And I haven't seen a single kiwi!
31.01.2011 - 13.03.2011 20 °C
This blog spans the time either side of the Christchurch earthquake - now we need to be thinking of all the people in Japan!!
After leaving Te Anau, I had a wonderful time travelling through the Catlins which are at the very south of the South Island. I drove on quite a number of gravel roads, especially going west to Lake Hauroko, the deepest lake in New Zealand, for a peaceful night right by the lake. Unfortunately, I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and a puncture and, as I was alone, had to change it myself.
I drove very gingerly back along 30Km of gravel and then on through Tuatapere (sausage capital of NZ) to Riverton where I had a lovely fish lunch before heading to Invercargill to get my tyre fixed. A tyre needed to be sent down from Queenstown so I found a freedom camping ground in the middle of the Hokonui Forest and had the place to myself in the driving rain. I got back to Invercargill next morning and took a walk around the 'sights', including the Water Tower and the prison which isn't mentioned in the brochures! Gordon fitted my new tyre and I then headed to Bluff which is a pretty desperate place with loads of shops and businesses closed. The wind was blowing so hard that I couldn't focus my camera. The main claims to fame for Bluff are that it's classed as the southern-most settlement of mainland New Zealand (on the same latitude as the Falklands) and it grows oysters. I couldn't see Stewart Island as the weather was so bad. Gave up and headed east along the coast to Fortrose and Waipapa Point where there is a beautiful lighthouse, built after a huge shipwreck in 1881 when 131 people died - I can see how that could happen!
At Slope Point, I was the most southern person in the whole of mainland New Zealand and closer to the South Pole than the Equator. I moved on to Curio Bay with a fossilised forest on the beach and rare, yellow-eyed penguins looking at all the mad tourists trying to get close enough for a photo. The van has now developed a high temperature - worrying. The next day was a series of fabulous waterfall visits, after first walking down to the beach at Cathedral Caves where they had been filming a Catlins 'road trip' movie the day before. Spent the night on the beach at Purakaunui Bay where the Ranger let me stay for only $5.50 - very generous.
The car must be sorted out so I have decided to head on towards Dunedin, unfortunately missing out Nugget Point and another lighthouse. The architectural walk around the city of Dunedin was very interesting - the town is really so redolent of Edinburgh with all the street names and the grey, granite buildings. After booking the hostel for Sunday night, I drove on north to Hampden beach for a lovely peaceful night by the sea shore again. I visited the Moeraki Boulders first thing in the morning, before anyone was about to try and cop an entrance fee from me. These boulders are completely spherical and are strewn all around the one beach - very strange. Despite all my efforts (and a fall in a fast-running stream) I could not find New Zealand's tallest tree. Sunday afternoon was spent taking the train to Taieri Gorge from Dunedin's very ornate railway station - not as good a trip as Arthur's Pass but still beautiful scenery.
After leaving the van with a local mechanic, I took a leisurely walk to Olveston which is an Edwardian house preserved by the city council - fascinating. I walked the entire length of George Street to the Botanic Gardens for lunch then on to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world - I didn't climb it! While meandering through the Otago Museum, mechanic Geoff called to give me the news that my cylinder head gasket has split and will cost $3,000 to repair - shitty shit shit! I will have to stay in Dunedin for three days while the car is fixed so I used the bus to get out on the Otago Peninsula to Larnach's Castle to visit the beautiful gardens and the castle itself which has been totally renovated by the present owners. This building is considered very old - nearly 100 years!
Very optimistically, I checked out of the hostel on Thursday morning and spent the day in the Library, updating e-mails and blogs. The van was ready at 5:30pm so I set off west, with far less money than I had when I entered Dunedin. Anyway, the van is going great and we sped through the fruit orchards in the plains and on to Alexandra where I camped for the night by the town park. Next day, I headed into the dramatic, craggy mountains and the fast flowing rivers after all the recent rain. I had a beautiful drive in sunshine, alongside Lake Dunstan and the Cromwell Gorge. The town of Wanaka reminded me of Kendal - loads of tourist milling around - so I just got the camping site brochure and headed out of town, north along Lake Hawea to a quiet lakeside location for another peaceful night.
At Cameron Flat next morning, I walked to the spectacular Blue Pools where the aquamarine glacier waters come down to meet the Makarora river. Then on to Haast Pass and north to the Fox Glacier. The weather was terrible out on the coast at Gillespie's Beach but camped down for the night, ready for good glacier watching in the morning. Just behind the beach, there was an old cemetery where Irish and Scottish gold miners were buried - very ornate for such a stark area.
As it continued raining all night, I had little chance of seeing Fox Glacier in the mist. I then drove on to Franz Joseph and took the short walk in the pouring rain, just to catch a mild glimpse of this magnificent sight - a snow field just above the village. The weather was very depressing so decided to add to the sorrow and drive to Greymouth - aptly named but the hostel was fine and a hot shower was very welcome. The coast road north of Greymouth is breathtaking with The Pancake Rocks and then the drive east through Buller Gorge. After walking across the Shaky Bridge over the gorge at Ariki, I then drove southwards through the Shenandoah Valley and the Lewis Pass to a campsite by the Lewis River with mountains all around - and sandflys!
Having completed the circle out to the west coast, I then headed towards Christchurch and my next HelpX host who lives in Heathcote Valley, south of the main city but before the hills at Lyttelton. I spent the next five days, walking her dogs, kitchen cleaning and getting ready to make curtains. I also looked into selling the van and flying back to Auckland, rather than trying to drive the van all the way back north. On Sunday 20th February, I went into the city centre library to send a birthday e-mail to son Christopher - that was the only chance I had to see the city centre. Obviously, all normal life came to a HUGE halt on the morning of 22nd February, I day I will remember for the rest of my life!!
After helping to clean up the house in Heathcote Valley, I drove north and spent two days at a campsite I had stayed at before - peaceful and reassuring to be away from Christchurch. I then drove back south as far as Amberley Beach and got in touch with everyone via a lovely lady at the library who realised how shocked I was and gave me unlimited access to the computer in a private room - what a star. I managed to speak to both kids, Christopher and Hannah, and get e-mails off to friends.
At the end of the weekend, I had decided to leave the van with the Backpackers Car Sales on the outskirts of Christchurch and fly up to Wellington to friends, Trevor and Anna. The van is still there and hopefully will be sold in the next couple of months. The car sales place was just outside the cordoned off area and, as you can imagine, very little trade was going on. The taxi that picked me up had to drive into the Civil Defence Centre inside the CBD where we had to give a password at the cordon to get into the area. People were walking around in orange suits and masks - I felt as if I was on a movie set for a disaster film - very surreal.
Once in Wellington and having retrieved my lost luggage from Air New Zealand, we attended the memorial service outside Parliament, in commemoration of all who had been lost just the week before. The two minutes' silence was very moving and it was the first time that I was able to cry. That evening, we had a quake of 4.3 which was the first that Trevor had felt since moving to New Zealand more than a year ago. I feel as if I'm the doom merchant and want to get out as soon as I can! I have arranged to leave for America two weeks ahead of schedule and have had to pay extra to change my airline ticket but never mind.
I contacted some old family friends at the weekend and we managed to get together for a re-hash of the past thirty years. I also had a drive out to Eastbourne for lunch and had another visit to the Botanical Gardens. Wellington is a beautiful city, as long as it doesn't shake! Then, on the Friday, we began to hear about the terrible devastation in Japan. I must confess that it was beginning to feel as if the world was ending.
Took the train from Wellington to Auckland which took 12 hours but the scenery was very pleasant - my last sights of New Zealand. I spent the weekend in the sunshine of Auckland, walking in the parks and gathering my strength for the 13-hour flight ahead. I took the bus out to the airport on Monday lunchtime and took off for Los Angeles right on time. As we crossed the International Date Line, I landed in America before I left New Zealand - yet more surreal experiences in a month of unreality!!