Six months ago we embarked on an adventure to take us to visit Hayley, Aaron and Jake in Alabama. To see Rikki and Shirley in Hong Kong, Tony, Claire and Chloe in Thailand, Kate and Cath in Australia and, finally, The Wheelers, all of them, in New Zealand.
Three continents, 14 flights, 30 hotels, 17 boat trips later we have no more sleeps before the final two flights to land us safely on UK soil on Tuesday 5th September.
Last week we returned from our whistle-stop tour of South Island, New Zealand. I had been expecting big things of this larger of the two islands, and I must say, I was a little disappointed. The North Island had me moved. The overwhelming friendliness of the people, the rich culture, the extraordinary landscapes and the pride of the nation in their heritage and ownership of this land, blend harmoniously into a spiritual cocktail that excites the mystical tastebuds, warms your sacred heart and settles smoothly for a long digestion.
The South Island fell short of this nourishing experience. Perhaps South Island first, is a better idea. The entree to the perfect meal. We are replete.
On South Island we went in search of more soul food and found only fast food. And like the annual trip to Mcdonalds, we enjoyed it tremendously. We kept our visit south of Christchurch, concerned mainly about the weather. Earthquakes, floods and snowfalls had dominated the weather forecasts for months and weeks leading up to the trip. We therefore resisted the famous ferry crossing from north to south and flew, Air New Zealand, into Christchurch. Immediately, and upon sound advice drove to Akaroa, east of the city. What a delightful drive and an even more delightful coastal town. With a major French influence, this exclusive settlement nestled neatly into the mountain side and down to sea level. Given the opportunity we might have prolonged our stop, but a walk along the jetty, a chat with the lady in the wool shop, another flat white and English tea and ploughman’s lunch later we were off, bound for Timaru.
Roads, like I have mentioned before, are essentially empty. With only a population of 800,000 people on SI, in a space just over half of UK, you will appreciate how empty, empty is, and generally straight too. Particularly here. This is why cruise control was created.
Following a night in a room designed for wheelchair users, which, of course included the regulation oversize wet room, we zoomed off towards Lake Tekapo. More overuse of cruise control and interminably long straight roads lead us through and into just the most spectacular of landscapes. At one point we were totally surrounded by snow capped mountains, deep blue skies and warm embracing sunshine. Standing on the empty road, listening to the silence of nature, the feeling of overwhelming humbleness will last and last. This astonishing section of our trip from Lake Tekapo to Te Anau was simply breathtaking. The number of times I felt the need to stop was becoming silly. On an adventure as this, where we set targets for our days journey, which, by its very nature can be anywhere we really want to go, but with the goal being the hotel we are booked in to, the need to stop is pressured by the need to progress. The lure of the landscape is such that I make progress at the expense of enjoying and relishing the environment. Hence a real call to return.
I have been asked by many people about the highlights of NZ, and I was about to mention some on this particular section of the journey to Te Anau, but in doing so I would diminish those places not mentioned and that would be wrong and ill considered. What I can say is that we avoided Queenstown. It is pointless for me to search for words to describe our feelings for this area. It is quite simply nature at her most beautiful.
Milford Sound has been a bucket list destination for many years. Ever since my coming of age, in photographic terms, and seeing the elegant power of Milford Sound in photographs, as THE place to be, as a photographer, I have held the ambition secret. And now here it is, on a map, on a road sign, right in front of me. The drive begins. And what a drive. More Scenery, with that intended capital. Winding roads, around steep-sided mountains with long drops should anything untoward occur. Milford Sound is fed by hundreds of waterfalls that cascade in a photogenic dancing display of liquid poetry.
Our day was overcast as we cruised for two hours along the length of the sound but the immensity of the geography and wildlife, spotted in the water, was by no means a dampener on the experience. Sleeping seals on the rocks with rare blue penguins making a fleeting appearance enriched the cruise. The captain decided to steer the bow of the boat, where both Jo and I were situated, into the tumbling waters of the largest of the falls. The noise was colossal, dare I say, this was the sound of Milford? Concealing cameras neath our waterproofs, we were soaked. So much for the waterproofs! Throughout our trip we have enjoyed climbing and descending waterfalls, but to be driven into one, came as a surprise. Actually a refreshing and welcome surprise.
This country. What can I say?
We travelled from Te Anau to our southern most point on our trip, Gore, the country music capital of NZ, apparently, and also the Worlds Centre for brown trout fishing. Who knows? But that’s what the signs said on the road in and the road out. We didn’t stay long enough to test the validity of either of those claims. But we marked that fact that were weren’t far away from Antartica!
En route for Dunedin, to visit an ex-colleague of Jo’s from school. Quite a delightful lady, whose passion is frogs. Once again we were smitten by this city and the surrounding geography of bays, inlets and islands. Water has huge appeal. Like attracts like? We went in search of albatross. No live ones to be found, unless we were prepared to fork out $50 to see some babies. It struck me that a baby albatross will look much like a seagull, and there were plenty of those flying around for us to see for free!
We did find another wonderful black sand beach that stretched for miles along this never ending and changing coastline.
The All Blacks were playing against Australia in Dunedin whilst we were there. Resisting the temptation to buy tickets, they were available (quite surprising), we opted for a big screen in an Irish pub just away from the ground. Great atmosphere as I cheered for the underdogs (OZ) as they scored two breakaway trys! I then applauded the All Blacks as they found their way to the win in the second half. I was actually applauding the rugby and the spirit of the game. Quite special.
Oamaru was our next stop en route to Christchurch for our flight back to Auckland. This provided us quite a shocking moment as we went in search for an evening meal. We turned a corner towards the harbour to be confronted with, what I can only describe as “death”. The annual three-day hunting competition had just reached its climax and on full display was the “kill”. Both deer and wild boar were strewn across the road and walkways. Those that weren’t there, were either in the back of open four wheel drive pick-ups or being dragged unceremoniously to them. This was death on a scale that I had not seen the likes of previously. I have had a sheltered life perhaps? This was a life that was new to me. These men, and some women, were hunters. Their kill at their feet. They talked and joked and drank beer and children played with the horns and helped, these once magnificent creatures, to be dragged lifeless across the concrete and gravel to the waiting transport for the next episode in their imposed fate.
The previous day in Oamaru we found a more somewhat contrasting side to the Kiwi culture. Ancient cave drawings on two separate sites held us peacefully fascinated.
We made it back to Christchurch and then hence to Auckland and the ferry to Waiheke. It is here where we have been made entirely welcome, at home and at peace. Our wonderful hosts at Citrine, along with their two children, have made this final week the special icing on this rather large and extensive cake. Cakes have been a feature of our trip, none more so than yesterday, Sunday 3rd September – Christine’s 64th birthday. Such a lovely day.
In just a few hours we shall be leaving for the UK and in doing so regaining the complete day that we lost coming here. Our journey has been outstanding. Our lives have changed. We shall need time to reflect and so put the experience into a perspective that we understand more fully.
Our family, who we miss wonderfully, have been special every step of the way. They have shown us the support, love and understanding that is the utter essence of family, and we love them to bits.
Folk along our journey who made it possible for us: –
UK – Tom, Emily and Jack. House sitters and business operators extraordinaire.
USA – Hayley, Aaron and my mate Jake, of course. Exceptional English and American hospitality.
HONG KONG – Rikki and Shirley. Just the best couple in town, and its a big town!
THAILAND – Claire, Tony and Chloe. An exceptional family and the epitome of friendship.
AUSTRALIA – Kate and Cath. A loving couple who seem to share it with the world.
NEW ZEALAND – Christine, David, Robert, Amara, Ella…our extended family. The world should be filled with more of these people. We have been blessed to know them since before we were married and the rejuvenation of our relationship has been a timely reminder that we must always seek friends with hours to live, not hours to kill. We have certainly lived. Our lives have been moved to a new place. We have gone to where the weather suits our clothes. Our wardrobe will soon suffer some scrutiny towards deciding where next?