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New Year - New Island

Heading for the South Island of New Zealand

all seasons in one day 24 °C

May 2011 be just GREAT for you all, including me!

Friend Paul flew in late on 31st December but we had time to head over the Harbour Bridge to Takapuna where we had fantastic 19th floor views across the harbour to downtown Auckland. The New Year fireworks were absolutely spectacular and we had a ringside seat and complimentary fizz - a great way to start 2011.

Next day, I drove all the way from Auckland to Wellington so that we would have two full days to explore the city. We walked through the Botanic Gardens and the beautiful Rose Garden then took the Cable Car down into the town and walked along the vibrant, and windy, quayside. Then back through the Parliament Buildings and The Beehive, the executive building designed by Sir Basil Spence - he should have been ashamed of himself. We then dedicated a day to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, which tells about the history of the country and its Maori heritage - fascinating.

Armed with my sea sickness patch behind the ear, we took the car ferry from 'windy' Wellington across the Cook Strait and on to Picton on the South Island. The journey takes three hours and can be notoriously rough but luckily, we had picked a quiet day. It has been said before but, as the boat enters Queen Charlotte Sound and the Tory Channel, the spectacular scenery begins. There really does seem to be quite a geographical difference between the two islands, each with their own attractions. After landing at Picton, we drove along the Queen Charlotte clifftop road to Havelock and then on to Nelson for an evening at the annual Nelson Jazz Festival.

From Nelson, we headed south west to St Arnaud and the sparkling Lake Rotoiti where large eels were swimming in the crystal clear water. We then drove the length of the beautiful Wairau River Valley to the famous Marlborough wine region between Renwick and Blenheim, stopping for a lovely lunch at Hunters vineyard before visiting the Cloudy Bay cellars! After a night at Blenheim, we started heading south along Highway 1 which runs right alongside the shoreline of the South Pacific Ocean with seals and small penguins in the water just by the road. At Kaikoura, we walked out to the Seal Colony where huge seals were sunning themselves on the rocks. At The Pier Hotel, I had the most succulent lobster lunch which, I was assured, had been caught just that morning. What we call lobster is known here as crayfish but it all tastes great to me!

The long drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch, through the Canterbury Plain, was pretty boring pastureland with loads of sheep - it's true! Next day we travelled the TranzAlpine railway, along the flat pastureland and then through river valleys and up into the dynamic Southern Alps. The train was packed for the three hour journey to Arthur's Pass. We walked through Lord of the Rings style mountainsides up to waterfalls above the town and then back to the village to wait for the return train. There is only one train a day which goes from coast to coast and back so you need to be on time! The scenery must look even more spectacular when there is more snow on the mountains.

Despite a rainy and windy day, we decided to drive out to the Banks Peninsula and visit Akaroa, a 'French' ancient whaling settlement which was very pretty but a little contrived. On the way back towards Christchurch, we saw the first evidence of earthquake damage - a stone church tower lying alongside the front door - watch out all you believers. The drive to Timaru was again pretty uninteresting and to top it all, there was no room at the inn! As it was still early afternoon and I was seriously disillusioned with Timaru, we decided to head inland to Lake Takapo and the Mount Cook lookout at Lake Pukaki. This is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life. After a night at Twizel, I just had to go back to the lookout to drink in the sight again - just glorious and very uplifting. The mountain is reflected in the aquamarine lake and just cannot be faulted as the archetypal picture postcard scene.

The drive to Queenstown was very varied. Some of the land looked just like the Scottish Highlands but then the gorges and high gold mining country was much more like the North American 'cowboy country'. Lake Dunstan has been made as part of the complex hydro-electric system which supplies huge swathes of New Zealand. The old buildings were saved and moved up the hill to form 'old Cromwell', a great tourist draw I'm sure. Kawarau Gorge is where the nutters do their bungy jumps from a bridge, just outside Queenstown - the adventure capital of the world, according to tourist literature. We took a late afternoon Skyline gondola trip in order to view the town and the beautiful Lake Wakatipu from high above.

We visited Arrowtown which is an old gold mining town with a Chinese settlement just on the outkirts. It was very interesting to see how the Chinese lived and very amusing to learn that many of them became far richer than the gold miners themselves. This was due to the gold dust found in the miners' clothes they were being paid to wash. So they copped the gold dust and also got paid for washing the clothes - inscrutable.

Our last day in Queenstown was spent going jet boating - great fun. We were driven out to the Shotover River and then on to Skippers Canyon, along the old goldminers road that was very narrow and high with fabulous sights down into the canyons below. At one point on the river, taking a rest from 360 degree turns on a sixpence, we were shown where one of the scenes from 'Lord of the Rings' was filmed. You can take tours to all the sites and the road map is printed with all the locations - it is huge business in a great deal of New Zealand and there is another film planned shortly.

After taking Paul to the airport, I headed off south, alongside Lake Wakatipu to a place called Kingston where the map indicates a steam railway. It transpires that The Kingston Flyer has not flown for more than two years so I carried on through the lowland bush and arrived just outside Te Anau and found a great spot by the fast-running River Mararoa to camp for the night - alone again in my little van - great!

I drove south to Manapouri to take the boat trip to the underground power station which is only accessible by boat. Unfortunately, I had just missed the only day's sailing so decided to veg out by the side of the river as the sun was glorious and it was a lovely quiet day. This is also the starting point for cruises to Doubtful Sound which again, is only accessible by boat. This is real Fiordland country - utterly untouched by humans as most of them can't get there. However, next day I drove north to Milford Sound. The 100Km drive in itself is a beautiful experience and I took all day to do it. I stopped to walk around Lake Mistletoe and then on to Mirror Lakes. There was too much wind on the water to see any reflections of the fabulous mountains behind but then next stop at Lake Gunn compensated as it was a gentle walk around the edge of yet another breathtaking lake. Homer Tunnel, the only way through to the Sound, was pretty awesome and took loads of men quite a time to dig out with pickaxes as they couldn't risk using dynamite. The whole drive consisted of snowy mountains, fast flowing rivers, vertical escarpments, scary tunnels and jaw-dropping lakes - and tomorrow I take the actual cruise through Milford Sound!

I got woken in the night by the DOC warden, literally slapping a warning notice on my van, letting me know that I was a vagrant parker and not to do it again or there would be trouble! It's the first time that I have encountered any problem with parking but that's not a bad average and the view from my spot next morning of the mist on the Sound was worth the agro.

The 9:00am Breakfast Cruise through Milford Sound was absolutely great. Initially, it was quite cold as the mountains were hiding the sun but as we headed past Mitre Peak towards the sea, it warmed up - and the breakfast helped. Captain Cook missed this inlet on his travels - what a plonker! The Stirling Falls cascade down the sheer rocks and the boat goes right up to underneath them. Then we go past Seal Rock and then, before you know it, we are back at Milford and the place is absolutely heaving with tourists. I'm so glad that I got up in time for the early morning and was able to savour the spectacular beauty in relative peace and quiet.

On the drive back, I stopped at the Homer Tunnel and walked up the scree fields to snow, all in blazing sunshine. I also took a 15Km detour to visit Gunns Camp which had a little museum telling stories of the original settlers, gold miners and tunnel diggers. I then arrived at my first official camping ground and paid $5 for the pleasure. I washed body and hair in the stream under a blazing sun, read my book and then settled down for a legal night's sleep. On the way past Mirror Lakes in the early morning, I got much more of a still reflections on the water.

Saturday 15th January - Te Anau Harness Racing Day. In celebration, the newly christened public toilets are free. I make my way to the VIP stand and pretend to look like a VIP - it works. I have a ringside seat for the great spectacle of the Te Anau Pipe Band and more harness races than you could shake a stick at. Just two horses in each race which takes place down the widest, straightest street in the town which has been covered with sand. It seemed as if the whole town was there and it was a really great day although the weather could have been warmer.

On Monday morning, I drove 5Km out of town to the horse trek farm where I will be working for the next two weeks with Andy and his daughter Emma. I have found my Kiwi farmer! What a laid back guy and such good fun to be with. He whispers to his horses but doesn't look like Robert Redford much. I had a great time, looking after the house and garden with Emma and drinking Jim Beam until the early hours, watching The Man from Snowy River. I don't want to leave.

Posted by amazingali 17:55 Archived in New Zealand

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