Lake Tekapo - Kaikoura - Kaiteriteri - Abel Tasman - Picton
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We drive to the North and pass Mountain Cook, the highest mountain of New Zealand. A bit further on we camp next to Lake Tekapo. We lay on the grass and enjoy the sun. A smart sparrow is eating dead insects directly out of the still warm radiator of our car. The lake is famous for its aquamarine tint and doesn’t disappoint us, the color peeping through the dark green trees is incredible clear. This tint is told to be the result of light reflected by tiny particles held in suspension in the ice water. In the evening, when the sun drops, the lake still stands out while the tops of the surrounding mountains disappear in the clouds and the country around pales in the dark.
The next morning we climb Mount John, from where we have a nice view over lake Tekapo on one side. On the other side we look out over a brown dead valley, ended by snow topped mountains. Jac doesn’t appreciate the walk, he complains about ‘having to carry on like a mule’ (although the climb is not steep at al and covers less than 45 minutes) and is disappointed by the view, which is nice but not so extremely breathtaking as we are used to by now! A walk needs to offer interesting, changing views without demanding strenuous climbs, Jac explains to me. A very challenging statement I have to say. In Holland I know lots of walks which don’t demand strenuous climbs, even in Jacs’ opinion, but what about the interesting, changing views?? In New Zealand there are lots of walks which offer interesting views but… I spend some time explaining this to Jac until we are back again at the lake. The lake looks extremely tempting to our hot bodies. The temperature of the air is not high, about 19 degrees Celsius, but the sun is very hot. I want to swim but Jac won’t join me, he lays down next to the lake and says he already did the walk and that is certainly enough for today. He ensures me the water is much to cold to swim in.
I bravely run into the lake, which is colder than any water I have swum in till now. Unbelievable. But I won’t give Jacques the pleasure of seeing me return so soon. So I swim until I’m afraid the muscles in my legs will cramp. When I’m swimming back I suddenly see a pale pink enormous fish jump partly out of the water. I really don’t like big fish so I swim a world record back to the beach. ‘Very nice water!’ I explain to a sizzling Jac, ‘Why don’t you try it?’.
We drive to Kaikoura in the North East of the South Island. We see hills covered with white blankets of clouds, big rivers that eroded deep gorges in the yielding ground, soft green country packed with sheep, wide views on the ocean. We have chosen Kaikoura because we want to see whales. Kaikoura is the best place of New Zealand to watch whales. Whale watch specialist set up a whole system to find out and communicate where the whales are. Two or three planes and different boats stay in contact and report each sighting of a whale. All boats are equipped with under water cameras and with super sonar equipment. Whales are difficult to spot, they swim of course in deep water and spend only about 10 minutes above water to breath, where after they spend in average an hour diving far below the surface, they can dive to a depth of a couple of kilometers.
The next morning the weather is good. But when we arrive at the whale watching center the sea has totally disappeared in a heavy mist. We can’t go whale watching now. Maybe around midday the mist will lift, the girl at the counter speculates rather optimistically. She is used to the disappointments of tourist. We go back to our camping, directly behind the whale watch center. We sit in the sun, read a bit and watch the mist crawl closer. The sea is hiding in the clouds. At 11 o’clock we can’t see the town of Kaikoura anymore. At 12 o’clock the mist is spilling over our camping. I’m feeling cold and put on some long trousers before we walk back to the whale watch center, we will have to change our reservations. From the whale watch center it is almost impossible to see the sea. We enter and our optimistic girl at the counter says that we needn’t despair, the mist is starting to lift. This is stretching the optimistic view a bit to far to my idea. But no, she says, just be patient (as a result of more than two months of holiday I’m really a bit more patient than before…). After 20 minutes she announces that the view on the ocean is fairly good by now. We can’t believe it but decide to give it a try anyway.
When we leave the building we are totally surprised: the mist has lifted and a bit of sun is peeping through. You have to visit New Zealand and experience these quick total changes of weather to believe it. The whale watch boat has room for about 80 people. It is a very fast boat. Every seat is equipped with about 15 vomiting bags, these boats are notorious. But the sea is clear, almost no wind and luckily no mist. Only a couple of people get sick. Jac out of principle never gets sick and I have no time. Although they warned us for long waiting periods before we see a whale, once we spent 20 minutes sailing to the deep water we see three sperm whales almost directly one after the other. During the minutes the whale spends above water you see almost nothing of the animal, only a bit of his back (which is big enough in itself) from which it spits large fountains of water. Just to be sure everybody takes a lot of photographs. One word (OK, one sentence) of warning though: you won’t be impressed with these pictures later on (and your friends even less) and plus you are in danger of running out of film just before the moment supreme! The captain tells us exactly when to photograph: ‘He is preparing his dive, now he goes under, hold your pictures, hold your pictures, now you see his tail reappearing, wait, wait, …wait, …, yes, now, now, now!!!’ With a majestic movement the tail raises high above the water, seems suspended for a moment before it slowly starts to sink and disappears in the water.
A beautiful sight and very impressive, I agree, but I like the penguins better. Sorry. Maybe because I stood eye to eye with the penguins and – to be honest – have only a vague idea of where the eyes of the whale should be. But still, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the experience, the whales have something very ancient. On our way back we meet large numbers of playful dolphins, dusky dolphins, surfing on the waves of our boat. They seem to know there are people on the boat watching them and put on a little show: they speed out from under the boat, jump out of the water, turn around and swim back under the boat, etcetera. Very nice to watch these animals, who are clearly having a lot of fun. At last we visit a rock with the obligatory New Zealand seals, living together with a lot of cormorants and looking sleepily irritated at yet another tourist boat.
In the evening we take away an enormous pizza, which we share on our camping with hungry sea-gulls. Some dominant males spend there time chasing away the competition (head low, neck long, ruffled feathers, low threatening noises), which keeps them quite busy so we feed the less dominant ones in the meantime. The sea-gulls have only one way of eating which consists of trying to put the whole piece of food in their mouth and struggling to swallow it. We experiment a bit with bigger and bigger parts of the pizza, but the sea-gulls eat everything without choking (although it looks now and then like it), quite funny to watch the corners of the pizza parts sticking on both sides out of the tiny throat.
From Kaikoura we drive to Picton in the North, where we buy tickets for the passage to the North Island in a couple of days. Picton is a picturesque village. Villages in New Zealand are mostly nicer than the villages in Australia, which are much outspread. Picton is clearly a tourist place, every tourist visits Picton on his or her way to the other island. But Picton is more than a tourist place. It has the charm of an old fisherman place, in the harbor, in the small shops and in the cafeteria’s. We walk around in the park next to the harbor and eat a large amount of pancakes. Then we follow the ‘Charlotte Drive’, a very small winding road next to the Charlotte Sounds, in the direction of Nelson. We have beautiful outlooks on the hills and the water, not so dramatic as Milford Sound, but here the views create a feeling of endless space.
In the uttermost North of the South Island you find the Abel Tasman National Park. We discover a camping just below the Park, in Kaiteriteri, next to a spotless beach with white sand and emerald water, just like God intended but didn’t quite everywhere succeed in. Anyway, no complains here. The sites on the camping are exceptionally big and when we look around we understand why: most people are from New Zealand and have a big car, a big caravan enlarged with a big tent in front and of course a big boat. We need only a very small part of our place for our tiny tent and ditto car, a ridiculous sight compared to the places next to us.
The weather is very good and we spend a couple of days at the beach till we are totally filled up with sun. One day, at the end of the afternoon when the temperature drops a bit, we visit the Abel Tasman Park. We drive the tiny road to Marahua. This area is almost Italian with flowers everywhere, small white houses speckled in between high trees on the hills and sudden views on the blue ocean. Luckily no hotels here to spoil the view and no traffic jam on the small road. The road stops in Marahua and from there we continue on foot.
The Abel Tasman Park covers big woods and a lot of coast. A three or four day walk leads from the North to the South of the park (or vice versa) via the coast. We follow this walk for two hours and have incredible views over the ocean to the right of us and over the deep forest to our left. On our way back we climb through the bush to one of the deserted beaches where we sit in the sand in the low light of the evening. Jac announces that this at last is a good walk: interesting, changing views without long strenuous climbs!
In the evening we sit in the camper kitchen and talk with an eccentric man from the Isle of Man, who spends the English winters over here. In summer he watches the famous motor races on his island. Big black beetles start dropping on the ground, on our clothes, on our hair and in our tea mugs. A strange phenomenon. In the toilets the ground is covered with partly splashed beetles. Most people walk around on naked feet, like in Australia to walk around on naked feet symbolizes freedom. It doesn’t matter if it is freezing cold, or if you are stumbling over sharp stones on the road or if you can’t avoid crushing beetles and stepping into puddles of unidentified substances. I try not to think of all these dirty feet happily diving into sleeping bags.
After three days of sun and sea we drive back to Picton and take the ferry to Wellington on the North Island.
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