Saturday, 30 December 2006

South Island Trip - Days 2 to 4 - Nelson to Christchurch

Rabbit Island Beach, Nelson

Day 2 Nelson to Collingwood and back
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.

Nelson main street

On our last day in the Nelson area we decided to take the coast road to Collingwood, a leisurely two-hour drive.

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 cafĂ© 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.

One of the smaller Waikoropupu Springs

On the way back from Collingwood we visited Te Waikoropupu Springs – one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, with some of the clearest water anywhere on the planet. Apparently, the only clearer water known to exist is under the Ross iceshelf in Antarctica. The photographs really don’t do the place justice. It was stunning. The springs are sacred to the local Maori, who believe they possess healing powers. On average the springs discharge about 14,000 litres of water per second – that’s about forty bathtubs full!

This is several metres deep, and clearer than it looks in the picture!

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.

Ward Beach

On the other side of the Marlborough hills the road veers east and for a long stretch – maybe 50 kilometres or more - hugs the Pacific coast. The landscape is still arid, but this is tempered by the seascape, which presents an amazing palette of at least three distinct shades of blue, ranging from light turquoise to deep azure. The water is almost glass-still and laps an endless stretch of golden sand half-hidden behind impressive sand dunes. Gradually the coastline gets rockier, and soon you start spotting seals on the rocks. The rocks are a long way below the road, but with the aid of the telephoto lens I managed to get a shot of some seals who were having a bit of a sunbathe.

Sunbathing Seals

We stopped for a tea break at Kaikoura – a small coastal town known for its whale-watching cruises. We passed up the opportunity to go whale watching because of time constraints, but made a mental note that it’s something we’d like to come back and do when we’re living ‘down south’.

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.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch is definitely the most English-feeling of the places we've visited so far. There are many more brick and stone buildings than elsewhere in New Zealand, and the city is laid out on a regular grid pattern, with wide, tree-lined streets. The leaden skies, blustery winds and near-horizontal rain all added to the authentic English feel.

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.

Punting on the Avon

Many New Zealanders we’ve met speak about Christchurch in glowing terms, as if it’s some sort of rare jewel. ‘Oh yes,’ they’ll say. ‘Christchurch is lovely – very English.’ For them, that means it’s exotic, but for us, it’s not so appealing, partly because it feels too familiar, and partly because it feels a bit false – like you’d imagine the Disney Corporation’s idea of an Olde English Towne would look like.

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

South Island Trip - Day 1 - Wanganui to Nelson

It's the end of a very long day, so forgive me if I don't make much sense.

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.

View from the ferry docked in Wellington

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.

Our first view of South Island - coming into Marlborough Sounds

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.

Iain looking windswept

New Zealand does a fair impression of Loch Lomond

Needless to say, by the time we rolled off the ferry it had started raining, and the rain bucketed down for almost the entire two hours it took us to drive to Nelson. I've heard the drive is very scenic, but with the bottom of the clouds hovering just a few metres above the road, we didn't get to see much of it. On the last leg of the journey you drive up a steep and winding road over a range of bush and forestry-clad hills, before finally dropping down the other side into Nelson. As Nelson came into view, the rain stopped, there was a break in the cloud, and we saw sunshine and blue sky for the first time today. Nelson had put on its best clothes to meet us. We're staying a second night, so we'll post our impressions of Nelson, as well as some photos, tomorrow evening. You never know, I might even be able to persuade Iain to put finger to keyboard. It's very late now, and I'm getting to the point where I really need to call it a night. Iain's asleep already. Goodnight, all.


Friday, 22 December 2006

I'm so excited!

A couple of weeks back I was chatting to Alison, one of my fellow students on the Te Reo Maori course, and when I told her Mo had died she asked whether I was looking for a new cat, because her friend's cat had recently had kittens. I said that sounded interesting, so she said she'd get her friend to ring me. Well, I forgot all about it, and this afternoon I got a call from Alison's friend, Dawn.

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!


Pub Quiz Christmas Bash

The pre-flash always makes Iain blink - he had his eyes closed in every one of the photos we took of him

We've been going to the pub quiz at Rosie O'Grady's Irish Bar for nearly a year now, and on Wednesday evening we had our 'Christmas edition'. Alex, the quizmaster, said he would be giving extra points for the best fancy dress, so, fiercely competitive as ever, we wore silly headgear (flashing deely-boppers and Christmas crackers) and covered the table with reindeer and Christmas trees. As it turned out, Alex didn't give any extra points for dressing up at all, so we all looked like eejits for no good reason, other than Alex's amusement. I think he might be one of those evil geniuses, although I've never seen him with a cat.




Bruce's daughter, Yvette

from left to right, Andrew (AKA Maccas), me, Stuart, Heather and Bruce

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Drat, drat and double drat!

Took some fun photos last night of our Christmas Pub Quiz, but I can't post them up today because Blogger keeps giving me an error message when I try to upload images. I'll try again later.


Saturday, 16 December 2006

Shocking News

our photo from September

NZ Herald's photo of the slip

Landslides, or 'slips' as they're called in New Zealand, are a very real danger, particularly in the Wanganui-Manawatu region, and we've been shocked by a local tragedy which appeared on the New Zealand Herald's website this morning. You may remember my post in September about our walk along the Pohangina river. We parked in the Totara Reserve car park just a few metres from where we took the first photo, and from the description of the incident, we think this particular cliff is the one that collapsed.

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

Hey, look what I did!

The dining room fireplace before...

...and after

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

December update

Mo (5th November 2005 - 30th November 2006)

Sad news

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.

Weekend trip

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.

View from our lunch stop on Saturday - Lake Taupo in the distance

View from our bedroom window at the lodge - very relaxing

Iain outside the lodge

Iain, Carol and Ian in Taupo