26.02.2011 - 07.03.2011 20 °C
On arriving at Christchurch, from an extremely empty aeroplane, we were met by Duncan, Linda’s Grandpa’s cousin who very kindly invited us to stay with him for our couple of days here. He drove us through some areas affected by the huge earthquake, which occurred a few days before, on our way to his house which thankfully hadn’t been affected. We saw some buildings that had completely collapsed but most of the damage we saw was to the roads and lots of evidence of liquefaction. The city was badly affected especially the centre of town which was all cordoned off. It was a strange experience feeling the aftershocks especially when they woke us at night.
As we were not able to explore Christchurch Duncan took us on a day trip around Bank Peninsula where we visited a small French settlers town called Akaroa. We went to a few other nice scenic stops and had a good day out. We enjoyed our time we spent with Duncan learning more about Linda’s family tree and he helped us greatly with the planning of our South Island trip. He looked after us extremely well and we were surprised by the unbelievable amount of energy he has for being in his eighties.
The next morning we ventured into town to pick up our campervan but we had to wait a few hours as the company had to relocate office twice due to surrounding unsafe buildings. We eventually got our van, a Roger Rabbit design this time in a larger and better van than the North Island. We set off southwest and inland towards Lake Tekapo. Although it was very picturesque there was not too much for us to do so we only climbed Mount John for views over the surrounding area and visited the Church of the Good Shepard, which is a famous and extremely photographed wee church on the edge of the lake.
We then headed for Mount Cook but fortunately missed the turnoff and ended up in a town called Twizel as the weather up there was meant to be awful. It was nice in Twizel though so we stayed there and did a long trek there. We met a couple of fishermen at the campsite who were on holiday salmon fishing. They had caught four massive salmon that day but were so sick of eating it for the past few weeks that they gave us two large pieces to have for breakfast the next morning. It was delicious!! We made it to Mount Cook the following morning and although the sun was now out it was ridiculously windy. We did the quick walk up to the Tasmin Glacier that was impressive but nothing compared to the glaciers in Patagonia. We then did the 3.5-hour walk up the Hooker Valley to a stunning view, at the side of a lake, of Mount Cook (NZ’s tallest mountain) towering over a glacier. It was our most impressive sight of New Zealand so far.
It was a pretty long day as we decided to drive another four hours down to the coast and south from there. We stopped at Oamaru to try to see the little blue penguins but we were hours too early for that so we headed further down the coast to Moeraki to see the rare yellow-eyed penguins, which can only be found in this part of the world. Unfortunately we arrived a few hours too late to see them all come ashore, but we did manage to spot a few of them along with other types of penguins, seals and sea-lions. It as great seeing penguins in the wild again.
We also visited the Moeraki boulders before leaving for Dunedin. These were large spherical boulders (up to two metres diameter) on the beach that are millions of years old. They were very unusual and were definitely worth the visit. When going down this coast the majority of the street names were Scottish names and places, as this area has a big Scottish influence with many of these towns being founded by Scots. The city of Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the South and is actually Gaelic for Edinburgh – can the Gaelic speakers reading this please let us know if this is true. The street names are the same names as in Edinburgh and they have a statue of Robbie Burns in the main square. It also has a huge student population where many share huge big houses, which isn’t quite the student flats in Glasgow.
We met two Kiwi girls, Julia and Rachel, on several occasions back in South America. We kept in touch and came to see them in Dunedin where they study. They invited us round for a wee party in their huge flat where seven of them live, before we all went out that night. It was good fun and took us back to our student days which seem a while ago now! The girls and one of their flatmates, Nic, invited us up to the Wild Foods festival the following weekend close to Nic’s hometown called Greymouth. We were planning to be close to Greymouth then anyway so it seemed to tie in perfectly. We also did the tour of the Cadburys factory in Dunedin where we learnt how chocolate is made and got to sample and buy a good selection too.
We then worked our way across towards the west coast to Te Anau which was our base to do a day trip down to Milford Sound. We ended up finding our best campsite yet so stayed a night either side of the Milford trip. The two-hour drive down to Milford was amazing scenery and some great roads to drive. We chose to do a three hours nature cruise up and down the fjord as we had been recommended this. The scenery was amazing and the sizes of the cliffs were spectacular. Some seemed almost vertical and the water depths beside some were huge, around 200 to 300 metres deep. It had been our favourite place in NZ, although we were disappointed with the lack of nature seen on this cruise until about ten minutes before returning to the harbour. A pod of bottlenose dolphins decided to come over and play at the front of the boat, swimming and jumping at the bow as we spend through the water. It was a great ending that we didn’t expect to see at all (quick video below).