My last trip to these parts was about 2 to 3 decades ago.
The first thought is how everything has shrunk in size in comparison to those childhood memories and secondly between the highlights, you forget about the vast expanse of nothingness filled with hours of eye spy something beginning with f'all's.
First spot we camped was Marfells Beach by Lake Grassmere. A really nice DOC site with plenty of flat yoga space. I've renamed the Siccadas here Techno Beetles given the unique techno-esque chirp the lay down.
Td td td td, tk ta tk, tk ta tk.....
Weather has been cracking for a couple of days and have been basking in the sun till a cold front decided to blow in. Spent 2 nights then headed south.
Most the South Island has been in drought for the last month or so and Marlborough is no exception, with the hills looking like some sci-fi barren luna scape if not for the lush green vineyards that fill the valleys.
Kaikora hasn't seemed to have evolved much in 25 years either. Odd given the amount of money that comes in to the area from the promise of whale watching by air and boat. We stopped to check out the seals in a few places lots of young chirping at each other and playing in the surf, the only country I've driven in with road kill of the seal variety. We met up with Barbara and her friend Greg (Barbaras bikes now in storage) had a cup of tea (the exciting tee total life) and an update on what's been going on these last months.
We camped at Peketa Beach camp ground 7km south of Kaikora. The place is set up and laid out really well. Hoping for an early practice before the 10:00 am check out but it was too cold. Set off and found a picnic area near Cheviot cricket ground and frightened a few natives with our moves. Most folks just don't know what to make of it. Some will take photos, others pretend you're not there and some will even do everything to avoid you (the equivalent of crossing the road to avoid the scary yet flexible psychopath).
The thing with campsites is you just never know what to expect. They could be free and awesome or overpriced and crap. It's just pot luck really.
Rocked in to Christchurch to check out the earthquake damage and wasn't disappointed. Nearly 4 years on at a guess and there's hardly any rebuild yet. A bit embarrassing for a first world country. Nice park in the middle of town though.
Checked out the street art exhibition at the YMCA. Got a bit homesick for Shoreditch, London. (could use an all night bender with me old mucka Kurt)
Sherren found a camp out of town by a racecourse and DOC nursery. Nice cheap flat spot with early sun which was good for yoga. Even had a Chinese neighbour rocking out his yoga moves to keep us company.
While in the vicinity we drove out to Akaroa and put the car to work on some gnarly hill climbs. Holding up to the challenge we feel more comfortable about what lies ahead. Views were pretty spectacular from up there.
We then continued the journey South to spend the night at a camp by the mouth of the Rangitata River. A popular spot for salmon fishing. The camp looks like a township from a distance as its enormous and what seems to be a large permanent population. Watched an old timer bring in a pretty decent sized salmon too.
A point to note at this stage is the South Island is famous for sheep. But to date we've seen one flock. Yet we've driven by hundreds of kilometres of industrialised dairy farms. The New Zealand economy is now firmly rooted in the udders of a dairy cow. And that industry has also laid waist to what once was a beautiful countryside. It's not the scenic rustic scape I recall. Everywhere I go I see the mark of man and it doesn't look good. They have enormous watering machinery spraying the fields with gallons of water to grow grass in the cows paddocks to produce milk, I'm sure if I could do the maths it would be a scary equation.
Dare I mention the commercial pine forests?
Lake Tekapo now. Famous for it's lack of light pollution and star watching. Took a walk up Mt John to check out the observatory, then down around the lake. Completely lost the hikers legs now and getting pretty stiff. The lake is an awesome blue colour due to the colour of the local stone sand. Now waiting for the sun to go down to do some star gazing. A little cloudy but hoping that passes.
I stayed up late to check what all the fuss was about but between the sun going down and a 3/4 moon rising, it was just a bit too light. Don't get me wrong! The stars are pretty amazing here but no better than the rest of New Zealand with low light pollution. Awoke at 01:00 and 04:00 after the moon went down just to be certain and think for the ultimate experience you should come on the new moon.
It's been over a year since leaving the UK and Sherren and I haven't had more than a couple of hours apart since. And it's not always the Photoshop'ed, Facebook Fantastic you often read about. We have arguments all the time about silly shit as I'm sure most do and sometimes feel like grabbing my pack and heading bush on me jacks. (Sherren - well piss off then!)
Aoraki - Mt Cook
It's great to see the Maori names making a comeback. Once upon a time this was seen by many European New Zealanders as an attempt for Maori to take back what was stolen and cheated so long ago. And quite frankly that would not do. Good to see attitudes have changed. And you never know, one day the Crown may pull it's finger out it's ass and settle outstanding treaty claims. They've only been in the courts about 40 years!
We set off a bit later today as the clouds moved in and it took a little longer to heat up. Sherren had a rest day and mid standing sequence a German girl came over to chat. I motioned her Sherren's way and carried on. Think she was fishing for a lift out. It was pretty remote and there was only one other person about.
The drive to the mount has some spectacular views over the lake. Wind whipped up too and clouds rolled in. Our first bit of rain in a while which is unfortunate as it would be nice get some better views of Aoraki before we move on but the region could really use it so I won't complain too much.
It really pissed down overnight and we gave yoga a miss in the morning. Wet and cold. We set off for a walk before breakfast and headed to Kea Point. No Kea there unfortunately, in fact this whole island seems to be devoid of native wildlife. Am I the only one noticing? Aside from that the views of Sefton were pretty good even though the cloud was low and every now and then you could hear a huge chunk of glacial ice crack off and crash down the valley. Then we set off toward Aoraki. It was a decent hour and a half journey to the glacial lake with 3 cool suspension bridge crossings. And every corner we turn the clouds dispersed a little more until you could see the mountain in all its glory.
I had a crazy notion to swim out to one of the icebergs in the lake for a photo but after immersing my hand there was no way I was getting in. Easily some of the coldest waters I've encountered.
Once we'd had our fill of sights we headed back to the car for breakfast at 13:30 then moved on to the next destination. Lake Benmore.
Not had any run ins with South Island sand flies yet but we're carrying stock for when we hit the west coast.
Too cold for yoga again this morning, so we headed off at the 10:00 checkout hoping to find a sunny spot on the way but it was not to be as the clouds came rolling in.
Oamaru. Is one of those towns where folks go to die. Endless rows of nursing homes, care homes etc. Then filled up with gas and got blanked by the attendant and counter staff. Would have got better service at the self service pump. Won't stop here again. Paid the iSite a visit and found out you have to pay to see the blue penguins (they're in an enclosure). We don't pay to see animals in enclosures, that's a farm.
On to Moeraki. They got boulders! And a nice little village with a walk round the rocks and a restaurant that seems to be fully booked out days in advance. We stopped for tea and overheard some folks trying to get in.
Now in Trotters Gorge at our camp. Did a bush walk that takes you up to the top of a ridge for some stunning views. Had a conversation with a Fantail on the way back and even managed to get a photo. Not easy considering how excitable these little fellas are.
This is a popular little camp and the first camp we've been to where most folks are not trying to skip out on paying the fees. Something we've seen at every camp to date. And it's usually the Germans. Took me by surprise as I know a lot of German people and they're extremely honest and honourable people. But their younger generation are not at all. We even met one German girl who was not paying fees and was hoping to get a job with DOC managing a campsite (collecting fees). The cheek. And the fact that most these sites only charge $6 per night for an adult only goes to prove what cheapskate scum they are.
Otago. This is the first place we've actually encountered nature in the South Island. Starting to see native forests and the bird life that goes with it.
Took a stroll up to a hut in the morning then did yoga on the grass with the sun lasting till we left in the afternoon. Heading south through Trotters Gorge a thick sea fog rolled in for an awesome whiteout on roads that have been destroyed by logging trucks. Makes for a fun drive.
Drove in to Dunedin later in the afternoon and man did our transmission get a workout. Forgot how hilly this place is. Easily one of the prettiest cities in New Zealand though. Took an aimless drive round then headed up to see my uncle and aunt, Ralph and Linda.
Has been fantastic to catch up with them after so long and got loads of tips on where to go and stay in Otago and Southland.
Ralph also treated us to a bit of foraging and his gourmet cooking. A fantastic effort to cater for these fussy vegans.
Hope to get back to these part for another visit soon.
Next stop The Catlins, then on to Stewart Island........