Since we touched the shore of South Island, every step of our trip is more spectacular than the one before.
We started with a rather long crossing of the Cook Strait, but what a treat it was to be
welcomed by gorgeous green hills plunging into the dark blue waters of Charlotte’s sound.
We then drove our car and headed towards Kaikoura Bay, enjoying the windy road and the breathtaking views along the coast. It reminded us of Big Sur, North California, but with no one around.
We arrived at Kaikoura right before a rain pour, which gave the sky dozens of shades of purple, pink and grey and emphasized the beauty of this little seaside village. A single main street, nested between snowy mountains and pebbled beaches. Even the waves seem more gracious than elsewhere. This little piece of the ocean is home to nine male sperm whales, albatros, hundred of dolphins, thousands of seals and from time to times, to orcas and blue whales. We were lucky enough to spot dolphins, a lot of them, and to come very close to seals, but we were told that the whales had not been seen for a while, probably tracking some female at large. This will give us an excuse to come back to Kaikoura, as this place is now at the top of my personal list of the most beautiful places on earth (a taste of Kaikoura).
It was heartbreaking to leave Kaikoura but what we soon discovered cheered us up. After a couple of hours driving through wine valleys, we entered the New Zealand Southern Alps. Nearly as high as the ones we have in Europe, but without the crowds or urban development. Pure nature – nothing added or taken away. The first snow freshly sprinkled on the top of the peaks with the rest of the surroundings completely dry as New Zealand is going through an historical drought. Summer has been warm and dry so the torrents were nothing more than meager creeks and often barely a drop left in the giant riverbeds. If lakes and rivers are low, they are still big and powerful enough to support the ecosystem until the rain comes back, sooner or later this month.
This is what we learned when we stopped at the Wilderness Lodge in Arthur’s pass. Around 1000 metres high in the mountains, completely remote (with no Internet – a rare and appreciated disconnection for the addicts that we have become), this lodge is run by a family that knows everything about trees, birds, moss, and any living organism in New Zealand. They also maintain a flock of 2000 sheep. Thanks to Michael and Neil, we now know a lot about Merino wool and sheep. Alvar and Austine were delighted to play with the animals and they learned a lot about nature. Alvar spotted several birds, even at night when he saw a brown owl and caught a cute tiny frog. He also enjoyed sea kayaking where we met with a rare crested grebe and her chick (only 300 left in the whole country). What a privilege !
We hit the road again this morning to reach the West Coast on South Island. We left the beech and pine trees behind us to soon encounter a new type of vegetation : rainforest and black sand beaches. After a long and fun break at the beach, we arrived at Franz Joseph Glacier. We haven’t seen it yet, but undoubtedly, the contrast will once more be complete.
Tomorrow, we should start the day by feeding the kiwis ! Did you know they were named like this because they go “ki-wiii”-“ki-wiii” when they sing ? We’ll try and catch a sample on video.