NZ Fiordland quick update

Just a quick update (more detailed one to follow):

We've spent the last week in the Fiordland area, amidst some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen. Apparentlly it's one of the Southern Hemisphere's premier wilderness areas and has been recognised as a World Heritage Area (WHA).

We went to Milford Sound and saw seals and penguins playing around – spending a night in the tranquility of the sound was awesome. No sooner did we return to land than we booked ourselves on one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Kepler Track. It's a 4 day hike taking in the full range of the scenery in the WHA, from almost a full day above the tree line on a still snowy alpine ridge path to days walking through native bush with plants that have survived almost unchanged since Gondwana. (Gondwana is a much harked about time when all the southern continents (Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, etc) were joined in one land mass over 100 million years ago).

The hike is probably a highlight of my trip so far and we'll post photos soon. After recovering from the walk we drove to Christchurch where we went to see Muse play and unfortunately we're having to say good bye to Vicki now, who is heading home in time for Christmas. Sharon and I are continuing North from here, to the only page in our NZ road atlas that we've not been to yet, Able Tasman/Nelson/Murchison area, but we've planning the rest of our trips, moving our flights to their proper dates and booking some tours in Australia, India and Nepal…


For those who haven't been to Christchurch, I think it would be fair to say they may be surprised by just how quaint and English style the whole city is. We took full advantage of the tram in the city centre that takes tourists to some of the major attractions – I think we must have gone around the loop at least half a dozen times in the end! The Art Gallery confused me a little, I was convinced I hadn't seen it despite having stayed on that street before. However it opened in 2003 and I was last here May 2002, so that helped explain the mystery. There are some architectural delights including the old university buildings which now hold the Arts Centre with several arts and crafts shops, a theatre, a cinema and a ballet company. Close by is the Botanical Gardens and the museum. Since David and I are returning to Christchurch at the end of our time in NZ, we left our visit to the museum till then, but we strolled around the gardens, smelled the roses and climbed a couple of trees. We also saw ducklings on the river, which is punted in true Cambridge style. Instead of being able to have a go yourself though, “Edwardian” gentlemen take you for a tour complete with full outfits and plummy accents. In the Cathedral in the centre of the Square, we were treated to singing from a female choir while looking around – next time I think I would like to walk up the spire, as I remember the views being great but this time we ran out of time.

Just outside of the main city was the Antarctic Experience. Apparently Christchurch is where many of the planes bound for the frozen continent leave from, and various countries including the USA and, unsurprisingly, New Zealand base their preparatory areas here. It was an interesting place with a chance to experience an Antarctic storm – we wrapped up in borrowed jackets and entered a freezer where the temperature was -18

Double Decadence in Dunedin

Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh, and is a city in the south with a rather Scottish air – not really very surprising when you consider this was a large settlement for many Scottish immigrants. It was the first city in the South Island, with a cathedral that was constructed in two parts due to money restraints. This has led to a gothic building with the altar area being in a rather more modern 70s style, I understand architectural styles change over time but it does seem somewhat of an unfortunate mismatch. There are other lovely buildings in Dunedin, including the train station with its stained glass windows. However train travel has been surpassed in New Zealand by roads, maybe a little shortsightedly in my mind, and now only a tourist train, which leads to a dead end because of the removal of track, is the only visitor to this prestigious building.

However two areas of industry that are continuing to do well in the city are the Cadburys factory and the Speights brewery, both of which offer tours and both of which we decided we couldn't miss. The Cadburys factory was busily making Easter eggs when we were there, apparently they make them between June and January each year and it takes New Zealanders the whole of a week to eat all this chocolate! We were encouraged to listen to the talks and video presentations since correct answers to questions led to prizes of chocolate. I think David did the best out of this by 'looking sweet' as our tour guide and being awarded chocolate anyway. The smell around the factory is one of the most tempting you can imagine, but we managed to resist buying too much in the shop. In fact, our surprising bargain was some waterproof trousers they had on sale for $25 and which have been much in use already! We actually found out that the local supermarket was doing a better deal on Dairy Milk than the factory shop.

After dinner we headed back in to town to the Speights Brewery, this was the only brewery to still use wooden gyles for brewing some of their craft beers. Apparently there had been one other near Portsmouth but it had been recently bought out and so the tradition went with the exchange of contracts. It was a gravity based brewery which meant all the ingredients were put in at the top of the building and the process continued as you headed downstairs. At the end of the tour, we all had chance to taste a selection of their brews, and were able to pull our own mini-pints! This wasn't something I'd ever done before and I was pretty chuffed at my efforts. While we were supping the beer, some of the brewery's adverts were played including their birthday advert in which sheep and a dog sang them happy birthday, one I could easily imagine being rather popular.

Te Anau

As we drove up the Southern Scenic Tourist route's final leg, to Te Anau, the clouds lifted and the sun lit up the surrounding mountains. This was the first sun we'd seen in days. The rest of our trip from Christchurch to Dunedin and on to Invercargill has been wet, cold and made us doubt the existence of summer this far south. We've stood, rain-lashed on the South Island's most southerly point and could visualise the air blowing straight off the Antarctic ice and through our clothes. The animals either don't mind, or have got used to it: the ubiquitous lambs and calves have never been too far away, and we've also managed to get pretty close to some less usual wildlife, yellow eyed penguins; nesting pied shags with their chicks as well as a colony of NZ Fur seals. Watching from a Department of Conservation approved hiding area, it was harrowing to wait for the penguins' return after a day catching food for the young – a stoat had found and emptied a couple of nests while the parents were absent. There was nothing we could do from our vantage point but hope for the swift return of some of the penguins. We saw one arrive and waddle up the beach, pausing to stretch and dry out in the wind – he seemed to pose for the gathered crowd. Being so close and seeing the world's rarest penguins in the wild was an awe inspiring experience, this penguin's fragile existence only underlined by the presence of the predators that man unleashed.

The penguin wasn't the only endangered animal we've seen. Not far from Christchurch, an extinct, collapsed and now flooded volcano cone forms the harbour for the small and surprisingly French town of Akaroa. It's the site of the attempted French settlement of South Island – this failed when they were 4 days slower than the English frigate that raced them from the North Island – but more pertinently it is the current feeding ground for the smallest and rarest of the world's marine dolphins, the Hectors. The boat tour of the harbour took us up close to these extremely cute animals.

The area's natural wonders were unconcerned by the elements – the smooth rock orbs of the Moeraki boulders are still lying where they fell when the cliffs around them eroded away and the fossilised remains of an ancient forest still lies in the same rock it did 180 million years ago. The long gone trees have left embedded in the rock wood grain so perfectly detailed that you need to touch it to be convinced it isn't wood. It really isn't hard to imagine the stumps and logs being trees in a great forest.

We've left the coast behind us and headed into the Fiordland, an area of mountains and lakes. Tomorrow we will visit the famous Milford Sound (named after Milford Haven in Wales, but with a reputation for being much more beautiful!), to fully appreciate the area we're booked on an overnight tour and will sleep aboard the sight-seeing sailing ship. From there, the west coast will be our playground.

Coral Warning

After I told my sister I had been scuba diving and snorkelling in Fiji, she promptly told me to watch out for coral and make sure any scratches I had were checked out. I didn't really think too much of this despite having scraped my leg twice on coral, but figured I'd keep an eye on it. Sure enough most of it looked to be healing absolutely fine, apart from one area, Using Inadine (an iodine soaked dressing) to keep the wound clean, it surprised me how the scratch didn't improve. Soon after arrival in New Zealand, I visited a pharmacist who sent me straight to the doctors. He was originally from Dorset and had worked lots on the windsurfing champion circuit. Apparently hydrogen peroxide is the best weapon against coral poisoning, and it can be very serious. He told me that it wasn't that unusual for people not to think about it and end up in hospital because the wound ulcerates. Thankfully he told me my wound looked pretty good – the Inadine is good stuff! But still I had to be put on a course of antibiotics for 10 days, apparently a week's worth is not enough to shift the infection caused by this innocent looking animal/plant. I've finished the course and my leg looks fine now, however I thought it'd be worth warning others how mean coral can be!

Photo Update

We've been slack with out blogging recently. Sorry. Rest assured that we've been seeing lots of really cool things and doing loads. We've even been paddling. There's been sunshine and lambs too. Very spring like. We had a fabulous three weeks with Sharon's mum and Bernard, they've gone back now :( , but we've met up with one of Sharon's uni friends – Vicki :) and are continuing our tour of the South Island. We've now in Christchurch. In the last two weeks we've driven from Picton (where we caught the ferry from Wellington) through to Kaikora and tried to swim with dolphins (they were hiding), driven over Arthur's Pass (awesome crossing of the Southern Alps) been to Franz-Josef glacier (in the pouring rain), enjoyed Wanaka, got a steamboat ride from Queenstown to a remote sheep farm and stayed at a campsite with a petting zoo and New Zealand's only wild Wallabies.

If the old adage is correct, these photos will save us typing a thesis length blog article:

North Island activities

North Island scenery

South Island part 1

South Island part 2