Mount Cook, Penguins, Wine & Sooty

The last week of our travels in New Zealand was spent in the company of Mary who came to visit us from Australia.  She had four requests while in New Zealand: 1) go to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to see the 3,754 m mountain with her own eyes, 2) see penguins, 3) go on a wine tour and 4) try to find Sooty the cat to bring her back to Australia.  In the end, we didn’t go on a wine tour but we did sample many great wines with our delicious evening meals.  And for those who are wondering why Mary wanted to retrieve a cat from Christchruch, here is the story of Sooty.

Once upon a time, in a neighbourhood just east of Christchurch, there lived a little black cat who was left behind by her owners.  This little female was so cute, friendly and affectionate that she lived quite comfortably as various residents fed and looked after her.  In 2010, Mary’s friend lived in a house in that particular neighbourhood and a special bond was formed between him and that little black cat (whom he named Sooty).  Sooty took up the habit of spending her evenings in Mary’s friend’s home and even slept on him at night.  She was with him the night of the September 2010 earthquake (magnitude 7.1) and during the many subsequent aftershocks, including the deadly February 2011 earthquake (magnitude 6.3).  The never-ending quakes eventually drove Mary’s friend to leave Christchurch to go back to Australia. Thinking Sooty actually belonged to the neighbours, he reluctantly left her behind and thought he would never see her again. Mary’s idea was to look for Sooty while we were in Christchurch and see if she could buy her from her owners to bring her back to her friend as a present.

The three of us went to find Sooty on our first day in Christchurch with Mary but all attempts to call this elusive feline were in vain.  We decided to head out to the Aorkai/Mount Cook National Park and try our luck with Sooty another day.  We spent one night on the turquoise shores of Lake Tekapo and were off to “climb” the mountain the next day.  The 3hr hike up the Hooker Valley we decided to do on the flanks of the Southern Alps seemed enjoyable and anything but strenuous; but as we set out in the cool rain and high winds we were soon faced with more than we had anticipated and turned back 20 mins from the lookout at end of the trail (not that we would have been able to see anything anyway).  As we drove away, Mary looked back at the mountain and said: “That was Mount Cook.  Hi Mount Cook, you win.”

From Aoraki/Mount Cook, we drove back to the East Coast to Oamaru in the hopes of seeing penguins.  We arrived around noon and opted for a delicious fish and chips lunch followed by a tour of a blue-penguin colony to see the chicks in their nests.  Even though the adult penguins come to shore between 7:30-9:30 pm, we still went to a nearby beach in case a few yellow-eyed penguin came in early but only found sea lions and seals.

Next destination: Akaroa, after a quick stop in Christchurch to look for Sooty again.  This time, Mary actually saw the cat before she ran away into a yard of weeds.  We also found out that she was a stray, and those who had been feeding her were happy to hear we wanted to give her a good home.  From Christchurch, the drive out to Akarora on the Banks Peninsula was stunning and our time in this little town was spent browsing the cute shops lining the ocean-side streets.

Before we knew it, Mary’s visit to New Zealand had come to an end and it was time to head back to Christchurch for her early morning departure the next day.  This was also our last chance to find Sooty, although our hopes of getting a hold of her were starting to dwindle… until Mary saw her over a fence and Curniss fell in love as soon as she saw Sooty.  Unfortunately, Chris’ attempt to jump the fence frightened her away once more.  We asked the neighbours to keep her in their house if she came for her evening feeding and went to buy a cat-carrier.  Not knowing whether or not we would ever actually get a hold of Sooty, we were extremely happy to find her one of the neighbours’ couch.  Just like that, we had the cat.  She spent the night with us, charming us with her affectionate disposition and driving us crazy as she kept doing so while we tried to sleep.

We dropped Mary off at the airport the next morning and dropped Sooty off with a pet transporter company a few hours later.  Both were air-bound for Sydney and we were going to join them in Australia two days later.  Until then, we had some decisions to make and flights to book out of Australia. We found the Christchurch library to be the ideal location to do this with their wide selection of travel guides and free internet.

Our stay in New Zealand finally came to an end as we flew out of the country on January 25th.  We are now in Sydney making good use of the ferry system here; however, those are stories for another entry.

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