Tag Archives: scenery

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.

Autumn has arrived

Autumn in the botanic gardens in Christchurch, I haven of serenity in this beleaguered city

The world’s been a pretty awful place lately, what with drought, floods, and terrorism. But I’ve said enough about that stuff, so I thought I’d talk about the weather.

Here in Australia our weather woes are continuing. Two large cyclones are active in the northern parts of the continent – TC Veronica on the west coast and TC Trevor on the east coast. Veronica is set to hit Whim Creek, between Karratha and Port Hedland. Trevor has crossed Cape York into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and is going to make landfall in the Northern Territory. Both storms will wreak havoc – and bring much-needed rain to the interior. If we’re lucky, Trevor will start to move south-east and we might get something from its tail. We have had some rain here, enough to revitalise our garden, but we’d like a bit more.

Majestically ignoring the concerns of its inhabitants, the world has continued its dance around the sun. The equinox has passed, so now the days in Australia are becoming shorter. Autumn, or Fall as many call it, is my favourite time of the year. In cooler climates the trees put on a spectacular show. In warmer places like ours the temperatures are warm and calm. So here are some of my favourite Autumn photos taken over the years.

I’ll start with the botanic garden at Christchurch, a beautiful haven in that beleaguered  city.

I took this in Christchurch’s botanic garden when I visited the city last year

One of my favourite Autmn photos. Autumn finery reflected in the Rhine

Autumn in the Wachau Valley October 2015

Autumn colours and sunrise tints at Durnstein on the Danube

Autumn from the deck at our house in Greendale. The evergreen eucalyptus forest is behind our exotic deciduous trees

Silver birches preparing for the winter chill at Greendale

Golden light and calm seas are what Autumn’s all about

The sun’s just up and the rupples sparkle like silver paper

Calm seas, clear skies, bright ripples

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.

Day 14 – Gruyere – mountains, cows and cheese

Gruyere from the bus - before we drove up the hill

Gruyere from the bus – before we drove up the hill

Ah, mountains. And scenery. And grass and animals. There’s no doubt where my heart is happier. We hopped on a bus with thirty-four other passengers and headed for the hills as fast as we could make it. Maybe there are sights to see in Basel, but we didn’t see them.

For me, I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and I resisted the temptation to take pictures through the windows for quite a while. Pete didn’t, snapping away at every opportunity. I did eventually cave, but really, there’s no point unless the bus is stationary. Even then you’re just as likely to get reflections in your shots. Like that one at the top.

The weather was perfect, the snow-capped peaks glittering in the sun, and the meadows so green they hardly seemed real. We made our first stop around 11am, an impromptu visit to the fortified town of Gruyere, where the cheese comes from. Apparently we were scheduled to visit there the following day, but the guide and driver decided the weather was so good it would be a shame to risk the forecast rain for tomorrow.

The village is gorgeous, perched up in the foothills with a dramatic backdrop of beautiful mountains, Cows came out of their barns to enjoy the lush grass. In the village women dressed in their local costumes made their way to work in the coffee shops and restaurants. And we found a free toilet. (Don’t laugh. You could expect to pay CHF0.50 to use a public loo – that’s 75c Australian)

The view from the ramparts - cows and mountain and spectacular green

The view from the ramparts – cows and mountain and spectacular green

The cobble-stoned central square

The cobble-stoned central square

Towards the town gate

Towards the town gate

Gruyere means 'crane'. We saw them everywhere on the houses

Gruyere means ‘crane’. We saw them everywhere on the houses

The inevitable church perched at the end of the village

The inevitable castle perched at the end of the village

Two churches, two styles

Castle and church

AltIMG_3783hough it was early, we’d been told this would be a lunch stop, so we selected one of the many restaurants and tried to order a meal. It was too early. Lunch orders would not be taken until 11:30. OK. We had a cup of coffee, instead. They serve it black, with a side of cream that comes in a chocolate container, which you then eat. Saves washing up.

When we’d finished the coffee the woman came to us with her money bag for payment. Pete asked if we could order lunch now (11:20) and was told that this was a different person, she only did coffee. Fine. We paid for the coffee and waited for a wait person to appear. We’d cruised through the menu, looking for a sandwich or something. Eventually we decided upon half a quiche with salad, an entry in the starters menu. We were due to leave at 12:30, and the food did take a looong time to arrive, but it was worth it, fresh and delicious, with a Swiss version of a salad.

Serving sizes are HUGE in Switzerland. So pleased we didn’t ask for a main course.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious. The salad is fine sliced curly cabbage, red and yellow capsicum, a radish, cubed beetroot and lettuce wrapped in a thin slice of zucchini

From Gruyere we drove down to Lake Geneva to Montreux, a haunt of the rich and famous. I’ll write about that in the next post.