Christchurch Travel Blog

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New year has come and gone a whopping 10 days ago and no blog. I must have been busy. Amazingly there was bus service on the 1st of Januari and even more amazing as we almost fell off the map travelling to Te Anau wich meant retracing our steps to Fiordland.

Te Anau is tiny place right at the foot of the famous Kepler Track. We heard so many stories about this tramp that ofcourse we were on our way up to the first hut ( 6 hours )and it's mountain of Luxmore before we really knew what we were getting ourselves into. It takes about an hour to reach the start of the track for normal hikers but we were only carrying daypacks so it only took 30. Then a slow uphill walk up the mountain that got steeper, windier and more forrested as we got higher. No problem, therefore. Nothing we are not by now conditioned to do without so much as breathing heavy. In fact it was an enjoyable leasurly stroll that only required an extra layer of clothing as we got to the tree line. On top about 1500m you are rewarded with a 360 degree view of the national park wich includes a nice little glacier a few waterfalls and the famous secret lakes that managed to hide some endangered birdspecies form the ever encroaching nuisance stoats and possums and homo sapiens.

Jealously I noted that the luxmore hut had not just running water, indoor plumbing but free gass stoves and a firewood heater. We started making our way down again. Not realising we we're getting a little dehydrated and that the sheer distance had tired us out enough to make the walk back quite an ordeal.

The track just did not end. It winded and winded down and kept going on and on. Finally we caught glimpses of the lake again but had to skirt the lake entirely because we didn't think we would need a water taxi.

The next day we bussed to the legendary Milford Sound. Legendary for it's beauty and the fact that it rains there 99% of the time. Same thing for the keppler track. That get's 13 days of downpour a month. We kept it dry on both days and amazingly the Milford Sound boat ride was.. Sunny. I don't think that happens there a lot. The skipper of the cruiseboat never realised ( or perhaps cared ) that most of his guests were on the the roof seats when he did his routine stop under one of several waterfalls causing the fat scantilly clad german girls shriek in frustration. I got some good shot's of a glacier on the way back so all in all we couldn't be happier.

The next destination was a spur of the moment decision. We didn't have much of a travel goal left so we just invented one. We decided to go all the way down to Invercargill the southernmost town on the South Island the rain did not make a new appearance.

Invercargill is not as Scottish as it sounds. Actually it looks like a 19th century western town. Not the drunken zombie town like Qeenstown but more of a ghost town. As we walked down the main street we spotted a gym that was closed. Everbody in Invercargill had closed shop in fact and was probably milling Queenstown in drunken slumber of recovering at some other relative further up north. In any case except for one breakfast place and the Pack'n Save supermarket nothing was open for business.

Our main objective in heading for the remote and apparantly desolate Invercargill is an attempt to reach New Zealand's third largest Island: Stewart Island. Not that it's as big as the other two. About 40 by 65km of rugged terrain teeming with wildlife and ofcourse 280km worth of walking track. We felt bold and generous at the same time. A very dangerous combination as we booked a flight, flyover, watertaxi and walk through the breadth of Stewart Island for the next day.

It was a little windy on take off. An observation confirmed when we reached the Island when the plane (2 piston prop-8 seater )stopped flying level and straight but sortof flew diagonally towards the landing strip. No landing light's by the way. In fact. No runway. We landed on the beach after a bank past the one and only mountain on the Island and a warning flyover accross the beach to warn the hikers we were coming down. The landing was remarkably noneventful.

Unlike most other tracks we've tramped this one was a not as well marked as we'd hoped. Scrutinizing the computer printout map we received we guessed our way accross the swampy terrain inland. Occasionally we found the usual gangplank covered with chickenwire to prevent slipping. That atleast gave us some indication we were headed in the right direction. The terrain stayed pretty much the same and the hils in the distance just didn't want come closer no matter how long we walked in their direction. Distances, size of hills and mountains can be hard to judge without something to give it scale.

The track was remarkably dry. It's the muddiest of them all. At some of the tidal plains I hear you're waist deep in sludge. We walked a completely dry day on a completely dry track wich was a blessing because neither of us had decided to get gaiters and even a slight rain would have had a disastrous result. Oh the the track is famous for it's wild kiwi sightings wich ofcourse we didn't. I can't be bothered with the birds but Ilja was somewhat disappointed.

We finally found the hut and the anchorpoint for the watertaxi wich turned out to be an adventure in itself. The wind had picked up and the watertaxi wich by necessity cannot travel deeply upriver was flying like a kite all over the place. It got worse when we reached the bay. Fortunately the skipper knew what he was doing. He even raced the other boat that arrived at the same time back to the harbour. We won.

The flight back was one to write a disaster movie about. The wind was so strong the plane shook from every crevice and was practically pushed back sideways to the South Island. Interesting experience. We landed on the grass instead of the tarmac.

Off to the unpronouncable atleast for me town of Oamaru. Famous for it's blue and yellow eyed kiwi colonies. Who ofcourse were not home when we walked the beach. The Sealions were. I almost tripped over one of the females who frantically flapped towards the surf and nervously eyed us from the water as we made our way over to the safety of rock. Or tought we were. A huge male stuck his head up as we got near causing me to rock on my heels because I was about step on the boulder he was sheltering behind.

Back on top of the cliff we realised walking downwind also has some disadvantages. We were greeted by a chorus of bleating sheep who smelled us coming a mile off. Aside from penguins on vacation Te Anau without sunshine was as boring as the next town so ofcourse we moved on.

Not wanting to wait for our plane in Christchurch but use our remaining time on the South Island wisely we travelled on to Akaroa in the Banks peninsula. Sunshine, warm weather and the promise of swimming with dolpins greeted us as we got off the bus. Unlike tourist hub Kaikoura where you have to reserve a space on the boat 2 months out the dolphin experience in Akora could take us the very next morning. A good thing because there are not enough backpackers to stem the flow tourists so we couldn't book a second night anywhere.

Suited up, goggles ready and flippers we headed out into the bay and hit paydirt within minutes. Akaroa is teaming with hector dolphins. There is really only one downside and that's the murky salty water. I gulped enough of it and saw little as I cruised the waters.

Fortunately the dolphins are so fast and so friendly you're surrounded by them in moments. At one point I was surrounded by atleast a dozen every where I looked. In fact I think a few of them might even have jumped over me. I was to busy racing them with twists and turns to notice. Cold but interesting experience. We fly to Auckland and connect to Kerikeri in the bay of Island for our last leg of the trip in a few minutes.

A belated happy new year. It's never to late for wishful thinking.


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photo by: Fulla