The Climate is wretched, with its infrequent rains and mists, but there is no extreme cold. Their day is longer than in our part of the world. and in the extreme north so short that evening and morning twilight are scarcely distinguishable Tacitus in The Agricola writing of Britain c.AD 98
At first the only inhabitants of the island were the Britons, from whom it take its name, and who, according to tradition, crossed into Britain from Armorica….then it is said that that Picts from Scythia put to sea in long ships…Bede writing of Britain AD 731 A History of the English Church and People
Jan said that she wanted to go back to New Zealand…which was a surprise….I said OK but this time let’s go to the far south ..and she said OK but I want to be in Nelson for my birthday.
So we booked the tickets and flew around the world together.
At dawn, we flew into Auckland from Vancouver and wheeled our cases in light drizzle to the domestic terminal and took a plane south to Christchurch, enjoyed the sunrise over the Cook Strait ..then flew over snow-capped mountains…. and every so often bright-bright blue braded rivers flowing out from the mountains across farmland to the sea
We had an overnight pause in Christchurch… where we slept off a bit of jet lag… and first appreciated the wonder of October blossom.
The next day, boarding a yet smaller plane, heading south once again through bright sunlight into cloudy gloom and…. Invercargill, the southernmost English speaking city in the world.
The airport was briefly busy from our flight but by the time we retrieved our cases the hire car booth was empty as was the rest of the terminal… apart from someone at the cafe/airport shop who took one last look around her and disappeared into the kitchen
We pressed the bell on the hire car desk and after a while saw a sign on the phone with a number and tried that .A woman answered and said she’d be over from the garage in a few minutes.
Soon she had inspected my licence, I signed the agreement and we were given a Sat Nav and a key. We were directed cross the car park to the hire-car forecourt and we found a light blue Corolla with a CD player! I have missed a car CD player…… if only we had a CD.
This was the third part of our expedition team.. it would be our driving home for the length of the South Island though… we were told that we couldn’t ferry it across the Cook Strait, we’d need a new vehicle in Wellington.
We worked out how the Sat Nav worked (a bit hit and miss) put in the address of the Colonial Motel.. indicated to turn right and the windscreen wipers came on.
The next day we were back at the airport to board a small aircraft to Stewart Island. We handed back the Sat Nav to the car hire desk because it didn’t work properly and another was found in the back of the drawer.
During the trip negotiations.. Jan had agreed that we could make our first visit to the third much smaller New Zealand island…just a short flight from Invercargill.
In preparation, Jan had read up extensively and discovered information on rough weather and dodgy conditions that often beset flights to Stewart Island.
In my mind it was like Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, a wildlife sanctuary where alien plants and animals have been excluded and where flightless birds like Kiwis can thrive in the same way that Brownsea’s red squirrels have a sanctuary away from the greys.
We were to land, have a guided tour in a mini-bus and then fly back to enable us to drive up to Dunedin the next day. The guy at the Stewart Island desk shook his head and pointed to a video screen. “See that hill?” It was just grey with a vague building and a couple of trees visible in the foreground. “No”.
“That’s right”, he said, “the cloud’s too low today over Oban” (a lot of Scots came to Southland…they felt at home there), “we’ll give you a refund”. Jan looked relieved and we went back to the car.
We connected up the new Sat Nav but this time it spoke to us in Chinese possibly Korean…so we had to go back to the desk again. A search was made and one more was found and this time it was fine…. because she talked to us with a New Zealand accent and guided us from the airport and out into that lovely far country.
I signalled right and the windscreen wipers came on (it took me ages to get used to this…I’m glad NZ drives on the left). We headed south to Bluff, the most southerly point of the South Island ..in the same way that NT’s Cornish Lizard is the south point for England.
The small town of Bluff itself is industrial and did not look its best in the cloud and the rain. A railway freight line goes there. We found a side road that took us up to Bluff Hill. We spiralled up into the mist, parked beside another car and took a winding path to the summit. There were regular damp information boards as we ascended.
Bluff was an early contact point for European traders. In 1813, the sailing ship Perseverence entered Bluff harbour in search of trading possibilities for flax. The Maori or Tangata Whenua had got there about 500 years earlier. The first European settlers arrived in 1823.This was the earliest pakeha settlement in the whole of New Zealand (with the exception perhaps of Keri Keri, Northland). This was almost 20 years before NZ became part of the British Empire
Bluff developed into a port famed for its fishing particularly for whaling and oysters. Ships dock here, a last stop before Antarctica far to the south.
This place of first trade contact reminds me of the Iron Age settlements around Poole Harbour. National Trust Dorset.. Purbeck places like Middlebere, Brownsea, Studland and Brands Point. Places where Roman trading ships edged their way along the coast, moored their ships beside Iron Age Durotrigan settlements and traded Gallic and Spanish wine for shale and salt. Similarly, the Cornish coastal sites like Gunwalloe and St Michael’s Mount where copper and tin were traded… long before the Roman Empire in Britain.
We looked out from Bluff Hill….no spectacular views today… but I had set foot on this place. Jan gave me a look, so we retraced our steps and followed the coast round to Bluff Point.
And there at last was the yellow sign post. I stood by it and touched it looking out across the grey sea towards Stewart Island and far away Antarctica, This was quite a moment …as it had taken me over 40 years to get here from Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand.
We walked up a path to the modern cafe and asked for tea. We sat at the cosy table and looked through the glass window out along the coast…we had arrived …..but should we have come?.
Tomorrow we would drive north to Jan’s cousins in Dunedin.