The Routeburn Trek

Our last full day in Queenstown turned out to be a little frustrating in the beginning.  We needed to make arrangements for getting to the start at the Routeburn Shelter and back again from The Divide.  We had discovered a service called Track Hopper, which collected your car from the starting point and delivered it to your finishing point for $250.  Unfortunately, nobody answered the phone when I tried to book them so we trudged all the way up a long hill to their address to discover they had moved, not far, just a few doors away but neither property seemed to be occupied despite doors and windows being open!  In the end we booked a shuttle bus to take us to the start at Routeburn Shelter and combined our return from The Divide with a trip to Milford Sound and a cruise.

Logistics sorted, we went next to Westpac, the bank we were recommended to patronise as it had relations with Barclays.  We had had a couple of tricky moments trying to get cash out of the hole in the wall and I had also received a couple of suspect emails, supposedly from Barclays, something which has not happened before.  We just wanted to make sure that our account had not been compromised.  They were less than helpful in Westpac and really did not care two hoots if our account had been compromised.  I left in a not very good mood, which unfortunately hung over me for the rest of the day.


In the afternoon we took the TSS Earsland, a 100 year old steam ship which ploughs up and down Lake Wakatipu.  As beautiful as the ship is it could not improve my mood.  I had fallen out with Queenstown and the hoards of tourists who block the streets and behave like flocks of sheep.  The lake is beautiful but the ship does the same journey on a two hourly cycle from 10.00am to 8.00pm.  It seems strange that only does this short run when the lake is so much bigger.  Still in a grump we took the gondola up to Bob’s Peak, overlooking the town and lake.  Again, it was very beautiful, and there were a whole range of activities for young and old alike, from a dry luge run to mountain biking, from paragliding to a really scary bungee jump down the cliff face with only rocks rushing up to meet you.

The following morning I felt much better; we were going to get away from the crowds and head off to the Routeburn.  Packed and ready with food for five days, we had a leisurely, large breakfast to give us energy and to make up for the five days of rations we were imposing on ourselves.  At 12.15 we boarded the minibus to the Routeburn Shelter via Glenorchy.  It was a beautiful journey along the shore of Lake Wakatipu in warm sunshine and, we were assured, a good forecast for the next few days.  The lake proved to be much bigger than I first thought.

Glenorchy is in a beautiful setting but is one of those ‘almost at the end of the road towns’ that appears to have very little going for it.  However, when people talk about it they speak very affectionately about it and the café, the pub and all those places we never saw.  We had stopped opposite the school while the children were on break.  There were about ten of them playing with about five adults supervising, not very well, as four of the children climbed over the fence into the road to talk to a chap on a bike.

A Black Robin

Having been dropped off at The Shelter we set off for the Routeburn Flats Hut and our first night’s accommodation on the trek.  We immediately found ourselves walking through a forest of red beech trees on a well-constructed and maintained path.  The path climbed steadily and our breathing was accompanied by bird song and the sound of roaring, tumbling water below.  Whilst the path was well maintained, the forest was beautifully natural.  The trees were not manicured in any way.  As they matured, bits dropped off and were allowed to rot naturally.  Whole trees fell and were consumed by the forest floor of mosses and young trees eager to take the place of their ancestors.  The variety of greens on the forest meant that our interest never waned and the birds were always very entertaining.  They seemed to have little fear of us, from the Riflemen, extremely small, almost tailless birds, which darted about the lower branches close to the ground, chattering loudly, to the Black Robin who would jump on to the path in front of us like a highwayman and confront us.  If we stood still his fear would diminish totally and he would jump on to our boots and peck away at our laces.  One jumped onto my camera case hung around my neck.  It is wonderful to have such close contact with these birds, which display an innocence and trust that birds in the UK have lost, unless we spend hours and hours patiently developing their trust.

A rare glimpse of a snowy peak

As the afternoon mellowed into evening we arrived at the hut, which had the capacity to sleep 26 but, as it turned out, only had 12 for the night.  The hut basically consisted of two dormitories with bunk beds, a kitchen a dining area and loos outside.  It was comfortable enough, particularly as it was only half full.  The windows look out onto a flat meadow (hence the name Routeburn Flats) with a meandering stream, the Routeburn, flowing through it.  On the other side the forest rises up to a snow-capped peak, which glowed in the early evening sun.

The evening was spent chatting to the other ‘trampers’ and meeting the warden, Liz, a diminutive woman committed to her role as warden of the hut and the surrounding environment.  It soon became clear that some of those we were sharing with on this first evening we would be spending subsequent evenings with, while others, travelling the route in the opposite direction would not be seen again.

At 8.30 the following morning, Liz posted the weather forecast on the board in the hut.  It did not make for very encouraging reading.  While it was fine now, it was soon going to deteriorate and rain would be spreading in.  This would also mean low cloud, obscuring any possibility of good mountain views.  The outlook did not look good either.  Having had encouraging weather forecasts in Queenstown, it was soon becoming apparent that what applies to other parts of South Island, certainly does not apply to the rain forests of the Aspiring and Fjordland National Parks.  If we got a move on we might arrive at the Routeburn Falls Hut before the rain sets in.  Before we left we chatted to Liz to discover that she had something in common with me, in that she knew some of the personalities involved with the Himalayan Trust and had been to Nepal to visit friends running the hospital at Kunde.  What a small world!

The walk up to the Routeburn Falls Hut was much of the same, only the path was significantly steeper.  The Robins still ambushed us on the path and each time they became more confident than the previous encounter.  Luckily we arrived at the hut before the rain.  This hut is much bigger, being able to sleep more than fifty trampers.  Hence all the facilities are much more extensive.  They are really well though out and are incredible structures considering the environment.  This building is largely built on stilts because of the gradient of the ground beneath.

Others began to arrive and fill up the bunks.  We decided, despite the rain, to take ourselves for a walk to Paddy’s Point, a rocky summit above the hut and about an hour’s walk away.  This took us up, past the waterfalls after which the hut is named, and on to a side track, climbing steeply to a flat rocky summit.  Had the weather been good, we would have had fantastic views.  As it was our eyes were drawn to the view below as the clouds obscured anything interesting above.  We could see beyond the Falls Hut down to the Flats and beyond.  Despite the rain, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile outing and broke up the time we would spend sitting in the communal areas of the hut.

When we returned there were more new arrivals and inevitably we were drawn to those we had spent the previous evening with, namely three Australian women and three Kiwis from North Island.  The more we chatted, the more we enjoyed their company.  A Kiwi turned Aussie, Paulette, who had recently been trekking in Nepal, also joined us.  Three Americans, two astrophysicists taking a break from working in the Antarctic on microwave telescopes, and a girl also made interesting conversation.

A playful Kea

The following morning was still damp and we were shrouded in cloud so there was absolutely nothing to see.  Keith, the hut warden put up the weather forecast for the day at 8.30 and it promised to clear as the day progressed.  We delayed our departure a little to allow the clearing process to begin.  The walk today was above the forest line and would have been stunning if the views had been forthcoming.  As it was it remained very misty for the two hours it took for us to climb up to the Harris Saddle.  The only entertainment we had on the ascent was from a group of about six Kea who were playing at the side of the path.  They would allow us to photograph them before flying off to a point about 200 metres up the path where the same would occur again, and again.  From Harris Saddle we could just about make out Lake Harris below but it looked nothing like the pictures of bright sunshine glistening on pristine blue waters in the brochures.   At the Saddle Shelter we stopped for a break and it was clear that the weather on the other side was significantly better.  There were patches of sunshine and blue skies giving us some hope of a pleasant walk down to the Lake Mackenzie Hut.  However, before that could happen I had to make the decision as to whether to climb Conical Peak first.  It was not hard to decline the opportunity as it was obscured by cloud and it seemed it would only be worth climbing for the view.

The enchanting Angela walking through the enchanted forest - or is it a Hobbit?

The Harris Saddle marks the boundary between the Mt. Aspiring National Park and the Fjordland National Park.  We were descending into the latter, the largest national park in New Zealand.  Having made a brief descent the path contoured around the hills for a long time.  Despite the weather being better, the extensive views of snow-capped peaks and tumbling glaciers were not available and, without that interest, the walk became a little long and tedious.  Eventually, we saw our target, Lake Mackenzie Hut, but it still took us an hour to descend into and through the forest to reach it.  The forest on this side of the saddle is even more magical.  The trees are Silver Beech but it is obviously even wetter on this side as the trees are covered in hanging mosses and the ground is swamped by moss.  It didn’t matter that this was a boulder-strewn area, the trees grow at every opportunity and the moss just carpets everything.  It really is an enchanted forest like the home of The Hobbit.

Mackenzie Hut, nestling into the hillside on the shore of Lake Mackenzie is also a large one catering for over fifty trampers.  We were really beginning to get to know our new friends and the more we got to know them the noisier we became.  A handsome young man joined us in the evening.  I know he was a handsome young man because Angela said so and she has impeccable taste in men!  His name is Will and he is from Chepstow on a six-month journey around the world.  He is a vet, between jobs, but what is remarkable about him is that he last worked in Bromsgrove with Tony Barnby, whose son, Tim, came to Nepal with me in 2002.  What a small world!

The warden at Mackenzie is a bit of a legend.  Clive has been warden here for twenty years.  Each evening the wardens give a safety talk and check everybody against a register.  Liz, at Routeburn Flats did her job efficiently and told us, in addition to the safety regulations, interesting things to look out for.  Keith, at Routeburn Falls, again was very efficient but was also quite amusing, particularly when talking about Clive.  Clive does an hour-long stand-up routine with the fire procedures hidden within the routine.  He is really very funny and the highlight of the evening.  All his stories are based on his twenty year’s experience.

Earland Waterfall

The next morning the rain had stopped and the mists were rising out of the forests with the promise of a reasonable day.  It was certainly the best of the five days we were walking.  Climbing out of Mackenzie it was extremely humid but once we were on the level it all became a lot more comfortable.  The walk continued through the enchanted forest with plenty of birdsong and tumbling waterfalls, including the magnificent Earland Falls, with a drop of 174m.

The Howden Hut, on the edge of Lake Howden, has probably the prettiest setting of the four huts.  The fact that the sun was shining might have influenced this opinion but to the front of the hut was like a garden with fruit blossoming trees, native shrubs and flowers and a host of chaffinches eager for a morsel or two.  Being only an hour from the finish, or the start of the trek, whichever way you look at it, this hut is smaller, like the Routeburn Flats Hut.

With our new Kiwi friends

We settled ourselves in and waited in the sunshine for others to arrive.  Soon the Kiwi women arrived and once they had settled we all went for a walk along the Greenstone Track for about an hour, when we got some superb views from a grassy meadow.  As forecast, clouds were building and the sun soon disappeared and rain threatened.  We got back to the Howden Hut just in time before the rain set in for the rest of the day and night.

Our warden, this time was Jif (Geoff), a young lad with dreadlocks, who, unlike his counterparts at the other huts was not a great socialiser and felt a little uncomfortable in our company.  Angela and I had been fairly frugal in our food consumption, not wanting to weigh ourselves down with too much to carry. For breakfast each day we had had a cereal bar, followed by another type of energy bar for lunch and a rehydrated meal in the evening.  Having eaten our last meal this evening, and having only an energy bar each until the end of the trek, I began to imagine the pie I was going to eat at the first opportunity.  Food dominated the conversation to the point that it became very silly.

In the morning, I decided we should not eat our energy bars until we had finished the trek; not eating is much easier at the beginning of the day than it is at the end.  It was still wet and the cloud was really low, so the excursion up to Key Summit was not really an option as we would not have seen anything and would have delayed getting my teeth around the energy bar.  At The Divide we were able to change before we devoured our last bit of food.  We were to be picked up by a bus to take us to Milford Sound, where we would be given a packed lunch once we were aboard the boat.  However, we were not the only ones with food on our mind.  As we waited for the bus, sandflies nibbled us wherever flesh was exposed and sometimes where it wasn’t.  The insect repellent, including the one especially for sandflies, seemed to attract them more than ever.  My mind was still preoccupied with the pies I was going to consume on the boat and Paulette, the Kiwi turned Aussie, and I found ourselves competing as to who was going to eat the most pies.

Predictably, the bus was almost half an hour late, increasing the gastronomic tension.  When it did arrive it was full of sightseers from Queenstown.  The driver gave a commentary as he drove and occasionally he would stop for people to get off and take photos.  Everybody got off like sheep took photos, mostly with inane people grinning and making stupid gestures with their fingers, while I sat on the bus with a grumbling tummy and an increasing desire not to be on the bus.  I have to confess to the scenery being absolutely stunning with shear rock faces rising from the valley floor and waterfalls tumbling over the edges at every opportunity.  Eventually we arrived at Milford Sound, boarded our boat, Monarch, and received our packed lunches.  It did not last long and sadly there were no pies for sale on board.

The impressive Stirling Falls

Milford Sound is understandably a favourite tourist destination and everybody who visits South Island has to go there at some point in their travels.  It is so worth it.  It is one of the wettest places on earth, with up to 700cm of rain a year.  With that record, you have to be very lucky to catch it on a perfect, sunny day.  We didn’t, but even in the gloomy, and sometimes wet conditions we experienced in the hour and forty minutes we were sailing, it is a truly magnificent and stunning location.  The once glaciated valley is now a flooded inlet with water 300m deep.  Rising almost vertically from the dark waters are walls of rock, beautifully carved by the forces of nature with imaginative names like Mitre Peak and Lion Peak.  Tumbling over these vertical drops were majestic waterfalls, streaks of silver and white, cascading into the sound.  The most impressive of these were Stirling Falls, which send plumes of fine spray into the air, guaranteed to give you a soaking as the boats get as close as they can.

Milford Sound

The weather conditions prevented me from getting the classic photo of Mitre Peak but I am pleased with the almost black and white shots I achieved looking down the sound.  I really wished we could have spent more time there, in fact more time in Fjordland, but it was not to be and our bus took us back to Queenstown, via Te Anau where we said goodbye to Paulette, fortunately without the commentary.

Angela Now 

Well, six days later we have had a detox; no caffeine or alcohol and lots of exercise.  Hopefully a few kilos have disappeared, even though I have been carrying about 8 extra in my back pack.

The Routeburn was a very varied trek, mossy green rain forest, swing bridges, waterfalls, rocky climbs and tantalising glimpses of snowy mountains.  We had a lot of fun with new friends who have given us a warm invitation to visit them, or, at least, to keep in e-mail contact.

Our Milford Sound cruise was enjoyable……….clear skies til we got to the open Tasman Sea then rain for the return.  This is really a Fjord because it is an ancient glaciated valley by the sea and not a Sound, which is a flooded river valley.

The 3 hour return bus journey to Queenstown was through beautiful lakeside valleys beside hilly ridges.  In addition to the views we were treated to a movie, ‘The Fastest Indian’ starring Anthony Hopkins.  The story of local hero Burt Munro breaking the land speed motor bike record in 1967.  A gentle enjoyable tale.

We ended this part of our adventure with fish & chips (blue cod of course) from Aggy’s Shack on the Waterfront in Queenstown.  YUM!


Mt. John to Twizel via Mt. Cook

Ate a stone grill meal last night.  Basically, a square of granite is brought to your table with three pieces of raw meat sizzling away.  To either side there were chips and salad.  We both had a piece of chicken, pork and beef.  Cutting it into slices we ensured that it was cooked through and just how we liked it.  Then it was back to camp for a good night under canvas.  Sadly we woke to a rather cloudy morning.

It seemed appropriate this morning to climb Mt. John before we left Lake Tekapo.  Mt. John is only a climb of about 300m from the lakeshore and stands 1031m above sea level.  In New Zealand it is a very important mountain as, on the summit, sit New Zealand’s largest observatory with five telescopes searching the skies.

On top of Mt. John

Leaving the lakeshore, the climb zig-zags through a mixture of larch and spruce trees before opening out on to a summit dome.  There are two summits, the North Peak, which is clear of scientific equipment and the slightly higher South Peak, which is surrounded by the telescopes and has a café on the summit.  Sitting in the hazy sunshine, drinking coffee and eating a slice of ‘naughty’ each we had views all along Lake Tekapo and beyond to the still shrouded mountains.

The weather had much improved while we were on the summit and the sun began to break through the clouds.  Refreshed, we chose to take the long route back, which took us further away from the village, along a gradually descending ridge to the lakeshore, where the path followed the shore back to the village, where we picked up the car.

Lake Pukaki

Our next scheduled stay was the village of Mt. Cook.  We drove to the eastern end of Lake Pukaki, another turquoise blue lake significantly longer and wider than Lake Tekapo.  High peaks, including Mt. Cook, surround the western end but they were all shrouded in cloud.  Turning off the main highway we drove the 40 or so km along the shore and beyond to the village of Mt. Cook.  I instantly took a dislike to it.  It looked so much like a manufactured French ski resort like Tignes.  I wasn’t really looking forward to spending two nights there, paying inflated prices.  Having picked up the phone numbers for the various establishments available from the Tourist Information Office, I was quite relieved when the response from all that we tried turned us away.  We also looked at the weather forecast for the next day and it did not make promising reading, suggesting that our planned walk up the Hooker Valley would not be a pleasurable experience.  A phone call to a farm cottage at Twizel, back on the main highway, secured us a cabin for a night, or two, depending on how we feel and what the weather does.

Tasman Glacier

Before we left Mt. Cook. I took a couple of pictures of the mountain itself, despite parts of it still hiding behind its cloudy mask.  We had a quick look up the Hooker Valley, but there wasn’t much we could see beyond the car park, and then drove up to have a look at the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest.  From the viewpoint on the moraine, you looked up valley to the glacier snout where chunks of ice fall into the ablution lake.  The surface of the glacier is just a jumble of rock and does not look pretty at all.  You have to travel several kilometres up the glacier to see good, clean ice.  Snowy peaks surround the glacier, which I am sure would look very impressive in better conditions.  Soon after leaving the Tasman Glacier, the petrol warning light came on in the car and by the time we had driven the 50 or so km to Twizel we were on fumes!

Angela’s Bit

 First night of the trip under canvas and I was chilly!  What’s new eh!  Having put on a track suit and snuggled up to my human hot water bottle all was well.  YHA shower was good & our DIY breakfast sufficed.

Our summit of Mt. John was memorable for the people we met as well as the views.  An English family with 3 children were taking 48 days to travel the southern hemisphere.  Youngest daughter, Hattie took a shine to us and showed us her camera and assorted photos.  As she was about 5 she’d done well!  Quad bikes and legs excepted!!  As they left she gave us hugs….oh! charming.  We then had a conversation with a couple from S. Devon and they were equally delightful.

We have ended the day on a beef farm staying in a cabin, which has all mod cons.

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!

Swimming with Dolphins (almost)

We left our cottage just before 8.00 and drove down to Akaroa for our swim with dolphins experience.  Following a brief introductory chat we, along with six fellow travellers, suited up in very thick wet suits.  I hoped swimming would be easy in mine because walking was not.  I felt like one of those animals that is very elegant in water but ugly on land.  Despite the fact that it is summer the air temperature this morning was only 11°C and the water slightly higher at 14°C.  It was cloudy and while I was initially optimistic that the cloud was going to burn off, it proved that the opposite was going to happen and we were hit with squally showers.  There was also a stiff breeze blowing.

All suited up, we waddled aboard and set sail, immediately heading out towards the mouth of the inlet.  The further we went the rougher the sea became.  We spotted a pod of Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest a rarest breed of dolphin.  There are now only 7,500 of them left and the numbers are still declining despite the valiant conservation work being done at Akaroa.  The problem is that they get caught up in a set net, which drowns them.  Those nets have been banned around Akaroa but are still used in other areas of New Zealand.  So, while the numbers are improving around Akaroa, they are declining at a faster rate elsewhere.

Hector's Dolphin

This first pod included a mother and baby, which meant we could not swim with them.  The baby spends two years closely bonding with its mother and nothing must happen to disrupt that bonding.  The baby drinks mother’s milk approximately every three minutes, so you can imagine the disruption eight human swimmers might cause.

We moved further out to sea, between the two headlands and the swell increased to about 12 feet.  Angela was finding it a bit difficult to cope with but managed to concentrate herself through it.  We found another pod, which swam around the boat but now the sea was too rough for us to get into.  We headed over towards the northern side of the inlet where there was a chance the water would be calmer.  However, before we got too far we came across a third pod of five dolphins.  They seemed reasonably curious so we gently lowered ourselves off the back of the boat into the water.  I was expecting to have to take a sharp intake of breath but, in actual fact, it was not necessary.  The swell was still about 12 feet but now the waves were regular.  We bobbed up and down, treading water, and making noises to attract the dolphins.  Singing down a snorkel tube was recommended, so I tried ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’.  Maybe the dolphins did not like my singing but they clearly did not want to play and while they made a couple of approaches to us, we did not really have the interaction we were hoping for.  It was exhausting in the water and after about 15 minutes we decided to get out.  Our captain and dolphin guide both decided it was not going to happen today and took us back to the wharf at Akaroa with the promise of a partial refund.

It was still a pleasurable experience and we did at least see dolphins swimming around the boat and we also saw the world’s smallest penguin swimming by the boat.  Angela mistook it for a duck to begin with!

Following a warming cup of coffee we headed back to Christchurch, not by a direct route but by a scenic one.  We climbed up our of the crater and took a road that skirted around the rim, giving us stunning views down to Akaroa on one side and similarly stunning views down to bays set between lava flows on the ocean side.  They were tantalisingly beautiful so we took the opportunity to drive down to Le Bon Bay for a picnic lunch on the beach.  It was 10km down to Le Bon Bay through a beautiful valley with lava flow ridges down each side.  At the end of the valley, behind the beach, is a small community living in an idyllic setting.  To make it even better the sun came out, rewarding me for my optimism of earlier in the day.  The beach was deserted and we had it all to ourselves, and a few optimistic gulls that thought we might give them a crumb or two.  There was one who was particularly aggressive towards it fellow gulls and would do anything to keep them at bay.  If food was on offer he was going to get it first.

After a relaxing and entertaining lunch we continued with our drive to Christchurch.  Our accommodation in a house in the suburb of Papanue is superb in every respect.  We were made to feel very welcome and the facilities are outstanding and really good value for money.  Half way up the stairs there is a large case on its side.  It has fallen over so many times during quakes that it now cannot fall further.  There are very few ornaments in the house, all having fallen from their shelves during the big quake or one of the thousands of aftershocks Christchurch has experienced since.

Kate Richardson came to pick us up at 5.30 and take us to their house.  Kate and her family emigrated from Worcester two years ago and their house fell victim to the earthquake, so are in temporary accommodation until their house can be rebuilt.

The damaged Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch

After meeting them we were taken on a tour of Christchurch, starting with their house down the road.  Remarkably, it can be rebuilt and made earthquake proof.  The city centre is a scene of devastation.  Much of it is fenced off and out of bounds as the whole of the centre is being demolished, block by block.  Many people have not been able to return to their properties to retrieve their possessions as the buildings are too dangerous to enter.  Stone built buildings faired worst as they are too rigid and lack the flexibility of wooden and modern structures.  Hence, churches, including the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals came off really badly.  We could not get any where near the Anglican cathedral where the spire came crashing down.  Many buildings were fenced off and the fallen masonry still lay on the ground as it had fallen a year ago.  The whole experience really brought home the devastating effect that an earthquake has on a community and the infrastructure.

Following a very pleasant evening, sitting around the garden table, eating a lovely meal and catching up on each other’s news, Angela and I strolled back to our lodgings for the night, well satisfied with our day.

Angela’s Bit

Naturally I had some misgivings about our sea trip but in retrospect I am thrilled to have done it and more than a little proud that I swam and sailed in 12ft swells and wasn’t seasick!  The dolphins were very cute, small and beautifully coloured in tones of blue/grey.

Back in Christchurch we settled into another immaculate and well equipped B & B, before being scooped up and taken on a guided tour by the Richardson Family who moved here from Worc. 2 years ago. Their house was badly damaged in the quake a year ago so they are in rented accommodation nearby.  They drove us into the city and the devastation is shocking.  They have had 10,000 quakes, 20 of which have been significant!!! But they are philosophical about it and still happy with their lot.  We had dinner with them and were made very welcome.  Kate (who I taught when she was 7 is now 21 and going off to Uni in Auckland soon)

South Island

A dull damp morning greeted us as we tip-toed around the house, not wishing to disturb Kay or baby Sara.  Final bit of packing done, making decisions about what to take and what to leave with Ben was all a bit of a nightmare.  We are bound to have made a wrong decision at some point in the next three weeks.  Ben arrived and we loaded the car, said our goodbyes to our hosts and headed into town.  There wasn’t a lot we could do in the short time we had left in Wellington and with the weather not being at its best.  We met Kelly for coffee and then Ben took us to the airport.  Next time we shall see them it will be the eve of their wedding.

The flight down to Christchurch took 35 minutes and the weather was not dissimilar to that in Wellington.  The movement through the airport was quick and simple and the girl on the Avis desk was very efficient and helpful.  We collected our Toyota Corolla and headed off to the supermarket before steering in the direction of Banks Peninsular.  The 75km took just over an hour on empty, if a little windy, roads.  The landscape here looked far more parched than in Wellington.  As you approach Akaroa you climb up from the Canterbury Plain, over the rim of the old volcanic crater and drop down to the sea, which now fills it.  We had nothing booked and the first place we enquired at in Barry’s bay was full.  However, the owner was very helpful, phoned a neighbour and cleared the way for us to have a full self-contained cottage for the night for 100$.  It is stunning and the view from our bedroom down to Akaroa and the sea is to die for.


Akaroa was originally a massive volcano 60km off the mainland.  It was so high it was covered with snow all year.  6 million years ago there was a huge explosion taking the top off the mountain and exposing the crater to the sea, which allowed the sea to flood in to the crater. Steep sides rise out of the water surrounding the sea inlet.  In the evening we drove up to the crater edge to look down the outside of the crater to the blue Pacific Ocean.  It really is a beautiful part of the world and there are very few people about.

When we arrived, I managed to book a three-hour trip out to see the dolphins and to swim with them.  A very exciting prospect, which we are both looking forward to.

Angela’s Bit

Our farewell to Kelly was in the very modern City Library, where you can look from the Café balcony into the whole of the ground floor where all the books are stored.

We walked under the iconic Fern Ball.

Five hours later we were welcomed at Twin Gullies Roost.  Doug & Victoria Hamilton have an idyllic 8 acre smallholding/B&B.  We settle willingly into our Victorian brass bed, until there is ominous rumbling and vibrating at 10.30.  I am ready to crawl under the bed, but John says it’s just the water tank refilling!  Now we know it WAS an earthquake of 4.5!!