Port Douglas (Australia - Invercargill (NZ)
Dec 12th 2011
Up early and left Port Douglas at 8.30am. V hot 34 degrees C and extremely humid. We had more bites as well despite lashings of 'Bushman' repellant! Arrived at Cairns airport around 10am & returned the Holden Commodore SV6 - -Pete v sad to see it go & it was a lovely comfy car. Our plane left on time & trailfinders had ordered us some lunch Got to Brisbane at around 3pm & had 3 hours to wait for our flight to to Christchurch so read our books & had a drink. Got to Christchurch at midnight 'cos lost 3 hours en route. Got a shuttle bus to our accommodation. Pretty small but well equipped. Got to bed around 2am.
Dec 13th 2011
Bella Vista Apts Got up & 9am (NZ TIME) . Went for a alk down to the town - -quite a long way. We found this strange as Trailfinders had always placed us centrally in cities in the past. Later we realized why this was!! Walked along beside the river & around the wonderful Botanic Gardens. Had toasted sandwiches in the cafe. We weren't allowed in the City Centre- -it was all fenced off -- where the Cathedral was etc. because of earthquake damage. We were amazed and horified at the extent of the damage. Loads of buildings were awaiting demolition still including a huge Crowne Plaza. Such a shame but explains why we weren't accommodated in the City centre!! We did some shopping & then walked all the way back. It was a really hot day - - -but not humid!! We were pretty tired by the time we got back but were able to sit out at our little table in the sun & have a drink. We then got spruced up and had dinner in a little cafe not too far away I had a souvlaki that turned out to be a massive 'kebab' & Pete had a 'Fat b******' !!!!!!!!!!!!! a double burger cardiac arrest accelerant.
Dec 14th 2011
John's birthday today. Left accommodation at 8.50am to go to airport on Shuttle bus to pick up our car. Much to Pete's disapointment there had been a mix up & they had no Holden Commodore SV6s but he was quite happy when they upgraded us to a brand new 4WD Toyota Rav 4. We firstly drove down the Banks Peninsula to Akaroa on the coast. This is a lovely little town which has a strong French influence because the first settlers were French.There were quite a few French flags flying including one with 'Welcome' written on it in English!! It has streets called Rue this & Rue that. Some of the buildings werein French style & shops had French names such as Boulangerie & we got paninis from L'Escargot Rouge Delicatesen for lunch. We sat on a bench overlooking the bay to eat them which was nice despite the fact that it was 'spitting' a bit!! We then set off on a marathon run to Dunedin - -500km!! -- just as well Pete likes driving. Just before we got to Dunedin we turned off to look at the Moeraki boulders. These were on the beach 2km north of the fishing village of Moeraki. These boulders are amazing, perfectly sherical, about 1m in diameter, at least 20 of them. Some had broken open & some had 'tortoise shell markings as if they would at some stage break apart too. They were formed 60 million years ago and are limestone concretions formed almost like a crystal formes around a 'seed' or like stalagtites/stalacmites. Mud banks became weathered away to expose and release them.
We then found our accommodation - -OK but a bit dark and dated. Went out for a drive through Mc Ds for dinner. We had a quick look around Dunedin. The first pioneers to arrive here came from Scotland & Dunedin is the Celtic word for Edinburgh. There is a strong Scittish influence here though we couldn't find anywhere that would do us a battered deep fried Mars bar! Many of the areas and streets have Scottish names e.g. Moray Place, Stewart St, Prince's St, Glasgow St, Clyde St. Our hotel is named after the Captain of the first Scottish ship to arrive here -Captain Cargill - this is called Quality Hotel Cargills.
December 15th 2011
We went to see Baldwin St which is the steepest St in the world with a gradient of 1.286 at its steepest. It intersects with Buchanan St!! An annual race takes place here called the Baldwin St Gut Buster! Drove into the centre o town to see some impressive buildings including the amazing railway station which is a very elegant building on the outside but also v impressive on the inside particularly the mosaic floor celebrating the age of steam. Also had a beautiful stained glass window.
We then drove down the Otago Penninsula. Many interesting birds en route - -white faced herons, black oyster catchers, a duck (Mallard) with 8 ducklings & also a ----------------shell duck. We visited the Royal Albatross Centre which was the main reason for the trip. While wandering around outside the centre we spied a huge red billed gull colony. These were nesting and some had eggs still but most had lovely fluffy chicks that they were protecting very carefully. Also we saw some NZ fur seals in the sea and on the rocks. Also there were several spotted Shags nesting on the cliff face along with 2 Spoonbills in some bush/vegetation on the rock face. From the lookout at the centre we saw a 14 yr old female albatross incubating her egg & also 4 immature (they don't breed till they're about 4/5yrs) gliding on the wind for sheer enjoyment. These birds have a 3m wingspan so it's an amazing sight. They usually, but not always, pair up for life. They mate, incubate the egg, care for the one chick until it's ready to fend for itself & then fly off individually for about a year & return at roughly the same time to mate & nest in the same location & start the whole cycle over again. The staff are able to take the egg away from under the incubating bird to examine it fir fertility & development & also take the chick & weigh it without causing much distress to the adults. They seem to be gentle giants!!Wonderful creatures. They are protected here from their main enemy - -the stoat. Rabbit proof fencing has been erectaed to ensure that there are enough rabbits for the stoats to hunt away from the Albatross colony so they shouldn't need to predate the Albatross chicks & eggs. In the same area we were able to see Stewart Island Shags' (black with white stripes) breeding colony. Penguins also come ashore here at dusk but we've seen these same penguins on Philip Island so won't wait for them tonight.
The guide also showed us around Fort Taiaroa - a coastal defence fort built in 1886 to protect the port of Dunedin against Russian attack. There is a tunnel system built under the Albatross nesting area. The main gun, which is still in position, is a 6inch Armstrong disappearing gun. The gun is sited in a circular pit where it is loaded. It can then be raised by hydrolic rams to its firing position. Once fired the recoil returns it to its lower, hidden position. It was installed in 1889 having been manufactured in Newcastle on Tyne, UK. Although obsolete by 1912 it was retained for use in WW1 & WW2.
In the evening we went out to the Ale House - a pub attached to the local Speight's brewery. It was a really nice, informal & friendly place. The food was delicious & the portions HUGE!! Raining - so we treated ourselves to a taxi there & back.
Dec 16th 2011
Still raining! Left at 9.15am. Next stop Invercargill. Drove down from Dunedin to Balclutha on HW1. We then took the Southern Tourist Route to Kata Point. Beautiful sandy bay where they were selling big plots of land for building detached houses. We then motored on to Owaka. Shortly after we left the sealed road to take the gravel road to Jack's Bay & Purakauni Falls. First we took the turn off for Jack's Bay & drove beside some shallow lakes which were full of water birds e.g. Spoonbills - they are so cool with their wild white haircuts !- herons (never seen so many together in one place) pied oyster catchers & black winged Stilts. As it was a 40 min walk to Jack's Blow Hole we decided that we didn't have 80 min walking time to spare so we returned down the gravel road to Purakaumi Falls where we parked and took a 10 min walk through the rain Forest to see the falls which were at their best after all the rain we'd had. We drove on towards Papatowai crossing the McLellan River. BTW this area is known as The Caitlins coast - until recently the 'forgotten coast' of NZ. We saw a few herds of Highland cattle and also several hares frantically running along the road to escape our tyres! e continued down the Chasland's valley through Waikawi to Porpoise (small dolphins) Bay and Curio Bay. Ate lunch overlooking Porpoise Bay where Hector Dolphins are supposed to come within 10m of the shore but they must have known we were coming as they didn't show themselves. We walked along the headland where the sea was crashing against the rocks & sending spray way up in the air. V cold today - - 10 degrees C. We then went on a v short drive to Curio Bay where there is the remains of a petrified forest on the beach which is pre Jurassic - - 170 million years old. Whilst we were looking at the 'trees' we spotted a 'Yellow Eyed' penguin walking into the bushes where their nests are. We could hear the cries of the chicks in the nest. As we prepared to leave another penguin swam up from the sea and after some preening it walked and hopped (so cute- we have a video!) its way to it's nest. Simultaneously, another penguin emerged from the nesting area and walked and hopped it's way down the beach and into the sea. This was an absolutely amazing experience as we were not expecting to see them because they are usually on the beach at dawn or dusk. The Mauris call them the Hoiho and they are the most ancient and rarest of all penguins. We were very priveleged to have observed them going about their daily routine!
We then continued on towards Invercargill & pulled off the main road onto another gravel road towards Waipapa Point. This is the site of NZ's worst civilian shipwreck in 1881 where 131 lives were lost when the SS Tararua hit the reef. Then we spotted some sea lions on the beach and went down for a closer look & a video recording of these huge (and rather smelly!!) creatures lolling about on the sand!!. Weather was improving now and the sun had come out.
We then proceeded on our way to Invercargill where we have really nice accommodation. This is a really excellent design as the apartments look like little chalets with parking spaces from the front but they all have an internal door onto the main corridor leading to all the hotel facilities. Ben this is a really good design should you ever be called upon to design a Motel!! It provides scope for almost endless extension too provided the land is available! We had a lovely meal in the bar here.