The outskirts of Wellington looked very attractive as we made our way to the Domestic Airport terminal for a quick flight to Christchurch on the South Island. G Adventures provide for breakfast on some but not all mornings, which seems unnecessarily tight, so the fact they’re flying us all rather than putting us on the cheaper ferry seems baffling.
Similarly baffling was the absence of a bag security scan before we got on the plane. Fortuitously there was an off duty pilot in the queue behind me who knew the answer. If the aircraft carries less than 100 passengers you don’t need to. Gulp!
In Christchurch we jumped on to a new bus and headed up the east coast to Kaikōura. On the way there was a stop and some wine tasting. It was not a highlight due to the paucity of the wines but a nice idea.
There’s a fault line between two islands where tectonic plates meet and earthquakes happen around this area. Christchurch had a large one in 2011 killing 185 people and in 2016, our next destination, had one killing two people. Happily it all seemed calm as we trundled up the coast road.
Short of the town we were offered an hour’s walk along the coastline. ‘Business Class’ and I jumped at the opportunity of racking up some steps. From the cliffs we could see the seals basking on the rocks a long way down. The coastline was more dramatic but not dissimilar to Northumberland.
Due to the two plates meeting there are some considerable depths of water. This leads to very cold water and it is a great habitat for fish. If you get fish you get Sperm whales (who love a bit of squid), dolphins and seals. The latter make a tasty snack for the Orca whales that cruise through on occasion.
The next morning various members of the party either went swimming with dolphins or flew to a great height to see whales (or not.) Anna and I remember well the excitement of going out on a boat near Savannah, Georgia to see dolphins. As it happened we disappointingly only saw a few in the distance. As we returned to the harbour a small ocean going fishing boat was ahead of us. As it tied up and started sorting the catch various remnants went over the side. At this point tens of dolphins surrounded the boat for a solid guzzle. Needless to say that satisfied any residual interest we had in ever seeing dolphins close up!
If that wasn’t exciting enough then Leeds United vs Nottingham Forest was. Via the Talksport App we listened to the game first thing in the morning. Later we found the highlights on TV. I have to say 3 points is a great start to the day and a celebratory breakfast was in order.
We took a stroll to the highest point in the town to look at the bay and came across some cars that were parked up. The owners were slowly going south to a custom car meeting and had stopped for a break. I love any old car. I enjoyed our long chat about the cars and the work they’d done to convert the original cars into these beauties.
From here it was a drive to Hanmer Springs, a spa town for the night. There were thermal waters and a whole water park built around this free hot water.
We can surely agree that Tony’s not a water park type of guy. In fact the only time I can recollect having any enthusiasm for swimming was when my dearly departed brother-in-law suggested the idea. When met with my initial indifference he countered ‘where can you go to see half dressed women and drink as much as you like for £1.50?’ The entrance price should alert you to the amount of time that has elapsed since I went swimming.
The tour group of 16, including 9 females plus the tour guide, did disrobe and go to the park. I promise you ‘half dressed women’ is a lot less exciting when the participants are ‘half dressed old women’. I concede that ‘half dressed men’ also looked a lot better when fully clad.
However, the women were game and after minimum inducement were prepared to throw themselves down tubes and/or double up on inflatables to scare themselves. A very fun break I must attest.
To continue a familiar refrain the next day it was back into the bus for a long drive to Frank Josef. This settlement is a tourist town either side of a road that exists because of the glacier high up above it.
The drive from Hanmer Springs took us over the Southern Alps via the Lewis Pass. So named after the European surveyor who found a route they could make into a road. (A little research inevitably identified that Māoris had found the route originally.) It was a good road but windy and hilly and it wasn’t for another 80 miles before we got off the bus in the old gold mining town of Reefton for a pee and a coffee. The scenery was like the Scottish Highlands with high hills usually covered in grass or trees. Deep valleys had wide river beds and fast running water albeit as this was the end of summer they were no way near full.
Today was a birthday of a young Danish girl on the trip. This sent the guide into a paroxysm of joy with banners adorning the bus. I think the guide ordinarily works with younger parties of traveller and has tried to create something approaching a party atmosphere. Often the microphone is cranked up and we get ‘Who’s excited about…blah, blah, blah today?’ Stoically I have attempted to participate in this merriment by abandoning my standard scowl on several occasions. I can ‘do’ happy at a pinch. I also pinch myself to think that I also am also a guide who’s a little more low key. Two operators could not really be much different!
Anyway we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and endured several repeat playings of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ before we left Hanmer Springs. (Later that night a cake with candles appeared at dinner as well.) I’m not sure if the birthday girl or guide was the happiest. However, well done for the guide for finding a cake in Hokitika: read on.
En route we stopped at Hokitika on the west coast. The small town had a larger population in the 19th Century when mining, including gold, was nearby and the harbour facilitated it’s export. Today it’s a ‘one horse town’ without the horse. Tourism is now so important for this part of the country, it seems other more money earning activities are well in decline.
After Hokitika our drive was on flat coastal lands where we could often glimpse the sea.
Being a vegetarian hasn’t been easy for Anna on the trip. The New Zealanders, like the Germans and French, struggle with the concept of no meat. Let’s face it, Australasia is built on meat pies; so it stands to reason. Anna ordered vegetable soup at a Hokitika cafe. Knowing the challenge she meticulously cross examined the proprietor to ensure the absence of animal from the potage. Later she commented on how much she’d enjoyed the special chicken ‘vegetable’ it contained!
Our stay in Frank Josef was to be on the eve of Good Friday. We’d already noted the Kiwis enthusiasm for hot cross buns.
Sadly, Jesus gives with one hand (a bible in the hotel room) but takes away with the other (no alcohol on sale anywhere on Good Friday).
In discussing the guidance we all could gain from finding the good book in our bedside chests one guest did brighten and said it enabled him to pick a passage and preach to his room sharing ‘buddy’. I’m not convinced he was joking. I told you the Canadians are eccentric.
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