Picton, Marlborough Sounds
It’s time to catch up again, after a couple of long days on the road. On Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Dunedin and boarded our next bus, driven by Magic Scott. After a stop at the world’s steepest street (see Matt’s blog for details and photos), we headed north up the coast, on our way to Lake Tekapo. Our morning stop was at the Moeraki Boulders, an incredibly unique set of rocks on the magically beautiful coast south of Oamaru. These boulders are perfectly round, sitting partially submerged in the beach, and are a geological anomaly. Geologists say that the rocks came out of the mudstone cliffs, and not the sea, but apparently no one really knows why they took the shape they did. The Maori have a better explanation, I think, as told to us by Magic Scott: long ago, an outrigger canoe carrying baskets of kumara shipwrecked on this coast, and the round baskets that washed up on the shore became the Moeraki Boulders. At any rate, they are extremely bizarre to look at, and we all enjoyed walking among them, and some of our fellow Magic-ers did some climbing and gymnastics on the rocks!
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
After leaving Moeraki, our next stop was Oamaru (the most common pronunciation is “WAH-mah-roo”), a beautiful coastal city built primarily of white Oamaru stone, mined just south of town and used in buildings throughout New Zealand. We had an absolutely gorgeous day to travel, clear skies and lots of sunshine over the green, pastoral landscape of the east coast. Once we turned inland north of Oamaru, we headed up into the alpine country, which is much dryer, yellow tussock-covered sheep country sprinkled with blue-green rivers and very few towns.
First view of the Southern Alps! Somewhere east of Omarama.
Yellow countryside at our quick stop at Aviemore Dam.
At Omarama (oh-MAH-rah-mah) we entered Mackenzie Country, named after a famous (or infamous, but he got the place named after him) sheep thief from the 19th century. With the Southern Alps standing up alongside us, we were truly in the mountain country, and stopped at Lake Pukaki, which often affords a view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook on the far end, but the elusive mountain was hidden away in the clouds. That didn’t stop the views from being spectacular, or our busmates from posing inadvertently for this shot:
We learned from Magic Scott that the Maori name for Mt. Cook, Aoraki, means “cloud piercer.” This is derived from the mountain’s tendency to have clouds sitting over the middle of it, but the summit sticking out the top. I’ve also learned that according to New Zealand law, the Maori name (pronounced “AH-oh-rack-ee”) must be placed before the English name in all guidebooks, signage etc. Also, mountaineers are forbidden to stand on the actual summit, as it is an incredibly sacred place to the Maori; Aoraki is also considered to be the ultimate, all-encompassing ancestor.
Have I mentioned that it has been extremely cold in the southern regions lately, and that this was incredibly apparent while we were en route from Dunedin to Kaikoura? It was windy, freezing cold, and the dry cold chilled us all to the bone. When we pulled into Lake Tekapo, our overnight stop on Monday, temperatures were hovering around 45 F or so in the sun.
Beautiful, but COLD and windy!
We really loved our BBH hostel in Lake Tekapo- comfortable non-bunk beds, a very well heated and organized lounge area, and no TV (a rarity in a backpackers!) While the evening was clear and the views gorgeous, we could hardly bring ourselves to go outside into the bitter cold- that wind really gets you! While we had pre-booked all of our hostels and used the BBH ones because we already had the membership, if we hadn’t planned ahead, we wouldn’t have had to worry, because Magic really takes care of its own. The company has relationships with various hostels and tour operators in every town along Magic’s routes, and these places reserve spaces for Magic travelers so that you are guaranteed a bed everywhere you go, and a space in every activity if you want it, and the Magic drivers book it all for you. It is a really good system, and although we haven’t really used it because we did all of our planning ourselves, it is a really great way to operate and serve your customers.
We got up in the dark again for another long day yesterday. Prior to the Christchurch Earthquake in February, Magic traveled a half day from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch, and then another half day to Kaikoura the next day. Since the earthquake dismantled much of Christchurch’s infrastructure and the entire city centre is still cordoned off, Magic now drives from Lake Tekapo to Kaikoura in a single day, stopping in the outskirts of ChCh to drop off and pick up. Thus, it makes for a long day and our bus pulled out of Tekapo at 7:30 AM. It was “cold as” yesterday morning, with a completely clear sky that gave us really stellar views of the southern alps over the lake as we walked down to the bus.
The temperature when we got on the bus was -1C/30F, as the heater couldn’t run until the engine had gotten good and warm. So we all stayed bundled up, and watched amazing views of the alps roll by under a glowing sky and a full moon.
Sunrise on Magic Bus, Burkes Pass.
Our route north took us through Fairlie and Geraldine, into the Canturbury Plains and to Methven/Mt. Hutt via the Inland Scenic Route. It was a long drive to Christchurch, back into pastoral, seaside country, but still bloody cold. Traveling through Christchurch was a truly surreal experience, and sort of difficult to think about. At first we just drove through the suburban sprawl, and because it was entirely modern buildings, there was no sign that anything was wrong, no destruction, and it seemed hardly possibly that such a big quake had rocked the area only a few months before (with loads of aftershocks every day since). But soon we started seeing older buildings with their facades lying in piles at their feet, and shopfronts with signs reading “Still closed due to earthquake.” Driving to the bus stop, we could all see the downtown district a couple kilmoetres away, where the tallest building, the Grand Chancellor Hotel, has been sitting at a noticeable tilt ever since February. Driving to the second stop at Christchurch Airport, we passed through an older neighborhood, where there was no huge appearance of destruction, but an eerie sense of something wrong, with stop signs and streetlamps standing slightly akimbo, and a house covered in scaffolding here, one with a window boarded up here, and the next with a big tarp covering the hole in its roof. I have no other way to describe seeing these things, than to use the word heavy.
From Christchurch it was pretty much straight through to Kaikoura, on another beautiful day. The scenery was beautiful, but stood out less than in the alpine country. Beautiful green fields, lots of sheep and cows and goats, and lots of beautiful little farms.
First view of the snowy Kaikoura Ranges
Matt chilling out as the countryside rolls by.
Coming into Kaikoura, Magic Scott told us loads of interesting factoids about the area, the name, and the various activities on the menu for Kaikoura. We saw loads of seals on the rocks alongside the highway as we drove north into town, and we all got a massive fright when we came around one of the tight corners on the very narrow highway and discovered a very large fur seal in the middle of the road about 8 metres in front of the bus. Luckily it managed to get off the road just in time, but Magic Scott about had a heart attack, and we all had a moment of wondering what, exactly, it would be like to hit a seal while on a bus.
Matt and I were very happy to be back in Kaikoura on such a gorgeous day, and to be staying at Dusky Lodge with most of our busmates. With a big airy kitchen, huge wooden slab tables, and an enourmous deck and hot tub with views of the snow-covered mountains, it was a pretty good place to be.
And now we’re just one leg away from completing our circuit with Magic, and it’s been an incredibly good run. We’ve also been amazingly lucky with the weather- since we got off the West Coast, we have pretty much had perfectly clear days straight through. With that, I’ll end this novel, and update again when we are back in Nelson. Just five days till we fly home.