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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!