Chapter 14 - Dunedin to Lake Tekapo & Mt Cook

2 Mar 2013

We started the day in a similar way to the previous one - with a train ride! This time it was on the historic 'Seasider' train journeying along the coastal cliffs of the Otago region from Dunedin to Palmerston. This time we headed East out of Dunedin Railway Station, yesterday we headed West on our way to Pukerangi. Palmerston was named after Lord Henry Palmerston twice British Prime Minister in the mid-1800s. Once there we disembarked and found Maurie waiting for us with our coach.

After a short while we stopped for morning tea at Moeraki and went down onto the beach there to look and marvel at the 'Moeraki Boulders', strange smooth rock balls of up to four metres in diameter scattered all along the beach - some of these have been carbon dated to over four million years old!

Suitably refreshed we set off again and one of the things we noticed was that the area we passed through was much greener, due to sustained irrigation on the part of the farmers who used the land to fatten up the sheep and cows prior to their eventual slaughter. We drove through Oamaru, know apparently as the 'SteamPunk HQ' of New Zealand.

Our route then took us away from the coast along the Waitaki river and we stopped at and visited the Benmore Power Station, the second largest in New Zealand. The Benmore Dam is an earth dam which at maximum level holds back 1.5 times as much water as is found in Wellington Harbour. The water is mainly transferred from the South Island to the North Island. It was pretty spectacular. Towns such as Duntroon, Aviemore, Otematata and Omarama along the Waitaki River were all originally built along the lower part of the river to house the workers who constructed the dam .

We continued further up the river and passed through the town of Twizel, another town built originally to house the dam workers this time along the upper part of the Waitaki River valley, the town is now well known for its salmon farms. The weather had been deteriorating all day and by now was raining quite heavily - the coach windows were being well washed and although we tried to get a glimpse of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, it was completely hidden by low cloud and poor visibility. As we neared Tekapo, our destination for the next couple of days, we passed over the Tekapo Canal which was completely empty - it had been leaking for a while, and a huge engineering project was in place to drain it section by section in order to repair the leaks.

We finally arrived at Tekapo which is set by a beautiful lake. Lake Tekapo is a fabulous blue colour caused by glacial dust washed down into it for millions of years. The 'Blue Water Resort Hotel' overlooked the lake and our accommodation was actually a small two storey house with a lounge and kitchen downstairs and a bedroom and gorgeous bathroom upstairs. It didn't contain a washing machine, although some of the other apartments did, and so my first task (literally) was to locate the hotel's washing machine and dryer to sort out the final wash of the holiday. (You have to get in quickly otherwise you find yourself in a long queue!). We had a very nice dinner that evening although it was rather crowded in the dining room and went to bed quite early as we were very tired.

3 Mar 2013

The last day of the tour dawned overcast with low cloud but both Maxi and Maurie both assured us that the cloud would burn off and we would have a wonderful afternoon. We set off around 9.00 am to visit the Mount Cook National Park and soon arrived at the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre there where we saw a very moving film of Hillary's life and work - quite a few of us shed more than the odd tear.

Next was the absolute highlight of the whole tour! About twelve of us had chosen to take a flight over Mount Cook and the West Coast glaciers and, although the weather had been pretty iffy earlier in the day, predictions by Maxi and Maurie were proved correct and by the afternoon the weather was glorious with tremendous visibility and very few clouds. We were taken to Mount Cook Aerodrome (NZMC) where we boarded a Cessna 208B 'Grand Caravan' of 'Air Safaris' for 'The Grand Traverse' flight around Mount Cook and out to the West Coast Glaciers. Mike had the front seat with the pilot and had a huge ear to ear grin for the whole trip! We had the most fabulous fifty minutes in the air with our pilot, Tim, giving us lots of information about the mountains and the glaciers over which we were flying and enabling us to take loads of photos. Hopefully these will show a little of what it was like. All too soon it was over and apart from my ears being very painful on the descent it was the perfect end to a perfect holiday. Unforgettable!

On the way back to the hotel Maurie took us to look at the quaint stone Church of the Good Shepherd situated on Lake Tekapo's edge, where we found a Japanese bride and her new husband having their wedding photos taken!

Mike and I stopped off in the small town and had a coffee to try to hold on to the great memories of the afternoon, before returning to the hotel to get ready for the final dinner of the tour. I put on my long dress for this - I had brought it all the way from England and nothing was going to stop me wearing it! Most people didn't dress up particularly but one of the other ladies was in a long dress so I didn't stand out too much! It was a very nice meal but again the dining room was very busy and noisy as there was another tour as well as ours having their last night's meal. However, we managed to enjoy ourselves and exchanged e-mail addresses, took photos and promised to keep in touch.

Most of the group were due to leave the hotel at 7.30 am the next day for the several hours of travel to Christchurch Airport so it was not a late night, we were in bed by 10.00 pm.

4 Mar 2013

Although our shuttle to the airport was not due to leave the Blue Water Resort until just before 11.00 am we both got up early to wave off all those who had to leave with Maurie on the early coach at 7.30 am. It was sad to say goodbye but we had a week in Sydney to look forward to so our spirits weren't down for long. Our trip to Christchurch Airport took three hours which seemed much longer in the back of a small rattling shuttle bus with very bouncy suspension and no views out of the side windows!

We had a couple of hours in the airport and the flight was a good one, we landed in sunshine in Sydney just over three hours later. At the airport we were met by the lovely and chatty Katharine in a very posh, black and shiny BMW limo which sped us effortlessly to our hotel, The Radisson Blu on O'Connell Street in the heart of Sydney and not far from Circular Quay, where we were booked to stay for the next week. Our room is lovely with a huge bed with the best shower of the trip, and, at last, unlimited and free wi-fi. Mike was ecstatic! The thought of a lie-in in the morning was the last thought we had as we drifted off to sleep in our lovely comfy bed - bliss! A great holiday...!

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