The bus from Queenstown was eerily quiet compared to most journeys – I think everyone was a little broken from their time in the town!
Before we set off, Tabitha, Mia and I gave Guy his gifts from all of us (chocolate milk, pizza, cookies – oh and his pyjamas which Brea and I stole from Franz Josef). After a sad last look out over the beautiful Queenstown we were back on the road.
The drive to Lake Tekapo took us up over the nearby mountain range and Guy explained that we would be driving through some snow. He wasn’t lying there, the snow was so thick – it was crazy. The traffic was pretty bad to get up over the mountains as so many lorries had got stuck in the ice – we even saw a couple of cars which had completely come off the road. Funnily enough once we made it back down mountain the road was shut just behind us. We were so lucky to get though as apparently the de-tour is over 8 hours!
The snowy scene outside led to a big debate between Mia, Tabitha, Guy and I about whether Christmas is better in the snow or the heat (Guy was adamant that BBQs at Christmas are the norm!). Funnily enough at our coffee break stop off the girls and I found some Christmas decorations reduced in a little supermarket so swiftly purchased them and set about decorating the bus. He was not impressed…!
After a little while on the bus we found ourselves at Lake Pukaki. This beautiful lake glows a bright blue colour due to glacial movement in the area. The Tasman Glacier (which incidentally is the largest in New Zealand) makes its way down the mountains and grinds the rocks into ‘rock flour’. This rock flour is what gives the lake water such a pretty blue hue. On our drive down towards the lake we could see the reflection of water in the clouds which was pretty amazing to see. Guy even said he had never seen that before!
After admiring the lake for a little while (in the freezing cold!) we got back on the bus and made our way to our accomodation, the Lakeside Lodge, right on Lake Tekapo. Lake Tekapo, in a similar vain to Lake Pukaki, glows with the same blue colour, however by the time we arrived the snow and cloud was really falling and we couldn’t see anything!
That evening, due to the adverse weather the only thing we could do in the area was to have a couple of drinks at the local pub which was lovely and relaxing (apart from the walk back to the hostel in -2 degree winds!)
The next morning, bright and early we made our way to the bus. It had snowed quite heavily over night so it took a little while for the bus to defrost.
Our destination for the day was Christchurch which was a few hours away on the bus. Christchurch is the second biggest city in New Zealand and the largest on the South Island. The city is however located right on a fault line which results in large amounts of tectonic activity in the area. Unfortunately Christchurch was hit by a devastating 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011 which completely changed the face of the city and sadly claimed 185 lives.
There is no hiding the devastation that the earthquake caused; almost six years on there are still countless wrecked buildings and flat areas where buildings used to be. The only way I can describe Christchurch is like walking through a film set for a disaster movie – it really is so sad.
After checking into our hostel, the YMCA, Mia, Tabitha and I headed to Re:START – a post earthquake temporary shopping mall which has been set up in the city centre and which is made out of shipping containers. It’s a cool little stop off with lovely coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants.
After a little browse we headed to Quake City which is Christchurch’s museum depicting the tragedy of 2011.
The museum started with a short presentation which explained the Maori belief behind the occurrences of Earthquakes. I found this fascinating.
According to Māori tradition, earthquakes are caused by the god Rūaumoko, the son of Ranginui (the Sky) and his wife Papatūānuku (the Earth). Ranginui had been separated from Papatūānuku and his tears had flooded the land. Their sons resolved to turn their mother face downwards, so that she and Ranginui should not constantly see one another’s sorrow and grieve more. When Papatūānuku was turned over, Rūaumoko was still at her breast, and was carried to the world below. To keep him warm there he was given fire. He is the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the rumblings that disturb the land are made by him as he walks about.
We spent a couple of hours in the museum learning about the scientific reasons behind earthquakes, the events of 2011 and stories from survivors. The most shocking aspect for me was realising just how different Christchurch city was prior to the earthquake from the before and after photos. You really would have no idea it was the same city. When Miles visited Christchurch 10 years ago it would have looked completely different from the city I was visiting today.
The museum ended with a presentation showing the plans for the rebuilding of the city – in some ways it is a pretty cool opportunity. How often do cities have the chance to completely redesign themselves? I would love to come back and visit the Christchurch in 20 years time and see all the changes.
After spending time in the museum we headed to the Cathedral Square which was one of the most badly hit areas in the city. The damage to the Cathedral is obviously apparent, but what I found most shocking was that the Cathedral used to be surrounded by high rise office buildings and hotels. Now there is pretty much nothing.
After spending some time in the square we went to the cities ‘transitional’ cathedral which has been erected on a temporary basis. The Cathedral is actually made of cardboard which is really interesting.
Having spent some time in the Cathedral we visited the earthquake memorial which is called 185 Empty White Chairs. Each white chairs to represent each victim of the earthquake and every chair is purposefully different to represent the individuality of each victim. The tragedy really does hit home when you notice that the chairs range from baby seats to rocking chairs.
That evening we had a brief reunion with Corrine and Jade before saying goodbye to Mia who was off to the airport. The four of us then decided to have a lazy evening in the room in front of the TV. It was exactly what we needed.
The next morning, after saying goodbye to Corrine and Jade, Tabitha and I boarded the bus ready for our next destination, Kaikoura. It was a couple of hours drive away, but as always, the scenery was beautiful.
Kaikoura is known to be the capital of all marine life in New Zealand and the place to visit if you want to experience dolphins, whales, sharks and orcas to name a few.
Kaikoura literally translates from Maori as ‘eat crayfish’ and relates to the abundance of crayfish in the region. The reason for the plethora of marine life in the Kaikoura region is due to the presence of the Hikurangi trench.
When we arrived in Kaikoura we stopped of at the view point which gave us fantastic views across the area.
We then made our way into the town and checked into our hostel for the night; the Lazy Shag. I couldn’t get over the beautiful mountainous backdrop towering over the town.
We had the option of signing up for a couple of excursions whilst we were in Kaikoura; a swimming with dolphins experience or a whale watching tour. Unfortunately we soon were notified that the dolphin trip had been cancelled as the tour company had not been able to locate the normal pod of dusky dolphins. I therefore signed up for the whale watching tour and made my way down to the HQ, the old town train station which had aptly been renamed as the ‘whaleway station’.
This was the first excursion that I had ended up doing on my own and it felt a little weird being solo after nearly a month in a big group!
After a short safety presentation (and a sea sickness tablet as provided by the crew) we made our way across to the pier and boarded the Paikea.
We were taken 20 minutes or so away from the shore and all I can say is I understand why sea sickness tablets were handed out – the boat was literally up and down up and down!
Once we were in the right area the captain explained that the crew use GPS trackers in the first instance to locate the rough location of sperm whales. Once they know they’re in the correct area an underwater microphone is used to listen out for the echoes the whales transmit in order to locate their prey. Soon enough the captain was out on deck and using the underwater microphone. ‘I can hear one’ he said to another of the crew members! Luck was on our side.
Due to the colder waters in Kaikoura it is only the male sperm whales that come to feed here. These males average at around 15 metres long and can dive for up to. 2.5 hours at depths of up to 3025meters. Once the whales have completed their dives they come back up to the surface for roughly 10 minutes to dispel any excess carbon dioxide before diving again. This is time to try and spot them!
Luckily for us we had three whale sightings whilst we were on the boat. It was literally the most amazing sight to witness the plooms of water they shoot up and the huge tails plunge into the depths!
The crew were obviously extremely knowledgeable about the whales and it was really interesting to learn all about the fascinating creatures. Sperm whales have a varied diet and eat anything from seals to dolphins, crustaceans and sharks. Apparently a sperm whale can eat a 2-3 meter shark whole with no problem! The whales favourite food however is the squid, of which there are 16 varieties in New Zealand. Kaikoura has an abundance of giant squids in the area which is another reason for the attraction of sperm whales here.
The most interesting fact I think that we learnt was the reasoning behind the naming of the sperm whale. Sperm whales house over 2.5 tonnes of white oil in their heads which they use to remit echoes in order to locate their prey. Historically this oil was the reason for the hunting of the whales. The oil had many different uses from lubricants to fuel for oil lighting and was therefore really valuable. Early whalers, on discovery of this oil, believed that it was for reproductive uses – hence the name sperm whales. It wasn’t until they discovered that female whales also embodied this oil that they realised the mistake that they had made. Unfortunately by this point the name had stuck…
Not only did we see sperm whales on the trip we also saw a very playful pod of dusty dolphins who could not get enough of jumping and swimming around the boat – it was amazing!
Our luck just kept coming and a little while later we saw a pod of hectors dolphins. Hectors dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world and are native to New Zealand. The dolphins only reproduce once every 8 years and with only 4,000 left in the wild are now classed as an endangered species. I was particularly pleased to see them as we had stopped off a week or so earlier in Ship Creek to try and catch a glimpse of the resident pod but were unlucky due to high winds. Even though this pod were really shy compared to the dusty Dolphins they were completely amazing to see.
We also caught a glimpse of the wandering albatross – the largest of its species. If I’m honest it was just a big seagull but was nice to see none the less.
Although I was a little disappointed not to see any orcas or sharks the trip was completely amazing and I’m so pleased I did it (and that I survived with not a hint of seasickness – some on the boat were not so lucky!) Ultimately it was a bit of a shame that the dolphin trip was cancelled due to a lack of dolphins when we happened to see so many!
That evening Tabitha and I met up with Guy and had another fab evening out which, as seems a recurring them, after an abortive movie session, ended up in an AM bedtime.
The next morning Guy took us across to one of the waterfalls in the area where the baby seals congregate – it was amazing! They were so playful and got so close to us!
Sadly this stay in Kaikoura pretty much brought my Kiwi Experience to an end. I’ll still be travelling up on the bus with Guy to Auckland via Wellington and Taupo but as these are places I’ve already visited it very much feels like New Zealand is coming to a close…I can’t believe I’ve got so attached to a place in just one month. New Zealand literally is the most stunning, fun and friendly place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting so far. I cannot wait to come back some day! Next stop… Australia!