New Zealand no more

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

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, September 18, 2009

That's it folks my time in New Zealand is over and I am now Sydney so here is the final chapter in the Kiwi story

I managed to tear myself away from Aoraki Mount Cook and then had a brief stop at Lake Tekapo. There is a very attractive stone church by the lakeside and instead of a stained glass window it has a clear window which frames the lake, very clever. And just in case you forgot that you are in sheep country there is a huge monument in tribute to the Border collie sheepdog. How appropriate then that shortly after leaving Lake Tekapo I should encounter my first sheep jam. There were hundreds of them being shepherded across the main highway from one field to another - it didn’t take long and it was all very efficiently done but one complete idiot just couldn’t wait and tried to drive on when there were still sheep on the road. You wouldn’t need to be a lip reader to tell that the shepherd was not discussing the weather with that driver, who then took off at high speed bit the shepherd definitely wrote down his number so I think Mr Impatient may have got a wee visit from the police later.

Stopped next at a small town called Fairlie, intending only to be there for one night but it had such a relaxed feel to it that stayed for 3 – they had a special deal on – 3 nights for price of 2 so I thought why not I am in no hurry. Free internet access too, so used chance to try out a video call home, the sound quality wasn’t great but picture fine so that was a fun thing to do. . The young chap working at the campsite was German and had found his way there on a working holiday while he was killing time before going to medical school in Germany. However he now loves the New Zealand lifestyle so is now planning to become a NZ resident and study here in either Auckland or Dunedin. He advised of some local cycle tracks so I set off to try one - the first section was OK but then it got really muddy and after being savaged by a bramble bush I decided to give it up and read a book instead. I had been cycling for over an hour so felt I deserved a rest! I had picked up a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s novel The Scapegoat in a second hand bookshop in North Island and hadn’t even opened it. I had intended to read it and then hand it into a charity shop ( an opp shop here) but I discovered that it was a first edition published in the same year that I first appeared  so will just hang on to it for the sake of the coincidence.

I really liked Fairlie – it has a population of less than 900 but it has so much going on, and everything you could need – good shopping, good sports facilities, library, choices of cafes and restaurants – with a gym and a cinema it would be perfect. It is not touristy at all just a normal wee town going about its business and I would recommend it as a chill out spot. I was sad to leave there but on my last morning I enjoyed an excellent brunch in the Eat Deli – great café, and not what you would expect to find in such a small country town.

Took a short pit stop in Geraldine, home to the world’s largest jumper and in the same building was a very strange mosaic replicating the Bayeux Tapestry. The mosaic comprises 2 million steel teeth from industrial sewing machine pattern cards. It took the chap about 20 years to complete and he is very passionate about it and the patterns and puzzles he has built into it – not sure that the rest of us get the point but it is a very interesting project.

And if I was ever in any doubt that I was in sheep and woolly jumper country I read this great quote in the local museum -"Scenery is not Scenery it is Country – if it is good for sheep its beautiful, magnificent and all the rest of it; if not it is not worth looking at" and so said Samuel Butler, late of Mesopotamia Sheep Station – what can I say?

Had an overnight stop at a community run campsite at Rakaia Gorge – at one point I was the only person there so was considered being dishonest and ignoring the honesty box but I was then joined by a couple who were on the committee so did the honourable thing and paid up. They had been in a secure part of the site and suggested that I move beside them as they were worried about me being in the public space on my own – very kind of them so I felt it only fair that I stumped up.

Next day I headed for the thermal resort of Hanmer Springs where I spent a couple of days enjoying soaking in the various hot mineral pools. The pools were good value but very busy and annoyingly couples everywhere for whom the water must make them want to be glued to one another  as I would put money on them not being so close in public out of the water. It was worse when I went back in the evening to soak under the stars – they were lurking everywhere in dark corners!!!

I got on my bike and found a golf driving range so had a go at that as there is a chance that I might be playing when I get to Oz. Amazing – when I do all the things I remember from lessons – keep head down, get feet lined up, follow through etc etc it all works – but I never remember to do all the things all of the time - very frustrating.

A few locals had advised me to visit Akaroa which is on the Banks peninsula just  about 1.5 hours drive beyond Christchurch and as I still had 5 days left I decided to give it a look. It is the last French settlement left in New Zealand and it certainly had a different feel to it – French flag flying, pavement cafes by the water and street names in French. It is a very pretty location but as always the drive to experience it involved negotiating a narrow winding and steep road. It is a popular destination for locals form the Christchurch area for weekends and Sunday afternoon drives so as ever my journey took twice as long as I kept pulling over to let them pass. However I was glad I made the effort and the journey back on the Monday morning was much easier apart from encountering a cow jam this time.

I spent the last 4 days in Christchurch and as the roads were all very flat I cycled most places. I got my bearings and found that the campsite was very near the van drop off point and airport – perfect, I could then relax about that as anyone who knows me will tell you I find that sort of stuff a bit stressful. Oddly to get to Christchurch from the north you have to cross the river Styx, which you classical scholars will know to be the boundary between earth and the underworld. Luckily there was no sign of the mythical ferryman and the city was not in any way like Hades

Christchurch is actually a very attractive city with lots of cultural activities, gardens and, strangely, punting on the Avon River – straw boaters et al but it did strike me as just a tad pretentious. I had a great time at the International Antarctic Centre, including experiencing an Antarctic storm. The air temperature was -8 and once the wind machine got started with wind chill it dropped to -18 and there was me in my shorts. That’s what made Christchurch a different experience – it is the gateway to the Antarctic and all passenger flights leave from the dedicated terminal at the Antarctic Centre, apparently there are 100 every year. It is also the base for various nations’ research centres, including the US and their Hercules supply planes heading for their base in Antarctica leave from here – so it was a bit odd to see a huge hangar with US military logos on the front.

So farewell to Aotearoa, the land of the Long White Cloud - I am glad to have been here at last.

Highlights – undoubtedly Aoraki Mount Cook, Milford Sound in the storm, the Spellbound tour at the Waitomo Glow worm caves, whale watching at Kaikoura and the wildlife tour in Dunedin.
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