got to Kaikoura, which is famous for it's marine life and crayfishing (Kaikoura means 'meal of crayfish'). Kaikoura has such an abundance of marine life due to the nearby Hikurangi Trench, which reaches depths of 3,000 metres as close as 80 kilometres from shore. At the southern end of the trench, off the coast of Marlborough, the seabed rises sharply, and because of the prevailing winds and tides in this area, lots of deep water species are found close to the shore. This food source attracts the whales for which the town is famous.
So I decided I had to check out some of this famous wildlife, and booked a whale watching trip for that afternoon. Me and 4 girls from the bus set out on the boat, and we made our way out to the trench. The sea was pretty rough, and for the first time in my life I actually felt pretty sea sick. I just stared out the window at the sea and I didn't feel too bad! While we were going along, the crew were checking for the spouts of water, which indicated the whales
. They also had sonar equipment to check if any whales were around. The whales surface for 15 minutes to get air, before diving for up to an hour, so you only have a short window of time to catch them. Eventually the crew saw a spout, and we headed over the see our first whale. It was a young male sperm whale, and I was so excited to see it! You can only really see their back and fin, as the tail and most of the head is underwater, but it's still amazing. We watched him for 15 mins, before he dived back under the water. The tail came up and out, it was so cool! Amazing to watch it. Then we cruised along looking for more, seeing lots of albatrosses on the way, which were amazing, as they're so big! Soon we saw one not far from the boat, so went over for a look. It was a picture perfect scene. The whale was in front of the amazing snowy mountains, the light over the water was beautiful, it was a wonderful sight. This whale particular whale had been visiting the trench for 20 years, so he was named Tiaka, or the Guardian. We watched him for ages, before he dived down again. He was more graceful than the last one.
After seeing those two amazing whales, we started to head back to shore, until the crew heard that there was a pod of dusky dolphins nearby so we went to check those out. Thank god we did, they were amazing! It was a huge pod, there must have been about 200 dolphins there. Everywhere you looked the sea was full of them. They were leaping out of the water, doing all these amazing acrobatics. Then some were jumping out right next to our boat. We were all desperately trying to get photos of them, but they moved so quickly, it was impossible! It was such a cool sight those, I'm glad we managed to see some.
Then it was back to the hostel for some delicious local fish and chips, and some of our bus group brought back crayfish they had caught on a fishing trip which was cool
. The next morning we left Kaikoura, but not before checking out some baby seals! They were hanging out in a river, where they're left by their mothers to be safe, and to socialise. Kind of like a seal playgroup! They were absolutely adorable. It was too dark for any good photos, but there were hundreds of them. And some were very inquisitive and came up really close. One almost kissed me on the face! A nice way to end our time in Kaikoura and the South Island in general, as that day we got the ferry back over to Wellington.
I felt really sad leaving the South. It's such a beautiful place, and I had such a good time there, leaving it was very hard! Also knowing that my trip was coming to an end made it worse. But there was nothing for it, and I waved a sad goodbye to the South as we sailed off on the ferry, back to the North.
Check out my (rather shaky) videos of the whales and dolphins here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdsQUwurTUk&feature=youtu.be
On the morning we left Mount Cook, we stopped at the Alpine Memorial to all the people who have lost theirs lives in the National Park. It was very sad and thought provoking, and highlighted how dangerous mountaineering is, even today. Some of the plaques were as recent as 2004. Then we said goodbye to the Park, but got delayed on the way by hundreds of sheep crossing the road, and a handsome farmer in shorts (just your type Mum, haha). We really were in New Zealand! I was also reunited with my old bus, 'Brooke', which I had been on all the way from Picton to Queenstown! Very weird. I even found some tea bags that I had lost!