Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We jumped a few miles N and back W towards the coast, just in time to catch a bit more rain and cloud rolling in from the W. Our luck has just not been with us weather wise.

We tried to get up on to Fox Glacier but were disappointed two fold. Firstly there had been too much rain overnight so the access road was closed and secondly, because the glacier had retreated so much, the only way to get on to the glacier was by helicopter, at only $400 a head……

.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We headed for a low level walk around Lake………. It is the place where that perfect, flat water, snow clad reflected Mt Cook photo could be taken. There was bugger all chance of that with the wind and low cloud we had!

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S IslandFox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

However, it was a pleasant (and dry – yeah!) walk around the lake, stomping past endless Chinese tourists and by the time we finished the walk at lunchtime, the access road to the glacier had been reopened.

Just a couple of miles driving took us to the car park where we started the 2km walk up to where the last view point is for the glacier. It is an easy if exposed walk but be prepared as it is cold, steep and the weather can change suddenly. We watched a few families turn back on the track, caught out by a sudden shower with no raincoats and in one case, wearing just flip flops and a wife beater.

The glacier is dirty where it terminates but impressive in size once you understand the scale. What is more frightening is just how quickly the ice has regressed. In 2008, when our friend Kirsty Baxter was here, she was able to step on to the glacier from where this photo was taken.

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

That means the ice has retreated at about 100m a year since then.  The Ranger we spoke to said they saw no evidence that the retreat would slow down. It won’t be long before it shrinks back up to the upper ice field only.

We headed back to the campsite and were sitting down for tea when suddenly, finally, out of the gloom, we could just see the sharp white peak of Mt Cook. We ran for the car and raced a few miles to get to a position that we could see the full mountain. For half an hour, it stood proud, unencumbered by the low grey clouds and took our breathe away. In the evening light, it was spectacular.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We had intended to spend more time exploring the West coast but as the rain determinedly continued to fall, we decided to head N to where we hoped it wasn’t as wet. We stopped over night at Greymouth, staying in a two room lodge with Alastair and Gill, watching the rain pour down. The upside was the campsite had a very good hot tub that we cooked in for a while and we took the chance to turn the lodge heating up full to dry out some of the camping gear.

The next day we pulled in to Pocatika, the home of NZ greenstone carving. We visited one of the greenstone carving houses and watched the carvers at work, making beautiful artefacts being sold at huge prices.  You could say that greenstone is the NZ semi-precious stone. Many Maori wear a necklace using one of the traditional patterns of a tiki, a fishhook or a spiral (single or double) being the most common types. Each shape has its own meaning. I’ve taken to wearing a fishhook which is supposed to bring good fortune to those who travel by sea. I’ll take any help there!

The Maori have a story of how greenstone came into being. Once upon a time, a god became enamoured by a beautiful woman who perhaps unwisely turned down his advances. Annoyed, the god killed her by throwing her down in to a lake. When she touched the water she turned into the mother lode of greenstone, so supplying the Maori forever more with a much admired, very hard rock to make ornaments and their traditional weapons from.

As we headed N so the clouds gradually broke up. We even glimpsed blue sky. We lived in hope.

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We headed up towards Cromwell. We decided against basing ourselves at Queenstown as the more we looked at it the more it seemed to be a summer alpine town with lots of posh shops, bars for après ski and a concentrated area of tourist money holes. We found a huge campsite at Cromwell whose kitchen seemed to be largely occupied by seasonal workers from Argentina. Nice folk but they did take up a lot of room. You needed to get into the kitchen before them or wait until late to get dinner. Over the next few days we had a good wander about. Queenstown, darling of Lorna, perhaps because of its alpine après ski feel proved to be an interesting place but not really to my taste. I felt a little mugged going in to the high price shops, there to collect an easy buck from the adrenaline junkies it has as visitors. Saying that we did find an excellent pizza place. We were charged  a fair price for a 3’ X 1’ pizza which was rather good!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

The Queenstown area offers all the “dangerous” activities – anything from sedate canoeing to white water rafting, parachuting, caving, skiing (in season) and of course lots of bungee jumps. It even has the largest swing in the word where you sit in and enjoy a 70m free drop. It would have been lovely to do some of these but it would have burst the budget very quickly. We went and watched some folk throw themselves off the original bungee bridge at XXXXXXX. It seemed to be fun (once they had finished) and quite a few jumped, I am sure, purely to escape the abuse that was directed their way by the onlookers!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

 

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakeCromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

We had been told of a good, relatively short walk which took you around the Bannockburn Sluicings, once a thriving and successful gold mining area. The walk was an easy one though a bare arse area that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a spaghetti western, with regular stops to read boards with explanations of what you were seeing. We found a couple of caves going back into the cliffs and wished we had brought a torch or two. They were accessible at least to 20m which is as far as we dared finding our way with a camera flash. It was evident from the info boards that the people that really made a killing in this above ground sluicing were not the miners. The water rate amounted to about 80% of the total costs of a miner. You needed to be very lucky to get rich as a miner. Those controlling the water, the very same people who owned hardware store selling the spades and food, made the fortune!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We moved another short jump N to the town of Wanaka. Set on the edge of a lake it is a pleasant little town ringed by hills large enough to be snow capped. With the wet weather we had been enjoying,  there had been a unseasonable build up of snow down to about 1100m. It did make the place look spectacular but it was chill at night.

 Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

It wasn’t too busy but it had with all the right kind of cafes, bars, shops and water sport facilities. We arrived just in time for a Red Bull Challenge event. Set over a weekend it pretty much boiled down to a couple of biathlon events, done in teams of two. Off road cycling and canoeing were the sports with a bit of abseiling thrown in. At the finish line, the girls met a Wanaka local and current World Champion Paddle Boarder, Annabel Anderson, (who was as fit as a butchers dog and hard as nails) who was great. She signed her autograph for Hannah with the comment “Girls can do ANYTHING!” I concur. 

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We had a great time winding Eleanor up on her birthday. Comments like “big long walk…..” “it’ll be fun….” “bit steep at times…..” produced a pensive, thoughtful face. Her joy when we arrived at the excellent Wanake Puzzle House made us all smile! The house is split in to two parts. Outside yuo can wander an enormous maze which can take hours to complete. The inside walk through is all about optical allusions and is quite excellent. I’ve included a few photos to give you a feel.

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We finished Eleanor’s birthday with a BBQ and cake with reused birthday signs and balloons providing decoration. It was a fun night at the well appointed Kiwi Campsite, a big step up from the Top 10 ones we had been using.

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakeCromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

The sun came out and we took the chance to climb Mt Rocky, a short drive N from Wanaka, a recommendation of the campsite for a walk suitable for kids. It was great fun, a steady but not difficult climb and the views from the top were spectacular. It made for a great day out and we happily recommend it. We all enjoyed a snooze at the top and Habitat enjoyed his first selfie. We used the western route back down which was a lot steeper and enjoyed meeting a Quail and a large brood of chicks that didn’t seem that bothered about us being close.

 

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

After all the rain of Milford, it was great to enjoy some dry and at times, even sunny weather for a few days. We all needed a bit of respite after the drownings we had had and both Cromwell and Wanaka provided us with some wonderful memories. Next time (or if the girls were a little bigger) it would be fun to explore some of the more severe slopes around this area. I might leave this beauty to my brother David though..…….

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the top 100 places to visit in the world. Fjordland, the National Park in which it sits, is ranked second only after Yellowstone. With that in mind, we were pretty excited to be headed towards the area. Our only reservation was it is also one of the wettest places on Earth with more than 6m of rain falling annually – six times the national average of NZ – and summer was already a month late. And it was cold. And raining……

Milford Sound is very definitely at the end of the road. The nearest town, with the last access to food and fuel is Te Anua which is about 100km S of Milford. It also has an excellent pie shop called Miles Better Pies. The Venison and the Chicken and Cranberry ones are strongly recommended – yum.  The whole area is protected and only officially approved sites have been developed, most of them to a basic standard. Few businesses are allowed to operate within the park and are tightly controlled. The number of campsites is small and each is allowed few campers. For self contained vans, it is a little easier with several dedicated sites that they can park up on. Conservation is the name of the game.

We chose to stay at the wonderfully named Knob’s Flat, about 50km short of Milford Sound and the last campsite that had space for tents. Note for others – you MUST book ahead if you wish to stay in the Milford Sound. If you don’t you are most likely going to find yourself all the way back at Te Anua. We arrived in the rain and set up on a damp spot, surrounded by bog. The whole area had had heavy rain for several weeks, summer just not arriving as it was supposed to and everything was waterlogged. Sadly that also meant low cloud and fleeting views of the hilltops around us.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

The campsite had an excellent little kitchen which, due to the small number of campers allowed, never felt too busy and was a friendly chatty place.  We met some exchange students from Edinburgh Uni doing some exploring and a UK mum, Alice and Rose, her very small daughter, travelling in a beat up caravan, wondering if she really wanted to go back to Europe.

Although advertised as such, it didn’t really have “the best showers in the world”. Saying that, we saw a few walkers coming out of them with big grins on their faces, having warmed up for the first time in days. It is all relative.

I dare say the drive up to Milford would have been amazing if we had been able to see anything. As it was, there were an awful lot of waterfalls, lots of steep green slopes disappearing into the cloud and a boring amount of rain. The highlight was the 1.5km long tunnel, burrowed through a mountain to reach the valley that led to the Sound.

Even though we could only see to about 1100m, Milford Sound was still pretty special. The waterfall by the ferry port was thundering away and throwing our huge amounts of water and spray. We walked around the Sound on one of the trails, dodging the rain and seeing some bedraggled wildlife, mainly consisting of Chinese tourists, of which there were many……

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

On the way out from Milford Sound, on the recommendation of our camp manager, we stopped at The Chasm. Well named, millennia of water has torn through the earth, leaving interesting shapes ground out of the rock, a very, very deep gully and lots of roaring noise.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

In the car park, we met NZ’s parrot, the Kea, of which there are thought to be about 5000 left. One took a shine to Eleanor’s boots. They are not tame as such, just so used to being watched they feel totally unthreatened. There are notices up everywhere asking tourists not to feed them at all.  Their colouring allows them to blend in to the green canopy. Once they flex their wings, you get a glorious blast of colour as the hidden orange and red plumes suddenly become visible. Their habitat was hard hit during the logging eras of the past century but their numbers are now on the increase.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surroundings

Our last stop in the Sound was at Lake Marion. There were a couple of walks we could have done including a few hours hack up to the lake itself but with more rain forecast and not being well equipped if bad weather had come in,  we opted for the shorter walk, following the trial up the hill for a couple of miles, crossing a rather wobbly swing bridge (largely due to Hannah and Eleanor’s antics on it)  to see the rumbling waterfalls.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

The whole drive back to Te Anua was in drizzling rain and again we got to see only the bottom of the valley. I suppose we were just unlucky with the weather but it was a shame that one of the most glorious areas of NZ had chosen to hide itself from us. We left Knobs Flat and Milford a little disappointed and headed  towards Cromwell and Queenstown. Queenstown is a winter skiing destination, described as very touristy in the summer season but a favourite of Lorna of Quatsino and Cromwell, just up the road , a recommendation of Paul Sell, an area he loves for its walks. We stopped just once more at the pie shop and headed N following the inland road to our destination.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We arrived in Bluff. Gill had decided she wanted a house rather than a campsite to celebrate her birthday in so we booked a bach and stayed for two days. The house was lovely even if the décor was a bit 1970s. It was a proper house with lots of fires, polished wood and enormous bedrooms. There was a screaming red bath suite in it but we forgave it for that. We got the log burner going in the kitchen and the house soon heated up. Whilst Gill was sent off for a walk, the girls cooked a birthday cake and decorated the house. We had a good day, opening presents, eating cake and having a rather good evening meal of Beef Wellington, using the first full kitchen we have had access to for a long while. We all got a bit carried away and dressed up for the occasion. All were aghast when Alasdair appeared in trousers. There is a first time for everything!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

There was also lots of boogying around the kitchen as we plumbed the music in to the decent hi-fi speakers the house had. Hannah was happy to perform and there was a good amount of tomfoolery. Pickles, Habitat and new friend, Kevin the Kiwi joined in too.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We walked 20mins down from the house to Bluff, officially the southern point of mainland NZ. It was windy, a little wet and reminded me so much of a decent Lewis walk. The air was crystal clear and we could see Stewart Island, sitting about 35miles further S as well as a smaller group of islands just off the point. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Coming back from Bluff point towards the village,  we walked past the narrow channel to the sheltered bay which the peninsula of Bluff protects and were surprised at just how strong the tide was as it ripped out. A conservative speed of current, estimated by Alasdair and I, was six knots. It would be a nasty place to try and enter times other than slack. The rather hideous building on the other side of the channel is an enormous Aluminium smelter works which is a major contributor to the local economy. It unfortunately seems to be constantly nearly going out of business. It is on an upswing at the moment due to the strength of the dollar but it has “nearly” been closed regularly for the last 15 years which is a worry to the locals. It consumes about 13% of NZ’s entire electricity supply and has a long jetty where a series of container ships were filled whilst we were there. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Alasdair desire to see the Fastest Indian was the primary reason we were this far S on the island. We originally hadn’t planned in going beyond Dunedin before we crossed over to the W side of the island. However, having seen the film about the crazy New Zealander, Burt Munro, who turned up at Bonneville Salt Flats with a home made faired motorcycle and proceeded to establish a still current World Record for a normally aspirated 1000C motorbike, we decided we needed to go too. If you haven’t seen it, The World’s Fastest Indian is a brilliant film, stars Antony Hopkins and is well worth a watch. The bike is displayed is in a hardware store, E Hayes and Co  which contains over 100 motorbikes, racing cars and engines dotted around the shop. It is a Temple to Speed as well as being one of the best stocked hardware shops I’ve seen.  It is amusing wandering through the shop, going past the paint to find yourself face to face with an old F5000 car, turning round to see the car used in the film by Hopkins driving across USA, then past a collection of 1970’s race bikes as you go walk the drill bits. Then in the power tool section, the gem. The actual bike used to set the World Record back in 1960s. Beside it there was a nutter 600cc methanol bike which Burt used to set another world record in the early 70’s. That record was only broken a couple of years ago which is testimony to the engineering skill Burt must have had to push the technology he had so far in his time. He worked in the garage at the bottom of his garden. Most of its content is now in the store on display. The official record for mile and back was set at 184mph but the bike was recorded at 205mph during a straight run which Burt crashed on. An extraordinary tale.  

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

On the way in to visit Invercargill, we had noticed a sign up saying that the NZ Superbike Championship were visiting, racing one of the national series at the local Teratonga track, the southernmost FIA approved track in the world. We waited in town until the rain had blown through and although we missed the first couple of races, had a great time watching everything from full works team superbikes to sidecar and a good selection of 125, 250 and 600cc races as well. All for the price of $10  a head! The really nice thing about it was that it was assumed that everyone there was a petrol head and other than the post race scrutinising area, everywhere else was accessible. It was great being able just to walk up to team tents and watch them in action. It meant you had to be careful as bikes were called to the next race as they weren’t interested in stopping and it was up to you to jump out of their way as they went to the assembly point before being released on track. The standard of racing was high and there was a good amount of overtaking. Note the lack of barriers in front of where we parked between us and the racetrack! It was all pretty laid back and a great day out.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

After two weeks heading nothing but S we finally were able to turn N towards Milford Sound which sits in Fjordland, the mountainous SW corner of NZ. We had a great time in Invercargill and we very much liked the easy going nature of the people we met. I would happily go back there and I’d like to explore the wild lands E of Bluff and those W at the S end of Fjordland. The weather is a bit drafty for the most but a reminder of what we would expect in the Outer Hebrides!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Steampunk, Dunedin and Royal Albatross

We broke the journey S from Christchurch by visiting the town of Oamaru, a pretty town about half way to Dunedin. We had heard of it as it is the World HQ of steampunk. The term steampunk was coined in the 1980s and is based on imagining inventions the Victorians might have created for the modern world, using steam power as the base tech. Steampunk inventions have been used in such films as the Mad Max collection, Wild Wild West and Stardust. A whole fashion industry has grown up around this strange alt neo-Victorian style. I’ve put the wiki link for anyone that wants to understand more.  It is a hoot! The town itself is largely unchanged from its heydays in the 1870s. Unfortunately for the town at that time, it went bust and a lot of the population moved away. Fortunately for us, it was so poor that it couldn’t afford to redevelop and so now that money has returned, you have a main road through an unchanged town which is still wide enough to allow for a “four bullock cart’s” turning circle and many of the original Victorian buildings, fully restored.

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

These are built from a local white stone and are beautiful. Now attracting tourists simply because of its prettiness, the town is well worth a visit. The playground, right beside Steampunk HQ has had the full treatment and the kids had a great time on the very fast death slide and fantastic swings hung from a 10m tall Penny Farthing. The area around the seafront is the place to go with some excellent shops, one of the finest travel book stores equipped with a replica Shackleton boat, used in the Kenneth Branagh film, a whisky distillery (with tasting room) and a brewery. And of course Steampunk HQ. We loved it and had a great time wandering over the all exhibits.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

The campsite we stayed in was the nosiest we have ever stayed in but also one of the best. The culprits were Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin in the world, who initially colonised a quarry on the edge of town and have now just moved in wherever. We had two couples within 10m of us and I wished that I had put earplugs in at 0300hrs when they decided to do some “bonding” before they head out for the day’s fishing. There is a visitors’ centre dedicated to them that you can go to but in the end, we didn’t bother. We just stood by the front gates of the campsite just after last light and watched these tiny creatures, standing no more than a foot high, wander in, waddling from car to car trying to keep out of the light. They are noisy but not unwelcome residents to most of the houses and buildings along the seafront. Sadly my photos didn’t come out well.

We continued S, stopping at the weird Moeraki Boulders on the coat line, just along the road from Aviemore. These spherical rocks were formed mud, pebbles and shells were deposited in a quiet sea floor, some 55 million years ago. Lime built up around them and this formed the hard sphere. As the region was uplifted, the sea eroded the softer rock around them leaving them sat on the beach as they are now. There are a couple that have split and sucked in sulphur, now forming yellow crystal lines running through the sphere .

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Dunedin is named for the capital of Scotland, generally anglicised as Edinburgh with burgh being a literal translation of the Gaelic “dun”, meaning fort. Although there were settlers in the area before, the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland, through a company called the Otago Association, founded Dunedin at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 as the principal town of its special settlement. The Wee Frees get everywhere….

Originally making its money as a busy whaling port, the town exploded in population due to a nearby gold strike in the 1860s. It was, until 1900, the biggest city in NZ by size and population.  During this period, Dunedin’s town architect was instructed to make buildings that would not have been out of place in the grandeur of Edinburgh. The railway station is a prime example. It is said to be the most photographed building in NZ but these days it is only used for historic train rides up and down the coast. It is beautifully if just a little over the top!

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

These days the town’s main “industry” is that of education. The University of Otago (the province that Dunedin sits in) has a large student population and provides over 20% of the towns population. It also has the Speight Brewery which is open to the public. Gill, an ex-Bass employee,  was less than impressed at the cost and time we would have around the place so we retired to a bar across the road and did our own sampling there instead.

Dad had asked me to see if I could prove an old Henderson story that Capt T Henderson, an ancestor and skipper of big boats in the late 19thC, had brought settlers from Scotland and delivered them to Dunedin, at the time the main ingress point for immigrants. I visited the excellent Toitu Otago Settlers Museum where I was able to use their reference section to try and prove one way or another whether he had visited. I rooted around Past Papers, searching the old newspapers of the time that always recorded ships arriving to NZ which made excellent reading.  Sadly whilst I was able to find the list of ships that brought settlers in, found in the Council’s papers, as I didn’t know what ships he had skippered I wasn’t able to complete the work. I’ve handed the copies of the records on to Dad in the hope that we can make the link. My search wasn’t helped by the fact that it seems a Mr P Henderson and Co of Glasgow, Ship’s Agent, appears to have handled every Scottish emigrant’s passage and appeared everywhere.   

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

We stayed at a campsite at Portobello, a little way out of town but close to the big attraction of the area for me, the Royal Albatross Centre site at the end of the protecting peninsula for Dunedin Harbour. We visited the centre which was excellent but decided not to pay the $130+ to be allowed to walk up the hill for an hour. We stood at the wire fence and watched the birds soar above us instead. Just superb. In all our travels, we had never before had the pleasure of seeing an albatross on the wing. There were some in Galapagos and folk have even seen them around the Society Isles but we never had the luck. The birds are magnificent and sodding huge. In the UK, I suppose a Goose or Kite might be the largest bird you will normally see. They are tiny in comparison. With a wingspan of up to 12’ and weighing up to 30lbs, with its close relative, the Wandering Albatross, the Southern Royal Albatross are the largest birds in the sky. They are truly majestic.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

We left Dunedin and its surrounds having had a great time. Alasdair was fair bouncing to be off, wanting to get down to complete our road trip to the two ends of NZ. Of course it might have something to do with the Fastest Indian being in Invercargill! Lastly, if anyone knows anyone in the T-shirt printing business, I want one of these. In regard to one of my true heroes, it says it all, I think.Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Christchurch

We had wondered what we were going to find in Christchurch. The town had been hit by the 2010 South Island 7.2 earthquake which had caused some damage then hit again very badly in 2011 by an 6.3 aftershock centred on the city when 185 people were killed. What we found was a town that, frankly, doesn’t seem to have come back to life since. We went to the middle of town and were surprised to find a great number of big buildings derelict. Many were in a state of collapse, sitting in large boarded up exclusion areas. The most surprising one of these was the Cathedral. Large sections of the roof have collapsed and there is a huge iron structure in place at one end. It seems to be inhabited only by numerous pigeons. Reading the boards beside it, there is no immediate plan to rebuild or repair it. It appears that there is neither the will or the money to be able to do so . I would have thought six years would have been long enough to decide to do something with it, even if it is just to tarp the roof to protect what is left of the interior. One of the most beautiful WWI memorials I have seen sits beside the Cathedral, surrounded by weeds. Such a shame. There were two positives I took, wandering the streets of Christchurch. The first was the extensive, excellent graffiti which I assume would have appeared illegally, showing the city’s youth still has spirit and a considerable artistic ability. It covered many of the broken buildings. The second were the street artists – the best we have seen so far anywhere. Perhaps not quite what the city would want to be best remembered for.

ChristchurchChristchurch

Nearby to the cathedral, the “new” centre of town is a shopping area constructed of iso containers. They are pretty tricked out iso containers, but ultimately that is all they are and they have become semi permanent structures.

 Christchurch

There are banks, the post office and lots of shops using multiple containers to make the required space. The little food market on the edge of the shopping precinct (more iso containers) was pretty good with a good range of fast food, mainly Far East menus, which provided us with a very good lunch.  The new shopping centre to hold all of these displaced businesses has started construction nearby and is supposed to be finished 2018. A Scottish émigré who settled near Christchurch, originally playing semi pro football some 20 years ago before moving into the retail business (selling jade artefacts and local art) thought that this timetable is hopeful at best. Time will tell.

 Christchurch

One of the problems seems to be the reluctance of the insurance companies to pay out and then reinsure. Insurance premiums, of course, have risen and there is a unpleasant debate going on about just how high those premiums should be. The only positive thing our Glaswegian footballer had to say is that if you want to settle in NZ, you get a lot of extra credits if you say you are willing to live and work in Christchurch for a period of five years. The population dropped significantly after the earthquake but is recovering slowly. The town still badly needs new blood and investment.  It may be trying but it is not what I would describe as a happy, bustling, happening place yet.

ChristchurchChristchurchChristchurch

I’m afraid that we decided not to stay and headed S towards our next destination of Dunedin. We had originally thought that we wouldn’t head that far S but with Alasdair’s No1 target being Invercargill and the Fastest Indian and our desire to remain as touring partners AND the small matter of Gill and Eleanor’s upcoming birthdays, we concurred in the desire to move on. 

 Christchurch

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The route we had originally wanted to use, around the East coast of the South island has been closed since the Kiakoura earthquake. In the meantime the only way to get to Kiakoura, is to head SSW from Blenheim and then cut back across a mountain pas E to get to the coast. What was an hour and a half trip takes six. It is ironic to think our first experience away from the civilisation of Blenheim was a small town, famous and rich for harnessing the Earth’s power and its hot volcanic springs when our original destination had been damaged by that same but this time, spastically unregulated power.

Hanmer Springs lies on the cross country route to Kiakoura and became came our first stopping point on our journey down the East coast. Although it adds on many hours and miles in distance it  did mean that we got to drive through some spectacular countryside as we crossed the mountains.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We had organised to meet Gill and Alasdair there. Surrounded by mountains, the view from the campsite was fantastic. The natural hot springs have been well developed into a great open air spa area with numerous small pools, spa tubs as well as a couple of large pools too. Of course there are slides as well and the kids had a great time going up and down, generally very loudly enjoying the hot water, less so standing in the cold wind queuing. Alasdair and I were required by the girls to join in the action and I’m afraid to say we probably were the biggest kids there. The ladies decided to refrain and stayed in the sanctuary of the pools. The water temperature ranges from 34-42C. We spent most of the day there are we would strongly recommend it, with kids or not. It is worth spending the extra $10 for the slide pass. If you are a member of the Top 10 camping organisation, you can claim discounts and a free re entry pass too – worth it if you want to leave and get lunch back at the campsite or in town.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

With our next destination, Christchurch, being the third leg of a triangle, we decided to stay in Hanmer Springs, leave the tents where they were and drove to Kiakoura for a days road trip instead. The road was mainly clear but obviously damaged by the recent quake and there were many points where building work was ongoing. It took us about an hour and a half to do the 100km trip.

 Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The town itself showed little obvious damage beyond the old theatre on the sea front that had barriers up around it. However, looking a little closer a lot of the shops were closed, with little white notices up saying they had failed building inspections and were closed until rebuilt/fixed. The shop below was luckier and was open for business. The trouble is, with the road to the N and the ferry closed, the only way to get to Kiakoura is by an out of the way route adding 5-6hrs to the journey time. The road, vital for its prosperity, will take something in the order of 18mths to be fixed. The town is hurting as it is not getting its annual fix of tourists either staying in the town or at least stopping for lunch or dinner on the way through to Christchurch a couple of hours to the S. One of the shop owners I talked to has written this summer season out and is just hopeful of getting a decent year next to be able to survive. The NZ government is helping local businesses with wages, securing jobs for an as yet unspecified period which has been well received but it is survival money and nothing more.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

As our kids found (and I include Gill in that number) the school playground was a cracker. We arrived in time for the morning Saturday market in the park in front of the school. Whilst the grown ups went around the few stalls there buying some fantastic chutney in the progress, the kids had a good time, hooting and howling around the play park.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

It is on the seafront you can really notice the difference to the landscape.  There are parts of the local coastline that have been raised 5m or in old money, 15 feet! It is a staggeringly number. Vast areas of the until recently fertile fishery grounds along the coast have been destroyed due to this upheaval. There is a real worry that it will take a long time for the local fish and crustacean stocks to repopulate in decent numbers, a real source of income for the town. The biggest difference post quake is the colour of the water in the bay, said one of the local artists. It is now a far lighter blue indicating the bed has been raised there too. The pier at the S end of the bay used to be in the water. It will never see sea again.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

There is a good walk from the S edge of town that takes you down and along the coast, allowing you to walk along a cliff route returning by the shore line through huge numbers of nesting seagulls and seals. It took us a couple of hours. The views across the various bays were great. We kept to the paths and the noisy fledglings gulls were oblivious to us. The seals simply ignored us. You are allowed to snorkel and dive from the shore and I think it would be fascinating to do so. It is a long walk in and out though so perhaps snorkelling would be best. Take a wetsuit. The water temp isn’t up to much.

P1060493Hot Springs and Kiakoura

 

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We took the cross country road back across to Hanmer Springs again. As an impressive reminder of the power of the Earth, we saw this distorted road marking just short of one road bridge which had been destroyed in the quake, some 30 miles from Kiakoura. The road has been moved just a few inches and the damage to the bridge had destroyed it. Just what it was like to sit/cower through the big one lifting you and the Earth around you several metres doesn’t bear thinking about……

A bit terrifying, if I say so myself.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura