Friday, 6 November 2009

Day 14: Kaikoura to Picton

Yeah, I skipped Day 13, but nothing much happened. Summary: We drove from Christchurch to Kaikoura on the east coast. Very pretty, etc. etc. The glacial flour in the water made the coastline three distinct shades of blue, from a bright cyan/aqua colour, through to a rich, deep tropical blue. The beaches though are all rocks, so it's not quite perfect. Other than checking out the beach, we did very little, so:

Day 14, we woke up and before heading back to Picton, we drove down to the headland to where we'd heard seals sunbathe on the rocks. OMG *girly squeel* they're the cutest damn things EVER. They're HUGE (the big ones are about 1.5m long) and you can stand a few meters away from them. They crawl right up into the carpark on the headland, into the grass, on the rocks, whatever. And they seem to know when they're being photographed, because I SWEAR they have attitude. The big one I photographed kept opening one eye to watch me, and then when I was holding the camera up he'd snort or cover his head with his flipper. Another younger seal sat in the water and scratched and bathed and kept making a weird 'laughing' kind of sound.

There was a baby further out on the rocks, but the signs say something like "Stay away from the babies or you'll be ripped apart by seal teeth", so I just stayed near the carpark and strolled around getting (probably too) close to the seals to get photos. It was unbelievable how close I was, and how placid (and playful) they were. I took 350 photos of them. Most beautiful things ever. Until they yawn and you get a face full of seal breath, which nearly knocked me out. URGH.



Over the rocks, heading to the water...

This fella laboriously dragged himself off the rock
he was sunbathing on, flopped two meters away, and then
collapsed unceremoniously into the shallow water.

The younger one was a bit more playful.


Laughing at us.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Day 12: Christchurch

We went into the city again today and rode the tram around. Really chilled out trip through the city, with a funny conductor who gave us witty, dry commentary on the sights of Christchurch. He kind of sounded like Stephen Fry, which just added to the experience.

We took a closer look at the cathedral, the art gallery, the museum and the botanical gardens. All attractions which were well worth a lot more attention than we gave them, but nevertheless it was a pleasant, slower pace than we're used to.

The botanical gardens especially are really impressive - they're HUGE, and you're barely through the gates before it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere. They make Brisbane's botanical gardens look like a dusty potplant. There's no sounds of the city, just miles of secret gardens (so GREEN!) and fields and ponds and paths through flowers and following meandering streams, rocky waterfalls and secluded lagoons. At one point, a friendly duckling came charging out of the water at me, dancing around my feet. Mumma duck was NOT impressed, flapping and dancing around, but then the three ducklings following her decided to mill about my feet too, and she just stormed around in a huff honking her bill at me. Very cute. Still, I moved on before she surpriseclawed my eyes out or some shit.

Not much else to tell - it was just a day of relaxation before we head off again tomorrow for Kaikoura. Only 5 nights left!

Catching the tram

This amazing statue is right beside the cathedral.

Statue detail.

Lots of statues around Christchurch.
Apparently, the birds like them.

Friendly duckling.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Day 11: Twizel to Christchurch

Like I said in the last post, drove to Christchurch today. It was a nice drive. Didn't have the kind of overwhelming "wow" of the rest of our travels, as we came down out of mountain country into fairly 'standard' farmlands and green hills. But it was still REALLY nice. Very green, very verdant. Drove past a lot of cute little farms nestled in cosy green valleys. If Queenstown was like little Switzerland, then Christchurch is little Ireland.

The city itself is deceptively large - when driving in, you never see much of the city, so it feels quite small. Until 20 minutes later you're STILL driving in. We're staying fairly close to the city center, so we strolled in for lunch. There's a lot of park land, fountains, heaps of trees. We crossed a pleasant little creek on which a gondola was ferrying tourists through the city, and the city itself is fairly lively. It has an old-fashioned feel to the layout of the streets, and is fairly dense with shops and restaurants and hidden malls and side streets. Cathedral Square at the center of the city is amazing, and the interior of the cathedral was impressive, we didn't look around the city too much as we're both pretty travel weary today.

Only one photo to show at the moment - a creek we crossed early this morning at Lake Tekapo.

Day 11: The Journey So Far

Day 10: Queenstown to Twizel

Posting this one a day late, because the place we stayed in Twizel (pronounced T-WISE-L not, as I was saying it, YO TWIZZLEMYNIZZLE) had no internet.

We reluctantly left Queenstown behind so we weren't stuck with a marathon drive north to fly home, and made our way about halfway to Christchurch to a little town 45 minutes from Mt. Cook called Twizel. Checking in, there wasn't a lot to do in the town itself so we decided to drive out to Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook.

Mount Cook is overwhelming. It's nestled at the head of this broad, deep valley with a rocky plain between the mountainous valley walls. It's VERY Lord of the Rings - eerily quiet, no traffic, no houses, just miles and miles of rocky grassland and megamountains. We could see Mt. Cook about 30 minutes before we got to Twizel, and then you could see it the entire 45 minute drive to the base.

I kept stopping the car, making the 45 minute drive a 90 minute drive in reality. I just couldn't comprehend what I was looking at. I filled the camera's memory card and still felt like I could have taken another thousand photos.

When we got to the base of Mt. Cook, we drove around to the Tasman Glacier's walking trail. Halfway up the trail, Heath stopped, and I should have done too because when you get to the top (if you survive the climb, which I barely did) you get a little sign saying "Where's the glacier? Oh, it's under you." and a huuuuuuuge vista of... well nothing much. Mountains and dirt. But there's plenty of mountains back the other way, so I was feeling a little petulant about being tricked into climbing the walking-trail-of-agonising-knee-pain-and-respiratory-failure-of-DOOM just to look at a muddy puddle.

We spent a few hours out around Mt. Cook, and due to the lack of internet and decent TV reception, I spent the night searching through my 4500+ photos for some good ones, and agonising over my too-unfit-to-climb-so-much knee, and which of the hundreds of near-identical shots of Mt. Cook is the best. Here's a couple from the trip to Twizel and Mt. Cook.

Excuse the frames/copyright notices, I'm posting these on my DeviantArt profile and couldn't be assed making new versions for my blog.

The rugged, dry landscape between Queenstown and
Mt. Cook looks very similar to Australia - just much
bigger in scale.

Mt. Cook from just below and to the west. The clouds
pouring over the alps are a sight to see - at times you're at the
right angle to see that an entire OCEAN of clouds fills the western
coast, flowing up against the mountains but only flowing over in a few places.

Looking south-ish from the eastern side of Mt. Cook, just below
the Tasman Glacier path. I'm not sure exactly how far you can
see in this photo, but it took us about 40 minutes to drive to
the furthest point visible in this image.
This view was AMAZING.

So this was all yesterday, since it's now Day 11: Christchurch, but I'll write that post later. Now I need to sleep for a bit. *Yawn*

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Day 9: Queenstown Skyline Restaurant

Just when I think this trip can't get any more mindblowing, we go book into the Restaurant at the End of the Universe Top of a Bloody Big Mountain. A hair-raising gondola ride up a sheer mountainside led to... well, the pics say it all really. Except not. I stood outside in the freezing wind for an hour taking photos, watching the sun fall beyond the mountains, the shadows sweep across the valley. The moment when the sun broke from the clouds was heartbreaking. 400 photos to sort through, but here's a few:

I know, I can't believe this place actually looks like this either.
Taken from the viewing platform at the Skyline restaurant.

Moments before the sun fell behind the western mountain range.
The full panorama stretches triple the width of this one, but
I trimmed it down to fit it on the page. Epic.

Day 9: Queenstown

Queenstown, on the lake shore

View from Queenstown airport

Day 8: Some More Photos

Are mountain panoramas getting boring yet?

Haast Pass

 One of the highland lakes from the shoreline

The same lake viewed from a roadside lookout