Wednesday, March 11, 2009

too many scenic vistas

Wow. I’ve been so busy riding my thumb around the south island I haven’t gotten around to posting any pictures or stories in quite awhile. I left off just before Queenstown:

Gorgeous place and though it is a bit overrun by tourists, it has the only disc golf course I have encountered thus far in the country. I would have happily stuck around to play it, but with my tight schedule I had to get a move on. In fact that has been a bit of a theme for the south island—so many places that make me want to stick around for a week or two, but with only a month in the country it just isn’t possible to take things that slow. So I woke up at the crack the next morning to catch a tour bus to one of the most splendid sights on the planet, Milford Sound.

It’s really tough to capture the shear scale of the place. With cliffs jutting vertically up from the fiord 1,500 meters and capped by the occasional glacier, it sure is magnificent. It is also one of the wettest places on earth and I lucked out with the weather. It gets so much rainfall, 10 to 20 meters of fresh water rides atop the salty ocean water below, which creates a very unusual marine ecosystem.

Next stop on the whirlwind Thumbelina express: Stewart Island. But not before a stop off in my town.

Funny I must have founded it prehumously.

But on to Stewart is a pretty unique place. It rains there an average of 15 times per day and stops raining just as frequently.

These flightless birds called Wekas roam the island and don’t have any fear of people.

This one really wanted to eat whatever was in my bag and stuck his/her head entirely inside it. Another tried to jump in my lap as I was trying to make myself a peanut butter sandwich!

More fascinating than the bird life is that of the locals. I happened to be present for the live band Saturday night.

That’s right. A guitar, a one-string broom-handle bass, a washboard and a tambourine—the classical Stewart Island quartet. After they completed their repertoire of about 5 songs (for most of which the complete lyrics eluded them) they just went back to the top and repeated their set. Of course the gumboot clad fishermen scarcely seemed to notice and seldom managed a sip of Speights without spilling an equivalent portion on the carpet.

Back across to the mainland and planet Earth, I hitched to Dunedin, sister city of Edinburgh, Scotland, and New Zealand’s biggest college town. I rented a car so I could go see Otago Point and some of the Catlans National Park.

Unfortunately I forgot to recharge my camera the night before so this is the only shot I got of the beautiful scenery.

Don’t try to hitchhike in a hailstorm. It just isn’t worth it. Catch a bus. After about 5 hours of hiding out in cafés and of short rides with very friendly farmers going to the next town, I actually got picked up by a commercial bus. The driver charged me $20, but it was still a $10 discount off what I would have paid if I had done the smart thing: checked the weather and booked online.

This morning I signed up for a car relocation at one of the rental places, which is basically a $19 one-day rental. Of course it limited me to a straight shot form Christchurch to Picton, but allowed me to explore Kaikoura by car in between.

Yes another incredibly scenic place. I know you’re getting as bored of dramatic sea-scapes and mountains as I am. One of the big draws of Kaikoura is its close proximity to an extremely deep ocean canyon that attracts a vast array of rare sea birds, whales and dolphins. Unfortunately the water was far too rough to go out on a boat, so I explored the rocky coast and gazed at thousands of sea-birds too far away for me to identify.

There were loads of fur seals crashed out of the rocks everywhere. They always look like they're hungover from a huge night out.

I was going to try to go to farewell spit tomorrow, but I think it’s a bit too far for the time I have left, so I’ll probably just catch the ferry back to Wellington tomorrow. That will get me back to Hawkes Bay well in time for my 24th. Friday the 13th...yikes!

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