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Thur 20th - Sun 23rd Apr. Dunedin, New Zealand.

Staying in Brighton, just outside Dunedin, to visit old friend Steve, fiance Nicky and Ryan (2). Catching up with long absent friends - and the change of pace caused by playing at Uncle Huw for a few days - is a huge pleasure. After a couple of days gentle domesticity, strolling on the windswept beach, we head off to Southland, round the southernmost parts of the island. The original plan is to camp, but the weather forecasts keep promising impending doom, and the prospect of spending a week in a soggy tent with a boy in the grip of the 'terrible twos' leads to a big rethink. Tourist huts it is.

Nugget Point, Caitlins, NZ.

Mon 24th Apr. Southland, New Zealand.

Taking Ryan for his morning lets-tire-him-out so-he-sleeps-in-the-car walk along the beach, a mangy, bucholic old sea-lion cow takes offense at our presence and comes lumbering and bellowing down the beach. Too slow, fatso! Huge dark heads of sea-lion bulls keep popping up in the breaking waves, and a couple of times we eye the sand-cliffs inland for escape points, but they come no closer than the surf.

A visit to Cathedral Caves - two separate entrances, accessible only at low tide, lead through dank, dripping tunnels to a single echoing chamber. The Kiwis have an endearing habit of naming anything vaguely impressive 'Cathederal...' leading to Cathederal Cave, Cathederal Grove, Cathederal Cove etc etc...

In Curio Bay, a few miles further on, the world's best preserved fossilised forest is just lying around on the shore. Countless petrified logs, punctuated by stone stumps, lie where they fell during a volcanic cataclysm 180 million years ago. They look so much like wood that touching them and feeling cold stone seems somehow wrong. It is strangely moving to be standing on slabs of stone that last saw daylight as part of the ancient continent Gondwana, surrounded by crashing surf and surging channels filled by thick beds of Bull Kelp, lit by slanting sun under stormy clouds.

The odd penguin waddles past, oblivious to the historical significance of their chosen home.

Tues 25th Apr. Milford Sound, New Zealand.

Whichever Maori god is responsible for random strokes of pure undeserved good fortune smiles on us today, and in Milford Sound, a place with over seven metres of rain a year, a place so wet that the saltwater in the fijord usually has a thick freshwater layer on top, we have pure ultramarine blue skies and bright sunshine.

Thousand metre cliffs drop straight into the deep green water, towering waterfalls seem to fall out of the sky, Sea Lions snooze on rocks under mossy trees, and the 400 tourists on the cruise ship vote 'hai' with their video cameras. A couple of Japanese grandparents are admiring Ryan when Steve has a brainwave, whipping off Ryan's bobble hat to reveal his shock of white hair, triggering gasps and showers of sweets...

Fjordland National Park stretches south of here, a wilderness of mountains and inaccessible valleys crossed by no roads and very few trails. There are persistent rumours that giant flightless Moa, belived driven to extinction by the Maori before the arrival of the white man, still survive somewhere in the dark forests. The bush isn't like the tame, bosky woods of Europe, it's a brutal, tangled, expedition-defeating barrier, and it seems deliciously plausible that living fossils still lurk somewhere in the vast lonliness.

Wed 26th Apr. Te Anau, New Zealand

A pleasant drift in the darkness through the Te Ana-au glo-worm caves. The crumpled constellations of softly glowing blue stars are actually formed by the glo-worms luminous poo - but who cares when it's so pretty.

Thur 27th Apr. Queenstown, New Zealand.

Jet boat up the Dart River. The boat zips along, whizzing close to rocks and trees, turns 360 degrees in it's own length and nips (with the occasional crunch) over impossibly shallow gravel beds, up into the grand and lonely landscape of Mount Aspiring National Park, far beyond the furthest road.

It's all incredibly scenic, but despite all the grandeur, despite the boat drivers best efforts, it still feels a bit like a virtual reality experience, and this is the only hair splitting criticism I can make of New Zealand: the endlessly varied landscapes are gorgeous, it is safe and clean, the people warm and charming - the only thing missing from yer 'world traveller experience' is a sense of being privileged to have got there alive in the first place.

Maybe this is what inspired the first bonkers Kiwis to tie rubber bands round their ankles and start throwing themselves off things (and then - the masterstroke - getting tourists to pay to do the same!)

...Over my dead body, by the way!

Fri 28th Apr. Mount Cook, New Zealand.

A morning walking the glacial landscapes below Mount Cook with Steve, before bidding goodbye to Steve, Nicky and Ryan, who are heading home to resume normal life. Mount Cook is stunning - yellow grass fills the flat alluvial plain while gleaming glaciers smother the peaks of the mountains and a dark green bed of heathers cover the lower flanks.

Speaking of which, a word to the wise for anyone caught by an urgent call of nature in the bush. NZ native foliage is big on prickles, thorns, spikey bits and waxy, waterproof surfaces, and not very big at all on anything remotely broad and absorbent, let alone two-ply and perforated.

Travel tip of the day: never leave home without antiseptic wipes.

Sat 29th Apr. Mount Cook, New Zealand.

Sit amid complete stillness high on a mountain ridge and watch the sunset turn the glistening snowfields on Mount Cook peach, then pink, and finally purple.

Ease aching limbs by taking a sauna in the youth hostel. A sauna. In a youth hostel! What is the world coming to? In mah day, 'ot watter were a luksury, etc. etc.

On to Dive Report - Poor Knights Islands

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