Christchurch again

Dec 7, 2015

Farewell to Akaroa this morning, we were moving on again, this time back to Christchurch. After breakfast we checked out of the hostel, which had been very comfortable, and walked down the street to wait for our shuttle bus.

We had half an hour to wait, and there was free wi-fi courtesy of Spark there, so both of us spent the time checking the Internet. Until one of the locals stopped to mail some letters and, noticing us, compared us to a couple of teenagers. He told us that his house in Christchurch had been flattened in the earthquake so he took the insurance payout and moved permanently to his holiday home in Akaroa. His wife would like to move back but at present they have no plans to do that.

Akaroa painter

Akaroa painter

The bus arrived at 10:30 am and we and a group of twelve teenaged girls got on. This time the bus didn’t have a luggage trailer for some reason, but everybody put their stuff on empty seats and it worked out fine. Back in Christchurch we were dropped off at the museum, which wasn’t too far from the YHA. It was too early to check in, of course, but we made sure that the room allocated to us wasn’t near the noisy fan which runs all night. Once that was sorted out we left our packs in the luggage storage room and headed out.

Peacock fountain, Botanic Garden

Peacock fountain, Botanic Garden

We were close to the Botanic Garden, so we went for lunch at the café there. The prices were quite reasonable, the sandwiches were very good, and it was nice to sit outside in the sun. Once done with lunch we went over to the iSite to find out about airport transfers, for our departure the day after tomorrow. We ended up booking a 10 am shuttle, which would pick us up outside the hostel, and we also bought tickets for the Antarctic Centre, where we would spend the day before flying out late in the afternoon.

Punting in the gardens

Punting in the gardens

Now that we had that all booked and paid for we set out on a walking tour around Christchurch. We had a brochure with a walk which mostly followed the tram tracks and its city tour, and a second brochure which showed us what had been there before the earthquake. It was quite unsettling walking around and realizing that the devastation in Christchurch could easily happen in Vancouver.

Rebuilding the arts centre

Rebuilding the arts centre

There were several old buildings which were actively being renovated and others which were just sitting there, sometimes shored up and sometimes not. And there were other streets which were business as usual. We saw the cathedral which had caused so much controversy and also its temporary “cardboard” replacement. The temporary one didn’t look that bad to us, but then we really didn’t know anything about the issues involved.

Destroyed cathedral

Destroyed cathedral

Back at the hostel we got our laundry started before walking over to the New World supermarket to buy food for the next couple of days. By the time we got back the washing was done, so we put the clothes in the dryer and made our dinner.

New temporary cathedral

New temporary cathedral

Dec 8, 2015

There was no rush to go anywhere today, so after breakfast we walked over to the Canterbury Museum, which is right next to the Botanic Garden. It’s in a large stone building which apparently survived the earthquakes, or at least wasn’t badly affected.

There were a lot of displays in the museum so we just started on the ground floor at the front. There were a lot of displays about the settlement of the area, and since it’s New Zealand that means both Maori and Europeans. The Maori had two rooms of displays and the Europeans only had one. Next there was a special Leonardo da Vinci display, with replicas of his famous paintings (no, not the real Mona Lisa) and a lot of displays devoted to his inventions. We didn’t know that he invented the bicycle, and breathing apparatus for divers, but there you go.

There was a section which had store-fronts and walk-in areas of businesses which were on the main street in the 19th century, including recordings of people talking about their shops. One unusual section was the Paua Shell House, which was originally in Bluff. It was made famous by the number of paua (abalone) shells which the owners, Fred and Myrtle Flutey, had hung on the walls. People from all over would come to see their house, and they became pop culture celebrities of the 1960’s, so after they died their grandson turned the collection over to the museum. The exhibit includes the front room and hallway of the house, plus the outside of the house, along with furniture and all of the knickknacks that they had.

Paua Shell House living room

Paua Shell House living room

Back outside we had a snack before walking around the Botanic Gardens. We followed the riverside path around the outside, so we missed most of the gardens, but we did find a tree in a cage. It was a Wollemi pine, an extremely rare tree from Australia. There’s a program to plant Wollemi pines around the world in case the Australian trees get burned in a bush fire or something, and this is one of those trees.

We headed back to the hostel for lunch, which meant basically all of our remaining food. After lunch we went over to check out the Re:Start Mall, whose stores are all made of shipping containers. We didn’t find anything to buy, though. So now we felt ready for another go at the museum. The second floor had an exhibit on Canterbury (the state where Christchurch is located) today, but it had way too many words. There was also a Bird Hall which covered New Zealand birds pretty well, but their bird specimens were old and faded.

Re:Start Mall

Re:Start Mall

The best part was the Antarctic exhibit, which was mostly about the British Antarctic expedition of 1957-58, in which Sir Ed played a part. There was a movie which must have been made soon afterwards, including film of the actual expedition, and some of the original vehicles which drove across Antarctica.

We’d agreed to go meet Karyn and James, two of the New Zealanders from our Banks Peninsula walk, so we went back to the hostel to wait for them. They were going to take us on a tour of Christchurch including an area where there were supposed to be Bar-tailed Godwits. Karyn showed up on her bike and James arrived shortly in the Range Rover.

We drove through large areas of Christchurch which had been populated with houses before the earthquakes. These areas used to be swamps before they were filled in and built on, so now they are condemned. The debris has been removed and the areas have been grassed over and nobody is allowed to rebuild there. The council keeps the area neat by mowing the grass, but sometimes people who only have cars to live in come here and “freedom camp”, which causes problems.

The area where we were driving had several road closures and detours as a result of the earthquakes, or of road repairs, but eventually we got to where the birds were. It was high tide so it took a while before we found a mudflat. But finally we did, and after a while James and Paul located the godwits, which were mixed in with numerous Pied Oystercatchers.

On the way back we stopped for dinner at a pub called Pomeroy’s. Rosemary had the chicken and bacon pie which she had missed out on at the garden café and Paul had a pulled pork sandwich. The food was good and like most pub meals had large portions, although not as large as what you would get in an American restaurant. After saying goodbye we got back to our room and got ready for tomorrow’s flight home.

Dec 9, 2015

At last we’re going home today. It seems like it’s about time, even if we are returning to several days of rain storms! It didn’t take us long to pack our packs today, after having done it so many times on this trip, so there wasn’t much to do this morning. We had breakfast and then chatted for a short time with a fellow traveller.

Steve’s Shuttle picked us up at 10 am to take us to the airport, and once we were we checked in for our flight and gave them our large packs. This didn’t take very long, so now we only had five and a half hours until our flight to Auckland would leave.

Antarctic Centre

Antarctic Centre

Christchurch is one of the main gateways to Antarctica, so just down the road is the Antarctic Centre, an entertainment and interpretive site. We had already purchased our discounted senior tickets from the iSite in Christchurch, so we went over there right away. We had missed the 10:30 am penguin feeding but they scheduled us in for all the other events. At 11 am we went to the 4-D movie about a trip to Antarctica, which was great fun. It started off with crossing the Drake Passage, complete with bouncing seats and sea spray in our faces, then toured us around the continent. We had birds flying towards us, penguins walking towards us, and (real) snow falling on us. Definitely an entertaining film.

United States transportation centre

United States transportation centre

Then there was the Antarctic Storm, where we got to stand in a cold room in the snow and experience wind chill as the temperature dropped to -25°C. The storm didn’t last long but it was interesting to be in that dry cold air. From here we went on to a Hagglund ride. (A “Hagglund” is a ruggedized tracked vehicle designed by the Swedish army and used to get around Antarctica.) We went behind the Antarctic Centre, so we went over hard-packed dirt rather than snow, but we were able to experience how the machine handled in various conditions. We went up 45-degree hills and over a crevasse and through deep water, which was a lot of fun.

Penguin at the entrance

Penguin at the entrance

After lunch in their café—New Zealand meat pies—we went back in for the interpretive part. They had a pool with Little Penguins which had all been rescued after various mishaps. We were missing feeding time but we watched them puttering around. Besides the penguins there was a variety of other displays, which showed the various expeditions to Antarctica including actual artifacts from those expeditions. The whole thing was really good and we thought that more cities should have attractions like this near their airports.

Finally we returned to the airport. Going through security was easy and fast, so we arrived at our gate with lots of time. The flight to Auckland was scheduled to take an hour and twenty minutes, and then our flight to Vancouver would leave at 8 pm and take 13 hours, arriving at noon but still on December 9.

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Banks Peninsula, part 2

Dec 5, 2015

Our sleep was partially interrupted at 2 am by a lot of penguins honking, braying, and squeaking outside; it was quite funny listening to them as we tried to sleep. And then it got light at 5 am in our little house, but we turned over and slept until our usual time. Our walk today was only 6 kilometers over headlands, so we didn’t have to get an early start. In fact we really had to get a late start so we didn’t arrive too early at Otanerito Bay.

Stony Bay outdoor bath

Stony Bay outdoor bath

It was sunny again this morning—we had been really lucky with the weather on this walk. We headed out at 10 am and had a leisurely walk to the beach before angling up to the headland. As we walked along the trail we passed by numerous penguin nests—which we could detect by the fishy smell! But we didn’t see any penguins. Soon there was a Kelp Gull colony by the shore, and we could see that one nest had three chicks which were being fed by both parents. And then around the corner we could see a Spotted Shag colony on the cliff across the bay. There were chicks there too but we could hardly make them out.

Spotted Shag colony

Spotted Shag colony

At Sleepy Bay we made a short detour to see the waterfall, which turned out to be quite beautiful as it cascaded over a moss-covered slope with bright green duckweed floating on the surface. On the next headland there was a good view back to a sea stack. But this was a new stack—before the earthquakes it had been a high sea arch. You don’t see that sort of thing very often.

Sleepy Bay waterfall

Sleepy Bay waterfall

It was now close to lunchtime, but there was no seat here and the ground was covered with sheep droppings, so we decided to carry on. Down the slope we went and through the trees to the beach at Otanerito, from where we could see the blue gate outside our house. It was just before 1 pm so we sat on the front porch and ate our lunch.

The house was surrounded by a beautiful garden full of roses, fuchsias, and tall geraniums. Inside there were two large rooms with beds plus a large kitchen. What a beautiful setting for our last night on the track! There was a shop, too, which if anything was better stocked than the shop at Flea Bay.

Otanerito Bay house

Otanerito Bay house

We claimed the front room (with four beds) and left the back room (six bunk beds) for the others, who didn’t arrive for quite a while because they had stopped to watch a group of fur seals cavorting in the surf. For the rest of the afternoon we sat on the front porch and had tea and wrote our journals. Before dinner we walked down to the beach, which is very sandy and is described as a “swimming beach” in the brochure. However none of our group went swimming because the water was still too cold.

Our fellow walkers

Our fellow walkers

Back at the house we chatted for a while before making our dinner. Tonight we had roast lamb with mashed potatoes, which is our favourite of all the freeze-dried meals we tried. We also finished off a lot of the other food we had brought, so that our packs would be much lighter for tomorrow’s walk. As we were finishing dinner it started to cloud over, and by 7 pm the rain was starting. But according to the forecast it would rain overnight but by 9 am tomorrow the weather would improve.

Dec 6, 2015

From time to time during the night we could hear rain pouring down, but by the time we got up the rain had stopped. This agreed with yesterday’s forecast, so we looked forward to fine weather.

Doug and Joy, the American couple, were first to leave this morning. They had a shuttle bus to catch and didn’t want Joy’s arthritic knee to make them miss it. We chatted with the New Zealanders for a short while before heading out the door at 9:30 am. We had a 10-kilometer walk, with 600 meters of elevation gain and 600 meters of elevation loss, but we didn’t expect it to be too challenging.

New growth of native bush

New growth of native bush

For the first hour we gradually gained elevation as we followed a creek up through the Hinewai Reserve. The reserve had been created about 25 years ago, after somebody discovered that native bush can start its life growing under gorse bushes and then grow up and choke out the gorse. As we climbed we had a few short steep sections involving steps, but for the most part the trail was well graded. The walk through the reserve was well signposted, with signs identifying trees and other plants, and we finally saw a silver tree fern, which is an emblem of New Zealand.

Silver tree fern

Silver tree fern

As we approached the saddle there was a side trail leading to a pond which, it was said, often had a pair of Paradise Shelducks. So we went to have a look, and there was a pair with their brood of eight chicks. It didn’t take long after that to reach the open area near the saddle, and then after a short climb we could finally look down at Akaroa. At this point we suddenly remembered that the Banks Peninsula had been formed by volcanic eruptions, and therefore we were now walking over the rim of an extinct volcano.

Information sign on the loo

Information sign on the loo

There was a very cold wind blowing here so we carried on down to a shelter which was marked on our map. The shelter was about the size of two phone booths, but it was very welcome as it kept the wind off as we ate our lunch. Parts of the trail down from the shelter were quite steep but with our destination in sight the whole way it spurred us on to get there.

Last look at Otanerito

Last look at Otanerito

Finally back in Akaroa, we stopped at the bank to get some cash and then walked the short distance to Chez la Mer to get our room. The outside of the hostel is painted in shades of purple and we found out that our room was also painted mauve, with the beds having rosy pink sheets with floral duvets. Very colourful! After dropping our packs in the room we retrieved our other bags from the office, where we had left them four days ago, and rummaged through them to hopefully find some clean clothes. Not much luck there, so we’ll be doing laundry once we’re back in Christchurch.

After a cup of tea Rosemary went out shopping—last chance for bargain-priced merino products. She bought a lovely possum-merino-silk sweater and several merino shirts. We also found about the scheme where tourists can avoid paying VAT, which we hadn’t heard anything about before.

Tonight we had dinner at the Akaroa Fish and Chip shop. We both had elephant fish, which we had enjoyed before; it cost $4 versus $10 for blue code. They had sour watermelon flavour Fanta, which we both really liked, so we had that to drink. We also had some L&P lemon drink which is apparently a New Zealand favourite, but neither of us was impressed. Sitting outside at the picnic tables was really nice, with warm sunshine and a nice view over the harbour.

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Banks Peninsula, part 1

Dec 2, 2015

We didn’t sleep very well last night because about 11 pm a noisy motor came on and rumbled for most of the night. So we were pretty tired when we got up at 7 am, to get ready for our trip to Akaroa.

We caught the Akaroa shuttle at the appointed place on Montreal Street, just around the corner from the hostel. As we drove through Christchurch the driver pointed out various sites and told us about the devastation of the earthquake. We went around and over the hills to Akaroa, in the heart of the Banks Peninsula, after about an hour and a half. Today it was sunny and everything was sparkling and bright in Akaroa, and after claiming our bags from the shuttle we walked down to Chez le Mer, the hostel where we would be storing our unwanted gear.

Akaroa harbour view

Akaroa harbour view

After leaving all of our bags there we walked along the sea front to the lighthouse and then back again, checking out the shops and restaurants and people swimming and so on. We stopped at the French crepe restaurant for lunch; the crepes were very good but their credit card machine wouldn’t accept any of our credit cards. That was very annoying because it cut into our cash reserves.

Akaroa pier

Akaroa pier

After five weeks in New Zealand we’d hardly had any temperatures above 20°C, but here it was something like 34°C! We were already tired and this was too much, so we went back to Chez le Mer and dozed in their garden for the rest of the afternoon.

Akaroa lighthouse

Akaroa lighthouse

Finally at 5 pm we headed over to the old post office (closed due to earthquake damage), where our transportation to the start of the Banks Peninsula Track was to pick us up. The bus arrived at 5:45 pm and the driver gave us a brief talk before heading off. The Onuku hut was about a 15-minute drive away from Akaroa and was situated high on the hill overlooking the harbour, with spectacular views. The house we were to stay in had four beds in a loft plus two rooms on the main floor with two sets of bunks in each. There weren’t that many of us, so we had a room all to ourselves.

Cows in Akaroa

Cows in Akaroa

By now it was close to 7 pm so we made our dinner. The kitchen was well supplied with cooking pots, plates, and utensils, things which you wouldn’t find in the DOC huts. Tonight we had chicken and tomato fettucine, which was quite good. After dinner we sat and chatted to our house-mates. There were eight of us: four New Zealanders who are celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary, an American couple from Seattle, and us.

Onuku hut kitchen

Onuku hut kitchen

Dec 3, 2015

Last night it was warm, so warm that we didn’t even sleep in our sleeping bags, only the liners. But this morning it was clouding over and we could see it was quite windy. We left Onuku Hut just after 10 am and started the very steep uphill climb. Luckily the views were good, so stopping every so often wasn’t a problem. Down in the harbour there was a cruise ship, not an overly large one but still we couldn’t imagine 2,000 cruise ship people on the streets of Akaroa.

Onuku hut

Onuku hut

Akaroa harbour

Akaroa harbour

The steep uphill climb considered for a considerable time, but we only had 11 kilometers to walk today. We were also buffeted by the winds all the way up, so standing still was hard work too. Just after noon we finally got to the trig point, the highest point of the track at 699 meters. We found a sheltered spot and sat down to enjoy our lunch and the views over the Pacific Ocean. Soon afterwards the New Zealanders arrived, and then the Americans. We sat around talking for a short while before heading off.

At the trig point

At the trig point

From here it would be downhill all the way to Flea Bay, sometimes very steeply. We angled down the hillside, then steeply down the gravel road until we reached Mortlock’s Mistake. Fortunately the track makers had realized that road-walking is boring, so here they sent us down a trail which followed a creek through native bush. The trail was narrow and rocky but easy to follow, but we still had to lose 700 meters of elevation. This was hard on the knees and it seemed to go on forever, but when you looked around there were a few big trees which had escaped the loggers’ axes.

Warning sign

Warning sign

Flea Bay Cottage

Flea Bay Cottage

Soon after 3 pm we crossed a sheep paddock and arrived at our destination, Flea Bay Cottage. We were the first to arrive so we had our pick of the rooms. We quickly found that it had indoor plumbing, so we both had nice warm showers before enjoying some soup and a cup of cocoa. The others arrived a bit later and we chatted with them for a while. Before making dinner we went for a short walk to the beach, where we saw a Little Penguin and its chick in a nesting box, and also Canada Geese with six goslings.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

California Quail

California Quail

After dinner we all headed over to the Pohutu Bay penguin reserve, where the owners are avid penguin conservationists. They have several hundred Little Penguins nesting on their property and they have built a lot of nesting boxes for the birds to use. We were greeted by several lambs who were expecting a handout, because apparently the cruise ship passengers do that.

Penguins in their nest

Penguins in their nest

Penguins gathering on the shore

Penguins gathering on the shore

Our guide was Francis Helps, one of the owners. He gave us camouflage ponchos to wear and then gave us a brief talk about the penguins. We got to see a nesting penguin with two chicks because Francis lifted the top of the nest box to show us. Out in the bay there were a few hundred penguins hanging around waiting for dusk, and we saw groups of them starting to come ashore to go to their nests. Apparently the birds in the bay were a good sign, since that means they filled up on fish quickly and then had time to hang out. We probably saw about 500 penguins in total, which was really neat.

Dec 4, 2015

Today’s hike would be much shorter than yesterday’s so we were all looking forward to that. It wasn’t until 10:15 am that we headed out under sunny skies towards Stony Bay. We walked down to the beach and then through the penguin nesting area which we had visited last night. Of course it was all quiet now. As we zigzagged up the hillside we could still see that there were penguin nests, even at 80 meters above the sea. Those penguins have to walk a long way uphill to their nests!

Flea Bay Cottage kitchen

Flea Bay Cottage kitchen

As we approached the headland we came across a bench labelled “Dolphin Watch”. Yeah right, we thought, but sure enough down in the bay Paul spotted a dolphin and when Rosemary used the binoculars she could see that not only was there a dolphin, but she had a baby! We watched for about 20 minutes while they swam around, diving and surfacing at quite regular intervals. These were Hector’s dolphins, which are the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin.

Hector’s dolphin mother and baby

Hector’s dolphin mother and baby

We finally dragged ourselves away and continued along the trail. It was very similar to the British coastal trails, going up, along, and down, but none of the ups and downs were extreme. Also like the British trails, there were several stiles to cross and sheep to startle as we walked by. We came to an offshore island which had a colony of Fairy Prions. Unfortunately the prions have the same habit as penguins—they feed out at sea during the day and return to their burrows at dusk. So we didn’t see any prions.

Pacific Ocean coastline

Pacific Ocean coastline

We reached a seat on the cliff top about noon, but we didn’t have lunch there because our map said there was a shelter a bit farther on, at Seal Cove. We had heard it was an interesting shelter, and it was. It was made of corrugated iron but it was built right onto the rock face. Inside the shelter were several plastic chairs, a small table, and also a sink, and there were large windows to look out of. But it was a fine day so we sat at the picnic table outside to eat our lunch.

Sheltered shelter

Sheltered shelter

After lunch we walked over to the nearby cave. At first we couldn’t see anything but after our eyes got accustomed to the dark rocks we were able to see several seals. Then just below us on the rocks we saw two smaller seals, one of them moving very awkwardly over the rocks.

Deciding we had spent enough time with the seals we collected our packs and continued up the trail. We had a bit of a climb to gain to the top of the headland, and then we stayed on top for quite a distance until we came to a very tough and serious-looking fence. It was a predator-proof fence, built by the landowners, and it protects a nesting colony of Sooty Shearwaters. This is the only place in New Zealand where they nest on the mainland. Unfortunately their lifestyle is like that of the penguins and prions and so we didn’t see any shearwaters either.

Stony Bay view

Stony Bay view

From here it was downhill to Stony Bay, where our night’s accommodation was located. The trail led inland through a grassy area and then to the huts. Wow, were we surprised when we got there! There was a small field surrounded by several buildings. There was a large house with a sitting area and eight beds, and there were also three cute little houses each with two bunk beds, a propane burner, and a sink. The shower building was built against an enormous tree trunk and had water buckets on top to get warmed by the sun, and there was an outdoor bath with a supply of wood to heat it up once you’d filled it with water. The whole place was quite magical.

Large house at Stony Bay

Large house at Stony Bay

We had arrived first so we chose one of the little houses. We reluctantly rejected the one with the penguin nesting on the front porch and chose the one next to the stream. On the wall were china plates and mugs, and there were candles to light the place at night—no electricity in the little houses. Eventually the rest of our fellow walkers arrived and chose their accommodations.

Our little house

Our little house

There was a little store at the end of the site which was very well stocked. You could get eggs, sausages, tomatoes, bananas, steaks, drinks, ice cream, wine, beer, chocolate bars, and potato chips, almost everything you would need for a meal. We bought beer and ginger beer for pre-dinner drinks and once everyone was settled in we sat around talking and laughing until it was time to make dinner. We all cooked in the main house rather than in the little houses.

Stony Bay shower facility

Stony Bay shower facility

We stayed up until about 10:30 pm to see if any penguins would show up; several times we heard rustling in the bushes but that was all, so we went to bed.

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Christchurch

Dec 1, 2015

We were up early to catch the bus to Christchurch, which was to leave at 7:45 am. We walked down the hill to the station and then out into the industrial area, where the intercity buses had been banished to. As we were walking there one of the locals noticed us and came over to apologize for the bus terminal’s location!

As we left Dunedin it was sunny, but once we got out onto the highway a marine layer of cloud quickly covered the sky. The countryside started out as pasture land, then changed to grain fields, then back to pastures again. We stopped in Timaru for a half-hour coffee and bathroom stop and finally arrived in Christchurch at about 2 pm. From Christchurch’s brand new bus terminal we tried to figure out which direction to go. Initially we went the wrong way, but very quickly found a map with “You Are Here” marked on it and turned ourselves around.

The downtown area is still a mess, five years after the earthquake which devastated it. There are several buildings under construction, but still many lots where nothing is happening. In a few places we saw bits of 19th-century stonework still standing, with stacks of shipping containers next to them to protect passers-by. It looks like it might take another decade to get the area back into shape. We’ll be back later for a couple of days so we didn’t spend much time looking around, and we didn’t take any photographs either.

The hostel wasn’t too far away, so it wasn’t long before we were checked in and having a cup of tea in the kitchen. The closest supermarket was a ten-minute walk away so after we finished our tea we set off to do some shopping. We needed food for tonight and also for the Banks Peninsula walk, which is four days long. The walk was kind of a mystery—there are shops at some of the huts and we were told they are “well stocked”, but we didn’t know what they are stocked with. So we bought some freeze-dried food for the walk and also a roast chicken for tonight, which would give us leftovers for tomorrow.

As we were repacking our bags for the walk we discovered that our hostel didn’t have luggage storage. The other nearby hostel did, but it charged by the hour. But we discovered that our hostel in Akaroa would store our gear while we were walking the track, so that solved the problem. We packed the gear which we didn’t need into our duffle bags, and we would take them to Akaroa tomorrow and leave them there. Once all of the repacking was done we wrote up our journals and went to bed.

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Dunedin

Nov 28, 2015

We were travelling today, to Dunedin; we had a quick breakfast at the hostel restaurant before heading over to the bus stop at the iSite. A 20-passenger van with a large trailer showed up, and at 8:45 am we were off. It only took an hour to get to Gore, where we were connecting to the mainline service to Dunedin. This bigger bus went through sheep farms, which were pretty to look at but a bit repetitive. We had a half-hour rest stop at a gift shop and restaurant site, and arrived at Dunedin about 12:30 pm.

The first stop in Dunedin was the large ornate railway station, which would have been ideal for us to get off at. But the driver said we had to go to the terminus, which was where we were ticketed for. According to him it was only three or four minutes away, which it was—by bus. But it was a 15-minute walk back to the station. We weren’t happy about that. Later people told us that the bus station used to be in the town centre, but recently it had moved out to the industrial area because the bus company wanted to save money… or because the city told them they had to move out there… there were several stories. But really, Dunedin isn’t that big, so why can’t it have a central bus station?

Dunedin Station

Dunedin Station

Anyway, from the station we knew that our hostel, Hogwartz, was up the hill on the far side of the town centre. But we took a detour to look at one of the old buildings, and then we were lost. There were several pieces of Rattray Street on the map to confuse us, but a friendly local pointed us in the right direction. At Hogwartz we were staying in a self-contained unit, called The Stables. It was a very lovely unit, totally remodelled two years ago so it was very bright and clean.

First Church

First Church

After unpacking and having a cup of tea we headed out, back down the hill (the direct way this time) to the town centre, which is called The Octagon. At the iSite we booked a birding tour on the Otago Peninsula for tomorrow. This would visit several sites, including a yellow-eyed penguin nesting site and the Albatross Centre. The lady was very helpful with the booking and also gave us the backpacker discount of $10 each. We also considered touring the Cadbury factory, but we’ll fit that in at a later time.

Law Courts

Law Courts

Once done with that we headed over to the Countdown supermarket to stock up on food. This time we actually went with a list, so we didn’t have to just wander around. We had just got to the checkout when a huge hailstorm started, but luckily by the time we finished paying the storm had passed, so we walked back up the hill in dry weather.

After having very nice showers we started to cook dinner, which was sausages, potatoes, and salad. What with shower steam and boiling and frying we managed to set off the smoke alarm! Luckily our neighbours weren’t in, so we didn’t disturb anyone. After we opened the door the alarm stopped, and we sat at the counter and enjoyed our meal, feeling like we were at home.

Nov 29, 2015

This morning we started out late, going for a walk around the city. We had got a pamphlet describing two heritage walks, so we mostly followed those walks around the streets. Dunedin isn’t a very large city but it does have a lot of very ornate stone buildings which were built in the gold-rush days of the late 19th century. The railway station (restored) is the centrepiece and there are a number of hotels and bank buildings still in their original state. Many of them are similar to buildings in Edinburgh, which isn’t surprising because Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh.

Wains Hotel

Wains Hotel

At the iSite we bought tickets for the Cadbury factory tour, from the same helpful lady as yesterday, and by buying them there we saved $4 each. Our tour was at 11 am, so we went right over there. You aren’t allowed to go into the part of the building where they actually make the products, so it was more of a talking and demonstration tour. And anyway it was Sunday so no production was taking place. The factory didn’t seem that big but the number of tons it produces daily is quite amazing.

Cadbury milk truck

Cadbury milk truck

But Zoe, our guide, was funny and informative. We got several samples to eat, plus a cupful of liquid chocolate to put toppings on, and we found out that New Zealanders are quite keen on marshmallow-based chocolates. Part of the tour took us up numerous steps into an old silo, where we got to watch one ton of liquid chocolate drop 28 meters. The chocolate isn’t actually used for anything, it’s just for show. At the end of the tour we ended up in the gift shop, where we bought some chocolate stocking-stuffers for Christmas.

Mosaic at the Octagon

Mosaic at the Octagon

We returned to Hogwartz for lunch, and then spent some time catching up on journal entries. At 3 pm we headed down the hill to the iSite, where the bus for our Otago Peninsula tour picked us up. We followed a rather circuitous route, during which our guide gave us historical and geographical information about the area. This whole region was a volcano which erupted, and then a huge earthquake occurred which separated the sides of the crater and formed the long harbour. For most of its length it’s only two or three meters deep, so cruise ships and cargo ships anchor near the entrance.

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula

We passed by ponds and bays with birds like Black Swan and Royal Spoonbill, and eventually we arrived at the Albatross Centre on Taiaroa Head. This was one of the key stops on the tour. We could see some Northern Royal Albatrosses soaring around before we even entered the building, but first we had time to look around the museum area. At 5 pm we grouped together and were given a brief talk about the albatrosses, and then we were led up the hill. On the way to the top we passed through a nesting colony of Red-billed Gulls. A lot of them had chicks of various sized but fortunately they didn’t seem to mind us walking right through the colony.

Red-billed Gull colony

Red-billed Gull colony

At the top of the hill was a glass-fronted viewing building for us to watch the albatrosses. It had heavily tinted glass so that we could see them but they couldn’t see us. In front of us was the entrance to Otago harbour and below us on the grassy slope were several albatrosses sitting on nests. It was too early in spring for chicks to have hatched. We were lucky today, because it was quite windy and therefore there were several albatrosses flying around the headland, showing their huge wingspan.

Albatross in flight

Albatross in flight

On the hillside quite close to the building there was a couple of unmated albatrosses who were interacting with each other, and then they were joined by two more. So there was quite a party starting. The interpreters there told us that they don’t see those get-togethers very often.

Albatross get-together

Albatross get-together

Next up were the yellow-eyed penguins. We reboarded our bus and headed along more back roads, including some through farm fields. Finally we reached the trail down to the penguin reserve, and followed it down across private land to the beach. (The tour company had exclusive rights to use this trail.) As soon as we reached the beach we had to go around a yellow-eyed penguin which was sitting on the path. And then we had to get off the beach because there was a young male Hooker’s Sea-lion there! Those are both rare species.

Hooker’s Sea-lion

Hooker’s Sea-lion

Close to the beach there were blue penguin nesting boxes, and we saw one of them sitting quite close to the entrance of its nest. After the sea-lion went back out to sea we could carry on to a bird hide, from where we saw a few more yellow-eyed penguins. One of them was making its way up the steep grassy slope just across from us. It definitely looked like hard work! Every so often it would stop and flap its stubby wings to cool off.

Yellow-eyed Penguin

Yellow-eyed Penguin

There were three hides to view from, one of them very close to a pair incubating an egg. We could see both of the pair very well, but there was a camera on them so that we could still watch them if they were hiding in the burrow. There was also a penguin shouting from some bushes nearby, but we never got a good look at that one. Our guide told us that the colony had decreased in size quite a bit over the last few years, due to mostly unknown causes.

Fur seals in conflict

Fur seals in conflict

We then climbed up again, to walk down again to visit a New Zealand fur seal colony. Here the females were just giving birth, so there were several small pups on the rocks. This is also mating time, so there were bull seals harassing the females too. By now it was almost 9 pm so we headed back up to the bus and back to Dunedin. Along the way we dropped off other group members at their hotels and by the time we got back to Hogwartz it was after 10 pm. It had been a very good tour.

Nov 30, 2015

We had a leisurely breakfast this morning, and after a while we went out for a walk. We finished off yesterday’s historic buildings tour and then looked in the shops along George Street. Not seeing anything of interest, we bought cinnamon swirls from a bakery and sat on a bench to enjoy them before heading back to Hogwartz for lunch.

Former prison

Former prison

Yesterday we had booked a train excursion for this afternoon, up the Taieri Gorge. So after lunch we headed down to the station. At the Octagon we noticed that city workers were installing a large Christmas tree, and there was a craft market today. We stopped to look, and Rosemary almost bought a kit for a cushion cover decorated with a kiwi, but we bought a lot of cushion covers in Turkey back in March so we don’t need more of them.

The station was full of cruise ship passengers wandering around, but after a while their train pulled out and the station was quiet again, with only a few of us waiting for the TGR. Our train left half an hour late, but that didn’t really matter to us. The carriage we were riding in was nicely furnished and the seats were comfortable, but still looked like from the olden days. Likewise the locomotives did actually date from the 1960’s.

Taieri Gorge Railway carriage

Taieri Gorge Railway carriage

As with most train trips, the first 15 minutes of the journey went through the industrial suburbs of Dunedin, and then we went through the first of ten tunnels, leading into a more rural setting. Soon we turned off the main line and onto the old Otago Central line, which went up the gorge of the Taieri River. Along the way we crossed over several trestle bridges as well as going through tunnels. The lower slopes of the gorge were mostly used for forestry and had all recently been clear-cut, so the views there were not very pleasant.

TGR trestle

TGR trestle

The engineers of the day had clearly had to work very to get this line built, but since its closure pretty much everything had gone and there were only small sheds, if anything, where most of the stations used to be. Higher up the gorge the hillsides were dotted with yellow broom, so they were colourful. We stopped at Hindon, where there were a few information signs and a statue of a sheepdog named Sue, and were allowed off for a few minutes to take photos.

Taieri Gorge

Taieri Gorge

Our destination, Pukerangi, was at the top of the gorge and we arrived there after about two hours. Here a bus-load of seniors left us and boarded their tour bus, and the rest of us waited while the locomotives were switched to the other end of the train.

Christmas in Dunedin

Christmas in Dunedin

The downfall of all heritage train rides is that you have to go back the way you came, and see the same things all over again. But the time passed quickly enough, and we arrived back at Dunedin Station around 7 pm. Passing through the Octagon on the way back to Hogwartz we noticed that the city workers had just about finished putting up the Christmas tree, but since we’re leaving early tomorrow we won’t see the finished product.

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Invercargill

Nov 27, 2015

We had travelled from Stewart Island this afternoon, and our shuttle had dropped us off at the Tuatara Backpackers. We were on our way to Dunedin, but there is no way to get from Stewart Island to Dunedin in one day because the schedules don’t work out. So we were pretty much forced to overnight here in Invercargill.

Invercargill Water Tower

Invercargill Water Tower

Anyway, it didn’t take long to check in and soon we were in our room dropping off our bags. The first thing we did was to head out for a walk around the town. Invercargill seems to be very large and spread out, and the city centre (where we were) is quite small. There were a lot of empty car parks and not many people around, even though it was Friday evening. However there was some sort of motorcycle racing going on this weekend so there were quite a few leather-clad people and their motorbikes parked on the sidewalks.

St Mary’s Basilica

St Mary’s Basilica

Our walk took us up to the park where the museum and iSite were located; that was where our bus tomorrow was scheduled to depart from, so we wanted to know how long it would take us to walk there. Then we headed down through a semi-industrial area back into town. It was dinner time so we went to find Devil Burger, a restaurant which allegedly had really good burgers. At least so it said in a magazine article we had read about New Zealand’s best burger restaurants. The burgers were okay but we had ordered basically the same burgers at the Ranch in Te Anau and we thought the Ranch burgers were better.

Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

After dinner we continued our walking tour, looking at some of the historic buildings from the 1880’s. The trade school (late 20th century) was quite neat and tidy too. Back at the hostel we had some tea while we wrote up our journals. Luckily our bus to Dunedin tomorrow doesn’t leave until 8:45 am, so we don’t have to get up too early.

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Stewart Island

Nov 24, 2015

We’d had a great time in Fiordland, but now it was time to move on to Stewart Island. We had bought tickets from Te Anau to Stewart Island, and the tour company had taken care of all the details. Which were quite complicated.

So we were up early to catch the 7:05 am bus; it was a TrackNet shuttle which took us to the small town of Mossburn. There we switched to another shuttle which would take us to Invercargill, but we had to wait about half an hour because our driver was also a local school bus driver. At Invercargill the shuttle dropped us outside the museum, and five minutes later yet another shuttle arrived to take us to the ferry terminal at Bluff. All of this took place seamlessly and at every step our names were on the drivers’ manifests. We were very impressed.

Tuatara in Invercargill

Tuatara in Invercargill

Today the winds were very strong, so all flights to Stewart Island were cancelled. But the ferry was still running. It was a catamaran and this trip was only about half full. The crossing took about an hour, and the boat was leaping and bounding through the swells, which were breaking over its bow. After a while we went out to the stern where there was fresh air and decided to stay there. Nobody got sick on the journey, but conditions were perfect if you were prone to sea-sickness!

En route to Stewart Island

En route to Stewart Island

From time to time we saw little black birds fly past. They were storm petrels and shearwaters, but it was impossible to look at them with binoculars because of the boat’s lurching. Near the end of the trip there was an albatross, and that was a bit easier to observe.

Ferry terminal

Ferry terminal

After the boat docked, which was a tricky exercise in the wind, we found our hostel, Stewart Island Backpackers, and checked in. The room was small and smelled a bit musty but the common areas were clean and neat. We had our lunch and tea and then went out to explore.

Halfmoon Bay

Halfmoon Bay

The town of Oban is very small, so you can walk everywhere. Our first stop was at the DOC office, where we discussed local trails with the ranger and purchased a pamphlet describing short walks. From there we went down the road to the gift shop, which is also the booking office for Ulva Island tours. We talked to Ulva (yes, she’s named after the island) and before we knew it we were booked on tomorrow’s guided birding walk on Ulva Island. And finally we found a clothing shop with merino wool items which were designed here in Oban; Rosemary bought a short-sleeved shirt off the clearance rack.

Young rimu tree

Young rimu tree

After doing some food shopping we headed out for a walk. Using our pamphlet we found the Fuchsia Track, which led us through some native bush to Golden Bay, where the Deep Bay Track started. There were a lot of Tuis singing on the track, and several Kakas flying. Down on the beaches there were a lot of oystercatchers but no kiwis—on Stewart Island the kiwis are not totally nocturnal so there is the possibility of seeing them during the day.

Wohlers Monument

Wohlers Monument

It was dinnertime when we got back to the hostel so we cooked up a simple meal. After dinner we chatted with some of the other hostel guests.

Nov 25, 2015

We had signed up for an Ulva Island birding tour this morning so we didn’t have much of a lie-in. The boat was to leave from the Golden Bay dock at 8:30 am so we had a short walk over the hill and down the other side to the dock. As we approached the dock we caught up to two other couples with binoculars who were part of our tour, and the seventh person was a French journalist named Sebastien who was writing an article for Geo magazine.

Mike Jones

Mike Jones

Our guide today was Mike Jones, a local photographers and guide. Once the water taxi dropped us on the island he gave us a brief history of the area before setting out on the trails. Everybody wanted to find the South Island Saddleback, so he took us to a nearby nesting place, which was behind the toilet. Apparently David Attenborough had been there too but his crew took care to leave the toilet out of the shot!

Weka on the beach

Weka on the beach

The saddlebacks weren’t to be found there, but no matter, we found other saddlebacks later. Likewise we found all of the island’s other rare birds as we walked the trails. It’s safe to say that we wouldn’t have found them without Mike’s guiding. Besides the birds he told us about the trees and plants on the island, and we found a spider orchid and a green hooded orchid as well as numerous different ferns and mosses. It was a really worthwhile tour, and it helped that the weather was sunny with very little wind.

Green hooded orchid

Green hooded orchid

We returned at about 12:30 pm and since we had been thinking about taking the evening tour to find kiwis, we called up Phillip Smith to ask about getting on tonight’s tour. No, he said, it’s all sold out but would we like to go tomorrow night. So we agreed to that and headed back to the hostel to have lunch.

On Ulva Island

On Ulva Island

For the rest of the afternoon we wandered around trails near the town site, finally returning to the hostel at dinner time. Vicki, the owner, found us and told us that Phillip had misread his booking calendar and the large group he thought was booked for tonight was actually booked for a year from now! So did we want to go tonight? Sure we did.

Little Blue Penguins

Little Blue Penguins

We went down to the main dock at 8 pm and watched the penguins swimming in the calm bay and trying to clamber onto the rocks. That is not an easy task when you don’t have arms. By the time the boat was ready to depart there were at least 18 people waiting. The boat headed out of the harbour and down the coast for about half an hour, before tying up at a remote dock near Ocean Beach. The kiwis like to come out onto this beach to turn over the kelp and eat sandflies.

White-capped Albatross

White-capped Albatross

The trail from the dock to the beach was quite easy to walk along and we followed our guides, hoping to see a kiwi in the forest. No luck there, but we did hear one calling. When we arrived at the beautiful beach we were disappointed to see very little kelp lying around. We gathered together and were given instructions about how the evening would proceed. The moon was almost full so we had very good visibility, and we went back and forth several times along the beach. Unfortunately no kiwis appeared. At one point we all hurried up the beach, only to find that the birds we were chasing were Paradise Shelducks and not kiwis!

Ocean Beach at night

Ocean Beach at night

We waited and waited, but still no kiwis appeared. When it was nearly midnight it was decided to call it a day. Our last chance was to stumble upon a kiwi on our walk back to the boat and amazingly we did! The view was very short but at least we had seen one. We finally got back to the hostel well after 1 am.

Nov 26, 2015

Hoping to sleep in this morning didn’t go as planned, because several others in the hostel were leaving on the 8 am ferry and they all clomped past our room. After that we slept for a while but still got up at 9 am.

Tomtit

Tomtit

The weather was supposed to be atrocious today, with high winds and rain, but it really wasn’t. So after breakfast we went on a walk to Horseshoe Bay. We followed roads to start with, but there isn’t much traffic on the island so it wasn’t a problem. The island’s terrain is very hilly, so we climbed up and down some steep hills before reaching the turnoff for the Horseshoe Point track. It was in good condition and followed the coastline.

Red-crowned Parakeet

Red-crowned Parakeet

It was a nice walk and we passed a variety of interesting features. At the start of the loop was an old homestead, of which nothing is left but the house’s brick chimney. There were several bays along the trail and a number of small houses which looked like vacation cabins. Some were well-kept but others looked rather derelict. At the end of the trail we stopped at the Moturau Moana Gardens to look at the native plants, but we didn’t spend too long there because we were both hungry.

Vacation cabin decoration

Vacation cabin decoration

On the way back we saw four men at a bridge where the tide was coming in very quickly over an area which had been dry sand before. They were fishing for whitebait, which are little fish about 5 centimeters in length. Apparently they are an expensive delicacy. One man was holding a funnel net to catch the little fish and the other three were probably doing something useful. Back in town we stopped at the Kai Kart, which was finally open, and bought fish and chips for lunch. We had been told that blue cod was the best choice by the whitebait fishers, so we ordered that. It was really good.

Ackers House

Ackers House

For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed—Rosemary’s knee was a bit painful after the Kepler Track and hadn’t really recovered yet. After dinner we went out for a walk to the Ackers House, the oldest building on Stewart Island. The predicted rain still hadn’t arrived, but the wind was really roaring in. Our walk was mostly on the road along the coast, with great views across Halfmoon Bay. It took us into a part of town which had large new houses and then to Harrold Bay, where the house was. It was built in 1836 by an early settler, and although it was just a single-room stone cottage he and his wife raised nine children there!

Nov 27, 2015

Again we didn’t have to get up early—we had decided that we didn’t want to take the 8 am ferry back to the mainland, and the next one wasn’t until 3:30 pm. So we still had most of the day to spend here. However our room was next to a place where a lot of big trucks were parked, so this morning we were woken up by a lot of rumbling engines.

Fish and chip shop

Fish and chip shop

Anyway, after breakfast we waited for a rain shower to pass and then took our packs down to the ferry terminal, where we put them into the bin to be loaded onto our ferry. Now we were free to do what we liked. There was a small movie theatre in town, and its main purpose was to show a documentary about Stewart Island three times a day. The name of the film was “A Local’s Tail” and it was narrated by Lola, a Staffordshire terrier. This morning we were the only two customers, so we chose the best seats in the theatre. The film was interesting as well as funny, so it was a great way to while away an hour.

Farewell to Stewart Island

Farewell to Stewart Island

After the film it was lunch time, so we headed to Kai Kart to get fish and chips again. We took the meal over to the hostel and ate it there while talking to Greg, a young American who had been staying there. He was leaving on today’s 3:30 pm ferry as well. After lunch we found Vicki and said goodbye, then went for a short (and very steep) walk up to Observation Rock. From here early residents could look towards Ulva Island to see if any ships had arrived in port, hoping for news from home.

Cape Pigeon

Cape Pigeon

The ferry ride back to Bluff was bumpy, but not nearly as wild as when we had arrived. However we both sat outside for the duration of the trip. We saw several albatrosses as we crossed, and this time it was possible to look at them with binoculars. After we got our packs out of the bin, the bus picked us up and took us to Invercargill, dropping us outside the Tuatara Backpackers.

To be continued…

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