A Travellerspoint blog

Dunedin to Lake Tekapo

Geek for a week: Train rides and astronomy

Getting to Dunedin was a bit of a shock after all the scenery and natural beauty of the west coast. It was quite nice to be back in a city though and it was such a quiet one, it wasn't too brutal a return to reality! I took advantage of the shops to replace the various things i've lost/ruined along the way and am delighted to report that I now am the proud owner of no less than TWO clean, dry, sweet smelling, still-their-original-colour tops. Joy.

I stayed in a great hostel that was kind of like staying with a mad, elderly aunt (i'm not saying I have a mad elderly aunt with whom i've ever stayed, I'm just imagining) - a ramshackle old building where you have to make sure the door at both ends of the shower room are locked and you go through the laundry to get to the toilet - but with NO bunk beds and free internet!! It was also small and friendly and had a comfy sofa and a good DVD selection so perfect for time in 'The Edinburgh of the South' where it might not always be hot and sunny.

As the Lonely Planet raved about it as 'one of the best train journeys in the world' i decided to go on the 4 hour round trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway. Don't get me wrong, there were beautiful views along the way (and great happiness (on my part at least) created by the stop at Arthur's Knob) but for anyone else considering travelling on a world class train journey, it's worth bearing in mind, that probably even the best train journey in the world isn't that exciting (sorry Stirling). Especially when you have to turn round at half time and go back the way you came. Still, it was pretty, and warm.

The afternoon I redeemed myself in the daytrip planning stakes with a trip along the Otago Peninsula where I went on a boat trip to spot Albatross and seals (and watched a flock of birds take advantage of a shoal of barracuda fish who were all inexplicably leaping into the air! Amazing to watch!) then we walked down (still rather painful!) to a bay which only this particular travel company and some marine scientists have access to where we watched yellow eyed penguins come home from a hard day's fishing to their young which was VERY cool. They're very solitary animals and completely different to the blue penguins we saw in Phillip Island. After that we walked over to a seal colony where there was hundreds of seals with lots of babies who I was entranced by. We even got a glimpse of one of the only 180 sea lions on the island!

I didn't do much else in Dunedin except wander about, visit a few museums and galleries and finally succumb to the phenomenon that is the Twilight series, purloining a copy from some obscure socialist book swapping store and polishing the whole thing off in 3 days! It's official. I love teen vampires.

On the route to Lake Tekapo we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders which are huge round ... well ... boulders strewn about on the beach which are odd but quite cool. The beach also smelt like an english beach (i'm talking seaweed, rather than faeces and beer cans, fortunately) which was nice, AND there were actually people on the bus so I made some friends at the same time! Hooray!

The Lake itself was STUNNING and the hostel was right on the waterfront in a gorgeous location. I faffed about, went for a wander in the sun and then lots of us from the bus had a BBQ on the beach as the sun set which was ace. Tried hokey pokey ice cream for the first time (not the last) and very much enjoyed the veggie alternative to the meat on the menu: 'well, there's plently of salad, so I thought you could just have that and i'd charge you less?' hilarious!

The next day I got a bus to Mount Cook National Park on a gloriously sunny day and hiked along the Hooker Valley which ends in a lake at the bottom of a glacier which had icebergs floating in it! So cool! Got back in time to get the bus up to the summit of Mount John which overlooks the lake and where there's one of the best observatories in the world. It was a bit cloudy by that point but the sunset was gorgeous and looking at the stars through telescopes was WAY more exciting than I thought it would be! You could see the craters on the moon and the colours and twinkles and moons etc of the stars. Fab. I also got a chocolate brownie in with the deal so i was pretty happy.

My last day in Tekapo I hiked to the top of Mount John (just as a reward for my legs which had only just started to feel normal again!) and celebrated with a delicious piece of cake (none of the entire lunch worth of food I had in my bag just seemed fitting for the occasion) then stumbled back down again and chilled out at the hostel. After i'd eaten dinner, about 20 chinese people descended upon the very small kitchen to cook an entire salmon so I took myself off for a sunset stroll and got only mildly lost, admiring a sunset that looked like whole clouds were on fire, and very much enjoying watching a photoshoot of a girl in a huge dress and fancy hair do trying to look glamorous in what was fast developing into a pretty serious gale! Went back to the hostel and watched Avatar for the first time and loved it. Who'd have thought blue men could be so hot?!

Posted by Hoodfish 02:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


Not breaking any land speed records just yet...

Leaving Wanaka i joined a bus of 4 people (whoop!) and we headed down to Queenstown via the first ever bungy jump. I watched a few people do it and decided that maybe it wasn't as scary as I thought - i could probably just about do it if necessary. That knowledge is enough for me so i won't be doing it any time soon.

I'd been given a voucher for 2 free nights' accommodation in Nomads hostel in Queenstown. As it's a big chain backpackers, and i've decided i prefer smaller independent ones, I wasn't expecting much (though its freeness was more than enough to keep me happy) but i actually had a really good time there. I was in a 12 bed dorm for 2 nights so there was always someone around to chat to (though, granted, i'm not always up for a conversation at 3am. Please take note, drunken Welshman...) and very much enjoyed the free breakfast and dinners they provided! I also met some lovely people there so all in all it wasn't the hotbed of corporate evil I was expecting.

My first night in Queenstown was quite random but good fun - I went out with a German girl from my room to meet the people from the bus. Unfortunately, as there was barely anyone ON the bus, there was only the bus driver there but he had lots of mates out with him so the German girl and I wowed them with our pool talents and willingly drank the drinks they got for 1/2 price as they were rafting guides!

Day one, I went on a trip to Milford Sound which was great. It's about on the limit of decent 'day trip' distances away from Queenstown (especially when you have a bus driver who repeats himself 4 times every time he says anything, making you want to smack him in the face within 10 minutes of meeting him) but it's totally worth the 4 hour bus journey! As ever, the scenery on the way there was stunning - lots of snow capped mountains and a few Kea birds (who rather amusingly tried to fly off with the stuffed sheep that two japanese girls on my bus inexplicably wanted to photograph them with) and LOTS of rain creating waterfalls at the side of the road.

The boat trip through the Sound was a bit disappointing as apparently huge amounts of rain make it really dramatic, and obviously blue skies and sunshine make it stunning. When i was there it was a bit grey and drizzly! But it was still beautiful and I met a couple of girls - one of whom, Liz, became my travel buddy for the next few days.

Day 2 in Queenstown, Liz, Julia (who i met in the hostel) and I went on a hike. We decided against the 6-7 hour 'moderate to difficult' hike up to Ben Lomond Summit as it looked too much like hard work and made a plan to combine 2 easier routes. Unfortunately (ENTIRELY due to poor signage, and nothing to do with my map reading skills) our plans went a bit awry and we ended up on the path to Ben Lomond Summit, after a good few hours uphill effort. We thought we should give it a go and planned to turn back at 1/2 time but we then started to meet people coming down from the Summit who were all SO enthusiastic about it, Liz and I decided to carry on. I'm SO glad we did. It was very tough hiking - particularly on the final stretch where you take a step up then slide a few steps down! - but the view from the top was incredible. 360 degrees, lake, hills, snow capped mountains, exhausted hikers ... the lot.

The next day I FINALLY got to go rock climbing (good fortune created by a combination of good weather, the fact I didn't tell my dad that i was planning to do so, and the fact that i hiked so far the day before, I didn't want to climb out of bed, let alone up a cliff face) and it was amazing. Liz and I were joined by another lovely American girl and driven out to a rocky area just next to Lake Wakatipo. We did 4 different routes up 2 different rocks and i loved it! SO much more fun than aiming for the colour coded routes up a plastic wall in North London! I was quite proud to make it up the hardest route they take people on (twice :-) and the views were incredible.

That afternoon the national Rugby Sevens were taking place so we paid $5 to sit in the sun and watch fit men run about in little shorts, then I went on the luge...

Ahhh the luge... For those who don't know, this is a little go kart type thing with a handle that you push or pull to make you go slower/quicker along a track that winds about at the top of the hill overlooking Lake Wakatipo. My first route round I thought i was doing pretty well. After humiliation at the go karting for Skinner's birthday last year, I really thought i was redeeming myself. Unfortunately, there was noone else on the track to witness my victory. When someone else (a couple of kids who can't have been over 13 and a man who I think it would be fair to say had his best years behind him) joined me on the track, I was spectacularly overtaken and saved the embarrassment of them lapping me, only by the fact that it's a one way course. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Brilliant day, topped off perfectly with a trip to the seafront where we visited the chip shack and ordered a seafood meal which involved fish, chips, calamari, tiger prawns, green lipped mussels and battered scallops (odd but AMAZING) - after which we were stuffed. Until we found the American girl we'd been climbing with who'd ordered too much and didn't want to throw away her left over mussels. So we polished those off. Then had a few beers. And then went to Patagonia Chocolates for an ENORMOUS icecream (Lucy told me it would change my life - who am i to argue with that kind of recommendation?). But luckily, rock climbing burns 5000 calories an hour so I was well in credit by the end of the night.

The results of my time in Queenstown was not being able to walk without grimacing for a good 3 days but it was TOTALLY worth it!

Posted by Hoodfish 02:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Wet knickers

Or: Maybe waterproof trousers would be a valuable investment

So, when last I left you, I was all a-flutter about ice climbing... Unfortunately, after being GLORIOUSLY sunny the day I sat around topping up my tan and reading, it was hammering down on ice climbing day so it was cancelled. Gutted. Still, I re-booked onto a half day hike on Franz Joseph Glacier and collected myself a hefty refund so can't complain!

Hiking on the glacier was incredible. We were all kitted out with "waterproof" trousers and jackets, along with hats, gloves, socks, walking boots and crampons and headed off on the 10 minute bus journey and 40 minute hike to the glacier face where we donned our crampons and were given a quick lesson on how to walk in them - feet facing forward, shoulder width apart, raising your knees more than usual and stomping with vigour. A bit like King Kong. Then we split into groups of about 10 people and each group was lead by a guide - complete with ice axe - onto the ice. Guides go out every morning to cut steps into the ice but they only last 1/2 a day (the steps that is, not the guides) as the glacier is moving so quickly so every subsequent guide who goes up takes an ice axe and continues to bash away at the steps as they go. Apparently they have to train for 10 days straight to learn how to do it and I can see why. It was very (berry) impressive and quite terrifying to watch - especially when there's someone standing just behind them as they flail about with an axe!

We spent about 2 hours on the ice - which was bright blue! - crossing streams, squeezing through barely-shoulder-width crevasses and admiring the stunning views. Unfortunately I was too scared of my camera drowning in the torrential rain to take many pics but i did some lovely sketches when I got back which captured the scenery perfectly. The whole thing was brilliant - and totally worth getting so soaked through that I had to change my knickers.

The next day I got the bus to Wanaka which stopped en route at Lake Matheson - the so called "Mirror Lake". Once again, the weather was not on my side and we couldn't even see the lake, let alone the mirror effect so I felt slightly grumpy as we headed through the Haast Pass. However, as the bus driver predicted, the sun started to come out on the other side of the pass and by the time we were in Wanaka there was blue sky. Hooray!

The hostel location was incredible - right on the Lake which is beautiful and surrounded by mountains. I was a happy camper. Well, hosteler. (Hosteleer?)

I really really liked Wanaka. And not just because it hosts an annual triathlon called Challenge Wanaka. It's pretty small and compact but friendly, characterful and very very pretty. My first afternoon there I spent reading by the lake in the sun and the next day I took myself off on a hike - delighting in the sunshine!

It may well not come as the greatest surprise that being alone as I was with a map, my route was slightly haphazard and not entirely direct, but I had fun, hiking all in all for about 6 hours, up to the top of Mount Iron (allegedly an 'easy' hike. I would beg to differ!) and then down to the banks of the River Clutha and back into town. The views over the hills and lake were amazing - especially from the peak of the mountain where there was a 360 degree view. It was made all the more interesting by the fact that the river had totally flooded the path in parts and I was wading (UPstream!) through water up to my thighs for a lot of the time! It was brilliant though and I celebrated getting back with only 2 blisters and slightly soggy pants with a delicious ice cream on the waterfront.

Day 2 in Wanaka i'd planned to go rock climbing but the rain came back and the trip was cancelled so instead I pottered about town, reading and drinking coffee (well, a Mocha. which came with 2 marshmallows, thus making my day) and chilling out at the hostel before taking myself on a hot date. I had a sophisticated glass of wine overlooking the lake then went to the cinema where I pre-ordered a pizza to have at the interval (!) and took another glass of wine into the auditorium which was kitted out with old sofas, airline seats and an old car with the top cut off so 3 people can watch the film from inside!! Very cool. I realised within 5 minutes that i'd actually seen the film (The Kids Are All Right) before but luckily a) i'd enjoyed it b) i'd seen it on the plane and so had missed the last half hour and c) a whole new dimension was added to my enjoyment of the film by the lady who sat next to me tutting at all the behaviour displayed throughout the film of which she disapproved. Which was quite a lot.

The final morning I tried to climb again but it was still raining (apparently due to my dad's rain dance as the thought of me rock climbing scares him. Thanks Dad!) so I popped into the visitors centre for my refund and an intellectual dissection of the literary qualities of last night's film with the nice tourist information lady (questions she asked included: 'Were they both butch lesbians?' and 'Was the sperm doner attractive?') then I dragged myself 2k up the hill to 'Puzzling World' which was full of optical illusions and other such puzzlements. It amused me long enough for my trousers to dry (I believe (I know you're wondering) my pants remained dry this time) before wading down the hill for my bus to Queenstown.

Posted by Hoodfish 17:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Kaikoura to Franz Joseph

After Kaikoura we headed up the coast to Picton, stopping to look at a seal colony. All the way along the coast line we could see loads of seals sunbathing and playing in the water. So cool! We passed through some vineyards and did a quick wine tasting. There's more wine to be drunk in Blenheim when I pass through later in the month on my way to the north island so i didn't mind keeping it brief this time!

We stopped in Picton to pick up some more people and discovered that the road to Nelson was closed due to flooding! So we had to take a longer route but it was still beautiful. Arrived in Nelson in time to make some dinner and have a bottle of Nelson wine on the balcony of the hostel. Who would've expected things to get more civilised when Alicia showed up?! ;-)

The next day we set off bright and early into the Abel Tasman national park - an area of rainforest surrounded by the most beautiful coastline. After some initial confusion about who we were, what we were doing and who was guiding us, we established that we were to walk unguided along the coastal path to a bay where we'd meet our guide who would equip us with kayaks. Estimations on the time this walk would take us ranged from 2 hours to 4 1/2 hours so we weren't really sure what to expect! It ended up being about 3 hours through the rainforest with loads of gorgeous bays, islands and deep blue sea to our right. We both got a bit hungry/tired/unsure of how good the instructions we were following actually were but we kept ourselves amused singing songs about animals (much to the amusement of the people we passed coming in the opposite direction) and eating the delicious kiwi treat ''Pineapple lumps''. They taste a bit like perfume, have the consistency of soggy marshmallow and are covered in quite nasty chocolate, yet are strangely addictive...

We finished with a spectacular view across the Marlborough Sounds before heading down into the bay where we eventually tracked down our guide who presented us with a MASSIVE lunch bag each which delighted us no end, and somewhat disgusted our companions when we ate every bite of it. Then we donned very sexy spray skirts, got into our kayaks and canoed back the way we'd come! It was SO much fun. First of all we went up to Adele Island and saw some more seals - especially cool when they were swimming in the water in front of the kayak! - we also felt compelled to compose a little song about aforementioned seals. What better way to entice wildlife to interact with you than through the medium of song?

The journey back was gorgeous - beautiful weather, crystal clear water and nice people to chat to. In the final stretch we held all our boats together, rigged up a sail across the boats and let the wind blow us back!

After Nelson we went down to Greymouth via the Pancake Rocks where we missed a photo opportunity by neglecting to bring some maple syrup with us. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount in Greymouth (it was also the site of the recent mine explosion so the mood was sombre at best) but we found fun in the local brewery where we did a tour with 2 couples from our bus which culminated in a tasting of their 7 beers and 1 cider, followed by an opportunity to pour our own drinks. An opportunity we fully exploited. We then went for dinner and drinks in a bar where a waitress uttered by far the best sentence i've heard in a long time: ''Would you like me to set up sing star for you?''
Noone else seemed quite as excited by it as me, and certainly noone else felt the need to use TWO microphones when they weren't sure which one was working and didn't want to take the risk of picking the wrong one, but still - I think they had fun when I let them near it.

With slightly sore heads we headed down to Franz Joseph via a town called Ross where we panned for gold. Franz Joseph is a tiny place with a stunning backdrop of a glacier which i'm going to climb tomorrow. The others went on a 1/2 day hike when we arrived and i went kayaking on a nearby lake - getting to try out a single person canoe (as opposed to a double. they don't make different ones for married people. i don't think) and we went past lots of rainforest and down a really narrow creek where we kept getting stuck in the undergrowth! Lots of fun and beautiful when the water was still and it reflected everyhting like a mirror.

New years eve was a quiet one in the local pub but lots of fun with the 2 couples we've been on the bus with. They all headed off this morning so i'm on my own again - i've been spoiled in the last few weeks by having so many friends around me - i'm a bit apprehensive about starting off again and remembering how i get on with myself but i'm sure ice climbing will lead to some form of group bonding.

Posted by Hoodfish 19:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland to Christchurch and on to Kaikoura

The Dolphin Chronicles

After a fantastic 6 (i think) weeks, I bid Australia farewell on Christmas eve, celebrating my final night by sleeping at the airport. Not my finest decision, but it did give me a chance to see Clare again and saved me a night's accomodation!

I arrived in Auckland around 1pm and milled about til my 4pm bus to Whangarei. Luckily, it was only when I asked the bus driver how long it would take to get to Whangarei, that i discovered it was pronounced Fang-er-ray. Those crazy Kiwis. I was picked up by Alicia (of former Emap fame) and her brother in law and taken to where they live on a beautiful piece of land in the hills with sheep and cows! Alicia and I slept in a mobile home in the driveway which was very romantic :-)

Had a lovely Christmas with the family, eating, drinking and playing with the kids on the trampoline. I also had what I think I can safely say was my best Christmas dinner ever (no offence mum, dad, auntie sue, auntie pamela...) - ENORMOUS green lipped mussels with garlic; bbq'd veg salad; mango, prawn, rocket, macadamia nut, garlic and chilli salad;'home made foccacia and humous and home made spanish tortilla. YUM. All topped off with a chocolate fondue and a game of pictionary. Can't complain!

Boxing day morning we flew to Christchurch and arrived at our hostel to discover that they'd had 32 aftershocks from last month's earthquake throughout the night and there was a massive crack in the wall of the reception area! The whole place had been evacuated so we were shipped off down the road to a different hostel which was made to withstand earthquakes. Hopefully...! Spent the afternoon sitting in Cathedral Square eating, drinking and watching as a trail of bemused looking people wandered around with luggage trying to find somewhere to stay. It was quite eerie - loads of the roads had been cordoned off, there were massive cracks in some buildings, lots of broken windows and a generally post-apocalypic atmosphere (that might be slightly overstating it. Will Smith was nowhere to be seen but it was a bit weird).

First thing on 27th Dec we were picked up by the Magic Bus and taken to Kaikoura - stopping on the way to admire the scenery. Usually my default bus behaviour is to sleep or read but the scenery is just so stunning, i'm transfixed by the view the whole time! Rounding the coast into Kaikoura was incredible - we could see dolphins, seals and albatrosses from the bus! Once we got to Kaikoura we had a few minutes to sort out our stuff before being picked up and taken for our 'Dolphin Encounter'...

We were kitted out with wetsuits (including hoods. A very attractive look), flippers, snorkels and masks and given a briefing on what was about to happen, then taken to south bay where we got a boat and jetted off into the ocean. We'd been warned that dolphin numbers were variable and that they're wild animals so obviously they can't be predicted/we might be disappointed etc etc but we were SO lucky! We came across a pod of apparently about 500 dusky dolphins, stopped the boat, and were told to jump in!


It was quite simply the most incredible thing i've EVER done. They were everywhere - diving, circling, jumping - we'd been told to entertain them to get them to stick with us. The best ways to do that are apparently to dive down, swim in circles or make noise. I chose to sing Queen's classic track 'Don't Stop Me Now' to the lucky things and it seemed to work! For 4 separate dives of about 5-7 minutes each, we were surrounded by hundreds of them. I saw a baby, I swam in circles with one at a time making eye contact with them as we went, I saw one dive down right beneath me and watched as its fin disappeared into the blackness, I got the fright of my life when one swam past inches from me at what seemed like a million miles an hour... I could barely breathe as the swell of the ocean was huge, I was practically hyperventilating with excitement, I'm a bit rubbish at snorkeling and I was trying to sing but it was so utterly and completely worth it. The only downside was the breathless, tuneless, squeaking in a vague approximation of an 80s rock song that seemed to follow me wherever I was. Not sure what that was about.

After the swimming we sailed about for a bit watching them and taking photos as they leapt out of the water and surfed on the waves.

A. Mazing.

Posted by Hoodfish 18:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)