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New Zealand

Heading Back to the Mountains

Tuesday 17th November 2015

sunny 18 °C

After our overnight stop in Oamaru it was time for us to set off to Mount Cook Village for a couple of nights. I had high hopes for this leg of the trip, back into the mountains and hopefully some great views. However I have learnt from experience that mountains can so easily remain hidden in mist and low cloud and so I was trying to manage my expectations. We also had been prewarned about the lack of shops in the village and so we stocked up with food and petrol before we left town. Once we were properly on our way we drove the short distance up the coastal State Highway 1 before turning inland in a northwesterly direction. The places we passed through had a mixture of English (Georgetown), Scottish (Peebles, Duntroon, Aviemore) and Maori (Awamoko, Waikaura, Hakataramea) names.

The first place we actually stopped was Takiroa which is the site of some Maori rock art. It was a little disappointing in that some had got lost over the years due to rock falls and the majority of the rest had been removed and taken to museums for preservation. There was a small amount that could be seen including a painting of some men in a boat.


The theory was that this was of European settlers arriving rather than the Polynesians in their waka. The road continued along the valley floor near, but not near enough to see the braided river that carried the glacial and rainwater out to sea. Our map showed some more historical sights on the far side of Lake Aviemore and so we decided to take a short detour off the main road. Their were lots of camping places, probably more suited to Kiwi anglers than tourists. The side road then carried up towards the manmade Lake Benmore and across the hydroelectric dam both of which were constructed in the 1960's.


We stopped here briefly to have a look at both, before continuing back onto the main road. We never did find the features we had been looking for originally, but it ad been worth taking the detour nevertheless. Shortly after this the road divided and we turned right to make our way past the small town of Twizel and towards Lake Pukaki. As soon as we approached the lake we were stunned by its brilliant turquoise colour which was so bright it almost looked as though it's colour was artificially made. The road ran alongside the lake for most of the rest of the journey and combined with the mountains in the distance made the route very scenic.


We stopped once to take some photographs and apart from that I made do with taking them from the moving car. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Mount Cook Village. Apart from the quite large Hermitage Hotel all the other buildings in the village snuggle into the valley and are pretty unobtrusive. When we checked in to our motel we were really pleased as not only was it very nice but we had brilliant views of the mountains.


As an added bonus although there were a few clouds the visibility was pretty good. After settling in we walked up to the visitor centre and got a map describing the walk that we intended to do tomorrow. From there were could see the top of Mount Cook which was obscured by a closer hill when we were in room.


We then went to a nearby cafe which overlooked the mountain and had a cup of tea before walking back to our room where we spent the rest of the evening watching the light change and the set behind the mountains.

Posted by Gill's Travels 13:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Wonders of Nature

Monday 16th November 2015

sunny 19 °C

Having had a slight change of plan yesterday we were now leaving Dunedin in order to go and stay in a place called Oamaru, about half an hour further north than Moeraki where we had originally planned to stay. We still wanted to visit Moeraki as they have a very famous rock feature on the beach there that I really wanted to see. Having done some research we knew that the best time to visit was at low tide which was at about 1pm. Our Blackhead cottage hosts had kindly said that we could leave whenever suited us as they wouldn't be around and no one else was checking in that day. On that basis we hung around at the cottage until about 11am having a relaxed breakfast, a FaceTime chat with one of my sisters and sorting out a couple of bookings.


We got to Moeraki at just the right time and there were already quite a lot of people on the beach. Moeraki Boulders are large spherical rocks which have formed by a slow precipitation of calcite, a bit like a stalagmite, but are spherical because they are essentially growing in the mudstone which surrounded them over approximately 4 million years. As the cliffs erode the boulders are exposed. The vary in size from about 18 inches to over 7 foot and many have cracks in them, others having already broken open.


They make for great photographs. So that we could also see them as the tide was starting to come in we went and had a cooked meal in the cafe just above the beach. We then went back down onto the sand and took a few more photographs.


Once we had taken photographs of them from every conceivable angle we thought we ought to get on our way and drive the short distance up the coast to our motel in Oamaru. The room there was nicely furnished and as they have an onsite laundry we were able to get some washing done as I was certainly starting to run out of clean clothes. When we were checking in the woman on reception had told us about the penguin colony at the southern end of the town that the public could visit. She suggested that we got there about 7:45pm in order to get tickets which is what we did. There are two places to sit, with the smaller stand being more expensive but only about two to three metres from where the penguins come into the artificially created and protected nest site. We were told to come back at about 8:15pm and we were then able to walk on boardwalks through the apparently empty colony and take our seats. They have quite strict rules in order not to distress the penguins which includes not being able to take any photographs or videos.

We had to patiently wait until the first of them came ashore and whilst we were waiting we told a bit about these little blue penguins.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/JJHarris

They are the smallest penguins in the world at less than 12 inches tall, and they mainly come ashore to lay eggs. They go out to sea to feed during the day so the adults are only on land overnight. Only the young stay in the nesting boxes in the daytime. Slowly they started to land on the rocky beach in groups called rafts which offer them a degree of safety. Once ashore they cool off after their exertion and then slowly and very much in their own time climb up the steep rocky bank. When they were good and ready they filter through v shaped channels and into the colony. It was amazing to watch them. Some did a mad dash for cover, others looked so tired that they would flop on their bellies before picking themselves up and waddling a bit further. As more and more came ashore they got noisier and noisier. As they went into the colony the staff would count to see how many returned. Roughly half would come back each night, with the other half of the breeding pair staying out at sea to continue to feed on their staple diet of sprats.

It was a great privilege to watch but one needed a lot of patience. I was pretty appalled by the behaviour of a lot of the visitors. Large numbers just got up and left after a short while, presumably because they didn't have the time or patience to stay. They seemed oblivious as to the impact this had on the birds, and a couple of Penguins turned round and ran back out of the colony. There were quite a few young children in the same seating area as us, including a couple of babies, and there was no way they were going to be able to keep quiet. Mean as it might sound I just felt that area just wasn't really suitable for children under ten and the guide I spoke to felt the same but for now although they try to discourage parents bringing young children, they don't stop them. By the time we left and walked back over the boardwalk well over 150 penguins had come into the colony and we could see them making their way into their nesting boxes as we tiptoed past. There were more on the road as we were leaving, as not all the penguins that come ashore nest at the centre, some have stuck with the traditional method of building them at the base of the cliffs. On our way back to the motel we both agreed it had been a great privilege to see them.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:41 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Slice of New Zealand History

Sunday 15th November 2015

semi-overcast 16 °C

Our plan for today was to drive into central Dunedin and then go on the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway. Dunedin Station is a bit of an architectural gem and so we left early so we had time to explore the building before we needed to get on the train. It was designed by a George Troup and built in the Renaissance Revival style. The building was started in 1903 with main structure in built dark basalt and the pillars out of pink granite. The roof tiles came all the way from Marseilles and the floors were decorated with 750,000 Minton tiles. It really is a magnificent building and well worth the time spent there.


About 20 minutes before departure we went went to find our allocated seats on the train and got chatting to some Australians from Brisbane who were sitting across the aisle from us. At the start of the journey the train travels south on the main coastal line passing through the southern suburbs of the city until it reaches Wingatui junction.


From here the train turns west across the Taieri Plains and then alongside the Taieri river and the gorge of the same name. The views were stunning and although we were aware that the shrub broom is a real problem in New Zealand, the yellow flowers covering the hillside made for it particularly pretty.


We were able to get off the train at a place called Hindon and stretch our legs. Stalls had been set up by people selling craft and gift items although we didn't buy anything. On the way to Pukerangi the train goes through ten tunnels and across lots of bridges and viaducts.


We were very lucky because the family from Brisbane changed carriages a short distance out of Dunedin (I think so that the older member of the family could face the direction of travel). This worked to our advantage as it left spare seats on the other side of the train so when the view was better there, as it was when we were nearing Pukerangi, it meant we could change seats. Once we reached the end of the line the engine was shunted to the other end of the train whilst we got off and had a look found the station.


After about 15 minutes or so we were on our way back down the line and we continued to enjoy the view. As we got off the train in Dunedin there were already people waiting for the afternoon trip. We had already decided to spend the afternoon visiting Larnach Castle on the nearby Otago Peninsula. The drive took us along the coastal road giving us good views back towards Dunedin. Sadly the weather had deteriorated a bit so the scenery looked 'a bit flat'. Once we arrived we were given a guide and as suggested started on the lower ground floor and slowly made our way to the top. Larnach is the only castle in New Zealand, although it is really more of a grand house than a castle.


It was built in 1871 by banker and politician William Larnach. He was of Scottish descent although born in Australia and was married three times. Sadly the family history is shrouded in deceit and tragedy. He and his first wife Eliza had six children but she died when she was only 38. William then went in to marry her half sister Mary, a match not particularly approved of by his children. He signed much if his wealth over to Mary thinking this would protect him from creditors, but then when she also died the money went straight to his children. By a process of subterfuge he got them to sign this back to him. Things got even worse for the family after he married the much younger Constance. There were rumours that one if his sons had an affair with Her and William subsequently shot himself in 1898 in the New Zealand Parliament building. Some years later his eldest son also shot himself after lots of family disputes over money and the estate. The house was the sold out of the family in 1906. The current owners, the Barker family, bought the house in the 1960s.


They have spent many years restoring the property which had fallen into a very poor state of repair and this project is ongoing. Once we had looked around the house we explored the lovely gardens, home to many European and tropical plants as well as some interesting sculptures, some inspired by the story Alice in Wonderland.


Once we had finished looking around we made our way back along the Otago ridge back to Blackhead Cottage for the rest of the evening.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Staying Local

Saturday 14th November 2015

sunny 17 °C

We have had quite a relaxed day today, staying local and just doing a bit of walking. Breakfast was a late and leisurely affair made out of the food provided by Emma. We spent the morning checking out the finances (we try and do this once a week to make sure we aren't blowing the budget) and making decisions about potential activities during our last couple of weeks in New Zealand. We then intended to go for a walk to a place called Tunnel Beach which is about a mile up the road from where we are staying. So that we didn't have to walk all the way there on the fairly busy road we took Emma's advice and took the car as far as the car park. Just as we got out of the car a woman approached me and said that we should be careful as her daughter had just come back to her car to find that the window had been smashed and the purse that she had inadvertently left on the seat stolen. We had a bit of a discussion about this and Nigel didn't feel that comfortable parking there after what we had been told. There were also a couple of young guys parked next to us that he was a bit concerned about.

In the end we postponed our walk and went and got some food shopping. We then went back to the cottage for lunch intending to go for the walk later. Just as we got back, Emma had arrived to top up our breakfast supplies. We explained to her what had happened and she very kindly offered to drive us back to the carpark once we had eaten our lunch. Once we had finished eating we went back to the main house and Emma was true to her word and drove us the mile up the steep hill to Tunnel Beach car park. The walk was clearly very popular as there lots of other people around. The clearly marked footpath started to go steeply down hill almost straightaway and some stretches were very steep. I could understand why it was considered to be a hours return walk despite only taking about 20 minutes to get down. There were views of the coast and the natural arch for most of the way down.


Once we got to the bottom of the footpath we turned left and went down a further 60 or 70 steps through a tunnel carved out of the cliffs. This, rather than the arch is what gives the beach its name. It was apparently made by a previous land owner who made the tunnel so that his daughter could get onto the beach that would otherwise have been inaccessible. We stopped there for a short while and watched the waves crashing on the beach, but the tide was coming in and so after a while we had to retreat to the safety of the steps.


We then walked out onto the headland. The shapes and colours of the rock reminded me a bit of those on Kangaroo Island in Australia, worn smooth by wind and the erosion of the sea. The cliffs there are pretty high and gave me a bit of vertigo if I got too close.


It was a beautiful spot but after a while we agreed that we ought to make our way back. I knew it would be a very steep climb as when we were going down I had seem many people younger and fitter than me huffing and puffing as they went back up. We just took it quite slowly and had a few stops on the way and in the end we hadn't taken any more walking time than the signs had suggested. We stopped for a little while near the top for one last look back at the coastline before starting to make the much less exciting walk back along Tunnel Beach road and then the additional kilometre or so down the straight but hilly road back to our cottage. By the time we got back it was early evening and so we just relaxed then, had a meal and watched a video, resting our slightly achy legs.

Posted by Gill's Travels 12:22 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Some Do, Whilst Others Just Watch

Friday 13th November 2015

sunny 18 °C

Our second short visit to Queenstown had come to an end and before we left the hostel I felt it was only fitting for me to add a comment to the graffiti wall. The message was "Wow NZ you are amazing, Gill & Nigel 2015" which seemed to sum up my feelings. Having checked out, we took our bags the short distance to collect our hire car and then we were on our way. Although neither of us had any desire to do a bungy jump it is part of the New Zealand experience. We decided to stop and have a look at others doing it given that we had to drive right past Kawarau Bridge home of the father of the bungy, A. J. Hackett.


The setting is stunning as the bridge spans the beautiful Clutha River. It makes compelling watching, although it made me feel very nervous for them. Just after we arrived two girls were going to jump together, but in the end one of them couldn't go ahead. Speaking to her later she said their boss had paid for it as a special surprise for them. In the end the other girl went on her own. Non jumpers are also allowed on the bridge from where there is a great view of the river.


Whilst we were there we had a coffee at the cafe before watching another couple of brave souls jump before then getting on our way. The bridge is very near the Gibbston Valley wine region and we drove past a number of vineyards as we continued along the spectacular Kawarau Gorge.


Grapes then gave way to fruit and as we got near the town of Cromwell there were lots of orchards as well as the customary giant fruit to advertise the fact. The road then started to climb higher and there were patches of bright coloured wild flowers alongside the road.


When we reached the Clyde Dam we pulled over and had a look at the hydro-electric plant and the river and the lake on either side of it. It was a pretty impressive structure and the first of many we would see over the next few days. As we drove on we started to see snow capped peaks in the distance and the high valley was strewn with dramatic rock formations and heather covered heath land. We saw a really lovely spot near the Butchers Dam and so we pulled off and found a place near the water to sit and eat the picnic lunch we had bought in Queenstown.


The scenery continued to be really picturesque as we wound our way along river valleys and past the turquoise blue Lake Roxburgh. Mid afternoon we stopped for coffee at a rather isolated and slightly strange inn, before continuing on our way. We road maintained a south easterly direction until we got near to the Pacific Coast and then turned northwards driving between the ocean and the coastal railway that runs between Invercargill and Dunedin. We found the cottage quite easily, and the owner Emma showed us around. We settled in and then we walked across the small field at the back of the house which took us to the cliff top and some amazing views of the coast.


Posted by Gill's Travels 11:35 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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