The last stop on our NZ tour was Mount Cook Village, a cluster of accommodation in the centre of the country at the foot of Mount Cook the highest mountain in NZ. The drive from Dunedin was wet with lots of low cloud, it didn’t bode well for a good view of the mountain but we pressed on. About one hour north of Dunedin we stopped briefly at Moeraki Beach and walked along the shore to see the strange round boulders at the waters edge. The Moeraki Boulders are about 1m across and were formed over millions of years in the same way as pearls with a shell or pebble in the centre gradually being enclosed in layers of crystals, very odd! There were a couple split open on the beach so we could see the insides.
Further on, at Cally’s suggestion we stopped in Oamaru a little port with a well preserved Victorian harbour area, a collection of large ornate warehouses and shipping offices now converted into cafes, shops and galleries, it was very easy to spend an hour having a look around. After that we were back on the road heading for Mount Cook Village.
The Aoraki Motel turned out to be a small motel with three blocks of self-catering rooms each with a panoramic view of the mountains surrounding Mount Cook and the glacial valleys that lead from them. We got there quite late and the weather had closed in so we opened the bottle of wine we had rescued from Cally’s fridge and watched the cloud roll in. We had picked up some shopping on our drive up the valley and rustled up a spaghetti Bolognese for dinner.
Friday dawned and we peaked out of the curtains hoping for blue skies and walking weather, we were met by…snow! Even the motel staff were taken by surprise. There was only a sprinkling around the motel but the weather was cold and damp and didn’t offer any hope of a view of the glaciers or the mountain even if we had walked up the valley to the viewpoints. Not wanting to waste the morning we walked across Mount Cook Village to the visitors’ centre where we looked at a photographic exhibition on NZ mountaineers and checked out the local walking tracks; the local advisors were telling people that there was over a meter of fresh snow further up the mountains and a severe risk of avalanche. We hadn’t planned to go very far up the tracks but on hearing that advice we decided instead to head to the Hermitage Hotel (very smart) where we found a window seat and ordered hot chocolate.
We spent the afternoon reading and watching TV, finished up the spaghetti Bolognese and had an early night.
That was pretty much the end of our trip around NZ, all that remained was a 300km drive Back to Christchurch and one night back at the Orari B&B before our flight to Melbourne.
The first part of the drive from Mount Cook Village was really pretty along the banks of the bright turquoise glacial Lake Pukaki and through rolling countryside, we stopped next to Lake Tekapo to visit an old stone chapel built by early settlers. The chapel was lovely and we sat for a few minutes to admire the view through the window behind the altar – trying to tune out the three busloads of Chinese tourists milling around outside. We also walked down to the edge of the lake where huge drifts of wild Lupins were in full flower, with the lake and snow-capped mountains in the background they looked wonderful. About an hour later I said to Mark “what we need now is a cosy café for a coffee break”, sure enough just around the next bend that is exactly what we found. The rest of the drive to Christchurch was fairly dull, it took us across the Canterbury Plains which reminded us a lot of the fens! Fortunately it was a good road and there was very little traffic so we soon covered the miles to town. Back in Christchurch we checked in to the Orari B&B and were reunited with the suitcase we had left there two weeks earlier. We walked in to town to take the photos of the two Cathedrals (the old one destroyed by the earthquake and the new ‘cardboard’ Cathedral) which we had missed on our first visit when the battery ran out in the camera. Having got the photo’s we stopped at the Re:start Mall for an early supper and then headed back to our room to catch the next episode of Victoria – proper Sunday night viewing. Off to bed.
We were both sound asleep when the earthquake struck just after midnight. We were woken up by the bed shaking and the room shuddering and twisting around us. It seemed to go on for a long while and was quite alarming but nothing broke or fell over so, not wanting to behave like hysterical tourists (and following the instructions we had seen on ‘what to do in and earthquake’) we stayed where we were and waited for it to pass. To be quite honest if we had tried to get out of bed I don’t think we could have kept our balance. After what seemed like ages the shaking stopped and everything went quiet for a minute. Then, as if nothing had happened we heard traffic outside and everything seemed to carry on. Some of our fellow guests, a big group travelling together, met out on the landing to check on each other but they soon went back to their rooms. We tried to go back to sleep but were prevented by a series of aftershocks which set things shaking again, eventually we did get back to sleep, we were unsettled by the experience but had no idea quite how big the earthquake had been. Mark woke up around 7am and logged on to the BBC news website to find rolling news coverage of the 7.8 earthquake, and as soon as we turned on our phones we got messages from friends and family asking if we were ok, we replied as quickly as we could and hopefully nobody was left worrying about us for too long.
After breakfast (guess what everyone was talking about) we packed our bags and put them in the car, we then went for a walk in the botanic gardens, it was a lovely morning and we thought it would be nice to spend some time outside in the fresh air.
As I write this we are sitting in Christchurch Airport waiting for our flight to Melbourne. The flight is delayed for 2.5 hours due to the earthquake, we have felt a couple of aftershocks and a second bigger quake measuring 6.3, but all is calm and we should be in Australia by supper time.
We have loved our time in NZ and can honestly say we have had the full experience. Now it is time to move on to the next part of our adventure.