Courage, warm springs and ocean beauty

We arrived in the land of the All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby team) without a hitch. Not to say that before we left Australia I was worried there’d be a tap on my shoulder and the words “come with me”. Arriving in Christchurch in the late afternoon towards evening time meant that we wanted to eat right away and find a grocery store followed by a fairly good night sleep. One of the disadvantages of travelling to many places is that you are always adjusting to your new living space. And just when you start to get comfortable you are on the move once more making a good night sleep not always possible.

Having slept relatively well and nourished by a hearty breakfast we headed towards the city centre to see first hand the damaged that was laid upon Christchurch by the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the South Island  on  September 4th 2010. The aftershocks continue to this day (we felt two of them :+o ) the biggest occurring on February 22, 2011 with a 6.3 magnitude (another earthquake) this one was very close to Christchurch. As the second quake was nearer to Christchurch it was far more destructive and sadly 185 people were killed. The damage was extensive especially in the central city and eastern suburbs. Many people and business have packed up their bags and left due to bureaucratic red tape with insurance companies while others could not endure any longer the fear they felt with each aftershock. The businesses  who have stuck it out after their place of business was destroyed or not structural sound have become part of what New Zealanders call the pop mall/city. The retailers and cafes have used shipping containers for their popup stores. It looks very unique and in some ways I hope a few stay after the city has been rebuilt. The biggest subject of debate in Christchurch is what to do with the Christchurch Cathedral. The Anglican church diocese wants to tear it down and build new whereas the city of Christchurch wants to repair it for its historical significance. The debate has become heated on both sides it could be sometime before any decision is made.

After a couple days and some great tasting coffee (New Zealand is out doing Australia in this area) we rented a car one more time to continue on with our travels. One thing I was grateful for is that we would be driving shorter distances. As the gas prices here would make your eyes pop out $2.15 – $2.22 per liter. In Australia it was between $1.50 – $1.80 I am looking forward to our low gas prices.

After a three hour leisurely drive and plenty of gas left in the tank we arrived in Hanmer Springs. It is a small town surrounded by mountains and is built around a hot spring that was discovered in the late 19th century. We fell in love with the place right away and decided to stay over night. Luck was on our side, just a half hour before we arrived at the Visitor Centre a accommodation with vacancies had dropped their price — fate was on our side. Having unloaded our things we did a small hike and then relaxed in the thermal pools of which there are 15. The pools so relaxed me that by the time I finished my evening snack and glass of wine I barely was able to keep my eyes open. Probably the earliest I ever went to bed but I am sure for the last 125 years others have gone to bed alot earlier than expected.

After a good nights rest I was ready the next day for a more strenuous walk on one of their steeper trails to a waterfall. Alas we did not see the waterfall after walking almost halfway as the pathway had a small river flowing over it. But the walk was well worth it for the scenic lookouts and being able to walk among the giants of the woodlands. Since our walk was cut short it left us plenty of time to swim in the pools once more before leaving for Kaikoura. It was a good thing we did the pools before our drive in the dark, up, down, around and through mountains to Kaikoura.  It was a heart stopping and edge of your seat ride but thanks to the pools I stayed on my seat and my heart kept beating.

The next morning we found that the sunshine had left us and we would be seeing gray clouds for awhile. Hoping we would not get too wet over the next few days in Kaikoura while looking for seals and perhaps some whale watching. There are many spots along the Kaikoura coast where you can sight a seal colony. In 1894 hunting was banned as the seal population was nearly wiped out. They are still  under protection (New Zealand Department of Conservation) which has enabled a steady comeback of the seals but the populations is still only 10%-20% of what it once was. One of  the best places to see a fur seal colony is at Ohau Point as the adult seals return here and between the months of November and December the females give birth.  Travelling in the area during the month of July meant that the pups would be around 6 months old  when they are more independent and are out looking for some fun. Their favourite spot to play is at a waterfall near Ohau Point. We walked along a pathway beside a stream which the pups work their way up a few hundred metres to reach the waterfall. It was a lovely sight to see as the water tumbled down into a small rocky pool with seal pups happily diving and leaping about in the water.

After two days of rain on and off along with high ocean waves crashing against the seashore two certain ladies were losing hope.  Katrina and I had been keeping our fingers crossed that our third and last day in Kaikoura favourable winds would blow our way. I guess we did a good job of keeping them crossed as we woke up to sunshine and a calmer ocean, this meant Katrina and I could go whale watching.  In Kaikoura you have a better chance (98%) of seeing a whale partly due to the continental shelf conditions.  The sea bed slopes away from the land to a depth 90m then plunges to 800m. If you were to drain the water it would look like a huge crater. Because of this depth the Sperm whale stays permanently in Kairkoura. We saw four sperm whales at different times. To be beside these huge creatures and then watch them dive down to the ocean depths without any fear of us brought joy to my heart. I do hope that one day that all countries with ban hunting whales along with the deep sea fishing nets with their blades that dig through the ocean floor. For I fear whales swimming in the ocean and all the beauty the ocean holds will one day only be seen through the looking glass of aquariums and story books.   Along with the whales we also saw Dusky dolphins, seals, a small blue penguin and lots of Cormorants relaxing on a huge rock. Both Katrina and I came off the boat with smiles on our faces.

Mother nature held the rain off during our 4 hour whale watching adventure and for our drive to Picton after a late lunch. Even though it was a late lunch we did manage to have part of our drive by daylight. Allowing us to see the well known wine region of Marlborough, with sheep grazing in amongst the grapevines keeping everything nice and trim.  We did however arrive in Picton by dark of the night and with no place to stay. We split up into two groups and walked up down the streets looking for accommodations. Katrina’s Lonely Planet guide book did its job once again, she and I found a lovely studio unit at Harbour View Motel. Yes as the name suggests we did have a view of the harbour. It was quite the sight first thing in the morning but we were not to impressed by the dark gray clouds that had settled in for the day. Bundled up in our rain gear we did manage to walk one the trails along the Queen Charlotte’s Track. The rain geared worked as it did not start to rain until we arrived back at the car park. As always when walking through beautiful terrain there are no thoughts of food but once you have finished your hike the stomach starts talking. Luckily for us we were not too far away from a small town of 400 people named Havelock where we able to quieten our stomachs with meals of hot soups, fish and pasta.

I will leave you here on the south island as it seems only fitting to write a part two on our travels through New Zealand. Plus the fact I had a hard time choosing just 25 pictures out of the hundreds I took.

Our next adventure starts pretty early in the morning and requires sea bearing legs, till then.


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Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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