14.02.2012 - 16.02.2012
Today we took in a trip to the sperm whale feeding grounds just off the coast at Kaikoura. Sperm whales spend long periods diving deep to hunt before returning to the surface for about 15 mins to purge their systems and refill their lungs before setting off again. Fortunately we managed to spend time alongside a floating whale on two occasions. Eventually it was time for them to leave us and up came the giant tail as they headed down for their next squid dinner.
Our next stop was Christchurch and, despite the extensive media coverage of the big quake in Feb 2011, it still came as a shock to see the extent of damage. Every street in the central area is blocked off as it approaches Cathedral Square. Within this area, many large hotels stand empty, including the Ibis, Novotel, Copthorne and Rydges. There are so many empty plots of land where buildings have had to be demolished. One sign of the local population's resilience however is the shopping area made up of glass fronted steel containers. Recovery by retail therapy! We also saw the plans for the new Christchurch and, although it won't happen overnight, this fantastic city should still have a great future. We met some wonderful people who have adapted to the situation and spent a lovely afternoon in the botanical gardens - so much to see and free admission. A modest but quality evening meal at the Pegasus Bar, washed down by a few beers and entertained by an excellent singer/guitarist, Olly, who belted out mainly 60s & 70s classics with some clever arrangements.
We had an excellent hotel, The Classic Villa, just to the west of the central area. At 4.15 the next morning we got a small taste of what the good people of Christchurch must experience regularly - a 4.1 quake. When everything starts swaying and the building & furniture start creaking, it's a bit disconcerting.
Thursday and another early start for the TransAlpine train to Greymouth on the west coast. The 4.5 hour journey takes in the Cantebury plains before winding up into the Southern Alps. Views are spectacular, especially from an outside viewing carriage if you don't mind the wind.
Our third hire car took us from Greymouth south to Fox Glacier. We briefly stopped at the Franz Josef glacier for our first glimpse, but have yet to see the Fox, or NZ's highest mountain, Mount Cook, both covered with cloud.We took an evening drive to Lake Matheson, a photograper's dream, famed for its glassy surface giving reflected views of NZ's highest mountains, Mt Cook & Mt Tasman. Only two problems, a breeze rippling the lake's surface and cloud obscuring the mountain tops. Still, it could have been worse, I just haven't worked out how. Better luck tomorrow.