Saturday, 30 December 2006
Iain and I have fallen in love with Nelson and have decided we’re going to try to move there within the next twelve months. It’s got everything going for it: a good climate with the highest sunshine hours in the whole of New Zealand at 2,500 (to give you some idea of how sunny that is, Birmingham averages 1,400), beautiful beaches, easy access to hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, and bush, including two of the most stunning National Parks anywhere in the world, and the town itself is a vibrant place with lots going on, particularly in the areas of sports and culture. There’s a thriving arts and crafts community and a lot of alternative lifestylers (AKA hippies), which suits us just fine.
Our first great find was Rabbit Island, a recreation reserve with a stunning beach. Tahunanui beach in town seems to attract most visitors, leaving Rabbit Island beach, which is only a fifteen-minute drive out of town, nice and empty. Just the way we like it.
On the way to Collingwood we went through Motueka, which is a small village almost entirely given over to backpacker hostels and teashops. It’s the nearest settlement to both of the National Parks and as such attracts a huge number of visitors, especially during the high season between Christmas and mid January, a time when almost every New Zealander is taking their annual holiday. We didn’t stop in Motueka, instead pressing on to Collingwood, an old gold mining village.
To our relief Collingwood was almost deserted. Even the guy who runs the Farewell Spit Eco-Tours was taking a break. His tour vehicle was an ancient, patched-up truck that looked like it would never pass an emissions test (if New Zealand had such a thing, which it doesn’t) Did he think that by the simple expedient of attaching the word ‘eco’ to his business he was going to persuade tourists that he was interested in minimising the environmental impact of his little operation? I had to have a little cynical chuckle over that one.
We had a veggie burger at the village café and then crossed the road to visit the Collingwood Museum, which is a building the size of our sleepout crammed with an unorganised jumble of old artefacts that it’s impossible to untangle any coherent narrative from. For example, a whale’s eardrums were lying in between a wind-up gramophone and a leaflet explaining how to get measured for a suit. Multiply that little anomaly a thousandfold and you’ll get some measure of the museum. I loved it, and could have spent at least an hour there, spotting weird combinations of things, but Iain, who gets ‘museumed out’ more quickly than I do, didn’t have the constitution to deal with the muddle, and hotfooted it out of there after about thirty seconds.
Day 3 Nelson to Christchurch
On Day 3 we drove from Nelson to Christchurch. This involved first driving back to Blenheim, which we had come through on our way to Nelson, but we needn’t have worried about getting bored when doing the return journey. As the weather had been so bad on our outward journey we’d not got to see much of the landscape through the low cloud.
On the way back the sun shone and we got to see how gorgeous the surrounding countryside really was. About halfway between Nelson and Blenheim the landscape undergoes a shift, partly due to geography, and partly due to climate. The sheep and cattle-filled valleys and lush, green, bush-clad hills give way to a broad plain covered in orchards and vineyards, with a range of arid, yellow hills in the distance. Marlborough, the area around Blenheim, is much drier than Nelson, and you can see this immediately in the parched brown grass on the verges and the number of irrigation systems in the fields.
The road swings up and over the Marlborough Hills, whose unusual colour comes from the coarse yellow grass that covers almost every square metre of their surface. I wanted to get a picture of this landscape, but there were no stopping places and this stretch of the road was very busy.
Around midday we passed through a village called Ward, and a sign saying ‘Ward Beach, 6 km’, so we went off to investigate a possible picnic spot. And what a picnic spot it was. We sat on the shingle beach and admired the beauty of the Pacific ocean while we felt our blood pressure, which hadn’t been high to start with, gently falling with every swish of the waves against the shore.
After Kaikoura the traveller who’s going to Christchurch has two routes to choose from – the shorter and faster Route 1, which stays close to, but not on the coast, or the slower and longer inland route, which wends its way up the mountains. We opted for the latter, and were rewarded with brilliant views not dissimilar to the area around Crianlarich in the highlands of Scotland.
Day 4 in Christchurch
The weather today was cold, wet and miserable. The thermometer struggled to reach 12 degrees, which, after Nelson’s balmy 24 degrees, and with a brisk wind coming from the south (straight off Antarctica) felt considerably colder. If the weather hadn’t been so bad we were planning on taking a scenic drive down to the Banks’s Peninsula, about an hour’s drive south, a picturesque area of hills and bays dotted with little fishing villages. With visibility at about 100 metres there was little point in bothering, so we decided to go into town and have a wander round instead.
The people who founded the first European settlement here were obviously all English and must have been suffering from severe homesickness to boot, because they were desperate to remind themselves of the old country at every opportunity. They named the river that flows through the city the Avon, called the region Canterbury, and named most of the streets after midlands towns – Hereford, Manchester, Worcester, Gloucester, Peterborough, Oxford, Cambridge and Lichfield all have streets named after them.
As if New Zealand hadn’t got enough trees to satisfy even the most ardent Victorian tree-hugger, the colonists chopped down all the native trees and replaced them with English varieties, samples of which they must have brought with them for that express purpose. The riverbank is lined with willows, oaks and horse chestnuts. They also imported English birds, for some reason, including blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, and mallard ducks. Taking birds to New Zealand is like taking ice to Alaska. It’s a wonder the colonists had any room on the ships for themselves and their belongings. It also makes you wonder why they bothered emigrating, especially when the life of a migrant in those days was so tough. I suspect most of them would have been better off staying at home.
Once again it's late at night and my brain has gone into go-slow mode, so it's time to call it quits. We definitely won't be posting tomorrow night because there's no broadband at the place we've booked in Greymouth. We'll catch up with you next time we manage to log on. Bye for now,
Wednesday, 27 December 2006
We left the house at 5:30 this morning and drove down to Wellington to catch the Interislander ferry for our trip to South Island. The ferry was due to leave at half ten, but with Iain being a stickler for being early, we arrived at the docks at a quarter past eight. As luck would have it the earlier sailing, the 8:30, was just loading up its final cars, and the woman at the checkin booth managed to get us on that one instead. I'm very glad we didn't have to wait until the later sailing. The ferry terminal is just a car park with a few little booths for the employees. There's no main building and no facilities, like toilets or a cafe or anything, like there would be anywhere else in the world you might care to mention. I most definitely wouldn't have fancied waiting at the ferry terminal for two hours.
The crossing was a bit weird. The weather in Wellington was overcast and threatening rain, which was no surprise given a) Wellingtons' reputation for dreadful weather, b) the miserable wet winter and spring we've had, and c) the fact that summer doesn't appear to have arrived yet. They say this year's terrible weather is something to do with El Nino, so while Europe basked in the longest, hottest summer for years, we suffered the longest, coldest, and wettest winter on record. Anyway, I digress. During the crossing the sky remained black and the wind got stronger and stronger until it was blowing a veritable gale up on the 'sundeck' and we reluctantly had to give up and go inside. However, despite the gale, the sea remained calm, and the ship was hardly rolling at all. I mention this because it seemed to defy the laws of nature, not because I was hoping we'd be thrown about all over the place. Neither of us are good sailors, so we were very lucky.
The last third of the ferry crossing is within the narrow channels of the Marlborough Sounds. We saw quite a few holiday homes - called baches on the North Island and cribs here down South - which were in remote little bays, surrounded by bush. There are no roads in the Sounds, so the only way to get to these places is by boat. What a wonderful place to spend a holiday! When the weather's good apparently the Sounds can look quite tropical, but with the low, dark clouds today it looked mean and moody, and reminded us a lot of Scotland.
Friday, 22 December 2006
Iain and I have just come back from viewing the kittens and they're gorgeous. Their mum Snuffy is a very confident, affectionate and intelligent grey and white cat with a lovely silky coat. She came to greet us as soon as we arrived, and when she saw we were going to see the kittens, she ran ahead and called them to her so that she could show them off. There are five kittens - two males and three females. Two of them are already spoken for - a tortoiseshell female and a black male, leaving three grey and whites needing a home. We've chosen the stockiest-looking female, who has unusual splotches of pinkish-beige fur. I've decided to name her Smudge, because it suits her markings (and it also sounds good with 'Pookie' - try it!)
Dawn is happy to keep Smudge for us until we get back from holiday. So it's all systems go for a new kitty when we get back! I just hope Pookie copes OK with the new addition to the family!
Thursday, 21 December 2006
Saturday, 16 December 2006
Brother and sister among three children killed by landslip
Three young children died last night in a horrifying tragedy at a Manawatu holiday camp.
The trio - a girl aged eight and two 13-year-old boys - were killed when a 50m cliff collapsed and buried them as they played in the middle of the Pohangina River.
Senior Constable Mark Glentworth of Ashhurst police said today that one of the 13-year-old boys and his eight-year-old sister were from Palmerston North while a second 13-year-old boy and his 10-year-old brother, who escaped with minor injuries, were from Feilding.
The children, close family friends, along with the parents and grandmother of the 13-year-old and his sister had been picnicking at the reserve, Mr Glentworth said.
The 10-year-old boy who survived was flown by helicopter to hospital suffering from shock and a suspected broken ankle. His mother flew with him.A spokeswoman for Palmerston North Hospital said the boy was being assessed in the emergency department.
The tragedy happened about 6pm. The parents of the children were at the scene and watched as the cliff fell. Mr Glentworth said they were devastated.
The children were holidaying with their families at a camp at Totara Reserve, about 32km from Palmerston North.
Kelly Williams, the camp caretaker, said she tried calling 111 but could not get through. She then called the rescue helicopter.
"It's just devastating. Why do these things happen? They were just swimming and enjoying themselves.
Palmerston North's Square Trust rescue helicopter arrived just after 7pm to find the bodies of two of the children, both boys, lying on the opposite bank of the river to the collapsed cliff.
Another boy was sitting in a car in deep shock and with an ankle injury.
The body of the girl was not found immediately, which caused rescuers to hope briefly she might have survived.
The helicopter crew took off for Palmerston North Hospital but doubled back after the body of the girl was found under water 150m to 200m downstream.
The pilot, who did not want to give his name understood the four were playing in the river when the cliff collapsed on them.
St Johns Ambulance Central Region regional operations manager Grant Pennycook, who is based in Palmerston North, said: "It's horrific just before Christmas. It's shocking."
Wellington Police Inspector Tom Ireland said Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council had closed the park and the cliff collapse would be part of a coroner's investigation.
The reserve, on Old Coach Rd, is a short scrambly drop down from the road 12km north of the Raumai Bridge.
Kelly Williams' father, Russell, who lives nearby, said the children had been at the camp last year and had enjoyed it so much they had returned.
Mr Williams said they had been talking about the visit of their grandmother from South Africa for Christmas.
Sunday, 10 December 2006
In spare hours here and there over the last couple of weeks I've been working on a budget facelift for the hideous fireplace in the dining room.
First of all I painted the horrendous faux bricks white, which is not their final colour. When we decorate the rest of the room after our holiday we're going to paint them whatever colour we've chosen for the walls, so that they blend in and hopefully do a bit of a disappearing act - they're truly horrible. Then I painted the interior of the fireplace black, and finally I set to work on creating a new hearth to cover up the multi-level concrete monstrosity that was there before. It's the first time I've done tiling apart from mosaics. Still, if you stand a fair distance away and squint a bit it doesn't look too bad!
I'm just waiting for some more tiles to be delivered and I'm going to do a similar job on the bedroom fireplace.
Friday, 8 December 2006
Our cat Mo died last week. We noticed she was unwell on Tuesday night, took her to the vet on Wednesday morning, and she was dead by Thursday lunchtime. The vet had no idea what was wrong with her until after she died. He found out she died of blood poisoning caused by peritonitis, which in turn was caused by a small wound on her abdomen which had become infected. The vet said it was a million to one chance. She was just one year old.
I'm very upset, but I can take some comfort from the fact that because she was a rescue cat, if we hadn't taken her in she'd probably have been dead long ago. And even though her life was short, apart from those last two days it was very contented. I miss her a lot. Fortunately Pookie seems not to have noticed her sister's absence at all, which is a relief. She's not the brightest button in the box, bless her.
Last weekend we travelled up to Rotorua to meet up with three sets of friends - Jim and Carin from Auckland, Ian and Carol from the UK who have just emigrated, and Charlotte and Nigel from Rotorua. Our neighbours reckon this spring has been the coldest and wettest since they arrived in New Zealand over forty years ago, but we were very lucky with the weather at the weekend.
We booked a room in the village of Ngongotaha just ten minutes out of town, right on the shore of Lake Rotorua and well away from the sulphur smell that can be overpowering at times in the town itself. As luck would have it, none of the other rooms were booked out, so we had the lodge to ourselves! It felt like having our own bach (holiday home) and it was great!
Unfortunately, Carin and Jim couldn't make it, but we had a very enjoyable evening out with the others, and managed to get our annual Curry Fix. Lately we've realised the only thing we miss from Burton on Trent (apart from our friends, of course) is The Spice of Asia!
We travelled back home in a leisurely fashion on Sunday, and couldn't believe it when we bumped into Ian and Carol again when we stopped off for a mid-morning coffee in Taupo.
Below are a few piccies of our trip.
I'd better sign off now and make the evening meal, and then we're going to have a cinema evening, watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2.
Thursday, 16 November 2006
I've decided to add to my meagre collection of qualifications by studying for an Adult Teaching Certificate, and I'm also investigating doing a Psychology degree extra-murally with a view to specialising in 'the learning process' & learning styles. Hopefully that'll keep me busy for a while.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we're addicted to watching movies on the 'big screen' now. Better than going to the pictures! Still got heaps of decorating to do, but I suspect it will all get left until after Christmas when we come back off our hols. Putting the screen up was a big mistake. "Should we do some decorating, or should we watch a movie this evening? Hmm.... tough choice..." Needless to say, we haven't lifted a paint brush in anger for a while - although Helen is sorting out the fireplace in the dining room.
Right, I've got to go and teach sex ed to a bunch of 17 & 18 year old girls now. Should be an interesting afternoon! :)
Monday, 13 November 2006
Sunday, 5 November 2006
Well, we were living in the sleepout until yesterday, when we made the decision to move the home cinema room from the second bedroom into the sleepout, as it offers lots more space. Iain has already made the room lightproof, and we are currently trying to solve the problem of how to hang the screen and mount the projector. It will mean a lot of extra work, but when we've finished we should have a much, much better cinema room, with enough space to invite friends over to watch films with us.
As soon as the floor varnish has fully cured (in about ten days) we're going to start work on decorating the dining room. I can't say I'm looking forward to doing it, but I am looking forward to finishing!
Monday, 16 October 2006
I organised the Table Mountain trip after work one day during the second week, and managed to persuade all the non-South Africans to come along. As work didn't knock off until 5:00 it was a bit touch and go whether we'd manage to get up and down in time before the last car down.
After chilly temperatures and high winds the day before, which had forced the closure of the cable car, the weather was absolutely perfect. There was not a breath of wind and the evening sun was beautifully warm.
As one of those people who only feels at ease when their feet are securely planted on terra firma, I wasn't looking forward to the cable car trip very much. The excitingly high-tech revolving floor of the car wasn't a favourite feature, but providing I stayed away from the windows, and remembered not to look down, or at the cables, which for some reason gave me that horrible twirling-falling vertigo sensation, I wasn't too bad. The same couldn't be said of another member of our party. She stood on the central, non-rotating floor panel, holding on tight to a strut, with her eyes closed. When we stopped at the top she looked close to tears. When we got off I asked her if she was OK. Apparently, someone had told her the journey lasted 12 minutes, so when we stopped after about four, she'd thought we were stuck and had begun to panic.
The top of the mountain was breathtaking - it wasn't just the awesome views that made it special. It had an indescribable atmosphere all its own, like many of the high, wild places I've been to - the Yorkshire Moors, Rannoch Moor in Scotland; the Pyrenees. Even though there were probably a couple of hundred people up there, it felt deserted, and was almost impossibly quiet and peaceful. I'd expected the top of the mountain to be barren, but it was covered in gorse, aloe and a variety of other bushes I didn't recognise. There was plenty of wildlife up there too. We saw a lizard on a rock, and there were signs pointing to the best places to see some springbok-like animals the name of which I can't remember. There were silhouettes of them on the signs.
From the top of the mountain you get a pretty good view of Robben Island. I'd hoped to be able to take the boat over, as one of our friends from Wanganui had been and thoroughly recommended it, but the trip takes half a day, and I just didn't get the time. If you don't know, Robben Island is the penal colony where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Never mind, I'll have to go when I return, dragging Iain along.
I really must go now. It's gone my bedtime and I shall turn into a pumpkin if I'm not careful.
I'll post some more pics in the next couple of days.
There's an interesting history of the Table Mountain cableway here.
The Robben Island Museum's website is worth a visit.
Saturday, 14 October 2006
I wasn't looking forward to travelling halfway round the world on my own, so I was relieved when I found out one of the other writers attending the workshop also lives in New Zealand, and we'd been booked on the same flights. We'd never met before, but Charlotte is the sort of person who immediately puts you at ease. She's got a wonderfully off-the-wall sense of humour, and we spent most of the journey laughing.
I'm glad Charlotte's so well-adjusted, because she certainly needed to be to cope with my attack of hysteria on the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. By that point we'd been travelling for almost thirty hours, and I blame my temporary loss of control on the combined effects of physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, aviophobia* and excessive consumption of ginger.**
Earlier in the journey, Charlotte, who is an absolute treasure trove of useless information, and whom I've seriously considered kidnapping for our pub quiz team, informed me that South Africa has the most official languages of any country in the world - eleven, to be exact. Being a bit of a language nerd, I'd gone off into a reverie about the practical implications this would have. I calculated, for example, that South African road signs would have to be at least thirty feet tall.
When the South African Airways stewardess handed me my corrugated cardboard tray with my corrugated carboard-flavoured meal, and I broke open the plastic bag containing the cutlery, something about the design of the cutlery bag caught my eye. Across the length of the bag was a banner, proclaiming 'CUTLERY' in the centre, with several divisions on either side, each containing unfamiliar series of letters.
'Look,' I said, waving the empty bag excitedly in front of Charlotte, 'All eleven official languages. Msu - do you reckon that's Zulu or Xhosa?' I spotted the little sugar packet, and examined that too. 'Weird,' I said. 'The word for sugar is the same as the word for cutlery in some of these languages - hang on a minute - it's the same in all of them!' My jet-lagged mind began working in overdrive, trying to come up with a possible explanation for this.
'You eejit,' said Charlotte, 'Those letters on either side aren't translations of the word 'cutlery' - they're airport codes - look, here's CPT - that's the code for Cape Town.'
'I thought it was a bit odd that that all the words for cutlery had three letters,' I said.
That's when I lost it. Once I started laughing I couldn't stop. I was laughing so hard I was in pain, and tears were streaming down my face. It was fully ten minutes before I recovered my composure. I could sense the guy sitting next to me becoming more and more uncomfortable, and I smiled at him in an effort to reassure him, but this only made the matter worse - I could almost hear him thinking, 'Why do I always get the seat next to the nutter?'
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our one and only day off was on the Sunday, and all the non-South Africans at the workshop (us two from New Zealand, three people from the UK and one from Nigeria) decided to make the most of it and go on a day trip. Jenny, the senior UK publisher, organised a minibus trip down the coast to the Cape. Unfortunately, I had to miss the trip, because I was suffering from a rather severe and extended bout of sciatica, but Charlotte kindly donated her photos. All the photos in this post were taken by her.
Well, that's about it for today. Be sure not to miss the next thrilling chapter of my African Adventure, an account of our hair-raising ascent of Table Mountain.
* fear of flying - I looked it up. :-)
** I'd been popping one ginger anti-travel sickness pill per hour since the journey started.
Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Anyway, here's the first lot of photos.
Saturday, 23 September 2006
I've been so busy the last two or three weeks, writing the planning documents required for the Cape Town workshop that I've hardly been out of the house. I finished the last document yesterday, and so to celebrate Iain took me out for an airing - shopping in Palmerston North followed by a scenic drive on the way home.
These photos are of the Pohangina (paw-HANG-eena) Valley. We were planning on walking one of the trails in the area, but it was closed due to lambing, so we had to be content with a short stroll by the river. Iain's going to organise a walking trip for the first weekend after I come back from South Africa. I'm looking forward to it.
There was a weird warning on the radio yesterday. It said we were going to have a low ozone event this weekend. Sounds like some sort of supermarket special offer, doesn't it? What it actually means is that the hole in the ozone layer will be passing directly over New Zealand, and consequently, UV levels will be far higher than normal. As the normal levels of UV radiation here are the highest in the world (40% higher, on average, than in the southern Mediterranean) then it's something worth paying attention to. I slapped on the factor 30 on every exposed area of skin, and even though we only spent a short time outside today, I feel all 'glowy' now, like I used to sometimes when I was a kid and spent all day in the garden, running around in my swimming costume.
and the gentle burble of flowing water, we began for the first time to get an inkling of why some people enjoy fishing. Fishing doesn't really cut it as an adventure sport, and it doesn't pass my rigorous animal welfare standards, either, but it does seem like a good way of spending time enjoying the outdoors. Iain is toying with the possibility of taking it up as a hobby at some point. It certainly has the 'farting about doing bugger all' factor, so it should suit his temperament perfectly!
I fly from Wanganui to Auckland tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon, and then on to Cape Town (via Sydney and Johannesburg) early on Monday morning. Very early. I have to check in at 5:30 a.m. Gulp! The journey takes 39 hours altogether - almost 21 hours of that spent in the air. Although I'm looking forward to the workshops I'm not looking forward to the journey at all! I'm not a happy flyer.
I'm taking a one-use camera with me, with the intention of taking some snaps on my day off, so hopefully I'll have something to put on the blog when I get back.
I'm off now to start packing.