On my tour of New Zealand a few years back I visited Tekapo which is located on the South Island. When I arrived it was covered in two metres of snow and I realised it was a small place with not really that much to do when you compare it to somewhere like Auckland or Queenstown. But it was a charming little place nonetheless. It is nestled among some spectacular mountain ranges and on the banks of Lake Tekapo.
The town consisted of a few shops, one pub and a supermarket. I didn’t want to stay in my accommodation and cook for myself so I walked up to the pub where I spent a few hours drinking beer. After a while I went outside to have a cigarette and started talking to this guy, Corley. He invited me to join him and his mates. These interactions are great but it depends on how I am feeling at the time as to whether I will take the offer up. Sometimes I just want to sit by myself but this was not one of those times. I played pool with the guys. Not just any pool but the best pool I have EVER played in my life and ended up having a great night.
One of the guys called Christian was the biggest guy I had ever seen. Huge, like a rugby player. He was hilarious- he kept saying sorry to me when he had a bad shot and he was drinking out of a glass, smaller than a half pint glass but because he was so big it looked like he was a giant and the glass was a pint glass. I was dying to say that to him but felt it was better to keep that amusing little thought in my head.
Christchurch is a lovely city with lots to do. On my first night I had a wander to get my bearings followed by dinner and drinks. The next day I had a cultural day- arts centre, craft market, museum and botanic gardens.
I visited the Antarctic Centre which is very interesting The centre tells you all about what is going on in Antarctica and you can see daily pictures from Scott Base there. There is information about the history and why the projects over there are so important. You can also experience what the weather is like there in the “storm room”. The room is -8 degrees normally and when they start the wind up to 46km/h, the temperature goes down to -18 degrees. It was absolutely freezing even though we were kitted out in thermal trousers and jackets and had our faces protected. It was positively tropical when I came out of there. In Antarctica it can get as cold as -80 degrees and if you were not prepared for the conditions you would die within one minute.
I took a day trip from Christchurch to Akaroa- a very pretty little village town located in between some beautiful green countryside. The town is so small you don’t really need a lot of time there and I was there for the day, so after I had wandered around and taken some photographs and then walked to the lighthouse, I decided to go on a harbour cruise to while away a few hours. There was all manner of nature on that boat trip-seals, penguins and little hector dolphins. As a nature lover I was in my element and tried to take as many photographs as I could but the animals were darting here and there in the water so quickly that it was hard to take any decent photographs.
Orana wildlife park is another good day out. It’s like a safari park but it is a zoo. Let me explain- the animals are in enclosures (like a zoo) but they are large, open enclosures so the animals have more freedom and can act more naturally (like a safari park). It’s one of the best I have been too. All that separates you from the animals is a moat and electric fencing-apart from the big cats and wild dogs for obvious reasons. You can hand feed the giraffes which, I thought, was quite cool so I asked the keeper to take a photo. She didn’t manage to get a proper one so I took one of myself and the giraffe- I am not sure who looked better (it looked like we had been separated at birth). I found this quite amusing-little things always make me smile. Then to add to my amusement I got to the water buffaloes and found I was more interested in taking pictures of ducks and rainbow trout. Being on my own all that time I was bound to go a little mad.
I did meet a human friend-Ian- he was the bar man in a little bar I found in Christchurch’s city centre. He was really friendly and he kept me company for a few nights while I was there on my own- even got me involved in the bars weekly quiz night (which I was rubbish at). It’s always nice to meet a friendly soul to chat to, especially when you are travelling alone. It beats ducks and fish any day.
Next stop Kaikoura- a beautiful little sea-side town on the east coast of the south island. I went there to do some whale-watching but it was cancelled two days on the trot due to weather conditions- the weather in the bay was very pleasant and sheltered but the coastguard said that there were three metre swells in the open ocean. The whales were even heading off shore. If they were buggering off because of the weather, then I certainly wasn’t going out on a boat. The coastguard told me that there had been a trip the day before and everyone was sea sick. So I gave up with that plan and found other ways to amuse myself.
I walked to the town’s resident seal colony- Peninsula Seal Colony at Kaimokehu. The New Zealand Fur seals, who bask on the rocks during the day were so close. I could have reached out and touched them. Obviously, I didn’t, I wanted to keep all my fingers. Just offshore lies the Hikurangi Trench and due to the trench’s steep sloping seafloor and currents, the trench provides nutrient rich water which attracts the seals, whales and other wildlife that frequent this area.
I walked back to town and went on a tour of the Maori Leap cave. The history behind this cave I found very interesting. It is a sea cave formed from limestone, which had a natural entrance to the sea but this collapsed about 6000 years ago. Bones found in the cave, thought to be from birds that used the cave, have been dated to around the same time. The name, Maori Leap, comes from a legend of a warrior choosing to either be captured or jump for freedom when a hostile group invaded from the North Island. He chose to leap. Another legend is of lovers who came from different tribes. They were prevented from being together and jumped to their deaths to be together forever.
Afterwards, I went on a winery tour, which included a few tastings, YUM-wine, and a tour of their underground cellar, which they use for weddings and functions. I had a couple of glasses and bought two lovely bottles, one red and white.
On the way back I came across a Thai restaurant so I decided to go in and have dinner. That was the first time I had been able to have Thai food without shaking and hyperventilating from withdrawal symptoms of Thailand! OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration but I did miss Thailand a lot. I thought that the food wouldn’t be as good but I was pleasantly surprised. I had yellow curry and it was delicious. I was so excited that I made a complete mess of the table. Then I got sad because it reminded me of Thailand. What a drama queen!
I nearly had heart failure when I asked for a glass of wine and the waitress told me they didn’t have a liquor license. But she told me that I could “bring your own” (BYO), and lo and behold I had two bottles in my brown paper bag that I had bought from the winery. Drinking from a paper bag? What a lush. But no, thankfully she bought me a glass and I poured my own. It was quite amusing and I was chuckling to myself all the way back to the hostel where I finished off the wine.
After Kaikoura I headed back to the North Island to Mount Maunganui, located in the Bay of Plenty. Mount Maunganui is also the name of the extinct volcano that stands majestically over the town. The volcano is known by its Maori name- Mauao, which means “The Mount.”
I spent three days there and during that time I walked up to the top of Mt. Mauao. It was quite steep in places but the views from the top are worthwhile. Afterwards , I went to the local outdoor pool and relaxed in the salt water pools to ease my aching bones. This place also offers excellent views of the Mount.
The next day I left Mount Maunganui and headed to Whitianga, on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. 12 km south east of Whitianga is Hot Water Beach, so named because of underground hot springs that filter up through the sand between high and low tides. Most visitors take a spade so they can dig large holes to wallow in the thermal water, which can reach around 64 degrees C.
Next stop- Cathedral Cove, or to give it its Maori name- Te Whanganui-A-Hei. A walk down from the car-park ends with this beautiful little cove and its natural rock formations- including Te Hoho Rock a natural rock stack which looms out of the blue water. Narnia fans will recognise this place as it is where the Pevensie children first re-enter Narnia in the movie- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
After Whitianga I arrived in Waitomo for a few days en route to Auckland. Alone again I decided to do some walking, so I opted for the 2km Waitomo Walkway. This is a real highlight of this area because the walk takes you over lush green farm-land, and shady forest, and the real beauty? I did this during New Zealand’s winter so there was no one else there-just me and nature. Although it was rather muddy, the walk is easy to navigate as there were marker posts with directions. The track follows the Waitomo River to the Ruakuri Caves and Bush Scenic Reserve. The reserve has native bush, limestone outcrops, caves, tunnels, gorges and walkways high about the rushing water. Everything a nature lover could want. It’s a great way to experience the natural beauty of the place.There are viewing platforms where you can look down into the caves to see the huge stalactites and stalagmites.
The next day I went cave abseiling. It was awesome. I abseiled 50 metres down into a limestone cave, climbed back up the ladder and down again. It was a bit scary to start with when you have to let go of the platform but I really enjoyed it. Then after some lunch I went Black Water Rafting or cave tubing- basically floating through the caves on an inflated rubber inner tube. I jumped backwards off a mini waterfall and went down a slide all in the darkness underneath the ground. And apart from the tiny glow worms that light up the walls, it’s mostly completely black and very quiet. Quite an eery feeling. Words cannot explain how thrilling it actually was.
I loved my time in New Zealand, and I said before that I probably wouldn’t go back- a case of been there, done that. But I have since changed my mind and would love to go back one day. The scenery is just stunning and I truly had an amazing time there.