Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 17, 2008

New Zealand (Around the World Trip)

15 -17 Nov - The Amazing Race

After rising very early morning for my dad to drop my mom off at the Des Moines Airport for her mission trip to El Paso, we continued on to Omaha Airport, which only a few snow flurries on the way. Dad dropped us off, and we were through security and ready to board our plane, when this announcement came that the plane would be two hours late. We realized that the delay wouldn't give us enough time to switch airports in Chicago, from Midway to O'hare. So we went back out to the ticket counter, explained our situation, got a refund for our tickets, and our baggage retrieved from the runway, and for a slighter higher price of course, bought tickets on a different airline flying to the correct airport. We just had time to make it back through security and get on the new plane. From Chicago O'Hare we flew into LA, and saw wildfires burning out the plane window, smelled the hot smoky air, and the 90 degree temps during our layover there that evening, a big change from freezing Iowa temps. Then it was an overnight flight to Fiji, another layover, then finally our feet hit the ground in New Zealand, albeit on the North Island. Finally after 48 hours of traveling, 5 layovers and 5 flights, we landed in Christchurch on the South Island. Somewhere in the process we crossed the international date line, and now we are 19 hours ahead of Central US time, and 12 hours ahead of Central European time.

A Prius Taxi drove us to our rental car, which we clambered into and immediately drove out of the city. Our only goal was to find a place to sleep, which we did, in a converted old railroad sleeper car in a nearby campground, complete with front sitting room.

18 Nov - It's Spring!

The campground host was a crusty Kiwi that called himself a "grumpy old man", and cheerfully offered us fresh bread baked every morning by the boss, and farm fresh eggs, which we fried up in the communal kitchen, while we were regaled with Kiwi-accented tales ranging from the rabbit overpopulation, to where to find the best seafood around the island. Finally taking off, we drove through flower covered hillsides that reminded us of Scotland, with millions of sheep and plenty of cows, to a jaunt through a forest trail that looked so much like Germany we wondered where we were. Yet the snow covered peaks looming behind the green hillsides reminded us that we really had come somewhere new. And the best part about it was the season...SPRING! Every plant had the bright, new green color, there were little lambs out playing in pasture, and teh apple trees were budding. It all seemed so strange after sitting in the combine in Iowa, watching golden kernels come off dead stalks, and all the trees bare of leaves.

In the afternoon we arrived on the shores of the south pacific, and went for a walk around a peninsula. It was very windy, and now a bit cloudy, cool with the ocean breezes, so we were grateful to dig out our hat, gloves, and windbreakers. We couldn't see much from a grassy trail high above the water, so on the return we dropped down and walked along the shores. We passed colonies of fur seals hanging out on the rocks, and also huge areas of seagull nests (who knew they did anything but steal food from trash cans at the beach). The final stretch was across a tide pool where all sorts of sea creatures were stuck to the rocks (luckily it was low tide). Our campground that night was luxurious...we hopped into the hot tub before slipping into our tent to sleep. We're finding that New Zealand has great campgrounds, they usually offer several types of accomodation, from tent sites to basic rooms with literally just a bed at reasonable prices, to full hotel-type rooms, plus there is always a communal kitchen stocked with plates and pans and utensils.

19 Nov - Drive North With The Sun In Your Eyes

We woke up to clear skies, and the mountains, which had been obscured by clouds were now visible to their snowy tops. Near Kaikoura, the mountains and the sea are closer together than most places in the world, and we drove along the seal-happy seashore with huge snow peaks looming over our other side. Farther north (yes, the sun was in our eyes...hard to believe it archs in a northern way across sky, isn't it), the mountains gave way to a valley, and vineyards took over everything. For you wine-lovers out there, I wish wine bottles weren't so heavy and breakable. I would love to send some back home, but I fear the only thing to arrive would be broken glass shards and the smell of stale wine.

Arriving at Picton and the ferry to the north island, we turned off onto a road leading out into Malborough Sounds. The sounds are a maze of impossibly steep forested hillsides, and convoluted huge bays and inlets. The actual peninsula isn't very long, but it has about 10 times as much coastline as length. There aren't many roads out into the maze, but there is a long-distance walking trail and beautiful scenery. The road we drove on seemed to want to mirror the coastline, as the narrow two lane road felt as twisty as the on-ramp to an interstate, one that never ends and keeps changing directions. Luckily Rob doesn't get carsick at my driving, and by then I was used to driving our car, don't laugh, a Nissan Sunny SuperSaloon (really, it is). Luckily the little car (disappointingly automatic) never let the tires slip as I sped around the corners. After 40 miles of rollarcoaster driving, dodging quail and trying to hit rabbits (sorry but it's a national sport), we arrived at a section of the Queen Charlotte Track, a five-day walking trail, ending at the ocean with a ferry ride home. We only did a couple of hours of the track, but it was enough to figure out that we loved the rainforest-like paths and wanted to see more of them (see tomorrow's post). We caught glimpses of blue bays, and discovered new plants, and reveled in the springtime warmth. When it was time to head back, my car again drove like a race-car, and dropped us safely down into Nelson to plan our next day's adventure.

20-22 Nov - Kayaking and Tramping in Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand's most visited National Park (perhaps because it is the sunniest) is on the north end of the south island. While Kiwis love to go tramping (walking) and have many walking trails, in Abel Tasman it is also possible to kayak along the bays and beaches instead of being confined to shore. To see the best of both worlds, we arranged to rent a double kayak to bring ourselves into the park, and then walk back out after dropping off the kayak. On a nice sunny day, we were given our kayak, into which we packed our camping gear, some food, and our backpacks. The rental place assured us that our stuff would stay dry inside the three compartments, and then gave us lots of garbage bags just to make sure. We were even semi-waterproof as we got into the kayak, because of a stretchy oval that fit neatly over the seat hole that we slid into...with rainjackets and a hat, we felt pretty secure, as long as we didn't capsize! We paddled off in the blue water, which wasn't warm, and yet wasn't cold either. I had the rudder peddles, and in front, Rob had the dry bag with the camera. With some practice, we made it around the first headland, and onto the waiting beach, where we refilled and treated our water bottles. Then for our first challenge, to paddle across an island, where there were supposed to be seals. We noticed right away that the wind had risen, as it tends to do in the afternoon, and the chop on the water was noticeably higher. I was soaked fast, from the wind-spray off Rob's paddles, and from a bad beach take-off (beginners, ya know). But it didn't really matter, it was pretty warm and sunny, and we wanted to see the seals. With a lot of work, we made it to the island, and decided that on the far side, it would be less windy, which it was. And we were amazed by the birds that we saw just sitting on the rocks back there...they, like many of the animals we had already seen, didn't seem at all scared of us...they let us approach with our kayak and never moved at all.

We were fine until we reached the north end of the island and the full brunt of the now howling north wind. Our goal was to get to the mainland and find a beach to pitch our tent on, but the waves were high enough that we needed to go straight into them to not accidentally tip over sideways. We paddled furiously for the mainland, hoping to make it there safely...because going back around the island for more sheltered waters still meant that we would have to battle the winds sometime. (It must be said that the sun, which had been out until then, went under a cloud and made the whole world look forboding). I had to remind myself that it was a nice sunny day and not a howling gale or anything worse. In about 1/2 hour of hard paddling, we did make it back to shore, and since the current and wind were now with us, and calmer in the bay, so we floated and took pictures as we cruised into our beach. There were only two other women there, on holiday from their jobs, and we were all happy to be in such a beautiful place. I watched the tide going out as I warmed up and dried off (it can vary by up to 15 feet in this area), and we set up the tent and ate our first meal of bread, peanut butter, and dried fruit and nuts. We were both a bit sunburned (there's a thin ozone layer over this area, and even sunblock didn't help much), but not as sore as we expected.

I want to take the time here to say that Kiwi National Parks are usually in remote, hard to access places, and don't have very many roads. In this one, there are water taxis, to get to the main beach campgrounds, and every campground has a basic toilet and untreated water, but little else. There are no roads, restaurants, or anything else in this park. Kayak in, or walk in, or stay home...we really loved the isolated nature of it.

The next morning was beautiful, and calm...the wind had dropped to nothing. I had been fearful of another day spent soaking wet, but we stayed perfectly dry even on take-off, and the water was glass-calm the whole day for us. We put into another beach for breakfast, and then viewed a lot of coastline as we continued north to our-drop off beach. We arrived early, and so continued to another island, which Rob was convince was worth paddling to, even though we were sore and tired from battling the winds the day before. I followed along with his idea (we only had the one kayak, ya know), and it turned out he was right. We pulled into a tiny cove, and the sheltered water was home to three seals, one basking on the rocks, and two playing in the water. It was the most peaceful thing we had ever witnessed...the two seals in the water ignored us completely, did barrel rolls, washed their faces, and swam under our kayak like we weren't there at all.

When we headed back to our final beach, the current pushed us there without much paddling, which I for one was very grateful to feel. We beached our bright yellow home at the high tide mark, and left it there for the boat to take back, while we shouldered our packs and set off ourselves. There were very few people on the trails, and we spent the late afternoon at awe at the vegetation we walked through. It was very hilly and steep terrain, and while the trail stayed pretty level (compared to what it could have been), it wound around many ridges and deep, damp valleys. New Zealand is known for an amazing amount of ferns, and we saw plenty of them. In fact, a few of the ferns were actually fern trees, almost looking like a palm tree, but with ferns instead of fronds. And there were a few pine trees that looked like ferns. Inside the valleys, everything was green and damp and as close to a rainforest as we had ever seen, yet around the next ridge the trees were dry and wind-swept and almost resembled pines. We must have seen the change from dry to damp 50 times as we meandered in an out of the terrain changes, with occasional brilliant views of the blue water, white sand beaches, and tide pools. We began to understand why this park was the most popular...Rob never put his camera away for long.

As the sun started falling, we arrived at a junction that had arrows pointing to the high tide and low tide routes. The high tide route would take an hour longer than the low...the only problem was that the low route markers stretched across a bay filled with...water. I knew from our day on the ocean that the tide was falling, but I really didn't know how long it would take to empty the vast basin from the river mouth we have seen from the trail aboe. I proposed waiting it out, since we were tired from hours of walking, plus all the paddling. Rob wanted to take the long route to be safe. I couldn't fathom adding another hour to the hike, so I sat down to watch the water drain, which was fascinating to me anyway. We compromised by setting up camp at the strategically placed campground behind us, planning to cross in the morning with the next low tide (coming approxomately every twelve hours). Sure enough, the water did fall, but very slowly, and at dusk is was almost low enough to cross, but not quite.

After a very quiet, starry night, the water was emptying again when we woke, so we took our time breaking camp and eating breakfast (our last rations of break, peanut butter, and dried fruit and nuts, for the 5th time in a row...no, we didn't have much time to find food for this journey). When there were just a few trickles left to drain, we set off in our Gore-Tex shoes through sand, shells, crab-holes, and a bit of muck. It was drizzling, which added something to the oddness of it, and we had almost made it across when we hit a knee-deep river still empting a section of the bay. We doffed our shoes and socks (Rob accidentally tossed a sock into the water and soaked it...I laughed), and waded across. Once back on the normal (dry) tail, we picked up the pace to try to beat the windy rainstorm that a park ranger said was coming. Thankfully, it never did really rain, and Rob had a long conversation with a Brazilian woman walking with us, which made the long (yet beautiful) walk home seem to go really fast.

22-25 Nov Rain, Rain Go Away

The west coast of NZ is probably one of the rainiest places in the world, according to a visitor center chart. Although, it doesn't seem to be dreary and drizzly all the time, like, let's say London or Ireland. The rain here seems to come in waves of low pressure systems, with fair, sunny high pressure systems getting their chance as well. At the moment we seem to be smack in the middle of a huge low, as it has been raining non-stop for almost 24 hours now, the kind of rain that takes windshield wipers on high to clear off. The old kiwi at our very first campground told us that in the west, it can rain up to one meter a day. We took that as a kiwi tall tale, until we witnessed the heavy rain for ourselves. The wide flat rivers, which seemed overly empty to us for a springtime level, went from a trickling of water amoung the rocks, to roaring rivers reaching flood stage. Every crevasse, ditch, and pond is overflowing, and impromtu waterfalls are gushing from fern covered vertical embankments along the road, and sometimes onto the road, splashing our soaked car with a more debris. We've never seen so many waterfalls, and the water color, which was a beautiful glacial blue, quickly is turning brown with the mud flooding off the hillsides. As we stopped to gaze at an especially rapid torrent, a rock the size of a cow fell onto a fence across the road, crushing it and redirecting the water flow. We did some research later, and found out that the record rainfall here in westland isn't a meter...it's more like 12 inches, which is still a lot, and probably also close to what we had during our rainy drive down the coast.

Let me digress for a moment, since I'm bored with the rain.... The roads here in New Zealand tend to be fairly nice and free of potholes, if one can ignore the extreme curviness and the general narrowness. Almost all the bridges we crossed (at least 200) are one lane, which means stopping and waiting for oncoming traffic, although there wasn't much. Of course, the craziest thing is that I am driving on the wrong (left) side of the road, which still freaks Rob out, but doesn't bother me much after Scotland and Ireland. When the Kiwi's mention it, they make it sound like we are the ones in the wrong, as if most of the world doesn't drive on the right. They may have a point, though, as most of the upcoming countries on our itinery are backwards, including NZ, Australia, Thailand, and India.

When it comes right down to it, NZ doesn't feel too much different than the States. Everything is written in English, the stores are well stocked with imported goods and fresh foods (Guiness, anyone?) and the restaraunt food is recognizable. In terms of culture shock, it's the amazing scenery that makes it feel liek the other side of the world.

The FM radio station channels are different here. The FM numbers run from 76 to 90 FM, and only come in clearly within about 20 minutes driving time from a big city...after that everything fades to fuzz until the next city. When they do come in, they sound like anything you hear at home....soft rock, to classics, to current hits, almost every song is a past or current American hit song. (And as an afternote, when asking some friends later on about the local radio stations and the FM numbers, they replied, "Aye, you have a Japanese rental car, don't ye? The numbers are supposed to go to 96, not stop at 90.")

...back to reality now...still raining. But as we came East across a pass from the coast into Wanaka, the showers eased, and the long range weather forecast showed suns for 3 days in a row. We are starting to dream of another hike...

26-28 Nov - Tramping the Kepler Track

Our first experience with tramping in NZ went so well, so it wasn't too difficult to convince Rob to try it again, this time in Fjordland NP. The Milford Track is the most popular walk in NZ, but comes with some added expenses and logistics of getting a long boat ride to the start of the hike, and then a long bus ride back to the car, since it is a one-way hike into a dead-end fjord. Still it looked beautiful, and to our disapointment, or perhaps relief, the huts (no camping allowed) were booked full. Next on the list was the Kepler Track, a 3 or 4 day circle hike near the city of Te Anau, with plenty of hut space available. We made it a 3 day hike by catching a short bus ride to the start and skipping a hut, making the first day a little longer. We were walking by late morning, and it was still chilly enough that we used a sweater, beanie, and gloves at times, but the forest walk was spectacular and pretty flat, up a glacier carved valley floor along rushing streams. Along the wide trail were many ferns carpeting the ground, plus the fern trees that we've come to love, and even a palm tree or two, believe it or not. Strange considering we are on the southern tip of the South Island, and we can see glimpses of snowy-topped mountains against blue skies that show through the trees...indeed, we expect to climb that high on the morrow. But after asking a few questions, we figured out that although it doesn't seem to warm for spring, it doesn't get too cold either, and the temperate oceans mean that it doesn't snow much in NZ outside the mountains, allowing the damp gullies, as they love to be called here, brim with ferns and yes, the most southern-growing palm tree in the world.

Since we skipped a hut, our first day's hike though the forest took us 8 hours of brisk walking. I was carrying one of our backpacks, and Rob had a very stuffed daypack, yet we were way less loaded down than everyone else. We only brought light sleeping bags and one spare change of clothes, and no cooking gear. Of course, that only worked because we knew the weather was supposed to be warm and sunny across the alpine section. Tramping in cold, rainy weather, as it normally seemed to be, would have required twice as much gear. But, it stayed sunny, and we got lucky. And, as we reflected, this was the first time we had collected everything we needed to really go backpacking, namely our new and most prized possession, a water-purification device called a Steri-Pen. It uses ultraviolet light to purify a liter of water in a minute, and I'm sure it will save us a lot of problems in Thailand and India, not to mention Guatemala. Here, it meant that we only had to carry a minimum of water, knowing we could refill in any stream along the way, since not even the huts have purified water. Imagine our suprise, then, when the ranger doing our hut booking told us that we could drink straight from the streams, as there were no animals in the park and the water quality was superb. We did it, not quite believing, yet cupping our hands and drinking from crisp, cold, clear mountain stream water. I can't imagine doing that anywhere in the States, but here it seems still ok. We did purify our water a couple of times, namely in the alpine section, from a snow-melt pond and an actually bad of snow that I carried until it melted...water was scarcer up there.

So the abundance of clean water leads me to my next topic...animals...there aren't any. It turns out that NZ only has ONE native land mammal, the lowly bat. Yup. The bat. Which means there weren't any mammals here back when...sorry Rob, no lions, tigers or bears, oh my! The ancient Maori must have lived off of sea creatures..fish, whales, seals, mussels, crabs, etc. Of course, there are plenty of animals in the lowlands now, which makes for interesting kiwi tales...4 million sheep at last count, plus horses, cows, (fenced) deer, plus a goat or two. Yet what gets the kiwis really wound up are the rabbits, and also the possums (the only good possum is a ...squashum). They blame the infestation on the Dutch explorers or maybe the Danish, but who really knows? The truth is that there are no natural predators, so the things overpopulate like crazy. To combat the rabbits, an animal called a Stoat was brought in, which appalled the bird experts of the day, but their protests didn't work. Of course, all of this happened back in the 1880's, and word travelled a bit slower back then. The birders turned out to be right, and the Stoat, also known as a weasel, is something of a meanace itself, after deciding that bird eggs are easier to catch than rabbits. For in a land without mammals, birds reign supreme, and NZ has a wide range of birds, including several flightless ones, like the namesake "Kiwi". And we must note, that the amount and range of bird calls we've heard in the mornings have been amazing. Which brings me back to the trail...along it were tons of numbered stoat traps, to protect the rare birds in NZ. The traps seem to work...in valleys with traps, the number of weasels drop almost to zero. There must have been almost a hundred traps, each filled with an egg, a piece of meat, and two jaws that would snap any snacking stoat.

We reached the first hut in late evening, but of course it was still light due to long summer days. We found ourselves bunking in a narrow room with some workers arrived by helicopter to replace the dorm floors. They found it funny in the morning when they saw me using a spare mattress over my sleeping bag to keep warm! The huts were spartan, just cold water, flush toilets, various bunkrooms, a communal kitchen with gas burners, and a small wood stove (hence the mattress). No food was available on the trek, and we had the sense that we were a long way from anywhere.

Our second day started with a long climb. Unlike the flat valley, now we were heading to tree level, and our day's profile looked more like a triangle, with a 1000 meter climb straight up to the alpine tundra, then more climbing before a small descent to the second hut. One hiker put the count of switchbacks on the trail to 91..all we knew is that our legs were getting tired. I was happy to see stoat trap marker number one, meaning that we were approaching treeline and the end of climbing. But it was a perfect alpine day, blue skies, very slight breezes, and great visibility. We took our time, took a nap, checked our the vistas, and arrived at the hut by late afternoon. This time the hut was fully booked with 55 people, and we ended up in top bunks in a corner of a bay that must have held almost 40 people.

We recognized several people from the night before, and ended up chatting with several of them. To pass the long evening, I joined a group of card-players in a game something like rummy. Since the other 4 people were British, Irish, Scottish, and a native New Zealander, in no particular order, their quick wits and snappy comebacks (in four different English accents), had me practically rolling in laughter the entire night. We stayed up late enough that I finally saw the Southern Cross constellation on my way to bed.

The next morning dawned as beautiful as the day before. For this hike we had planned our food more carefully, and added cheese, cookies and chocolate to help out the bread, peanut butter, and wonderful dried fruit selection from the New World supermarkets. (But we were happy to feel our packs getting lighter as we ate our way though our rations). We finished the downhill section of the 55 kilometer circle fairly quickly, getting to the car at midday with only a bit of achy muscles.

28-29 Nov -Fjordland and Milford Sound

Just because we didn't hike the Milford track didn't mean we couldn't see the sound, and our quick hike out from the mountain hut meant that we could drive out there on a beautiful day. The guidebook called the drive out to Milford Sound stunning, and after seeing it for himself, Rob pronounced it his favorite drive in the world. With cliffs seemingly higher than El Capitan in Yosemite, with waterfalls crashing crazily down them, and valleys filled with wildflowers (and yes, fern trees and palm trees), it was really amazing. This could be in part due to the perfectly sunny, warm day that we were experiencing. With seven meters of rain a year, most days it is normally a rainy, foggy drive.

But for those of you wanting to add this drive to your life lists, I must warn you, it is a 60 mile drive down a dead-end road, far from the major airports, on the other side of the world, in a place where most of the time all you can see are your windshield wipers waving furiously. We just got lucky. Having said that...go on and write it on your list.

Another strange animal we encountered on the drive was, yup, the worlds only alpine parrot. We had seen them flying on the Kepler Track, but at a stoplight before a narrow mountain tunnel, they congregated around gawking tourists. These large parrots are mischievious and funny, with a penchant for tearing apart windshield wipers with their strong beaks, not to mention hiker's boots and gear. "Don't Feed The Kea's", proclaimed the signs, as one flew up to the roof of our car, leaning over to look at us through the window. Taking pictures seemed to be ok, and we did so with abandon.

After the beautiful drive, actually arriving at Milford Sound was anticlimactic. The tide was out, the wind was howling, and the sandflies were biting. We set up our tent in a sheltered campground and hoped a Kea wouldn't take a fancy to eating it. In the morning, it was...you guessed it...foggy and starting to rain. A chilly boat tour of the Sound didn't sound (no pun intended) like much fun, so we made the return drive out and continued on.

29 November - 4 December - The End Of The Circle

This week brings us to the tail end of the big counter-clockwise circle we've made of NZ's South Island. We've left the big mountains behind, and what is left o see are rolling sheep pastures and forest remnants, with few people, fewer roads, and fewest highlights. Since the forecast now says cool, cloudy, windy, and spotty rainshowers for days on end, we're using the time to regroup, do laundry, re-pack, and get to the airport in Christchurch ready to travel again. I won't bore you (hopefully) with details. Here's the highlights.

We camped in a place called Curio Bay (under a palm tree, no less), with a tide pool on one side of us and a huge bay on the Yellow-eyed Penguins waddle across the tide pool, crying to their mates hidden in nests in the bushes. We heard their cries even from the tent, and in the morning, they headed back out to the sea to fish, a cycle they repeat every day while they have eggs and chicks in the nest.

We stayed for two nights in Dunedin during some more very wet windy, cool weather. Dunedin is a large city for NZ, so we found plenty to keep us busy, including a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory (always follow your nose)! In addition to the factory tour, along the route they handed out more chocolate than we could eat, and replaced the ones we did eat while on the tour. Yum. Rob managed to eat (and replace) several scrumptious chocolates, despite wearing a hairnet and a beardnet. The highlight of the tour was a one-ton chocolate waterfall (but please don't eat that chocolate, it's been in the waterfall since last June)!

When the wind calmed down, we braved the still drizzly weather for a hike down into a sandy bay on the Otago Peninsula, where bachelor Sea Lions on holiday from other places are supposed to hang out. Sure enough, from the hillside we could see black spots on the sand, and as we got closer, we tiptoed past sleeping sea lions, a few off by themselves, and several in groups. Having been warned not to get too close, we gave them a wide berth. Several were out playing in the surf, and as we watched, one bodysurfed a wave about 50 feet into shore, finally sliding onto sand before hopping onto his finds. Rob couldn't resist creeping close with the camera, and got himself chased a ways up the beach by the irate sea lion! We were the only ones on the huge beach, and it was amazing to be walking around such huge creatures in their natural state. The big ones would charge at each other and roar, and the little ones would act submissively, but fairly often it seemed they would call a mutual time-out, and all lay down and sleep again.

At the very end of the peninsula is an Abatross nesting colony, and with a 9-foot wingspan, it wasn't hard to see them flying around, compared to let's say a seagull. But our real interest was a colony of Blue Penguins in a cove below the albatross hill. Like the yellow-eyed ones we had seen down the coast, these also come in at night to feed their mate sitting on the nest, switching off every day as to who would go out and do the fishing. Instead of being solitary, however, the blue penguins live in colonies, and the volunteers at the beach said up to 100 of them were burrowed into old rabbit warrens in the steep hillsides, waiting for their mates. What we didn't realize was how dark it would be before they finally swam in to shore. We could barely see the first group come in, and as they waddled past our crouched figures, we could just glimpse flashes of their white bellies. Still, it was an amazing natural show, and small groups of them continued to come in for a while, until we couldn't see at all, yet we could hear the loud shrilling on all sides from their mates giving them directions home to the burrow (I'm hungry, dear, can't you waddle any faster?). Some of the burrows were quite high on the hillside, over the roads,even, and as we walked back to the car in the dark (no flashlights to avoid scaring them), we tried to avoid stumbing over one. The penguins were quite small, about the size of a cat, definitely smaller than a huge rabbit that we had seen earlier. Even as we drove out, we still had to stop and shut off the headlights to let a stray one cross the road!

We spent a day zig-zagging up the East coast trying to avoid the rain. We visited some very weird rock-balls on the coast at Moeraki Boulders, formed not by ocean tides but long ago in the hillside, somehow. The broken ones were fascinating as well. The rainshowers drove us back inland a bit, and the clouds made for nice photo ops, but the mountains were still socked in. Oddly enough, in one area, we stopped and talked to a farmer out rolling his newly planted fields, and he complained it was too dry! But I think that area was an exception...it rained on us just 5 miles down the road where we stayed in Geraldine.

For our last day here we drove out to the Banks Peninsula, a postcard perfect circular bay and scenic rim drive, formed from a volcanic crater. The weather was finally warm and sunny, and we dug out our forgotten shorts and sandals, just in time to head to the airport for Australia!