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Down South

Well, I'm now on my Johnny Todd after parting with Oli, Mel, Alex & Laura etc. in Auckland and being driven to the airport in a gorgeous, open-top vintage Porsche by a family friend; an unexpected bonus. I flew in to Christchurch over the magnificent Canterbury planes, totally flat and stretching for miles. INJOKE: I was slightly alarmed when the captain first came on the radio and announced himself as Peter Duncan but thankfully he was quite competent and didn't claim to be able to fly because his brother used to be a pilot.

Christchurch was a nice city with plenty of green space and a large park near the city centre. The Avon river winds its way through the middle and the banks of this are presumably where Christchurch gets its reputation for being the most English city in NZ, being reminiscent of the river Cam. An old tram does a short circuit of the city centre, costing rather more and travelling far less than back when it was actually a proper means of public transport, but it does at least take you to the museum, with detailed information on how the Brits were beaten to the south pole by the Norwegians but still became more famous, and the magnificent glass fronted art gallery. A little way out of town, a Gondola takes you up on to the surrounding volcanic hills and despite not having a map I managed to wander round for a couple of hours, taking in magnificent views of Lyttleton harbour, the Canterbury planes and of course the ocean, stretching out to the eastern horizon. A visit to Canterbury Brewery proved that not all Guinness is brewed in Dublin but for $10 was quite fun and you got at least that amount of free beer at the end.

Dunedin is apparently the Edinburgh of the south and from the pictures that accompany all the advertising leaflets you would expect every building to be 100 years old and made of stone. You would be wrong. With the exception of the railway station and the university however, everything is pretty standard and new. It is nonetheless a nice city, apparently the largest (by area) in New Zealand and the 5th largest in the world, easily beating London, despite having a population of only 120,000. It also contains the world's steepest street as well as the world's longest walk to a not-really-worth-it-attraction (the aforementioned street).

Rugby is the national game in New Zealand and with the venerable Carisbrook stadium nearby, I of course took the opportunity to go and see a Super 14s match between the local team (the Otago Highlanders) and a team from Perth (Western Force). It was a glorious sunny day and I had a ticket for the terraces, where one could stand or sit on the concrete steps. With Perth winning 15-3 at half time the crowd behind me were rather despondent and I wandered down to the railing at the edge of the pitch where four girls were standing wearing capes and clothes in the Otago colours of yellow and blue and sporting faces painted to match. I started chatting to one of them and whilst we watched Otago mount an amazing comeback in the second half (going on to win 25-22) we became friends and she offered me a ticket entitling the bearer to free transport back to a pub in town and 3 free glasses of beer; she had been given two of these tickets by mistake. Naturally I accepted; it would have been ungentlemanly not to. I ended up getting back to the hostel at 3am. Oh, and as if a load of free beer and a great night out wasn't enough, Katie also happened to be the daughter of the owners of Stewart Island Flights and got me a hefty discount. Bonus.

So here I am, currently on Stewart Island, having been flown over this afternoon by Katie's dad from Invercargill. The nice weather stopped literally as soon as we passed from the sea over the island and currently there is a distinctly cloudy look to the sky. Tomorrow I set out on the Rakiura track, a 3 day circular walk taking me along the coast, inland and then back to Oban (the only town here), hopefully in time to fly back to Invercargill on Friday evening.