Australasia | New Zealand | South Island | Christchurch – Onward to Mount Cook
Finishing my Abel Tasman trip on Friday afternoon I stayed in Nelson for the weekend before moving on. Not a bad little town it was still not the most riveting of weekends. I stayed in the YHA which whilst perfectly clean, functional and well located, it lacked slightly in personality as did most of its residents – the Youth in YHA is often ironic.
Sunday morning I eagerly got up early to leave to get back to Picton where I would be picking up the trans-coastal train to Christchurch. I ended up hanging about in Picton, a kind of a Bournemouth resort but without the pier, for a while. An hour of internet plus a walk out to a harbour view later I was more than itchy to meet up with interesting people again. I was beginning to worry that my earlier stint had just been beginners luck. Knowing that this was not something I could really control I found myself just praying for anything to lift the boredom.
G-d bless, the Lord does listen occasionally. Upon boarding the train within 10 minutes I met up with someone who was to be on my Magic bus the next morning – Quality Kevin from Catford who was joined at the next stop by Class Mick from just outside Belfast. Kevin and Mick proved to be two really good blokes to whom I chatted to for the whole of the 6 hour journey (347km in 6 hours makes Railtrak look supersonic). It was a beautiful train ride passing through Kaikoura the place to swim with dolphins, whales, sharks and other swimming pool hogs and onto Christchurch. By the time we arrived, noting the brick houses, non existent in the more quake prone areas of the North it seemed that the description of Christchurch as the most English of towns outside England was not necessarily complimentary. More importantly by this time wed realised that tonight was St Patrick’s Day and that Mick being obviously Irish and Kevin whose parents were Irish had some celebrating to do. Well we taxied to our hostels together and arranged to meet later at The Bog pub. By that time Kevin and Mick had been joined by Ruth from County Cork and although Id never really celebrated St Paddys day before I have reason to believe this one was up there with the greats. Wherever we were it was clear that everyone and everything was Irish for the night. We heard two different live bands, I learnt how to jig and even saw 2 of the England cricket team (Butcher and Flintoff I do believe) tanked up following their success (finally!) against New Zealand. (There were also plenty of fans – Englands barmy army hanging around too.) A good time was definitely had by all….
Next morning we met up with the new Magic gang (Jo who worked on the Whitsunday Islands in Oz but knew about boats from home in South England – rather Howard’s Way like; Dianne, 30+ from Manhattan whod just got in from Asia via Melbourne and was v West side in the nicest way; Justin, from Devon who Id already met up North on a holiday after working in Oz who managed to describe anything and everything bungy and hostels alike as it was ok; Olly and Vicky just friends, just out of uni and touring the world; Roz, 50+ finally touring the world leaving her kids at him; Richard and Linda from Sweden and so on) and headed down to Mount Cook and glacier country. As we drove through the initial flat lands of the Canterbury plains the weather was a bit grim but slowly got better. (this kind of matched Mick and Kevins hangovers as they had stayed out all night after walking myself and Ruth home at about 1:30.) The landscape soon became hilly and alpine-like until we could see snow capped mountains. Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki displayed a stunning aqua blue colour, the result of glacier silts apparently. Whatever, the view was stunning – real chocolate box cheesy. One of the outposts we were brought to was the Church of the Last Shepherd, a small chapel about the size of a small rural airport terminal. This was set up so that the front of the church had a big window over looking this stunning view. I cant imagine anyone having problems getting some kind of spiritual connection together there. By the way this would be a good point to warn you to be careful when guidebooks tell you that something is really isolated. Even if it looks so in the picture it just means the picture was taken when the last tourist bus had driven off. Trust me if its in a guidebook, it aint going to be too isolated!
Our new driver proved himself to be quite amusing as he told us about the various animals that have been introduced to the New Zealand countryside and then have had to been eradicated due to environmental problems over the years (The British and other European busybodies proving themselves to be the ultimate pests) As well as the polystyrene sheep (what do you mean no, did you ever see them move?) he also pointed out the two kinds of possum – the garden variety, brown and found in the fields etc and the other that was brown, red and flat and could be found on the roads….
Arriving at the Mt Cook resort we couldnt do any of the glacier boat activities as they were all booked up due to earlier tours postponed because of that mornings bad weather. However we were able to take walks at the bottom and gaze up at New Zealands tallest mountain (slightly shorter since losing 10 m in the early nineties) in all its glory. We were very lucky as it has been known to be under cloud for up to 5 weeks at a time and for us it was totally lucid and clear of cloud. The Mt Cook settlement is only small, made up of researcher housing and a couple of hotel-like places (we stayed in chalets belonging to one of the hotels) so there was absolutely no light pollution. This meant that that night we were treated to the starriest night Ive ever seen – milky ways, galaxies, dairy milk, the lot – really fantastic!
[OK I have a confession. Every time history to do with Captain Cook is mentioned I get confused with Captain Hook. I reiterate. Please do not rely on my e-mails for correct historical fact – use your guide books!]
Back to the story. Well as the saying goes, its alway calmest before the storm and that night it was incredibly stormy and we set off for Queenstown amidst a huge down pouring of rain. On the bright side as the sun struggled to peak through we saw many rainbows out the window and yesterdays lakes were transformed with ripples and waves, providing stunning scenery all the way down to Queenstown