South Island (November 21, 2001- December 20, 2001)



New Zealand
North Island
South Island
Christmas and New Year's


Day 1) We landed in Christchurch. It was 10 deg C and rainy. Other than the top of Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, that's the coldest its been for us since April!

We had reserved a car at Ace Tourist Rentals. It was a Toyota Corolla - small but with a big trunk. 

We stayed in a very nice 2 bedroom unit at the Avonhead Lodge Motel. This 11 unit motel has spectacular gardens with hundreds (thousands?) of roses. Bev and Warren Jackson took very good care of us by helping us organize the rest of our south island trip. We had heard of this lodge through Sarah's guide leader network. Bev is the National Lones Coordinator for Guides/ Brownies in New Zealand, and also a Pippin (Sparks in Canada) leader.  She arranged for Sarah and the two girls to go to a guide meeting that night a short drive away from the Motel.

Lake Tekapo

Day 2) We drove to Twizel and stayed at the High Country Holiday Lodge. We made a quick stop at Lake Tekapo to look at the Church of the Good Shephard - a tiny stone church surrounded by lupins with an incredible view of an azure blue mountain lake. Quite by chance, there was a wedding which was attended by only three couples. When talking to the Vicar afterwards, it seems that it wasn't as chance an encounter as I thought - couples from all over the world come to this chapel to get married because of its picturesque location.

Day 3) Drove to Queenstown. The Information Centre tried about 7 motels (all full or over our budget) before remembering a new one that had just opened. I think we were the first to stay in our room at the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. It was a  very nice 1 bedroom apartment.

Queenstown is the 'adventure activity' capital of the world. Bungy jumping and jet boating both started here. Every other vehicle on the main street seems to be a bus taking people mountain climbing, hang gliding, paragliding, tandem parachuting, aerobatic flying, jet boating, bungy jumping, river rafting, etc. But all the activities are pricey. A package deal for bungy jumping for Mark and I, jet boating for all of us, and riding the flying fox for the girls would have cost $400  for the four hours it would have taken for all the activities. Whoah!

Queentown luge

Mark and I signed up for "The ledge" bungy jump. This is 400m up high over Queenstown. The actual height of the bungy platform was 47m over rocks. CLICK HERE to see a video of Mark's jump (750kB file . Note - it takes a long time to download and you will need Microsoft Windows Media Player (or other .mpg player) to see it.) After the jump, all of us went on a 'luge' down a small track at the top of the gondola. The handle bars on the luge are high - it makes Chloe and Heather look like they are riding a Harley Davidson. To celebrate our various achievements, we had an 'all you can eat' dinner at Pizza Hut.

Mark is taller

Day 4) Admin in morning. Mark and I tackled the Kawarau Bridge bungy jump in the afternoon. This was the world's first commercial bungy jump, which opened in 1988. It is only 43m high but I think that you actually drop farther than the ledge jump. Watch Mark here (750k file). I think two bungy jumps are enough for me. I've now "been there, done that (twice!) and even got the T-shirt".  We ate supper at the restaurant at the peak of the gondola and while there, the kids went on the luge again.  Mark passed a major milestone that night - in a split decision (Chloe says no), the family judges say he is now taller than Sarah. Perhaps the bungy jumps stretched him?

Day 5) We play mini putt in the morning in Queenstown, and then left for our farmstay in Wendonside after lunch. 

Dale and Lindsey Wright own a 1200 acre sheep and cattle farm. The core of the farm has been in Lindsey's family for 4 generations, and they have expanded it by buying a number of surrounding farms. They currently have about 4000 producing ewes, a handful of rams, a bunch of hoggets (year old ewes grown as 'replacement ewes' for next year),  and about 5000 lambs. We arrived by chance when a neighbouring farm was shearing their sheep, and Dale told us to go watch the shearing team in action. Individual shearers can do about 250 sheep per day and there were 3 working on the flock. The wool comes off in a mat, which is then cleaned up a bit and baled by three helpers. The bales go to auction, and most end up in carpets. 

The big money for the farmers at the moment comes from selling lambs. Lindsey was telling us it is the first good year they have had in years.  New Zealand has done very well at dominating world lamb, wool, and kiwi fruit markets - not bad for a country of under 4 million people.

By the way, if you believe in reincarnation, try not to come back as a male lamb. Or as a lamb of either sex with a  black face. Your days are numbered! 

It was interesting at the farmstay. We arrived as guests and left as friends. At both supper and breakfast it was a quandary - are we paying guests or do we help clean up? The kids had fun and learned lots, but I think we had hoped to be a bit more active. Liability insurance strikes again... we could only watch everyone else busily working.   

Day 6) We had a great breakfast at the farm and drove to Te Anau near Milford Sound. We found a terrific villa at the Edgewater XL Motel right by the lake. It had 2 bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room with extra bed, bathroom, laundry room and sun room. Mark and Chloe fished in a local lake (still no luck though). Sarah and I caught up on the web site and e-mails, while Heather was bored (!).

Milford Sound

Day 7) We went on the Milford Sound cruise but it was very rainy. We could tell it would have been spectacular, but the fjord cliffs disappeared into the low clouds. This area gets from 7 to 9 metres of rain a year, so I guess the weather was not a surprise.  This picture is of Lady Bowen Falls. A cruise earlier in the day saw penguins, but we only saw some NZ fur seals. 

Mark fishes again on our return to Te Anau. He's getting quite desperate now.

Day 8) We left Te Anau and drove to Invercargill. On the way, we stopped at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre to see a Takahe (only 200 of these birds left). We also stopped at the Clifden Suspension bridge. Built in 1899, this 50m bridge spans a river that, according to Mark,  has no fish in it -although he did get a bite. Sarah bought a hand spun, dyed and woven blanket at a woolen shop in Colac Bay. We were given a tour of a small Paua (NZ abalone shell) factory in Riverton where they polish and shape the shells into the jewellery that we have seen in many stores around New Zealand.

In the evening, we went to Splash Palace, a terrific 50 m pool with wave pool and water slide. We spent the night at the Garden Grove Motel in Invercargill.

Day 9) Mark and I golf at Queen's Park in Invercargill. This was a short course by NZ standards: around 6000 metres (6600 yards)! It was very inexpensive for such a nice course. The total cost was about $35Cdn for club rental (the only 2 left handed sets they had), green fees for both of us, 4 balls, and a bag of tees. It was Mark's first time playing with adult size clubs, and I think I am in trouble. On my better drives, I was outdriving him by only about 15 yards.

Sarah and the girls went to the zoo and aviary at Queen's Park. 

That night, we went to see the movie "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone "at the local theatre. It was a very civilized theatre: we were able to buy tickets in advance and actually reserve seats. Harry Potter had only opened the day before in New Zealand. Our review? - we thought it was good, the special effects were excellent, but we all liked the book better. 

We spent the night at the Garden Grove Motel again.

Henry the Tuatera

Looking for penguins

Day 10) We saw Henry the 121 year old Tuatara,  and rest of the excellent museum in Invercargill. We drove to Owaka, stopping first at Curio Bay where we saw the 160 million year old petrified forest at the beach. This is an ancient remnant of Godwanaland, the super continent before continental drift formed the current continents. 

We were very excited to see the rare Yellow Eyed penguins from a Blind at Roaring Bay near Nugget Point. The kids certainly like looking at wildlife - even in this case where we were about 30metres away. 

We stayed at the Catlins Gateway Motel in Owaka - owned and run by Bronwyn and Trevor Hewson. They have three kids - Kylie(12), Aimee(5) and Regan(3).  They have 2 very nice motel units available to rent, and are just finishing off two more.

Day 11) Mark and Chloe went fishing with Trevor and their kids. Mark finally caught a smallish fish - nothing exciting, just the local version of a rock bass or bullhead. Trevor also took us to Surat Bay to see Hooker Sea Lions basking in the sun on the beach. We spent the rest of a lazy day at the motel with the kids from both families playing outside together. Trevor took Mark out to catch a pail full of crayfish in the evening. 

Day 12) We spent the morning cajoling the kids to do homework again. Heather went to Kylie's school in the afternoon - it is Kylie's last week of school before summer holidays, so it was a good time for Heather to visit. In the evening, Bronwyn, Trevor & family invited us to join them for 'tea' (supper) at their local favourite restaurant.

Every motel we've been at so far in New Zealand has been  very good, but Trevor and Bronwyn's hospitality have certainly made the Catlins Gateway exceptional. We were intending to stay one night but ended up staying three.

Day 13) We left Owaka after looking for Mark's jade dragon pendant for an hour or so. He bought it in the market in Beijing. It did not cost much, but he liked it. It has unfortunately come off somewhere in Owaka and we were not able to find it.

We drove to Dunedin and got a room at the Chequers Motel.

Day 14) Rain. We rode on the Taieri Gorge Railway for the day. The rail line was formerly used to transport produce and livestock to market from the interior. Now it is a tourist trip up a very picturesque gorge. Mark was discouraged to learn that the trout die of old age in the river... there is no one there to fish for them. On our return, our little car struggled to make it up Baldwin Street - The Guiness Book of World Records 'steepest street in the world'. There is an amazing 1 metre rise for every 1.266m of run. If it snowed, this would be a black diamond ski run! It was raining, and we actually got stuck part way up. 

Day 15) Overcast and light rain. We went to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on the tip of the Otago peninsula. This is the only mainland viewing spot for nesting Royal Albatrosses, as they normally prefer desolate and barren islands. They build their nests on the grassy slopes with no protection whatsoever, so they are open to any of the many introduced predators here: rats, cats, ferrets, possums, and stoats. Albatrosses look like oversize gulls - wingspans can reach 3m. They spend most of their life flying around the southern oceans. In fact, when the chicks leave the nest on their first flight, the next time they touch land is when they come back to choose a mate in 3 to 6 years. They then return every two years to mate. Awkward on land, albatrosses are excellent gliders and use the small updrafts coming off the wave faces to glide for thousands of kilometres. They need a strong wind in order to take off and land. Unfortunately it was dead calm when we visited, so there was no activity. One parent sat on the next while the other fed offshore - they would not be able to switch until the wind picked up.   

Penguin blinds

Pengiun Place

Penguin Place is a great example of Kiwi 'do it yourself' ingenuity. The farmer of a 500 acre sheep farm had an casual interest in the yellow-eyed penguins that lived where his property backed onto the sea. He built some nesting boxes for them, and then started to re-grow the natural bush vegetation along the beach that had been cut down for the farm. He turned it into a tour in 1986 by digging walking trenches and building hides (blinds) near the nesting boxes. From 8 nesting pairs, he now has over 35 on his property. It is one of the biggest colonies on the South Island. Tours leave every hour, and reservations are required because it is very popular. On our tour, I'm pretty sure I saw the original farmer working the remaining 450 acres of his property. We visited penguin place when the new chicks were about 10 weeks old. They were almost the size of the parents. One parent minds the nest while the other parent goes off to feed. The chicks get regurgitated food from the parent when it returns to the nest near dusk. Unlike the government hide in Roaring Bay, we were very close here - maybe 3 metres.   The penguins carried on oblivious to the 10 or so tourists with cameras watching their every move. 

Day 16) We visited another example of Kiwi 'do it yourself' ingenuity at Larnach Castle. This magnificent castle was built in the late 1800's by politician and banker, William Larnach. Unfortunately in its glory days, the castle was home to much sadness and family difficulties. Larnach committed suicide and a contested will left the castle vacant. In 1967, the leaking relic was bought by the Barker family, who had a dream of restoring it to its former grandeur. They have since opened it up to public tours.  Some of the original pieces are incredible, such as a wooden ceiling that was handcarved by three craftsman over 6 years. 

We had a quick stop at the Otago Museum where Heather and I saw our first Mummy (3500 years old) and an entire whale skeleton. 

All Mark's fishing practice is not going to waste. He's not catching much fish but he's great at retrieving things that he's thrown over the motel fence by mistake (tennis balls, frisbees etc. He can hook them all!).

Day 17) After a short stop at the Otago Museum again, we drove up to Oamuru. En route, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders where some large spherical rocks sit on the beach. Moeraki was more memorable for us because we finally saw some Hector's Dolphins playing in the surf and swimming slowly up and down the beach. These are the smallest and rarest of all dolphins. They only grow to just over 1 metre. We actually had an extended stay at the beach as I forgot to turn the headlights off, and the car wouldn't start. Oops. While I waited for AA (the NZ automobile association), Sarah and the kids put the time to good use by collecting shells to send home to the Brownies. 

In Oamuru, we went to the small Blue Penguin viewing area in the evening. Unlike yellow penguins, these come ashore after dark. It was cold but worth it - particularly after the tour buses carrying most of the other visitors left. 153 Blue Penguins came ashore and "penguin walked" right by us to their nests. On our way back in the car around midnight, we saw another 10 crossing roads and hiding in bushes. Interestingly, these penguins were regarded as pests by locals until conservation and tourism took over - it is now Oamaru's main drawing card for tourist dollars. We stayed overnight at the Top 10 Holiday Park. 

Day 18) The holiday park was filled with kids on BMX bikes - there were races nearby that weekend and families had come from as far away as Christchurch to participate. The kids and I visited the BMX race track while Sarah went to the Sunday market. In the afternoon, we rode on the antique steam train to the ocean and Mark struck out while fishing again. Its not feeling much like Christmas yet! The stores and restaurants are all decorated but it looks so out of place. Overnight at the Oamuru Top 10 holiday Park again.


Day 19) We drove to picturesque Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. We stayed at the Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park. Sarah and I went downtown to do some shopping and organizing - when we came back all the kids were busy playing with new-found friends on the Holiday Park grounds. Mark & Chloe fish successfully from the wharf (herring and small cod). Finally!

Day 20) We took the "Dolphins up close" tour in the afternoon, where we are allowed to swim with Hector dolphins.  Even the kids (in two wet suits each) went into the 15°C water. There were lots of dolphins, but poor visibility and a general reluctance on the part of the dolphins meant that we did not see any while we were swimming. We were all a little disappointed, but the view of the dolphins from the boat was great. Our video is funny - about 5 minutes of all of us saying "where'd it go". It was certainly much easier to see dolphins while not looking through the camera.  

In the evening, Mark broke his fishing rod trying to pull his hook off some seaweed. Arrgh!

Day 21) Since we did not get to swim with dolphins, we were offered a second (replacement) dolphin tour. Unfortunately, this was cancelled (too much wind) so we got a partial refund of our first trip instead. We drove to Christchurch and stayed at the Avonhead Motel again.

NZ Brownies

Day 22) Admin day. The girls go to a Girl Guide 'end of year' party at the beach after dinner with the same troup they had met on our first visit to Christchurch a few weeks ago.

Day 23) Slow day - girls go to NZ Guide shop. We switch cars to something slightly bigger for the remainder of the trip. Ace Tourist Rentals have been terrific. 

Day 24) Mark bought another fishing rod, and we made arrangements to replace the broken rod under warranty so that we could pass it on to Chloe. We rented kayaks and paddled on the Avon as it wound its way through Christchurch. Sarah investigated volunteer opportunities in India by talking to a Guiding leader who had spent some time there. (We think that volunteering may be the best way to see India.)

Day 25) We drove to Kaikoura, and then continued to Seddon where we met Margaret (Wing) Morton. She was our initial Guide contact for New Zealand. It's cherry season and she had a stall by the road. The kids polished off 1kg of cherries, and we were given another for the road before driving on to Picton. We stayed at Picton over night at the Blue Anchor Top 10 Holiday Park.

Day 26) We took the Interislander Ferry to Wellington and stayed overnight in Lower Hutt (a suburb of Wellington) at the Camellia Motel.

Day 27) We spent the morning at Te Papa, NZ's national museum in Wellington. It is a controversial mix of museum, science centre, and video arcade. There was something there for the whole family, and we all enjoyed it. In the afternoon, we had a very pleasant lunch with Brian and Linda Dawkins. They are friends of the McCorquodale's (long time neighbour's of ours at the family cottage). After lunch, we drove to Taihape and stayed at the Safari Motel in the evening.

Day 28) We drove to Rotorua and stayed at the Holden's Bay Top 10 Holiday Park. Sarah shopped (Christmas is coming!), Mark and Chloe fished (no bites), I ferried everyone around to their various chosen activities while Heather read in the back seat.


Day 29) We went to the Agridome near Rotorua and had fun learning about the 19 varieties of sheep in New Zealand. We also saw sheep shearing and sheep dogs in action. Mark and Chloe were chosen from the audience to bottle feed the lambs, but all the kids got to hand feed sheep, cows and deer on the farm tour. 

After the tour, Chloe and Heather went down a hill in a Zorb.  Never heard of a Zorb? It's easiest explained by looking at the picture. The girls climb inside the double ball and the staff adds a few buckets of warm water. The ball rolls down a 200m grassy slope with the girls sliding around inside of it. It must have been fun because they wanted to go again.

If you've been looking at a map, you may have noticed that we are back on the North Island. We've been invited to stay for the holidays with Murray and Rae Jamieson and their family in Tauranga. 

Off to have Christmas in Tauranga.