We left Queenstown bright and early (slightly hungover) to drive through the Otago wine region to Dunedin on the east coast. The mountains and alpine scenery soon gave way to wineries, then orchards and lush green farmland and finally the beautiful coastal landscape that comprises the Otago Peninsula. We drove all the way to the end of the road, where at the head of the peninsula colonies of Royal Albatross live year round. There’s a great little museum here with plenty of free information about the birds and walking tours out to a viewing station on the peninsula. The latter unfortunately was not free, in fact they were charging a small fortune to view the birds up close. Deciding it was not budget friendly, we sat in the car park and consoled ourselves with a coffee and a pie…at which point we saw an Albatross fly past. We stood and watched these giant yet majestic birds, as they flew out from the museums enclosure, past the car park and headed out to sea to fish. Budget friendly, and we got to have pie
We drove across the peninsula to Sandfly bay. We had read sea lions and rare Yellow-Eyed penguins can be spotted here in the afternoons, returning from the days fishing. Sure enough, as we descended the steep sand dunes onto the beach, we could make out the shapes of huge sea lions snoozing on the beach. Barely taking notice of us, we walked past several of the flabby giants as we made our way to the end of the beach where we then hiked up to a viewing shed and waited for penguins. It wasn’t long before the cautious little creatures started appearing from the surf, timidly making their way up the beach, very much aware the predators they share it with. Although to be honest I couldn’t see why, watching the sea lions out of water slowly flopping around on the beach, stopping every few meters for a break. They looked more akin to a fat kid in a potato sack race, more a threat to themselves than the nimble little penguins.
Leaving the Otago Peninsula we followed the coast north, stopping in at the town of Oamura. Where we visited the Whitestone cheese factory (awesome) and the legendary Steampunk HQ (closed). From Oamura we drove inland again to Mt Cook, picking up supplies (wine) for our last few nights in the camper from the little town of Twizel, before having lunch at the foot of the mountain.
That evening we had an amazing time stargazing at the Edmund Hillary planetarium. Rodney the resident cosmologist took us on a journey through the universe, passionately explained and brilliantly illustrated via the 360 screen. We then drove out to the local airstrip were he had a 15″ Meade telescope with orbital tracking set up for us to gaze into the cosmos. We viewed Saturn and its rings, nebula and both red and white dying stars. When we weren’t looking through the eyepiece, we were simply admiring the thousands of visible stars to the naked eye and catching glimpses of shooting stars – something Lou had never seen before that night.
Definitely a trip highlight for a space geek like me.
We left Mt Cook and started making our way to Christchurch, the final stop on our road trip. We broke the journey up with a stop at Lake Tekapo where we spent the afternoon trekking up to the nearby peak of Mt John, before driving on to the little town of Geraldine – spending our last night in the camper at a campsite called Grumpy’s.
The following day we drove into Christchurch to drop the van off, 3368 km since we picked it up in Auckland some 16 days ago.
We visited the botanical gardens and the very good Canterbury museum, before heading into the CBD to see what the state of things was like following the devastating earthquake in 2011. I was surprised by how much still remained closed, with whole zones of the city centre completely cordoned off from public access. Shops with their window displays and offices sit waiting to learn their fate as the authorities continue the painstaking job of evaluating the structural integrity of over 1800 buildings in the city effected by the earthquake.
On our final in NZ we met up with my friends Alex and Kira who I worked with at RBS / Visions Live. We went to the infamous ‘Beer and Burger Inc’ and had beer and burgers. It was great to catch up and see some familiar faces.
Next stop > Australia!