We spent a pleasant morning in Christchurch in really quite hot summery weather. The only irritation was that we tried to attend a 'Daily' Eucharist in the cathedral, only to find that it didn't take place on Saturdays. We rightly surmised that we wouldn't find a church service at Mount Cook Village on Sunday morning. However, we visited the excellent Aquarium and kiwi House. I had a burning desire to see a real kiwi, i.e. the actual bird, not a person from NZ! The people constantly refer to themselves as kiwis with great pride, and talk about the aussies as kangaroos! There seems to be a great friendly rivalry. I've heard about the 'Pan Tasman Gap' and 'Our frinds across the dutch' (ditch: the accent takes a bit of getting used to)! I have digressed! The kiwi was viewed with great reverence: it had to be!! It is shy, nocturnal and endangered. Cameras and mobile phones were strictly forbidden, and we were supervised to make sure that we didn't speak! The darkness seemed almost total at first, but when our eyes adjusted we saw this strange creature, the only bird to have its nostrils at the tip of its very long beak. I was thrilled to bits!
After this excitement we took to the road again for the longish drive up to Mount Cook Village. I should really say Aoraki Mount Cook, as it is more correct these days to add in the Maori title, which means 'Cloud Piercer'. Unfortunately, the great mountain didn't live up to its name, but we'd been warned that it could be rather reluctant to show itself. On the way we stopped at the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo. It reminded us of the Chapel of the Transfiguration in the Grand Teton National Park, USA, which also has a glorious mountain view through a clear glass window behind the altar.
I must now stop for tonight, but will try to add more tomorrow.
Te Anau, Part 2:
Lake Pukake was also a stunning turquoise blue, and as we travelled towards Mount Cook we particularly liked the view ahead from 'Peter's Lookout'. Mount Cook Village was not up a winding Alpine road as we had imagined it might be. The valley floor is surprisingly flat, although surrounded by high mountains. We stayed at an Alpine lodge which couldn't quite make up its mind whether it was luxury or backpackers' accommodation. We ate at the Old Mountaineers' Cafe, which would have had a stunning view of Mount Cook had the cloud lifted. The following morning we drove a few miles up an unmade road to see the Blue Lakes. As the weather was still rather iffy, the lakes were a shade of muddy green. However, a walk up an increasingly steep path led us up to a view of the Tasman Glacier. (Mount Dixon was out there too!) The glacier lagoon reminded us of Iceland, but this one was nowhere near the sea.
Once we'd left the immediate area of high mountains we were back to blue sky and blue lakes. We stayed next at the very Scottish city of Dunedin with its steep streets and lively central 'Octagon'. At the Anglican Cathedral (there is one, in spite of the city's Presbyterian foundations) about two thirds of the clergy were female, and one of the lady priests had just celebrated her 30th Anniversary of Ordination.
Dunedin is a university town with 20,000 students, and one of them, called Chelsea, looked after us at our, again 'historic' B&B. She wanted to know whether we always had a white Christmas in England, as she was longing to experience that. They could only dream of a beach Christmas in New Zealand, she said! At one point everyone in the breakfast room was discussing how much English, Scottish or Irish blood they had.
From Dunedin we progressed southwards to Invercargill, pausing at Oamaru which is mainly famous for its Blue Penguin colony. We had a brief tour, and (in darkness and silence) we could look down shutes onto nestboxes. Every evening there there is a return of hundreds more penguins from the sea, and there is a vast grandstand for observing this spectacle (in silence of course)!
Invercargill was again very Scottish in character. It rained on us there, but we had a very warm welcome in the railway hotel. It was quite a large hotel, and was apparently being run entirely by a couple quite new to the hotel industry, with the help of one chef.
Our latest 'historic' B&B here at Te Anau is a former convent, which was cut into four pieces and moved 100 miles! Another very warm NZ welcome. as the Frenchman said to me at breakfast 'they're not like this in my 'Barbar (rough) country!' We went to the local cinema to see a film about exploring Fiordland by helicopter - spectacular! In the afternoon we went across the lake by boat to visit the glowworm caves, which was another magical experience. Our host had had to explain to some Americans that this was not a sort of Disney theme park ride, but a natural phenomenon. The caves were the subject of Maori legend, and had been lost for centuries and rediscovered in 1948. The mountainside above the caves is out of bounds, because it is the home of the Takahe. This strange bird was thought to have been extinct, but was rediscovered there. Anyway, to get to the glowworms after the boat it was a walk, then bowing low through a small entrance tunnel, a walkway inside the caves past rushing torrents, and finally a small boat in silence and drippy darkness. We were rewarded by scores of tiny bluish lights ... Time to stop!!