Because we were landing in Christchurch just before midnight we had booked ourselves into a hotel for the night so when we arrived at the airport we phoned the hotel and a very nice lady came to pick us and another couple up and take us to the hotel. We should have been tucked up in bed by 12.15am - no such luck. It turned out to be a complete fiasco. First we were given a room key and then driven over to the accommodation block. When we tried to open the door it wouldn't work and when we continued to try to turn the key voices came from inside the room shouting that it was their room. So, Richard walked back to reception and they gave him another key which opened the door to a room but unfortunately there were people asleep in bed in that room. Let that be a lesson to you to always lock your hotel room door. The manager was very apologetic and said that there must have been a mixup when the last shift ended because it seemed that people that were due to check out had stayed and actually the hotel was full.
Our nice driver was summoned to take us to another hotel in the chain where they had a spare room but when we arrived there there was no room at the inn.... Eventually we ended up at a much nicer hotel than the one we were booked into which was also conveniently located near to the town centre. We were provided with a two bedroom apartment and they threw in a free cooked breakfast so we didn't do too badly. Our driver was mortified that we had been messed around so much and even gave us a hug when she left but for once we found it quite amusing because we knew that they had to find us a bed somehow, somewhere. But we didn't have much time to enjoy our nice apartment as check out was 10am and with the hotel being twice the price of the one we'd booked we weren't going to stay another night so we moved to a cheaper place across the road.
Christchurch is a very pretty place, reminiscent of a University town with punting on the river and celtic influenced architecture; quite a tranquil and relaxing place. When we reached the town square a wizard had drawn a crowd outside the cathedral. The Wizard as he is known is English, what a surprise for an eccentric old man that spouts off about all sorts of weird and amusing if often not politically correct topics like a woman's place in the world and how he hasn't paid tax for the past 35 years which is probably how long he has been gracing Christchurch town square at lunchtimes. That night the Aussie's were playing the Kiwi's at cricket and it was being shown inside every pub so we sat outside a pub with some Aussies who were hiding because they were terrified they would be lynched if Australia won which they eventually did.
We picked up a rental car so that we could drive around the South Island and decided to head down to Dunedin, a very heavily scottish influenced town south of Christchurch. It was a pretty enough town but nothing special. However a word to the backpackers hostel we stayed in 'sort the loos out'. The toilet on our floor wasn't allowed to be used between 10.30pm and 8am because it made a real racket when it was flushed, we didn't use it but of course other people did and it was right next to our room - argggh.
The Otago Peninsula was a very scenic area which took a couple of hours to drive around. Right at the end of the peninsula we were lucky enough to see and get quite close to some New Zealand fur seals which were beautiful, they were males and they were playing in the sea and then basking on the rocks right in front of us.
More lovely scenery on the drive over to Te Anau which is the nearest large town to Milford Sound. We planned to stay the night in Te Anau, a relaxed town by a pretty lake, and then drive to Milford Sound the next day and then spend another night in Te Anau before moving onto Queenstown. Driving to Milford Sound meant driving through the Fiordland National Park and although the weather was dreadful with the mountains obscured by low cloud and intermittent rain you could tell that it would be stunning in good weather. We kept passing snow topped peaks and temporary waterfalls running down the mountains and once we had travelled through the very dark and thin Homer Tunnel we were in a subalpine wonderland of the Eglinton Valley with steep bush-clad mountains. We stopped to look at some of the temporary waterfalls and a rather large bird landed on the wing mirror of the car next to us, with a hooked beak and fluffy tussled browny green feathers because of the rain. We identified it as a Kea which is the only sub alpine parrot in the world.
Milford Sound is really a fjord not a sound which runs out to the Tasman Sea and the way to appreciate it's beauty is to go on a cruise but when we arrived there the weather was still dreadful and we could hardly see anything apart from eerie low level clouds over the water. Still, amazingly after half an hour on the boat the weather lifted and by the end of the cruise it was bright sunshine and very beautiful.
Out in the middle of the sound is an observatory called Milford Deep where we walked down 10.4 metres underwater to view some amazing underwater life which only usually found in deep water. The reason it can be seen at Milford Sound is that there is a fresh water layer on top of the sea water in the fjord because of the high annual rainfall in the area and because of the narrowness of the fiord it creates an environment that deep ocean species can thrive in such as rare red and black coral - which looks white because it is a living colony of tiny, white anemone-like animals covering a tough black skeleton beneath it.
On the way back to Te Anau the weather was much better and we took some lovely photos of the sub alpine views and snow capped mountains.
Another day and more beautiful scenery as we approached Queenstown, one of the most beautiful places in the world and reputedly the adventure sport capital of the world. It's so good it requires it's own page so click here to see what death defying feats we tried in Queenstown.
A typical view driving around the South Island of New Zealand
There are two famous glaciers on the western side of the south island - Franz Josef and Fox. We stayed near the Franz Josef glacier and wanted to do the Glacier Valley Walk which goes right to the terminal of the glacier but unfortunately it was the wrong season and the pathways were flooded and dangerous so they had closed them. Instead we did the Sentinel Rock Walk which is a short trot up a steep hill for a good view of the glacier. Tref had recommended a helicopter flight with a snow landing so we chose one which went over both Franz Josef and Fox but landed near Fox which at 13.5 kilometres long is a mighty river of ice. On the flight we could see Mount's Cook and Tasman. We got out of the helicopter onto the hard snow, almost too hard to scrape up a snowball which was more ice than snow so it stung when it hit.
Maori legend claims the glaciers are formed from the frozen tears of the mythical goddess Hinemoa whose lover fell to his death while they were climbing together in the mountains.
The scientific explanation for the formation of these glaciers is that snow builds up in a neve (snow catchment area) up to 300 metres deep which forces its huge mass down under gravity. As the glacier has moved, intense pressures have caused crevices and splits in the ice of up to 100 metres deep.
Unfortunately we had just about run out of time on the south island. We spent one night in Nelson but didn't really explore the northern coast of the south island. Nelson was ok, we found a good duo playing Irish folk music in a bar and there were some nice pubs. Then we drove along the very scenic coast to spend one night in Picton before dropping off the car and boarding the two and a half hour ferry the next morning over to the North Island of New Zealand>.