After arriving at Picton, I drove down the east coast to Kaikoura, whale country, and promptly booked a trip to go whale whatching the next day. The weather was fabulous with clear blue skies. We set out on the seas on a fast jet boat and were advised should we need to go to the loo, we should tell one of the crew so the captain could slow the boat down, the mind boggles. Within about fifteen minutes the first whale was spotted and we headed off to get a closer look. It was a sperm whale, resting on the surface blowing out air. Apparently they do this every fourteen seconds. Then it arched it's back, a sign it was about to dive and sure enough the tail fin came up and then down. Within another minute or two, another whale was spotted and off we went. This happened again and we saw a total on nine whales, which is apparently quite unsual and which delighted both the visitors and crew.
The next day I headed south for Christchurch and spent a few hours there before heading to Darfield, a township about 40km away from Christchurch, where I was going to catch the TranzAlpine train the next day. I found the campsite but found the office closed with a sign saying help yourself to site and pay in the morning. I parked up and there were a couple of caravans, but no sign of life. As the evening went on and the darkness fell, it became clear I was the only one there, apart from the unidentifiable animal sounds coming from the bush nearby. It was a long night! I was certainly glad when the sun came up again.
I arrived at the station twenty minutes before the train was due to be checked in as instructed, only to find a very short platform and shelter and again not a soul around. What's going on? Anyway the train arrived and I hopped on board and off we went. The train journey runs form Christchurch on the east to Greymouth on the west through Arthurs's Pass and passed some very spectacular scenery. Most of the passengers, like myself had booked a return trip.
I then travelled to Queenstown through Central South Island through the most spectacular scenery I think I have ever seen. Snow capped mountains and enormous lakes. Stunningly beautiful. And round every next corner, another incredible view. It almost became too much to take it all in. I arrived in Queenstown, or ski central! I liked Queenstown, it had a nice feel about the place situated in a picturesque bay.
I wanted to go on to Milford Sound in Fiorland, but I had read in my guidebook that in winter all vehicles must carry snow chains and given my escapades with Gollum already, I decided to go by bus. It took four hours to get there, stopping now and then to take in the scenery and the incredible glacial valleys, with their flat wide bottoms and steep high sides. I was told it rains two days out of every three in Milford Sound and gets an average rainfall of eight metres! So our drizzley day was considered a good one. It was certainly very impressive and quite difficult to take in the huge scale of the place.
After returning to Queenstown I headed north east to Fox Glacier to go glacier walking, which was a real highlight. We were kitted up with waterproofs, tramping boots and crampons. Our guide was a very nice guy from the US, who must have been the inspiriation for Woody in Toystory. I had to keep chanting to myself, don't call him Woody, don't call him Woody. We were soon on the glacier and spent a good hour and a half walking on it. It was great fun and an astonishing sight, really beautiful and coloured blue in many parts. The glacier is moving all the time and we did see some large chunks break off, which was spectacular...and very loud.
After a couple of nights in Fox Galcier township, I began the journey north to Hamilton on North Island to watch the All Blacks v Wales. On the way up I stopped overnight near Taumarunai. The woman who ran the campsite, (whose husband was from Settle), told me about some glow worms about 15 km away. So as soon as the sun went down, I set off. I reached the township and carried on the road as she had directed. The road became a single dirt track and I ventured forth beginning to wonder how I was ever going to turn around and get back...and on I went. The track narrowed even more and and I eventually I came to the place she had mentioned where the road was flanked by steep vertical embankments on either side. I drove to the end and parked the van and with torch in hand walked back. I turned off the torch and was delighted to discover the embankment covered in what looked like tiny fairy lights. Magical! A real unexpected treat.
The rugby match was played in the evening and started with fireworks and pageantry. I was sat amongst both Welsh and Kiwi's supporters and it was very moving when their national anthems were played and everyone gave it their all. The All Blacks beat the Welsh needless to say, but the crowd were all in fine spirits and it was a great night.
The following day was my birthday and it was very strange to spend it in the middle of winter. I went to see a kiwi, bird that is. A great spotted kiwi. Very adorable.
So now I am back in Auckland and fly to Sydney in the morning. I have had a fabulous time driving around this most beautiful country. I am sad to leave in many ways but also lookng forward to warmer climes...