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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

New Zealand III - This Time It's Personal!

NEW ZEALAND | Saturday, 12 April 2008 | Views [5904] | Comments [1]

From Queenstown we headed East across the South Island to Dunedin. The city's name comes from Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic word for 'Edinburgh', and that's not the only thing linking Edinburgh and Dunedin...

Dunedin's newspaper is called 'The Edinburgh Times'; they've got an annual Fringe Festival of the arts; the rugby stadium is on Murrayfield Road; the city often has a malty brewery smell (from its city-centre Speights brewery). The list goes on!

Lots of non-Edinburgh-specific Scottish things too - like the centre's dominated by a huge statue of Robbie Burns.

Dunedin was originally intended to be some kind of Christian utopia, run by the Free Church of Scotland, but by the time they had a massive gold rush in the late 19th century (only a few decades after the first settlers had arrived), that idea clearly wasn't going to work. The city was by far New Zealand's richest while the gold lasted.

Anyway, spot the Edinburgh/Dunedin difference!...

City Map

The Water Of Leith

The Scott Monument
(Actually it's Cargill's Monument in Dunedin)

Almost all the street names are from Edinburgh, mostly from the New Town, though unfortunately they're arranged totally differently!

Also, it seems that it's just as easy, or maybe even easier, to buy haggis or a kilt here than in Edinburgh!

Even the parking wardens seem similar...

But one thing that Edinburgh can't boast, but Dunedin can is the steepest road in the world, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. Actually Dunedin also trumps Edinburgh in the penguin department - they can be seen most days waddling along the city's beaches.

After that I stayed in the small seaside town of Oamaru for a night, then the next night in a remote farmstay miles out of an even smaller town called Kirau, with the plan being to get some photos of merino sheep living a hardy life in the mountains. It took a lot of walking in ridiculous dry heat to even find some merino sheep, and then for some reason they were reluctant to pose for photos with mountainous backdrops!

But staying in the farmstay was a bit awkward as everyone else staying there were the elderly friends and family of the owners, there for an Easter weekend feast - luckily I had some pasta to reheat!

The bizarrely round boulders at Moeraki Beach.

The next day I rejoined the bus to drive through Mackenzie County, a huge rugged and dry area which was pretty much unused until a sheep rustling Scot called Jock Mackenzie used it to keep massive groups of (allegedly) stolen sheep. Supposedly he'd keep them for several months, then take them to Christchurch and sell them, legally as far as anyone could tell. Eventually people knew what he was up to, but nobody managed to prove anything, so they just deported him back to Scotland. But he'd shown that the area was not bad for keeping sheep, and there's thousands upon thousands of them there now.

Next up was a couple of nights by Lake Tekapo, a massive high-up lake which is bright blue because of something to do with rock bits in the glacial meltwater that it's made up from.

The Church of the Good Sheperd... looks at least 500 years old, but it was actually built in the 1930s!

One of the observatories on Mt John, above Lake Tekapo. Not much light pollution round there.

On to Christchurch where I had a couple of good nights out, then Kaikoura on the East Coast. Kaikoura's big thing is that very close to the coast there's a massive and deep ocean canyon, full of all sorts of marine life including giant squid which support lots of whales, dolphins, sea birds and everything.

The first day I thought I should try dolphin swimming, expecting it to be a bit crap, but in fact it was great... we found a massive pod of about 350 dusky dolphins (they're known as the clowns of the sea as they mess around so much) and slipped off the back of the boat into the pod, wearing wet-suits, flippers, mask and snorkel.

We were told to get their interest by making strange noises, diving down and keeping eye contact. But in no time there were dolphins all around, and maintaining eye contact with one was dizzying as a dolphin would normally spiral around you many times, then often decide to dive deep down - the few times I managed to follow (difficult with a buoyant wet-suit) the dolphin would go far down, then come rocketing vertically back up to break the surface above me.

The most incredible sight though was when the pod was on the move, and streams of dozens of dolphins at a time would come out of the blue into your visibility maybe ten meters away, swimming incredibly fast with their tails making their whole body bounce up and down, and zoom past making their clicking sounds. Every so often you'd see the eyes of one fix on you as it passed, and it would swim around you playfully a few times, then shoot off to catch up.

The next day I booked onto a 7.15 whale watching trip, hoping to get sunrise pictures of the whales, but got there bright and early to find that they were cancelling all sailings until the weather improved.

Eventually, after lunch it was still a bit choppy, but we were told where the sick bags were and went out and saw a couple of huge sperm whales (who were up for a breather before heading down for another 40 minutes to catch more squid), lots more dolphins, fur seals and the odd wandering wandering albatross...

Then I was off to Renwick, in the Marlborough area, famous for its wine.

Here the grapes were growing for lots of famous NZ wines - Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, Oyster Bay, Montana (still owned by the Check family who started off the wine industry around here), Herzog plus tonnes of others. I hired a bike and pedalled around trying not to get shot (more of that later) - managed to taste a few grapes and they were surprisingly sweet and tasty - I thought wine grapes would be horrible!

A brave hedgehog!

Crossed the Cook Straight from the South Island back to Wellington on the North Island by ferry this time. My first night in the dorm there was distinguished by the fact that I shared my bed with another man - a complete stranger - for several hours!

My four dorm-mates and me were sleeping soundly at around 2am when the remaining extremely drunk and quite large person must have come in, climbed the ladder up to my top bunk (I hope thinking it was his bed which was actually on the other side of the room), then before I had time to do anything about it, passed out and fell into a lump halfway down my bed!!

None of my attempts to wake him (shaking, jabbing, slapping, pinching his cheeks etc) did anything, so I had to choose between him possibly being injured on landing if I tried to get him off the top bunk, or the ever present vomit risk if I left him. I tried and failed to wake him again, then eventually had to leave him to doze. Several hours later he woke up, deliriously looked across the dark room to his bunk bed, carefully found the narrow ladder down, then stepped forwards and landed face-first on the floor with a thud and quite a lot of muffled swearing! But he seemed ok, and then was packed up and gone by about 6am!

On the way from Wellington we stopped at Mt Bruce, where they have big enclosures inside with reversed lighting - it's dark during the day and light through the night. All this is to keep kiwi birds (which are nocturnal) so that the public can see them during the day. Once my eyes had adjusted I spotted a couple of them digging for worms, prancing around in a comical way, and even stopping to make their piercing call. But the most surprising thing was their size - they're pretty big, larger than a chicken and a lot more solid looking (and a lot more bizarre looking). There's loads of endangered species of kiwi - they're still surviving in the wild, but helped by people trapping the introduced possums, stoats, rats etc plus domestic cats and dogs that threaten them.

Then up to Napier, a small city which was pretty much totally demolished by a big earthquake in 1931. The result is that the town centre is all built in the art-deco style that was all the rage (and cheap) at the time.

Napier is on Hawkes Bay, another famous wine growing area. I went on a wine tasting tour which was good fun, and I learned lots about winemaking, including about 'frost-fighting'... if your vineyard gets a frost at the wrong time it can ruin the whole year, so people sleep with a thermometer alarm clock thing - when they get woken up they have various ways of stopping the vines getting frosted. Most big vineyards have a permanent diesel powered propellor thing high in the air every acre or so that looks a bit like 2 bladed mini wind turbines permanently in place - they use them to keep air circulating. But another method is to pay for a helicopter to fly and hover around over the vineyard - expensive but worth it!

Apart from the frost, birds eating the fruit are the big problem - at first biking around Marlborough I'd thought all the gunshot sounds were just similar to the automatic air-pressure machines they use in Scotland to scare the crows away. But no, the vineyards employ teams of people to walk up and down the rows all day with shotguns to shoot and scare off the pesky birds. So I don't know if vegetarians should drink wine! Actually supposedly winemaking uses rennet, so I suppose they shouldn't anyway.

Anyway - crazily - buying wine at the exact place where it's made in NZ is actually more expensive than buying the same wine on the other side of the world in the UK because of taxes etc... and I thought the UK tobacco & alcohol duties were bad enough!

My final 'Magic' journey took me to Mount Manganui, or 'The Mount', a summer beach resort popular with surfers and beach dwellers. Unfortunately, now being well into autumn it was a bit chilly and cloudy, but still busy enough - the hostel was half full of kiwi fruit pickers and packers.

This is where the sport of blokarting was invented - that's a kind of land based sailing rather than the art of being a bloke! I'd already decided that I wanted to give it a try before realising that it happened several miles away from where I was staying.

The trouble with relying on buses to get you around is that getting to anywhere off their route can be a hassle, but I managed to borrow a bike (which had no brakes at all, making stopping for traffic interesting!) and had to cycle for an hour to get to the blokarting track, but it was well worth it.

These things are able to go at up to three times the wind speed, and whipping around the tarmac track in pursuit of others in the fleet (yes, that's what they call it!), sometimes almost tipping sideways at speed, with one wheel high in the air, I could well believe it. Great fun - one of those things that's quite easy to pick up, but it would take ages to get really good.

Now I'm having another lovely family time staying with Jules and Steve,...

...definite farmer's daughter Emily...

..and my rapidly growing godson William, who's Sweet As! At the moment Emily is being great as his full time best friend and protector - long may that last!..

Then on Tuesday (15th April) I'm off to Melbourne in Aussie (that's what Kiwis call Australia, normally with a fair bit of disdain!) Going to try posting shorter blogs more frequently as this one is ridiculously long!

By the way, I've stopped putting my pictures in the 'galleries' on this site as I've been having too many problems uploading them.

Tags: dolphins, dunedin, kaikoura, napier



Thanks a lot for your effort,wonderful photography

  OMAR SHARIF Jun 15, 2008 3:51 PM



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