Last night we went stargazing. As Lake Tekapu reputedly has the second darkest skies in the southern hemisphere it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s a place where people spend a lot of their time looking up at the heavens. So last night we went out to a small observatory just outside town where two very nice, but very nerdish, young men entertained us for a couple of hours by letting us handle their 12 inch instruments. Live long and prosper.
Today we ‘did’ Mt Cook/Aoraki – at 3,724 meters it’s the highest mountain in New Zealand and pretty spectacular from wherever you happen to be perched. We took the 50km road up along the side of Lake Pukaki to Mt Cook/Aoraki Village and, after a coffee and a slightly overdue Skype call to son Thomas in Canada, decided to trek up the Hooker Valley to the glacial lake at the foot of the mountain.
More spectacular views and even more pictures – I have a feeling that the slideshow in the Village Hall is going to run to a couple of evenings!
Footsore but more than a little smug at having overtaken loads of people half our age on the trail up and down the mountain in temperatures over 30 degrees, we climbed back on board our covered wagon and drove the 70 or so km to Omarama. Another hard day at the office!
Monster photograph day! In the good old days of 35mm film we’d have needed a small trailer to carry all the rolls of film that we’d have shot today. Fortunately with a 32gb memory card in the camera it seems that I can take another 3,000 or so photos today before it starts to fill up – unlikely, but possible given the current rate of snapping.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your point of view, it’s the sort of country where every corner you turn makes you want to stop and take a few dozen more snaps so that you can be sure of capturing the beauty of the place. The sad thing, of course, is that no matter how clever the camera may be, it simply can’t compare with the Mark One Eyeball when it comes to capturing the very best view possible. Never mind – just think how many slide shows we’ll be able to give in the Village Hall when we get home (book now to avoid disappointment!).
Lake Tekapo is truly beautiful. Our campsite is about 50m from the water’s edge, so as I sit here waxing lyrical I have a perfect view over the lake to the mountains beyond. This afternoon we walked the five or six miles up to the Mount John Observatory and this evening we’ve shelled out on a ‘night sky experience’ – Tekapo has some of the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere , so a little stargazing through one of the big telescopes sounds seems like a good idea.
The rain didn’t last long. By the time that we’d made it to the outskirts of Christchurch the drizzle had stopped and the sun was starting to peep through the clouds. Our chariot is a well-used VW T35 camper which has 200+km on the clock and will probably double that before it reaches the end of its working life. Having spent a few minutes this evening working out how best to store our goods and chattels in the van’s various nooks and crannies (what is a cranny?) we’re sure that it’s going to make a perfectly comfortable home for the next five weeks.
First stop of the day was Ashburton Cemetery to call in on Great Uncle George. About a decade ago some kind soul kindly sent me a photo of the grave, so fortunately we were able to recognise it pretty quickly and didn’t have to traipse past too many headstones in order to track him down. Ashburton is quite small now, but judging by the number of folk who were buried there in the first few years of the 20th century it must have been quite a lively place back then (not, of course, for them!). Anyway, the gravestone has stood the test of time for the last century and looks like it will continue to do the job for a few more decades. He was 21 when he died in 1913 – it must have been heartbreaking for his parents to bury their son in a distant, foreign land knowing that they’d never see his last resting place. His sister, my grandmother, lost two husbands and two brothers in less than 7 years; that’s hard.
Getting back to the land of the living we moved on to Timaru which is another 60km or so further down the coast. We didn’t go all the way into the town but had a wander around Caroline Bay and paid our respects to the Pacific Ocean before moving on to Pleasant Point – at which point it was time to pull the waggons into a circle and set up camp for the night.
It’s tragic – the 2011 earthquake has left the centre of Christchurch in a terrible mess and the process of putting it all back together again is going to take years. Whole city blocks have been levelled in preparation for rebuilding and there are still large numbers of large buildings standing empty, presumably waiting for demolition of for someone to decide what to do. What must have been a very attractive city has been hit very hard and it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that it will be five to ten years before it starts to be a destination once again. That said there are some bright spots still remaining – the Botanic Gardens are lovely, strolling along the banks of the River Avon you wouldn’t really know that anything had happened; no surprise that nature has been faster at the repair process than man.
We woke this morning to ….rain! It doesn’t seem quite fair to have left Australia roasting in temperatures in the high thirties and for Christchurch to welcome us with 19 degrees and ….rain. No matter, we pick up the Van later this morning and start heading down the coast where the weather should apparently start to improve. First stop Ashburton cemetery – admittedly not your usual tourist destination but the last resting place on my Great Uncle George who emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1900’s and sadly died within a few years of his arrival. More than a hundred years on this will be the first time that a member of the family has visited the grave – must go, can’t keep him waiting!
If this is Wednesday we must be getting near Melbourne. The Cockatoos were back for breakfast but worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for sharing. As we drove East from our overnight stop at Airey’s Inlet through Anglesea and Torquay the character of the area started to change – rather less quaint and rather more ‘big money’; this is obviously where the wealthy of Melbourne have their beachside houses and apartments.
After a brief visit to the Bellarine Peninsular, where we had coffee overlooking the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, we stopped off at the State Rose Garden at Werribee which (for the non gardeners amongst you) is rather more interesting than it sounds. Dozens of different varieties of roses (surprise) and most exciting of all…. fruitbats! With a wingspan of 2 to 3 feet, not something you’d really want to encounter on a dark night.
OK, so today was just a teensy weensy bit warm. Just as we thought we were getting used to the warmth of the Australian summer it decided to throw in a hot one; 41 degrees on the thermometer and a warm breeze blowing from inland – the effect was like putting your head in an open oven at regulo 5! Still, given a choice of this or a light covering of snow in the Cotswolds, its got to be a no-brainer hasn’t it? (Sorry Claire).
Just for a change the Great Ocean Road which took us from Port Campbell up to Airey’s Inlet was quite busy, so we took our time and soaked up the sunshine and the scenery. Most of the traffic was, like us, happy to coast along – not that we had much choice in the matter (note to self; if ever we decide to buy a small car be sure to avoid the Hyundai i20 which has marginally less power than Denise’s sewing machine). Still, it didn’t matter too much as around every bend we stopped, either for a swim or to snap some more photos of the fantastic coastline.
The Twelve Apostles are one of Australia’s most famous landmarks – the only problem is that from time to time coastal erosion does its bit and one of the apostles falls into the Southern Ocean. I think that at the last count there were ten; but no matter – they are , simply, stunning.
Now, believe me, in the course of my life I’ve seen a cockatoo! But when the bloody things sit on your veranda and demand to be fed that’s another thing altogether. Just goes to prove that no living creature can resist the smell of freshly cooked bacon!
No shortage of spectacular scenery today. The drive from Hamilton down to the coast at Port Fairy was the usual wonderful combination of empty roads and stunning countryside displayed in the largest imaginable number of shades of brown with vivid splashes of green. Port Fairy itself is a pretty little town with a number of historic buildings and a small quayside – the adjectives ‘historic’ and ‘scenic’ tend to get used quite a lot over here. In reality of course virtually nothing is truly historic, but absolutely everything is scenic.
A quick walk around the bird sanctuary at Griffin Island should have produced sightings of Mutton Birds, but they seemed to have taken the day off – however we did spot a Blue Tongued Skink which produced a predictable reaction from the female half of this partnership.
Driving up the coast towards Melbourne we joined the Great Ocean Drive which has enough scenic (that word again) viewing points to satisfy even the most enthusiastic ‘snapper’. Stopping every ten miles or so to take more pictures brought us into close conflict with the Australian Fly! If you’ve ever wondered why tourists in this neck of the woods tend to wave to each other quite a lot, the reality is that they’re actually executing the Aussie Salute. Frustratingly its all to no avail because there are so many of the little buggers that no sooner have you swatted one but ten more are making a bee-line (or should that be a fly-line?) for your salty bits!
Stopped overnight at Port Campbell and after supper popped up to one of the ‘scenic’ viewpoints to watch the sun set slowly over the Southern Ocean. Lovely.
Having decided to stay in Hamilton for a second night, the next day which happened also to be Australia Day, was spent exploring the Southern Grampians, a small but impressive range of sandstone mountains around forty miles to the north west of Hamilton which rise to something over a thousand metres – we decided that they looked a bit like ‘the Malverns on Steroids’!
A climb up The Pinnacle (2.7km, 285 metres of climb and 32 degrees Centigrade) gave us our exercise for the day.
The day started with a quick dip in the pool before we set off for a brisk walk along Rode’s 12 mile long beach – no, we did about four miles, but it seemed like a fairly energetic start to the day nonetheless. Aside from stopping briefly for breakfast in Millicent our first proper port of call was Mt Gambier which boasts (among other things) the Blue Lake – so named (yes, you guessed) because it has a wonderfully blue lake in the bowl of a defunct volcano . In truth it seems that the lake is only blue for certain months of the year , but it was certainly bluer than a blue thing for our visit.
The drive from Mt Gambier to Hamilton took us a little further than usual off the beaten track – down long, straight roads bordered by enormous stretches of open grazing land with the odd herd/flock of cows and sheep scattered around for good measure. This was our chance to see something of the local wildlife, but despite frequent signs warning us to watch out for koalas and kangaroos much to Denise’s frustration they declined to show!
We arrived safe and sound in Adelaide after the two and a half hour flight down from Perth. We’d originally thought about driving down, but the thought of 1,400 miles of nothingness and a couple of extra days behind the wheel soon put paid to that bright idea, Our flight was with Jetstar, which we soon found out is at the cheaper end of the airline spectrum – a bit like Easy Jet but with added courtesy.
The Sebel Playford Hotel in Adelaide was excellent and would have scored a 10/10 rating for comfort and style if only someone had bothered to check the settings on the radio alarm after the last guest left our room – Denise was distinctly unimpressed to be woken up at 4.30am and the Duty Manager now probably feels that its a mistake they won’t want to make again in a hurry!
After a quick swim in the hotel pool followed by a chat with a couple of nice ladies at the South Australia Tourist Information Office we drove the thirty miles down to Victor Harbor, which by chance was the setting for the fourth stage of the Tour Down Undercycle event. We didn’t see anything of the racing but there must have been five thousand followers, all on bikes – the thought of all that lycra makes me feel quite unwell!
The 200 or so mile drive down from the Fleurieu Peninsular through the Coorong National Park to our overnight stop at Robe was wonderful; fabulous scenery, empty roads and pelicans! What more could any man want?
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a general account of life in the Ewbank household…..