A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand and the Cook Strait

Gaining our sea legs!

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Throughout New Zealand, I really enjoyed hearing the Maori legends that form the basis of their understanding of the geography of the land, their beliefs culture and a fair chunk of New Zealand's history. Here is an exert from Te Ara, an excellent website produced with the support of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage compiling an Encyclopaedia for everything New Zealand.

The North and South islands of New Zealand are known respectively as the fish and canoe of the legendary hero Māui.

Māui fishes up the North Island

One of the greatest stories of Māori literature recounts the fishing up of the North Island. It begins with Māui and his brothers setting off on a fishing expedition. The elder brothers did not want to take Māui, so he hid in the canoe and did not reveal himself until they were out at sea. When he emerged he managed to convince his brothers to row out to the deepest part of the ocean, where he cast a fish hook made from his grandmother’s jawbone. It sank below the waves and fastened to the underwater house of Tonganui, the grandson of Tangaroa, god of the sea. Māui hauled up his catch above the water. The land, the North Island, became known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui).

How the North Island got its shape

Te Rangihaeata of the Ngāti Toarangatira tribe dictated this version of how the North Island got its shape after it was pulled from the sea:

Māui left his brothers and returned home. He said to his older brothers, ‘After I leave, please do not partake of the fish ... Do not cut up our fish …’ However, [after he left] they did not do what he said. They began to cut it up and eat it … When he returned Māui became enraged … He was greatly distressed as they cut the head, the tail, the gills and the fins … This is why this land lies unevenly – there are mountains, plains, valleys and cliffs. If they had not fought over the fish, then the land would have retained its fish shape.

In some traditions the fish is said to be a pātiki (flounder); in others it is a whai (stingray). The head of the fish lies at the south of the North Island, at present-day Wellington, and its tail is the Northland region. The barb at the base of the tail is the Coromandel Peninsula. The pākau (fins) are Taranaki and the East Coast, and the backbone runs between Taupō and Rotorua. The heart is at Maungapōhatu, in the Urewera district.

Māui and Nukutaimemeha

It is often said that the North Island is Māui’s fish and the South Island his canoe, but the East Coast tribe, Ngāti Porou, believe the canoe ended up somewhere else. They say that the first part of the fish to emerge from the water was their sacred mountain, Hikurangi. Māui’s canoe, Nukutaimemeha, became stranded on it, and is still there in petrified form.

The South Island: Māui’s canoe

The stern of Māui’s canoe is the southern tip of the South Island, and the prow is the north. When Māui hauled up his great catch he stood on the Kaikōura Peninsula, which is called Te Taumanu-o-te-waka (the thwart or seat of the canoe). Stewart Island is believed to be the anchor.

- http://www.teara.govt.nz

Cruising the Cook Strait

The journey between the South and North Islands of New Zealand takes you through the stunning Marlborough sounds across the Cook Strait and into Wellington. Dolphins swim up and play between the ferry's two catamaran hulls and the water is so clear you can see the rich ecosystem of fish the sound homes gleefully enjoying their beautiful habitat. The sunrises over the sound and bounces off the clear blue water illuminating the plush green forests on the banks of the sound. I was really looking forward to this journey. So beautiful, I insisted we stayed an extra night in South Island (there was, after all, free apple pie at the hostel!) to take the day time crossing, and enjoy the views:


Not quite what we had in mind!

Named after Captain James Cook, the first European to successfully navigate the water in 1770 and largely accredited for the discovery of Australia and New Zealand, though they had been visited by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman some 100 years earlier, the Cook Strait is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waterways in the world. And didn't she live up to her name!

Natalie has always suffered from sea sickness, her and boats just never agreed. Whilst on the whale watching trip in Kaikoura, we were told that seasickness was mainly mental, you just needed to focus on the horizon and not think about it. Ginger may help, most of the seasickness tablets are placebos, just get on with it. I reminded her of this and left her to lie down across some seats as I went to explore the boat. I after all, am an experienced sailor and explorer, just like Captain Cook himself!

As we left the calms of the Marlborough sounds the boat decided to take a bit of a different journey to the ticketed 'Scenic Cruise' as six foot waves rolled the boat back and forth. The waves smashed into the hull of the boat, the splash of the waves so large they ricocheted off the hull flying into the sky and covering the the seventh floor windows of the boat. I started to wonder if I put the hand brake on the car.

Checking on Natalie, I strolled smugly down the centre of the boat like the old sea salt I am, and continued to the front to take the below picture and inhale the sea air. Shame the exhale wasn't quite as smooth! Now I know why they are called 'Emergency' sick bags!

This was not a scenic cruise, this was Homers Odyssey, soon to be Poseidon! At least the Titanic had a calm voyage before it hit the iceberg!

Emerging green faced from the heads, I found Natalie asleep across the seats! Typical! Bring on the dry land of Wellington!


Posted by Where's Willy 23:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand cook_strait interislander Comments (3)

Nelson and Marlborough

A Split Apple, Mussels and Wine

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Kia Ora! We're now in Auckland and ready to leave back to Melbourne tomorrow. We've been really busy and unfortunately fallen a bit behind with the blog. The good news is, that means there is plenty coming your way! Hopefully you are enjoying the blog, two blogs, Kaikoura and Sydney Bridge climb, have even made it to the Travellers Point Featured Blog page!!

Photos have been re-tweeted on the Wheres Willy Twitter page and the last blog on Kaikoura has over 700 hits at time of writing! So thanks for your support! Without any further pomp and ceremony, here's what we've been getting up to;

Nelson and the wine region

Leaving the mountains and oceans of Kaikoura behind, the Marlborough region meets you with a sea of vineyards, right off the front of a nice wine label. Marlborough is well known for its wine, and driving through the vineyards there are countless signs with familiar wine names on, sat next to rows of perfectly aligned grape vines. Think of it as browsing the new world wine section in Sainsburys, except each bottle is a couple of miles of vineyard.

Through the vineyards takes you up into the New Zealand hills, this time covered in NewZealands 3rd largest export, pine trees. The pines are deforested in plots creating a patchwork of green trees against squares of cleared brown earth and lighter green patches where the pine has been replanted for another harvest.

Nelson is the largest port in South Island and the certainly the largest place we'd seen since arriving in New Zealand. We picked a lodge at random to stay in and as we pulled in I realised it was the same one I stayed in 8 years ago! Still, free soup in the evening, free breakfast, a pool, hot tub and to top it all off.... FREE SUPERNOODLES! Starting to understand why we picked this place last time! Nice one Paradiso!

We'd planned to get up early and kayak the Abel Tasman, one of my favourite activities last time I was here. As with every time we plan an activity, we were again thwarted by the weather. Rain so heavy we needed the kayaks just to get down the road!! Lucy's windscreen wipers had trouble keeping up (no surprise there!). Given the rain, we decided to scrap the kayaking and drive out to split apple rock, a naturally formed wonder sat in the sea that not surprisingly, resembles a split apple.


Well worth the hour and a bit each way in the pouring rain! The rock sits in a cove with naturally formed caves to explore and the rocks on the beach and in the caves were starting to spawn tiny mussels. Mussels - starting to feel hungry just thinking about them!


The Green Mussels of Havelock

On the way back to Picton we were stopped by a 3ft tall Mussel, at the Mussel Pot in Havelock. Havelock is the 'green lipped mussel capital of the world', so it was only right we stopped for a couple of pots. I've never seen mussels this big, you can practically hear the sea in them!


Mussels have a foot which grows outside of the shell; this foot will move the mussel till it finds a suitable spot where it can feed off the algae. Farmers treat fishing lines up to 100m long with a culture to breed the algae for the mussels and drop them into fresh water. When the line is pulled up 12-18 months later, complete with mussels, it can weigh up to 40 tonnes with the average mussel shell being 9-10cm long!

Mussels that big completely change the taste. Natalie had to take hers out the shell and cut them up they were so big! Very tasty too. The Mussel Pot serves a wide variety of steamed, smoked and grilled mussels, as big as your ears! We went for the steamed Thai green curry mussels, and the grilled ones with cheese and bacon, garlic and tomato sauces. Om nom nom!


It felt wrong having mussels without a glass of something. When you're in Marlborough, shouldn't be too hard to find.

Wither Hills

Wine is big business in New Zealand and with the falling prices of cotton and pressures on the lamb industry many farmers are switching to wine. Some remain undecided and it’s not uncommon to see lambs grazing amongst the vines. So next time you're sipping your Oyster Bay commenting on its earthy notes, see if you can detect the lamb poo!

One of the things that has always puzzled me about wine is the strong emphasis on the teloir of the wine. That is to say the soil it is grown in, its mineral properties and how that affects the taste. That's all very well and good, i'm sure it does make a difference. What I don't get is how one vineyard will have wine selling for £20 a bottle and boast its strong teloir, then a huge road with trucks, cars and all sorts go through, then on the other side a £5 a bottle vineyard. Anyway.....when in Rome.

We stopped off for a glass at Wither Hills, which just so happens to be the wine we had at our wedding. So good, we've chased it back to the grapes which sit the other side of the road to Oyster Bay and Cloudy Bay wines.


Natalie and I chose different wines to sample: Natalie had the award-winning 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, I also had a Sauvignon Blanc but this one from 2011 and from the Rarangi area of the vineyard. Both were great wines and the vineyard was a beautiful place to sit and relax:


I think when you look at these views and see the mist on the hills, the plush green vineyards slowly turning yellow and red as autumn approaches, the somewhat rudimentary brush stroke pictures on wine labels suddenly come to life. Absolutely gorgeous!


Checking into our hostel at the end of the day, I realised for the third night in a row I'd stayed there before. What I also didn't remember is The Villa lodge also serves free apple pie every night! Amazing!

Next Blog: crossing to the nation’s capital Wellington and our adventures in Parliament!

Posted by Where's Willy 04:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand picton nelson backpackers marlborough wither_hills split_apple_rock Comments (2)


How the sperm whale got its name and other stories

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A Sperm Whale Tale

When it comes to naming whales, a fairly easy precedent has been set. Blue whales are blue, hump back whales have hump backs, right whales were 'the right whales to hunt' and killer whales... Well they're not actually whales, they're part of the dolphin family but still they 'kill whales' and hence the name.

The story for sperm whales is not as straight forward. Discovered by whalers on a hunt for right whales, they killed the sperm whale and dragged it into shore. Cracking into the front of the whale's head they found 2.5 tonnes of a white, sticky liquid and assumed they'd found the whale's reproductive organ. Why they thought it was at the front of its head I don't think we'll ever know but it was named a sperm whale. Later they caught females and found the same substance at the front of their heads too. By then it was too late the name had stuck.

Unfortunately for the sperm whale they found this liquid very useful as a lubricant, to put in creams, perfumes, oils, candles and Rolls Royce even used it in their gear boxes.

It was later discovered that sperm whales use the liquid to help them dive. When they need to dive they cool the liquid, it gains density and helps them down to depths of 3,000m. Despite having the same lung capacity as a cow, sperm whales store oxygen in their muscles and can stay under water for over 2 hours, though the average dive is 30-60 minutes. An average 16m (though one has been found over 18m) in length these 45 tonne beasts are the largest toothed animal in the world and the third largest species of whale. They have been found with whole Mako sharks or even great whites in their stomachs having swallowed them in one! They can kill their prey by emitting sound up to 230 decibels, the largest sound made by any animal, 180 is enough to cook a humans organs alive!! Now you know, bring your earplugs and let's go find one!


Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where snow capped mountains meet the ocean. Famous for its whale watching and the extensive local ecosystem, it is honestly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It was my favourite place in NZ last time I visited and I think it may be again this time.

We headed out on the early boat from the whale way station (genius, I know) with Whale Watch Kaikoura and we were in luck, the scout boat had seen a sperm whale dive earlier.

Natalie was loaded with sea sickness pills and we sat nearer the back where the boat is more stable. On the way out to the deep sea ridge we were told about the whales, how to spot them and how long we'd expect to see them for. I enjoyed the talk as looked at seals and albatrosses out the window enjoying my time though the water was a 'little choppy'. When I turned back Natalie was braced in the seat as if she were holding the boat together, the metal arm rests indented with her hand grips. Maybe it was a little rougher than I thought!

We stopped to watch some albatross skim the water, half flying half running, for their breakfast; with wingspans up to 3m, these are the largest sea birds in the world, and they are big boys! Stopping also gave the crew an opportunity to drop the sonic sounds meter to look for whales. We were informed it was a waiting game and reminded the average whale watch may see one whale but nothing was guaranteed.

A couple more stops and the first spout of water was seen off the starboard side and the boat raced over to see the whale. They normally surface for 5 or 6 minutes to re-oxygenate before diving so time was of the essence as we didn't know how long it had already been up. When we pulled aside, it was clear this animal was much larger than our boat.


From the boat we could see the top of its head and back before it dove again giving the infamous tail shot.


The crew informed us it was unlikely we'd see another whale so we headed inshore to see what else we could find. It wasn't long before we found a pod of around 200 dusky dolphins who rode alongside and in between the hulls of the catamaran.


We were even treated to some acrobatic displays as they jumped and flipped out of the water. Although I am prone to the odd exaggeration, they were quite literally everywhere you looked. For me seeing the dolphins like this trumped the whales as they're so playful and plentiful, brings a real smile to your face.


Authentic Kaikoura Lunch

Kai Koura comes from the Maori 'Kai', to eat and 'Koura' means crayfish, New Zealand's Rock Lobster. With a name like that, it'd be wrong not to eat some! And you can get them pretty fresh:


It's always nice to meet your lunch!

Ohau Stream Pups

When getting dinner last night in Coopers Catch 'fush and chups', we met a Brit who'd retired out to Kaikoura. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, said we'd seen the seals earlier that day etc etc. On parting he gave us a great tip to stop at Ohau point, a waterfall where mothers take their seal pups whilst they fish. Little did we expect what we found. Must have been 50-60 seal pups (apparently up to 200 in the height of winter) splashing around and playing in the waterfall. Very cute - gets my seal of approval! Ah ah ah *clap hand like seal*


Posted by Where's Willy 01:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Christchurch to Kaikoura

Seals, sheep and a Sh*t car

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New Car

Fully equipped with our new car from Jucy Lucy (named hereafter as Lucy) and we're sorely missing the beast. This Diatsu Sirion is so small I have to bend just to get my left leg under the steering column.

Although new, this is not a car, it is a joke. The seats are uncomfortable and the boot tiny, I can only assume from the bit where you stick the key in to wind up this tin toy car up. To add embarrassment to injury it's presence on the road is so laughable they fitted it with a horn from a clown car repair shop.

Naught to 100km in approximately 5 and a half minutes when going downhill and with the wind on your side they may as well not ask you if you want the insurance as I doubt you could cause more than £100 damage to it. Where the $1 beast engine purred smugly at 120km/h, Lucy sounds (and has the power) of a bad hair dryer struggling at 60km/h. I am not happy, at least we only have to travel a couple of thousand miles in it!

Cookie time

Desperate to cheer ourselves up and heading out of Christchurch we took the south road to stop in on this place;


We'd seen it heading into Christchurch and it had been bugging us since. Factory outlet cookies? Don't mind if we do! Thanks Cookietime, we've loaded the car up!! After all it is the size and build quality of a cookie jar!


Pumped with sugar and realising the long drives had exhausted our chat (even I'd run out of things to talk about!), we decided to increase our social circle by picking up a complete stranger. I'm surprised he got in after seeing the car, even if he had been stood in the rain an hour! Casper, 19, from the Netherlands was travelling New Zealand on his gap year. Having never been on a plane before he bought a one way ticket to NZ and has been scrounging his way round ever since. Bit of work here, free ride there, no plans, he is a true traveller. Although he did provide new conversation he also added another persons worth of weight along with a rucksack and guitar - as if Lucy wasn't struggling enough! We took him to Kaikoura where our jealousy of his age and lack of worries forced us to abandon him at the information office.

Still nice guy and avoided us listening to NZ radio playing nothing but Crowded House and the same 5 hits of the 90's! They best not kill Tom Pettys Free falling for me!


Driving over the hills and down into Kaikoura provided yet another view in the long list of stunning NZ scenic drives. The constant vistas do not encourage safe driving when you're constantly gazing out the windows.

Dropping our bags and our hitchhiker off in town we headed out to the peninsula to a local seal colony. The seals are pretty cool and are well used to seeing humans. They just lie basking in the sun like lethargic teenagers who only stir if you disturb their sleep, to give an aggressive grunt or bark.


Sheep Shearing

Passing a sign for live sheep shearing at 4pm, we stopped in for an authentic New Zealand experience. Soon discovering we were the only audience for the show (nothing like a private tour) we thought the show would be cancelled. Not to worry, the farmer arrived with his two dogs and the show went on.


The is a former works record holder for shearing over 500 lambs in 8 hours. His wife and daughter also hold the female pairs record.

Each Drysdale sheep with a 6 month coat (about 15cm long) gives 3kg of wool. The wool off the head and the legs sells for $1 a kilo, the body wool sells for $3 a kilo and merino wool $18 a kilo. Teams of shearers tour New Zealand during shearing season travelling up and down the country shearing sheep. Before the wool is sold it is pressed to extract the oil or lanolin so be used in various oils, creams and other products.


A good bit of fun but at $12 for 10 minute show....we'd been FLEECED!! *cue drums*


Posted by Where's Willy 01:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged kaikoura seals sheep_shearing Comments (2)


Revisiting a very different city

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According to Māori tradition, earthquakes are caused by the god Rūaumoko (or Rūamoko), the son of Ranginui (the Sky) and his wife Papatūānuku (the Earth). Rangi had been separated from Papa, and his tears had flooded the land. Their sons resolved to turn their mother face downwards, so that she and Rangi should not constantly see one another’s sorrow and grieve more. When Papatūānuku was turned over, Rūaumoko was still at her breast, and was carried to the world below. To keep him warm there he was given fire. He is the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the rumblings that disturb the land are made by him as he walks about.

- http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/historic-earthquakes

On 4 September 2010, Rūaumoko let his frustrations surface and Christchurch was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. Luckily no one was killed in this quake, Cantabrians celebrated and began rebuilding their damaged city.

At 12.51pm on 22 February 2011 a second earthquake hit Christchurch this time a smaller quake of 6.3 on the Richter scale but wreaking havoc across the city. The central business district, which surrounded the central Cathedral Square. 185 people died in the quake and the city would never be the same again.

Walking round the city, it is not half the city I visited 8 years ago. I remember Christchurch quite warmly as the place I found most recognisable to the UK. It was my favourite city in New Zealand; it was busy, metropolitan and lots of things going on. My main visual memory was that of Cathedral Square which brought the whole city together. The square, along with large parts of the city are still cordoned off two years later.


The backpackers I stayed in, Charlie B’s doesn’t even exist anymore. Where large buildings used to stand there are nothing but rubble car parks. Clocks remain stuck on 12:51, the time the quake hit, buildings are propped up with ISO containers and cordon barriers and fences are everywhere.


Quake City now serves as a moving and touching memory and museum to the quakes, full of information and personal accounts of those affected by the disaster. This and seeing a once great city in ruins was very heart breaking to see. It was no longer a newspaper heading the other side of the world.

Out of the rubble of the earthquake comes a new city and lots of innovative ideas to get Christchurch back to its former city. Take Pallet Pavilion for instance, an entertainments space built using building pallets, the tables and chairs are building crates. Inside the space can be used as a bar, stage or restaurant area.


When we visited fences where being decorated by volunteers to be moved into the central business district to help cut through the grey landscape the disaster left behind.


These are being built by Gap fillers. Who are making use of the rubble car parks appearing across the city. There are even a number of mini golf courses all over the place.


Re:START is a rejuvenated shopping mall with shops built entirely inside ISO containers.


The earthquake had a heavy effect on the water supply to the city, dwellers were forced to building long drop toilets, and this of course did not come about without taking on the usual New Zealand sense of humour! Check out showusyourlongdrop.com to see the funny and amazing contraptions people built to do their business!

Across the city there are pop up bars, food wagons and projects that bring a smile back to your face. I have to give particular mention to the aptly named Smash Palace, a bar consisting of two buses, one decked out as a bar, another as a seating area. Very cool. With this sort of innovation and new blood and energy, things are looking nothing but up for Christchurch.


A Holme away from Home

A special thank you to my former colleague Frances Holmes who invited us round for a bit of home comfort, British accents and an enjoyable home cooked dinner. It was very much appreciated.

Posted by Where's Willy 01:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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