Christchurch to Dunedin to Auckland...
03.01.2011 - 10.01.2011 25 °C
Having a brief but definite opportunity to visit the deepest depths of the South Island, NZ would probably prompt you to catch a plane whenever you have a long distance to travel just to keep yourself on time. That would be sensible. If you happen to have a spare $400 for flights that is...
However, as NZ hasn't really caught up with the cheap flight bonanza and as we wanted to see the Southern Alps from the ground (ditto the Marlborough Sounds), spend at least a night in Wellington and also visit my grandparents along the way driving was the best option.
Did I mention Transrail (NZ rail company) also decided to axe their Auckland to Wellington journeys until the 10th Jan? That was a kick in the itinerary. I console myself with the sure knowledge that they didn't make any more money out of me as a result (nor the half dozen friends also travelling around NZ at the same time).
So we started in Christchurch. Took a day to do the Transalpine then drove to Dunedin to visit family. It rained the entire way but we still made use of the opportunity to stop at the Moeraki Boulders (totally circular boulders protruding from the sandy beach at Moeraki) which was well worth it.
Dunedin was enjoying a classic British summer down under and it was cloudy and drizzly most of the time we were there however its an interesting town built into crazy hills (hosting the worlds steepest street, you just know this place was built by hardy colonials who had never been told they couldn't do something) that are frequently draped in a cloak of cloud that rolls in at a moments notice. We were taken to Sandfly Bay to watch the nightly epic of blue and yellow eyed penguins emerging from the waves to begin their assent up the steepest and highest of sanddunes and hill sides that closely resemble cliffs, to nest for the night. These tiny creatures - all of 1.5 feet in height - waddle their way to the base of the sanddunes, resting and shaking out their little bodies every few minutes only to tuck their beaks down and shuffle their way up the slopes with an amazing resilience and determination. It was breathtaking to watch and a priviledge to see.
Did I mention the seal lions? Those logs of wood on the beach aren't drift wood washed up on a king tide. They are sea lions lolling drowsily, occassionally turning over to stretch a flipper. As we got up from our mid-dune perch to head back a host of sea lions all over the beach were making their way back into the water. They waded on all fours our from behind rocks and drift wood and sand dunes and immediately made us mere mortals feel dwarfed and precarious as we side-stepped them in what I hoped was a respectful manner in their terms!
We struggled (I struggled) our way back up the massive sand dune to the foot path that would lead to the car park as the sky that peeked through the grey and dangerous clouds flamed a deep redy pink and we headed back into thick cloud on our way back to our beds for the night.
The next morning we began the long haul to Blenheim - having the offer of a free bed, a delicious dinner and a precious moment with a treasured Aunt so far away but too tempting to turn down. We drove through first cloud, then drizzel and finally broke out into flaming sunshine somewhere around Christchurch. By the time we made it to Kaikoura it was registering at 30+ degrees C on the cars thermometer and the waves were crashing into the rocky coast line with a strong and shifting breeze (here offshore, there onshore). We stopped to film seals on the rocks at a look out point just north of Kaikoura. We saw fights and frippery as the seals either squared off with one another or played happily in the rolling waves. We also saw maternal care as mothers with very young calves gently urged their offspring down to the water or further into the shade. The cicadas were creating a huge racket and it felt like a real summer should!
We made it in to Blenheim in the early evening and previously mentioned succour was enjoyed. We then slept like the dead, waking to receding stratospheric clouds and emerging glorious sunshine. After a coffee at Wither Hills Winery (I highly recommend you pop in for a visit and if the weather is good get a bean bag on the lawn!) we headed for Picton and the ferry.
I would recommend you do the ferry journey between NZ's north and south island heading from Wellington to Picton. It does make coming into the Marlborough sounds truly breathtaking. However doing it the other way is still beautful. Wellington was windy as usual but sunny and the city was oddly quiet for a Friday night. We found a fabulous little cafe on Cuba St for an amazing caesar salad (I think it was called Ernesto) and I highly recommend this as an eating establishment of top notch nosh. The staff were brilliant too so good all around! Having sauntered along the waterfront and then down some of the main streets we had located our hire car company and got a deal to return a hire car to Auckland within 48 hours for a mammoth $20 hireage. So at 10am the next day we were collecting said car and heading north!
After a mere 8 hours travel we'd left Wellington far behind and travelled up through Taihape (lunch) to Taupo and Rotorua to Waihi Beach where we stayed with grandparentals and soaked up yet more good kiwi living. Oddly we saw an island that seemed to appear in the morning and disappear in the evening. Some beach side property had loped down a pine tree which obscured this view of the water until recently which explained why, in 15 years of looking at the view the island hadn't been spotted sooner but its pm disappearances were truly weird! It was probably a sea mist or something.
Having only 48 hours to get back to Auckland we were thoroughly lazy and just mooched about not doing too much but eating lots at the grandparentals gearing up for the final, very brief run to Auckland with our hire car. Having traversed about 2000 kms of road in 8 days our carbon foot print isn't looking too great however the tourism value is getting up there.
I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to do NZ in a short space of time to look into a return deal on a campervan and just hot foot it about the place enjoying the journey! They apparently give you 7 days to get a campervan from Y destination to X origin (ie Wellers to Aucks) and it beats heck out of paying full price!
Take a camera with a good zoom. Speak to people where you park up for a night (you never know what cool places they'll recommend you stop at). Have spare cash in your pocket. It will all be good.