Day 33: The last one

We decided to have a very slow morning and woke up about an hour later than usual, breakfast was served around half past 8. This could be done as we only had to drive for 1 hour to Christchurch.

Or so we thought.
We had booked a trip in a jet boat on the Rakaia River at half past 10, so we had some time to spare. Or host recommended going to Christchurch via Akaroa, a 3 hour detour without counting the time we spent there.
Now or day suddenly is packed!

The jet boat ride is awesome! The driver nearly clips the rock faces and tries very hard to get very close to all of them, even the ones not directly in his path! Combine that with a really fast boat, a big American engine, a fast flowing river and some spins, and you get your action packed ride. We enjoyed it a lot, and would even go on a longer trip if we weren’t on a schedule!

Akaroa is the next destination, and it is situated on a peninsula just south of Christchurch. The drive is very scenic and will take you about 90 minutes driving directly from the big city. When we arrived at Akaroa it was remarkably busy for such a small town, but apparently today not one but two big cruise ships had moored just further up the bay and the passengers were ferried to and from the town. About 3000 more tourists in town would make any village feel crowded!

After our lunch, we drove back to Christchurch and decided to not go into town as we were both pretty tired and just went out for some dinner. We are not in the centre of town, but in a suburb called Papanui close to the airport.
Tomorrow we hand in the car and we’ll commence the journey back home.
These weeks here just flew by!

Day 32: Taking it easy at Windwhistle

While the mountain decided to show itself yesterday, it all seemed like it was not going to do so today at all. The sky was filled with dark and get clouds right above the village, and more were rolling in at a very constant rate. We also woke up to a very cold day, but could see that the valley had nice weather.

As we had to leave anyway, we did just that and set out on the trip to Windwhistle.
This is very close to Christchurch, and was to be or last full day out and about. Tomorrow is the day we drive to the city, and the day after that we’ll be inside a plane.

The journey proved to be quite uneventful, but we enjoyed it very much, as the driving was leisurely and scenic. Not very much to report here!
It did however warm up to about 20 degrees, and we were tempted to pull out the shorts. It has been a long while since we had those on!

Tomorrow, we have made reservations for some action packed adventure and will drive to the city also. You’ll see tomorrow!
The B&B for tonight is located on a pretty posh Golf resort, and we had to drive 20 minutes to the nearest town to get some food as the prices for the accompanying four course dinner are a little to steep for us.
Remember: we are dining out every day for 5 weeks in a row! 😉

Day 31: Mountains!

The Otago Peninsula has been good to us. All marine wildlife has shown itself to us, and sometimes even posed for the camera in way we didn’t think possible. The weather has been awful and great at times, and during the entire time we had fun, enjoyed the amazing scenery and loved being there.
It truly is a good place to be.

But, all good things must come to an end, and for us this meant we had to backtrack quite a bit, towards Twizel. After that, we turn left instead of going straight: to Mount Cook!
The Mount Cook / Aoraki Village basically consists of one thing: The Hermitage.
This is a large hotel, and they seem to be the sole owners of all the accommodation over there. The hostel, the restaurant, the motel and the suites, all run by the central hotel.
This also means it is not cheap in any way, as there is nothing to choose.

The Mount was quite reluctant to show itself today. With nearly 3800 metres it is the tallest mountain in NZ, and was summited by Sir Edmund Hillary somewhere in the late 1940’s. It also is cradled by the longest Glacier in NZ, The Tasman Glacier.

The mountain is tall enough to generate its own climate and clouds and has done so the full day, right until around 9:30pm, after which we had a brief glimpse at the peak.

The way to Mount Cook Village is through some very scenic landscape, alongside the glacial lake which flows of Tasman Glacier. This valley is about 55km long, and never ceased to amaze us with its beauty. Just, wow.

Our day was long, as we visited the Moeraki Boulders during the drive to Mount Cook. These are peculiar formations of rock, formed by what seems to be very specific settlement of rock. The end result are near perfect round shaped balls of rock, just lying on a very small piece of beach. Weird!

We convulsed the day by doing a small walk to the true Tasman Glacier Lake, and the now not so blue Blue Lakes. The first is very white, the latter are now greenish.

Day 30: More marine wildlife

This day can best be divided into two  separate parts: the good part and the bad part.
The bad part must have been the morning and a portion of the afternoon. When we woke up, it rained. When we were done with breakfast, it still did.
We wanted to do a tour on a boat at 12: it still rained like crazy. Doing the tour at 2 also was not the best option: the rain still persisted.

But, around 3, everything changed! The skies cleared up, the rain stopped and some blue patches shone through the otherwise grey skies. That was the start of the good party of the day. It has not rained since.

We were especially happy with this outcome, as we booked a wildlife tour on the peninsula which started at 4 and would last for about 6 hours after that, of which a lot would be outside walking and viewing the various animals. Doing that in extensive rains would not be very nice, but luckily the weather miraculously changed! Yay for that!

The leaflet told us we were to see Royal Albatross, NZ Fur Seal, Hooker’s Sea Lion, Blue and Yellow-eyed Penguin and much more, and we basically did!
We saw the most endangered Sea Lion and the most endangered Penguin within minutes of each other, on the same beach!

Tomorrow will be a long day of driving, as we are heading back to the Alps and set out on the trip to Mount Cook. This time on the dry side of the mountain!

Day 29: The Otago Peninsula

Today, we are leaving the Catlin’s already, but not after we took another quick peek at the dolphins at Porpoise Bay.
They are not in today, but will probably be around. However, we didn’t see them. So we are off to Dunedin.

It is only a short drive up there, at about 3 hours at a leisurely speed. Along the way, we visited the magnificent Nugget Point. This is a rocky outcrop on the coast, where one of the lighthouses of NZ is located.
There is also a lot of marine wildlife over there, and with today being one of the best days we have had in a long time weather wise, it would be foolish to not go there.

The drive to Nugget Point is quite interesting, as there is about a 15km unsealed narrow winding road to the car park. Because of the views and the wildlife, this actually is a rather popular spot to go to for tourists, so anything and everything can be found driving on that road. Cars, campervans, caravans and even trailers with boats go there, also because there a quite a few holiday homes dotted along the road for the locals to enjoy a day at the beach.

Quickly moving on, we arrived at Dunedin and skipped the town completely and drove straight away to the Otago Peninsula. This peninsula is lusciously green and has a lot of hills. It is really narrow and quite long at around 20km. It’s maximum width is about 9km. We are staying in a B&B near Portobello, one of 7 townships along the coast of the peninsula.
There is a lot of stuff to do here ranging from walks to tours to see the native resident Albatrosses, Blue Penguins, Yellow-eyed Penguins, Shags, NZ Fur Seals, Sea Lions, and much more.

We decided to take it easy here, and visited the Albatross Colony this afternoon. The colony itself is only accessible with a guide, but we chose to look at the birds flying in from sea from the parking lot, where you can get the best views on them. They come swooping in and are preparing to land on their nests nearby. As the viewing point is quite high up, and the bird come flying in really low, they are using the winds bouncing off the cliff to climb up in the air and are doing so just alongside the viewing platform. This gives us a facntastic view of the birds, as they pass by literally only metres from you. Wow. They are big!
The Royal Southern Albatross nests on this peninsula, which is the biggest species of albatross in the world.
The birds are fully protected, which is why the nesting sites are only accessible via a tour.

Tonight, after dark, we went on a tour from the Albatross Colony down to the other side of the cape, to see the little Blue Penguins come ashore to feed their offspring. These penguins are so small. They choose to land on the beach only after the dark, as their predators then have less chance of catching them. They come in rafts ranging in size from 5 to 30 birds and are scrambling to the nest. Each breeding pair has up to 2 chicks, and the parents take turns in spending the day fishing or guarding the chicks.
These penguins are so tiny, and actually really blue. You would imagine a different hue of blue, but the colour is very bright. Unfortunately though the Penguin Tour is really busy, and the crowd was a little bit too big for its own good, so it seems like the tour is suffering a bit from its own popularity. That is a shame. Maybe they should limit the number of people who can attend?

This has been the best day in weeks! Sunshine all day long, no rain and views of the magnificent beauty if the land everywhere. Wow!

Day 28: Back to the mainland

Another early morning today, as we had to catch our flight back to the main island from Stewart Island to Invercargill. The commute in Oban was not too bad, but as the weather had clearly changed the flight would be a little different from the previous one.

The plane showed up, but it was not the same as yesterday, it is even smaller.
With room for only 4 passengers, they crammed in a fifth as he sat next to the pilot. The plane also only had one front mounted propellor. The wind had picked up considerable over the night, so the flight to Invercargill was quite interesting, to say the least. We shook, shuddered, waived, tilted, rolled and then some and even the short 15 minutes were a little bit too long. It was like a giant roller coaster ride!

After collecting our luggage directly from the pilot of the plane our voyage to the Caitlin’s was underway. We took the Coastal Southern Scenic Route which takes you almost directly alongside the ocean in the direction of Dunedin. Along the way, we visited many coves, bays and the likes, among which were two adjacent bays: Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay. The latter is most well know for the Yellow-eyed Penguin, and the first for the smallest species of Dolphin: Hector’s Dolphin.
At Curio bay we were instructed by the friendly volunteer to come back around 7pm, as the parents would come back from the sea to feed the chicks. At Porpoise Bay, the dolphins can be spotted just walking on the beach. We did just that, it was amazing!

As we arrived at the B&B quite early in the day, we asked for some more small things to see and do in the. I invite, and out of the options offered we chose 2.
The first thing we did was visit McLean Falls, which is a three stage waterfall just a few kilometres from where we stay. The second was to visit Cathedral Caves, which are 1 sea cave in the cliff a few kilometres from the falls. This cave is huge! Only accessible 2 hours around low tide, we were lucky to be able to just go there and get in.
Unfortunately though, our way back from the caves featured quite a steep hill to climb, and a pretty heavy rainfall.
Oh well. It was not the first time we’ve gotten wet, and luckily all important things stayed dry.

That night, after dinner in the restaurant of an Olympic Champion (Paralympic, but still) we went back to Curio Bay to see the Yellow-eyed Penguins. This is the rarest species of all 7 types of Penguin, and can only be found in a few places in New Zealand. Only in the last few years have the New Zealanders become pretty protective of these animals, but now they are catching up in their methods, and the species is slowly making its way back from the status of Critically Endangered. All is not well though, as there are about 2000 penguins left. We were on a beach with 9 breeding pairs, which would mean there are between 30 and 35 penguins present at the most. Not a lot!
We were lucky enough to see a parent feeding the chicks, that was an awesome sight!

Tomorrow, we are leaving the Caitlin’s again, this time for Dunedin and more specifically the Otago Peninsula. The say it is really lovely up there!

Day 27: An island off an island off an island

This morning is like many other mornings, but unlike quite a few others.
The weather is dark and wet yet again, but this time is different: we are about to get on a plane. A plane not back home, but a plane to an island.

Flying from Invercargill usually means one thing, we are going to Stewart Island! This is an island off the coast of the South Island and is for about 85% National Park. The other parts are Maori land and the township of Oban. With about 400 permanent residents it’s not what you would call a big place.

Our plane is kind of small, with only 8 spots for passengers. It does have twin engines and one pilot, meaning we could safely cross the strait between the South Island and Stewart Island. After a smooth 20 minute flight we touched down on the nearly predator free Stewart Island and were swiftly trucked away fro the air strip to the Depot building. Here, we had a 45 second bus drive to the Stewart Island Lodge (the love their descriptive names over here!) and so we checked in at the place where we would spend the night around 9am. That is by far the earliest check in for us!
We were even offered a second breakfast by the host Sue, an offer we couldn’t refuse.

We had time to spare until 1 that afternoon, and we killed it by strolling alongside the harbour and taking pictures of the resident Kaka at the lodge. Also, we booked a Kiwi spotting tour for the night. We are pretty happy with that, as seeing a Kiwi in the wild is quite exciting! Most New Zealanders have not seen one themselves!

Around 1 we arrived at the rendezvous point for our tour to Ulva Island. This is a small predator free island off the coast of Stewart Island, hence the title of this blog. Ulva is a bird sanctuary and can only be visited by boat.
The guide just came off the previous tour and was saying goodbye to the 08:30 tour when we asked him about the 13:00 tour. He pretty much told us there was none. Ouch.

Luckily, after a quick phone call to the company HQ, it appeared there had been a mixup and everything was solved by Matt (the guide) who offered to do the tour just for the two of us. Sweet!

On the island, he tried to show us all the native birds, like the Rifleman, Kaka, Robin, Weka, Kiwi, Yellowhead and Saddleback. The last three didn’t show themselves, but the Weka proved to be wonderful as we encountered a full family feeding on the beach!
With the parents happily chucking away the kelp which got washed ashore to feed on the bugs that live on it, the chicks were imitating the behaviour all the while squeaking and chattering away. That was a great sighting!

Tonight, we ate Fish & Chips with the freshest Blue Cod we’ve had over here, after which we went over to the wharf to embark on the Kiwi spotting trip. The guy who organises it has done so for the last 20 years and he has had a 100% success rate for about 5 years in a row. That is 100% of the trips with at least one sighting per trip for 100 trips per year for 5 years in a row. Wow!

To make a long story short: we also spotted a Brown Stewart Island Kiwi as it was happily pecking away at the insects on the beach. This is incredible! A live Kiwi, seen in the wild. A truly amazing experience!

Tomorrow, we are leaving Stewart Island already and are heading further north to an area called The Catlins.
The B&B is not in a town, and all we got is an address on a road somewhere off the highway, so let’s hope we get there. 😉

Day 26: Spending the day in Invercargill

After a good night of sleep, we woke up to a silent and rainy world. Not the perpetual type of rain, but more like a drizzle which turns into rain now and then and sometimes even dies down completely.
This weather is not too bad for driving and so we took off.

Before we went to Invercargill, we had already decided yesterday that we would visit the local wildlife sanctuary. They have a few native species of birds in pens amongst which the very rare Takahe. This is a chicken sized Pukeko. For those not familiar with New Zealand wildlife: a Takeha is like a fat, flightless black chicken with a very large slightly rounded beak. It is nearly extinct and there are about 300 birds in captivity or managed wildlife on predator free locations. There are a few still in the wild, but they don’t know the exact numbers of those populations.

At 09:15 the Takahe are fed, and a small introductory talk is given. After this we quickly were on our way further south to Invercargill.

Here, we spent the day walking in the park, which had a small museum, an aviary with lots of birds, a small zoo with local and native species of animals like feral goats and Kunekune pigs, rose gardens, a Japanese garden and quite a lot more.
What a wonderful way to spend the day over here!

Tomorrow, we are crossing the strait to Stewart Island, and this time not by boat.
We spent the evening repacking our bags, as we are only allowed 1 piece of baggage with a weight of 15kg per person on the plane. Let’s just say we carry quite a lot more on a daily basis!
It is a small plane, but I guess you’ll see more tomorrow!

Day 25: Cruising Milford Sound

Today is a day with a lot of driving, again!

We are going on a cruise through Milford Sound, which is considered to be one of the best boat tips one can make in New Zealand. The Milford Sound is probably one of the last few truly untouched pieces of wilderness in the country, and they are pretty adamant about keeping it that way.
There is only one way to reach the place, and that is by car or bus over the only highway.
After that, there is a boat. Or maybe a kayak.

The road up to Milford is 120kms long from Te Anau and will take about 2 hours to complete. It is quite a busy road, with a lot of cars and buses going to and from Milford. The cars are usually European tourists and the odd local, while the coaches are often filled to the brim with Asians. Either way, there is a lot of traffic, and the scenery is again beautiful! The drive up there is lovely, and the roads more curvy than ever. I’ve had a great time driving up there!

Milford Sound is not actually a Sound, as it has been carved out of the solid granite mountains around it not by a river, but by a glacier. Therefore it should have been called Milford Fiord, but the Kiwi’s never have gotten around to changing its name, after acknowledging the fact that some dude in the 1900’s had named all inlets on the South Island incorrectly.
Also, the word Fiord didn’t exist back then, and has been adopted to the English language from the Norwegian Word Fjord. The New Zealanders chose to write it differently, because, hey why not, and went ahead and called it a Fiord. Yes, that is an I, and not a J.
Weird folks, these Kiwi’s.

I can probably write a bunch of superlatives about the beauty of these surroundings, but I will not and just show you some pictures.
As you probably can see, it rained quite intense in the morning, only to clear up after we disembarked from our tour. After that, the weather was quite nice, up until around 6pm after which it started to rain one again and has not stopped since.
This afternoon, on the way back from Milford Sound, we did some small walks and just toured the surroundings of the highway. There are a few side roads, and one even has some features around it like Lakes, walks and campsites. With the dry weather, these were a blast to visit and we even soaked up some sunshine while doing so!
We’ll see what tomorrow brings us.

We are travelling to Invercargill, and will probably do some shopping there. 🙂

Day 24: Passing Paradise to Te Anau

Wow. Even after such a short amount of time, Kinloch has really grown on me. Surrounded by majestic mountain ranges and lying directly opposite to Glenorchy on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, it is utterly quiet and peaceful.
There are loads of outdoor activities to do, and the surroundings are beautiful. Stunning views everywhere!
Yes, it does rain quite a lot, and no, apart from the lodge there is nothing else, but the location is simply awesome.

After some muesli this morning, we are off heading towards Te Anau. This means we have to drive the dirt road back towards Glenorchy, passing Paradise and driving the full hour to Queenstown. That is also when we reach civilisation, the other places I mentioned are tiny by all standards.
From there, Te Anau is just a few hours away, and mostly an easy drive.

We encountered no rain at all on the trip, and have had a wonderful time driving through the lovely New Zealand South Island scenery.
Arriving at Te Anau, which lies on the shore of Lake Te Anau, we booked a tour to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves.
Being quite a tourist attraction, it is just one of those things you have to do, and even though it is insanely overpriced, the experience is quite nice, as is the boat ride to the caves themselves. The pamphlet speaks of a ‘scenic tour of Lake Te Anau’, but it is more of a ferry or shuttle than anything else.

We did find a very good Italian place over here, and we’ve both had some great fresh pasta. Go check out Da’ Toni whenever you’re around!