Mother, Mother Ocean
I have heard your call
Wanted to sail upon your waters, since I was three feet tall
February 4, 2006
What an amazingly perfect day we had today! The weather cleared overnight and we woke to beautiful sunshine. After breakfast, we arranged for a helicopter whale watching excursion. We were booked for 10:30 but the company called back and asked if we could come sooner, so we actually went out at 9:30 instead. The views of the coast were spectacular and then we got to the whales!
They are primarily male adolescent sperm whales and they are found in these waters year round. The seabed just off the coast near Kaikoura form a deep and large underwater trough, which effectively traps squid, fish and shark, the staples of the whales' diet. Just like all teenage boys, the whales have huge appetites (after all they are growing), consuming between 500-2000 kilograms of food every day! They basically snack at the underwater buffet all day long.
The whales typically dive for 45-60 minutes at a time and then resurface to breathe. It's during this resurfacing period that they can be seen. Sometimes they stay on the surface for only five or six minutes, but other times they sleep for a longer period. We saw five whales during our 30-minute helicopter ride. Plus, we got a bonus - on the way back to shore, we saw a group of dolphins! Later, we compared notes with a few people that had gone out on the whale watching boats - some had seen only 1 whale, others as many as 3 whales. But, the boat cruise is 3-3.5 hours long, with only 2 hours actually spent in the whales' grazing area.
Following our whale excursion, we explored the town of Kaikoura. It's fairly small with a resident population of only 3,400. The town is beautifully situated right on the sea with the Kaikoura Seaward Mountain Ranges just a few miles inland. Tourism is the primary industry, but sheep and cattle farms are also prevalent in the area.
had another amazing adventure this afternoon - this time on four wheels -
ATVs (all terrain vehicles). To describe it, I'm just going to copy from the
brochure, because I think it says it best.
"Enjoy this magnificent 1600 acre, third generation sheep and cattle farm as we take you on a tour of spectacular hill country, through native bush with wonderful sounds of our native Bellbird and other wildlife. Your ride takes you to the magnificent Haumuri Bluffs where you will find the New Zealand fur seals basking in the sun and sea birds in their natural habitat. Spectacular panoramic views of the Kaikoura snow capped mountains in the distance with breathtaking views of the Kaikoura coastline north, and to the south towards Banks Peninsula. Your journey takes you through sheep and cattle grazing at their leisure, then experience an exhilarating ride through natural riverbeds and streams."
We experienced all of this (except for that part about the snowcapped mountains) and more! It was just a fantastically fun 3 hour trip with high speeds across the fields and steep curvy paths up and down the hills, there were also streams to drive in and across!
After our 4-wheeler ride, we went back into town for a beer. We stopped in at Donegal's Irish Bar for dinner, but we didn't think it was anything like an Irish bar - very disappointing. We also checked out the menus at several restaurants in town and in the end decided to return to Fyffe's for dinner. We had a lovely meal and afterward, we spent an hour sitting outside with a Dutch couple and then spent another 45 minutes chatting with an English couple and the proprietors, Chris and Colin. We're not typically so social, but we really enjoyed ourselves.
February 5, 2006
The weather was horrible today - rainy and cold. We're so glad we got to do so much yesterday! Our original plan was to take a drive along the coast and stop for some photographs of the seals, but with the weather, we decided just to go into town to an internet cafe and work on the Queenstown portion of our trip. Afterward, we stopped at the Adelphi bar and cafe for lunch. It really caters more towards the backpacker crowd, but we liked the menu selection and the food was quite good. In the afternoon, we returned to the lodge and sat to chat with the owners, Chris and Colin while we did some laundry.
With the weather so bad, we couldn't be bothered to go out for dinner, so once again, we ate in. And, once again, Mark had the seafood chowder (it really is delicious), but I tried the tomato and basil soup, which was also lovely.
Well, now that we are all rested, it was time to move on today. We left Kaikoura at 8:15, passing through Christchurch and Lake Tekapo before arriving in the small town of Twizel. Twizel is just about the 1/2 way point between Kaikoura and Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park. The drive today was about 470 kilometers and took 6 1/4 hours. There were some interesting sights along the way, most notably the views of snow-covered Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Also, today was a holiday (Waitangi Day) and it appeared that there was an antique car rally somewhere near Lake Tekapo. We passed at least 50-60 antique cars from the 1930's and prior. Many of them were of the "open-coach" style with no roof or side windows. The people in these cars were bundled up in winter coats, hats and gloves!
What is Waitangi Day you may be asking? It is the day of commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Great Britain and the Maori people of New Zealand. The treaty, signed in 1840, essentially claimed New Zealand as an English colony, but gave the land and the seas to the (native) Maori people. Even today, there is much debate over the language of the treaty, as some words do not translate from English to Maori and vice versa.
February 7, 2006
After spending the night in Twizel, we drove on to Te Anau, arriving in the afternoon. It was a relatively uneventful drive with the only event happening along the way was that there was a large flock of sheep in the road. We had the opportunity to see the sheep dogs in action - they just herded them right along and into the next pasture down the road. It was amazing because the dogs get their commands from humans via a whistle!
We settled into our room, went in search of the market and Internet and that was it for the day!
We were on the road to Milford Sound just before 9:00 this morning. The weather wasn't very good - very foggy/cloudy, but even with that, the drive was really pretty. The last 60 kilometers were probably the best as we were actually in the Fiordland National Park. We had booked a boat cruise, departing at 12:30. We stopped a couple of times along the way and had time for a quick snack and a hot drink before we boarded the boat. Luckily, the clouds cleared some and we had quite a bit of sunshine throughout the fjord cruise. The trip lasted 2 1/2 hours, taking us all the way down the fjord to the Tasman Sea. The scenery was spectacular - the mountains, cliffs, waterfalls and glaciers were all amazing!
This morning, we left Te Anau and headed south. We passed through Manapouri, just 15 minutes out of Te Anau - it is a lovely little village that serves as the gateway to Doubtful Sound. We continued to drive along the coast and stopped in the beach resort of Riverton. Here, we had lunch at a seaside cafe (lovely food), before driving on to Invercargill. We stayed at the Victoria Railway Hotel, a historical hotel, dating from the 1800's.
We spent the afternoon at the Southland Museum, where they have a very interesting and informative display about the sub-Antarctic islands. Also on display are several tuataras, New Zealand's oldest native reptile - these small (1-2 feet) dinosaur-like creatures can be traced back through fossils to 250 million years ago. What amazingly adaptable creatures!
Happy Birthday Dad! We hope you have an incredible day. We love you!
Today was once again a travel day. But, we didn't have too far to go, so we took a detour from Invercargill to Bluff, the southernmost town in New Zealand and also the oldest European settlement. The views from the top of the bluff were incredible, stretching for 20+ miles.
From Bluff, we drove to Queenstown, a lovely city on Lake Wakatipu. In the afternoon, we walked down the hill (very steep!) from our hotel and explored the town and lake front. Queenstown obviously only exists for tourists, but that means that the restaurants and other facilities are very nice. We enjoyed a beautiful, sunny and warm afternoon in town.
The hotel had a social hour this evening and then we walked back into town for a light dinner. After our meal, we walked along the waterfront to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful ending to our visit to the South Island.