Table of Contents
Return to Invercargill
No matter how sad you may be to leave Stewart Island, please take a moment to remind yourself to always check dates and times on your tickets. I will not dwell on this. Just to say. Take care. When we eventually did get on our ferry, a chap pointed to a bird and explained it was a penguin. Really? Absolutely. Certainly. Privately, Felix and I agreed it was a duck.
When we got on the bus at Bluff it was 33 degrees centigrade at five in the afternoon. It’s never thirty three degrees in normally chilly Invercargill and surrounds! We made remarks. The very lovely, sweet, bus driver said, ‘Oh, don’t blame it on climate change.’
My son, from Melbourne, where fires still stained the sky, had a few choice comments to make. A woman sitting nearby blamed overpopulation.
‘Oh yes,’ Felix and I looked at each other before we agreed, ‘… and all of those over-populations need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, don’t they?’
I was thrilled to see signs (in chalk on the footpath) that indicated Extinction Rebellion were active in the neighbourhood. We found a clutch of them in our café the next morning and heard about their work to alert locals to the double cross perpetrated by the NZ Government. A promise not to allow new fossil fuel exploration on the one hand and a permission given to Shell to sell their old exploration licence to an Austrian company. How can we keep it in the ground if corporations are allowed to drill for it?
I met Bridget in the hostel bathroom. We connected over our bamboo toothbrushes as a sign of good intent. She is a singer-songwriter from Oamaru.
Have a listen to Jen’s interview with ME at the end of her informative episode about the protests in Show 19, Southland Trip on Access Media NZ. There’s also a chance to hear another of Bridget’s songs, Keep it in the ground.
We hightailed it out of Invercargill back to Queenstown on Fiordland’s TrackNet bus.
Queenstown to Franz Joseph
On our second arrival in Queenstown it was not the coal smoke in the air that worried us. It was the stench of burning meat. Queenstown is full of people wanting BBQ or burgers and the chimneys of restaurants are belching the awful browning of pig flesh and the flaming of cow. It is a sunny, cheerful party town smoking with dead flesh.
The bus driver in Queenstown carefully explained the ‘Go Card’ system – you pay $10 for the card – it costs $10 to get to the airport from the town – and then load it up much like an Oyster in London. Be careful to check your balance BEFORE you give any further money to the driver. You may not need to pay. I’ll not go too much further into this. Just saying. Sometimes it’s better to hang on to your money than just give it to the bus company. Who may have a lot more than you. Okay?
Then we both went to Queenstown airport. Only one of us returned to Queenstown by bus.
On my own again (sadly) I sat through the return bus trip and then on to Fox and Franz. I’d visited on a school trip (bus) when I was fifteen or sixteen four-and-a-half decades previously. I asked the young man behind the hostel counter if he had a photo of Fox because I didn’t have time to go and examine it this time. Luckily, he’d taken his mum just the week before so he did. We both examined his phone seriously. I surmised our school group in our loosely fitted crampons might have marched around on the ice some 6 metres in the air right above where he was taking the photo. It was certainly a much smaller river of ice than I remembered. But that’s climate change, isn’t it, Bluff Bus Driver?
The YHA in Franz is worth a mention – it’s a new and spectacularly clean hostel – well worth a stay. The bus comes right to the door and was only a bit late in the morning as we headed off towards Greymouth.
We made it to the café Pukeko in Hari Hari for morning coffee and then Hokitika for lunch. The company must have some deals with the recommended businesses in town but I had no truck with their preferences, preferring to walk along the stoney beach and examine the sculptures, wigwams and wands, left over from the driftwood competition the weekend before. Thrashing waves and imposing sky revealed the True West Coast spirit.
According to the amusing bus driver, the Brits were happy to settle in Greymouth on the wild West Coast because it was wet and grey. Sensible Maori people preferred to live around Nelson in the warmer weather. There’s something in a name, isn’t there. And I’m not talking about Nelson.
Greymouth is a sprawling place of low industrial buildings scattered around the ins and outs of the estuary. There does not seem to be a centre.
There is a huge modern brewery, that offers a vegan burger, if you like a craft beer.
And a very cute little café called DPI that I encourage you to patronise due to their vegan options.
My hostel was run by a father, Glen and his son team and is heated by coal. They’re upgrading their insulation and weather proofing but coal is still mined here – high quality and low ash and sent either to Invercargill or Lyttleton for export.
He also mentioned the Kingston Flyer and I remarked I hoped they could find some new modern way of running the train efficiently. Glen looked completely aghast. How on earth else would you run a steam train if not by coal? And the next day on the bus I sat next to Mr Gaunt Switzerland who knew everything and he also laughed at my naivete. He thought I was dreaming if I thought that NZ would ever give up their coal. They couldn’t. Really?
Back on board the train I have only my own thoughts for company this time and the view. We’re going coast to coast, from West to East, through valleys and a big tunnel. Regarded as one of the greatest train trips in the world you probably won’t see dolphins.
They do recommend this as a winter trip. The snow-capped mountains would be splendid indeed.
At the moment there is a lot of dry looking golden grass about.
There is a historic 8.5 km tunnel where the viewing carriage is closed for safety reasons. Cleverly, the engines were changed to run on electricity on the completion of the tunnel in 1928. Recently, in 1997, the powers that be decided it was better to keep going on diesel. Now they shut a door, creating a vacuum to suck the fumes out. Is that really forward thinking?
It was once the longest tunnel in the world but of course Japan and the EuroStar took that prize and, now under-construction, the tunnel through the Swiss Alps is to be 57km. Even though this trip is supposed to be one of the Great Trips of NZ, this train is the most empty I’ve encountered. Also, an hour late. But no urgent appointments for me so no worries.
Return Coastal Pacific from ChCh to Picton and Nelson
After a quick overnight in Christchurch at an Airbnb near the train – on the map it looked like an easy walk – but because there’s no overpass it’s a 1.5km walk around the station and tracks. Come on, Christchurch – get on your legs and walk around the town. Ask yourself, ‘How can you make it easy for people NOT to use a car?’
Back on the train again to face a stark reality. For the first time I’ve no fresh fruit with me. They don’t sell it on the train. However, they do offer my now familiar Bircher museli and it’s still delicious – and back along the dry coast we went. How would it be to be a British tourist looking at gorse, oak, willow, dandelion, blackberry, honeysuckle, convolvulus, agapanthus, daisies … macrocapa and PINUS RADIATA? And then, if you’re Australian you’d be reassured by the eucalyptus everywhere. Come on, NZ! Go native! Feels most peculiar to have returned from the indigenous crazy UK where the landscape tends to look very like this one.
The train was not crowded. I wondered how NZ Rail could get more locals to use the system. There does seem to be double tracks in a number of areas. Could it really not run daily? Most working people need a predictable timetable and reliable running times. Every day. Meeting rooms and workrooms with Wifi onboard? A gym? What would it take to put a fast train down the middle of the North Island? You’d have to go round a couple of volcanoes of course but the Auck-Welly air route must be the busiest in NZ?
DOLPHINS! One troop large, the next smaller and lithe, flinging themselves into the air with abandon, easily visible from the train. Their two-toned bodies bent and flexing against the pale blue waters south of Kaikura. One woman cried out as we saw the cavorting from the observation car, ‘Oh, they are so happy!’ By her own voice, and my heart, they made us happy.
New tunnels and orderly roads, rebuilt after the earthquake, still offer waving, posing workers, diggers and signage indicating the roadworks continue.
I could buy fruit at Kaikoura – skipping off and back on to the train apace. More dolphins on the way north, leaping and spinning – there must be a strong run of fish going through here.
Humans like to wave as the train goes by, leaning on their bikes or posing. There’s the weighty body builder type pose, shrug, twist and flow, or perhaps slightly more rock and roll – cheeky and fun. Don’t know how many are waving from the train. I wave, though no posing.
There are also seals in the water and they’re posing, heads up, by the rocks. Staring out to sea from their own craggy viewing platforms. It was 24 days ago that I came through towards Christchurch. Now I’m heading back north (to stay with my gorgeous long suffering cousin once more) for further adventures. I caught the bus from Blenheim to Nelson – once again relying on the quick-thinking I-site staff to connect me safely.
Another lovely Nelson night before taking that bus back through Mot and onwards to Marahau Bay to begin my next adventure. And what an adventure it would prove to be.
Marahau Bay, Abel Tasman Park and due north …
A Yatra – walking meditation – awareness on a bushwalk – extreme medititation – 22 participants including me – plus a charming chef, two facilitators and three supporters. We would mainly walk in silence although there were opportunities to reflect, share experiences and take part in reconnecting exercises as devised by Joanna Macy. I took the opportunity to turn off my phone. What goes on a Yatra, stays on a Yatra.
When I cleaned my teeth in the campsite bathrooms a cicada flew to the edge of the mirror. The air was heavy with the songs of cicadas all through the park. She caught sight of herself and patted the gleaming surface – the other, reflected, cicada patted back. She attacked. For several minutes – more than I could watch, the frenzy continued, silent, determined, futile. I did not like to interfere because the mirrors will remain and the cicadas are many. The noise was constant.
In brief, the Yatra took us through the Inland track of the Park, up to the astounding Harwoods Hole and Canaan’s Camp Site and back to Anahata where most of my young travellers had gone (bar one lovely Canadian). The Yatra group worried and planned the next walk, probably into poor weather and definitely into the Tui Community in Golden Bay. We all arrived safely, divided into grades of difficulty and strength, but happy with our choices, I think.
The beginnings of the Tui Community must have been driven by some extraordinarily energetic folk. There are purposeful and artistic buildings across 100 acres and we were lucky enough to be stationed in the Events area. One of our facilitators was Inna Alex, who lead us through an exercise called ‘The Earth is a peppercorn’ as devised by John Seed. It was entertaining and led us to the beach where we enjoyed a sunset and a swim. Unfortunately, on the way back, we discovered most of the carefully placed planets had been eaten. It’s possible wekas like chickpeas and as Jupiter was a small plum it was clearly vulnerable.
After the Yatra’s nine days were over (all walking, transport spotters!) I caught the Wilson’s water taxi from Totaranui – the little boat drives right up onto the beach and extends a sort of probe gangplank for us to alight.
My advisor at SBL travel in Nelson recommended the taxi as an excellent way to re-examine the path of the Great Walk along the coast of the Abel Tasman Park after marching there. However, as we had done the Inland track all these gorgeous bays were new to me.
It was a real contrast when the even verdant bush of the Park abruptly ended and bare farm paddocks began, particularly the dreaded Pinus Radiata with those plucked slopes after harvest.
Bare except for the scattered debris which drifts into the hollows and water ways and clogs things up for everyone. Oh, New Zealand, you have to get some secondary industry. All this primary stuff is doing you no good!
From Mot to Nelson where my poor cousin stood on duty to pick me up and look after me once more. I am so grateful for her patience, care and rude good humour. She threw me back at the bus to Picton Harbour the next day and I do hope to see her again soon in some place in the world!