After a hard week of skiing came a hard week of driving around New Zealand’s South Island; yes, I know, it’s a hard life isn’t it. That said, we did cover about 2,000 miles or so in the space of nine days, which is definitely a land-based achievement for me. Starting at Queenstown, we drove through (and stopped for sleep sometimes) Kaikoura, Blenheim, Murchison, Westport, Ngakawau, Punakaiki, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Dunedin, Oamaru, and Geraldine.
Our RV was a converted Toyota Hiace from Escape Rentals which we picked up in Christchurch after a mere 6 hour drive from Queenstown. For something definitely at the budget end of the spectrum, it was a good vehicle, thankfully being equipped with a small fan heater to ward off the wintery chills. It also had a kitchenette of sorts fitted at the back, although we mostly stopped overnight at camp sites which had a kitchen.
The first good sunny day in the south involved a drive out to Picton for me, whilst Andy went on a tour of the Marlborough vineyards. Having driven up to the harbour, I thought it might be nice to take the scenic, coastal road back to meet Andy, imagining something that would involve a gentle drive past beaches. The reality was quite different, and I was faced with very narrow rows in a not so narrow vehicle, going up and down hills, sometimes on road, sometimes on dirt track, and with one blind bend after another. So, the drive wasn’t quite so relaxing, although the views were pretty spectacular. What surprised me was to find that in each of the bays I drove through, there were two or three homesteads, with the whole bay to themselves.
Our next stop of interest was Ngakawau which we’d been told had some good walking. We walked along a long disused railway line that had previously been used to bring coal down out of the hills. The history of the track detailed some of the accidents and runaways involved on the fairly steep run down from the mountain. As well as the railway, there were a few waterfalls, some big, some small.
Although we also made the effort to stop further along the coast at the famed “pancake rocks”, one can’t help but think they were a little less spectacular than their fame deserved. We saw more stunning stretches of coastline though along the way, so there’s no reason to complain.
The major highlight of the South Island was probably the Fox Glacier which we visited via helicopter! It was Andy’s first time in a helicopter, and my second having previously been lucky enough to fly one for 15 minutes some years ago. The glacier was a great example of just how difficult it is to judge scale in New Zealand. One guy asked if we were hiking to the top, to which the response was that the top was 6km away, not to mention treacherous in terms of climbing. The glacier was about 2.5km across which again, seemed surprising given how far it looked. We didn’t hike far, it being slow going on ice, but got to climb and slide through some ice caves which was fun.
Last but not least on the road trip was a visit to see some penguins which had very much been on my radar as I hadn’t seen them in the wild before. The particular penguins I went to see were New Zealand’s elusive yellow-eyed penguins at the Penguin Place private reserve. We were told that Penguin Place was the world’s first fully privately funded nature reserve. It also includes a penguin hospital and looks after as many as 150 sick or injured penguins in a year.
The yellow-eyed penguin is unusual in that it’s anti-social. Never mind not wanting to see humans, these penguins don’t even want to see other penguins, and build their nests in secluded areas where there are no other nests within eye shot. However, there’s always an exception to the rule and one of the penguins that nests on this reserve is both very human and penguin friendly. Last year, he even set up a nest with another male penguin when he was looking for company, and since he’s known to be such a good father, the two of them were given some abandoned eggs to hatch and raise, which they successfully did.
After a few days in Auckland where we were kindly housed by a friend we’d made at Gay Ski Week, we made our way to Australia. At this point, I have to confess, I didn’t take many photographs given that I’d visited friends and family previously and was largely showing Andy around and introducing him to friends.
It seems every time I head down-under, there’s one more person to visit, and this time was no exception because in Melbourne we met up with Cathy who used to work for me at Telco over a decade ago and had in the meantime emigrated to Australia. We went up the tallest building in Melbourne, Eureka 88, seeing Melbourne as the sun set. With, Jonathan, who was a fellow doctoral student at Cass, we went for Japanese, and then he took me to the theatre to see the somewhat risque Spring Awakening being performed by graduating students. With Adrian, a friend from way back when at Imperial College happened to be in Melbourne with his partner Steve, we went for dinner at Longrain which is perhaps one of the best Asian meals I’ve eaten. Last but not least, as always, my long-time friend Becky gave Andy and I a home for the duration of our visit, swapped stories of South America with us, and gave some hints and tips about getting project management work in Melbourne.
From Melbourne we headed to Newcastle to spend a couple of days with Anastasia, Stew, Dolcie, and the newest addition to the family, August. Taking it easy, we enjoyed a wander along the sea-front, a trip to the nature reserve, a great home-cooked meal, and then Brazilian churrasco (well, the vegetarian option for me of course. Dolcie was as well behaved as ever, a very sweet little girl indeed, and August was as cute as his sister as a baby, although he failed to treat us to one of his apparently notorious explosions of wind.
The last stop on this tour (save for the fact that we’ve got a couple of days in Brisbane between Vanuatu and Singapore) was Townsville to visit my Mum and Frank, where we saw more koalas, including a joey, enjoyed a day driving around Magnetic Island in a jeep navigating some huge pot-holes, sailed at with the local yacht club, went for a splash about in a rainforest waterfall, and enjoyed more food than was probably good for us! All in all, quite an activity packed week, meaning we’re pretty ready for a day off, and we’ll get exactly that: one day between landing in Vanuatu and setting off in search of a volcano.