Lots of wandering around Windy Wellington – officially the windiest city in the world. Decided on a coach tour to see all the capital, not quite realising how small it is! Museums, jumping off jetties, rock pools, National Museum (Te Papa), the kids were made to catch up on their journals, the girl practised her times tables, the boy improved his reading age.
I will say this now as a disclaimer – everywhere on the South Island of New Zealand is spectacularly beautiful – so you can add as many superlatives and flowery adjectives as you wish to any description on the island, you would have to endeavour to find a land fill site or an asbestos factory to try and disprove that premise; but the natural world can literally take your breath away, and you have to fight to get it back – you get the idea.
Turned off the Cook Straights to the beautiful Prince Charlotte Sound. The kids were made to drink in the views but became restless quickly.
However small Picton is at the other end we managed to drive the wrong way as the expletive laden wife directed her volley of disgust to a deaf lorry driver and our first encounter of the South Island was a car park at a dead end.
Through Marlborough Country, Blenheim, Seddon to the majestic coast road and past Kaikoura, the occasional dwelling or hamlet, stopping to marvel at the fur seals basking on the rocks. We see our first sign that states: ‘Welcome to the House of Pain’ as we start down the sparsely populated road. The wife and I debate what this means, it is painted on a brick wall in one foot high white paint. We can only surmise it is cheap advert for S & M at an establishment you probably wouldn’t want to frequent even if you were that way inclined. At this stage it is not BDSM, this is pre-Fifty Shades of Grey and we are both sexual civilians not prepared to get involved in collateral damage.
In the morning when we set off and spot yet another sign offering hospitality and pain in an unknown dwelling.
On the short journey down the coast to Dunedin we missed the Moeraki Boulders, which I had researched in the guide book and was not about to pass by, so we double back 12 km to see them. The Boy went into a moanathon for the entire 12 kms.
“What are we going back to see, some rocks in the sea?”
“Special spherical boulder balls boy. Perfectly spherical like lots of giants’ testicles that have grown over millions of years, or washed ashore from the canoes as the Maori legend suggests. Grown almost organically over millions of years in a mystic sea!”I retort summarising and paraphrasing the guidebook.
“So basically some rocks then!”This groaning loops around and around until I lose patience and tell him to reserve judgement until he as observed said geological features. “Rocks,” he concludes. “ They will be worth the detour, won’t they?” the wife chips in. “See what you’ve done, you’ve infected your mother with your malignant cynicism. Like I’m the Rock-Master General for New Zealand and not the one prepared, and the only one allowed to read the guide book in advance.”
The tide was low enough to expose the Spherical boulders, and the boy could not contain his excitement as he hopped from one to another, then when I pointed to a whale far offshore, too distant for an amateur like me to identify, he almost burst with excitement, followed by deflation when he could not spot the large sea mammal. In the end we had to pull him off them as the crepuscular light crept over us. Without sounding too much like an episode of The Wonder Years, he learnt a valuable lesson that day; that sometimes you have to trust the authority figure to take you out of the way to the shore of the globular orbs.
In the world of Physics there is a ‘hilarious’ insult that is used by fellow Physicists, and that is to call someone of displeasure an ‘SB’ – a spherical bastard, as no matter what direction you look at them, they are still a bastard! Which for your average Physicist, with poor social skills, no life-partner, poor personal hygiene, and a vast collection of Sci-Fi (and more visceral) movies, is quite funny!
We arrive in Dunedin at six in the evening. I’m desperate to go around the coast and watch the Blue Penguins returning to their burrows, but I was gazumped by a barbeque – cute penguins can wait, grilled food cannot! – I only know this by looking in my journal, I can recall virtually everything we did in Dunedin and the surrounding area, but I have just looked the holiday park up and it still doesn’t ring any synapses. After a while the holiday parks merge into one, especially if you travel the south island twice, like we did, and could have quite easily set off immediately for a third time. As always family democracy dictates we can all choose one activity in any place we stop. The girl is bouncing around on her bed when she hears the wife and me discussing the Cadbury’s factory tour. “It won’t be like Willy Wonka, you know that don’t you?””Will it have lots of chocolate?” “Yes, there’ll be plenty of chocolate.” The bouncing continues and the concentric vibrations of, “Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” radiate out and make us all laugh. She is punching the air, she’s an addict, an exuberant addict – I think she is imagining the gift shop already! It wasn’t Willy Wonka’s, but when they released a ton of chocolate through a silo, the girl informs us this is how she wants to die, not swim, drown in it – she is a bloody addict. The coroner’s report is going to make great headlines in The Daily Mail: ‘Parents Guilty of Assisted Suicide of their own Daughter in Confectionary Compulsion!’ There is lots of free chocolate and we leave with enough to keep her going until rehab.
Dunedin is often referred to as the ‘Edinburgh of the South’ due to the large number of Scottish settlers in the mid nineteenth century; Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh.
After lunch we move onto The Royal albatross Sanctuary at the end of Otago Peninsula, specifically at Taiarora Head. This is the only mainland-breeding colony in the world. The guided tour takes us through the woefully inadequate Second World War gun emplacements next to the colony, which would have been fine if the Japanese had attacked on surfboards and inflatable dinghies! The Royal albatross is the second biggest albatross species in the world with a wing span of nearly ten feet, they glide majestically on the wind, but landing provides its own problems for such a heavy bird. I expect the scouse vultures from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to appear on the few occasions we observe landings. The boy gets very excited as we leave the car park as one is perched on a gatepost, he demands we get out and take a photo and it is difficult to tell who is photobombing who, but one of them is more indifferent than the other!
We move on a little further down the peninsula to the Yellow Eyed Penguin Sanctuary and get close up and personal with the most endangered penguin on the globe. The staff are very passionate as they take us around the labyrinth of tunnels dug into the sand. We spot our first Sea lion on the beach. It is early evening, the blustery wind is making it cold, we are waiting around to see the Blue Fairy Penguins. This is what I’ve really come to see, though I must admit the Royal albatrosses were amazing. The kids are getting bored and don’t want to venture out in the cold until there is a very high probability of a sighting. I’m out in the cold (this is the NZ summer!) talking to a young female student, she is a volunteer as are many others that help out, she assures me we will see many without having to venture far from the road. While we are waiting I ask her about the ‘House of Pain’ signs we have seen on the coastal road, (it probably comes over as a creepy chat-up line, but I have reassured her that my family are in car out of view somewhere!) She informs me, that this refers to the old Carisbrook Rugby Stadium, The Drum, and more specifically the team that plays there. The rugby union team The Highlanders, which now play in the newer Forsyth Barr stadium – the world’s only fully roofed natural turfed venue, apparently. Both the wife and I are disappointed, it would have been an edgy statement for a conservative New Zealand, but instead I picture the sad rugby fanatic going to the effort of painting his signage (it will be a man!) under the cover of darkness, the complete SB. I wonder now if the new Stadium will be called the ‘BDSM Shades of Green’Venue?, or for the sake of advertising it may just have to be referred to as the ‘Interpersonal Dynamics’ Forsyth Barr Stadium!
The Volunteer spots the small penguins in the dark, how?, I have no idea, popping out of the sea. I go and retrieve my family unit from the enema, making promises of definite sightings, they are slightly reluctant, but it is my turn to be enthusiastic. They take a long time to arrive, waddling up steep sandy hillside, clumsy birds away from the comfort of the ocean, but eventually they appear around us and scuttle past to their consolatory burrows. It is invigorating to be in amongst them, even the wife gets excited; it’s only normally mountains in the great outdoors that have this effect on her. We brave the cold for as long as we can before it beats us back to the warmth of the people-carrier and home. It has been a fantastic day, life affirming, everyone is wearing a smile and talking about the best bits, the chocolate factory seems a long time ago now, but the girl remembers it and reluctantly puts it as her number one. The boy puts the ambivalent Royal albatross as his, I pick the Blue Fairy Penguins, as I have seen David Attenborough doing the self-same thing and the wife states; “The best part of the day was sharing all these events with my family.” – She’s a wise old bird sometimes!
Next time: I’ll be bach!
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Tags: Penguins, Marlborough, Wellington, Fifty Shades of Grey, Moeraki Boulders, Dunedin, Albatross, Cadburys chocolate, the house of pain, BDSM,