The ghosts session went really well, and I was able to hand over some of the registration-website-fu to the 2006 team. They seemed to have a good handle on things, and it (again!) looks like it'll be an awesome conference.

I took the following week off work, and had a bit of an explore around the South island. No particular plans, but after the meetings in Dunedin, the general gist of it was to make my own way up to Christchurch for the flight out a week later (Sunday).

Friday - Dunedin

Did a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory, which ended up with a 10m waterfall of chocolate. However, the best part of the tour was our guide - a jolly rotund man with unbounded enthusiasm for the production of chocolate.

Mike and Raewyn invited me over for dinner on Monday night, which also included a trip to visit the glow worms just on the outskirts of Dunedin. Apparently they weren't in full force that night, but the greenish specks on the track and surrounds looked mighty cool. Thanks guys!

Every night in Dunedin somehow ended up at Eureka, a cosy little pub/restaurant next to the university (the venue for lca 2006). Seems like this'll end up being the default 'lca pub' next January. I thoroughly recommend the lamb shanks. The chocolate cake (served with chocolate ice cream, covered in a delicious chocolate goo) too, if you've recently befriended a generous heart surgeon.

Tuesday - Queenstown

With the helpful assistance of the nice people at the Dunedin Info Center, I found a bus up to Queenstown on Tuesday, at around midday. Arrived at the Queenstown YHA at around 6pm (after sunset at this time of year). The YHA itself is fairly large, which makes it all a little impersonal; the TV room seemed to be the most popular place here, which is a little nuts.

The last time I was in Queenstown (2001) was in January, which is around the peak of the tourist season. Being May, after the Summer rush but before skiing season begins, Queenstown was much quieter than I'd expected.

So, being in Queenstown, there's some sort of expectation to be jumping off high things or spinning around in little boats (how's the serenity!). Upon Michael's advice, I signed up for a tour of the Dart River on a jetboat. The boat left from Glenorchy, a little town about 45 minutes up from Queenstown. Freakin' magnificent scenery along the Dart River, despite the reduced visibility with the clouds and fog. The river itself is enveloped on both sides by huge mountains, covered with thick greenery with the occasional rocky outcrop.

I'd also like to thank whoever it is who invented the heated-jetboat-handrail.

Thursday - Aoraki/Mt Cook Village

I headed up to Aoraki/Mt Cook Village first thing on Thursday morning - this would have to be one of my favourite spots. The village itself is in a flat 'clearing', surrounded by magnificent mountains.

Courtesy of the New Zealand Department of Conservation, there's a handy map of the village.

The folks at the Aoraki YHA were super nice - both staff and fellow guests, and the place itself has a really friendly atmosphere (wood building, fireplace in the lounge room, etc). I met a couple of other backpackers, Dan (from Canada), Joe (US) and Mark (UK) - they were all on separate, long-term, hardcore-traveller trips.

After arriving in at around midday, I had a short hike up to 'Red Tarns' - I thought I'd take the opportunity to get a walk in if the weather closed in on Friday (which was looking fairly likely). The Tarns themselves are small pools of glacial meltwater about three-quarters of the way up Mt Sebastapol, coloured red by a plant (one that is only usually found in coastal areas). One of the great things about the area is the silence - after reaching the Tarns, the only thing you can hear is the babble of the waterfalls of meltwater further up. The view here is spectacular - photos here.

This is where I start to understand what the Tibetan Monks are all about. Spending your days meditating in the mountains wouldn't be a bad way to be at all.

In true NZ-Mountains style, the weather closed in on Friday, so a group of us spent the day playing board games inside at the YHA. Dan and Joe introduced me to 'Risk'. We played a single game for three hours. I lost.

The inclement weather cleared up by the next morning, so Dan, Mark and I set off on a hike up the Ball Shelter track. The track itself is in a little valley between the mountain range and a lateral moraine; about a quarter of the way up the track we decided to head up the side of the moraine. The views up there were amazing, so we continued on along the top of the moraine for the next few kilometres. This photo shows Mark walking on the moraine; the track is down on the right.

Saturday - Christchurch

After the walk in the Tasman Valley, I had to leave for Christchurch on Saturday - the (double-decker) bus was nearly empty, so I scored a seat at the top front, with a full view ahead. The trip down held another abundance of fantastic scenery, but I was a little too tired to pay close attention.

Sunday held a half-day in Christchurch before leaving. I didn't have a lot of time to do much exploring, but managed to visit the local markets.

Come midday, It was time to head back home, with a short transfer in Sydney.

Being my third trip to New Zealand, I'm reminded of what a great place it is. The absolutely stunning countryside as well as the fantastic people made my time there thoroughly enjoyable. Everywhere I went people were great to talk to, and go above and beyond the call of duty to help out wherever possible - a huge thanks for making my trip one to remember. I believe the vernacular goes something like:

Choice, bro!