Blown away

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, September 6, 2009

I spent a few days in Invercargill mainly because the Oceania Hockey Cup was on and I knew both of the umpires in the women's tournament, one from England and one from South Africa so it was a good chance to say hello, and hopefully see some decent hockey. Had it not been for the hockey it is not likely that I would have spent much time in Invercargill – there isn’t really that much to it. The Southland museum is worth a visit and is good because all of the exhibits, artwork and natural history are local.

The competing hockey teams were Samoa, Australia and New Zealand – I have never seen Samoa play before and am not sure that I am likely to again. They were several levels below the other teams and the scores reflected that with double figure defeats in every match. The matches between the Black Sticks and the Hockeyroos were much closer and indeed the women’s final was a surprise with the Black Sticks winning and securing an automatic place in the World Cup. The men’s final was just as closely fought and had the Black Sticks managed to score from a penalty corner late in the second half, the match might have gone to extra time as did the women’s but no luck and the Hockeyroos went to the other end, scored and final score was 3-1. Weather for watching was bitterly cold, goodness knows how the Samoans managed to keep warm enough to play.

While based in Invercargill I took the short drive to Bluff which is at the southern end of Highway 1 with the famous directional signposts. The town of Bluff doesn’t seem to have much life about it – I hardly saw a soul, and many of the houses were badly in need of attention. Strangely I also spied through a window a miniature version of the Bluff sign – maybe there’s a parallel universe with small(er) people here? Maybe this is how Gulliver felt. I had hoped to sample some of the local seafood as the lady running the campsite had suggested one of the spots in Bluff but after standing around for ages and ringing the bell for attention I gave up – this was late afternoon but what I realize now is that in many places, there are  fairly set eating times. I did manage to find something later in Invercargill –so no need to worry I didn’t starve.

Leaving Invercargill I had hoped to keep to the Southern Scenic Route heading along the coast of the area called the Catlins but after a while I found myself in Gore, Brown Trout capital of the world and Country Music Capital of New Zealand and thought oops I may have taken the wrong road! I hate backtracking but I had to do it. This time following my maps and not my nose I got on the right road again. My destination was to be Slope Point which technically is the southernmost point of the South Island and having been at the most northerly point on the North Island I wanted to keep some sort of balance (I know just like me). After negotiating more twisty, unsealed gravel roads I reached my destination to find…………… walkway closed due to lambing season – aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh – could they not have put that on the sign at the beginning of the road?

Different scenery here – salt marshes and tidal estuaries and my next campsite was on the edge of one of these and not for the first time I was the only guest- where is everyone?

My Footprint guide mentioned that Nugget Point was 'without doubt the highlight of the Catlin Coast’ so how could I resist and Nettle it did involve another lighthouse. The weather at times was pretty awful and the road was yet another narrow one with a gravel surface which got very steep but by the time you are on these roads it is impossible to turn back. I reached a small car park which wasn’t at my destination but by then I had had enough of the drive and decided to walk the rest. As it turned out the road didn’t go much further and I would have had to walk anyway. The path was along the side of the cliff and although it was a good surface, the wind was very strong and I wondered if I was being wise. However I kept going making sure I stayed very much on the inside edge and when I rounded the last bend it was a wow moment – the ‘Nuggets’ and the blue Pacific were amazing  and I was pleased that I had persevered.

From there I headed to Dunedin, with the wind really strong – I passed the rescue of a 4WD with a boat on a trailer which had been blown over – and then later heard a high wind warning for campervans and high sided vehicles for the stretch I had just been on! I had already adjusted to driving slower but as per usual there were idiots passing when it was not safe. The road accident stats here are not surprisingly very bad but did you know you can start driving here at 15?

I knew the Dunedin Top 10 campsite was only 2.5km from the city centre so thought it would be a good walk in and out – what I didn’t know was that it was 2.5km worth of very steep hill – the van struggled enough not sure how my wee legs would manage. I opted for the bus in and out for my first visit and sorted myself out with a couple of contrasting tours for the next day – one  a 2 hour walking tour and the other a 90 minute Brewery tour which involved a 30 minute tasting – yippee. I have to say it was weird seeing streets all named the same as in Edinburgh, not just the main streets but even side streets with names like Elm Row, Calton Hill and to see buses headed for Corstorphine – these Free Presbyterians who created the new city obviously didn’t want to completely forget where they had come from.

I walked into town next day – downhill wasn’t too bad - and then joined my walking tour of one. The guide had a very monotonous voice and didn’t seem to convey any enthusiasm and I can’t say I was looking forward to spending 2 hour with him but I suppose he did convey a few interesting facts. I have experienced plenty of walking tour guides and he was unique in his delivery style of boring – I can’t believe that his pre retirement profession was as a university lecturer – I pity his students. One of the stops had been the Otago Settlers Museum which I went back to for a better look. I particularly liked the section that had photos and portraits of the early settlers – what a dour miserable bunch they looked, not a speck of colour in any of the portraits – definitely Free Presbyterians but it is amazing how much they achieved so much in a relatively short time. And so from teetotallers to the Speights brewery tour which was excellent and the guide a total contrast to the one in the morning, he was enthusiastic and entertaining, and the fact that he originated from Carluke was also in his favour.  The beer tasting was good fun and a fine way to round off the day.

As I was determined to see penguins before I left NZ, I booked on a wildlife tour which went to the Otago Peninsula and guaranteed seeing the Yellow eyed penguin, the rarest of the New Zealand penguins. It was the best value of any tour so far, with access to a private conservation area beach where penguins, fur seals and sea lions were all to be found. There was a bit of hiking involved and we were able to get onto the area just behind the beach where we literally had to tiptoe past a lounging sea lions. Sean our guide gave us clear instructions about what to do – stick together , no sudden movements, not too close  but if they moved he would get between us and the animal – seemed clear to me but not clear enough for the young Chinese couple who seemed more interested in taking photos of one another ; so the girl crouches down close to the sea lion to let her boyfriend take her photo with it in the background, at which point the lounging creature senses the movement within what was its personal space so decides to sit up and then  open its huge mouth. A rather scary moment but Sean stepped in as a buffer – not that I needed one I had given it a very wide berth and was always ready to do a Usain Bolt. Luckily it decided it wasn’t really that interested in us and flopped back down. We then went on to see the penguins coming ashore to their nests on the hills – fabulous. What a great day!

And so goodbye to Dunedin and off towards the Mount Cook National Park, travelling inland after visiting the Moeraki Boulders which are very strange spherical shaped rocks  on the beach. I couldn’t believe it -they were covered in tourists – yeuch - not what I am used to at all.

The drive along Highway 83 followed the course of the Waitaki River which was the most unbelievable milky blue colour and as it had been dammed in several places with the mass of water behind the dams you get an even clearer view of the colour. The road then passed alongside Lakes Aviemore and Benmore – a very scenic drive but nothing can compare to the drive the next day into the Mount Cook National Park.   Highway 80 is without doubt the most  amazing scenic drive, one of the best , if not the best. It skirts the shore of Lake Pukaki, which is beautiful but then you round a bend to be faced with the magnificent sight of Mount Cook/Aoraki, the highest mountain in New Zealand. It took my breath away and if I have at times wondered why people have raved about New Zealand – I get it now – big time. It was an amazing experience – the weather was perfect and the view spectacular. I think it has been one of my best days ever, and yes I actually shed a tear, it was very spiritual. I am sure you are now thinking – she has lost the plot but honestly you had to be there.

I stayed in the area for the next few days and did several of the walks in the National Park all with fantastic views. The first I did was because the time estimate said 1.5 – 2 hours return but if that was a walk, then I am a mountaineer – it was an hour of climbing up a steep set of steps built into a mountainside. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest, I was blinded by sweat and had to keep stopping to give my legs a chance to recover – just when I thought I might be getting a bit fitter. I was really tempted to give up but glad I didn’t – the views were excellent and I had a real sense of achievement. The next day I did a longer walk of about 4.5 hours much of which involved trudging through snow so absolutely exhausted at the end of that so spent the following day reading my book! The next walk was a short one and not too strenuous even if it did involve a bit of a rock hopping exercise at one point – again the views were worth it – this time of the Tasman glacier and its glacial lake.

It was very difficult to tear myself away from Mount Cook but the adventure must go on. 
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maddogbert on

Brilliant photographs !!!
Have just caught up with all your blogs - you look as if you having such fun. We went to Fox and Franz Josef and the rain just tipped down - we were sodden and did not get to do the helicopter trip - so lucky you !!

All booked for Cambodia for 3 weeks in Feb - just trying to compete with you really.

nettle on

Not more lighthouses!
The alerts to your blogs are so random - just found 3 chapters I had not read! Really brightened up my lunchtime on this dreary autumn day though. Thought of a use for your cardi - we could give it to JW as his retirement pressie! He is off next week. Thanx for the postcard - VB scanned it and sent it round. Enjoy OZ.

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