Saturday, 28 February 2009

Dunedin to Porpoise Bay

Read our Christchurch to Moeraki posting.

Dunedin is known locally as the 'Edinburgh of the South'. Whilst it didn't look like Edinburgh, it had many of its streets named after its Scottish ancestor. Further on, we arrived at the beautiful Sandfly Bay, famous for its flying sand rather than biting insects. A walk around the coast led to Lover's Leap and the Chasm, two large geological features carved out by the South Pacific Ocean. From the hide at Sandfly Bay we also saw Hooker's sea lions playing in the surf.

The following day, we travelled to Porpoise Bay and the neighbouring Curio Bay which are full of the best marine creatures that New Zealand has to offer. On arrival, our yellow-eyed penguin count increased nine-fold. They shrieked on the beach as we looked on, and slowly waddled from the sea to their nests hidden in the bush. It was a wonderful experience.

While entering Porpoise Bay this afternoon (Saturday), Jen almost stepped on a sea lion having a sand bath on the beach. After recovering from the shock, she managed to take this video. A little later, we watched Hector's dolphins swimming in the surf. These black and white dolphins are one of the rarest and smallest in the world.

We also visited the impressive Cathedral Caves, up to 30 metres high, that can only be visited at low tide. The walk to the beach meandered through beautiful native bush, with lots of different types of fern all around us (from tiny specimens to giants).

Christchurch to Moeraki

St John arrived safely in Christchurch where he was impressed by our current high standard of living. We even managed a BBQ on his first night (although the cold forced us to put on down jackets). A trip to the local supermarket for beer and supplies prompted the checkout assistant to ask us for proof of age. We were initially flattered that she thought we were all under 25, but became worried when she insisted that we get our driving licences from the car. In the end, we managed to charm her with some chat about the Edinburgh Tattoo, and she let us off – but just this once.

The following morning, we headed into Christchurch for some gear shopping. St John needed new boots, Jen an extra fleece and Andy new walking trousers after finally getting rid of his old ones. The material on them had failed to such an extent that they were only held together with gaffer tape. R.I.P. Nepal trekking trousers! Finding refreshments at a local café, Jen asked for a herbal tea. Confused, the lady dusted off a box at the back of the store and found some smoky Lapsang Souchong. Serving the tea, the lady described the smell as 'beefy'.

We headed down the road to Oamaru, a three-hour drive, in the hope of seeing our first yellow-eyed penguin. Our patience was rewarded by the sighting of one, solitary penguin on the beach. They're apparently very rare – as we could see for ourselves.

We stayed the night at Olive Grove campsite just north of Moeraki, where we met a very nice Finnish couple, Hanna and Toni. They had been travelling in NZ for almost a month and were about to fly back to Finland. We exchanged a lot of stories about travelling and trekking, and they gave us tips for good walks around Milford Sound.

We made a quick stop at Moeraki to inspect the group of almost perfectly round boulders that sit on the beach. They look like eggs hatched out of the hillside.

Read our Dunedin to Porpoise Bay posting.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Welcome to the Beautiful South

This morning, we boarded the 8.30am Interislander ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island) in our hire car. We crossed Cook Strait and entered the South Island via Queen Charlotte Sound. The views were great, but it was a little too windy to stay on the deck for more than five minutes.

We drove out of Picton in a long queue of cars that had disembarked from the ferry. Almost immediately, we started seeing mountain ranges all around us. We knew we'd arrived somewhere special. First it was gentle hills, then more dramatic mountains as we drove further south. There were also numerous vineyards and wineries.

Reaching the east coast, we saw our first dramatic NZ beach. It was covered in dark grey pebbles and had massive waves breaking on it. The sea was a blend of turquoise and dark blue colour. For friends with wood burning stoves, the beach had a substantial amount of driftwood.

In the afternoon, we reached our destination for the day, Kaikoura peninsula - a superb base for whale watching (which we'll do once St John arrives). We did a walk around the headland and saw fur seals, cormorants and seagulls. To our surprise, the paths were dotted with thistles – Scotland's national flower. In our book, the first part of the walk was described as suitable for wheelchair users although we're not quite sure. The steep, winding downhill path (see right of picture) had a steep cliff on one side and no safety barrier.

We got totally beached out, as our camping spot for the night is on yet another beach just south of Kaikoura town. Jen caught Andy on camera on the way to the internet café. Life's a beach, eh! While investigating the holiday park, we came across this 'impressive rig' as one camper described it. Wish we were staying in it...