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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for New Zealand

Psycho penguins, argumentative albatrosses, and mellow furries

We enjoyed a fine couple of days in the environs of Kaikoura. The town itself is nothing to speak of but I was attracted by the opportunity to see plentiful seabirds over the edge of the continental shelf, close inshore.

As we approached town Fiona skillfully parked next to a group of Dusky Dolphins, both parties staying in their required moisture status. After finding a mediocre and expensive campsite in town we strolled along the fur seal dotted shore. The furries were all very well behaved compared to their Antarctic counterparts, they didn’t even attempt to bite badly behaved tourists.

We kept walking, away from the masses of grockles, until we found a cave. Of course, a cave must be explored, and inside we found a rather brazen Yellow-eyed Penguin, boldly staring down at us. At the time, I was surprised by his lack of fear of us - we subsequently found out he is locally known as ‘Psycho’, due to his tendancy to chase sheep, people, albatrosses - anything that comes near him.

From the cliff top we watched the whale watching boats and aircraft chasing Sperm Whales. The three big (50 people) boats chasing two whales, with only one boat getting reasonable views was enough to put us off and we opted for an early morning boat trip to the deep water to see seabirds. This turned out to be an excellent adventure - we saw lots of wandering albatrosses of the Antipodean and Gibson’s subspecies or species (depending on your taxonomic point of view). Salvin’s and White-capped albatross were plentiful too. All the birds hang around the back of the boat to try and get a bit of tempting fish liver, frozen, and in a cage, that is used to attract them.

I’ve never watched an albatross/petrel foraging event at sea so close before. Several of the wanderers used their courtship calls, even some Salvin’s seemed to be displaying to each other. Curious behaviour, as they can only form pair bonds with birds that live in their colony. The wanderers would also fight for prime feeding position. Vicious attacks with that big hooky bill are serious business.

Our skipper gave us hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. First class!

Later in the day we opted for a swim with the New Zealand Fur Seals. A touristy set up, but we needed to hire wetsuits and gear. We walked over to a small haul-out of surplus male seals (furries have harems) and jumped in. A few seals cruised around us, but few came close until a couple of boys decided we were interesting. Being eye to eye with a male fur seal is something I would only want to experience in the water: their breath smells and they bite. Under water they are supremely elegant, and even seem to have a nice personality.

Arthur’s Pass & glaciers

After spending a night in a very pleasant forested car park (the local camp site was another unpleasant car park) we opportunistically took the advice of a sign that directed us for a walk.

We started in beautiful mossy forest, passed through lovely dwarf forest, then up a cascading river which took us above the tree line. At the end of the path we found a small, snaking glacier which were most pleased to see (the day before we had run away from the Franz Josef Glacier on account of it crawling with queuing tourists). With a few slightly complex river crossings we were at its snout (the end bit) and enjoyed a fine exploration.

It was a lovely walk. It was raining, but it didn’t seem to matter. There were almost no other people on the hill for most of our walk, but the tourist sheep principle applied, and the car park was full on our return.

‘Tis the season to be jolly

Well, actually in NZ it feels like completely the wrong season mostly - all a bit too warm and sunny. On Christmas day the weather did its best though - it was very wet and rather chilly for quite a lot of it. We did, however, manage a walk to look at the Fox glacier before the clouds burst again. The glacier is pretty impressive, although it perhaps might have been more so if we could see the big mountains that were obscured by cloud in the background. Ah well.

For Christmas we both got flip flops as our previous pairs had sadly passed away over the last couple of weeks - very distressing, especially for mine which have been with me for a good number of years and a few travels - Reef flip flops therefore highly recommended.

We treated ourselves to a buffet style lunch full of our favourite things at a nice picnic spot in the rain, with an almost constant stream of campervans and cars driving past, though there were nice views when the rain stopped. We had a lovely, yummy Christmas cake that Nicola had very kindly provided, and we even got a twinkling Christmas tree for 97c (about 30p) courtesy of The Warehouse in Queenstown “Where everyone gets a bargain” - apparently this is true!

After checking out our planned camp for the evening and finding it was in fact a car park, and busy as well, we headed along the road and found a nice little grassy spot where we had our Christmas dinner - for those interested this consisted of “Marinated Aubergine Steak”, “Sauteed garlic mushrooms and capsicum” and new potatoes glazed with butter. Delicious. This was rounded off with a rather nice white wine from Gisborne, NZ.

Hope you all had an equally lovely day.

Always choose your tent carefully…

T’was Christmas morn by Lake Paringa. We were enjoying the pleasures of a small campsite and a morning cup of tea. Entertainment was kindly provided by a lone camper striking his tent (in the camping sense, rather than in violence).

Over the course of an hour we watched this Mr Bean like character fail to pack his tent away. Now, you might argue that it being the season of goodwill to all men I should have offered my extensive tent folding experience however:

1. He had erected his tent in a position that spoiled our view so we were not inclined towards generosity.

2. It was Christmas, he was alone, thus clearly a psychopath.

Now, why did it take him a hour before he succeeded in his task? His tent was a natty self erecting tent that sprang open and assumed the position as soon as released from its bag. Just when he thought that game was over and the tent in the bag, it escaped his grasp and exploded back to square one.

Chrismas Eve visitations

I awoke to the sound of a mosquito in my ear and rain on the roof. It was 0500 and we were camped by a braided river not far from the three townships of Haast.

My skin was all itches and bumps. I enquired as to the state of consciousness of my beloved. Upon finding her mostly awake I continued to ask her whether she had suffered at the hands of flying insects. By the time her sluggish brain had processed my words and considered the environmental conditions I was up and jumping about and not concerned with her answer.

The van was full of mosquitoes. Hundreds of them. These were the first mossies we had met in NZ. Ordinarily we suffered from Sandflies which give a nasty nip, but can’t penetrate the van unless we open the door for them.

There was nothing else to do but drive away with the windows open. We travelled 30 or so kilometres to Haast Beach which afforded fine surf views. We spent one whole hour killing mosquitoes, then went back to bed.

It rained all morning so we stayed in bed, drank tea and watched the huge surf. When the precipitation stopped we struggled out and had a solar shower. As there had been no sun, it was cold. Why we waited for it to stop raining, I’m not sure.

Christmas post

Wishing all our readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

With love, hugs & Christmas sparkles,

Fe & Chris

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The south of the south

Over the last week or so we have made our way along the south coast of the South Island - through the Catlins, a nice bit of coastline with the occasional yellow-eyed penguin, lots of fur seals and plenty of small walks to keep us entertained for a couple of wet days.

After that we headed across to Stewart Island - famed for its potential kiwi spotting. It’s a small little place, and allegedly the locals are ‘friendly’, but we had obviously done something to upset them. The ferryman that took us to the smaller island of Ulva was very chirpy though, and Ulva itself was very interesting - they have removed all those nasty European mammals from this island so the native bird population is thriving - we saw all the required birds, with the exception of the kiwi that is.

Back on Stewart Island, a walk along to a lighthouse provided us with an impressive display from some bottlenose dolphins - haven’t seen so many and so active before so I was very excited - as were the family who were also watching - we were also treated to a group of little blue penguins feeding, and a couple of white-capped albatross.

We tried for a midnight walk along some of the places that the tourist info woman suggested sometimes had kiwi, but all to no avail.

The hour journey back to the mainland via the notorious Foveaux Strait was slightly more choppy on the way back and I felt slightly queasy - a catamaran is not the ideal for these conditions!

The last couple of days have been spent in Fiordland where we took the seemingly obligatory trip on a boat in the Milford Sound - a very impressive fiord with some lovely scenery - lots of big mountains and waterfalls coming straight into the sea - the boat kindly steered us into a couple of these, bizarrely whilst playing dodgy ‘atmospheric’ music.

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We are currently in Queenstown deciding whether to give in to one of the many adrenaline sports offered here - we may beat a hasty retreat though and go for some more beaches along the west coast instead…

Excel loos

I am, to some extent, a connoisseur of toilets and my opinions of a place will often be affected by the quality of their public toilets. So far on this trip I have refrained from commenting on the many different qualities of toilets I have come across, although now I feel the time has come to refer to a particular experience I recently had.

In Portobello - a small town on the Otago Peninsula (just East of Dunedin) we stopped off to use the amenities. Chris was the first to visit said toilet “ExcelLoo” - a self cleaning toilet with lights outside the door to indicate whether the loo was engaged or otherwise (Think Virgin train’s loos), it even warned that after 10 minutes within the toilet, a “loiterer alarm” would go off. Hmmm. Anyway, on entering, I must say I did not find it particularly clean (nothing to do with Chris I hasten to add). I also noticed piped music - nice touch. The toilet paper was dispensed automatically at a touch of a button - unhygienic surely? I had to press it twice to get a decent amount for example.

The toilet would only flush when you started washing your hands (again an automated process - your hands even lit up with the red sensor light), or if you pressed the button to open the door - this meant that the toilet flushed, two or even three times - presuming you washed you hands that is.

We came across them again in Dunedin itself, although disappointingly no piped music this time. I must say that they seem to be a waste of money, in my humble opinion!

Penguins, seals and albatrosses…

We’re in Dunedin, formally called New Edinburgh. It’s nothing like Old Edinburgh, but the street names are the same.

Nearby coastal wildlife abounds and we have enjoyed Yellow-eyed Penguins (they look rather like Gentoos - who gave them a genus all of their own?) and Little Blue Penguins waddling ashore in the dark, scared of skua’s that arn’t present (penguin evolution is a slow process).

The New Zealand Fur Seals we have met so far are surprisingly unaggressive compared to their southern cousins, but still smell bad. We had some fun with New Zealand Sea Lions on the beach yesterday; Fiona was alarmed when two medium sized boys started running towards her (one was herding the other - practice for herding females later on and had no regard for Fe’s presence!).

We visited the Royal Albatrosses on Taiaroa Head. $30 NZ for 30 minutes albatross watching is rather steep - birds should be free! With a telescope you could get a reasonable view from Amarona, across Otago Harbour. It was nice none the less.

Bird attacks

Whilst Chris is an avid bird fan, I must say that although I like looking at them, when they start getting a bit close I’m kind of nervous (a while ago some gulls got upset when they thought I was coming too near their imaginary nests - I was scared, but Chris told me I’d be ok as long as I had a hat and a stick!).

Whilst coming back down a hill from a walk to Sealy Tarns near Mount Cook we heard a New Zealand Falcon calling so we stopped to try and see it - it turned out that the bird had a nest nearby and was trying to warn us off - to add to the effect, the falcon suddenly started swooping down and trying to attack us. Since I didn’t have a stick (although I now had a hat on) I was definitely more scared than before - these birds have bigs claws - I clung onto Chris and cowered. Luckily he is taller than me - therefore the bird would get him first. He was quite excited by it all - encouraging me to look up and see the talons bearing down upon me, oh and eye contact apparently puts them off - alright if you wear glasses perhaps! Needless to say I wasn’t keen to hang around for long, and continued to cower - missing my chance in a lifetime to see a bird of prey at such close quarters. Not sure I’m too distressed about that.

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