Christchurch is described as the most english of the cities in NZ. It has lots of historic buildings, and bad traffic.
It was still raining, and blowing a gale, so we gave up all hope of going whale watching, and went for a soak in some hot springs. Nice setting. You can just about make out the mountains in the background.
You can see humpback whales in Oz, so we can still go again if we want to!
We spent today at Bonz'n'Stonz, the not quite yet open shop of Steve Gwaliasi, a very nice man from the Soloman Islands. It took us about 6 hours of mostly unnassisted work to create a lovely pendant each. We both went for classic mauri designs, Clare's being the symbol of the new fern (a spiral) made from Jade, and mine the symbol for eternity (a triple twist) made from bone. It was a very enjoyable day, and the weather was awful so a good day to do it.
We had planned to take the Tranz Alpine Express train, but seeing as we have acar and there is a road that takes pretty much the same route, we drove it. The road goes through the very flat and rather boring Canterbury plains, but then the mountains rise directly up from them in the distance, growing ever nearer. When you finally reach them the road becomes twisty and steep for a while, and you end up at Arthur's Pass village. We did a walk there through the bush to a waterfall, before carrying on to Hokitika.
We took quite a few photos while we were swimming with the dolphins, but have only just got them developed a month and a half later when we have finally finished the film. We were quite surprised to find that we actually had quite a few pictures with dolphins in! They moved so quick. They are very grainy, but you can make them out. They look better if you squint at them, kind of like those magic eye pictures.
We went to an albatross colony the other day, but didn't get any photos, then on the way to find the dolphins today one flew alongside the boat. It was a young wandering albatross, but still had a huge wingspan.
The weather was worse this morning, but not bad enough to stop them going out. They also said that they hadn't located the dolphins yet, but they were going to set out anyway. About 1 in 20 trips don't find them at all.
After we had been going 10 minutes or so, they sent a spotter plane out to try and find them. Another 20 minutes or so later and they had found some, which the boat then headed for.
Now, when you think swimming with dolphins, you think 5 or 6 right? We did. There were 800 of them! We spent about half an hour in the rather cold water swimming around, with Clare singing Ma Nah ma na to try and attract them (which seemed to work). It was fantastic!
The photo is a bit wonky because the sea was so rough. Oh, and they are dusky dolphins, the most acrobatic type.
one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand. A small church on the shores of the incredibly beautiful Lake Takapo.
Mount Cook national park. We did the Hooker Valley walk, the best known one in the area. It takes you over two swingbridges, and towards the base of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. It was a fantastic walk on a fantasticly sunny day.
This was near Omauru. There is a small colony of 21 yellow penguins, the rarest in the world. If you arrive at the right time of day you can see them coming ashore from a hard days fishing. This one had come in a bit early, and had already made its way up to the top of the cliff near its nest by the time we arrived
A beach of almost perfectly spherical boulders. A great sight, but unfortunately we arrived near high tide and had to dash between the waves to get to them. Only got slightly wet!
The worlds steepest street at 1 in 1.266. It was a hard walk up!
We went for a tour of Speights Brewery in Dunedin. It is the oldest operating brewery in NZ, and they make gold medal ale, NZs second best selling beer, and our personal favourite.
The obvious highlight of the tour was the tasting at the end. We were given a glass and pointed to the pumps to try out their 6 different beers. Very nice they were too (apart from one, which tasted of coffee).
On the drive from Invercargill up the East coast to Dunedin we stopped here. It is an impressive piece of coastline, and also has Seals, sea lions, yellow eyed penguins and occasionally elephant seals on the rocks and beaches around it.
This photo basically sums it up. great scenary and sheep. Not many people.
We arrived at Te Anau, and found out that the road to Milford sound was closed due to heavy snow and earthquake damage. We hung around for a day (which is why there are no photos from the 6th), and luckily it opened the next day, and what a fantastic day it was! The weather was perfect. We got up early and drove to Milford, along a very scenic road. We arrived just as a boat was leaving, and managed to get on before it went. It took us the length of the Sound and out into the sea. It was described on one of the posters as the most beautiful place in the world. That might be pushing it a bit, but it was beautiful.
A sound is basically a fjord, but created by a river not a glacier. These ones were created by glaciers, but were incorrectly named! This one was discovered by a Welshman, who named it after his home town of Milford Haven.
Not only was the scenary fantastic, we saw a dolphin, some fur seals, and a crested fjordland penguin. On the drive back we also saw quite a few Kea. They are a large, green, flightless parrot. The only alpine parrot apparently.
Another mad New Zealand invention. You get strapped to a metal rocket shaped thing with a very powerful fan on the back. It is connected to a 100m long wire. They raise you up until you are vertical, face down, then you release and fly around. Kind of hard to explain, but great fun! You can get over 100mph...
On our second day in Queenstown the sun came out, and it was a glorious day. We headed straight up the gondola (cable car). Fantastic views of the city, the lake it is next to, and the surrounding mountains.
Once again, as this is New Zealand, just looking at views isn't enough. You can Parascend, bungy, canyon swing (basically a giant swing) or luge from the top. I went for the cheapest option, which was also the one that involves staying on the ground. Great fun!
Just to show we aren't always sightseeing, here we are sitting in the pub with Jon and his mate Ryan. There is a story behind this though. About 5 minutes before this photo was taken the table started to rock. We looked at each other trying to work out who was doing it, but then noticed the lights were shaking too! EARTHQUAKE! We found out the next day that it measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. It was pretty exciting! We were surprised that it was more of a wave effect, like being on a boat. We expected things to shake.
There was one last week in the same area that was 7.1 on the richter scale. 30 times stronger. That might not have been as much fun.
These New Zealanders love inventing crazy things. This one is the jetboat. Sucks in water then jets it out the other end at high speed. Very fast acceleration, top speed of 85mph, and it can run ion 3 inches of water!
We took the shotover jet, allegedly the 'most thrilling jetboat ride in the country'(and there are a lot). It went along the shotover river, and through a canyon, missing the walls by inches, and doing 360 degree spins in the process. They have very skilled drivers!
Can you spot us in the photo? We were well wrapped up.
Another rainy day activity. In Queenstown this time. This is crazy golf like it should be! Not just a few bits of wood nailed to some astroturf at the seaside. They had motorised obstacles, smoke and sound effects. On this hole the ball goes up the chair lift and down the ski run.
After we left Franz Josef it started to rain. It still hasn't stopped 2 days later! That means finding rainy day activities. One of the major sights of Wanaka is Puzzling world. They were the first to construct a 3d maze, which we got through in under the expected time (just). They then had a gallery of illusions, including this room.
We set off from Franz Josef and drove down to Wanaka as the sun was setting. We passed some fantastic views en route, and probably missed more once the sun had set. There is stuff like this all over NZ.
The helicopter landed about halfway up the glacier, and we got out for a 3 hour wander. We were well equipped with crampons and ice axes (good for photos and using as a walking stick - although we did use it properly once or twice!)
The glacier advances down the mountain at a rate of about a metre a day. As it goes it forms sculptures and caves, huge crevasses and very occasionally ice tunnels. Our guide had heard about this area on his radio, and it was a bit of a scramble to get there. Well worth it though! There was a big archway, then through that and jump across a little (very deep) stream to a cave. At the back of the cave was this tunnel. The highlight of the trip!
This is the view of the glacier from the helicopter. It was the first time I had been in a helicopter since a ride to the Scilly Isles many many years ago. Totally different type of helicopter too. First time Clare had been in one since she flew one a couple of years ago!
The Franz Josef Glacier has generally been melting faster than it advances for the last century or more. It did advance by about a kilometre in the decade up to 1996, but is now retreating again. Not quite as big as we thought it was going to be, but still mighty impressive, and the natural ice sculptures were fantastic.
Well, imagine my surprise, when we were driving down the west coast, and found ourselves in Barrytown!!!
It only had about 4 houses and a pub...
The Punakaiki pancakes are limestone rocks that have formed into what looks like stacks of thin pancakes.
We missed high tide by about 2 hours, when the waves splash about 100 foot high.
It was still impressive though
Through the Abel Tasman is a 51km 3-4 day track. It is one of the most beautiful in the country, passing through pleasant native bush that overlooks beaches of golden sand, which is lapped by gleaming blue-green water. The numerous bays, small and large, are like a travel brochure come to life.
We may have cheated a little bit, by getting an aqua taxi in and out... Well, we did manage to complete a 15km 4 1/2 hour walk.
Anyone living in London might recognise this from the posters used a while ago in the tubes to advertise New Zealand.
It is on the north west coast of the south island, near the Abel Tasman National Park.
We took an aqua taxi past this rock on our way to our great walk.
We decided to fly from the north island to the south island, as it was the same price, and Mr Hearn had warned us about the number of people being sea sick when he travelled over on the ferry.
Our first glimpse of the south island was the Marlborough sounds. The Sound is 42k long, but has 379km of shoreline. Very, very beautiful. Not a bad first impression to make...
For those that don't know, my friend Jon has been living in New Zealand for 6 months, doing a work exchange. For that whole time (including the very cold winter) he has lived in 2 caravans joined together in a field in the middle of nowhere. He has stayed surpisingly sane.
Last night we were priviliged to stay in the guest caravan just down the hill. The fourth person in the pic is Alex, another friend visiting as part of a round the world trip.
It appears that my good friend Stuart Dawson (Disco Stu on the board) has a side line selling jewellry in New Zealand. He has attempted to disguise the fact by spelling his first name differently.
And you all thought it was Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (St. Mary's Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave), we did too. Maybe that is the longest town name in the world, because this is just a place. Anyway, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaktanatahu translates as "The brow of a hill where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed, and swallowed mountains, known as Land Eater, played his flute to his lover", just in case you can't read it in the pic.
Just looked at a website, that claims the longest name in the world is Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnopparatrajathaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharna - mornphimarnavatarnsathit sakkattiyavisanukamprasit in Thailand, so maybe the sign is a lie!
In Napier we went to Marineland, and did thier penguin recovery workshop. They have 36 blue penguins, the smallest species.
After a tour round the facilities, we went into an enclosure with the 6 most disabled penguins. We did our best to feed them, and then held Onion for a while, who likes to have his neck scratched. Onion is in there because he has a balance problem. He doesn't actually fall over, just leans his head to one side a lot. Two of the others are totally blind, and 2 have problems with thier flippers. We can't remember what was wrong with the last one, apart from he was a bit grumpy.
The city of Napier was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931. It was then rebuilt during the thirties, and is apparently 'the best example of an art deco city in the world'. Some of the buildings have been modernised, but a lot remain, including Thorps coffee shop. Not often you see that name, even if it is spelt differently! (My Mum's maiden name for those that don't know).
We found out when we arrived for the rafting that we had it to ourselves. Just us and two instructors. It was great, we could do whatever we wanted (or rather, whatever the instructors wanted). That included going down rapids standing up (we didn't fall in, somehow) and Clare guiding the boat for about 10 minutes. The instructors and I weren't allowed to do anything unless Clare said so, and that includes holding on. Started well, but then we went down some rapids sideways. No disasters though, and they were impressed with her performance.
We weren't worried. Look at us, waving at the camera. The guides told us to wave as long as we could before grabbing hold. They both stopped waving before we did! (we have a sequence of about 10 photos as we went down).
It really wasn't as scary as we thought it would be. All over very quickly. I did fall in at the bottom when the raft tipped right up. Luckily I kept hold of the raft, and was pulled back in shortly afterwards by the instructors.
In case you haven't seen the post on the discussion board, the Okere falls are 7 metres high, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
We drove to the Tongariro national park, one of the most beautiful areas of the North island. We did a 2 hour loop walk to a waterfall, all the time in the shadow of 3 mountains. Mount Ngauruhoe is a perfectly conical volcano, also known as mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This whole area was used for Mordor, and a few months ago was covered with Orcs and hobbits.
From Rotorua we did an evening trip to the Tamaki Marae (Mauri village). It is a recreation of the way they lived about 500 years ago. A chief is chosen on the bus on the way, and on arrival is challenged by a warrior. The warrior runs out and does his best to intimidate the chief, opening his eyes wide and sticking his tongue out, shouting and going into attacking poses. Eventually he places a twig in front of the chief. If he picks it up, then it shows we come in peace. Luckily he did.
After that we were welcomed in and shown various traditional dances, weapons and training methods. The finale of the evening was a hangi, which is basically a big meal! It was not traditional Mauri food. More like a sunday lunch, but cooked over hot coals for several hours. It was delicious!
Can't actually remember its proper Mauri name at the moment. It was something like Wai-o-tapu. There is a line through the North island of volcanic activity. It starts with the still active White island just off the coast, and works its way diagonally inland, eventually passing through the smelly town of Rotorua. The town is on the shores of a huge lake, that steams in places round the edges, and has black swans swimming on it. All around there are hot springs, geysers and other areas of thermal activity. Unfortunately that does mean everything smells of sulphur a bit.
Thermal wonderland is tagged as the most colourful volcanic area in New Zealand, and it lived up to it. There were bright green lakes, orange and yellow mineral deposits, creamy terraces and lakes of boiling, bubbling mud.
Cathedral Cove is a fantastically beautiful secluded beach on the East coast. Bit if a hilly walk to get there, but worth it. There is a huge cave that gives the cove its name, a waterfall tumbling down the cliff onto the beach, and loads of trees growing from the cliff face. Out in the sea there are bizarrely shaped rock formations. Shame it wasn't a bit warmer.
Just outside the town of Corumandel lives a man called Barry. He was New Zealand's first professional potter. 25 years ago he bought a plot of land of about 60 acres, which is on the side of a steeply sloping hill. His workshop is at the bottom, and the clay he needs is on the hill. So what do you do? You build a railway obviously!
He started 25 years ago, and the railway is now 3km long, and climbs 170 metres up the hill. There are 4 tunnels and 5 or 6 bridges (including a double decker one you go over twice). He has also planted 13000 native trees on his land. He finds time to do some pottery too!
We went up the sky tower just in time for sunset, and sat around while the city lights came on. The view over Auckland was spectacular. The viewing platform is about 60 stories up, then there is a needle on top of that making it the tallest building int he southern hemisphere. This being New Zealand you can jump off it if you like!
Also built for the 100th anniversary of the treaty (in the 1940s). It was very elaborately carved on both inside and out, with carvings representing all the major tribes.
It was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Waitangi treaty between the british and the mauri. It seats about 70 oarsmen, and was built from two giant Kauri trees. It is carved all the way down both sides, with a very elaborate prow and stern.
We went out from the bay of islands on a boat trip to see a hole in a rock. Just about everyone actually goes to see the dolphins though. We saw a couple of pods of them. Unfortunately we couldn't swim with them as they had babies with them. Thats the law. We were at the prow of the boat, and they swam for ages just in front of us. At one point one leapt out of the water up to about our head height, probably about 15 foot out of the water. All happened so quickly we didn't catch it on camera, but we won't forget it in a hurry!
Large portions of New Zealand used to be covered in giant Kauri trees, until someone realised that they were very good for building things with. In a few decades the numbers were decimated, and there are very few left. We visited a national park where there is a protected area of forest. It contains the 2 largest Kauri trees left. The first we saw was Te Matua Ngahere (the father of the forest) which has a trunk diameter of about 5.5 metres. It was huge! There used to be one that had a diameter of about 7.5 metres, but it collapsed in the middle of the last century. The man who found it at first thought he had seen a cliff in the forest, but on getting nearer found it to be a tree.
The photo is of Tane Mahuta, the lord of the forest. It is not as wide as the other, but is 51 metres tall. Clare is in the photo at the bottom, but I'm not sure if you can make her out.
Near Taupo again. A big area full of craters, bubbling mud and steam vents. There are a lot of areas like this round NZ, it is a very volcanic country!
The next day was rainy (as promised) so we drove north to the Waitomo caves. We had booked in the to an abseil down into the caves, but only Stuart and Mel did it. The rest of us went for the more leisurely option of a walk and boat ride. The first cave we visited was absolutely full of huge stalagtites and stalagmites. The second was similar, but also has thousands and thousands of glow worms. Unfortunately you aren't allowed to take any pictures down there, but it was amazing. We were lucky and got on a tour with very few people, and we could all lie down in the boat and luck at the thousands of green lights above us.
Here we are post jump. We all survived. It was absolutely fantastic. The free fall lasted about a minute. It was hard to breath, and very very cold. It was hard to look at the view due to the wind rushing past (at about 120mph). Then the instructor pulled the cord and the chute opened. After that it was a pleasant float down to the ground and a gentle landing. All over very quickly.
We ended our first day at Taupo, on the shores of a giant lake created by a huge volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. We knew the others were heading there at some point, and when we checked our email we found out they were turning up that night! Everything had turned out nice again.
We met up the next morning, and the first thing we did was arrange a sky dive for the next day. Five minutes later though we found out that the weather the next day was going to be rainy and horrible, unlike todays gorgeous sun. Another chat with the booking lady, and she said we could do it in half an hour! Less time to think about it I guess!
We (this we excludes Stuart by the way, he is too chicken) were all kitted up and ready to go, and getting more nervous by the minute. They kept us waiting far too long, but it finally came to our turn. Seeing as this is something we will probably only do once, we had opted for the highest jump you can do, from 15000 feet. It took the plane 15 minutes or so to work its way up to full height, then the door slid open. Jon, who was first in the queue started too look rather worried, but a quick "look at the camera" from the photographer, and he was gone. Stuart next, then Mel, then me. We were strapped to an instructor, so not jumping wasn't an option.
We arrived at Auckland airport at 4:15am. We wasted some time till the sun came up having our second breakfast of the day, before hiring a car and setting off in an attempt to find Jon, Stuart and Mel. The main problem was we didn't know where they were. Heading south was a good start.
One of the first places we stopped was called Tirau. Quite a small place, but they have a minor obsession with giant corrugated iron sculptures. Big dog was the first one, and contains the tourist information centre. Big sheep is next door, and big Jesus, slightly out of scale with the others, stands nearby.