Saturday, September 24, 2005

Spring Snow

Little update in between the holiday report...Despite the lack of winter, we still managed to get a snow surprise this week. (A quick stat from Neil: there has only been snowfalls, to this near sea level, this late in the year 4 times in the last century!) The reaction was pretty much the same as in England, people didn't go to work, schools were shut, shopping malls closed and supermarkets were manic as people prepared to be snowed in for weeks!!!! However, by 3pm the snow had ceased, was melting rapidly and was gone by tea-time - what was all the fuss about?! We did find out that in 1992, the last major snowfall in this area, the snow was waist deep and people were snowed in for weeks.
Oh, and we've had an election but a week later we're still none the wiser as to what the government will look like for the next three years. The system works on MMP and this year, out of 121 seats, Labour have 50 and the National party have 49. There are still 200,000 specials votes to count & that won't be completed until next weekend, at which point the party first past the post has a crack at forming a coalition. At this rate any coalition will be made up of at least 4 parties which seems a bit of a mish-mash to us. In the mean time politicians are being very polite to each other in case they need one another in the weeks to come!

Ducks and planes

After staying in Oamaru for the night, we travelled south to Dunedin - the Scottish centre of NZ! On the way, we stopped to view the Moeraki Boulders. These are almost perfectly spherical boulders scattered along the beach - some of them are upto four metres round (circumference for the mathematicians!) The looked amazing and it was fascinating to see those boulders emerging from the cliff face and yet to be totally exposed. Plenty of opportunity for arty photos!

We only spent the afternoon in Dunedin, once you have been to one town they all can begin to look the same (Neil's opinion not Natalie's). The delights here were the older buildings, particularly the railway station which although only 100 years old did look pretty impressive. Goldrushes in NZ brought money to Dunedin, this resulted in the grander buildings. We visited The Early Settlers Museum, which gave us a thorough insight into the early life of Dunedin and the surrounding area. A mooch through the town centre to the Cathedral (where the guide's family had come from Hartlepool, much to my parents amusement) concluded our visit here - we know there is more to see in and around the city but it will have to wait for another time.

The plan was to travel to Queenstown by the evening, but the sun had set by the time we reached Alexandra, so we spent the night there. Not much to say, other than a floating clock in the night sky - during the day the mountains around the town reappear and the clock is attached to one of the cliff faces.

The next morning was a quick dash to Queenstown, we were racing to beat the southerly weather front that was moving up the country. We headed straight for the Gondola, to catch the awesome views and this time couldn't resist the luge. The most hilarious part was Natalie and Sylvia racing around the course to get photos of the father and son contest - the son won obviously!!! At the bottom of the Gondola, we visited the Kiwi and Birdlife Park - our first sighting of the famous native bird. They are nocturnal, so quite difficult to see but at least we can now tick that box! In the afternoon, we had a ride on 'The Duck'. This is an amphibious vehicle (travels on water and land) that moves at about 2 mph. The driver was very entertaining and knew lots of useless info but did risk handing the wheel over to Neil for a spell on the water.
The highlight of Sylvia and Natalie's stay in Queenstown was the bath in the motel - we are easy to please! The southerly arrived during the night, bringing a sprinkling of snow, but not the dramatic ' dump' that was forecast. People up early for the morning photos of lake and mountains and then off to Arrowtown.

It has to be said, Arrowtown loses much of its appeal in the winter without the glorious autumn colours thought this time we went in the 'Remarkable Sweet Shop' which sold a plethera of English goodies (including Penguin biscuits) as well as German Haribo - Natalie's favourite! (still not quite the same as from Germany itself but hey, it's such a hard life!). We then drove the same route back as we had taken in April, the weather was just as glorious and the day was perfected by an absolutely awesome scenic flight over Mount Cook and the surrounding ranges. Ken & Sylvia had missed out on the flight over the glacier when they visited the West Coast due to the excessive, but not abnormal, amount of driving rain. What was fun about their stay (though out of my comfort zone on occasion!) was the spontaneity of so much of the stuff we did; Ken spotted the flight company as we were driving down the road, we turned round and in half an hour we were up in the air! Birthday & Christmas presents all rolled into one for a number of years! It's absolutely impossible to describe it but I think it's more clearly etched in our memories than the heli-hike because the flight is longer and everything seems to gently glide past so we had time to take it all in.
That's about all that was new for our south island tour, next installment the unchartered territory of the north island...