South Island Road Trip – 1995

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South Island Road Trip – 1995

South Island Road Trip – 1995

I’d lived in Auckland in 1991 and had been so impressed by the city that I always new that I'd come back to live in New Zealand.  But first I had to return to Australia and finish my Honours degree.  Another degree followed and then a job with a media company.  Plans to live in New Zealand were receding but after a few years I began considering my holiday options.  I could have gone to Europe or America like any other Australian, thought of myself as “adventurous” and sampled Asia, Africa or South America but as none of these appealed to me.  Instead, my thoughts turned to some unfinished business.

I’d lived in Auckland for four or five months but hadn’t actually bothered to leave the city.  Mine had not been an especially adventurous foray.  Initially I considered a cycling trip in the Coromandel followed by a weeks kayaking and then two weeks in the South Island.  It didn’t take long to realise that I was over compensating with a too ambitious program.  For some reason my father expressed an interest in the South Island leg of the trip and I started to re-think the itinerary as a driving trip that took in the sights.  With the aid of my road Atlas I began to chart an itinerary.  It seemed obvious that Mount Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound and the West Coast glaciers should feature.

The guidebook was full of exciting suggestions.  Who could resist the notion of surf rafting breakers in inflatable, motorised rubber boats in order to reach to the towering cliffs south of Dunedin?t?  And why wouldn’t I want to undertake the “Siberia Experience”, combining a small plane flight, a three-hour bush walk through a remote mountain valley and a jet-boat trip down a wild river valley.  Surely this was the stuff of dreams.  And so I had it in my head to do rather than to see, to undertake rather than observe.

It seemed to me that the goal should be sample voraciously what each place had to offer and to take an unhurried approach to the travel. As it turned out this conflicted with my father’s approach which was based on covering as much distance as possible each day.  To do this travel at speed would be required.  He’d formed this approach out of numerous road trips in Australia where distances are so vast and the landscape so flat that fast is the only sensible way to travel.  With so little to look at one has to create one’s own points of interest, like how far you can travel on cruise control or becoming involved in overtaking competitions.  This was all we were used to.

We were not to know that around the corner of every South Island road would be  spectacular vistas inviting reflection and awe.  The old way of travel wasn’t relevant here, the views could not be taken in as a passing blur.  In my role as navigator I had to make the case for slowing down compelling and I wasn’t exactly forthcoming in explaining what were the forthcoming scenic attractions for each day.  It was new to me so I really had no idea about what was coming up next.  And so it seemed that I reverted to a surliness I hadn’t experienced since my teenage years.  The self-image this revealed for myself was not particularly flattering and the trip was something of a watermark.

The basic plan was to fly into Christchurch and to hire a car. After that we’d make it up as we went along.  By the time the holiday came up I was working from Saturday through to Wednesday.  My work colleagues seemed to think that I might not return to work.  I have a recollection leaving work on a Sunday to catch the afternoon flight.

The problem with the afternoon flight to Christchurch is that it arrives at about midnight. Bizarrely an information centre was open at this time so we wandered over for some advice.  We were asked whether we wanted to stay in the cheapest place or the best place.  As we’d be staying there for only a matter of hours it seemed silly to waste money on short stay accommodation.  Unfortunately we hadn’t been given too many other options so we said, “oh we’re easy, we’ll take the cheapest”.  This turned out to be Coker B’s where beds could be bought for $8 a night.  When we arrived there it occurred to me that the twin rooms really weren’t that much more expensive but I went ahead and paid for a bed in the bunkroom in any case.  Neither before nor since have I encountered such a place.  As it was so late the room was cast in darkness but there was still light enough to make our way along a row of dormitory style enclosures until we came across the beds we’d been allocated.  Trying not to make too much noise I squeezed into the saggy bunk.  At about 0600hrs I was roused from a fitful sleep by the sound of Germans packing their bags.  Never have I heard so many plastic bags being scrunched in new and inventive ways.  I felt fit to burst, at a complete loss to work out why people would rouse themselves so early.  Of course many years later I can appreciate the benefits of an early start particularly when the options are to either be the early riser or be those lying in bed cursing the early riser.

My next mistake was to lie there thinking that more sleep would come if only I could stubbornly see off all those who insisted on getting up. As a result the morning was well advanced before I could rouse myself.  Our first task was to locate a hire car yard.  I don’t remember what we ended up paying but we did get a good-looking car that had some grunt to it and made for fast travel.  Getting out of Christchurch proved to be surprisingly convoluted and it was getting towards lunchtime before we escaped to the city fringes.  As thousands of travellers have discovered before us the plains out of Christchurch do not provoke much in the way of excitement, being flat and devoted to farming.  The presence of strong winds was indicated by rows of pine trees acting as windbreaks along the road and this meant that for long stretches there was no view at all.

Day 2 - Lake Tekapo

Our first target was Mount Cook, some 330km south of the city. We moved with some speed and as flats gave way to mountain ranges it was difficult not to feel a sense of awe.  On an intermittently grey day there was little point in making a late rush for Mount Cook.  With the low cloud cover there would be little to see.  We hoped by pulling up short and waiting for the next day there might be an outbreak of sun.  We reached the town of Lake Tekapo at about 3 o’clock.  We could have pressed on further to Twizel but it was difficult to work out the function of Twizel other than to exist some 50 km short of Mount Cook.  I don’t recall where we stayed, a hostel, backpackers or hotel.  There was more accommodation to be had here than by pressing on to the village of Mt Cook.

The early finish for the day’s travel left a few hours for walking on Lake Tekapo, a remarkably blue lake hemmed in by the snow-capped Two Thumb Range. I already felt exhilarated and suggested the hour’s walk to the top of Mt John.  It was rambling as I hadn’t done regularly since my days of exploration in the rugged hills of Moore Creek near the country town of Tamworth.

Like on those earlier days an occasional rabbit would spring from the Spinifex and seek safer climes.  Upon my return we went for a drive to Tekapo Lookout before returning to the town to look for a place to eat.  As I recall it the Lake Tekapo Hotel had bistro meals and Eric was interested in the beer that was available so we ate here amidst locals who seemed to consist entirely of single males above the age of forty.  Maybe that was the nature of the work available, farming, transportation, forestry, and mining.

Also available from Tekapo was aerial sightseeing where flights over Mt Cook operated.  At $125 these seemed price so we decided to wait until we reached the West Coast before forking out for any flights.  As we left the hotel we drove past a hitch-hiker who had stayed at the same place as us.  I felt somewhat guilty that we had snubbed him in this way.  It was an overcast day and views were limited.  We stopped off at Lake Pukaki to take in the views across the body of water towards Mount Cook.  When we reached the turn off to the village discovered the same hitch-hiker we’d ignored back in Tekapo.  This time we accommodated his transportation wishes and discovered that he was a hunter from Europe on his way to shoot Tahr in the mountains.  There could have been no more intriguing comment our traveller could have made and he heightened the fascination by asking to be let out by the side of the road partway to the village and disappearing into the scrub leading up to the hills.

Day 3 - Mt Cook Village

Mt Cook Village is dominated by the Hermitage, a hotel with a pivotal place in the history of New Zealand mountain climbing. It still holds a certain aura as a check in point for modern day adventurers but the effect is diluted by its duel role as cash cow catering to cartloads of tourists fresh off the Christchurch-Mt Cook-Queenstown circuit buses.  We ignored the guidebooks advice to stop off for a beer and ventured outside to undertake the famous walk to the Hooker Glacier.  It was a remarkably dark day, so gloomy it seemed the sun had been eclipsed.

It was on this walk that I had my first encounter with a New Zealand swing bridge as we made our way across the Hooker River.  The wildness of the water below, the white rush of it was like something from another world and the effect was merely heightened by the vast bulk of the dark mountains in the valley.  Eventually we reached the noted juncture where Mt Cook is viewed at the head of the river, framed by the imposing V of the valleys.  As the clouds shifted about at the head of the valley we would catch glimpses of the mountain bulk but the peak remained shrouded in mist.  Every now and then the mist would throw up new shapes, leaving us tantalised with the prospect that the mountain would appear before us, magisterial and magnificent, though the imagined grandeur never quite eventuated.  Strangely, in photographs of the cloud and mist, Mt Cook emerges from its canopy as much more than a spectral presence, there in its ominous bulk.

After this we walked back along the track, the fog thickening and the rain sweeping in. Stumbling over boulders and kicking our way through shale it seemed we were only ever moments away from getting lost and it was with some relief that we reached the Hermitage once more.  Our next goal was to travel out to the Tasman Glacier which turned out to be tonnes of black rock under which was buried some terminal ice.  At this point we were thinking that glaciers weren’t anything special particularly in the bitterly icy weather conditions.  The car heater beckoned and we were happy to make our way along Lake Pukaki and away from the hidden mountains.

We stopped off in the woefully non-descript town of Twizel to get something to eat and then we embarked on the two hour journey to Wanaka. Along the way the sun broke out late in the afternoon to bathe the hills and flaxen fields in golden light.  It was a spectacular scene and I felt some frustration watching other cars pull over to take in the memorable view while we ourselves powered onwards along the road.  Darkness had fallen when we reached Wanaka so it was pleasant feeling to book in to the local hotel and unpack our bags.  That night we enjoyed pizza at the restaurant in the mall.

Day 4 - Queenstown

The following morning we made our way to Queenstown via Highway 6. The weather had improved since the previous day to reveal bucolic scenes under blue skies.  This time we did stop for photos.  We also passed the bridge that is famous for its bungy jumping exploits and we observed some rubber band gyrations as punters bobbed above the water until hauled into the circling dinghy.  Business seemed a little slow as it appears to be one of those activities that can be as well appreciated watching as participating.  Not booking a room turned out to be a mistake as the first few establishments we tried were either full or the caretaker was suggesting we come back later.  Eventually we settled on a motel close to the water which was offering a room for $50 a night.  With the chores out of the way it remained to examine the local attractions and set a schedule of activities for the two days we’d allocated to Queenstown.

In the afternoon we both found out way to the Skyline, a restaurant set in the hills of Queenstown that provides spectacular views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Feeling reasonably energetic I walked to the sight, passing up the skyline gondola that would have got me there in five minutes.  By this time it was mid afternoon and I estimated that I had time to undertake the walk to the top of Ben Lomond, a mountain sitting further back from the skyline and taking in both The remarkable and the mountain ranges towards Skippers Canyon.  The guidebook suggested it was a 5 hour round trip, more time than I had but I figured an hour or two could be saved on the way back.  Upon reaching the 1,746 metre peak I was well satisfied with the journey, the views spectacular in all directions.  I could snap off a couple of shots with my disposable camera and capture some of the immensity of the setting but best of all was to sit and observe.  I had the mountain to myself and was able to linger as the sun lowered, lengthening the shadows and deepening the contrasts in the mountain contours.

In the meantime Eric had been traipsing around in the same hills having taking the gondola up to the Skyway. He took some photos of Para gliders skimming over Queenstown and talked German tourists into taking his photo.  By the time I returned to town he had made himself at home in the hotel bar and befriended a group of Americans.  When he said he wanted to introduce me I refused point blank and returned to the bed that I was lying on.

The layout of Queenstown gives it a real charm, cars being absent from the heart of the shopping centre.  Given the commercial nature of the town it’s likely that the primary reason for this automobile ban is to encourage shoppers to linger and drinkers to imbibe longer rather than an appreciation of the aesthetics of languor.   Nonetheless the attitude of unhurriedness seems to drift through the entire town  and I derived great enjoyment from sitting down to watch the gargantuan trout graze the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Finding a decent place to eat was simply a matter of wandering the streets and lanes until something in particular takes your eye.  I tended to favour a small vegetarian eatery tucked away in an obscure cul de sac that offered the heartiest burghers and fruity shakes.

The cool nights spent in soft hotel beds were proving problematic. I’d brought a blanket with me to ward off encroaching cold and this could result in overheating.  The bed sheets were so tightly tucked into the mattresses that to slide into bed was like being pinned to a mat.  On this night I dreamed of suffocation but when I attempted to remove whatever was blocking my airways I found I could not move my arms as they were wrapped against my chest with all the bounded permanence of a mummy.  The more I struggled the less I seemed able to move and so I found myself gasping for breath while sinking into the quagmire of a spongy mattress while the blankets closed over me like a coffin lid.  My heart rate raced to the point of explosion and it seemed I would expire at any moment.  Caught in a dreamscape I couldn’t’ get my body to follow my commandments and terror that came with this loss of control was palpable.  I don’t know if I was able to free myself or not, merely that I awoke the next morning, dazed and exhausted but more or less alive.

Foremost among the things we wanted to try out was the jet boat trip on the Shotover River. This was the first time I’d been on a jet boat and over the years they’ve come in handy as a means of getting to some remote locations.  The first trip though was all about inducing a sense of danger by sliding the boat in close the rocky cliffs of the river.  I affected disinterest in the “close calls” aspect of the trip and instead concentrated on the river scenery.  All too soon the trip was over but it turned out the photos from the day were excellent and I ended up purchasing a couple from the Shotover Jet booth the following morning.  Eric took a bunch of photos while in the boat and these also were quite effective in evoking the manic nature of the ride.

The afternoon turned out to be far less inspired as we ended up paying $37 each to be taken for a ride on the TSS Earnslaw, a ponderous steamship that laboured up the lake to Walter Peak sheep station where things as lame as sheep shearing took place. Also on offer were jam scones and tea.  It was a 3-hour throw back to the 1950’s and after it was over we’d pretty much blown our time in Queenstown.  To try and squeeze something more out of the day we drove out to one of the local ski fields which, in early autumn was nothing more than a rocky paddock.

The next day saw us undertake the two-hour drive to Te Anau. We booked into a backpackers and in the afternoon made our way to the Kepler Track.  At this stage I had only a vague appreciation of the New Zealand track system, having bought the Lonely Planet “Tramping in New Zealand” that had come out earlier in the year.  Armed with this I was able to suggest that we head out to Rainbow Reach Swing Bridge and do the walk out to Moturau Hut.  This allowed us to reach the Wetland known as Amoeboid Mire and reach the fringe of Lake Manapouri.  In between we took in an outstanding forest walk, full of ferns, moss covered tree stumps an ever-present river.  The crossing of Waiau River by swing bridge was staggering, a seemingly vast body of water that is actually an artificial connector between Lake Te Anau and the damned Lake Manapouri.  Even so, it’s width and power means that it dwarfs any comparable Australian river.  Upon returning to town we booked ourselves on the Milford Wanderer for the following day.  It is one of the ultimate tourist experiences available and would be one of the features of the trip.

Day 6 - Milford Sound

 We’d didn’t have to reach Milford until early afternoon and this meant that we could stop off at most of the designated tourist sights along the road. These stops are well known, walks to reflective lakes, waterfalls and chasms.  Again, all around us were mountains of staggering magnitude, stunning for their sleek, dark sides.  Upon reaching Homer Tunnel and the mile long descent through the base of an unscaleable wall of rock we stopped off to take in the sight of snow piled metres deep by the side of the road.  With a little time in hand we decided to approach the glacier lying at the base of a cirque some one kilometre away from the road.  Though fully in view this took us away from the busloads of tourists and felt like adventure.  When we got close enough to inspect the so called glacier we discovered it was more akin to an ice cave, melting rapidly from the inside out to form an intricate network of tunnels.  It was slippery going underneath the ice and easy to fall on one's face.  In our time of exploration an hour had slipped away and it was time to move on.

On the other side of the tunnel we discovered a road wending its way into a distant valley.  Again the scenery engendered feelings of shock and awe.  Soon after we arrived at Milford Sound and had our first look at the Pope’s staff that made up Mitre Peak.  The route of the boats in the sound is well known, taking in the waterfalls, semblance of seal colonies, dolphins and finally the Pacific Ocean.  Already the walls surrounding the Sound cast vast shadows as the sun sunk into its autumnal repose.  On the way back to Te Anau I suggested we do the walk to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track. Alas I did not realise the magnitude of the views available from this point and as Eric struggled with the hillside clamber I suggested we return to beat the setting sun.  It would be another four years before I could correct this turning back.

Day 7 - Wanaka

 It was only natural for a road trip to have dog days and this was one of those. From Te Anau we made our way back to Queenstown and from here we took the dirt road via Cardrona to Wanaka.  In Wanaka I recall getting lost in the amazing maze and hiking to the top of the hill overlooking the town.

Day 8 - West Coast

The West Coast roads made for disagreeable travel, particularly at the speed at which we attempted them. By Haast I’d had enough and suggested this would be as far as we would be travelling on this day.  In the afternoon we ventured out to Jackson Bay, an outpost of fishing boats and very little else.  The guidebook promised that Haast would soon develop into an attractive destination given its wilderness possibilities.  At this point however none of this was in evidence.

Day 9

After the lull of the previous two days today would see the return of activity as we made our way to Fox Glacier. We booked a scenic flight for the afternoon and then proceeded to travelling out to the walk at Lake Mathieson.  This is famous for the mirror images it provides of the glaciers and Mt Cook but the low, layered clouds and gusts of breeze made for reflections of a lesser view.  Perhaps most disappointingly however was the prospect of diminished sights once we slipped into the air.

From Lake Mathieson we drove to the car park at Fox Glacier.  With the massive flow of ice visible from quite a distance the walk to the glacier head was rather exciting and that sensation was not diminished upon reaching the towering chunks of ice and discovering a frosty stream emanating from its bowels.  Despite the sign warning not to approach too close these were easy to ignore despite the inherent instability of glaciers.  At the time these were reported to be advancing at about 5 metres a day, though it was a long way from the township it was reportedly nudging a hundred years before.  After examining shattered slabs that had calved earlier in the day I retreated behind the plastic tape on the makeshift fence and gazed up at the crushed blue ice.  The ice had the consistency of dolomite, layered by pressure of its own weight.  I’d never been in the presence of so much transitory beauty.

The tenor of the day, indeed the whole trip had been much improved and it literally took off with the plane flight.  It was a single engine 4-seat plane.  The pilot was considerably overweight and the thought did occur that he could have a heart attack and keel over mid flight.  Would it be preferable to attempt a glacier landing or try to glide onto the nearby ocean water?

Soon we were at forest level and could see how tightly compacted the trees were and make out the gouged lines tracing the progress of ancient avalanches.  Not long after this we could pick out the township and farms and follow the river’s course out to Pacific Ocean.  Then we hit the cloud and it appeared that the scenic part of the trip had finished before it had really begun.  Unexpectedly however we left the cloud behind and discovered that mountains were still above us.

This was a truly exhilarating discovery.  The world we entered was extraordinary, jagged peaks were visible in every direction, blanketed in vast fields of ice and snow.  Some of the snow appeared as smooth as the sand on a beach while other parts of it were broken like shards of shattered glass.  There were magnificent views to be had at every juncture and though I’d purchased a new camera for the journey I was quickly churning through the film I had.  There was even better to follow.

We’d booked a flight with a glacier landing, a daunting prospect given the jagged crevasses and seracs that seemed to dominate the landscape.  Further up the glaciers however were neves offering remarkably flat surfaces.  Reassuringly were the marks of previous planes that had glided in, leaving incredibly straight tracks.  We deported from the plane and arranged to have a number of photos taken with the pilot.  The skis on the wheels of the plane are broad like surfboards.

It was a landscape of such joyous beauty I found myself running away from the plane in the direction of the horizon.  I just had to see what was on the other side.  The surface was firm and crusty and I ran with vigour, panting heavily, determined to make as much ground as I could in as short a time as possible.  From the direction of the plane I could hear voices yelling out, voices I was not going to heed.  I was going to make the horizon if it was my last act on this earth.

Somehow the voices penetrated the part of my brain used for making judgements and I realized that I was being called back, that the pilot had thought I’d gone mad.

I would not make that horizon.  I stopped, peered into the abyss and promised myself that I would have to come back, that the horizon waited for another time.  I jogged slowly back to the plane, realizing that we had probably exceeded our allotted time on the mountain.  We were soon on our way, flying over the length of the glaciers, peering into the layers of blue ice, the rubble and debris, the remarkable textures of the ice.  The final act was to fly towards Mt Cook in order for a photographic opportunity.  By this time however I was out of film and I was reduced to pretending to take the photo so that the pilot’s efforts appeared to be put to good use.  After this we dropped through the cloud and landed in the green paddock from which we’d left.  The adrenalin was still flowing long after we’d left the plane.

There was still Franz Josef glacier to see so we headed out to the other car park.  The walk to this glacier however involved crossing the glacial flour emanating from the terminal moraine.  At first I attempted to skirt the stream but was block off by thick tree branches.  I decided to enter into the water with my shoes off.  This was a big mistake, the water being icy to the point of painfulness and I was less than halfway across when it became apparent Eric was not going to attempt the crossing.  There was only one thing for it, to return to that side of the stream and try to get the feeling back into my feet.  While sitting there a number of walkers crossing the stream in their shoes.

Obviously I didn’t want it badly enough, rationalising that the glaciers probably looked quite similar and that I would not be missing out on much by passing on this one.  In any case nothing was going to top walking on the top of the glacier so it was with not too much regret that we returned to the car and resumed the journey.

Late afternoon, tracking the winding west coast road as it cut between the forest-choked mountains and wind scoured shoreline.  The forests and towns swept by in a barely perceived haze of glacier skimming satisfaction.  There might have been much to see at Kohuamarua Bluff or the Okarito Lagoon but we wouldn’t have known, gliding through the dying light like a surfer fleeing a closing wave.

There were no cylindrical tubes along this coast, waves rumbled onto beaches in an avalanche of spray, flecks of foam spitting upwards like shot snakes.  Towns like Whataroa, Hari Hari, Kakapotahi, Ross and Kaniere were no more than dots on the glanced at map, blurred remnants of lost suburbia displaced to a place of unrelenting wilderness.  The dimly perceived forests of Okarito, Wanganui, Poerua, Ianthe, Waitaha and Mikonui framed these forgotten towns and enhanced the melancholy gloom engendered by the sense of isolation.

Rolling into Hokitika it seemed the town had closed up and its residents had retreated inside to hearths and fireplaces. The desolate, deserted streets didn’t invite lingering and after perfunctorily peering through a shop window at displayed greenstone carvings we set off for Greymouth.  Half an hour later we were booking into a large two-story abode and soon after wandered over to one of the local pubs.  Ordering a side dish of wedges I was confronted with a large plate spilling over with potato cuts, a bowl of chilli and a heaped pile of cream.  This was New Zealand food at its most characteristic, basic foodstuffs in excessive quantities, undoubtedly generous but just a little difficult to stomach.  It put the cap on what had undoubtedly been a satisfying day.

Day 10 Punakiki

 An early morning start allowed us to get an early viewing of the Pancake Rocks at Punakiki. This is always an interesting walk, taking in the dolomite rocks and the swirling waters flowing into the gouged grottos below.  The day was typically overcast, obscuring the remarkable views of the Southern Alps that are viewed from this vantage point where it seems the mountains rise out of the sea.  And in a sense they do, given that the ocean has been creeping inland for the last 50,000 years.  Perhaps it is this sense of encroachment that makes the drive between Greymouth and Westport so memorable.  The beaches are literally acting as barriers to a relentless invasion and the enormous amount of flotsam, jetsam and bracken disgorged onto the windblown sand is testament to an unceasing battle for control.

White water rafting was on our minds upon reaching Westport. The Buller Adventure Company offered services on the Karamea and Buller Rivers.  We went for the half-day trip on the Buller River which involved a bus trip along a winding road followed by suiting up in a wet suit and life jacket.  Two rubber dinghies were launched and we paddled along a fast flowing river, slowing only for lectures from the guide prior to taking on the rapids.  Before the first such undertaking the guide seemed to deliberately ignore the fact that the dinghy was head heading straight into some rocks.  It seemed his aim was to have someone fall out of the boat and despite taking a heavy hit this didn’t happen.

The rapids were quite similar to riding waves in a big swell, though done at speed.  The dinghy tended to bob like a cork, riding high and dropping easily into the troughs between each wave.  Once the rapids had been ridden out then the trip would resume its leisurely Huck Finn quality.  This was punctuated just the once when we clambered out the boat and climbed onto a ledge overlooking a deep spot on the river.  It might have been about an 8-metre drop and the guide invited us to whoop it up as we jumped off.  Upon hitting the brisk water we would paddle  back to the dinghy and haul ourselves back inside.  Again it was a high adrenalin activity designed to have a more dangerous element to it than it really did.  These sorts of companies couldn’t really afford to endanger their clients. During the quieter moments we talked about the flow of the river, how it carried more water than the Ganges or Nile when it is in flood.  Looking at the high valleys and the potential capacity it was easy to believe.

In the afternoon there was only one place to go in Westport and that is the Seal Colony at Cape Foulwind. Despite the rain and wind this was a mesmerising place to visit.  Peering into the murky abyss of dark rocks on the edge of choppy surf it was hard to make out the presence of any seals whatsoever but as eyes adjust to conditions the landscape magically transforms.

On the jagged outpost large males acted as noble sentries, seemingly detached from the colony but actually integral to its functioning.  Amidst the washing machine swirl where waves crash over rocks young adult seals boisterously frolicked, playing a never ending game of chasing, be it themselves or whatever fish happened to be in the area.  What they had to judge as they constantly moved between land and water was the force of the swell they were dealing with.  This they did with power and skill, honed through constant practice.  Away from this zone of constant challenge were the rock pools where the older seal pups slithered over each other like sea otters racing back and forth between the ends of their enclosure.  Away from all this activity, amidst the grassy knolls at the face of the cliff lay protective mother seals with fledgling pups.  And so it turned out there was so much activity going on that it was impossible to leave, despite the rain and cold.

Day 11 

Eric returned to Christchurch the following morning, making such good time along Highway 7 that he was able to pick up a flight that evening rather than hang around to the following day.  For me the trip entered a new phase, thankfully dispensing with the constant rush of road and slowing down to a more challenging pace.  I would soon be embarking on my first overnight tramp.

 

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