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The Moms' Visit

Written by Cathy Siegismund
October 2002

Both my mom, Dorothy, and Ken's mom, Peggy, flew down to visit us in October. My mom visited for three weeks and Peggy's trip was for two. As they wanted to see many of the same things, and they get along, we planned to have them visit at the same time. My mom enjoyed a week in Auckland prior to Peggy's arrival. She went out on a spectator boat and watched the Louis Vuitton Cup, toured Auckland, and took a tour to Waitomo and Rotorua.

The day Peggy arrived, we all flew to Christchurch, and started our whirlwind 8-day tour of South Island. It was mid-October so the weather was a little touch and go, but we covered a lot of ground and the moms enjoyed the trip.

Our whirlwind tour of South Island

We flew directly to Christchurch, were we rented a car and drove to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is small, largely tourist town, on a spectacular bay. Kaikoura is well known for its wildlife and ecotourism. We had planned to go on a whale watch the afternoon we arrived, but bad weather with high winds had forced the tour boats to cancel. We stayed in a quaint Irish bed and breakfast, which we had seen on our trip to Kaikoura the year before. The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful clear sunny day, the only down side was there was frost on the ground. This was our morning to go on a wild dolphin swim, yikes! 

Blue water off Kaikoura

The moms decided they would rather enjoy the dolphins from the comfort and warmth of the boat, and watch Ken and I swim with the dolphin. We did this with blue lips, chattering teeth, and all.

Cath suiting up in a 7mm wetsuit and still freezing!

Despite the freezing water and somewhat limited visibility in the water from the past days' rough weather, it was a great experience. The tour boat took us along the coast by Kaikoura to swim with a huge pod of Dusky Dolphins. The waters off Kaikoura are literally teeming with life. Off the coast, is a very deep trench, which brings nutrient rich waters up to the surface attracting all sorts of wildlife including a seal colony, pods of dolphin, and a number of different species of whales including orcas and sperm whales.



Dusky Dolphin off the coast of Kaikoura

We had the chance to go in the water four times. We suited up in wetsuits and snorkel gear and waited for the signal to go. The crew would then drive the boat into the middle of a pod of dolphin, blew a horn and we would jump into the freezing water. The guides gave us hints to try and entice the dolphin to swim with us. We were supposed to swim in circles, make eye contact, and make dolphin sounds. We weren't sure if these antics were really to entice the dolphin or to amuse the guides and other tourists who had stayed on the boat. For whatever reasons, the dolphin did swim close to us, circling us and zooming past us. It was very cool.


Peggy keeping warm with her possum hat and Cath and her mom watching the dolphin

After lunch at the Mussel Boys restaurant - a great place for New Zealand green-lipped mussels, we toured Kaikoura for the afternoon, looking in art shops and taking advantage of the beautiful day.

Kaikoura sits on a large bay with the backdrop of the coastal mountain range


Cath and Dorothy and Ken and Peggy pose with Kaikoura's scenic backdrop

We then drove back to Christchurch, went for a drive to Lyttleton, and explored Cathedral Square.

Impressive cathedral in downtown Christchurch

The all important Starbucks also boarders Cathedral Square

Peggy and I also did some shopping in Christchurch. The cold weather had us trying on sheepskin coats and sweaters. Peggy got a sheepskin coat and some sweaters, and I got a sheepskin coat and gloves.

Trying on the very warm sheepskin coat

A drive up into the hills outside of Christchurch offers a great view of the east coast

We had a quiet night, as we had to be up early to catch the TranzAlpine train that would take us from Christchurch to Greymouth on the west coast.

We went to the Christchurch train station, where we caught the TranzAlpine train. The train took us through the farm land outside of Christchurch and up into the mountains.


Crossing the farmland in Canterbury outside of Christchurch on the TranzAlpine train



Heading into the mountains that split the South Island of New Zealand

An open air car was available in the train for viewing the spectacular scenery, but was very cold especially as we got higher into the mountains.

Cath bundled up in her new coat in the open air train car

At one of the stops, we saw one of New Zealand's remaining steam trains

We arrived in Greymouth at about 2pm, it was raining, which is not surprising since much of the west coast is rain forest. We explored Greymouth, rented a car and headed off to Hokitika, where we spent the night.

On our way, we crossed one of the many one-way bridges you see on the South Island. This one is a little unusual as it not only is one-way for cars, but is also a train bridge.


One way car/train bridge

Hokitika is a small coastal town and jade capital of New Zealand. We did a little shopping in one of the many jade stores and had a great dinner. The next day was our longest drive south down the west coast to Queenstown.

A short way south of Hokitika, we stopped in a tiny town to check out a craft store. We've found that the small towns are great places to stop and where you can find unique art at a much better price than you'd pay in the larger cities. This shop was probably the best one we've seen in New Zealand. A Maori man ran the shop and was the carver for most things in the store. We spent all sorts of time wandering the store, and having him explain the meanings of the different carvings.


Some of the proprietor's carvings

Ken and I were very temped to buy some of the larger pieces, but being on a small boat, makes us take a very hard look at possible purchases. We have bought quite a bit of art; however, all but the smallest pieces we have to ship home. I bought a lovely carved wooden bone hook necklace. Peggy bought a tiki carving.

Peggy with her new carving and the shop owner /artist

We continued on to Queenstown, and drove past Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers through Wanaka and into Queenstown. Rainy weather had us skip one of the helicopter rides up to the glaciers; although, Ken and Peggy took a short walk up one of the trails.

As we continued our way south,  Peggy spotted a sign for a tourist stop called Shantytown. It ended up being a really well-done sort of rebuilt Kiwi frontier town.


Cath in the shoe store and Ken in the tool shop - some things never change


Some silly photos of the Peggy, Dorothy, and Ken

We continued our long drive, stopped in Wanaka for a quick dinner, and got to Queenstown at about 9pm. We turned in early, as we had reservations for a full day tour to Milford Sound.


See the Milford Sound Photo Gallery for more pictures and descriptions of our Milford Sound tour

We picked up a bus in Queenstown, which would take us on a four-hour ride through the mountains through Te Anau and into Fiordland. Fiordland is in the southwestern corner of New Zealand, and is a beautiful area of deep fiords, waterfalls and mountains. The bus ride took us through farmland and then into some beautiful mountain scenery. We finally arrived at the docks, where we boarded a large tour boat. We toured Milford Sound with the breathtaking Mitre Peak. We all thought that with the steep-walled fiords and many waterfalls, we could have been in Desolation Sound in British Columbia.

Our second morning in Queenstown, we awoke to a breathtakingly clear, sunny day.


Stunning views from our hotel in Queenstown

We decided to take advantage of the great day and explore Queenstown. We started out the day with a jetboats ride down the Shotover River. Ken and I had been on the jetboats the year before, but it was definitely a new experience for the moms, who really enjoyed it.


The Shotover River and the jetboat dock

Our next stop was a trip up the gondola to take in the great views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkable mountains on such a beautifully sunny day. 



At the base of the gondola, we went to the Kiwi and Birdlife Park. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the birdpark, and we saw many of New Zealand's wonderful birds, including the kiwi, tui, pukeko and kea.

Ken posing in the entrance to the Birdlife Park

To see more, go to the Kiwi and Birdlife Park Photo Gallery

After exploring the bird park, we had lunch and did some window shopping in Queenstown. There was an arts fair down by the lake, which we couldn't pass up, and Peggy and I picked up a couple of things.

Art fair in downtown Queenstown, with the backdrop of the Remarkables

Later that afternoon, we set off for Dunedin. We had a quiet night, and after breakfast the following day we set off to explore the Otago Peninsula. The Otago Peninsula frames the Dunedin harbor, and has a number of small towns, and several worthwhile sightseeing stops. A highlight of our last summer's visit was Penguin Place. Penguin Place is a privately owned and funded reserve for the rare yellow-eyed penguin, only 5,000-6,000 remain in existence. The yellow-eyed penguin does not do well in captivity, so this very well-run reserve is one of the few opportunities to view these birds.

Cath at Penguin Place

For more pictures, see the Penguin Place Photo Gallery

Our next stop on the Otago Peninsula, was Larnach Castle. Larnach Castle was built in 1871, and was restored in the 1960s. The grounds and surrounding scenery are fantastic. It is easy think you are in the UK, rather than 40 minutes from Dunedin.


Larnach Castle

For more pictures, see the Larnach Castle Photo Gallery

We drove out to the Albatross Colony to take in the view, but did not go to the Albatross Colony tourist center. We were however, visited by a seagull.

Seagull visiting us on our rental car

We took a scenic drive around the coast of the Otago Peninsula on our way back to Dunedin. The peninsula has a number of small cute towns and farms.


Otago Peninsula

As it was early spring, so everywhere we went we saw lambs. We might have gotten a little carried away, but we couldn't resist taking quite a few lamb photos



Lamb Cam

Black swans

While trying to find our way back to the main road back to Dunedin, we came across an elderly lady taking her burro out for some grass.

Taking her burrow out for a walk

When we returned to Dunedin, we did some brief sightseeing of the historic train station, made a quick stop at Starbucks for a pick-me-up and headed off for our next stop.



Dunedin's train station

It was a beautiful day with the spring flowers in bloom - it was a perfect day for sightseeing and photos.

Cath in front of the spring flowers outside the Dunedin train station

After leaving Dunedin, we set off for Oamaru. In route, we stopped at Moeraki Boulders.



Moeraki Boulders

There are two ideas about how the Moeraki Boulders got here, the Maori one, and the scientific one. In Maori legend, the Kai-hinaki food baskets were washed ashore when a canoe was shipwrecked while searching for precious stones. The scientists say that the boulders are 60 million years old. They started as lime crystals, which then attracted other minerals around it to make the boulder shape.

We then continued on to Oamaru. Oamaru is a town of impressive limestone architecture. These buildings were largely built during the period 1860ís - 1880ís and today remain as New Zealandís most complete collection of Victorian buildings. Oamaru is the main town of the Waitaki area, whose limestone Victorian buildings reflect the wealth of the New Zealand gold rush era. Today Oamaru, is known as the penguin capital of New Zealand. Oamaru is home to a large nesting colony of Little Blue Penguins. This is one of our favorite tourist attractions. The Blue penguins are the smallest of the world's 17 species of penguin. Standing just 25cm high and weighing 1 kilogram; and are one of the cutest animals we've seen. They are found around the coast of New Zealand and in Southern Australia.

Penguin Crossing sign by the colony

The penguins come ashore at dusk, to return to their nests. Last year when we visited the colony, it was during the penguin's annual molt, so we only saw eight penguins come ashore - and were delighted with that. This year, the penguins were returning to hungry chicks and we had 74 penguins come ashore -- it was fantastic!



Blue penguins coming ashore and preening before returning to their nests and hungry chicks

We had a quiet night in Oamaru, and the next morning we drove to Christchurch, and flew back to Auckland. Dorothy and Peggy took an overnight tour to the Bay of Islands, and spent the remaining time touring Auckland with us. Peggy and Dorothy had a great time and flew home a few days later loaded with souvenirs and rolls of film to be developed.

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