Zig-zagging the South Island

From further south, we drive up to Oamaru, a pretty little town. (Few towns in NZ are not.)

Oamaru harbor

It’s the home of an upcoming Steampunk Festival.

Downtown Oamaru

Frankly, ‘steampunk‘ is a phenomenon that I just don’t get. But Oamaru has other attractions.

There are penguins.

Penguin classics

And seals.

On the rocks

And water birds.

Pier pressure

We head for Mt. Cook. We stop to stretch our legs at a rest stop that contains some Maori rock art.

Not exactly the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

We are back in the mountainous interior.

Maria and Kiwi

We eventually come to Lake Pukaki. Difficult to tell in this photo, but it’s an unearthly blue.

Lake Pukaki

The lake is fed by the glacial melt of the Tasman River.

Tasman River

Approaching Mt. Cook, NZ’s highest peak.

Mt. Cook in the distance
NZ Southern Alps

These signs are regular sights around the country.

Words to the wise

We stop at a salmon farm and leave with lots of smoked goodies for the road.

We think Kiwi deserves a gift. Somewhere along the way, we find an inexpensive paua-shell necklace.

A kiwi for Kiwi

Kiwi is almost exactly like Matilda in Australia in layout and reliability. It feels like being home.

‘Life rocks, when your living room rolls!’

.We spend a few days at beautiful Lake Tekapo.

Lake Tekapo

The morning of our departure, a mist hangs over the lake.

Lake Tekapo

Zagging back out to the east coast, we drive across a scenic road on the ridge of the Banks Peninsula. Poor Kiwi’s brakes heat up like an oven on these steep, twisty roads.

On this particular day, the landscape is as stark and brooding and enigmatic as a Nick Cave composition.

Banks Peninsula

Next day is sunnier.

The town of Akaroa itself was founded by a handful of French families in the 1830s.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula

We stay in a campground above town with a panoramic view.

At work on the blog above Akaroa. Or is it the NYT crossword?

We then zig once more across the island over to Nelson, via Hanmer Springs and the Lewis Pass. And zag back to Blenheim in the Marlborough region to stock up on wine and visit the local Marlborough Museum. Of course it has an interesting permanent exhibit about the local wine industry. We enjoy a section about the cork-versus-screw-cap controversy. The results in New Zealand:

The Death of the Cork

Then it’s a quick drive to Picton for the ferry back to the North Island.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Passing through the town of Little River, we see this unique accommodation constructed entirely of silos.

Bin there, done that

Having spent over ten years building silos in Europe at one time, I have to stop and investigate. I must admit, I often thought a modified silo would make an interesting dwelling.

They still haunt my dreams

Apparently I’m not the only one.

Fiordland – Milford and Doubtful Sound

Note: people have been asking if we are in Christchurch at the time of these tragic events. No, we’re not – in real time, we are in New Plymouth, on the North Island. There is usually a considerable lag between blog entries. But thanks for asking.

We have good luck with the weather for a change.

Maria at the taffrail

We arrive in the fiordland region and make Manapouri our base. Just south of Te Anau, but without the crowds.

Doubtful Sound

We luck out once more when we drive the Milford Road. This is 120 KMs or so of white-knuckle driving and eye-popping scenery.

We have no cruise scheduled and are pleasantly surprised to buy tickets for one departing in ten minutes.

Milford Sound

On top of this, the weather is spectacularly sunny and rain-free. It rains a lot in this part of the world, as you might gather from the following bit of doggerel:

It rained and it rained and rained and rained
The average fall was well maintained
And when the tracks were simply bogs
It started raining cats and dogs.
After a drought of half an hour
We had a most refreshing shower
And then the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was also fairly dry
Save for a deluge from the sky
Which wetted the party to the skin
And after that the rain set in.
‘ – The Rain (found in Architect’s Creek Hut, Westland Nat’l Park, New Zealand)

There’s no doubt fiords are beautiful to be around. Slartibartfast, the planet designer from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, won an award for the ones he made in Norway.

Milford Sound

Next day, we take a cruise to Doubtful Sound.


This involves taking one boat across Lake Manapouri and a bus across the Wilmot Pass.

Top of Wilmot Pass
Doubtful Sound

We get a rare shot of both of us, thanks to some friendly fellow-travelers from the North Island.

Just the two of us

At the mouth of the sound, we see seals and albatrosses.

Back on land, we follow the southern scenic route, through Tuatepere, Invercargill, and the Catlins.

In Tuatepere, we have the unusual experience of staying in a campground/motel/backpackers hostel in which we are the only guests. We find some paua shells (known elsewhere as abalone) to decorate our table.

Paua to the people

At the Florence Hill lookout, we stop to admire Tautuku Bay from above.

We are surprised to see a large flock of sheep marching up the beach. (You may have to enlarge the photo below to see them trooping out of the bottom right.)


We spend a few days in Dunedin. It’s very hilly.

The Edinburgh of the antipodes

The Scottish influence is everywhere. We visit the excellent Otago Settler’s Museum.

While in Dunedin, we are forced out of our accommodation by an Eagles concert. (Many fans made advance reservations.) This motivates us to visit the beautiful Otago Peninsula that starts at the edge of town.

Otago Peninsula

Sight or Insight of the Day

On our Doubtful Sound cruise, we come upon a couple of albatrosses putting on an aerial show in front of the ship.


And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s ‘hollo!’  –
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Beautiful and graceful in flight, these are more than simply glorified seagulls.

We learn a lot more when we visit the Royal Albatross Centre at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. (So-called because there is a species called the ‘royal albatross’, not because of any kingly patronage.)

Nesting albatross

The young ones are really cute.

Covered in white fuzz

Several of the recent ‘Sight or Insight of the Day’ sections are about birds. Total coincidence.

Tempests and Takahēs

So much for the Franz Josef Glacier. We were going to indulge in a ‘heli-hike‘, where you are whisked atop the glacier in a helicopter for a three-hour hike, visiting ice caves, etc.

Apparently it looks like this:

Take your pick – photo courtesy of Franz Josef Glacier Guides

But we are socked in by rain and low-visibility weather for two days, grounding the helicopters.

On the plus side, the morning we leave I spot three keas flying overhead with their characteristic raucous squawk. Fewer than 5,000 keas exist – to see three together is surely a good omen.

So we drive south. Past the town of Haast, we navigate treacherous winding roads through a severe rainstorm. Signs warning of rockslides are everywhere. We are reminded of the vacationing Canadian couple who were killed in a rough-weather situation in NZ in 2013.

Remains of their washed-away van – photo courtesy of the NZ Herald

We wonder where in the country this incident took place. Looking it up at our next destination, we discover – it was driving in the Haast Pass, the same route we had just taken!

Eventually, the rain clears up.

Clear skies at last

We travel along two large, long lakes; Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

Tempests and Takahēs
Lake Hawea

Just outside Lake Hawea Village is a small, low-profile campground.

Lake Hawea Village

It’s so beautiful and tranquil, we spend the next two days here.

We get a few days of R and R

Tempests and Takahēs
Kiwi, too

Among the things we love on the lake is the way the view of the mountains changes with the time of day.


Tempests and Takahēs

Tempests and Takahēs

We decide to skip Queenstown altogether. After our idyllic few days in Lake Hawea, we can’t face the thronging masses in QT.

We do, however, stop for lunch in nearby Arrowtown. Originally a gold mining town.

There’s gold in them thar hills….

Sight or Insight of the Day – Tempests and Takahēs

In the town of Te Anau, we visit a bird sanctuary. Among its denizens are several takahēs. Once thought extinct, they are rediscovered in 1948. There are now around 300.

Meet Tumbles and Kawa – foster parents

Another local bird brought back from the brink of extinction are kakapos.

Kakapo – photo courtesy of wikipedia

Large, flightless, and nocturnal, there are only about 150 of these guys left. They make a strange booming noise in mating season.

Spare a tear of sympathy for the ground-dwelling birds of New Zealand. They had a predator-free, heavily-forested home until the arrival of humans and their dogs, rats, and mice (and later, cats, ferrets, stoats, and foxes.) ‘Puir wee things‘, as the Scots would say.

Christchurch to Franz Josef Glacier

Christchurch suffers a major earthquake in 2011. Empty lots and signs of destruction are still everywhere.

Shakin’ all over

We visit Quake City, an informative exhibit about the quake and its aftermath. A worthy initiative – appropriately named ‘Gap Filler‘ – is to deliberately not leave vacant lots empty.

Everyone loves the Dance-O-Mat

We enjoy this garden made of pool noodles.

Tube-y or not tube-y…

In the Christchurch Art Gallery, we find this whimsical installation by Bill Culbert.


On our way out of town, we stop at the International Antarctic Centre.

On the right track

You can pet the dogs at the IAC. We arrive just as their wrangler brings buckets of ice. Which the dogs immediately love to lie on to refresh themselves.

Ice is nice

Across the street is the US Antarctic base supplier. Christchurch is a major point for shipping stuff down there.

You can see several ski-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft used to do the heavy lifting.

The labours of Hercules

We drive to the other side of the island over Arthur’s Pass.

Eastern Canterbury Ranges

Along the way are attention-demanding roads and spectacular scenery, including waterfalls. These falls are sluiced over the roadway.

Streaming live…

We spend the night enjoying the mountains around Jackson’s Retreat, just past Arthur’s Pass.

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Planning our route

The next day, we carry on to the Franz Josef Glacier.

Sight or Insight of the Day –

At Jackson’s Retreat, we are visited by troops of boldly curious wekas casually strolling around the campground.

Franz Josef Glacier
Weka – also known as the ‘tourist kiwi’

We are told that one reason wekas are doing better than kiwis and other ground-dwelling NZ birds is because they are much more aggressive than these other birds in defense of their eggs, their young, and themselves. Good for you, wekas!