Tag Archives: New Zealand

A New Zealand gallery

Here we are back at a Saturday post, still coughing a little. A few thoughts have crossed my mind since we came back from holidays but I don’t think anybody wants to talk about Australian politics, so I won’t.

I’m delighted to hear that Ash Barty has made it to the French Open women’s final. I’m not much of a tennis fan but it’s so great to see an Australian player with poise and style – unlike those idiots Kyrgios and Tomich. They’re an embarrassment.

In other news I’ve watched the excellent screen adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s wonderful book, Good Omens. I wrote a review over at Spacefreighter’s. But in brief, don’t miss it.

And as a last hurrah for our recent New Zealand trip, I’ve selected a few of my favourite pictures and put them into a gallery so you can get a better look at them. Just click on a photo and scroll through the images.

 

 

One last day

Today would be our last in New Zealand. We opened the curtains for our final look at Mt Cook before we went down to breakfast. It wasn’t there. The weather in the mountains can be fickle, indeed.

Yesterday afternoon

This morning

On our way to the dining room we passed those members of our group who’d been hoping to fly over the mountains, waiting in a lounge with Dave. They knew it wasn’t going to happen – but hope springs eternal, mist does burn off, and Dave hadn’t been told the flight had been cancelled. But it wasn’t just mist and the cancellation was duly called. Weather was rolling in from the Tasman Sea. We could see it from the coach as Dave drove along the edge of Lake Pukaki.

A fringe of dawn under the cloud

Sun’s up

We were on our way to Lake Tepako, a beautiful turquoise lake with gorgeous views of the mountains. We weren’t the only ones there. Several coaches were also stopped, so I didn’t even try to get into the little stone church built on the edges of the lake. If you’d like to see the Church of the Good Shepherd, a tribute to the Scottish shepherds who opened up the area, here’s the link. There’s also a bronze statue, erected to recognize the sheepdogs who worked here with their people. As we’d seen at Walter Peak station (and plenty of places in Australia), working dogs are indispensable in these areas. Again, I found it nigh on impossible to get a decent photo of the statue without including posing tourists, so here’s a link.

But I did get some nice landscapes.

George admiring the view

Lake Tepako has a couple of other interesting features. For a start, it has an electric car refuelling station. They’re not rare in Europe and there must be some in Australian cities, but we don’t have one where we live.

And the other high-tech attraction was the toilet. I didn’t really need to go but I had to try it. It talks to you. You go in, it tells you to press the button to lock the door. Music starts to play. You have ten minutes to leave, at which time it flushes water over the floor. (Self-cleaning, see.) Everything else is done with touch sensors. You put your hands into a slot to get soap, then elsewhere for water (which is when the toilet flushes) then another slot to dry your hands. Then you press the button to open the door.

Wow. I’ve seen fancy auto-toilets before, notably one in some outback town in WA, which had been (of course) wrecked by bored locals. But it wasn’t as flash as this one. Only problem is, it wasn’t multi-lingual and it didn’t have a sign showing you how to sit on the toilet.

From Lake Tepako we headed off through the lovely countryside on our way to Christchurch. I love that layered look on the hills. And the sheep, cattle, and deer.

We stopped for lunch at a little town called Geraldine where they make berry liqueurs and fine cheese. We took a look at the Saturday markets, then it was off for the last run into Christchurch, where once again we would be staying at The George. Dave took everyone but us for a city tour in the bus. I’d done a city tour last year, with friends who have lived in the city for years, as well as walking around, getting a feel for the place. I wrote about that here, the remains of a ruined city.

A fond farewell from George – and a photobomb from Dave

We had out last group dinner, which was once again excellent. Pete and I retired early. We were getting our wake-up call at 4:15 for our flight back to Brisbane. A nice young lady picked us up and drove us the airport in plenty of time for our 6:45 flight.

In summary, it was a great trip. This coach tour is a bit like a degustation dinner, small bites of what’s available on the South Island. I felt it was aimed at the older demographic who might have done the campervan thing years ago but wanted a bit more comfort now. Indeed, of our group I’d say three-quarters were in the 65-75 age group. Dave, our driver and tour director, was friendly and efficient. We always knew what was happening next, and where we were expected to be. The accommodation was excellent, with of course a slightly different standard outside the cities. But each place was comfortable and clean. The food was awesome, except for the one evening in Queenstown – and that was not a group dinner. The weather vagaries were sometimes disappointing but weather doesn’t care and Grand Pacific Tours did give us a discount because this was the last tour for the season. I would recommend this tour to anybody.

I’d like to finish with a fascinating article I found in my research about the Southern Alps and the Alpine fault. It’s a description of a possible (probable) disaster that would impact all the places we visited on our trip, and then the author explains the background, the geology, why a town like Franz Josef was built on a fault line. New Zealand is a geologically busy little place where Gaia will most certainly mess with the hubris of humanity. Magnitude 8.2 The disaster scenario on New Zealand’s most dangerous fault. Well worth a read.

Bear in mind that’s just one interaction of a couple of tectonic plates. Then we can consider the San Andreas Fault, or the super volcano simmering gently underneath Yosemite. Or vesuvius, sitting over Naples, or any of the ring of volcanoes on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

I think we humans get so obsessed with ourselves and our role on Earth that we forget that the planet is a living, breathing entity, built with moving, shifting pieces. For us, 100 years is a lifteime; for Gaia, it’s a nanosecond. Sure, we can kill off animals, drop garbage all over the world from the highest points of the planet to the deepest depths of the ocean, but Gaia will survive. I found this cartoon on Facebook. It says it all, really.

In which we join a select group

After a very pleasant high tea at Castle Larnach we set off back towards the mountains for our penultimate stop – Mt Cook Aoraki. The weather continued to remain bright and beautiful and I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one with my fingers crossed.

We drove along the coast, looking over the cold waters of the Pacific. I think we Aussies tend to forget that New Zealand is quite a bit farther south than Australia. For example, Hobart is at latitude 43°, while Dunedin is at 46°. So yeah. Cold. We stopped for lunch at Oamaru, which has reinvented itself as New Zealand’s steampunk capital. Steampunk is a niche of science fiction set in an alternative world where all your scifi gadgets have a Victorian cast and run on steam. The movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the book/movie The Golden Compass both fit under that definition. Oamaru holds a steampunk festival every year.

Oamaru’s steampunk museum, Note dirigible and train with drill fitting

Toe toe

Those plants that look a lot like pampas grass are actually NZ natives known as toe toe. It’s a giant tussock grass and has the sharp leaves of pampas.

Once again, we were driving through the verdant Canterbury Plains with the mountains like a beacon in the distance. We stopped at Omarama and had a wander around while Dave went to pick up ‘anti-push juice’ for the coach. I noticed a couple of birds using a puddle for a bath and couldn’t not take a picture.

The town of Omarama

As we drove steadily closer to Mt Cook, Dave became positively optimistic about our chances of actually seeing the mountain.  He told us more than once that of those people who venture to Mt Cook, only 22% get to actually see it. We may well be in that number. To make absolutely certain, he detoured to the shores of Lake Pukaki. From that vantage point Mt Cook was clearly visible, the highest peak at the head of the lake. Although it’s the highest mountain in Australasia, it’s only about half the height of Mt Everest. More facts about Mt Cook. The world famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary (a Kiwi) trained for his ascent of Everest here and there’s a museum. What this mountain doesn’t have, since it’s less that 8,000 metres, is the ‘death zone’ that is killing climbers on Everest. These things interest me. Here’s the story.

Mt Cook’s the highest mountain in the middle

I have seen Mt Cook in all its glory.

We’d joined the 22% who actually got to see the mountain!!! Woohoo!!!

From there, we drove the remaining distance to our last hotel. Dave rang ahead to see if those of our number who were intent on flying would be able to get their flight in this afternoon. The news wasn’t good. Despite the continuing fine weather, the forecast was for deteriorating conditions and there would be no flying this afternoon. Still, he booked everyone in for the following morning, just in case.

As we drove on, I tried to catch some of the views of the mountain peaks in the fading light.

The Hermitage Hotel slots into its national park environment rather than standing out like a sore thumb. Every one of our rooms had a view of Mt Cook so of course, realising the view might disappear soon, I took a picture.

But not before our little drama.

When we entered our room we heard a buzzing noise, coming from… somewhere. We both looked everywhere but couldn’t work it out. I wondered if I’d activated a hidden alarm or something. Our bags had just been delivered so I went out to ask the staff. “Oh the buzzing noise?” said the nice young man. “We noticed that, too. It’s coming from your suitcase.” He didn’t seem at all perturbed.

It was Peter’s electric toothbrush. It had been switched on some time since the last stop. Even so, it could have been a bomb. Couldn’t it?

Hotels like this are about the scenery and the adventure activities – hiking, kayaking, skiing, helicopter and plane flights. As a consequence, I wasn’t expecting much for dinner and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a self-serve buffet in a large dining room. While it wasn’t as good as the Walter Peak station spread in Queenstown, there was plenty of variety to suit all tastes. My only complaint was the bar area, where as usual, we assembled for pre-dinner drinks. The seating was chosen for a much younger demographic than us with benches that look good but offer no support, and poufs that don’t even pretend to offer support. As Joe pointed out, if he was running the place, he’d make sure the seating was comfortable to encourage people to stay and spend their money. Here’s to you, Joe.

Tomorrow we’d be making our way back to Christchurch via (this is for you, Jeff) Lake Tepako.

 

A day in Queenstown

The lake from the road outside the hotel

Sunshine! We’d almost forgotten what it looked like. It glinted off the water, sparkled off the fresh snow on the mountain peaks, streaked the native grasses with golden highlights. I’d like to say it warmed the skin, but the air was still cool.

Queenstown from the peak

After breakfast we caught the local bus downtown and walked up the slope (slowly) to where a cable car took people up to the top of one of the peaks overlooking Queenstown. It was beautiful up there, cold and crisp with wonderful mountain and lake views. In keeping with Queenstown’s image as the adventure capital of New Zealand, you could take a bungee jump or a sky dive or go along to the luge track to hurtle down the hill on little carts with wheels (I imagine in Winter it’s more like the toboggans you see at the Winter Olympics). https://www.queenstownnz.co.nz/ We were grateful for our thick winter coats, bought for a visit to Europe in Oct/Nov a few years ago but barely used.

TSS Earnslaw sails away

Down below on the lake the TSS Earnslaw returned to its berth. We would be sailing on her this afternoon for our visit to Walter Peak Station, which was part of our tour. There’s a sort of submersible shark thing you can ride in and also those water jets that shoot you up in the air. But… it’s been a few years since I did my solo sky dive and the water looks a bit chilly for getting wet. We settled for admiring the view. We did think about the wildlife park near the cable car, but even at a reduced price, $88 for two was a bit steep to get a look at a kiwi (bird) and a few other animals for maybe an hour or two, so we mooched around the town and the wharf.

George on the Earnslaw

It’s a picturesque spot, nestled between the mountains and the lake. The last of the Autumn leaves added colour. The town’s very much orientated for younger, fitter visitors. There are many shops offering tours and adventures, and many, many of the staff are Asian – which indicates where most of their tourists come from these days. I noticed an article in a local paper which claimed there’s been a large drop in tourist numbers since the Christchurch massacre – especially from Australia. That surprised me. The idea of not going ahead with our holiday didn’t even occur to me.

Drinks on the Earnslaw weren’t exactly cheap

We filed onto the TSS Earnslaw promptly for a 4pm departure. The lovely old steamer was launched in 1912, the same year as the Titanic but obviously the ship hasn’t suffered the same fate. The wind had picked up and it was a bit choppy on the lake. The late afternoon sun lit up the mountains on the far aide of the lake and gave us a lovely, bright view of Walter Peak station’s homestead where we would be having a buffet barbecue dinner. It’s a high-country property running sheep and cattle. There’s a way in by road during the warmer months, but when the snows arrive it’s access by boat only. The beautifully restored homestead offers accommodation and farm stays as well as day trips. And why not? Tourism helps to keep the old steamer going and offers extra income.

The Colonel’s homestead

Like every dinner we had on the tour, it was delicious. The buffet offered seafood, soup, shellfish for entrée, then all manner of salads and vegetables to enjoy with barbecued fish, pork, venison, lamb, beef and/or chicken. After all that there was a wide selection of sweets, all served in small containers so you could mix ‘n match. Here’s some more info with food porn.

After dinner we made our way to a covered outdoor arena to watch a young man tell us about the property and show us how a sheep is shorn. The property runs merinos for wool and (I think) perendale for meat and he’d brought in a perendale ewe which had never been shorn before for this demonstration. Control of the beast, he explained, was vital. Sheep are prey animals and will run – after they’ve kicked you. He explained that while we might think it unkind to shear the sheep at such a cool time, shearing was vital to the sheep’s welfare. Dags and dirt collect in the wool around the animal’s belly and hind quarters in particular, so those parts are trimmed up regularly. Besides, they were well adapted to being shorn. This ewe’s skin would have doubled in thickness within 24 hours – and of course, the wool grows back.

All the while our host’s two-year-old short-haired border collie (cunningly disguised as an Australian kelpie) curled up beside him. He’d had to tie Kim up for now, otherwise she would have been out in the sheep paddock doing her thing. These dogs love to work. When he’d finished shearing, he sent Kim out to bring in the five sheep he had in the holding paddock. She shot off, a silent streak, and had them back in a couple of minutes. The real affection between the man and the dog was a joy to see.

Then, just to prove she’s versatile, she and her handler escorted us back to the Earnslaw for the trip back to Queenstown.

Tomorrow we’d be off to Lake Te Anau – on the doorstep of Milford Sound.

Back over the mountains via Haast Pass

From Fox Glacier we headed back over the mountains to Queenstown, following the coast to the Haast river mouth, then going up over the Haast Pass. From there, we’d drive along the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea through to Queenstown.

Taking photos from a moving vehicle isn’t easy at the best of times but it’s even more difficult when it’s raining. The landscape slipped by in shades of grey. The human eye does a better job of sorting out what it’s seeing than even a modern camera, which can’t fill in the gaps with memories and expectations like we humans can.

The jet boat under the bridge

At the mouth of the Haast River a number of our party went off on a jet boat ride (optional extra) while the rest of us boarded the bus and drove to the finish line to wait for them. I was sorry I didn’t go. The vessel is all enclosed so there were no nasty cold wet surprises, but they had fun doing doughnuts as well as learning about the river. Here’s the website (with photos at brighter times). The best I could do was a walk on the riverbed. Like most of the NZ rivers, this one is like a loose braid, with a number of channels crossing a wide, rock-strewn bed. Walking over it is like walking in deep gravel. I suppose when it really buckets down the beds would fill. I was after a photo of a waterfall, but I’ll admit slogging through gravel in the rain isn’t the best experience in the world.

George waiting for the boaters

A stony riverbed

The jet boat approaches

When the others returned, we carried on through the Alps, using a route first mapped by Julius von Haast and known as one of New Zealand’s most dangerous highways. Haast didn’t ‘discover’ the route – he asked the local Maori. They’d been using this track for centuries, one of the few passes across the Southern Alps. Arthur’s Pass is another.

Back at the Haast Pass, the narrow, two-lane road winds its way around mountains covered in dense rainforest. Looking to one side the rainforest crowded close; to the other a sheer drop disappeared into misty darkness.We weren’t the only travellers. We passed the occasional camper van coming the other way. There’s water everywhere. Streams and creeks chuckle in the gullies. Waterfalls cascade from the mountain sides. We went past two cracks in the mountain chain, fault lines of the Southern Alps, humorously named Trickle 1 and Trickle 2. Both had raging torrents in their depths. At the top of the pass we crossed a bridge over a glacier-filled torrent which would become the Haast River. That distinctive aqua hue is a mark of glacial water.

Top of the pass, the bridge over the Haast

Looking down from the bridge

Trickle 1 (or maybe 2)

As he drove Dave pointed out scars in the rainforest, the bare rock now covered in mesh. The trees are not well-anchored in the shallow soil so landslips are not uncommon – and that means the road is closed until the rubble is cleared. We were told about one such slip when a couple in a van happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The vehicle was caught in the slip and swept away into the river far below. The smashed van was found but it was three or four days before the woman’s body was discovered. The young man’s remains were not found for seven years.

We descended into farmland. New Zealand is known for its beautiful sheep, but it supports even more cows, mainly dairy herds, as well as various species of deer. Imported here from Europe and allowed to roam and multiply, they’ve been domesticated. It’s easy to pick deer paddocks – they’re the ones with the two-metre fences. It’s proved lucrative for NZ farmers. Venison appeared on the menu several times during our stay and most of NZ production is exported to Germany.

Spotted in the gift shop

We stopped for lunch at Makarora, what we would call a roadhouse in Australia, then set off for the final run to Queenstown past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Although it’s mainly pastoral land these days, the area was opened up by gold miners. We’d be hearing more about that in the next few days. Dave also told us some Maori myths which seem to have had a lot to do with somebody making off with somebody else’s wife. This is the origin story of the much-prized greenstone, pounamu. And this story is about the origins of Lake Wakatipu.

Autumn colours brighten a grey scene

The room itself was positively palatial

We reached Queenstown in the late afternoon. This would be our one ‘free’ night in the whole trip, when we’d be left to find ourselves food, so Dave gave us a quick tour of the CBD, pointing out places where we could eat. The hotel itself was a couple of kilometres away from town but the hotel provided free passes on the local bus to get to the CBD. The bus stop was outside the hotel and the bus ran every fifteen minutes. If it hadn’t been cold, dark and drizzly we might have taken the offer but by the time we’d run the cvonvoluted  gauntlet of getting to our room, including a walk between buildings with an umbrella, we decided to eat in. I have to say it was the worst meal we had on the trip. The seafood chowder was watery, pleasant enough but not at all a chowder. My fillet mignon came without the bacon wrapping, the meat was nice but on the raw side of medium for my taste, and the few vegetables were on the raw side of al dente. That said, the room itself was positively palatial, with its own kitchen area. We watched a bit of TV and called it a night.

At least the weather gods had taken pity on us. We might get to see some genuine sun on the morrow.

A ten-day small group South Island escape – with George

Christchurch to Fox Glacier

I’d always wanted to visit New Zealand’s South Island, so when I saw an advertisement for Grand Pacific Tours’ 10-day small group South Island escape I figured I’d hit pay dirt. Especially when I looked at the pictures of the bus interior. Now that’s my kind of bus. Business class leather seats, everybody with a window seat and only 20 people. Have a look here. We’d be visiting many of my ‘go-to’ sites – Mt Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, glaciers, lakes, wild rivers. The tour price included all but one dinner and all breakfasts. Dinner included a free drink. Lunch and most booze etc were at our own expense. It sounded perfect and we signed up.

But you know what they say about good intentions… ten days or so before we were due to start our adventure the company informed us the Ultimate coach we were meant to be using had been involved in an accident and would be off road for some months. But a substitute was offered. The Platinum coach configuration was 2 seats, an aisle then a single seat. Each person would still have a window seat and there would still be only twenty people on the coach. We would use that coach for six days, then the Ultimate coach for the last four days. We were also offered a refund as compensation for not having the Ultimate coach for the complete journey. I was impressed. Grand Pacific presented serious, professional customer service and I don’t think the company could have done a better job under the circumstances. I should also mention the classy travel pack we received – leather carry-on bags with hanging toiletry bags, and document wallets. Some of the other travel companies might want to sit up and take notice.

We flew across the ditch (the Tasman Sea for non-Antipodeans) on a Friday. It’s a comfortable 3 hours from Brisbane, with great views of the New Zealand Alps on the west coast before we landed at Christchurch on the east coast. I noted the absence of snow except in what must have been the very highest places, rather different from my visit last year.

The nice thing about tours is you don’t have to stress over details. We were met at the airport and taken to the George, a small luxury hotel opposite Hagley Park near Christchurch’s CBD. After pre-dinner drinks and a chance to become acquainted with our fellow travellers we had a first class three-course meal which would have pleased the judges on Masterchef. The party broke up early because we were getting our wake-up call at 5:45am. Tomorrow would be a full day.

And that was when I met George.

He was propped on my pillow with a little note explaining he’d had enough of swanning around in a hotel. He wanted to see more of the world. What could I say but yes? So you’ll see young George from time to time as we make our way around the South Island.

Our driver and tour guide, Dave, took us to the railway station to catch the Trans Alpine train. We’d ride the train up to Arthur’s Pass, where Dave would meet us with the coach. The railway line was carved through the mountains between Christchurch and Greymouth, mainly carrying coal and agricultural products but these days also tourists. I’d been on the train before when I visited in 2018 and certainly the pictures I took back then were better than the ones I took this time – simply because of the weather. As if in response to our arrival in Christchurch, the clouds had gathered around the peaks and slipped down into the valleys. Drizzle and mist often obscured the view but even so, the grandeur of alpine scenery in very late Autumn was a sight to behold, if not to photograph. But really, for another perspevctive, have a look at these. They’re not half bad, if I say so myself.

George enjoys the scenery

You can almost see the orcs on the far bank. Like Australia, none of New Zealand’s native trees are deciduous. The colour comes from imports.

A native raptor caught in flight.

The view was a lot like this.

We alighted from the train at Arthur’s Pass and reboarded our Platinum coach. Dave explained there was a lookout nearby which gives a great view of the viaduct which had replaced one of the most dangerous sections of the road. However, he pointed out that since we couldn’t see the lookout from down here (because of the mist) we wouldn’t be able to see down here from up there. So we carried on. But wait! I was there in 2018, so if you wish to check, click here. There were keas, too.

We paused for lunch at Hokitika, a village on the Tasman Sea. I’m sure it’s a lovely beach in Summer. While here we learned about New Zealand’s famous greenstone, pounamu, and how it is collected and cut. I was surprised to be told the material is extremely hard. It must have taken time and patience for the Maori to fashion the stone back in the days before diamond saws. Here’s a bit more about it.

We carried on south along the coast through green farmlands and the village of Franz Josef. Unfortunately, after the very heavy rains some weeks ago we couldn’t get anywhere near the foot of the Franz Josef glacier – the road had been washed away. So had the road over the Waiho River. When we heard about that event back home in Australia, we’d thought that disaster may have put a dent in our tour plans since it’s the only road to the coast but the NZ government acted quickly to replace the structure. The flooding at the time underlined the fact that Franz Josef the town is considered to be an accident waiting to happen since the village sits on the Alpine fault line. The residents would like to move the entire town but so far the Provincial Council isn’t budging. Read all about it here.

We arrived at the town of Fox Glacier in drizzly rain not long before sunset. A few of our number were hoping to take a helicopter ride (optional extra) up onto the glacier but the weather wasn’t playing the game, so that was cancelled. Dave mentioned a walk a short distance away which led into the rainforest. According to an intrepid fellow traveller, the place looked a lot like that scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo, Sam, Pip and Merry are hiding from the black rider. It might have been worth a walk in the rain.

The accommodation at the Distinction hotel was clean and comfortable. We enjoyed a few pre-dinner drinks sitting around the fire in the lounge before another excellent three-course meal.

We found early on that many of the tourist places employed young backpackers. Fox was no exception. Some of us were playing ‘pick the nationality’ and one pretty young redhead was judged to be Irish. So I asked her. She laughed. “I’m German. It’s the red hair, isn’t it?” Yes, but also her accent. It turned out she had relatives in Canada and that might have caused her accent to be a little less obviously German.

The bright morning gave hope to the keen flyers in our group – but Dave shook his head. ‘This will only last for a few minutes’. He was right. The clouds looked at each other and laughed, then snuggled back down on the hills.

A cruise on the harbour

Akaroa the town

B and I went for a walk around the town of Akaroa, which is a typical holiday town catering for tourists – lots of eateries, souvenir shops, and tour operators. There’s a lot of French influence here, with many French street and business names, but it has a very normal history – a Frenchman bought some land from the local Maori tribe. [1]

The town suffered damage in the 2010/11 earthquakes, but nothing like Christchurch. It’s a pretty little place, with cute cottages lining the streets.

Neither of us was impressed with the ‘beach’ – all dark sand and rocks, as you’d expect in a volcanic area. We had breakfast at Bully Hayes, which served great food and coffee on what turned out to be a lovely day. We’d had our worries, with cloud gathering over the higher peaks, and a forecast of rain later, but the weather held off and we enjoyed the sunshine, taking a leisurely stroll around the town.

B had been told to bring back a New Zealand delicacy called ‘pineapple lumps‘. I’d never heard of them, but apparently they’re a mixture of pineapple (duh) with chocolate. Sounds yucky to me, but hey ho. We found the desired item in the Four Square supermarket, a chain that has long since closed in Australia. The nice young lady at the shop said the packets on the shelf would be the last they’d be getting in. It seems Pascal will be releasing/manufacturing them in Australia. B also bought some hokey pokey, a chocolate lump with embedded honeycomb, another NZ specialty. We ambled off and ended up on the wharf.

A tour boat was moored alongside the jetty, and passengers were boarding to go on a harbour cruise. One lady was handed a glass of wine – or at least, a beverage in a wine glass. B and I looked at each other. A harbour cruise might be nice. Our host wasn’t due back until mid-afternoon. That boat went, but a larger boat (Black Cat) was going out at 11am. B isn’t the greatest sailor, but the water was smooth, with very little wind, so it sounded safe enough. So off we went with a good number of parents with small children (it being school holidays).

A cormorant rookery

The boat cruised along the coastline, with the female skipper giving commentary, explaining the geological origins of Akaroa. It’s spectacular coastline, displaying its volcanic origins, with caves and rookeries for cormorants and other sea birds.

The towering headland at the harbour entrance

All was well until we left the shelter of the harbour. The Pacific Ocean wasn’t rough, but there was a substantial swell and the boat began to bounce, rising and falling with each wave. Soon B wasn’t the only one feeling a bit green around the gills. Most of the kids were seasick. B bought a cup of sweet tea and sat down on the lower deck, watching the cliffs.

Best I could get – check the link to see what they look like

Out there in the ocean we were joined by a small pod of dolphins, which swam around and under the vessel for a few minutes. The endangered Hector’s dolphins are cute little guys, much smaller than the dolphins we see in most of Australia. Hump backs come to visit on their migration, and orcas and blue whales are around in Akaroa harbour all year, although from time to time they vanish. Unfortunately, this was one of those times.

Back in the harbour we journeyed along the cliffs and did some seal-spotting. At one place, baby seals gambolled about in shallow pools in the rocks. And then it was full steam ahead back to the wharf.

By the time our host returned, clouds had gathered on the hills and started to pour down into the valley. We drove back via the Summit Road and soon the car was enveloped in quite thick mist hanging around the upper slopes, so we couldn’t see the views except for occasional moments when the mist parted. I did manage to take a few photos.

Clouds rolling in over the harbour

A break in the clouds

Beautiful views

Elm trees line the road back to Christchurch

After a lovely dinner of mashed potatoes, herbed peas, and roasted salmon, it was time for me to go to a motel near the airport. I arranged for a 4:45 shuttle bus to the airport and tried to get some sleep. The motel room was excellent – clean, neat, with a great bathroom. But it’s a busy place, with people arriving late. I got 2 hours of actual sleep, and maybe a few minutes of doze, and woke up well before the alarm I’d set.

I wrote the later blogs on the plane flying above a thick cloud layer over the Ditch (that’s the Tasman Sea, that section of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand). It has been a wonderful few days, but I’ll be happy to be home in my own bed.

Akaroa

The town is just visible, right at the end of the harbour

B’s friend, S, picked us up from our Christchurch hotel and took us to her holiday home in Akaroa, about 90 minutes drive from the city.

Akaroa is at the bottom, Lyttleton at the top

The Banks Peninsula is the result of volcanic activity. Both Lyttelton and Akaroa are the remains of volcanic craters. Read more here.

It’s a very pretty drive from Christchurch, winding through countryside tinged with the colours of Autumn.

We did a couple of picture stops, the first at a ‘beach’ covered in water-worn stone. There was tonnes of the stuff, all smoothed by the action of wind, water, and abrasion. It’s all volcanic around here, and most of the rocks looked grey, but when they were wet patterns and colours appeared.

 

Lake Forsyth

We drove on past Lake Forsyth, a haven for water birds.

At Little River we stopped for lunch at a place S assured us did great food. She was right. I had fetta and spinach filo,  served with a fresh salad. From there it was on to Akaroa, a natural harbour set amongst rolling hills and rocky crags. The summit road gives glorious views.

 

Our hosts have a lovely home with a great view over the harbour. They also have a lovely garden where we enjoyed watching the birds picking at the pears in a prolific tree.

Sunset fire is reflected in Akaroa’s waters.

We enjoyed a lovely meal with W and S, drank good wines and listened to stories about Akaroa. The area was (of course) settled by a Maori tribe. I suppose I vaguely knew the Maori were cannibals, but W told us about how a warlord from the North came down to attack the local tribe. Te Rauparaha wanted to attack paramount chief Tamaiharanui, who lived in Akaroa and conducted trade with the Europeans. But he needed surprise. The appearance of war canoes in the harbour would signal his intent and warn the village. The warlord made an agreement with Captain Stewart, of the brig Elizabeth. The European ship would transport the Maori war party and their canoes in exchange for 50 tons of flax. The unsuspecting Tamaiharanui actually came on board the Elizabeth for what he thought would be trade talks. He and his wife were imprisoned below decks. That night the war party attacked, sacked the village and engaged in a cannibal feast. Eventually Captain Stewart handed Tamaiharanui and his wife over to the attackers, when they were tortured, killed and eaten. Captain Stewart only received 18 tons of flax and I expect he developed a few grey hairs with a blood-thirsty Maori war party on his ship. It seems another trader with more New Zealand experience had advised him against the deal. A wise man.If you’re at all interested in history, this is a fascinating story. Find the passage headed “The capture of Tamaiharanui”. History of Canterbury 

The following day S took us sight-seeing, starting with a quick visit to a Maori settlement and its tiny church. It had a lovely painting of Jesus steering a boat in a storm. I’d never seen him depicted in such a way before. Note the familiar Maori Tiki symbols on the gables.

 

That’s Akaroa’s head

Then we drove up into the hills above the harbour and down a narrow country track to Flea Bay. It’s all green, precipitous, and spectacular. It’s as if the sheep have velcro on their feet.

The track down to Flea Bay

Flea Bay

Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the town and the harbour.

 

Headed for the hills

The railway line from Springfield

Today we went up into the mountains. We were blessed with brilliant weather – blue skies and not much cloud, and the snow that had fallen the previous week had persisted. Transport was a little white van capable of seating 12. There were 11 adults and a child – 4 Americans, 2 other Australians and a young Indian couple with their daughter. The bus was quite cramped, but hey ho. You can’t always have a Volvo to yourself.

Our driver took us up to Springfield to catch the train up to Arthur’s Pass. It’s a new, comfortable train with large windows (and lots of reflection) although we could have walked up to the open carriage near the front to catch the view without windows. That struck me as a bit chilly. And I managed to get some good pics by bringing the camera close to the glass. The following 4 photos were all taken from the moving train.

An alpine lake and mountain peaks

Turquoise water an Autumn foliage

Meandering rivers

Just the sort of river to film the scenes as Frodo and co approach the Argonath

While I was busy with the camera B did some people watching. Three older-than-middle-aged, well-heeled American women (think designer jeans and botox) stood in a gaggle chatting together as the train passed through some amazing scenery. They compared nail polish designs and the best dental products for whiter teeth. As you do as the train passes by amazing scenery. It’s a spectacular trip, the train winding its way through the river valleys or climbing up the slopes.

We got off at Arthur’s Pass and drove on in the van after a minor drama at the station. B needed some food on the train trip, so we went up to the cafe car, where she bought a sandwich and coffee. Neither of us had cash with us, so she paid with a card. Unfortunately, up there in the mountains the signal to the internet is patchy, at best. The server took B’s card and assured her the transaction would be completed, and the card returned, by the time we got to Arthur’s Pass which is the only stop between Springfield and Greymouth, on the west coast. It’s very much a five-minute whistle stop so that people can alight. I got off the train and B went off to find somebody to get her card back. After a few minutes, the porter blew his whistle. No B. The train blew its whistle. No B. Any minute now she’d be off to Greymouth. I was starting to compose the phone call to B’s husband. “Um. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. B’s on her way to Greymouth. But she’ll get her credit card back…” But then she appeared, waving her card. Phew. Nobody had come looking for her (as promised), but she’d found somebody. Did I say phew?

The viaduct through the mountains

The original road before the viaduct was built. It was used until 1999!

We had a photo stop at a lookout with a view of the viaduct that has replaced part of the road through the mountains. While we were there we met New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the kea. They’re smart birds with the destructive habits of some of their Australian counterparts. Keas are known for picking the rubber out of windscreen wipers and door seals. Despite their fairly drab outer plumage, when they open their wings it’s a ‘wow’ moment. Check out the pictures on this page.

One of several keas. That plumage is great camouflage in the scrub

The kea popped into our van and nibbled the carpet

We stopped for lunch at Otira, a quaint little place that used to be much bigger in the days of steam, when many more people were needed to service the railway.  The rooms are full of sometimes interesting, sometimes just weird bits and pieces, such as a couple of stuffed possums, one posing with a toy rifle. Possums are introduced pests in NZ, so they’re not popular, but I thought they looked gross. Although some of the other pieces were genuine antiques, they all needed a dust, if not a clean. Otira used to be quite a large town when the steam locomotives made the trip through the mountains. They needed a lot more people than the modern diesels, so Otira dwindled into the past. Our driver told us that one person bought the whole town for $200,000. Stars in his eyes, he opened the town to disadvantaged people, who moved into the empty houses. But it only lasted until the first winter. This is a bleak spot.

Can’t get away from LOTR in NZ

Our driver had asked us to pick an item from the hotel’s lunch menu before we arrived – and he told us he thought the place – and the food –  was dead ordinary. He was right. B had a grey-looking beef burger, and I had whitebait patties (an Otira specialty). The patties are more like pancakes, pieces of fish mixed with egg and flour, and fried. Here’s a recipe. Two of them came served between two slices of bread (which I discarded) and some pretty revolting chips (fries). B made her revolting chips even more revolting by mistaking the sugar dispenser for the salt shaker. Oh well. She wasn’t going to eat them, anyway. I think the only person who appeared to enjoy lunch was the rather large young Aussie male who was there with his mum. He was the sort who’d eat anything.

The walk to Cave Stream

The entrance to Cave Stream

From Otira we headed on back down through the mountains towards Christchurch, stopping for photos where we could. One longer stop was at Cave Stream, where a stream flows through a 600m tunnel. Our driver told us five girls had died there, washed away by flood waters, but I couldn’t find any reference online to such an incident. Still, people have died attempting the walk through the cave – the water is cold, and chest deep. Here’s a story.

Back in the bus, next stop was the trip on a jet boat. That had to be cancelled because the river was too high from the recent rains. Seems the river brings down silt and rocks and as a result the place where the jet boat starts had only 3 inches of water. He couldn’t even launch it. Sad, but you can’t argue with Mother Nature. Having arrived home, Canterbury Leisure Tours has only refunded 75% of the fare. I’m not happy, and I am arguing with them.

We went off to a farm where farmer Kevin brought out working dog, Jeb, to bring the sheep over. He’s a cross between a NZ mover dog (like a cattle dog) and a rounder-upper (like a border collie). Kevin named NZ breeds in his pedigree but I don’t recall what they were, and I’d never heard of either. Suffice to say Jeb is an all-rounder who incidentally loves scratches and pats.

Jeb’s herded the sheep

Then Kevin sheared a sheep. The Yanks and the Indians were fascinated but B and I had seen it all before. I was interested in the pamphlet about a mix of merino wool with possum fur. Possums were brought to NZ to start a fur trade. Apparently they have hollow fur, a trait they share with polar bears. This makes the fur very light, and very warm. When mixed with wool it makes garments light, warm, and pill-resistant.

Kevin is shearing this six-month old lamb. It has never been shorn before.

The cup of tea and Kevin’s wife, Heather’s, home made bikkies and muffins was welcome.

It was a good day, but tiring. A little white van isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport, and on the way back the Americans were in conversation with each other and the Australians, all talking about different things from different directions. For us it was something of a dull roar.

Tomorrow we’re off to Akaroa. Meanwhile, here’s some more photos.

The remains of a ruined city

Sunday morning dawned blustery, with scudding clouds interspersed with sunshine. My friend and I found Procope, a lovely little coffee shop, open on a Sunday morning for a welcome coffee and an excellent bite to eat, then we walked into Christchurch’s CBD. Every street had empty blocks, traffic cones, detours, wire fencing, cranes, and construction sites.

The wrecked cathedral is the outstanding reminder of the earthquakes that devastated the city in 2010/11, around 7 years ago. There used to be a spire where that metal brace stands. For the rest, the town is full of large open spaces where buildings used to stand. All these years later, the scars remain – although new, modern, (ugly) earthquake-safe structures have started to rise.

The first earthquake struck at 4:35am on 4th September, 2010. The magnitude 7.1 quake damaged many buildings, but only one person died and a few were injured.  For the following year the area was shaken by thousands of shocks and after-shocks. A serious quake on Boxing Day 2010 caused more damage, and then another serious earthquake occurred on 22nd Feb, 2011, taking down buildings already weakened by the previous activity. 185 people died in that quake, many of them inside buildings that collapsed.

It’s not just the damaged buildings, though. When the earth moved it destroyed sewerage pipes and water pipes, took down power lines, and buckled railway lines. Soil became mud and roads and buildings sank into the ground. All the fabric of modern society was destroyed. Portaloos were distrbuted and water was a problem for months.  Understandably, many people moved away from Christchurch.

I think you can’t get a feel for what has been lost unless you talk to people who knew, and loved, what was there before. Everybody has a story to tell about the quakes. I mentioned the bus driver who had managed hostels destroyed in the CBD. She was grateful no one she knew was among the 185 people killed. I spoke to the cleaning lady at the hotel, who said she still lives in her damaged home, and she’s still waiting for some sort of repairs through her insurance company. I remember hearing about the quakes on Facebook, all those years ago. One of my friends was forced to leave her home because it was unsafe – but that didn’t deter the looters. She lost valuables, but also irreplacable mementoes. She certainly wasn’t the only one.

Street art is common, as are parking lots on rubble

This city block looks okay, but look at the next picture

This building is obviously unsafe and abandoned

B had friends in Christchurch – we’ll call them W and S – and they took us on a city tour. They filled in the holes, so to speak, telling us what used to be in the empty spaces, or what was where that horrible piece of modern architecture now stands.

Nature bounces back. That basic fact was underlined as we drove past tracts of what we thought were extensive parkland that were actually places where suburbs had stood. The land has been cleared, but you can still see the streets, the trees people used to have in their gardens, the edges of the properties. In many areas people still live in their damaged houses, with the holes and damage covered up as best they can.

B’s friends’ house was also badly damaged. The house had two solid chimney stacks, and the rest of the building more or less twisted around those two structures. They were fortunate to be able to relocate to their holiday home at Akaroa – and they had insurance. We admired the house as it is now, a lovely, bright home with a gorgeous, productive garden. But S talked about what she’d lost, what used to be there, small things like tiles over the fireplace, large things like reorganised rooms.

S in particular still mourns for the beautiful buildings lost in the town. She said she never goes to the city now, and I can understand why. Some buildings have been restored to their former glory and there’s talk of restoring the cathedral, but W says there’ll be many arguments before that happens.

Every person we spoke to about the earthquake said the situation had been poorly handled, with everyone pointing a finger at somebody else. You can’t stop mother Nature – but rebuilding is something that must be done by people. Contrast the city of Napier, also devastated by earthquake, which took that unfortunate event as an opportunity to reinvent itself. The city has been rebuilt in Art Deco style (which it was not) and is very popular with tourists. In contrast, while there’s talk of restoring the old cathedral, nothing has happened so far.

One of the restored buildings giving a feel for what was here before 2010

Ongoing restoration

One of the lovely bridges over the Avon River

The epicentre of the earthquake was quite a distance from the CBD near Lyttelton, Christchurch’s main harbour. Our hosts pointed out coastal features which had been changed forever – rocks split, collapsed Maori caves, whole hillsides that slipped onto the road or into the sea. I remember seeing footage on TV of houses balanced precariously on the edge of precipices created when the land collapsed beneath them. Here, too, people are still waiting for the insurance companies to do something.

But through all this, the countryside is beautiful. We drove up winding roads to admire views over the harbour and the city, spectacular despite the gale force winds. Wind surfers – braver souls than me – rode the wind and waves, and we even spied a board rider out there.

Having seen the sights, we adjourned to B’s friends’ lovely home for drinks, nibbles and an excellent dinner – with superb NZ wine. Much of the meal incorporated home grown fruit and vegetables. The quince crumble dessert was lovely with ice cream. They make their own olive oil, too, which appeared in a hummus made from chick peas, fresh peas – and the wonderful olive oil.

Uber took us back to our accommodation. Tomorrow we’ll do a little more exploring outside the city.

Wind-blown waves in the harbour. You can see a brand new cliff just behind the beach.

From up here, the harbour is beautiful