Summer Holiday – Southern road trip to Stewart Island

Part 4 of our plan to top and bottom the extremities of New Zealand.  The south of North Island was easy; Wellington is the capital city, after all and we have ample excuse to visit with rellies in the area.  I think Cape Palliser is officially the southernmost point and I think we have driven round there on a trip to the Wairarapa. 
Next came the ‘Top o’the South’; the Abel Tasman track was our main goal and we took the opportunity to explore the area by camping out at Collingwood.  It was an eventful trip – more details in this blogpost.
Two years ago we headed up to Cape Reinga on our northern odyssey and took in sand dunes, kauri forest, silica sands and gum diggers on the way. 
Summer 2015/16 then is the turn of the south and here we are. 

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Chairs which represent the people killed by the Christchurch earthquake Feb 2011

Hogmanay with cousins in Rangiora gave us the chance to explore Christchurch a little before driving down via Moeraki Boulders to Dunedin. 
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We had seen similar geological phenomena up in Northland at Koutou Boulders in Opononi but time and the tide prevented us from seeing all of them.  The Moeraki Boulders are impressive even with hordes of (other) tourists milling around and we had fun jumping from one to another, taking silly photos and marvelling at how they were formed. 
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Onwards to Dunedin and the stately victorian buildings are evidence of it being the oldest city in New Zealand.  One of the things we miss about the UK and Europe is the history but being so used to it, we almost took it for granted in Dunedin before realising that it is not what we see very much in Hamilton especially but even in Auckland and Wellington.  Historic buildings are there, of course, but not to the same extent. 
After a week or so of sweltering weather up north we had been brought down to earth with the unpredictability of southern climes with temperature differences of 10 degrees from one day to the next. 
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A visit out to the beautiful Otago Peninsula to see nesting albatross was characterised by hot sun tempered by chill winds.  It is difficult to believe we were only half an hour from a big city as we walked out to the Pyramids, beautiful golden sands and azure seas.  Unfortunately,  (or maybe fortunately) we didn’t encounter any sea lions in the sand dunes and, sadly nor did we see any penguins. 

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January 2nd brought the rain so we were glad we had saved the Cadbury chocolate factory tour but so, it seemed, had the rest of the New Year visitors to Dunedin and the first available tour was after lunch.  Luckily the rain stopped for a while so we decided to do the street art trail.  A series of 25 murals by different artists decorate the walls in alleyways between buildings around the city centre. The paintings are beautiful, all very different and they definitely brighten up some dilapidated areas.  It kept us happy for a good couple of hours until it was time for chocolate!  The Cadbury tour is everything you might expect it to be… very Willy Wonker-ish but entertaining nonetheless and we did learn a little bit about chocolate making.
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Our whistlestop road trip back on the road, we headed south to the Catlins.  As we had driven down from Christchurch the huge expanses of flat lands had given way to rolling hills and then steep gorges. Now we were struck by the lush greenness of the pastures and hillsides. 

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View from Hilltop

Our home for four days is Hilltop cottage in Papatowai. As its name suggests it is perched on a hill with beautiful views out to the coast to the east and inland up the Takahoma valley to the west.  A wee weatherboard house with “character”, we have fallen in love….
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