Invercargill

 Invercargill is 150 this year. I feel about the same age after my journey down. The coach set off at 5:30pm from Christchurch and was pretty much fully laden after a pickup at the airport. Most people on board were only heading as far as Dunedin, where we were due just before midnight. I was long-haul. All the way to Invercargill on the south coast. ETA – 3am. In fairness, this isn’t too bad given than Hanoi to Danang was 17 hours! Costwise, this trip was a weeny bit more expensive, though. Roughly £23 as opposed to nearer a fiver for the Vietnamese journey.

I went with Knightrider – the only other bus service undertaking this journey does so during daylight hours and costs a fair bit more. Trains don’t run this far down, I don’t think, and a flight would have cost three times as much. My only regret is that I was being driven through some beautiful scenery… all of it after sunset so I couldn’t see it.

 Rest breaks were frequent enough, including a half-hour stop for KFC at 9:30. We also came to a halt around 10:30 for a driver change. It seems one guy drives from Christchurch down to here, then swaps buses with the northbound driver. That way he ends up back in Christchurch at the end of his drive, while the Invercargill based guy drives back to his own home. Smart enough.

There was a delay on the changeover as the northbound coach had a flat tyre. They couldn’t fix it, so had to wait for a towtruck. I’m glad I was heading south!

The coach itself was fairly small, comfy and had a telly at the front. In total, we watched three films: Entrapment, Mr and Mrs Smith and Arnie’s Eraser. I’d seen all three before and the volume was a little low most of the time due to the big diesel engine chugging beneath us, but entertaining nontheless. Reading wasn’t an option as the lights were out and I always nod off when I read on buses anyway. This isn’t comfortable and I often end up drooling on the person next to me.

 We offloaded most of the passengers in Dunedin, and five of us continued on to Invercargill, arriving there more or less at 3am on the dot. I managed maybe an hour’s sleep in the latter stages as I had two seats to myself at last.

Invercargill is chilly. Even I had to put on my loaned fleece (thanks Rob!) and my teeth chattered as I walked in search if the I-Site from where I would be picked up the next morning. Well – later that same morning. I didn’t bother booking a hotel or a hostel as it didn’t seem worth it for the four hours I’d be there. Besides, I had investigated and there is nowhere in Invercargill with a 24-hopur reception in the vicinity of where I arrived. I wasn’t about to fork out $100 for 4 hours, plus a taxi to the I-Site the next morning.

Stopping at a police station, I picked up a map and directions from a very helpful policewoman and found myself at the I-Site/museum at 3:20. Only five hours until my coach arrived.

The sky was clear, but the streetlamps glared so it was hard to see the sky. To the left of the museum I spotted an observatory. Storing my bags in a fairly large phone box, I walked round and the skies just cleared. There are no lights round the back of the observatory and it’s astounding how brightly the stars shone overheard. I was tempted to clamber up the observatory (the spiral stairs round it were open), but I spotted a security camera and a car in the car park. I wasn’t in the mood to be arrested as they may not have released me in time for my bus and ferry.

 I had walk slightly further afield, locating a petrol station (where I bought some munchies), a park and a war memorial. I took some nice night-time snaps and then bedded down for an hour in the phone box. This isn’t the first time this trip I’ve slept on concrete, but the last time it was pitch dark and around 30 degrees. In Invercargill, I had security lights blinking and it was nearer 6 degrees.

When I woke up, I meandered down to McD’s for some brekkie. Like Singapore, they have wireless. Unlike Singapore, it’s secure and unavailable to Joe Public. Boo. However, they open at 6:30, have very clean loos and you can watch the sun rise around the war memorial from the McCafé window so it’s not all bad.

While sitting having breakfast, I went through the local paper – The Southland Times. It’s typically “local” with “local” stories and 3-days-out-of-date international news, but it passed the time. It also contained a 150th Anniversary special about Invercargill with some nice pictures and history in it. I’d already noticed about a dozen streets named after UK rivers (Tyne, Don, Dee, Tay, Forth, Tweed…), but there was other nice trivia in there. Such as when vehicles were eventually regulated, there was a speed limit set for going around corners of 10mph. Also, Invercargill monitored its own traffic untill 1995 when it merged with the national department. The sepia photos of every mayor over the last 150 years was also quite an eye-opener. Some impressive beards before the turn of the 19th/20th century!

Come 8am, I wandered back up to the I-Site and waited for my bus to Bluff. It was a very small bus. In fact, it was a taxi. There were only three people to be collected, so the ferry company didn’t bother sending the bus out. Nice! The taxi driver and the other two passengers (two Aussies) were really chatty and the 20-minute drive to Bluff passed quickly.

The ferry terminal is located about as far south on the mainland as you can get. It’s quite close to an aluminium smelting works, and I think the company that own the works are one of the main sponsors of the Kakapo project. After a short wait, we jumped onto the ferry for the choppy ride to Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island. Despite the catamaran design of the ferry, it wasn’t the smoothest of journeys so I stayed outside for most of it. Losing my lunch at Kaikora is still an all-too-recent memory. Posted by Picasa

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