Thursday, 26 May 2011

Final Film Review

Since being back in the UK I have been mainly drinking tea and trying to sleep at normal times, so haven't yet reviewed the 13 films I watched on the plane home. However, as some people appeared a little distressed at the lack of reviews, here they are:

(DISCLAIMER: It is possible sleep deprivation was responsible for my initial wittiness. Sorry.)

1) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian : ****
I quite enjoyed this one as the very first scene is set in the Coromandel Peninsula, which I went to in the first road trip of the holiday.

As you can probably tell, the Pevensie children are in the first picture, in casual clothes, and we are in the second, in our school uniform.

Morals of the story:
  • Jesus is omniscient, omnipresent and has a lovely golden mane.
  • Prince Caspian is hawt. Yum.

2) Megamind: ***
Child with big head just wants some friends but keeps accidentally causing mischief so no one likes him. Surprise surprise, children who are bullied, friendless and have no parents grow up to be crazy murderers. Bit of a downer for a kids film really.

Morals of the story:
  • Always plot your baby's head circumference on their growth chart. Hydrocephalus is not to be taken lightly.
  • Nurture, not nature.

3) Gulliver's Travels
Jack Black takes his usual character (stuck in dead end job with no prospects but really it's okay because he can do silly voices) to the land of the mini-people to impress a girl. He tells them he is a king and a magnificent person, and makes them act out Star Wars. When they find out he is not a king or Luke Skywalker they cast him out, and he ends up in a giant girl's doll house. But then the mini-people need his help to kill a robot, and it ends up all right in the end. He even gets the girl, who is way out of his league because he is quite chunky and a girl like that would never go out with a guy like him. Ptsch. Just makes the whole storyline unbelievable.

Morals of the story:
  • You don't need qualifications or transferable skills to make it in this world, as long as you have a beard and can play air guitar.
  • There must be something about Jack Black's body that lets him get the pretty girls in all these films, but it's probably best we don't know what it is.

4) Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole : *
Owl civil war. The owls wear metal claws and helmets and fight with fire. I get the sneaking suspicion it is not based on a true story.

Morals of the story:
  • Not all heroes are easy on the eye.
  • If your brother turns against you and joins the Nazi-Owls don't panic: just push him into a burning pit.

5) Avatar: ***
Blue-man meets Blue-woman and they make the beast with two backs in a pretty forest. There is some plot somewhere about war or some such thing, but that's not important. I only watched half of this film, but as it is so long that's about the same length as a normal film so I'm adding it to the tally.

Morals of the story:
  • Best not to try to kill and enslave your lover's people. Leads to tension in the bedroom.
  • Science can be exploited to fight wars. Gosh, who knew?

6) No Strings Attached: ****
Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman decide to have a friends-with-benefits style relationship, but in a quirky twist the man falls for the woman and the woman is all like 'NO I JUST WANT CASUAL FUN'. I dislike this film as it does not stick to stereotypical gender norms and I disagree with that. I mean come on, only men are allowed to have casual relationships. If women do they must have loose morals and we should shun them. But if they then fall in love too and they become a very cute couple it's okay.

Morals of the story:
  • Men can have emotions, and the world doesn't implode.
  • Women can have casual relationships, and the world does't implode.

7) Morning Glory: ****
Perky, chipper woman manages to persuade a surly, arrogant journalist to be an anchor on her breakfast show. There is some strife, and he is mean, and she is frustrated, and then he makes her some eggs and all is forgiven.

Morals of the story:
  • Eggs make everything better.
  • No seriously, I have a cold and I'd love some eggs right now. Eggs, anyone? Guys? Anyone?!

8) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps : <*
Money money blah blah blah.

Morals of the story:
  • Blah.
  • Blah blah.

9) The Tourist: ***
Angelina Jolie runs around Venice pouting and setting up Johnny Depp in an attempt to draw the police away from her lover and major-league criminal. Except it turns out, I won't ruin the twist. But you'll see it coming a mile off.

Morals of the story:
  • As long as you pout and wear expensive jewellery you can do pretty much anything in Italy.
  • Never send a woman to do a man's job. They just fall in love and mess things up (compare and contrast: No Strings Attached).

10) The Green Hornet: ****
Billionaire dies and leaves entire fortune and business to his waster son. Big Mistake. Waster son makes friends with a Chinese genius-cum-barista and they use mad engineering skillz and truckloads of money to rid the city of criminals, while trying to look like they are criminals too.

Now that, in my opinion, is the first mistake in their plan. If you're going to be chased by all the criminals whose meth dens you're blowing up, then why deliberately have the police coming after you too? Idiots.

Morals of the story:
  • Don't leave your media empire to your waster son. He'll just use it to put rocket torpedoes in his car.
  • However, rocket torpedoes do make any car much cooler, so maybe you should leave your media empire to your waster son.

11) Little Fockers: **
Predictable jokes about unfortunate surnames and troublesome father-in-laws. Bit dull, not sure why I watched it. Oh yeah, I remember, I was on a 36 hour flight.

Morals of the story:
  • Pulse rates are accurate predictors of whether someone is lying or not. Y'know, someone should use that and make like, a machine that detects lying or something. I'm sure it would be foolproof. Then they could use it on high-end entertainment shows on daytime telly to greatly enrich and stabilise the lives of those in the lower socio-economic classes. I'm sure all these poor people's problems could be alleviated if they knew the truth.
  • Sometimes doctors are horrible and nurses are lovely. Who'da thunk it?

12) Tamara Drewe: ***
Young woman returns to the village she grew up in to wear tiny shorts and wreck marriages. Not much of a plot, but the teenage girls 'in love' with the pop star are hilarious.

Morals of the story:
  • Avoid breaking in to people's houses and stealing t-shirts, as through a complicated set of events this will lead to adultery, head injury, and death by cow-trampling.
  • Tiny shorts are not suitable attire for small villages, as through a complicated set of events this will lead to adultery, head injury, and death by cow-trampling.

13) TRON: Legacy : ***
Right, there is this underground world for computer programs. Except it's not really underground, it's all around us. But it's in the digital world. And in it people are computer programs. Or computer programs are people, I'm not sure. It's all a bit confusing, but there are lots of flashing lights and magic motorbikes and things, so it's quite fun.

Morals of the story:
  • If your father ever disappears, it's not that he's run out on you - he has entered a digital world called The Grid and is trapped. Honest.
  • Don't make people into computer programs. Or computer programs into people. Or whatever.

So, this is actually the final final post of the blog. I have had a lovely time in New Zealand, and would like to thank my family for supporting me through the last six years of university, my friend T for giving me a job so I could save up for the trip, and to the other just-about-doctors for helping me make some amazing memories.

And now, to finish how I started, with a picture of a monkey I met in Auckland Zoo two weekends ago:

The one on the right has clearly just broken wind and the one on the left is all 'WTF DUDE?!'

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The End

Today is my last day in New Zealand. I am quite sad to be leaving, as I have had a great time here. But I am looking forward to coming back to England because the money has run out because I miss my family, my friends, and having some familiarity.

What are the things I will miss?
  • The coffee
  • The sushi
  • The super-cheap meals out (as long as you go for Asian food and not European)
  • The relaxed lifestyle
  • The scenery
  • The really cool things that result from tectonic activity (hot springs etc)

What are the things I won't miss?
  • A pint of milk costing a million pounds
  • Having to wait for the green man for ages because I can't work out the traffic light sequences
  • Hills
  • The very small shorts that men have a habit of wearing
  • The phrase 'Sweet as, bro'
  • The really rubbish things that result from tectonic activity (earthquakes etc)

I fly out tomorrow at 5pm, and arrive on Sunday at 12:30pm, so expect film reviews soon. I can't guarantee if they'll be witty or bumbling - sleep deprivation has the potential to go either way really. Half of me wants to see if I can beat my personal best of 10 films from the way over here, but the other half wants to take advantage of the free gin to induce sleep during the flight.

To finish up, here is a picture of me with a bowl of coffee:

And yes, that is God in the background. He popped in for a cuppa, because the coffee there is...heavenly (see what I did there?).

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Dolphin Video

As promised, here is the video of dolphins I took:

Okay, okay, that's not the right video. I don't know how you guessed! But here is the video of the dolphins racing the boat.

It was a bit windy, so to prevent you guys having to put your hands over your ears when listening to noise, I have selected a complementary, mood-setting soundtrack to go with it:

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Lake Tekapo - Big Adventure Day 9 & 10

I'm going to put the remaining two days into the same post because we didn't do much except travel and eat fast food.

In fact, I'll just finish up with a picture of Lake Tekapo that I didn't even take myself because my camera was at the bottom of my bag:


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Milford Sound - Big Adventure Day 7 & 8

To my extreme annoyance, I had written the majority of this blog post (taking about an hour and saving every few minutes) when unfortunately the site went down. Now it's back up but all text from the post has lost into the internet ether.


So, if this post is rubbish and boring, blame the internet and not my dazzling wit.

When we woke up on Day 7 of our trip, the clouds had mostly gone, and it was blue sky and sunlight. Here is the view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from our hostel:

We enjoyed a relatively relaxed morning (leaving at 10:30am) and set off for Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is a fjord found in the Fiordland National Park (NZ spell fjord wrong) in the southwest part of the South Island. It quickly became apparent that none of us were actually sure what a fjord was (it is an inlet of water in a valley created by glacial activity).

Thousands of years ago, glaciers covered large parts of the South Island. As they flowed down the mountains they gouged great valleys into the rock. Depending on the type of rock they were moving over, you get different types of valleys - low rolling hills if the rock is soft (as in Doubtful Sound) and steep dramatic cliffs if the rock is hard (as in Milford Sound). There are no remaining glaciers in Fiordland, despite the large mountains and extremely heavy rainfall. Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited place in the world, and while there are only two permanent waterfalls there, during the rain hundreds of temporary waterfalls appear. If the wind is also blowing, some of these waterfalls can blow horizontally or upwards.

When Captain James Cook was first sailing round the South Island, he completely missed Milford Sound, thinking the narrow entrance didn't lead to anything. He didn't sail too close to the entrance in case wind conditions prevented him from getting out (this refers to Doubtful Sound, as Cook thought it was doubtful he would ever escape). Milford Sound was omitted from maps for several years, until a seal hunter called John Grono found it on his seal hunting escapades. He named it Milford Haven, after his favourite place in Wales, and it was later renamed Milford Sound.

However, Milford Sound is in fact, not a sound. A sound is a sea-flooded valley created by running water i.e. rivers. The word fjord didn't exist in the English language at the time, but now the name has stuck.

Of course, the Maori have their own legends about Milford Sound. Many years ago a demi-god called Tu-te-raki-whanoa was given the task of shaping the southwest part of the South Island. Singing an ancient karakia (chant) he used his adze (a tool used in woodwork) to carve out the southernmost fjords. However, he wasn't very good at it at first, resulting in the low hills of the southern fjords. As he moved up the island he got better with more practice, and by the time he got to Milford Sound he perfected his work, creating the steep cliffs of Piopiotahi (Milford Sound).

Piopiotahi means 'one piopio', a now extinct bird. This harks back to the legend of Maui, who tried to win immortality for mankind. When he died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown to the fjord in mourning.

The drive to Milford Sound is, unfortunately, very long. This is because there is no road to Milford Sound from Queenstown due to mountains, so we had to do a big 'U' shape:

However, this meant we got to see some beautiful scenery, including Lake Te Anau, where we stopped for lunch. Here are a selection:

And here are some ducks:

After approximately five hours of driving (with occasional photo stops), we arrived and got our first look at Milford Sound.

Immediately we could see why it has been judged the world's top travel destination, and been described as the eighth wonder of the world. If you ever want to be reminded how small and insignificant the human race is, I would recommend Milford Sound. The word beautiful is not right; awe-inspiring, breath-taking, phenomenal, the most visually stunning thing you will ever see in your entire life - these are all far more appropriate descriptions.

I can kinda understand how it may lead to some people finding God (though obviously I was more 'this is so cool!' than 'we thank you Lord').

Because it was such a long journey from Queenstown, we had booked an overnight cruise. It was a pretty good deal - $168 (£84) for a nice, clean cabin (with fresh towels, which we were overjoyed to find after seven days of packing wet towels in our suitcases), three course evening meal (with 10 desserts!), enormous breakfast, unlimited refreshments, nature commentary and slideshow, and kayaking at dawn.

This is our boat:

The first part of our trip was a two hour leisurely cruise through the sound, out to the Tasmanian Sea. Throughout this our skipper gave a very informative commentary about the things we were seeing and the history of Milford Sound. We arrived at the Tasmanian Sea in time for the sunset:

Then we went back through the Sound and moored for the night in a place called Harrison's Cove. We had the enormous dinner, had the slideshow, and then were left to our own devices. We couldn't get enough of the sight of the Sound (even though it was dark) so went back out on the deck. We were rewarded by seeing a fur seal (we named him Frank) hunting for food. The fish like the lights of the boat, so the seals like the boat too. We probably watched him chasing fish for over an hour.

Fortunately, Milford Sound is spared from a lot of the unsteadiness of the sea by a ridge of rocks at the mouth of the fjord. This is the remains of the terminal moraine created by the glacier. This meant the waters were very calm and everyone got good nights sleep.

After breakfast (about 8am) we went out on the fjord in kayaks. The sun was just coming up, so we got to paddle around while the Sound became gradually lighter. The water was so clear you could see the bottom despite it being 100m deep in the cove (it gets down to 300m in the main stretch). Because of the hardness of the rock the steep cliffs continue under water, so you can get your kayak right up to the sides and not run aground.

At one point some dolphins came over to see what we were all up to.

After the kayaking it was time for a much needed hot shower and drink as we cruised back to the dock. The journey back to Queenstown was much the same, though with fewer photo stops as the rain had started up a bit. Here is the other side of Lake Wakatipu:

So. This blog wasn't as good as the one I'd already written, which is annoying. To make up for it, here are a few more pics of Milford Sound for you:

The West Coast II - Big Adventure Day 6

The journey from Franz Josef to Queenstown was another stunning West Coast drive. However, the weather was less kind to us that day, and so we were unable to see a lot of it due to clouds:

As it was a winding mountain journey again, we were up very high, so we were actually above or inside the clouds at some points:

There was also a lot of rain, so we only got out once to take photos of 'The Gates of Haast'.

Well, with a name like that you have to, really.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Franz Josef Glacier - Big Adventure Day 5

The Franz Josef Glacier was named by the German explorer Julius von Haast, who named it after the Austrian Emporer Franz Josef I. The Maori's call it Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'). Hinehukatere loved climbing mountains and persuaded her lover,
Wawe, to go with her. However, Wawe wasn't a very good climber, and an avalanche swept him to his death. Hinehuketere was broken-hearted and her many tears flowed down the mountain and formed the glacier.

While this is a lovely story, I find the actual reason for there being a glacier more interesting.

The South Island of New Zealand is actually formed from two techtonic plates; the Indo-Australian plate to the west and the Pacific plate to the east. Where these two plates are colliding, at the Alpine Fault, huge mountains have been thrown up. These are the Southern Alps. It explains why there is so much earthquake activity in New Zealand, and why New Zealand gets about 3cm closer to Australia every year (much to the New Zealander's distress).

When evaporated water in the air moves up and over mountains, it gets colder, condenses, and falls to the ground as snow. Because New Zealand lies in the Roaring Forties, as well as the El-Nino weather pattern, it gets a lot of warm air carrying an awful lot of water hitting the West Coast. As a result Franz Josef gets approximately three times as much snow as other glaciers worldwide.

When snow falls on the top of the mountain, the pressure and temperature causes it to freeze into blue ice, and hence creates a glacier. The glacier originally began in an ice age, and extended all the way out to the Tasmanian Sea on the coast 15,000 years ago. Nowadays the terminal face (end bit of the glacier) is about 19km away from the sea, though the glacier is advancing and retreating all the time. The movement of the glacier depends on the balance between the amount of snow falling on the neve (the top) and the amount of meltwater coming from the terminal face. At the moment Franz Joseph is advancing, at times up to 70cm a day - phenomenal speed in glacier terms. It also flows 10 times faster than most glaciers.

Another unusal aspect about Franz Josef is it is one of only three glaciers in the world to extend into a rainforest (one of the others, Fox Glacier, is just down the road, and the other is in South America).

Glaciers tend to be rather cold, funnily enough, so before we were allowed to set off on our day we were given lots of special clothes by the glacier guides. This included: rain jacket, waterproof trousers, hat, gloves, special boots, and a bumbag containing crampons (slip-on devices with big metal points to provide traction when walking on the ice).

After suiting up we got a bus to the rainforest, and walked half an hour through to the glacier. This is what our first look at it was like:

From where I was stood, the terminal face looked to be about 200-300m away. However, it is very difficult to appreciate any sense of scale when faced with something so massive, and it was actually a 2.3km walk from there to the start of the glacier.

However, the start of the glacier didn't mean the start of walking on ice. Oh no. First we had a half an hour climb up a massive pile of rocks called the terminal moraine.

Moraine is an accumulation of rocks created by glacier activity. As a glacier flows through a valley it chips off rocks and boulders from the bottom and sides of the valley and, like a big conveyor belt, some of these rocks end up at the front of the glacier, being pushed down the valley. This is called terminal moraine. It can be used to see where a glacier has been in the past - indeed we saw some giant piles of rocks some kilometres away from the current terminal face.

There are many other types of moraine. Medial moraine lies on top the glacier, like so (in the foreground):

Lateral moraine is found on either side of the glacier, and can result in huge boulders ending up at the tops of mountains and things, where they have no business being. It can also result in boulders impacted into the sides of the valley, like these two we saw during our time on the ice:

After finally clambering up the terminal moraine we fitted our crampons onto our boots and took our first tentative steps on the ice. Turns out, there is no need to be tentative - the crampons do their job quite effectively and as long as you put your feet down heavily you will not slip at all.

The climb up the glacier was at times quite hard. First thing in the morning (and it really is first thing - our day started at 8:30am and they had already done this) the glacier guides go out onto the ice with chainsaws and create the path for us to climb. They have to do this every day, because within the space of a few hours any steps or paths created will have either melted away or broken up into huge crevasses as the glacier flows down the valley (currently flowing at about 3m per day - super speedy). Even as we were climbing they had to revise the path constantly because it changed so fast. Here is our glacier guide creating a step with his pick-axe:

Here are some pictures of the glacier:

It was surprising how blue it was. It was also surprising how wet the glacier was. I know that sounds weird, but I had envisaged glaciers as just big blocks of solid ice. However the water is constantly melting, and all over the glacier there were little streams and waterfalls within the glacier itself, running in tunnels beneath our feet.

After a good few hours squeezing through tight crevasses and hauling ourselves up steep steps carved into the ice, we stopped for lunch. Here is a diagram of the glacier:

Yep, after four hours of climbing, that was how far we'd travelled. Not very far at all.

After lunch the guides took us to two features in the ice. The first was a big bridge of ice, that was unusual in that it had been around for a whole month. Normally something like that would only last a few days. Unfortunately, however, this meant we couldn't walk under it as at any moment it was going to collapse, and hundreds of tons of ice would fall down. Our guide said if it didn't fall within the next couple of days they may have to chop it down because it will only become more hazardous.

Unfortunately our guide took that picture, and while may be handy with a pick-axe, he's not very good at photography.

After the ice bridge we went to an ice cave that had appeared overnight, then set off back down the glacier. This took much less time than going up, and some of it felt a bit more like deliberate falling than walking. At one point DrE broke both her crampons, so I got to play around with the guide's pick-axe while he fixed them:

That was fun.

After climbing back down, re-clambering over the terminal moraine, and trekking back through the rainforest, we handed back all our equipment and went to the complementary hot springs.

Yep, I know. Glacier. Hot springs. In the same place. Mind-boggling.

New Zealand is weird.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The West Coast - Big Adventure Day 4

The morning of day 4 had been put aside for something to do in Greymouth, as it wasn't a long drive to our next stop. However, we had seriously overestimated Greymouth - there isn't anything to do. Instead we went to a local greenstone shop.

As I already mentioned greenstone (pounamu), is a type of jade found exclusively on the west coast of the South Island, and is highly prized by the Maori people, for many reasons. Firstly, greenstone has a natural 'grain'. This makes it extremely hard and durable it pressure is applied against the grain, but it can be broken and shaped if pressure is applied with the grain. As the Maori people did not have metal before the arrival of Europeans, greenstone was used to make their finest tools. To cut it a paste was made with crystals from sandstone, some of which are harder than greenstone, and rubbed into the stone using a piece of material.

Secondly, when polished greenstone is very beautiful, and can come in different shades and patterns. It was used to make jewelery, such as a figure called hei tiki, which is believed to hold the power (mana) of previous owners. It is believed that mana is absorbed into the stone and so the jewelery carries a piece of the wearer in them. Therefore it is customary for people to wear the jewelery for a period before giving it as a gift.

The greenstone shop we went to is owned by a guy called Garth, who when we arrived was being filmed for a French documentary. He was also wearing very small shorts.

Garth is the great great great grandson of the famous chief of the Ngati Mahaki tribe, Te Koeti Turanga. The Ngati Mahaki tribe are the only people in New Zealand who have the right to collect greenstone from the West Coast rivers and mountains. Because of this 90% of greenstone in New Zealand shops is imported, and so not actually pounamu. It is important, therefore, when buying greenstone, you only get buy it from a member of the Ngati Mahaki tribe.

Garth was very helpful and educated us all about the history of greenstone and what the meanings of each of the pieces of jewelery we were buying. As Maori tradition dictates, he rubbed each stone between his fingers, so warming the stone and putting some of his mana into the jewelery. So, all wearing very similar necklaces and looking super-touristy, we set back off on our escape from Greymouth.

We'd heard the drive down the West Coast was stunning, and boy, it was. The weather was cloudy and we had a few showers, but that didn't stop us from appreciating the scenery. We stopped for lunch at the very serene Lake Ianthe:

Unfortunately, we'd forgotten that West Coast lake/river = midgies/sandflies. So the rest of the journey mainly involved periodically swatting parts of the car or our anatomy to rid ourselves of our sudden fly infestation. We arrived only marginally bitten at Franz Josef Township mid-afternoon, and got ourselves ready for the next days activites: climbing a glacier.

Yep. An actual glacier.

More to come soon!

Greymouth - Big Adventure Day 3

Day 3 of our holiday was pretty rubbish. We spent a good six hours driving from Kaikoura to Greymouth, and then Greymouth itself lived up to it's name - its pretty grey and boring. The reason we were going to Greymouth at all was because we had to cross the Southern Alps, a mountain range that runs from north to south, splitting the island in half. This meant lots of winding mountain roads.

The only highlight of the day was the hostel, which was decorated in a very nice African theme and had spacious rooms, sparkling bathrooms, and a well equipped kitchen. And The Return of the King on DVD.

Instead of a detailed break down of our day, I shall tell you about the experience of driving in the South Island.

Firstly, there are hardly any roads. It was pretty much one road to each place we went to. Most of the places we went through exist entirely on that one road, so peoples addresses are things such as 'The Farm, State Highway 6, New Zealand'. Can you imagine if your street address was 'M1 Northbound'?

Secondly, New Zealand have simply wonderful road safety posters. My favourites are:
  1. A picture of a corpse's feet with a cardboard identification tag tied round the toe, and the tagline 'SPEEDING TICKET' written over the top.
  2. 'Drink' on the first line and 'Drive' on the second line, but the 'r' and the 'v' were written really small, so it seemed to read 'DRINK DIE'.
  3. Plain black background with a white crucifix, and 'SLOW DOWN' emblazoned underneath.

Thirdly, due to the large amounts of native bush, periodically we would drive past swingometer-style boards informing us of the fire risk for that day in that area. Most of the time it varied between low and moderate, due to the weather, but once it was on 'Extreme', which was quite worrying.

Lastly, due to the combined geology and weather in the South Island, there are literally thousands of rivers and streams. Every time the road crosses one there is a little sign telling you the name of the stream. New Zealanders are not very inventive, so a lot are called things such as 'Station Creek' (it ran past the railway station) or 'Rocky Creek' (it was full of rocks). Even more are named after people. However, we came across some absolute gems:
  1. Random Creek
  2. Dismal Creek
  3. Imp Grotto
  4. So Big Creek
  5. The Trickle No.1
  6. The Trickle No.2

It was very entertaining.

Dolphin Encounter - Big Adventure Day 2

Just off the Kaikoura peninsula is the Hikurangi Trench, a 1000m deep sea trench where warm and cold currents meet. This results in nutrient-rich water rising up from the trench, and this attracts abundant marine wildlife.

Which means several species of dolphin. And several species of whale. And seals, and penguins, and albatrosses (albatrossi?), get the picture.

I felt pretty rotten that morning (did my usual trick of going a greenish tinge) but the task of putting on the wetsuit distracted me. We had sleeveless body suit, jacket with a delightful strap that went between the legs, hood and socks. The sizing was a little odd - I had to have a size 10 body suit and a size 16 jacket. Even the wetsuit man was confused.

After shoe-horning ourselves into our gear, we settled down in a room for an informative video. This told us about dolphin table manners and dating etiquette and things. And how to attract their attention and play with them.

Following the video we piled into a coach and headed off to the boat. There was a pod of about 400 dolphins in the bay, so we quickly located those and got ready for our swim. The pod was a mix of common dolphins and dusky dolphins, swimming and socialising together which is unusual. Putting on my flippers, goggles and snorkel I got ready to utilise my new dolphin speed-dating skills and got into the water.

Tip number 1: Sing to the dolphins to catch their attention.
Other people sang sensible things like 'Three Blind Mice', or hummed random notes (apart from one guy who seemed to speak fluent dolphin and just squawked a lot). I couldn't think of anything to hum, so I just said 'Helloooo dolphins' over and over again.

Unfortunately, sound travels quite well underwater, so everyone else could hear me. They all laughed. But I was surrounded by dolphins for the majority of the time, so they can all get lost.

Tip number 2: Play with the dolphins by spinning round in circles with them.
This was great fun. The dolphins would swim straight at you, in a bizarre underwater game of chicken, then at the last moment turn and swim round you. If you span round in the water in the same direction as them they would continue to swim round in circles - this was their way of playing with us. This could last for up to a couple of minutes if you managed to get a particularly playful dolphin.

Tip number 3: Don't touch the dolphins, as you will put them off coming near humans.
This was harder than expected, as the dolphins got so close I could easily have reached out and touched one. But dolphins are actually pretty massive and so strong and powerful that when you are confronted with one 15cm from your face the last thing you want to do is make it angry.

Tip number 4: Act as dolphin-like as possible.
I am not good at pretending to be a dolphin. Even with my long history of butterfly swimming. I mainly flail.

I know it is the cliche to say swimming with dolphins is 'the best thing I've ever done', but I'm just gunna have to be cliched and say it: this was the best experience of my life. I'm no word smith and can't come up with a poetic sentence to explain how amazing it was, so you'll all just have to enter the following words into a thesaurus and make your own up:
  • Fantastic
  • Awe-inspiring
  • Humbling
  • Beautiful

The dolphins were really friendly, inquisitive and playful, and I couldn't recommend the dolphin encounter at Kaikoura more.

We swam for about 40mins then clambered back into the boat to our towels and dry clothes. After that the boat followed the pod for a while, enabling us to get millions of photos to bore everyone back home. The dusky dolphins are the species that do the various acrobatic back flips and mid-air spins, and they love to show off:

At one point the skipper sped up and the dolphins raced the boat - they like doing this because the boat creates a wave in front of it that lets the dolphins swim even faster than they normally do. I videoed this, and it will be appearing on this blog shortly.

Eventually we had to leave the dolphins and head back to shore. After showering and getting lunch we ambled (no fast walking after expending all our energy in the sea) along the peninsula to the Point Kean Car Park. This may seem like an odd tourist attraction, but the car park is home to a fur seal colony. Apparently the males like the car park, and the females like the rocks nearby.

Here is one geezer hiding under a bush:

On the way back to town we stopped off at Kaikoura Seafood BBQ for a snack.

This looks like a burger van that you get at Bonfire Night and any other council-run events, but instead of selling hotdogs and cheeseburgers it sells super-fresh seafood platters, grilled crayfish, garlic prawns, scallops etc. We decided to try a paua fritter.

Paua, or Haliotis iris, is a sea snail unique to New Zealand waters. The shells are highly prized by the Maori (they are taonga - treasure) as they have whorls of irridescent blues, greens and silvers when polished. There are many laws governing the use of paua: for example, each diver is allowed to catch ten paua per day, and only by free diving - it is illegal to use scuba equipment. The Maori people own the right to harvest paua, and can grant permission to people. Also, you cannot take an unprocessed paua shell out of New Zealand - only the polished form of the shell.

After our snack we headed back to the hostel to psych ourselves up for the enormous meal that awaited us - we were going for crayfish at a restaurant, as it is the local delicacy. We decided to flash the banks our cash and get a seafood platter, which consisted of half a crayfish each, crumbed fish fillets, calamari, scallops, prawns, mussels, salad and garlic bread, for a mere £35 each. But it was so good, and I'm glad we spent the little bit extra to try the crayfish.

With (very) full tummies we went back to the hostel to sleep, as the days excursions had worn us out somewhat. To finish up, here are two more cloud+mountain+water pictures: