Monday, 15 August 2011

Te Anau 15th August

Mel and I are in Te Anau staying at the YHA. The weather forecast for severe snow storms coming straight from the Antarctic has proved correct and has lead to masses of snow down to ground level, so we will sit it out here until the predicted onslaught is over. I can’t believe that we have been on our travels for over a year now, but so much has happened in that time that I suppose it has to have been that long. We are looking forward to our tour of Milford Sound in a couple of days time, we expect to spend 1 night in Milford after taking a trip on a ferry to visit the timeless beauty that surrounds the area. Figures crossed we don’t get stuck there for too long.

It has been a massive shame to see and read so much about the riots back in England. It is all many people can talk about with us and everybody has an opinion about how and why the individuals involved have done what they have done. I must admit my first reaction to the national mess was that of anger. How can so many people of all ages have so few values to the extent that they want to kill, burn and loot from their own communities? Here in New Zealand, where 50,000 people have been displaced by the consistent earthquakes in Christchurch, with so many loosing everything they care about, the sense of community and togetherness has been very powerful. My point being that it always seems to take an absolute disaster to actually make people from every background realise that we are all in this together and that we must value each other and respect each other to stand a chance of rebuilding the values which made England a decent place to live for the majority, for a long time. I think our friend Claire Howard summed up the true feeling of the good people out there when she posted ‘Make tea, not war!’ on her Facebook page. Let’s hope more people take notice of that message in the months to come.

Since we left Dunedin it has become tougher to cycle from place to place and we have reluctantly given in to the weather and booked buses from place to place. We did manage to clock up 180 Km in just 2 days from Invercargill to Curio Bay, via Slope Point and back to Invercargill last week. It was such a feeling of achievement to make it to Slope Point as it is the most southern point of New Zealand’s mainland and means that we have now set foot at each point of the axis of both islands and we have done it mostly by bike, clocking up thousands of kms in the process.

The journey down to Slope Point proved to be far easier than the return trip to Invercargill. We were blown down the road by a healthy tail wind which grew into a monster overnight and hit us straight on the following day, throwing us off our bikes at least a dozen times. I’m just grateful that we weren’t injured or run over to be perfectly honest. We just have to be grateful that the roads are almost empty down here.

Invercargill proved to be an interesting experience. We stayed at a BBH in Invercargill called ‘Southern Comfort’. It was exceptional. Our double room was $64 per night; it was warm, brilliantly clean and extremely tastefully decorated. What made it even better was that the lady running the place was one of the friendliest and welcoming hosts you could ever wish to meet. For comfort and style, my favourite hostel since ‘Kahoe Farms’ in Northland. We stayed at the hostel for 2 nights overall, 1 on either side of our cycle south to Curio Bay.

Slope Point and Curio Bay are definitely well worth a visit. It is a bit of a struggle to cycle the unsealed road down there, but it wasn’t as hard on the gravel of the South Island, as it was on the metal in the North. There is a yellow sign on the cliff-top there letting the traveller know that they are pretty much equidistant from the equator and the South Pole at that point. It did feel rather closer to the South Pole than the equator when we were being blown all over the shop by bitter Antarctic winds, grimacing into the camera to make sure that we marked the moment with photographic evidence. Later that same day we arrived at Curio Bay and checked into another lovely hostel, run by another nice lady, Glenda, and her great kids. It’s called the ‘Lazy Dolphin’ and as the only guests, we enjoyed sea views from our dorm. We went down to visit another colony of yellow eyed penguins, the same highly rare breed as those we saw whilst staying with Peter in Oamaru.  We also saw a 170 million year old petrified forest before dinner that evening. We were lucky to have timed our visit perfectly as the tide was out and we saw a pair of penguins making their way up over the prehistoric rock formations to their overnight shelter amongst the shrubs and flax.

We stayed at a Couch Surf for our final 2 nights in Invercargill. We really enjoyed getting to know Carla, from Argentina. She is very excited at the moment as the national rugby team will be playing in Invercargill next month in the World Cup and she has tickets to see them against Romania. We spent a lovely evening with her on our first night there; she cooked some seriously nice soup, roast veggies and apple pie. On the second night there, her husband Marc turned up to join us for the evening, having been away in Queenstown the night before and we cooked for them. Carla whipped up a fantastic chocolate custard pudding for us for afters that evening as well – she is a seriously good cook that one!

Invercargill was also memorable for its great public gardens, which includes a really impressive winter garden. We sat and ate our sandwiches in a little pagoda in there. It was lovely, warm and peaceful, surrounded by a great collection of flowering plants and a crystal clear pond full of goldfish. The gardens are also home to an interesting collection of farm animals and an ostrich. There is a museum built in the shape of a pyramid that adjoins the gardens. We went in there a couple of times and visited Henry the Tuatara. All of his wives and children live with him. He is over 110 years old and still going strong. Perhaps if we all ate bugs and lived in a hole in the ground…

When we left Invercargill by Intercity, we were the only passengers to begin with, later being joined by 4 more brave souls, all heading to Te Anau. The YHA here is clean and slightly more populated than it perhaps might otherwise be at this time of year. Most of the guests here seem to be stuck here due to the weather – we are now stranded as all the roads are closed due to heavy snow falls. It’s early evening and Mel is busy making some dinner for us in the kitchen as I write – and in fact she has just called me to ask for some assistance so I better go.

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