04.08.2012 - 04.15.2012
After leaving behind Milford Sound, we headed to the southernmost portion of the South Island. On the way, we made an overnight pit stop in the impossibly small fishing village of Colac Bay. We hunkered down in a campervan site for the night right next to the local pub. Since it was Easter Weekend the bar was packed with enthusiastic beer drinking rugby fans, so we shared in the excitement of the game with the locals. Turns out I know very little about rugby, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
From Colac Bay we stopped at the Anderson Park Art Gallery in the town of Invercargill, the biggest small town in the area. The gallery is in an old mansion on beautiful grounds and exhibits New Zealand art – it was just as nice exploring the old house and grounds as it was checking out the art.
The Anderson mansion
The Catlins is an area located in the far south of the South Island and is made up of farmlands, forests and windy bays. While there we observed several fur seal colonies, wandered around the grounds of two old lighthouses, stood on the southern most point of the South Island, walked along a few desolate beaches, and stopped off at a petrified forest only visible at low tide (the petrified trees are apparently Jurassic age). The Catlins is really diverse and worth a side trip – it is especially glorious if you luck out with fine weather.
Some sea lions mulling about
The old lighthouse
At a crossroads in the Catlins
Our "bedroom view" from the Jucy
The petrified forest
A view from one of the caves only accessible at low tide
Jeff has been talking about Dunedin, our next stop-off, for some time as it is home to New Zealand’s Cadbury Factory and Speight’s Brewery, New Zealand’s most popular beer chain. Since it was just post-Easter, he was hoping to score some big deals on Easter candy. We signed up for a “double tour” – the Cadbury Factory Tour in the morning and the Speight’s Brewery Tour in the afternoon. Being from “Chocolatetown, USA”, we are a bit partial to our own chocolate company and factory tour, but they still managed to lure us in with Cadbury Easter Eggs It was onto the brewery next and I knew I was going to be the DD as I have never cared much for beer. The tour was surprisingly interesting thanks in large part to our excellent tour guide – he really knew his beer, I’ll give him that. I had never heard of Speight’s before arriving in New Zealand, but their Gold Medal Ale is apparently the biggest seller in New Zealand and is also available at Trader Joe’s in the US. At this particular factory, they still make all of their beer the old fashioned way, in wooden barrels and copper boilers.
At the Speight's factory
A sample of the beers made at Speight's
Dunedin's histortic train station
Baldwin Street- apparently holds the world record for being the steepest street in the world at 19 degrees
After a generous free-tasting session at the brewery, we headed off to see if we could spot penguins in the wild. Penguins are especially tricky to spot because they hunt in the open ocean all day long and then only come back to shore around sunset to feed their young. We headed out to a hide located along a desolate beach to see if any would show (they will stay offshore and neglect their young if people or other predators are too close) and were ecstatic to finally see three little guys walking up a steep sand dune. For a species that lacks solid legs, they can move shockingly fast. Then, on our walk back to the car, we spotted another three making their way up a sandbank on the opposite end of the beach. Mission accomplished.
We stopped for the night at a roadside rest area (classy stuff) and headed the next day for the Banks Peninsula and Christchurch. The drive was beautiful but took longer than anticipated due to windy mountain roads. The Banks Peninsula is a gorgeous piece of land that was formed by two volcanoes. It actually used to be an island, but over thousands of years has grown together with the mainland. We spent the day there walking around Akaroa, a former French colonial town and whaling station, and checking out the cheese shop and local museum. That night we stayed at a working farm up in the hills with the best views around.
One of the many sheep encountered during the day
At the stinky cheese shop
Driving into the Banks Peninsula
Best campervan park views!
Christchurch, the final stop off of on our trip, was up next and we blazed into town for some sightseeing. We were totally blown away to see massive city blocks still cornered off after the earthquake that struck in February 2011. It has taken them a long time to get back on their feet and it must have been tragic for a lot of residents and businesses – literally most of the downtown has been closed for over a year and parts of it will remain closed for some time to come. We walked around the barriers surrounding the downtown, wandered through the impressive botanical gardens, and checked out the well done museum. Our guide book had a walking tour for the city, but more than half of the highlights were now off limits or closed.
The "punting" canal
Some of the buildings post-earthquake
Most businesses had to move shop
To top off our time in New Zealand we decided to watch a rugby match between the home town Crusaders and the undefeated South African Stormers. The main stadium in town was also damaged by the earthquake, so an impressive temporary stadium has been built to host matches. We headed to the sold-out stadium with hoards of paraphernalia wearing fans and sat on the home team side. It turned out to be a lot of fun, even though we had no idea what half of the penalties were for, and it was nice to see other folks get just as crazy about their sports as we do. Though we did hear one Kiwi fan remark that their attempt at the “wave” was sad in comparison to 100,000 baseball fans doing the same feat in the US Filled to the brim with a bratwurst, meat pie and chips, we left the stadium with all of the other Crusader fans high off an upset win over the Stormers – I just might have become a rugby fan in the process.
Getting in a ruck
Last official night in NZ!
After one month of hopping around New Zealand, our time here has drawn to an end. It has been an amazing stay and the scenery was absolutely fantastic! We leave with some great memories (skydiving, bungee jumping, zorbing, etc.) and hope to be back some day. For our marathon trip home, we head now to Auckland for the day, then Hong Kong, and finally Newark. We are currently at the Auckland Airport as I type this and are going to head out to the mall and catch some movies during our outrageously long layover. We will make a last posting or two on our trip as a whole in the next few days, so until then…