My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “May, 2019”

Queen Charlotte Sound

As much as I love being in the mountains, I love being by the sea, and as much as I love travelling, I love cetaceans and spotting them in the wild. Not only have I been fortunate enough to travel in 6 continents, but I’ve also had the privilege of spotting wild dolphins and whales in 5 of them. Last August, I took the opportunity to make the most of an off-season deal on a whale watching trip in my home country of New Zealand, and so, despite an unsavoury looking weather forecast, I headed up north from Christchurch to Picton, the gateway to the Queen Charlotte Sound.

I had things to do at home and as the weather wasn’t looking that flash, I didn’t set off till late.  Following the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016, State Highway 1 (SH1) has changed quite a bit where it reaches the coastline south of Kaikoura. The roadworks meant the drive north was longer than it used to be, but it was fascinating to see the extent of the repairs that had taken place, and I found myself driving over brand new land that had been reclaimed from the sea. I arrived in Picton in the darkness, checked into my motel and set off in search of dinner. There’s not a lot of exciting choice for eating out in Picton but I found somewhere with space and ordered a Caiparinha, a drink that conjoured up a lot of memories about my time in the Galapagos Islands.


It was dry but overcast the next morning, and I had to be down at the pier early for the E-Ko Tour which would take me out through the sounds in search of humpback whales. I’ve been lucky enough to spot my favourite species of whale off the coast of 5 different countries, and I’ve also never been on a whale-watching trip and failed to spot one, so I was excited to add country number 6 but nervous that this could be the first failed spot. None-the-less, the steel sky and low clouds actually created a hauntingly beautiful scene, and in the end I was happy enough to just get out on the water.


We didn’t have to travel far to find some activity. Some Australasian gannets, one of my favourite sea bird species were bobbing on the surface and a little further ahead some more were diving into the water and in between, the arched backs of dusky dolphins broke the still water’s surface. The dolphins came right up to and under the boat, popping up all around us as they rounded up the fish below the surface. There was plenty to see no matter where you stood on the boat, and we bobbed around for a while until the dolphins and birds began to dissipate. We cruised slowly around the vicinity watching the stragglers as they left, eventually being passed by the Interislander ferry as it headed into port.


As part of the tour we headed towards the mouth of the sound, stopping at the remains of the Perano whaling station, an eerie remnant to the days when the whale watching nation was a whale hunting nation. In fact, the hunting of the migrating humpback whales in the Cook Strait, like so many places around the World, led to their near local extinction. Now though, in an ironic twist, some of the ex-whalers became whale spotters, trading their harpoons for log books, their skills making them useful for scientific studies into the species’ return to the local waters. The whaling station was a conglomerate of rusting metal: large vats where blubber and oil were heated, rendered or stored. The smell in its day must have been foul. Even with the photographs on the wall of the hut and the video that we watched, it was hard to imagine what this place was like in full swing, and as a cetacean lover, it is hard to fathom how the days of whale hunting are not that far behind us. This particular whaling station closed only 54 years ago.


A light drizzle began to fall as we waited to board our boat again. The Bluebridge ferry, the other inter-island ferry, turned into the channel south of Arapawa Island, and before long we were out on the water again, heading for the Cook Strait. The rain thankfully never got heavier than a drizzle, but alas despite zooming up the South Island’s Cook Strait coast as far as Glasgow Bay, we saw no whales and for the first time ever, I failed to get a whale sighting on a whale watching trip. I was rather disheartened when we eventually returned to the channel after a long time bobbing on the Strait’s waters.


As we headed back to Picton though, we happened upon some dusky dolphins again and this was enough to cheer me up. Dusky’s are social and playful and were happy to show off around the boat. I would have happily bobbed around out there for hours if they were prepared to hang around with us. Eventually though we had to head back to Picton. It remained grey overhead, but that didn’t stop me stretching my legs along the waterfront at Picton, looking out at the view with the ferries in the port.


After lunch in a local cafe, it was time to head home to Christchurch. Reaching Kaikoura, I was tired, so drove out to the Peninsula to take a break. Hauled out on the boardwalk near the car park was a large New Zealand fur seal, snoozing away, mostly oblivious to the numerous people posing near it to take photographs. Despite the sign though, a few times people insisted on getting too close, jumping in fright when the seal barked in their direction. I had been watching it from the seat of my car, but I decided to head down onto the rocks on the seaward side of the peninsula to stretch my legs a little. It was also overcast here too, and a little cold, but I took some time to watch another fur seal that was sitting up on some rocks across a channel from me. I’m a major wildlife enthusiast, and am always excited to see these marine mammals no matter how many times I spot them. After I’d got my fill as the light was lowering, it was time to head back on the road and travel south, negotiating the roadworks and joining the crowds on their return to the city ahead of a new week of work.


Taylors Mistake to Godley Head

Being able to look out over the sea and hear the sounds of the ocean makes me happy, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favourite local walks to do is a coastal gem. Heading east from Christchurch’s city centre, the road soon joins the coast of Pegasus Bay and follows the coastline to Sumner, a popular outer suburb. Cutting through to the far side, the road cuts steeply and hairpins its way up and over the headland to reach the end of the road at Taylors Mistake, a beach nestled deep within a bay. There is little here aside from the beach itself and an amenities block, but with a walking trail, mountain bike tracks and surf breaks, people are drawn here in droves and the car park can often be overflowing.

The coastal walk to Godley Head takes about 3hrs return to follow the same track in both directions. It can be made shorter by taking a short-cut back across the shared-use bike tracks but I always like to maintain that closeness to the sea. The start of the track can either be reached by cutting across the large green field and behind the row of beach shacks, or by going down to the beach and walking to the far end where a set of stairs cut into the hill lead you up to the same place. Once on the track, it quickly leads away from the beach, providing a multitude of views back over the beach itself.


The headland varies from green to brown depending on how dry the season has been, and it is regularly cut into by the sea creating a weaving track as it hugs the coastline above the dazzling blue water. There have been a few upgrades since I moved to Christchurch in 2012 and as it is so popular, it is a very well maintained track and usually busy with people, especially on sunny weekend days. Eventually it passes a cut-down to a bach that is down the hillside and nestled among the trees, and beyond this side-trail, the main track starts to zig-zag up the hillside to reach the eastern end of the Port Hills. Suddenly, the entire Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you and the track begins to cut south.


With the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your left, the mouth of Lyttelton harbour becomes increasingly visible and beyond that, the disappearing coastline of Banks Peninsula. Again the track ziz-zags up the hillside where it reaches the remains of a World War II gunnery. The port within the harbour was protected by this coastal armament in case of attack from the ocean or the air. More often than not the main part of the World War II remains is locked up behind a chained gate, but sometimes it is open to the public. The last time I walked the track, it was closed for an undefined period for the purposes of preservation.


Once past that, the track cuts briefly inland past some buildings and through a small copse of trees before snaking its way towards the mouth of Lyttelton harbour, and from here, it passes yet more World War II remnants as it hugs the harbour coastline towards the car park at Godley Head. Godley Head marks the end of Summit Road, the road that traverses the summit of the Port Hills, and as such, this track can be approached from either direction. Near the Godley Head car park, a small bench provides a glorious view, and if you time it right, there may be some ships going in or out of the harbour to offer an added bit of interest. Then, it is simply a matter of either reversing the route back round the coast, or crossing the road from the car park to join one of the shared-use mountain bike tracks to take the short-cut back.

Winter in Tekapo

Last year, my partner and I only had two coinciding full weekends off the whole year, one in June and one in December. I don’t know whether a week day 9-5 job is still classed as the norm, but neither me nor my partner know that life and as such, scheduling weekends away far ahead of time is just how it rolls with us. So I had found us a nice place to stay on the shore of Lake Tekapo for a summer weekend break in December, but a change of plans meant rescheduling it for the June weekend instead and when that weekend rolled around, we duly headed off across the mountain passes to get there. As it turned out though, the weekend didn’t quite work out the way I had wanted it to.

Being in the middle of winter, there was enough snow on the surrounding mountains to paint a pretty picture. We arrived early enough to have several hours of daylight ahead of us and it was gloriously sunny, although cold. We couldn’t check in to our accommodation yet so we parked up in the main car park and wandered along the lake shore. I had been here 7 months prior on a road trip with my brother who was over visiting from Scotland, but my partner hadn’t been in quite some time and the village has undergone a bit of change since he’d last been. Yet more development was in the process even as we visited. It is one of so many changes occurring around New Zealand in response to massively increasing tourist numbers. I was beginning to feel a little under the weather that day, but not enough to stop me from enjoying a nice cocktail at the pub before we headed to check in to our place for the next couple of nights.


I’d been excited by the lakefront location of our cottage until as we headed up the driveway we discovered that not only was lakeside a bit farfetched, but our ‘cottage’ was in fact a converted garage, hidden behind another building. It was also exceedingly dated inside, and more importantly for the time of year, not very warm at all. My partner and I just looked at each other silently as we walked around rather disappointed. It had not been a cheap booking either, and my partner thought it was hysterical to bring it up for some time to come. Nonetheless, we made a point of getting straight back out again and wandering around another section of the lake before the short winter afternoon came to a close. I stayed by the lake to watch the changing colours of the sunset for as long as I could tolerate the coldness, before heading inside.


In the darkness, we headed to the far end of the village to the Tekapo Springs where 3 pools, shaped to coincide with the nearest lakes, offered a thermal experience. It was cold to nip between the pools but in the water itself it was divine. It’s no Hanmer Springs, but with the steam rising into the darkness, it was nice enough. Back at our cottage though it was freezing and the heating failed to make much headway in the large open plan living space. Thankfully the bedroom was much more compact so we were able to stay warm in the bed and get a reasonable sleep.

The next morning was another beautiful day. I still wasn’t feeling completely right but after breakfast we took a drive up to the Mount John observatory that overlooks the lake. One of these days, I’ll do the walk up, but circumstances have always led to me driving up. From the car park and the observatory itself, the views over snow capped mountains and the glistening blue lakes is divine. There is a cafe here which is always busy, and now there is a fee to drive up when it used to be free, but whether you walk up or drive up, it is a definite must-do viewing spot in the area. From here we took a drive along the road that heads up between Lakes Tekapo and Alexandrina, turning round at Lake McGregor.


We had reservations for an early dinner at one of the eateries in town which was delicious. But unfortunately, back at the cottage, we struggled to get the place warmed up and to top it off, the anxiety which I had been living with for a couple of years by that point, hit me with a vengeance as I fretted over something outwith my control and started to have a panic attack. Sadly, this is not the first time that my mental health issues has tainted a trip away. It is an affliction with no logic, hitting me out of the blue at times, and often interfering with my down time. I have wasted many days off over the past couple of years, wallowing in my angst and feeling ill. So it was no great surprise that I felt rundown and pretty blah the next day, and I didn’t feel like doing anything. In fact I felt feverish and ended up just sleeping through portions of the drive home. Tekapo had been as beautiful as ever, but it hadn’t quite been the weekend away that I’d hoped for.

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