The last couple of days have seen us cover around a thousand kilometers and we’ve watched as the little Nissan Tiida we’ve rented has ticked over into the 100 thousand k mark on the odometer. We’ve travelled from Queenstown through to a Te Anau hotel as our base whilst we drove out to Milford and took a cruise on the Milford Monarch and explored the Milford Sound (which is a lie because it’s actually a Fjiord formed by glacier water and not a Sound which is formed by river water says the newly informed tourist that is me). The next day we left fairly early in the morning in order to make it into Dunedin for lunchtime as we had a 3.30 Peninsula Wildlife tour that took around 6 hours to do. We spent some time looking around the town centre of Dunedin (not very big – the town’s population is around 120 thousand with about 25 thousand of those being University students and currently most of them are away on holidays right now) before being picked up by a small coaster bus with about 12 other passenger and taken on a tour to the Papanui beach and penguin conservation area which is on private land and only accessed by the Elm touring company. This tour was well worth the money and the physical effort to see some of the local wildlife up close and personal and witnessing their natural behaviour.
Today we are heading back to Christchurch after spending the morning doing the shortened Cadbury factory tour. The factory is closed on weekends so no chance of actually seeing production happening but we still got a fairly interesting and informative tour interspersed with chocolate tastings that certainly increased the interest factor somewhat.
The most IMPRESSIVE element of the South Island to me has been just how much man has impacted on the land and yet it has still retained so much of it’s rugged wildness and spectacular scenery. New Zealand was at one point made up 80 percent forest. Now that amount is down to about 20 percent. The saddest consequence of all this clearance has to be the number of native species lost. Both Maori and Europeans have been responsible for the loss of animal and plant life however in light of this fairly depressing outcome the country still has an impressive array of plant, animal and bird species occupying it. Granted many of these have been introduced (not without it’s negative effects here either of course) but they have absolutely flourished and done very well over here in this climate.
Most New Zealanders we have come across so far are quite wryly grumpy about the weather currently as this is supposed to be their summer and whilst they don’t except the heat and endless sunshine Perth experiences they have certainly felt a bit hard done by in terms of the appearance of this year’s summer. It apparently turned up last Wednesday and lasted one day! It’s not uncommon to have a brief cold snap in the middle of their summer but this has apparently been one extra long wet, rainy, grey and cold summer.
As we’ve travelled through the South Island I’ve been wondering why more people have not chosen to move here and settle down. Also curious to me is what has brought New Zealanders over to Australia to live. I must ask our Kiwi neighbours when we get back, I bet it probably has to do with employment prospects. Really New Zealand is not that much further south from the rest of the world than Australia, it’s certainly greener, appears to be easier to support livestock farming, has a big tourism industry, costs about the same living wise, even when you take into account the higher fuel costs (around 2.20 per liter) but has a much greater variety of terrains, environments and outdoor activities to participate in. I’d love to be able to go skiing, snow boarding or sledding in winter, sled dog racing even. It has all the mod cons of major urban centres, a more small world feel to the different cultures and nationalities, seems to have on the whole, a generally more sensible government than Australia (not hard at the current time I know but still….), seems much more chilled out than Australia (the road rage witnessed has been zero so far and even the most harassed New Zealander has seemed positively laconic), less rev head hooligans, rugby seems no more ridiculous than AFL to me (except possibly less fisticuffs) and their produce seems to be far more heavily supplied on a local basis. Now I don’t know what their education system is like (can’t be any worse than the Australian public system) or how their general wages and living conditions stand up to the Aussie way of life. Nor do I have a clue about real estate and property prices but I do know there is far better access to all the wild and spectacular areas compared to Australia whose sheer size alone makes getting away to those sorts of places logistically more difficult. Here on the South island pretty much everything is within a 4 hour drive, amazing forest walks, mountain hikes, canyon tours, breathtaking tramping tracks. You drive 4 hours from Perth in either direction and you have Albany (which is a pretty town don’t get me wrong but hardly a Queenstown) or you have Geraldton. A good beach town on the coast is about the extent of it. We also have a lot more fauna that is dangerous (no snakes in New Zealand or blue ringed octopus or poisonous spiders) and heat that forces people to retreat indoors during the height of summer. Plus the UV index over Australia is much higher – much higher rates of skin cancer. I know I’m probably being hypercritical of home right now, grass is always greener etc (except this time it is literally true) but is employment the only thing driving New Zealanders to emigrate to Australia? For those who like the outdoors (and many Aussies do) this country seems to have it all including an outdoors that seems to cover any type of environment you desire.
Of course we’ve yet to explore the North Island, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be any less impressive than the South Island has been. The next few days sees us driving through Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth then onto Hanmer Springs and following that up with a trip to Kaikoura for some whale watching. I’m looking forward to booking a little pampering in Hanmer Springs and seeing even more spectacular scenery on the way through.
Hope everyone back home is surviving the revolting heat wave right now – I heard it was supposed to be 43 degrees celcius in Perth today. That’s around 109 F for my Northern friends…here today was a sunny and cool 23 odd degrees Celcius today on the South Island, so nice to have the sun out for the day instead of intermittently through the day. I’m missing the puppies but my sister Nicole is doing a great job dogsitting for us and I hear they’re behaving themselves whilst being total lap hogs at the same time.
In other news I think I might take up birdwatching this year.