Thursday, March 19, 2009

East Coast of South Island, New Zealand

4th - 6th Feb

For my last week on the South Island I drove from Stewart’s Island right up to Picton so I could get the ferry to Wellington and have at least 2 weeks to do the North island. As a result I missed out on some places and stayed all too briefly at other places.

Surat bay - 4th Feb

My first nights stop was at a place called Surat bay which consisted of the hostel and about one other house. I had looked at the hostel in the BBH guide and it got a good rating so I thought I would give it a go.

I arrived at around 6pm having had the good sense to get some provisions as the place was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The manager was quite friendly and the place turned out to be really nice and homely – you had to take your shoes off before entering (Not sure if that was a good thing with my smelly socks! I decided to do a wash to ensure I had fresh ones in the morning). The reason why I picked such a remote place was because it was right beside a large beach which just happened to be one of the only mainland places where New Zealand Sealions come ashore to sleep and rest. After dinner I went out for a walk on the beach to see if I could find any and to watch the sunset.

I wasn’t disappointed on either count. There were several massive bulls sleeping on the beach. You could get right up to them if you wanted but there were warning signs saying not to get too close as they can attack if provoked. I decided to keep a safe distance and took some photos of from afar as well as the sunset. It was a great place to hang out for a night. After I got back I tried to book myself on to the dolphin watch in Kaikoura but was disappointed to find out that it was fully booked for the next 2 weeks. Instead I booked myself on the one in Akora which is not supposed to be as good but is with Hector Dolphins – the smallest in the world and very rare.

The next morning I got up early and did one more walk on the beach to get more shots of the sealions before heading off to my next stop.

People I have Met/Seen

Another good thing about going to hostels off the beaten track is the interesting people you can meet there. I met an English woman who has been travelling off for the last 8 years - 4 of which included living with a tribe in Borneo. I also met a nice American couple who had also given up the rat race and have been travelling for the last couple of years – I gave them a lift to their next town while they talked about how all other Americans seem have lost sight of what life is all about.

The rest of the people in the hostel appeared to all be Germans who were also nice but one of them (a girl) asked if I slept well the night before. I replied tentatively ‘Yes I think so’. To which she replied ‘Yes I know – I heard you!’. The cheeky bitch was talking about my snoring!

Oawaru – 5th / 6th Feb

I wasn’t sure were I was going to book into after Surat Bay. All I knew was I had to be in Akoroa on the 7th and I wanted to get to see Mount Cook. I got to Dunedin in good time and decided to go out to the Albatross colony at the end of Otega Peninsula. On Otega peninsula as well as the only mainland royal albatross colony in New Zealand there is also a Yellow eyed Penguin colony as well as places to watch blue penguins and New Zealand Fur seals.

Unfortunately I found out that in order to see the albatross colony you had to pay $40 for a 1 hour guided tour which I thought was extortion so I declined. There was a very good FREE visitor centre which I perused and you could see the albatrosses flying overhead at a distance – I even got a couple of photos. There was no point in even trying to see the penguins as they did not come ashore until dusk so I had to be contented with seeing some fur seals on the rocks below the albatross colony. (Yes more seals!)

After going back through Dunedin I decided to go to Oawara where you can see both Yellow eyed and Blue penguins. The BBH guide mentioned 3 hostels in Oawara. I decided to try the first one called Swaggers backpackers but when I tried to get in there was nobody there. The other one called the Empire hostel was right in the middle of the town which was good for seeing things but not very good for parking, That left a place called Chillawhile which was quite far out from the town.

This place turned out to be probably the best hostel I stayed in in New Zealand. It was a large colonial house which also doubled as an art gallery. The place was full of all sorts of pictures as well as loads of instruments including a piano. It was also one of the cheapest hostels I stayed in at $20 a night for which I was able to sleep in a massive room which had a king size bed and two sets of bunks – I have been in other places where they would have put 10 beds in the same size of room.

But the best thing about the place was the people. The owner Kerry( or was it Kelly – can’t remember now!) lived in the hostel with her daughter Saul. There was also her live in nanny Louise who helped out with reception. Practically every other person in the place was woofing (see glossary) which left only about 8 or 9 people like myself who actually paid for accommodation. I still don’t know how they made any money. I had intended to only stay there one night in order to get to Mount Cook the next day but I soon decided to knock Mount Cook on the head and stay two nights instead.

As I already said Oawara is another place where you can see both Blue and yellow eyed penguins. I was told by Louise that the yellow eyed penguins come ashore any time between 6 and 9 pm at a secluded beech at the other side of the town. Then there is the blue penguin parade at about 9-10pm which, like at Phillips Island you have to pay to see – but if you go and sit near the car park you can see some of the birds come ashore for free.

I went to the ‘secluded beach’ for the yellow eyed penguins which turned out to be a beachhead complete with cliff from which about a hundred other people were trying to look down from to catch a glimpse of the penguins coming ashore. A penguin parade it most certainly was not. In the hour I stood watching I managed to see 4 penguins waddle up the beach – 3 of which were about 500m away up the other side of the beach. The other one I nearly missed as if came ashore directly below where I was – still about 100m away on the beach below. I think most of the other people watching were very disappointed by the lack of spectacle – I actually loved it – it had a far better ‘wild watch’ appeal to it – better to see one or two than none at all.

Next I drove to the Blue penguin place which was nearer the town. I parked my car near the seafront and waited for the free penguin watch. I was just about to give up when at about 10:15 people started to leave the paid penguin parade and a group of penguins finally made their appearance. They were underneath some shrubs by the water waiting to get across the road so they could get up to the cliffs and their chicks.

There was a lot of excitement as people scrambled to get flash photographs of the birds as they huddled together. I felt really angry at the assholes who obviously thought nothing of scaring the birds with their flashes (which I am sure they were not allowed to use in the actual parade) while the birds were trying to get to their hungry chicks. Eventually the people got bored and moved off which allowed the penguins to finally cross the road and get to the cliffs beyond.

I went back to the hostel content that I had seen everything I had come to see.

The next day I did a lazy walk around the town and then went to the supermarket. I had been told that for this Friday the hostel was doing a Pot luck dinner where everyone who wanted to take part made a meal for sharing with the rest of the people in the hostel. It was another one of the things about Chillawhile that made it a really friendly place to be.

I decided to make some chilli and got all the ingredients ready for putting together for the 7pm feast. The only problem with Chillawhile was their two very small kitchens – one upstairs and one downstairs which were now both full of people all trying to cook things for the pot luck fest. I had to contend with one guy making meatballs and another making fish curry. It all became a bit chaotic but finally I got my chilli on and let in simmer while I put some herb bread in the oven. At around 7pm everybody more or less got their meals to the table. There was all sorts of food from my chilli to muffins and scones. As part of the event each person had to say where they were from and what meal they had created – I obviously said that I made a traditional Irish meal which just happened to look like a chilli!

After the food a large group of us walked into town (which takes about 40 minutes) to go to a place called the penguin club which was has an open session every Friday night. The place was basically a large shed with a stage at one end and a bar at the other. For an open session anyone can go up on stage and play , sing or jam with anybody else they want. It made for a very interesting night.

We arrived to hear a girl singing away and she was very good. That was followed by a 3 guys who at first made a complete balls up of their first song but soon managed to string together a couple of songs. One of the people who came with us, Sven a German ended up on stage doing the drums for most of the night while another guy played guitar. They were both brilliant and were able to jam well with anybody who tried their hand which included a couple on whistles and tom toms.

The whole night was very unusual – I wouldn’t say the music was brilliant but when you realise that some of these people had never met before you get to appreciate just how good they are to make any thing. It certainly made a change from the usual disco or cover band. After another 40 minute walk we all ended up back at the hostel at about 2am and I fell into bed.

The final good thing about Chillawhile is the checkout time which, unlike most other hostels is at 12 or there abouts. I said my goodbyes to the people I had met and started out for Akora and my dolphin swim.

facebook photos

I have included facebook photos in stewart island post as well

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