Monthly Archives: December 2014

Golden Bay, Tuesday 23/12/14 & Wellington 01/01/15

At last the sun has got his hat on!
Yesterday I got on a bike and cycled from Takaka, where I am now, to Pohara beach. First I stopped off at the Labyrinth Rocks, with narrow passageways through a limestone outcrop.

Having tried to download photos at this point, my WordPress app crashed. It then repaired itself and subsequently crashed again. So no photos for now until I’ve had some IT support.

Briefly, I loved Takaka. It’s small, laid back and friendly. There’s a real arty vibe, as well as wholefood and organic shops and restaurants. I would have gone barefoot, like many others, but it was so hot I would have burnt my feet.

Christmas was not so good, in a hostel in Nelson crammed with young people on the lash who did not talk to me. Later, though, I stayed with a NZ couple and also met up with a friend of Eleanor so I got to see the city and its surroundings, which was really great. Again, lots of different artists, potters, weavers, photographers etc. (some quite eccentric), and all very willing to talk and engage with us.

In Havelock I saw more glow worms on a night walk to a waterfall with people from the hostel, wandered round the bay and saw some amazing carvings at the Maori gallery.

I took a boat tour in the Abel Tasman National Park, in and out of various bays in strong winds followed by a short walk along the coastal track of native forest in the NZ drizzle. While waiting on the beach for the boat to pick us up, I got talking to a Canadian guy who works as an animator for Pixar. I was very impressed as I consider this a dream job.

Did not have much luck in Franz Josef. This is the site to see one of NZ’s glaciers but it was raining hard and everything was a bit grey. As well as walking to the glacier,  I tried the rather steep climb on the hill in front. Though I started in fine weather, it soon turned to rain and then I found myself walking through cloud. I caught the occasional glimpse of the ice.

Also took the trans-alpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch- weather fine, beautiful views.

I’m still having problems with my WordPress app. so will just publish this and hope to be able to get photos on again in the future.

Greymouth, Sunday 14/12/14

New Zealand surprises me with juxtapositions of a peculiar nature. Kaikoura has a stony beach facing the Pacific Ocean and is overlooked by snow-covered mountains.

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In Christchurch, however, the contrast was more poignant. They have not recovered from the earthquake of 22nd February 2011 and the scars are still in evidence. A few areas are bustling with cafés and boutiques

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while minutes away are scenes of desolation.

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Those traffic cones are everywhere.
Sometimes a quirky sense of humour relieves the picture.

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The old cathedral is crumbling away

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so they built a temporary one out of cardboard, (really).

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I spent a couple of days with a Servas host, Averil a taxi driver. Her house was damaged in the earthquake but as she does not live in the city centre it will be a long time before she gets repairs, if ever. Meanwhile they are building new, block-like buildings that change the feel of the city but comply with strict quake-resistant rules.

As a quick break, I took a day away in Akaroa, on the coast. This is a small harbour town on a peninsula across a pass to the East of Christchurch. It has a strong French influence- I stayed in a hostel called Chez La Mer and many of the street names are French.

IMG_5734.JPGThe architecture is typically New Zealand and very quaint.

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It took me a while to decide where to go next, but considering the weather, buses and hostels, I found myself spending four days in Wanaka. I’m very pleased I did. It’s beautiful.

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It’s small and laid back. I walked around the lake, sat in cafes, went to a very relaxed little cinema and generally chilled out. It was just what I needed.

I really wanted to see the fiord at Milford Sound, which meant a trip to Queenstown. This is a happening sort of place – lots of tourists, skydiving, bungy jumping, zip-lining. The sun didn’t go down till after 9.30pm, so also late nightlife. I had the good fortune to stay in a hostel with great views of Lake Wakatipu and arranged a day trip to the fiord.

The sun was out in the morning. We crossed the 45th parallel on the way to Te Anau and paused at the mirror lakes.

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As we approached Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometre long passage through looming mountains, it developed into the now familiar cloud-swept terrain.

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While waiting our turn to enter the single track hole, we were entertained by Kea, who were not at all bothered by the rain.

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We passed through rain-forest to the boat and then along Milford Sound. Our spirits were not dampened by the rain either, as it meant there were more waterfalls to experience.

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At the far end is the Tasman Sea. If you go East you may reach Tasmania: to the South of fiordland there is only Antarctica.

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Christchurch, Sunday 30/11/14.

I have met some lovely people here. On the way to Wellington I sat beside an enormous young Maori going to study architecture and also got talking to a comedic mime, a Brit who was brought up in Malta.

In Wellington I stayed with another New Zealand couple who knocked my socks off with their hospitality. I met Lynn and Alex on a bus in Laos, when they gave me an email address and suggested I look them up. They live in a stylish apartment in the heart of the city. Lynn showed me around, fed me good vegetarian fare, introduced me to friends and generally made me feel special. Alex played good music on the HiFi and they both told me about all the countries they’ve lived in and visited and the concerts, ( rock, folk, what have you)they’ve attended. They are the most cosmopolitan people I’ve met and also very laid back.

I did all the usual things in the city – art gallery, museum, old church, botanical gardens . . . and found them original and imaginative. Wellington is easy to get around on foot and on a sunny Sunday Alex drove us up to Mount Victoria and around the bay, where we went beach combing.

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I hope I get to spend some more time with them – they’re great.

On the other side of Cook Strait lies Picton, on the Marlborough Sounds. This area was once valleys and rivers, but is now submerged beneath 40-80 metres of seawater. We crossed the Straits on a fine day under a mackerel sky.

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On the ferry I sat with a couple who lived in the mountains on the North Island and who were both into wildlife and conservation. The guy was another great traveller, with many a tale to tell and another journey passed in pleasant conversation.

I only had a day to spend in Picton, so I took a boat ride to Queen Charlotte Track for a 15k stroll. On Motuara Island, known for its bird life, in a nesting box we saw a Little Blue Penguin, which is both small and bluish. A highly coloured NZ Wood Pigeon let me get within a couple of metres and I also spotted a Shore Skink,

A boat then took us out to Ship Cove for the first part of the walk. This was the best part, as it’s one of the few areas where the original forest was not cut down and you can really appreciate the change in flora as you climb the heights above the bay. On the walk I met several Wekas, another NZ flightless bird. They are specked brown, look and sound a bit like broody chickens.

Out in the sounds we saw both Hector’s and Dusky Dolphins. Hector’s are the smallest and quite rare. Indigenous to New Zealand, they have a distinctive rounded dorsal fin.

Further wildlife thrills awaited me in Kaikoura, when I went out to “encounter ” Albatrosses. We saw many different species, but the Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan. It is hard to describe the thrill of seeing these huge birds soaring just above the waves towards the boat, or the delight of watching flocks flying at eye level swirling around you and seemingly effortlessly keeping up with the jet-powered boat. We watched Dusky Dolphins leaping out of the water, as a couple of males were trying to impress a female. We saw fur seals on the rocks As we turned for home, a solitary Wandering cruised behind us for about ten minutes and saw us up to the harbour lights, before veering off and disappearing in the distance.