We have spent the last week or so by driving towards the central (inland) part of the south island. After Dunedin we drove to Alexandra - that is the name of the city - which turned out to be just a small town of little interest to us. It did, however, have one of the largest camping grounds we have seen, albeit a very worn down one of that. Anyway, we stayed there for just one night and then we drove directly towards our actual target: Mount Cook - the highest mountain in New Zealand.
We turned in for the night in a small backpackers place called Buscot Station. Located on a hillside outside the small town of Omarama. Alexandra had been reading good things about the place in the Rough Guide so we decided that it was time to get a few nights sleep in some proper beds. Furthermore, it was only about one hour away from Mount Cook. The only camping option in Mount Cook Village was a DOC (Department of Conservation) site, without power and hot water. As the nights are still very cold in that particular area (often below the freezing point) we did not want to camp there without power for our heater. We do still need our heater on the very cold nights! So we stayed at the Buscot Station. As already said, a small backpackers place, but a large farm with 7000 merino sheep and 1200 cows. We drove to Mount Cook and back from there and made it a one day excursion.
Anton had a couple of very exciting days on the farm. On our first afternoon a few merino lambs arrived. They cannot have been much older than just a few hours when we walked across their field, and we were able to get real close without upsetting the mother sheep. For quite a while we were caressing and talking to the lambs, before we walked further up the hillside to enjoy the magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Many of them still had white snow on their peaks.
The day after our arrival we drove to Mount Cook Village and we walked the rather difficult route through Hooker Valley up to Hooker Lake. The estimated return time for the route is set to approx. 3 hours. However, with Anton we are not that fast. We spent little more than 4 hours, which is really good for Anton, considering the difficulties along the route. It was NOT for beginners! Several times the path was flooded or even washed away by small rivers and we had to jump on rocks to get over. Anton followed as well as he possibly could, and actually only needed very little help. Many times other, experienced hikers were encouraging him.
All our efforts payed off as we arrived at the Hooker Lake, with a wonderful view of Mount Cook and the lake with its icebergs coming from a calving glacier nearby. Breathtaking!
Only as we were close to returning to our campervan Anton was so tired that we had to carry him the rest of the way. Until then he had really made a nice effort! So, on our way back to the Buscot Station he was treated with biscuits and lollies!
The next morning we walked around the farm and its garden. Anton loves to play with real tools, which can sometimes make his parents quite nervous! This time he had found a fork to dig up potatoes and a large rake in the vegetable garden. We dug up some carrots, which we were kindly allowed to take with us. It was a pleasure to see Anton eagerly eating his carrots that day. He was almost as eager as if it had been lollies! The proud father, by the way, did notice that he instantly recognized the carrots when we dug them up from the dirt! Atta Boy!
Our stay at the Buscot Station became the first place where we really got in touch with a local, native New Zealander - a Kiwi. Tony, the owner of the place, had himself been traveling quite a bit in recent years, and he had a particular interest in Europe. I enjoyed finally being able to ask all those (probably) basic questions about New Zealand. Everything from big politics to all the small things that occupy the inhabitants of the country. Tony could answer and explain about agriculture, foresting, domestic politics, foreign politics, New Zealands role on the international scene and much, much more. Furthermore, he was able to draw many parallels to Europe, having been there many times. We learned a lot during those days!
After Buscot Station we drove to Lake Tekapo. This instantly became one of our Top 10 favourite places in New Zealand. The area has a remarkably beautiful lake, with turquoise meltwater from glaciers. The water is a bit “milky” and unclear, which derives from the crushed stones that the glaciers over millions of years have turned into powder. The lake will change color many times during the day, according to sun, rain, overcast or whatever weather is current. The tourist office in Lake Tekapo brags with the fact that apparently they have one of the clearest nightskies in the world to observe stars. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say, but the sky WAS clear and did in fact have MANY stars shining above our heads. In a previous blog I have written about the stars on the southern hemisphere. In Lake Tekapo we saw it all in full bloom!
Our camping ground was located by the side of the lake. It was great to wake up in the morning and look out at the surroundings. We stayed there for three days. During this time we encountered local Kiwis for the second time. Quite a few families were staying at the camping ground, and some of them with children. Anton really enjoyed this. We got many good tips and ideas for what to see during the rest of our time here in New Zealand. We also got further insight into the everyday life of New Zealanders, the challenges of the country and how the locals see its future. Also how they see their role in the global perspective. Interesting!
Now we have arrived in Oamaru at the east coast. This is a very beautiful area. The city surprised us in a very positive way by having a beautiful, old historic precinct in the city center. It contains numerous buildings of limestone. Many of them are in victorian style and were built in the 1870’s. This includes the old industrial area by the harbour. Today there is no industry, but the buildings house many artist workshops, galleries, cafés and restaurants. It is almost like walking around on a movie set. We were totally absorbed and spent quite some time just walking around taking it all in. The buildings are from a time when the industrial world was still new, and they all had many small and beautiful details on the facades. No one builds like that anymore. Unfortunately. Some of the old buildings were even for sale. For a short moment I saw myself buying one of them, converting it into a complex of apartments in raw New Yorker Loft style... Well, Oamaru is not exactly the center of the world, and there wouldn’t really be a market for this. Sadly! It could be super cool!
We spent a whole Sunday afternoon at nearby Riverstone Kitchen / Garden. It is kind of hard to put an exact description to the place. It is a farm. It is a large park with plenty of playgrounds for children. It is a shopping area with everything you could possibly ask for in terms of interior decorating. And then it is an award winning restaurant and café, where most of the ingredients used in the kitchen come from the surrounding farm and garden. The place is not old. Yet the people behind it have quickly found a way of winning awards for their food and to make the park look older and more mature than it actually is. It was one of those days where Anton could burn off all of his energy on the large playground, while we sat in the café eating our award winning food and had cakes - way too big for us - for dessert. A clever concept: Parents are spending money eating in a rare, quiet moment, while the children are having a great time elsewhere. We only intended to look around for a short while. We ended up staying for many, many hours!
We also spend a day driving a bit further down the coast to Koekohe Beach. This is where the so-called Moeraki Boulders are located. Some strange, large and completely round stones spread out over a small area on the beach. Apparently they were created some 60 million years ago. Round as balls. Some of them are split in several pieces so that you can see the inside of the stones. These pieces are shaped like triangular pieces of watermelon. This was where Alexandra decided to walk around barefoot and tied her shoes to her bag. When she wanted to wear them again, a couple of hours later and 60 kilometers away - we could only find one shoe in the back of the campervan. She had not noticed anything missing when she dumped her bag there, before we took off and drove away. We searched all over the campervan. Nothing. So we decided to drive all the way back to the parking area near the beach, which is where it would be most logical to find it. Nothing. She found it waiting for her in the middle of the beach. To our relief. Even though the shoe is getting old and pretty used, it would have been frustrating to have to spend money on new shoes, so shortly before we are flying to the US. Over there shoes cost about 50% of what we would have to pay here or in Germany for that matter. So if she had not found her shoe again, she would have been forced to walk in thongs (the sandals) or her warm hiking boots for the next 3 weeks!
Speaking of shopping in the US: ALL of Antons pants are now so worn down on the knees that there are holes in them. Alexandra will repair them after every use now. It looks a bit funny, but people may think whatever they want. The problem is that even if we buy him some new pants, it will only take him a few minutes to tear up his knees! So, we will not invest a great deal of money here in New Zealand, but rather wait until we get to the US. We had hoped to find pants with reinforced, patted knees, but we haven’t found them. Anyway, in a few weeks he will get new pants to tear apart!