TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2008
Fishes and Birds
First thing in the morning I headed out on a tour with about 50 other people on a fast boat out to the edge of the continental shelf to view sperm whales. These people have this tour down to a science. They know where the whales are, how long they stay under, approx. when they will surface and how long they’ll stay on the surface. The info they give on the way out, which is about 15 min. is very informative and stresses the ecological/scientific side vs. the sensational. They make no excuses for their opposition to Japan and Sweden, both of whom harvest whales. It was pretty humorous to see everyone grab their cameras and jump out of their seats at the word that a whale was nearby. We ultimately saw 2 sperm whales, both male. They told us all about the two, their names, markings, approx. ages etc. After the whales, we cruised by a few seals frolicking in the water and then headed over to where some dolphins, albatross, and other birds were having a party. The pod of dolphins we saw were just youngins. We couldn’t get near the larger pod because there were already 3 boats nearby, the max allowed by law. On the way back they showed a movie about the layers of life in the canyon area we were over, which was very slickly produced. All in all not a bad way to start the day - sun and water.
I Did What Mothers’ Always Tell Their Children NOT To Do
I picked up a hitchhiker. I never have in the past, and I might not ever do it again, but something just struck me about this kid and I pulled over - probably just my extreme Catholic guilt about passing by a stranger who may be in need. So I stopped and a very disheveled young man with a heavy backpack hopped in the car. The mother in me can’t help but ask why he is hitchhiking - Didn’t he know it was dangerous? And then the story unfolds. He was on the ferry from Wellington, talking to some fellows and buying some beers. He thinks he must have flashed too much cash because when the boat arrived in Picton he was offered a ride to Nelson, his first stop in his travels. At some point along the road the driver pulled over, pulled out a knife and told him to get out and leave his wallet. Stranded by the side of the road, he was hitchhiking his way to Christchurch where he had a friend who would lend him some money to continue his trip. He had been standing by the side of the road for 2 ½ hours when I happened by on my way to Christchurch, a three hour ride. His conversation was a welcome relief from very patchy oldies radio. I pulled some olive cibatta bread, blue cheese and bottled water from the trunk for him to eat and we were on our way.
Cody, 30, is from the North Island where he gives horse back riding treks from his family ranch. He started riding English about the same time he walked, but after his first Western saddle he never looked back. The family has over 100 horses , 1,500 head of cattle, and about 1000 sheep spread over thousands of acres. Riding is his passion and trekking gives him a connection with the outside world. Conversation ran the gamut from the difficulties and technicalities of putting down horses to the commitment involved in taking over management of the ranch to the cameras the police use to trap speeders. He and his girlfriend plan to travel for three years while his parents are still able to manage without him. As we approached Christchurch, he was able to direct me to a backpackers hostel right next to the cathedral on the square. It was great not to have to read a map and drive, and the hostel was not much more than parking overnight in a garage. He eventually got hold of his friend, and last I saw him he was headed back into the hostel’s bar, where some Aussies were spotting him some beers.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 2, 2008
Dunedin or Mt. Cook……Dunedin or Mt. Cook……….
I couldn’t decide sea or mountains and Tuesday night I was pretty sure it would be Dunedin. However, once I was out of town and sure I was turned around I stopped to ask directions and during the conversation the gent mentioned that many people come halfway around the world to see Mt. Cook but that it usually is clouded over. It wasn’t today. So on the way to Dunedin I got tired of driving and just headed off the highway towards Mt. Cook. Aaaah, the benefits of unplanned travel. Several hours of driving and stopping for Buena vitas, I arrived at Mt. Cook Park. It was an awesome ride and although it isn’t the Rockies, it’s pretty cool. However, when I got to the backpackers I learned that they were all full with a school group. Darn. Tried the Lodge. Full. Double darn. Only one other option - the uber expensive hotel. They had a room. No they had a suite, for 6 people. Sold! Aaaah, the downside of unplanned travel - luxury. Well, I won’t stay long. Night, night - I need to get my money’s worth.
THURSDAY, APRIL 3, 2008
After sadly checking out of my suite with it’s patio and view of Mt. Cook, I drove to the campground and started walking the Hooker Trail, a 3 hour walk (for those who don’t stop to take a gazillion pictures, which of course I did) The walk takes you past glacier lakes and meadows and over 2 swinging, suspended, scary bridges. I found that all the boys loved to get in the middle and sway the bridge. Stupid boys - grow up and be scared like the rest of us!!! Many of the rocks along the way would be unremarkable except that they have white striations in varying designs running through them. It looks like it could be quartz, but then again it could be something else. The path runs along 2 glacier lakes, the farther one complete with ice chunks. Both look grey in color as if the surrounding rock was clay, but my understanding is that the color is just the dirty, melted ice. Such a contrast from the gorgeous aqua colored lakes further down the valley. They look like aqua colored mild, juxtaposed against the brown rocky mountains. Anyways, as this was a “training walk” in preparation for the Milford Track, I had to have something weighty in the backpack, but carrying the computer just didn’t seem right. But a bottle of wine, a glass and lunch seemed perfect. I mean, how many people hike for and hour and a half, reach a glacier lake with icebergs and pull out a bottle of wine and a wine glass? I didn’t see any. The view was divine. De wine was delish and de lunch hit de spot. I headed back in great spirits.
On the road again. Realized I had an extra day I didn’t know I had! I’ve lost all sense of days apparently. Headed to Dunedin on the south east coast - supposedly a 4 hour drive if you don’t stop for a gazillion pictures, potty breaks and gas. I’ve been warned about running low on gas on the inner roads. Not every town has gas stations apparently. Well, Dunedin is much larger than expected, arrived after dark, and went round and round trying to read the map and the street signs. Tonight’s accommodations are in The Chalet, a backpackers with a toilet that has a chain pull and a claw footed bathtub cum shower. I’m on the third floor in a private room, bath down the hall. $38 - and I got TWO towels! Life is good.