Giant Nuggets, Gypsy Gems, Prancing Penguins, Strange Spheres, Massive Mountains, Craving Chocolate and shaking it in the city of Earthquakes

We left the delights of Queenstown before we went any further over budget, and we made the trip to the East coast and the Pacific Ocean once more. We had heard from an American girl we met on the Milford Cruise that the Catlins, the area just south of Dunedin was well worth a visit, and we had a couple of days to spare before our stay with another HelpX host.

Evening at Nugget Point, Catlins, New ZealandWe timed the trip just right to catch the evening light over Nugget Point, and watched the sea lions and New Zealand Fur Seals playing around the rocks far below the lighthouse. Then we grabbed a space in a small car park just back down the road at a Yellow-eyed penguin, roaring bay, New Zealandplace called Roaring Bay. Not particularly famous for roaring, it is however special for being one of the only places that the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin comes ashore every night to nest. We joined several other people in the hide, and watched these wonderful sea birds fight through the surf, waddle up the beach and scramble up the steep bay wall to their nest sites.

After a night at a DOC site nearby we drove along the rugged coastWooden Drummer, Gypsy Caravan for a bit until we found the Lost Gypsy Caravan that the American girl had told us about. Looking round his caravan was free, and an incredible step back into childhood. We spent the best part of an hour playing with countless “Automata”, little handmade toys and models where something as simple as turning a handle produces amazing results, and no two were the same. A model train ran at head height round the inside of the caravan, and would trigger lots of other lights and sounds as it went, and briefly diverting your attention from whatever else you were currently playing with.

Bike powered TVFor $5 each we went up into the main exhibition – A garden and series of sheds with similar quirky objects, but on a much more grand scale. There was a TV powered by riding a bicycle, a light show controlled by a stick and a spoon, and a clock made from sea urchins, to mention but a few of the oddities to be played with. The piece de resistance was undoubtedly the piano, but I won’t spoil it for you – Just go and find out for yourself.

From there we headed back North to Dunedin, and found our HelpX host unwell, but thankfully she still gave us a place to stay in exchange for a little gardening and a lot of patio scrubbing. We had a wander round Dunedin, taking in its Scottish heritage, before arriving at the Cadbury Factory for our tour. Well it was there and it was cheap! Wouldn’t you…?

Cadbury van, DunedinThe tour was actually a little bit of a let down, in that we didn’t really get to see much in the factory, and the shop at the end that we expected to be full of every kind of Cadbury chocolate at a discount, had only a limited selection and at next to no difference in price than the local Countdown. We did leave with a bag full of free goodies though, and a bottle of “Chocolade”, which surprisingly tasted a lot better than it sounds.

Uphill Struggle, Moeraki BouldersA few K’s North of Dunedin is a place called Moeraki, home of the Moeraki Boulders. I had wanted to see these since I first saw them on one of those “10 Wonders of the World” articles doing the rounds on the Net years ago. The boulders are almost perfect spheres, and as the cliff erodes more and more are appearing. We arrived in the pouring rain, typically, so the photography went from artistic to amusing instead. Despite the weather, they were still awesome to have seen.

Moeraki Boulders, New ZealandCoastal erosion on road, New ZealandCoastal erosion, New zealandDriving North along the coast we came to a section of coast road that had been blocked off. Determined to find out why, I walked a bit from both ends, and found the sea had eaten chunks of road away, leaving little islands of tarmac, complete with white lines. Cool!

In Oamaru we had a wander round the Victorian Quarter, looked at some amazing limestone sculptures that were way out of our price range, and found the world’s most hardcore steam train. It has flamethrowers!

Steam train, steampunk museumThe weather had a been a bit grim off and on for a while, and we were debating hard whether or not to drive the extra 250km it would take to go inland to Mount Cook, rather than straight up the coast to Christchurch. In the end we decided to give it a go, and we were rewarded with 2 stunning days as we drove inland to Twizel, then North to Mount Cook. The views down of New Zealand’s tallest peak over Lake Pukaki were unbelievable. The surface was almost mirror calm, and the water itself is a wonderful blue because of Rock Flour, powdered rock from the glacial action on the slopes of Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks. Further along we paused for an hour or two at Lake Tekapo to photograph the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd with the crystal waters and rugged Southern Alps as its backdrop.

Mount Cook over Lake Pukaki, Southern Alps, New Zealand

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, New ZealandWe spent 3 nights in campsites around Lake Ellesmere, just South of Christchurch, chilling out, being ill, and geocaching, before making the final drive to the city. We were heading to our last HelpX host for New Zealand, but before we met them we got last minute jobs done while we still had the luxury of our own transport. We checked out the Backpackers Car Market on Battersea St., sent a parcel home and bought a few bits at the local Mitre 10 to get the van looking as good as possible.

Despite getting slightly geographically embarrassed (not lost, honest) on our way to our HelpX host, we still got there on time and met Jo and the kids. She kindly gave us the whole day to sort our van, and we spent hours in the blistering sun painting, cleaning, and polishing. The next day we got it down to the car market first thing, and walked the 3km back up the hill to the house.

The rest of the week contained much hard work in the garden, mulching, pruning, weeding, landscaping, and anything else Nick and Jo could find to keep us out of mischief. In return they looked after us wonderfully, even taking us out on an evening driving tour of some of the drastic damage still visible after the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes. He introduced us to an amazing phenomenon called “floating”, where heavy, hollow structures, like storm drains and sewers can actually lift up during an earthquake, rather than settling lower. Some of these structures are now half a metre higher than they should be, while some bits of land have dropped by up to a metre and a half!

Cashel Mall, Christchurch CBD, New ZealandThe enormous number of sea containers in Christchurch is just staggering, and they are being used for everything from corner shops and a new shopping centre to holding up buildings and protecting communities from collapsing cliffs. Nick and Jo took us and the kids to Sumner beach for “fush and chups” and the number of clifftop homes abandoned and condemned was crazy. A natural tower of hexagonal granite columns (not unlike the Giant’s Causeway in N. Ireland) on the beach had been shaken to pieces by the quake.

Cashel Mall, Christchurch CBD, New ZealandThe sewer systems in Christchurch were largely made of clay pipe, which shattered, so they brought in temporary pumps and dumped raw sewage into the Avon River, as well as exhausting the world’s supply of Portaloos! Talk about being up s**t creek!

We were in the city for the 1 year anniversary of the February quake, and a special documentary was shown on TV. It demonstrated the extraordinary sense of charity and community that the people in Christchurch found for each other, and the unrelenting determination to pick up, rebuild, and carry on. Among many examples, it showed one guy who still had running water, and built pipes to the street for everyone around to use, and it showed a young guy who rallied several thousand students to help clear up the mess.

Nick was telling us that they get hundreds of earthquakes a year, and showed us a website ( that logs the quakes for all of NZ. There were at least 3 earthquakes up to about 4 ish on the Mercalli scale while we were there! Scary!

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