Monday 18 January 2010

Albatross, horses and dolphins. Oh my!

So we left Queenstown and the rainy west coast for the not so rainy east coast. The first stop was Dunedin, known here as little Edinburgh. Dunedin was a cute student town and was nice for just wandering around. Dunk headed off to see the local wildlife. There are colonies of albatross, yellow eyed penguins, seals and sealions on the peninsula.

After a short one night stay, the magic bus brought us to Lake Tekapo, an amazingly turquoise glacial lake (when the sun shines) close to Mount Cook. The bus brought us via a strange "tourist attraction", some spherical boulders on a beach which Duncan had some fun playing on! We chilled out on the lake for a couple of nights and I headed on a horse trek around the lake. The sun was shining which made a nice change but there was some extreme wind.

Next stop was a short pitstop in Christchurch. After spending some time in Auckland and Wellington, we had decided the cities aren't where New Zealand is at so only stopped for a night. However, the sun was shining and the garden city was really nice just to take a stroll around. We also took in the Cantebury Museum which was worth a look.

The final magic bus stop for us was Kaikoura, about 200 km north of Christchurch, which is known for its seafood and sea wildlife. Myself and Dunk signed up to go swimming with the dusky dolphins which live just off the coast due to a rich food supply. It was a cold overcast morning as we set off and I was feeling dubious about jumping off the boat into the cold pacific despite the wetsuit but once I sucked it up, it was really cool. The boat dropped you into the pod and you swam along with a snorkel trying to "sing" to entertain the dolphins and encourage them to hang out with you! Afterwards, there was hot chocolate, ginger nuts and a chance to enjoy the acrobatics. There had been a 50% sea sickness rate so it meant plenty of hot chocolate and biscuits for myself and Dunk :) Apparently, the dusky dolphin is known as one of the most acrobatic and we saw some amazing somersaults and jumps although they proved difficult to capture on camera.

So anyway, today is Tuesday morning and we are sitting back in the hostel in Christchurch chilling out before heading to the airport and hopefully a sunny Thailand. We've enjoyed NZ, its amazing scenery and wildlife, but the weather has been a little too like home the last couple of weeks. With only 2 pairs of long trousers, I'm looking forward to a chance to wear shorts!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Nelson to Queenstown.

We sailed from Windy Wellington on Christmas Eve and hopped on the magic bus to Nelson. We checked into a lovely hostel called Accents on the Park (definitely recommended) for 4 nights over the Christmas period and met a few of the guys we'd gotten to know on the north island as well as lots of new and lovely friends. The hostel put on a Christmas dinner and despite a complete lack of Christmas feelings due to the sunshine and al fresco dining, it was a really lovely day. Unfortunately with skype being overloaded, I resorted to using my mobile to phone home and now have a disgustingly large phonebill. I just have to tell myself that its my Christmas present to myself! We hung around Nelson which is a really chilled out, sunny spot with lots of nice cafes for a few more days and walked to the centre of New Zealand, the beach, visited the cathedral etc.

On 28/Dec, we said goodbye to all the lovely people, jumped in a hire car and headed for Golden Bay which is in the northwest of the south island. We stayed in Annie's Nirvana Lodge in Takaka (also recommended!) for another 4 nights. Takaka is a small hippyish town. We got a couple of days climbing in at Payne's Ford which was just down the road. It was a nice enough spot although I think we've been spoiled these last months in Europe because it didn't compete with the European crags. We spent New Year's Eve kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park which we thoroughly enjoyed before coming back to lots of drunken Kiwis and visited the Nelson Lakes National Park on New Years day (nice enough but probably wouldn't go out of my way again).

After the holiday period, we left sunny Nelson and Golden Bay behind and headed for Greymouth which lived up to its name. It started raining in Greymouth and kept going for 10 days! Its just like an Irish summer. From Greymouth we headed up to the hostel in Arthur's Pass which had some lovely 3 bedroomed cottages. Each evening we had great chats with the other occupants who were all really sound. We also did some hiking up Avalanche Peak in the rain and seriously gusty winds. After Dunk got blown off his feet and the hail started we decided not to bother with the last ridge to the summit. There were some amazing views of glaciers, waterfalls and the valleys that made it worthwhile. We also got to meet the cheeky kea (a big kiwi parrot) who tried to make off with our bag.

After the Greymouth/Arthur's Pass trip, we headed on to the Franz Josef glacier. We booked onto an ice climbing trip but the fates were against us. The evening before the trip, the heavens opened and it poured rain for 24 hours. All glacier trips were cancelled due to flooding and adverse weather and with them unlikely to go ahead the next day we had to concede defeat and head to Queenstown. We did catch up with Ingrid, our Dutch friend from Nelson, though and once the rain had eased in the afternoon took a walk up to get some views of the glacier. A few days later we bumped into a couple we had met in Franz and who had waited 3 days to get up on the glacier so I think we made the right decision. I'm sure it wasn't as nice as the Alps anyway!

We arrived into Queenstown on 8/Jan, still plagued by the rain. We had 4 nights booked and the original plan was to spend a couple of days climbing and potter around for the other day. We were thwarted by the pesky rain yet again although we did manage to go mountain biking in Skipper's canyon which was really good fun but extremely muddy. The clothes had to go in the shower before they could go in the washing machine when we got back! We spent another day hiking up Ben Lomond with Ingrid which allegedly has "amazing panoramic 360 degree" views. We could see 360 degrees of clouds! but it was nice to get out. On the way back down we made a pitstop to play on the luge which was good craic. The other must do in Queenstown was the "Fergburger", basically its a restuarant doing gourmet style burgers. Dunk went with the traditional fergburger while I opted for the cockadoodle oink and Ingrid ate little bambi (she'd eat anything, that one!). I have to say I was disappointed. Give me a Macaris from Inchicore any day. Queenstown itself though is beautifully situated even in the rain. Its on a lake with snow capped peaks in the distance. The lake has a bizarre rhythm. The level of the lake rises and falls by about 20 cm every 6 to 7 minutes. We never managed to find out why but its quite odd.

We said goodbye to Queenstown and Ingrid this morning and jumped on the magic bus for Dunedin and the east coast. Keep your fingers crossed for us the weather improves :)