"Bream Head - peak 52 knots, average 37 knots," squawked the automated voice on the latest wind reports - not the day to set out for Tonga, 1100 miles north east. Just the day to snuggle up and wait. We've been waiting for the last week for the right weather window. Poco Andante is ready, all bright sparkling, painted from top to bottom and, hopefully, all systems in working order for once - well, apart from the radar and our masthead anchor light. You can't get it all right at once in this business! Christine is ready and keen and I'll be glad just to be on the move again. The long stay in New Zealand has been great and worthwhile but even good things must come to an end. In NZ's case it is the weather - winter is coming - cold, wet, miserable and gloomy all at once!
The summer weather was worth it, though. Our trip around the South Island was glorious, sunshine nearly everyday which was a nice transition having just spent three months in sun-baked Oz. We landed in Christchurch- a typical provincial "south of England" town, complete with gothic architecture, pleasant parks and punting on the river! Our conclusion is that Christchurch would be a very nice place to stay if you would like to retire to NZ.
up our $29 per day hire car here at the start of a simple tour of the
South Island, stopping in cabins and motels at an average of $50 per night
gave us an economic and comfortable way to travel. Driving in NZ is like
a Sunday excursion along winding country roads, little towns and villages
built around farming communities. There is the occasional "city"
(larger town) to provide retail therapy for the needy. The east side of
the South Island is grassy plains full of sheep and cows and the odd vineyard
or arable crop. The dramatic west coast is mostly inaccessible forests,
mountains and fiords battered by incessant storms racing across the Tasman.
Not much history, but what there is gets milked for all it's worth. Down one of these roads we stumbled across a lay-by with a replica of an early aeroplane. The plaque proudly explained that Richard Pearse is locally held to be the first man to achieve powered flight in 1902, some months ahead of the Wright brothers. Pearse's plane was technically far ahead of that of his rivals, but he did not believe his first powered flight was sufficiently controlled or sustained to justify his townsfolk's claim. He managed a rather desperate 100m, followed by an ignominious plunge into bushes!
The flora and fauna in the South Island is also unique and accessible; penguin colonies can be seen from the roadside, seals and sea lions bask on the beaches, unusual birds are commonplace.
So what were the highlights? The remoteness and wildness of the Catlins Coast, with the mix between beach walks and forest walks; the incredible vistas of the lakes around Mount Cook; the treks up to the many glaciers; the high passes and stunning views... Even the tourist trip around Milford Sound was a unique experience. Queenstown the world centre for adrenaline sports was great fun - with my highlight being a white water rafting trip down the Shotover River. Lots of fun! We gave the Bungee jump a miss - the queue was too long! And the tranquil cruise on the lake in a restored twin screw steamer followed by a lovely Valentines Day dinner in the historic village of Arrowtown. The usual South Island tourist route runs East/West across the centre of the island, which leaves the North West corner off the beaten track. This wild region, mainly National Park, is covered in native forest - the sub-tropical climate gives it a mysterious air, with huge trees covered in lichen and bromeliads, and dense undergrowth. Small lakes and clear rivers dotted with limestone caves makes exploration a must. This part of NZ was only opened up less than ten years ago and is an amazing place. From here we headed to the Abel Tasman National Park and Marlborough Sounds. We stayed with Roy and Diane on their yacht in Nelson. They are currently building their "dream home" overlooking the harbour - this lovely setting will do justice to their innovative design. After helping to erect some steel beams we spent a lovely couple of days sailing around the Abel Tasman, before setting off for Queen Charlotte Sound. We had some lovely walks along this Sound, taking water taxis to some remote spot and being picked up a few hours later at another picturesque inlet. This area was Captain Cook's favourite harbour for refitting his vessels - his main base is as he left it 250 years ago!
The short ferry trip from Picton to Wellington took us back to the North Island. We had visited many places here already and ticked of the last few including a drive up the dramatic Mt Egmont volcano. Another stop in Rotorua to marvel at nature's energy was a must - centrally-heated campsites (ie the grass is warm from the thermal activity beneath) and we even prepared our evening meal using geothermal energy - how Green is that?
We then headed back to Auckland keen to start work on Poco Andante in readiness for our next sailing adventure. Fortunately Christine got her old job back in the company she had left 4 months earlier - which left me to do the huge maintenance list on my own! It took us nearly 2 months to get Poco together -you should see the photos of the mess we had to live in!
this waiting has given us time to reflect on all the friends we've made
and good times we've had during the last 12 months:
the two slide shows below - Part 2 covers our trip around New Zealand,
and the other shows images of our life in Auckland.