We landed in New Zealand at Christchurch, and the temperature was 32 degrees. We just accepted it, having become used to Malaysian and Australian weather – but it turned out to be a fluke, and as we drove south to Dunedin the temperature dropped by more than 20 degrees, until it was just ten above freezing, and there was a cold wind and driving rain. I thought I’d escaped the British winter, only to find it again 16,000 kilometres away, and at the height of the New Zealand summer.
But we doughty Brits aren’t put off by an Antarctic wind blowing right up our Bermuda shorts, so we pressed on to the very end of the wild and windswept Otago peninsula, in search of albatrosses. Despite studying Coleridge for A-Level English, and still being able to recite several verses of the Ancient Mariner, I’d never seen an albatross, and was keen to remedy the situation.
In the information centre, we were invited to handle a replica albatross egg –
Verdict: bloody enormous and very heavy.
Then we watched a video all about the life of the albatross, and how, once they learn to fly, they spend the first five years of their life out at sea, never touching land once. Then after those five years, they come back to the place where they were born to spend three years indulging in laddish behaviour, with lots of squawking, posturing and banter, before they find a mate and pair up for life. And a very long life too – one of the albatrosses at the centre, known as ‘Granny’, was still breeding at the age of 60, poor thing – no chance of getting empy-nest syndrome if you’re an albatross.
The young birds weigh more than their parents – a whopping nine kilograms after several months of being fed the special oil their parents regurgitate for them.
And we all got the chance to feel just how heavy a 9 kg baby albatross is when you hold it –
And finally, we saw the Northern Royal albatrosses themselves, swooping and gliding over the cliffs where they live –
The wingspan is about 3 metres and they soar and glide effortlessly, but sometimes have trouble landing and either crash to the ground or have to abort the attempt and circle around and try again. Our guide told us that the Japanese name for albatross means ‘stupid and clumsy bird’ and I felt rather sad about that.
After Dunedin we headed to Queenstown, where it was just as cold, so I dashed into the first outdoor shop I saw and bought some warm clothes. Unless it warms up, every photo of me from now on will show me wearing my bright blue fleece and grey leggings, as they are the only warm clothes I possess.
Luckily, our next trip involved wearing cloaks, so that was one extra layer of warmth. We went to Glenorchy to see some of the locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Our guide took us to the locations, and showed us stills from the film and told us lots of stories about what happened during the filming.
The wargs were ambushed on the hill behind this lake, and the Rohan refugees struggled across the plain in front of the lake.
Incidentally – the Riders of Rohan were all teenage girls from the pony club. So the long, blonde hair is real, but the beards are not – bet you didn’t know that.
out came the swords …
And we got cloaked up and ready for battle.
Here I am re-enacting the tea break at the battle of Isengard –
Then we went to the location where Sam and Frodo cook some rabbits –
Where we got into character and pretended to cook our own rabbits –
I haven’t had so much fun since I used to dress up in woolly tights and a jumper and swing from my bedroom curtains, pretending to be Tarzan’s girlfriend Jane – and this time I didn’t get told off for it either.