SOUTH ISLAND PART 2
03.11.2014 - 17.11.2014 24 °C
Queenstown, home of the bungee (or bungy) and a plethora of extreme sports, was our choice for a four day pitstop to pause on the driving for a bit. With toddler though backpackers and boozers don't quite work so we stayed out of town in the beautiful Pinot noir wine region of the Gibbston Valley. Air bnb came up trumps this time with an old stone cottage on a farm, perfect. The drive here was probably the best so far, with more stunning mountains and a big landslide at Diana Falls. This showed us the more dangerous side of the NZ landscape; climbers on ropes had quickly fixed a thirty metre cable mesh net to the rock face to catch the debris which would otherwise hit cars on the road beneath! After the rockfall we passed Lake Hawea which even in NZ terms was wowing, requiring a photo stop, again.
Anyway back to the Gibbston Valley. Four days afforded the opportunity to have a day trip to Queenstown and cycle around the lake which was crystal clear, tranquility only broken by the jet boat, plus some stone skimming on the beach. Next up was a trip to nearby Arrowtown, a super cute colonial riverside town bursting with shops/cafés/restaurants and a really nice vibe, kind of NZ Leigh-on-Sea for those who know our hometown, but with no Tesco or Costa!! We went to their fireworks display too, put on by the local volunteer fire brigade, small scale but very friendly. The Gibbston Valley is also home to Kawarau Bridge, site of the first ever commercial bungee operation.
Next stop was a 3.5 hour drive south east to the 'Edinburgh of the South' Dunedin. We found ourselves staying with a wonderful local couple (in their annexe) located on the Otago Peninsular. Keen conservationists, their home (Possom's End) commanded impressive views of both sides of the peninsular and all proceeds from their holiday rental are fed back into their work regenerating the local landscape. This stage of the trip and accommodation was without a doubt a highlight - if you are visiting this area, stay here! After a rest we built up energy for a busy day; visiting the beautiful Larnach Castle (one of only a few castles in NZ) in the morning, hitting Dunedin cinema after lunch to watch 'Maya the Bee' (remember we have a 3 year old...it's all about balance!) before an evening at the Royal Albatross Centre, to watch little blue penguins emerge from the sea after a 12+ hour day fishing. Like something from an Attenborough documentary, an Albatross flew overhead as group after group of blue penguins emerged from the water and waddled up the beach back to their families with dinner. Windswept and immensely satisfied we called it a day.
Onwards and driving via the beautiful Lake Tekapo our penultimate stop was Christchurch, we stayed in the suburbs and managed to explore a good portion of the city by car and on foot. The effects of the recent earthquake still striking (see photos) the city centre was relatively quiet when we visited, and that, along with the debris and mass of construction/re-building made for a thought provoking if not slightly sombre visit. Nonetheless the spirit of the Christchurch people is evident with such projects as re:start, a box park for shops that had been displaced, now being located in different coloured shipping containers. The park has now become a key tourist spot in Christchurch. In fact the shipping containers were used throughout the city, holding up walls here and there, making for temporary offices etc. Large pieces of street art were around every corner (due to most art galleries being knocked down or being rebuilt) and really helped to lift the mood of the city.
With three days left in NZ we headed north along the east coast to Kaikoura. Two of the main reasons that you would visit this town are to sample the local seafood (Kaikoura means 'meal of Crayfish') and to go whale watching (it is also an extremely picturesque location just FYI!). We were lucky enough to do both of the above and neither disappointed. The Crayfish was awesome however the real highlight was seeing two sperm whales and some dusky dolphins in their natural habitat. The coastline off of this part of NZ attracts many whales due to the seabed sloping away before dropping a dramatic 800m, this allowing for specific nutrients to be washed up to a perfect feeding level. We were lucky enough to see two whales (16 meters in length) come to surface, breath for around 10 minutes before diving back down and flicking their tails as they dive back underneath. We were literally blown away and Anna had a few tears at getting to see these majestic creatures in the wide open ocean. Extremely grateful.
After 31 days on the road, exploring the North and South Island ('the fish and the canoe') we headed back to Christchurch for our flight to Melbourne, Australia. We had truly been spoilt with some of the most beautiful landscapes and nature. The people that we met along the way were welcoming, fun and above all genuine. It did however feel like time to be moving on, mainly to start absorbing and reflect upon the experience of the past month from a distance.