20th-23rd Dec 2004
... and so to New Zealand (via Brisbane) for The Great Kiwi Hunt!
After a brief look around Wellington (and a local asking us that if we saw a possum on the road please swerve - to hit it! Apparently NZ has so many they are a pest here and are out-competing the native wildlife - a slight contrast to Australia where they are protected!), we headed north for some volcanic activity along the spectacular Tongariro Crossing. The walk and views were interesting, but not quite what we expected - the snowstorm made things a little whiter and harder to see than those nice sunny pictures in other people's photo-albums! Fortunately, armed with windproof jacket, gloves, thermals and woolly hat (or beanie as they call them in this hemisphere) we were warm enough! On then for some underground action at Waitomo caves with abseiling, flying fox - 'tirolesa' for the Brazilians amongst you - (think whizzing down a wire hanging on to a pulley. In the dark.) and black-water rafting (floating around on a big inner tube) staring up at thousands of glowing lights - glow-worms (actually glow-maggots as our guide politely explained). Great stuff! And saw our first live kiwis of the trip running around behind glass.
Up through Auckland and on to the treaty grounds of Waitangi where, on 6th Feb 1840, the Maori signed up to being a British Protectorate to help sort out some civil disorder (before the pesky French or Dutch beat us to it!). And there British Colonisation began. Then had a look at some of New Zealand's biggest christmas trees - the Kauri tree (actually not christmas trees, it just happened to be christmas day when we saw them). Some of these chaps have a pretty impressive girth (16m) and are pretty tall to boot (50m). We were impressed.
Went for a Boxing Day dive at Poor Knights Islands which Jacques Cousteau rated as one of the world's top ten apparently. We were impressed to see a large school of fish feeding at the surface - a large frothy white area ahead of the boat. There were plenty of fish to see, some *big* sting rays, and a cuttlefish to boot. Now it was time to visit some of Roger's relatives...
We called in on Paul & Lynn Pauling and whilst there, were treated to a ride on a 1912 Model T Ford, and a more 'modern' 1930 Ford. The Coromandel coast was next on the list (with half of Auckland it seemed) and Hot Water Beach where you dig a hole in the sand and toast your tootsies in the hot thermal water rising up. Or in our case, stand ankle-deep in the sea in front of the hundred or so blighters who got there first, and toast your tootsies while your ankles freeze! A very curious sensation.
27th Dec 2004 - 1st Jan 2005
Called on Gordon & Celia Stephenson, with the bonus of Lynn & Pete, Janet, Guy, Erin & Bronwyn, Paul, Pip & family and Keith (who'd brought over some tasty Rarotongan fish). Also learnt of Gordon's latest project to keep out the dreaded stoats and possums from protected areas and give the poor old kiwi a chance to recover. On then to Rotorua and Cosy Cabins (thermal) Campsite - fancy pitching your tent on a natural central heating system? - where Joe & Claire gave us some tips on which geo-thermal sites to visit (jogging Roger's memory from the family gathering a few years ago) and then put us up for the night in their cool motor home. Several bubbling mud pools, geysers, hot springs, steaming lakes and a Maori Haka greeting "dance" (think NZ All Blacks rugby team) later and we headed off back to Wellington to drop off the car and jump aboard a ferry to South Island ready to spend the last couple of days of 2004 in a charming house about 3 metres from a beach outside Picton, thanks to the hospitality of David Pauling and Lynn's sister (confusing, these Lynn's!) Raywn. The rain stopped for another day and we jumped on board a water taxi to walk some of the Queen Charlotte track with some nice views up and down Marlborough Sound (with thanks to the land-taxi service provided by Raywn & David!). We saw in the new year with some good New Zealand bubbly (never did work out where the cork landed) then headed down the east coast (west coast weather looked lousy) to Kaikoura for some New Year's Day whale-watching. On a sea-borne rollercoaster (catamaran on lumpy seas) at an exhilarating 30 knots, we successfully watched a few spurts, three Sperm whale's tails disappear, had a go on a hydrophone to listen to the whales' underwater clicking sounds and admired the acrobatic abilities of some playful dusky dolphins! Added to this we saw sealions basking on some rocks and albatrosses showing off their enormous wingspans.
2nd-7th Jan 2005
Moved on to Christchurch where we decided that we were lugging far too much around with us so left some luggage before joining a Stray bus. This took us to the west coast via Arthur's Pass to the god-forsaken settlement of Barrytown (home to New Zealand's slowest and most expensive internet connection). Stuck there for a day and at a loss for what to do, we turned our hands to knife-making and are now the proud owners of two very sharp home-made carbon-steel knives. Look out!!!
Not content with South American glaciers we decided to sample the delights of New Zealand's glacier with a hike on Franz-Josef glacier which we now discover is currently advancing at a rate of 3 metres per DAY!!! That explains the creaking and groaning we heard while we were merrily traipsing all over it, and why the end is so steep that they have to carve steps in it to start the ice-trek. This glacier is unique in that it ends in rainforest at about 250m above sea level and only does so because the neve (snow-collection area) is so large and the glacier itself is so steep (F-J's normal rate is 2m per week compared to a 'standard' glacier that moves at about 6-7m per year).
Enough of this nature-stuff - next stop was Queenstown - "adventure capital of the world", where Susana went for a tandem hang-glide, Roger went for a freefall into a canyon-swing, and we both did some white-water rafting down a very full Shotover river and broke with tradition by being dumped in the water by our capsized raft at the aptly named "Toilet" rapids and fully understood the meaning of the "Oh Shit" rapids that came next. Roger outclassed Susana in the "how-many-times-can-you-fall-out-of-the-raft" stakes (including capsizing 5 seconds after being rescued!). No injuries though!
Having used up our adrenalin quotas for the month we spent three days on one of NZ's Great Walks - the Routeburn Track and beat the averages by getting two days of blue skies out of three. Stunning scenery with lakes and snow-capped mountains as per the postcards! The third day, however, reminded us that this is one of the five wettest and coolest summers since records began in 1820!
From the blue skies of Te Anau we headed up to Milford Sound (which should really be called Milford Fjord, since it's a flooded glacial valley) for a cruise to discover that the weather really does change when you go through the mountains...back to cloud and rain! Milford Sound was spectacular due to the phenomal number of waterfalls cascading down the sheer cliffs of the sound/fjord. It was after about the tenth waterfall that the guy on the microphone said "... and here is one of the *six* permanent waterfalls...".
The Great Kiwi Hunt continued as we headed for Stewart island just south of South Island (rough ferry ride) where, rumour had it, kiwis could be seen running around in broad daylight. A quick check of the weather (50-80kmh winds, cloud and rain and sand!) and the track conditions (extremely muddy) convinced us that our kiwi-hunting was to be restricted to day-walks on tracks around the main township Oban (pop: 400). Took the chance to see, with Sietske, the first NZ showing of Manic Opera's excellent show; the "Cake Suckers" at Stewart Island's "theatre" (three women: one Scottish, one English and one Kiwi/Maori).
Returned to the 'mainland' having seen mutton birds (sooty shearwaters), tuis and heard blue penguins, but saw no kiwis.
Headed for sunny Dunedin (Celtic name for Edinburgh - named by some homesick Scots no doubt!) via the Catlins and saw sealions and waterfalls. Began cat-feeding duties at Janet (Roger's final relative this trip) & Guy's, in between which we took a day tour to the renown Otago Peninsula to see yellow-eyed penguins, more sealions, fur seals and royal albatross with their massive 3.5m wingspan! Failed to tour Speights brewery so settled for Cadbury's instead. Then back to Christchurch.
That's it for NZ. Now back to Oz, this time to the north-east coast... Cairns.