The Wandering Hedgehog
This'll be another whizz-through, I'm way behind again due to spending the last week in the middle of nowhere. Thanks again to Orange, for destroying my e-mail account and being unavailable by phone. My new e-mail address can be reached through this website. What's the difference between apples and oranges? ANYWAY... I arrived in Wanaka from Queenstown, full of enthusiasm for the Wanakafest - a popular snowboarding/skiing town with its own festival? Brilliant! Should be plenty to see and do. Wanaka itself is a sleepy little town in a beautiful setting (mountains, lake etc.) but the Wanakfest itself was a bit of a surprise. Instead of a sprawling counter-cultural festival, I watched the procession of floats and found that it was actually just a jumped-up village fete. After one night in Wanaka, I decided to move on. I went for the long drive back through Queenstown and along the road to Milford Sound. This is one of the places I'd been recommended by many people, since it's such an amazingly beautiful place. by many people, since it's such an amazingly beautiful place. The road to Milford Sound was worth it in itself - an isolated drive through mountains and along plains, and through the snow-covered Homer tunnel. After several hours of driving through incredible scenery, I arrived at Milford Sound. Wow, what an anticlimax. OK, I'm here at the wrong time of year, but it was just a damp squib (literally, it was somewhat Scottish weather). Sure, it's spectacular, but I really don't see what's so special about it compared to so many other places in New Zealand. I decided not to stay and go for a boat cruise, and just turned the car around and went back south. Again, the drive (and some of the scenic stops along the way) were far better than Milford bloody Sound itself. After stopping off in Te Anau for a night (apparently it's the "swinging capital of New Zealand", and I don't know if this means what I think it means) I continued south to Invercargill. I had a quick wander around the museum, then booked myself on the afternoon ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island. Bluff itself is a small, grubby harbour town which isn't much to look at but has some nice coastal walks which I wandered along until the ferry was due to depart. Having prioritised my luggage (and leaving a lot of it in the boot of the car) I boarded the passenger ferry for the hour-long trip to Oban. The crossing was reasonably choppy but we arrived on Stewart Island on schedule. Oban is the bustling metropolis (population: 380) on an island which is mostly covered with forest. I only had one day to spend there, so I went for a few walks around Oban. For the serious "tramper" there are huts dotted around the island, and it's possible to spend a fortnight walking around it and stopping off in huts every night. Seemed a bit too much time to spend on one island, though, nice as it may be... This is when things started to go a little pear-shaped. It became apparent that the afternoon ferry back to Bluff was looking unlikely to travel. Sure enough, it was soon cancelled. Of the would-be passengers who were staying in Stewart Island Backpackers, I had met Catherine, a 29-year-old from London who was going in the same direction as me, and arranged to take her on as my first proper passenger. Since we were stuck for another night on the island, we explored the pub for a while and spent some time with Dave and Hedia, a couple in their early 60's who were loudly serenading each other. It turned out that they were on their honeymoon, having been together for a good few years. Thankfully I hadn't slagged off Timaru before Dave told me he had lived there all his life. When the pub closed, for the second time in a week I found myself invited to a 21st birthday party. Catherine and I headed along to the local village hall (Dave and Hedia were coming, but got lost - quite a feat in a village that size). Obviously a party in a place like this is for everybody, so there was a mixture of young and older people there. They weren't bothered at all by two foreign tourists turning up, but we had brought some alcohol along. There were some interesting characters there - after being spoken to by the birthday girl's uncle for what seemed like hours, we were entertained by a Maori guy (I asked him if he was from Oban, and he spluttered and laughed, saying "what do you think?" - non-whites are non-existent here) and a gay goth from Wellington. The birthday girl herself kept bringing around miniature glasses of punch, and the party as a whole was very civilised. Even if it did go on quite late. Getting up the next morning was a bit of a struggle, since the next scheduled ferry was to leave at 8am. At 7:30 we got word that it was actually going to leave, so Catherine, Dave, Hedia and I went down to the harbour. The ferry crossing was incredibly turbulent, it had been a knife-edge decision whether it was going to go or not. Despite (or perhaps because of) the amount of alcohol that was still in my bloodstream, I enjoyed it immensely. The sight of people turning green and filling their sick-bags as I cheerfully drank my coffee and ate my cookie caused me no end of amusement. On returning to Bluff, I had a large breakfast and drank plenty of water before attempting to drive on. Catherine and I had both planned to visit the Catlins, a sparsely populated area on the south coast with plenty of waterfalls, forest walks and coastal scenery. This actually took a few days to fully explore, mainly due to the fact that a lot of the main roads are made of gravel. Working from west to east, we explored quite a few different waterfalls, forests and bays. There seems little point in describing them all, I'll put up loads of photos in the next day or two with captions explaining where they are. There were plenty of warning signs about the local wildlife. Primarily, this involved giving yellow-eyed penguins plenty of space (we didn't see any, sadly) and avoiding sea lions like the plague. Elephant seals and sea lions like to go on the beaches, and are not only massive but quite vicious. The signs warn people not to approach them, and not to get between them and the sea. It was while walking along Cannibal Bay that we actually saw a sea lion on the beach. [Cannibal Bay, incidentally, isn't really advertised much as a tourist attraction, the powers that be don't want to bring it to people's attention that the Maoris used to have some interesting tastes in meat.] It was hard to tell the difference between the sea lion and the various black lumps of seaweed littering the beach, until it waved its flipper and snorted when we were about 15 metres away. This thing was massive, it must have been over 10 feet in length. I carefully walked around it (away from the sea, naturally) and took some photos, but decided to back away when I realised I had walked to within a few metres of another beastie which was watching me from the grass at the top of the dune. Photos from the Catlins will appear here within a day or two. A lovely area, completely isolated and with very little in the way of human habitation - the towns are tiny. Also very little in the way of internet access and mobile phone signal. I'm actually writing this from Christchurch (again), having made my way back up the east coast with a view to spending the next week doing the top half of the south island. Well behind schedule, of course, but who cares?