Greetings from Picton on South Island.
When we left you it was Wednesday 9th April and we were in Wanaka and heading to Queenstown for the ascent of Ben Lomond.
We got up at 6am, had a rushed breakfast and then broke camp for the drive over a mountain range.
We arrived at the lake edge a short distance from the town centre ready to commence the ascent at about 8am and saw the DOC (Department of Conservation) board for the ascent had a recommended journey time of 8 hours.
We have come realise these times are quite conservative for our walking speed.
We started walking up through the lakeside forest, we zig zagged upwards crossing several mountain bike tracks and eventually escaping the forest on a good path traveling through waist high brush. This part of the climb could have been avoided by taking a gondola but we wanted to ascend by the classic route from the lake edge. We climbed to a col (gap between two mountains) and then began the steeper ascent to the summit of Ben Lomond. We were the first on the top of the summit and we had it to ourselves for about 10 minutes with some amazing views.(photo)
For those of you that have been to Queenstown, at the summit of Ben Lomond we were level with the top of "The Remarkable's" mountain range.
It had taken us about 3 hours to reach the top and the descent was a delight. We managed to keep the views until we re-entered the forest. By this time the mountain bike tracks were operational and we had to keep our wits about us as these adrenaline junkies came hurtling down the mountain. (Amanda being an exception?)
On returning to the lakeside we had finally managed to climb this mountain in good weather on our third visit to Queenstown. We had taken about 5 hours 30 minutes to complete the walk. We were pretty knackered (cockney rhyming slang, .. "cream crackered") but very happy with our fitness.
We picked up the motorhome, booked into a campsite and celebrated later that evening with two enormous pizzas and a bottle of red wine.
On Thursday we drove 2 hours southwest. We were still in fine weather and headed towards Fiordland.
We arrived at Te Anau, a small town on the lake of the same name and had lunch by the lakeside. This lake is enormous and apparently the largest body of fresh water in New Zealand.
We booked into yet another campsite and had a quiet afternoon getting ready for the ascent of Mount Luxmore which would be our last mountain climb on South Island.
On Friday we woke to a cloudy and foggy morning. We caught a water taxi across the lake to commence the ascent of Mount Luxmore. Our starting point was still in cloud on the lake edge. At 200 meters above sea level and ascending to the 1,400 meter summit, this was a significant peak.
This route was part of a 3 day trek called the Keplar track and had a very well maintained path, which was probably due to the numerous walkers who use it.
We climbed out of the cloud, passed some impressive limestone cliffs, eventually left the forest and gained a ridge with amazing views.
Looking down towards Te Anau the cloud was an inversion and was draped over the lake and town with the mountains protruding from what was a sea of cloud. (Photo) We carried on and had a brief pause at a high mountain hut before continuing to our summit. (Photo) We returned on the same route with our only concern getting back to the lakeside in time for our pick up by the water taxi. We achieved this with about 10 minutes to spare. This was by design as we knew we would be swatting sand flies while we waited. We climbed on board the boat and being the only customers who had arrived for the 4pm (and only) pickup our driver turned on the throttle and headed across the lake. As we had travelled about 500 meters from the shore two people ran out onto the beach waving their arms. For a brief second we mischievously thought of just waving back but told the boat driver who rather reluctantly turned back to pick up what turned out to be a French couple we had previously met on the track.
As we returned to Te Anau it had started raining. Our act of chivalry had reduced their walk back to town by nearly 3 hours which would have seen them wet, very tired and returning in the dark.
On Saturday we woke to steady rain which was no surprise as it had been forecast several days ago and we had been planning around it.
We spent the day driving through the rain to the east coast and a likely penguin viewing location at the Moeraki lighthouse. This would position us about a hours driving north of Dunedin when we finished our day and well on our way to our ferry crossing on Thursday.
We consulted our "Rankers" application on the IPad. This tool has been invaluable and is similar to trip advisor but just for New Zealand. It has maps, reviews and photographs. It lists the better motorhome parks and the popular attractions.
It suggested a motorhome park about 3km from the penguin viewing area and when we arrived the reception staff gave us some very helpful information about the timings and locations for viewing the penguins
We just about had time for a cup of tea and then drove over to the lighthouse cliff where the penguins would hopefully be. We managed to get a break in the rain and headed down the cliff path and almost immediately bumped into a yellow eyed penguin that had positioned itself a few feet away from the track and was almost posing for photographs. We took far too many shots of this bird thinking it was all we might see. (Photo)
We walked to a purpose built hide where a group of five Southeast Asian tourists were staring at a beach and not a great deal was happening. Remembering what our motorhome receptionist had told us we looked just over the window sill of the hide and saw pushed up against the front wall of the hide another yellow eyed penguin no more than a couple of feet away from us.
When the Southeast Asian group realised what we were looking at there was a hail of camera shutters.
During the hour we were there we saw a large amount of fur seals and eight yellow eyed penguins and left as the light was fading.
On Sunday morning we headed to our main reason for venturing to this part of the east coast. On a beach a few minutes away from our campsite were the Moeraki boulders. These spherical rocks are only accessible at low tide so we drove straight over for the 8am low tide and were lucky enough to initially get the boulders to ourselves. This was probably due to the early low tide and the fact that it was raining again. We were later joined by a Danish lady who had forgotten to charge up her camera battery and was unable to take any photos. She wrote her email address in the sand, which we photographed? We took a number of photos of her on the boulders and later emailed them to her. Another good deed done.
The boulders, according to Maori legend, are gourds that were washed ashore from the great voyaging canoe when it was wrecked on New Zealand. If you can't believe that explanation there are scientists who claim that the boulders are a rock formation created about 65 million years ago and were created in a vaguely similar way to a pearl.
We dried out in a nearby cafe where there was a roaring fire and free internet, what more could you ask for? How about an enormous fry-up for breakfast which we had before heading north and a 4 hour drive up the coast.
We decided to stay at the same motorhome site just outside Christchurch in New Brighton that we had used previously as it had the facilities we required. It was also still recovering from the damage inflicted by the earthquake and we thought our custom would be a little help.
On Monday we continued our journey up the east coast for a couple of hours but only as far as a coastal town called Kaikoura where we had booked another attempt at swimming with wild dolphins the next day.
Our thanks to Amanda our guide on the multi activity trip for advising us of this little gem.
Before we set up camp in Kaikoura we took a drive a little further up the coast to a fresh water stream where Amanda had told us that seal pups were known to play in a waterfall.
When we arrived we noticed that some engineering works were taking place on the nearby railway and on reading the information board the best time to visit was in the middle of winter so our hopes of seeing the seal pups were somewhat reduced.
We still took the short walk up to the waterfall and were rewarded by about 15 seal pups playing in little groups along the stream.
You don't get more cute than this! (Video & Photos)
If you want to look at a professional video of the same waterfall, have a look at this link. It CAN get cuter!
On our return to the motorhome Nigel was leaning on the internal table and realised he had been stung. A large bumblebee had attached itself to the underside of Nigel's jacket arm and when it was being squashed its self defence mechanism stung him through two layers of clothing.
On Tuesday we had an early start for our Dolphins adventure. We rose at 4.45am to get to the meeting point for 5.35am. We joined 16 other people for a briefing and to be kitted out in wetsuits, fins,mask and snorkel before we had a short coach journey to the dock and boarded our boat.
We set off and after about 30 minutes we had spotted 4 dusky dolphins and the skipper dropped us off to free swim. We had been given instructions that the best experiences are obtained by making noises through your snorkel and swimming in circles, should a dolphin approach or pass you. This is basically to entertain the dolphin and if your interesting enough they will spend time swimming around you.
We all slipped into the water off the back of the boat and a chorus of 16 people making various strange noises and singing began. The water was quite cloudy and with about 5 meters of visibility it was an amazing sight when a dolphin came out of the murk and swam around you.
We managed to get a total of 3 swims and on the last we were told by the staff who had a better overall view from the boat that we had about 100 - 150 Dusky dolphins (and a couple of common dolphins) swimming around us.
What an amazing experience but unfortunately not the best for taking photographs. The only downside for some of the participants was that the small boat we were on did rock about a bit which resulted in a little seasickness.
We managed to take a couple of photographs from the boat as we headed back to shore.
This was another big tick in the "must do" box.
On returning to Kaikoura we returned to the motorhome park, had a well earned breakfast and a lazy day.
We celebrated our dolphin encounter in the evening with a bottle of very nice Pinor Noir from the Oyster Bay vineyard which was just up the road.
Its Wednesday 16th April today and we drove over to see the seal pups again as it was on the way. We counted 40+ pups in the stream before we left. We had planned to do a walk along a riverbed and through a very scenic and narrow canyon called Sawcut gorge. We checked the weather forecast as it had been raining overnight. We were concerned about the river level as we had to wade across the river leading to the gorge several times to get there. We turned onto the 14km's of dirt road that leads to the start of this walk. Initially the dirt road was looking fairly firm as it wound up a river valley. We continued very slowly and then when the gradient and bends increased the condition of the road suddenly deteriorated. Nigel found that the front wheel drive van wasn't gripping the muddy road surface. We had a significant slide and decided the road conditions were too dangerous. We turned the vehicle around which was quite interesting on a single track muddy road with little grip, but we managed to get back to the sealed road without any difficulty.
With a little more time than anticipated we continued our drive and have arrived at Picton which is our ferry port on the north coast of South Island.
Tomorrow morning we will be sailing to Wellington and continuing our New Zealand adventures on the North Island.