Sunday, 17 January 2010

The calm after the storm

Thankfully I had time to recover after the white-knuckle ride, with the next few days being more about the scenery than the thrills!  We headed mountainwards, to visit Lake Tekapo - which is a wonderful turquoise colour thanks to the microscopic rock particles in it, which react with the glacial meltwater and the sunshine to make this beautiful, startling colour.  And after that it was Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain and - as ever - amazing to look at.  

Sadly the weather was a bit against us, with the clouds covering much of the mountains around us, but we did a 3-hour alpine walk that more than made up for it.  It had everything from grey shingle to green marshland, rock climbing to rock hopping over streams and bogs, mountain views and lakeside paths...  Journey's end was Lake Hooker, a glacial lake with actual icebergs in it, right at the foot of the mountain.  In winter, apparently, there are avalanches, and even in summer, as now, the ice came right down to the water.  The only things that bothered me were the swingbridges - flimsy suspension bridges strung over roaring rapids.  I felt like Indiana Jones, but not as brave.  And without the bullwhip.

After that, we headed into Oamaru, the whitestone city.  Much of the historic district is built from a local whitestone, which is apparently soft when freshly quarried before hardening into a marble-like effect. This was meat and drink to the Victorians, naturally, who carved it into grand whitestone columns and pilasters, with leaf decorations on every free surface.  Even the local paper is housed in one of these grand buildings - Independent, eat your heart out!  Sadly we weren't there for long enough to explore Slightly Foxed, a second-hand bookstore downtown that looked like a treasure trove.  Though perhaps it's just as well, given that my luggage already weighs a ton.  

And now I'm in Dunedin for a few days, having hopped off the bus to explore a bit more on my own.  I'll be heading out to Otago Peninsula tomorrow to see the albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins, and soon after that heading down to Stewart Island to go kiwi-spotting (the birds this time, not the people!).  With any luck the weather will pick up again - now I know why Crowded House (NZ band) wrote "Four Seasons in One Day".  I'll let you know how the twitching goes (and the brewery tour - it's not all clean living out here!).

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