A Mountain in Name Only

Mt. Sunday isn’t a mountain that will instantly pop into many people’s minds as a famous mountain in New Zealand. And it isn’t much of a mountain anyways, it’s more of a hill. But it became a very identifiable spot due to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and one that, with some effort and driving, can be appreciated without a tour. That’s where I found myself one spending mid-day in January. The drive itself was worth the effort.

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Glacial Carvings

When comparing landscapes between the North and South Islands, there really isn’t much in common. Where the North Island is dominated by lovely rolling hills, small mountains and the stark contrast of volcanos in the middle, the South Island has severe, sharp, granite coloured mountain peaks and massive, flat, glacier carved valleys. I found myself on a hike at one such gorge, called the Rakaia Gorge.

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A Dusky Swim

Swimming with dolphins was something high on my list of things to do down here in New Zealand. I had no interest in the dolphin encounters that had you in with a captive/penned dolphin. After swimming with wild sea lions of the Galapagos, I wanted to try the same with wild dolphins. New Zealand gives you that opportunity, in spades.

Resident year round to Kaikoura, the Dusky Dolphin is one of the smaller types of dolphin, but also very acrobatic and is well know for it’s jumping from the water. In addition, they tend to be more curious than other types, routinely investigating people in the water. Which makes them great for swimming with. On an early Monday morning I found myself, with 11 other eager swimmers, waiting in a boat in our wetsuits. After a 45 minute boat ride, the guides gave us the signal and we were in the water with 3-4 Dusky Dolphins. They came and swam around the group for a few minutes, to the joy of everyone.

Then it was back in the boat, and off to another small group of dolphins. Everyone hopped back in the water for round 2!

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The Ruins of Christchurch

Continuing North after the successful visit with the penguins of Oamaru and Dunedin, Hung, Markus and I reached our final destination on their tour of New Zealand – Christchurch. The drive from Te Anau to Dunedin, then northward through Oamaru to Christchurch was the most dreadfully boring stretch of driving I’ve done in all of New Zealand. Much of it is done across plains, not coast line, and not mountains. BORING. Based on that drive alone, I actually altered my plans for once Hung and Markus left – I wasn’t about to willingly drive that stretch again if I could avoid it. There just wasn’t much of interest beyond the penguins and boulders, and this was over hundreds of kilometers of driving. The exception was Dunedin. The city looked wonderful and I liked that area. I’ll be returning there at some point, hopefully.

Anyways, we had made it to Christchurch. Time for more babbling on my part! This probably takes the cake as ‘worst NZ city to drive in’. Numerous one-way roads are part of the problem, but the largest was the NAMING of the roads – they would change the name of the bloody road you were driving on every 4-5 blocks it seemed. This made finding streets, destinations, etc. a downright nightmare. And all of this isn’t even considering the roads closures due to earthquake damage.

There were two major earthquakes in Christchurch – the first, in September of 2010, caused damage but amazingly didn’t result in any fatalities. The second, in February of 2011, the city wasn’t so lucky. Claiming 181 lives, it was a disaster on the scale New Zealand had never seen before. And after seeing the city, is still very much coping with.

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