Saturday, 13 February 2010

We're in the Wild West, baby

And it's the reason for my radio silence over the last week (no internet or mobile reception). I've rejoined Flying Kiwi and have been cruising up the west coast of the South Island, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. There are few specific sights, as it's the least touristy part (of the South Island at least), but there have been some highlights - greatest of which is the group of people I'm travelling with, who are awesome. From dressing-up days when we're doing a long drive, to bus bowling (it's a long story), and karaoke nights by camp fires on the beach, they're all up for having a giggle. I realise it sounds pretty naff when I write it down, but it's great when you're out there under the stars, beer in hand and singing along to Queen!

Other than that, we went to the Bushman's Museum, run by a man called Peter who has no truck with mealy-mouthed PCism. He was one of the guys who started out in the venison industry, which has a long and adventurous history. Years ago, the English (I know, we do all the bad stuff) introduced deer to hunt, and their population boomed. In the Thirties, the government sanctioned hunters to track them down, but they weren't making enough of a dent. Eventually someone came up with the bright idea of hunting from helicopters. This, however, worked too well, and they were running out of deer to sell to the venison industry. But one enterprising man had the solution: they would capture live deer, and ship them off to farms, tied to the bottom of helicopters... As Peter put it, jumping off the skids of a helicopter and wrestling a deer to the ground "makes bungy jumping look like a pastime for fairies". The museum celebrated all these men, and also talked frankly about the difficulties in living off the wild west coast. Eccentric and fabulous - though judging by some of the outraged letters of complaint (pasted up around the place) not everyone shared Peter's sense of humour!

Other than that, we've been on coastal walks, seen the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, passed swiftly through the jade factories of Hokitika, and are gearing up for a big Valentine's Day party this evening (we all had to pick a name out of a hat and buy that person a Valentine's gift; I got the guide, Mike, and I've bought him some lovely pink fairy wings - thankfully I suspect he'll find it funny!). We've now made it as far as Abel Tasman, and I'm about to catch a water taxi deep into the National Park to spend the day hiking over limpid pools and through cool beech forests. Oh, and I should be able to eat my lunch on the beach. Wonderful.

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