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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 10 Feb 2007

Location: Catlins and Otago, New Zealand

MapWe're in Christchurch now after coming along the south coast and then up the east coast. We spent a wonderful few days in the Catlins down in the deep south - no banks, petrol stations, restaurants shut on Waitangi Day (anniversary of the treaty between the Brits and Maoris and still causing lots of controversy) - but great scenery and wildlife. The coastal scenery reminded us of Devon and Cornwall although we met some Italians from Siena who said the rolling hills reminded them of Tuscany.

We left Invercargill and drove to Slope Point, the most southerly point of mainland NZ to continue our most southerly theme. Then on to Porpoise Bay (misnamed as the very rare Hectors Dolphins live there not porpoises) which is home of one of the best places we've stayed, Curio Bay Backpackers, right on the beach. Our room opened onto the deck then the garden then the beach and sea. We saw Hectors Dolphins as we were having breakfast and then went down to the beach where they were about 30m into the sea swimming around the surfers. We also saw yellow eyed penguins coming ashore at dusk in Curio Bay just by a fossil forest on the beach with fossilised tree trunks and stumps.

We then went on to Surat Bay and stayed at another nice place with sea views and had a long walk along the beach which had lots of lounging NZ (or Hooker) sea lions doing nothing other than occasionally flick sand over themselves to keep cool. We also saw a small colony of Royal Spoonbills including a nest with 2 chicks. That night being Waitangi Day we hired the NZ film classic "Whale Rider" to watch on the DVD (all mod cons in our "tourist flat" even if the DVD's remote's batteries were leaking) - most home grown NZ stuff is very dark and gloomy so we were surprised that this at least had a happy ending. A couple of days earlier we saw a Sam Neill film on TV (Perfect Strangers) in which he kidnapped a woman who killed him, fell in love with him and kept his body in the freezer - seems par for the course for the local stuff. This was after watching In My Father's Den - more gloom, death and murder.

Next morning we were back on the beach with some swimming sea lions - the water was very clear and the beach shelved steeply so it was like watching them in an aquarium. Next wildlife stop was Nugget Point - this time for NZ fur seals playing in the rock pools below the lighthouse. Continuing the wildlife theme we went to the Otago Peninsular and took a boat trip around the Royal Albatross colony - seeing nesting birds and eventually a couple of juveniles flying around, plus some blue penguins swimming in the water. We stayed at McFarmers Backpackers, a tiny place up a hill with great views of the harbour. Next day we had a final fix of wildlife at Sandfly Bay - some more NZ sea lions, seals and to our surprise a yellow eyed penguin (Sue didn't want to bother going to the penguin hide as you normally only see the penguins at dawn and dusk but I insisted).

We had some culture at the Otago Museum in Dunedin, lots of Maori and Polynesian exhibits, and then headed up to Christchurch in the rain stopping only at a cheese factory to buy some delicious blue cheese - we'd been craving decent cheese for a while.

We've spent lots of time in Christchurch updating the blog - it was actually a lot easier to keep it up to date in South America where even the smallest town had at least one internet cafe - there's much less here where most people have access at home. However we do quite like the Wash'n'Surf laundrettes you get here with coin operated washers, driers and terminals.

Looking forward to picking up our Spaceship, a people carrier converted into a mini campervan, complete with DVD player and iPod connection. We need the iPod connection as the radio here is generally dreadful and signals disappear whenever you go into a dip - we had to buy a CD in a petrol station on the drive up to Christchurch, although some of the "greatest summer hits ever" probably never made it outside NZ.