In Kaikoura I made the most of the sunshine and walked the Cliff Walk to the seal colonies. Some of it was a bit of a scramble as the path had been washed away but I joined a Scottish girl (from Aberdeen uni!) in tackling it so one of us could fetch help if the other fell off the cliff! I had fish and chips as a reward afterwards, as recommended by Mari. My only non-self-catered meal in New Zealand! It was blue cod and mild, flaky and buttery - really good. Of course the owners of the fish & chip shop were Scottish immigrants, but never mind! I really liked Kaikoura, and I heard on the news today that the roads to and from it are flooded, so I'm glad that didn't happen on my way up. The farmers are saying their lambs aren't likely to survive the weather, which is sad.
In Picton I did another scenic walk, to so-called Bob's Bay, and ate yummy baked goods from the Dutch "bakerij"! Bit of a flying stopover. Then I got the ferry to Wellington, which wasn't straightforward! On the Picton side I ended up having to walk with my heavy luggage to the Bluebridge ferry terminal because I didn't know there was a shuttle bus! I guess they forgot to mention that... Then I felt really sea sick on the boat, but the films they put on were quite distracting (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?). Three hours later in Wellington (Welly) I spent ages trailing around looking for bus platform 'J' (having looked up buses on the internet beforehand and reading that they went from that platform). After asking I was informed it didn't exist so I just hopped on another bus in that direction, but I overshot my stop as it was dark by this time and had to walk pretty far back (and it started raining just as I got off the bus!) so it wasn't a great journey at all. I had a good time in Wellington though. I took in a Hogarth and children's book illustrators exhibition at the National Library, went to the Botanics, City Gallery ( a good modern art show! for once!), and various little boutiques. I was greeted in one by a scruffy shop-assistant going, "How's it goin' man?"! I wanted to say "Yo dawg" to be sarcastic but I think he might have missed the sarcasm and started a discussion about gang wars in Welly. I also went to the national museum, Te Papa, which was really good. I learned that a Kiwi scientist called Bob took the time in 1984 to count all the roadkill he came across while driving up the north Island, and counted 281 possums and 188 hedgehogs (plus a few others). People take possum killing very seriously here! I also learned that there'd been four 3.8-4.5 earthquakes in New Zealand since I'd arrived, plus a hundred smaller ones... everyday stuff!On the way from Welly to Napier we stopped at Mount Bruce wildlife centre and I saw a kiwi in an enclosure inside, where they used infra-red light to simulate night, as kiwis are nocturnal. He was just having his midnight snack, which he found by prodding everything with his long pointy beak (they have external nostrils on the end of their beaks!) and bobbing about. Then he slurped it all up, which was really funny to watch. New Zealand wildlife is so entertaining!
Napier was good fun too. I stayed in an 180-bed hostel with just 5 people staying in it, it being low season! We (Nao from Japan, Thorsten and Fabian from Germany) had a couple of beers (the Germans agreed that New Zealand beer is not as good as German beer) and taught Nao how to play Monopoly! I think we just confused her terribly but she survived a couple of rounds... Napier had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 or so and rebuilt in Art Deco style, making it an attractive (if slightly Miami-beach looking) town to walk about. After Napier I stopped in Rotorua, where I met a young Australian guy who had totally overspent and stayed in NZ far too long so had nowhere to sleep and was hanging about in our hostel in the hope that no one would notice him sleeping in the TV room... Boys! Apparently his parents had bought him a flight home but he wasn't sure if he could be bothered taking it! Luckily he didn't have a credit card to overspend on. Or he'd be in debt like me...!
Rotorua was pretty smelly from all the sulphury hot springs and geothermal activity in the area (the earth's crust is very thin there) and I got a massive headache after a while! I left for Waitomo in the rain, stopping in Cambridge to change buses, and arrived in the late afternoon to check into the YHA. The bed hadn't been made in the dorm they assigned me to so they put me in a twin instead, which was nice but kind of strange not to be lulled to sleep by collective snoring and wade through other people's piles of stuff on the floor. Soon after arriving it was time to get ready for my night abseil! Waitomo is famous for its glow-worm caves and they've been a tourist attraction since the 1800's. It really kicked off in the 1980's though when people started black-water rafting and abseiling there. My guide Ross discovered the cave we went to around that time, and had built most of the walkways and ladders out of it himself. It was just me (low season...) so luckily we had the same sense of humour and there wasn't a boring moment. I got kitted out in sexy blue overalls, white wellies and a helmet with a headtorch. My camera's flash chose not to work so sadly I only have one blurry picture of me before we went down. When we were putting on our harnesses Ross said, "Don't worry, I've done this before. I went down once last week.", which was reassuring. It was an 150feet drop and once I was attached to the rope and to Ross I got to sit on an iron bar and get my hands on the right places on the ropes. Then Ross kicked away the bar I was sitting on (aah!), and I expected to dangle about like a spider and possibly spin and crash into something. Ross thought so too so he warned me I was about to look stupid, but luckily I just sat in the ropes and didn't move much. To stop from moving I had to straighten out the rope and wrap it round my leg - that stopped it from slipping through the bobbin (or descender), and if I wanted to descend I'd bend my leg and slacken the rope with my right hand. I got praised for my smooth style which Ross said took most guides in training a week to master. Then he offered me a job to be trained as an abseil and blackwater-rafting guide in the summer season (November), which I jokingly accepted. On the first descent we left our headtorches on for me to get used to the abseiling, so we didn't see any glowworms. Once on the ground we walked through the cave with water dripping down on us and clambered up four or five big ladders to get back out. Pretty hard work! Ross didn't even get out of breath. We had to stop every so often to clip ourselves onto safety ropes in case we slipped and fell. On the next descent we switched our torches off and got to see the fairy lights. Absolutely beautiful - I'd seen glow-worms in a field in Austria but that was nothing like Waitomo. The glow-worms are actually gnat larvae and spend about 8 months as larvae, during which they devour as many of their siblings around them as possible. When they hatch they only live for about three days as gnats, as they have no mouths. They mate and then either starve to death or are eaten by their charming brood. Such gratitude. Seeing them in a cave was great because there are tons as they like the moisture and all the insects they can feed on there, and as it's so dark you can see them really well. It looks like a 3-dimensional night sky down there when you're looking at the clusters of lights on the cave-walls. Ross said one guy proposed to his girlfriend there once as he thought it was so romantic. She said no! Cannibalistic gnat larvae just didn't impress her enough. I was quite impressed though, and stood and looked at them for quite a while, with Ross telling me glow-worm facts and entertaining tourist stories.
Back in Rotorua I went to Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park (or 'wonderland' as they called it), which was pretty cool, with lots of differently coloured lakes and pools, depending on the minerals in the water. It was a gorgeous day too (but after that it rained again). I also went to the Agrodome, where I watched people bungy, swoop, zorb, and shweeb in the adrenalin area! Swooping is the funniest thing I've ever seen (apart from the wildlife here). Up to three people get strapped into 'hang-gliding harnesses' which look like sleeping bags and then get hauled up high. One of them then pulls the release (what a responsibility) and they drop and swing like a huge pendulum. The more people, the faster (they're attached to each other in a row). When they drop they start screaming but only for a second before the wind hits them. Once they've swung as far as they'll go they start screaming again, and then they drop back again for a couple of swings. It looked fun... but too expensive! I went and saw the considerably cheaper but also very entertaining sheep show, where we spectators were mocked by the presenter in the subtle Kiwi way. The Americans and the Chinese got the worst of it... One Chinese girl went on stage to milk a brown-and-white cow, and was asked whether she wanted chocolate or vanilla, and after choosing chocolate was directed towards its bum... She actually got some milk out of it though (not at the bum). There were also lambs, which the kids got to bottle-feed, and sheepdogs who were trained to leap over the sheep on stage (they had loads of different ones to show the different breeds) and then sit down on one. I bet that skill comes in handy.
On the way up to Auckland I stopped overnight in Mount Maunganui (obligatory Magic stop) which is famous for its beach scene so pretty uninteresting in winter. My plans for Auckland pretty much only involve taking the ferry to Devonport, one of the pretty seaside towns, tomorrow, and then probably sleeping at the airport on Saturday night as my stupid flight is at 5.50am and there's no cheap transport there at that kind of hour! It's going to be a long tiring, really really fun journey, stopping in Sydney from 7.20 - 10.45am and arriving in Hong Kong at 17.45 local time! I may get round to blogging in Hong Kong, but if not you'll get a Hong Kong-related entry when I'm back in Scotland... :-)