Friday, 12 February 2010

South Island

Meirion wrestles control of the keyboard and writes:

Someone said that history is written by the victors, and I’m sure that’s true and terribly clever, but it seems that travel blogs are (usually) written by the person who’s not doing all the proper work, like driving campervans, brewing hot, malty drinks or making sure that the towel is weighed down neatly and securely on the beach while the glamorous half of the operation swims with seals and such.

So yeah, anyway, what I’m trying to say is someone needs to tell the other half of this blog. I had a look at what Chrissy wrote in the last two episodes, and while I admit that I had an editorial role and am happy to take credit for any amusing bits, there are some pretty glaring omissions in her account.

So, yes, it’s true that we went to the Catlins and yes, the wind truly did blow harder than a hard, blowy thing. But so much more happened than that. For example, her title’s reference to the Catlins as “Deliverance country” was taken from a sign at a place we stopped called the Lost Gypsy Gallery in a tiny one-mule town called Papatowai. Inside a tiny caravan, an inventive genius who must have inherited the DNA of Heath Robinson had created all kinds of solar-powered automata that gave us (and any others who had the good fortune to stop in search of toilets or whatever)hours of amusement. Of course, you really need to visit to see how much fun it is and we tried to insert a little video of Chrissy playing a bizarre organ but you'll have to come to our place in the summer to see our slide show because it won't upload.

Loads of people describe the Catlins as “remote” as if there’s anywhere in New Zealand that is “central”, but the truth is it’s bloomin’ gorgeous (like most of the country) and if someone would simply sort out that wind issue they have down there, it’d be teeming with tourists. Curio Bay, where we stayed for one deafeningly blowy night, has dolphins, penguins, sea lions, surfing and stuff. It even has a petrified forest (as seen in one photo) instead of conventional rocks as part of the coastline/ seafloor. This has something to do with the trees being preserved in volcanic ash but I’m sure that Wikipedia can fill in the rest of the details.

In case Chrissy forgot to mention the Moeraki Boulders in her previous blog, they are the spherical rocks stranded on the beach in another pic. Crazy geologists would love to brainwash us with fanciful stories of tidal erosion or some such nonsense, but any fool can see that they are clearly the ancient, fossilized remains of passenger pods from alien spacecraft.

And the simple explanation for why the aliens left so quickly can be seen not far away on the south coast: they visited Invercargill!

So, from Invercargill - a town that looks even worse in the sunshine because you can see it so much more clearly – we went west through yet more stunning Alpine countryside to Fiordland. We decided to stop in Manapouri (on the shores of the lake of the same name) and not even the hordes of savagely hungry sandflies could detract from the beauty of the place. We wanted to visit one of the fiords and the lovely old American lady who ran a lovely old campsite advised us against an all-day kayak trip, persuading us to do an overnight trip to Doubtful Sound instead. Having taken one look at our scrawny yet portly bodies, she had decided that the half hour of kayaking on the fiord included in the overnight trip would be plenty.

She was so right. As a non-swimmer I frantically paddled, trying to stay afloat (forgetting that frantic actions are the enemy of flotation) occasionally glancing across at Chrissy who, tormented by flies intent on sucking her blood, had given up rowing and was adrift, mid-fiord, swatting at insects, some real but even more imaginary. As it turned out, my fear of water outweighed my fear of air-borne parasites and the huge gouges that had been gnawed from my ankles only became apparent when we returned to the safety of the” mothership”.

Fortunately, it was not only the sandflies that feasted well that day. The real attraction of the trip was not the kayaking or the beautiful scenery (see the photo); the trip was sold to us the moment Chrissy heard camp-site lady mention the words “roast beef” and “salmon”. After a few days of eating carrots and tomatoes from the back of our campervan, any trip involving a three-course meal appealed to us like rumours of gold attracted settlers to Otago in the nineteenth century. In fact, if she had offered us a bungee-jump into an open sewer, we would have snapped it up if there had been nice food at the end of it.

On from the fjords to Queenstown (briefly). Every tourist in New Zealand else goes there so we did too. For half an hour. After days of tranquillity, arriving in a place full of cars just felt wrong, so we headed up the road to Arrowtown (an old gold-mining town where buildings of the community formed by Chinese labourers still stand). More importantly (for us at least), it has a cinema where you can watch a movie from the comfort of the battered old armchairs and sofas that accommodate a maximum audience of fifty. Just what you need when it’s raining.

Wanaka was next, and it’s one of the loveliest places in the world. We parked our van outside the house where Chrissy’s lovely friend Sarah lives with her lovely friends and their regular (and usually lovely) couch-surfing visitors. The sun was out, the lake sparkled, the mountains loomed, the tramping was beautiful and the wineries let us taste their wares. What more could we ask? The pictures are of a stunning tramp (i.e.walk) that we took to see Rob Roy Glacier and of a plane-trip that Chrissy and Sarah went on to see Milford Sound from above.

From there, we drove to the west coast, stopping briefly at a lakeside layby where we bumped (by random) into someone riding a tandem that Chrissy had been to Uni with. Oh, and the tandem bit is true; I didn’t add it just to rhyme with random. The plan was to walk on a glacier, so that’s what we did, spending a few hours crunching around on crampons on Fox Glacier. That explains the photo where we are surrounded by ice.

By this point we were running out of van hire time, so even though the west coast was stunningly green and picturesque, we headed towards Arthur’s Pass (one of the routes through the hills back east). We tramped up a mountain called Avalanche that nearly killed us; in retrospect perhaps we should have paid more attention to the name. The peak was home to a trio of keas (intelligent and “playful” alpine parrots that are famous for pestering humans) who seemed to have calculated that hungry walkers reached the top with their sarnies, apples and muesli bars every lunchtime. Unfortunately their intelligence doesn’t extend to an awareness that what is food to humans is poison to them. We managed not to let them pinch any of our grub, and it was nice not to poison the cheeky little beggars, but it was even nicer to fill our rumbling bellies.

Then to Christchurch where we did city stuff (like a brilliant Joanna Newsome gig) before returning to North Island.