November Rain: Nelson to Christchurch

Sunday 24th November
The approach to the South Island through the Marlborough Sounds was truly beautiful and so I made my way to the top deck. It looked calm from the comfort of our private lounge but I was nearly knocked off my feet by the wind. Once mother nature realised I was to heavy she attempted to take my bag off my shoulder and very nearly succeeded before giving up entirety. The scene then became rather peaceful before the ship turned and the wind started up again causing me to seek shelter below.

Once we were back on the bus we travelled through some lovely scenery before we stopped at the Forest Winery where we were given a brief history and introduction. Whilst I am not really in to my wines I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the ones I opted to try but at over $28 NZ dollars per bottle I opted against buying anything.

After this we had a football match Australia and New Zealand (Alex, Hayden, Jacob, Mitch and Mike) vs the Rest of the World (Timo of the Netherlands, Greg of the USA, Shane of the Republic of Ireland, Liz of Columbia and of course myself). I have no idea who won but being from the Netherlands Timo “Jordi Cruyff” had all the skills and if we lost it was an injustice.

After leaving the winery we eventually arrived in Nelson. Two groups went sky diving but because my acrobatic flight had been cancelled I had a free afternoon where I tried to sort a few internet chores as we finally had free WiFi. I’d also realised my hair cut had caused me to burn quite badly – even though I’d put suncream on my face I’d clearly missed an area my hair once protected so I went in search of after sun cream containing aloe vera.

That evening we had a couple of beers at the hotel and a BBQ feast put together by our tour guide Craig and watched the DVDs of those that had sky dived. I have to admit I got quite envious watching them but I’ve been twice and the first time is still my most memorable because of the nervous anticipation which sadly can never really be re-created.

Monday 25th November
There was a now distant time when late starts and afternoon naps were a running theme in my walkabout journey but sadly for my eyes this hasn’t been the case in NZ. It was another early start today as we had to get a mini bus then a boat taxi to Torrent Bay. Here we would do another long day walk before being picked up at Onetahuti.

Boarding the boat we were towed by tractor to the sea. First we were taken to split apple rock – a large granite rock that had split in two. The boat had to stop a few feet from the beach so we had to get wet by walking through the sea which wasn’t the ‘positively barmy 28 degrees celsius’ on this occasion and felt rather cold.

As we were only a small group of 6 we decided to stick together knowing we all had to be in Onetahuti by 3.30pm and started walking at 10.10am knowing the guides had advised about 2 hours 30 for the first half.

It wasn’t like a British Coastal walk where you are on the edge of a cliff, open to the elements and battered by what ever elements the sky can think of. This was a lovely secluded bush forest (but without poisonous snakes, spiders and ants) which rolled down to meet the beach below.

We crossed over a swing bridge over the falls river which gave some good views and there was the occasional break in the trees giving us fine views of the turquoise water below.

We had a good pace going without anyone including me looking like they were about to collapse and after an hour and a half as we approached a sign realised we were well ahead of time. I therefore suggested taking a detour down to Sandfly Bay below and the others agreed that we might as well as the sign only said 5 minutes.

It was a lot steeper than we expected and a lot of clambering over rocks was required and I did start to doubt if it was worth the energy as we’d have to clamber back up eventually. We made it down and opted to have an early 30 minute lunch to give us energy to get back up. The bay had a number of big boulders that we were able to sit on and was it pleasant enough without being truly spectacular.

We carried on the walk and reached Bark Bay (the start of the Tonga Island Marine reserve) at about 12.30 so we’d walked further and had a big break in less time than estimated. The beach was a bit busier as it seemed to be the start for the kayaks but we’d already decided we’d only go in the sea at the end so after a brief stop carried on walking.

We got to a crossroads which showed Onetahuti in both directions but as one path was slightly back where we’d come we chose the other even if the sign did suggest it was an extra 0.5km.

The section after Bark Bay was shorter but much steeper. After a discussion about walking technique I tried pushing up from the glutes and this worked a set up muscles that were unprepared and soon we were all in need of a bit of Rocky.

After about 20 minutes a couple passed us and told us it was only 5 more minutes which gave us added motivation. We passed a short lived granite quarry and from that point it was mostly flat and downhill to Onetahuti and we arrived about an hour earlier.

It was pleasant to sit on the beach but the clouds were coming over and whilst it didn’t rain it was cold though I still braved a paddle in the sea. I think we were all slightly relieved when the boat to pick us up finally arrived. As I started to board a wave caught the boat and whilst it was all slow motion I couldn’t step up on to the lowered platform in time so ended up collapsing on to it as the boat knocked my legs from under me. It must have looked hilarious and I felt rather stupid but at least i hadn’t rolled back in to the sea. The life jacket provided some warmth and soon we were speeding off to find the seals.

The tide was high so we were told we’d have more chance of spotting them as they’d have less places to hide. It wasn’t long before we saw one on a rock and then another clambering out of the sea. They weren’t in a playful mood though so a decision was made to head for home.

That evening I was feeling hungry but when the meal arrived it was one of those appearance over quantity meals. I’m sure someone had spent a few minutes ensuring it was all presented nicely but I couldn’t have cared less and longed for the portion sizes of Mongolia.

Tuesday 26th November
It was raining when we started yet another early start and I decided not to get off the coach at our first break in Blenheim because there was nothing I could think of doing that could justify me getting drenched.

Just outside Kaikoura we saw the Point Kean Seal Colony and these were more active than the couple I’d seen the day before. Whilst it was lovely to see the New Zealand fur seals the rain meant the whole scene looked very gloomy and the small town of Kaikoura had a depressing look about it when we arrived.

Craig remained optimistic the dolphin swim would go ahead and I hoped my bad track record with dolphin encounters would end. In my whole time at Aberystwyth I failed to see even a dolphin despite there being a pod of over 100 in the area. I even twice got the special marine research boat from New Quay however my only wild life experience was a sea gull using me as a public toilet on one of the trips. South Africa yielded nothing of dolphins though I did see a Great White Shark leap out of the water to eat a bird. Australia provided nothing but a splash I missed and Iceland was at least able to provide a harbour porpoise.

I went to get some food from a cafe and put my swimming trunks under my jeans and made my way to the coach. The tour was cancelled which looking at the rough sea didn’t seem a huge surprise. The seal swimming and whale watching tours hadn’t been cancelled so having a choice I went for the seal swimming. I waited in the shop and eventually the organisers appeared. Cancelled. I felt a bit sorry for Craig at this point. As the trip organiser it must have been frustrating that the companies were leaving the decision to cancel until the time of departure and not making any effort to contact him.

I understood the reasons, it probably wouldn’t have been a great idea to swim with wild animals in bad conditions and although that was really my main reason for visiting New Zealand I’ll just have to find somewhere else. The whale watching tour was going ahead so I joined that. At least I thought i might finally see a dolphin.

We boarded the boat and we stormed out in to the ocean. The guide told us the region was popular with whales because there was a deep under water valley not far from the coast (or something like that – the constant rocking made it hard to concentrate). I was fairly near the front and the boat rocked from side to side and it was near impossible to see the horizon because of the waves that crashed over the bow. I haven’t suffered sea sickness since I was young and visited an Island called Lundy though my Whitsunday experience had almost put me off boats for life. That experience was certainly being relived though at least I knew this would last minutes not days.

We finally stopped and were allowed on deck as we had got to the area where the sperm whale had last been sighted. I grabbed my camera and waited for the David Attenborough moment. I had brought a new lens especially for taking pictures of animals from a distance and whilst I was getting a thorough soaking I didn’t care as my excitement rose. I was standing at the front of the boat with a view of the left and right side. I sensed my curse was about to be broken and felt a little less disappointed about the cancelled swim.

I took a picture of a seagull and checked the settings where ready. An announcement was made that the whale was about to surface due to the sounds it was making and i waited with anticipation. All of a sudden there was spray on the starboard side and there it was a huge Sperm Whale. I took a picture, saw it was a bit dark and changed the settings slightly then the whale lifted Its tail and splashed it in the water. Snap snap snap. Viewing them all back they were all dark. Then I noticed to my horror the error message “lens not attached”. The lens was quite clearly attached but my attempts to keep the camera and lens dry had failed. The camera or lens was dead.

I went inside to try and revive it, cradling it like a sick baby. The whale stayed up for about 15 minutes and I bitterly realised that in hindsight I could have stayed in the dry until it had been sighted. There had been no need to worry it would be a blink and you miss it moment. I suppose I should have at least taken a picture on my camera but I wasn’t in the mood.

Next they said there were some dolphins and I have to admit that some excitement rose when I saw them playing at the front of the boat and finally seeing them totally lived up to my expectations but I was gutted that I couldn’t get a picture. We also went past a seal colony, as many as we’d seen earlier in the day but far closer. Again more bitterness that I couldn’t take a picture.

The guy next to me started being sick and I looked out of the window and focussed on not being sick myself. I can’t lie it was a pretty miserable boat ride and likely to be more costly than the fee I’d paid. Getting on land it felt like I was still at sea. I spent the next couple of hours hoping the camera had miraculously healed itself each time without any joy.

I remained fairly philosophical about what had happened. It can probably be fixed and at least it wasn’t lost and the memory card was OK. I also discovered later on that I had packed my spare compact camera which I thought I’d left in Auckland. I became even more aware of the bigger picture in life when we got to our next destination – Christchurch.

I remember the day of the Earthquake on 22nd February 2011. Not only was I living with someone from New Zealand at the time but I had a number of friends that were from or visiting the country. I don’t remember if it was pre planned but that evening we went to Hell’s Pizza (see previous blog) for the all you could eat and they had a collection for the victims.

We were staying outside of the main city but just being in the area was a sobering experience, knowing many of those who served us had probably been there and been affected in some way. Mitch Greg and I had reunited our wolf pack and went in search for the Hell’s Pizza before deciding on KFC. It seemed there were no plans to go out and so our room became the hang out room but everyone had an early night as yes yet again it was another early start.

Wednesday 27th November
I hadn’t rushed to breakfast because despite them being our only included meal they had been very underwhelming. Arriving at breakfast I could see beans, bacon, sausages and egg. My excitement rose. A cooked breakfast. Woohoo. “Are you with Topdeck?”…”uuum yes” I replied – I guess the giveaway was the cookie monster t shirt which meant I looked like someone on a 20 to 30something coach tour rather than on some upmarket business trip. “Sorry you’re only allowed the continental breakfast and toast”. The toaster wasn’t even working.

I’ll make sure the next blog has a happier theme after all It’s better to dance in the rain than to wait for the storm to pass.


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