21 September 2011

Dunedin to Te Anau - New Zealand Feb 2011

IMG_2122Driving from Dunedin to Te Anau and on the days that followed, I finally understood why people say that the best way to see New Zealand is to do a driving holiday. One JUST doesn’t get bored, not only is it beautiful but the landscape changes continuously. Later in the trip, as we drove from Queenstown to Franz Joseph in a span to 2 hrs we moved from mountainous landscape to a beach to a desert!!!

IMG_2135We enjoyed magnificent coastal scenery on our drive from Dunedin to the Otago peninsula. The breathtaking views and sheer cliff faces over the Pacific Ocean made me recall something I had read, which seemed just so right - The CNN website lists the Otago peninsula as one the 10 best places for a fairytale marriage proposal on Valentine's Day!!!

Brief stopover at the Albatross center, where we managed to see one flying around. But that started Stephen with his ‘Albatross around the neck jokes’! We were not be left behind, where we? So we cracked some of our own about the albatross being the husband!

We were visiting a farm owned by the Reid family on the Otago Peninsula headland. IMG_2128Called Nature Wonders, it is a self funded conservation effort to ensure that the land is preserved for all future generations to enjoy, by protecting the penguins, fur seals and other wildlife. The wildlife are living in natural environments the way nature intended it to be.

A thrilling thrilling cross-country adventure in the ultimate all terrain vehicle, an 8-wheel-drive ARGO followed. Adrenalin rush plus stunning scenery!!!

Our first stop was at the mythical "Maori Footprint" location which offers as they say 720° panoramic views - because you will look around twice!!! But I would multiply that several times over as one just can’t get enough of the view!

IMG_2149Next was a very close encounter with a breeding colony of Fur seals and their pups basking on the rocks and swimming in the pools in front of us. The sea weed in the pools looked more like giant flat noodles or rubber strips! And from there we were taken along a beach-front to an area from where one can look down on to Penguin Beach – no humans allowed here - to view little penguins in their nests and spot the rare and shy yellow eyed penguin on the beach. We managed to see one baby penguin in its nest and 2 penguins – but only using binoculars. No close encounters here!!!

There are many, many sheep in New Zealand – as is often said 40 million sheep population against a 4 million human population, but they always seemed so far away in the fields. It was here that Nalini and I had our only REAL close encounter with a sheep.

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From there began our longish ride to Te Anau, which basically meant lots of new stories from Stephen! There is a famous section of State Highway 1 between the southern towns of Clinton and Gore known as the scenic "Presidential Highway". Though the towns do not get their names from the American President and Vice President, IMG_2456the  Presidential Highway was so called after Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s visit to that area…though Stephen’s nose didn’t grow, not sure if this story is true! As with his other tale of the Richest man in the world who hires planes when he has excess baggage. He never did tell us the name of this fellow though!

In Gore town, went for a small walk and saw this amazing tree…more like several trees combined into one.

Evening we reached Te Anau - a very cute, little town. Our hotel was right by the lake. Stephen advised us to visit an internet browsing center – he said it was unique, but wouldn’t give any further details. Enjoyed a nice evening walk – slightly chilly but very fresh - to the town center, where we found the browsing center but unfortunately it was closed. Peeked in to find that it was just one of those luxurious places – nice, quite spacious yet cozy bays with comfy sofas that one can just sink into and sleep!

An amazing Italian dinner and we were all ready to call it a day!

19 September 2011

Dunedin - New Zealand Feb 2011

I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies I think… but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know.
Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?"
- ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

Our flight from Rotorua to Dunedin had a brief stopover at Christchurch so as the plane neared Christchurch I peered out of the window to try and catch a glimpse of the damage. But couldn’t really see any major damage...probably the route avoided the areas with the damage. But it also got me wondering...is that what our politicians do and see when they go to access the aerial damage when a natural calamity strikes remote areas in our country!

At Dunedin airport we were greeted by our chauffeur and guide, Stephen. The moment I heard him, with his typical Scottish accent, I went nostalgic about my stint in Aberdeen, Scotland - that sure was my favorite assignment!
10 minutes drive from the airport and we were treated with our first glimpses of the beauty of New Zealand that everyone raves about. The shades of greens in the fields, the mountains, the shades of blues of the ocean in contrast with the bright blue sky…colorful picture postcard!!

And we also got our first taste of Stephen’s knowledge as he told us about and pointed out a few of the different varieties of cows found there. This was followed by his incessant chatter and anecdotes which he assured us were the truth and only the truth and we could verify that by checking out if his nose grew like Pinocchio’s. Which we did - everytime he told us some unbelievable tale.

Like the tale about his pa in-law who was a hunter. In one of his expeditions he found bones of a Moa – an extinct New Zealand flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, in a cave. He came home and told his wife but didn’t bother to tell the authorities…for a good 20 years!!! The Cryptozoologists need to thank a nagging wife otherwise these bones may still be lying undiscovered! They are now in the museum where it seems due credit has been given to him. Though I personally feel that Stephen’s ma-in-law should get all the credit!

Soon we reached Larnach Castle. The Scottish lineage was evident. It was so like many of the castles that I have seen in Scotland. On the ground floor we read it’s exciting, scandalous and tragic history – perfect material for a masala bollywood movie, I say! The castle was quite quaint but I would say it’s worth a visit more for its gardens and the view from there.
There are actually nine different gardens, but the differing gardens seamlessly merge from one to another so that we didn’t even realize it then. It was only later as I read up more about the castle that I came to know about the different gardens. Against a magnificent backdrop of the Otago Peninsula, these gardens had just about everything - rockeries, perennial borders, deciduous azalea beds, forests, succulents, flowering plants especially rhododendrons.

I noticed a "Curious Door" in a tree trunk. Took a snap and thought would check out its significance later. After the Mad Hatters tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice discovers a door in a tree. In line with the New Zealand connection the owners thought it would be fun to include the idea of a door in a tree trunk in the garden. The door is actually the original from the Tower and it has tremendous character and really looks the part of the ‘curious door’ of Wonderland".

A drive through the city of Dunedin till Stephen stopped at Baldwin Street, which holds the Guinness Record for being the steepest street in the world. We were to attempt climbing that. I looked up and it seemed impossible with my stamina. With encouragement and weird ideas from each one - better to use the steps on the sides, walk backwards etc – we finally made it to the top.

As we returned to Dunedin Stephen pointed out the city centre with its Octagonal plaza. In the center was a statue of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, with his back to the church in line with him being a disbeliever of the Church. Incidentally Robert Burns turned out to be Stephen’s favorite poet and at one point of our trip he even recited one of his works for us, though I cannot rememeber now which one.

A rainy walk in the city center and eventually we zeroed down to a cosy Indian restaurant for a hot dinner.