A good day for penguins

Long before it was time to get up I heard the rain beating down on to our cabin.  It did not sound good.  When, eventually, it was time to get up the rain still poured out of leaden skies.  It did not take a genius to work out that it was not going to be a good day, weatherwise, but just to make sure I logged on to a Kiwi weather site to find out that it was going to rain all day and that the strong winds would increase to gale force during the afternoon.  Oh joy!  To add insult to injury, the top temperature would be 12°C.  Oh double joy!

Undeterred, we wrapped up warm, bundled camera, waterproofs and ourselves into the car and headed west along the road we had travelled the night before.  We were headed towards Curio Bay where there is a fossilised forest, which shows at low tide, low tide being at about 10.00am.  We had heard that there are some Yellow Eyed Penguins nesting in the soft cliffs above the petrified forest.  Penguins in a zoo are one thing but in their natural habitat they are particularly exciting.  The cliffs above the beach were exposed to the full force of the weather and, as we were taking lenses and tripod down, as well as the camera, I was a little concerned that water could get anywhere into the camera and do damage.  However, I was not going to miss this opportunity.

A Yellow Eyed Penguin

As soon as we dropped down on to the petrified forest with patches of large, orange and slippery seaweed, we saw our first penguin, standing in the open with his back to the elements.  He was close to the shrubbery adorning the sandy cliffs, standing guard over his partner tending the nest under a bush.  He looked beautiful and pathetic at the same time as the rain and wind lashed at him.  He did not seem to mind our presence as we stood just a few feet away, taking photos and getting very wet ourselves.  All along the edge of the cliff are traps set with chicken eggs to entice predators, like the stoat and rat, rather than them predate the endangered penguin population.

Further along the beach were two more, both standing in the open, with flippers out-stretched.  Again they were not perturbed by our presence.  However, not wishing to outlive our welcome with them, and also because we were getting wet, we moved away.  Angela retreated to the car for shelter while I found another penguin, this time standing out in the open on the shelf that is the fossilised forest.  This time it would appear that I did get a little too close and the penguin waddled off, walking as if he had something nasty in his pants.

On the headland between Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay we found a shack selling hot pies.  Hot pies for breakfast?  Why not?   From this vantage point we could look down at the sea battering away at the fossilised forest of Curio Bay and the long sweep that makes up Porpoise Bay, where in better conditions we might see Hector’s Dolphins cavorting in the blue water along with surfers.  However, not today for either, I am afraid.

The petrified forest exposed at low tide

From here we headed further west to Slope Point, the most southerly point on New Zealand’s South Island.  Here, the weather was so bad we decided not to get out of the car but to head back east to call in at the Niagara Falls café at Niagara Falls.  Yes, I mean what I say, although no matter how hard I looked I could not see any waterfalls.  Lunch was in the old school room, converted to a café and craft shop.  It was a pleasant respite from the weather outside.

We had intended to stay out until about 4.00pm but warmth and dryness soon tempted us back to the cabin shortly after lunch.  A good opportunity to catch up with the blog and bring it up to date.  Enjoy.

Angela Again (Not)

Angela is snoozing with the electric blanket on but wants you to know that she loved the penguins!

Heading South

Leaving Queenstown on a bit of a dreary morning, we headed south in search of some sunshine.  We have revised our itinerary a little and decided not to go up the west coast after we have been to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsular but to precede that with the Catlin coast to the south.  As we left the mountains the weather began to show signs of brightening up and by the time we reached the south coast at Invercargill there were some decent blue patches of sky.

Invercargill is not an impressive town and looks as if it might fit in better in the mid-west USA with its wide streets and two storey buildings with facades that resemble those towns, which have not yet climbed out of the first half of the twentieth century.  Not overly impressed with what we saw we passed straight through and went out to Bluff, past the decaying portside industrial area to the John O’Groats of New Zealand.  Here we found an end of the world café that served up some excellent food (unlike anything I have experienced at John O’Groats).

London only 18,958km away

Following lunch we took a walk along the cliff edge, affording us views of distant Stewart Island, before returning to the car and the obligatory photo at the signpost.

Heading east, the coastal area is very flat with marshy wetlands preventing you from getting too close to the shore.  By the time we reached Fortrose the landscape was becoming more interesting and we took the scenic route, which although it did not hug the coastline, it gave us plenty of opportunity to take little detours to bays and headlands along the way.  The first of these little detours was at Waipapa Point.  On the point is a lighthouse built in 1884, three years after New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster when The Tararua was wrecked with the loss of 131 lives.

However, it was what was languishing on the beach that took my attention, a lone bull sea lion lazily scratching himself with his flippers.  It seemed not to mind that I was nearby; it is only when young are about that they might become aggressive.  Further along the beach I came across three more, including a lighter skinned youngster, who was still pretty large.  They were quietly dozing on the beach without a care in the world.

A big bull sea lion

Continuing east we called in at Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay with the dual intention of taking in the scenery and also looking for somewhere to stay for the night.  Our journey along this coast so far had revealed that places to stay were few and far between and I was beginning to get a little anxious that we might have to drive much further than I intended.  The coastal areas became more hilly and forested.  Just by chance we came across the McLean Falls Holiday Park with its Whistling Frog café and bar.  We managed to secure a very comfortable chalet for four, with all facilities.  Over an excellent meal of lamb cutlets and a bottle of red wine we decided we would stay for two nights and use our chalet as a base for further exploration.

Angela Again

Back on the road we chatted about our trip thus far and agreed that we were having a superb time even if the promise of a New Zealand summer was eluding us.

We ate more delicious seafood at Bluff, enormous mussels (I know John has!) scallops and prawns.  They have an annual Oyster Festival in May, oops missed that then, shame.

I was thrilled to see a massive bull sea-lion on the beach.  He seemed stuck to the sand by his rear quarters, happy to rear up on his front fins and peer around before languidly scratching himself then flopping down to rest again.

I am happy to be ensconced in a comfortable cabin with heating AND an electric blanket.  The wind has reached gale force, temperature is 12C (the same as UK apparently!) Cosily catching up with blog, reading, writing postcards and completing puzzles.

Did I, or didn’t I? That is the question!

At least it had stopped raining and it looked as if the clouds were going to clear with mountains beginning to show.  Then it all went bad again and as we left Twizel the clouds completely obscured the mountains and it began to rain.  We were leaving MacKenzie country, MacKenzie being famous as a sheep rustler who trained his dog well to assist him. Fortunately, as we headed south the weather began to clear consistently throughout the day.

John dwarfed by the cliffs of clay

Our first detour was to have a look at some clay cliffs we tried to find yesterday.  They are impressive, with pinnacles standing about 300m tall.  It looked as if Gaudi had sculpted them in the style of his La Familia in Barcelona.  Flitting from cliff to cliff were common or garden pidgeons while circling overhead, keeping a beady eye on what was below were harriers searching out a tasty meal.

Continuing south we stopped for lunch on the banks of the Cutha River, bathed in gloriously warm sunshine.  We were now in Otago, well known for its vineyards, and had we felt inclined, we could have called into a number of vineyards to sample the wine.

Not me, but did I do it?

On leaving Cromwell we entered the Kawatau Gorge, where you can experience jet boating and body boarding through the rapids.  It looks exciting.  Towards the other end of the gorge and still about 20km from Queenstown, we stopped at A J Hackett’s Bungee.  It was fascinating to watch and each participant had the opportunity to choose whether they got a dunking in the river or not.  Shall I have a go?  Have I still got the bottle?  Suppose I hurt myself?  I don’t know, what shall I do?………What did I do?

After the bungee jump we went to a winery next door where Angela had a little taste.  I couldn’t as I still had to drive the last 20km to Queenstown.


If I am brutally honest, New Zealand has not given me the wow factor I was expecting.  It has been brilliant and we have seen some fantastic places.  I suppose I have been pretty spoilt over the years but today, the arrival in Queenstown has given me the wow factor I have been looking for.  The town is nothing like I expected it to be.  Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world but it is also a very classy town.  What makes it though is the lake and the mountains which surround it.  Fantastic.  It helped that the sun was shining and everything looked perfect but this really is a stunning place.

Having found the youth hostel with ease, right on the lake shore, we ventured into town where I sought out our tickets for the Routeburn trek and bought some dehydrated meals to eat along the way.  In view of the fact that we are going to have to restrict our food when we start the Routeburn, because I am having to carry it for five days, we ate well this evening at a restaurant overlooking the lake and the fantastic view down it.  We shall do the same tomorrow.

Angela’s Bit

We travelled about 170 km today thru varied landscapes and changeable weather.  We left low cloud in Twizel, still no really satisfying view of Mt Cook.  Our first detour took us to some impressive clay cliffs.  Later we stopped for coffee at ‘The Wrinkled Ram’ and I felt merino wool fleece which was predictably very soft.  Lunch spot was by a sun-bathed lake and finally we saw bungee jumping in all its glory. Queenstown nestles beside Lake Wakatipu and belies its Maori name by looking as if it should be in Switzerland!  We enjoy a leisurely evening mooching the lakeside and shops finally having a good meal overlooking the water in the dusk.

A wet day!

As forecast, today has been wet.  We did not rush to do anything this morning but eventually moved ourselves to go and look for the Black Stilt or Kaki, a rare bird only found in certain areas of New Zealand.  It is a wetlands bird that was almost wiped out but through careful conservation and management its numbers are increasing.

We travelled a short distance from Twizel to a wetland area where they are known to be breeding.  Needless to say that we didn’t find any and satisfied ourselves watching a variety of more commonly seen ducks and oyster catchers.

Following a spot of lunch in Twizel we went to have a look at Lake Ohau, another turquoise lake.  The rain was not too bad at this stage.  All the lakes we have seen so far are linked by a huge hydro-electric scheme, making use of the natural environment for generating electricity.

As the afternoon progressed the weather deteriorated and, with the exception of Angela making a dash to the supermarket in Twizel, we confined ourselves to our cabin, hoping that tomorrow will bring an improvement.

Angela’s Bit

This is the first rain in Twizel for 4 weeks!  The parched ground will be grateful even if we are not.  Sean the farmer tells us to keep an eye out of our bedroom window for views of Mt Cook…..

Um, not sure yet.

Have bought steaks & a DVD ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’….. a delightful local story starring Anthony Hopkins.  The till girl told me she grew up down the road from Burt Munro (the real-life hero of the story!)

Happy Valentines! xxx

Lake Tekapo

Following a very hearty English breakfast we drove out of Christchurch with the sun shining favourably on us.  The navigation, provided by Angela was excellent and we soon found ourselves heading south on Route 1.  Driving here is superb.  There was more traffic today but it was well spread out and there was never a reason to rush or to feel rushed.  Not once did I exceed 70mph.  What is important is that I did not feel I wanted to go any faster.  Back home we always seem to be under pressure to go faster, get there quicker and there are always obstacles in the way.  Here, if you come across a slower vehicle there are plenty of places to pass with safety, largely due to the lesser volume of traffic.

We stopped off in Ashburton to visit the Tourist Information Office and to have a coffee before climbing out of the Canterbury Plains.  The hills looked very similar to those in mid Wales, gently rolling with plenty of sheep and cattle grazing. We crossed over two ranges before we reached Lake Tekapo.  As we came up to the brow of the second range the panorama of the Southern Alps came into view.  They stretched north to south as far as the eye could see and beyond.  As we began to descend off the brow the lake appeared in all its turquoise glory.  What a stunning place.

Lake Tekapo

Soon we were in the village, visiting the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, a tiny church built on the shores of the lake.  The west window behind the altar is clear glass instead of the traditional stained glass.  The reason is that no stained glass window can improve upon the work of God as seen through the window.

Our next plan was to find some accommodation, so we sought out the youth hostel, also on the lake shore, and decided to camp in the garden with the view.  It is such a contrast to last night’s accommodation but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else tonight.

Angela’s Bit

After a generous cooked breakfast and a commiserate with our hosts (their daughter is married to an Englishman and living in Cambridge UK!) We set off on our pleasant drive South West to the lakes and mountains.  The roads are not high speed but the traffic is sparse so hence the pleasant experience.

Our tent is pitched overlooking Lake Tekapo, gorgeous in the evening sunshine.  I have just hung out a load of washing, having found the YHA laundry.  We will have clean socks tomorrow!