Captain Cook's statue on the harbourfront at Victoria
After reading the inscription, I realised that this local, north-east England lad made almost exactly the same journey as me - only he did it three times - and over 200 years ago!

Hildie’s observations in the last Comments box were typically perceptive and astute.  Many, many times over the last 33 days I’ve found myself smiling with amazement - and a kind of childish wonder - that I am where I am and that I’ve seen so many places I never thought I would see.

I’m thinking about it a lot now.  I’m sitting in a smart hotel in Victoria, on Vancouver Island - which is pretty astonishing in itself.  Today I caught the ferry over here from beautiful Vancouver, where I spent a few gloriously busy days exploring, meandering, wandering and admiring.  I was there and I did these things.

I’ve been suffering from serious ‘sensory overload’ since the moment the plane took off from Heathrow.  The absence of regular blogpostings is a symptom of how difficult it is for me to explain or describe all the feelings I’ve had; all the thoughts I’ve wanted to scribble down; all the questions I’ve wanted to ask and the startlingly original observations I’ve wanted to make.

On my journey, I’ve found that, when my sense of curiosity and wonder overwhelm me like this, I automatically retreat into less challenging territory.  I was in a state of visual shock when I first saw Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, for example, and can clearly remember wondering why Sydney apparently had no bus routes numbered under 300.

On my first evening in Queenstown, I sat on the foreshore gazing over Lake Wakatipu into a dreamlike sunset that was turning the endless mountain-tops all round me into a rainbow of oranges and reds - and wondering why all electric sockets and plugs aren’t the same all over the world.

It’s already difficult for me to accept that I’ve been to all these places, seen all these things and met all these people.  I now know exactly what ‘the time of my life’ actually means.  But what’s seriously beginning to bother me is that it’s going to be very difficult indeed to adjust when I’m back home again.

* * *
Although it’s pretty and historic and eccentric and utterly lovable, England is - geologically, zoologically and meteorologically speaking - quite dull.  We have no ferocious wild animals to intimidate and scare us - the wolves and the bears have all gone.  With one notable exception, we have no hurricanes.  We don’t need to run for cover from tornadoes or tsunamis or monsoons or cyclones or typhoons or erupting volcanoes.

And, setting aside the ticklish tremors which almost nobody is even aware of, we have no earthquakes, either.

A geologically ‘young’ country like New Zealand, on the other hand, is temperamental in the extreme in this regard.  On my journey through South Island I had driven through the suburbs of Christchurch and had seen for myself the tumbled buildings and gashed roads still awaiting repair after the terrible earthquake of 2011.

But almost exactly 70 years before that, there’d been an even deadlier earthquake around the Hawke’s Bay area of North Island, centred on the city of Napier.  It killed 258 people and almost the whole of the city was destroyed.  I visited Napier as my next port-of-call in my campervan because I wanted to see for myself the amazing ‘phoenix from the ashes’ recovery which has made Napier famous.

And that’s because, at the time of its rebuilding, the fashionable architectural style was art-deco - so that was the style used by the restoration architects.

The result is an almost complete art-deco town centre - unique in the world.  I wandered round it at sunset on a Sunday evening.  Its streets were deserted and I was transported to the set of a 1930s Busby Berkeley or Astaire and Rogers film.  Geometric designs, false perspective, pastel colours.  My photos can’t possible do it justice but you can see  many more professional ones online.  Take a look.



I really like the 'pretty in pink' gate-posts to Tiffen Park!

 Explanatory panels like this one are dotted all over the town - they make sobering reading

 I loved this mural - 'The City Beautiful:  1933'

 'A Wave In Time'
This sculpture is of the wife of the immensely wealthy businessman 
who sponsored the reconstruction of Napier

Napier was a genuinely inspiring place for me - to look at and to think about.

Nowhere's perfect, though.  The campsite I stayed at there was a bit too much like Maplin’s for comfort.  Overpriced, a bit tatty and full of squealing kids.  I almost wished for another, selective, earthquake to strike....

* * *
While I was thoroughly enjoying an idle meander around the Social Security and Village Museum in Kurow on South Island, my attention was drawn to the implement pictured above.  The curator confirmed what the label says - nobody seems to know what it is.

I immediately thought of the Company of Truckshunters, amongst whom there are several people who are good with their hands (as it were) and who therefore should be able to shed some light into this mysterious corner of kiwi local history.

I can be of no real help, except to say that the museum is mostly concerned with the men who built the two large local dams and also brought the railway to central South Island.  The thing itself is about a foot (30cm) long and is made of metal throughout.

I've promised the museum's very friendly guardians that someone of my acquiantance must know what this thing was used for.

Prove me right - please.  If you don't, my reputation in Kurow will be in shreds.

* * *
I have sent Mauricio our collective best wishes and hopes that his tonsil problem will soon be cured.

* * *
Seals on the foreshore rocks at Kaikoura.
I love this picture.

The smug self-satisfaction that permeates the remarks I made about L&P in my last posting has been expunged in one fell swoop by no other than the redoubtable Keith Johnson (of Linda Grierson fame), who has written to tell me that you can get L&P in Tesco.

I do not, however, believe this ludicrous assertion.  I need photographic evidence.  I need a picture of Keith and/or Linda - or any other non-kiwi truckshunter - holding a bottle or can of the precious nectar before I give it any credence at all.

The ball’s in your court, Mr Johnson...

* * *
As I was doing my campervan’s dump the next morning at Fairlie (that’s what they call cleaning out its unmentionable bits), I was intrigued to notice this sign.
The rules (and techniques) of pétanque

It was the first evidence I had of the popularity of pétanque in New Zealand.  I’ve since discovered that it’s played with such joie-de-vivre and elan that there are school and adult pétanque leagues and everyone with any pretence to be a true kiwi owns at least one set of pétanque boules from the age of 5 upwards (along with a rugby ball).

I’ve no idea why this should be so.  Although the French did try to get a foothold in New Zealand, they made a complete dog’s breakfast of it, as I was to find out later.  Perhaps kiwi enthusiasm for pétanque is the only reminder that there were ever any French settlers in New Zealand at all...

* * *
I called in to see Geraldine.  Which sounds as if I’d decided to pay social calls on sheep or goats - or perhaps some previously elusive kiwi truckshunteress.  But no - Geraldine was a typically pretty New Zealand ‘frontier-style’ sheep town.  With one gloriously unique attraction - the world’s largest jersey.

This picture of it is from the internet because, when I called in, the shop was closed so I didn’t see it - which was excruciatingly disappointing, especially as I also missed the mediaeval mosaic (‘made out 15 million pieces’) that comes with it.

As I sat outside the deserted premises which houses these treasures, munching on a Chicken Korma Pie, I fell to wondering whether my unsavoury - and even unclean - thoughts about the apparent shortage of things to do in Geraldine could possible be true.

* * *
But I couldn’t linger.  I was determined to investigate a neglected aspect of kiwi history that day:  the settlement attempt which, had it succeeded, would have meant I was travelling in Nouvelle Zelande and struggling with my schoolboy French the way I do when I visit Beaujolais or Paris.

In 1840 some French settlers set sail from Rochefort with the idea of establishing a whaling centre on the Banks Peninsula of South Island but the British would have none of it.  New Zealand was promptly proclaimed part of the Empire, although the French were generously allowed to settle at Akaroa.  Which is where I headed from Geraldine.

* * *
The Banks Peninsula  is celebrated throughout New Zealand and elsewhere, for its surpassing, almost dreamlike, beauty.  (It's named after English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who has the double privilege of having banksias (the plants) named after him.)

This is the first view you get of it as you cross the crest of the hill.

Isn’t it lovely?

As I travelled round the shoreline to Akaroa, I discovered that one of the bays you can see in the photograph is called Robinson’s Bay, which only goes to show...

Akaroa was worth the journey.  It sits in its own, wide, horse-shoe bay which is lined with public gardens and benches to sit on and admire the view.  There are only a few streets and most of them - as you can see - retain their French names.  The police are the 'gendarmerie' and petrol is 'essence'.  I couldn't find anybody at all who spoke French, though.  Quelle dommage.

I sat on the foreshore for an hour or so watching teenagers kicking a rugby ball around on the ‘domain’ - the kiwi word for a public park. 

(All towns and villages have a domain - even mighty Wellington and Auckland.  And all kiwi kids - and I mean all - mess around in them with rugby balls.  The game is a true obsession in New Zealand - much, much more than soccer is in England.  Several times I saw a couple of people jogging together - and passing a rugby ball between them as they ran.)

Akaroa was too good to leave so I decided to spend the night there...

* * *
My target the next day was the coastal village of Kaikoura, which has a special place in the affections of anyone who wants to go whale-watching and dolphin-spotting.  It’s said that these wonderful creatures obligingly leap out of the waters off Kaikoura almost to order and bask in all the gasps of wonder and amazement that their appearances always cause.
I gazed out to sea from this clifftop look-out for over two hours and what did I see? (as the song goes) - I saw the sea.  Its almost flat-calm gentleness remained undisturbed by any creature at all.  Not even a duck, let alone a dolphin.  Whales?  Yeah right....

(The picture, by the way, was taken by Marge and Dude from Texas - no kidding.  They said that New Zealand truly had it all - but that Texas had more of it.  I smiled as warmly as I could whilst secretly loathing Marge's clumsy slap and Dude's hideous tartan golf trousers.)

Kaikoura was a lovely place to be though.  The mountain back-drop to the open bay was stunning and I did manage to be completely ignored by a few sleepy seals on the pebble beach and rocks below.

Unfortunately, though, it was Kaikoura Party Weekend.  As I left the town, busloads of noisy drunken teenagers were starting to arrive, waving their knickers and underpants out of bus and car windows.  As I headed northwards, Kaikoura was beginning to have a regrettable touch of Saturday-night Sunderland about it.

* * *
So I spent the night in Blenheim, up the near the top of South Island.  The town was acceptably dull and the campsite was quiet.  And I had time to contemplate the missing whales and my ferry journey the next day across the Cook Strait to the North Island.

* * *
Picton - the ferry’s point of departure - was lovely.  Its one pleasantly scrappy main street - a feature of kiwi towns I was beginning to recognise - was lined with craft shops, greengrocers, retailers of tractor spare parts, cafes and outdoor clothes shops.  A lovely harbour garden looks out to the ferry terminal.  I sat here and wondered if the ferry I could see was mine.
It was.
 Leaving Picton.
It was soon after I took this picture that Whetu serenaded me - and I saw my Wandering Albatross, as well as a flock of Fluttering Shearwaters, some Diving Petrel and some Buller’s Shearwaters.

* * *
I’d planned to do so much in Wellington, New Zealand’s up-and-coming capital city.  Visit the zoo and botanical gardens, have a ride on the funicular railway, have a look at Te Papa, the brand-new National Museum of New Zealand (of which all kiwis are immensely proud). 

But my experience so far had shown me quite definitely that my plans, made poring over maps and guide-books with a steaming posset and an iced finger back home in Newcastle, were hopelessly unrealistic.  Campervans just don’t go that fast, specially if their drivers keep wanting to stop and look at something...

So I headed off the ferry and due north on the main road out of Wellington, the kiwi equivalent of the A1, which winds up and up through the mountains on a truly terrifying switchback route - with the sheer drop into the gorges far below on my side of the road.

I was absolutely petrified as I drove higher and higher around tighter and tighter hairpin bends and had to stop at the other end to recover with a revitalising flat white and a chocolate honey caramel pecan shortbread slice - served to me by Dawn, whose great-grandparents had emigrated from ‘somewhere called Aylesbury’.

She congratulated me on having crossed the mountains unscathed and suggested that what I needed was peace, calm and tranquillity.  ‘Go to Martinborough’, she said.  So I did - and she was right.  It was lovely.
 From the pretty central square in Martinborough.
Its founder laid its streets out in the form of the Union Jack!

Distance travelled so far:  14,720m / 23,689km


There’s a hugely popular soft drink in New Zealand called L&P.  It’s a kind of kiwi lemonade made by mixing lemon juice with carbonated natural mineral water from the little town of Paeroa - hence (of course) L&P.

It’s lovely - exotically and delicately perfumed - and everybody drinks it.  The label proudly tells you that L&P is ‘world-famous in New Zealand’.  They recently marketed a variation of it as ‘world-famous in New Zealand from quite recently’.  Understatement like that is rare in advertising!

Unfortunately, L&P is practically unavailable outside NZ, in much the same way that Dandelion and Burdock seems to be restricted to Britain (although I once heard that a bar in Lyon was selling it as an exotic drink for about £10 a bottle).

I’m telling you all this because I’ve just eaten a bar of L&P-flavoured chocolate, made by Whittaker’s (NZ’s national chocolatier) and it was scrumptious.  And you will probably never, ever, have any.

So there.

(When you buy a bar of Whittaker’s excellent chocolate, the label helpfully tells you that it was made ‘with our new Swiss-made 5-roll refiner’.  You just have to buy their chocolate if they’ve gone to all the trouble of importing a 5-roll refiner all the way from Switzerland, haven’t you?  Eat your heart out, Cadbury’s.)

* * *
This tendency for New Zealanders to be linguistically light on their feet can be strangely rewarding.

When two lanes dovetail into one on British roads, we are told to ‘Merge In Turn’.  Here in NZ, the sign boldly says ‘Merge Like A Zip’.  You don’t easily miss signs like that tell you to 'merge like a zip'.

In British supermarkets, we have ‘shopping trolleys’, which is a conventionally dull thing to call them.  In the US, they are ‘carts’, which is even duller.  The French get a little spicier by calling them ‘chariots’ but kiwis trump all of us.  Here, they’re called ‘trundlers’, which is about as perfect a name as you can get.
* * *
The company whose lifts are installed here in my hotel in Auckland is called Schindler.

They are Schindler’s Lifts.

* * *

These are the mysterious Moeraki Boulders.  They are strewn along the foreshore of Koekohe Beach and I visited them on my way from Dunedin up the east coast of South Island.  There is, apparently, a perfectly sound geological reason why these boulders have ended up being almost perfectly spherical like this.  This is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject of the Moeraki Boulders...

'The erosion by wave action of mudstone, comprising local bedrock and landslides, frequently exposes embedded isolated boulders. These boulders are grey-colored septarian concretions, which have been exhumed from the mudstone enclosing them and concentrated on the beach by coastal erosion.'

So now you know.
I was fascinated by how other-worldly they looked - as if they had been dropped there by aliens to deliberately confuse and unsettle us (like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

There's something deeply 'basic' and satisfying about geological phenomena like these beach boulders - or the Bowder Stone or High Force - and I like it when people go out of their way to visit them.  I once decided that Hutton's Unconformity (on the Isle of Arran) sounded too good to miss until I found out how long it would take to walk to it.

Other visitors were obviously just as fascinated by the Moeraki Boulders as I was - including Feung and Cheung here.  They are a young Chinese couple who had fitted in a visit to the Boulders as part of their honeymoon (for reasons best known to themselves).
They were a smashing couple - and, quite by accident, I met them again the next day when I stopped to gape at Mt Cook/Aoraki.  I wished them well in their marriage, from all of us.  They were all smiles and hugs.  Lovely.

(New Zealand seems to be popular with foreign honeymooners.  I met another couple at Waitomo Caves on North Island - Marine and Guillaume, from Grenoble and Annecy in France.  Smugly, I was able to wish them well in French!) 

* * *
My next night after Dunedin was spent at Oamaru, just up the coast from the Boulders.  It’s a splendid little town and retains almost all of its Victorian port area, which is rare in NZ. 

I was amazed to find many of the central area’s streets had names that rang quite a few bells.  The main street is Tyne Street.  Running off one end of it is Wansbeck Street.  And nearby is Coquet Street.  I’m not sure if there is a special link between the early settlement of Oamaru and north-east England but I’d love to find out.

* * *
The countryside in this part of South Island is lush and luxuriant.  It’s like a dream of an endlessly rural England.  Farms hidden in birch- and poplar-copses.  Woods tumbling down gentle hillsides.  Hillocks draped with carpets of grass and dotted with grazing sheep and cattle (and llamas and alpacas and deer and goats).  Free-ranging pigs and hens and geese.  Orchards and - very, very widely interspersed - farming villages.

Untended hills throughout South Island are covered in flaming-yellow gorse.  It’s everywhere, bouncing the yellow sunlight blindingly off the hills. 

My rapture dissolved when I discovered later that gorse is yet another ‘introduced species’ here; it spreads like wildfire and is smothering much of New Zealand’s native plants.  So much ancient flora and fauna brought to the brink of extinction through European intervention.  But who introduced gorse?  And why?

* * *
I headed inland from Oamaru to take one last look at the Southern Alps - and, in particular, at Aoraki/Mt Cook, NZ’s highest mountain.  I passed through the pretty roadside village of Kurow (‘birthplace of New Zealand’s Social Security system’) and stopped to admire an enormous statue of a sheep.  If any animal deserves a statue in NZ, it’s the sheep!

And then there was Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Or rather there wasn’t.  Every other snowy mountain-top sparkled in that clearest and bluest of days - except for Aoraki, which remained resolutely hidden under a vaporous cloak of clouds.  So I pointed my camera at where I was told it was and took a picture.
* * *
The most obviously wonderful thing about the sporty little town of Tekapo is its lovely, large, blue lake.  And the most obviously wonderful thing about the lake - apart from its heart-stopping scenic setting - is the Church of the Good Shepherd.  You can see classic views of it on Google.
It is truly a magical and uplifting place to be - and its spirituality is enhanced when you get inside.  It’s normal for churches to have flamboyant stained glass in the east window - the window behind the high altar.  But here at Tekapo there’s none of that.  Instead, a clear-glass ‘picture window’ lets you look out, beyond the simple wooden cross, to the amazing view across the lake to the mountains.

Much more liberating than any stained glass I ever saw.
This picture was taken just as it started to rain and just after some Japanese tourists arrived.  I watched them take endless photographs of each other as I dug into a bacon-and -egg pie.

(They love their pies in Australia and New Zealand.  There’s nothing edible that can’t be eaten in a pie.  I bought a Full English Breakfast Pie in Te Kuiti just to see what they'd put in it.  There was bacon, baked beans, a small hash brown and some muchrooms in a lusciously creamy scrambled egg sauce.  It tasted wonderful.)

This statue right next to the church is of ‘McKenzie’s Dog’.  The inscription is very worthy but the truth is that Mr McKenzie used his dog to rustle hundreds of sheep from local runholders.  So much so that this part of NZ is known as McKenzie Country.

* * *
I spent my fourth NZ night in a remote campsite at Fairlie.  I threw crumbs to the birds - chaffinches and hedge-sparrows - and wondered how on Earth these old friends of mine from home had managed to fly all this way.

I looked up into a cloudless sky and realised for the first time that these were the southern heavens I was looking at; even the stars are different here...

I worked out that the distance I had travelled from Newcastle to this lost and peaceful place was 14,177 miles - 22,816 kilometres.  By my planning calculations, I had reached another milepost on my journey; I had covered almost exactly half the distance.  This was my half-way point in miles travelled.

A small stream (still commonly called a ‘creek’ in New Zealand) ran by my campervan and murmured me to sleep.


Here are some pictures of a few of New Zealand’s birds.  Collectively, they have a deeply unhappy story to tell...
 A kea, an assertive woodland parrot native to the South Island
 A kiwi; the one I saw today was in a special nocturnal compound and I wasn't allowed to photograph it.  They are the only birds on Earth to have nostrils at the business end of their beaks.
 A morepork, the New Zealand owl.  I haven't seen one of these but I've heard one - and the call definitely sounds like 'more pork, more pork'!

 A hiki, or stitchbird.  I saw a few of these in the reserve today.  They are red-list endangered.
 A kaka - the North Island's version of the kea.
A kokako - again, hearing its call, as I did today, explains its ancient Maori name.

I’m delighted - and surprised - to say that I have actually seen a couple of these birds; and all in one day.  I’ve seen a hiti, a kokako, a kaka ( - don’t they have marvellously earthy Maori names? - ) and, at last, I’ve seen a kiwi.

The only reason I’ve been able to see them close-up is because, on my way here to Napier today, I called in at the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Reserve, where the NZ Department of Conservation is involved in an uphill struggle to save most of them from total extinction.

How has this happened?  How - in just a couple of hundred years - has the unique birdlife of New Zealand been all but wiped out?  That’s what I asked Gay, a knowledgeable and gracious lady who showed me round part of the reserve.

First of all, of course, there are the predators which Europeans introduced and which have become the agents of near-extinction for many of NZ’s flightless birds - most famously the kakapo but also the kiwi.  There are now cats, rats, dogs and stoats all over New Zealand.

But the worst of the lot is the possum.

In its native Australia, it’s an endangered species - its habitat is being destroyed for farming.  In NZ, though, it has the whole country to itself - and no predators.  It has become a hated pest, attacking crops, orchards, gardens, young farm stock and any wildlife it can get its teeth into.

All of which means, of course, that the most catastrophic predator of all is - human beings.  Not only have we denuded a lot of NZ of its native forest and replaced it with all those pretty hill-farms I’ve been enjoying so much; we’ve also introduced animals which have almost wiped out a major proportion of the wildlife which, until man arrived in about 1100, had lived and evolved here for millions of years.

Almost their only hope now is NZ’s many offshore, predator-free islands, which is where you’ll find kiwis and kea and morepork by the score. 

And somewhere out there, on some gusty islet, is the only thriving population of tuatara - said to be the only surviving dinosaur on Earth.  How lucky am I to have seen two of them at the wonderful wildlife reserve today?

What you won’t find on any of these island reserves is people.
The two tuatara I saw today.  They're quite astonishing.  I mean - seriously.

Thanks to the lovely Gay for showing me these special and beautiful animals.