On Another Planet.

Cut off from the rest of the island only accessible by the one twisting mountain pass over Takaka Hill or a four to six-day walk through the Kahurangi National Park over mountains and along windswept beaches is the beautiful Golden Bay. Made up of a few tiny towns with many art galleries and an alternative lifestyle set of people, it makes for a quiet, relaxed place with a stunning wilderness and out on Farewell Spit; an other worldly feeling. Though the spit shelters the coastal seas somewhat from the frequent Cook Strait storms it does not however protect anything else. We saw what we had in store for us when we left Kaiteriteri, a storm that when it hit, would remind me of the time I was stranded at a surf camp  in the middle of a cyclone whilst traveling Australia. So we rushed over the mountain range of Takaka Hill pausing only briefly for a quick view of the Tasman region and Nelson from Hawkes lookout. dsc09737

The road down the other side was a wonderful drive with its hairpin corners and the marvelous view of the mountains rolling into the lush valleys below scattered with farmland and the blue sea washing up on the longest curved bay I think I’ve ever seen. It was almost perfection, the grey clouds detracted from the view, lacking in any drama it just added a miserable air to the day. In Takaka, the “largest” town, we ventured around the quirky little shops, I was in my element with the hippy clothing, pretty scarfs and soooo much gorgeous jewelry. Of course Chris wasn’t enjoying his time so I didn’t get to stay for too long, probably a good idea as I would have spent too much. We also quickly visited a sacred Maori spring, Te Waikoropupū, that is reputed to have the some of clearest water in the world. It certainly was very clear, it was very deceiving in that though it was deep, the bottom seemed just below the surface. The bubbling pools were different shades of crystal blue or green, it was all very pretty.dsc09745

We went to a campsite in Collingwood, a little hamlet of place, we chose it for the value of money but when we arrived we realised we would have paid anything for the panorama. The campsite was right next to the beach but my eye was immediately drawn towards the mountains across the estuary slopping into the sea and we were so close to the water I felt as if we were right on top of it. We weren’t just looking at the view, we were in the view. There wasn’t much time to take it all in though as those depressingly grey clouds were growing darker by the minute. We had to get out car set up quick and make sure our tent was up with the bivouac sheltering anything that might leak. As we were just finishing up the first rain drops came, the sun was just setting somewhere behind the clouds and a wind had started to whip up. I took to making the dinner whilst Chris battened down the hatches, by the time we were snuggled up in the cosy lounge the rain was battering hard and there was no end in sight. We didn’t get much sleep that night, I felt sure the car was going to be blown over at any minute and the bivouac kept coming loose, cracking against the car like a whip. I could hear the sea crashing so close and started to think maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have a spot right next to the tumultuous ocean. dsc09746

We hoped it would blow over in the night but when we woke it was still going, just going from the car to the toilet meant getting drenched to bone. Sometime in the afternoon the owner of the campsite made the perilous journey from the office to the lounge to awkwardly hand us a cabin key so we could spend a night keeping dry for free, clearly he was a man who often makes kind gestures but finds the gratitude uncomfortable and we had plenty of gratitude to give.The rain was still too hard to move anything over so we stayed in the lounge watching home improvement programs and chatting to an elderly lady who sounded like she had traveled the world twice over. She was one of those people who had probably aged in looks through the stresses of circumnavigating the globe though had managed to stay young at heart, we felt like we were speaking to someone our own age and she had so many interesting stories to tell. Eventually the rain lessened and we made it into our cosy cabin where we holed up for the night drinking tea and watching movies.dsc09756

As usual when a storm blows itself out the world becomes clean, there’s a freshness in the air that lightens the soul. So we let the remaining breeze blow us along to Farewell Spit, a sandbank the reaches far out into the ocean for twenty-six miles. There was still a bit of rain about so we braved the sea air wrapped up. The walk along this side of the spit was nice enough, white sand dunes covered in grasses and shrubs and as we reached further along we started noticing whale bone’s dotted about. The spit is notoriously known as a death trap for whales, one day 174 pilot whales washed up on the shore with many of them perishing. The real beauty of the spit became apparent when we walked up the sand dunes to the top and found ourselves in another world. This wasn’t just your usual sand dunes gracefully melding into each, these were sand dunes that were being constantly battered by the weather, moving, compacting, blowing away. There were different colours and shades, pools of clear water rippled in the wind and reflected the bright blue sky. Somehow grass had managed to find an anchor to grow and the green stood out like the contrast had been turned up amongst the grey and white.dsc09761

We sat here for quite a while occasionally shouting at passerby’s the best way to go so as not to get stuck in the soft sand until we decided to visit the North of the North, the spit didn’t count as it’s not solid ground. There wasn’t much of note at the northernmost tip of the South Island, only an information board and a railing to stop us falling off the cliff. We managed to spot a few seals before the wind got too much to handle joining back up with the black, narrow road that led us through sheep chewed hills and roaming horses to Wharariki beach, recognised as the main background desktop on the new Windows 10. dsc09786

The walk to it was delightfully pleasant along the sheep paths, shooing them out the way as we went by. The scent in the air reminded me of my favourite smell in world, Fairbourne smell, a mixture of the sea, sweet sea grass, fresh air and sheep poo. I had a feeling of lightness and sadness in my heart, I was in a beautiful place but dreaming of somewhere else. I shook it off once we came upon the seal’s playing in the estuary below. I held my breath so as not to ruin the moment, thankfully forgetting to grab my camera until the very end when Chris came blundering through the bush, this private little show was to be enjoyed not photographed. There was something very childlike but romantic about the way they were playing, they mirrored each other perfectly as if they were dancing, it was fascinating to watch. Chris managed to miss most of it though, which was a shame as it was the highlight of the day.dsc09790

Making it down onto the beach I realised that I had completely forgot to check the tidal times so we missed our photo opportunity, I don’t think it would have mattered too much though as we the wind was blowing sand into our eyes and rendering us blind. We had a brisk walk around, attempting to take in some sort of view, managing to spot a seal pup waiting on a small patch of sand for its mother. With not much else to do and beginning to feel more sand than human we decided to take the very long drive back over Takaka Hill to the brilliant Christian Camp in Kaiteriteri, if we hadn’t had kayaking booked for the next day we probably would have stayed a little longer on the stunningly magic coast of Golden Bay.dsc09793

 

 

The North of the South.

Leaving the West Coast was like a breath of fresh air, we’d enjoyed the wild side but not the weather or lack of camping facilities. We drove further than we could really manage late into the night following the wide winding Buller River to a place called Murchison, making it just in time to book into a cabin at Riverside campsite. We enjoyed a dry night in our own private room with blankets and heating, and fell asleep to the sound of rain hammering it down outside. We enjoyed it so much we stayed for another couple of days, taking full of advantage of the Kiwi hospitality and picturesque location right next to the river. We had a couple of admin days washing everything we owned and drying out the car, pools had begun to form under our mattress and everything was depressingly damp. Dried out and fully rested we drove though the mountains snowy towards the Tasman, where the rain and mist gave way to a sunny day that would make an English summer jealous. Trees that had long said goodbye to their leaves in the south were still in full bloom and as we hit the coast fruit was in abundance. I could fall in love with this kind of winter.dsc09606

We checked into yet another lovely campsite, a Christian one, in Kaiteriteri with barely anyone else there so we had the use of the kitchen and lounge all to ourselves, the beach just a five-minute walk away and best of all 10gb of internet for only $5.00! We were definitely staying here for a few days. Unfortunately the glorious sun disappeared the next day and a cold mist engulfed us, we could have stayed in and used that internet but instead we went to see a really big hole. Not just any hole, its New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft, how thrilling. The drive there was the usual arduous, hilly grit road that, only a couple of miles, took bloody forever. The walk to the hole took us through part of Middle Earth, recognisable as the woods that the hobbits and Aragorn escaped through after leaving Bree. The picture perfect woods gave way to jagged rocks that were difficult to clamber over and more and more frequent signs warning us that we could fall to ours deaths. I thought it was a bit overkill until we arrived at the hole. A cliff face jutted high above us with dark blue-grey stone that ominously shaded us from the sunlight trying to fight through the mist. I clambered up over bigger and bigger rocks and suddenly realised that to my left there was nothing but an empty darkness. I didn’t realise how impressive a big hole in the earth could be, and how scary. Normally when I’m high up I have an urge to jump in the hope that I could fly, with this there were no urges, if I jumped I would be eaten up by the earth and never seen again. I was in awe of the shaft, but it was sending me dizzy so we painfully climbed up to the cliff edge. I say painfully because the already jagged rocks had turned razor-sharpe with deep crevices either side. We couldn’t find the view of the shaft from up here but we found a good view of the Tasman region, if it wasn’t for the rain we’d be able to see the ocean. Fearing for our lives we went back to camp.dsc09615

Another day of bad weather then it was time to enjoy the Abel Tasman track. The early morning air was fresh and the sky had been washed clean with the rain, it was perfect and we were easily woken up by the brisk trip on a water taxi round to Anchorage Bay. Along the way we passed Split Apple Rock, a humongous boulder that has split in two and a small seal colony. The seal colony was at Adele Island that just looked like the most perfect island to be stranded on, the seals frolicking in the water added to the appeal. The trip to Anchorage bay alone was worth the money, the coast line on our left dipped in and out, golden sands and green bush contrasted beautifully with the turquoise ocean glittering in the sun, to our right islands broke our view over to Nelson and further along the coast a rain cloud was drifting in, the deep grey looking dramatic against the pale morning sky. img_2538

The beach at Anchorage Bay could not have been any better, a sublime curve of golden sand that invited us to stay longer in the beach hut but unfortunately we had not planned for it, yet again I wished we’d just go all out, buy the gear and take on the Great Walks properly. I enjoyed a paddle and wish I’d bought my bikini as the sun had gotten quite warm now. There was an easy walk off the main track up to Pit Hill that delighted us with a brill view down the coast, back to the bay and the mountains behind. We kept bumping into a German girl by herself and in the usual deutsche way, was a bit unnerved that we kept stopping to chat with her, she seemed suspicious we were asking her plans. Maybe we should be more rude next time.dsc09655

The Great Walk trek took us along little coves that seemed secret and ours for the taking, I was so happy we decided to do this at this time of year, though we didn’t stop too long, I wanted to eat up the rest of the walk and we only had 6 hours to finish before it started getting dark, one of the downsides of doing it in Winter. The track veered off upwards away from the coast through dry bushland, it reminded me much of the Outback in Australia, and it soon began to feel like it with the heat bouncing off the cracked sandy ground, I started to wonder if I should strip down to my undies. If only I’d bought my bikini! The views as we went higher kept getting better and I was taking to walking backwards and using Chris to direct me. I could see sail boats in the distance and thought that’s the dream, they’re doing it right. I started getting jealous and then reminded myself of the dream I was already living. dsc09683

The track soon disappeared amongst the trees and we disappointingly lost sight of the coast, but instead gained pretty waterfalls, bubbling creeks and plenty of bird-life. We still caught glimpses of the odd beach and when our bellies started to rumble we perilously took a steep track down to what we thought was a beach all to ourselves. It was not, a group of kayakers were just setting up to cast off, it made for interesting watching as we ate our sweaty sandwiches and drank our lukewarm tea. Back on the track we could hear them right below us and when they started shrieking we pushed through the shrub to see them horrifyingly being “attacked” by seal pups. I laughed my head off little realising I’d be reacting the same in a few days time. dsc09701

I’d say most of the walk was within the bush which isn’t wasn’t I expected but after a couple of hours we hit the beaches again, some a bit harder to excess than others with the odd incoming tide  to cross. We came onto Apple Tree Bay, a gorgeous beach that curved around the coast and disappeared beyond our view and behind the sandbanks a colony of Canadian geese were feeding in a tranquil estuary. We destroyed the peacefulness of our afternoon tea on the sand arguing if they were in fact Canadian geese or not. I was right in that they were, Chris should know by now not to challenge my oddly extensive knowledge of birds. Even though the walk had been spectacularly easy (we could have done it in jandles) we were getting tired at the end and all the layers we had taken off were swiftly put back on once the sun descended behind the mountains. dsc09725

It had been such a beautiful day, we’d seen some fantastic views, got close to some lovely wildlife and all in all in had been incredibly relaxing, non of this trudging up hills or aching knees going back down them. The overall walk normally takes 3-5 days start to finish or can be combined with kayaking and water taxis. It’s a fantastic Great Walk to do and I’m glad we had the time to at least do one day. Back at the campsite I was happy to have some left over veg lasagna to heat up and a cosy lounge to relax in. Having a look at the weather over the next couple of days we decided to go over the mountains to Golden Bay before coming back and taking a kayak to the picturesque Adele island and her playful seals. img_2539

 

The Wild, Wild West.

The American Wild West and New Zealand’s Wild West differ slightly, where the American Frontier evokes images of cowboys having shootouts in hot and dusty desserts under big blue skies, the New Zealand frontier is more know for snow capped mountains under grey, wet skies. What is similar is the stories; tales of pioneers heading to unknown lands to toil the land, start new lives, discover gold and gradually fall into a world of gambling, whore houses and drink. Tough men and women that led even tougher lives. The wilderness of the west is something that needs to be explored, grey foamy seas crashing onto black sand beaches, lush green mountains topped with snow, waterfalls streaming off cliff faces and glaciers carving their way through into the cold wet swampland below. It truly has that end of the world feel, its bleak and adventurous, somewhere to visit but certainly not somewhere I’d dream of setting up a new life. DSC09308 (2)

We started in Haast, the weather was glorious for the area, cold and cloudy but no rain. It never seems to stop raining, the rain clouds made out to sea only need to make the short journey to the Southern Alps before dumping themselves all over the west coast. We drove to a place called Ship Creek, the waves were churning and chucking up huge chunks of wood onto the beach, a quick blast of sea-foam and wind woke us up before we followed the boardwalk into the dark, damp swamp. It was strange, the last time I was in a swamp like this I was in Florida amongst the Everglades sweating buckets and here I was shivering from cold. The Kahikatea trees grew crooked and twisted covered in moss out the tea stained water, we felt like we were walking through an ancient Jurassic world, half expecting a dinosaur or at least crocodile to come bursting out of the water at any moment. DSC09319

Our next stop was quite a contrast to a wet swampland, we were heading to two of the most easily accessible glaciers in the world, Fox and Franz-Josef. We had stopped here briefly before last year and only seen them from a distance, we were excited to be getting close something we wouldn’t normally see every day. At Fox the wind was gusting through the valley, the car was rattling as we drove the narrow path to the car park, as beautiful as the turquoise pools looked either side we didn’t fancy a swim in this cold weather so we took it slow. In the five minutes it took to us to drive to the car park the sky had turned from a watery clear blue to angry purple clouds and the rain had begun to pelt it down, classic West Coast. Ten minutes and it had passed but we could see the next lot speeding in from the sea so Fox was only a quick visit. We couldn’t get as close as we had wanted, the storm the week before had caused a flood and the glacier was highly unstable, the signs warned of huge builds of water under the glacier, all it would take is a small chunk of ice to drop off and we would be swept away in minutes. From where we were we could only see the terminal face (the end of the glacier) it was a wonderful blue colour but also had a large amount of dirt and debris covering it. It would be truly beautiful further up.  I’d wanted to do a heli-glacier landing but the state of the weather meant all trips were off. How fricking cool would it be to clamber amongst these towering ice walls. DSC09333

We got a superb view of Fox after driving out back to the coast and off the beaten track, we could see where it began in the mountains, if it wasn’t for the cloud we’d have been able to see that pesky Mount Cook too that forever seems to be hiding from me. A visit to Franz-Josef Glacier meant a much longer walk but we could see a hell of a lot more of it and we even passed a few hidden ice caves along the way. The colour blue really showed off here, really quite wonderful, if only I could touch it!DSC09365

That was our lot for the day, there was a lot of driving in between spots, we went off the main highway west back onto the coast to a place called Okarito. Our only reason to head out here was the cheapish campsite that had been advertised on Campermate, in glacier country we were looking at $40.00, a ridiculous sum. The winding road led us through thick shrub and forest, I was highly surprised when we came out at a town, a small one but there were some really nice big houses here. I guess it’s a spot for the rich, one house had a HUGE garage for his plane and the “air-field” was just outside his house, a small stretch of flattish grass. We got the campsite all to ourselves, which was a bonus as we had to empty our car out and get it dry, everything had gotten drenched the night before in a hefty down pour. We spread all our kit out in the little provided shelter and had a good sort out, the area was little creepy when it turned dark, just us the angry ocean and the occasional rustling of bushes (kiwis?) That evening we enjoyed delicious left overs of beef stew and bread, played cards and Dominion and kept ourselves warm with plenty of tea and blankets. There were warning signs everywhere of what to do in a Tsunami, apparently the warning “system” was a single car horn held down for a long time, good one. I fell asleep that night terrified of the sound of the sea, it sounded like it would be washing over us at any minute. DSC09376

We awoke to bright sunshine and filled our bellies with hot porridge then took a stroll on the beach amongst the driftwood with our steaming cuppas. The sea was a lot further away than I’d imagined last night but I could understand why I thought it was closer, the waves were huge, no swimming in there, entire trees were washing up. The drive up to Hokitika passed through bleak town after bleak town, houses crumbling from damp, moss covering everything in sight, feral looking children attacking each other with spades, the plus was the sight of the ocean on our left and luscious green mountains on our right. When we eventually got to Hokitika (or as I pronounce it Hokititkititkakittaaaaa) we purchased some average Fush ‘n’ Chups and ate them at the towns average sea front. Not much to see here though the towns tourist board doesn’t seem to think so, cool little town they call it. IMG_2275

We took our bikes down to the nearby Lake Mahinapua and biked along the old tram way that was used to transport trees through swamp land to the saw mill. It was a good little track, especially through the swamp land on the boardwalk with what little sun there was on our faces. Things got a little more difficult when we had to contend with wandering Weka birds and a bumpy track, the tram tracks were still there but most of the mud covering them had been washed away. We were going to have to sore bottoms in the morning! We hopped off to have a look at the lake and a cuppa but it wasn’t much to see, just grey like the rest of the west coast. We already had an idea of whole difficult life must have been here, just from seeing how people today live but the track had plenty of information on the saw mill, imagine having to build a train track through swamp, a lot of the trees here were wiped out, other than gold and coal mining there wasn’t much other industry available, you certainly couldn’t farm here. DSC09391

Night was falling when we got back, the curse of traveling in winter, but I wanted to head out to the Hokitika Gorge, apparently it was a beautiful, vibrant blue. Chris seemed a little annoyed that we had to drive 40 minutes out the way to see it. He was even more annoyed when we saw it. GREY! Bloody grey! Swiftly moving on and you’ll never guess the name of the next place….Greymouth. We shoveled down some Maccies then took a dark drive out of Greymouth to Blackball, oh the imaginative colourful names they used. The only reason we were bunking down here for the night and not Greymouth was the price of campsites again.  After arriving I soon wished we’d stayed back in town, the place we rocked up to was an old domineering grand house, now turned into some council thing. Twas decidedly creepy, dark open windows seemed to be watching us, later I found out it’s one of the most haunted buildings in New Zealand, happy sleeping! My “favourite” thing about the place was the mental drunk who was clearly lonely living in his tiny caravan. I heated up some beef stew and we wolfed it down then headed to the pub, the lonely drunk wouldn’t leave us alone. At the pub we met some really friendly Kiwi’s who told us all about the area and seemed really excited to have tourists in, “So how are you finding New Zealand?” was asked about five times, followed by bashful pride when we said we were enjoying it. The pub, Formally the Blackball Hilton, is the place where the first NZ labour party set up after a miners strike. I noticed a few miners labour parties plates on the walls, Nottingham being one of them.  We didn’t want to leave the cosy fire and cosy Kiwi company but we had to get up early. Surprisingly we slept well despite the ghosts and drunk.DSC09389

Hmph, we awoke to a typical British summers day, the kind of rain that soaks you through. I was starting to wonder if we’d ever be dry again. The windy road we took last night was actually a really nice drive next to the Buller river even with all the low hanging cloud, it reminded me of the bird-cage scene in Jurassic Park 3, just missing Sam Neill. Back at Greymouth we went to Shantytown, a re-constructed historical town educating tourists of the gold mining era of the west coast. Despite the rain we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, the place was highly interactive and informative without ever being boring, if we didn’t understand the plight of the gold/coal miners then we did now, the weather really helped set the scene. The best part though was the Steam Train ride through the forest. We’d just finished watching a film in the old theatre when we heard the toot of the train, my heart jumped with excitement and when we exited I could smell the steam from coals, possibly one of the greatest smells on earth. I pretty much ran to the train even though it wasn’t leaving for another 10 minutes. It was a beast of a thing, it had to be, this thing was built to drag trees and logs through mountainous swampland. There was a school group of young kids who were equally excited, getting into the carriage there was fight to get to the front, I won.  A couple more toots and we were chugging off, the forest was like a tunnel so the steam just hung around us, the kids freaked out when it started coming up through the floor boards. It really picked up some speed and I was buzzing. Even better than the train ride itself was that we got to go in the train itself and see the fire burning away and all levers and switches, I was loving life.DSC09425

We spent most of the day there, I think we may have read every single information board, after we exhausted ourselves and my fingers couldn’t handle the cold anymore we headed north to Punakaiki, site of the unusual pancakes rocks. This part of the West Coast was truly stunning, the road hugged the mountains and winded around the wild beaches and gushing rivers. We could understand that on a nice day this is considered one of the best coastal roads in the world. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t, the wind had picked up again and I was waiting for the car to take off at any minute. We had to go see the pancake rocks at a run, or in my case a quick stumble. The pancake rocks are towers of limestone that have compacted tightly together creating layers and then have been worn away by the sea and wind. They were quite intriguing, it was fun to clamber amongst them but not for long as Chris had to keep holding onto me for fear of being blown over the edge into one of the blow holes.DSC09475

We hunkered down at a pub, The Pines Tavern, north of Westport, the guy who owned it let people camp in his car park for free then pay to use his shower and wi-fi. He was a super friendly guy, “So, how are finding New Zealand?” was asked yet again,  now we were out of Queenstown we were going to be hearing that a lot. We finished off our beef stew sat in the car feeling sorry for ourselves, decided to hit the pub and have a few beers and a lovely greasy fried food basket. Thank god there’s somewhere in New Zealand that does proper pub food, non of this Quinoa bull shit. We took the long road over to Karamea the next day, the end of the road. God knows why there’s even a town here, the trip seemed to take forever over the mountains, our point of being there was for the Oparara Basin and Heaphy track. The road turned to dirt after the town and it took a looooong time to get into the basin, the site of the largest limestone arch in the Southern Hemisphere; Oparara Arch. Apparently that’s a claim to have, granted it was pretty cool, quite big, the walk to it was nicer, right along a river and we had a fan tail and a couple of robins to keep us company. We did a spot of caving at Moira arch, that was a lovely spot, the river meandered through and there was a little beach to relax on. We had lunch in the Basin, in the middle of the forest, to walk out it would take us days to get to the nearest town.DSC09561

The sun broke through in the afternoon and the road to the start of the Heaphy track glowed as it shone through the sea spray and the beaches here changed from black to golden. The Heaphy track is another Great Walk, it takes 4-6 days to walk or 2-3 days to mountain bike, we just went with the 30 min bike ride to Scott’s Beach. To get into the park we took a swing bridge over a tea coloured river, the colour of the river, the golden sand and bright green forest looked magnificent with the mountains in the background. New Zealand must have the most picturesque bridges in the world. The track was brilliant fun, narrow and muddy, with tight turns and waterfalls that fell onto the path, fallen trees we needed to clamber over, it was our mini adventure. The views were the best bit, we were mainly in the forest but we could always see that raging west coast ocean. Scotts Beach was a right corker, huge sweeping golden sand, the blue roar of the ocean, crumbling sandstone cliffs and nobody in sight. The scene made perfect with a quaint stream tumbling over rocks onto the sand and disappearing into the sea. Walking out we noticed our footprints were the only ones there.DSC09526

We enjoyed our tea and biscuits whilst basking in the sun and pondering over how good our life is. Not one single person joined us on the beach, the place was ours for the afternoon, we couldn’t help thinking that this is what travel is all about and with an ever-expanding world I wonder how much longer these places of peace and solitude will be left. It was a perfect end to our visit, we relaxed for as long as the sun would allow and headed back to our cars then back along that long drive to Westport, the sun was setting as we wound our way through the mountains, we were happy. A quick stop for petrol and we left the West Coast behind in all it’s wild, untamed beauty, it was time to get dry.IMG_2401

 

Roy’s Peak.

I’ve been in New Zealand for almost a year now and almost daily I am faced with this picture of a view that can only be described in clichés; breathtaking, out of this world etc. If there was one place I was going in New Zealand, it was here; Roy’s Peak, Lake Wanaka. We finally left Oamuru once the storm raging in the west had at least calmed down from campervan destroying winds and torrential rain, it would be another week and two dead before it fully abated. When there’s a weather warning in NZ you take it seriously. We drove north first, to try to catch a glimpse of the reclusive Mt. Cook. We’d only seen it briefly last time we visited through a two-minute break in the cloud last year, I wanted to see the highest mountain in Australasia in all its glory. But the cloud was hanging low and we had to do with eating a pie in Twizel and taking the long drive to spend the cold and terribly frosty night in a grim campsite just outside Wanaka.DSC09207

We awoke to find icicles in the car, our nights sleep had been terrible in the cold, we had planned to get up early before sunrise to get up Roy’s Peak before the crowds. No chance, we stayed under the covers until it was just above freezing and until Chris’s headache had lessened. Not by much though, the beginning of our walk started with a rather harsh argument, me telling Chris to bugger off if he isn’t going to cheer up, such a considerate girlfriend. The views from the bottom were already pretty stunning, and only got better as we walked up. The track was a farmers track and zig-zagged quite steadily,  quite arduous after a while. And how we walked and walked and walked and walked and walked….. I’d cocked up slightly and told Chris the walk was a two-hour return, after two hours we still had some distance to go, turns out it was a six-hour return. By this point we were rather knackered, and though the views were lovely I couldn’t imagine them getting much better than this. DSC09213

Considering turning around we met a girl who told us the views up there are better than anything we were seeing down here. Well I wanted the money shot and I think Chris meant to prove something so on we went slogged on up and up. We noted a lot of unprepared backpackers making this trip. One girl was dressed up for a night out just with some feebly cheap pumps on, her more sensibly dressed friend had left her far behind and we’d passed plenty of others dressed similarly who hadn’t made it all the way. Turns out it was a pretty popular walk, and I wasn’t anticipating any chance of getting a decent view. Well the walk had left it lasts show stopper to the very end, walking over the final hill we were met panoramic views that, here comes the cliché, took our breath away.DSC09214

We drank in the views whilst catching our breath, then decided on making the perilous walk out to the peaks edge, it would be a piece of piss if it wasn’t for all the Asians taking selfies on there. They weren’t even getting the right bloody view. We got the photo shoot over and done with, the amount of people about was seriously annoying me, and got on with lunch. Perching on a cliff we ignored the people and looked around, watching some paragliders swooping on and off the mountain and helicopters landing on the hills and snowy mountains. A busy place really, it quite tainted the view. DSC09253 (2)

We sadly said farewell and begun the slog downhill, Chris was much happier for it. And even happier when we had a brew at the bottom. A few months previous I’d found “real” English pork pies for sale in the Wanaka New World (supermarket) but unfortunately they were weeks out of date, so we didn’t have any. Today was the day we were going to get PORK PIE! When people ask me what’s the thing I miss the most about home I always answer family and pork pie. We bought the last two, shoved at the back of a cure meat section, people don’t know what they’re missing. We started driving towards the West Coast and pulled over at our favourite Lake Hawea view to gobble them down. Sadly they didn’t quite live up to the pork pie expectation, instead the inside tasting like sausage roll meat inside a pork pie casing. At least our sausage roll craving had been staved (they have beef sausage rolls here, blergh). IMG_2291

Pork pie eaten we took the beautiful winding drive towards the West Coast and all the wind and rain that came with it. That night I made a beef and red wine stew, preparing for the next few nights ahead that wouldn’t be spent at a cosy campsite. Another couple was staying at the campsite, I noted we’d met them before and said hi. The girl didn’t really respond, instead eyeing up my wonderful creation, she’d been there last time when I’d made slow cooked pork and pear stew. I got the impression she was jealous, they were having pasta, onions and cheese. I’ve always had a sense of superiority, I’m not proud of it, I can often be quite snooty, but now I’m living out the back of a car I’ve not got much to be snooty about. I only have my cooking. So a cooking snob I am. We rested up in the cosy lounge by the fire, ready for the cold and wet week ahead.

 

Rock Poo and Penguins.

The storm was still raging in the West, campervans were being blown over, so we decided to stick around near Oamuru where the weather was fairly glorious, and check out the local wildlife and geology. Anybody who’s watched The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will remember Aslan’s camp amongst a group of odd-looking boulders, you may have mistaken them as fake or graphics but they are indeed real, the Elephant Rocks. Being a fan of the Narnia books I fancied a look at a place good enough to bring them to life. We ventured out to Duntroon, a sparse town, with not much other than an old gaol, smithy and church. Their main attraction is the Vanished World Heritage Centre that was unfortunately closed. It contained fossils of shark toothed dolphins, giant penguins and whales found in the nearby limestone cliffs. We had a lovely drive out through the green countryside to the cliffs to find fossils ourselves, finding one of a baleen whale. In the same area there were plenty of Maori rock paintings, though having a look at them we couldn’t really differentiate between the rock paintings and just plain Graffiti. DSC08995

We continued onto to Elephant Rocks, at first we were unable to spot them from the road, we could just make out the mountains in the far distance behind the rolling hills of the Waitaki Valley. Walking out however, we were greeted by these HUGE, bizarrely shaped boulders, randomly positioned in a farmer’s field. They look as if they had been placed there on purpose. I had seem something similar before, The Remarkable Rocks, on Kangaroo Island, Australia, which were definitely more interesting but not such a large number. We clambered around, sheltering ourselves from the wind that was blasting through, it was bloody warm in the sun but the wind from the West Coast had made its arrival. We hung about for as long as we could manage before letting the wind blow us back “home”, we were in a rush, we had penguins to see.DSC09041

We had struggled to see Yellow-eyed penguins (rarest penguin in the world) on the Otago peninsula, only glimpsing a shadow of one. So we thought we’d try again, the campsites reviews said that people had seen around six to ten at the nearby lighthouse, nothing could have prepared us for the amount we were going to see. We rushed to the Moeraki lighthouse for 4pm, a local had told us they usually return from a day’s fishing a couple of hours before dusk. There was a slight panic when we saw people returning back from the beach, had we missed them? We bypassed the beach, thinking they wouldn’t hang around somewhere so busy and went to the hide. We could hear them before we saw them, a shrill hooo hooo noise, their name in Maori is Hoiho, ‘meaning noise shouter’. Chris just about wet himself when six appeared on the beach, all shouting to one another and waddling around trying to get back up to their nests. A few people popped their heads in for a quick photo before rushing off. Deciding we must be missing out on whatever they were bolting off to, we went to the beach and by ‘eck there were blooming hundreds! Well, maybe not hundreds, but there sure was a lot of them.DSC09132

There was non of this shy business either, that conservationist’s had warned us about, they couldn’t care less about the people stood only a couple of feet away. They carried on with their chin wags, cleaning each other and drying off. They were mostly in couples, it was just like they’d both come back from a hard days work and telling each other all about it, what a racket. There was also plenty of seals to see, young pups playing in pools and the older generation sunning themselves on the rocks and beaches, then way out on the cliffs were colonies of shags and different gulls. It was a wildlife haven, Chris was loving trying out his new binocular purchase. We stayed for quite a while until the sun really started to drop, it would have been nice to catch a sunset but being winter it soon cools off when it disappears. DSC09158

Have you ever heard of the Moeraki Boulders? No, neither have we, but apparently they’re world-famous and such fame cannot be ignored. Though the wind had gotten EVEN stronger, a quick trip out to see some rock poo to keep ourselves occupied during our weather wait was a good idea. These interesting, almost perfectly spherical boulders pop out of the cliff every now and again as it erodes, some are cracked open looking just like giant dragon eggs. They are a little bit of a mystery, made out of limestone over millions of years under the ocean, scientists reckon huge amounts of pressure has caused them to turn into such shapes and then general wear and tear of water and changes of temperatures cause them to crack and crystallise. Whatever the reason they were kind of unreal and we enjoyed hopping about from one to another, though the wind seemed fairly determined to blow us off. DSC09196

We were getting bored and frustrated over in Oamuru, we’d stretched out our time as much as possible, the weather that should have lasted a week was turning into a two-week event. We decided it was time to move on after six days and hopefully, fingers crossed we might actually get to see Mount Cook.

 

Finally, Some History.

There was quite a bit of a debate about bothering heading to Oamuru, a town 90 minutes north of Dunedin. It claimed to have a Victorian quarter oozing New Zealand colonial history, and after Dunedin’s claims were proven to be a little on the false side we were quite dubious to the extent of this Victorian quarter. I imagined it to be three houses surround by the usual concrete crap. Regardless of our plans a storm was about to hit the West Coast and most of the center of the country, I wasn’t about to be spending my nights sleeping in a pool of water in the back of the car, we needed somewhere cheap to wait it out and as it turns out, it was just outside Oamuru, the town that did indeed have plenty of history and also quirkiness.DSC08899
I don’t know if anybody ever gets, what I call, that history feeling. A feeling of being somewhere that seems to tingle history through your skin, an excitement that you’re somewhere where things have happened, people before you have walked and led their mundane or exciting lives, that there is hidden stories to be told and you can almost just see it in the buildings and cobbled floor. It’s one of my favourite things about visiting places such as Rome, Edinburgh or York and also one of my least favourite things about visiting somewhere like New Zealand or Australia because that feeling doesn’t exist. But Oamuru it was there slightly, the old building’s still existed, the cobbled street and old tram line in the Victorian precinct are still showing, if a little tarmacked over, and there is even a Basilica looking incredibly out-of-place amongst the beach houses.DSC08907

Oamuru was once a booming wool and frozen meat (is that a thing?) town with a busy port, at that time larger than Los Angeles, but business slowed, the port closed and it hit hard times. Ignored for years, and unlike most other towns didn’t meet doom with a wrecking ball it has now realised its potential as a Heritage town. Many buildings are now shops, restaurants, hotels or backpackers but my favourite area is in the Victorian precinct where the second-hand clothes and book shops and art galleries have set up, there’s even a place to rent a Penny Farthing bicycle. We spent a few hours wandering around there, looking for new books to read, checking out the theatre set galleries and getting lost in the adventure book shop. All of this may seem a little hispter, especially the guy that I bought my books off, using an old styled ledger and fountains pens to record the sale (though in true Kiwi style, still had an EFTPOS machine hidden away), in my opinion it wasn’t, I don’t think these guys have even heard of hipster yet, they’re just enjoying living in the past.DSC08896
The thing that Oamuru is probably most “famous” for is the Steampunk community. Steampunk is a futuristic vision of Victorian steam powered technology, think Mad Max and HG Wells. Their HQ is is just by the Victorian precinct, unable to miss from the steam engine rearing into the air and often spewing out flames and steam. We were welcomed in by a beard with a man attached who warned us of the dangers and adventure inside and that we would exit a different human being. We dismissed the speech as silliness but it was pretty darn freaky in there. Strange contraptions which did things but didn’t make sense, a bull with a laptop, an organ that played Close Encounters of a Third Kind and too many skulls to count. Much of it is art work created by a chap called Chris Meder who had a brilliant eye for the weird and wonderful. DSC08880
The main attraction for me however, was the Portal, the manned beard had told us that we’d have an experience out of this world, and we’d have good time (emphasised like only a stoner would), again we were dubious. It seems Oamuru really rebelled against our cynicism, because Jesus Christ it was amazing. I say Jesus Christ because we saw him in there, not literally, don’t worry Mum, just a few light-bulbs in the shape of his face. I cannot describe how utterly awesome it was walking into The Portal, the door opened and we were met with an infinity of white blue stars. We soon realised that the stars were light-bulbs and the infinity was actually a very small mirrored room, it take us a while to figure out how small exactly. There was a little walk way that led out into the middle of the room and looking down vertigo set in, looking up and around we couldn’t make out our dots in the furthest distance. We pressed a button and ethereal music started to play and we were met with a light show never seen before. For the first time in my life I wanted to try acid. It went on for an eternity and not long enough. Three times we pressed the button before we let someone else in, and we went back in twice after, soon after deciding to leave before we wasted away in there. DSC08967

We definitely enjoyed our time in Oamuru and were glad we’d decided to stick around for a while especially with the prospect of seeing Yellow-eyed Penguins just down the road from the campsite, I just hope the hipster’s don’t find out, there’s a fine line between quirky and wanker.DSC08912

The Otago Peninsula.

A visit to Dunedin can’t go without a visit to the Otago Peninsula, well-known for its abundance of wildlife especially the magnificent Royal Albatross, which I was incredibly excited for, Chris was more excited for a chance to see either Yellow-eyed or Blue Penguins. We took the low Portobello Road, which took us right alongside the inlet, one false move on the narrow, windy roads and we were in the ocean. I left Chris to the driving and took in the views, the air was incredibly still and the sun shining through the messy coastal clouds, everything was perfectly reflected in the clear water. As beautiful as all this was, I was a bit dubious about seeing Albatross later on the afternoon, as they use the wind to glide on. At Portobello we set up our camp, there was no one else on the camp so we had plenty of space to pull out an awning with table and chairs underneath, it was nice to actually set up a little home for ourselves. So far living out the back of the car had been perfectly fine but its nice to have a bit more space, we felt like proper campers.IMG_1870 (2)

Out at the Royal Albatross Center on the very tip of the Peninsula we could see all the way back down to Dunedin and plenty of Shag birds perched on the cliff faces. We couldn’t see any Albatross, viewing for those big guys is only accessed via the tours, which we’d thankfully booked onto,  though we were warned that there wasn’t much chance of seeing any Albatross due to the complete lack of wind, but plenty of chances to see chicks! Before we were to see any our guide gave us a briefing and we learned some fascinating things about the Albatross, they’re about 1 meter tall with a 3 meter wing span, able to fly at speeds of 100kmph, they glide instead of fly as flapping those huge wings uses huge amounts of energy, this means when they first take flight they won’t touch land from five to eight years before coming back to mate. The oldest albatross recorded at the center was Grandma, living to a grand old age of 62.DSC08759

After being warned that we were so unlikely to see one we were incredibly excited to see one gliding in from the ocean and round the other side of the cliff, we only saw it for perhaps two seconds but it gave us a bit of a rush to see something so huge and impressive in the air. We hurried up to the viewing hide to see if we could see it on the other side of cliff, unfortunately we did not, but that was no matter because right in front of us were five cute and fluffy albatross chicks. They were just sat there, each on a little nest, not really doing much, having an itch every now and again, yawning, dozing off. They were lovely to watch, and so big! Out at sea we could see a fishing boat trawling surrounded by shags and gulls, and one smaller breed of albatross, not an Royal Albatross but it was still so much bigger than all the other birds out there.DSC08719

We didn’t want to say bye to the chicks but we were to visit the “Disappearing Gun”. After a Russian ship was found near the coast, New Zealand decided they needed some defense so built the Armstrong disappearing gun. It’s purpose to pop up above ground, take a shot then quickly disappear below ground before the enemy had chance to see where it came above. Out of 500 practice shots it was only used once in anger, as a warning shot to a fishing ship that hadn’t radioed in. Just outside the lookout was another albatross chick, if it weren’t for the glass we could have probably reached out and touched it. We drove back as the sun was going down, stopping off for a few Bluff oysters along the way, and watch it set. Not a bad day.DSC08774The weather had taken a turn for the worse over night and we woke up to the weather that would be to follow us across the country. The cloud was heavy and threatening rain but we got our boots on anyway and headed out along the coast to do some walking. The sea, so still yesterday, had really started to churn and was kicking out some sea spray on the beaches, this didn’t deter us in our search for New Zealand sea lions on Allans beach. By the looks of things they’d just finished from a morning feeding, we could see their trails in the sand, and had settled down for a nap. This meant we could get fairly close, not enough to bother them, but a little closer than when we were in the Catlins and were chased off the beach by one. DSC08793

The rest of the morning was spent tramping around the coast and cliff faces, taking in the views from all over the peninsula and mainland, plenty of inlets, harbours, beaches and hilly farmland to see. The wind was wild so for lunch we went back and I started on my slow cooked pork joint in apple and pear beer gravy. We’d heard of a good beach to see Yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguin in the world, and went in time for 4pm when we told they’d be getting back in from feeding. It was a beautiful beach with sand dunes sweeping into the hills, the sun had decided to make its appearance and even if we didn’t see penguins it was a nice place for an evening stroll. On the way down we saw a few sea lions dotted about with some fucking idiotic Chinese trying to lie right next one for photos. Me and Chris gave them a right bollocking but of course they didn’t clock on, the Chinese haven’t got a clue when it comes to wildlife. We staked out near the hidden viewing hide, which was closed due to cliff erosion. After about an hour of people wandering through the nesting sites we gave up, no way they’d be coming out with so many people about. On the way back however, we did get to glimpse a waddling silhouette amongst the long grass, calling out shrilly. We may not have seen it properly but we’d still spotted one! Thoroughly happy we went back to have one of the best meals I’ve ever had. DSC08865
It only took two days but we felt like we had fully explored the peninsula, and seen as much wildlife as the place was going to offer. There was a storm brewing in from the west and we wanted to get away from the coast before it hit, it was predicted to last over a week so we needed somewhere cheaper to stay. I would have liked to have stopped longer, it’s truly a beautiful spot but the clouds were encroaching fast. Time to hunker down near Oamuru.