Six Sightseers on the South Island

Paul and I went to welcome Dan and Julie to New Zealand at the Blenheim airport while Bob and LeeAnn visited the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center. Then all of us set out to visit the coast. We had enough time to swing by Yealands vineyard for a few pictures on our way to Kaikoura to catch the whale watch boat. Shortly, we were on board and moving across calm waters in search of a whale. As predicted, a giant sperm whale surfaced and we all watched in anticipation, alert with camera’s poised to capture that spectacular tail shot. It was breathtaking.

Whale watch Kaikoura (108)The captain then left in pursuit of another whale, but we arrived too late to catch sight of that one. Palpable disappointment rippled through those of us on the boat. Then to our delight, as the boat moved toward a third location for another possible whale sighting, a pod of dusky dolphins came swimming up to join us. For several minutes they surrounded the boat, jumping, playing and frolicking.

Whale watch Kaikoura (96)Upon arriving at the next location, we floated for several minutes before another sperm whale surfaced, the beast floated for several more minutes before presenting his giant tail and slipping out of sight.   The whale watch outing was a success with only one of our party having to make use of the seasick baggies on board. As we came back to shore we made the decision to skip the dolphin encounter trip that we were scheduled for early the following morning because we’d been fortunate enough to see the dolphins during the whale watch tour. Dan and Julie, who’d told us they were up for almost anything definitely stayed true to their word. We spent a few hours back at the hotel so they could wash off two days’ worth of travel and then we enjoyed a seafood feast at the Pier restaurant. It was the perfect meal to celebrate our day on the sea. The next day we had some extra time to sleep, since we’d cancelled the dolphin trip. We indulged in more fresh seafood.

WP_20151213_12_50_02_Pro (2)It doesn’t get more fresh than a seaside place that gets their fish daily from the local fisherman. From there we drove to the end of the peninsula and strolled along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was low tide and there were several fishermen out diving among the rocks and kelp. Lots of seals were sunning themselves too. I found it particularly interesting to observe the foliage, noticing seasonal changes since Paul and I had visited this same walking track in early August.

WP_20151213_14_10_27_ProOnce we returned to the carpark, we wandered about on the rocks marveling at the tide pools and little creatures living there.


Sea anemones we called “sea cherries”

On our way back through town, we took time for a bit of shopping before we grilled venison and beef steaks for dinner at the hotel. We made plans to check out the peninsula at high tide the next morning before driving inland to Lake Tekapo. The path took Paul and I through familiar territory but as we neared Tekapo, we began seeing patches of flowers blooming along the road. I felt the excitement growing inside seeing them because in my research before we even visited New Zealand for the first time I’d seen so many pictures of Lake Tekapo as a brilliant turquoise backdrop for fields of blooming lupine in a multitude of colors. It seemed to be one of the iconic pictures of New Zealand and I’d hoped to have the chance to see it with the flowers in bloom.


Tekapo (33)Sure enough, it was even more spectacular in person. After checking in for our much anticipated helicopter tour that was scheduled for the next day to see the glaciers and Mt. Cook, we went to dinner at Mackenzie’s Grill. We wanted our friends to try the unique “stonegrill” dining where your meat is served raw on a hot stone and you can cook it to your liking all while enjoying a majestic view of the lake. As we meandered down the one main street of Tekapo after dinner, we found ourselves inquiring at another tour company about a visit to the Mt John observatory. With two people in our group fascinated with stargazing, we all agreed it would be an awesome opportunity to have the chance to check out the stars at a world renown observatory and research center. The quandary was what time to do the tour. Since dusk wasn’t until about 9:30, that was the earliest tour, and Paul was still working half days while playing tour guide. So it would mean an extremely short night for him. We booked the tour and then spent the next couple hours enjoying each other’s company. As the sun settled closer to the horizon, the cloud cover threatened to keep the stars hidden and when we checked in for the tour, most of the optimism for live star gazing was gone. The tour would still take place and we’d get to see the telescope and learn about operations. Each of us were issued a large “Antarctic” coat before boarding the bus for the short ride up the mountain.   The community takes stargazing very seriously. There is no public access to the observatory when it is dark, and those vehicles with permission drive the road with only parking lights on to reduce the interference of light at the observatory. Not only that, but the street lights in town have special low emission bulbs and residents are asked to keep blinds closed at night if they have lights on in their homes. These efforts have made Tekapo recognized as one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Unfortunately, as we approached the observatory, all we could see was clouds. As we stepped off the bus, it became readily apparent that the coats we’d been loaned, though bulky, were essential for tolerating the unobstructed bitterly cold wind. Our tour group moved from the telescope, through the research center to another building where we watched a short film then to another building to see another slide show demonstration. It was here, our guide was interrupted by one of the astronomers alerting us that there was a break in the clouds and we had the opportunity to actually see some constellations and galaxies. The most remarkable sight was walking out to see the Southern Cross constellation situated perfectly in the center of a small clearing in the clouds. The scientist lined up the telescope and we all got to take a look at the “jewel box” which was just as beautiful as the name implies. It was a magical end to a one of a kind experience.

The next morning we approached the office at the helicopter tour company and were met with the news that weather would keep pilots grounded so we would not be sightseeing from the air. So we went for a drive to take in the scenery. Along the way we found an entire field just covered in blooming lupine. It was an irresistible sight and we spent a lengthy portion of time wandering through the flowers, taking pictures of them from every angle imaginable.

WP_20151214_17_30_55_ProTekapo (65)That night is was lovely to enjoy another “home cooked” meal. The weather prohibited a helicopter flight the next day as well, so we bid farewell to Tekapo watching the lupine flowers like tiny hands waving goodbye as we drove away. Mount Cook remained hidden behind a veil of clouds so we all had to simply imagine its beauty. The six of us carried on, moving back toward the East coast. It looked as if we’d be able to stop by the elephant rocks and still arrive at the Moeraki boulders right about low tide, the best time to see them.

ELephant rocks (7)We made a short stop at the elephant rocks and got back on the road. The skies were threatening rain when we rolled into the café at the Moeraki boulders and as we walked inside the drops began to fall. It was unanimous that this was the perfect opportunity to have lunch looking at the sea from inside.   The rain subsided, and we made our way down onto the beach to discover a ferocious wind. The boulders were just as spectacular in the cold wind as the previous time Paul and I visited. There were noticeably more boulders exposed this time though, seeing the beach at low tide.

WP_20151216_14_22_22_ProHow awesome for us to be able to visit the beach again and this time to share the experience with friends. Our final destination for the day was Dunedin. We wanted to show our friends Tunnel beach in St.Clair, a suburb of Dunedin before driving out on to the peninsula where we were staying. So, to round out this fun filled day, we meandered our way through St. Clair and parked on the hill above Tunnel beach. We warned our friends of the challenging track to the beach and back and all six of us took on the challenge. We made our way down, down, down to the tunnel and on to the beach, snapped photos and after when we climbed back up the tunnel turned to see the sea washing in over the beach where we’d just been.

Tunnel beach (34)From here we made our way slowly back up, up, up to the cars and by then we were all ready for dinner. That evening we tried an Indian restaurant and it was amazing. There was one more adventure left before bed. We were going to see the blue penguins. We dropped our bags off at the hotel, changed clothes and added layers because the forecast was looking to be cold and wet for the evening. The forecast held true, so we added rain gear over the warm layers, but the rain did not dampen the cuteness of those little guys though. We were treated to watching over 100 of them floating up to the beach and wiggle-waddling their way into their burrows. Wow, what a difference from what Paul and I had seen in July. After an hour or so of standing in the rain and wind watching the little guys, all of us were thoroughly chilled and soaked even with raincoats on. We’d anticipated a short night but we got the added challenge of trying to get all of our stuff dry during the few hours before we had to pack it up again. We were scheduled to tour the Cadbury chocolate the next morning before driving across the South Island to TeAnau. Everyone’s clothes dried for the most part and we drove into downtown Dunedin welcomed by sunshine the next day. I don’t know if chocolate for breakfast was a new experience for anyone else, it certainly wasn’t for me. The smell of sugar hung heavy in the air and smacked us straight in the face as soon as we opened the door into Cadbury Cadbury tour (20)world.

Before we started the tour, we each got a little bag and as promised, by the time the tour ended it was filled with delightful samples. We made note of the time and decided we’d have a little time to do a short walking tour around the “octagon” in Dunedin’s city center. Paul and I stepped up into the tour guide role and mapped out a loop so we could see the historic train station and two magnificent churches.

WP_20151217_11_20_39_ProThe weather was so much more pleasant than we’d experienced in July, and the sun was shining. We’d heard that doesn’t happen a lot in Dunedin. Then we were back on the road again, headed west to the gateway to Fiordland National Park, where Paul and I first fell in love with New Zealand and it’s beauty. Along the way we enjoyed a lovely stop in Geraldine to stretch our legs and a few of us managed to do a little shopping while we were there. The next pit stop was in Gore where we had another walk around before loading up for the last leg of the journey to TeAnau. Skies were clear as we arrived so we took our friends to one of our favorite lookout spots.

WP_20151217_16_25_36_ProIt was a gorgeous day for looking out over the valley, the town and lake TeAnau. By the time we pulled in to Blue Thistle cottages there was just enough time to unpack and grab some pizza at Toni’s pizza in town before checking in for the tour of the glow worm caves. The tour was full but it didn’t seem too crowded because they limit the size of the groups that they actually take into the cave, and being willing to sit outside on the boat ride meant the boat wasn’t crowded either, just cold and windy, but we had the best view of the lovely scenery.

WP_20151218_12_39_32_ProThe glow worm cave was fascinating, it is surreal to be so far underground yet looking up into what resembles a night sky with stars.

The next day we were booked on an all day cruise on Doubtful Sound.

WP_20151218_11_02_20_ProThe cloud blanket settled just out of reach of the mountain peaks, so we had a gray backdrop for pictures. Our cruise included a tour guide with such a sunny disposition, we hardly noticed the clouds.

At the close of the day, we had one more stop to make. Dinner at the Olive Tree, one of our favorite TeAnau restaurants. That evening drew to a close in dramatic fashion and a few of us were up to enjoy a breathtaking sunset. We bid farewell to Bob and LeeAnn the next morning after one more selfie.



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