Nugget Point & Roaring Bay

We made a little evening excursion out to see the unusual rocks and lighthouse at Nugget Point, and saw a seal too.

On the way back to the car, we saw numerous examples of trees rooted into the virtually vertical cliff edge. The rain enables the trees to grow really well, but then they become so heavy that when the ice comes it gets in the cracks in the rocks made by the roots and sometimes huge chunks of rock and tree break off and create a landslide down to the sea.

Tash suggested there must be a lesson in this for a vicar like me to use. I’m mulling that one over. Maybe something about where you put your roots being important, even if everything is going well on the surface? I would say from my experience and from the stories of people I’ve met even on this trip, life can sometimes, in one fell swoop, knock you for six (cause a landslide), even when on the surface everything looks green and lovely. That sounds a bit doom laden, but it needn’t be. I think it’s a question of thinking carefully about where we put our roots down. Which we, unlike the trees, have a choice over, of course. Hmmm…

To get the scale of the cliff face, that’s a couple of people standing at the viewpoint at the top left hand corner👇🏼

We continued onto Roaring Bay to the hide at dusk to see whether we could catch a glimpse of the incredibly shy and rare yellow eyed penguins. Stu managed to get a picture of one with his superduper lens. I saw it through some binoculars, preening away, briefly and then it was gone.

Curio Bay and the Petrified Forest

On this day, we stood among the trees of a 160 million year old forest. What an awesome thought.

This is a Jurassic forest that has been preserved for about 160 million years courtesy of a volcanic eruption. The lava seeped into the trees halting them at the stage of growth they had reached at the time. The volcanic mud has preserved the wood all this time, and the action of the pounding of the waves has washed away subsequent deposits of soil to reveal the original tree stumps embedded into the rocks, and also some branches that fell and lay horizontally along the ground.

To touch wood that is 160 million years old is extraordinary! I’m from Dorset in the UK which is famously a Jurassic coastline, but we have nothing like this to my knowledge. Given the pounding the waves of the Tasman Sea were giving all of this even on a clear, sunny and calm day, I am amazed there’s anything left of the petrified forest at all. Respect to you, quiet earth.

Slope Point

This was the Southernmost point that we reached altogether. I think from here it’s just sea and more sea until you reach Antarctica.

We had a short walk down a deserted track past some cows to the end of it all. By the time we came back up the track, all the camper vans had arrived bringing fellow sightseers. It was lovely that we had so many moments in special places on our own on this trip, though. Sometimes the timing of things is such a gift.

Invercargill to Owaka

The countryside was soft and smoother rolling bright green hills of grass with occasional small woods of trees or lines of trees on this part of our journey. You often see tall trees planted close together in a single line, I imagine to mark a boundary, create a landmark or act as a wind break or all three.

I’ve never seen such bright green grass as they have here in NZ. But then the blue of the sky is also somehow brighter. So I’m not sure whether the grass is literally greener here, or whether it’s something to do with the lack of ozone layer, or perhaps both. Even on cloudy days here you really have to wear sun glasses. And it means my phone camera keeps saying every photo is overexposed, no matter what angle I take a picture from. The device just can’t cope with this much brightness. My cousin and uncle who are both keen photographers have told me it is a real problem even when you know what you’re doing photography wise.

The Great Hawk Hunt

Which reminds me… all my road trip has been interspersed with cries of “There! Look! Stoooop! Ach no- I missed it”. These are the cries of anguished photographers wanting to capture a hawk in flight. Because the hawks mainly demonstrate their beauty right by the nearly deserted roadsides, photographing them is almost certainly a doomed enterprise, especially if a) the photographers are driving at the time or b) their clever cameras are not set up with the correct lens or c) the camera is not ready to hand in the car cabin or d) there isn’t a safe place to pull over. Between all of those factors, though we must have seen maybe even ten or more hawks in flight nearby, Stu never really managed to capture them to his satisfaction on camera.

As we drove, the sky was blue again with fluffy white clouds across it. Not for nothing is NZ known as Aeotoaroa “Land of the long white cloud”. This is not a particular, immovable cloud as I used to think when I was a kid! It’s a sky that is never totally cloudless. In fact it’s nearly always full of clouds, but they are quite often incredibly long and white and have blue sky above and below and in between them.

Invergiggle (Invercargill)

Having visited the Invercargill i-site for tips on our route ahead, we went for our usual morning sanity-giving coffee stop, during which I learnt the official definition of a long black, an americano, a latte and a flat white, and how come you can get large flat whites here (in the UK a flat white is a flat white and is relatively small, but here it can vary in size, while an americano here is a long black with extra hot water already added to a fixed size, whereas in the UK you can order different sizes of americano). Suitably refuelled, we took ourselves down the road to…the hardware store. Of course! Every tourist should drop into a hardware store… well this one is a bit different…

Welcome to ehayes hardware store. A museum interspersed with hardware. Well, more of a hardware shop interspersed with museum pieces. It was bizarre having such antiquated things interspersed with such new things, and having such extraordinary things interspersed with such mundane things. Like lawn mowers next to historic motorbikes. Or highly polished classic cars next to hiking socks. Or doormats next to the picture of Burt Munro with his bike. Weird!

For anyone who doesn’t know (I didn’t), Burt Munro is surely the most famous person to come from Invercargill. He became famous when he managed to adapt his 1920 Indian motorbike to win the landspeed title several times at Bonneville, Salt Flats, USA in the 1950s. (The World’s Fastest Indian is a 2005 film telling the Burt Munro story.) For those who understand such things, he managed to crank it up from 600cc to 1000cc.

The hardware store has a wall full of “Offerings to the God of speed”, displaying the many engine parts Munro created, tried and tested in the process of trying to make the thing faster. Then it has a stash of his tools and workshop stuff too.

At the height of his success, the bike was officially timed going 191.34mph, but it’s thought to have reached over 200mph. It weighs 93kg. Which is not all that much more than me. A salutary thought. There’s no way I’m gonna be breaking any land speed records, that’s for sure! 😂

Munro reportedly said, “You live more in five minutes flat out on a bike like this than most people do in a lifetime”.

We exited the store via a whole other section full of Christmas decorations, wall hangings, souvenirs and knick knacks of various kinds just after some classic cars and motorbikes. Well, it’s one way of funding a museum I guess. And of helping keep a hardware store going too. Here’s Tash with her favourite exhibits:

Bluff

We drove through Invercargill in two lanes of traffic!! With traffic lights, cars and lorries and everything. This was quite a shock after all our twisty single lane carriageways with hardly another vehicle in sight.

The landscape is flat as a pancake for the first time that I can remember in the South Island.

At Bluff we stayed a short walk away from this famous sign. This is the touristy Southernmost point of the South Island (though we found one a bit further south again, about which more later…).

And had a delicious meal of locally sourced blue cod and chips, and a bottle of Wooing Tree (having seen said tree in the vineyard near Cromwell, near the jet boats in Queenstown). This is a curious wine; a white/roséish pinot noir. Very tasty!

We went up to a viewpoint and saw beautiful views of Stewart Island quite a bit closer now. It’s quite tricky to tell where the sky and cloud leave off and the land begins:

Going South with Stu & Tash

We waved goodbye to Ken and Les at Te Anau, and then made our way southward.

I had a quick dip in Lake Manapouri at Fraser’s Beach, not far from Te Anau. Although the surface area of Manapouri is much smaller than Te Anau, it is slightly deeper at its deepest point. No one else was around and the water was so clear and refreshing, as it seems to be everywhere here. Hmmm lovely!

The countryside we’re driving through now is much less mountainous. Think rolling bright green hills full of soft grass for the many sheep to enjoy, interspersed with hillsides covered in plantations of pine trees and big patches of yellow gorse (a pest in New Zealand, as it’s non native and spreads out of control). Every now and again, there’s a big section of pine forest that has been felled by loggers, green trees replaced with lengths of log ready for transit.

The Foveaux Strait (pronounced Foh voh) is the name for the body of sea between the South Island and Stewart Island, just off the South coast. At McCracken’s Rest, we stopped at a lookout over the sea. As we watched, suddenly Tash spotted a little group of 4 Hector’s dolphins swimming and diving along. This is the smallest known breed of dolphin. Hector’s dolphins are also very rare and I think have only been seen in New Zealand. This area is home to one of the largest populations of them.

We stopped off at Orepuki (following another of George’s great recommendations) for lunch, where Stu found the perfectly sized bowl for his mocha, and I was mightily comforted by the warming carrot and coriander soup, which reminded me strongly of home.

Then we took a couple of short detours along the beautiful coastline; the first to Cosy Nook Bay, where the trees were blown virtually horizontal by the prevailing wind coming off the sea.

The kiwi sense of humour! 👇🏼 (“Long drop lodge; short stay only”)

Then we detoured to Howells Point at Riverton, overlooking Stewart Island (another recommendation from skipper George). We were surprised how warm we were as the sun broke through the clouds. Stuart and Tash in front of the island named after him (though spelt differently!) 👇🏼

Faith in Fjordland

We went on this boat trip on Lake Te Anau, which was stunningly beautiful. The lake is enormous. In NZ it’s second only to Lake Taupo in terms of its surface area. But volume wise it is the largest fresh water lake in Australasia. To give you an idea, the main body of the lake is 65km long and up to 417m deep. The Olympic swimming pool I swim in at home is 2m deep, to give some comparison! Te Anau is unique in NZ for having three inland fjords. I’m still quite confused about what makes a fjord a fjord, but they are just beautiful, anyway.

George and Adam were our faithful skippers for the afternoon.

As we set sail, George told us about the history of the boat, which was fascinating.

It was built in Scotland and was requisitioned during the war to be used as a cargo ship in Scotland. Winston Churchill knew the owner and sailed in it quite a bit. In fact, he had another boat made that was similar, he liked it so much. Faith was bought by a new family at some point after the war and they sailed it round the world to New Zealand. Curiously, the twin boat Churchill had made now resides just a few hours away in Queenstown.

Anyone who knows my cancer story, will probably guess that sailing on a boat called Faith was a deeply symbolic thing for me. In the midst of chemo a few years ago, one of my wonderful friends brought me a word about the story of the calming of the storm. In this gospel story, Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat, while his followers are fearing for their lives because of the storm that’s blown up all around them. When they woke him, Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, and they were instantly stilled. Then he asked his friends, “Why were you so afraid?” (Hmmm… because, a life threatening storm was there, maybe?!) My friend shared with me the thought that the real miracle is not the calming of the storm. The real miracle will be when we have enough faith to curl up and go to sleep with Jesus in the bottom of the boat in the face of the storm. Jo wondered whether that was what Jesus was inviting me to do, in the face of the “storm” of cancer. I can’t claim any great faith, really. To be honest, through my treatment I was so exhausted it was all I could manage to do to curl up and sleep in the bottom of the boat. But it was a really significant word for me to not worry about the cancer or try to somehow pray against it, but just to go to sleep alongside Jesus. Sometimes it’s good to know that everything doesn’t always have to be down to you. Sometimes, perhaps we are invited to simply let go and to trust. Hurray for boats called Faith, eh?

Anyway, this boat was called Faith after its owner’s wife, rather than for any religious reason. And I’m very glad to report that the lake was as flat as a millpond as we sailed across it, and the panorama was beautiful. Half way round, we stepped off onto a little island jetty to go for a bushwalk with George, who turned out to also be very knowledgable about the flora and fauna we saw en route.

Then it was back on the boat for afternoon tea including drinks of our choice before we set sail back to Te Anau.

Ken (once a sailor, always a sailor) was in his element! 👆🏼Another great thing about this trip was that anyone could get involved with sailing the boat if they wanted to.

We arrived back with just enough time to catch the last showing of the Fjordland film in the local cinema, a beautifully shot introduction to the region.

The final words of the film were, “as man disappears from sight, the land remains…” which put me in mind of my conversations about climate change.

We dined out splendidly in Te Anau, and the next day after a fullsome breakfast at the lodge and our little impromptu concert, went our separate ways, Ken and Les driving back up to Wellington, and Stu and Tash and I continuing on to the southernmost point of the South Island.

Te Anau

On arriving in Te Anau, we checked into our enterprising lodge for the night, which was a house attached to the Te Anau Lodge, an ex convent, that the owner had bought and moved from its previous location to this happy spot, while retaining a lot of convent furniture (the confessional is now a dumb waiter!), and adding quite a few more period furnishings, along with tongue in cheek “breakfast commandments”, and such like.

Here are public gardens at Te Anau, surrounded by impressive mountains, and also some pictures of the quirky Te Anau Lodge:

This👇🏼 shows how they managed to transport the convent in quarters on the back of a lorry! In New Zealand it’s quite normal to transport your entire house somewhere else on the back of a lorry. I’m not sure many people do it with such a big place though. The mind boggles!

A musical interlude…

The enterprising owner of this establishment is Mark, who, on hearing I played the piano, encouraged me to have a go on the piano in the house where we were staying.

We told him we were going on a boat trip on the lake the next day, which delighted him, as he’s great friends with George, who owns the boat and runs the trips, and whose previous house we were staying in, and whose piano it was (George used to manage the lodge for Mark before he retired, bought the boat and started running the trips).

When we got to the boat trip, George already knew about us. Word travels fast in these quiet places! He made me promise to play four big tunes on his piano. I wished I’d brought my music on this leg of my journey (mental note: always bring music, as you never know, and sometimes opportunities come very unexpectedly as they did in France as well).

Anyway, so I played what I could remember and then it emerged that Mark is really a very good violinist, who has professional musician friends who come down to Te Anau every couple of years for a baroque festival that he organises! Before we left Te Anau the next morning, he managed to print off the music to a fiendishly difficult of music (Praeludium & Allegro by the virtuouso violinist Fritz Kreisler) that I remember playing years ago with a school friend who is an excellent violinist. Although neither of us had played it for decades, we had a go at it together, and it was lovely to play together and to hear this wonderful music again after so long.

If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to visit this part of the world, we strongly recommend Te Anau Lodge and also the boat trip by Faith in Fijordland too. You’ll see why…

Back to NZ: The Mirror Lakes

We left Knobs Flat, stopping off to admire the “Mirror Lakes” (ox bow lakes formed by the meanders of the river eventually becoming so twisty that little lakes end up cut off where the bends were – I remember that from my school geography lessons about glaciation) en route back to Te Anau.

Here are the Mirror Lakes in all their glory:

On our way back to Te Anau, we couldn’t resist stopping in a lay-by or two where we’d stopped two days before, seeing the altered views with the clearer weather: